We asked dietitian Julieanna Hever, author of the best-selling book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition, for her picks for what to stock up on and why.
Get out your juicer and toss in some beets for a mega-dose of nutrients. Hever describes beet juice as nature’s greatest sports beverage because its nitrates and antioxidants help dramatically improve athletic endurance and recovery. "Beet juice can normalize blood pressure and improve blood flow, leading to both athletic and cardiovascular benefits," she says. The dark red-blue pigment in beets come from something called anthocyanins, which Hever explains are a class of flavonoid phytochemicals that may reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Enjoy: Throw some beets in with your other smoothie or juice ingredients for a healthy boost.
If you’ve never used it, turmeric is a deep yellow-colored spice often used in Mediterranean, African and southeast Asian cuisine. Hever explains that it’s rich in the powerful phytochemical curcumin, known for its cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory capabilities. "Traditional therapeutic uses for turmeric include, but are not limited to, gastrointestinal issues, arthritis and inflammatory skin conditions, and to treat infections," she says.
Enjoy: Use turmeric in soups, stews, marinades and curry dishes.
Matcha is a concentrated green tea powder and the only tea consumed with the entire leaf intact. The powder is whisked with hot water until it’s frothy. "Matcha is used traditionally in Japanese ceremonies and is incredibly nutrient-rich," says Hever. "Bursting with antioxidants, vitamin A and iron, matcha tea reduces risk for cancer and heart disease, stabilizes blood sugar, normalizes blood pressure and is great for immune function."
Enjoy: Replace your morning cup of coffee (or at least your afternoon cup) with a mug of steaming matcha.
This fermented soybean cake originated in Indonesia, and Hever explains that it’s an excellent source of bioavailable calcium (calcium that can be absorbed by the body), omega-3 fatty acids, plant-based protein and several health-promoting phytochemicals. "Tempeh is different than tofu because of the fermentation process it undergoes. Fermented foods are known for their prebiotic benefits to the gut, enhancing immunity and contributing to overall wellness," she says. "The protein components found in tempeh are also known to protect the blood vessels from inflammation and oxidation, and the phytochemicals protect against osteoporosis and possibly certain cancers."
Enjoy: Tempeh is a versatile ingredient and ideal meat replacement. Grill it and toss it in a salad, bake it, roast or bread it and pan-fry it. Just remember to marinate it first to infuse the tempeh with flavor.
"Chlorella is a unicellular algae grown in freshwater and touted as a superfood due to its high nutrient density and detoxification claims," explains Hever. The super-algae is very high in protein, vitamin A, iron, calcium, phosphorus and zinc. "Chlorella may provide more nutrients per calorie than virtually any other food," she says. It has also been linked to benefits such as deodorizing, detoxifying, weight reduction and blood sugar regulation.
Enjoy: You can buy chlorella in powder form to add to smoothies.
Easy to cook with and versatile in the kitchen, beans are also a superfood. First off, they’re brimming with both soluble and insoluble fibers. Hever explains that soluble fiber slows down digestion, steadies blood sugar levels and helps lower LDL ("bad" cholesterol). Insoluble fiber goes through your digestive track intact, adding bulk to your diet and acting as a natural laxative. "It improves digestion and speeds the excretion of wastes, toxins and excess sex hormones from your body. Beans are also high in healthful plant protein," she says. Beans are especially high in tryptophan (the same thing found in turkey). Tryptophan is of the nine essential amino acids and one that boosts serotonin levels. "Serotonin is a 'feel-good' neurotransmitter that helps regulate your mood, sleep patterns and appetite," Hever says. "Beans are also rich sources of several phytonutrients like flavonoids and phenolic acids, which protect against cancers, inflammation and heart disease."
Enjoy: Toss beans into your salads or blend a few varieties in a food processor with garlic, salt and pepper, and lemon juice for a quick and healthy dip or spread.
Yes, avocados contain fat, but if you’ve been shying away from this tasty fruit, it’s time to get past your fat phobia. "Rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants, avocados deserve more attention," affirms Hever. "Avocados contain almost half a day's worth of fiber in just one average fruit, contain 60 percent more potassium than bananas and are loaded with carotenoids, folate and vitamins C and E," she explains. Not to mention that avocados lower cholesterol levels, are anti-inflammatory and may even contribute to cancer prevention.
Enjoy: Mash avocados with lime juice, garlic, salt and pepper for a quick guacamole, or slice avocados into salads and sandwiches.
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