Power Foods

Four new healthy-eating trends are nutrient-packed powerhouses that can make your day—or maybe even your life. This year's hottest trends include a spice that has been around for centuries, a vegetable that grows in abundance in the sea and a couple of food favorites that have taken on fresh forms.

Seaweed

Used in sushi and other cuisines across Asia, Europe and the Caribbean islands, seaweed has found its way into the American diet and will grow in importance in coming years.

Seaweed is rich in vitamins and is a particularly good source of vitamin K, which assists with blood clotting. It's also power-packed with minerals, including calcium and iron. And it's low in calories, too. One cup is typically under 20 calories.

Dating back many centuries, Chinese medicine prescribed seaweed as a treatment for almost every ailment. More recent studies link seaweed to protection from heavy-hitting diseases such as cancers and cardiovascular illnesses.

In a study by the University of Florida's College of Pharmacy, it is noted that sea lettuce, a common green algae seaweed, has specific preventive qualities. “We now have scientific evidence that this seaweed raises the body's antioxidant defense system and therefore might prevent a number of diseases, including cancer,” wrote Hendrik Luesch, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry at UF.

To integrate seaweed into your diet beyond sushi, add it to soups, salads, sandwiches and smoothies. Dried seaweed can be found in most grocery stores, but with its status as the new kale, watch for more frequent appearances soon.

Legume Pasta

Do you love the hearty texture of pasta, but not the carbs? Legume-based pastas have hit the scene and are packed with significantly more protein and fiber than traditional wheat-based varieties.

These pastas vary in shape and color, depending on the legume used—lentils, chickpeas, black beans or others. As an added bonus, almost all legume-based pastas are gluten-free.

A study in the National Institutes of Health's U.S. National Library of Medicine notes, “The promising nutritional quality of legume pasta, notably their richness in protein and fibers and their potential low glycemic index, could be of interest to expand the range of gluten-free cereal pasta available on the market today.”

Legume pasta is cooked the same way as traditional wheat-based varieties. Then toss with your choice of sauce, proteins and vegetables to create an easy meal.

Turmeric

Turmeric has been around for thousands of years, but it recently has received special recognition. Studies have proven that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, is loaded with health benefits that protect against arthritis, Alzheimer's, cancer and depression.

“Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant,” according to an alternative medicine guide published by the University of Maryland Medical Center. “Antioxidants scavenge molecules in the body known as free radicals, which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA and even cause cell death. Antioxidants can fight free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.”

Turmeric is most commonly found in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking as the spice in many curry dishes, but now can be found in turmeric teas, shots and golden milk—an ancient beverage that blends milk, turmeric and sweetener. With its peppery flavor, grated turmeric root—found at local grocery stores—can be added to eggs, vegetables, soups and even smoothies. Be forewarned about its yellow staining effect on counters and such.

Smoothie and Acai Bowls

Move over smoothies—the latest trend to pack in your daily fruit and veggie requirement is now smoothie or acai bowls. Although smoothies are a great on-the-go meal, bowls provide a healthy alternative meant to be consumed at a slower pace.

Bowls are made from a thicker smoothie base and then topped with assorted ingredients including fruit, seeds, peanut butter, oats, granola or other items. As long as you keep the smoothie toppings in proportion with the serving size, you'll have a satisfying and nutrient-packed meal.

“The bowl promotes variety in the form of toppings, such as nuts, seeds and fruit,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietician with the Cleveland Clinic. “You end up with a combination of protein and fiber that leaves you feeling full without an intense spike in blood sugar.”