11 Vegan Superfoods to Add to Any Meal
"Nutritional yeast, AKA nooch, is a super sprinkle because it makes everything taste better and packs a powerful dose of several B vitamins, plant protein, and healthful fiber," explains Julieanna Hever, M.S., R.D., a plant-based dietitian and author of The Vegiterranean Diet and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. Enjoy it over popcorn, in hummus, and on soups, chilis, salads—basically anything you eat. "It's that good."
Lisa Hayim, New York City-based registered dietitian and founder of The Well Necessities, add that nutritional yeast is one of the few plant-based sources that contain vitamin B12, an essential vitamin the body needs to get daily to keep the nerve and blood cells healthy. (Still not sure? Read this: WTF Is Nutritional Yeast and Why Should You Be Eating It?)
Everyone may be all about those almonds, but these zesty nuts are well worth incorporating into any meal. "From sprinkling on yogurt or ice cream to salads and in soups, pistachios' unique flavor is the perfect enhancement to both sweet and savory dishes," suggests Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D., a Nashville-based nutritionist and author of Schedule Me Skinny: Plan to Lose Weight and Keep it Off in Just 30 Minutes a Week. "Pistachios are a great choice for a topping as they are one of the lowest calorie nuts," says Bedwell. (A one-ounce serving is 49 pistachios and has about 160 calories). Plus, they're a good source of plant-based protein and fiber and an excellent source of vitamin B6, copper, and manganese.
If life gives you lemons...squeeze them over everything. Lemon juice adds a bright, acidic flavor and is rich in vitamin C. "When added to plant-based iron sources (think leafy greens, seeds, and beans), vitamin C helps our bodies more efficiently absorb iron,"says nutritionist Kayleen St. John, R.D. at Natural Gourmet Institute, a health-supportive cooking school in New York City. "Try adding a simple lemon vinaigrette— lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper—or even just a squeeze of lemon juice to your next grain bowl or salad to enhance your iron absorption." Looking for some recipes ideas? Try these Grain-Based Salads That Seriously Satisfy.
"Ground flaxseeds are incredibly nutritious and versatile, offering a hefty serving of lignans, which are antioxidant powerhouses as well as heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids," says Hever. Flaxseeds benefit the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, and are potent anti-inflammatories. "They can be sprinkled over vegan yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, or salads, and can be combined with water to create a 'flax egg,' which makes for a cheaper, healthier, disease-fighting option for baking and cooking," she says. (For more kitchen inspiration, check out 10 Tasty Ways to Eat Flaxseeds.)
Kelp Seaweed "Sprinkles"
This nutrient-dense condiment can boost the health profile of any meal with just a few taps of a shaker (you store seaweed sprinkles in a pepper mill or salt shaker). Kelp is a type of seaweed, so the powdered form of it might sound like an odd condiment, but "if you are looking for a plant-based way to enjoy that wonderful salty, savory umami flavor that typically comes from meats, this is your ticket," says Bedwell. Kelp powder contains a wealth of vitamins and minerals; B vitamins, and calcium. "Seaweed sprinkles are a healthy salt alternative, providing iron and the tougher-to-find mineral iodine," says Hever. "Use this as a replacement in soups, stews, or any way you might use salt."
They may sound fancy, but these crunchy seeds are as versatile as they are tasty. St. John says that pepitas are a rich source of minerals including magnesium and zinc. The latter is needed for proper immune function and wound healing. "And if you're eating totally plant-based, it's also a nutrient of concern for vegans," she says. Not sure where to start? Try swapping out your typical oatmeal topping with a handful of roasted pepitas.
Your smoothie called. It's hoping you can slip a teaspoon or two of these superstars into your morning or post-workout shake. Whole chia seeds are a great addition to a salad, smoothie, oatmeal, or can even be used to make a healthy pudding. (BTW, these 17 Healthy Chia Seed Pudding Recipes Taste Better Than Dessert.) "They're essentially tasteless, but add a great textural component," says Haym. "Nutritionally, they're an easy-to-add source of protein, healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), and antioxidants, all packed into a tiny seed." They're also energy-dense, she adds, but can simultaneously lead to weight loss through a combination of fiber and protein (that form a gel-like substance) that contributes to feelings of fullness and satiety.
Considering cabbage is low-carb, high-fiber, and contains cancer-fighting 3-indole carbinol and d-glucarate, a compound that works to clear excess estrogen, the veggie is already a superfood. Fermenting it into sauerkraut, however, puts it on nutritional steroids. The probiotics that drive fermentation also help repopulate your digestive system with healthy, hardworking good bacteria that lower inflammation, improve digestion, and maybe even aid in weight loss. Plus fermentation increases the bioavailablity of the antioxidants found in cabbage, and the longer cabbage ferments, the higher the levels of antioxidants become, meaning your body can better absorb and use them.
If sushi rolls and bagels are the main vestibules by which you're consuming sesame seeds, you're seriously missing out. "These little white seeds have a nutty, subtle flavor and are a great source of calcium," says St. John. "Try topping salads with sesame seeds and adding them to granola."
Hayim adds that research has also honed in on their health benefits, like their ability to lower cholesterol and their strong antioxidant capacity, which prevents disease and cancers, as well as their anti-aging properties due to high vitamin E activity. And, yes, you can even sprinkle them on pizza (try a whole-grain crust loaded with veggies) to make a slice feel a bit more virtuous.
"These little pearls of fruity goodness are great on everything from fish to oatmeal, and I even love them as a topping for guacamole," says Bedwell. "One-half cup has just 70 calories and provides five grams of filling fiber plus vitamin C and potassium." Did you know these juicy seeds are also great for weight loss? Yep, this is How Pomegranate Seeds Keep You From Overeating.
Once you try goji berries, you'll want to load up on their refreshing, exotic flavor. Their bright orange-red color comes from the fruit's beta-carotene, a carotenoid that promotes healthy skin, and they're rich in antioxidants and fiber. "They have a tangy flavor that makes a great addition to salads, smoothie bowl, or even a healthy trail mix," says Hayim.