Can food improve your health? ... Health yeah!

Health is a hot topic when dining out. While gut and brain health are the most sought-after trends, consumers are also interested in immunity boosting foods, high protein foods and superfoods.* If you’re a chef who’s looking to cater to those trends, this article is for you: a list of foods that are real treats for the different parts of your body. Click on the items to find some interesting ingredients, each with their own health benefits. Some of them provide a great base, while others just add a healthy touch. Can you guess the benefits of these ingredients?

Seaweed (heart, bones, blood, skin, body/cells, brain (last one is a maybe, because not in all seaweed)

With its lovely umami taste, seaweed, like nori and wakame, is a given in Japanese and Korean kitchens. Next to providing calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, B, and C, for healthy bones, blood, skin and cells, they also contain iodine, which supports the function of your thyroid. And did you know wakame is one of the few plant-based sources of the fatty acid omega 3? Good for a healthy heart and brain!


Beans (gut, cells/body, heart)

Lentil, soy, or black turtle: there are many different types of beans. But, all of them are rich in dietary fiber, iron, protein and B vitamins. They help your digestion, whilst protein is vital in maintaining and repairing the body. A 2013 research also shows a clear correlation between eating beans and a lower risk of coronary heart disease.* Looking for a cool way to put these healthy seeds on your menu? Try a sweet Asian adzuki bean paste, add fava beans to a risotto, or roast and puree the Bambara bean, which is the third most important legume in Africa and offers a nice, peanut-like base for soups.

Health benefits of beans 

Did you know?

Soybeans contain 38 grams of protein per 100 grams, similar to pork and three times more than an egg! Unfortunately, soy cultivation is linked to deforestation. So, if you’re using soy beans or oil, make sure to buy from a certified sustainable source.


Cactus (cells/body, gut)

Cacti for consumption? Yes! What the Mexicans already knew is that cacti contain high amounts of vitamin C and E. Also, they’re rich in dietary fiber and amino acids. They’re great for boosting your immune system and preventing inflammation. If you’re looking to use it in a dish, maybe the name ‘prickly pear’ rings a bell, as that’s the synonym for nopales, of which shoots, fruit and flower can be eaten. It can be enjoyed in salads, for instance, or be turned into a nice, nutritional jelly.


Wild rice (bones, cells/body, heart, gut)

Wild rice actually isn’t rice at all, but the seed of a type of grass, eaten in its pure form. It’s considered a ‘complete protein source’ as it contains all nine essential proteins. These are proteins your body can’t make and therefore have to come from your diet.* Furthermore, wild rice is rich in antioxidants, phosphorus - which strengthens your bones - and magnesium, which is a great energy boost. It contains a lot of fibre, for a good digestion and, like other whole grains, has a positive effect on heart health. Lastly, wild rice is naturally gluten free. 

It tastes a little more nutty and ‘grassy’ than regular rice, and works very well in a pilaf or as an addition to a dish with other grains like quinoa or brown rice!


Fish (blood, heart, brain, cells/body, bones)

Much has been published about the health benefits of fish. However, not everything written is true. What we do know for certain, is that especially the fatty species, like salmon, trout, sardines, tuna and mackerel are high in fat-based nutrients, along with vitamin D. This helps maintain the blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, which strengthen bones and teeth. B12 is also found in fish, great to support the growth of healthy red blood cells. Fish generally also is a good source of cell-supporting minerals like iron, iodine, phosphorus, and niacin. And then there’s the Omega 3 fatty-acids, which are good for supporting a healthy brain. However, fish also contains higher or smaller amounts of mercury, depending on the type of fish, whether it’s caught or farmed and how mature the fish is. In small amounts this isn’t harmful, but it’s always a good idea to check your source!


Kimchi (gut)

From the Korean kitchen, we have the fermented food called Kimchi. It’s most famous for being a great probiotic, meaning it contains probiotic bacteria that are beneficial to the microbiome in your gut. The benefits are connected to daily or near-daily intake of kimchi, so they’re only for real kimchi-lovers! However, these benefits are also found in some other fermented foods, like sauerkraut, for instance. 


Sweet potato (cells/body, bones)

As a popular choice for fries, the sweet potato is seen more and more as a healthy option on the menu. Their orange color comes from beta carotene (also found in other orange and leafy-green vegetables like carrots, spinach, and broccoli), which your body converts to vitamin A for aiding your immune system, and which is also associated with good vision. Moreover, they’re an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, and manganese, which supports bone development and maintenance. Of course, there are many preparation methods for sweet potatoes. But, if you need reason to turn it into fries: beta carotene is fat-soluble nutrient, which means it’s absorbed better when you eat it with a fatty food!


Pumpkin flowers and leaves (cells/body, blood)

Though pumpkins possess great health benefits (similar to those of sweet potato), the flowers and leaves of the pumpkin are often discarded. While the flowers, with their mild pumpkin flavor are great immunity boosters because of the presence of vitamin C, the leaves taste like a crossover between asparagus, broccoli, and spinach. They’re a good source of iron, vitamin K and carotenoids.


Did you know?

Next to it being literally vital to stop bleeding, vitamin K is essential for supporting certain regulatory proteins, for instance in bone tissue. If you’re looking for a source of vitamin K, you can find it in many green vegetables, like cabbage, bok choy, spinach, broccoli, sprouts, kale, and watercress.

Curious to dive a little deeper?

Of course, when it comes to healthy ingredients, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to learn more about what certain nutrients do for the body, you can find a complete list of vitamins, minerals, their function, and the specific foods they can be found in, here. Rather find out more about specific foods, and their impact on people’s health and the environment? Then check out the 50 foods for healthier people and a healthier planet.

*source: Curious plot - The consumer curiosity report.

General source (for checking reports):