By Keri Glassman
Superfoods don't just come from your supermarket's produce aisle and they don't have to have weird names -- like acai, chia and jicama -- to qualify. In fact, those chocolate candy bars next to the gummy bears have superfood powers that often no one ever speaks of. Anyone can get on the superfood bandwagon without having to leave their comfort zone! Simply take a browse through your cabinet to find these unsung heroes -- your secret superfoods, which are probably sitting in your kitchen right now!
Don't underestimate apples! We all know that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but what else are these portable powerhouses doing for us? Apples are packed with flavonoids, such as quercetin, which is involved in the breakdown of complex carbohydrates and the regulation of blood sugar levels. Quercetin also acts as both an antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory power, and is therefore thought to be protective against heart disease and some allergies. This superfood has also been one of the only fruits to show protective benefits against lung cancer risk.
New way to eat it:To give apples a new spin, try very thin slices as a crunchy alternative to chips or crackers-they go with almost everything! Tart apples like Granny Smiths are a great snack smeared with two tablespoons of black bean dip or hummus.
Most of us can't start our day without that morning cup of joe, and use the drink to keep us revved through sluggish afternoons. Although too much coffee can give you the jitters, a lower dose of caffeine will kick-start your metabolism and keep you alert. Studies show that coffee has powerful antioxidant properties and may help lower blood sugar by providing minerals that increase the body's sensitivity to insulin. This means our favorite morning drink is potentially protective against diabetes. Just watch the caffeine - it is safe to consume up to 250 mg of caffeine per day, the amount in roughly 1-2 small cups of coffee.
New way to eat it: Also try mixing ground coffee into your yogurt or smoothie for an interesting jolt to your day.
Both the USDA guidelines and your health-conscious neighbor proclaim that yogurt is healthy-diet staple. As most of us know, yogurt is a great source of probiotics, which help promote smooth digestion. But what else do these little bugs do? Probiotics are healthy bacteria that raise antibody levels in the body and compete with pathogens for food, nutrients, and survival. New research is also showing that probiotics tout other superfood powers and help to reduce the risk of breast cancer, stomach ulcers, and vaginal infections.
New way to eat it: When eating yogurt, make sure to choose plain low-fat or Greek yogurt for a high protein and low calorie snack. Yogurt is easily eaten by itself (add seeds and even grain like quinoa for texture), or dolloped on top of veggie chili or tacos. You can also try seasoning plain yogurt with herbs and spices and serve it as a dip for fresh fruits and veggies. With yogurt, you always win!
Eggs are one of our best sources of high-quality complete protein, which is easily absorbed and has all of the amino acids the body needs. Eggs are also high in choline, a phospholipid compound similar to B-vitamins that many cells in the body utilize. Choline plays a large role in gene expression, and may prevent long-term memory loss., Choline is also essential in the formation of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that sends messages between nerves and muscles. With more than 90% of Americans choline-deficient, incorporating eggs into your diet is an easy fix. Just be sure to use the egg yolk when making your morning scramble - since this is where all of the choline and vitamins are stored.
New way to eat it: If you love a runny yolk, try poaching an egg to get your fix without butter or cooking oil! Not so much? Mash one whole hardboiled egg with an additional hardboiled eggwhite, 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 Tablespoon Greek yogurt, salt, and pepper, for a healthier take on "egg salad."
We've come to think of orange foods as the best source of carotenoids (carotenoids might make you think carrots, right?). But dark green vegetables actually get their trademark deep green color from a mixture of the green pigment chlorophyll with the orange-pigmented carotenoids. Avocados boast incredibly high carotenoid levels, which have potent anti-inflammatory properties. What does anti-inflammatory really mean for us?Inflammation is the body's protective response to toxins, pollutants, and other harmful invaders. Inflammation can decrease short-term cell function and over time causes permanent damage. Nutritious foods with anti-inflammatory properties help us minimize those damaging effects. You already know that avocados are a great source of heart-healthy fats, and that just adds to their superfood status: avocados have a truly unique mixture of fat-soluble vitamins, antioxidant plant pigments, and antioxidants, which have been linked to decreased risk for cancer.
New way to eat it: Buzz equal amounts avocado and Greek yogurt in a blender with 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar for a delicious, high-protein salad dressing. Avocados are also a surprisingly portable snack. The skin makes a perfect "bowl" and the scoop in the middle is a perfect spot for toppings! Pop an avocado in your bag and cut it in half at lunchtime, to eat with a spoon. Try topping it with 1 teaspoon of vinaigrette or some of the following superfoods: tomatoes (high in anti-inflammatory lycopene), red bell pepper (for your daily vitamin C), or mango (high in carotenoids) for sweetness without the sugar.
Charles M. Schultz said it right: "All [we] really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!" In fact, it doesn't hurt at all; it actually helps! Recent studies published in Chemistry Central Journal have shown that the amount of antioxidants in dark chocolate is equivalent to or higher than those found in acai berries, blueberries, and pomegranates. Chocolate can also help lower blood pressure and increase blood flow, resulting in a happy heart and taste buds!
New way to eat it: For a morning indulgence, try grating some dark chocolate over your morning oatmeal, on top of peanut butter on whole grain toast or even in a rub for pork or beef.
Keri Glassman is a registered dietitian and frequent TODAY guest.