Spring is a season of renewal, with plants and flowers coming to life and flourishing as the weather warms up. The growth of plants generates an abundance of fresh produce that is not only delicious, but is also jam-packed with health-promoting nutrients. Take the guesswork out of your spring grocery-shopping expeditions with my list of top 10 superfoods: the perfect addition to your diet after months of hibernation and perhaps a wee bit too much comfort food.
An abundance of bright green asparagus marks the beginning of spring. It’s a super-rich source of vitamin K and folate, and is bursting with B vitamins and phytonutrients that act as a potent anti-inflammatory. Asparagus also contains a carbohydrate called inulin which acts as a probiotic and is excellent for digestive health. Keep asparagus spears looking their best by storing them upright in a glass with about two centimetres of water and they'll stay fresh for a few days. Enjoy it lightly steamed, grilled or pan-fried.
Cauliflower has become a wonder ingredient in low-carbohydrate cooking lately. Delicious roasted, cauliflower can be used as a substitute for rice and pizza bases. It also has incredible health benefits, such as supporting the body’s natural detoxification processes, and is part of the cruciferous vegetable family (including broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage) which are known for their cancer-protective properties. I adore Eat Fit Food’s recipe for Moroccan cauliflower with fish – the perfect way to add cauliflower to a spring dinner.
Also known as linseed, these little guys are loaded with insoluble fibre and an antioxidant called lignin, as well being one of only a few great sources of plant-based omega 3 fatty acids. This means they’re fantastic for healthy digestive function and have also been shown to lower the risk of heart disease by reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol. Go for ground rather than the whole seed or the oil as flaxseed nutrients are more accessible in this form. Be sure to keep it in the fridge to avoid it going rancid. You can add flaxseed to healthy home baking, stir through yoghurts, porridge or in muesli.
Garlic's potent odour may turn some people off, but the smell is what gives garlic its incredible medicinal properties. Garlic has been shown to reduce high cholesterol and may help to lower blood pressure, which can reduce the overall risk of coronary events. Garlic is also known to reduce the risk, length and severity of the common cold and may help to slow down cognitive decline. To get the most out of garlic’s incredible health benefits, chop, crush or mince it and leave to stand for five minutes before use to allow the active components to develop.
5. Matcha green tea
The health benefits of green tea come from naturally occurring flavonoids which act as potent antioxidants. Studies have shown drinking green tea regularly can lower the risk of many cancers and reduce the risk of heart disease and hypertension. New to the market is matcha green tea (green tea leaves ground into a fine powder), which means you’re drinking the leaf rather than drinking its tea, giving you an even greater antioxidant boost. Try Matcha Maiden matcha powder this spring in bliss balls, breakfast puddings, smoothies and healthy desserts.
From chickpeas, to black-eyed beans, to red kidney beans, these little nutrient powerhouses are not only inexpensive but are one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can get. They’re high in fibre, plant protein and complex carbohydrate, while containing almost no fat. Studies have shown legumes to lower both blood pressure and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. They have also been linked to a reduction in type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and weight control. Tinned or pre-cooked, legumes are a quick addition to a salad, soup, casserole or stew, and also make a super side dish.
You either love or hate papaya (paw paw) and this is thought to be due to the chemical reaction that starts in the mouth. If you are one of the lucky ones who appreciates the sweet, soft buttery texture of papaya, enjoy it wherever you can because it is a great source of antioxidants, carotenes and vitamin C. Add to that a hit of fibre and a range of minerals and this makes for a heart-healthy fruit. Papaya also contains the enzyme papain, which can help with healing and reducing inflammation.
You only need to look at silverbeet (or swiss chard) to see its nutrient value. With enormous, dark green leaves and thick white stalks, like its fellow wonder-green kale, silverbeet contains a whopping phytonutrient content that has health benefits ranging from supporting the natural detoxification process of the liver to regulating blood sugar levels. Silverbeet is also a rich source of vitamins K1 and K2, which are essential for bone strength. Enjoy it sautéed with garlic, and added to soups or stews.
Strawberries make a great healthy snack due to their low sugar and high-fibre content, particularly when the 3pm sugar cravings hit. They have a combination of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients, which studies show are helpful in everything from regulation of blood sugar levels, to prevention of some cancers, to heart health.
With its mild peppery flavour and fresh crunch, watercress is a fantastic base to a spring salad or soup, and can work well as a garnish to a meal. It’s also ranked as one of highest nutritional powerhouse vegetables due to its ability to reduce the risk of chronic disease with very few calories.
Image credit: Matcha Maiden