The standard American diet needs to be revamped. Aside from eating more fruits and vegetables and less sugar, there are many less mainstream (and often misunderstood) foods that we should be eating — either for health, environmental, or economic reasons — but are not.
Here’s a short list.
Lionfish are native to the western Pacific Ocean, but have found their way into the Caribbean, Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico, creating chaos in those waters by devouring anything and everything in its path.
The best way to control the lionfish population — which scientists say will continue to grow uncontrollably — is to eat them.
The red-and-white-striped fish are prized in the aquarium trade. Experts blame the ocean invasion on a two-decade-old practice of dumping unwanted aquarium fish into the water. Although lionfish have venomous dorsal fins that can be painful to humans if stung, the meat is edible. It’s tasty, too.
National Geographic describes lionfish as having “moist, buttery meat that is often compared to hogfish, one of the most popular reef fish served in restaurants.”
Fishermen in Florida are trying to build a commercial market for lionfish, which are mostly caught in lobster traps. Divers can also spear the fish.
Following an aggressive “Eat Lionfish” campaign launched by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2010, many restaurants have started putting lionfish on their menus. For home chefs, there’s also a Lionfish Cookbook.
Goat is the most widely-consumed red meat in the world, a staple of Middle Eastern and Asian counties where large herds can graze on mountainous pastures. Ounce-for-ounce, goat meat has less fat and calories than poultry, beef, or pork. But within the United States, goat meat is still a rare sight in mainstream grocery stores.
As Andrew Zimmern, the host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods,” explained to The Baltimore Sun last May: “It’s delicious, and it’s inexpensive, but goat is like soccer in America. It’s growing. We like it, but we don’t get it.”
Goats have long been perceived as the low-class animal of agricultural world, according to J.J. Jones, an agricultural economist at Oklahoma State University.”Up until the ’90s, when you pictured a goat, you pictured one of the billy goats, with the horns standing on top your car hood, eating a tin can,” he said.
Although the demand for goat meat has risen with a growth in U.S. ethnic populations, it’s still an underexploited meat. (The United States Department of Agriculture doesn’t even track U.S. goat consumption).
One problem is that goats are not ideal for factory farming. A 70-pound goat will yield around 35 pounds of meat (50% of the animal), whereas a 1,100-pound beef cow will yield 700 pounds of meat (around 60% of the animal), says Jones, who has his own farm.
There’s also a perception that has to be changed. “People think of [goat] as an exotic meat,” David Martin, the owner of a goat-meat distributor in Georgia told The Economist.
In taste, goat is similar to wild game such as deer. According to Washington Post writers Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein, goat meat is “neither buttery nor beef-tenderloin tender, but it offers a wider palette for culinary foreplay in the kitchen.”
You can grind it, or eat the chops or loin.
Roughly two billion people around the world, mostly in tropical regions, consume insects as a viable protein source. But in the United States, edible insects like beetles, wasps, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and worms, have yet to shed their “yuck” factor.
In May of this year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that eating bugs could reduce world hunger (insects are easy to raise and there are lots of them), help the environment (insects use less water than pigs or cows and feed on waste materials), and provide a good source of nutrition (insects are packed with protein).
At home, there is growing interest in specialty items like granola bars made with cricket flour and scientists are working on creative recipes to make insects more appetizing. Insect farming, however, is not a big business and “consumer disgust” is still a barrier to getting Americans to regularly eat insects.
Beans are cheap, easy to prepare, and have a long shelf-life. Yet most Americans don’t get enough of these nutrient-dense legumes in their diet, a panel of experts said last year at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 12 meeting.
Edible dry beans include pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, and many other varieties. A serving of dry beans is rich in B-vitamins, iron, calcium, fibre, protein, and is low in sodium and calories.
Beans are a unique food. Under the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, beans are listed as either a vegetable or a protein (with the exception of green beans which are grouped with other vegetables). Many consumers still don’t realise that beans are a vegetable.
Consumption of white beans, like navy beans, Great Northern beans and lima, is now less than half of what it was in the 1960s, according to the USDA. Nonwhite beans have followed a similar pattern.
5. The Buffaloberry
The buffaloberry — a slightly sour fruit that is roughly the size of a currant — could be the next “superfruit,” according to researchers who recently published their findings in the Journal of Food Science.
The little-known berry has historically been eaten by Native Americans and flourishes on the marginal lands of Indian reservations in North and South Dakota.
New research shows that the buffaloberry contains high amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant that appears to lower the risk of certain types of cancers. Lycopene is one of the pigments that also gives tomatoes and bell peppers their deep red colours. According to the study, the lycopene content of buffaloberries tends to be “high in comparison to tomatoes and other commercially available fruit.”
On top of the health benefits, buffaloberries can thrive pretty much anywhere (even in dry environments with poor soil quality), making it a potentially valuable food crop, according to the study.
Sushi may be making steady strides on the American dining scene, but seaweed consumption is still “minimal” compared to Asian countries, a study in the journal Trends in Food Science & Technology reported in 2012.
Our oceans are full of seaweed, the name for countless species of marine plants and algae. Although molecules from seaweed have traditionally been used as a thickening agent in food, the edible red, brown, and green varieties are gaining attention as a good source of vitamins, minerals, fibre, calcium, and protein.
A popular red seaweed, better known as nori, can contain as much as 47% protein, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. If prepared with just a light amount of olive oil, seaweed is also low in calories and fat.
Raw seaweed still isn’t easy to find in the regular supermarket here in the U.S., though the nutrient-dense food is increasingly being sold as a convenient dried or roasted snack.
“There’s a whole world of algae out there that can be developed,” Ole Mouritsen, a professor from the University of Southern Denmark told BBC News. In 2011, Mouritsen authored a study describing new ways to enhance the flavour of seaweed as the product finds its way into Western cuisine.
7. Fruit and vegetable skins
The skin, cores, or stalks of fruits and vegetables — parts that we normally throw away — can be full of nutrients. Take the hairy skin of a kiwifruit, which is completely edible and “contains three times the antioxidants of the pulp,” according to Marilyn Glenville, former president of the Food and Health Forum at the Royal Society of Medicine.
Glenville told The Daily Mail that the brown fuzz “also fights off bugs such as Staphylococcus and E-coli, which are responsible for food poisoning.”
To make the skin easier to eat (it is slightly tart and some people might not like the texture), the California Kiwifruit Commission suggests leaving the skin on and slicing the fruit into thin pieces, so you only get a small amount of skin with each bite.
Potato skins, orange peels (an unpeeled orange can be thrown into a juicer), and broccoli stalks are also good sources of nutrition.
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