Yesterday was National Herbs and Spices Day! We have the weirdest “National Whatever-days,” but this one, I can get behind. You probably add dried or fresh herbs and spices to your meals without even thinking that these are actually aiding in improving your health. I’m a big advocate for fresh, but dried can offer health benefits too. There’s a term I learned in my schooling that describes nutrient-dense foods and food supplements that give strong nutritional boosts to the everyday diet: Booster Foods. These foods include herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, fermented foods, and supplements.
By adding Booster Foods to your everyday diet, you can provide an energy boost without having to rely solely on sugar or caffeine. Don’t get me wrong–I am not asking you to give up your coffee because coffee is life to those who enjoy drinking it! Now, sugar is a totally different topic that I will get into at another time. The research in the field of nutrition sciences is still ongoing and honestly, far behind any other research surrounding food potentially being the source of many illnesses. With most of us eating a Standard American Diet (SAD), the need for these nutritional boosts are needed more than ever. Our bodies are experiencing ongoing stress and toxicity issues, including those who are recovering from illness, and we need all the added nutrients we can get.
Boosters provide a wide variety of health benefits and come in a variety of flavors. They help balance blood sugar, they can kickstart your metabolism, and they are rich in healing properties. When you add them into your everyday diet they can also help nourish the blood, nerves, and muscles, and can help detoxify and improve liver, gut, and kidney function. Are you starting to see why I feel these are worth adding? They can add such a kick to your diet without even trying that hard!
Adding herbs and spices to your foods is one of the simplest things you can do. Again, I prefer fresh, but start out with what you have and you can experiment from there! These little additions will contain greater amounts of nourishment and anti-inflammatory properties than most other food sources. Some examples are adding garlic for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, cinnamon to help regulate your blood sugar, parsley to help with toxicity or detox issues, or ginger to help with digestion and inflammation. Turmeric is a great one to think about. There has been a lot of research lately on the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric. You can add it fresh or dried, and it has been used for medical purposes dating back at least 4000 years. Current research is showing is that its benefits range from fighting infections to treating digestive issues to even helping with cancer (Ehrlich, 2011). Turmeric can be used in food but also added to teas. On another note, teas are actually a great way to add herbs and spices into your diet. Something to explore! Here is a good video if you want to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnCqJ26VPcE
Nuts and seeds tend to be another easy addition to your diet. Try adding flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and almonds to various foods like salads, smoothies, oatmeals, sautéed green beans, and yogurt. They are rich in omega-3, protein, fiber, oils, magnesium, potassium, and are anti-inflammatory, just to name a few. Be careful of the amount you consume–a lot of people feel since they are so good for you then more is better, however, that isn’t always the case. I tend to recommend about 2 tablespoons a day–that’s it! They are extremely yummy but can cause weight gain if you aren’t careful! These little things are packed full of nutrients, but in small amounts.
The hardest Booster Foods for people to add are fermented foods. These can be fermented veggies, fruits, grains, or dairy. Some examples are sauerkraut, chutney, fermented beets, carrots, brined pickles (not everyday pickles from the store!), or truly fermented sourdough bread (I’ll have a video on this soon!). While these foods tend to be added every day in a lot of cultures, it seems harder for most Americans to add them in on a daily basis. Fermented foods can reduce inflammation, enhance circulating Vitamin D levels, inhibit cholesterol absorption, and aid digestion & enhanced gut health (Jones, Martoni, & Prakash, 2013; Jones, Martoni, Parent, & Prakash, 2012; Yoon et al., 2013).
Raw sauerkraut, kimchi, beets, kvass, brined pickles, raw chutney and salsa, yogurt, kefir, and soured whole grains or sourdough breads can do the following:
- Improve digestive function
- Reduce inflammation
- Inhibit cholesterol absorption and aid its removal from the liver
- Enhance circulating vitamin D levels
- Provide therapeutic changes to gut bacteria that help prevent development of diabetes (Ray & Ray, 2013)
Each serving of live culture foods can contain billions to trillions of beneficial bacteria (far more than probiotic supplements) plus enzymes. Additionally, other nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals are enhanced through the fermentation process (Swain et al., 2014). Before I started school for nutrition, I never thought twice about fermented foods and their benefits, however, now I’m a huge fan.
Fermented foods are powerful modulators of digestive and immune function and help us absorb the vitamins and minerals so crucial to our health. (Markiewicz, Honke,Haros, Świątecka, & Wróblewska, 2013; Miller & Dearing, 2013).
The last Booster Foods I want to recommend you add into your diet are algae and sea vegetables. I know this is a very controversial subject: you either love them or you hate them! I happen to fall into the “love them” category. Their natural pigments, including chlorophyll, exhibit anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, and neuroprotective properties (Pangestuti & Kim, 2011). Algae and sea veggies include seaweed (green & red), arame, hijiki, wakame, nori, and dulse. They are easy to add into broths, smoothies, or soups. If you really, really don’t want to add them into your food, there are other ways to add in the nutrients, such as pill or powder form. Here are a few suggestions: Organic Chlorella Spirulina Tablets, Nordic Naturals Algae Omega, or Premium Klamath Blue Green Algae.
Adding Booster Foods doesn’t have to be hard or a big ordeal; just find what you like and start experimenting. There’s no wrong way to do it–just start getting creative. If you do find that you need some guidance, I’m always here to help!
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Ehrlich, S.D. (2011, May 4 review). Turmeric. Retrieved from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/turmeric
Jones, M.L., Martoni, C.J., & Prakash, S. (2013, Jul). Oral supplementation with probiotic L. reuteri NCIMB 30242 increases mean circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D: A post hoc analysis of a randomized controlled trial [Abstract]. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 98(7):2944–2955. doi:10.1210/jc.2012-4262
Markiewicz, L.H., Honke, J., Haros, M., Świątecka, D., & Wróblewska, B. (2013, Jul). Diet shapes the ability of human intestinal microbiota to degrade phytate — In vitro studies [Abstract]. J Appl Microbiol, 115(1):247–259. doi:10.1111/jam.12204
Pangestuti, R. & Kim, S-E. (2011, Oct). Biological activities and health benefit effects of natural pigments derived from marine algae [Abstract]. J Func Foods, 3(4):255–66. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2011.07.001