Five underrated foods you need to be eating on a regular basis - they're nutritious, delicious and all too often overlooked!
If you're a dedicated eater, it's likely you've followed a food trend at some point. Dined on kale, quinoa, pulses, turmeric or cauliflower in the last two years? What about smoothie bowls, nut cheese or poke? These were all food trends, whether you were consciously aware of it when you ate them or not.
Brands, restaurants, suppliers, food bloggers, consumers and health experts love to seek out the next big thing. I love when unique ingredients and recipes have the chance to shine, and encourage you not to forget about them when the sun goes down.
I'm not sure how food trends get started, but today I'd like to share some underrated foods that you need to consider eating. These may not be the sexiest foods you've ever seen (though I suppose everything is relative), and perhaps you've often cruised by them at the grocery store or market. But they're tasty, versatile and incredibly nutritious, so maybe we can all band together and hashtag these guys up!
Admit it: you've plucked a sprig of parsley off your food and dropped it on the side of your plate. Or, if you're a food blogger, maybe you've added that parsley sprig in to provide a pop of colour to your food photography. I firmly contend that parsley should play a starring role in our North American meals instead of being cast aside; not just because of its flavour, but also due to its potent nutrition.
Parsley is a rich source of volatile oils, flavonoids and antioxidants — including Vitamin A and Vitamin C — that reduce oxidative damage throughout our bodies. This means it can help limit inflammation, as well as decrease our risk of heart disease and cancer. Parsley has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, plays a role in detoxification by helping us excrete heavy metals, and is full of stress-lowering B vitamins and fibre, the all-star that helps us poop. Plus, it's an amazing plant-based source of iron; great for those vegetarians and vegans in your life.
Here's how you can highlight parsley in your everyday cooking:
- Add it to dairy-free smoothies
- Blend it into pestos or other dips and spreads
- Juice it
- Pulse it into your pasta sauce
- Incorporate it into marinades for tofu, fish or meat
- Take a page from Middle Eastern cooking and chop it into salads, like tabbouleh
- Add it into gluten-free grains and pilafs
Say what? Pronounced like 'sor-gum' (the H is silent), sorghum is a gluten-free grain that's high in antioxidants, iron, protein and fibre. Like other gluten-free grains, sorghum helps to manage blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol and support digestion. Since it's rich in B vitamins, it gives us an energy boost and helps us alleviate stress, plus it can inhibit cancer tumor growth.
So why did I choose sorghum over the other gluten-free grains that often take a backseat to rice and quinoa? Well, I love sorghum because it has a remarkable similarity to couscous, a glutenous grain I used to adore. Until I discovered sorghum, there was nothing else I sampled that was remotely similar. Sorghum also has a mild and sweet taste, which makes it a great choice for people who aren't a fan of the flavour or texture of stronger and nuttier grains such as quinoa.
Just a couple of years ago, I hopped from grocery store to grocery store until I found a bag of sorghum. Now, it's much more common and easier to find, which is fantastic.
Here's how you can incorporate sorghum into your cooking:
- Make gluten-free couscous
- Pop it like popcorn and then incorporate it into chocolate treats
- Pair it with vegetables, tofu, fish or meat as you would rice
- Add it to soups and stews
- Use it to bulk up your salads
- Grind it into a gluten-free flour to use in baked goods like breads, crackers, muffins, pancakes, etc.
- Replace oatmeal with sorghum and cook it as a breakfast porridge (you can grind the sorghum or leave it whole)
3. Lima Beans
How did lima beans develop a poor reputation? They're probably the lowest bean on the totem pole, and 80s children everywhere likely deposit them in the same category of ickyness reserved for boiled Brussels sprouts or peas. Perhaps you'll learn to think more highly of them by calling them 'butter beans' instead, which is another name for lima beans (perhaps they need a re-branding campaign, like when prunes switched to dried plums).
Lima beans have a very buttery and starchy texture, kind of like chickpeas — and I know everyone loves a chickpea. Similar to other members of the pulse family, lima beans are wonderful for balancing blood sugar levels and reducing cardiovascular disease risk. They're also a fantastic iron source; this study of 10 different beans and legumes determined that lima beans had the highest amount of iron.
Here are some lima bean ideas to inspire you:
- Smash them and use them in place of meat in shepherd's pie, chili, tacos, burritos or enchiladas
- Process them into lima bean hummus
- Toss them into your next salad recipe
- Incorporate them into veggie burgers or falafel
- Mix them into a vegan breakfast scramble or fold them into an omelette
- Blend them into smoothies
Kohlrabi is part of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which includes the more traditional faves such as broccoli, cauliflower, bok choi, radishes, cabbage, and the now-popular kale. So, as a card-carrying crucifer, kohlrabi is packed with health benefits. It's high in antioxidants, particularly Vitamins A and C, packed with cancer-fighting phytochemicals and contains compounds called glucosinolates, which activate our detoxification processes.
To my palate, kohlrabi tastes like a cross between cabbage and cauliflower, and I adore its mild flavour and versatility. It's also one of the few cruciferous vegetables I prefer to eat raw. However, kohlrabi is definitely delicious when cooked too, and — unlike other crucifers — it doesn't get stinky and sulfurous if you've accidentally let it simmer or steam for too long (I'm looking at you, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli!).
Some ideas for adding more kohlrabi to your diet:
- Grate it into your favourite coleslaw recipe
- Cut it into matchsticks and serve as a crudite with your favourite dips and spreads
- Thinly slice it or grate it into salad recipes
- Roast and mash kohlabi, or blend it into a soup
- Layer it into a gratin
- Cube and steam, then toss into potato salad
- Incorporate it into fritter recipes
- Cut into wedges and bake kohlrabi fries
When raw, stinging nettles — as the name suggests — give us a little sting or irritation. When cooked, the stems and leaves are harmless and you won't be stuck with a mouthful of prickliness.
Nettles are a good source of an array of nutrients, including Vitamins A and C, fibre, calcium, iron and protein. They've been used for hundreds of years in folk medicine. Today nettles are well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties and are used to help hay fever, joint pain, urinary tract infections and benign prostatic hyperplasia (which is an enlarged prostate gland).
Nettles grow wild throughout North America; you might even have some in your garden. Ensure you forage safely (this applies no matter what you're looking for), and for nettles specifically you'll want to wear gloves. Or, be like me and buy them at your local farmers market. Nettles have a similar flavour profile to spinach and can be used in many ways.
Some ways to consider eating cooked nettles:
- Saute them with onions and garlic as a side dish
- Use them as a pizza topping
- Steam and puree them to make pesto
- Wilt them into soups, stews and stir-fries
- Steep them to create tea (once steeped, you can consume it hot or cold)
- Toss into pasta dishes or risotto
- Chill, then add to smoothie recipes
I hope you'll join me in giving some extra love to these underrated foods!
What say you? What food or ingredient do you enjoy that you wish received a little more popular love? If you have any dishes featuring parsley, sorghum, lima beans, kohlrabi or nettles please share them in the comments!
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Sondi Bruner is a certified holistic nutritionist, freelance writer, food blogger and author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet in 21, The Candida Free Cookbook and Action Plan, co-author of The Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Action Plans as well as multiple e-books on healthy eating. She educates people who follow allergen-friendly diets about how to eat simply, deliciously and safely, allowing them to rediscover the pleasure of food. When she’s wearing her writer’s hat, she works with natural health brands to create content that will help their customers live fulfilling, healthful lives. Find out more at www.sondibruner.com. Or you can follow Sondi on Facebook or Twitter.