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Healthy Nutrition Foods (nutrient-dense) which consist of the 4 major food groups of
lean protein, complex-carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and organic dairy, that is high in nutrients but relatively low in calories. Nutrient-dense foods contain vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, fiber, unsaturated healthy fat, lean animal and plant protein, plant polyphenols (phytochemicals), plant-based fats (higher in calories), and are high in micro-nutrients consisting of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, fatty acids such as omega 3s, and anti-inflammatories.
Examples of well-known nutrient-dense foods include organic fruits and vegetables, organic grass-fed dairy products, wild-caught seafood, lean organic grass-fed or free-range meats, organic grass-fed eggs, organic peas, beans Lentils), nuts, and seeds. Harvard Medical School has a really good review on nutrient-dense foods and its health benefits.
Today we will cover the lesser-known nutrient-dense foods and drinks which include natural whole-carbs and whole-grains, fermented or cultured foods, herbs and spices, antioxidant liquids, dark chocolate, and one specialty, sprouted grains called “Ezekiel’s Bread”. Although the health benefits of complex carbs are fairly well-known to many, it’s such a complex issue, we felt a need to cover it in more detail here.
Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet, yet it’s important to know that not all of them are created equal. So, how do you tell the difference between “good carbs” and “bad carbs?” The answer is both simple and complex. The
three main types of carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fiber. They’re called “simple” carbs or “complex” carbs based on their chemical makeup and how your body uses them.
But, since many foods contain one or more types of carbohydrates, it can still be tricky to understand what’s healthy for you and what’s not. Simply put, the simplier the sugar, the quicker it’s absorbed, giving a quick burst of energy, and the more unhealthy it is for you. There is a guide called the Glycemic Index (GI) which basically tells you how quickly and how high your blood sugar will rise after eating that specific carbohydrate, which takes some guesswork out of the equation.
Simple carbohydrates found in processed foods or fast foods, are composed of easy-to-digest, basic sugars, which can be an important source of energy, but has little nutritional value. Some of these sugars are naturally occurring, such as those in fruits and in milk. While processed or refined sugars such as brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, and maltose, honey, candy, and others, which are added to desserts, bake goods, etc, have little nutritional value.
The natural sugars found in fruits, however, are not all that bad because it takes on more of a complex sugar-carb characteristic. The fiber content in fruits slows the breakdown of sugar, slowing their digestion and avoiding sugar spikes.
Complex carbohydrates, exist in a relatively natural state and found in whole foods
such as whole grains, fruits, legumes, and starchy vegetables, containing longer chains of sugar molecules, which usually take more time for the body to break down and use. It also includes foods that have been minimally processed for freshness or safety, such as frozen or canned vegetables, yogurt, milk and whole-grain bread and pasta.
Starchy foods include bread, cereal, potatoes, pasta, rice, and legumes (dried peas and beans). Fiber foods include bran, whole-grain foods, raw vegetables and fruit (especially the seeds and skins), legumes, nuts, seeds and popcorn. Complex carbs have a lower GI and take longer to breakdown, meaning you will get lower amounts of sugars released at a more consistent rate, instead of peaks and valleys. Complex Carbs typically have more vitamins, fiber, and minerals than foods containing more simple carbohydrates, as long as you’re choosing whole grains over processed ones.
About three-quarters of daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Studies show that those who eat the most complex carbohydrates, have a lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. On the other hand, studies show that avoiding carbohydrates all together, can actually harm your health, increasing the risk of death from heart disease.
A National Institutes Of Health (NIH) study looked at obesity and being overweight, one of the major health concerns worldwide, and the connection to refined carbohydrates or processed foods, and said the following:
Specifically, complex carbohydrates—derived from whole and unprocessed plant-based foods—are generally considered healthier than simple carbohydrates, especially those derived from high-processed and sugar-added foods and beverages—which usually provide ‘empty calories.
According to The American Heart Association, all carbs are not equal and stressed avoiding foods that are high in processed, refined simple sugars which provide calories but they have very little nutrition. They also stressed eating complex carbs from natural fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. A Harvard Medical School study confirmed the health benefits of natural whole carbs found in whole grains and fruits and veggies. Quoting the study,
The nutrients found in whole grains include essential fatty acids, the B vitamins, folate, vitamin E, zinc and magnesium. Whole grains also have fiber. Fruit and starchy vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals, as well as phytonutrients.
Sprouted Grains. Sprouted grains are simply whole grains that have began to sprout. This process involves intentionally soaking whole grains in a controlled environment such as a vented jar so you can control moisture and heat. Sprouted grains should be cooked before using because of bacteria growth due to the moisture content. These grains are more healthy than mature grains because you are trapping all the available nutrients in the germination process. Those nutrients include folate, iron, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and complete protein.
Sprouted grains, beside having more available nutrients, also may have less starch and be easier to digest than regular grains, according to a Harvard Medical School study. You’ll find sprouted grains in refrigerated or frozen areas in stores, and it’s the safest healthiest way to buy them, if you don’t make them yourself.
If they’re not refrigerated or frozen, they have preservatives in them, which you don’t want. An example of sprouted grains used in a whole-grain bread, is Ezekiel’s Bread, but you’ll find them in flours, breads, buns, muffins, tortillas, crackers, and even pizza crust. Ezekiel’s bread is made of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, mixed into a dough and baked to make a bread, making it a Complete Protein.
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Many Westerners are embracing more traditional foods and relearning ancient culinary methods such as fermenting. Fermentation, as described by Wikipedia, is the process of converting carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms, either yeast or bacteria, under anaerobic conditions. In recent years, research has discovered how vitally important the human microbiome is to our health.
Each of us have approximately 1,000 different species of bacteria living in our body, and these bacteria actually outnumber your body’s cells by 10 to 1. It’s becoming clearer and clearer through research, people, particular Westerners, are deficient in beneficial gut bacteria, the root cause, most likely, by the over-use of antibiotics, making it a very important consideration if you’re not feeling well, physically or psychologically. That is where fermented or cultured foods come in by producing beneficial probiotic bacteria for your gut.
Fermentation occurs when bacteria convert sugars and starch into lactic acid, a process called lacto-fermentation, whereas yeasts undergo ethanol fermentation, and beer and wine is the result, foe example. The result in the finished fermented food is a healthy array of beneficial bacteria, or micro-flora, for human gut health, beneficial enzymes, and micro-nutrients such as B vitamins, biotin and folic acid.
In the case of fermented milk, it contains additional micro-nutrients like essential
amino acids, prebiotic-type micro-organisms, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). The probiotics produced during fermentation can help restore the balance of friendly bacteria in your gut and may alleviate some digestive problems such as “leaky gut”. The following are considered the healthiest fermented foods:
Yogurt (Greek). Yogurt is actually fermented milk, so is kefir, and both are considered the better and most effective of probiotic foods. A Harvard Medical School study concluded eating yogurt may also help to increase microbiota diversity in the gut.
Kefir. Fermented milk and a very effective probiotic and also high in vitamins, folates and enzymes.
Raw Cheese. Made from unpasteurized milk such as goat or sheep milk, and has been aged for at least 6 months.
Sauerkraut (Greek). Most likely a Chinese invention and made from fermented cabbage and is great source for fiber, vitamins such as A, C, and K, and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and manganese. copper, and sodium. Be careful of store-bought, if it doesn’t say “fermented”, it’s made with vinegar and not the real thing.
Tempeh. Made by fermenting soy beams with live mold and high in quality probiotics and protein.
Kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish that is made
from vegetables, including cabbage, plus spices like ginger, garlic and pepper, and other seasoning. Very effective probiotic according to the NIH which confirmed the health benefits in the areas of anticancer, antiobesity, anticonstipation, colorectal health promotion, cholesterol reduction, antioxidative and antiaging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion.
Fermented Pickles. Natural fermented pickles (1) are made with cucumbers and brine solution (salt water-not vinegar) and good source of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and probiotics.
Kombucha. A fermented beverage made from black tea and cane sugar, fruit or honey and a good source of probiotics.
Miso. Traditional Japanese food made by fermenting soybeans, brown rice, and barley with koji, a type of fungus.
True Apple Cidar Vinegar. Real fermented apple cider vinegar contains probiotics. Here again check the label.
Fermented Wine or Beer. What you read here may surprise you! Fermentation occurs in nature in any sugar-containing mash from fruit, berries, honey, or sap tapped from palms, beet root, maize or corn, or sugarcane, and barley and hops in beer. If left exposed in a warm atmosphere, airborne yeasts act on the sugar to convert it into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Yeast, is the main microorganisms involved in alcoholic fermentation. According to
Mayo Clinic, red wine contains various plant polyphenols (flavoids)such as resveratrol and quercetin compounds in addition to alcohol that could relax blood vessel walls and prevent the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol), a key early step in the formation of cholesterol-filled plaque in arteries.
Studies, like the BMJ study, observed populations of people suggest that light to moderate amounts of all alcoholic drinks are linked to reduced cardiovascular risk when consumed in equal quantities and the results are surprisingly identical between wine, beer, and spirits. A study published in the New England Journal Of Medicine concluded that moderate drinkers were 30-35% less likely to have had a heart attack than non-drinkers. They also found men who drank light to moderate amounts three or more days per week had a lower risk of heart attack than those who drank once or twice a week.
Spanish (Sevillian)or Fermented Olives. Immature green olives are given a weak lye bath until the lye penetrates through 2/3 of the olives, then rinsed in water, and soaked in a brine solution for fermentation.
Yogurt and Kimchi, according an NIH study, is considered to have the best survival rate of probiotic bacteria in the human gut. Strong stomach acid used for digestion has a detrimental effect on certain probiotic bacteria and many don’t survive the journey.
Probiotics have shown to be effective in human digestion, such as treating the symptoms of irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) by
regulating frequency or form of bowel movements and lower abdominal pain. IBS benefits from fermented foods by supplying gut-friendly bacteria.
In addition, fermented foods may also lessen the severity of diarrhea, bloating, gas, and constipation. Another study by the NIH found that fermented milk and lactic acid bacteria relieved gastrointestinal discomfort in the general adult population. Another NIH study confirmed that kifer improved the digestion of lactose-intollerent individuals.
Due to their high probiotic content, fermented foods can give your immune system a boost and reduce your risk of infections like the common cold. Acute upper respiratory tract infections contribute substantially to pediatric morbidity and mortality worldwide, and studies have shown, such as this NIH study, that probiotics have been very effective in preventing these infections in babies and small children.
Probiotics from fermented foods have also been effective in reducing sick time or shortening recovery time from respiratory infections. Another NIH study concluded fermented probiotic foods reduced sick time in the elderly, as well. Yet another NIH study concluded that probiotic fermented foods reduced the duration of the common cold.
There are studies also showing that fermented foods have been effective in treating some mental health conditions such as depression and improving brain function. For example, this NIH study, confirms the health benefits of fermented foods and the human central nervous system function, and said,
These probiotics showed efficacy in improving psychiatric disorder-related behaviors including anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and memory abilities, including spatial and non-spatial memory.
Fermented probiotic foods are also have been shown to be effective in lowering blood pressure, per another NIH study.
Herbs and Spices
Long before modern medicine, spices were valued for their ability to help individuals fight infection and aid in health promotion, and were considered Healthy Nutrition Foods. Spices such as cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, pepper, and turmeric were known and used for commerce in the Eastern World. Ayurveic medicine, which is over 3000 years ago, utilized spices such as clove and cardamom.
These spices were wrapped in betel nut leaves and chewed after a meal to increase salivary flow to aid in digestion. Spices also have a long history of use in Asia, Northeast Africa, and Europe as a form of currency during the spice trade. Most
cultures acknowledge the importance of providing a balance in meals. Indian cooking, for example, follows Ayurvedic principles in using herbs and spices to provide flavor and to create physical and emotional well-being.
In China, nutrition and medicine have long been integrated. Chinese cooking is based on a concept that well-being is brought about by the careful balancing of the 5 flavors of sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and pungent, with the texture and color of the food. Yin herbs such as mint and parsley slow down the metabolism, whereas yang spices such as chile and ginger activate it.
Similar ideas are followed in Iran, where the cook strives to maintain a balance between ingredients classed as hot or cold. In the West herbs and spices add flavor to low-salt and low-fat meals, and some evidence suggests that garlic may help lower cholesterol.
Even today spices also give beautiful aromas that are often our first determining factor for whether we want to eat a meal or not. Spices are products of tropical plants such as aromatic roots, bark, seeds, buds, and fruits, often used in dried form, whether whole or ground. Generally, herbs are used to add fragrance and flavor rather than to provide the dominant taste.
The light flavors of dill, parsley, and chervil are good with fish and seafood; the more pungent rosemary, oregano, and garlic will flavor braised or baked lamb or
roasted pork fantastically. Root vegetables respond well to thyme and rosemary, eggplant to Provençal herbs, green peas to chives, tomatoes to basil and parsley. And on and on…..
It’s best to buy all herbs fresh if you can find them, for the exception of robust herbs such as thyme, oregano, sage, mint, savory, and rosemary, which respond well to drying, preserving and often concentrating their flavor. The best option for fresh herbs is to plant your own along with fresh veggies, fruits, nut, and seeds in your backyard garden.
In the olden days herbs and spices were also important for their preservative properties. Before the arrival of refrigeration, their volatile oils and different compounds prolonged the useful lifetime of many foodstuffs. Pickled or salted meat, fish, and vegetables would last through the winter months, and aromatics were used to improve their flavor. Speaking of salted, while I’m thinking about it, always use true sea salt because of the wide array of 93 healthy trace minerals it contains.
Modern research is progressing and mounting evidence supports the therapeutic benefits of spices in our modern living. In preventive medicine, a diet rich in spices, fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduction of at least 20% of all cancers, according to an NIH study. Quoting the study:
The evidence in this chapter suggests that spices may be factors in one’s diet that may lower cancer risk and affect tumor behavior.
Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are natural occurring functional compounds found in spices that have amazing therapeutic properties. The NIH confirmed in this
study that the antioxidant properties of herbs and spices are of particular interest in view of the impact of oxidative modification of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the development of atherosclerosis.
According to substantial research, it is evident that frequent consumption of spicy foods is also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer and ischemic heart and respiratory system diseases. Another NIH study had this to say about herbs and spices:
There is now ample evidence that spices and herbs possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumorigenic, anticarcinogenic, and glucose- and cholesterol-lowering activities as well as properties that affect cognition and mood. Research over the past decade has reported on the diverse range of health properties that herbs and spices possess via their bioactive constituents, including sulfur-containing compounds, tannins, alkaloids, phenolic diterpenes, and vitamins, especially flavonoids and polyphenols.
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Filtered Water (Of course). Filtered water protects the body from disease and leads to overall better health. Filtered water removes cryptosporidium and giardia from drinking water helping to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal disease by more than 33 percent. Filtered water is
important for children’s developing immune systems and so many more health benefits. Drink 8 8-ounces of filtered water each day.
Infused Drinks. Proper hydration is critical for maintaining health on a cellular level and if you can’t stomach a few glasses of clear filtered tasteless water each day, you now have an option with infused water. Every cell in the human body is reliant on water for proper function. The USDA has taken the position that infused-water, with mints, berries, and lemons or limes, has important health benefits.
Insufficient consumption of water or infused-water can lead to muscle spasm, renal dysfunction, increased risk of bladder cancer, and even death. Drinking water infused with fruit or herbs is a smart and tasty was to hydrate and cleanse without getting overloaded with sugar and calories.
Green Tea. Green tea has been hailed for its health benefits in Asian countries for centuries and only recently did Americans get the memo. Green tea contains a high level of polyphenols which are believed to prevent certain types of cancer like breast cancer and prostate cancer. Studies suggest, like this NIH study, it can also help reduce sharp increases in blood sugar after a meal, which can be especially beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes, reduce the risk of coronary disease, and beneficial in controlling obesity.
Prune Juice. Prunes, which are dried plum, have been used
medicinally since ancient times. Because of their sweet flavor and well-known mild laxative effect, prunes are considered to be an epitome of functional foods, but the understanding of their mode of action is still unclear. Prunes are high in potassium may be beneficial for cardiovascular health. According to an NIH study,
Phenolic compounds in prunes had been found to inhibit human LDL oxidation in vitro, and thus might serve as preventive agents against chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
Pomegranate Juice. All natural pomegranate juice is one of the most nutritious beverages on supermarket shelves. This vibrant fruit juice is packed with antioxidants which help protect cells from damage and decrease inflammation, which may help relieve some types of arthritis. It’s also rich in immune-boosting vitamin C to help fight off colds.
Beet Juice. Beets are a powerful source of folic acid, magnesium and nitrates. Our bodies convert nitrates into nitric oxide, which helps lower blood pressure and improve blood flow. Some studies suggest it can also help increase stamina during exercise. According to an NIH study, there sufficient evidence that regular consumption of beetroot juice could be a key component of lifestyle interventions to preserve cardiovascular health with advancing age.
Espresso. Drinking espresso regularly could be beneficial to your
health. Best served hot, this beverage is mostly known for its caffeine properties. Not many people realize that a little espresso contains more antioxidants than both green and black tea. Antioxidant, as you know, has tremendous health benefits especially when it comes to heart health. One ScienceDirect study showed show that espresso has a FRAP (Ferric Reducing Antioxidant Plasma) of 129.
In comparison, everyone’s number one antioxidant choice, green tea, only has a FRAP score of 18. Black tea measures even lower with 10. Now, isn’t that amazing? Take our word for it, don’t drink too much espresso because it will “wire-you-up”! One study by University Of California-Irvine (UCI) found caffeine consumption enhances memory. Another study by Harvard Medical School concluded that drinking espresso reduces the chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 23-25%. The caffeic acid (CA) and chlorogenic acid (CGA) found in espresso prevent harmful proteins from increasing in your body.
Cranberry Juice. This tangy juice is packed with antioxidants that can help prevent cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, and promotes a healthy urinary tract. Cranberry juice is tart on its own, so it’s combined with sugar or other, sweeter fruit juices. Look for varieties that are 100% juice.
Fruit or Vegetables Smoothies. Smoothies are a fairly low-effort was to pack more raw vegetables and fruits into your diet. Traditionally based on fruits such as bananas and berries, smoothies can also include other healthful foods, such as protein, natural supplements, and healthy fat.
The only drawback of opting to making smoothies is you are getting less fiber than
if you are eating the actual fruit or veggie, and sometimes adding other unhealthy ingredients such as sugar. According to this Harvard Health study, drinking smoothies add healthy fruits and veggies nutrition and are fine as long as you also eat some real fruits and veggies along with the smoothies. One smoothie we’d like to recommend is a Blueberry-Maca smoothie (*). Check it out!
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We saved this for last to surprise you and reward you for reading the whole article! So, go ahead and eat a little dark chocolate because you will no longer need to feel guilty about indulging in an ounce or two a few times a week. A growing number of studies show that chocolate, especially antioxidant-rich dark chocolate, has health benefits that put it squarely on the latest list of nutrient-dense foods. In fact, there’re more antioxidants in cacao beans, which dark chocolate is made from, than in most foods.
That doesn’t mean milk chocolate! The darker the chocolate the better health-wise it is. According to the NIH, dark chocolate has a
rich endowment of nutritional properties, from minerals, to antioxidants, to vasoactive, and even psychoactive compounds.
The NIH went on to say, not only are the cardio-benefits apparent, but there’s also strong evidence of potential benefits in both infectious disease and cancer. Metabolic and psychological benefits are also strongly suggested. Harvard Medical School confirmed
the heart health benefits of cocoa or dark chocolate and also said it can reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes.
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We hope you found this article on Healthy Nutrition Foods informative. Now you have many more options in other nutrient-dense foods you can consume that you may not have been aware of before. Your comments and questions are welcomed. Please note by following the provided links with notation(*), you have the option to purchase any of these amazing nutrient-dense foods.
(1) Food Wishes Video