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6 Surprisingly Nutritious Things Not On The Typical Grocery List

In a world dominated by kale, quinoa, and chia seeds, there are plenty of unsung nutritional heroes waiting to be discovered. If you're looking to elevate your health game, it's time to venture beyond the typical grocery staples. Read below to discover six of the most surprisingly nutritious options that don't often make it to the average shopping cart. Explore how these unconventional foods can add a powerful punch of vitamins, minerals, and unique health benefits to your diet below!


Algae Powder

Let me preface... I am not advocating for you to journey to the mystical and pristine waters of the Chicago River, scrape off some algae on a rock as you observe a dead rat float by, and put that algae in your mouth, in the name of health.


However, specific types of algae products (microalgae oil, spirulina, chlorella, etc) have been shown to have health benefits and can be used in shakes, smoothies, or cooking certain dishes!


Specifically, algae may have hypotensive (blood pressure lowering effects), antioxidant, anti-cancer, antidiabetic, anticholesterolemic (blood cholesterol lowering effects), anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging properties (Ampofo and Abbey, 2022). These positive effects may be due to the omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A precursors (carotene and retinol), vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin K, and vitamin B12, lutein, astaxanthin, phytosterols, certain peptides, among other things (Ampofo and Abbey, 2022). Algae is also in the conversation of sustainable foods and can help sequester (capture and store away from the atmosphere) carbon dioxide (Diaz et al, 2023).



Blackstrap Molasses

From a macronutrient standpoint, molasses are nearly 100% sugar. Sugar itself is not inherently unhealthy, but it may be problematic in some contexts (i.e. overconsumption paired with sedentarism, type 2 diabetes, oral hygiene, etc). I wouldn’t go crazy on molasses consumption, but fortunately, only a little bit can have a lot of micronutrients. It is a good source of iron, and magnesium (a lot of people don’t get enough of this micronutrient, read more about it here), according to the USDA, while also containing some potassium and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Plant-based dieters could benefit from this item since only a tablespoon contains about 20% of your daily iron needs. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of its taste, but it can be masked in a protein shake or smoothie!



Camel Milk

Unfortunately, in the urban jungle of Chicago, camels are not domesticated here. Their milk is quite nutritious, although a bit on the expensive side and I cannot vouch for the taste. Although the macronutrient amounts (protein, fat, carbs) compared to cow milk are relatively similar, camel milk has more vitamin C, vitamin B3 (niacin), unsaturated fat, and iron, while containing less saturated fat, β-Lactoglobulin, and lactose, making it easier to digest for the lactose intolerant (Seifu, 2023). It also has anti-bacterial/microbial, antihypertensive, anticarcinogenic, anticholesterolemic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties (Seifu, 2023). In the Middle East, camel milk has been used to treat jaundice, dropsy, tuberculosis, diabetes, and anemia (Seifu, 2023). You can learn a little more about camel milk here. Since camel milk is easily perishable, if you want to get some in the US, you might have to resort to powder!



Liver

Liver is another highly nutritious item that you can put in your shopping cart, but another item that may not please a lot of people’s taste buds. According to the USDA, only 4 ounces of cooked liver yields a good dose of protein (about 32 grams), while being lower in fat (about 6 grams) compared to most red meats. It would also contain good doses of iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, selenium, B-vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, and choline (most people don’t get enough choline, you should read more about it here).


But what about all of the evidence that says to limit red meat? First of all, this evidence is quite weak, as it is limited primarily to studies that can only find correlations and cannot find causations. At best, red meats are divided into processed and unprocessed meats, in these studies. Not all red meat is the same. Liver won’t have the same nutritional value as other organ meats, steak, pork, a Big Mac patty, or a Costco hotdog. Further, it is probably impossible to control for cooking methods, which may have a role in the potential carcinogenicity of red meats (i.e. cooking at high heat and charring meat can increase compounds within meat that may cause cancer). Without going too much on this tangent, feel free to read this article, this article, or this article on the topic!



Natto

Natto is a Japanese food that is made by fermenting soybeans and another one that plant-based dieters should consider if they’re struggling to meet protein, fat, and iron recommendations. Aside from being a good source of fiber, “healthy” fats, and protein, natto is a good source of probiotics, isoflavones, nattokinase, B-vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin C, iron, potassium (Wang et al, 2023). According to the USDA, one cup of natto has about 34 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat, 9 grams of fiber, >1,200 mg of potassium, 83% of your daily iron recommendation, and 50% of your daily magnesium needs. The nutritional matrix of natto may exert anticarcinogenic, antibacterial, immunotherapeutic, anti-Inflammatory, hypocholesterolemic, antidiabetic, antioxidant, and hypotensive effects (Afzaal et al, 2022).



Sardines

If you can get past the appearance, the smell, the texture, and the taste (personally, I like the taste of sardines over most fish, but it definitely is not for everyone), sardines can be a great source of nutrition. It should be noted that although mercury content is typically much lower in small fish, it is possible to get arsenic toxicity from sardines. That said, the dose makes the poison. Water, a generally-perceived healthy substance to consume every day, is toxic at certain doses and is pretty manageable to achieve (PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT). Arsenic is typically not problematic if you consume sardines in moderation.


One serving (usually just a single tin can) could help with meeting your protein and fat requirements, with over 20 grams of protein and 10 grams of fat, according to USDA. Additionally, sardines are decent-to-good sources of omega-3 fatty acids (really high amounts of DHA and EPA, which you can read more about here), calcium (containing similar amounts as one standard glass of milk), potassium, magnesium, zinc, taurine, vitamin D, selenium, and arginine, all of which make it fantastic for cardiometabolic health (Santos et al, 2023).


 

Blog Provided by: Alex Tran


Alex Tran is a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and virtual coach that is based in Chicago, IL. He has a Master’s degree in Applied Exercise Science with a Sports Nutrition emphasis. Additionally, he is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association and a Certified Pre/Postnatal Coach. To see more of his content, follow him here: instagram.com/atperformance_. To contact him, follow this link.






 

References

  • Afzaal et al. (2022). Nutritional Health Perspective of Natto: A Critical Review.

  • Ampofo & Abbey. (2022). Microalgae: Bioactive Composition, Health Benefits, Safety and Prospects as Potential High-Value Ingredients for the Functional Food Industry.

  • Diaz et al. (2023). Developing algae as a sustainable food source.

  • Santos et al. (2023). Eating more sardines instead of fish oil supplementation: Beyond omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, a matrix of nutrients with cardiovascular benefits.

  • Seifu. (2023). Camel milk products: innovations, limitations, and opportunities.

  • Wang et al. (2023). Natto: A medicinal and edible food with health functions.

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