I used to walk right past the jars of wheat germ and packages of flax seed at my local food co-op. That stuff’s for hippies, right?
Then one day I was visiting a friend, and she served me a bowl of oatmeal, sprinkled with a handful of shiny brown seeds. Flax. I tasted it gingerly. They were a crunchy contrast to the creamy oatmeal, with a warm, nutty flavor that perfectly complemented the drizzle of maple syrup that also adorned my bowl. Yum.
I now have a package of own in my fridge, as well as a jar of toasted wheat germ, which I soon learned to love for its appealing flavor and easy addition to lots of dishes. Since then, I’ve found that with an open mind and a little imagination, you can manage to work a number of highly touted superfoods into your diet.
Here are a few of my favorites, and ways to use them. What are some of your favorite healthy additions?
Health Benefits: The seed of a flowering plant, flax is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart disease and certain inflammatory diseases. The high fiber content of flax seeds can also help prevent type 2 diabetes and reduce cholesterol. And flax is rich with antioxidants, which can protect the body against some cancers. According to a group of North American flax councils, about one to two tablespoons of ground or milled flax seed will allow you to reap many of these benefits.
How to Use It: Because of its hard shell, flax seed is most accessible to the body when it’s ground or milled (buy seeds whole and mill them as needed in a clean coffee or spice grinder). You can sprinkle flax (whole or ground) onto hot or cold cereal, yogurt, cottage cheese or fresh fruit. Whole flax seeds also make a crunchy topping for salads. In cooking, stir ground flax into soups or pasta sauces, or incorporate it into meatloaf or meat or veggie burgers. When baking, mix flax into bread dough, muffin batter or cookie dough. Because of its high fat content, you can even use it as a replacement for all or part of the oil or fat in a recipe — the replacement proportion is 3 parts ground flax for 1 part oil.
Health Benefits: The center of a grain of wheat, the germ is what nourishes the development and growth of a wheat sprout. So it’s no surprise that the germ is chock-full of nutrients. Its high vitamin E content can benefit your heart, immune system and cognitive functions, and expectant moms will appreciate that wheat germ is rich in folic acid, which helps prevent brain and spinal cord defects in babies. Wheat germ is also a source of magnesium, iron, zinc, protein, fiber and potassium.
How to Use It: Like flax seed, wheat germ can easily give crunch and nutty flavor as a sprinkle on yogurt, hot cereal or ice cream. It is an ideal substitute for breadcrumbs for coating fish or chicken before baking or sautéing, or for mixing into meat loaf or burgers. Try it sprinkled onto macaroni and cheese or other pasta dishes. You can also substitute wheat germ for part of the flour in some baked goods.
Health Benefits: Sure, yogurt is rich in calcium and protein. But scientists are finding more and more benefits to the live and active bacterial cultures that yogurts contain (be sure to check the label on your brands to make sure that it hasn’t been heat-treated, which destroys many of these cultures). These cultures make yogurt easy to digest, even for the lactose intolerant, and they also contribute to colon and intestinal health by eliminating the presence of some carcinogenic and toxic substances. Eating yogurt can help your body absorb other nutrients, particularly calcium and B vitamins. Yogurt can also lower cholesterol and improve immunity and infection-fighting abilities.
How to Use It: Fruit yogurt might be tasty, but plain yogurt is your best bet for the biggest nutritional bang for your buck, since it doesn’t have high-calorie sweeteners and fillers. Try using it in place of some or all the mayonnaise in creamy salads like tuna, pasta, cucumber or potato salads. Or use it in place of sour cream as a cooling topping dolloped onto a bowl of chili, or in dips and other cool sauces or toppings. Yogurt can also be used in baking, in place of some of the wet ingredients for muffins, quick breads or pancakes.