Health and Nutrition II: Healthy Foods to Eat

The objective of this series of articles is to raise awareness of healthy foods to eat that aren’t getting the attention they need and to help people rely more on fresh natural food for their nutrient intake instead of supplement, vials, capsules, etc.

Some of these foods are very common and widely known but their properties are largely ignored so end up being absent from many diets or eaten too rarely to have a noticeable effect. Others are more exotic but with such good properties that worth the effort of incorporating them in our diets.

In Health and Nutrition I: Introduction we focused on general tips and warnings to start eating healthier and buying our food more wisely, avoiding toxics and emptying our wallets in useless food products.

In Health and Nutrition III: Healthy Diet Foods still we cover healthy food but with special properties for overweight, high cholesterol and/or diabetic people. Finally we cover supplements that are proven to aid in those cases and warn against others that has been proved not to work.

For readers of parts II and III we recommend using our List of Vitamins and Supplements as a reference, to see what effects readers should expect from the vitamin content of the healthy foods to eat listed. If a food has a content over 50% of the daily recommended value for a vitamin, the reader should start to notice some if not all of the positive health effects listed for it.

In addition each food has a small summary of the positive health effect that has been researched and proven at the time of the writing of these articles.

List of Healthy Foods to Eat

Amaranth

healthy-foods-to-eat-amaranth
Raw amaranth seeds

A gluten-free pseudo grain (because of its similar properties and flavor to grain) know to the Aztecs as huauhtl. 100 g (3.5 oz.) of amaranth has:

  • 8% of the daily requirement value (dv)of proteins which are of higher quality than other sources.
  • 40% dv of of Manganese
  • 16% dv of Magnesium
  • 10% dv of Iron
  • 8% dv of Selenium

Also a notable feature is that amaranth is a healthy food to eat that quadruples its volume when cooked and it is the only way to consume it together with fermentation and sprouting since raw is a source of phytates or phytic acid which inhibits mineral absorption.

Asparagus

healthy-foods-to-eat-asparagus
Asparagus spears

Used as a liturgic offering by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans the humble asparagus is one of the healthiest foods known to mankind. Not only among healthy foods to eat but a great aphrodisiac. It has no Cholesterol and also 100 g. (3.5 oz.) are a good source of:

  • Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, E, K Copper, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium and Zinc.
  • 2% dv of Calcium.
  • 5% dv of Iron.
  • 3% dv of vit. C.

A review by C.K. Chin and Garrison in 2008 in Acta Hortic. quoted that a notable quantity (~0.01% fresh weight) of protodioscin, a saponin, is present in green asparagus spears. A number of cell and animal studies have shown that protodioscin possesses several bioactivities, which include strong cytotoxic activities against many cancer cell lines, increase levels of androgens, and enhancement of sexual activities.

A moiety of protodioscin, diosgenin, has been found to reduce cholesterol uptake and serum LDL levels, but not the HDL levels. Diosgenin has also been shown to prevent the initiation and development of colon cancer in rat induced by carcinogen azoxymethane.

Rutin, a flavonoid, is also present in notable quantity (~0.03% fresh weight) in green asparagus spears. Rutin and its aglycone, quercetin, are antioxidants. Both quercetin and rutin have been found to reduce the events of colon cancer in mice induced by azoxymethane.

Beets

healthy-foods-to-eat-beets
Raw sliced beets

A plant valued since the Middle Ages for its properties in the treatment of vascular and digestive diseases was praised by the Renaissance humanist, writer and gastronomist Bartolomeo Platina as being among the best healthy foods to eat. Platina recommended eating it together with garlic (who will be mentioned later) to eliminate the unpleasant breath and aftertaste the latter gives. A 100 g. (3.5oz) of cooked Beetroot provides:

  • 43 calories.
  • 20% dv of vit.B9.
  • 14% dv of Manganese.
  • <5% dv of vit. B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and C.
  • <6% dv of Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium and Zinc.

In present times it has been confirmed the beneficial vascular properties of Beetroot since research has discovered it lowers blood pressure in hypertensive animals because of its Nitric Oxide content. Detoxifying properties for the Liver and Gallbladder and also has shown a balancing of estrogen and small increases in testosterone productions and exercise performance.

Brussels Sprouts

healthy foods to eat brussels sprouts
Boiled brussel sprouts

Although the modern hybridization of sprouts we know today came from what is know Belgium in the 13th century, Roman Empire already cultivated Brussels Sprouts among many other healthy foods to eat they knew of. 100 g. (3.5 oz.) of Sprouts have:

  • 12% dv of vit.B1, 17% B6 and 15% of B9 with a total of 43 kcal.
  • 102% of vit. C and 169% of vit. K.
  • <6% dv of vit. A, B3, B5, E and Choline.
  • 16% dv of Manganese, 11% of Iron and 10% of phosphorus and 8% of Potassium.
  • <6% of Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium and Zinc.

Nutritionally Brussels Sprouts are very similar to other cruciferous but have the advantage of not depleting the iodine levels of the body.

Some vegans, because of the high amount of cruciferous they eat in their diet, have to take an additional source of iodine like supplements or algae like Kelp. So in these exceptional cases is good to swap Brussels Sprouts in the diet.

Coconut

healthy-foods-to-eat-coconut
Fresh opened coconut

It is thought that the Coconut originated in the Indian-Indonesia region and dispersed itself riding ocean currents all over the world. It is a very ancient nut with its oldest specimen dating 37 to 55 million years ago in the Eocene period. Per 100 g. (~4 oz.) it contains:

  • 46,99 g. of water, 3,33 g of protein, 15,23 g of carbohydrates and 33,49 g. of fat which totals 354 kcal.
  • <7% of vit, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C, and E.
  • 19% of Iron, 9% Magnesium, 71% Manganese, 16% phosphorus, 8% Potassium and 12% of Zinc.

Its special fatty-acid combination stimulates a healthy nervous system and brain and its root is traditionally used as a mouthwash and to treat the symptoms of diarrhea and dysentery. It is not only among the best healthy foods to eat but also to apply to your skin. Coconut oil is easily absorbed by it and promotes its health.

Its antiviral properties makes its oil and milk a great aid for the digestive system but not as effective as the root. Coconut water is also an effective electrolytic drink, deeply re hydrating the body.

Flax Seeds

healthy-foods-to-eat-flaxSeed
Dried flax seeds

Earliest signs of a domesticated variant of flax dates 9000 years ago in Syria. This domesticated hybrid rapidly disseminated to northern Europe and east Asia by the 3000 B.C.

First cultivated to produce linen and paper it was started to be used as an ornamental plant and more recently people regarded it as being among good and healthy foods to eat. People used its seeds for seasoning and a diet supplement. There are two varieties; brown and yellow and 100 g. (3.5 oz.) contain:

  • 42.16 g. of fat which 22,8 g. are short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, 6 g. omega-6.
  • 143% of vit. B1, 13% B2, 21% B3, 20% B5 and 36% of B6.
  • 26% of Calcium, 44% Iron, 110% Magnesium, 92% phosphorus, 17% Potassium and 46% of Zinc.

As we can see Flax seeds and derivatives’ high content in vit. B1, Magnesium and phosphorus makes it a perfect supplement for promoting nervous system health and prevent neurodegenerative diseases. It also reduces total and LDL blood cholesterol which furthers promotes brain and cardiovascular health.

Garlic

healthy-foods-to-eat-garlic
Peeled harneck garlic

Garlic is a close relative of the onion, shallot, leek and chive. One of the best healthy foods to eat, Garlic has a history of several thousands of years being native to a region between the Mediterranean and China. Known by the Egyptians who used them as a seasoning and for traditional medicine. China is the first producer of Garlic accounting for 80% of the total world production. 100 g. (3.5 oz.) of Garlic contain:

  • 33,06 g. of carbohydrates, 6.4 g. of protein and 149 kcal.
  • 95% dv of vit. B6, 39% C, 17% B1, 12% B5, 9% B2 and 5% of B3.
  • 80% dv of Manganese, 22% of phosphorus and Selenium, 18% Calcium, 13% Iron and Zinc and 8% of Magnesium and Potassium.

Garlic has been extensively researched showing very potent properties against bacteria, cancer, fungus, viruses, yeast, nematodes (gut worms), etc. Is also an effective immune booster, just remember to accompany it with beet whenever you eat it if you don’t want the bad aftertaste and breath.

Roselle

healthy-foods-to-eat-hibiscus-sabdariffa
Blooming roselle flower

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa Linn) is a herbal shrub plant native to tropical Africa and common in warm countries including Malaysia. People cultivate this plant for the calyxes or petals of the flower which local folk use to prepare herbal drinks, beverages, jam and jellies. They eat raw petals in salads and toast its seeds, although the taste is somewhat bitter.

After removing the calyxes, the velvety capsules containing the seeds are disposed as a by-product. In addition, it is a waste if someone discard the seeds, without effort to exploit its usefulness and benefits. Its nutrient contents per 100g ~4oz are:

Calyxes:

  • 84,5% water content, 1,9g protein, 12,3g carbohydrate with a total 49 calories.
  • 30% dv of vit D, 4% vit B1, 50% vitB2, 15% vit C fresh 300% dried and 33% of vit A.
  • 1,72 mg Ca, 130% dv of Iron.

Seeds:

  • 7,6% content of water, 34% of protein, 22,3% fat, 15,3% fiber, 23,8% Nitrogen-free extract.
  • 10% dv of Calcium, 60% Phosphorus, 37% Zinc, 325% Copper, 97% Magnesium and 230% dv of Chromium.

In Myanmar, people use the seeds to treat debility and Taiwanese regard them as diuretic, laxative and tonic. Also they use the calyxes to relieve symptoms of diarrhea, Ceylon mouth, bronchitis, coughs and hypertension.

Kale

healthy-foods-to-eat-kale
Fresh Kale leaves

Kale is a type of cabbage that was one of the most common green vegetables in Europe before Renaissance and among the better healthy foods to eat.

Curly-leaved varieties of cabbage already existed along with flat-leaved varieties in Greece in the fourth century BC. These forms, which the Romans referred to as Sabellian kale, were the ancestors of modern kales. Its nutrient contents per 100g (3.5 oz) are:

  • 8,8g of Carbohydrates, 0,9 of fat and 4,3 protein with a total of 49kcal.
  • 63% dv of vitamin A, 10% of B1, B2, B3 and E, 145% of vit C, 671% of K, 35% B9, 21% B6 and 18% of vit B5.
  • Approximately 15% of Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Potassium. 31% of Manganese and <5% of Sodium and Zinc.

Kale is bitter. Anything bitter is good for your liver. Kale removes fat from the liver, de-congests the gall bladder, and it helps make more bile. Basically it slowly cleans and detoxifies your liver, which translates into health for the entire system. As a general rule you want to start consuming more bitter vegetables. Kale also is anti-estrogenic, so if you have a build-up of excess estrogen, the bad kind, it will help balance that.

Lamb’s lettuce

healthy-foods-to-eat-lambLettuce
Fresh lamb’s lettuce leaves

Know also as corn salad, bourgeoisie and nobility originally considered it a weed and only European peasants foraged it because they lacked healthy foods to eat in their daily diets. That is, until Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, royal gardener of King Louis XIV, introduced it to the world.

It has many nutrients, including three times as much vitamin C as lettuce, beta-carotene, B6, iron, and potassium. A more detailed nutrient content list per 100g (3.5 oz) is:

  • 2g of protein, 0,4g of fat, 3,6g of carbohydrates with a total of 21cal.
  • 142% dv of vitamin A, 64% of C and aprox. 15% dv of vit B6, Iron and Potassium.
  • Approx. 5% of vitamins B9, B3, B2, B1, Calcium, Copper, Magnesium and Zinc.

This little vegetable will help your skin health acting as an antioxidant and promoting collagen production which are the building blocks of your skin, preventing wrinkles and flaccidity. It also promotes vision health, boost your immune system, your teeth strength and mucous membranes so its great for digestive diseases and to combat the symptoms of the common cold or flu.

Quinoa

healthy-foods-to-eat-quinoa
Raw Quinoa seeds

Quinoa is a pseudocereal closely related to the edible parts of beetroot, spinach and amaranth. Quinoa originated in the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Chile, and indigenous people modified it 3,000 to 4,000 years ago for human consumption in the Lake Titicaca basin of Peru and Bolivia.

Archaeological evidence shows a non-domesticated association with pastoral herding 5,200 to 7,000 years ago. Is one of the best healthy foods to eat but but conquistadors disregarded its nutritive values in much of the same way as Amaranth because indigenous civilizations used it in liturgic ceremonies by pre-Columbian cultures. As those ceremonies involved human sacrifices, Roman Church banned its cultivation in hopes those ceremonies would stop.

In their natural state, the seeds have a coating which contains bitter-tasting saponins, making raw quinoa unpalatable. Most of the processed grain sold commercially do not have this coating. This bitterness has beneficial effects during cultivation, as it deters birds and therefore the plant requires minimal protection. 100g (3.5 oz) of cooked quinoa has a composition of:

  • 72g water, 21.3g of carbohydrates, 1,92 fat and 4,4g protein for a total of 120kcal.
  • 11% of vitamin B9, 9% of B1, B2 and B6 and less than 5% of B3, E and Choline.
  • 30% of Manganese, 22% Phosphorus, 18% Magnesium, 11% of Iron and Zinc and less than 4% of Potassium and Calcium.

One advantage for celiac people is that quinoa is gluten free and its high and varied content of phenolic acids give great antioxidant properties. Furthermore, four clinical studies have demonstrated that quinoa supplementation exerts significant, positive effects on metabolic, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal health in humans.

Lastly the rising popularity of Quinoa in western world has increased its price. Former populations in Latin-America that depended on this cereal as a staple in their diets can’t afford to buy it anymore. This should make us think about buying healthy local vegetables and cereals which are affordable and promote local farmers more instead of contributing to the wild speculation of new and exotic foods.

In part III – Healthy Diet Foods we will talk about more in depth about foods and specially supplements that are effective for weight loss and in special diets, for example those of low cholesterol or low sugar. But the foods mentioned there are as healthy and recommended for everyone as the ones mentioned in this part.