8 underrated, cheap yet highly nutritious and healthy foods
You are in a hospital bed, suffering from excruciating pain of a chronic disease. Would you give up all your life savings to be healthy again? Most probably you would and so would I! We only live once and nothing is more important and expensive than life and health.
Hey, good news! You do not have to spend a fortune or all your life savings to be healthy and live long. All you need is the correct information and application of that knowledge. In this article, we will learn about 8 underrated, cheap yet highly nutritious and healthy foods and also the role of various nutrients in our body.
1. Amaranth (Scientific name: Amaranthus caudatus)
Latte ko saag /Chaulai saag /Lude/ Marse / Ramadana
It is despised yet highly nutritious and plant abundantly found almost all over Nepal. Unfortunately, this ‘superfood’ is often mistaken as weed and gets thrown away.
- Naturally gluten-free, safe to consume for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
- Rich in high-quality protein (13-19% per 100g), has high content of several essential amino acids. The quality of its protein is almost comparable to egg protein. (1) (3)
- One serving (246 grams, cooked amaranth) can easily exceed your daily requirement of manganese, a mineral vital for the metabolism of nutrients, essential for thyroid health, functioning, and important for brain function. (1) (2) (4)
- Rich in magnesium, a mineral required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. (1) (2) (5)
- Rich in phosphorus: Important for bone health. (1) (2) (6)
- Rich in iron: An element essential in a wide variety of metabolic processes, including blood production, oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, and electron transport. (1) (2) (7)
- High dietary fiber in it promotes digestive health, aid weight loss, help reduce bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol. (1) (2) (8)
- Good source of antioxidants especially phenolic acids thus has anti-aging properties and helps protect against diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. (1) (2) (9) (10)
- Also packed with other nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin B2, calcium, folate, phosphorus, selenium, copper, and unsaturated fats like omega-6 and omega-3. (1)
While all greens are high in vitamins and minerals amaranth is superior to many known greens such as lettuce, spinach due to its impressive nutritional profile. Amaranth leaves are high in protein, fiber, packed with iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, selenium, calcium, omega-3, potassium, and many other minerals and antioxidants. (IFCT, 2017)
- It should not be eaten raw as it contains certain natural anti-nutrient components.
- It may lower the blood sugar level, patients of hypoglycemia should be careful consuming it.
- It may lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol, people taking antihypertensive, lipid lowering drugs need to be careful.
- Kidney patients are suggested to limit its consumption as oxalate in some greens such as amaranth, spinach, colocasia if consumed in excess amount could contribute to kidney stone development. (11)
2. Sprouted legumes and pulses
While we already have a tradition of consuming a mix of sprouted beans on the festival of Gun punhi or Janai purnima, most of us are unaware of the immense nutritional benefits of sprouted seeds.
- Along with sunflower, pumpkin and other seeds grains, nuts, and beans/legumes are all seeds as well.
- Sprouting is a natural germination process where seeds, nuts, legumes, or grains develop a tail-like protrusion after being soaked for several hours and rinsed repeatedly.
- Legumes and pulses are inexpensive, rich source protein, fiber, various vitamins and important minerals, such as iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and manganese, sprouting has been shown to enhance the amino acid profile and improve quality and bioavailability of vitamins and minerals. (12)
- Many pulses and legumes contain anti-nutrients, enzyme inhibitors that hinder the use and absorption of useful nutrients.
Others may contain substances such as lectins and saponins, which may interfere with or damage endothelial lining of the GI tract, the cellular lining of intestines, leading to leaky gut or poor nutrient absorption. (13)
- Sprouting reduces these anti-nutrients and inhibitors significantly thus enhancing the digestibility and utilization of nutrients in our body. (14) (15)
- Being high in fiber and also protein it aids in weight loss and muscle gain. (16)
- Consumption of fiber can also improve blood sugar control. (17)
- The high content of enzymes along with dietary fiber helps in digestion and promote gut health.
- Can also help lower blood cholesterol and the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. (18)
- Sprouting enhances the value and amount of disease-fighting antioxidants, phytochemicals, and flavonoids, that produces various benefits from a lower risk of cancer to decreasing skin problems. (19)
Local herbs and spices
Herbs and spices found in our locality and inside our kitchen not only enhance the flavor of our food but many of them are highly nutritious and many possess medicinal properties as well, few of them are described below.
3. Turmeric (Scientific Name: Curcuma longa)
Besar / Haldi
- Curcumin, an active component of turmeric is a powerful antioxidant, that helps to protect the body against various diseases ranging from cancer, neurological diseases to autoimmune, cardiovascular diseases and even diabetes. (21)
- Studies suggest it has positive effects in reducing obesity, may be effective against various skin diseases and may also help in reducing diseases like allergy and asthma. (21)
- Studies also suggest that it can improve brain function, fight Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. (21)
- Some evidence shows curcumin can boost the brain neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine and that it can even act as a natural antidepressant. (22)
4. Carom seeds (Scientific Name: Trachyspermum ammi)
Juwano / Ajwain
- Carom seed extract can help combat peptic ulcers (sores of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine), it may also help prevent and treat gas and chronic indigestion. (23)
- It can help to provide relief from coughing and asthma (24)
- A major component of carom seeds, thymol could help lower blood pressure levels in patients with hypertension. (26)
- One can have 1/4-1/2 teaspoon carom seeds or as per your requirement with warm water or milk.
- Beyond recommended dosage may be unsafe during pregnancy as it can cause uterine contractions leading to miscarriage. Therefore, it is advisable to consult your doctor or dietitian before consumption. (25)
- People with liver disease and those going to have surgery should limit the use of it.
5. Fenugreek (Scientific Name: Trigonella foenum-graecum) (Methi)
- Sprouted seeds of fenugreek are rich in fiber, minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants. (27)
- Both leaves and seeds are known to have beneficial effects on digestion, gut health, and preventing constipation. (28)
- Studies suggest that sprouted fenugreek can produce a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar level, postprandial blood sugar level. (28)
- They may induce the production of growth and reproduction hormones as well. (28)
- Can help in a weight reduction of diabetic as well as obese patients. (28)
- Helps to reduce the blood pressure in diabetic and non-diabetic, obese, or metabolic disorder patients. (28)
- Leaves of fenugreek are equally beneficial loaded with various vitamins (riboflavin, carotene, thiamine, niacin, ascorbic acid), minerals (calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus) and antioxidants. (28)
- Pregnant mothers and people taking diabetes medication are suggested to consult their doctor or dietitian before incorporating it into the diet in large doses.
6. Ginger (Scientific Name: Zingiber officinale) (Aaduwa)
Ginger is often used in Nepali households as a flavor enhancer in different kinds of tea and dishes and to treat cold, sore throat however it has far more benefits than that.
- It has been shown to significantly reduce exercise induced muscle pain. (29)
- It is very helpful to treat indigestion, constipation and related gastro-intestinal problems. (30)
- It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties that protect against ageing effects and age-related cognitive decline. (31)
- Antioxidants in ginger can help prevent against different types of cancer. (32)
- It has anti-bacterial properties and can be effective against oral bacteria.
- It can also relieve nausea after surgery, and in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. (33)
- Can help to reduce the menstrual pain significantly according to some studies. (34)
- Taking ginger might increase your risk of bleeding, people with bleeding disorder should be cautious while using it.
- Using of ginger during pregnancy is still controversial and there is not enough research about its safety, thus one needs to consult with doctor before consuming it.
- People taking diabetes medication, blood pressure medication need to limit their consumption or consult their dietitian or doctor.
7. Sting neetle (Scientific Name: Urtica dioica) (Jhuse sisnu)
Often neglected and considered as poor man’s spinach, sting neetle is very rich from nutritional and medicinal standpoint. (35)
- It is rich in several B vitamins, vitamin A, C, and K.
- It is packed with various minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and various polyphenols and pigments.
- It consists all of essential amino acids, essential amino acids can’t be synthesized in our body and must be obtained through diet, vital for wide range of functions from building of proteins, synthesis of hormones, neurotransmitters to tissue growth, energy production, immune function, nutrient absorption and many more.
- Many of these nutrients act as antioxidants that help to reduce ageing effects, cancer and other chronic diseases. (36)
- Studies suggest it can reduce enlarged prostate symptoms and can help to treat urination problems as well. (37)
- It can help to control the blood sugar level. (38)
- Its medicinal, antioxidant properties can further help in protecting heart, liver health, lowering blood pressure and wound healing.
- Pregnant women should avoid consuming it as it may cause uterine contractions.
- If one is using diabetes medication, blood pressure medication, diuretics its better to consult your dietitian or doctor before consuming it.
This superfood have been part of our diet for millennia and its importance in human diet cannot be emphasized enough. Often consumed by children and bodybuilders only, it is important to shed light on the incredible nutritional profile of eggs and its importance for all age group.
- They provide high quality protein that contains all essential amino acids in right ratios. (39)
- Protein is utilized by every cell in your body and is necessary for many vital functions including growth, development, cellular repair, immune system regulation and many more.
- They are rich in vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12, selenium, vitamin A, E, B5, B2 as well as iron, iodine and phosphorus, zinc and calcium, some of which are deficient in most people. (39)
- Even though eggs are high in cholesterol, they do not cause adverse effect in blood cholesterol, the liver actually produces large amounts of cholesterol every day. When you increase your intake of dietary cholesterol, your liver simply produces less cholesterol, thus cholesterol in diet doesn’t necessarily increase cholesterol in blood.
- Eggs increase the level of good ‘HDL’ cholesterol, that protect against various heart diseases. (40)
- Source of important nutrient cholin (that most people are deficient of) for normal cell functioning and producing signaling molecules in the brain. (41)
- Vitamin A and certain antioxidants found abundantly in eggs help to reduce eye disorders like cataracts, macular degeneration and improve eye health. (42)
- They are also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids; essential fats that are very important for heart, brain and eye health.
- Studies suggests three whole eggs per day is perfectly safe and there is not enough evidence that going beyond that is harmful. (43)
Today we have all the information, evidence, and research on our fingertips. And it’s your choice, would you rather choose chips or an egg, for 20 rupees? Sometimes the choice could be hard as we’re bombarded with scientifically engineered foods designed to keep us hooked and erode us from within.
Being mindful about what are we putting into our body, gaining evidence-based knowledge, being vocal about eating healthy, using family, loved ones, social media to motivate yourself could be the very first baby steps to a healthy way of life.
These were just a very few examples of cheap, nutritious foods among many. What other local foods could we add to them? Do you have any queries or recommendations? Please do comment below, and share the article if you found it useful.
- USDA. Subset, Food, and All Foods. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Amaranth grain. Release 28; 2016
- Pisarikova B, Kracmar S, Herzig I. Amino acid contents and biological value protein in various amaranth species. Czech Journal of Animal Science. 2005;50(4):169-174. DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0010(199801)76:1<100::AID-JSFA931>3.0.CO;2-B
- National Institutes of Health website. Magnesium: fact sheet for health professionals. ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#h5. Updated September 26, 2018. Accessed May 20, 2019.
- International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, Volume 59, 2008 – Issue 3 (Oxalates in some Indian green leafy vegetables, M. Radek &G. P. Savage )
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21538147/, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21711570/, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18234131/
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2210803312000978, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19149749/, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16635963/