The world’s most nutritious foods tend to fit into one of two categories. Either they’re discovered by the health industry and marketed far and wide until we’re sick of the very mention of kale (we’re all well aware of the superfood marketing machine by now), or they remain unheard of outside of the health and nutrition community.
When it comes to nutrition, hype doesn’t always match reality. While almost everyone has heard of superfoods like acai, chia seeds and goji berries, some of the world’s most nutritious, healthy foods might have never appeared on your radar. They could have been sitting on your local supermarket’s shelves for years without you ever noticing!
To help broaden your food horizons, we’ve sought out 10 of the most nutritious foods you’ve probably never heard of. If you’re looking for simple additions to your diet that pack a serious nutritional punch, get experimenting with the weird and wonderful we’ve discovered below.
1. Black rice
Black rice combines the rich, nutty taste of brown rice with one of the best nutritional profiles of any starchy carbohydrate. One of the biggest nutritional advantages of black rice is that it’s high in anthocyanins, which actively prevent against a huge variety of common diseases.
It’s also a major source of iron and antioxidants, with a greater amount of inflammation-fighting antioxidants than blueberries - often high up on the superfood list. Study data from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2010 shows that darker rice variants also contribute to a reduced risk of developing diabetes.
Because black rice has a similar taste and texture to brown rice, it’s an easy food to add to your diet. Switch out your usual white or brown rice for black rice and you’ll add antioxidants to your meals without a significant change in taste. It’s a real win-win!
Native to South and Southeast Asia, jackfruit is one of the world’s largest fruits, weighing up to a whopping five stone and measuring upwards of 90 centimeters in length! Rich in fibre, jackfruit tastes like a mix of pineapple, mango and banana, so if you’ve got a taste for sweet fruit, it’s an easy one add to your diet.
One of the biggest nutritional advantages of jackfruit is its huge vitamin B6 content. One serving of jackfruit fulfills 25% of the average person’s daily vitamin B6 requirement. It’s also a very rich source of vitamin C, with almost 14 mg in each 100 gram serving.
Add potassium, antioxidants and beta carotene into the mix and it’s easy to see why jackfruit is a great alternative.
The only downside of jackfruit is its high sugar content. Since this is a sweet, tropical fruit, it has approximately 19 grams of natural sugars per 100 gram serving. But, we’re all about moderation here, so eat it sparingly to enjoy all of the nutritional benefits without having to worry about the excess calories.
3. Matcha tea
Unlike most green tea plants, matcha plants are specially grown in the shade to produce a high level of theanine and caffeine. This cultivation method also gives matcha an amazing 137 times as many antioxidants as traditional green tea. You might call it the superhero of teas.
Beyond an incredible (and noticeable) energy boost, which feels smoother and less intense than the caffeine of espresso, matcha brings plenty health benefits to the table. It’s rich in epigallocatechin gallate, which speeds up your metabolism to more efficiently burn fat, and it also prevents hepatic and renal damage.
If that wasn’t enough, matcha contains L-theanine, a rare amino acid linked with improved alpha wave brain activity and stress reduction. For a healthier energy boost, try replacing your morning cup of coffee with a freshly brewed cup of matcha - your body and your mind will thank you.
4. Dragon fruit
Popular throughout Southeast Asia and Latin America, dragon fruit is packed full of vitamin C and fibre and is low in calories. This makes it an excellent healthy snack if you’re on a low-calorie diet, but want to make sure you get your daily dose of vitamin C.
Dragon fruit also has a long list of benefits: it’s full of betalains, hydroxycinnamates and flavonoids that lower the risk of free radical cell damage, cancer and heart disease. A study published by Biomed Res Int. found that the antioxidants in dragon fruit are highly effective at reducing free radical damage to fatty acids, caused by pollution, sun exposure, smoking, and a bad diet.
But wait, there’s more. Because of its phytochemical content, dragon fruit has been linked to reduced insulin resistance - a complication that often arises from obesity. Add its delicious taste and smooth texture into the equation and we challenge you to find a reason not to add dragon fruit to your diet.
A new player on the rice scene from Thailand, riceberry has a purple colour and a similar texture to traditional brown rice. But it’s also packed with antioxidants like beta carotene, gamma oryzanol, folic acid, zinc and fibre - all good things that you want to be including in your diet.
Because of its folic acid content, riceberry is an excellent replacement for white rice for pregnant women. Folic acid assists in the production of red blood cells to promote brain development and reduce the risk of early delivery, making it the perfect meal addition if you’re expecting.
Riceberry ranks low-medium on the glycemic index (GI), making it a healthy replacement for simple carbohydrates like white rice, bread and pasta. Low GI foods release glucose more slowly, giving you a sustained level of energy throughout the day. On the other hand, high GI foods cause blood glucose levels to increase quickly.
Since it tastes and feels like brown rice, it’s also easy to add or adapt into your diet without causing too much of a shock for your taste buds.
Cursed at by gardeners but loved by nutrition gurus, purslane is a common garden weed that is surprisingly good for you. Low in calories, purslane contains lots of dietary fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
Amazingly, purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids per serving than any other type of leafy vegetable, and even more than some fish oils! So if you’re a vegetarian, it’s the perfect alternative. It’s also one of the best natural sources of vitamin A, which plays a major role in skin and eye health.
Finally, purslane is filled with calcium, riboflavin and magnesium, making it a great ingredient for promoting healthy bone growth and energy metabolism. Try adding this one to your salads as a tasty raw treat or stir frying it with other vegetables for a quick and simple nutritional boost.
7. Hemp seeds
Regarded as the most nutritious seeds in the world, hemp seeds contain all nine of the essential amino acids, making them one of the best non-meat protein sources (another great choice for you veggies out there). Four tablespoons of hemp seeds (42g) contain 15 grams of complete protein - an almost equal ratio to most lean meats.
The majority of the protein in hemp seed is edestin - a unique protein that repairs cell DNA and improves digestion. Hemp seeds also contain large quantities of albumin, a type of protein that is usually found in egg whites - and we all know that eggs are incredibly good for you. Low levels of albumin can cause all sorts of health problems like heart conditions, stomach issues, and kidney dysfunction.
One of the biggest nutritional assets of hemp seed is its 3:1 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which promotes cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of heart disease.
If you like to snack throughout the day, try replacing the usual crisps or biscuits with a small bag of hemp seeds. You’ll satisfy that mid-afternoon stomach rumble and get a nutritional boost at the same time. Hemp seeds are also a great addition to smoothies, salads and greek yoghurt - one of our favorite versatile protein sources.
Although elderberries have been used for centuries as a folk medicine, only recently have they attracted attention for their nutritional benefits. These small, purple berries are full of natural flavonoids that protect against disease and infection, but by far their biggest advantage is their vitamin C content.
A 100 gram serving of elderberries contains approximately 43% of the average adult’s vitamin C requirements, as well as 18% of the recommended daily vitamin B6 intake. We all know how important vitamin C is; well a handful of elderberries and you’re nearly halfway there!
Since elderberries are mostly water, they’re low in calories and make a great addition to muesli, porridge, yoghurt and other common breakfast foods. And remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so pack in those nutrients while you can! According to the University of Freiburg’s Institute of Forensic Medicine, elderberries may also regulate blood pressure and promote weight loss.
9. Swiss chard
Don’t be fooled by its name; Swiss chard is actually from the Mediterranean. This leafy vegetable contains less than 20 calories per 100 gram serving and includes a daily serving of vitamins A and K. It’s also extremely rich in vitamin C, with 50% of your Reference Daily Intake in each 100 grams.
And that’s not all. As well as its great vitamin profile, Swiss chard contains kaempferol, a natural flavonoid that’s currently being studied for its ability to reduce the development of cancer. A medical study from the University of Seville has also linked kaempferol to a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Since Swiss chard is a leafy vegetable, it’s quick and easy to prepare. Add a few leaves to your steamer while you prepare your other vegetables, boil it into a soup, or chop it up to add to a fresh salad.
Rich in nutrients and low in calories, wakame is a common side dish in Japan. This edible seaweed is rich in the compound fucoxanthin, which researchers from Hokkaido University believe promotes fat burning within adipose tissue (body fat).
In a 2009 placebo-controlled study, researchers found that marine algae fucoxanthin increased the rate of weight loss in obese women. Try replacing your favourite snack with wakame and there’s a real chance you could kick-start your body’s metabolism and slim down your waistline.
Beyond its fat burning properties, wakame is very rich in eicosapentaenoic acid - an omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in fish oil fatty acid - as well as important minerals like calcium, niacin and thiamine that contribute to bone and organ health. It has a subtle sweet flavour, making it the perfect addition to homemade soups or salads.
Start small to make lasting, effective changes to your diet
The great thing about the foods listed above is that they’re easy to work into a normal diet. Black rice and riceberry are excellent replacements for white rice, while jackfruit and dragon fruit make simple replacements for sugar-rich fruit juices. If you’re someone who is reluctant to try new foods, some of the foods above taste so much like their counterparts that you’ll hardly notice the difference!
Start small by adding these foods into your diet one at a time and after a few months, you’ll find it easy to replace sugar, salt and fat-filled foods with healthy alternatives that help you burn fat, gain strength and improve your health and wellbeing. Couple that with a regular workout regime at the gym, and you’ll be unstoppable!