By Alia Dalal
If you think superfoods are only found in expensive packages in die supplement aisle, it’s time to step out into your local summer farmers market. The term “superfoods” colloquially refers to foods that are particularly health-promoting or have high nutrient or antioxidant properties. The rainbow of vibrant colors at the market is the first due that extraordinary nutrition resides here.
The market vegetables are grown in rich soil and typically contain more nutrients than their industrial counterparts. Additionally, the local farmers’ crops are generally fresh-picked and driven to market within hours, and will retain more of those valuable elements than a product shipped across the country.
Although many of the fruits and veggies at the market will give you a nutritional boost, keep an eye out for these three categories of Midwest-grown superfoods that are standouts in terms of their nutritional content and value.
The deep red, purple and blue hues of berries signify their rich antioxidant content. The polyphenols in berries may increase levels of nitric oxide, which is believed to have heart-healthy effects like lowering blood pressure. Compared to their tropical superfood counterparts, Midwest berries are lower in sugar too.
Trust your senses when it comes to berries. They are not only most delicious when they are dark in color, fragrantly ripe and soft to the touch, they are also the most nutritious then. Have some about to spoil? Try cooking them down with a touch of maple syrup and thickening with omega 3-rich chia seeds to make a fresh jam to top toast, oatmeal or yogurt.
When you think about medicinal mushrooms, exotic varieties like chaga and reishi might come to mind. But even the standard varieties found at Chicago farmers markets—like cremini, portabella, shiitake and oyster—have superfood qualities. Known for their high protein content, mushrooms like shiitakes are also known to boost the immune system. When grown in the sun, shiitakes can be a good source of vitamin D that is rarely found in foods, an essential nutrient for sun-starved Midwesterners.
Mushrooms are rich in glutamic acid, which gives them a very meaty or umami taste. I like mushrooms roasted as a taco filling or blended with lentils and walnuts to make a savory pate perfect for slathering on a sandwich.
Vegetables in this family (such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, arugula and cabbage) are about as super and as Midwestern as it gets! Cruciferous veggies get their name from the Latin word crux that refers to the cross pattern of the leaves at the base of each plant. They are also among the most widely studied foods for cancer-prevention. Scientists have isolated a compound in broccoli and the like called sulforaphane that is believed to be responsible.
I recommend at least one serving of cruciferous veggies every day. A t any given summer market, you’re likely to find at least six to 10 members of this plant family, so mix up what you buy from week to week. If you have a delicate digestive system, be sure to cook these veggies to help break down the insoluble fiber and minimize digestive discomfort.