It's always amazing to find out that foods you love anyway are also good for you. These three ingredients work double duty – they provide enjoyment from their wonderful flavor, but also provide nourishment and benefit your whole body health.
Prunes: Good ol' California prunes are often thought of for their amazing ability to help ease constipation (true!), but did you know that prunes are also exceptionally good for bone health? I was surprised too!
In a review published in the April 2017 edition of the journal Nutrients, the researchers reviewed 24 studies on prunes and bone health and concluded that prunes enhance bone formation and have beneficial effects on bone mineral density.
For post-menopausal women with low bone density, eating just five or six prunes a day helps prevent bone loss. It's likely a combinations of the nutrients in prunes – like vitamin K, potassium, magnesium and other plant nutrients (phenolics), which work together to produce this interesting effect.
How to: You can use prunes in both sweet and savory dishes. I chop them to add to salads, cereal or yogurt. Their flavor marries well with cumin and coriander, and prunes are the stand-out in this amazing Tagine-style chicken with prunes. You can also toss a few into a smoothies, or add them to cookies and loaves when you bake.
Tea: Author Jack Kerouac famously wrote about tea: "the first sip is joy, the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy." For me, three o'clock isn't complete without a cup of tea, and I always find it has the uncanny ability to calm me down and help me focus on the task at hand.
Turns out that tea REALLY does do that – it contains a compound called theanine, which has the unique ability to make you feel relaxed yet alert at the same time, and improves concentration and learning ability. Theanine is also linked with prevention of heart disease and some types of cancer.
How to: Drink black tea daily – orange pekoe, Earl Grey, English breakfast – anything goes! Green tea contains theanine as well, but in smaller quantities.
Popcorn: Okay, good news folks! You know how you're always reading about the health benefits of whole grains? Most media coverage includes basic advice like "switch to whole grain bread" or "choose brown instead of while rice." All good. But... did you know that popcorn is also a whole grain? Cool!
Yup. This awesome snack is a fully-intact, high-fibre whole grain. A three-cup serving has only 100 calories, and an impressive four grams of fibre. Because it's so fluffy, it also has the amazing ability to make us feel full on fewer calories. In fact, a study published in the Nutrition Journal found that for fewer calories than potato chips, popcorn makes people feel more full and satisfied so it can help with weight control.
Popcorn is also loaded with antioxidants – having more than many varieties of fruit. The polyphenol antioxidants in popcorn may help protect against osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes.
How to: Loading popcorn with liquid margarine, heavy oil and tons of salt can negate the health benefits. Try an air-popper, or pop on your stovetop with a smaller amount of a healthy oil (I like avocado oil). Use some parmesan, nutritional yeast or favorite herbs as toppings. A little salt is fine too.