Let's be real—sometimes, perusing the aisles of Whole Foods can be pretty mind-boggling. Seed-like grains and grain-like seeds and bottles of mysterious liquids could easily scare off the average person who just wants to eat healthy but doesn't know where to start. And if you've ever sampled a fermented drink that didn't go down so easy or you just can't get down with the taste of coconut oil no matter how much your healthy, glowing friends rave about it, this one's for you. Have no fear. Instead of turning around and heading straight back to the comfort zone of your everyday supermarket, take a risk. You'd be surprised that many health food oddities actually do taste good—especially if you know how to bring out the best in them.
Amaranth sounds like some ethereal flower, and that's half right—it's a perennial plant with with bright magenta buds, but its best feature is its seeds. Often mistaken as grains, amaranth seeds are naturally gluten-free, have even more protein than that other MVP seed, quinoa (amaranth has 9 grams per cooked cup), and are very rich in minerals, particularly iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and manganese. Cooking it can be a bit tricky to master at first, but if you simmer it just right, amaranth has a nutty sweetness and a porridge-like consistency.
How to cook amaranth:
Combine ½ cup amaranth with 1 ½ cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately with maple syrup (to taste), a pinch of salt, and a sprinkling of fresh berries. You can also give grains a protein boost by mixing in amaranth. For example, add one part amaranth to three parts brown rice and cook as you would normally cook the rice.
How to make amaranth milk:
Homemade amaranth milk is a best kept secret you should definitely get in on. Soak ½ cup raw amaranth in water for six to eight hours. Then, strain it through a cheesecloth. Combine amaranth with 2 cups clean water in a blender and blend at a high speed until creamy. Strain the liquid through a cheesecloth or nut milk bag into a jar. Voila!
Vegans and vegetarians have long been fans of liquid aminos since it's a source of—you guessed it—amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Liquid aminos is a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce (most conventional soy sauces on the market are made with wheat), but some people avoid it since the soybeans are sometimes chemically processed rather than naturally fermented. Coconut aminos is the jam, though. It's made with just coconut sap and sea salt. So simple. With far less sodium than soy sauce and liquid aminos, it has a milder flavor—a little on the sweeter side, but every bit as umami. Calling it "aminos" may be a bit of a misnomer, though, since the nutrition profile shows no protein (or at least very little of it). But it's still a tasty, gluten-free, soy-free, and MSG-free sub for soy sauce in anything from stir-fry to sashimi.
Move over, land vegetables—sea veggies have been gaining momentum as a prime source of minerals. We're not just talking regular old seaweed snacks and nori sheets. Kelp noodles are a fat-free, gluten-free, low-carb, and low-calorie answer to pasta. They're thin and clear, a little like glass noodles, but they have a hint of crunch. Made with just kelp, sodium alginate (salt extracted from seaweed), and water, they're like pure nourishment from the ocean, and that's pretty powerful. Kelp is a great source of iodine, a trace mineral that's necessary for hormonal balance. Some people, especially women of childbearing age in the US, have shown iodine deficiencies, which can lead to hypothyroidism. Sea veggies can help fix that, but they should still be eaten in moderation since too much iodine can also cause a form of hypothyroidism, autoimmune thyroid disorders, and even thyroid cancer. To prepare kelp noodles, right out of the bag, rinse them thoroughly, or soak them for 10 minutes if you have time—this will cut some of the natural saltiness and allow you to season them how you wish. Strain them and they're ready to eat just like that—just sprinkle in some herbs and spices to taste, or incorporate them into your favorite pasta or noodle recipes.
In case you've missed the maca hype, we need to shout out this star superfood. This root grows high in the Andes, a place with such a harsh climate that only the strongest crops could survive—so you know this is real potent stuff. Revered by the ancient Incas as a medicinal food to boost energy, mood, and fertility, nowadays it's found its way into modern health food stores and haute smoothie counters. It's available as a fine powder that has a nutty aroma and a deep butterscotchy flavor. Add it to smoothies for a burst of energy. Psst: It's also believed to fire up your libido. We love it in this oatmeal recipe.
Just because kombucha and spirulina aren't for everyone, doesn't mean you can't find other health foods that speak to your tastebuds. Keeping an open mind can lead to very nutritious and delicious things.