The pistachio nut (botanically a seed, and a close relative of the cashew) is a food widely consumed as a salted snack. But the pistachio is both more versatile and a lot healthier without the salt! A component of a number of traditional desserts, such as Neapolitan ice cream, Turkish delight and baklava; the pistachio is also a great health food. Perhaps one of the healthiest nuts there is, the pistachio combines an excellent nutritional profile with a host of benefits for cholesterol, weight loss and eye health, among other things. Let’s put it this way: for those of us who are health-conscious, pistachios are wasted on ice cream and bar snacks.
Nutritionally, pistachios are a well-balanced, though high calorie food, with a high amount of healthy fats, protein and essential nutrients. 100g of pistachios contain 562 calories, but for those calories you get a high amount of healthy fats: 24g of monounsaturated and 14g of polyunsaturated fat for every 6g of saturated fat. In addition, for just over a quarter of your Daily Value (DV) of calories, you get 40% DV of protein, meaning pistachios are a very well-balanced food in terms of macronutrients.
Beyond this, the pistachio nut has an impressive amount of essential micronutrients. 100g not only contains impressive amounts of protein and healthy fats, it also contains 85% DV of B6, 40% DV of fibre, 30% DV of magnesium, 29% DV of potassium and 21% DV of iron. These essential vitamins and minerals are great for everything from digestive to heart health, and avoiding deficiencies will ward off everything from tiredness and poor athletic performance to impaired cognition, so pistachios are really a winner here!
Perhaps the most intriguing benefits of pistachios, however, are its seemingly beneficial effects on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: specifically high cholesterol and obesity. As we see with many nuts and seeds, it seems odd to be talking about high fat, high calorie foods making us thinner.
However, pistachios have proven benefits for lowering cholesterol: as this review notes, of the 5 studies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) done on pistachios and cholesterol, 4 out of the 5 showed a significant reduction in total cholesterol (all showed some reduction), 2 out of 5 showed a significant reduction in LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol (all showed some reduction), and all 5 showed a significant reduction in the LDL (bad) to HDL (good) cholesterol ratio.
Further, pistachios have some proven weight loss benefits. One study, in which obese people on a 12 week weight loss program were given either pretzels or pistachios (with both being the same amount of calories), found that, while both groups lost weight, those eating the pistachios lost more weight and had a much reduced BMI than those eating the pretzels, proving pistachios great for weight loss. With high cholesterol and obesity being major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, pistachios may really look after you in the long term.
Finally, pistachios have one last benefit: very high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids which have some remarkable benefits for long-term eye health. Pistachios contain the highest amount of lutein and zeaxanthin per 100g of any nut. This is important because lutein and zeaxanthin are thought to protect against two of the most common eye disorders, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Plums are a sweet and juicy fruit with a wide range of culinary uses. Not actually a single species, the term ‘plum’ refers to a number of slightly different fruiting plants. Regardless of the slight differences, nearly all plums are great to eat fresh off of the tree, dried (in which case they are known as prunes), or even pickled.
Versatile enough to be used in sweet and savoury dishes (it does equally well with a crumble or with crispy duck), the plum is an interesting fruit with a wide variety of culinary application.
But of course, we are really interested in the health benefits of these fruits. Plums may not be fantastic in a purely nutritional sense, but with a wide range of antioxidant compounds present in them, and some mild cardiovascular and digestive effects, they are an excellent choice for anyone who is health conscious with a bit of a sweet tooth.
Nutritionally, plums have some limited benefits for the cardiovascular system, but they’re certainly no kale. 100g contains 46 calories, and for those relatively few calories you receive 15% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C, and 4% DV of potassium.
In addition, 100g of plum contains 5% DV of dietary fibre, which is important for digestion. In fact, a sugar which plums are high in, sorbitol, has a mild laxative effect, one of the reasons prunes are considered good for digestion. Prune juice has been shown to have a mild laxative effect, which is important for those suffering from constipation, or more serious gastrointestinal symptoms.
In terms of health benefits, plums have one real standout benefit: they are extremely high in antioxidants. The antioxidant activity of prunes and plums is well documented, but why is it significant? Well, antioxidants prevent damage by free radicals, which often damage DNA (leading to mutations and cancer), and cells (leading to cell death and tissue damage).
New constituent antioxidants are being discovered, and analysed, all the time, but it is the presence of two unique phytonutrients with antioxidant properties called neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid, in high concentrations, that give plums their place on this list.
These antioxidants neutralise a particular free radical called a superoxide anion radical, which is especially damaging to our bodies.
The pomegranate tree is a fruit tree probably originally cultivated in modern day Iran; but now grown as a commercial crop throughout parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and consumed on almost every continent. With a distinctive, tart, sweet-and-sour taste, the pomegranate is available in raw form or juiced, and even the peel can be used in order to make a variety of dishes, from juice blends to cakes. With a vast amount of research into its potent health promoting properties and phytonutrient content, the pomegranate is a fantastic health food.
Essential vitamins and minerals are not pomegranate’s strong point, but the pomegranate does contain a decent amount of vitamin C and dietary fibre. One pomegranate (282g) contains 48% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, and 44% DV of fibre. Vitamin C is usefulfor pretty much everything from gum health to iron absorption, and fibre is excellent for the digestive tract. In addition, the 19% DV of potassium is an extra bonus to your cardiovascular health.
The real strength of the pomegranate fruit, however, lies not in the decent amount of dietary fibre present, but in the potent antioxidant, cardiovascular, cancer-fighting, neurological and anti-microbial effects. An experiment on oxidative stress in elderly people showed antioxidant and anti-aging effects on those elderly people who drank pomegranate juice twice a day for a month. That’s a quick effect!
In addition, pomegranate is widely regard as a heart healthy food: there is certainly proof that it lowers systolic blood pressure, in addition to preventing atherosclerosis, and protecting the cardiovascular system, as this review notes. Beyond this, pomegranate is a renowned cancer fighter, preventing the proliferation of cancer, metastasis (movement from one part of the body to the other) and inducing apoptosis (cell suicide) in a number of different cells in vitro, such as breast and colon cancer.
On top of that, there are some other possible avenues of exploration. Research done on the possible benefits to Alzheimer’s disease demonstrated that (in experimental models of Alzheimer’s in rats), pomegranate delayed the onset of the disease and improved cognition. Finally, pomegranate appears to have a broad anti-microbial effect, as this review summarises.
The potato is a tuber that is a staple food source across the world. Perhaps made most famous due to the Irish potato famine, the potato is now a widely produced staple crop, with only maize, rice, and wheat being produced in larger quantities worldwide. The potato is not usually considered a health food, and it’s easy to see why: we most often consume it in the form of French fries, and even when we don’t, mashed or baked potato is often covered in butter and cream. However, take away the frying and the saturated fat, and the potato is a great carbohydrate source: high in certain essential nutrients, and with potential benefits for cardiovascular disease.
Nutritionally, the potato is a fantastic low calorie source of 3 essential nutrients: vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium. 1 medium potato (213g), contains just 163 kcal, but for that you get 70% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, 30% DV of vitamin B6, and 25% DV of potassium. Making sure you avoid being deficient in these will help to ensure cardiovascular health, iron absorption and cognitive function, so potato is a real help here. In addition, a medium potato contains 8% DV of fibre, making it excellent for digestion.
Beyond this, however, the potato has a number of more long-term health benefits, thanks in part to the presence of something called kukoamines. Kukoamines are compounds previously only found in the bark of a plant called Lycium chinense; but recent research has revealed the presence of kukoamines in potatoes.
Kukoamines have been associated with lowering blood pressure, in addition to protecting the brain from free radical damage. With high blood pressure being such an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease and strokes, and neurological disorders being so prevalent, potato may be a surprising route to long term health.
In addition, potatoes have been shown to have remarkable antioxidant potential. In the study just referenced, the potato showed better antioxidant potential than onion, carrot and peppers. Not only that, but potato peel has been shown to contain quercetin, a flavonoid proven to lower blood pressure, in addition to reducing platelet aggregation, a major contributing factor to atherosclerosis. Quercetin may also have some athletic performance benefits. All in all, the potato certainly has a lot of benefits for the health of your heart.
A prune is a catch-all term for a dried plum. While this may seem to be a confusing choice for an article on some of the healthiest foods the world has to offer, it should be noted that there are many cultivars grown specifically for drying, and there are benefits to digestion that are seemingly unique to prunes. Not only that, but prunes exhibit an interesting amount of diversity when it comes to how they are cooked: in compotes, tagines, and fruit pies, or simply covered in chocolate! With some great nutritional, antioxidant, and digestive benefits, the prune is an interesting addition to a healthy diet.
Nutritionally, prunes are certainly far off something like kale, but they do provide decent amounts of certain key nutrients. 100g contains 28% of your Daily Value (DV) of dietary fibre, an important component in digestive health (more on that below), in addition to 20% DV of potassium, 15% DV of vitamin A, and 10% DV of both B6 and magnesium. With vitamin A being essential for the health of the eye, and potassium, magnesium and B6 all being relatively common deficiencies with implications for cardiovascular health, a little goes a long way when it comes to nutrition.
In addition to this, plums do have a couple of verified health benefits. Firstly, they are excellent for digestion (in fact, the connotations of prunes with relieving constipation became so strong they are now marketed as ‘dried plums’ in order to appear more upmarket than a glorified laxative). A sugar which prunes are high in, sorbitol, has a mild laxative effect, and prune juice has been shown to have a mild laxative effect, which is important for those suffering from constipation, or more serious gastrointestinal symptoms.
Beyond this, the real headline is the antioxidant activity of prunes: important for preventing damage by free radicals, which often damage DNA (leading to mutations and cancer), and cells (leading to cell death and tissue damage). The presence of neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid, in high concentrations, in plums and prunes, is also an interesting benefit, as these antioxidants have been found to neutralise a ‘superoxide anion radical’, an especially damaging free radical, giving prunes a wide base of antioxidant effects.
If the only time you’ve bought a pumpkin is to carve one for Halloween, you may have been throwing away a really nutrient-rich vegetable. Not only is the flesh a fantastic source of beta-carotene (essential for eye health), but the seeds of the pumpkin are a nutritional treasure trove that may even have some use for the management of diabetes.
The flesh of the pumpkin is a great basis for anything from soups and stews to pies, and roasted pumpkin seeds are a fantastic addition to a whole host of dishes, making it an easy vegetable to incorporate into a balanced diet.
Pumpkin flesh is extremely high in beta-carotene. According to the USDA database, 100g of pumpkin provides a huge 170% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin A equivalents. This is the reason that pumpkin has such a bright orange colour (carrots are another food high in beta-carotene). 100g of pumpkin also provides 15% DV of vitamin C, and a significant 9% DV of potassium, and has just 26 calories (just over 1.5% DV!).
Pumpkin seeds are also something of a nutritional powerhouse. 100g of dried pumpkin seeds (not an amount you’ll be likely to eat in one go), contains 559 calories, about 28% DV.
But for this, you get 60% DV of protein, which is good for increasing feelings of satiety and for weight loss generally. Not only this, but that 100g contains 21g of polyunsaturated fat and 16g of monounsaturated fat (considered good fats, because it is harder to get them in the western diet), and only 9g of saturated fat (considered bad fats).
100g also contains 148% DV of magnesium and 48% DV iron, significant amounts of these essential nutrients.
Pumpkin also shines when it comes to the concrete benefits these nutrients (and others), have on your health. The high levels of beta-carotene in its flesh may lower your risk of getting certain cancers, specifically prostate cancer and colon cancer. Vitamin A (which beta-carotene is a precursor to), is also essential for eye health.
Pumpkin seeds also have some distinctive and important health benefits, in particular the treatment of diabetes. Pumpkin and flax seed mixture has been shown to manage some of the effects of diabetes such as high fat levels, and also has been shown to be beneficial in managing diabetic nephropathy, a complication of diabetes.
These benefits may be due to the antioxidant effects of pumpkin seeds, which also means that pumpkin seeds have a broad DNA and cell protective role.
So next Halloween, make sure not to throw away the pumpkin seeds; eat them instead!
The pumpkin is a cultivar of the squash plant, most commonly seen in the US and UK around Halloween for decorative purposes. However, as we saw in the pumpkin article, this plant is far more than simply a decoration. The pumpkin seeds that pumpkin contains not only taste fantastic roasted, they are a great topping to any number of dishes, from savoury soups and salads to sweeter granola. With a mighty nutritional punch, a lot of antioxidant benefits, and possible health applications for treating diabetes and helping sleep, pumpkin seeds are not a food you can miss out on.
As we saw with pumpkin, pumpkin seeds are a nutritional powerhouse. 100g of dried pumpkin seeds contains 559 calories, 60% of your Daily Value (DV) of protein, 21g of polyunsaturated fat and 16g of monounsaturated fat (‘good’ fats), and only 9g of saturated fat (‘bad’ fat). Like many nuts and seeds, there is a trade-off between high amounts of calories and a fantastic nutritional profile that helps you balance the negative effects of a diet high in sugar and saturated fat.
In addition, pumpkin seeds contain significant amounts of essential nutrients. 100g contains 148% DV of magnesium, 52% of zinc, 48% DV of iron, and 23% DV of potassium. With these essential nutrients being so vital for everything from cardiovascular to sexual health, and deficiencies being one of the primary reasons behind feelings of tiredness and lack of motivation, pumpkin seeds are one great way to get back on track with your life.
There are two main health benefits aside from the nutritional element that pumpkin seeds bring to the table. First, pumpkin seeds have a list of proven antioxidant effects, which means that they protect on a broad scale from cell and DNA damage. One study that demonstrated the antioxidant and anti-arthritic potential of pumpkins makes clear the point that being a potent antioxidant can lead to a lot of concrete health benefits!
Pumpkin seeds also may have some value as a treatment for diabetes. Firstly, pumpkin and flax seed mixture manages some of the effects of diabetes such as high fat levels. Beyond that, however, pumpkin seeds have been shown to help with treating some of the complications of diabetes: diabetic nephropathy and benign prostatic hyperplasia, making pumpkin seeds an interesting option for those with the disease or with the risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes (obesity and so on). Finally, pumpkin seeds have one last interesting benefit: they are high in tryptophan, which can be converted by the body into melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’, ensuring a restful night’s sleep when eaten a few hours before bed.
Purslane is considered by many to be nothing more than a weed, as it is very widespread and easy to grow. But if by a weed you mean something you shouldn’t be eating, well, nothing could be further from the truth.
With a distinctive, slightly salty taste, purslane is great for everything from a light garnish to a heavy stew. The real headline here, however, is it’s astonishing list of health benefits: cardiovascular, neurological, hepatoprotective, anti-oxidant, anti-tumour and anti-viral.
Purslane is an extremely nutrient-dense leaf vegetable. 100g contains just 20 calories. For those 20 calories, you get 35% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C, 26% DV of vitamin A, 17% DV of magnesium, and 14% DV of potassium.
Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other green leafy vegetable. Considering this is mainly found in fish, purslane is an excellent choice for anyone looking to benefit from the heart and brain boosting benefits offered by omega 3 fatty acids.
In terms of health, purslane has an amazing variety of health benefits, all of which are backed up by a solid body of research. It helps to preserve cognition from environmental factors, protects your liver from toxic compounds, reduces our risk of type 2 diabetes and treats some of the complications, and has anti-viral, antioxidant and anti-tumour benefits (see this review). Purslane is a true health food!
Firstly, it has substantial neuroprotective effects, in that it protects your brain from all kinds of environmental damage. Studies have been done both on damage done via oxygen starvation and through various kinds of toxic compounds.
This is immensely important because it shows that purslane may have the potential to protect your brain from damage as you age and come into contact with multiple environmental toxins. In addition, the fact that purslane contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids means it is a real brain food.
Secondly, it has hepatoprotective (liver protecting) effects, which is immensely important considering one of the liver’s primary roles is to keep the body free of toxic substances through a variety of mechanisms (bile production etc.).
Both the neuroprotective and hepatoprotective effects may be due to the proven antioxidant effects of purslane, although this is speculation. The antioxidant properties of purslane are important because it demonstrates the capacity to combat DNA damage and cell death.
Purslane has even had pronounced anti-tumour effects in certain experiments, making it one of the most promising avenues of nutritional research.
Finally, purslane is also proven to have some influence when it comes to preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes. In fact, it has positive effects when it comes to managing one of the complications of diabetes, diabetic nephropathy. Additionally, it has even been shown to have anti-viral effects, surely making this one of the best foods that most people aren’t eating!
Quinoa is without a doubt one of the healthiest grains there is. Although technically a pseudocereal (and so not a grain in the strict sense), quinoa is nonetheless one of the best ‘whole grains’ there is in terms of versatility and, well, just being a nutritional powerhouse.
It is not only of the most nutrient-dense grains there is, it is also gluten-free, non-GMO and generally grown organically. It is nutrient dense, easy to grow and very easy to prepare, which is why NASA were looking into growing it in outer space! A ‘superfood’ so nutritious that we’re taking it into space has to be a good addition to your diet.
So, why all the excitement? Well, quinoa is quite simply an incredibly balanced grain in terms of both macro and micronutrients. 100g of uncooked quinoa contains 368 calories, but those calories pay off.
Firstly, that 100g of quinoa contains 28% of your daily value (DV) of protein, and more importantly, it is a ‘complete’ protein (it has all the amino acids in relatively high amounts), so you don’t have to pair it with other foods to get the benefits.
In addition, quinoa is relatively high in fat for a grain, containing 9% DV, but significantly most of this is polyunsaturated fat, a fat many diets in the developed world are severely lacking in because of the huge amount of saturated fats in our diets.
Quinoa is even high in micronutrients, and what’s more, they’re vitamins and minerals that many people’s diets lack. 100g of quinoa contains a huge 48% DV of magnesium, 28% DV of fibre, 25% of iron, and 25% of B6. Magnesium is essential for our cardiovascular health, and yet many of us are deficient. Similarly, many people are iron deficient (women are especially at risk), and this can lead to poor cognitive function and tiredness. B6 is another micronutrient essential for cognitive function, and is also important in immunity. Finally, dietary fibre is essential for good digestion. Overall, quinoa is fantastic when it comes to providing vitamins and minerals that many diets are lacking in.
Beyond quinoa’s stunning nutritional profile, however, there are other benefits. It has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants are important to prevent damage caused by particles called free radicals, which can lead to DNA damage (possibly leading to mutations and cancer), and cell death (causing possible tissue damage).
Quinoa is very high in antioxidants. It also has anti-inflammatory effects, mainly found in the saponins present in it’s outer shell of (often removed because of their bitter taste but potentially useful scientifically).
Radicchio (also known as Italian chicory), is a leaf vegetable, and a cultivar of the common chicory plant. Relatively easy to grow, this salad green has a slightly bitter, peppery taste when raw, and a mellower flavour when cooked (it is commonly roasted or grilled). Fantastic raw in a more adventurous salad or simply stirred into risottos, this Mediterranean vegetable is a different choice for those who need more leafy vegetables in their diet, but perhaps are bored of broccoli. Low calorie, nutritious and with great antioxidant potential, radicchio is a great leaf to add to any diet.
Like most things leafy, radicchio is very low in calories. In addition, however, radicchio also has decent amounts of some essential nutrients. 100g of radicchio will cost you just 23 calories: making it a fantastic snack for those looking to restrict their calories. And with 13% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, 8% DV of potassium, and 5% DV of B6, radicchio boasts an impressive boost to your cardiovascular system. Avoiding common deficiencies like these is vital, but it is actually in the less common vitamins, K and E, that radicchio shines. With over 200% DV of vitamin K and around 15% DV of vitamin E, radicchio’s nutrient density is one more reason to keep exploring the world of leafy greens.
Aside from the nutrient density, radicchio does have one or two interesting health benefits up its sleeve. First, it has very high levels of antioxidant activity, with the authors of that paper speculating that this may be due to anthocyanins in the leaf. In addition, radicchio contains two very interesting compounds: lactucin and lactopiricin. What is interesting about the benefits of these two compounds is twofold: first, they are antimalarial. While it must be admitted that that’s probably not an immediate concern for a lot of our readers, they also have some researched analgesic and sedative properties. If nothing else, this goes to show what a long way we have to go in understanding the nutritional benefits of our foods.
Radishes are a root vegetable and a member of the brassica family, native to Europe. Most commonly used as a salad vegetable, the humble radish is a quick growing and spicy vegetable that is low in calories and high in benefits for your body.
Much like its family member, horseradish, radishes are low in calories, great for dieting, high in vitamin C, and contain a number of extremely potent anti-cancer compounds.
The nutritional breakdown of radishes is fairly simple: the only standout statistics are the fact that 100g gets you 29% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C for a mere 16 calories (USDA database). As we know, vitamin C is great for us, and a necessary component of our cardiovascular health, our absorption of iron and so on.
The only other standout benefit of the radish is the fact that, for less than 1% of your DV of calories, radishes provide you with 6 % DV of your daily fibre. Couple that with the fact that 16 calories is a whole 100g of food, and that’s a recipe for being satiated without piling on the pounds.
Digestive health is also a significant benefit of the high levels of dietary fibre. Fibre lowers cholesterol (see Brussel sprouts), and is an essential part of a working gut. In addition, the sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables may stop excess growth of Heliobacter pylori, a bacteria that can lead to stomach cancer.
The real benefits of radishes, however, lie in their cancer-protective compounds. As we have seen, the brassicas are high glucosinalates, some of which break down into sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol.
These compouds have been tested for tumour prevention, breast cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer, and protection from chemotherapy drugs, and have shown positive results (see ‘Bok Choy’).
As with horseradish, the most interesting part of the radish is the presence of allylisothyocyanate, a compound rich in anti-cancer and anti-microbial effects. The anti-cancer effects of the compound have been proven only to a point in the literature: positive effects on cultured cancer cells and in animal tests.
However, if these hopes are correct, the fact the compound is extremely available for oral consumption, coupled with its strong protective potential against cancer cells, would be one more reason to eat radishes.
Raisins are dried grapes. Although in some parts of the world the distinction is made between raisins, currants and sultanas, that’s really just semantics for our purposes: working out how they can benefit our health. Raisins are grown all over the world, with grape producing regions scattered all over the globe (think where your last bottle of wine might have come from and you’ll see how many grape producing regions there are worldwide). Generally eaten raw, the raisin is also suitable for baking and brewing. With a sweet taste, a decent nutritional profile and some fascinating implications for our long term health, raisins are one of the best options for those who love to snack.
Nutritionally, the raisin certainly is certainly nutrient dense on a per gram basis; unfortunately, this comes at the cost of being pretty calorie-dense too. 100g contains 299 calories, and 14% of your Daily Value (DV) of dietary fibre, 21% DV of potassium, 10% DV of both iron and B6, and 8% DV of magnesium. While that certainly is a decent amount of calories, only those looking to lose weight should shy away from the raisin. With fibre being important for digestion, and the essential minerals listed being common deficiencies, the raisin is a great food to keep on snacking to.
Beyond the nutritional stuff, the raisin has three main areas of researched benefits to bring to the table: antioxidant benefits, cancer prevention, and diabetes treatment. Human tests have shown that raisins do have the capacity to modulate antioxidant potential. This has a huge range of health benefits, as the damage done by free radicals to almost every system in the body has been linked from everything from cardiovascular disease to cancer. In addition, there is some evidence that raisins have colon cancer prevention properties.
Finally, raisins have been associated with major health improvements is diabetics when raisins were added to the diet of diabetics. And despite the high sugar content of raisins, diabetics need not worry, as raisins possess an extremely low glycemic index.
Raspberries is a term to describe the edible fruit of a number of species in the rose family. A fantastic summer fruit, raspberries are somewhat expensive because they are difficult to pick, but pack enough of a punch in terms of flavour to make up for it. Eaten fresh, pureed, juiced or dried; in ice cream, fruit pies, salads, soufflés or snacks, the raspberry is a succulent and sweet addition to any dish, with a delicate flavour of its own. The raspberry is not only sweet tasting and nutritious, it also has positive effects on obesity, cancer, and antioxidant effects, so get picking!
Nutritionally, raspberries benefit from being fantastically low calorie, given their sweetness. 100g will give you 53 calories, but for that you get 24% of your Daily Value (DV) of dietary fibre, plus 43% DV of vitamin C, and 5% DV of both vitamin B6 and magnesium. Fibre is essential for the maintenance of a healthy digestive system, and vitamin C and magnesium will really assist you in maintaining your cardiovascular health (more on that below), so raspberries are a great low calorie bargain to strike!
In terms of health benefits, they are really twofold: the reduction of obesity and blood sugar levels, and the cancer fighting benefits linked to the great antioxidant potential of raspberries. Two compounds in raspberries have an anti-obesity effect: raspberry ketone (also known as rheosmin), has been proven to prevent and improve both obesity and fatty liver disease.
Although the mechanism is still being speculated upon, this is a huge deal considering the health problems plaguing Western society: all the more impressive for a food high in simple sugars! The other important compound is called tiliroside, which has been shown to ameliorate the effects of obesity, such as high blood sugar, blood fats, and blood insulin, and hopefully help to prevent diabetes
Beyond this, there is a great deal of research into the antioxidant and cancer fighting potential of raspberries. They contain a huge amount of antioxidants, which may go some way to explaining the broad spectrum anti-cancer properties attribute to them, in particular the inhibition of tumour development. Specific cancers that raspberries have a proven track record which include esophageol cancer and cervical cancer, demonstrating that they have a broad range of health applications that are yet to be researched.
Rosemary is a fragrant and woody herb native to the Mediterranean. Often grown as a decorative plant, the essential oil is widely used in products such as incense, shampoos, and cleaning products. And of course, the whole leaf, fresh or dried, can be used to flavour a range of dishes, ranging from a simple Italian-style tomato sauce to a complex casserole dish. As rosemary is almost exclusively used as a flavouring in very small amounts it, in essence, has no nutritional value as far as essential vitamins and minerals go. However, rosemary has a huge number of health benefits ranging from an increase in cognitive ability to anti-cancer effects.
To deal with the essential oil first, there are a number of fantastic benefits, backed by research, attributed to the mere smell of rosemary essential oil. Astonishingly, exposure appears to correlate with an increase in cognitive performance. In addition to that study, another found that both cognition and mood were positively affected by the scent of rosemary oil, and finally, that neuroprotective may not be all that shocking considering what we know about the essential oil, but what is surprising is that in animal models of Alzheimer’s carnosic acid was also found to be a highly effective preventative measure. On top of all this, carnosic acid has an anti-proliferative effect on cancer, and one study assessed the anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour benefits of the compound. That’s a fantastic list of benefits for just one compound isolated from rosemary!
Interestingly, rosemary is also a benefit when used with other foods. A study done on rosemary and beef showed a reduction in something called heterocyclic amines when beef was cooked with rosemary. Heterocyclic amines are mutagenic compounds that form when meat is cooked at a high heat, posing a cancer risk, but when cooked with rosemary, the dangerous compounds were reduced. Finally, rosemary has been shown to preserve the shelf life of omega-3 fish oils, making it a perfect complement to cook with fish.
The rutabaga (known as the swede in most parts of the world) is a member of the brassica family probably originating from either Scandinavia or Russia. Renowned for its bitter taste (softened with cooking!), the rutabaga is great boiled, baked or roasted.
Used in a variety of national dishes like the Finnish swede casserole or the English Sunday roast, rutabaga boasts surprisingly high nutritional content and the cancer-fighting properties unique to brassicas.
Nutritionally, the rutabaga is a bit of a surprise. The headline is the very high levels of vitamin C: 100g (really not very much swede) provides 30% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential for the creation of connective tissue, iron absorption, cardiovascular health and a host of other processes (see Broccoli).
The rutabaga is also very high in dietary fibre, which is important for the digestive tract. Fiber is important to the health of the colon, and lowering cholesterol (by binding with bile acids; see Brussel sprouts).
In addition, the sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables may stop excess growth of Heliobacter pylori, a bacteria that can lead to a multitude of gastric problems, potentially even stomach cancer.
Finally, the rutabaga packs a surprising amount of potassium, with 8% DV per 100g. It is often hard for people on Western diets to make the recommended amounts of potassium, so really every little helps. Potassium is significant in a number of processes in the body, from muscle contraction to proper heart function, and deficiency can lead to high blood pressure and a host of cardiovascular disease.
Beyond this, rutabaga does have some health value. Firstly, as with most brassicas, it contains powerful anti-cancer compounds.
Secondly, rutabaga’s fat-free status, low calorie count and high amount of fibre make it an ideal candidate for a great weight-loss food.
Sage is a small shrub native to the Mediterranean, now used as a garden plant and an herb. Used in a number of European culinary traditions, it is probably most prominent in traditionally British dishes like sage and onion stuffing, casseroles and Lincolnshire sausages. Either eaten as a leaf or used as an essential oil, the sage leaf has a long history of being recommended as a panacea. While that’s certainly not the case, sage contains a few essential nutrients in high amounts, in addition to having possible beneficial effects for diseases as diverse as cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
Nutritionally, sage is surprisingly nutrient dense, although admittedly you’re not going to cure any vitamin deficiencies with something you may eat by the teaspoon. One tablespoon of dried sage contains a surprising 40% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin K, in addition to 5% DV of B6 and 3% DV of iron; and all that for only 6 calories! With vitamin K being essential for blood clotting and bone health, and B6 and iron being common deficiencies that can cause tiredness, anaemia and poor cognition, sage packs a small but notable punch in helping to fight important nutrient deficiencies.
The real benefits of sage, however, lie not in the relatively small amount of essential nutrients present, but in the numerous long-term health benefits that are being researched. To begin with, sage has proven antioxidant potential, as it contains compounds called polyphenols (among many others with antioxidant potential) that have been shown to prevent damage by free radicals. With free radical damage being attributed to a number of diseases from Alzheimer’s to macular degeneration, antioxidant activity is a great catch-all health benefit.
Beyond this, sage has some fantastic benefits for specific diseases long-term. To begin with, sage contains compounds that inhibit tumour growth. As this review notes (p.495S), sage contains both cineole and perillyl alchohol, both compounds of a class called terpenoids, both with proven tumour inhibiting effects. Beyond this, sage may have some benefits for the treatment of arthritis and for bone health, as one study demonstrated a substantial decrease in bone resorption (breakdown) when rats were given powdered sage, rosemary and thyme.
Finally, sage’s most interesting potential benefit lies in its possible benefits for helping to treat Alzheimer’s disease, and its benefits for cognitive function in general. One study with 190 rats showed significant improvements in memory retention when given sage leaf extract, and one human study in Alzheimer’s patients over 4 months showed significant improvements in the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease when given sage extract. Anything that can help increase your memory potential and help ward off symptoms of Alzheimer’s is surely a plus!
Salmon is the common name for a number of species of fish, renowned as a source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Due to high demand, many salmon are now intensively farmed, and there are even proposals in place to used genetically modified salmon in the large-scale fish farms. Despite this commercial pressure, or perhaps because of it, wild caught salmon is a delicacy. The salmon is native to the Atlantic and pacific tributaries, and is fantastic smoked, grilled or poached, and goes well with everything from light spring vegetables like asparagus to rice noodles and risottos. A fantastic nutritional profile, coupled with the high amounts of omega-3s for which it is renowned, make salmon a fantastic health food.
Nutritionally, salmon is essentially very high in protein and essential fats, making it an exceptionally balanced base to a meal. 100g of raw Atlantic salmon contains 208 calories, but for that you get a huge amount of protein (40% of your DV – Daily Value), in addition to large amounts of B6 (53% DV), B12 (30% DV), and potassium (10% DV). With lean protein sources being so important for weight loss, B6 and B12 being so important for everything from blood to brain function, and potassium essential for heart health, the salmon is a fantastic health food.
The main draw of salmon, however, is its huge amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. 55% DV of omega 3 fatty acids are contained in 100g of salmon, but what is actually most significant is the high ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 (the body can only absorb so much omega, so ratio is important). In fact, the only other sources of omega 3 that come close to salmon are walnut and flaxseed: and both of those are ALA (alpha linoleic acid), not EPA or DHA, the fats in salmon. ALA must be converted into EPA and DHA, and some of it is lost in conversion, so in real terms, salmon has the most omega-3s.
Omega 3 has a whole host of benefits. For example, omega 3 has been shown to lower blood pressure, help prevent breast cancer, and even delay the onset of age-related macular degeneration. It has even been shown to prevent the shortening of telomeres, associated with age-related diseases and early mortality. Finally, omega 3 has been shown to be instrumental in 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.
Scallions (also known as spring onions), are a member of the allium family, along with garlic and onion. Essentially an onion harvested before it begins to develop the bulb, scallions are a distinctive vegetable in their own right, with a slightly spicy flavour.
Scallions are often found in stir fries, soups and garnishes, but are far more than a side dish when it comes to their nutritional benefits. With pronounced cardiovascular effects, cancer-fighting properties and high levels of essential minerals, scallions are a flavoursome way to help with longevity and health.
Nutritionally, scallions are a great source of a number of essential minerals. 100g of raw scallions contains 8% of your daily value (DV) of iron, 7% DV of potassium, and 7% DV of calcium. These are all minerals it is easy to be deficient in, especially if your diet lacks dark leafy greens. In addition, 100g contains 31% DV of vitamin C, 19% DV of vitamin A, and 10% DV of dietary fibre.
Scallions have even more nutritional clout than this, however. The high levels of the flavonoid quercetin present in them give it a distinct benefit when it comes to your cardiovascular health: besides possible athletic performance benefits, quercetin has been shown to lower blood pressure, in addition to reducing platelet aggregation, a major contributing factor to atherosclerosis.
The cardiovascular benefits don’t stop there though: potassium has been linked with a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, as has vitamin C.
Scallions have further assorted health benefits. As an allium, they have been linked with a lower cancer risk, specifically, prostate cancer, stomach cancer, and oesophageal cancer. These cancers are associated with health of the digestive system, another thing scallions assist with, due to their fairly high levels of dietary fibre.
Finally, deficiencies in vitamin A and iron can lead to some serious health risks, particularly the long-term health of the eye and the problems of tiredness and focus associated with anaemia.
Hopefully, the encounters you have had with sesame seeds won’t just be when they are sprinkled over a burger bun; if that is the case, you really don’t know what you’re missing! Not only are they absolutely delicious, but they are packed full of nutrients that will give your body a welcome health boost.
Help Prevent Diabetes And Lower Cholesterol. In 2010, Sankar et al investigated the effects of sesame seed oil on the health of sixty type 2 diabetic participants. The results of the study showed that consuming 35g of the oil a day, in combination with the diabetic medication glibenclamide, reduced glucose levels by 36% and overall blood sugar levels by 43%.
Interestingly, the findings also showed that the type 2 diabetic participants had a 33.8% decrease in the levels of “bad” cholesterol in their system, they also showed an increase in “good” cholesterol by up to 17%.
Lower Blood Pressure And Promote Healthy Skin. According to a study published in 2011, daily consumption of black sesame seed flour can have significant effects on blood pressure. Thirty volunteers were divided into two groups and some were given a capsule containing the black sesame flour, the others received a placebo; they consumed the capsules daily for four weeks.
The results showed that systolic blood pressure had lowered in the group that had taken the black sesame seed capsules, but not in the placebo group. The team also found that levels of vitamin E – which is an antioxidant that is important for healthy skin – were increased as well.
Prevents Breast Cancer. It has recently been discovered that a component in sesame seeds, called sesamin, is effective at preventing cell growth in breast cancer cells. It does this by increasing the level of apoptosis. Apoptosis is programmed cell death and is an important process in multi-cellular organisms because it keeps the growth of cells in balance by preventing unnecessary cell growth – something which happens when cancer cell growth is triggered.
Protects DNA From Radiation Damage. Sesame seeds contain another antioxidant called sesamol which has recently been proven to help protect cellular DNA from damage caused by ionising radiation – which is found in things like x-rays. The research team blasted mouse cells with gamma radiation to see what effect the sesamol had and the results showed that it had a significant impact on protecting the cells from gamma radiation-induced damage.
Relieves Arthritic Symptoms. In 2013, a study was conducted in Iran with the aim of seeing how consuming 40g of sesame seeds a day, for two months, would affect the signs and symptoms of knee osteoarthritis infifty volunteers. The volunteers were divided in half, one group received nothing and the other group received sesame seeds. The findings showed that those who had eaten sesame seeds experienced significant improvements in the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis in the knees.
Shrimps (often known as prawns in some cases) are a common type of seafood eaten all over the world. Delicious, baked, boiled, barbecued, fried or grilled, the shrimp is used across the world as a seafood staple (probably due to its very high levels of protein), and as such is very easy to incorporate into your diet: whether you like Japanese, Thai, or Brazilian cuisine, the shrimp is often used. Shrimp not only has a great nutritional profile, but varied and unique benefits for fighting cardiovascular disease, and some other health issues.
The headline nutritional benefit of shrimp is, quite frankly, the astonishing amounts of protein available. 100g of cooked shrimp contains 99 calories, and 24g of protein: less than 5% of your Daily Value (DV) of calories, but 48% of your DV of protein. In addition to that, the shrimp has a number of essential minerals in decent amounts: 9% DV of magnesium, 7% DV of calcium, and 7% DV of potassium; fantastic for athletic, cardiovascular and bone health. However, that 100g also contains 63% DV of cholesterol, which may be a serious concern for some.
However, that 63% figure, while worrying, is actually a little misleading. While it is true that shrimp are high in cholesterol, they have been shown to decrease the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol (‘bad’ to ‘good’ cholesterol, and decrease the amount of triglycerides in the blood. Both of these problems are serious indicators of potential heart problems in themselves, and also one of the main reasons to reduce your dietary cholesterol. While it’s probably not a good idea to eat shrimp if you have a history of recent heart problems or obesity, for most there’s no issue.
In addition, shrimp are fantastic in terms of seafood because they avoid a central problem in seafood: high mercury levels. Mercury levels are dangerous in high doses, especially for young children, and while it is uncertain what harm low-level mercury contamination in fish does, it’s probably not good for you. Shrimp are low in mercury and high in omega-3s
Finally, shrimp is a unique source of an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory carotenoid called astaxanthin. Astaxanthin has been shown to have positive antioxidant effects in animal studies, addressing imbalances that were in this case induced by diabetes. Further, they have been shown to help with treating diabetic nephropathy a kidney disease caused by a complication of diabetes, and even may have some benefits for the prevention of colon cancer.