Here's the straight skinny on the hottest buys at the market.
One of the growing number of non-dairy milks, coconut milk cartons are now common in the dairy case. With less fat and calories than the canned version that features prominently in pina colada, this variety is rich in medium–chain fatty acids (MCFAs), a saturated fat that research suggests may give metabolism a slight boost. While studies suggest that the MCFAs do not raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, the American Heart Association recommends limited intake of all saturated fats because of their connection to heart disease. Our take? Use coconut milk in moderation, especially if you are at risk for heart disease.
From a natural dye for Easter eggs to a mixer for trendy cocktails, beet juice is emerging as the next health drink. New research suggests beet juice may improve cognition, lower blood pressure and protect against certain cancers. Because it is such a powerful natural diuretic, beet juice must be diluted with other fruit or vegetable juices. Beet juice is a colorful, flavorful ingredient in salad dressings, soups or baked goods. Drinking beet juice now and then is fine but whole beets are the better choice: you’ll get more nutrients and satisfy your appetite for fewer calories.
Produced from sap of the blue agave plant, agave nectar is the hottest natural sweetener on the market today. With its lower glycemic index, agave may not cause a rapid rise in blood sugar compared to refined sugar, honey or corn syrup, making it attractive for diabetics. It’s also sweeter than its counterparts, so you may need less. Agave can be used as you would other sweeteners, although when baking, you may have to add more flour or lower the cooking temperature depending on the recipe. Agave is a decent choice as your go-to sugar substitute but like any other sweetener, use sparingly as calories (60 per tablespoon) still add up.
Who would have thought that the gag gift-of-choice in the ‘80s and ‘90s would be a potential heart health, satiety and weight-loss superstar? Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and several antioxidants, chia seeds have little flavor and are easily mixed into oatmeal, yogurt or peanut butter; baked into muffins or pancakes or sprinkled over salads. In Mexico, chia fresca is a popular drink made with chia seeds, water and lemon juice. Grinding helps enhance the absorption of the seeds’ nutrients. While more research is needed on health claims, chia seeds can be a nutritious addition to your diet but as with any high-fiber food, introduce slowly.
Seaweed is no longer just a part of your nori-wrapped sushi. This longtime staple of Asian diets is now appearing in soups, salads and snackfoods like Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed Snack. Rich in iodine, vitamin C and fiber, some research suggests seaweed may help protect against heart disease and certain cancers. Overall, if you keep an eye on sodium, seaweed products can be a healthy choice along with adopting other Asian diet basics like eating more fish and vegetables.
This tropical fruit from Southeast Asia has become mainstream thanks to the influx of “super juices” (like XanGo and SaXi) on the market. Rich in xanthones and tannins (antioxidants found primarily in the inedible rind,) a small body of research suggests these nutrients may have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Covered with a deep purple peel, the white arils inside the mangosteen are fragrant with a sweet tangy taste making them delicious to eat on their own. To note: Mangosteen “super juices” often have fewer antioxidants and nutrients than claimed; better to enjoy fresh mangosteens, if you can find them.
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