And if you’re a wellness overachiever, we’ve got ways to add even more superpowers to your dishes using these nutrient-dense boosters!
INFLAMMATION FIGHTERS: Dark leafy greens, such as kale, chard and spinach, are a terrific way to get important antioxidant vitamins C and E, as well as inflammation-deterring vitamins A and K. They contain an abundance of carotenoids, a type of plant pigment that work as antioxidants useful for combating cellular damage from inflammation-creating free radicals that could wreak havoc on everything from skin to your eyes and cardiovascular system. Because of the inflammation- fighting nutrients in leafy greens, eating just 2 to 3 servings of them per week (a serving is 2 cups raw or 1 cup cooked) is linked to lower rates of stomach, breast and skin cancer in many studies. Here, we sauté a mix of baby greens and top them with hearty cauliflower steaks and plenty of flavorful toppings like feta cheese, almonds and dill.
MORE USES FOR LEAFY GREENS: Leafy greens make a perfect base for salad bowls – use baby greens or be sure to slice heartier greens like kale and chard into short, thin strips and compost the tough stems. Leafy greens react well to being quickly heated, such as sautéing or tossing into a pot of soup at the end. Large leafy greens, such as chard leaves, make great wraps for tacos and sandwich fillings.
VEGETARIAN PROTEIN: Quinoa is unique in that it’s a plant-based food that contains all nine essential amino acids, the protein-building amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own and, therefore, need to be consumed. Quinoa is an ancient grain, meaning that its composition has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. Botanically speaking, quinoa is classified as a pseudo-cereal, or a non-grassy plant, but nutritionally speaking, quinoa is considered a whole grain because it contains the entire intact grain seed. Consider this casserole your new comfort meal: Cooked quinoa is layered with marinara, eggplant and three types of cheese for a fresh take on eggplant Parmesan.
MORE USES FOR QUINOA: Think of quinoa as a nutritious alternative to white rice. Use it as a base for grain bowls, in stir-fries, fried rice, pilaf, risotto and casserole recipes where you would typically use rice. Quinoa flour is also a great option as it imparts a nutty flavor to pancakes, muffins and quick breads.
IMMUNITY MAKER: Broccoli – along with cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts – is classified as a cruciferous vegetable, which signifies its rich content of fiber, vitamins A and C, minerals and phytonutrients. Cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, also contain a high concentration of a phytochemical called sulforophane, which shows promise in several studies for its anti-cancer abilities. One cup of cooked broccoli contains as much vitamin C as an orange and more fiber than an average slice of commercially available whole-grain bread. High intake of fiber promotes healthy digestion and consuming high levels of vitamin C is associated with better eye and skin health and strong immunity. We’ve taken this immunity superstar and turned it into a rice substitute for this flavorful bowl with a quick turn in the food processor. Move over, cauliflower rice! Broccoli rice is here to stay.
MORE USES FOR BROCCOLI: Often overcooked and drowned in cheese sauce, broccoli doesn’t always conjure applause at the dinner table. Avoid boiling or microwaving it, which can leach nutrients, and instead roast, bake, steam or grill it. While the florets get all the attention, don’t forget the stems: Chop them into strips, coat and bake like fries, or spiralize them and toss with a lemon vinaigrette.
SKIN HEALTH: Sweet potatoes contain more fiber than white potatoes, providing 4 grams in a medium tuber with skin. That fiber, combined with high amounts of the minerals manganese, vitamin B and potassium, make sweet potatoes a good choice for easing digestion. The rich orange color of sweet potato flesh is due to the presence of carotenoids, beta-carotene being an abundant carotenoid found in sweet potatoes. Carotenoids help your body form vitamin A, which is a powerful antioxidant that may protect cells from sun damage, stimulate collagen production and keep skin looking healthy. And put this on your radar: Sweet potatoes are the new alternative to pizza crust. Here, it’s combined with oats, eggs and a few other ingredients for a savory-sweet crust topped with veggies and cheese.
MORE USES FOR SWEET POTATO: Sweet potatoes have broken free from their standard Thanksgiving Day presentation: whipped with butter and baked with a sweet marshmallow topping. Now you’ll find an application for them almost anywhere regular potatoes are used: in gnocchi, hash, fritters, fries, latkes, mashed and in chip form. Savvy cooks are also incorporating sweet potatoes in smoothies, soups and chili, pasta, hummus and other dips, burgers, tacos, falafels, baked goods and even ice cream.
BRAIN BOOSTERS: Believe it or not, chia seeds are members of the mint family, but don’t expect any minty pop of flavor from them. In fact, chia seeds have a mild and nutty flavor. While they supply a little crunch and texture to foods, we eat them for health, not taste. And the health department is where chia seeds shine. Two tablespoons of chia seeds – a nice amount to sprinkle over a salad or smoothie bowl, or about half the amount you’d eat in a chia pudding – contains 11 grams of fiber, 9 grams of fat (5 grams of which are healthy omega-3 fatty acids) and 5 grams of protein. Omega-3s are one of the main nutrients to support brain health. On top of that, chia seeds are a great nondairy source of calcium as well as a good source of magnesium and iron. We’ve used chia as a substitute for nuts in this classic pesto that we spread atop goat cheese and bake for an easy and mouthwatering hot appetizer or snack.
MORE USES FOR CHIA SEEDS: Because chia seeds absorb 27 times their weight in water, it’s best to wet chia seeds before you eat them. This turns them gel-like and releases soluble fiber, which helps your gut by feeding friendly bacteria and slowing digestion. Chia seeds naturally get wet in many of its best uses, such as adding to a smoothie, oatmeal, pudding or drink (mix chia with lemonade to make a natural chia fresca). Also, incorporate them into energy bars, popsicles, jam, breads and other baked goods, such as muffins and cookies.
Written by Jessie Shafer for Clean Eating Magazine and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.