If someone asked you what you should eat to get healthier, chances are the first thing that popped into your head was a bowl of leafy green vegetables. That’s because the general assumption is green veggies equals healthy — which no doubt has its merits — but did you know there are other slightly unconventional foods with health benefits out there as well?
A quick search for healthy food on the Internet will bring up the usual suspects — vegetables like spinach and broccoli, fruits like blueberries and oranges, even meat and fish like chicken breast and salmon. These popular foods are packed with nutrition, but they aren’t the only ones who deserve the limelight for being beneficial to our body. So for today, we’re going to show some love to the lesser-known foods that can also give your body the health boost it deserves.
The less-popular relative of broccoli is often overlooked when compared with its greener cousin. Both are part of the cruciferous vegetable family and contain plenty of natural vitamins and minerals with beneficial properties.
Cauliflower is particularly potent with vitamin C, so it boosts our body’s immune system and prevents us from falling ill, decreases the risk of developing cardiovascular and heart-related diseases, and even boosts the production of collagen in our skin to help fight the signs of ageing like wrinkles and fine lines. As a good source of fibre, cauliflower also encourages a healthy gut by feeding the healthy bacteria in our stomach, thus reducing inflammation and promoting good digestive health.
If you’re looking to lose weight, cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that can be used to substitute for other unhealthier ingredients. For example, cauliflower rice is a popular alternative to white rice these days. White rice is higher in carbs and sugar, which can cause you to gain weight and exposes you to a higher risk of diabetes. So when you replace your usual bowl of rice with cauliflower rice, you’re making a healthier choice and will gain all the nutritional benefits. Other ways you can try substituting cauliflower in include replacing traditional pizza dough with cauliflower dough or forgoing the mashed potatoes in favour of mashed cauliflower — same great taste and texture with half the carbs and calories.
Sardines might be small in size but they pack a big nutritional punch. Similar to salmon and most other fish, sardines contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which prevent heart disease thanks to their anti-inflammatory traits, and also reduces blood pressure and the risk of blood clots.
One difference between salmon and sardines is the level of mercury within — sardines only feed on plankton, so they are one of the few types of fish that don’t contain high levels of mercury. This makes it a healthier option as mercury is a toxic substance to humans. In high doses, mercury can poison our nervous system and can cause cancer, so if you’re worried about high mercury levels, choose sardines instead.
They can be eaten fresh or, more commonly, canned. If you do choose the canned varieties, look for those that are soaked in olive oil instead of soybean oil. This way, it will contain less fat and your waistline will thank you for it.
Tempeh originates from Indonesia, and similar to tofu, it is made from fermented soybeans that are then pressed into a compact cake shape. It has a dry and chewy texture, and a taste not unlike nuts. To add more flavour, it is usually baked or steamed with other ingredients.
Being made from soybeans, tempeh is relatively high in protein, which is why many vegetarians choose it as a non-meat protein substitute. Protein is an essential part of every cell in your body — your hair and nails are made using protein, as are the enzymes, hormones and other chemicals in your body. It even repairs and replenishes your bones, muscles, skin, and blood. Protein also helps to keep you full for longer, which can prevent snack binges and therefore keep your calorie intake low.
The fermentation process to make tempeh also gives it some unique properties not otherwise found in soybeans. Through fermentation, phytic acid in soybeans is broken down and can help with digestion and absorption. Fermented food, in general, is also a source of probiotics, which promotes positive digestive health, like preventing diarrhoea and reducing bloatedness.
Gaining popularity this year is kefir, a fermented milk drink made using kefir grains and either milk from cows or goats. Originating from the northern Caucasus Mountains region, it is high in nutrients and probiotics, which promote a healthy gut and aids in digestion. The taste and texture are similar to plain yoghurt, but with added health benefits.
Yoghurt is known in the West as a probiotic food, but with the rise of kefir, many are now switching because kefir is a much more potent source of probiotics. Some of these probiotics are thought to protect the body from infections by inhibiting the growth of various harmful bacteria. Kefir also contains good amounts of calcium, so it strengthens your bones and can prevent the development of osteoporosis.