Even if you’re the poster child for healthy eating, you’ll eventually grow tired of green tea, almonds, and Greek yogurt. And that’s fine, because your local store is stocked with lesser-known superfoods that pack a serious nutritional punch—and deserve a spot on your plate.
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Here are five underappreciated foods you should be eating, plus easy ways to work them into your daily diet.
1. Nutritional Yeast
Also known as nooch, Nutritional Yeast is deactivated yeast, so it won’t rise during baking. Its cheesy, nutty flavor makes it a great healthy topping for salads or salty snacks like popcorn.
WHY IT’S HEALTHY: Nutritional yeast is a rich source of vitamin B12, a nutrient that boosts your energy, protects your brain, and promotes healthy skin, hair, and nails, says Lainie Cooper, a Denver-based nutritionist. It’s also a complete protein (a protein source like meat, eggs, and milk that contains all nine essential amino acids), so it’s a great addition to vegetarian and vegan diets.
HOW TO EAT IT: Stir 1-2 tablespoons into sauces, soups, or stir-fries to add rich flavor and a protein boost without a lot of extra calories (2 tablespoons has about 60 calories).
2. Chia Seeds
Originally famous their ability to sprout from funny-looking clay animals, Chia Seeds are making a comeback—this time, in the grocery store. These miniature black seeds are mostly flavorless, but add a nice texture to salads and soups.
WHY THEY’RE HEALTHY: A single serving of chia seeds provides a hefty dose of antioxidants, protein, fiber, zinc, iron, and omega-3 fats—for only 140 calories. Chia’s high dose of omega-3s can help reduce inflammation, treat or prevent anxiety and depression, and even slow the aging process, says Cooper.You don’t have to grind chia to reap the maximum benefits, and the seeds don’t spoil quickly, making them much more convenient than flaxseed.
HOW TO EAT THEM: Sprinkle chia seeds on cereal, yogurt, salads… really anything! The seeds form a gel when mixed with liquid, so they’re great for thickening smoothies, salad dressings, and soups.
Similar to yogurt in taste, this fermented dairy drink is like a thick, protein-packed smoothie.
WHY IT’S HEALTHY: The complete proteins in kefir are easily digested, so even people who are lactose intolerant may consume the drink. Because it’s packed with gut-friendly bacteria called probiotics, kefir has been shown to enhance the immune system, balance digestion, and even lower cholesterol. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin D and calcium, says Gina Casagrande, dietician and wellness coach.
HOW TO EAT IT: Pour a glass for a light breakfast or a sweet snack. Just be careful: Since kefir is so packed with healthy probiotics, you may need to build a tolerance to it. Start with a small glass (about half a cup) and increase the amount every few days.
Hemp—available in seeds, nuts, protein powder, and oil—can easily be added into your favorite meals to skyrocket the nutritional value.
WHY IT’S HEALTHY: Hemp oil is more loaded with essential fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3) than any other oil. These “good” fats can help reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and a host of other chronic diseases. Hemp is also packed with complete protein (again, the type with all nine amino acids), making it an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans, says nutritionist Torey Jones, R.D.
HOW TO EAT IT: Toss two tablespoons of hemp seeds into your oatmeal or stir-fry. Or add them to a smoothie for an extra dose of protein.
5. Black Garlic
With a less pungent flavor and nearly twice the antioxidants of fresh garlic, black garlic—aged, fermented garlic—may be the best ugly food you eat.
WHY IT’S HEALTHY: The powerful antioxidants in black garlic protect your cells from disease and can even help you stay younger longer. “As we age, we ‘rust’ due to our body's use of oxygen to metabolize food, as well as sun, smoke, pollution, and many other factors, “Casagrande says. “Antioxidants may help slow the aging process by blocking that ‘rust’ from forming.“
HOW TO EAT IT: The gentle, sweet flavor of black garlic makes it a versatile superfood—add it into any recipe in which you’d use fresh garlic, from pasta dishes to soups and stews. The best part? No garlic breath.