We hear about must-buy superfoods all the time – but how do you actually afford to buy them when you’re on a budget? Maca, chia, acai, macuna, lacuma, spirulina, goji berries. These exotic-sounding nutritional powerfoods carry a powerful price tag – up to $500 per kilo. Ouch. If money is tight for you right now, you probably think you can’t afford to splurge on luxuries like this. However, health is not a luxury. How do you boost the nutrients in your diet without emptying your wallet? Here are seven superfoods that cost only dollars per kilo.
Even if you don’t eat gluten or wheat, you can have wheat grass because it’s a leaf and not the grain (according to www.coeliac.org.au/faqs/). The nutrients in wheat are multiplied incredibly when it’s sprouted; some nutrients up to hundreds of times. It’s alkaline, which makes it good for balancing out acidic foods in your diet (most grains/meats). And it’s full of enzymes and living energy. Organic wheat costs $2 or $3 per kilo, and standard wheat even less. Go the organic if you can. It’s also cheaper in bulk. To sprout it, just line a styrofoam tray with a paper towel or a thin layer of compost, scatter a full layer of whole wheat over it, and keep watered for about ten days until it’s thick and green. Then you need to juice it, because it’s too fibrous to swallow. Standard juicers can’t cope with the fibre either. You can use a special juicer, some grain mills, or do it the old way: cut a small handful and chew it in your mouth until you’ve sucked out all the juice, then spit the fibres out. Easy. Start a new tray every few days for a continuous supply. Once you’ve cut off all the wheatgrass, add the roots to your compost heap, worm farm, or leave in a plastic bag until it turns to rich compost.
Like wheatgrass, sprouted beans and seeds have vastly more nutrients than the whole dry bean. The soaking and sprouting also breaks down substances that make the bean hard to digest. They are another live food, containing heaps of enzymes. Sprouting also increases the bulk of the seed, meaning your food doubles or triples in volume. As dried beans and seeds only cost a few dollars to start with, sprouts work out very cheap. Mung beans and adzuki beans are good ones to start with. You can also sprout sunflower seeds, and pea seeds (grow your own, or buy seeds sold for sprouting, as pea seeds for the garden can be treated with fungicides). Soak large beans overnight, or smaller beans (alfalfa, fenugreek, sesame, poppy) for a few hours until they swell. Tip the water out, using cheesecloth around a jar with an elastic band to keep the beans in (or just use your fingers), and rinse them a few times a day until they’re ready to eat. Pea, sunflower and alfalfa can be eaten when the sprout is about 7cm long. Most other sprouts can be eaten when the shoot is about the same size as the seed.
Herbs contain loads of phytochemicals, antioxidants, enzymes and nutrients. Fragrant herbs contain volative compounds that are often highly medicinal. Many herbs are very easy to grow, and some will live for years in your garden. If you grow them from cuttings, homegrown herbs can be free. The four herbs from the nursery rhyme ‘Scarborough Fair’ – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – have many culinary, household and medicinal uses. They all live several years, except parsley which will self-seed easily if you let the seed heads remain. Parsley contains lots of iron and other nutrients, and is mild enough to chop into most meals. It freshens the breath, relieves fluid retention, dispels gas, detoxes, and eases urinary tract infections. Sage (meaning wise person) slows aging, kills microbes, improves memory, detoxes and helps you digest fats. Rub it on insect bites, drink the tea for colds or to reduce a fever, rub leaves on the teeth to whiten, pour cold strong tea over wounds or gargle for a sore throat. Rosemary sharpens concentration, repels insects, eases headache and muscle pain, and reduces dandruff. (Don’t use medicinal amounts of rosemary if you are epileptic.) Thyme is antiviral and can be used to treat sore throats, coughs, colds, flu. It makes a good wound wash, throat gargle, steam for the respiratory system, and tea to settle the stomach. Other herbs that are easily grown and boost your health are gotu kola, herb robert, garlic, fennel, coriander, chives, chillies, mint, nasturtiums, calendula, yarrow and lemon balm. Chop some herbs into your food at least once every day.
Just like herbs, weeds can be eaten daily to improve your health. Weeds concentrate nutrients, bringing up minerals from deep in the ground. After all, they’ve adapted to survive without fertilising – that’s why we call them weeds! Some edible weeds include dandelion (see here for identification photos), plantain (described here), fat hen, purslane, chickweed, stinging nettles and sorrel. If you have patches of these in your garden, don’t spray them! You have superfoods growing in your own backyard, for free! Learn how to identify the edible weeds in your area, and chop them into your food, blend them into soups or make them into salads along with your cultivated herbs. In my area, gooseberries grow like a weed in the back of people’s gardens. Health food shops have started selling imported dried gooseberries as Golden Andean Berries, in expensive packets covered with health claims. If you dine out at a fancy restaurant, you might be served warrigal greens, dandelion leaves, or nettles. Correctly identified weeds are delicious and packed full of free nutrients. Make sure they haven’t been sprayed, or grown next to heavy traffic.
Kombucha and Kefir
These are both fermented drinks which contain loads of beneficial gut bacteria. They are expensive to buy ready-made, but easy to produce at home. Grow your own probiotics! Kombucha is grown with a ‘mother’ – a jelly-like substance that grows on top of the liquid – and kefir is produced with ‘grains’ – not really grains, but small clumps that float at the bottom of the jar. Both the kombucha mother and kefir grains are different types of SCOBYs – symbiotic communities of bacteria and yeast. Every time you feed a SCOBY, it gets bigger, and can be divided to make more jars or give away. Kombucha feeds on sweetened tea, and kefir can be made with milk, coconut milk, or water. Kefir milk grains can be fed on milk or coconut milk. Kefir water grains are a different SCOBY, and more difficult to cultivate. I gave up on kefir last time I tried it, because I couldn’t stand the taste… but I just bought a new book with lots of healthy delicious flavouring ideas (apple pie kefir, anyone?) and I’m ready to try again! I make kombucha every week, and love experimenting with adding berries, herbs, ginger, lemon, apple, and all sorts of flavours. All you need is a SCOBY and the appropriate medium (sweet tea, milk, coconut milk, etc). To find SCOBYs to start you off, try community gardens, produce swap networks, Facebook cooking/garden groups, or health food shops. Because they continually multiply, people often give SCOBYs away for free.
Fermented Fruits and Vegetables
Once you’ve made some fermented beverages, try some fruit and vegie recipes. Like the drinks, they contain lots of good bacteria, and like sprouts, fermenting breaks down indigestible substances. Lots of recipes require only vegetables, salt and water. You can also use whey, if you have lots of yogurt handy. Here’s a recipe for kimchi, a mixed vegetable ferment. If you’re going to eat vegetables, you may as well eat them in their most digestible form. Start with sauerkraut, kvass, carrot sticks or kimchi and learn how easy it is to preserve and increase the nutrient availability of your fruit and vegetables!
The last superfood is bone broth. Stock made from meat bones contains every major mineral needed by your body, as well as lots of soothing gelatin. Gelatin is great for healing the gut, which can help you absorb all your other nutrients more efficiently and prevent large molecules leaking through the gut wall. There’s a reason chicken soup is a traditional food for invalids. Even if you can’t afford to buy organic meat, you can still buy a few dollars of organic or biodynamic lamb, beef, chicken or fish bones and make a healing broth. Sometimes you can even get free bones. Ask your local butcher, fishmonger or friendly farmer. Long, slow cooking will extract the most gelatin. Drink the broth by itself, with herbs, or made into a soup. If your gut is unbalanced or you’ve been ill, drink broth with every meal until your health stabilises.
Seven superfoods. Which ones do you eat?