Can’t stomach kale, or quinoa? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many of my clients aren’t fans of the latest trendy superfoods. Fortunately for anyone with an aversion to chia seeds and goji berries, there are equally good-for-you alternatives. Each of the replacements below contains similar nutrients but differs in texture or flavor—so you can get the same super-healthy perks and please your palate too.
Cauliflower recently stepped into the limelight, with headlines like “Move Over Broccoli, Cauliflower is the New It Food!” and Pinterest posts galore dedicated to cauliflower pizza crust, cauliflower rice, even cauliflower buffalo wings. But if you’re just not into cauliflower, opt for cabbage instead. They are both cruciferous veggies, which are known to be potent immune supporters, natural detoxifiers, and defenders against both heart disease and cancer.
To make a simple slaw, toss shredded cabbage with extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, black pepper, and sea salt. Mix up the flavors by adding other good-for-you ingredients, like fresh grated ginger, minced garlic, Dijon mustard, or chopped fruit. If you’re not a fan of raw cabbage, try cooking it with a bit of olive oil, a sliced apple, apple cider vinegar, a chopped yellow onion, sea salt, and black pepper.
Chia seeds are everywhere these days: drinks, bars, crackers, jams, you name it! There’s no doubt they’re good for you, but if you can’t seem to jump on the chia bandwagon (or you’ve just grown tired of them), go for sesame seeds instead. While they don’t pack the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids as chia seeds, research has shown that they boost blood levels of antioxidants, plus lower overall and “bad” LDL cholesterol in people who have high levels.
And like chia seeds, sesame seeds are rich in magnesium—packing over 30% of your daily needs per quarter cup. This mineral is crucial for muscle, nerve, and immune function, along with regulating heart rhythm, blood pressure, and blood sugar. It also contributes to the structural development of bone, and is needed to make DNA.
Incorporating sesame seeds into your meals is simple. Sprinkle them onto salads or cooked veggies, toast and add them to oatmeal, or whip them into a smoothie. To mix up the texture, you can try sesame seed butter or tahini (a paste made from the ground seeds). I use tahini flavored with lemon juice, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, and minced garlic as a mayo alternative, dipping sauce, dressing, or tasty topping for cooked veggies.
These days it seems everyone is crazy for quinoa, a star of the whole grain family. But believe it or not, you can get similar nutritional benefits from chickpeas. Like quinoa, chickpeas are naturally gluten-free and provide a unique balance of fiber-rich “good” carbs and plant-based protein.
For the sake of comparison, here’s the breakdown: a half cup of cooked quinoa supplies about 20 grams of carbs, 2.5 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein, while the same amount of chickpeas has 17 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of protein. Both also contain minerals and antioxidants, and can be eaten hot, chilled, or in flour form.
Chickpeas are easy to sneak into your diet. Add them to soups, stews, chili, or sprinkle them into garden salads and chilled veggie side dishes. For a crunchy, satisfying snack, roast them in the oven with a little olive oil and salt. You can even use chickpea flour in baking or cooking, to thicken sauces, coat lean protein, or as a smoothie add-in. And don’t forget hummus—chickpeas are the main ingredient!
Goji berries became popular largely due to their exotic nature; the fact that they are used in Chinese medicine to enhance immunity; and because they reportedly have high levels of antioxidants. However, many people find goji berries to be too bitter. Additionally, since they’re a member of the nightshade family, some people avoid them for fear of inflammatory symptoms.
For similar immunity benefits, you can eat cranberries. One study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that polyphenol antioxidants from cranberries boosted cells’ immune response to cold and flu. Plus the classic advice that cranberries help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) is actually true. In one recent University of Wisconsin study, 20 women prone to UTIs consumed one serving (about 1.5 ounces) of sweetened dried cranberries daily. Within six months, the mean UTI rate among subjects decreased significantly.
For some fun ways to eat dried cranberries, add them to your trail mix, stir into oatmeal, add to garden salads, use as a topping for cooked veggies and stir frys, or fold them into melted dark chocolate for a healthy treat.
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Among my clients, I find that most who dislike kale have had unpleasant experiences with the raw greens, either in salads or green juices. Cooking, however, brings out an entirely different and sweeter flavor profile. The texture totally changes too: Kale becomes crispy when baked and softer when sautéed, added to soups, stir frys, or frittatas.
But if you’re still not loving kale, kalettes are a great alternative. A (non-GMO) kale-Brussels sprout hybrid, they have a sweeter, nuttier flavor. Less bitter and earthy than kale, kalettes offer similar protective nutrients, including ample amounts of vitamins K and C and antioxidants.
To give them a try, make a batch of oven roasted kalettes. Just toss with a little sesame oil, sea salt, and black pepper, place on a baking sheet and cook at 475 degrees. Or, for a sweet version, mix them with coconut oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon before cooking.
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Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.