We all know nutrition is key to a healthy body, and it seems like there isn’t a day that goes by without a new superfood being touted as the next essential part of a balanced diet. We all know which foods are synonymous with eating well, as well as which to avoid. But there are many staples of our meals which we might not realise are good for us, and a few more that we could do with treating our bodies to more often.
Nature’s secret weapon: Mushrooms
Mushrooms contain fibre, protein and vitamin B, as well as selenium, an antioxidant that is beneficial to the immune system, and acts against tissue and cell damage. White button mushrooms are a particularly good option for those on plant-based diet, as it is one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin D, and can also help lower cholesterol. What’s more, mushrooms are one of the easiest vegetables to grow at home, saving you money on food shopping, and giving you easy access to this particularly nutritious ingredient. When it comes to preparing your meals, try not to heat your mushrooms for too long, as the less time they spend cooking, the more nutrients they will keep.
The underwater all-rounder: Seaweed
Although most commonly found in beauty products, seaweed can also be part of a healthy diet, containing amino acids, nutrients and minerals to help heal and renew the skin. Seaweed contains alginate, a fibre that improves digestion and reduces fat absorption. In fact, seaweed’s fibre content is particularly beneficial to those wanting to lose weight, it is both low in calories and can keep you full, preventing you from reaching for a snack.
Seaweed is also a great source of iodine, and adds a dose of calcium and vitamin B12 to our diets. All of these vitamins, minerals and nutrients provide an array of health benefits, helping your body to fight illness and disease, boosting the immune system, and improving cardiovascular health. Add this sea green to your plate by adding its powered version (spirulina) into smoothies, mixing into soups, stews and salads, or sprinkled over your favourite fishy dishes.
A protein boost: Pulses
Beans and lentils are plant-based proteins, perfect for vegetarians and vegans looking to improve their intake without meat, fish or dairy products. Pulses such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and many other types of beans can easily be added to soups, casseroles and curries to bulk them out and add texture, flavour and an additional nutritious boost. They’re also a good source of iron, have plenty of fibre and contribute heartily to your five-a-day. For example, chickpeas — one of the healthiest beans — contain 14.5 grams of protein per cooked portion, and are known to be beneficial for reducing blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity.
Your get up and go: Coffee
Coffee isn’t just what gets you out of bed in the morning. It’s also one of the greatest sources of antioxidants, helping protect your body fight disease and combat free radicals, the unstable atoms which cause oxidative stress and cell damage. Meanwhile, caffeine increases your energy levels, and can help to burn fat. Studies have also shown that drinking three to four cups of coffee each day can help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, Alzheimers, and various cancers.
A healthy sugar fix: Dates
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, dates can give you the sweetness you crave while also helping you maintain a healthy diet. This delicious, chewy fruit is packed full of fibre, vitamin A, iron, and three times the potassium of a banana. Although at first glance, the calorie content may seem staggeringly high, dates are still a far healthier sweet treat than a bar of milk chocolate. The fruit is sticky enough to be used as a binding agent in baked goods, like cookies and cakes, can be used to sweeten up sauces, or even as a topping for porridge, offering a nutritious alternative to the sugar you would normally use in recipes.
Grow your own: fruits and vegetables
Of course, the best way to know where the food in your kitchen has come from is to grow it yourself. Not only can this encourage healthy living, and give you a constant supply of fresh produce when you need it, but it’s easy and affordable to get started. A beginner growing kit is perfect for those who haven’t dabbled in gardening before, and our extensive grow your own range lets you grow tomatoes, potatoes and salad leaves.