Health benefits: Probiotics are natural sources of beneficial bacteria that live in your digestive system and improve metabolism, boost immunity and increase our resistance to infection.
Quantity to be consumed: Adults should consume three servings of dairy products per day. Children should consume around 2 or 2.5 servings per day, depending on their age. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products as part of a healthful diet.
Remember: Those who are lactose intolerant should avoid dairy products.
Substitutes: Those who are lactose intolerant can have kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and vegetables pickled in brine. Traditional buttermilk and cottage cheese are a good alternative as well.
Nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans)
Health benefits: Nuts are a good source of plant protein. They are a rich source of phytochemicals and antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory effects. Nuts also contain unsaturated fats (good fats) and omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for our heart health as they help in lowering cholesterol.
Best way to eat them: Ideally, nuts should either be had raw or dry-roasted. Those sauteed in any form of fat or covered with chocolate, sugar or salt do not have any health benefits.
Remember: Daily intake of nuts should not exceed 30g, which is a small handful. Those with nut allergy should avoid these.
Substitutes: Beans and lentils are good substitutes for nuts.
Health benefits: Garlic contains antioxidants such as allicin, a compound that has antibacterial properties. It also helps to fight infections and may help prevent bacteria-related food poisoning. Garlic may be effective against high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, colds, hair loss and some cancers.
Best way to eat: Garlic should be eaten in its raw form for maximum benefit. But if you choose to cook it, then don’t cook it on high heat. It’s best to either blanch, stir-fry or microwave it.
Remember: Excessive consumption of garlic could cause discomfort, including stomach upset, bloating, diarrhoea, bad breath and body odour.
If you are on any kind of medication, consult your physician before taking garlic as it is known to react with some drugs.
Substitutes: Onion, as it has similar sulphur compounds as garlic.
Health benefits: Pumpkins may help to prevent the formation of cataract and reduce the risk of macular degeneration. High in fibre and low in calories, pumpkin is rich in disease-fighting nutrients.
Best way to eat: Raw, cooked, fresh or canned, pumpkin is one vegetable that retains its nutrient value irrespective of how you consume it. It is rich in potassium, vitamin A and iron.
Remember: Excessive consumption of pumpkin can lead to high levels of beta carotene in the blood, leading to a condition called hypervitaminosis.
Substitutes: Sweet potato. It is high in carotenoids and vitamins B, C and E.
Health benefits: Loaded with antioxidants such as resveratrol, berries help lower inflammation, prevent clogged arteries and avoid cancer. Berries also have flavonoids, which are not only responsible for their brilliant colour, but protect against cancer, inflammation and heart disease.
Best way to eat them: Berries are equally beneficial when eaten raw or cooked. When they are not in season, it is just as healthy to consume the ones that are available frozen.
Remember: Eating too many blueberries can result in diarrhoea, nausea and/or vomiting.
Diabetics should pay attention to the portion sizes of their fruit intake.
Substitutes: Apart from berries such as blackberries, raspberries and cranberries, try other fruits in the purple-red family, such as red grapes.
Dark green vegetables
Health benefits: These veggies lower your risk of some cancers, heart disease and osteoporosis. They also help in weight loss. Since dark green vegetables are rich in fibre, they boost metabolism as well.
Best way to eat...
Broccoli – Raw or steamed varieties are more nutritious than the completely cooked one Spinach: Raw or cooked, it is equally nutritious.
Kale – Raw kale is more nutritious than cooked.
Leeks – Raw or cooked, it is equally nutritious.
Bok choy – These are great for stir-fries, braising and soups, and can be eaten raw too. Lettuce: Should be eaten in the raw form.
Collard greens – Perfect both raw as well as cooked.
Mustard greens – Should be eaten in the raw form.
Turnip greens – Raw, braised, boiled or sautéed... they don’t lose their nutritional benefits.
Remember: Each week we should eat at least 11/2 cups of dark green vegetables.
If you are taking certain anti-coagulant medications such as warfarin, greens rich in vitamin K can reduce the drug’s anti-clotting effects.
If you’re on a low-oxalate diet to help prevent kidney stones, you might need to limit the intake of some greens such as spinach.
Health benefits: Wholegrains such as barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millets and oatmeal protect against heart disease and cancer. These are also known to lower cholesterol and protect against diabetes. Grains are naturally high in fibre and help you feel satiated for a longer period of time, which in turn helps you to maintain a healthy body weight.
Quantity to be consumed: At least half of the grains you consume should be wholegrain/high in dietary fibre.
Remember: People with coeliac disease should avoid grains with gluten such as wheat.
Amera Varghese is clinical dietician at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital, Dubai.