I know a lot of healthy recipes can be jam-packed with speciality items such as maca, acai, chorella, lucuma, baobab, etc. These foods usually do have nutritional value and can add flavour and a nutrient punch to a meal. However, in saying that, I think that for day-to-day living, most of these items are optional extras, rather than a kitchen essential.
You can still have a nutritious diet without investing in a wide array of supplementary foods. I personally classify most fresh natural foods (especially fruits + vegetables) as “superfoods” anyway!
All we really mean by the term superfood is that the particular food is relatively nutrient dense in comparison with other items. For example, comparing a half cup of blueberries with a big piece of takeaway pizza. For much less volume and calorie intake, you are getting more nutrition.
Overall, I still prioritise just eating real, simple whole foods, particularly fresh produce. However, as I’m an inquisitive budding nutritionist, I have overflowing cupboards full of powders, dried berries, you name it. But hey, that’s what I’m here for – to test things out, work them into recipes and understand how they can contribute to a healthy diet. If you’re considering investing in some additional items for your kitchen, I have listed some of my favourites on this page, though there are many more out there.
Baobab – this is the common name given to a species of trees known as Adansonia, the majority of which are native to Africa (meaning that they are an extremely hardy species which can tolerate dry, arid conditions). Baobab trees produce a fruit with a very hard outer shell. The fruit pulp inside the shell naturally dries out and dehydrates while the fruit is still hanging on the tree, and it is this dried pulp which is used to produce a powder, which is the form you will most likely find baobab in (either that or the powder will have been incorporated into something). Baobab is rich in fibre and Vitamin C and is also a source of antioxidants and the essential minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. The powder has a sweet, citrus-like flavour and works well when incorporated into breakfast items (e.g. smoothies), baked goods, or as a topping or even to liven up savoury meals (e.g. use it in a salad dressing).
Gelatin – gelatin is a type of protein made from animal products; also known as hydrolyzed collagen, as that’s what it is really – a substance made from the collagen found in animal bones and bits. One of the main constituents of gelatin is the amino acid glycine, which is especially good for building a healthy gut wall. Gelatin may also assist in supporting healthy skin/hair/nails and bone growth. I mix it in to hot drinks, spoon it in to smoothies, or make jelly desserts with it. Look out for a high quality, grassfed variety – not all gelatin is created equal. I typically buy Great Lakes Gelatin – gelatin or collagen hydrolysate. The Collagen Hydrolysate mixes more easily straight in to a cool drink, so if you’re wanting to use it in smoothies then this is the one to go for. A little article explaining some of the differences between the two products is on The Healthy Home Economist here. Nutritionally, both are sound!
Hemp seeds (a.k.a. hemp hearts) – technically a nut, hemp seeds are an incredibly nutritious food. They’re rich in protein and in particular, contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need, which doesn’t happen too often with plant based protein. Hemp seeds also have an excellent fatty acid profile, offering lots of the omega 3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), as well as a beneficial omega 6 fat, gamma linolenic acid (GLA). The seeds are also high in fibre and contain essential minerals including calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Lucuma powder – this is made from the fruit of native South-American tree. Lucuma is high in vitamin B3, a source of iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc, high in the antioxidant beta-carotene and a good source of fibre. Like mesquite, it has an earthy kind of mild sweetness and caramel hints. I really like it in chocolate and it’s nice to add to yoghurt and smoothies too.
Maca – is a native Peruvian plant that has been cultivated for thousands of years. Recently it has become quite popular sold as powder or capsules – this is the stem/root part of the maca plant dried and ground up. Maca is valued for its energising and hormone-balancing properties, and in particular may be helpful for women experiencing imbalances. It may also have some effect on improving sexual function in men. Maca is high in Vitamin C and is also a source of Vitamin B6 plus essential minerals including iron, copper and potassium. It works well sprinkled into smoothies or used in raw desserts and snacks. I also like it in porridge.
Mesquite powder – made from grinding up the pods of a leguminous plant, mesquite powder is gluten-free, relatively high in protein and is also a good source of soluble fibre. It also contains the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc. Mesquite has a very pleasant, sweet, nutty taste, and I think it’s kind of like caramel. As such, it is delicious in smoothies, baking or just sprinkled on top of yoghurt or porridge.
Protein powder – a good protein powder can be a very handy kitchen addition if you are exercising a lot, making smoothies for quick meals, or making a lot of your own healthy snacks. Quality protein helps our bodies regenerate and grow strong from our workouts, and it also helps to keep us satiated; it’s an essential element of a balanced meal. Look for a pure grass-fed WPI (whey protein isolate) with no chemical additives or an organic brown rice or pea protein for a vegan/vegetarian friendly version.
Spirulina – is a naturally occurring algae (cyanobacterium) that is typically sold in capsule, tablet or powder form. It mainly consists of protein including a number of essential amino acids, however it’s not a great dietary source of protein as you’d need to eat a lot of it, and you usually just add a teaspoon or two. It is prized for its micronutrient content, including B vitamins, iron and antioxidant compounds which may offer immune support. It works well mixed into smoothies or used in raw meals – it has a very grassy taste so blend it in to something else!