Superfood Swaps – Keeping the Costs DOWN and the Health Benefits UP.
Trying to keep up with the ever-growing range of so-called ‘superfoods’ available in the shops can be an expensive business. However, a number of excellent alternatives can be found in some everyday foods which can really help to keep the costs down, so that it’s possible to eat healthily without breaking the bank. Here’s a selection of some of the more pricey culprits with a cheaper and equally healthy alternative.
SUPERFOOD: CHIA SEEDS
One of the latest ‘superfoods’ to hit the headlines, chia seeds are rich in fibre and the omega 3 fatty acid ALA which the body converts to EPA and DHA which are the more active forms of omega 3 that have documented health benefits (although some people lack the enzyme required to convert ALA to EPA and DHA). Chia seeds also contain a range of minerals and some protein and they are believed to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, providing protection against a range of chronic health conditions. But all this comes at a cost if you’re adding them to your muesli or porridge on a daily basis, as just a small packet leaves a pretty large hole in your wallet.
SWAP FOR: FLAX SEED
An excellent and cheaper source of all the same nutrients, the humble flax seed is a brilliant alternative, although it needs to be ground to ensure you get all the benefits of the omega 3. Milled flaxseed is easily available in health-food stores, but if you invest in a small grinder upfront then you can easily save £3-£4 by buying the whole seed and grinding it yourself before adding it to your breakfast cereal. If you’re prepared to think outside the box, then having an egg for breakfast instead could be a very smart move: animal sources of omega 3, such as eggs from pasture-fed hens, can provide a direct source of both EPA and DHA the fatty acids which play a key part in heart and brain health, as well as relieving symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or eczema. Eggs are also an excellent source of protein and the yolk is mineral-rich, containing selenium, iron and iodine.
SUPERFOOD: GOJI BERRIES
Goji berries have been an A-lister in ‘superfood’ terms for some time now and these shrivelled and rather chewy red berries do have an interesting nutrient profile. Unusually for plant foods, they are a source of complete protein, which means that they contain all the essential amino acids in one easy package. Goji berries have been used for centuries in China, where they are thought to promote longevity and they contain antioxidant compounds called carotenes, which may help to protect against macular degeneration and some cancers, as well as other antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc which can help to support optimal immune function and reduce free radical damage to DNA. All great news so far, until you take a look at the price!
SWAP FOR: RASPBERRIES
Gram for gram, you get a lot more bang for your buck if you opt raspberries, especially if they’re in season, as studies have shown that the antioxidant effect is much higher when fruit is fully ripe. As raspberries are an excellent source of antioxidants, including vitamin C and a range of flavonoids, they provide highly effective immune support. Early stage research suggests that plant compounds in raspberries support enzymatic action in the body which may help speed up the metabolism of fat cells, help to improve weight management and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Raspberries are full of anti-inflammatory compounds, including the antioxidant ellagic acid, which helps to relieve the symptoms of chronic inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn’s Disease.
One of the key advantages of quinoa is the rich nutrient profile: most grains are high in starch, but not only does quinoa contain protein, but it’s one of the rare plant sources of complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids. Quinoa also contains good levels of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and small amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. Unlike other grains, such as wheat, quinoa has a mineral profile which includes magnesium, zinc and copper and it contains a range of antioxidants, including gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E which is highly anti-inflammatory. The lack of gluten in quinoa makes it an excellent option for anyone with gluten sensitivity or for those who find it difficult to digest wheat.
SWAP FOR: LENTILS
Lentils may be less fashionable than quinoa but they pack a powerful health punch and are both cheap and easy to find and cook. Lentils are an excellent source of soluble fibre, which helps to regulate cholesterol levels in the body and promote heart health. They also contain folate and B vitamins which help to lower excessive levels of homocysteine that can lead to damage of artery walls and magnesium which helps to improve circulation and to maintain a healthy blood pressure. The blend of protein and fibre in lentils regulates blood sugar levels and promotes sustained energy. Lentils are also a great source of iron, which keeps energy levels nicely topped up.
Since kale first hit the headlines, it has become increasingly expensive and it isn’t always easy to find. Raw kale can be pretty chewy, but if you steam it, you get the added benefit of increasing its cholesterol-lowering properties as well as making it easier to eat. The vitamin and mineral profile of kale is outstanding, providing a rich source of vitamins A and C, B vitamins, manganese, copper and calcium, as well as being one of the best sources of vitamin K. Vitamin K helps to regulate the inflammatory processes in the body, which can relieve symptoms of chronic inflammatory conditions. High levels of glucosinolates and antioxidants contribute to the anti-cancer profile of kale, with the most robust research associating kale with a reduced risk of breast and colon cancers.
SWAP FOR: CAULIFLOWER
The humble cauliflower may not look very exciting, but it stacks up very well next to kale, as it contains a whole host of health benefits. Cauliflower is a great source of a whole range of vitamins and minerals, in particular vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, B vitamins, choline and manganese. Like all cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower has a strong association with cancer prevention and contains a range of plant compounds that are believed to reduce the risk of bladder, bowel and breast cancer, in particular. Packed with enzymes that support the detoxification processes in the liver and full of antioxidants for immune support, cauliflower is the ideal, cheap and easy superfood swap if you want a change from kale.
There’s no doubt about the broad range of health benefits derived from eating almonds, but in their raw, whole form with skins (which is how you get the most health benefits) even a small pack of almonds doesn’t come cheap. As well as being packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, regular consumption of almonds can help to reduce levels of bad LDL cholesterol and the serious levels of antioxidants found in almonds adds to the list of the cardio-protective benefits, as well as supporting the immune function. The healthy fat profile of almonds is an added bonus, as they’re especially high in monounsaturated fats as well as containing good levels of omega 3. There’s also an association with blood sugar regulation, which can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and promote weight management and there’s no doubt that the blend of protein and fibre will keep you going for longer than more starchy snacks.
SWAP FOR: ROASTED CHICK PEAS
Roasting your own chick peas is easy peasy! All you need to do is drain a can of chick peas, dry and then toss them in olive oil and optional extras such as garlic powder, paprika or cumin and then roast for about 30-40 minutes until they’re crunchy and golden. Far cheaper and longer lasting than a small pack of almonds, you’ll also benefit from a range of supportive nutrients. Like almonds, chick peas are a great blend of protein and fibre which maintains blood sugar levels and promotes sustained energy. Recent studies also suggest that chick peas help to activate the satiety response in the body which lets you now when you’re ‘full’ supporting weight management. Rich in both soluble and insoluble fibre, they provide excellent support to the colon and the soluble fibre they contain can also help to regulate levels of bad cholesterol. The high concentration of antioxidant manganese and flavonoids provide cardiovascular support and help to reduce the risk of chronic disease. All that for about 50p!
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