10 essential healthy foods
Thursday, 11 April 2013

10 essential healthy foods

Melonie Clarke delves into the whys and wherefores of healthy eating and spells out how these key ingredients can enhance your diet

Written by Melonie Clarke


The cacao (cocoa) bean is chocolate in its raw form, and it is full of vitamins and antioxidants. It contains theobromine, which has diuretic properties to help the body rid itself of toxins, and phenethylamine, thought to be a mood enhancer. Both of these boost the brain’s production of serotonin. Research has shown that cacao can help increase blood circulation and reduce cholesterol, and also claims anti-ageing qualities.

How to enjoy
Use it in baking in place of dark chocolate. But cacao can be fattening, so eat in moderation.


These beans are a natural source of antioxidants, which can reduce the impact of free radicals and help strengthen the immune system. High in isofl avones, which are thought to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, and to ease the symptoms of menopause. They are low in oil, high in protein and have zero cholesterol. Edamame beans contain all nine essential amino acids, and the high fi bre content can help lower cholesterol and aid digestion. Antiinfl ammatory qualities make these a good snack for arthritis sufferers. The beans are rich in vitamins C, B, E and K, which can boost the production of red blood cells; they are also high in minerals, such as calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper.

How to enjoy
Boil in their pods. Once cooked, sprinkle with coarse salt, pop the beans out and enjoy. The shelled beans are also good in salads.



This flower is used as a natural remedy to alleviate asthma and other allergies. It contains vitamins A, B1, B2 and C, as well as phytochemicals, which have anti-infl ammatory properties; and antioxidants, which help protect the body from free radicals. When taken as a tea infusion, elderflower can also help to ease seasonal allergies.

How to enjoy
Best as a tea infusion served with lemon, or elderflower sorbet.


Full of B vitamins, magnesium and manganese, it contains high amounts of fibre, which can help to reduce cholesterol and stabilise blood sugar. Flaxseed is one of the best sources of lignans (chemicals that also act as antioxidants), which can help to balance female hormones once in the intestine. Some research suggests it promotes fertility, reduces menopausal symptoms, and possibly helps prevent breast cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

How to enjoy
Flaxseed needs to be ground to unleash the nutrients. Eat sprinkled on yogurt or porridge.



A great substitute for sugar, jaggery is a more complex form of carbohydrate than normal sugar – meaning it releases its energy slowly, stopping spikes in blood-sugar levels. Its high fibre can relieve constipation. In India it is eaten after a heavy meal to aid digestion. It is rich in minerals, unlike normal sugar.

How to enjoy
Use in place of sugar.


This is full of fibre and has zero fat content. High in numerous vitamins and nutrients, including folate and magnesium. Kale contains more iron – which is essential for the formation of haemoglobin and enzymes, cell growth and liver function – per calorie than beef. Vitamin K content is high, which is thought to help protect the body from cancer. Research also suggests vitamin K can help Alzheimer’s sufferers. Kale is high in vitamins C and A. Vitamin C is great for the immune system and for healthy vision and skin; it is also helpful in maintaining cartilage and joint flexibility. The high calcium levels are good for healthy bones and the metabolism; and the generous amounts of antioxidants make kale a useful detox food.

How to enjoy
Sautéed with garlic and butter.


Research has found that it helps to fight three different types of mouth bacteria that can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. It is also thought to help with acid reflux by coating the oesophagus, thus preventing damage from stomach acid. If eaten regularly, manuka honey can help to ease irritable bowel syndrome and may prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers. Its high level of healthy carbohydrates means it is also a great natural energy booster.

How to enjoy
Why not make a stir-fry, mixing together soy sauce and manuka honey for the sauce?



Low in calories but high in vitamins A, B6, C, plus folate and fibre. Its high level of folic acid – essential for foetal growth in the early stages of pregnancy – makes it a good choice for expectant mothers. With a high water content, okra can help to prevent constipation, gas and abdominal bloating and may help the production of good bacteria or probiotics in the body. It is also thought to ease irritable bowels, ulcers and soothe the gastrointestinal track.

How to enjoy
A great addition to curries, or delicious deep-fried with a yogurt and mint dressing.


This tea contains polyphenols, which may help to control metabolism and protect against the development of tumours. The polyphenols in oolong are also said to help stress. It’s thought that drinking a daily cup of oolong may help to reduce obesity. Recent tests have shown that eczema sufferers have seen an improvement in their condition after drinking it every day. The tea’s antioxidants help protect against tooth decay and strengthen bones. Oolong can also act as a herbal supplement in the management of Type 2 diabetes.

How to enjoy
Serve black in a pretty cup.


Contains nine essential amino acids and has a high protein content. It is also a source of riboflavin, which may help reduce the frequency of migraines. Quinoa is a great power food, improving stamina and recovery time after exercise. Described as a ‘smart carb’, it won’t cause blood-sugar levels to rise. Quinoa is also gluten-free.

How to enjoy
In a salad with feta cheese and lots of fresh vegetables, or boiled and used in place of rice or couscous.

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