Food. It gives us much pleasure, serves as the centerpiece for parties and family events, and is the building block for our bodies.
But food also has medicinal purposes. Mother Nature has given us an abundance of herbs, plants, flowers and more that keep us healthy and can cure ills.
How receptive are you to trying new foods? These four foods, while not necessarily in the mainstream, have a variety of health benefits and can be a great addition to your healthy diet.
Once only a health food elixir, Kombucha is quickly growing in popularity. Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that has its origins in ancient China. While there is no substantive scientific evidence to prove its health benefits, it has been lauded in many cultures as a detoxifier and digestive aid.
Our intestines are home to a plethora of bacteria, some good, some bad. Good bacteria is absolutely necessary to keep the bad bacteria in check, and many recent scientific studies are beginning to see a link between healthy gut bacteria and optimal health and brain function.
Fermented foods, such as kombucha, help restore and replenish these good bacteria that often get out of balance in our bodies. Too many antibiotics can disrupt the balance of our bodies' bacteria, as can a diet high in processed and fried foods. As with any food, a moderate consumption of kombucha is best—two to three times per week, for example.
Kombucha has a slightly acidic, vinegary taste. Synergy is a popular brand that mixes a small percentage of organic fruit juice with the kombucha to create a fizzy and delicious cocktail.
You can find Synergy Kombucha at in downtown Elmhurst, or at Whole Foods, Pete's Fresh Market and the Standard Market in Westmont.
Hailing from South America, quinoa is a nutrient-dense grain that has the unusual characteristic of also being a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa is also chock-full of antioxidants and flavenoids that have been shown to reduce inflammation and protect against cancer.
Use this grain as a base for a vegetable stirfry or even as a hot breakfast cereal. I like to stuff acorn squash and green peppers with a quinoa-based mixture. You can find quinoa at any of our local grocery stores.
Who knew that this common weed was actually quite healthy for you? I always say that there's a good reason for all of Mother Nature's inventions, and dandelions are no different. Dandelion greens are one of the most nutrient dense greens available to us; high in vitamins and minerals, it contains even more vitamin A than carrots do!
Dandelion greens have a bitter taste, which can be off-putting to some initially. However, in traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that a healthy diet should be balanced with all five flavors: bitter, pungent, sweet, salty and sour. Bitter foods, such as dandelions, are said to aid in digestion, as well.
I like to mix dandelion greens in with other greens to create a tasty salad. My Italian grandfather used to saute dandelion greens in olive oil and garlic as well, which is quite delicious!
Cacao and Dark Chocolate
Yay! Chocolate has been linked to myriad health benefits, including improved vascular function, lower risk of heart disease, and protection against certain cancers. Cacao is rich in antioxidants and flavanols.
Unfortunately, not all chocolate is equal. The more processed and sweeter a chocolate is, the fewer the benefits. That's because the flavanols are found in the cocoa content, which will be the highest in dark chocolate.
The optimal level of cacao content is 80 percent or higher. Yes, it's definitely an acquired taste, as it is quite bitter. But the good news is, you naturally won't eat a lot of it.
Also, as you become accustomed to the taste of a bitter dark chocolate, you'll find that your sugar cravings are reduced quite a bit. And that's a good thing!