We all know how healthy green veggies are for us, especially the leafy varieties, and the purpose of this article is not to convince you to reduce their consumption in your diet, rather share how black is the new green when it comes to nutritious foods.
We don’t often associate things that are black (especially foods) with nutrition and health (think mold!). However, there are many black foods that are loaded with important nutrients, including pigments known as anthocyanins, which have been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Let’s explore the dark side and learn about the benefits of black foods:
1. Black garlic. One wonderful thing about black garlic is that is contains twice the antioxidants of regular garlic, an herb that already has impressive health benefits. Black garlic is made by placing fresh garlic in humidity-controlled environments for a month, followed by sitting in a clean room for 45 days to oxidize. This entire process transforms white cloves of garlic into soft, chewy, black wonders with different antioxidants than found in white garlic.
In fact, black garlic has more than five times the amount of s-allylcycteine (SAC), a substance that inhibits the production of cholesterol, as well as seven times the amount of calcium, twice the amount of phosphorus, and nearly six times the amount of protein found in regular white garlic. Feel free to use black garlic as you would regular garlic.
2. Black olives. Olives are a great source of the healthy fat, monounsaturated fatty acid, and a type of monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid. High monounsaturated fat has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and individuals who have boosted their monounsaturated fat intake (without consuming too much total fat) have experienced a decline in cholesterol factors associated with heart disease, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and the LDL:HDL ratio.
Including black olives in your diet may contribute to a lowering of blood pressure, which has been attributed to the activity of oleic acid. Black olives also may be helpful in reducing cancer risk, a feature attributed to the presence of triterpene phytonutrients (e.g., erythradiol, oleanolic, and uvaol acid).
3. Black beans. Beans in general are a nutritional prize, but there are some differences. Black beans are great sources of calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, and zinc, all of which help promote, maintain, and support bone strength and structure. In addition, black beans are low in sodium, which is important for regulating blood pressure, while the presence of fiber, folate, phytonutrients, potassium, and vitamin B6 all support heart health.
Black beans also contain quercetin and saponins, which have anti-inflammatory and anticancer qualities, respectively. Their high fiber content can assist in digestion and a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Use black beans in salads, burritos and other Mexican foods, soups, and casseroles.
4. Black seed oil. The oil derived from the southwest Asia Nigella sativa is also sometimes referred to as black caraway, black cumin, and black sesame, yet it actually none of these things. The seeds are pungent and bitter, with a taste like oregano, onion, and black pepper rolled into one.
Black seed oil is best known for helping fight superbugs-bacteria and viruses that have become antibiotic-resistant. One study reported that use of black seed oil inhibited the highly resistant MRSA, while a recent review noted that N. sativa “has many biological effects such as anti-inflammatory, anti-hyperlipidemic, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-hypertensive, and wound healing activities…[and] effects on reproductive, digestive, immune and central nervous systems, such as anticonvulsant and analgesic activities.” With a resume like this, who wouldn’t want to include black seed oil in their diet!
5. Black figs. The black mission fig actually has a deep purple exterior that encases a creamy white pulp. Figs (Ficus carica) are a good source of potassium and thus may be helpful in lowering blood pressure. Their high fiber content makes them a good bet for aiding digestion and perhaps even helping with weight loss.
Some research has also looked at the potential of figs for fighting cancer. Discovery of components called ficutirucins A-I in figs led scientists to report that these phytochemicals showed activity against human cancer cell lines. A new (February 2017) animal study also reported that fig extract showed blood pressure lowering abilities in rats with hypertension.
6. Black licorice. Here’s the thing about black licorice: most of the candy sold in the United States is flavored with anise and not real licorice. Real licorice in any form can be harmful if you consume too much, but it also has some great benefits when taken in small amounts and if you don’t have certain health problems.
Real licorice contains glycyrrhiza, an active ingredient which, unfortunately, can cause health problems, such as high blood pressure, lowered potassium levels, and swelling. On the flip side, licorice also contains other beneficial ingredients, including flavonoids (potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatories), coumarins and stilbenoids (anti-inflammatories and antibiotic effects), and triterpenoids. Glycyrrhiza is a type of triterpenoid and is typically removed from licorice supplements.
Small amounts of black licorice can be helpful for gastrointestinal problems, including indigestion, stomach ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux, and heartburn. However, avoid black licorice if you suffer with heart problems, diabetes, kidney problems, low potassium, or high blood pressure. Pregnant women also should not eat real black licorice.
7. Nori. This red seaweed turn dark green to black when it is dried, which is the way it is typically sold. Nori, like many seaweeds, contains iodine, fiber, and vitamins A, B6, and C, and also is super low in calories. It is also a good source of protein in the form of peptides associated with lowering blood pressure and supporting heart health.
An animal study conducted in Spain looked at the effect of nori seaweed on cholesterol in rats. The authors concluded that “nori is the alga of choice in dietary treatment of hypercholesterolaemia.” Dried sheets of nori are convenient to use to make rice and vegetable rollups as well as enjoyed as a snack.
8. Blackberries. These luscious berries rival blueberries when it comes to nutrition and health benefits. Blackberry health benefits may include helping regulate menstruation, support of cardiovascular health, boosting immune function, reducing inflammation, promoting healthy skin, possibly preventing and slowing cancer growth, and maintaining brain function.
These benefits are associated with the fact that blackberries are among the ten foods highest in antioxidants as well as the presence of numerous phytonutrients. Enjoy blackberries by the handful or with other fruits, in smoothies, in salads, as a topping for cereals and pancakes, and in baked goods.
Read about 13 reasons to eat berries right now
9. Black Forest mushrooms. When we think of mushrooms, many of us turn to old favorites, such as the basic button mushroom, cremini, portobellos, and porcini. However, black forest mushrooms are definitely worth adding to your list, including black trumpet, shiitake, and wild morels. These mushrooms contain potent antioxidants and a compound that stimulates the immune system.
Consider shiitake mushrooms, for example. They contain excellent amounts of iron, copper, vitamin B5, and selenium and very good to good levels of vitamin B2, zinc, manganese, vitamin B6, and vitamin B3. Shiitake mushrooms have been shown to support cardiovascular health and the immune system as well as possess anticancer properties.
Black forest mushrooms are typically available dried and, once re-hydrated, can be an exciting addition to soups, vegetables, and entrees and added to sauces.
[Editor’s Note: North American Herb & Spice has a number of nourishing supplements including their new Black Seed Oil product line.]
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The World’s Healthiest Foods. Olives
The World’s Healthiest Foods. Mushrooms: shiitake