Five Health Foods You Probably Aren't Eating (or Might Consider Eating More Of)

Best Nutrient-Rich Foods for Your Shopping Cart

Jun 26, 2018
Nutrient-Rich Foods: Oats, Barley, Navy Beans

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Most plain fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense. But on my long walk today, I started thinking about the variety of other “health foods” rarely described as such. By the time I got home, I’d come up with a list of five. (Okay, I admit: One’s a vegetable.) Add these nutrient-foods to your shopping cart next time. 

There’s no standard definition for “health food,” but here’s mine: a whole or minimally processed food that’s rich in essential nutrients and phytonutrients relative to its calorie count.

I often write about these—growing, preserving, cooking, and eating them—in my Down Home column because of my decades-long devotion to food gardening.

Below are some five food that we don’t often eat—and a note or two about each.

Navy beans A cup of these bland little beans gives you 15 grams high-quality protein, meets three-quarters of the fiber your daily fiber and folate needs, and delivers a trove of essential minerals. Nutritionists say you can count navy beans (or any dry bean variety) as either a protein or a vegetable. If you’re having an extra-large bean salad, soup, or casserole, chalk it up as both.

See a great recipe for Navy Bean Soup.

Hulled barley (aka “dehulled barley” or “brown barley”) Hulled barley is the whole-grain form of barley, with only the outer husk removed (the more familiar “pearl” barley is “polished,” further refined to remove some of the bran.  Barley has the highest fiber content of all the grains, including the soluble fiber beta glucan, that helps lower cholesterol and reduce blood sugar spikes, among other health benefits.

Whole barley is substantially higher in protein and fiber than brown rice and lower on the glycemic scale. Unlike rice, it doesn’t take up arsenic from arsenic-contaminated groundwater.

Yes, it takes longer to cook, so it helps to soak it for a few hours first. I love its chewiness, especially paired in a casserole or side dish with something crunchy, like toasted pumpkin seeds (see below).

See how to cook barley and whole grains here.

Oats Some love a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast. My mom served it almost every day in winter. I also remember her oatmeal bread, oatmeal-raisin cookies, or the way she extended a meatloaf with plenty of rolled oats.

My local supermarket contains several whole-oat products, including whole oats (oat groats; cook and serve like rice), steel-cut oats (like bulgur), Scottish oats (ground to a consistency of cornmeal), rolled oats (the familiar oatmeal in instant and old-fashioned forms), and oat flour.

Like barley, oats contain high levels of the soluble fiber beta glucan, as well as six grams of high quality protein, and a balance of B vitamins and minerals.

See recipe for whole wheat and oat bread.

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Image credit: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Pumpkin seeds Sometimes called “pepitas,” these come from varieties of pumpkin whose seeds lack the tough outer hulls of ordinary pumpkin seeds. Especially delicious when lightly toasted, pumpkin seeds contain seven to nine grams of complete protein per ounce, as well as iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, and copper. We buy them by the pound, usually toast them lightly, and use them as a crunchy snack, an addition to breads and muffins, or pretty much anywhere you’d use chopped nuts.

Potatoes (No, for many reasons, not that plateful of sizzling French fries you crave.) Boiled, baked, or oven-roasted, and eaten with the skin on, a large potato contains seven and a half grams of high-quality protein and half your daily needs for potassium and vitamin C, along with many other vitamins and minerals.

Your supermarket probably carries white-, purple-, yellow- and red-fleshed varieties of the humble tuber; colors that add important phytonutrients and offer eye appeal to your meals. Here’s an excellent no-mayo potato salad with chicken, and green beans

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Image credit: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Reviewing my short list, I was taken aback by how much my superfoods have in common:

  • Although I don’t grow any of them except potatoes, I could. They’re all suitable for growing in a variety of soils and conditions, including regions like mine that boast of six-month winters.
  • All of  them are high-protein plant foods. Pumpkin seeds are as “complete” as animal proteins; that means they contain all nine of the amino acids our bodies can’t manufacture, but need to make the proteins we’re made of.
  • They’re all high in fiber, the indigestible fraction of plant foods that offers a broad array of health benefits.
  • Unlike many trendy superfoods, they’re all inexpensive and widely available, even in regular supermarkets.
  • They store well for quite a while without refrigeration or further processing.
  • They’re versatile. I’ve used all of them in soups, breads, pie crusts, salads, side dishes, and desserts (navy bean “cheesecake”? You bet!). You won’t believe it until you begin experimenting.

What’s more, if you keep favorite herbs and condiments on hand, a little oil and/or butter for sauteéing or dressing, you could mix and match two or more of these healthy foods to create a lovely meal any season of the year. Add a generous serving or two of fruit and/or vegetables to each meal, and you might have a diet plan.

See more healthy foods!

See 5 pressure-cooking recipes including a recipe for baked beans.

About This Blog

"Living Naturally" is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that's good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, and ideas to make your home a healthy, safe haven. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's re-learning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better healthier lives.

Reader Comments

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Great list. I love navy beans

Great list. I love navy beans and potatoes. I like the extra tidbits at the end of the article, and the helpful info about each type of food. It makes it rather easy to pick up a few simple, healthy need food items and hopefully start a new good habit. Keep up the good work. Your blog is unique and minus all the hype. I like that.

Thanks, Trina!

Praise like this keeps me on the straight and narrow.

Diabetes

Not allowed to eat ANY of these, except maybe the pumpkin seeds. Consider that there are 29 million diabetics in the US alone. I'd like to see more information that actually meets my needs.

Carbs For Days

None of these foods are healthy for me or the other +30 million diabetic Americans. 1 cup of hulled barley contains 135 grams of carbohydrates. Know how many I can have **for the whole day**? 180 grams. Over 3 meals & 3 snacks. Please keep us in mind when producing/publishing articles about food.

Go to cdc "dot" gov/diabetes/pdfs/library/diabetesreportcard2017-508.pdf

Diabetes

I apologize for not including a caveat early on that no matter how healthy a food, it might not be appropriate for everyone.

Many people have serious health conditions that require special attention to diet. Because I write for a general readership I have no way to include even the most common ones such as diabetes. I also have no professional credentials in nutrition or medicine. I try to  consult the best research and clinical expertise I can find for my writing.

Obviously, people with special needs diets should follow the recommendations of their health care professionals, rather than general-purpose articles like this one.

However, over the years, I’ve seen a lot of information about the value of the foods I’ve praised in this post for helping people control blood-sugar spikes, including people with diabetes. Here’s a sample:

 

 

BEST NUTRIENT-RICH FOODS FOR YOUR SHOPPING CART

You talk about pumpkin seeds on your list of five. In your review you refer to sunflower seeds. ?????

Oops!

Sunflower seeds on the mind, I guess. Thanks for noticing!

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