Spirulina, chia seeds, hemp powder—until recently those were things you found at crunchy health stores, or in murky-looking smoothies consumed by serious fitness buffs. Now they’re everywhere—in your muffin, on your salad. It might sound like a fad, but even small bits of these ingredients do big things. The new condiments, as we’ve taken to calling them, can improve your appearance and health, both short- and long-term. Yahoo Beauty reached out to Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, a Los Angeles-based nutrition expert and author of Eat Right When Time is Tight, to get the scoop on which items are worth sprinkling on your foods and drinks.
What are they? Chia comes from a desert plant in Mexico called Salvia hispanica and is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. They’re a joy to eat, thanks to their mild, nutty flavor.
What do they do? Mayans and Aztecs ate the black and white seeds to boost energy. If you put them in water, the mixture turns gel-like and many tout its hunger-controlling qualities (but there’s no scientific proof of that).
How do you eat them? Sprinkle them on top of your oatmeal, smoothie, cereal, salad, rice, or baked goods for an added boost of nutrition and flavor.
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What are they? Flaxseeds have been providing medicinal benefits since around 3000 BC, thanks to their omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, and lignans.
What do they do? Recent studies suggest they reduce belly fat and lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
How do you eat them? First of all, you absorb more of the nutrients when the seeds are ground (you can do that in a coffee grinder). Then stir them into oatmeal, smoothies, soups, or yogurt by the tablespoon or two. If you’re baking, substitute ground flaxseeds for part of the flour.
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What are they? Hemp seeds are the edible part of the hemp plant. They’re a bit bigger than a sesame seed, with a similar nut-like flavor.
What do they do? They’re stuffed with easy to digest protein, as well as all nine essential amino acids. They’re low in carbs, with both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
How do you eat them? Toss them into a smoothie, salad, cereal, and bany kind of baked good. They come raw, but try roasting them with spices, or even sprinkling them on a pasta dish for a nice texture without too much crunch.
What is it? When people talk about whole grains, they mean that the grain has all its parts. In refined grains—white flour, bread, packaged snack foods—you’re getting a stripped down version of the grain that doesn’t include the wheat germ, which is the part that’s actually good for you.
What does it do? The germ (which exists to feed the new plant) is a highly concentrated source of nutrients, including niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and zinc. Wheat germ also provides dietary fiber and healthy fats to help balance blood sugar levels, control cholesterol levels, and promote intestinal health.
How do you eat it? Add it to anything that could benefit from a healthy crunch, including pancakes, baked goods, yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies.
What are they? Pistachios are the healthiest nut you’re not eating regularly—and we’re not just saying so because of Stephen Colbert’s ringing endorsement.
What do they do? Pistachios boast protein, fiber, and antioxidants and they’re nearly 90-percent healthy fats, a boon for glowing skin.
How do you eat them? By the handful. But also, in yogurt, oatmeal, salads, and smoothies.
What is it? The plant that gives curry its kick. Its root has medicinal properties, too.
What does it do? Studies show that turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, may help fight infections and some cancers, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, reduce inflammation, and treat digestive problems.
How do you eat it? Mixed into nearly any recipe, or in shot form from your local health food store. Add black pepper to any recipe that calls for turmeric to can increase the body’s absorption of curcumin by 1,000 times.
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Spirulina (Blue-Green Algae)
What is it? Spirulina is typically grown in a lab, and then comes in pill, powder, or flake form for human consumption. Spirulina maxima (cultivated in Mexico) and Spirulina platensis (cultivated in California) are the most popular of the many different species.
What does it do? Delivers protein, iron, and other minerals. Blue-green algae might also boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, and help fight viral infections.
How do you eat it? Mostly in juices and smoothies. Spirulina can potentially be contaminated with toxic substances called microcystins, or absorb heavy metals from the water in which it grows, so be sure to buy spirulina from a trusted brand and follow the directions on the label.