Move over acai berry, maca powder smoothie. Step aside kale-in-just-about-everything recipes. The proliferation of trendy foods you must try is in my opinion, a bit overwrought. While it may be kind of hip to say you love that power blast bowl with goji and whey, there’s really no need to seek constant newness from our food. Some of the healthiest foods have been around for centuries, long before you actually learned how to spell spirulina.
I remember back in the late 1970’s when tofu became a front-runner healthy food, manufacturers got a little crazy and started to add tofu to everything. The result was a watered-down version of the original wholesome soy product with little health benefits to speak of. Tofutti, anyone? There is no need to take just drastic measures to achieve wellness. These four, ages-old common foods and beverages- tea, chocolate, hot peppers and coffee offer a wealth of nutrition when consumed in their completely natural form. And best of all they are as convenient as your grocer’s shelf.
Ah…. coffee’s little sister. That soothing, steaming cup of steeped leaves has come a long way since the day it was dumped into Boston Harbor( I still shudder at the thought of all those antioxidants literally going down the drain!). While our early American residents pulled that little stunt, tea really did start out as a revered drink. According to research by Annelies Zijderveld, tea expert and author of the newly released cookbook, Steeped: Recipes Infused With Tea, tea is really ancient.
“Shen Nong, the person attributed to discovering tea was an herbalist too. Even though studies continue being done on the benefits and effects of the catechins, polyphenols, and antioxidants in tea now, the idea that tea is good for you has been around since 2737 BC.”
So what exactly do those tongue twisting beneficial properties actually do for your body. Here’s a few facts to sip on:*Tea may boost exercise endurance. Those aforementioned catechins especially found in green tea extract may help the body to burn fat as fuel, thereby improving muscle development.
* Green tea has been shown to improve bone density and increase strength.
* Drinking tea may reduce the chance of a heart attack.
* Tea is hydrating, even with its caffeine content and ultimately more delicious then just plain water.
There are really only four varieties of beneficial teas- black, green, oolong and white. They are all from the same plant, the Camillia sinensis. Although they contain no caffeine, herbal teas do not offer health benefits as great as this foursome does as they are not from the same plant. And remember, tea drowned in sugar or taken in processed powdered form, shouldn’t be in your tea cup.
From its early beginnings in a region known as Mesoamerica (from approximately Central Mexico to Costa Rica) chocolate primarily started out as a drink that was rather bitter and frothy( no wonder I like bitter hot chocolate!). In the 16th century, when it arrived in Spain, just enough sugar was added to the chocolate to make it palatable and it became popular throughout Europe. Flash forward to today, chocolate has made another renaissance as a food with health benefits. Although you will find commercial chocolate that is more sugar and fat than cacao, when consumed in the right amounts and mostly of the dark variety, a little chocolate can go a long way to giving you these advantages:
*Chocolate IS good for your skin. Despite the tale that chocolate causes skin breakouts, there is now evidence to support that chocolate may protect you from UV rays and can keep your skin young and supple. Don’t skip the sunscreen though!
* It can fill you up! Instead of trying to satisfy a craving by eating 12 different things, indulge in a small amount of dark chocolate that can satisfy that craving in the first place.
* It may make you smarter. Because of it’s stimulant compound called theobromine, it can improve blood flow to the brain. It has been shown to improve cognitive function and verbal fluency.
But remember “a little dab will do ya”. A 1 ounce portion is all you need if you are going to consume chocolate on a daily basis. Make sure it’s the dark variety and preferably a higher percentage such as 65% or more. This means there will be less sugar added and more of the benefits from cacao itself.
Mexico scores another one for cultivating good-for-you foods! The chile pepper was domesticated over 6000 years ago in a region that stretched from northern Oaxaca to southern Veracruz. Today the use of chile peppers spans the globe and what would be a good taco, Indian vindaloo or pad thai be without some hot spice!
Sandra Gutierrez, The Culinary Latinista(TM), one of Americas foremost authorities on Latin cuisine and the author of the upcoming cookbook, Empanadas: The Hand Held Pies of Latin America, explained to me that “Chiles are high in vitamins A and C. The capsaicin (the natural oils that make chiles spicy hot) has been demonstrated to increase metabolism, which may help people lose weight. Furthermore, chiles are believed to help cure some stomach ulcers, although it’s always best to consult a doctor. So before you consider seeding and deveining the next batch of chiles in your recipes, think twice about your health. A little bit of spice can indeed make life nice!”
Sandra should know; she cooks with chiles on a daily basis. Try adding more into your cooking considering those little peppers can also:
* Prevent inflammation. Due to the extremely high vitamin C content that chile peppers provide, this antioxidant compound helps rid pro inflammatory properties from the body.
* Known as circulation boosters, chile peppers can keep the blood thin and thus help prevent strokes.
* They are rich in beta carotene which converts to Vitamin A and can help fight infections.
* Chile peppers adds a rich, complex flavor to dishes all for so little calories!
Start slowly with adding them to your diet. Stomach upset has occurred in individuals not used to the heat intensity of fresh chiles. And always put the fire out in your mouth by drinking or eating something from the dairy family like milk or a bit of yogurt. Drinking water will only exacerbate the problem.
Do you enjoy your morning cup of joe? Well keep on enjoying it, as more and more evidence mounts that having some coffee will do more than just give you a little morning boost.
Coffee’s origins go back as far as the 10th century in Ethiopia. The first evidence of coffee drinking appears to be from the 15th century in the monasteries of Yemen. By the 16th century coffee drinking spread through the Middle East and Africa, then to Europe and eventually to America. Keep your coffee consumption in the way our ancestors intended- pure, without excessive sugar or topped with whipped cream!
I sat down with dietitian Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE, who also happens to be an avid long distance runner. Turns out, that jolt from coffee can be extremely helpful.
“Research shows that the caffeine found in coffee can help boost exercise performance. Since it’s a central nervous system stimulant, it helps improve concentration and decrease fatigue. In addition, it may help the body use fat as a fuel source which can help save some carbohydrate stores and allow for longer bouts of exercise. Personally, when I am training for a race, I drink coffee beforehand and definitely notice that I am able to run faster without feeling like I’m exerting more effort.”
So while you are sharpening your competitive edge, coffee can also boast these benefits:
*Diabetes defense. Studies performed on long term coffee drinkers showed a significant decrease in the development of diabetes.
* Pain reduction. People who drank coffee reported less pain symptoms than non coffee drinkers. So take that coffee break!
* Happiness. If you are smiling while drinking your coffee, there may be a reason besides that the coffee tastes good to you. Research has shown that coffee drinkers are less susceptible to depression.