Hazelnuts are the nuts of the hazel tree, most commonly grown in Europe and US. Consumed raw, roasted or pasted, the hazelnut is most commonly found in the centre of chocolates, as it is used to make praline, or mixed into a jar of Nutella.
Hazelnut has far more variance to it than that, however, and is also great for making nut butter, soups and salads. With a fantastic nutritional profile typical of nuts and seeds, and with a whole range of antioxidant support and benefits for your long term health, the hazelnut is a good way to start introducing all important nuts and seeds into your diet.
Nutritionally, the hazelnut is high in monounsaturated fat and magnesium; both of which have been linked to improved cardiovascular health. 100g contains 628 calories, 46g of monounsaturated fats, 8g of polyunsaturated fats, and 4.5g of saturated fats (remember, monounsaturated is good for the heart). In addition, hazelnuts contain a reasonable amount of protein, 15g or 30% of your Daily Value (DV).
On top of the macronutrients, hazelnuts contain 40% DV magnesium, 30% DV B6, 26% DV iron and 19% DV potassium. Deficiencies in all of these are common occurrences that could have particularly bad consequences for blood and heart health. Finally, 100g of hazelnuts contains 40% DV of fibre, which helps with digestion.
The main benefit of the hazelnut is the huge amount of antioxidant potential it has, in particularly the high levels of Flavan-3-ols and antioxidants. Antioxidants in both the hazelnut kernel and in the skin have been identified. Antioxidants are important for preventing damage by free radicals, which could lead to cell or DNA damage, causing possible mutations, tissue damage and so on.
Nuts as a whole, when studied, show promising benefits. One study showed that frequent nut consumption has a positive effect on the proliferation of cancer and on free radical damage. Nuts can help protect against cardiovascular disease and even lower your risk of gallstone disease.
Honeydew is a cultivar of a species called muskmelon (other cultivars include the cantaloupe), renowned for its sweet tasting flesh and light, refreshing texture. Excellent in fruit salads, or eaten as a low calorie dessert on its own, the honeydew melon is a delicious yet low calorie way of keeping your sweet tooth when trying to lose weight. A common variety of melon, native to Western Asia, honeydew melon is now available all around the world and is grown in many countries as a commercial crop. Low calorie, and with huge antioxidant potential, the honeydew melon is a great addition to the end of any meal.
100g honeydew melon contains just 36 calories, but that small amount of calories contains a number of nutritional surprises: 30% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, 6% DV of potassium, and 5% DV of B6. While this is certainly a significant amount of nutrition on a per calorie basis, in reality the most potent effect of the honeydew melon is as a diet aid for those with a sweet tooth. It is mostly water, low in calories, but contains enough nutrition that your body does not crave more food, as it may do with refined sugars.
The most significant benefit of the honeydew melon, however, is the large antioxidant potential it possesses, which is fantastic for the prevention of DNA damage and cell death. Honeydew melon also has confirmed anti-inflammatory effects. In addition, in rats fed a diet intended to give them atherosclerosis, melon appeared to ameliorate some of the effects of the diet and prevent the factors for atherosclerosis arising. Finally, the honeydew melon may have some kidney protecting benefits, specifically, against the oxidative stress produced by diabetes, confirming both a strong antioxidant profile and that honeydew melons are a heart healthy food.
Horseradish is a member of the brassica family, native to southeast Europe and Western Asia, mostly used in sauces and condiments. The plant is now popular worldwide, even being used as a wasabi replacement in Japan and elsewhere due to the scarcity of wasabi (and the relative cheapness of horseradish). With a healthy amount of vitamin C and a whole lot of cancer-fighting compounds, horseradish is a great way to spice up any healthy meal.
The pure nutritional benefits of horseradish are not its strong point due to the relatively small amounts commonly eaten. With that said, horseradish does have a surprising amount of vitamin C, 41% of your daily value (DV) per 100g, according to the USDA database. Vitamin C is an essential mineral, severe deficiency of which can cause serious problems, and is necessary for everything from gum to cardiovascular health, so it’s hard to get too much of it!
The real benefits of the plant, however, lie more with the ‘phytonutrients’ than micronutrients. The first set of phytonutrients we have met before: the glucosinalates that break down into sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, and have a well-studied list of beneficial effects (see bok choy).
The more interesting and unique phytonutrient with which we are concerned, however, is the compound ‘Allylisothyocyanate’. Originally a defence mechanism for the plant, it is now thought to have some benefit to those who eat it: specifically, anti-cancer and anti-microbial effects.
The anti-microbial effects of allylisothyocyanate are less surprising, and perhaps less useful, as I could find no evidence that the compound targets microbes harmful to humans, so perhaps its health benefits may be limited to food preservation.
The anti-cancer effects of the compound are more interesting, however. The study just referenced found that not only does allylisothyocyanate have positive effects on cultured cancer cells and in animal tests, but that the compound is extremely available for oral consumption. While further research is clearly needed, it seems as if the compound may have a strong protective potential against cancer cells.
Jicama (also known as yambean or Mexican yam) is a root vegetable usually eaten raw, and fantastic in soups, stir-fries, salads and Mexican cuisine.
Unlike some other root vegetables, eating the leaves is not such a good idea (they are highly poisonous), but the jicama itself has a sweet, starchy flavour, sometimes described as being somewhere between an apple and a potato.
On top of being interesting in a culinary sense, the jicama is fantastic for digestive health and at reducing your risk of certain cancers.
Jicama has a good nutritional profile, being especially high in vitamin C, important for processes like iron absorption and wound healing.
One medium jicama (659g) contains 221% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C, in addition to 128% DV of dietary fibre, which has great digestive benefits (more on that below), and 28% DV of potassium, a mineral with proven cardiovascular benefits.
Jicama is not only high in vitamin C and fibre however. The large amounts of ‘dietary fibre’ in a jicama don’t do justice to the type of dietary fibre contained. Along with foods such as onions and leeks, jicama is very high in oligofructose and inulin, two members of the class of carbohydrate known as fructans.
Both are good for you for three main reasons: they stimulate bifidobacteria growth, they may have benefits for the prevention of intestinal diseases, and they may reduce your risk of cancer (see this review).
Firstly, oligofructose and inulin stimulate bifidobacteria growth. But what does this mean? Bifidobacteria are a kind of bacteria found in your gut, and eating oligofructose and inulin allows them to outcompete other bacteria in the gut that may be detrimental to your health.
Health benefits ascribed to having high levels of bifidobacteria include stimulating the immune system, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria and aiding in the synthesis of B vitamins.
The digestive benefits of jicama don’t stop there, however. There is some evidence that they may help to prevent the incidence of intestinal disease, in particular the formation of aberrant crypt foci, clusters of abnormal tube-like glands in the colon. These are one of the earliest warning signs for problems that could be as bad as colon cancer, which, by the way, inulin has been proven to reduce the risk of.
In addition, there is some evidence that inulin and oligofructose reduce the risk of breast cancer. With the digestive and anti-cancer benefits of jicama so powerful, it’s no wonder that it’s made our list of healthiest foods.
Those of you who have read anything about nutrition over the past few years have almost certainly heard of kale. And if you’re looking for an article that attempts to brand kale as anything less than a great addition to the diets of most people, you’re out of luck.
A member of the brassica family (a family of foods you should certainly include in your diet, even if you hate kale), kale is a nutritional powerhouse that almost anyone can benefit from eating.
Kale is an extremely nutrient dense food, in fact, it has a claim on being the most nutrient dense food (per gram) on the planet.
Firstly, kale is supremely high in vitamin K. The USDA database lists raw kale as having 880% of your daily value (DV) in just 100g of kale (cooked kale has 1021%!). Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and bone health. Secondly, raw kale has extremely high levels of vitamin C (200% DV), a vitamin vital to connective tissue.
High levels of vitamin K and vitamin C are, of course, not particularly special in a member of the brassica family. What is special is the sheer amount of these nutrients in just 100g and 49 calories. Kale has, quite frankly, more vitamin K than you could ever need, and this list of foods rich in vitamin C shows that Kale is behind only peppers and foods eaten commonly in small amounts, like chives.
The nutritional benefits don’t stop there though. Three minerals that many people are deficient in are calcium, magnesium and potassium. 100g of raw kale contains 15%, 11% and 14% DV respectively for each of these.
Calcium is of course vital for bone health and plays a role in a number of reactions in the body. It is one of the few minerals we need in reasonably large amounts (1000mg/ day). Magnesium is essential to exercise recovery and may even help protect against blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Finally, potassium has been associated with lower risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
As with most brassicas, the effects of kale go far beyond the nutritional values, however. The benefits of the unique anti-cancer compounds found in brassicas are powerful, and backed up by scientific evidence.
Another great benefit of Kale is that it contains compounds that benefit the health of your eye. Two compounds that are particularly important for the health of your eye are lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are found in huge quantities in kale: this list of foods high in lutein and zeaxanthin puts kale right at the top, with 23.7mg per cup of cooked kale. In fact, lutein and zeaxanthin are thought to protect against two of the most common eye disorders, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Finally, kale contains 4.3g of protein per 100g, making it a great vegan and vegetarian source of protein.
The kidney bean is a variety of common bean, so called because, well, it looks like a kidney. A great source of protein, especially for those who don’t eat meat regularly, the kidney bean benefits from being extremely nutrient dense and high in fibre, with large amounts of a number of essential nutrients. Kidney beans are classically a part of Chilli con carne, but can also be used in bean burgers, bean salads, and as a replacement for ground mince in a number of traditional Mexican dishes. With a fantastic nutritional profile and a confirmed heart healthy food, the kidney bean is a fantastic choice of lean protein.
Nutritionally, kidney beans are like many legumes: a nutrient-dense source of lean protein, or, in other words, really good for you! 100g of raw kidney beans is 333 calories, and those 333 calories provide you with 24g of protein (or 48% of your Daily Value – DV). On top of that, kidney beans follow the pattern of many other legumes by being extremely high in dietary fibre (60% DV) and essential nutrients. Kidney beans contain 98% DV of folate, 44% DV of iron, 40% DV of potassium, 35% DV of magnesium, and 20% DV of zinc. That covers everything from haemoglobin production to male sexual performance to your long term risk of heart disease, and that only scratches the surface, so it’s crucially important not to be deficient.
High fibre and high legume diets in general have been shown to be good for cardiovascular disease. High fibre diets have been shown to be associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and diets high in legume consumption have been shown to have an extremely reduced risk of heart disease as compared to a control. Finally, there is some association that has been suggested between high fibre diet and the incidence of Type 2 diabetes.
One word of warning, however: kidney beans contain a toxin called phytohemagglutin, so if cooking from dried, it is important that you boil the kidney beans for at least 10 minutes before eating them. And it is important that you boil them: merely heating them may simply raise the toxin concentration. Canned kidney beans, however, do not carry this danger.
Kiwifruits (often known simply as kiwis, or Chinese gooseberries) are a fruit originally native to china that are now grown as a commercial crop, thanks to the kiwi’s soft texture, and sweet and complex flavour. The kiwifruit can be used in anything from fruit pudding to salads to smoothies, but it is almost eaten raw to preserve the flavour. With great levels of vitamin C (much more than an orange per calorie) and antioxidant, anti-atherosclerosis and asthma preventing benefits, the kiwi is a fantastic option for those looking to diversify the delicious fruits they get their nutrients from.
Nutritionally, the kiwi’s headline is certainly the vitamin C content: 100g contains 61 calories, but a staggering 154% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C. In addition to that, the kiwi contains 12% of your DV fibre, 8% of your DV of potassium, and 5% of your DV of B6. These nutrients are responsible for a huge number of processes within the body; for example, vitamin B6 is involved in the production of red blood cells, and vitamin C is essential for the creation of connective tissue (things like gums). The fact that a kiwi a day can take care of your vitamin C needs is fantastic for your health.
However, the kiwi has a number of other health benefits up its sleeve. To begin with, it is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids thought to protect against two of the most common eye disorders, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Beyond that, the kiwi has also been linked to the prevention of asthma symptoms in children, along with other vitamin C rich foods.
In addition, the kiwi is fantastic for the health of the heart, having been demonstrated to prevent atherosclerosis (platelet aggregation and plasma lipids) and oxidative DNA damage. With both antioxidant capacity and the capacity to prevent atherosclerosis, the kiwi is a fantastically healthy food.
Kohlrabi, also known as turnip cabbage or the German turnip, is a member of the brassica family and a kind of cultivated cabbage. Not the prettiest looking vegetable, kohlrabi might surprise you with its somewhat sweet flavour and the great ability it has to be eaten in a number of different ways, tasting either sweet and crunchy when used raw (in a salad say) or richer and slightly more bitter when roasted.
With more vitamin C than an orange and the anti-cancer and antioxidant benefits that come with being a brassica, kohlrabi is a fantastic curveball to throw in the world of cruciferous vegetables.
(N.B. don’t throw away the leaves, they make a nice change from say, kale or collards, and are nutritious in their own right!)
It’s standout statistic is that 100g of raw kohlrabi provides 75% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C for just 27 calories. Moreover, the high levels of nutrients to low level of calories make this a sweet tasting and nutritious snack without the simple sugars present in, say, an orange.
The problem, is that the brassica family is generally studied by scientists as a unitary whole, with little differentiation between the species and cultivars. However, this study did a direct comparison of kohlrabi with a food we know to be great for your health, green cabbage on the effects on cells of the colon and rectum.
What they found was that ‘Kohlrabi should be considered, like cabbage, among the potent anti-carcinogenic cruciferous vegetables’.
There are so many vegetables in the brassica family with proven health benefits that it’s basically a matter of picking the ones you like to eat. With a slightly sweeter taste than most, why not try buying some kohlrabi and see if it pushes you into healthier eating habits?
The leek, a member of the allium family, is a vegetable with a mild, onion like taste. Delicious in soups, salads, or even just fried in butter, the leek is a traditional component of a number of classic dishes (leek and potato soup), in addition to being something of a health food.
With a strong nutritional profile, and an important source of the flavonoid kaempferol, leeks will lend a health advantage to almost any diet, and especially one low in green or allium vegetables.
Leeks are high in some rather unusual nutrients for a green vegetable, which is fantastic for those looking for nutritional variety. While leek is high in vitamin K, containing 45% of your daily value (DV) in 100g, according to the USDA database, it also has significant amounts of some essential vitamins and minerals many people’s diets lack. 100g contains 18% DV of vitamin B6, 16% DV of folate, 16% of iron, and 14% DV of vitamin C, all for just 61 calories.
These slightly harder to come by essential micronutrients perform a plethora of different functions in the body. B6 is important in a huge amount of processes, including forming haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells which carries oxygen around the body. Folate may benefit your health by preventing an excess of homocysteine, which is related to higher risk of cardiovascular disease and depression.
Iron deficiency results in tiredness and paleness, and should be avoided, and vitamin C is essential for iron absorption, gum health and a host of other things. Unlike, say, vitamin K, it is not uncommon for those in the developed world to be deficient in these, so eating leek may have some real health benefit to a lot of people.
Leek really shines, however, in its high concentration of a flavonoid called kaempferol, also found in a number of other allium vegetables. This review sees kaempferol as having ‘antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer,cardioprotective, neuroprotective, antidiabetic, anti-osteoporotic, estrogenic/antiestrogenic, anxiolytic, analgesic and antiallergic’ effects, so clearly this is something that needs further research!
All of these health benefits add up to a very convincing set of reasons to eat more leeks!
The lemon is a citrus fruit used worldwide for its distinctive bitter taste. With the juice, pulp and rind all available for use, the lemon is a versatile fruit used for a variety of purposes: the juice is used for everything from lemonade to salad dressing, the pulp used for smoothies, and the rind used in all kinds of baking. Although we don’t recommend eating lemon drizzle cake every day, there is certainly a haul of health benefits in lemons. Low calorie, with huge health significance for a number of the most common causes of mortality, and with strong anti-microbial effects, lemon is a unique health food.
Nutritionally, as with many fruits, lemons are low calorie, high in vitamin C, and high in fibre. 100g of lemon contains just 29 calories, but for that you get 88% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, 11% DV of dietary fibre, and 5% DV of vitamin B6. The high water and fibre content make it a virtually calorie free addition in many cases. The high levels of vitamin C, fibre and B6 are great for everything from the immune system to blood to digestion, so that’s a lot of benefit for only a few calories.
Lemons have a number of interesting health benefits: they prevent the spread of cancer, reduce the risk of stroke, and have a strong anti-microbial effect. Citrus fruit has been proven to have a broad effect on cancer proliferation, and lemons have an impact on tumour growth. Those two broad brush benefits belie the fact that lemons have a strong cancer fighting impact. In general, intake of citrus fruits also seems to be associated with a lower risk of stroke. With cancer and strokes being so high up on the causes of mortality in the developed world, it’s an interesting thing that something as common as lemon can make a real difference. Finally, lemon has been researched due to its anti-fungal effects.
Lentils are an edible pulse, native to Western Asia, and one of the most common sources of vegetarian protein worldwide. Eaten on an often daily basis as dhal in India, lentils are also used in a wide variety of vegetarian curries and sauces as a pulse or as a thickener. A staple of that most basic of dishes, lentils and rice, the humble lentil makes up for its gentle flavour by being a nutritional powerhouse. With a fantastic nutritional profile and a whole host of scientifically validated benefits for cardiovascular disease and cancer, the lentil is a must for almost any balanced diet.
Nutritionally, the lentil is incredibly low fat and high protein. 100g of raw lentils is 353 calories, but for that your get 26g of protein, or 52% of your Daily Value (DV) of protein. On top of that, lentils are incredibly high in fibre (more on the benefits of that below), containing 120% DV, which is great for digestion; and a whole host of essential minerals. 100g of lentils contains 41% DV of magnesium, 30 % DV of iron and 27% DV of potassium, all minerals that common western diets, high in saturated fats and sugars, and higher in ‘empty calories’ are deficient in. All of these deficiencies, even if minor, can pose threats to your health if not taken seriously enough.
Lentils have more benefits that just keeping you away from mineral deficiencies, however. Lentils contain compounds called lectins, a group of proteins unique to plants that are being researched for possible cancer treatments. On top of that, lentils have benefits for the prevention of heart disease (the West’s biggest killer): one study showed that lentils reduced the likelihood of LDL oxidation or atherosclerosis, both huge risk factors for the development of coronary heart disease.
In addition, high fibre and high legume diets in general have been shown to be good for cardiovascular disease. High fibre diets have been shown to be associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and diets high in legume consumption have been shown to have an extremely reduced risk of heart disease as compared to a control. Finally, there is some association that has been suggested between high fibre diet and the incidence of Type 2 diabetes.
The perennial salad vegetable, lettuce, is a fantastic food for weight loss, eye health and the cardiovascular system. Lettuce, a member of the daisy family, is most often found in salads, but can also be used for soups, sandwiches, stir fries and wraps.
In terms of health benefits, it is a low calorie and nutritious food, with compounds that lower your risk of cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Nutritionally, lettuce is a bit of a two-trick pony. To begin with, as you might expect, it’s very low calorie: 100g of Romaine lettuce contains just 17 calories. But the real surprise (one pretty exclusive to this variety), is that just 100g of Romaine lettuce contains a staggering 174% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin A equivalent (the actual substance is beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body), in addition to 8% DV of fibre and 7% DV of potassium.
Lettuce does however, have health benefits beyond its nutritional content. The first one is, rather unsurprisingly, weight loss. As a low calorie vegetable, it is possible to eat large quantities of it with negligible calorie intake, and the high dietary fibre content will help increase the feeling of satiety (fullness). It will also help with digestion, as will the very high percentage of water weight.
Secondly, the high levels of beta-carotene in Romaine lettuce may lower your risk of getting certain cancers, specifically prostate cancer and colon cancer. Beta-carotene is also important because it breaks down into Vitamin A, which is essential for eye health.
Finally, lettuce also has a high concentration of a flavonoid called quercetin, which has been shown to lower blood pressure, in addition to reducing platelet aggregation, a major contributing factor to atherosclerosis. Both high blood pressure and atherosclerosis are great risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and should be taken seriously.
Quercetin may have some athletic performance benefits, further proving that eating it will provide some benefit for your heart.
Lima beans (also known as butter beans), are a legume native to South America with a subtle, starchy taste. An excellent base for any number of dishes such as bean burgers or chilli con carne, lima beans can also be cooked as a side dish with lemon, tomato, or a host of other ingredients to make a light curry. Like many legumes, lima beans are an excellent source of vegetarian protein and extremely low in fat. As well as being fantastic in raw nutritional terms, lima beans also have a number of fantastic attributes when it comes to preventing heart disease.
100g of large raw lima beans contains 338 calories. However, as a fantastic lean protein source, lima beans contain 21g of protein, or 48% of your Daily Value (DV). That’s 48% DV of protein for 17% DV of calories! Lima beans also shine when it comes to micronutrients: 100g contains 56% DV of magnesium, 49% DV of potassium and 41% DV of iron. All of these minerals are the source of common deficiencies, with magnesium being particularly prevalent in those who exercise (sweat) a lot, and iron deficiency being most common in women. Finally, 100g of lima beans contains 76% DV of dietary fibre, fantastic for digestion, and, as we’ll see, fantastic for health.
Diets high in fibre and high in legumes have actually been the subject of a lot of research, most of which focuses on cardiovascular disease. High fibre diets have been shown to be associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and diets high in legume consumption have been shown to have an extremely reduced risk of heart disease as compared to a control. Finally, there is some association that has been suggested between high fibre diet and the incidence of Type 2 diabetes.
The lime is a notable citrus fruit, grown year round in tropical climates. With a very slightly less bitter taste than its fellow citrus fruit, the lemon, the lime is used extensively in cuisines as far away as Indonesian and Mexican, for dishes as different as coconut and lime curry and guacamole. In addition to its uses as a fruit, a juice and a flavouring, lime also finds use as a perfume and in cleaning products. With very few calories, concrete health benefit for many of the most common diseases in the developed world, and strong anti-microbial effects, lime is a fantastic food to add to a healthy diet.
Nutritionally, as with many fruits, lime has only a few cards in its hand: it is low calorie, high in vitamin C, and high in fibre. 100g of lime contains just 30 calories, but for that you get 48% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, and 11% DV of dietary fibre. The high water and fibre content ensure that this is not a food you can put on weight with (aside from the fact that eating 2000 calories in limes would not be pleasant). In addition, the high levels of vitamin C are great for everything from the immune system to the gums.
Limes have a number of distinct and intriguing health benefits: they prevent the spread of cancer, reduce the risk of stroke, modulate the immune system and have a strong anti-microbial effect. Citrus fruit has been proven to have a broad effect on cancer proliferation, and limes in particular have possible benefits versus pancreatic cancer. In addition, intake of citrus fruits seems to be associated with a lower risk of stroke. Research is also underway into lime as an immune system modulator.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about the lime is its extremely strong anti-bacterial effect, specifically, its potent benefits against the spread of cholera. Lime juice in food proved to be extremely effective at preventing the spread of cholera in hospitals and inhibiting proliferation of the bacteria in the lab. While it is unlikely many of our readers will be infected with cholera, this is both an undeniably interesting study and a testament to the anti-microbial effect of lime juice.
Macadamia nuts are a nut native to Australia, the oil of which is widely used in skincare and cosmetic products. Sometimes used as a cooking or drizzling oil, macadamia nuts are most often as nuts, whether that’s just salted or spiced or cooked in stir fries and glazes. Often seen covered in chocolate, the macadamia nut is actually extremely nutritionally balanced (although very high calorie), and despite its high fat levels, has been proven to reduce cholesterol. With proven health benefits and a lot of delicious heart-healthy fats; the macadamia nut is a must have food for cardiovascular health.
Nutritionally, macadamia nuts are extremely high in monounsaturated fats: 100g contains 740 calories and 59g of monounsaturated fats, as compared to 12g of saturated fats. Monounsaturated fat intake has been linked to better heart health, as we’ll see below, so this is a good thing (despite the calories). On top of that, macadamia nuts contain 32% DV of magnesium, 20% DV of iron, 14% DV of B6 and 9% DV of zinc. Iron, zinc, and magnesium are all the source of common mineral deficiencies, and can lead to everyday issues such as tiredness, poor male sexual health, and poor athletic performance. On top of that, vitamin B6 is essential for formation of red blood cells, so avoid all these deficiencies if you can.
Macadamia nuts have more than just a solid nutritional profile, however. Despite what you may think about such a high fat, high calorie food having positive effects on cardiovascular health, macadamia nuts are fantastic for long term health. Supplementing the diet with macadamia nuts has been proven to lower total and LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol), both in healthy participants, and those subjects already with high cholesterol. In addition, macadamia nuts reduce the risk factors for coronary artery disease, the most common killer in the western world. If ever there was proof needed that fat doesn’t make you fat, look no further!
In addition, nuts as a whole, when studied, show promising effects. One study showed that frequent nut consumption has a positive effect on the proliferation of cancer and on free radical damage. In addition, nuts can help protect against cardiovascular disease; and even lower your risk of gallstone disease.
Mackerel is a name given to a number of species of white fish, that until recently were extremely abundant. Consumed worldwide, and intensively fished, the mackerel has been overfished in the North Sea, leading to a lack of jobs in the fishing industry, but elsewhere the demand and supply for mackerel thrive fairly unchecked.
Generally eaten fresh (or frozen or cured to prevent the meant from spoilt), mackerel is excellent grilled, flamed, pickled, fried, and in any number of dishes. Nutritious and full of omega 3s, mackerel is a mild tasting entry into the world of fish, and, as an oily fish, one of the healthiest.
100g of raw mackerel contains 207 calories, but for that, you get a lot of nutrition! For that mere 207 calories, you get 18.6g of good quality protein (37% of your Daily Value – DV). On top of that, you get 161% DV of vitamin D, and 19% DV of magnesium. With many of us staying inside throughout the day, vitamin D (ordinarily produced by our skin from sunlight) is becoming an increasing deficiency, which is a major problem for things like bone formation. In addition, magnesium is fantastic for the maintenance of cardiovascular health.
Mackerel are also a great source of omega 3s, which lower blood pressure, help prevent breast cancer, and even delay the onset of age-related macular degeneration. On top of that, they prevent the shortening of telomeres, associated with age-related diseases and early mortality, in addition to preventing or delaying neurodegenerative diseases. Diets with a high omega 6 to omega 3 ratio may even run the risk of depression and inflammatory disorders.
Finally, mackerel have some health benefits that are specific to them. Diets high in mackerel have been shown to significantly reduce total cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, in addition to reducing chances of thrombosis.
Mango is a juicy and sweet tasting stone fruit, native to south and Southeast Asia. Preserved in a variety of ways (raw, juiced, pickled), and eaten in a large variety of ways (in mango lassi, sorbet, fruit juice blends, chutneys and curries, for example). A delicious way to pack in a huge amount of phytonutrients, as well as a hefty dose of vitamin C, the mango is an easy way to add healthy foods to your diet, and a great source of health benefits in its own right. Nutrient dense, with potent antioxidant potential and unique compounds, the mango should be right near the top of the list of healthy ways to treat yourself.
Nutritionally, mango is nutrient dense, but regrettably fairly high in sugar. 100g contains 60 calories, but for that you get 60% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, 21% DV of vitamin A, and 5% DV of B6. Vitamin C is an essential vitamin for everything from iron absorption to immunity, vitamin A is crucial for eye health, and B6 is necessary for the creation of red blood cells. Nutrient deficiencies should be avoided at all costs, even if that means taking a multivitamin, but it’s much better to do it with real food! The only downside of using mango is the large amount of simple sugars present, but as long as you are trying to reduce the amount of refined sugar in your diet, this really shouldn’t be a problem.
Mango’s main benefit is its array of phytonutrients, which directly impact its large antioxidant potential. Antioxidants are essential to prevent ongoing free radical damage, incredibly important for the prevention of damage to both DNA and cells, possibly leading to mutations and tissue damage. Antioxidants are also incredibly important when it comes to aging; specifically preventing age associated oxidative stress. As the authors of that study say, antioxidants could delay the onset of a number of age-related diseases, which in real terms means an improved quality of life.
There are also a number of compounds within mangoes that are fantastic for a number of assorted diseases. A compound called lupeol, present in mango, has been highlighted for its cancer preventive effects, and a compound completely unique to mango, mangiferin, has been highlighted for its gastroprotective effects, and antidiabetic activity. Remember, this is a compound unique to mango!
‘Mushrooms’ is a broad term that refers to the fruiting body of a fungus. While one of the few foods on this list to not be plant or animal based, mushrooms are nonetheless one of the healthiest foods out there; having benefits for your cardiovascular health, immune system and some cancer-fighting benefits.
Not only are mushrooms diverse nutritionally, they are also diverse in a culinary sense, so experiment to see which kinds please your palate the most.
Nutritionally, mushrooms vary to a fair degree between varieties. For example, 100g of raw shiitake mushrooms, according to the USDA database, contains 34 calories, 15 % of your daily value of B6, 10% DV of fibre and 8% DV of potassium.
White mushrooms, by contrast, contain 22 calories per 100g, in addition to 9% DV of potassium, 6% DV of protein and 5% DV of B6.
Mushrooms in general have good amounts of B vitamins and potassium; great for immunity and cardiovascular health, which in conjunction with beta-glucans, make for some profound health benefits. But remember, these are generalisations.
In terms of health benefits, mushrooms benefit from being high in something many of us in the developed world are deficient in: vitamin D. Although we are able to synthesise this vitamin from sunlight, meaning it really shouldn’t need to be addressed in our diet, many of us now work inside all day that vitamin D deficiencies are on the rise. Mushrooms are the only vegan, non-fortified source of dietary vitamin D!
The reason mushrooms have vitamin D is because they contain a molecule similar to the molecule in our skin responsible for the production of vitamin D, so crucially, only mushrooms exposed to sunlight have sufficient levels of it.
The USDA database entry for raw portabella mushrooms shows that they contain a mere 2.5% DV of vitamin D per 100g; whereas the USDA database entry for raw portabella mushrooms exposed to UV light shows that they have a huge 112% DV of vitamin D per 100g!
This gives us a top tip: leave your mushrooms in the sun for an hour or two to get the full nutritional benefits.
Mushrooms are also high in compounds called beta-glucans. Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber with huge benefits for heart health, immunity and cancer prevention. They have been reputed to have broad anti-cancer benefits, although there is a lack of available human trials to draw safe conclusions from.
More significant are the incredible benefits for the heart: beta-glucans have been linked with cholesterol reduction, and have been shown to both prevent and help treat obesity and metabolic syndrome (metabolic syndrome is the combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity).
With cardiovascular disease being such a huge issue for many people, and the biggest killer in the developed world, beta-glucans surely have an important place in anyone’s diet.
The benefits of beta-glucans go beyond even this, however. As this review notes, they stimulate the immune system, decreasing your likelihood of contracting diseases. An increased resistance to biological agents can only be a good thing for your long term health.
It should also be noted that these benefits of beta-glucans are not simply studies of the isolated substance: this review specifically deals with the beneficial effects of beta-glucans from mushrooms, summing them up as anti-carcinogenic, immunity stimulating and cholesterol reducing. If those aren’t good reasons to incorporate mushrooms into your weekly eating habits, then what are?
Finally, mushrooms have a number of studied anti-carcinogenic properties, particularly shiitake mushrooms, as the most studied mushroom in terms of health benefits.
Shiitake mushrooms have been linked with a broad cancer inhibiting effect when tested on cell cultures, causing apoptosis (cell suicide) in different cancers. In addition, they have been found to protect the liver from toxic compounds.
However, not just shiitake mushrooms have been studied: shiitake, portabella and white mushrooms have all been proven to decrease the chance of cancers spreading, which is a major benefit considering cancer spreading from one part of the body to the other significantly decreases the chances of survival.
Mussels is the name given to several kinds of bivalve molluscs. Served mainly at seafood restaurants, mussels are fantastic smoked, boiled, steamed, roasted or barbecued. Because they are filter feeders, it is important to source your mussels from a reliable area, so as not to infect yourself with something, especially if you’re eating them raw. Delicious with something as simple as white wine sauce and garlic, mussels are a seafood delicacy, in addition to being a possible source of B12 and zinc supplementation for ethical vegans/ vegetarians (read on!). Nutrient dense, with plenty of omega 3s, the mussel is a fantastically nutritious food.
100g of cooked mussels will provide you with 172 calories, and a whole lot more! Those 100g will provide you with 48% DV of protein, a huge 400% DV of B12, 37% DV of iron, 22% DV of vitamin C and 18% DV of zinc. The protein makes mussels fantastic for those looking to stay lean, either while building muscle or slimming down, and the nutrient values are fantastic. Iron and zinc are both common deficiencies that can lead to apathy and tiredness, and vitamin C is essential for everything from gum health to iron absorption. Finally, B12 is an absolutely essential vitamin for optimal brain functioning.
In addition to all of that, mussels (like a lot of seafood) are a great source of omega 3s, which lower blood pressure, help prevent breast cancer, and even delay the onset of age-related macular degeneration. On top of that, they prevent the shortening of telomeres, associated with age-related diseases and early mortality, in addition to preventing or delaying neurodegenerative diseases. There is even suggestion that diets with a high omega 6 to omega 3 ratio run the risk of an increased risk of depression and inflammatory disorders.
Finally, it should be noted here that there are no vegan sources of vitamin B12. It is in fact the only known essential vitamin that you can’t get from plants. However, there is an argument that vegans can ethically eat bivalves, as they have no central nervous system, and thus can be eaten without causing any of the suffering associated with the meat industry. They also produce next to no bycatch. With 100g of mussels providing 400% of your DV of B12, it’s an interesting alternative to supplementation.
Mustard Greens are the leaves of a specific variety of brassica (Brassica Junkea) that, like many brassicas is very nutrient dense and low calorie. In addition to a fantastic nutritional profile, mustard greens are also distinct in terms of their peppery, spicy flavour. Best boiled or steamed, mustard greens are in many ways a typical member of the brassica family: extremely low-calorie, nutrient dense, and with fantastic cancer-fighting abilities. Eating almost any member of the esteemed brassica family is going to be a big plus for your health, so make sure to give mustard greens a try.
Nutritionally, mustard greens are exceptionally nutrient dense: 100g contains just 27 calories, and a ridiculous amount of essential nutrients. 100g of mustard greens contains 564% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin K, 116% DV of vitamin C, 60% DV of vitamin A, 11% DV of calcium, and 10% DV for both vitamin B6 and magnesium. The high levels of calcium and vitamin K will help to ensure excellent bone health, while the vitamin A will look after your eyes. Vitamin K and B6 will take care of blood health, magnesium the cardiovascular system, and vitamin C the immune system. And that only scratches the surface of the potential benefits!
Beyond the nutritional benefits, there is always the astonishing results that suggest that increased consumption of foods from the Brassica family reduces your risk of cancer. Studies on cruciferous vegetables have shown that increased intake of brassicas seems to have benefit for a whole range of cancers: breast cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer have all been studied and have all demonstrated the health effects of increased brassica intake. Gastrointestinal cancers have also been researched fairly conclusively.
Specific glucosinolates also draw attention to the fight against cancer: sulforaphane has been shown to have general tumour prevention properties. However, mustard greens are fairly low in sulforaphane compared to a number of other brassicas. What they are high in, however, is a compound called allyl isothiocyanate, a compound with possible broad cancer-preventive effects, and some specific research done on the inhibition of bladder cancer. Remember, different brassicas contain differing levels of glucosinolates, so it’s best to get a wide variety of them for the full health benefits. It should be noted, however, that in one study, mustard greens came out near the top in terms of total glucosinolates, second only to Brussel sprouts, so they’re a good place to start!