As years go by, food fads come and go. Two years ago, acai was touted as the wonder berry, this year kale is king. It is not that we haven’t known these foods to be beneficial; it just wasn’t until mass media told us so that we decided to try them. Many of the most beneficial foods go way back to ancient times when humans knew certain foods were good for them but they just weren’t sure why.
Nature has designed our bodies to thrive and seek nourishment. It’s our minds that get in the way. As humans, we have the ability to make connections between food and pleasure; taste and satisfaction. This is both a blessing and a curse; sometimes our minds override our bodies, leading us astray down the Oreo isle.
I don’t advocate “diets.” I am a believer in making healthy eating a lifestyle, while still enjoying the naughty things in moderation. A lifestyle change begins in small steps. Below I have listed foods that are often cast aside in favor of the latest “gluten-free cupcake” or “dairy-free, sugar-free, fat-free, snickerdoodle.”
The foods I have included in this list are nothing new, yet their humble existence is often ignored. If you experiment and incorporate just a few, even one, of these foods into your arsenal of noms, your body will thank you.
Raw, living, fermented foods are your gut’s best friend. Loaded with healthy microbes and bacteria, foods like sauerkraut help maintain the flora of you inner plumbing. If kraut isn’t your thing, try kimchi, or even kombucha (just watch the sugar content).
The raw, shelled variety is commonly known as the pepita. These little green seeds are loaded with zinc, several forms of vitamin E, phenolic acids, lignans, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, and protein. Phew. Need I saw more?
Lentils need to be a staple in every kitchen of the budget-conscious. These are, by far, the most economical sources of nutrition out there (goodbye ramen).
Lentils are rich in molybdenum (an essential trace mineral that acts as an enzyme catalyst), folate, fiber, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, protein, and more. Lentils are particularly good for maintaining normal blood sugar levels and lowering bad cholesterol. They are an excellent source of protein for those who shy away from meat. With so many varieties (red, green, French, brown, dal), there are limitless ways to prepare these little pebbles of goodness.
Green cabbage is fine but red provides a more robust flavor with added health benefits. It is also another one of the most affordable vegetables, often costing less than a dollar for an entire head.
Raw, steamed, in a healthy slaw (i.e. yogurt based), on sandwiches, fermented (kraut!), as borscht (no way to make that sound sexy), or simply in salad, red cabbage deserves a place in your crisper drawer. The red variety is loaded with vitamins K, C, and B6, fiber and potassium. Honestly, there are lots of good things in this vegetable. The combined properties of all cabbage’s constituents provide antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Make sure you slice, chop, or shred your cabbage first and then let it sit for a few minutes. This activates the myrosinase enzymes, which help convert glucosinolates to isothiocyanates, aka cancer fighters.
Also known as the “hen-of-the-wood,” this specific variety of mushroom has been shown to not only enhance immunity; it may also inhibit the spread of tumors. The main component responsible for these benefits is beta-glucan. According to the American Cancer Society, evidence looks promising that dietary beta-glucan is a cancer-fighting minion.
Maitake shrooms are especially useful in winter when our vitamin D levels tend to decline. Just 1 cup of diced maitake provides nearly 200% of your daily recommendation!
This dark leafy green is known for regulating blood sugar. Swiss chard contains a flavonoid that basically inhibits the enzymatic breakdown of certain carbohydrates into simple sugars, therefore preventing a spike in blood sugar.
Chard stalks come in a variety of colors, each with unique phytonutrients (don’t toss the stalks!). We all know dark leafy greens are good for us, so why don’t you swap out your spinach and kale for some red or rainbow chard?
Note-I am NOT talking about microwave bag popcorn. That stuff is…..just….no. I mean the pop-on-the-stove-in-a-giant-pot method or with the 1980’s air popper, if you prefer.
For a long time, we thought plain old popcorn was just empty carbohydrates and a pointless snack. Now, researchers have discovered that plain popcorn has MORE concentrated antioxidants than almost any other fruit or vegetable. The reason is most fruits and vegetables have a high water content, which essentially dilutes the polyphenols and decreases their potency. Popcorn, on the other hand, has no moisture, thus allowing a higher concentration of polyphenols (especially in the hulls that stick in your teeth!) Also, popcorn is an excellent source of fiber.
My favorite way to make popcorn is with a teaspoon or two of coconut oil in a large soup pot. Melt the oil and then pour in enough popcorn kernels to make a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Over medium heat, put a lid off-center on the pan to allow steam to escape. Shake periodically until there are 3 seconds between pops. Done! Add cinnamon or nutritional yeast with sea salt. Low calorie, nutrient dense, brainless snacking. Yes.
That’s it! For now. I will be posting part II soon with more underrated foods so stay tuned!
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