brussels sprouts
Image: Kristin Belz

Superfoods come color-coded; green is good, as in Brussels Sprouts, hiding here in their natural habitat, a Portland garden.

The beginning of the new year is a natural time to take stock of your life – including how you eat. Many of us have probably started a diet in 2012. Maybe we’ve even abandoned one by now. They say dramatic measures don’t usually work, but gradual changes are highly recommended. One such change can be to take stock of the food that fills your kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. Are you stocked up on superfoods?

Superfoods are not some new highly engineered brand available at a high price, they’re just foods that really pack a punch – nutrient dense natural foods that seem to be even more beneficial than the usual good-for-you guys we’re used to, like "an apple a day…" or "a day without orange juice" have taught us. We all know to choose from the realm of the obviously healthy combo of fruits, vegetables and grains, but which of these really stand out? Which are the most over-achieving, Type A multitaskers of the food world?

Opinions may vary, just as they do about the year’s best movies or who wore what at the Golden Globes, but some items show up frequently on the list of superfoods. And the good news is that most of them you might already have on hand, or can easily pick up at the grocery store or farmers’ market. Plus, some of them come color-coded – the greens, and the reds/oranges. Add to these a little culture, and some uniquely good fats, and you’re all stocked up.

My foray into superfoods will start with the greens – that is, the veggies and fruits that come in that color. They’re already staples for a kale-lover like me whose favorite vegetable growing up was broccoli, and who counts brussels sprouts as her second favorite these days. In fact, all three of those deep greens are on the list, plus cabbage.

Moving along the color wheel to the reds/oranges, again there are some favorites: yams, sweet potatoes, and beets. Then there are the berries – blues and crans, plus the less well-known Gogi berries. These I’ll be investigating; they weren’t in my kitchen while I was growing up!

The "special fats" category gets a bit more complicated, and will take some time for most of us to get to know. For instance, the fats we should be partaking in (no, not ice cream or butter) include Chia, virgin coconut oil, and sardines. A motley crew, to be sure, but worth acquainting myself with, along with their other "uniquely good fat" friends avocados, pumpkin seeds, and grass-fed beef or lamb.

The culture category is even more complex, and unlikely to be found at the Oregon Symphony or the Portland Art Museum. But any Korean restaurant will have the kimchi that is recommended. It’s one of the fermented vegetables that apparently help balance the "inner ecosystem," aid in digestion and absorption of nutrients, and "alkalize and cleanse" our insides. The science here is not my forte, obviously, but I know I love kimchi, and am happy to add to that the other recommended fermented and cultured foods: sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kefir, and yogurt.

None of these are items for some new, quickie fad diet. They are good solid traditional foods from our gardens and from the world over. Looking at the list, I see that I could easily serve a superfood meal to friends without them even suspecting it was such a nutritional megaplex. For instance, the dinner menu could be: sauteed kale with pumpkin seeds; roasted yams, beets, broccoli and brussels sprouts; and a small portion of wild salmon or grass-fed beef or lamb, broiled perhaps. Yogurt and berries (with honey?) could be our dessert.

Superfoods don’t have to be weird or exotic. They just have to taste good. This is the year I’ll be expanding my scope of superfoods. Just you wait.

Do you have favorite superfoods or ways to prepare them? What about the not-so-common items on the list – any recommendations for how to add them into a typical family meal routine? This is a topic that will be fun to delve into deeper! And I’ve heard dark chocolate is a superfood, too, though it didn’t show up on the list (from New Seasons) I was focusing on… Must investigate!