What if I told you that there is a handful of nutritious ingredients that could revamp your food life and bring you powerful health benefits without a massive kitchen intervention? And that those ingredients actually taste great, and can most likely be found at your local health food store?
As someone who spends most days in the kitchen testing recipes, making creative dishes, and inspiring others to live a more healthy (and delicious) life through social media, I have experimented with a fair amount of ingredients and superfoods.
Only the very best — in terms of nutrition, flavor and versatility — make it into the Breakfast Criminals kitchen.
Ready to dive into the nine nutrient-packed ingredients you should add to your next meal? Here you go:
No, not the BBQ kind. The mesquite plant’s bark and pods have been used in South and North America for thousands of years as a natural sweetener. Its low GI (glycemic index) rating means it may help to balance blood sugar.
Mesquite is full of fiber and protein and has a dreamy vanilla-like earthy flavor. It’s great to use in smoothies and in baking, and it’s especially delicious when paired with cacao – try it in your mocha lattes or hot chocolate.
2. Goji berries
These little powerhouse berries from the Himalayas — also known as wolfberries —are an incredible source of vitamin C, vitamin A, antioxidants, copper, selenium, and protein. Because of their impressive nutritional profile (goji berries provide 8 essential amino acids!), they’ve been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years.
They’re considered helpful for boosting vitality and metabolism, and they’re a fiber-rich, crunchy addition to cereal or smoothie bowls that will keep you full longer. You can also steep dried goji berries in hot water to make a lovely caffeine-free goji berry tea.
3. Spirulina and E3Live
Spirulina, a colorful blue-green algae, is one of the most nutrient-packed foods on the planet, rich in vitamins B-1, B-2 and B-3, iron, copper, and protein. While spirulina has been around for a while, its “cousin” E3Live has grown in popularity recently and is responsible for the blue food trend (think Unicorn lattes, blue smoothies, and yogurt bowls).
Both algae stand out not only with their mermaid-like looks, but also with their vitamin and mineral profile that includes essential fatty acids, making them incredible energy boosters.
Spirulina and E3Live are best added to a smoothie or a salad dressing. Make sure you start small so that the algae doesn’t overpower your food!
If you’ve not yet added mushrooms into your diet, it’s time to change that.
Medicinal mushrooms have been consumed by humans for thousands of years, and science has been revealing more and more benefits that the mushroom kingdom has to offer to the vitality and health of humans, as well as the planet. Cordyceps have been used in Chinese medicine for many years to treat fatigue, low sex drive, and other conditions.
When buying cordyceps, look for full-spectrum powder and add it to your lattes or smoothies if you’re looking to optimize exercise performance, encourage heart health, lower inflammation, and potentially help manage type 2 diabetes.
There are even studies that show that cordyceps can slow down the growth of tumors. If you’re curious to learn more about the mysterious and powerful mushroom kingdom, check out this podcast interview I did with mycologist Jason Scott.
This medicinal herb has been getting a lot of hype lately, and for a good reason: It’s believed to help manage stress, anxiety, and depression; lower blood sugar levels and boost brain function. Plus it’s is being studied for possible anti-cancer properties.
While ashwagandha is Sanskrit for "smell of the horse," the taste is not at all overpowering if you add 1/2 teaspoon to your smoothie or matcha latte. I usually go for maca (see below) in my morning elixirs on days when I need more energy, and for ashwagandha when I want support in managing stress.
This Peruvian superfood, also known as Peruvian ginseng, is a cruciferous root vegetable that’s most often found in powder form, which is made from its root. Maca tastes deliciously earthy and is one of my go-to pantry staples.
Try adding it to your smoothies, lattes, oatmeal, and sweet treats for a noticeable caffeine-free energy boost that can also help balance hormones. It’s also believed to enhance fertility and boost sex drive.
7. Kudzu (or kuzu)
A root native to Japan, kudzu has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. With its thick consistency, this stomach-soothing herb makes a great thickener for sauces or a creamy base for smoothies.
Kudzu usually comes in dried form, which is used to make a thick, creamy pudding. Here’s how to make kudzu at home. When my stomach is feeling off, I love eating plain kudzu pudding made with coconut milk or coconut milk powder.
Activated charcoal is everywhere. It’s in your medicine cabinet, on your beauty shelf, and in your food. While this trend is fairly new to the Western wellness and food worlds, it’s long been used as a natural treatment for a variety of health concerns in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine to help reduce cholesterol, promote kidney function, and as an emergency poison treatment.
Activated charcoal is highly absorbent, which means that it binds other chemicals to its porous surface, which subsequently means that it can act as a magnet for toxins.
A note of caution however: Activated charcoal absorbs or binds many different chemicals and doesn't distinguish between the good and bad ones, so in addition to toxins, it can also absorb medications, supplements, and nutrients in foods.
9. Black seed oil
A newer addition to my pantry, black seed oil comes from Nigella sativa, a small shrub and has been used internally and topically on skin for thousands of years.
Black seed oil is currently being studied for potential health benefits in several areas including managing diabetes and increasing fertility in men by improving sperm count and mobility. Because it contains thymoquinone, an anti-inflammatory compound, it may also have tumor-reducing properties.
I used to turn to black seed oil capsules to boost my immunity when I’m on the verge of catching a cold. Now I always have it on hand in liquid form to use in cooking, lattes, and salad dressings.
You don’t need to get all the superfoods at once. Start small and try the ingredient that speaks to you most every day for a week in your favorite recipes, and see what happens!
Ksenia Avdulova is a public speaker, lifestyle entrepreneur, host of the Woke and Wired podcast, and founder of @breakfastcriminals, an award-nominated digital platform known for online content and offline experiences that merge food and mindfulness. Ksenia believes that how you start your day is how you live your life, and shares her message through digital content and in-person experiences in partnership with brands like Instagram, Vitamix, Miu Miu, Adidas, THINX and Glossier. Connect with Ksenia on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.