As I mentioned in my previous post, most of us tend to have a limited number of staples in our kitchens, and more often than not we choose to cook foods that include these ingredients. Try building these lesser-known foods into your kitchen as staples to improve your family’s health:
5 “NEW” INGREDIENTS THAT WILL SOON FEEL LIKE OLD FRIENDS
1. COCONUT OIL
Coconut oil is great for cooking, and unlike olive oil, it can take higher heats: it’s less susceptible to heat damage because it’s a completely “saturated” fat. Most of the fats in coconut oil are medium-chain fatty acids, which are easily digested and have been shown in some studies to have protective effects for brain and arterial health. The lauric acid found in coconut oil also has antimicrobial properties.
I use coconut oil as a staple for baking, sauteeing and stir-fries. You can also add it to your smoothies. Though some people are intimidated by thought of their food tasting like coconuts, it’s the health benefits that come through, not the flavor. One final plus is that coconut oil applied topically is one of the best natural skin moisturizers and hair conditioners.
Update: Though the American Heart Association in June 2017 cautioned against the overuse of dietary coconut oil (as a “saturated fat”), any fat (including coconut oil) should be used in moderation (even monounsaturated fats like olive oil are packed with calories). Coconut oil, with its versatility and multiple health benefits, still deserves a place in your kitchen.
We’re just getting used to the idea of seaweed as a potential food source here in the U.S., but kombu, an edible kelp, has been used for many dietary and health purposes for centuries in Japan, Korea and China.
It’s a great source of iodine, and also contains calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C along with many other minerals and antioxidants. Its “superfood” health properties are still being studied, but among other benefits it’s been shown to lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.
Kombu comes in dried form (usually packages of dried sheets). A little goes a long way, and once you open the package it will keep in your refrigerator for up to a year.
Kombu will take on the flavor of whatever you’re cooking. It softens up as you cook it, and I recommend adding it to your soups, sauces, and the initial stages of any dish (you can even slip a shredded part of a sheet into meat, turkey or veggie burgers before cooking) for an added flavor and nutrient boost. Remember that you won’t have to add as much salt to your recipe, because kombu contains natural sodium and iodine.
And a pro tip: adding a piece of kombu to your soaked beans helps break down the fiber and makes the beans more easily digestible, which leads to less gas (yes, it’s true!).
3. NUTRITIONAL YEAST
Most of us think of yeast as the round little granules added to dough to make bread, but “nutritional yeast” is entirely different from “baker’s yeast” (and also different from the bitter-tasting “brewer’s yeast” that’s a byproduct of making beer). It comes in dried flakes, and it’s a tremendous source of the Vitamin B family as well as other vitamins and minerals. It’s also a complete protein.
Nutritional yeast has a cheesy flavor (its taste is most often compared to parmesan), and it’s the perfect addition to sauces, dressings and pastas. You can also sprinkle nutritional yeast on any vegetable for roasting: one of my favorites is cauliflower (mix cauliflower with oil, sea salt and nutritional yeast, roast at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, and you have a delicious “cheesy” dairy-free side dish).
We’ve heard talk about the health benefits of apples our entire lives, but it may be even more true that an avocado a day keeps the doctor away. Avocadoes, simply put, are one of the healthiest foods available.
Avocadoes are a great source of “good” fat (monounsaturated fats, which raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol in the bloodstream), and they’re a virtual powerhouse of other nutrients: Vitamin K, folate, Vitamin C, potassium (more potassium than bananas!), Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin E. They also contain Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorous, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Niacin, Copper, Iron, Zinc, and countless antioxidants.
In addition to being eaten plain or added to salads, I recommend using avocadoes as a creamer in soups for dairy-free recipes, adding avocadoes to smoothies, or using avocado oil for salad dressings (avocado oil has a lighter taste than olive oil; just remember that, like olive oil, it can’t tolerate high heat).
5. APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
This honey-colored liquid is more than just a staple for salad dressings and marinades: it’s been used for thousands of years to promote better health, including by Hippocrates, the “father of modern medicine.”
Recent studies have found that drinking diluted apple cider vinegar before meals can help control blood sugar: more work needs to be done, but there’s good reason to believe that both healthy adults and those with Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance can see substantial reductions in blood sugar spiking. That’s important, because high blood sugar is one of the most damaging chronic health conditions. There are many other studies underway to determine just what apple cider vinegar can do as a health aid – including its potential to lower bad cholesterol, its ability to boost energy (by reducing lactic acid in the body) and its power as an appetite suppressant – but the things we know for certain are good enough reason to start using it now.
A useful daily health habit is to mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 2 tablespoons water and drink before each meal.
If you’re looking for more healthy staples to add to your kitchen, see my recent post on turmeric and ginger.