Isobel Capelin April 23, 2019

People are prioritising their health more than ever, and it's being reflected in what they're choosing to eat and drink. We've summarised what foods are gaining traction and how to incorporate them into your own diet.

Algae

Algae

Algae are aquatic organisms that produce oxygen through photosynthesis, but they aren’t just good for our oceans. Various types of algae have been found to have impressive nutritional benefits for humans.

You will most likely have heard of spirulina, it’s a type of blue-green algae that’s used as a source of protein, vitamin B and iron1. The lesser known cousin of spirulina is chlorella, also rich in iron. Evidence even suggests chlorella has the potential to prevent pregnancy related anemia.2

Kelp is a type of brown algae known for its high iodine content. It promotes healthy thyroid functioning3 and supports cognitive function4. It’s worth noting that most kinds of green algae are edible but brown algae cannot be digested so would need to be taken in supplement form.

Beans and pulses

Spoons of beans  

Beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas are packed with nutrients including fibre, protein and iron. Not only can a diet rich in beans and pulses help digestive health but dry beans contain no cholesterol at all, making them ideal for maintaining a healthy weight.5

The high amounts of soluble fibre also promotes healthy blood sugar levels and has been known to be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes6. Beans are also high in magnesium which can help maintain bone health7 and low in salt which helps maintain healthy blood pressure.8

Cacti

Chopping board with cactus leaves and knife

Next on the list is a food that’s only gained attention recently. Cacti is a type of succulent that’s full of antioxidants and is well known for its ability to lower blood sugar and insulin levels9 - particularly useful in the treatment for type 2 diabetes.10

The nopal cactus, also known as the prickly pear cactus, can be eaten both raw or cooked. The nopales (the pads) and the fruit have been used to help people with extreme tiredness, liver problems and ulcers11,12. Some people have even been known to use nopal extract to help with hangovers due to their high water content. Given cacti are hard to find in your everyday supermarkets, it’s often taken in tea, drink or supplement form.

Leafy greens

Leaves of chard  

You may think that leafy green vegetables are hardly revolutionary in the nutritional world, but what’s popular varies over time.

One example is Swiss chard. It’s a great source of minerals19,20, including vitamin K, which is essential for bone health and reduces the chances of developing osteoporosis21. Vitamin K is also important to ensure proper blood clotting22 . When choosing what greens to add to your shopping basket, aim for the darker green vegetables as they are the most densely packed with nutrients.

Cereals and grains

Pots filled with different types of grain

The most common forms of cereal and grains include wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, quinoa and corn. They are an excellent source of fibre which helps maintain regular digestion and intestinal health.13,14

You’ll no doubt have heard the term ‘whole grain’. This is given to grains that have not been refined and therefore retain the bran and germ. Wheat bran is often used to treat gastrointestinal conditions such as constipation and irritable bowel syndrome15,16. It also reduces the chance of developing hemorrhoids because it loosens stool.

Sorghum is a lesser known cereal crop that can improve bone health and blood sugar levels17,18. Sorghum is also gluten-free so it’s a great alternative for those with coeliac disease.

Mushrooms

Bowl filled with different types of mushrooms 

There are many types of mushrooms but all of them are low in calories and high in protein and fibre. They are antibacterial and used to help boost the immune system, as well as lowering cholesterol.

Mushrooms are one of the few foods with a high concentration of vitamin D (also known as the sunshine vitamin)24 which helps with bone health, energy levels and immunity25,26. More recently, mushrooms have been found to have a positive impact on gut health and have even been used as a prebiotic to help regulate sugar levels in the liver.27

Nuts

Small bowl containing cashew nuts, almonds and walnuts

Nuts in general are a well well-known source of protein, fibre and unsaturated fat which works as a great source of energy and can be eaten as snacks throughout the day instead of high sugar products.

Different types of nuts also have specific health advantages. For instance, brazil nuts are full of selenium, which contributes to heart health28 as well as maintaining thyroid function and a healthy immune system.

Also, the brown skin on almonds are packed with antioxidants29 and the nut itself is one of the best sources of vitamin E.30 

Nut butters - both homemade and store bought - have been gaining popularity as of late, as they are a healthier (as well as vegan) alternative to standard butter. Popular nuts that people use to make nut butter include peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews and brazil nuts.

Root vegetables

Red onions and carrots on board  

Tubers form at the base of root vegetables and have a high concentration of minerals and proteins31 in order to allow regrowth i.e. the potato. This is why root vegetables are so good for us and provide such a variety of nutrients.

Examples of root vegetables include ginger, celeriac, beetroot, sweet potatoes and even carrots and each one has its own specific benefits. Ginger is great for relieving pregnancy related nausea32, while beetroot has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.33

Apple cider vinegar

Bottle of apple cider vinegar surrounded by apples

Apple cider vinegar has been gaining popularity over the past few years, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Vinegar is known for its antibacterial qualities34 (it’s often used as a DIY natural cleaning product). Because of this, and its high levels of acetic acid, apple cider vinegar is used as a form of complementary therapy for acne.35

It can be taken in liquid form, either by itself or added to drinks, and is available at most supermarkets and health stores. However, the taste is too strong for some, so apple cider vinegar tablets and capsules are also available.


References
1Mazo. MK., Gmoshinskii. IV. & Zilova. IS (2004). Microalgae Spirulina in human nutrition, Vopr Pitan
2Nakano. S., Takekoshi. H. & Nakano. M (2010). Chlorella pyrenoidosa Supplementation Reduces the Risk of Anemia, Proteinuria and Edema in Pregnant Women, Plant Foods for Human Nutrition
3Kvícala. J . & Zamrazil. V. (2003). Effect of iodine and selenium upon thyroid function, Central European Journal of Public Health
4Choudhry. H. (2018). Iodine consumption and cognitive performance: Confirmation of adequate consumption, Food Science & Nutrition
5Geil. PB. & Anderson. JW. (2013). Nutrition and health implications of dry beans: a review, Journal of the American College of Nutrition
6Thompson. SV., Winham. DM. & Hutchins. AM. (2012). Bean and rice meals reduce postprandial glycemic response in adults with type 2 diabetes: a cross-over study, Nutrition Journal
7O’Keefe. JH. (2016). Nutritional strategies for skeletal and cardiovascular health: hard bones, soft arteries, rather than vice versa, Open Heart
8 (2012). Beating high blood pressure with food Harvard Medical School
9Shetty. AA.(2012). Cactus:a medicinal food, J Food Sci Techno
10Lopez-Romero. P. (2014). The Effect of Nopal (Opuntia Ficus Indica) on Postprandial Blood Glucose, Incretins, and Antioxidant Activity in Mexican Patients with Type 2 Diabetes after Consumption of Two Different Composition Breakfasts, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietics
11Madrigal-Santillán. E.(2014). Review of natural products with hepatoprotective effects, World J Gastroenterol
12Piga. A. (2004). Cactus Pear: A Fruit of Nutraceutical and Functional Importance,
13Buttriss. JL. & Stokes. CS. (2008). Dietary fibre and health: an overview, Nutrition Bulletin,
14Costabile. A. (2007). Whole-grain wheat breakfast cereal has a prebiotic effect on the human gut microbiota: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, Journal of Nutrition
15Slavin. J. (2010). Whole Grains and Digestive Health, Cereal Chemistry
16Stevenson. L. (2012). Wheat bran: its composition and benefits to health, a European perspective, International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition
17Lakshmi. KB. (1996). Hypoglycemic effect of selected sorghum recipes, Nutrition Research
18Cardoso. LM (2017). Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L.): Nutrients, bioactive compounds, and potential impact on human health, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition
19Baruah. AM.(2009). Determination of Mineral Content in Commonly Consumed Leafy Vegetables, Food Analytical Methods
20Sacan. O. (2010). Antioxidant and antiacetylcholinesterase activities of chard (Beta vulgaris L. var. cicla), Food and Chemical Toxicology
21Pearson. DA. (2007). Bone health and osteoporosis: the role of vitamin K and potential antagonism by anticoagulants, Nutr Clin Pract.
22Vermeer. C. (2012). Vitamin K: the effect on health beyond coagulation – an overview, Food Nutr Res
23Ma. G. (2018).A critical review on the health promoting effects of mushrooms nutraceuticals, Food Science and Human Wellness
24Black. LJ. (2017). In Pursuit of Vitamin D in Plants, Nutrients
25Grant. WB. (2005). Benefits and Requirements of Vitamin D for Optimal Health: A Review, Alternative Medicine Review
26Ferreira. I. (2009). Antioxidants in Wild Mushrooms, Current Medicinal Chemistry
27Flores-Mateo. G. (2006). Selenium and coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis, Am J Clin Nutr
28Using mushrooms as a prebiotic may help improve glucose regulation, Science Daily
29Garrido. I. (2008). Polyphenols and antioxidant properties of almond skins: influence of industrial processing, J Food Sci
30Mandalari. G. (2008). Release of Protein, Lipid, and Vitamin E from Almond Seeds during Digestion, J. Agric. Food Chem
31Shewry. P.(2003). Tuber Storage Proteins, Annals of Botany
32Willetts. K. (2003). Effect of a ginger extract on pregnancy induced nausea: A randomised controlled trial, ANZJOG
33Clifford. T (2015). The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease, Nutrients
34Yagnik. D.(2018). Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression, Sci Rep
35Ramanathan. S. (2011). Management of Acne Vulgaris, J Pediatr Health Care

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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