I don’t believe in superfoods...but these nutrient dense vegetables come close.
Everyone is crazy about superfoods. The more exotic (and the more expensive) the better. But just like unicorns or miracle diets, superfoods do not exist.
But that doesn’t mean some foods don’t come close.
Packed with nutrients, low in calories, cheap, and easily available, nutrient dense foods are the stars of the nutrition world and are an absolute must in your diet.
That's why I’ve made a list of 20 of the best you can find here in Mauritius. And, to prove that vegetables can be fun too, I’ve also included 55 recipes you can use them in. But before that…
What is Nutrient Density?
As their name implies, nutrient dense foods provide more nutrients than calories (Nutrients > Calories).
The average Mauritian diet tends to have more calories per meal than nutrients.
Even if you think you have a balanced diet, you could be opting for less nutrient dense options.
For example, let’s take the case of a good carbohydrate source. If you choose white rice over brown at every meal, you’re opting for a higher calorie to nutrient ratio at every meal. To illustrate, compare the two labels below.
20 Nutrient Dense Vegetables and Recipes
The vegetables listed here are all easily available in Mauritius. And you should have no trouble finding the ingredients listed in the recipes in most super markets.
Benefits: A great source of iron. Especially for vegetarians.
Spinach won’t give you Popeye levels of strength, but the benefits it provides make it just as good, in my opinion. Its rich iron content gives you an energy kick when you need it (add it in a smoothie for immediate effect), and it’s reported to be beneficial to maintain good vision, heart health and support healthy bones. If you don’t quite know how to add spinach to your diet, any of these tasty recipes should do the trick.
Benefits: Excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C.
Even though it might not be the most flavoursome vegetable in the world, human beings have been eating cabbage for thousands of years, and we’re definitely not stopping any time soon. That’s a good thing. Cabbage is one of the most nutritious and versatile foods out there and can easily fit into various dishes whether used raw, fermented, or cooked. Check out some of these recipes if you’re looking for new ways to serve them.
Vegan Stir-Fried Cabbage in Peanut Sauce (our local cabbage will do)
Benefits: An excellent antioxidant as it is rich in vitamin A
Radishes are not the most popular vegetable in Mauritius. I rarely see our local recipes using this vegetable, and that’s too bad because it has a host of reported benefits, including reducing the risk of diabetes and improving liver function.
Here are some cool recipes which put radishes as a centerpiece ingredient.
Benefits: High in fiber and vitamin A
It's hard not to fall in love with the sweet potato.
Packed with nutrients, slightly healthier than regular potatoes, and so versatile that they're used in various recipes, it's the perfect vegetable to have around at home if you're running out of healthy food ideas. Studies suggest that eating sweet potatoes may help manage type 2 diabetes, and that they are good for eye health. So what's not to love? Here are some recipe ideas to help you make the most of them (I strongly recommend you try the fries).
Green Beans (Haricot Vert)
Benefits: Good source of plant based protein
Whether eaten raw or cooked, green beans are a great addition to your weekly diet. Plus, I find that their chewy texture adds some extra “oomph” to a vegetarian-only meal for those trying to transition from meat.
Benefits: Excellent source of vitamin C and rich in fiber
Once shaved, the cauliflower florets (the flower-like part) have a rice-like texture and, just like rice, easily soak up the flavours of any sauce or curry poured on it, which is great because it has a ridiculously low-calorie count. You’ll find the recipe for cauliflower rice below, along with some other tasty options you can try.
Benefits: Excellent source of vitamin K
The pumpkin has got to be one of our favourite fruits in Mauritius (because yes, pumpkins are fruits). Available year-round, pumpkins find themselves on dinner tables across the island. But, other than our traditional “fricassé giraumon” there’s a lot more that we can do with it. Check out the recipes below for some new ideas.
Benefits: Excellent source of vitamin A (antioxidant) and nitrates (great for sports endurance)
From being a hangover cure (I haven’t tried it, so I can’t confirm) to an aphrodisiac, the beetroot has some pretty colourful uses. Call me boring, but I just see them as a great source of nutrients and, after some exploration on the internet, a great way to come up with some creative meals. Take a look at them below.
Beetroot and Watercress Salad (it's best to use organic watercress if you can find some)
Benefits: Super rich in fiber and good source of magnesium and plant-based protein
If people ate breadfruit instead of bread for their daily carb intake, the world would be a healthier (and tastier) place.
Breadfruits are packed with carbohydrates and are readily available all year, and are a staple food in the pacific regions for centuries. So give breadfruit a try as a source of carbohydrates. The environment will thank you for it, and so will your body as it’s packed with nutrients and complex carbs. Here are some recipes to get you started on your breadfruit journey.
Bitter Gourd (Margoze)
Benefits: Excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A
Bitter gourd is nothing but our good old margoze. The bitter taste makes this vegetable a big turnoff for some, but the bitter gourd can be a tasty and nutrient dense food option to supplement your diet if cooked right.
Used in traditional medicine for centuries, the bitter gourd is believed to effectively fight inflammation, help with diabetes management, and is packed with essential nutrients. The recipes below help you get around the bitter taste. Give them a try before striking the bitter gourd out of your life for good.
Benefits: Excellent source of vitamin A and anti oxidant compounds
Eggplants are another popular fruit in Mauritius, and these berries have found their way into all manner of recipes here, from curry to fricassés. That’s no surprise as they are incredibly versatile, tasty, and packed with plenty of nutrients. Check out some of the recipes below if you’re looking for new ways to add this local favourite to your diet.
Vegan Fish Fragrant Aubergines (don’t trust the name this is a vegetarian dish)
Potatoes (with skin)
Benefits: Potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B9 (great for pregnant women) - most nutrients are oncentrated in the skin
The potato is without a doubt, the most popular and most important vegetable on earth.
Because it produces more food on less land than any major crop on the planet, can be stored for up to 6 months, and is very nutritious it is a staple across many countries. So, long story short, eat more potatoes, they're good for you (don’t listen to the carb haters) and if you’re running out of ways of making them interesting, these recipes should have you looking forward to them again.
Note: To get the maximum benefits from potatoes, make sure to leave the skin on.
Benefits: Excellent source of plant protein, rich in antioxidants (anti-inflammatory) and fibre
If anyone reading this wants to transition to vegetarianism, Jackfruits are your friend.
The fruit’s unique texture makes it a go-to when you need a bit of “faux meat” to add some texture to a meal. In fact, in Indonesia, it’s even called tree mutton. What’s more, you can roast the seeds to eat as a healthy snack or crush them to make hummus. It’s a truly versatile fruit and we’re fortunate to have it in abundance in Mauritius. Check out some of these cool recipes you can use it in:
Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry (For anyone wondering, Fenugreek is just good old Methi seeds)
Benefits: Rich in beta carotene and a good source of potassium
Did you know that carrots were first considered medicine and not as food? That’s not a surprise considering the immense nutritional benefits they possess.
For one, carrots have the highest beta-carotene (a pigment with high antioxidant qualities) content than any vegetable, and they’re believed to be great for bone and eye health. If you’re looking for some new ways to add them to your diet, here are some great recipes to try.
Watercress (bred cresson)
Benefits: Excellent source of iodine, good source of vitamin k, folate (vitamin B9), magnesium and vitamin A
Before I go on about the benefits of watercress (cresson), a note of warning: watercress is one of the vegetables with the highest pesticide absorption you will find (seriously, leave your watercress to soak in a bowl of water, and you will be surprised at the results).
So, if you’re going to use them, try to choose organic or soak them beforehand (here's a short post explaining how I clean my vegetables). Once you do that, they’re one of the tastiest and most nutritious vegetables you can add to your diet. Packed with vitamin A, potassium, vitamin K, antioxidants, and other nutrients, they’re an excellent source of nutrition in the Mauritian diet. Plus, who doesn’t love a good “bouillon brede cresson”?
Lalo / lady fingers
Benefits: Great source of magnesium and great antioxidant
I used to hate ladyfingers as a child because of their sticky texture. But I’ve now started to appreciate them and now love myself a steamy pot of bhindi masala when I go to an Indian restaurant. Good thing I changed my mind because lady fingers are very nutritious. A high fiber content, vitamins, potassium and other essential nutrients make it a great addition to any diet.
Also, did you know that lady fingers don’t have to be sticky? Check out these tips to avoid a gooey dinner and keep them in mind when making the recipes below.
Antioxidant, good source of protein, excellent source of antioxidant
Now, I hate promoting so-called “superfoods” but it’s the publicity surrounding them that is bad. Not the food themselves. Moringa, what we call “brede mouroum” is the western world’s latest fad. The attention is justified however, as research shows that it may be useful in treating asthma, helping wounds heal and helping treat anemia among other benefits.
if you use them in a bouillon poisson, they can protect against arsenic toxicity
Adding nutrient dense foods to your diet isn't hard. All it takes, is making sure you include the vegetables in your diet at least twice a day. Oh, and if you're about to say "vegetables are expensive!" please read this post and I'm sure it will change your mind.