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Green or brightly colored vegetables and fruits have a horde of health benefits, but when it comes to nutrient-rich pigments there are benefits to going to the dark side. Onyx-hued veggies, fruits and grains contain higher levels of antioxidants than some of their lighter-colored counterparts. The anthocyanins, or near-opaque pigments, found in blackberries, beans or rice are packed with antioxidants.
“I encourage weekly, and in some cases daily, consumption of black foods due to high polyphenol, phytonutrient, antioxidant and vitamin and mineral concentration,” says Corey B. Schuler, functional medicine nutritionist at the Metabolic Treatment Center. Most raven-colored eats can also act as an anti-inflammatory agent, help lower risks of some cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It’s simple: Once you go black, you shouldn’t go back.
A great source of fiber and protein with zero sodium, black beans help support the digestive tract and have a higher indigestible fraction (IF) than lentils or chickpeas. Black beans and other legumes are also key in supporting the regulation of blood sugar because the protein and fiber can move through the digestive tract at a moderate pace, which allows both nutrients to break down foods into simple sugars.
“Black beans are an underrated super food,” says Schuler. The legume’s dark skins are also packed with tons of bioflavonoids (potent plant-based nutrients that can help protect against cancer), which are most commonly found in bright fruit and vegetables. One cup of black beans provides more than four grams of soluble fiber, which have been found especially helpful in lowering blood cholesterol levels and helping to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Brown is good, but going black with rice can pack more antioxidants than a serving of blueberries and has more fiber and vitamin E than most nutrient-rich berries. A staple of Brazil’s national food pyramid, black rice has also been linked to a decrease in the risk of heart disease, cancer and is a great regulator of blood pressure, circulation and acts as a great, natural anti-inflammatory.
“Black rice is often not thought of as a health food, but it very well may be,” says Schuler. When the body takes in fat, it breaks it down by fatty acid oxidation. This can be hard on the liver if done without proper support. Antioxidants found in black rice can do the trick. Nutty and earthy in flavor, Schuler recommends adding black rice to what you are currently using—even a little mixed with brown rice—to begin. Soon you can make the transition to all black rice and only use brown to mix it up on occasion.
BLACK SESAME SEEDS
Black sesame seeds are packed with tons more antioxidants than their white counterparts. Nutrients like calcium, zinc and iron, vitamin B, copper, magnesium and phosphorus contained in each little seed. Black sesame seeds provide four grams of omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids and plenty of protein. In fact, just two tablespoons of the seeds contain three grams of protein, which is necessary for helping build muscle and repair tissue post-workout.
These nutrient-rich seeds help support healthy bones, muscles, blood and nervous systems. (The copper in the seeds help strengthen blood vessels, joints and bones, while the magnesium supports vascular and respiratory health.) Sweet and nutty in flavor, black sesame seeds are a great topping for salmon (or any fish), poultry or salad.
Fiber-rich, one cup of blackberries has nearly eight of the 25 grams in a daily recommendation. Polyphenols found in dark berries may help you think better and have been found to reduce cognitive decline in older age by cleaning up cells that impair brain function, according to researchers at Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston. Blackberries are also high in manganese and vitamins C, A, E and K.
Eating the berries whole will ensure you get the full fiber intake without overindulging in the sweetness (high in sugar), which sometimes happens when any berries are juiced into smoothies. They’re also a great post-exercise cure. “Those doing resistance training will commonly consume blackberries post-workout to aid in recovery,” says Schuler. “Weight training is an oxidative stress nightmare, so equipping the body with fuel is imperative.”
Milk chocolate has nothing on dark. It’s an antioxidant beast and can contribute to improved cardiovascular health. Filled with rich, cell-protecting antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, the pure cocoa in dark chocolate even rivals green tea and blueberries. Dark chocolate also contains flavonoids, a class of antioxidants that some researchers link to brain health. Opt for three ounces of 65 percent cacao or higher.
To get the most benefits from your morning Joe, leave out the milk and sugar. Better yet, drink espresso. Since it’s prepared under pressure as opposed to regular coffee, all the natural antioxidants and other nutrients are concentrated into each cup of the deep, dark beverage. In moderation, the caffeine is great for helping regulate blood flow and circulation or as a quick energy and mental boost. Aside from giving you an instant pick-me-up, the antioxidants found in the coffee can help boost the immune system and fight off heart disease.
Green, white and red tea are great, but the theaflavins, a great anti-inflammatory to help reduce muscle soreness post-workout, found in black tea are unrivaled. Researchers at the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health found that regular consumption of black tea could help reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. The high flavonoids, phytonutrients with antioxidant benefits, in black teal can help reduce the production of LDL (“bad cholesterol”), which often lead to heart attack and stroke.
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