Popular Health Foods
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Of all the leafy greens, none has achieved star status quite like kale has. Add it to a meal or a smoothie and you're surrounded by a beatific glow. It's a member of the Brassica genus (along with broccoli and Brussels sprouts), a category of plant foods that are linked to a lower risk of certain cancers. Not only that, but kale is high in nutrients you need for bone health — vitamins A and K and calcium — plus it delivers almost a day's worth of vitamin C. While kale has much to offer, don't neglect other leafy greens, like collards and mustard greens, which provide as much nutrition as kale.
By: Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D.
These dark teeny seeds seem to have edged out flaxseed in popularity. They're popping up everywhere from puddings to gel-like drinks. Like flax, chia is a good source of ALA, a type of plant-based Omega-3 fat thought to promote heart health. But the benefits don't stop there. Just 1 tablespoon of the seeds delivers a whopping 5 grams of fiber (20 percent of the amount women need each day). Try sprinkling them on yogurt or cereal.
This small, dark-purple fruit is native to South America. Its deep hue indicates a high concentration of anthocyanins — antioxidants that help promote heart health and lower cancer risk. A study published in the journal Nutrition found that acai berry pulp lowered total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and modulated the spike in blood sugar after consumption by a group of overweight individuals.
These seedlike grains, which unfurl into a spiral when cooked, are lauded as a high-protein, lower-carb whole grain. This ancient grain is native to the Andes and has exploded in popularity in the United States in recent years. Quinoa has a unique nutrient profile, delivering 4 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and a helping of many vitamins and minerals, such as folate, potassium and iron, in a half-cup serving. It also has some of the same omega-3 fatty acids that are found in walnuts and chia seeds.
Almond milk has surged in popularity, in part because it's low in calories and is seen as a good alternative to cow's milk. Find one with no added sugar (the sweetened kinds add about 2 teaspoons of sugars per serving) and look for one that has calcium and vitamin D. Even fortified almond milks are very low in protein, meaning they're not a direct replacement for cow's milk. Commercial almond milks also often contain additives. For a 100-percent-natural almond milk, try making it yourself by soaking raw almonds in water overnight, blending the mixture and straining through cheesecloth.
Even before the explosion of fresh juice stands and personal juicers, little shots of bright green wheatgrass juice came into vogue. While wheatgrass does pack a lot of nutrition into those little shots — it boasts vitamins A, C and E, plus calcium and magnesium — it doesn't necessarily trump spinach or any other dark leafy green, which often offer more of these nutrients than wheatgrass. And as for other health claims, such as lowering cancer risks or boosting immunity, none have been proven.
Fat has traditionally been categorized into two groups: "good" (unsaturated) and "bad" (saturated). But coconut oil is turning that paradigm on its head. Coconut oil is largely made up of medium-chain saturated fats, which have a number of health benefits, including heart health (they're rapidly changed into energy in the body and don't cause an increase in cholesterol, as other kinds of saturated fats do). Other research has shown that coconut oil, which has antioxidant effects, can help to quell the inflammation that leads to heart disease.