Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 27 2015

6 Hidden Superfoods You Probably Already Have in Your Pantry

By Mark Sisson
53 Comments

Garlic, ginger ,onionI generally don’t subscribe to the idea of superfoods. While I’ll try your obscure Amazonian berry that spent a fortnight fermenting in a capybara’s colon, I won’t join your pyramid scheme to help sell it. I may very well add a teaspoon of gelatinized maca root to my smoothie, but I won’t claim it’s responsible for my great health. These foods are perfectly nutritious, contain impressive levels of some unique phytonutrients, and often have robust clinical support as inclusions in healthy diets. But c’mon: who’s regularly eating goji berries for $15 a pound? They’re not even that great.

I’m far more interested in the regular “superfoods.” The normal foods that we don’t necessarily consider super. The ones that are just there but have incredible health benefits just the same.

So, don’t expect to see dried Himalayan mulberries, killer bee pollen, or raw cacao nibs on this list. Or grass-fed beef liver, or pastured eggs, or any of the other animal foods we cherish and exalt in the Primal community. Those have been covered to death. It’s time to highlight the regular, everyday foods we probably take for granted.

Onions

We forget about the onion, don’t we? But there it is, wherever you go and whatever you eat. From France’s mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery), Spain’s sofrito (onion, garlic, tomatoes), cajun cuisine’s trinity (onion, celery, bell peppers), Italy’s battuto (carrots, onions, celery), onions form the base of many of the world’s great cuisines. Go have a curry in an Indian restaurant, and you’ll have onions. But they don’t just taste good. They possess incredible health effects of which most people are unaware. And they’re dirt cheap and fairly hardy at room temperature. There’s no reason not to keep a big bag of them around.

For best results, cut your onions and allow them to sit in the open air for five to ten minutes before applying heat or eating.

Garlic

It’s delicious, sure. Everyone loves its pungency and bite, of course. But while many may be peripherally aware that garlic is a healthy ingredient, I don’t think they really understand the degree to which it can elicit favorable changes to our health. Let’s take a look.

As for prep, same goes for garlic as onions. After crushing, cutting, or otherwise rupturing its cellular membranes, allow garlic to sit for a few minutes to increase enzymatic conversion.

If you’re after the health benefits, raw, crushed/chopped garlic is the best source. But go ahead and cook away, too. An effective dose is between 1-3 cloves, although more may increase benefits.

Ginger

Along with garlic, ginger is a cornerstone of Asian cooking. Korean, Chinese, Thai, Japanese–all the major ones employ it liberally. A lot of people profess to hate ginger (on the other hand, arguably just as many profess their undying love), yet chances are they enjoy a food that has ginger as a vital ingredient. I’ve got a pal who claims to hate ginger. Yet he loves Korean-style short ribs, teriyaki chicken, and claims to want to one day retire in Thailand just for the food. He actually loves ginger without realizing it. Too much ginger can stand out, sure. But the right amount can ingratiate even the most vociferous haters of ginger to its inclusion in a dish.

Ginger isn’t just a culinary tool.

A teaspoon of raw grated ginger is an “active” dose. I’ll often add several heaping teaspoons to the garlic broth I mentioned above, toss a few chunks into smoothies, or make ginger lemon tea (hot water, lots of ginger, and fresh lemon juice). And of course, I cook with it.

Black Pepper

Black pepper just might be the most ubiquitous spice in existence. It’s so common that we don’t even really think of it as a spice. We just add it to everything, almost absentmindedly. There’s no better way to season a steak than with salt and black pepper.

Ever notice how black pepper goes with everything? You can make French, Indian, Italian, or American food and be confident that the recipe will call for significant amounts of black pepper. And even if it doesn’t explicitly request it, black pepper usually works. Some cuisines, like Chinese, favor white pepper, which is just black pepper with the black hull removed. It’s the same plant.

Black pepper goes with everything in another sense, too: a primary black pepper compound known as piperine enhances bioavailability of certain plant compounds. Black pepper is basically like Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, John Stockton, or Magic Johnson; it makes the other spices/players better.

Do what I do: grind a ton of black pepper into everything you eat. It’s possible that I use entirely too much, but it tastes great and it’s probably making the rest of the food even more nutritious.

Olive Oil

When significant portions of three continents consume olives and olive oil as an irreplaceable staple food, there’s something going on. Heck, the love for olives crosses sociopolitical boundaries. It shatters them. Spend a week in Israel and you’ll eat olives or olive oil with just about every meal. Hop the border into Gaza and you’ll find people who, despite the diametrically opposed political and religious views and drastically different living conditions, will also be eating olives and guzzling their oil. It’s like that for the entire region. From Portugal to Spain to the south of France to Italy to Cyprus to Greece to Turkey to Lebanon to Syria to Jordan and up through Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, it’s olives and olive oil.

To most of us, olive oil is just something we use to cook and dress salads. To our physiologies, especially our cardiovascular system, it’s a lifesaver.

Good extra virgin olive oil is drinkable. A teaspoon to a tablespoon a day should be plenty. Don’t be afraid of cooking with olive oil, though.

Bananas

Bananas get short shrift in many health circles. Maybe it’s because they’re fairly dense in carbs, which can be problematic for folks trying to lose weight. Maybe the 30-bananas-a-day crowd sullied their good name. But bananas aren’t just bananas, and they aren’t even always high-(digestible)carb. I consider them a spectrum of fruits. You’ve got the green banana, a crispy fruit full of fermentable fiber (a green banana can contain up to 25-30 grams of resistant starch) and very little digestible carbohydrate. You’ve got the ripe banana, a delicious source of carbohydrates for people who need them. They make great post-workout treats, for example. And then you’ve got the half-ripe banana, which has moderate amounts of both resistant starch and digestible carbohydrate.

Frozen, both green and ripe bananas are excellent in smoothies. A single green one will provide most of the resistant starch you need for the day. They turn to ripe bananas quickly, though, so eat or freeze them.

And hey, opossums go absolutely bananas for bananas.

The existence of these hidden superfoods means you don’t have to spend outrageous sums on more conventional superfoods. You can eat normal meals with regular ingredients and derive many of the same benefits.

Now let’s hear from you guys. What’s your favorite hidden superfood?

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53 thoughts on “6 Hidden Superfoods You Probably Already Have in Your Pantry”

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  1. Amazingly, these are my staples. Everyday I consume generous amounts of each. Good to know my intuitive self chooses wisely.

    1. Same here! I put all but the banana in my homemade salad dressing, which shall be known as my superfood elixir from this day on! 😉

  2. Didn’t know that about the pepper. I sneak turmeric into my kids’ scrambled eggs every morning–now I’ll sneak some pepper as well!

    1. So funny! I had been doing the same thing for months with tumeric in eggs- sneaking it into my husband’s breakfast 🙂 I remembered reading right on this blog about the importance of combining with pepper a few months back, so I started doing that, and he’s just as happy with his eggs.

      1. scrambled eggs with sneaky turmeric and Lawrey’s seasoning salt…in Kerrygold buttered pan. OMG and sometimes I put in bacon bits…that and half an avocado and a Brazil nut! How can anyone choose cold sugary cereal when that this on the table?

        1. Because your breakfast actually requires (a little) effort haha! They wouldn’t pick cereal if someone cooked that for them.

    2. Nothing like fresh ground black pepper with an omelet or scrambled eggs.

  3. Awesome post! Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough if I’m not bashing bone broth/gelatin/liver daily, so it’s good to know I have a lot of bases covered without really trying.

  4. 1. Cabbage!! The humble cabbage is perhaps the least fashionable of the brassicas, but it sustained peasants for hundreds of years for many good reasons! It is loaded with vitamin K, which helps to heal the gut (raw cabbage juice heals ulcers and other gut injuries), and, when fermented into sauerkraut, becomes a wonderful source of K-2. And it is culinarily flexible – delicious raw, boiled, fried, and fermented.
    2. Kale – another brassica – is also a favorite of mine. A great dark, leafy green that is good in salads, stir-fries, and soups, loaded with vitamin D and calcium.
    3. Fresh (or dried) green herbs! Sage, dill, basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme – they all are LOADED with bioflavonoids, anti-microbial compounds, and trace minerals that are beneficial for us, and that give them their intense flavors and scents.
    4. Many spices are also filled with phytonutrients and antioxidants. Cumin and turmeric are well-known for anti-inflammatory properties.

    And I could go on…

  5. Pepper is my go to to create spicy foods ,due to the fact it don’t consume nightshades ,a contributor to my gout which has been non-existence for over 3 years. Going primal,no nightshades,no gout.

  6. Whenever I start getting a scratch in the back of my throat (the sign of an impending cold or worse), I always do a cocktail of blended ginger, raw garlic, and a little oregano oil. That combo works like a charm EVERY TIME. 🙂

    1. I do something similar – 1 clove of garlic, 1 thumb of ginger, 1 tsp of turmeric & cayenne pepper, and 1 tsp of honey blended in 8 ounces of water. Sounds gross, but it’s over before you know it and works every time.

      Good call on the oregano oil, I’ll have to add that next time!

    2. Alex,
      I wanted to thank you so much for creating you post. Exactly one day after I read it, I was at work and noticed a scratch in my throat. Other people around me had been sick with colds, and I was very stressed out a few days before, so I knew I was getting sick. I remembered your post. I went to the store and got the ginger, raw garlic, and oil of oregano. I gargled with salt water and the oil of oregano immediately. Then, I blended all three in a Nutribullet which created a juice. I put about a 1/4 of a cup in some broccoli soup and ate it. I gargled again before going to bed. The next morning the sore throat was gone. Usually when the sore throat clears up, the illness moves to my sinuses. It never happened. I was a little tired, but as the day progressed, I felt better and better. Now I am sitting here thanking you for saving me from over 2 weeks of misery. I am truly grateful.

  7. Olive oil is one of my favorite things to cook with, whether in hot or cold dishes. I know it has a lower smoking point, so I keep that in mind. The taste, which I love, is enough to keep me consistent with it. But I also remember reading that article about the centenarian woman who said she drank tons of it. Whether or not that’s a big contributing factor to her longevity, I’m not sure. But it sure didn’t seem to hurt. Hahaha.

  8. Garlic, onion, banana, olive oil, ginger, black pepper smoothies, anyone? 😉

    1. Minus the banana, that’d make a pretty awesome all-purpose meat marinade.

  9. I love garlic, but don’t often eat it due to the dreaded garlic-breath it gives me. Not pleasant. Any suggestions on how to combat that?

    1. I’ve noticed that lots of raw garlic not only does a number on your breath, but also seems to dissipate as an aura around your body – it’s like breathing isn’t even required for folks to detect that you are somewhere in the room!

      That said – the best way to deal with “garlic breath” is to make sure that the people you hang around with use as much garlic as you do.

      I grew up with the stuff ( a very Italian family) and loved every bite and my folks thought it was the best “birth-control” mechanism out there! No one wanted to get near me!

      1. I don’t really agree with that solution. My husband has been told that again and again but no matter how much garlic I eat, I still won’t go within a foot of him if he’s had garlic. Sometimes, when he had a really big amount, I can’t even stand to be in the same room without opening the window.

        I admit I’m really curious why it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Is it something about the gut flora?

        1. I think there could be some different genetics going on – there’s a well known phenomena with asparagus, there is a compound in it which only some people process, the result some eaters have urine that smells of asparagus and the others don’t! And it’s very pronounced – like on or off, not in between.

    2. Parsley? I’ve always heard that if you eat a sprig of fresh parsley it will freshen breath. Besides, parsley is also a superfood in itself.

  10. A whole head of garlic? I bet viruses aren’t the only thing you’re warding off after that concoction, Mark. 😉

    1. Well, It’s hard to catch a cold if no one gets close enough to give it to you.

  11. Excellent – all stuff I usually have on hand (except for bananas, but maybe won’t avoid these as much as I have been!)

    I’m wondering why those with FODMAP sensitivities have problems with some of these superfoods (specifically onion and garlic). How can something so good for us be problematic for some?

    Does it matter if the ginger you use is fresh or already grated? I’m guessing fresh is always better, but I keep the grated stuff on hand for convenience. Is there a big difference?

    1. “I’m wondering why those with FODMAP sensitivities have problems with some of these superfoods (specifically onion and garlic). How can something so good for us be problematic for some?”

      Well, running’s bad for people with broken legs, once one part of the body’s gotten damaged, it creates a rollover effect that prevents people from getting the benefit of otherwise “healthy” stuff. There are a lot of similar examples.

      The modified diet a sick person benefits from isn’t necessarily going to protect healthy people from the same illness, any more than wearing a splint and using crutches will protect you from a broken leg. Most diets for sick people are deliberately unbalanced, completely excluding or over-emphasising something people without that problem can have in moderation.

      Afaik as well, the foods excluded in the FODMAPS diet can be reintroduced slowly after the gut’s healed, or whatever.

  12. Got that covered. Ginger and banana go in my daily smoothie. Garlic, onion and olive oil in daily salad. Pepper on my daily hard boiled egg.

    Also, to add to your list of lunch pail superfoods, I’d add avocado.

    1. My nan’s generation always said if you eat the exact same thing every day, “you’ll sicken yourself of it” – that seems to be a bit of basic ancestral wisdom that makes sense.

      JMO but nowhere in the past did people have 365-day access to the exact same foods, the same proteins and stuff hitting the digestive tract every day without respite.

  13. What about plantain?

    I wish I could eat more black pepper but just yesterday, I suffered from the worst bout of heartburn I had for months because I ate too much of it. For someone avoiding nightshades, it makes for a rather blank cuisine.

  14. Great post! Goji berries give me stomach aches anyway …
    My favorite superfoods? Turmeric (you should check out the color of my once white blender 🙂 ), and blueberries. Love them with virtually everything!

  15. I’ll have to try the turmeric since so many recommend it. I’m totally sold on ginger! A few years ago, I had serious back issues. I used to eat a big ass salad every day with chunks of raw ginger on it, and it wasn’t until I had been going to the chiropractor for several months that I saw a poster in his office showing that ginger blocks pain receptors. I had weaned myself off the ginger without even realizing that my intake was connected to my back pain!

  16. Here is great website that has very good information on food. All the nutrient levels and how to cook them. George also mentions to always let garlic and onion rest 10 min before cooking or eating. Only has food that is easy to get in the database.
    http://whfoods.org/

  17. These items, minus the banana, plus curry paste or powder make a wonderful sauce to go on meat and veggies.

  18. Where is the love for leafy greens? Kale is a “superfood” but be sure to get organic. Non-organic kale tests positive for pesticides in about 99% of samples.

    Also, sardines! You get your protein, your fat, your omega 3s, not to mention calcium from the skeletal parts. On top of all of that, they are canned with another superfood from this list, olive oil!

    1. Love sardines. I eat them for lunch 2 or 3 times a week. Much better than gulping fish oil capsules that could be rancid or contaminated with God knows what.

  19. Garlic, you can eat a ton of garlic and not wreak of it if you ferment the cloves in salt water for a couple of days, you increase the good bacteria naturally found on the garllc. But I would be interested to know if fermenting garlic reduces the beneficial compounds in raw garlic because fermenting mellows the flavor and intensity, It is easy to eat a dozen raw cloves, pop them in your salads with your olives and the brine makes and excellent addition to salad dressing or mayo.

  20. Mark, you forgot to say what an amazing prebiotic onions and garlic are! xo Sarah

  21. Hi,
    But aren’t onions and garlic fodmap’s to avoid???
    but they are also super foods?

  22. -Eat a mile of black pepper on two tons of lettuce and some meat
    -That night, beat yourself up over not going hard enough
    -Eat six times the pepper in an even smaller meal, earning the respect of the global community and eternalizing yourself in the hearts of millions

    Believe in your dreams!

  23. Glad to see bananas on the list! I make frozen bananas (halved) with dark chocolate for pre and post workout snacks and LOVE them!

  24. Great idea putting together a list of superfoods that are super easy to use in almost every meal.

    I do like adding superfoods to my smoothie recipes, but it’s great having a list of common superfoods that I can easily use when cooking regular meals for my family. Thanks for sharing this article!

  25. Add dried PARSLEY to the list. It contains large amounts of flavone apigenin, which is a known neurogenesis stimulant, i.e. you possibly get smarter. It’s fairly cheap, you can eat this stuff by teaspoons. Same as Chamomile tea, contains apigenin.

    Also add GREEN TEA, contains polyphenol EGCG which is a potent antioxidant and also boosts brain.

    Eat/drink both with black pepper for the bioavailability trick. Also use sugar or (even better) xylitol to further boost absorption of EGCG.

    1. I forgot to mention that you should make the green tea with hot water at 100C and some ascorbic acid to inhibit oxidation, you can even cook it for a while to get the maximum extraction of EGCG (fcuk the taste). Then drink the green tea concoction (see my post above) on empty stomach to maximize the bioavailability, as food in stomach also inhibits it.