Superfood Vs Superfad: The Foods Actually Worth Adding to Your Cart - Women's Health

Superfood Vs Superfad: The Foods Actually Worth Adding to Your Cart

Power up your plate.

By Troy Da Costa. Photography: DAnielle Daly; steve smith; getty images/iStockphoto; shutterstock; Chelsea Kyle ; dan matthews; louisa parry; chelsie craig.

What these underrated eats lack in celebrity endorsements and inflated price tags, they make up for in nutritional benefits. From surprising sources of vitamin C to high-fibre heroes, these are worth adding to cart.

1. Tahini

As good drizzled on your morning oats as on your Ottolenghi-grade salad, this versatile sesame seed paste is packed with vitamin E, an antioxidant linked to better skin, bone and brain health. “Sesame seeds are also higher in protein than most other nuts or seeds,” says Anyia.

2. Golden beetroot

That beetroot is good for endurance is well known. Tour de France athletes swear by it, due to its stamina-boosting nitrates. It’s also rich in glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in muscle tissue, and it’s beneficial for heart health, too. Not a fan of the super-earthy taste you get with the purple OG? Its golden cousin packs as potent a nutritional punch with a sweeter flavour.

3. Ginger shots

This is a rare juicing trend worth swallowing (see page 102 for our take on the juice cleanse resurgence). An Iranian study found that 2g of ginger (its juiced form is no more nutritious, but much less fiddly) per day reduced blood sugar by 12 per cent in those with type 2 diabetes. The bioactive component gingerol is known for its antiviral properties, too. Spicy.

4. Ackee

Jamaica’s national fruit is very un-fruit-like, with barely any carbs, a pinch of protein and plenty of healthy fats – a similar nutritional profile to avocado. A study in the West Indian Medical Journal found it rich in oleic acid, linked to healthy weight loss. “Just don’t eat the seeds or under-ripe flesh to avoid any toxins,” advises Pinho.

5. Nutritional yeast

Where do vegans get their vitamin B12? Nutritional yeast has a nutty, umami taste, which has made it popular among those craving a cheese-like flavour without the dairy. “As well as B12, it’s also full of other vitamins generally found in animal products,” says Pinho. Sprinkle it liberally on your meals when you’re in need of an energy boost.

6. Tinned sardines

These babies are packed
(like, well, sardines) with protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. With bones included, they’re also one of the highest non-dairy sources of calcium – important for maintaining bone health throughout your life. Stock your cupboards, stat.

7. Tiger nuts

Not a true nut, these are a nut-like tuber, with a flavour like almonds but a lower kilojoule count. Tiger nuts are popular in Spain, where they’re called chufa and used to make horchata, a sweet plant-milk drink. You can also roast them and eat them like nuts. They’re rich in insoluble fibre, which benefits gut health and curbs blood-sugar spikes.

8. Seacuterie

As you likely guessed, this play on charcuterie means turning fish into sausages, salami and other cured goodies. You’re left with a concentrated source of high-quality proteins and micronutrients, with more omega-3 than any of your usual bangers.

9. Sprouts

Cruciferous vegies such as sprouts, cauliflower and kale contain glucosinolates – compounds with a healthy, anti-cancer effect. Italian researchers found that sprouts stimulate the development of stem cells in your muscles, helping them to repair and grow. Sauté or roast rather than boiling to preserve more nutrients and avoid a soggy texture. 

10. Mussels

A rich, low-kilojoule source of protein, mussels have been shown to reduce joint inflammation, says Chowdhury. They’re also high in manganese and selenium for immunity, brain function and a healthy metabolism.

The molluscs are also relatively eco-neutral to farm – reassuring, given that seafood farming is one of the world’s fastest- growing food production industries and increasingly unsustainable. Steam and bake in foil – or flour, fry and turn into ‘popcorn’.

11Cottage cheese

The 1980s diet food may not be as hip as it once was, but with the rise of trendy probiotic foods – kefir, skyr, quark – it’s worth revisiting the older, cheaper classic. Cottage cheese is low in fat (0 to 5 per cent) and rich in protein, with up to 10g per 100g. It’s particularly high in casein, says Chowdhury, which is digested slowly to drip-feed your muscles and stave off hunger. This is one diet fad we’re happy to revive.

12. Kale pesto

Beyoncé’s kale tee did more for the ingredient than a humble magazine ever could. Its popularity isn’t all hype – it’s rich in vitamins A, C and K – but it’s pretty bland in salads. Buy it – or make your own – in pesto form, however, and not only will the added fats boost your absorption of vitamin K, you might actually enjoy eating it, too.

13. Seitan

To coeliacs, its devilish name is apt: seitan is made from gluten, the protein found in wheat. For others, it’s a satisfying meat substitute that packs as much protein as lean meat and is a good source of the amino acids needed for vegan muscle-building. Used in fried ‘chick’n’ dishes for its meaty texture, it’s also cheap to make at home.

14. Wakame

The green stuff in your miso soup is swimming in nutrients, such as hesperetin and fucoxanthin (don’t worry, we won’t quiz you later). A study by the Korea Food Research Institute found it increased running distance by 15 per cent, as well as boosting muscle function. Can’t stand the squelch? Try grinding up its dried form for a salt-free seasoning that’s rich in umami flavour.

15. Black beans

“Studies have linked black beans with protection against heart disease, diabetes and weight gain,” says Anyia. They provide 9g of plant protein per serving, as well as anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and plenty of resistant starch, which functions like soluble fibre and has been linked with improved insulin sensitivity and increased satiety. Throw them in tacos and tostadas or blend with lime, coriander, garlic and chilli and serve with tortilla chips.

16. Jerusalem artichoke

This root vegetable is neither from Jerusalem (the name comes from ‘girasole’, the Italian word for sunflower, ‘girasole’), nor is it an artichoke but don’t let that be cause for mistrust. Roasted, sautéed or puréed into a creamy soup, it has a nutty, sweet taste. It’s also a top source of inulin, a type of fibre that the bacteria in your digestive system feed on, creating a healthier microbiome that’s linked with reduced anxiety and swifter fat loss. 

17. potatoes

As well as potassium, spuds are a good source of antioxidants, says Anyia. “Reheat them the day after baking to raise levels of resistant starch, which gets broken down into short-chain fatty acids and for good bacteria.” Prefer hot chips to jackets? Cut into wedges, boil for five to 10 mins, then throw them in an air fryer with olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a sprinkling of rosemary.

18. Pea protein

A common addition to post-gym powders, pea protein is thought to increase muscle strength more efficiently than whey, says
“Plus, combining pea protein with vitamin C can help reduce post-training inflammation.” Not a fan of dairy-free blends? Then try another source of pea protein in, erm, peas. A cupful contains 8.6g of protein, along with 9g of fibre.

19. Gherkins

Gherkins are preserved cucumbers, usually flavoured with dill and spices. But not all are created equal. Look for lacto-fermented varieties, not ‘dead’ vinegar gherkins, which are the sterilised kind.

Or make your own. “They’re easier to digest and contain lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” says Anyia. Plus, fermented foods are a gut health win. Try gherkins in a tuna sandwich, or eat straight from the jar.


And the not-so-super foods…

Not all ‘good for you’ foods deliver on their promises. These are the ones worth striking from your shopping list

1. Manuka honey

It’s been touted as a cure for infections and allergies, and even as a detoxification agent. But while it does contain antioxidants and some antibacterial properties, most claims are not backed by science. It’s also 80 per cent sugar – and about 30 times more pricey than regular honey.

2. Brown rice milk

This healthy-sounding, hypoallergenic plant milk is gluten-, soy- and nut-free. But
it’s also lacking in anything useful.
A glassful contains around 10g of sugar and barely a drop of protein – and that’s the unsweetened kind.

3. Vegan cheese

‘Vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ products may sound healthy, but many are made with coconut oil and modified starch. “That makes them high in saturated fats,” says Chowdhury.
Cashew cream cheese, made by blending nuts with seasoning and yeast, is a natural alternative.

4. Lentil pu­ffs

Sold as a healthier alternative to chips, gram for gram, their kilojoule count is just 10 per cent lower. “They’re higher in fibre,” says Anyia. “But because they’re processed, most of the nutritional benefits of lentils will be lost.”

5. Liquorice

Ubiquitous in health food shops in the form of sweets or herbal teas, liquorice is claimed to have all sorts of benefits. But be wary of your dosage. When eaten every day, its glycyrrhizic acid can cause potassium levels to fall, says Anyia, leading to high blood pressure.

06. Cauli steak

Ignore the marketing. Cauliflower is not a steak, it’s a side dish. Though high in micronutrients, it’s low in protein: a 300g serving has only 11g, compared with 50g in a 200g steak. “The quality of cauliflower’s protein isn’t ideal either, as it doesn’t contain all nine essential amino acids,” says Pinho.

7. Lemon water

Drinking it upon waking supposedly primes your metabolism for the day and boosts your ability to burn fat. Only, there’s zero science to support this. The juice of half a lemon provides 18 per cent of your day’s vitamin C, but that’s still less than you’d find in a quarter of a kiwi. And swigging an acidic drink each morning won’t do your enamel any favours.

8. Raw spinach

There’s a reason Popeye ate it tinned. Spinach is a source of oxalic acid, which binds to minerals such as calcium, meaning less of the goodness in your vegies is absorbed. Cooking reduces levels of this compound, as well as making its beta-carotene up to three times easier to absorb. It tastes like nothing in salads, anyway. wh

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