As new research suggests beer might be beneficial to our gut health, experts share other unlikely foods – from chocolate to potatoes – that may be better for us than first thought
New research from Dalian Medical University in China has found that the bacteria in beer could boost your intestinal microbiome. While the medical consensus about alcohol consumption in general is that there is no safe amount that does not harm health, the recent findings also suggest that anti-inflammatory polyphenols – compounds found in plant-based foods – can help to combat heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even cancer.
The researchers stressed that the benefits of drinking beer on the gut only apply to moderate drinkers. Drinking alcohol in excess has been found to increase the risk of serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, liver disease and several types of cancer.
Still, the findings could help pave the way for ‘beer bioactives’ to be used for their health benefits in the future, say the scientists.
Here are five more foods with some surprising health benefits.
It might be a movie night staple, but popcorn’s wholegrain status means it definitely deserves better billing. Besides being high in fibre, the consumption of which is linked to lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, popcorn is full of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidant phenolic acids. “It’s been seen as a junk food, but if you cook it carefully, it’s really beneficial,” explains nutritional therapist Stefanie Daniels. That means making it from scratch and going easy on the oil or butter. “Using a good quality Himalayan or sea salt will give you some extra nutrients and electrolytes too,” Daniels adds.
Image: RDNE Stock project
The humble spud gets some bad press thanks to its starchy carbohydrate content. These carbs are easily broken down and digested, which can cause blood sugars to spike, leading to stress and tiredness. Daniels, though, suggests a simple hack: simply letting your potatoes cool before eating turns much of those carbs into both slowly digestible and resistant starch. They remain stable even if you reheat, and the latter is a prebiotic which supports healthy gut bacteria. “Try cooking potatoes at lunchtime, letting them cool, and then reheating for tea,” Daniels suggests.
Image: Monika Grabkowska
Plant-based alternatives are all the rage, but some (check the carton to see if yours is fortified) are missing a vital dietary mineral: iodine. It’s essential for maintaining a healthy thyroid, and particularly important during pregnancy and when breastfeeding for development of the baby’s brain. Luckily it’s found in abundance in cow’s milk. A 200ml serving can contain as much as two-thirds of the recommended daily intake for adults. “Other sources include white fish and seaweed, but if you’re avoiding them, and milk as well, it’s easy to become low in iodine,” says nutritional therapist Anna Mapson, from Goodness Me Nutrition. “That can lead to a low functioning thyroid, meaning weight gain, tiredness and brain fog.”
Image: Ron Lach
Hayfaa Jawhar was a food scientist before turning luxury chocolatier. “People always worry that if they eat chocolate they’re not eating healthily, or they’re going to gain weight, but not necessarily,” she says. Jawhar recommends choosing chocolate that’s free of palm oil, and low in sugar. “The darker the chocolate, the healthier it is, because it will be higher in flavonoids,” she says. Flavonoids combat toxins and can help ward off cancer and inflammation. If your sweet tooth can’t stand the bitter hit of dark chocolate, Jawhar suggests pairing it with natural sweeteners like raisins or succulent dates.
Image: Elena Leya
Yes, really – as long as you cook it from scratch. You could go the whole hog and make your own sourdough pizza base. The fermentation process pre-digests the flour, making it easier on your gut and preventing blood sugar spikes. If you want to make a standard dough, Jawhar advises adding some unrefined flour to your mix. “And go for less processed toppings like mozzarella and fresh vegetables,” suggests Jawhar. “A lot of kids don’t like eating vegetables, so homemade pizzas are a great way of incorporating veg into their diets.”
This article was amended on 24 September to emphasise the overall harm to health caused by alcohol.
Image: Dorien Monnens
Main image: Giuseppe Lombardo/iStock
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