With the New Year in full swing, superfoods are back with a vengeance. Nutrient-packed and offering impressive health advantages, the foods that top the list are beneficial additions to everyone's diets -- especially those who have resolved to get healthy and slim down this year. But rather than whet your appetite, this list may confuse you -- and you may be wondering what the heck these foods are, nevermind how to incorporate them into your diet. Here, we break down the confusing lingo and give you the simplest suggestions for trying them out in the kitchen.
What Is It? In 2013, many a commercial poked fun at this fiercely popular superfood, but in 2014 quinoa will still be as popular as ever. The tiny grain-like seed is touted for its higher protein content (it provides all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein) and is also gluten-free, making it a safe choice for those with a gluten intolerance.
How Do I Eat It? Think of quinoa as you would a grain like rice or barley, and swap it in to replace those foods in most recipes. To cook, simply add one part quinoa to two parts water in a sauce pot and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, use it as a base to a veggie stir fry, toss it into a salad or as a simple side to grilled chicken or fish.
What Is It? Another great vegetarian source of protein, these "seeds" (they are actually a tiny fruit!) are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for heart health, help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, boost brain function and help strengthen your immune system (perfect during cold and flu season!). Packed with magnesium, potassium, iron and filling fiber, the seed is a nutritional powerhouse.
How Do I Eat It? Hemp seeds have a mild, nut-like flavor and taste great sprinkled on pudding or yogurt, blended into a smoothie, stirred into oatmeal or pureed into homemade soups.
What Is It? This leafy green hit the market in a major way last year, going from an intriguing newcomer to a mainstream superstar. Chances are you've seen it in bundles at the grocery store and incorporated into many dishes on restaurant menus -- and don't expect it to be going anywhere anytime soon!
How Do I Eat It? If you haven't tried kale chips, get ready for a new snack favorite. Preparation couldn't be easier: Remove kale leaves from stem and rip into one-inch pieces. Spray with olive oil, sprinkle with some sea salt and lay them out in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave for five minutes and ta-da! You have the perfect low-calorie answer to salty chip cravings.
What Is It? The tiny seeds that became famous for growing you a furry pet quickly leapt onto the health food scene, and over the past year their popularity has skyrocketed. In addition to the heart healthy omega-3 fats, chia seeds have an impressive fiber content (5 grams per tablespoon), a nutrient which many Americans are lacking in their diets.
How Do I Eat It? Chia seeds blend seamlessly into smoothies or make a great crunchy finish sprinkled on salads (move over, croutons!). If you want to get a little more creative, chia pudding is a popular breakfast and snack. To make, simply combine 1/4 cup chia seeds, 1 cup milk and 2 tablespoons of your sweetener of choice in a container and refrigerate overnight. And when it comes to flavors, anything goes! Cinnamon, vanilla, peanut butter, berries, bananas, pumpkin puree, shredded coconut -- the possibilities are endless.
What Is It? Fermenting foods is a trend that is spreading like wildfire among health nuts and foodies alike. The naturally occurring process takes place when the sugar and carbs in a food are converted into acid. A byproduct of fermentation is an increase in probiotics, the healthy bacteria that we need in our digestive tracts to aid in digestion and balance out the microflora in our gut.
How Do I Eat It? While fermenting your own foods at home can be a fun (and pretty easy!) project, fermented foods are also available at the grocery store. Give rising stars kimchi and kombucha a try: Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of veggies and seasonings that makes a nice side dish to chicken or beef, while Kombucha is a drink made from sweetened tea that has been fermented and comes in a variety of flavors.
What Is It? By this time, the fact that dark chocolate is a heart-healthy sweet treat is common knowledge. But the secret superstar behind those health benefits is the cacao, the seed of a fruit that grows on trees. The cardiovascular benefits come from polyphenols and flavonoids, antioxidants that help lower blood pressure and cholesterol and keep blood sugar levels stable. Also offering up a hefty dose of magnesium and iron, cacao is sold in powder and nib form. Added bonus: It signals the release of neurotransmitters that boost mood!
How Do I Eat It? Minus the added milk and sugar that comes in a chocolate bar, cacao can actually be quite bitter, but the lack of sweetness makes it more versatile in the kitchen. The nibs are a great addition to smoothies -- adding a chocolaty taste, but no additional sweetness -- or as a topping on yogurt or oatmeal. The powder can easily be used in brownies and other baked goods as you would cocoa powder, or stirred into milk to make an authentic hot cocoa.
What Is It? While they may be new on our health radar, goji berries are actually an ancient super food that have been used by Chinese practitioners as a medicinal food for thousands of years to treat everything from diabetes to high blood pressure. Filled with powerful antioxidants, the berries are also great for your skin: Not only are they high in astaxanthin, an antioxidant that helps protect skin from sun damage, they also contain beta carotene to reduce inflammation and promote new skin cell growth.
How Do I Eat It? Tangy in taste and similar in texture to raisins when dried, goji berries pair nicely with yogurt and oatmeal and work well baked into cookies and breads. They also make a nice afternoon snack by themselves or mixed with nuts and seeds for a homemade granola or trail mix.
What Is It? No, we're not encouraging you to grab a handful of the slimy greens that wash up on shore! But packaged in the grocery store, this naturally salty sea vegetable packs a major health punch. A member of the algae family, seaweed is touted for its huge range of minerals -- particularly iodine, which is hard to come by in most other foods and is important for thyroid function, a gland that regulates hormones. Seaweed is also an extremely low-calorie ingredient, making it a smart menu addition if you're trying to slim down.
How Do I Eat It? Of the many varieties, you'll recognize nori as the "wrapper" used to make sushi. A package of nori sheets can easily be found in the Asian food section of the grocery store; pick up a pack and have a do-it-yourself sushi night at home! Simply spread a layer of brown rice on one sheet, then add avocado, slivered veggies like cucumber and bell peppers, and a dash of soy sauce and roll it up. Seaweed also adds a nice salty crunch when sprinkled over a salad -- and can even be eaten straight from the package!