Most American diners, when pushed, will tell you they want to eat better but don’t want to put a lot of thought into it.
Julie Morris, a healthy chef and author of Superfood Cuisine: Cooking with Nature’s Most Amazing Foods, reveals in her book some foods that give the greatest punch in terms of nutrition, and how these can be easily incorporated into any restaurant’s dishes, without overwhelming—or frightening—customers.
“I define superfoods as being the most nutrient dense foods on the planet,” Morris says. “They have the most amount of micronutrients for the lowest calorie costs. They’re not for people dieting, but for people who want to be healthy. In fact these foods fill you up.”
Here are Morris’ top five suggestions:
1. Leafy greens
These foods (spinach, kale, arugula, lettuce, chard, etc.) are very low in calories and have lots of antioxidants. They also contain minerals including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium; vitamins, including K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins; and phytonutrients such as lutein, beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin.
How to use them:Blend them into hummus or other dips; refurbish your pesto with added greens; add them to sauces — blended or as they are; or use them in place of tortilla wraps — blanch them for few seconds (less than 20) to make them more pliable and wrap them around foods for a lower-calorie, more nutritious wrap.
2. Chia seeds
Native to south America, these tiny seeds are extremely high in omega three fatty acids. In fact, they contain as much as salmon but there’s no worry about mercury as there is with the fish. The seeds also contain a good amount of calcium and fiber.
“Chia seeds are very easily digested and are easy because they don’t taste like anything at all and you only need a small amount of them,” Morris says.
Chia seeds add a poppy seed-like look and texture. They’re very high in mucilage, so absorb about nine times their weight in liquid, so they bulk up and get a texture like a tiny tapioca ball. This makes chia seeds a great thickening agent for sauces, jams, desserts, etc.
How to use them:Bake with them; sprinkle them on salads; put them in a pie crust or bread; use them in sauces, stews and soups to help thicken them.
3. Maqui berries
“These are the highest known antioxidant fruits and they are off the charts,” Morris says. They’re small purplish berries that often come from South America. These berries also have omega fatty acids and a good dollop of fiber, as well as vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and potassium.
Maqui berries don’t have a strong berry flavor but they do have strong color so are a great addition as a dye.
How to use them:Add a tiny amount of maqui berry powder to a cheesecake or other dessert and see it turn purple (the color turns to blue in 30 to 60 minutes so plan accordingly). Maqui berries are also fun to add to smoothies, lemonade and cocktails.
Quinoa is stuffed full of protein (it’s a complete protein making it great for vegetarians), minerals (especially manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus), and fiber.It’s one of the easiest superfoods to incorporate into dishes because it can be used in place of any grain, Morris says. It acts like a carbohydrate and is full of protein but it’s actually a seed. This means it’s great for people with wheat allergies or celiac disease.
How to use it:In place of rice, couscous, pasta; in soups and stews; as a porridge or even as a sticking agent in dishes like veggie burgers.
Who doesn’t like chocolate? Chocolate comes from cacao and it’s recently been discovered that cacao has vast amounts of antioxidants——almost eight times as many as blueberries. It also contains many minerals, including calcium and iron and more magnesium than any other food.
Cacao is slightly more acidic than regularly roasted cocoa but has a fruity note to it with a little cherry and some caramel.
How to use it:Combine it with chocolate in desserts; or make a raw dip or fondue – a combination of avocado, agave nectar, cacao powder and sea salt, which whipped up make a fondue pudding.
When including any of these foods in dishes, include the name of the superfood in the name of the dish itself so it’s clear. But also make sure it’s paired with foods that are already familiar so as not to overwhelm your customers, Morris suggests. A maqui strawberry gelato has a recognizable, yet exotic appeal.
It’s also a good idea to educate your employees on the basic health benefits of some of these foods so they can easily point those out to diners.
But don’t overdo it. Some consumers like to follow a healthier lifestyle but others don’t care for it. Try to stick to one key attribute of the superfood and always stress flavor first, over the health benefits, to make these foods more appealing.
By Amanda Baltazar