When it comes to health food, everything old is new again—and experts say that can be a good thing. Find out five age-old staples that have recently become new culinary trends and how these popular superfoods can benefit your body, from lowering your risk of disease to improving your digestive health to keeping you slim.
Some scholars say the fermented tea was born around 220 B.C. in China, where it was sipped for detoxification and dubbed the “tea of immortality.” Kombucha is bursting with good-for-you probiotics, since the bacteria thrive during fermentation. Just be careful which kind you choose. Some kombucha drinks may contain more sugar than you bargained for, so look for brands that have 5 grams or fewer per serving, says Elizabeth Boham, MD, medical director of the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass.
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The fermented cabbage dish is popping up on menus nationwide; one analysis estimates that it’s offered on 1 in 50 menus at U.S. restaurants. Kimchi is made from a fiber-packed veggie, loaded with antioxidant-rich spices and, most importantly, teems with gut-friendly probiotics. “Research has shown how the balance of microbes in your system can impact immunity, so eating probiotics is an important part of digestive health,” says Janet Helm, RD, a Chicago-based nutritionist and author of the blog Nutrition Unplugged. Studies have found that eating kimchi can help ward off constipation and even strengthen the immune system.
Aztec warriors are said to have scarfed down spoonfuls of the energy-boosting seeds before heading into battle. Today, you can find them in everything from Greek yogurt to tea to fruit-infused squeeze packs. Chia seeds are rich in a form of omega-3 fatty acids that may help improve cholesterol and high blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease. They also have 11 grams of fiber per ounce, so eating them can help curb your appetite and keep extra pounds away.
Our ancestors began carbo-loading about 75,000 years ago. We call the grains they ate (such as quinoa, Kamut, and freekeh) “ancient” because they’ve remained largely unchanged over the last several hundred years, unlike modern types of wheat, which have been crossbred. Most ancient grains are nutritional powerhouses, boasting calcium (teff has the most of any grain), fiber (barley is full of it), and an amino acid called lysine, which helps your body burn fat (amaranth is a top source). While “ancient grains” is a marketing term, not a scientific one, it does denote healthy whole, unrefined grains.
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Seaweed has been a staple of Asian diets for thousands of years. “One of the biggest benefits is its iodine content; you need sufficient iodine for your thyroid and healthy breast tissue,” says Dr. Boham. Seaweed can also provide other key minerals, such as calcium and iron.