Top 10 lists are fun, but I had to go for a Top 12 list because there was just too much goodness to squeeze in. I’ve been paying attention to the latest research as well as time honored traditional food ways to help compile this list. I’m sharing my discoveries for you here.
1. Fermented foods
Fermented vegetables are also known as “pickled vegetables” made with a brine (salt solution) instead of vinegar. This process is called “lacto-fermentation.” The natural healthy bacteria that is present on the vegetable will grow under the right conditions (in this case, without oxygen) and preserve the vegetable. Many traditional cultures utilized this method of preserving foods without needing refrigeration. Eating fermented foods has health benefits such as supplying a source of probiotics (good bacteria) for a healthy digestive system. The fermentation process also can increase the natural enzymes and vitamins present in the food. One mouthful of sauerkraut contains more vitamin C than an entire serving of cabbage!
Get an easy recipe to make your own sauerkraut at home here!
2. Bone Broth
When you make broth from the bones of animals you are able to create a product that contains more than just a flavorful brew. When you make stock from chicken or beef bones it takes several hours, preferably overnight to extract the calcium from the bones and the glucosamine, chondroitin and other gelatinous compounds into the broth. These compounds are important for strong bones and teeth, joint health and gut integrity.
Check out some broth recipes here.
Beets have been featured in some recent studies for their ability to help reduce blood pressure. Specifically, the studies focused on beet juice, which would deliver a more concentrated dose of nitrates, the active compound likely responsible for the blood pressure reduction. They convert to nitric oxide within the body and help relax and expand the vessels, thus lowering the pressure. So whether you serving beets at dinner or drinking a glass of red juice, the body gets benefits from this life sustaining vegetable!
4. Chia Seeds OR Flax seeds
Ch-Ch–Ch-Chia! It’s hard to believe the tiny seeds that were responsible for the Chia pet are the very same that are now touted for their health benefits. I’ve also included flax seeds here because they both have similar characteristics. Both seeds are good sources of plant Omega-3 fats which are known to be healthful for heart health. With flax, you need to have the seeds ground in order to access the Omega-3 fats. The other nutrition boost these seeds feature is a nice dose of dietary soluble fiber. When you mix these seeds with a liquid, they form a gel, which can trap toxins and carry them out of the body. It can also serve the purpose of ingredient substitutions in recipes if you aren’t using eggs or fats and need volume.
Try some delicious seed recipes here and here.
Sardines are no longer your father’s smelly snack. They are one of the coldwater fish that we should be consuming 3 servings of per week to attain those important Omega-3 fats. These fats are in a different form in fish that are more bio-available to the body, so we can absorb and use them better. The benefits don’t stop there. Sardines are also an amazing source of calcium due to the soft bones. A small 4oz. tin of sardines contains 50% of your daily calcium intake! They are also a good source of B12. These days, you can find sardines packed in olive oil, mustard or hot sauce, even smoked. They are also an easy, portable source of protein on-the-go. Chop them up on top of a salad or mixed with spicy mustard in a wrap and it’s an inexpensive way to get some solid nutrition.
Seaweed or sea vegetables, as they are sometimes called, can be a tricky food to incorporate into a regular menu plan if you aren’t a lover of things from the sea. However, like many vegetables, they can be marinated and flavored and added to other dishes to accent a taste. Try this recipe for seaweed salad. If you are a sushi eater, you’ve already been eating seaweed in the form of Nori (the dark wrapper on sushi rolls). You can find dried seaweed online, but mainstream grocers are now carrying a variety of seaweeds in their international aisles. One macrobiotic cooking practice utilizes a piece of seaweed in cooked beans to help make them more digestible. Another way to eat more seaweed is to use sheets of Nori as a wrap. It’s a low carb, nutritious alternative to tortillas. Your nutrition benefits include a boost of magnesium, iron, iodine and fiber.
7. Egg Yolk
So we’ve been told to eat eggs, not eat eggs, then eat just the whites. Are you still throwing out your egg yolks? Not so fast! Did you know the yolk is where most of the nutrition of the egg is located? If you are throwing away the yolk, say goodbye to Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Omega-3s, and 90% of your folate, B12, B6, calcium and zinc as well as half the protein. It’s true that eggs contain cholesterol, but dietary cholesterol is not the primary contributor to us developing cholesterol problems. Eggs are one of the most affordable and versatile and bio-available forms of protein we have access to. The best choice would be an egg that came from a chicken fed a high quality diet. Look for “pastured” or “high omega” eggs or perhaps, purchase them from a local farmer who lets their chickens roam about and eat a natural diet.
When a seed sprouts, a chain reaction of growth begins. Enzymes start to become active and vitamins get produced to help the plant grown out of it’s seed state. The life force of the plant explodes! Studies show that sprout contain high levels of B vitamins as well as Vitamins A, C and E. Enzymes can help you digest food better as well. Some sprouts have remarkable levels of other beneficial compounds. Broccoli sprouts, for example contain over 50 times the sulforaphane levels compare to mature broccoli. Eating these sprouts regularly could provide some disease protection since this compound exhibits anti-cancer and anti-microbial properties.
9. Grass-fed Beef
Grass fed beef is a whole different animal when compared to conventionally raised cows. Well maybe not literally. However, when cattle are allowed to graze on their natural diet of grass, they actually produce Omega-3 fats including CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). The animals tend to be leaner and have less unhealthy fats than their grain-fed counter parts as well as more Vitamin E, beta carotene and Vitamin C. The meat is typically more flavorful to boot! Don’t forget about the other nutrition in beef: iron, Vitamin B12 and zinc. Where do you get this tasty treat? Try your local farmer’s market, health food store or online.
Whoa! For real? You may be thinking “I need to eat liver?!” The truth is our grandmothers knew best about this vitamin rich powerhouse. Let me list a few: Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, niacin, thiamin, folate, choline, Omega-3 fats, copper, selenium, iron and zinc. Yes, liver does contain cholesterol, but see the note above and seek out liver from grass-fed or pasture raised animals. Now, the way you cook liver can be quite different from how your grandmother fixed it. You may try to squeeze in some liver in the form of a pâté. This way the liver is combined with other ingredients to enhance the flavor and can be quite tasty. Another way is to combine liver into another dish like this recipe does here.
11. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil could have it’s very own blog post with the vast amount of nutritional benefits it has. The coconut oil I speak of here is not the coconut oil of the past, the hydrogenated, trans-fat variety. The coconut oil these days is a raw, virgin product that smells slightly of coconut and has lots practical uses. It is a unique saturated fat that allows it to used at high heat without becoming unstable and has numerous antibacterial and antiviral properties. The saturated fat is comprised primarily of medium chain fats which are preferentially used for energy and not as quick to be stored as fat. Regular consumption of coconut oil has been shown to increase levels of good HDL cholesterol and improve the cholesterol ratio. Supplementation of coconut oil has also shown some promising research in the areas of Alzheimers, Cancer, Heart Disease and Weight Management. There are many delicious ways to use coconut oil. Try substituting for other cooking oils for frying and baking. You may be able to justify some dessert calories as essential fats!
Try Chocolate Coconut Cups or straight homemade chocolate.
12. Raw Honey
I couldn’t resist! Saving the best for last, I had to give props to the golden nectar of the bees. We all know that sugar should be consumed in moderation, right? With that being said, when you choose to consume the sweet stuff, nothing beats the health benefits of all natural, raw honey. Many report relief from allergies when consuming local honey. Honey has also been used topically for wound healing and antiseptic properties. Now you may be thinking “wait, I do eat this stuff!” But tell me where you got it. Are you sure it’s raw? And by that I mean, unprocessed. Most of the honey sold in the big box and chain stores of the U.S. is highly processed honey, heat treated and ultra-filtered so that no original pollen is detectable. That removes it’s health benefits and eliminates the ability to know where the honey is coming from. China is known for adding antibiotics in their honey production and it has been suspected for exporting their ultra-filtered honey to the US. Nobody wants that. So how do you avoid the industrial stuff? Buy honey from a small store that stocks local honey, buy from a farmer’s market or your local beekeeper and taste the difference.