If you had walked into one of the first health food stores that opened decades ago, you would likely have found produce, whole grains, seeds, nuts, dried fruits, and other whole foods. In fact, that’s what health food stores still look like in many less developed parts of the world today.
If you walk into a health food store in America, it’s a whole different experience. A Whole Foods Market can be just as big as a regular supermarket, and contain essentially the same items in “health food” version.
Sometimes, the only change is that the food is organic. Sometimes, it’s just that it has particular features, like gluten-free.
So, nowadays we have to be careful about what we buy at health food stores. Not everything in the store is healthy. But among the thousands of products, I’ve identified a few worth seeking. In my next article, I’ll cover the top health foods to avoid.
The Top 10 Foods to Buy at a Health Food Store
This is not an exhaustive list, but covers some important foods you’re likely to find at a good health food stores. These are foods we should probably eat more of, or great alternatives to existing products.
Many Asian cultures love Bok Choy. It’s a vegetable packed with nutrients, but unfortunately, many people don’t know what to do with it. It’s full of antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin K (very important), and B-vitamins. It’s probably one of the healthiest greens you can eat. A few ways to cook Bok Choy:
- Stir fry it in garlic and very little oil. Start with the stems, because they are the thickest part. Add the green parts and stir fry everything for about 4 minutes. If you’re cooking them for longer, you will destroy the benefits.
– Baby Bok Choy is great. Cut off the thickest part of the stems and then cut it length wise. Then boil in salted water for just ONE minute. The nutrients lost in the water in this method are minimal, since you’ll be boiling them for very little time. Add your favorite sauce!
– You can also eat Bok hoy raw in salads. But really, who likes to do that??
I’m personally a big fan of rice and keep about 10 varieties in my cupboard. Black rice is a type of rice that I’ve only found in health food stores (except for black sticky rice, which can be found in Asian markets). Black rice has the same benefits as brown rices, but it’s full of anti-oxidants, similar to the ones found in blueberries, so it’s like getting the benefits of blueberries while eating rice! Awesome… Just cook it on the brown rice setting of your rice cooker.
This is something that you’ll likely only find at your health food store. The value of duck eggs is that they contain more nutrients than regular eggs, especially vitamin B12. In fact, duck eggs contain five times the vitamin B12 of chicken eggs! They also contain more of all other nutrients, but unfortunately, more cholesterol too. If you include eggs in your diet, think of including duck eggs once in a while to boost your intake of vitamin B12.
Of all beans you can cook at home, black beans are my favorite. I discovered this type of bean in Costa Rica, where it’s part of the daily diet. As with many other pigmented foods, they are rich in antioxidants. What I like best about organic black beans is that they are so easy to cook. I never soak them. Just rinse them, add 2-3 inches of water, bring to a quick boil, reduce to minimum, and cook for about 2 hours. I cook them with whole garlic cloves, a couple of bay leaves, and one small peeled potato. Then you can add salt and other seasonings at the end of cooking. The water will get all black, and you’ll keep the beans in their cooking water. They’ll keep in the fridge for 3-5 days.
Chia is trendy these days, and for one good reason. They’re loaded with fiber (a ridiculous 11 grams per ounce!), the perfect mix of omega fats, a surprising amount of calcium, and a special fiber that prevents diabetes, among other things. In many countries, chia seeds are used as a digestive tonic. For example, when I was in Costa Rica, I tried a local drink called “chan” where chia seeds are thrown a sort of fruit juice. The seeds expand and become gelatinous, which creates a very nice consistency to the drink. Here’s a healthy way to prepare the drink:
Add 2 tablespoons of chia to 5 cups of water and bring to a rolling boil for one minute.
Remove from heat and let it set uncovered until it cools.
In blender, combine liquid, lemon/lime, and honey (to taste) and liquefy for seven seconds.
At this point, if you do not want the pulp, strain. Chill in the refrigerator and serve cold.
Note that you might not get all the benefits of chia unless the seeds are pulverized. Otherwise, they are not digested. However, soaked chia seeds have other benefits. (From: http://yo-yoinparadise.blogspot.ca/2010/06/chan-something-different-to-drink.html)
The health craze around kale is NOT overrated. In some places, a health food store is the only decent place to buy kale. Kale has a ridiculous nutritional profile. 130 grams of kale blows through several RDA requirements, such as a whooping 355% of our needs for vitamin A (or beta-carotene, actually), 88% of our vitamin C needs, 1327% for vitamin K, and an impressive load of other minerals and vitamins as well. There are lots of ways to eat kale and my favorite is to stream the green leaves (not the stems) and chop them well in a salad that includes a creamy dressing!
California almonds now have to be briefly pasteurized. This doesn’t change their nutritional value. Almonds are my favorite nut because they are so filling, and yet encourage weight loss! A recent study followed a group eating almonds every day (about 3 ounces) versus another group eating almost the same diet but replacing the almond calories by calories in other foods, such as crackers and fat-free popcorn). The group on the almond diet saw an 18% reduction in weight compared to 11% on the non-almond diet. Blood pressure also dropped on the almond-eating fellows.
I like to eat about one ounce of almonds every day, when a snack attack occurs. Chewed well, they are extremely satisfying.
There’s a reason why top chefs around the world seek heirloom tomatoes: they taste great. Besides farmer’s markets, heirloom tomatoes can generally only be found at health food stores. Heirloom tomatoes are older varieties of tomatoes that have interesting characteristics (taste, nutrition, texture, color) but are no longer grown commercially. There’s no research yet to prove that they are necessarily healthier than regular commercial tomatoes, but one thing is for sure: they taste a lot better! Better taste will result in more tomato consumption, which has proven health benefits.
Turmeric is THE spice that’s recommended by progressive health professionals who use nutrition as part of their protocol for overcoming disease. It has proven anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s used by rheumatoid arthritis patients, and for the treatment of diabetes. Inflammation is involved in the development of cancer, so that’s why turmeric is recommended to prevent cancer. The most potent turmeric can be found at specialized spice shops. If not, organic turmeric is a great choice. I like to use it in lentil dishes, sprinkled over eggs, and in many curry recipes. Fresh turmeric can also be juiced or blended in smoothies for a potent elixir!
I love coffee, but the crash of a coffee down can be intense. Yerba maté is a healthier alternative. Yerba maté is a stimulant like tea or coffee, but the compound at play is called “mateine.” It works similarly to caffeine. People who drink yerba maté say it’s like coffee without the side effects. I find it mildly stimulating and indeed a good choice for the occasional need for a “boost.” It’s hard to find in North America outside of health food stores, so look for it there. Loose leaves are best.
Question of the day: what are your best health food store “finds”?