First things first: A superfood sounds rare and precious, but that doesn’t mean it has to be tough-to-find, expensive, or something you haven’t heard of before. “[A] ‘superfood’ is sort of a trendy buzz term to indicate that a food has high nutritional value. While you may think that superfoods come from exotic plants deep in the jungle, superfoods are far more commonplace than you may think,” advises Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Fitter Living.
“Foods with great nutritional value can be found right in your grocery store: mushrooms, leafy greens, dark berries, bananas, nuts and seeds, to name a few. Luckily there are many shelf-stable or frozen superfoods that are also vegan,” she elaborates. Below, we’ve rounded up seven of our favorite of such superfoods to add to your plant-based diet pronto. Some you may have overlooked before and others crop up on your grocery list from time to time, but we promise all are tasty, affordable, and pack one heck of a nutrition punch.
Not just for those camping trips you’re dreaming of, friends. This dry cereal of rolled oats, corn flakes and a smattering of nuts, seeds, dried fruit in the like, can be a serious win for plant-based nutrition. “Muesli is an incredibly nutritious and versatile ingredient, snack, or breakfast item. It offers a balanced source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats, is low in added sugar, and rich in nutrients and antioxidants,” comments Jenna Gorham, RD, LN, who’s a fan of Seven Sundays Muesli which packs up to nine grams of protein per serving.
Whatever brand you buy, be sure to scan the label to make sure there’s low added sugar content or no added sugar at all.
2. Frozen Edamame
Hey, even if you’re not able to eat out at sushi joints right now it doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in the Japanese staple of edamame, or immature soybeans. “I always have edamame in my freezer to add to a bunch of meals: pasta dishes, stir frys, soups. Edamame beans are a great way to get plant-based protein, plus, they are a complete protein source (they contain all essential amino acids) just like animal-based protein,” says Kostro Miller.
“Edamame is also notable for its high fiber content, vitamin K, iron and folate. I buy them plain, frozen and out of their shells so that I can add them straight into a hot dish while I’m cooking,” she continues, sharing that her favorite brand is Seapoint Farms Frozen Shelled Edamame because they don’t have any flavoring or salt.
You officially have our permission to treat yourself to this nutrient-dense whole grain. “Plain popcorn is great for when you are hungry in between your meals [since it] can fill you up and has lots of fiber,” says Kostro Miller. “It’s also pretty low in calories, which is great if you are trying to lose weight,” she adds, mentioning it’s wise to buy unflavored and unseasoned popcorn and then adding your own non-sodium herbs and spices at home, such as nutritional yeast, a cheesy, nutty vegan powder which contains vitamin B12. For a sweeter bite, Kostro Miller loves added vegan dark chocolate chips and/or peanut butter. We will definitely be all about that “and” peanut butter on the sweet popcorn snack-front.
4. Green Tea
If you normally opt for coffee over tea, it’s an excellent moment to add this nutrient-packed tea to your repertoire. “Now, more than ever, people need a boost in mood, given so much uncertainty. The amino acid L-theanine in green tea increases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which has anti-anxiety effects,” says Nichole Dandrea, MS, RDN, of Purely Planted. Bonus: L-theanine also increases dopamine and the production of alpha waves in your brain. As Dandrea explains, this can help you relax and even decrease stress levels. Additionally, green tea contains a unique plant compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, better known as EGCG “which quenches free radicals, or metabolic byproducts, that can damage cells,” she adds.
Aim to drink two-to-three cups of green day per day, but try to limit consumption to before 1 p.m. so you’re not wired from the caffeine as evening approaches.
5. Dark Chocolate
How does another mood booster sound to you right about now? Pretty good? We agree. “Chocolate contains a substance called phenylethylamine (PEA for short), which can stimulate the hypothalamus, inducing pleasurable sensations and increasing serotonin levels in the brain, making us feel happy,” offers Dandrea. “There are also substances in chocolate that may activate cannabinoid receptors in our body resulting in heightened sensitivity and euphoria,” she continues.
Another boon for chocolate lovers is the psychoactive compounds it contains—like theobromine and a touch of caffeine—helping to provide eaters with a jolt of energy.
“Finally, the polyphenols in dark chocolate help to create nitric oxide in our body, dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow, delivering more oxygen and nutrients throughout,” adds Dandrea, giving us all yet another reason to indulge in this delectable superfood. Dandrea recommends buying organic and fair trade dark chocolate with 70% or higher cacao content daily.
6. Frozen or Microwavable Quinoa
Yes, we’re all about buying whole grains in bulk, but with the coronavirus crisis, it may be harder to obtain these staples. Buying frozen or microwavable versions is A-OK, according to RDs. Like edamame, quinoa is also a whole complete protein: “Quinoa is considered a plant-based complete protein which means it contains all nine essential amino acids,” shares Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, of Balance One Supplements. “It is also gluten-free, high in fiber, and antioxidants,” she continues.
If you’re buying a pre-made quinoa dish like, say, a microwavable quinoa bowl with brown rice, greens, and garlic, be sure to scan the nutrition label to make sure there aren’t any icky additives and that the sodium content is a low percentage of the overall recommended dietary allowance or RDA. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating plan.
7. Dry Chia Seeds or Chia Seed Powder
Again, standard whole chia seeds may be your go-to, but given these extraordinary times, it may be easier to obtain less popular versions of the pantry staple—and you’ll still reap similar benefits. “Chia seeds are nutrient-dense, high in fiber, and contain beneficial antioxidants. Antioxidants help the body fight free radicals and toxins which can lead to cellular damage and disease,” offers Best.
“The fact that their carbs are almost entirely from fiber makes chia ideal for stabilizing blood glucose and an efficient digestive system,” she concludes. Since they’re virtually tasteless, add them to smoothies, salad dressings, oatmeal, and more for a fuss-free nutrition boost. Our favorite way to down ‘em? In this super green chia seed protein shake that comes together with only a handful of ingredients.