Health Foods to Try in 2020

In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long discusses 5 foods you don’t know about but should...

Dear Nutritionist,

Great column! I try to keep up on nutrition trends and love learning new recipes that are healthy. The squash soup was a winner with my family! I wonder if there are any great products you recommend people try in the coming year?

Thanks, Dana

Dear Dana,

Thank you for the wonderful feedback! I love it when people enjoy cooking and sampling new foods! My love of nutrition came decades after my love of cooking and gardening; I am that rare beast: a nutritionist who is squarely a foodie first. 

The squash soup is a huge hit with my friends, also. Ditto my vegetarian chili recipe. I have a friend who considers himself a chili connoisseur, using chuck instead of ground beef and ordering exotic chili spice from afar. He accused me of blasphemy when I told him my vegetarian chili with generic spices could stand up to his meaty blend. He sampled it and gave the dismissive, “Meh, it’s okay.” Then his teen son came in and finished two bowls and told him he should learn how to make it my way. :) If you’re looking for a meatless Monday dish the whole family will rave about, go back and try the vegetarian chili recipe! The magic is in the blend of spices I’ve used. 

It’s hard for me to know what’s ‘new’ for people who don’t work in the health industry, as it sometimes takes a long time for great ideas and products to catch on, like Keto and coconut oil, for example. My son and I started down that path about 16 years ago, when we realized he had absence seizures as part of his mental health picture (a Keto diet was originally used to manage seizures naturally). Friends thought I was insane switching from whole grain cereals to quality sausage and eggs for breakfast. I remember one literally stopped eating dinner when he realized it had been sauteed in lard. Now people like Dr. Mercola recommend using it. So it’s hard to know what’s ‘new’ when you’re this far down the rabbit hole. But I will give it an earnest try.

I regularly use some great products I notice clients don’t know much about but should! They’re healthy and delicious, but as of yet have not become totally mainstream, or they’re out there but not a lot of people know how to use them. I’ll highlight five products I think everyone should try in 2020 and include suggested uses for each.

Chia Seeds: These are tiny grey to off-white coloured seeds, much like elongated poppy seeds in appearance, with no real flavour. They are a complete protein (all 9 essential amino acids) and contain the most omega 3 fatty acids of any plant food. In addition, they are full of fibre and are incredibly mucilaginous - meaning they become gelatinous in texture when water is added. This, coupled with their healthy fat profile, means they have a soothing and nourishing effect on tissues and they can be used in water to help soothe an inflamed digestive system and promote softer, bulkier stools. From the top of the digestive system to the rectum, these will soothe and promote healing to damaged tissues. They are part of every protocol I have for ulcers and issues like colitis and hemorrhoids and they are especially therapeutic after surgery when it’s difficult to start the bowels moving again.

In addition, the blend of fibre in chia seeds is known to help lower LDL cholesterol and prevent blood sugar spikes. The next time you decide to have sweets, it’s beneficial to put 3 tbsp of chia seeds in a full glass of water, stir, and drink it down. It will help you to absorb your dessert more slowly and avoid the huge sugar spike and following crash. This is particularly helpful for diabetics or those diagnosed with pre-diabetes or those on a diet. You may also use it to stave off hunger by sipping on a cup that contains a tablespoon of the seeds during the day. Not only do they help tide you over, they are nutritious! It’s a win win scenario!

Chia seeds should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight, dark container away from light, heat and oxygen. Mine come in a zipper seal bag. I recommend organic, as they are largely fat and fats should always be of the highest quality. Many people seem to think they need to be ground, but they are digestible and nutritive in their whole form. 

An easy way to use them is to make a chia pudding: add ¼ cup seeds to 1 cup water, stirring well. Let sit for 15 minutes, then top with yogurt and berries. This mixture can also be stored in a container in the fridge to add to smoothies to thicken them, or replace eggs in a recipe, or to baked goods to increase their nutritional value. 

The seeds can also be sprouted. Think chia pets! You just soak them as before, then spread them once gelatinous onto unglazed terracotta pots or saucers. Place in a sunny spot and mist with water two times a day. Sprouts will grow that you can use in salads and sandwiches to give them a boost. You can also sprinkle the dry seeds on any dish - cereal, soups, puddings, dressings, salads, and sauces - to add a bit of texture and added nutrition. Try adding them to yogurt the next time you have it.

Hemp Nuts/ Hemp Hearts: These are small, very soft nuts from the hemp plant. They are beige with some black in them with a slightly nutty flavour, similar to pine nuts. They are extremely nutritious - boasting omega 3’s and again, all nine essential amino acids. In addition, they are high in vitamin E, which is a great antioxidant for the entire body.

Hemp nuts can be used wherever you would use pine nuts or seeds in a recipe. They are primarily used in smoothies, baked goods, dressings, yogurt, puddings, or on cereal, but you can also add them to trail mixes. It’s best to buy organic hemp hearts/ nuts and keep them in an airtight, dark container in the fridge. 

I make an oatmeal of 1 part hemp nuts, 1 part chia seeds and ½ part ground flax seeds. I add a good amount of ground cinnamon and clove and keep this in an airtight container in a cool spot. I use a scoop and add hot water to it and then let it gel up and eat it with my yogurt for breakfast or as a snack when I’m busy and don’t have time to cook. This small bowl will keep me satisfied for 6 hours and is a great way to help get into ketosis because of the fat and protein content. I also use it for clients that need to cleanse their colon or if they have stubborn constipation. It works where other fibre foods fail. 

Apple Cider Vinegar: This vinegar has an incredible array of uses, and many people swear by it. My primary use for it is as a detoxifier and digestive stimulant and as an insulin regulator. It has to be the raw, unpasteurized form of Apple Cider to have these benefits.  Raw apple cider vinegar has a mother:  a murky, brownish floater in the bottom of bottle, often with strings. It’s a friendly bacteria that gives the vinegar it’s nutritive value. 

Some people drink it straight a couple times a day  to help with weight loss, and it seems to produce results. I add 2 capfuls to my water bottle (stainless steel, never plastic or aluminum!) every time I refill it. This way the taste is pleasant. It contains minerals and amino acids, but moreover it’s rich in probiotics and helps the body digest food more fully. It also helps inhibit bacteria, so I add it to salad dressings after all the e-coli scares with romaine the past few years. 

Studies have shown it reduces blood sugar significantly (34 percent) after eating refined carbohydrates; reduces fasting blood sugar in the morning when taken at bed; improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar and insulin reactions. All together, what this means is that taking apple cider vinegar with or preceding a meal will help the body metabolize the carbohydrates in the meal in a way that regulates blood sugar to prevent or help manage weight and diabetes. The impact can be significant, so those on blood sugar medications need to be monitored by a physician when using this product. 

Natto: This is a traditional Japanese fermented food product you can get in the freezer section of Asian grocery stores. It comes in little white styrofoam containers, often with a packet of mustard and sweet sauce. When you open the container you will see a small amount of soybeans with what looks like powder on them. But when you stir them, as you should, suddenly the powder (actually a probiotic biofilm) turns into something that looks like sticky slime. As odd as it sounds, this food has an incredibly addictive and unusual flavour - sort of like rare cheese. Similarly, it’s an acquired taste. And as tenacious as the ‘slime’ is, it actually melts in your mouth. People either love it or hate it and videos of it abound on youtube. Clients in my Fun with Fermentation class at the Newmarket Public Library this week will get to try it. 

The reason you want to try Natto isn’t just how unusual it is. It’s because it’s an incredible source of probiotics and vitamins K1 and K2. By now, we all know the many benefits of probiotics, from brain health to digestion. But have you even heard of Vitamin K? 

Vitamin K2 is essential for getting calcium into the bones/ teeth and keeping it out of the arteries (hardening of the arteries is created by patches of deposited calcium). As such, as a supplement Nattokinase (the enzyme from natto) is used to help prevent or reverse atherosclerosis. It’s been shown in supplement form in studies to slow the loss of bone density and reduce the risk of fractures as people age. And Vitamin K1 plays an important role in preventing blood coagulation, so you can see why this food and supplements made from it are incredibly powerful as a preventative for arterial disease. 

Because of its bone building properties, holistic dentists recommend eating natto or taking the supplements to help rebuild enamel in soft teeth. In youth with excessive carries and poor dental formation I have found this and particular mineral supplements to be corrective.

In addition, Natto is full of other nutrients: Protein: 18 grams Manganese: 76% of the RDI Iron: 48% of the RDI Copper: 33% of the RDI Vitamin K1: 29% of the RDI Magnesium: 29% of the RDI Calcium: 22% of the RDI Vitamin C: 22% of the RDI Potassium: 21% of the RDI Zinc: 20% of the RDI Selenium: 13% of the RDI

If it’s something you’re interested in trying, come out for a class! You can see a video of natto here.

Dosa: This is a more decadent choice, simply because I love it! Dosa or dosai is a thin pancake of South Asian origin, made of fermented batter of rice and lentils, so it’s completely gluten free. The batter can be made from scratch or bought as a mix from South Asian grocers and let to ferment in the fridge before using. 

It’s cooked much like a crepe on a hot griddle with oil and can be cooked soft or crispy, after which it is rolled up with some sort of filling and served with chutneys. I’m not fond of many bread products but this is the exception because it is fermented and therefore very nutritive and easy to digest, even for those with carbohydrate intolerances. (But remember to take your Apple Cider Vinegar before hand!)

Dosa contains protein and can be made with many flavour combinations. For a video on one recipe for it you can go here. The best Dosa I have tried was in Little India, on Gerrard Street East, off the Danforth in Toronto, but I welcome feedback if anyone knows of a better spot. Write me if you would be interested in a weekend cooking class with a friend of mine on how to make perfect dosas with filling and chutneys. I promise it’s like nothing you’ve ever tried!

As always, if readers have their own health questions, I welcome them. Just send me an email. And if you’re looking for more specific health information check out my website and sign up for my free newsletter at Upcoming events are posted in the newsletter, as well as delicious recipes that are guaranteed to be guilt and gluten-free! 

Namaste!  Nonie Nutritionista

Nonie De Long is a registered orthomolecular nutritionist with a clinic in Bradford West Gwillimbury, where she offers holistic, integrative health care for physical and mental health issues. Check out her website here.

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