Hardly a week goes by without an announcement telling consumers to eat a certain food to avoid cancer or heart disease, or live longer. Even statistics from the US, the home of fast-food, show a major decrease in soft drink and fast food sales.

The food industry is a business like any other, and the more nutrients, vitamins and minerals forced into an everyday product, the better its chances of being on every office desk come the end of the week. Here we list some of the known, unknown and bizarre products to consider adding to food today to attract the more health-conscious buyer.

Seaweed

Seaweed has been used in Asian medicine for at least 3,000 years and a recent study by Newcastle University in the UK suggested it could be added to bread, biscuits and yogurt to reduce the fat absorbed by the body.

Its nutritional value comes from the nutrients it assimilates from the oceans and the Earth’s crust, resulting in it having one of the highest mineral concentrations of any food. It can regulate hormones, improve metabolism and make skin more youthful. It is also rumoured to be good for mental health.

Purple Dulse seaweed is among the most popular as it avoids the fishy taste associated with some varieties. Products, such as crackers, sushi nori and dried seaweed are exported around the world by producers such as Chinese company Shantou Jiasheng and Saha Siam in Thailand.

Wheatgrass

Wheatgrass has been used in homeopathic medicine for some time now where it is noted for its acquired taste. It has high concentrations of chlorophyll, active enzymes and vitamins, and is noted for its strong anti-bacterial effect.

Health-food enthusiasts claim it purifies the liver, increases heart function, improves digestion and it is even heralded by some as being a food that can help prevent and cure cancer.

“The more nutrients, vitamins and minerals forced into an everyday product, the better its chances of being popular.”

Among its more-obscure touted benefits are increased tolerance to radiation, removal of heavy metals from the body, and improving the body’s ability to deal with sores and ulcers.

Wheatgrass is traditionally served as a drink but the powdered varieties are becoming more popular for use in smoothies and even guacamole.

Fresh and juiced wheatgrass is widely used across the world, but so far the concept of other wheatgrass-based products such as smoothies and guacamole remain homemade, leaving a market open for the food industry.

Spirulina

Spirulina algae has been said to contain some of the highest concentration of nutrients of any food, including between 60%-75% vegetable protein. It is rich in iron, magnesium, carotene and B vitamins, especially B-12, which is used in tablet form to combat heart disease and improve mental alertness.

A recent study by the Dana Faber Cancer Institute and the Harvard Medical School showed it could be used to help fight influenza, mumps, measles and might even inhibit HIV’s transition into AIDS.

Taken mainly in powder and tablet form, spirulina also acts as an appetite suppressant and is already being given to undernourished children in India by the World Heath Organization (WHO). It currently trails seaweed on supermarket shelves but the powdered variety is recommended for use from a smoothie ingredient to a crisp topping.

Hemp

Like seaweed, hemp has been used for medical reasons for centuries and has been a staple foodstuff in times of famine. In China today, you can still buy roasted hemp seeds in the cinema, in the same way you might eat popcorn.

Containing omega 3 and 6, amino acids and complete protein, hemp seeds and oil are used by those that have a low fatty acid intake. It is especially beneficial to vegetarians and vegans, and has been proven to be very good for skin and hair, and can be used as a painkiller or to reduce anxiety.

The seeds and oil are the most popular (legal) forms of hemp and can be used for salad dressings, mayonnaise or just eaten raw, and are currently produced by the likes of GranoVita and Manitoba. Their full business value, however, is yet to be exploited with very few ready-made products available to buy.

Coconut water

Arguably one of the most underrated superfoods, coconut water is the second – only to water – purest liquid on the planet. High concentrations of calcium, potassium, magnesium and electrolytes essentially make it an isotonic sports drink in it own container. It must be pointed out this is coconut water, not the milk, meaning the benefits are lost in your Thai green curry.

“Statistics from the US, the home of fast-food, show a major decrease in soft drink and fast food sales.”

Its benefits are impressive and relatively unknown. Drunk regularly enough it reduces urinary problems such as strangury and polyutra, breaks up kidney stones and kills intestinal worms. It is even used to suppress vomiting in cases of typhoid and malaria, and due to this and its hydrating properties, is also touted as a hangover cure.

Most impressively, coconut water has been used to replace plasma in blood transfusions and was regularly used during the Second World War instead of intravenous fluid.

Vita Coca currently exports a variety of coconut water juices across the globe.

Cacao

This raw chocolate powder, normally seen as a percentage on the front of wrapper, contains epicatechin and is also high in magnesium and other key nutrients.

Studies in Panama by the University of California and Harvard Medical School found members of a tribe who drank 40 cups a week reduced their chances of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes or suffering a stroke to less than 10%.

Of course the draw-back to this ingredient is the high calorie count and the need for a high cacao content. As a product, high-cacao content chocolate bars and drinks are becoming more and more popular.

Blueberries

Like so many other foods mentioned here, blueberries have been used as a food source for centuries without their long-term health benefits being known.

A study by the US Department of Agriculture discovered blueberries had the highest antioxidant levels in a study that compared 40 other fruits and vegetables. It has even been proven they protect against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and could even combat aging and short-term memory loss. The source of their power is anthocyanin, a natural dye present in their skin.

Quinoa

Used as long as 5,000 years ago by the Incas in South America, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a gluten-free seed, high in protein, magnesium, manganese, copper and fibre.

“Quinoa is a gluten-free seed, high in protein, magnesium, manganese, copper and fibre.”

Acting as a prebiotic (good bacteria), quinoa has been used in preventing and treating artherosderosis, breast cancer, diabetes and insulin resistance.

Quinoa is versatile and can be used in dishes ranging from warming winter soups to refreshing summer salads and takes less than 15 minutes to cook.

Recent marketing strategies have turned to the breakfast market with quinoa flakes being promoted as an alternative to oatmeal. Biona currently produces a rye and quinoa bread while Suma is one of the most noted exporters of flaked quinoa.

Goji berries

Grown in China, Mongolia and Tibet, goji berries have been harvested by herbalists for 6,000 years. Normally served dried and resembling a red raisin, goji berries, or wolfberries, are rich in antioxidants, carotenoids, beta carotene and zeaxanthin.

Traditionally, the berries have been used to protect the liver, improve eyesight, strengthen legs, benefit the immune system, and boost sexual function and fertility. A 1994 study in China also found it was beneficial to those undergoing treatment for cancer.

The dried berries are more commonly found as a supplement and the juice is still a lot more common in Asia than it is in Europe or the US. Some companies, such as Alliance Himalayan and Optima, have begun to make the product available over the internet.