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The Top 7 Canadian Superfoods
No need to travel the world in search of the next superfood. These nutrient-packed Canadian wonders are found in your own backyard!
1) Saskatoon Berries
Don’t be fooled by their name: these blueberry doppelgangers aren’t just found in the Prairies. They also grow wild in British Columbia and Northern Canada. These berries may look and taste similar to blueberries, but are actually higher in antioxidants. The type of antioxidants in Saskatoon berries, called anthocyanins, may help protect healthy cells from damage from the environment and aging, prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Saskatoon berries are high in fibre, providing double the amount of fibre as blueberries and triple the amount as strawberries. Fibre helps reduce the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer and diabetes. Having 3/4 cup of Saskatoon berries will provide you with 70% of the manganese that most people need in a day. Manganese is part of an antioxidant compound and is also needed for calcium absorption and stable blood sugar levels.
How to Enjoy:
Find Saskatoon berries frozen or dried or as a jam or syrup. Use Saskatoon berries any way you would use other berries: in smoothies, as a topping for yogurt or cereal, or use the dried berries in trail mix.
2) Hemp Hearts
Grown across Canada from BC to Ontario, shelled hemp seeds, also known as hemp hearts are an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. They have almost double the amount of protein as flax seeds and contain all of the essential amino acids. The type of protein in hemp is easier to digest than proteins found in most nuts and legumes. Hemp hearts also contain the omega-6 fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which can help reduce inflammation and promote healthy skin, hair and nails.
How to Enjoy:
Hemp hearts are tasty sprinkled on salads, in yogurt or cereal and in smoothies.
This summer squash is far from ordinary. Grown across Canada in the warmer months from July to October, zucchini is rich in antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants work to boost the immune system, protecting you from illness and preventing free radical damage that can lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Zucchini is an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese, and a good source of vitamin A. Vitamin C helps boost the immune system and is needed to form collagen, a protein required for healthy bones and skin. Manganese is needed to form and maintain strong bones, for blood clotting and healthy brain and nerve function. Vitamin A helps prevent macular degeneration, the decline of eyesight due to aging.
Zucchini is a very good source of fibre, containing 2.5 grams per cup of sliced zucchini. Some of this fibre is in the form of pectin, which may help keep blood sugar and insulin levels within healthy ranges.
How to Enjoy:
Zucchini is excellent roasted, grilled, steamed or grated raw into frittatas, meatballs and baked goods.
4) Atlantic mackerel
Move over, salmon – there’s a new fish in town. Atlantic mackerel gets check marks in every box: it’s on the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s “Super Green List” for being sustainable, low in mercury and an excellent source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Mackerel has almost double the amount of omega-3 fatty acids as salmon.
Anti-inflammatory omega-3s help lower the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and stroke. Mackerel is also an excellent source of vitamin D, which is needed for bone health and may help reduce cancer risk. Mackerel and other fish are rich in nutrients such as vitamin B12 and selenium. Vitamin B12 is needed to make red blood cells. Selenium is a mineral that works as an antioxidant, particularly when paired with vitamin E. It is important for a healthy immune system as it is needed to build white blood cells. Eat 2 servings of fish such as mackerel per week as part of a healthy diet. One serving is 75 grams or the size of a deck of cards.
How to Enjoy:
Cook mackerel in parchment paper in the oven to gently steam the fish, lock in smells and minimize clean up. It’s crispy and delicious grilled on the barbecue.
Did you know Canada is the world’s largest exporter of lentils? This small but mighty pulse is rich in fibre, protein, manganese and other essential nutrients, and is one of the most affordable superfoods on our list.
Lentils are very high in fibre: a ¾ cup serving provides 12 g. This is half the amount of fibre that most women need in a day and 1/3 the amount most men need each day. Diets high in fibre-rich foods are associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Some studies have shown that eating pulses such as lentils can lower insulin and blood sugar responses after a meal. A study showed not only to lentils lower the blood sugar levels of the meal they are eaten at, but also at the next meal 4 hours later! This is excellent news for prevention and management of diabetes. Another nutrient abundant in lentils is manganese, a mineral that is part of superoxide dismutase (SOD). This compound protects healthy cells from free radical damage, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
How to Enjoy:
Lentils are wonderful in soups and stews, and make a great substitute for red meat in pasta sauce. Pureed lentils can be used to replace fat and add moisture in baking.
6) Maple Syrup
What’s more Canadian than maple syrup? Stand tall and proud knowing this breakfast staple contains more than 50 different antioxidants. The antioxidant strength of Canadian maple syrup is similar to that of broccoli! Canada is the top producer of maple syrup in the world, with over 90% of Canadian maple syrup being produced in Quebec.
The glycemic index of pure maple syrup is low (rated a 54 on the Glycemic Index, a similar value as plain oatmeal). Check the label to make sure you’re buying pure maple syrup and not a version that has been blended with corn syrup. The blended products can have as little as 3% maple syrup and an average Glycemic Index of 127 (high GI).
Even though maple syrup has nutritional benefits from antioxidants, it is still a form of sugar. As with any sweetener, use small amounts.
How to Enjoy:
The classic way: drizzled over buckwheat pancakes or French toast, or branch out and get adventurous and use it to replace other sweeteners in your coffee or tea and baking, in hot cereal, or make a tasty salad dressing by combining it with olive oil and vinegar.
Barley is an ancient whole grain that is grown across Canada, with the main producers being Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Barley makes our superfoods list because it may help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Barley is a good source of selenium, a nutrient that is needed for thyroid function and a healthy immune system. Diets rich in selenium may help reduce colorectal cancer risk. In cell studies, selenium has been shown to help DNA repair in damaged cells and to cause cancer cells to self-destruct. Barley is also rich in lignans, phytonutrients that may help prevent hormone-dependent cancers and heart disease.
Low on the glycemic index, barley is rich in a type of fibre called beta-glucan, which is also found in oats. One study showed for people with diabetes, barley better breakfast than oats to help lower blood sugar and insulin responses. Beta-glucan helps lower levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood, reducing the risk of heart disease.
How to Enjoy:
Barley is delicious as a salad, in soups and as a hot breakfast cereal. Look for barley flour and use as a high fibre addition to your baking.
Christy Brissette is a registered dietitian and media spokesperson specializing in nutrition to prevent and manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Christy develops, facilitates and researches innovative programs such as cooking classes. Visit: www.christybrissette.com