The start of a new school year is a busy time: finalizing a class schedule, buying books, training for the season, maybe moving into a new place. All of these tasks make for a hectic schedule and often smart eating decisions get pushed to the back burner. Fear not. By incorporating a few superfoods into a balanced diet you can keep yourself and your body happy and healthy.
A superfood is just that: a super food. These foods are categorized as such because they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients that help prevent disease and promote overall health and vitality. All five of the following superfoods can easily be carried in your backpack or gym bag. Try sprinkling them on your food at the dining hall, bringing them to away games, or using them in homemade meals. Most of these ingredients can be added to oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, toast, fruit, and vegetables the possibilities are endless.
Chia seeds are tiny seeds that are part of the mint family and can be found in a white or black variety. They are a great source of iron, fiber, calcium, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds also balance blood sugar levels to provide long-lasting energy. One tablespoon of these nutty-tasting seeds has as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal. Try sprinkling chias on toast, salads, yogurt, cereal, soup, or adding them to smoothies. The seeds absorb a large amount of liquid and acquire a gel-like texture.
Chia Seed Parfait Combine 3 tablespoons chia seeds, 1 cup milk (cow, almond, rice, soy, etc.), 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, and cup berries of your choice. Allow the mixture to gel in the fridge for at least three hours. Spoon into a glass jar and top with fresh berries and granola.
One of the world’s oldest known spices, cinnamon contains small amounts of fiber, calcium, iron, and manganese. The spice has also been linked to regulating blood sugar and reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Some studies are also investigating cinnamon’s role in increasing metabolic digestive speed. Cinnamon can be used in a variety of ways; try it sprinkled on toast, yogurt, oatmeal, desserts, sweet potatoes, or added to tea.
Sprinkle one teaspoon of cinnamon on a serving of plain Greek yogurt and top with raisins and a sliced apple.
Hemp seeds (or hearts)
A complete vegetarian source of protein, hemp contains all ten essential amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and is easy to digest. With fiber, vitamin B, and folic acid, hemp is a rich and balanced source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and helps to reduce inflammation and balance hormones. These seeds can be added to smoothies, yogurt, or cereal.
Keep two tablespoons of hemp seeds in a plastic bag and bring it when you travel. Sprinkle the seeds on your salad or sandwich for an added boost.
Not to be confused with cocoa, cacao is raw, naturally sugar-free, pure chocolate. Cacao refers to the tree, its pods, and the beans inside, while cocoa (in both its powder and butter forms) is the processed by-product of the cacao bean. Cacao is rich in antioxidants and magnesium, which help to balance brain chemistry and build strong bones. It has also been shown to increase focus and help boost serotonin levels, which keep us feeling happy. While cacao is not used as a sweetener, it can easily be added to cookies, trail mix, and smoothies for extra flavor and crunch.
Add cacao nibs to a bowl of freshly air-popped popcorn. The cacao will melt, creating a delicious snack.
Green tea is made from unfermented tea leaves and contains a high concentration of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols, which have been proven to protect against diabetes and heart disease and act as a cancer fighter. Green tea has also been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels and help control blood sugar. Drinking tea also has a comforting effect and although it is caffeinated, green tea is much milder than black tea, which contains about half the caffeine of coffee.
It is best to purchase loose-leaf green tea since it is less processed than the tea that comes in bags.
**Most of these ingredients should be available at your local grocery or health food store. The harder-to-find items are also available on Amazon and other online retailers.**
Amy Sherman is the creator of the blog The Little Honey Bee where she cover nutrition and fitness from her home in Toronto.