Food For Thought

100% Gimmick-Free, Budget-Friendly Superfoods

One of the things that frustrates me most about mainstream nutritional advice is when health “authorities” promote certain foods or products as possessing inflated powers and benefits.
Just as big companies push junk food on the masses, others still are behind the scenes targeting health-conscious (and often misguided) consumers with “superfoods” that they position as panaceas to aging, illness, weight loss and more.

In reality, the foods that are most nutrient-rich and should be promoted as superfoods aren’t – many simply aren’t sexy enough to market this way. Real superfoods are also accessible, something marketers in the commercial “superfood” realm work hard to convince us otherwise of, using tactics that appeal to consumers (exotic names, buzzwords, slick packaging and exaggerated claims – goji, açai or agave nectar, anyone?) to justify hefty price tags. The truth is, those types of products do more to feed our egos than our bodies.

If modern dietary “wisdom” has done its job, the list of superfoods assembled below may surprise you. You may also turn your nose up at some, not having had the opportunity to develop tastes for them or learned how to incorporate them in your diet. Don’t let this stop you from keeping an open mind! These genuine superfoods are often revered in traditional diets (having repeatedly proven their value to health and wellbeing over time), and won’t put you in the poorhouse in an effort to properly nourish yourself. Not only that, you don’t have to travel to the depths of the Brazilian rainforest to get them; they’re sourced locally and are sustainably produced.

1. Free-Range Eggs

Free Range Egg

Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. One egg provides 13 essential, highly bio-available nutrients (in other words, readily absorbed by your body), all contained in the yolk. The yolks of free-range eggs are excellent sources of:

  • choline – foundation for cell membranes, regulates several metabolic pathways, aids detoxification in the body and more
  • B vitamins – vital functions in the body, metabolism, etc
  • vitamin A – essential for  growth, development
  • vitamin E – protects against heart disease and some cancers
  • vitamin D – supports mineral absorption, good bone health and more
  • iodine – supports thyroid hormones
  • phosphorus – healthy bones and teeth, improved digestion, protein formation and cell repair, hormone balance
  • antioxidants – ones that protect our eyes, specifically
  • omega 3 (this is where free-range is important compared to factory farmed, which have a higher % of inflammatory omega 6 oils)

As far as protein sources go, the protein in eggs is readily and efficiently absorbed by the body. Free-range eggs are also an extremely cost-effective protein source; a dozen large or extra large free-range eggs is only $4 – $5. You can find free-range eggs at any farmer’s market (Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market), and some local producers even sell theirs in grocery stores. If you’re used to eating regular eggs, you’ll notice the difference in the free-range variety right away – the yolks are often bigger, sunnier, and even taste better.

The myth that cholesterol causes heart disease keeps many people from eating whole eggs, but there is absolutely no research that links egg consumption to heart disease. For more information on this topic, I encourage you to read Chris Kresser’s article, Why you should eat more (not less) cholesterol.

For ideas on how to incorporate more free-range eggs, check out my recipes for eggspiration 🙂

2. Bone Broth

Slow cooker bone broth

Bone stock plays a role in all traditional cuisines, both as a means of adding flavour to a variety of dishes and as a kind of dietary cure-all. Consuming bone broth (try this simple recipe) can support healthy digestion and nutrient absorption; boost the immune system; strengthen bones, teeth, joints, tendons, ligaments and aid arthritis; promote healthy, supple skin AND help eliminate autoimmune disorders (celiac, diabetes, etc.). These benefits stem from the fact that bone broth provides a highly bio-available source of the following:

  • calcium – strong bones and teeth
  • magnesium – regulates blood sugar, promotes strong bones and teeth and more
  • phosphorus – strong bones and teeth, improved digestion, protein formation and cell repair, hormone balance
  • gelatin – promotes healing and found to be useful in the treatment of a long list of illnesses
  • collagen – can naturally, and legitimately, reduce cellulite (cellulite is fat that lacks collagen support, and dietary collagen can help support the structure of cells – read more on this)

Making bone broth at home is extremely cost-efficient, too. A bag of bones (usually good for up to two large batches of broth) will run you as little as $5. And that’s for grass-fed bones, too. I typically get mine from Getaway Farms’ Butcher Shop at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market (they’ll cut the bones up smaller for you, too, as to expose more marrow for maximum nutrition).

A great way to enjoy bone stock is in stews and soups, like in my recipe for homemade Pho or Slow Cooker Beef & Root Veggie Stew.

For a more detailed look at the many benefits of homemade bone broth, read Broth is Beautiful by the Weston A. Price Foundation.

3. Grass-Fed Liver

Conventional dietary wisdom and “health authorities” are always telling us that fruits and vegetables contain the highest concentrations of vitamins, minerals and trace elements we need. While it’s true that fresh produce is important, contrary to what we’ve been taught, their micronutrient content pales in comparison to many animal products – especially organ meats, like liver.

To illustrate, I’ve borrowed the chart below from Chris Kresser that compares the micronutrient profile of beef liver and beef with two plant foods that are often touted as being particularly nutrient-dense, blueberries and kale:

Liver Superfood Comparison Chart

Surprised?
🙂

Some people resist eating liver based on the false belief that toxins are stored here, when in fact, any toxins the liver is unable to neutralize are typically stored by the body in fatty tissues. The liver does, however, store a variety of important nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and minerals such as iron and copper – all of which are highly digestible and absorbable when consumed by humans.

Choose grass-fed liver when possible; again, I go to Getaway Farms’ Butcher Shop at the Halifax Seaport Market for mine. A little goes a long way, and if memory serves, it’s only $3-4/lb, making it an absolute steal.

If you want to try incorporating liver in your diet, but are averse to the taste of the plain thing all on its own, FEAR NOT – I have the perfect recipe to help you disguise it (from yourself or any picky eaters you might be cooking for!) in my recipe for Beanless Superfood Chili With Bacon.

4. Sardines

Sardines

Fellow rap fins will recall Biggie famously lamenting eating “sardines for dinner” – a shame given how incredibly nutrient-dense the little guys are! Before you turn your nose up, consider the following – in addition to 17g of high-quality protein, a single can of sardines packed in water, bone-in and skin-on, contains:

  • omega 3 (1.5 g) – linked to preventing, treating and improving a wide variety of illness (inflammatory diseases, mental disorders, acne, asthma, many types of cancers, psoriasis, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, skin damage from sunlight, migraine headaches and more)
  • vitamin D (110% DV) – boosts immune system; linked to preventing obesity, mental disorders, as many as 16 different types of cancer, and more
  • selenium (90% DV) – supports thyroid hormones (metabolism) and helps fight free radical oxidation in the body
  • calcium (25% DV) – strong bones and teeth (& absorption is further supported by vitamin D above)

Not only are they packed with nutrition, because they’re small (and thus at the bottom of the food chain), sardines don’t contain toxins like mercury and PCBs that many larger types of fish do. This also makes them an incredibly sustainable choice. All of this for only $1.50 per can. Support local and look for Brunswick brand (produced in New Brunswick, as its name suggests) in the canned fish isle at the grocery store.

My favourite way to have sardines is to mash a can with half a ripe avocado with a sprinkle of chili powder, garlic powder, chopped cilantro, green onion and some ground black pepper and sea salt. The flavours really negate any fishy-ness and the avocado does wonders for texture. Eat it on its own with a spoon, use it as a dip for raw veggies or as a topping for salad.

5. Raw Sauerkraut

sauerkraut

Did you know that the human body is home to more than 100 trillion bacteria, outnumbering human cells nearly 10 to 1? In many ways, we’re more bacteria than we are human, relying on our “microbiome” to support our immune systems, protect us from disease, aid digestion, detoxify our bodies and possibly even help us stay (or become) slim. Our microbiome’s ability to do all of these amazing things largely depends on the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria we host, which is precisely why it’s important to your long-term health to maintain an even keel.

Eating fermented and thus probiotic foods like raw sauerkraut can help you increase the good strains of bacteria, thus balancing the bad. The fermentation process that transforms cabbageinto sauerkraut also increases the bioavailability of nutrients, rendering sauerkraut even more nutritious than the original cabbage. In fact, it’s a great source of the following:

  • vitamin C – protection against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, eye disease, and even skin aging
  • vitamin K – brain health, cardiovascular health, disease prevention and more
  • calcium – strong bones and teeth 
  • magnesium – regulates blood sugar, promotes strong bones and teeth and more
  • folate – red blood cell production, cardiovascular health, brain function

If you’re in Nova Scotia, look for Tancook Brand sauerkraut (produced in Lunenburg) which contains only three ingredients – cabbage, water and salt – and is unpasteurized. Nearly a litre of this crunch, tangy probiotic will only cost you a mere $2.50.

Remember: each food purchase you make is not only a choice for your health, but a vote with your wallet. Make them count!