Curry powder and a bowl of popcorn are good for your health, experts say

Nutritionists are pushing some unlikely ingredients as the latest superfoods

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 8:46pm

Common they may be, but these basic ingredients still manage to boast some extraordinary nutritional powers.

Curry powder A blend of various herbs and spices, curry powder adds flavour to food and forms the base of many spicy South Asian dishes. According to dietician Fion Chow from Tetra Nutritional Consultation Centre, curry powder is an excellent source of dietary fibre, iron and manganese.

Curry powder is an excellent source of dietary fibre, iron and manganese

But what makes curry powder a standout is its high antioxidant content, thanks to its main component, turmeric. This contains a phytonutrient called curcumin, which is thought to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol levels, strengthen the immune system, and reduce risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease.

Many curry dishes tend to be high in saturated fat, however, which may negate their health benefits, so Chow suggests looking for ways to reduce their fat content - for example, replacing coconut milk with low-fat yogurt and fatty meats with lean meats.

Cheddar cheese It's rich in calcium and phosphorus, which work together for healthy bone and teeth formation. Phosphorus is also essential for the production and regulation of hormones, and the proper functioning of the kidneys, helping them expel toxins from the body.

If you are low on energy, this mineral can also give you a boost as it assists digestion and helps your body use energy more efficiently. As a source of protein, cheddar cheese is a definite winner, with as much as 30g in a 100g serving.

But Caitlin Reid, a Sydney-based dietician from Health & the City warns that cheddar cheese is high in saturated fat and salt, which are not good for the heart. She suggests choosing the reduced-fat variety and to stick to small portions.

Marmalade Marmalade can be a healthy addition to your diet, if it has real fruit and no added sugar. Reid says that this thick and sticky orange jam contains a good amount of pectin, which is a type of soluble fibre that lowers cholesterol levels and improves bowel health.

As it contains orange peel, marmalade is also rich in antioxidants, which help fight free radicals and are thought to keep the immune system healthy. It's great on toast for breakfast as it gives you the fuel you need to go about your morning, but it contains more than 50 per cent natural sugar so don't go overboard, Reid advises. Just a thin layer on your toast should do the trick.

Popcorn Don't give up your favourite movie snack just yet. Depending on how it is prepared - ideally, without added oil, butter or salt - these puffed kernels of corn can be good for you.

Kellie Wood, a nutritionist and kinesiologist from Centred Living in Sydney, says that corn offers a variety of health benefits due to its rich concentration of phytonutrients, such as carotenoids and phenolics, which function as powerful antioxidants to promote health and prevent disease. Corn is also packed with vitamins B1 and B5 and folic acid, which are essential for energy production and healthy nerve and cell function. To flavour your air-popped corn, sprinkle it with dried herbs and spices.

Chicken bones The healing benefits of chicken soup are thought to come from the chicken bones that go into making the stock. But according to freelance dietitian Daphne Wu, it is not true that boiling down the bones releases nutrients into the soup. "There are actually not many nutrients in the soup itself," she says.

"The way to get the calcium from chicken bones is to cook the bones with vinegar for a long time. The vinegar softens the bones and helps release the nutrients." When making chicken soup this way, remember to remove the layer of chicken fat on the surface, as it is high in artery-clogging saturated fat.

In addition to boosting their calcium content, chicken bones also add flavour and richness to soups.

Liver Chow says that one benefit of liver is that it contains large quantities of vitamins B6 and B12, and folic acid. These vitamins reduce the levels of homocysteine in the blood - high levels are said to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots. Liver is therefore good for cardiovascular health.

In addition, liver contains vitamin A and is a rich source of protein. Chow advises consuming no more than 30g of liver a day, however, because the food is very high in cholesterol. Grilling it and adding it to congee are good ways to indulge in it. Stay clear of fried liver as this only adds unnecessary fat.

Kimchi This low-fat fermented Korean pickle is very high in fibre and is loaded with vitamins A, B and C, says Reid. It also is an excellent source of probiotics, healthy bacteria that keeps the gut healthy, strengthens the immune system and assists with digestion. These bacteria are formed as a result of the fermentation process. Kimchi is best enjoyed as a side dish to rice or noodles, but stay away from varieties to which MSG has been added.

Chocolate milk This is not just for kids. Good-quality chocolate milk contains decent levels of cocoa, which is packed with antioxidants called flavonoids and polyphenols. Studies have shown that these antioxidants may reduce blood pressure, diminish platelet function for improved blood flow, reduce inflammation, and maintain cardiovascular health, says Wu.

Not all commercially produced chocolate milks are healthy. Chocolate-flavoured milk is likely to contain more sugar and saturated fat, compared to chocolate milk.

The ingredients are listed according to weight, so if the label has sugar and whole milk at the start of the list, skip it. Wu recommends making your own chocolate milk with skimmed milk and quality cocoa powder, so you get the benefits without the extra fat or sugar.