You can’t go wrong eating a whole food diet, especially if you include lots of plant-based options. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense foods that are also packed with phytochemicals that have health benefits that extend beyond their nutritional value. What you might not realize is that HOW you eat food matters in terms of the benefits you derive from it. Here are six foods you might be eating incorrectly.
Flaxseed is a rich source of fiber, but it also contains omega-3’s and lignins that offer additional health benefits. You’re already familiar with omega-3’s, fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory benefits. Lignins are phytonutrients that may explain some of flaxseed’s blood pressure lowering benefits. Lignins also bind to the receptors on breast tissue and block the binding of estrogen. Some studies suggest that lignan-rich foods, like flaxseed, may lower the risk of breast cancer by reducing estrogen’s impact on breast tissue.
But how you eat flaxseed matters. You must grind the seeds in a grinder (a coffee grinder works) and turn it into a powder to absorb the “good stuff” from flaxseed. Otherwise, the flaxseed passes through your body without being absorbed. Make sure you’re getting the full benefits of this small seed.
How do you eat boiled eggs? At one time, it was popular to eat the white portion of the egg and discard the yolk. This practice was based on the idea that the yolk contains fat and cholesterol, and these components can raise LDL-cholesterol. These days, we know that we need some healthy fat in our diet and the cholesterol you get from eating a whole egg each day probably isn’t harmful to the average person. The yolk of an egg also contains choline, a type of B-vitamin that many people don’t get enough of.
Why is choline important? It is used to make fatty substances that are incorporated into cells and also to make acetylcholine a neurotransmitter involved in memory and muscle function. Deficiency in choline is associated with damage to the muscles and liver and is linked with a higher risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a growing epidemic in Western countries. Eating a few eggs per week is a way to add choline to your diet, but don’t discard the yolk.
Although most studies support the idea that eating an egg each day isn’t harmful, a recent study reignited the debate about the cholesterol in eggs and heart disease risk. This study found a link between consuming more dietary cholesterol and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. So, talk to your physician about how many eggs you should eat per day based on your risk factors.
Tea contains a myriad of flavonoids with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. One of the possible health benefits of drinking tea is that doing so may improve some markers of heart health. For one, some studies show that flavonoids in tea improve the way blood vessels function and respond to stress. Some studies also show that tea drinkers enjoy a modest lowering of blood pressure and LDL-cholesterol. The benefits are greater with less fermented forms of tea. White and green tea are less fermented and have higher levels of flavonoids than black tea.
How can you make sure you’re drinking tea correctly? Don’t drink it with a meal. Tea contains tannins that can interfere with the absorption of minerals. A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that drinking tea with a meal reduces the absorption of non-heme iron, the iron in plant-based foods. However, the study showed that you can offset this effect by drinking tea at least one hour after a meal.
Here’s a bonus tip. Adding citrus juice to tea increases how much of the flavonoids you absorb from drinking a cup of tea. So, add a squirt of lemon or other citrus fruit!
Tomatoes are one of the best sources of lycopene, an antioxidant linked with heart health. For example, there’s evidence that lycopene’s can lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Most of the lycopene Americans take in comes from tomato products. You might think the best way to benefit from lycopene is to eat raw tomatoes. But the lycopene in raw tomatoes is not very bioavailable, meaning your body isn’t able to absorb and use it as well. Heating or processing tomatoes greatly increases how much lycopene your body can take up and use. Therefore, you’ll get more benefit from eating marinara sauce, ketchup, salsa, and other non-raw forms of tomato.
Bonus tip: Eating lycopene-rich foods with a healthy source of fat, like olive oil or avocado, further enhances how much lycopene your body can tap into.
Garlic is a sulfur-rich vegetable that may have heart health benefits. One small study showed that garlic was as effective as the blood pressure medication, Atenolol, at lowering blood pressure. Eating garlic also decreases the tendency of blood clots to form. Abnormal blood clotting is a factor in heart attacks and strokes.
Are you getting the maximum health benefits from garlic? Research shows that crushing or chopping garlic and letting it sit for 10 minutes before consuming it maximizes the release of the healthful compounds in garlic.
Like flaxseed, chia seeds are rich in plant-based omega-3’s and are also a good source of fiber. But, here’s a word of warning. Soak chia seeds and give them a chance to expand before spooning them into your mouth. As Dr. Rebecca Rawl of Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina points out, these tiny, omega-3-rich seeds absorb up to 27 times their weight in water. If you consume them in their unexpanded state, they may expand in your digestive tract and potentially cause an obstruction. There are documented cases of obstruction of the esophagus due to eating the seeds dry and washing them down with a glass of water. So, let them expand first!
The Bottom Line
There you have it. Six healthy foods that are safer or offer more health benefits if you eat them correctly. So, enjoy these foods, but eat them right!
· National Institutes of Health. “Choline”
· Harvard Health Publishing. “Flavonoids: The secret to health benefits of drinking black and green tea?”
· The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 106, Issue 6, 1 December 2017, Pages 1413–1421.
· MedLine Plus. “Lycopene”
· Pak J Pharm Sci. 2013 Sep;26(5):859-63.
· Berkeley Wellness. “The Power of Garlic”
· WebMD.com. “Use Chia Seeds With Caution, Researcher Warns”
· The New York Times. “Are Eggs Bad for Your Heart Health? Maybe”
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