Superfood is simply a recent marketing term used to define the health benefits of various foods. They don’t wear capes, and it doesn’t mean any of them possess a special cure for what ails you, nor will they necessarily keep you from getting cancer or other diseases.
Superfoods are simply recognized as having more nutritional content than many of the common foods we already know are good for our health. Nuts are a good example, as well as dark green vegetables like spinach, kale and chard.
To be termed a “superfood,” there must be a scientifically proven, unusually high content of vitamins, antioxidants and/or other nutrients that may address certain health concerns positively.
Lately, I’ve been getting excited about the benefits of seaweed as studies keep revealing its cancer-fighting abilities. Some studies have found that a particular variety in Florida, commonly referred to as sea lettuce, has been found to prevent prostate cancer, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties.
Sea lettuce is regularly consumed in Asian countries, where the risk of prostate cancer is low. It is more than just a wrap for sushi. Try it in soups, mixed in your scrambled eggs, as a small seaweed salad with ginger dressing, or as a baked and crunchy snack much like potato chips.
Seaweed, of which there are over 20 varieties, contains high levels of Iodine and Vitamin B6, plus potassium and iron. It also has more fiber, both dietary and soluble, than oat bran. Caution, as with all things: some beneficial seaweeds also contain some natural toxins, so more studies are needed to determine if they increase the cause of some cancers or contribute to liver damage. Studies, studies, studies—the truth will be out eventually, if we hang in there and wait for it.
Salmon, especially wild caught, is my top choice for superfood status. We know that some fat in our diet is important to protect our cardiovascular and other bodily systems. Salmon contain the very essential good fat, Omega-3. This fatty acid comes in two forms: plant-derived, as in green leafy vegetables, and marine-derived in cold-water fish such as trout, salmon and sardines. A healthy dose of Omega-3s through fish is two to four servings per week.
Grains already qualify as superfoods with oats having the highest benefits. A few short years ago, the ancient quinoa was touted as the holy grail of superfoods, rich in iron, protein, fiber, potassium, zinc and essential amino acids.
The new kid on the block is called freekeh; it rhymes with eureka. Other cultures may call it frikh, farik or freek.
Freekeh is essentially “green” wheat, meaning it is harvested while young and unripe when its vitamin and mineral content is at its peak.
Please note that this super-grain is not ideal for the gluten-intolerant. But for the rest of us, chow down.
It is comprised of 70 percent manganese, 15 percent phosphorus, 10 percent magnesium, and some zinc and iron. The grain is also high in manganese, a mineral (found in several foods including nuts, legumes, seeds, tea, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables) helpful for enzyme systems and as a supplement to treatment for diabetes, epilepsy, strains, sprains and inflammation. Freekeh also provides up to four times the fiber content of brown rice!
As is true with most grains, freekeh provides texture and bulk to accompany other foods. I find the taste of freekeh much like bulgur wheat—not too strong, and pleasant enough. It’s good for use in soups, stews and other recipes in need of hearty grain support. Treat is much like you would quinoa or couscous—as a hearty salad or as an accompaniment to fish and vegetables. For a delicious fall treat, boil fareekah and toss it with roasted squash, sage and olive oil.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.