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15 Foods with Hidden Health Benefits

You would be forgiven for thinking that leading a healthy lifestyle requires the indulgence in solely poor-tasting, green-colored food. Being healthy doesn’t necessarily mean giving up all the junk food you love the most, some foods have implicit health benefits hidden amongst their illusion-inducing exterior.

Not to dredge up the nagging voice of your mother telling you to eat your vegetables, but check out this list of the hidden health benefits of some foods typically dubbed as healthy and some foods generally forbidden from a “healthy diet”—some might just surprise you.

 1. Cheese

Honestly, who doesn’t love cheese? We all know that, like milk, cheese is beneficial due to the calcium that keeps our bones strong. Well it’s also packed with menaquinones, a type of vitamin K. A recent large-scale European study found that a high dietary intake of menaquinones may reduce the risk of developing cancer, possibly by activating genes that kill cancer cells.

Other sources of menaquinones: egg yolks, chicken and leafy greens.

 2. Tomato Sauce

The tomato sauce that you drown your pasta with can actually be making you healthier. Tomato sauce is best known for containing lycopene, which protects your heart. But there’s an added benefit: tomato-based sauces also contain apigenin, a powerful flavonoid (antioxidant). Women with the highest intake of apigenin (also found in celery, parsley and other plant-based foods) were less likely to develop ovarian cancer, according to research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

3. Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), which is not actually a grain – it’s a seed, is quickly becoming the new superfood (http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelysanders/ways-to-eat-quinoa-and-succeed-in-life). Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids used by the body as building blocks for the development of muscle tissue and necessary metabolic enzymes. Quinoa is high in protein, fiber, iron and calcium, and provides balanced energy. This seed also has riboflavin to improve your metabolism and energy production. It has twice as much fiber as other grains and carbs with a low glycemic index, so your body can convert it and use it without storing the carbs as fat.

 4. Kale

Kale is a member of the cancer-fighting cruciferous family of vegetables and is full of fiber and antioxidants. It’s also rich in vitamin K, which aids in blood clotting and cell growth. Tip: bake your kale with a little extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt for a tasty potato-chip alternative.

 5. Bananas

It’s no surprise that bananas are good for us. Bananas are packed with potassium, an essential mineral for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Enjoying bananas frequently as part of your healthy way of eating can also help improve your body’s ability to absorb calcium. An extra benefit: bananas can lower a child’s risk of asthmatic symptoms, such as wheezing, because the fruit contains water-soluble acids that may help to reduce inflammation in the body’s airways (published in the European Respiratory Journal, http://erj.ersjournals.com).

 6. Salmon

Salmon is best known for containing Omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides and prevent plaque buildup in your arteries. Research has found that omega-3s may also be associated with protecting against premature brain aging and memory loss (http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/28/omega-3s-may-guard-against-brain-decline/). People who ate the largest amounts of this fish—or other omega-3–rich foods like nuts—were 20 percent less likely to have gum disease than those who ate the least, according to a recent Harvard study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

 7. Popcorn

Yes, you heard right. The beloved movie snack is actually healthy—assuming it’s not drenched in butter, oil, or salt. The crunchy hull, unfortunately not the fluffy white part, is rich in polyphenols—antioxidants that prevent damage to cells, and which may also have disease-fighting properties. Still, there is no guarantee that the polyphenols are in the body long enough to have a huge effects, since the hull of popcorn is principally insoluble fiber and is not digested. However, popcorn also contains an antioxidant called ferulic acid, which is also found in beans, corn, rice, wheat, and many other grains. Ferulic acid exhibits a wide range of therapeutic effects against cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and neuro-degenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s) largely because of its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. So next time you go to the movies, find comfort in your popcorn and the fact that’s it’s providing you with a whopping dose of fiber and antioxidants.

 8. Red Wine

If you can drink responsibly and moderately — up to two glasses a day for men, one for women — red wine is another good-for-you treat. A number of studies have discovered that an antioxidant concentrated in the skin of the grape, resveratrol, has been linked to longevity and lower risk of diabetes and heart disease (http://healthland.time.com/2011/11/01/cheers-how-a-compound-in-red-wine-does-the-body-good/). Research into the properties of resveratrol also indicates that it may help inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors and be helpful in the formation of nerve cells, and so could potentially be a factor in the treatment of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

 9. Sage

Researchers in England showed that young adults taking sage-oil extract had noticeably better word recall. Sage contains phytochemicals that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. This herb also contains a variety of monoterpenes, which are substances that prevent the spread and progression of tumors.

10. Chocolate

If you want to treat yourself, dark chocolate is the way to go. It’s better than milk chocolate because of its high concentration of cocoa, which is packed with disease-fighting antioxidant plant chemicals called flavonol. Those antioxidants can help reduce the risk of blood clots and lower blood pressure and inflammation, as well as improve insulin resistance. 70% or 80% cocoa is the best bar to go for, though all chocolate contains serotonin, the brain’s happy chemical. Just remember that even dark chocolate is still laden with fat and calories, so try to keep your intake to 2-3 squares per day.

11. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is high in the fiber beta-glucan, which lowers levels of bad LDL cholesterol. Nutritionists recommend steel-cut oats because they’re minimally processed, without additives. Oatmeal’s an ideal post-workout food as well, since it contains energy-producing B vitamins and carbohydrates that replenish your muscles.

12. Coffee

While most people drink it just to stay awake during the day, coffee has actually been shown to have some cardiovascular benefits. And taking it black, not with milk and sugar, might also play a role in preventing type-2 diabetes, improving memory, and providing antioxidants. But stick to no more than three cups a day.

 13. Potatoes

This starchy vegetable is high in carbs, but it’s the good kind (complex) that provides sustained energy to your system. Eat one before a workout—its B vitamins will provide longer-lasting energy.

 14.  Beer

Yes, you read that correctly. Two cold ones a day have essential B vitamins. If you’re counting calories, light beer is a good option. And if it’s a darker lager beer, it’s going to have lutein, which helps eyesight, and soluble fiber that’s good for your heart. So enjoy a beer, or two, or six, on the weekend. Because what the heck, it’s good for you.

 15. Spicy Foods

Turning up the heat of your diet can actually provide a number of health benefits.

  1. Weight Loss: studies show that the main compound in chilies, called capsaicin, has a thermogenic effect and may cause the body to burn bonus calories for 20 minutes post chow-down.
  2. Heart Health: studies show that cultures that eat the most spicy foods have much lower incidence of heart attack and stroke. Potential reasons: Chili peppers can reduce the damaging effects of bad cholesterol (LDL) and capsaicin may fight inflammation, which has been flagged as a risk factor for heart issues.
  3. Cancer Prevention: According to the American Association for Cancer Research, capsaicin has the ability to kill some cancer and leukemic cells. One particular spice, turmeric, found in curry powder and some mustards, may slow the spread of cancer and growth of tumors.
  4. Lower Blood Pressure: Vitamins A and C strengthen the heart muscle walls, and the heat of the pepper increases blood flow throughout your body. All of this equals a stronger cardiovascular system.
  5. Fewer Blow-Your-Top Moments: Spicy foods boost production of feel-good hormones, such as serotonin. So they may help ease depression and stress.

 

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