Asparagus: Sparrow Grass

Asparagus
Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

Asparagus, officially known as Asparagus officinalis, is a member of the lily family.  This popular spring vegetable comes in a variety of colors, including green, white and purple, and it is used in dishes around the world, including frittatas, pastas, and stir-fries.

Asparagus is also low in calories and packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  These nutrients are good for your cells, heart, and digestive system.

Reasons to Eat Asparagus

1. Nutrient Dense

Asparagus is low in calories but boasts an impressive nutrient profile.  In fact one half-cup (90 grams) of cooked asparagus contains:

  • Calories: 20
  • Protein: 2.2 grams
  • Fat: 0.2 grams
  • Fiber: 1.8 grams
  • Vitamin C: 12% of the RDI
  • Vitamin A: 18% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 57% of the RDI
  • Folate: 34% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 6% of the RDI
  • Phosphorous: 5% of the RDI
  • Vitamin E: 7% of the RDI

Asparagus also contains small amounts of iron, zinc, and riboflavin.

2. Packed with Antioxidants

Asparagus is packed with antioxidants, including vitamin E, vitamin C and glutathione, as well as various flavonoids and polyphenols.  Antioxidants prevent the accumulation of harmful free radicals and may reduce your risk of chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

3. Improves Gut Health

Asparagus contains both insoluble and soluble fiber.  The insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and promotes regularity.  The soluble fiber (inulin) forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract and feeds the friendly bacteria.  Increasing the number of these beneficial bacteria plays a role in strengthening the immune system and producing essential nutrients like vitamins B12 and K2.

4. Helps with Weight Loss

Asparagus is about 94% water.  It is also low in calories and rich in fiber.  Research suggests that consuming low-calorie, water-rich foods is associated with weight loss.  Dietary fiber has also been linked to lower body weight and weight loss.

5. Lowers Blood Pressure

Because it’s a good source of potassium, asparagus may help counteract the effects of sodium in your diet to promote healthy blood pressure.  A cup of cooked asparagus contains 400 mg of potassium.

6. Boosts Immune System

The vitamin E in asparagus strengthens your immune system and protects your cells from the harmful effects of free radicals.  Since it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is best to consume it with a healthy fat, like olive oil.

7. Fights Cancer

Asparagus is a rich source of glutathione, which is a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals.  This is why asparagus may help in the fight against various forms of cancer.

8. Boosts Mood

Asparagus is replete with folate, a B vitamin that can lift your spirits and ward off irritability.  Researchers have found a link between low levels of both folate and vitamin B12 in people who are suffering from depression.  Asparagus also contains tryptophan, an amino acid which has been similarly linked to improved mood.

Ways to Enjoy Asparagus

  • Eggs: Add sliced asparagus to your omelet or frittata for a healthy breakfast or brunch.
  • Sautéed: Slice asparagus and sauté them with seasonings of your choice in extra virgin olive oil for a delicious side dish.
  • Roasted: Toss asparagus spears with olive oil to lightly coat and oven-roast till browned and tender for a side dish full of depth and flavor.
  • Pasta salads: Stir sautéed asparagus into a pasta salad.
  • Soups and stews: Add sliced asparagus to your favorite soup or stew at the end and simmer for just a few minutes until tender.

Bell Peppers: Capsicums

Image by Nicole Köhler from Pixabay

The bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) is a fruit that belongs to the nightshade family.  Botanically it is a fruit, but nutritionally considered a vegetable.  Also called a sweet pepper or capsicum, it is native to Central and South America and can be eaten either raw or cooked.

Bell peppers come in various colors, such as red, yellow, orange, and green (which are unripe).  Green, unripe peppers have a slightly bitter taste and are not as sweet as fully ripe ones.

Apart from their mild, sweet flavor and wonderful taste, bell peppers are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  One cup of green bell pepper contains 30 calories, 2.5 grams of fiber, and 120 mg of vitamin C.

There are nutritional differences between colors of bell peppers.  Red bell peppers are the most nutritious.  One cup of red bell pepper contains 39 calories, 3.1 grams of fiber, and 190 mg of vitamin C.

 

Reasons to Eat Bell Peppers

1. Very Nutritious

Bell peppers are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  They are high in beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A.  They are also high in vitamin C and a decent source of fiber.

2. Help Prevent Anemia

Anemia is a common condition characterized by a reduced ability of your blood to carry oxygen, and iron deficiency is one of the most common causes.  Dietary iron absorption increases significantly when you consume fruits or vegetables high in vitamin C.  Therefore eating bell peppers alongside iron-rich foods, like meat or spinach, increases your body’s iron stores and cuts your risk of anemia.

3. Boost Immunity

The vitamin C in bell peppers is vital for immune support and healing.  Bell peppers also contain vitamin A, which is essential in fighting serious diseases, like cancer, as well as more short-term illnesses, such as the common cold.

4. Improve Heart Health

Bell peppers are rich in vitamin B6 and folate, which help to lower homocysteine levels (high homocysteine levels lead to a higher risk of heart disease).  Red bell peppers are rich in lycopene (a carotenoid), which makes them excellent for a healthy heart.

5. Help Prevent Cancer

The carotenoids in bell peppers help reduce the damage that oxidation causes on your cells.  Red bell peppers in particular contain very high quantities of beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.  Eating foods high in carotenoids, especially beta-carotene, have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer.

6. Support Skin Health

The vitamin C in bell peppers is also good for your skin.  This, along with the carotenoids improves skin health and promotes collagen production.  Collagen is a protein that keeps your skin strong and healthy.

7. Boost Eye Health

Lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids found in relatively large amounts in bell peppers, may improve eye health when consumed in adequate amounts.  They protect your retina from oxidative damage.  Several scientific studies indicate these carotenoids may cut the risk of both macular degeneration and cataracts.

8. Balance Mood

Due to their vitamin content, bell peppers are considered one of the best brain foods.  Vitamin B6 in bell peppers increases the level of serotonin and norepinephrine, sometimes called “the happy hormones.”  High levels of these hormones are associated with improved mood and more concentration.

A vitamin B6 deficiency has been shown to contribute to cognitive impairment.

 

Ways to Enjoy  Bell Peppers

  • Salads: Make salads more vibrant by adding sliced bell peppers in a variety of colors.
  • Crudités: Slice bell peppers into strips and serve with hummus or your favorite dip for a healthy snack.
  • Smoothies: Add cut bell peppers to your smoothie mix and purée for a nutritious smoothie.
  • Sautéed: Slice bell peppers and sauté them with garlic, onions, and seasonings of your choice in extra virgin olive oil for an easy side dish.
  • Stews and Soups: Add chopped or sliced bell peppers to soups or stews for a pop of color.
  • Eggs: Add chopped bell peppers to your omelet, quiche, or frittata for a colorful breakfast.

10 Amazing Health Benefits of Carrots

Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/jackmac34-483877/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=673184">jacqueline macou</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=673184">Pixabay</a>
Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

Carrots are a root vegetable and are found in many colors including yellow, white, orange, red, and purple.  Orange carrots, the most widely available, get their color from carotenoids, antioxidants that your body converts to vitamin A.  Carrots are also a good source of fiber, vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants.

Carrots are one of the easiest vegetables to get picky eaters to eat at dinnertime, as they are sweet, tasty, and have great texture.  This vegetable has a nice crunch when raw, and a tender, creamy bite when cooked.

 

Reasons to Eat Carrots

1. Very Nutritious

Carrots are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  They are especially high in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that your body converts to vitamin A.  Carrots also contain potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K1, and fiber.

 

2. Packed with Disease-Fighting Antioxidants

The antioxidants alpha and beta carotene give carrots their bright orange color.  These protect your cells against damage by neutralizing free radicals.  This oxidative stress has been linked to a weakened immune system and many harmful diseases.

 

3. Boost Immunity

The vitamin C in carrots is vital for immune support and healing.  The veggie’s vitamin A supports the immune system too,  and plays an important role in forming and protecting mucous membranes, which act as barriers to keep germs out of the body.

 

4. Promote Weight Loss

Carrots contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.  Fiber takes the longest to digest and therefore promotes a feeling of fullness and prevents you from eating other fattening foods.

5. Lower Cancer Risk

Antioxidants found in carrots have been tied to a reduced risk of several cancers, including lung, colorectal, prostate, and leukemia. A 2008 scientific study found that people with a high intake of carotenoids had a 21% lower risk of lung cancer.

 

6. Promote Heart Health

Carrots are packed with potassium.  Potassium helps relax the tension in your blood vessels, which enhances blood flow circulation and lowers your elevated blood pressure.  High blood pressure is linked to conditions like stroke and heart attacks.

In addition to lowering your blood pressure, carrots boost heart health by removing excess LDL cholesterol from the walls of blood vessels.  This is carried out by the soluble fiber in carrots and also a type of calcium that is easily absorbed by the body.

 

7. Improve Vision

Carrots are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin which help maintain good eyesight and night vision.  The high amount of vitamin A also helps boost a healthy eyesight.

 

8. Protect the Skin

The carotenoids in carrots act as a natural sunblock.  Lutein and zeaxanthin have also been shown in studies to boost your skin’s defenses against UV rays.

Carrots also contain vitamin C, which is essential for healthy skin.  Your body uses vitamin C to synthesize collagen, a protein that keeps your skin strong and healthy.

 

9. Fight Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is the root of many serious diseases including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity.  The carotenoids in carrots help fight inflammation, along with an antioxidant called luteolin.  Promising research also shows luteolin’s anti-inflammatory properties may help fight lung, stomach, prostate, and breast cancer.

 

10. Support Brain Health

Luteolin also has another amazing benefit: keeping your brain young as you are.  Carrots not only can help boost your memory, but can also help prevent cognitive decline.  With all these health benefits, carrots may just be the new fountain of youth!

 

Ways to Enjoy Carrots

  • Salads: Add chopped or shredded carrots to salads or slaws.
  • Crudités:  Use whole or cut, raw carrots to scoop up dip, hummus, tahini, or olive tapenade.
  • Smoothies: Add raw, cut carrots to fresh pressed juices and smoothies for a naturally sweet, mild flavor.
  • Roasted: Carrots are amazing oven-roasted, brushed with a little extra virgin olive oil.
  • Soups and stews:  Cut them and add them to your favorite soups and stews.
  • Baked desserts: Add shredded carrots to baked goods such as pies and muffins.

Pumpkin: It’s Not Just For Pie

Image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto from Pixabay

Did you know that pumpkin is technically a fruit?  Although it is scientifically a fruit, its nutritional profile is more similar to vegetables than fruits.  Pumpkin is a cultivar of winter squash and is native to North America (northeastern Mexico and the southern United States).

Pumpkin is very nutritious, as it is brimming with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  It has orange flesh which comes from  pigments called carotenoids which have potent antioxidant properties.

Pumpkin is also quite versatile and can be added to many dishes.  So if you’ve been overlooking this superfood, it’s time to add pumpkin to your diet.

 

Reasons to Eat Pumpkin

1. Highly Nutritious

Pumpkin is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  It is especially high in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that your body converts to vitamin A.  A one-half cup serving of cooked pumpkin provides over 100% of the daily recommended intake (DRI) of vitamin A.  Pumpkin is also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.

2. Packed with Disease-Fighting Antioxidants

Pumpkin’s bevy of antioxidants include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin.  These protect your cells against damage by neutralizing free radicals.  This oxidative stress has been linked to a weakened immune system and many harmful diseases.

3. Boosts Immunity

In addition to beta-carotene, pumpkin is also high in vitamin C which increases white blood cell production and heals wounds faster.  Pumpkin also contains vitamin E, iron and folate which have all been found to strengthen the immune system.

4. Promotes Weight Loss

Pumpkin is a nutrient-dense food, meaning it is packed with nutrients while being low in calories.  One cup of cooked pumpkin contains only 49 calories and is 94% water.  Pumpkin is also a good source of fiber, which helps suppress appetite.

5. Lowers Cancer Risk

The carotenoids in pumpkin function as antioxidants and fight the free radicals that are produced by cancer cells.  In studies, these antioxidants have been shown to lower the risks of throat, pancreas, breast, and other cancers.

6. Promotes Heart Health

Pumpkin contains a variety of nutrients, like potassium, fiber, and vitamin C, which can improve your heart health.  Studies have shown that people with higher potassium intakes have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of stroke.

The antioxidants in pumpkin also help prevent LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidizing.  Oxidized LDL cholesterol particles can clump along the walls of blood vessels which can restrict your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease.

7. Improves Eye Health

Many nutrients in pumpkin have been linked to strong eyesight as your body ages.  Pumpkin contains beta-carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin A.  Vitamin A deficiency is a common cause of blindness.

Pumpkin also is a good source of both lutein and zeaxanthin, two bioactive compounds linked to lower risks of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.  Vitamins C and E in pumpkin also help prevent free radicals from damaging your eye cells.

 

8. Protects The Skin

The carotenoids in pumpkin act as a natural sunblock.  Lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin E have also been shown in studies to boost your skin’s defenses against UV rays.

Pumpkin also contains vitamin C, which is essential for healthy skin.  Your body uses vitamin C to synthesize collagen, a protein that keeps your skin strong and healthy.

 

Ways to Enjoy Pumpkin

  • Roasted: Toss pumpkin chunks with extra virgin olive oil and roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes for a side dish.
  • Sauces: Stir pureed pumpkin into soups or sauces to thicken them.
  • Smoothies: Mix pureed pumpkin into a smoothie.
  • Oatmeal: Stir pureed pumpkin into your morning oatmeal with nutmeg and cinnamon.
  • Baked: Make pies, muffins, or any baked goods using pureed pumpkin.
  • Yogurt: Add pureed pumpkin to plain yogurt with some pumpkin spice and a dab of honey.

Healthy Fats: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Olive oil is oil that has been extracted from olives (the fruits of the olive tree).  There are three main grades of olive oil – extra virgin, virgin, and refined.  Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the least processed and is considered the healthiest.  It is made from pressed olives without using any chemicals.  It has a distinct taste, is high in antioxidants, and has a shelf life of about two years.

Olive oil traditionally came from the Mediterranean and is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet.  Spain, Italy, and Greece are the major producers of olive oil today, and all three countries grow olive varietals that contain high levels of antioxidants.  Monovarietal EVOOs that are highest in antioxidants are: Koroneiki (from Greece), Picual (from Spain), and Moraiolo (from Italy).

EVOO is nutritious.  In addition to antioxidants, it contains modest amounts of vitamins E and K and is high in monounsaturated fats (mostly oleic acid).  One tablespoon (13.5 grams) of EVOO contains:

  • Saturated fat: 14%
  • Monounsaturated fat: 73% (mostly oleic acid)
  • Vitamin E: 13% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin K: 7% of the DV

Reasons to Eat Olive Oil

1. Rich in Healthy Monounsaturated Fats

The predominant fatty acid in olive oil is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid.  Scientific studies have found that oleic acid reduces inflammation and may even have anticancer properties.  Monounsaturated fats reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides while maintaining HDL (good) cholesterol levels.  They also improve the function of your blood vessels.

2. Loaded with Antioxidants

EVOO is brimming with powerful antioxidants.  These antioxidants include oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol, and oleocanthal.  They fight free radicals, prevent cellular damage, and slow the ageing process.

3. Fights Inflammation

The oleic acid and the antioxidants in EVOO have also been found to fight inflammation.  Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Lowers Cardiovascular Disease Risk

In addition to fighting chronic inflammation, EVOO protects against heart disease and stroke via numerous mechanisms.  These are:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Improves blood vessel health
  • Helps prevent unwanted blood clotting

In a recent five year scientific study of 5,000 participants, the researchers found a 41% lower risk of stroke for people who used olive oil for both cooking and dressings.

Ways to Enjoy Olive Oil

  • Roasting vegetables: Bring out the sweet flavors of vegetables by chopping, tossing them with EVOO and roasting at 400 degrees until just tender.
  • Eggs: Scramble or fry eggs, and cook omelets in EVOO.
  • Marinades: Use EVOO in marinades or sauces for meat, fish, and poultry.
  • Finishing: Drizzle EVOO over cooked vegetables and soups, just before serving, for a burst of flavor.
  • Dipping: Pour some EVOO into a shallow dish and season with your favorite herbs and spices to create a healthy dip for whole grain bread.
  • Salad dressings: Add EVOO to salad dressings and vinaigrettes.
  • Sautéing: Use EVOO instead of other fats when frying and sautéing.
  • Pasta: Toss whole wheat pasta with EVOO before tossing with your favorite sauce for an added layer of flavor.

Pomegranate: The Apple With Many Seeds

Pomegranate - fruit and glass of juice
Pomegranate – fruit and glass of juice

The pomegranate is among the healthiest fruits on the planet.  It is red, round, and looks like a red apple with a flower-shaped stem.  Its skin is thick and inedible, but it contains hundreds of edible seeds.  Each seed is surrounded by a red, juicy and sweet seed covering known as an aril.

The seeds and arils (the only edible parts) are either eaten raw or processed into pomegranate juice.

Pomegranates contain two unique substances that are responsible for most of their health benefits.  They are:

  • Punicalagins: Extremely powerful antioxidants.
  • Punicic acid: The main fatty acid in the arils with strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Reasons to Eat Pomegranate

1. Packed With Important Nutrients

Pomegranates have an impressive nutrient profile.  One cup of arils contain:

  • Calories: 144
  • Fiber: 7 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Vitamin C: 30% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 36% of the RDI
  • Folate: 16% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 12% of the RDI 

2. Fights Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is the root of many serious diseases including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity.  The punicalagins in pomegranate juice have been shown in scientific studies to reduce inflammation.

A 12-week scientific study of people with diabetes found that 1.1 cups (250 ml) of pomegranate juice per day lowered the inflammatory markers CRP and interleukin-6 by 32% and 30% respectively.

3. Fights Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a common type of cancer in men.  Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found that pomegranate juice appeared to suppress the growth of cancer cells in men who had preliminary treatment for prostate cancer.

4. Lowers Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.  In one scientific study, people with hypertension had a significant reduction in blood pressure after consuming 5 fluid ounces (150 ml) of pomegranate juice daily for two weeks.  Other studies have found similar effects, especially for systolic blood pressure.

5. Promotes Heart Health

Some research shows that the antioxidants in pomegranate juice may help keep cholesterol in a form that is less damaging and also may reduce plaque that has already built up in vessels.

In an Israeli study of healthy men, researchers concluded that pomegranate juice decreases the likelihood of LDL (bad) cholesterol and improves HDL (good) cholesterol.

Ways to Enjoy Pomegranate

  • Cereals: Sprinkle pomegranate arils on oatmeal or other hot or cold breakfast cereal.
  • Salads: Throw a handful of pomegranate arils in a green salad for extra texture and a sweet-tart flavor.
  • Whole Grains: Add pomegranate arils to tabouli, or to cooked whole grains combined with sauteed onions and garlic, and fresh herbs.
  • Yogurt: Top plain yogurt with pomegranate arils either alone or paired with chopped nuts.
  • Juice: Enjoy a glass of unsweetened pomegranate juice at breakfast.
  • Molasses: Make pomegranate molasses by reducing pomegranate juice over medium to medium-low heat until it coats the back of a spoon.
  • Salad Dressing: Combine pomegranate molasses, minced shallots, herbs, and extra-virgin olive oil for a vinaigrette.
  • Muhammara: Make this sweet-sour-spicy spread from pomegranate molasses, walnuts, and red peppers.

Herbs and Spices: Cinnamon

Cinnamon sticks
Cinnamon sticks

Cinnamon is a delicious spice that has been used around the world for thousands of years.  It confers several health benefits, not to mention its sweet, distinct, warm flavor.  Out of 26 popular herbs and spices, researchers have ranked cinnamon as number 1 for its high antioxidant levels.

Cinnamon actually comes from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree.  When this inner bark dries, it curls into rolls which can be ground to form cinnamon powder.

There are two main types of cinnamon spice used today:

  • Ceylon cinnamon, which is sometimes called “true” cinnamon.
  • Cassia cinnamon, which is more widely available and known as “cinnamon.”

Cassia cinnamon contains significant amounts of a compound called coumarin, which may be harmful in large doses.  Ceylon cinnamon is much better in this regard, because it has lower levels of coumarin.  Unfortunately, cassia cinnamon is more widely available in supermarkets.  However, ceylon cinnamon can be found online and in health stores.

It is best to discuss your diet regimen with your doctor.

Reasons to Eat Cinnamon

1. High in Antioxidants

Cinnamon is replete with a bevy of protective antioxidants that reduce free radical damage and slow the ageing process.  These antioxidants, which include polyphenols, phenolic acid and flavonoids, also help prevent chronic disease.

2. Relieves Inflammation

The antioxidants in cinnamon help fight inflammation in the body, and chronic inflammation is the hallmark of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, cognitive decline and many more.

3. Lowers Heart Disease Risk

In scientific studies, cinnamon has reduced several of the risk factors for heart disease.  These include high cholesterol levels, high triglycerides and high blood pressure.

4. Improves Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is an important hormone that regulates metabolism and energy use, and it also helps transport blood sugar from your bloodstream into your cells.  Unfortunately, many people are resistant to the effects of insulin.  This causes the body to produce more insulin to get the blood sugar into your cells.  This is called insulin resistance.  In scientific studies, cinnamon has dramatically reduced insulin resistance resulting in improved insulin sensitivity and balanced blood sugar levels.

5. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels

Apart from reducing insulin resistance, cinnamon lowers blood sugar by two other mechanisms.  First, cinnamon impedes the action of digestive enzymes in the digestive tract to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream after a meal.  Second, a compound in cinnamon acts on cells by mimicking insulin.  This improves blood sugar absorption by your cells and lowers blood sugar levels.

6. Helps Cut Cancer Risk

Cinnamon protects against DNA damage, cell mutation and cancerous tumor growth.  Scientific studies have determined that the important compound responsible for these benefits is cinnamaldehyde.  This is cancer-blocking benefit is especially true in the colon, where studies have shown an improvement in colon health.

Ways to Enjoy Cinnamon

  • Baking: Use it in baked goods like cookies, banana bread, muffins, crumbles and pies.
  • Spice Blends: Customize your spice blends by adding it for a warm, unique taste.
  • Smoothies: Blend it into a smoothie.
  • Oatmeal:  Sprinkle it on warm oatmeal or porridge.
  • Stewed fruit:  Add it to stewed fruit such as rhubarb and apples to bring out the flavor.
  • Tea: Make cinnamon tea by steeping a cinnamon stick in boiling water for 10-15 minutes.
  • Coffee: Sprinkle on your morning cup of coffee.
  • Yogurt: Sprinkle on plain yogurt and add fruit like apples or raisins.

Herbs and Spices: Ginger

Fresh Ginger Root
Fresh Ginger Root

Ginger is among the healthiest, and most delicious, spices on the planet.  The rhizome (underground part of the stem) is the part most commonly used as a spice.  It is often called ginger root, or simply ginger.  It is actually in the same family as turmeric.

The unique fragrance and flavor of ginger comes from one of its natural oils, gingerol.  Gingerol is a bio-active compound in ginger.  It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

It is best to use ginger in addition to a healthy diet, exercise, and regular visits to your doctor.

Reasons to Eat Ginger

1. Stimulates Digestion

Ginger helps increase the body’s ability to empty foods from the stomach more quickly (known as gastric emptying).  This results in less likelihood of heartburn and indigestion.  A faster gastric emptying also means you get the nutrients from the foods quicker.

2. Lowers Blood Pressure

Ginger has been shown to improve blood pressure by acting as a vasodilator (it expands the blood vessels).  A 2019 review found that ginger can lower blood pressure, which helps protect against heart disease.

3. Lowers Cholesterol Levels

Ginger is also beneficial for cholesterol levels.  Ginger has been found to lower LDL cholesterol.  LDL cholesterol is also called “bad cholesterol,” because it contributes to fatty buildup in the arteries.  This fatty buildup is known as atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

4. Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation occurs naturally in the body.  It is a healthy response to protect the body from injury or sickness.  However when inflammation is excessive or chronic, it can be very damaging.  In fact, researchers have found chronic inflammation to be the root of many diseases like heart disease and cancer.

Ginger has been shown to reduce the levels of inflammation.  The active components in raw ginger (gingerol, shogaol, and paradol) are responsible for many of the anti-inflammatory effects that ginger provides.

Ways to Enjoy Ginger

Fresh Ginger Root: This is the most potent form of ginger, but also the most versatile.  You can slice it and steep it in hot water for tea, mince it into sauteed dishes, or add it to your smoothies.

Ground Ginger: Ground ginger can be used in similar ways to fresh ginger.  It can be steeped into hot water for tea or added to your favorite recipes.  Ground ginger is also great to use for baking.

Ginger Tea: As mentioned, you can make ginger tea using fresh ginger or ground ginger.  You can also buy tea bags at the store.  These are great to have on hand if you want to settle your stomach after eating.

Herbs and Spices: Turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its golden yellow color. It is a root of a flowering plant that is cultivated mostly in India and Southeast Asia.  It is a member of the ginger family.  Research has shown that spices, like turmeric and ginger, fight chronic inflammation, which is is associated with many health problems ranging from obesity to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Most scientific studies used turmeric extracts (in the form of supplements).  The University of Maryland Medical Center advises you not to take turmeric supplements without approval from your physician.  Ingesting small amounts of turmeric in food is considered safe, however.  To enjoy turmeric’s health benefits without the risk of consuming it in toxic amounts, try adding it your daily diet.

Turmeric does not absorb well into the bloodstream.  However, there is a compound in black pepper called piperine that increases its absorption into the bloodstream.  Therefore you may be able to reap benefits from turmeric if you also add black pepper.  Turmeric is also fat-soluble, so consuming it with a healthy fat, like extra-virgin olive oil, increases its absorption into the bloodstream.

Ways to Enjoy Turmeric

  • Smoothies: Blend it in a smoothie.  The slightly pungent flavor is well masked in smoothies.  Fresh turmeric root works well as well as a pinch of the ground spice.
  • Scrambled Eggs and Frittatas: Use a pinch in scrambled eggs or a frittata.
  • Soups: A bowl of vegetable or chicken soup feels even more warming when it is tinged with golden turmeric.
  • Greens: Sprinkle turmeric into sauteed or braised greens like kale, collards, and cabbage.
  • Rice: A dash of turmeric brings color and mild flavor to plain rice or a pilaf.
  • Roasted Vegetables: Turmeric’s slightly warm and peppery flavor works well with cauliflower, potatoes, and root vegetables.

Dark Leafy Greens: Kale

Kale leaves

Kale is a green, leafy, cruciferous vegetable and a member of the mustard family, as are cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

There are many different types of kale, and the leaves can have either a smooth or curly shape.

Kale contains fiber, antioxidants, calcium, vitamins C and K, iron, and a wide range of other nutrients that can help prevent various health problems.

Reasons to Eat Kale

1. Packed with Nutrients

Kale is very high in nutrients and very low in calories making it one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.  A single cup of raw kale contains:

  • 33 calories
  • 3 grams protein
  • 6 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 206% of DV vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene)
  • 684% of DV vitamin K
  • 134% of DV vitamin C
  • 26% of DV of manganese
  • 9% of DV of calcium

2. Loaded with Powerful Antioxidants

Kale is very high in antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as various flavonoids and polyphenols.  Antioxidants fight oxidative damage in the body.  Oxidative damage is believed to be  a leading driver of aging and many diseases.

Some substances that act as antioxidants have other important functions.  Kaempferol and quercetin, both found in large quantities in kale, are two such substances that have been found to have heart-protective, blood pressure-lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer, and anti-depressant effects.

3. Boosts Immunity

Kale is extremely high in vitamin C.  A single cup of raw kale has more vitamin C than a whole orange.  Vitamin C plays a role in boosting our immune system.  It also necessary for the synthesis of collagen (the most abundant structural protein in the body).

4. Lowers Heart Disease Risk

Kale contains substances that lower cholesterol levels in the body.  This might reduce heart disease risk over time.  These substances are called bile acid sequestrants.

One study found that drinking kale juice everyday for 12 weeks increased HDL (good) cholesterol by 27% and lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol by 10%.

Kale also contains quite a bit of potassium.  Adequate potassium intake has been linked to reduced blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease.

5. Lowers Cancer Risk

Kale is loaded with compounds that are believed to protect against cancer.  One of these is sulforaphane, a substance that has been shown to fight the formation of cancer at the molecular level.

Kale also contains indole-3-carbinol, another substance that is believed to help prevent cancer.

6. Boosts Eye Health

Two nutrients that prevent eyesight from getting worse as we age are lutein and zeaxanthin, and they are found in large amounts in Kale.

Ways to Enjoy Kale

  • Smoothies: Add a handful of kale to any favorite smoothie.  It will add nutrients without changing the flavor very much.
  • Salads: Use raw kale leaves as a main ingredient in a delicious vegetable salad.
  • Sandwiches: Add raw kale leaves to a sandwich, wrap, or flatbread.
  • Kale Chips: Remove the ribs from kale and toss with olive oil.  Bake at 275 degrees to desired crispness.