The 10 Healthiest Foods You've Never Tried

If these nutrition powerhouses are not on your plate, it's time to try them.

ByABC News
February 3, 2009, 5:20 PM

Feb. 6, 2009— -- Many Americans have an adventurous spirit, but perhaps not always when it comes to food.

People tend to eat what they know how to prepare, and they may be reluctant to invest in a new food if they're not sure if it tastes good, said Joanne Ikeda, a nutritionist emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.

Lack of familiarity may also cause you to shy away from a new food -- a behavior that is at least partly cultural, as we tend to avoid things we have not been exposed to before.

"A lot of it is not knowing what to do with a new food when you get it home," said Beth Kitchin, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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So to steer you toward some new additions to your shopping cart that are packed with good nutrition and also taste good, asked five nutrition experts for their recommendations. They came up with 10 foods not commonly eaten by many Americans that you might not be familiar with. All are worth looking into -- and they won't bust the food budget either.

Health benefits: At roughly 50 calories per kiwi, these oval-shaped fruits are vitamin C superstars. Two kiwis have twice the vitamin C of an orange, and they are also rich in potassium and loaded with dietary fiber.

In one study, the kiwi was found to offer the most nutrition per ounce compared with 27 of the most commonly consumed fruits.

How to eat it: Kiwi's thin skins are edible, or you can peel them off with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. The fruit can be sliced and eaten, or it can be cut in half and the flesh can be scooped out with a spoon. They add a nice greenness to a fruit salad that makes it unusual looking and more special, Ikeda said. "Once people taste it, they're sold on it."

If you put them in a fruit salad, add them shortly before serving so the other ingredients don't get too mushy.

You'll know when a kiwi is ripe if you put pressure on the fruit with your thumb, and it gives a little. Otherwise, the fruit is still hard and will taste sour.

Pronounced "broccoli rob," this leafy green vegetable goes by many other names -- from brocoletto and rapini to brocoletti di rape and rapa. Popular in both Italian and Chinese cooking, broccoli rabe is not a type of broccoli and doesn't taste much like it either. This green is actually related to the mustard and turnip family, and it has long, thin leafy stalks and small clusters of florets. It's generally available year-round.

"My daughter actually introduced me to this green, and now my husband and I have become big fans," Ikeda said.

Health benefits: Like other leafy greens such as kale and spinach, broccoli rabe is a very good source of vitamin K, a nutrient needed to help the blood clot properly. It also is a rich source of the antioxidant vitamins A and C, and is a plant-based source of calcium.

How to eat it: Store this veggie unwashed in your crisper, and rinse it thoroughly in cold water before using it. Cut off the bottom of the stalks, which are tough to eat. Although it's fine to eat this green raw, it's quite bitter and is better off cooked. It can be steamed, braised, blanched or boiled.

Ikeda and her husband like to stir fry broccoli rabe with a little olive oil and garlic. It can also be sauteed in this mixture and many chefs also like to add red pepper flakes to balance out the green's bitterness.

These large, brown-shelled nuts hail from a giant South American tree that grows in the Amazon jungle. Shaped like a crescent, Brazil nuts aren't technically a nut but an edible seed.

Health benefits: Brazil nuts are an exceptional food source of selenium, a mineral considered to be cancer-fighting, and are particularly good for prostate health. The unshelled version has nearly four times more selenium than those already shelled. Like other nuts, they also offer some protein, fiber and vitamin E. And they are a good source of monounsaturated fats, which lend them a rich taste and flavor.

How to eat it: Brazil nuts can be a tough nut to crack if you buy them shelled. You can soften the shell by boiling them first. In a bag of shelled mixed nuts, Brazil nuts stand out as the biggest in the bunch. Raw (unsalted) or dry roasted varieties are better for you than salted or oil-roasted nuts.

They make a great snack, Kitchin said. "You can just eat 'em up." They can also be chopped or ground into baked goods, salads or stuffings. Keep unshelled nuts refrigerated in a tightly sealed container to prevent them from going rancid.

Pronounced "eh-dah-MAH-may," these are the young versions of green soybeans that are harvested while the bean is still attached to the branch. The Japanese translation of the word is literally "beans on branches."

You'll find edamame in the frozen vegetable section of the supermarket or health food store, where they come in the pod or unshelled. They are also sold fresh in Asian markets from late spring to early fall.

Health benefits: These legumes are a fantastic source of plant protein, and they also provide plant-based estrogens as well as fiber. A half-cup serving of the unshelled beans have 120 calories and make a satisfying snack.

How to eat it: Kitchin described the taste as slightly sweet and nutty, and she called them a fun-to-eat finger food. She steams edamame first, by placing them in salted water and then microwaving for two to three minutes. The beans can then be squeezed out of the pod and popped in your mouth as a crunchy snack. Or they can be tossed into soups, stews, casseroles and stir-fries. The beans can be pureed into a hummus and enjoyed as a creamy dip if you add garlic, lemon and tahini (sesame paste).

When dried, these lentils have a reddish or orangey color. But once cooked, they turn a paler yellow or become golden. Red varieties taste the same as the brown or green legumes, but they cook more quickly and might not retain their disclike shape. Unlike dried beans, you don't need to soak lentils before using them. Yet, it's a good idea to give them a cold-water rinse beforehand and pick out any small stones or debris.

Health benefits: All lentils, no matter what color they are, are high in protein and fiber. And these tiny treasure troves of nutrition are also a good source of folic acid, a type of B vitamin that's especially important to women during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects.

How to eat it: Red lentils are considered milder and sweeter than other kinds of lentils. Maudene Nelson, a nutritionist at the Institute for Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, suggested slipping them into lentil soup, sneaking them into meatballs, ground beefor tuna to make them more interesting, or mixing them into a blended dish such as chili. She also recommended using them in a cold salad.

Although considered a whole grain, quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah") is truly the seed of a plant that's related to spinach and beets. Once called "the gold of the Incas," this pearl-shaped "grain" traces its ancient origins to South America, where it's a dietary staple. These days, it's also grown in the United States.

Health benefits: Pale yellow in color, quinoa has more calcium and iron in it than rice, wheat or oats. And this carbohydrate source also contains more protein and dietary fiber than other cereal grains. People on a gluten-free diet can enjoy quinoa.

How to eat it: You can generally find quinoa in the same aisle where rice is sold in most supermarkets. And in health food stores, it might also be available in the bulk bins. Before using it, place quinoa in a strainer and rinse it off with cold water to remove a bitter-tasting residue that protects the seed while it grows.

Cooked like white or brown rice, quinoa is added to boiling water and then simmered in a covered saucepan for about 15 minutes. It tastes slightly crunchy and nutty. You can use quinoa in the same way as rice and it serves as a foundation for other foods, said Nelson. It can be used to make pilafs, casseroles and dessert puddings, and is a nice change of pace from brown rice, and has an even better nutrient profile.

Sold in red or pink varieties, canned salmon is a good, economic staple to have in the house, said Lisa Bailey-Davis, a registered dietitian at the Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey, Pa. She has found pink salmon has a milder flavor than red.

Most canned salmon is wild (sometimes identified as Alaskan or Pacific salmon on the ingredients label), which contains less environmental contaminants than farmed versions of the fish, which are often labeled Atlantic salmon.

Health benefits: Opening up a can of salmon can be visually different from tuna, if you buy versions that come with the skin on the fish and bones. Bailey-Davis recommended draining off the oil, but breaking up the small, edible bones with a fork because they provide calcium. Some people like to mash in the skins, too.

There are skinless and boneless varieties that basically look like rose-colored tuna, but you'll miss out on getting the small, calcium-rich bones. Like all kinds of salmon, the fish is a rich source of omega-3 fats, the "good" fats thought to have heart-protective and disease-fighting benefits, as well as a lean source of protein.

How to eat it: Canned salmon is often served cold as a replacement for tuna. It can be mixed with a little mayonnaise and placed in a sandwich or on a salad. It can also be used hot. Bailey-Davis makes salmon burgers for her family by combining the fish with an egg and some herbs like dill, and then pan-frying the patty.

Many people are familiar with shrimp, but fewer know about prawns, Bailey-Davis said, which is why she wanted to put them on this list. Some use the term prawn to loosely describe any extra-large or jumbo-size shrimp, but seafood experts say there are subtle, visible differences between the two species of shellfish. They say the body of some species of prawn is narrower and resembles a tiny Maine lobster complete with miniature claws.

Depending upon your taste buds, some folks prefer a prawn's sweet, delicate meat to shrimp or lobster.

Health benefits: According to Bailey-Davis, shrimp actually have a slightly better nutrient quality than prawns; however, both are a good source of protein and omega-3 fats. Their cholesterol content is on the high side compared to other kinds of fish and seafood, yet their saturated fat is low.

How to eat it: Prawns generally have a whiter meat than shrimp and a chewy texture. Sold fresh or frozen, prawns can be used much like shrimp. Bailey-Davis felt they needed a sauce, and she typically prepares them with a tomato-based recipe.

Many of your favorite pasta shapes -- including spaghetti, penne and rotini -- are now available in whole grain or multigrain varieties. These versions are darker brown in color compared to their enriched flour (semolina) counterparts.

Health benefits: The biggest benefit of using these pastas is the fiber boost. The pasta itself will be chewier and denser as a result, and this may make you feel full sooner after eating a smaller portion of it. Some manufacturers have made enriched pastas by adding things like flax to up the omega-3 content or bolstering the protein value.

How to eat it: Whole grain and multigrain pastas are boiled in much the same way as their golden-colored varieties, but cook for a slightly longer time. Bailey-Davis has found that these pastas hold flavor from the sauce better than the regular kind, and she also said this is an easy change to make to improve nutrition. She has served the pasta with olive oil, seasonings, steamed veggies and Parmesan cheese, and her kids' favorite is topped with baked cheese and Italian sausage.

Roughly the size of a large orange and with a reddish-pink leathery rind, the pomegranate was the original apple in the Garden of Eden, said Dr. David Heber, director of the Center for Human Nutrition and a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Often described as a superfruit, the pomegranate, according to Heber, has also been called the "king of fruits" because it has what looks like a crown sitting on top of it.

The inside of a pomegranate has white walls dividing the fruit into compartments filled with sacs of reddish seeds, known as arils. The round, crimson fruit is a staple in the Middle East, and pomegranate juice has become a trendy beverage in this country.

Health benefits: Pomegranate is a gold mine of antioxidants, particularly the proanthocyanins, which are found in other red and purple pigmented fruits, such as blueberries, strawberries and black raspberries. The fruit's high levels of polyphenols and flavonoid compounds are thought to be heart protective and may reduce inflammation. Pomegranate is a good source of vitamins C and K, and potassium.

How to eat it: Getting to the edible fruit of a pomegranate takes several steps and can be messy if you don't how to do it -- especially because the juices can stain your clothing.

First, you cut the crown off. Then you lightly score the rind with a knife from top to bottom into sections. Next, you immerse the fruit into a bowl of cold water to let it soak for about five minutes. You can then pull the fruit apart underwater and push the seeds out with your fingers, allowing them to sink to the bottom of the bowl. The membranes and pulp will float to the top and can be skimmed off. Finally, pour the seeds into a strainer and rinse them with cold water, and they're ready to eat.

Heber described the taste of pomegranates as "tart and tangy," and he said most of the research on its health benefits has looked at the juice rather than the fruit itself.

Available from October through February, the fruit can be stored at room temperature for two to three days or in the refrigerator for about two months.

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