10 Under-the-Radar Power Foods
When it comes to power foods that pack nutrition, fiber, and other health benefits into every serving, most people are familiar with salmon, spinach, berries, olive oil, kale, and steel-cut oats. These foods form a strong base for any high-performance nutrition program. But there are many other foods that can be just as valuable (and tasty), even if they’re not as high profile. Amanda Carlson-Phillips, our vice president of performance nutrition and research, offers this top 10 list of underrated and under-the-radar power foods.
1. Chia Seeds
These tiny black seeds, cultivated by the Aztecs during pre-Colombian times, are slowly working their way into American markets. Similar to flax, chia seeds are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, fiber, phosphorous, and manganese. Sprinkle them on cereal, oatmeal, or salad for some crunch.
An often overlooked superfood, beets can be an inexpensive, colorful, and delicious addition to meals. Beets are a low-calorie fuel source high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties. This root vegetable, available year round, is a good source of iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, folic acid, and vitamins A and C. Canned varieties make beets a quick, inexpensive way to pack nutrients into a meal. Try the golden and ruby red varieties and even make use of the greens.
A nutty, chewy grain used in Italian cooking, farro is packed with fiber, protein, zinc, and magnesium. Compounds in farro have been linked to increased immunity, lower cholesterol, and balanced blood sugar levels. Mix farro into soups or use it as a healthy side dish.
4. Hemp Seeds
First cultivated in China 6,000 years ago, hemp has a creamy, nutty flavor. A serving of hemp seeds (2 tablespoons) provides 6 g of protein and 2 g of anti-inflammatory omega-3 in the form of alpha linolenic acid (ALA). Hemp seeds are one of the few plant proteins that provide all the essential amino acids that our bodies can't manufacture. Hemp seeds also contain phosphorous and magnesium, which are essential for bones and teeth, metabolism, and muscle contraction. Add hemp seeds to smoothies, salads, cereals, or oatmeal as a protein alternative.
These soybeans have a sweet, nutty flavor and are used in Asian cooking. Edamame is one of the few plant-based foods that contains all essential amino acids and is high in fiber, protein, potassium, and vitamins B and K. Research has linked edamame to a reduced risk of cancer and a healthier heart. Eat them as a snack or toss them in a salad.
Growing quickly in popularity, kefir is a creamy, fermented milk product. With twice as much good bacteria as yogurt, kefir is excellent for digestive health and high in calcium, protein, and vitamin D and A. Eat it for dessert or use it for a smoothie base.
Common in southern European cuisines, rosemary has a crisp, piney scent and is believed to be a healing herb with antioxidant powers. It's thought to help boost the immune system, have antibacterial properties, and aid with digestion. Studies have found that the antioxidant carnsol, found in rosemary, to be a potent anti-cancer compound. Fresh rosemary is terrific in soups, sauces, or meat dishes, and, like mint, can also be added to fresh water and teas as a refreshing alternative.
Known as the mother grain of the Incas in South American, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is the only grain that provides all nine of the essential amino acids, with more protein than rice, millet, or wheat. It's a good source of fiber, folate, copper, phosphorus, and iron as well as the immune-building flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol. This vertical grain is a great alternative for those with gluten sensitivities and can be prepared as a breakfast porridge with nuts and fruits or as a side dish.
9. Swiss Chard
An often overlooked dark green leafy vegetable, swiss chard is high in vitamins A, C, and K. While the leafy portion is always a nice green, the stalk can be white, bright yellow, or red. It tastes slightly more bitter than kale or spinach, but less bitter than collard greens. Eat it chopped up in salad or sautéed in a small amount of oil with garlic and a pinch of salt and lemon juice or vinegar.
This dark yellow spice is used in Indian and Chinese medicine to treat jaundice, colic, toothaches, bruises, chest pain, and more. It's powerful antioxidant properties have been shown to reduce the risk of some cancers, lower cholesterol, protect against Alzheimer's disease, and alleviate arthritis. Add it to rice and stews for a punch of flavor.
About The Author
Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.