Most of us don’t have time to set out searching for every obscure food the media touts as the best thing since wild salmon. Fortunately, some of the most nutritious foods may already be in your kitchen. “So many foods are super!” says EA Stewart, RD, the nutrition expert behind the The Spicy RD blog. “It’s unfortunate that many of the superfoods at the top of most lists are either prohibitively expensive for many people or not readily available. To me, superfoods are foods that pack a big nutritional punch in terms of providing a variety of health-promoting properties.” Here are six foods that provide a surprising bang for your buck.
- Onions: For a food that’s about as ordinary as it gets, onions have some surprisingly extraordinary abilities. “The great thing about onions is that they are inexpensive, widely available, and taste delicious in so many dishes,” Stewart says. She highlights vitamin C, fiber, the flavanoid quercetin, and allyl sulfides as some of the onion’s most notable nutrients. Allyl sulfides are sulfur-containing compounds that help the body get rid of cancer-causing chemicals. And quercetin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant cancer-preventing properties, providing a one-two punch. How to eat more: Add raw onions to salads and sandwiches; sautéed onions to egg dishes and quesadillas; or cook them into soups and sauces.
- Mushrooms: “Most superfoods tend to be brightly colored due to their health promoting pigments,” Stewart says. “But mushrooms are another under-appreciated mildly colored superfood like onions.” Their key nutrients include: B vitamins, selenium, copper, potassium, and beta-glucans, a group of polysaccharides that help modulate the immune system and may also lower cholesterol, she says. How to eat more: Add raw mushrooms to salads or cooked or sautéed mushrooms to sauces, soups, and eggs.
- Eggs: You probably know the ad slogan about how incredible the egg is, but did you believe it? Turns out, you should. “Eggs are loaded with nutrients, but please, eat the whole egg!” says Emily Dingmann, the nutritionist behind the blog A Nutritionist Eats. “The choline found in eggs helps regulate brain, nervous, and cardiovascular systems and they’re also full of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial for eye health.” She adds that they’re also one of the only foods that naturally contain Vitamin D. Not to mention the protein, of course. If you're concerned about cholesterol, skip the yolk. How to eat more: Scramble, fry, poach, hard-boil, soft-boil them for a sandwich, a salad, or to make a vegetable dish into a meal.
- Kombu: Just because something is unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s hard to find or unaffordable. This is a food worth getting to know, says Rebecca Katz, author of The Longevity Kitchen. “It’s a sea kelp,” she says. “And it really aids in boosting the immune system and our body’s ability to detoxify.” It contains a type of sugar called fucoidan that binds to carcinogens and helps move them out of the body, she explains. “Besides the fact that it has a ton of trace minerals and vitamins in it, it also has that brothy savory flavor,” Katz says. You can find kombu in the ethnic food section of your grocery story, Asian markets, or online. How to eat more: Add a piece of kombu to a pot of beans and it will pull the gas out of them. Add it to cooking liquid for broths, sauces, rice, quinoa, soups for its savory flavor.
- Sesame Seeds: They’re not just for the tops of bagels. “They’re anti-inflammatory, good for bone health, joint health, and rheumatoid arthritis,” Katz says. They are rich in copper, which fights inflammation and can be hard to get enough of. They also contain cholesterol-lowering lignans and help the body use vitamin E. How to eat more: Sprinkle sesame seeds over stir-frys, salads, and yogurt. Use tahini (sesame seed paste) in salad dressings, sauces, dips, and hummus.
- Mint: Aside from an occasional mojito, stick of gum, or pastel-hued ice cream cone, mint doesn’t seem to work its way into much American cuisine, but Katz thinks it should. “I think it’s the most underestimated superfood out there,” she says. The flavonols in mint are uncanny in terms of their phytochemical profile. And a little bit of mint goes a long way to enhancing your well-being.” She says five mint leaves a day is all it takes. Katz cites limonene and luteolin (cancer-preventing flavones) and rosmarinic acid, which prevents the formation of plaque in the arteries, as mint’s key players. How to eat more: Add chopped mint leaves to salads, to a smoothie, to a teacup with hot water, to a glass of cold water with a slice of lemon.