Mustard seed is a catch-all term for the seeds of a number of different mustard plants. What these seeds share, however, is the warm and spicy flavour that for centuries led them to be the main source of spice on the Indian subcontinent, before the arrival of the chilli plant. A fantastic culinary alternative to add some heat to your dishes, the mustard seed is great in curries and stir-fries, whether it is ground, roasted, or sprouted. With surprising amounts of some essential minerals and the astonishing cancer-fighting powers seemingly common to Brassicas, the mustard seed is a great way to spice up any meal.
Nutritionally, the mustard seed is surprisingly nutrient dense considering the quantities one might realistically eat it in. One tablespoon of mustard seed is 6.3g, and contains 32 calories. Those 32 calories, however, add up to a surprising amount of essential nutrients. One tablespoon contains 23% of your Daily Value (DV) of selenium, 5% DV of magnesium and 3% DV of iron. These essential minerals are important for the maintenance of an incredible number of processes in the body, and, in a link to the next paragraph, selenium deficiency has been associated with cancer risk, making
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.
In addition, two specific compounds that have been researched thoroughly, sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol have additional anti-cancer benefits. This review paper notes that sulforaphane has been shown to have general tumour prevention properties. Indole-3-carbinol is also linked to a number of beneficial effects. It is, however, important to bear in mind that different brassicas contain differing levels of glucosinolates, so it’s best to get a wide variety of them for the full health benefits.
Perhaps tied only with quinoa for the title of the healthiest grain, oats are a fantastic way to get in your complex carbohydrates, important for energy throughout the day.
Not only that, but oats have a huge variety of health benefits including lowering cholesterol, boosting immunity, and lowering your risk of fatal cardiovascular disease.
Nutritionally, oats are a very healthy way of getting your complex carbohydrates. 100g of oats contains 389 calories (your breakfast oats will vary depending on preparation and so on). But for those 389 calories, you get 44% of your daily value of dietary fibre, essential for good digestion, and a surprising 34% DV of protein, which will help with satiety and weight loss.
In addition, oats are high in two essential minerals with some fantastic benefits for your health. 100g contains 44% DV of magnesium, which is great for cardiovascular health (you’ll be reading much more about oats and cardiovascular benefits below), and 26% DV of iron, essential for warding off tiredness and maintaining mental performance.
Oats also have a huge range of health benefits. Like mushrooms, they are high in compounds called beta-glucans, a soluble fibre with huge benefits for cardiovascular health and the immune system, in addition to possible broad anti-cancer benefits.
Secondly, beta-glucans are great for the immune system. As this review notes, beta-glucans stimulate the immune system, decreasing your likelihood of contracting certain diseases. An increased resistance to biological agents can only be a good thing for your long term health.
In addition, it is not just beta-glucans in general, but oat beta-glucans specifically, that have an extremely strong scientific backing for their efficacy.
For example, this review is a good example of the broad benefits of oat beta-glucans: ‘intake is beneficial in the prevention, treatment, and control of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases … [and] can stimulate immune functions … which will improve resistance to cancer and infectious and parasitic diseases’.
Beyond even these fantastic benefits for your health, oats have a number of unique benefits. They have unique antioxidants called avenanthramides that have a number of proven advantages: they combat the development of atherosclerosis, a major risk factor for a number of deadly cardiovascular diseases.
We may even know the mechanisms by which avenanthramides exert their health benefits. In addition, these substances may have potential benefits when it comes to preventing colon cancer, although more research is likely needed.
Finally, oats have been studied independently of their individual compounds and found to have even more health benefits to those listed above.
One study found that having whole grain cereals for breakfast significantly decreased the risk of heart failure (we didn’t say oats were great to have for breakfast for nothing!).
Oats have also been linked to a reduced risk of childhood asthma, post-menopausal breast cancer and type 2 diabetes, to name a few. In addition, unsurprisingly in light of their cardiovascular benefits, eating oats has been linked to a reduction in mortality for those suffering from type 2 diabetes.
Okra (also known as ladies’ fingers or gumbo) is a flowering plant used extensively in Indian, African and Caribbean cuisine, to name a few. Delicious roasted, fried or even pickled, okra is a fantastic addition to dishes like curries and stir fries.
It is a very nutrient-dense food with a distinctive mucilaginous (slimy) texture that can be removed with cooking or kept, depending on your preference. With a solid nutritional profile, and real potential when it comes to the management of diabetes and your digestive health, okra are certainly worthy of a place on this list.
Okra are a low calorie vegetable. 100g of okra contains just 33 calories. This relative lack of energy value doesn’t come at the expense of vitamins and minerals however: 100g of okra contains 38% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C, 14% DV of vitamin A, 10 % DV of vitamin B6, 14% DV of magnesium, and 12% DV of dietary fibre.
To deal with the vitamins first, vitamins A C and B6 are essential for the health of your eyes, heart and immune system respectively, among a plethora of other important roles in the body. Magnesium, a mineral many are deficient in, is an important part of cardiovascular health, and dietary fibre is essential for digestive health.
Okra also has two main researched health advantages: it has benefits for the management of diabetes and associated conditions, and also has digestive benefits.
It has been shown to have potential when it comes to the management of diabetes. This is because studies on rats with induced diabetes have shown that okra can help to lower both blood sugar and fat levels, essential for the management of the disease. Research also points to potential therapeutic benefits for managing diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes.
Okra also has excellent benefits when it comes to improving your digestive health. To begin with, it has been proven to have considerable anti-adhesive properties against helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) adhesion. H. pylori is a bacteria found in the stomach that may contribute to the formation of ulcers and eventually stomach cancer.
When we say that okra has an anti-adhesive effect, we mean, in essence, that they remove the adhesive between the bacteria and the stomach tissue, preventing the culture from spreading. Also, the okra’s mucilaginous properties benefit digestive health in a more day to day sense.
Olives are without doubt one of the healthiest (and most researched) foods on the planet. The vast amount of research done into olive oil (get extra virgin, it does make a difference) has shown a wide array of health benefits (including lengthening your life!). However, the whole food has some fantastic benefits for your health on top of that, ranging from being a powerful cancer fighter to stopping many risk factors for heart disease.
Although often olives are neglected in favour of olive oil (widely recognised as the ‘healthiest oil’ widely available), you really don’t want to exclude the whole food from your diet if you want to reap the full benefits of the olive, as there are a couple of nutritional surprises in there!
Firstly, 100g of olives contains 18% of your Daily Value (DV) of iron, an essential mineral that you don’t want to be deficient in (if you want to avoid tiredness, pale skin and other signs of anaemia). Also, with 12% DV of dietary fibre, 8% DV vitamin A, and 8% calcium, olives will help to ensure your digestive, eye and bone health stay in shape. But a word of warning: olives are very high in salt (100g contains 30% of your DV), so if you are guilty of having a high sodium diet, it’s probably best to stick to olive oil.
Aside from the nutrition, however, the olive is really valuable for its uniquely beneficial effects to a wide variety of aspects of our health. One compound in particular, oleuropein, has an astonishing variety of health benefits. This review paper points out that oleuropein has proven antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-microbial and anti-viral capabilities, in addition to helping prevent atherosclerosis, protect the cardiovascular system from toxic chemotherapy drugs, and help the treatment of heart disease and possibly even weight loss. Research even suggests that oleuropein may lessen the effects of fatty liver disease (common in obese people), and possibly prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.
That’s a lot to take in, so let’s recap: a compound unique to olives can not only help prevent infection from bacteria and microbes, prevent cancer, and prevent heart disease (all huge killers in the developed world), it also helps prevent inflammation, free radical damage, and possibly Alzheimer’s. But even that list doesn’t cover the many benefits of olives: the triterpenes found in their skin have been found to fight breast cancer, in addition to antioxidant benefits. In fact, not only do olives have well documented antioxidant effects, they also have been shown to increase glutiathone levels, and important antioxidant in the body.
So, olives are fantastic for your health. But what about olive oil? Well, of course you miss out on some of the nutritional benefits, because what is left is essentially fat. But it is the healthy fats in olive oil (and olives) which we really need to talk about! The primary fat is something called oleic acid (a kind of monounsaturated fat), and it is extremely good for you as fats go. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, in addition to being a potent anti-inflammatory. It also has been shown to have a beneficial effect on genes that lead to cancer, especially breast cancer.
But why do we know about all these benefits? Well, the reason that olive oil is so well researched has to do with the ‘Mediterranean Diet’, or the eating habits of some countries that lay around the Mediterranean Sea. The diet became famous because of the amazingly low instances of heart disease in these countries compared to the rest of the developed world; and it has been proven to have astounding effects on longevity, with olive oil coming in for specific praise as a key part of the diet. If proof that eating olive oil will make you live longer won’t persuadeyou to eat it, then I don’t know what will!
Onions are one of most ubiquitous vegetables, and, luckily, may also be one of the healthiest. Easy to eat in bulk, and the basis of a number of delicious dishes, the onion makes a fantastic complement to a diet focused on a healthy lifestyle.
With a solid nutritional profile and extremely high levels of quercetin (more on that below), the onion is a fantastic introduction to the allium vegetables and a real benefit to your health.
Nutritionally, onions are simply never going to match something like, say, spinach. But considering how sweet they are when cooked and the large quantities it’s possible to eat them in comfortably, onions are by no means a bad choice for those looking to round out a healthy and nutritious diet.
The USDA database entry states that one large raw onion (150g), contains 18% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C, 10% DV of dietary fibre, 10% DV of vitamin B6, and 6% DV of potassium, really quite significant for a very sweet vegetable that contains only 60 calories.
All of these nutrients are beneficial for avoiding deficiency and improving health. Both vitamin C and potassium have links with increased cardiovascular health, and B6 is important for haemoglobin production, essential for a functioning cardiovascular system. Moreover, vitamin C is essential for things like iron absorption (an essential mineral), and dietary fibre is an important part of a healthy digestive system. What all these isolated examples show is that eating onions is great for your health, provided your diet contains a number of other vegetable sources.
Onion has been linked with far more health benefits than bringing people up to nutritional par, however. This rather broad review notes the anti-bacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of onions and garlic, which is certainly significant.
It is perhaps most interesting to note that that onion has a particularly high concentration of a flavonoid called quercetin.
Why is this important? Well, high concentrations of quercetin are uncommon outside things like tea and wine (which aren’t so good on the nutritional front). More significantly, quercetin has been linked to a reduction of the risk of cardiovascular disease (the top killer in the developed world).
Quercetin has been shown to lower blood pressure, in addition to reducing platelet aggregation, a major contributing factor to atherosclerosis, the condition in which plaques build up on the inside wall of the arteries and restrict blood flow.
Finally, as an allium, onion has a strong association with a lower risk of cancer, specifically, prostate cancer, stomach cancer, and oesophageal cancer. With onions being associated with a lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, your long term health may really benefit from eating them regularly.
Oranges are a sweet tasting fruit produced mainly in Brazil and the US (Florida and California especially), and are actually derived from hybridisation between the pomelo and mandarin plants. In addition to great levels of vitamin C (with a sweet tasting bonus to go with it), oranges have a number of researched benefits, from antioxidant capacity to digestive and cancer fighting benefits. Oranges are a healthy addition to any diet, and the cardiovascular benefits in particular will help hugely with longevity and health.
Nutritionally, oranges are well known for one thing: vitamin C! And indeed that’s really the headline here: an average fruit (131g) contains 116% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, and provides all that nutrition for just 62 calories; very low considering how sweet oranges are. With vitamin C being essential for the health of everything from cardiovascular health to connective tissue, it’s important to avoid deficiency. Beyond this, oranges are high in dietary fibre (12% DV in one fruit), which will help with digestion.
On top of being a sweet tasting way to avoid vitamin deficiencies, oranges have a number of researched health benefits.
To begin with, oranges are a fantastic antioxidant. Now, for those of you who know a little about vitamin C, this may not surprise you, as vitamin C has some fantastic antioxidant benefits. What you may not know, however, is that oranges have much better antioxidant potential than vitamin C alone. This study investigated the antioxidant potential of orange juice versus equivalent amounts of vitamin C, and found the orange juice to be far better. Antioxidants are important to protect from free radical damage, which may cause cell death and DNA damage, so oranges are a useful tool for long-term health.
Oranges have a wide array of health benefits beyond their antioxidant capacities, however. Oranges also have been associated with reduced risk of contracting H. Pylori, a common infection that may eventually lead to gastric problems and even stomach cancer. In addition, oranges contain the carotenoid cryptoxanthin, a compound associated with a lower risk of lung cancer, among other things.
Finally, compounds in orange peel have been found to have the fantastic benefit of lowering cholesterol, which is fantastic for the health of your cardiovascular system. With cardiovascular disease being such a big killer, the antioxidant and cholesterol lowering potential of oranges might serve you well in the long run.
Oregano is an herb commonly used in Italian and Mexican cuisine, and is probably most commonly used as a pizza topping, especially in the US. A fragrant and warming herb, oregano is not only available year round, and very versatile in the culinary sense, it also has some significant health benefits. In addition to respectable amounts of essential minerals, oregano also benefits from potent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal capacity, as well as having possible benefits for cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and even easing the effects of the common cold. All reason enough to try adding oregano to any dish.
Oregano is a fantastic source of a number of essential minerals. While a tablespoon of oregano contains just 13 calories, it also contains an impressive amount of iron; 11% of your Daily Value (DV). Not bad for a pizza topping! In addition, a tablespoon of oregano will provide you with 9% DV calcium and 4% DV magnesium. Why is this important? Well, iron deficiency is common, especially in women, and can lead to a number of issues, most commonly tiredness and paleness. Calcium is essential for bone health and magnesium is great for the cardiovascular system, meaning just a tablespoon of oregano packs a real nutritional punch!
Nutritionally, oregano may be great, but it is a herb, and you’re not going to get your daily nutrients just by making your food more flavoursome! Thankfully, oregano has a whole bunch of health benefits on top of its nutritional value. First off, oregano is great for preventing infection: it is proven to fight the pathogen listeria, and has been proven to be anti-fungal. It may even be a valuable weapon against the hospital ‘superbug’ MRSA: one researcher involved in preliminary studies said ‘We have done a few preliminary tests and have found that the essential oil from the oregano kills MRSA at a dilution 1 to 1,000’ (see here).
Aside from preventing infection, oregano is also fantastic for our more long term health, with potential for the prevention of atherosclerosis (the build-up of fatty deposits on the insides of the arteries), and proven benefits against colon cancer. The essential oil in spray form may even have some benefits in relieving upper respiratory tract infections (colds and flu being common examples). Why oregano has such a positive effect on these diseases is not understood, but some of oregano’s health benefits may be due to the presence of carnosol, a compound with proven anti-cancer effects, or simply the proven antioxidant benefits of oregano. Regardless of the mechanism, the fact that oregano has such a large body of research into its health benefits is proof enough that we should all be eating it.
Oysters are a bit of a surprising health food. These little molluscs are renowned as a tasty seafood delicacy, and are also fantastic in environmental terms. They also carry none of the ethical grey areas you might experience if you are, say, a shrimp, cod or caviar lover), and yet despite being delicious and having little environmental impact, oysters are also fantastic for your health! Eating oysters boosts libido, promotes weight loss, and may even provide some ethically minded people with some much needed B12.
(For those who are vegetarian/ vegan for ethical reasons, it should be noted that oysters have no central nervous system, and thus can be eaten without causing any of the suffering associated with the meat industry. Famous philosopher Peter Singer even said they could be eaten ethically in his book ‘Animal Liberation’. With there being no natural vegan sources of B-12, oysters are a really interesting alternative to supplements!)
Nutritionally, oysters are a wonder when it comes to two nutrients: vitamin B-12 and zinc. According to the USDA database, 100g of farmed oysters (about 7 medium oysters) contains 270% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin B-12 and 253% DV of zinc. That’s a huge amount! In addition, zinc is fantastic for the immune system (among other things), and B-12 is great for cognitive performance. Most important here, however, is the fact that both zinc and B-12 are easy to be deficient in, especially for those who lack meat in their diets. For those who want optimum zinc levels, without the ethical implications of eating meat, oysters are a great choice.
Oysters have even more health benefits than this. In addition to having 32% DV iron, rounding out the impressive amount of minerals contained in oysters, oysters are also fantastic for something else: weight loss. Oysters are a great weight loss food for three reasons: they’re mostly water, they’re low calorie, and they’re very high in protein! With just 59 calories in 100g and 5g of protein, oysters provide 5% of your DV of protein for around 3% DV of calories. The high protein and water content both increase satiety (the feeling of fullness), for only a few calories.
The final benefit we should discuss is oysters’ reputed aphrodisiac powers. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that oysters have unique libido-boosting powers. What oysters do have,however, is lots of zinc, which has been proven to increase libido and sexual performance, especially in men. So pack in those oysters!
There is one word of warning attached to all of this, however. Eating raw oysters is a fairly common practice in a number of places, but there is a lot of risk associated with this. Oysters absorb a lot of the minerals from near where they grow, but they also absorb any pollutants and other problematic substances where they live, so only buy from trusted sources. In addition, risks like those exposed by this article, which showed that three quarters of oysters grown in the UK contain the ‘winter vomiting bug’ norovirus should serve to make you careful about sourcing raw oysters.
Papaya is a fruit native to the Americas, usually eaten raw to savour its sweet tasting flavour. Although both the seeds and leaves are edible (you can use them as replacements for black pepper and spinach, respectively), the fruit is what is commonly eaten, and can be eaten either raw or cooked in a number of dishes: salads, curries and stir fries, for example. With a healthy dose of vitamin C and potent wound healing and anti-inflammatory activities, the papaya fruit is a novel way to introduce some health into your day.
Nutritionally, papaya is mostly rich in that extremely important vitamin, vitamin C. In fact, while 100g (less than even a small papaya fruit) contains just 43 calories, it also contains 101% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C! With vitamin C being so essential for a number of processes and involved in areas from connective tissue to cardiovascular health, and deficiency being so bad for you (scurvy is the worst-case scenario!), it’s important to hit your DV.
Papaya also contains a few other important vitamins and minerals, with that mere 43 calories also providing you with 19% DV vitamin A, 6% DV dietary fibre, and 5% DV magnesium. These are all essential for a healthy body in more ways than we can list here, but suffice to say that your eyes, heart and digestion will all benefit from a little papaya.
Aside from the nutrient richness that papaya benefits from, there are a couple of other health benefits to be considered. An interesting aspect of papaya is its surprising benefits when it comes to healing wounds: it has been shown to help heal wounds in diabetic rats (diabetes prevents wounds healing properly for reasons unknown), and also its strong antibacterial effects, which combined may make papaya something that will, in future, be recommended to apply to the skin to help heal minor wounds. This is supported by research that shows that papaya’s antibacterial effects may help with the treatment of chronic skin ulcers. Although further research needs to be done, that’s certainly an interesting benefit.
Another intriguing benefit of papaya to emerge is its anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic activities, which could have real benefits for those who suffer from the many diseases caused by chronic inflammation (arthritis being one). In addition, choline, which papaya is high in, has been shown to combat inflammation in asthma patients, further adding to papaya’s status as a potent anti-inflammatory. With the power to combat inflammation and heal wounds, papaya is certainly both an interesting prospect for research and a tasty addition to your diet.
Parsley is a fragrant and subtle herb used in a huge range of dishes, but is especially prevalent in things like pesto, garnishes and glazes. A green leafy vegetable (or herb, whichever you prefer), parsley packs a serious nutritional punch to accompany some potent anti-cancer properties coming from a range of beneficial compounds.
A plant that benefits from cancer-fighting compounds and culinary versatility, parsley offers a simple way to add some health benefit to any meal you may choose.
Parsley is something of a nutritional powerhouse if you eat it in the required amounts. A cup of chopped parsley (60g) contains 1230% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin K, a pretty staggering amount, and an important amount too, as vitamin K is essential for functions like blood clotting and bone formation.
Beyond this, a cup of chopped parsley contains 133% DV of vitamin C, and 101% DV of vitamin A, which is great for both connective tissue and eye health. All in all, eating parsley in large amounts can only do you good.
In addition to all the nutrients, parsley is a source of a number of compounds with a wide variety of effects and mechanisms, which overall contribute to a strong cancer-fighting effect.
Firstly, luteolin (a compound also found in celery) has antioxidant properties, in addition to inhibiting the inflammatory response in inflammatory bowel disease. But it doesn’t stop there: a compound called myristicin has been shown to stop the progression of cancer, in addition to inhibiting the growth of tumours. And another compound, myricetin, has been shown to inhibit the growth of brain tumours.
Finally, there is one last significant compound that parsley is very rich in: apigenin. As one of the most concentrated sources of this compound, parsley is an excellent way to get this into your diet.
Why is this important? Well, although research is still far from complete, this review stated that apigenin ‘has been shown to possess remarkable anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties’, and this review notes the great anti-cancer properties.
Parsnips, a root vegetable closely related to carrots, are a sweet yet robust vegetable, often roasted, but also delicious mashed, in soups, or even in cake. A staple of roast dinners, the parsnip offers a number of nutritional benefits, including high levels of potassium and magnesium (great for cardiovascular health), high levels of kaempferol (which protects from cancer and damage to blood vessels, and falcarinol (a potent antioxidant).
With a diverse list of health benefits, and in light of how delicious a well-cooked parsnip can be, it could be an important step on the road to a healthy lifestyle.
Parsnips have a lot of nutritional benefits, especially for a vegetable that so completely lacks the trademark bitterness of vegetables like Brussel sprouts or broccoli rabe. 100g of raw parsnips contains 28% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C.
That same 100g also contains 19% DV of dietary fibre, essential for good digestion, 10% DV of potassium, an extremely important mineral for cardiovascular health, and 7% DV of magnesium, essential for athletic performance. Many people are deficient in potassium and magnesium, making parsnips one very tasty option for getting these essential minerals in your diet.
The two compounds that really add a boost to parsnip’s claim on health food status are falcarinol (also found in carrots), and kaempferol (found in leek).
Firstly, falcarinol has been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer, in addition to antibacterial and antifungal activities. When coupled with high levels of dietary fibre, this means that parsnips may have real benefits for your digestive system.
When we consider that parsnips are also high in potassium and magnesium, we see that they are really beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Finally, the fact that both falcarinol and kaempferol have cancer-fighting properties is just one more reason to enjoy the sweet taste of parsnips.
The passion fruit is a species of passion flower native to South America. The fruit is not only juicy, sweet, and full of seeds, it is also incredibly versatile. Eaten on its own, juiced, or used to make passion fruit oil, the passion fruit is most commonly added to other fruit juices for flavour, but is also used in desserts, cocktails, and fruit salads. With a lot of nutritional benefit and a potent compound called piceatannol, the passion fruit is a healthy and unique fruit to work in to your diet.
Nutritionally, the passion fruit is a bit of a dark horse, when you consider how sweet-tasting the juice is (let’s face it, most things with simple sugars don’t do us much good). Although 100g of passion fruit will set you back around 97 calories, that’s more than made up for by the 50% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C you get for that, in addition to 40% DV of dietary fibre, 25% DV of vitamin A, and 9% DV of potassium. All that nutrition will ensure a lot of benefit to your cardiovascular and digestive systems, with the vitamin A helping you to maintain your eyesight long into your life. With the delicious taste of passion fruit, what better way to take in your nutrients?
Passion fruit is also a source of many surprising health benefits, mainly due to a compound called piceatannol, also found in things like red wine and grapes. Piceatannol is significant because it appears to have a wide variety of positive effects on cardiovascular disease, including preventing high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and arrhythmia. It also seems to have an antioxidant effect.
In addition, a substance called scirpusin B has been found to have a strong vasorelaxant effect (which leads to increased blood flow and thus a healthier cardiovascular system). As it turns out, this compound is actually a dimer of piceatannol, meaning it is a compound consisting of two identical molecules linked together (in this case two molecules of piceatannol). With piceatannol having such a panoply of benefits for cardiovascular disease, and that being such a common killer in the West, the passion fruit may just be a good decision long-term.
The peach is a fruit native to China, and is in fact the same species as the nectarine, the only difference being that there is the lack of the characteristic peach ‘fuzz’ on the skin of the nectarine. Fantastic in a fruit salad or on its own when raw, or with meat or a light salad when grilled, the peach is a surprisingly diverse food with a variety of essential nutrients (albeit in small quantities), and some potential benefits for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. With a fragrant and sweet taste on top of a lot of health benefits, the peach is a great health food.
Nutritionally, the peach is far from a powerhouse, but nonetheless is low calorie and a decent source of vitamin C. A large peach (150g) is only 59 calories, not bad considering the amount of fruit, and so it could be used as a slightly sweeter treat for those looking to lose weight. Aside from the fact that peach is low-calorie, it also boasts a decent amount of nutrients: a large peach will provide you with 16% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, 9% DV of vitamin A, and 8% DV of fibre, ensuring that peaches will help with a healthy heart, vision into your later years and avoiding digestive troubles.
Beyond the nutritional side of things, the little research done on peach has been somewhat promising. Research has mainly been done in conjunction with plums (as they are both stone fruits), and the research has shown some promising signs when it comes to breast cancer. Polyphenols from plums and peaches are in the process of being isolated to explore possible drug options, but for now, eating peaches can’t help for prevention.
Not only that, but peaches and plums have been shown to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol), the oxidation of which leads to free radical damage to the entire cardiovascular system, especially heart and arteries, which can lead to all kinds of cardiovascular disease, in addition to related risk factors like atherosclerosis (the build-up of fatty deposits on the inside of the walls of the arteries).
It’s probably worth pointing out that, when it comes to peaches, there is some evidence that it’s worth buying organic. A study on the amount of polyphenols (the compounds associated with the breast cancer research) showed an improvement in organic versus non-organic methods of production, so it’s really worth buying organic if you can afford it.
The peanut is a plant probably first domesticated in Paraguay, which is now a worldwide source of a huge range of products. Not technically a nut, but a legume, the peanut is a fantastically versatile food that can be eaten raw, roasted or boiled, made into peanut butter, peanut oil and peanut flour, and found in a huge variety of culinary traditions. With a stunning nutritional profile and some surprising weight loss and disease prevention benefits, the peanut is a genuine health food that you should really add to your diet if possible.
Nutritionally, peanuts are a fantastic source of both macronutrients and micronutrients. While high in calories – 100g will cost you 567 calories – the peanut is very high in protein and healthy fats. 100g of peanut contains 26g of protein, over half of your Daily Value (DV), and also contains a lot of fat. Don’t worry about saturated fats though: peanuts contain 24g of monounsaturated and 16g of polyunsaturated fats for every 7 grams of saturated fat. With both good plant-based sources of protein and healthy fatshard to come by in many western diets, the peanut is a very nutritionally balanced food.
On top of that, peanuts also have an impressive amount of essential minerals: 100g provides 42% DV of Magnesium, 32% DV of fibre, 25% DV of iron and 20% DV of potassium. Dietary fibre is essential for good digestive health, and the essential minerals just mentioned not only perform a range of functions in the body; they help you avoid everything from present day poor athletic and cognitive performance to cardiovascular diseases later in life. Not only that, but iron, potassium and magnesium deficiencies are all very common.
In addition to being a fantastically balanced source of nutrition, peanuts are also the source of ongoing research into its many health benefits. The first of these might surprise you: peanuts have been proven to help with weight loss: studies have shown that weight loss regimens are improved by the addition of tree nuts into the diet in two ways; greater compliance with the diet and greater weight loss total. This is quite surprising, as peanuts are extremely calorie dense and high in fats. However, the evidence is there, so for those of you looking to lose some weight, eating nuts as healthy snack may be a positive step.
Beyond the benefits associated with weight loss, peanuts are also great at combating some of the most common killers in the developed world. To begin with, peanuts contain a compound called beta-sitosterol, which protects against colon, prostate and breast cancer, and in relatively high amounts. Not only this, but studies focusing on nuts more generally have shown that tree nuts can help protect against cardiovascular disease; and that nuts even lower your risk of gallstone disease. With all these being such common causes of death, the peanut is something you might really benefit from including in your diet.
Pears are a sweet and juicy fruit, with over 3000 varieties grown worldwide, and over 23.5 million metric tons produced in 2012. With a wide variety of culinary uses, from being a staple of many desserts to being great pickled, poached or even simply stuck in a salad, the pear is an easy food to incorporate into your diet. And with pear being a rich source of a number of phytochemicals that help it to fight cancer and inflammation, and reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, this is a delicious way of getting some real health benefits from a meal.
Pears are not fantastic nutritionally, but nonetheless they do give us some support when it comes to our heart and our gut. 100g of pear contains 102 calories, but it also contains 24% of your Daily Value (DV) of dietary fibre, 12% DV of vitamin C, and 5% DV of potassium. A diet high in dietary fibre is excellent for digestion, and vitamin C and potassium will do your heart no end of good.
However, the strength of pears when it comes to nutrition is its richness of phytochemicals (non-essential but beneficial nutrients). Pears (especially the skins of pears, which you should always eat) are rich in a number of beneficial nutrients like flavonols (such as quercetin and kaempferol) and flavanols (such as catechin and epicatchetin). Not only does this nutrient richness have proven antioxidant effects, what is really significant is the specific risks you avoid. One study done on flavonoid intake showed a significantly reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes in US men and women, a significant impact from just eating fruit!
Further studies have shown other benefits of the nutrient richness that the pear benefits from: one study in Mexico City showed that intake of polyphenols (of which pear was one of the primary sources, the researchers noted), led to a reduced risk of gastric cancer, and a large-scale study has conclusively proven a link between fruit intake and lung cancer. All the more reason to keep eating those pears!
The pea is a common vegetable (although it’s actually a fruit in the botanical sense) that is ubiquitous in the west in the form of frozen peas. Generally eaten boiled or steamed, in order to sweeten the taste and unlock the nutrients available, the pea is fantastic in soups, salads, and a host of other savoury dishes. Plus, with incredibly high nutrient density and a whole host of health benefits, yet to be researched fully, including cancer fighting and cholesterol lowering properties, the pea is another great green vegetable to add to your meals.
Peas, like many green vegetables, are incredibly nutrient dense and a great way to avoid a range of deficiencies. While 100g of peas is a mere 81 calories, it contains a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals: 66% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, 20% DV of dietary fibre, 15% DV of vitamin A, 10% DV of vitamin B6, 8% DV of iron, and 8% DV of magnesium. On top of that, 100g of peas contains 10% of your DV of protein at only 4% DV of calories.
What does all that mean? Well, to begin with, being a low-calorie and protein dense food makes peas a great weight loss food, because protein increases the feeling of fullness; and also makes them a great way to keep a balanced macronutrient profile. Beyond that, the large amounts of vitamin C will help with cardiovascular health, in addition to helping iron absorption. The other nutrients help to ensure good digestion, eye health, heart health, athletic performance, and prevent tiredness and poor cognition. Nutrient deficiencies are a serious business, and it’s significant how much the humble garden pea can help.
On top of all that, the garden pea benefits from being rich in phytonutrients (non-essential but beneficial nutrients) with a wide variety of health effects.
A review of the health benefits of peas pointed out all the ways the research is going: peas contain polyphenolics ‘which may have antioxidant and anticarcinogenic activity’, saponins ‘which may exhibit hypocholesterolaemic [cholesterol lowering] and anticarcinogenic activity’, and oligosaccharides ‘which may exert beneficial probiotic effects in the large intestine’. That’s anti-cancer, antioxidant, cholesterol lowering and digestive effects, all from one food!
Beyond this, there is evidence that saponins from peas specifically may help the immune system, decrease fat, lower cancer risk, and lower blood sugar. With all these health benefits, it’s no wonder the research can’t keep track!
Pecans are a nut (technically a fruit) most commonly grown in the U.S., which is responsible for almost all pecan production worldwide. Perhaps best known for pecan pie, the pecan is not only great with desserts, it is also great to eat on its own, as part of bean burgers, roasts of all kinds, or even just caramelised. While you can eat pecans in a variety of ways, what is best about them is almost certainly their combination of nutrient density and cholesterol lowering effects. The pecan is high in healthy fats, essential minerals and long-termhealth benefits.
Nutritionally, pecans are a pretty common nut: high calorie, but with a lot of nutrients to back that up. 100g of pecans contains 690 calories, but for those calories you get a lot of protein and healthy fats: 9g of protein, 6g of saturated fat, 41g of monounsaturated fat and 22g of polyunsaturated fat. That’s a lot of good fats and not much saturated fat! Pecans are a great source of healthy fats, and especially great for diets low in protein and high in saturated fat.
Beyond this, 100g pecans contain 40% of your Daily Value (DV) of dietary fibre, 30% DV of magnesium, 13% DV of iron, 11% DV of potassium, and 10% DV of B6. What does all that mean? Well, it means avoiding deficiencies that could reduce your athletic and cognitive abilities, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, leave you feeling tired or pale, and cause digestive problems. That’s a good list of things to avoid!
Beyond this, pecans also benefit from having some fantastic cholesterol lowering, cancer-fighting and cardiovascular benefits. A study into the cholesterol lowering properties of pecans and a diet high in monounsaturated fats showed that healthy men and women benefit from a diet enriched by pecans directly, with a significant improvement in cholesterol levels.
Beyond that, pecans have been shown to have a number of benefits when studied with other nuts: a 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. That’s a lot of benefits!
Persimmons are the fruits of a number of different (though related) species of tree, and as such have quite a variety of culinary uses and nutritional values. Common species include the ‘American’ persimmon and the ‘Japanese’ persimmon, and these differing species also have a variety of different cultivars, so there’s a lot of variety in taste. As such, persimmons can be found in a wide variety of culinary traditions, from being used to make persimmon pudding and fruit pies in the U.S. Northwest, to punch and persimmon vinegar in Korea. And with a solid nutritional profile and a whole host of cancer-fighting benefits, the persimmon is a fantastic fruit to add to your diet.
Nutritionally, persimmons vary by species and variety, but on the whole are low calorie, with fairly high levels of essential nutrients, and a high sugar value (watch out for that!). American persimmons are very high in vitamin C: 100g of persimmon (roughly 4 fruits), contains 110% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, for just 127 calories. American persimmons also contain 13% DV of iron and 8% of potassium.
Japanese persimmons differ slightly, being higher in vitamin A: one fruit (168g) contains 118 calories, 54% DV of vitamin A, 24% DV of vitamin A, 21% DV of vitamin C, 10% DV of vitamin B6. All are essential nutrients, deficiencies in which can lead to a variety of common health issues (everything from tiredness to cardiovascular disease), so pack in those persimmons!
Beyond the variety of nutritional benefits you can get from the variety of different kinds of persimmon, persimmons also contain compounds with proven health benefits: specifically, strong anti-cancer effects. The first of these important compounds is called betulinic acid. Betulinic acid has been proven to be toxic to tumour cells, but not to other human cells. Specifically, betulinic acid has been found to be toxic to melanoma (a tumour of melanin-forming cells, often skin cancer), neuroectodermal tumours (tumours of the nervous system), and malignant brain tumours.
This may be explained by betulinic acid having ‘apoptotic’ effect (‘apoptosis’ is essentially induced cell suicide): the ability of betulinic acid to cause apoptosis in tumours has been proven with leukaemia, with melanoma, and with neuroectodermal tumours. What all of this means is that betulinic acid is fantastic at fighting a number of different varieties of cancer, and may even eventually help with cancer treatments in the future.
The other important compounds are catechin and gallogatechin, two phytonutrients which persimmons are high in. These compounds are actually found in green tea as well, and are the source of many of the claims of green tea’s health benefits. What is significant about these two compounds is that they have proven health benefits: gallocatechins have proven antioxidant potential, and catechins have been investigated for helping with weight loss.
With free radical damage (which antioxidants prevent) leading to DNA damage and cell death, resulting in all kinds of health risks from possible cancer risks to cardiovascular disease; and obesity being such a huge problem in the developed world, introducing these compounds into your diet in whatever way you can is certainly going to do good things.
Pine nuts are the edible seeds of pines (yes, they come from pinecones!), and a highly nutritious luxury food. While they are certainly expensive (because it’s very time intensive to harvest them), pine nuts make up for it by being delicious! Commonly eaten toasted, roasted or raw, pine nuts are fantastic in pesto, pasta and a number of traditional cakes and desserts. Pine nuts can also be made into pine nut oil, which has been the source of a lot of scientific research into appetite, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. With concrete health benefits and a rounded nutritional profile, pine nuts are a fantastic addition to a healthy diet.
Nutritionally, pine nuts are like many other nuts and seeds: high calorie, but with high levels of protein, healthy fats, and essential nutrients. 100g of pine nuts (yes, we know that’s a lot of pine nuts!) contain 673 calories, which is a lot. But for those calories you get high levels of healthy fats: 34g of polyunsaturated fats and 19g of monounsaturated fats for every 4.9g of saturated fat.
On top of that, 100g of pine nuts contains 14g of protein, over a quarter of your Daily Value (DV). This means that pine nuts (along with many other nuts and seeds) are a great way to balance out a problem prevalent in many western diets: too many simple carbohydrates and saturated fats.
Beyond that, pine nuts benefit from being high in essential minerals: 100g contains 62% DV of magnesium, 30% DV of iron and 17% DV of potassium. Deficiency in all of these is common, so this is important. Iron deficiency anaemia can lead to tiredness and paleness initially, and more severe symptoms later, and insufficient levels of magnesium and potassium have been linked to poor cardiovascular health, so avoiding these deficiencies is a big step toward a healthier lifestyle.
In addition to the great nutrient profile of pine nuts, there are also a number of well-documented health benefits of pine nuts to do with appetite, cholesterol and blood pressure; specifically, research done with Korean pine nut oil.
One study showed that pine nut oil had marked effects of appetite suppression and weight loss. Another showed that pine nut oil had positive effects on lowering LDL cholesterol (known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol), and a final study showed that pine nut oil lowered blood pressure, in addition to reducing platelet aggregation (a major risk factor for atherosclerosis). With obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis being some of the primary risk factors for some of the biggest killers in the developed world (strokes and cardiovascular disease), these are some fantastic benefits.
Pineapples are a sweet tasting tropical fruit with a distinctive and exotic appearance and taste. Eaten fresh or cooked, as a juice or as a burger topping, the pineapple has a wide variety of uses and a wide variety of culinary applications. Being grown all over the world, pineapple has been adopted into a number of different culinary traditions, aside from its adoption as a topping for pizzas and hamburgers! Low calorie, high in vitamin C, and with potent and unique benefits for digestion, inflammation, and weight gain, the pineapple is a fantastic health food.
Nutritionally, pineapple’s main benefit is its astonishingly high amounts of vitamin C: 100g of pineapple contains 50 calories, but also contains 79% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C (for comparison, that’s almost exactly the same as 100g of orange: 47 calories and 88% DV, a food marketed entirely on its vitamin C content). Moreover, pineapple contains quite high levels of B vitamins, with 100g containing 5% DV of both B6 and B1 (Thiamin).
However, as with all high sugar fruits, tread carefully with pineapple if your diet is already high in simple sugars. Pineapple is great for you, a diet too high in sugar is not (and if you need some vitamin C with no sugar, you could always try kale …).
Having said that word of warning when it comes to sugar, pineapple may have some legitimate benefits when it comes to weight loss because of its vitamin B1 content. Being high in vitamin B1 is actually something of a rarity, and the benefits surrounding weight loss are actually quite interesting, especially for those with type 2 diabetes.
Beyond this, the really interesting thing about pineapple is the presence of an enzyme unique to pineapple: bromelain. Bromelain is used as an anti-inflammatory after surgery, meaning it’s a potent tool in the fight against inflammation (which can lead to a number of diseases, reduced ability to heal from injuries, and so on). Beyond that, this review states the benefits for modulating tumour growth, blood clotting, and inflammation.
While the research done has been performed at higher doses than you would get from eating pineapple, it is certainly possible that dietary pineapple may have some impact on the problems listed above. But while we wait for the research, remember that pineapple is delicious, has great vitamin C content, and is that rarest of things: a sugary food that may help with weight loss.