First came the small and mighty blueberry. Then came kale followed by quinoa, acai, salmon and dark chocolate. Each taking their turn in the superfood spotlight, driving up grocery sales and driving down free radicals. What are the next generation of superfoods? And how can we make sure those foods are just as good for the environment as they are for our bodies? Today on the blog I’ll share with you five foods that fit that bill.
What Are Sustainable Superfoods?
It’s important to know that there isn’t an official set of criteria to determine what is a superfood, and the term is used more for marketing than for identifying a particularly healthy food. That being said, superfoods generally are very nutrient-dense for their calories, and high in antioxidants, which are good for your health.
For the purposes of this article, the superfoods chosen are 1) generally accessible 2) affordable and 3) sustainable. Way too often I stumble across superfoods that cost an arm and a leg to buy (cough goji berries), or the food infrastructure isn’t set up to handle an influx in demand, hurting farming communities and the remote locations that provide them (I’m looking at you, avocados). The superfoods listed below are both eco-friendly and farmer-friendly, so you can feel really good about putting your money where your mouth is.
5 Sustainable Superfoods to Try
What is Sumac? Sumac is a spice often used in Middle Eastern cuisine and is made from the dried and ground berries of sumac trees. It’s starting to build buzz as a superfood due to its high antioxidant properties and promising effects on lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, although more studies need to be done to confirm these benefits.
How to use Sumac: Sumac spice adds a nice acidity to dishes and is a good alternative to lemon peel. Sprinkle on roasted vegetables and meats before serving, or make a nice dry rub with it.
Sustainability Rating for Sumac: Great. There are many varieties of sumac and the edible kind is called Staghorn Sumac. (The poisonous kind is actually a totally different species!) Most of the sumac sold in stores comes from sumac grown in Italy and Iran, however, Staghorn Sumac is fairly easy to grow on your own. These small trees are drought-tolerant and they’ll handle a wide range of temperature zones.
2. Watermelon Seeds
What are Watermelon Seeds? For all the people who told you a watermelon would grow in your stomach if you swallowed the seeds, look who’s laughing now. Watermelon seeds are low in calories and high in magnesium, iron and zinc, as well as healthy fats.
How to eat Watermelon Seeds: Watermelon seeds are most delicious when roasted. Try this recipe for Roasted Melon Seeds next time you have some melons on hand.
Sustainability Rating for Watermelon Seeds: Excellent.
What is Seaweed? There are many types of seaweed but the two kinds that pack the most nutritious punch are nori and sea lettuce. Studies show that these two kinds of seaweed have the highest bioavailability of iron, and are also high in calcium and vitamins.
How to use Seaweed: Nori is most commonly used as the wrapper in sushi rolls and is sold in dried sheets that make a good snack. You can also try using other types of seaweed in salads, like this one.
Sustainability Rating for Seaweed: Good. Seaweed farming has been touted as the next frontier of sustainable aquaculture, and it does come with a host of benefits; it takes little maintenance to grow, it can help clean our oceans and can help provide an alternative income stream to overfishing. That being said, there are some environmental drawbacks, like the fact that in Indonesia some mangroves have been cut down to make way for seaweed farms. Bottom line? Overwhelmingly promising, but moderation and regulation is key.
What is Amaranth? Amaranth is often referred to as an “ancient grain” because it’s been used in diets for the last 8,000 years, first cultivated in Incan, Mayan and Aztec civilizations. This versatile grain is naturally gluten-free and rich in protein, fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants.
How to use Amaranth: Amaranth is a great substitute in any recipe where you would have normally used pasta, rice, or couscous. It’s nutty, chewy texture makes it especially delicious in grain salads, soups, or instead of oatmeal in the mornings.
Sustainability Rating for Amaranth: Excellent. Cultivation of amaranth is expanding in many countries due to its nutritional status and yield capability in a variety of growing conditions. Amaranth requires low water, fertilizer and energy compared to other cereals like corn, wheat and rice, making it a great option for farmers in drier, more unpredictable climates.
5. Hemp Seeds
What are Hemp Seeds? Hemp seeds come from the hemp plant and are excellent sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, as well as protein (10 grams per serving!) and vitamins like vitamin E and Zinc, among others.
How to use Hemp Seeds: Look for shelled hemp seeds or “hemp hearts.” They’re delightfully buttery and nutty, and perfect when sprinkled over toast, yogurt, salads or put in smoothies.
Sustainability Rating for Hemp Seeds: Excellent. Hemp is a weed, so it grows wonderfully with little water, fertilizer, or maintenance. It requires little space to thrive and is biodegradable.
So there you have it, my top five sustainable superfoods to add into your weekly grocery list. Give them a try and let us know what you think! Personally, I’m going to add a little sumac next time I make roasted vegetables. How about you?