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“Ch ch ch chia!” – a familiar jingle to many that usually draws a chuckle. But did you know that chia seeds are not only edible but extremely good for you?
On my own personal journey into better health, I have learned that there are some strange foods out there that everyone should be eating. And by ‘strange,’ I really mean new and different to me. These are the foods that I never heard of or fathomed I’d be cooking with.
[image by Stacy Spensley]
My pantry used to be filled with all of the typical processed foods common to many American households. Some examples included: white refined sugar, white refined flour, macaroni and cheese, partially-hydrogenated crackers, and others. I thought I was being health conscious when I followed the Weight Watchers idea of just counting calories, fat, and fiber. But it turns out that while keeping track of the calories you take in is important, it is far more important to pay attention to the kinds of food you are actually bringing home and the ingredients they contain.
Setting Down Ground Rules for Healthy Eating
I have some personal rules that I use for myself when it comes to my health and eating properly. To start, I always strive to buy organic as much I possibly can, and I try to find foods that contain 5 ingredients or less. To me, a real winner is stocking the pantry with items that just contain one ingredient! Of course, I have to make sure that even though the item may have one ingredient, I don’t want the one ingredient to be completely stripped of its nutrients through chemical processing (i.e. white refined sugars and bleached grains).
So what does my pantry have in it now?
A lot of strange things! Some of my favorite pantry items include chia seeds, maca, hemp (seeds, the protein powder, and the oil), spirulina, and mangosteen juice. The following is an overview of some of the benefits of these odd-sounding foods as well as brief descriptions for how I consume them.
Must-Have Foods for Your Pantry
This ancient Aztec food has 5 times the calcium of milk and contains boron, a mineral that helps transfer calcium to the bones. Chia seeds contains important anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, protein, and antioxidants. I first heard about it in the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.
There are recipe books dedicated to this ingredient, and it is worth noting that if you allow chia seeds to soak in any liquid (i.e. water, milk, etc.), the seeds will expand and form a gel consistency. I like to put chia seeds in shakes, yogurt, or in almond milk to make a chia porridge.
This Incan superfood is is an adaptogen and is good for the endocrine system. It contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and plant sterols. Maca can increase strength, energy, stamina, and libido. It improves memory, reduces stress, and balances hormones. I love to put Maca powder in my smoothies!
Hemp is a plant-based protein, so it works great for vegetarian or vegan athletes. Hemp is high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids and is an excellent source of protein, containing all of the essential amino acids.
I use hemp seeds to make homemade energy bars, or I blend them to make hemp milk. Hemp protein works great in pre- or post-workout smoothies. Hemp oil (made from pressed hemp seeds) has 25 times more omega-3 fatty acids than olive oil. You should only consume hemp oil at room temperature and then store it in the refrigerator. I like to use hemp oil in salad dressings and various raw dips and sauces.
This vegetable plankton (a blue-green algae), contains 60-70% protein, supports immune system, weight-loss, blood sugar, kidney function, blood sugar, and reduces blood clot risks. Spirulina contains all 8 essential amino acids, beta karotene, Vitamin E, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. The FDA does not regulate its production because it is marketed as a dietary supplement, so buy it from a health store or other brand that you trust. Spirulina is also in great pre- or post-workout smoothies.
Mangosteen, a tropical fruit from Southeast Asia, has been known to have anti-inflammatory properties. I always purchase the organic kind and I make sure that “mangosteen juice” is the only ingredient listed. Store in the refrigerator after opening. My husband and I like to drink about 1 ounce daily.
These are just some strange foods that I have been discovering! I challenge everyone to try one or more of these and see what you think. You won’t be believe how much you’ve been missing out on!
Kristin Horstman is a 30-year-old nutrition and fitness enthusiast who resides in Arizona with her husband. She enjoys trying out new, meatless meals as well as attending classes and seminars pertaining to diet and fitness.