By now, most of us are familiar with the concept of healthy foods. Food is not our enemy – quite the opposite – it’s our first line of defense against many health issues. We have heard all about the “superfoods,” that salmon is anti-inflammatory and berries are anti-aging. But there are other, less conspicuous foods out there that are no less healthy (in some cases, more healthy) than the things we are eating on an everyday basis, and yet most of us do not have these in the fridge and do not consume them on a regular basis. These are not “trendy” newly discovered nutritional supplements – these are things that our ancestors likely consumed and some cultures are still consuming today – for their amazing health-boosting and protecting properties. I thought I would round up just a handful of them:
1. APPLE CIDER VINEGAR – Apple cider vinegar is made through the process of fermenting apples and apple juice to the point of developing some healthy immune-boosting bacteria. We all have probably used vinegar at some point during cooking and everyone knows that mixed with 2 parts water, it also makes a great, environmentally friendly and non-toxic kitchen cleaner. But I have at home an entire BOOK dedicated to the various healthy uses for apple cider vinegar. For instance, mix a little bit with a glass of water and a teaspoon of honey and drink first thing in the morning for a great digestion aid, and a detoxifying cleanse for your whole system. It also makes a good conditioning rinse for the hair, rendering it soft and shiny. I always keep a bottle of the organic Bragg cider vinegar in my fridge.
2. SAUERKRAUT – Most of us only see sauerkraut as a topping for a bratwurst. In Russia, sauerkraut (often homemade), was a pretty regular staple on a dinner table, along with various other pickled vegetables. Another product of fermentation, (like vinegar) sauerkraut’s sour taste comes from the beneficial bacteria. Growing up, I remember hearing stories of the Russian Navy loading barrels of sauerkraut on board Navy ships for long voyages, to help boost the soldiers’ immune system and prevent digestive issues.
Sauerkraut was also used to provide vitamin C, since keeping perishable fruits on board ships was impractical, and vitamin C deficit lead to unattractive diseases like scurvy (Google photos at your own risk!). Two good ways to incorporate more sauerkraut into your diet: as a filling for pirozhki or added to borsch.
3. BEE POLLEN – Honey has long been known and loved for its health properties – internal, as well as a topical analgesic for healing and softening skin. It turns out that bee pollen takes those properties to a whole new level. Bee pollen is the pollen from flowers that gets stuck to the bees and is then carried back to the hive to be used as food for the young ones. It is sold at stores in small soft pellet-form.
It is said to be nearly a complete nutritional supplement, containing almost all of the vitamins and minerals that humans need. It is also 40% protein. Bee pollen is used in China as a remedy for anything from weight gain to infections.
4. BONE BROTH– bone broth is typically made by simmering bones, bone marrow, tendons, and other musculoskeletal parts of cows or chickens, together with some vinegar, on low heat for 8-12 hours at a time. This process extracts important minerals and natural silicon out of the cooked bones that, when consumed, provides great support for our own bone health and strength.
5. NUTRITIONAL YEAST – this is not the same yeast that you might use to make a rising dough with for your baking needs. Nutritional yeast typically comes in the form of fine flakes and is sold at health food stores. It is a great natural source of B-vitamins (B-12, B-6, etc.), and is a complete protein. It has a nutty and slightly cheesy and salty flavor and scent, and I find it quite delicious sprinkled on as a topping for popcorn.
6. ALOE VERA – far from just being an ointment for sunburned skin, aloe vera is one of the most nutritionally impressive plants out there.
If you have ever broken open a fresh aloe vera leaf, you can just tell the hydrating and lubricating properties that it offers. It eases bone and joint inflammation and pain, such as in case of arthritis; it also helps cleanse and detoxify the liver and kidneys, in addition to promoting general healing of your body, inside and out. There are now commercially available aloe vera extracts or even juices that you can substitute for your usual drink of choice. You can also grow an aloe vera plant in your home, and use the cleaned leaves in smoothies.
P.S. This will be my last post for a couple of weeks. When I get back from my trip, I should have some fabulous travel photos to post!