Diversifying the types of foods that we eat can have tangible benefits for ourselves and the environment. Agrobiodiversity (a portmanteau of agriculture and biodiversity) refers to the interplay between biodiversity, food and agriculture, such as the genetic variance of animals, plants and fungi farmed for consumption.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 75% of the world’s food is sourced from merely five animal and 12 plant species, indicating worryingly low levels of agrobiodiversity. A lack of agrobiodiversity can compromise human food security by lowering the availability of sustenance and causing food shortages. The same problem arises if the soil composition required to grow one of these plants is unattainable due to changes in the atmosphere.
The best way to mitigate these problems is to increase agrobiodiversity levels by consuming diverse types of food, thereby increasing the demand and, subsequently, the supply of more animal and plant species.
In addition to environmental, economic and food security benefits, eating diverse, healthy foods benefits the body. Studies have found that diversifying one’s diet can reduce the chances of developing obesity and metabolic syndrome.
To facilitate the diversification of diets across the globe and bolster agrobiodiversity and health levels, here are some unexpected healthy foods to add to your plate.
Amaranth Is the Grain Healthy Food You Didn’t Know You Needed
Amaranths are a group of plants cultivated for their edible seeds. Officially classed as a pseudocereal, amaranth has been consumed by humans for at least thousands of years, with archaeological evidence suggesting the plant was domesticated around 6,000 years in Central and South America.
Amaranth is versatile in terms of its culinary applications and can be used in salads or polenta. Amaranth flour can make pancakes, crackers, brownies and many other delicious treats!
The Health Benefits of Amaranth
According to a paper published in the Journal of Food Science, amaranth has a high protein concentration compared to other grains, ranging between 12.50-18.19%. Amaranth has immense nutritional value due to its amino acid profile, which supersedes that of another highly touted health food — quinoa.
The antioxidant properties of amaranth are widely heralded, with some studies noting its potential to positively impact cholesterol levels and the immune system while improving anemia and hypertension symptoms.
The Agricultural Benefits of Amaranth
Amaranth is a notoriously sturdy crop, previously having shown resistance to Monsanto’s infamous Roundup. Moreover, amaranth has an assortment of traits that make it easy to grow and resilient in the face of adversity, such as its ability to withstand droughts, frost and poor-quality soil due to its high photosynthetic rate.
Holy Basil Has Been a Mainstay of Ayurvedic Medicine for Thousands of Years
Ocimum tenuiflorum, more casually referred to as holy basil, earned its name due to its sacred status in Hinduism. The native herb to the Indian subcontinent is called Tulsi in Hindi.
Holy basil leaves are primarily used for human consumption, with some preferring it in a tea form while others extract essential oils from it. The leaves are also used in some Indian dishes to impart a bitter and spicy flavor.
The Health Benefits of Holy Basil
A literature review published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal notes that holy basil can alleviate psychological stress and improve the symptoms of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Another study found that holy basil improves cognitive function.
The Agricultural Benefits of Holy Basil
Holy basil is relatively easy to cultivate from seeds, seedlings or cuttings and can grow year-round in most regions in the U.S. as an indoor plant.
Aronia Berries Are an Indigenous American Traditional Medicine for the Ages
Aronia berries, also known as chokeberries, have been used as traditional medicine by indigenous American tribes for hundreds of years. Indigenous Americans included Aronia berries in pemmican mixtures, a combination of meat, tallow and dried berries that could be stored for long periods.
Aronia berries can be eaten fresh but can be uncomfortably sour. As such, making jams or syrups can be a great way to incorporate them into one’s diet.
The Health Benefits of Aronia Berries
A study published in the Molecules journal found that Aronia berries can help prevent and manage chronic diseases such as metabolic and cardiac disease through their antioxidant activity. Another study found that Aronia berry consumption boosted vascular function and the presence of desirable gut bacteria.
The Agricultural Benefits of Aronia Berries
According to Iowa State University, Aronia berries are considered a space-friendly crop that can boost local industry. The University of Maine describes the Aronia berry plant as hardy and capable of enduring harsh, cold weather.
Celeriac Adds a New Twist to a Well-Known Food
Celeriac is a type of celery grown to harvest a bulbous, root-like stem. Celeriac has a similar taste and flavor to the more common variants of celery but with a potato-like flesh and consistency, cementing its place as a potato replacement in low-carb recipes.
The Health Benefits of Celeriac
Celeriac is known to help manage ailments of the nervous system and improve the symptoms of rheumatism and arthritis. Celeriac is also high in fiber and vitamins (vitamins C, K and B6 and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium and manganese).
The Agricultural Benefits of Celeriac
A study of 56 different vegetables grown in the U.K. found that celery, cabbage and Brussels sprouts were the most environmentally sustainable vegetables.
Mung Beans Are a Truly Ancient Superfood
Hailing from the Indian subcontinent, Mung beans are thought to have been domesticated as far back as 1,500 B.C. They are part of the legume family and are often boiled and drained before being served.
The Health Benefits of Mung Beans
A Chinese study found that mung beans contain compounds that mitigate hypertension, some cancers and hyperglycemia. Another Chinese study found that mung beans are high in easily digestible protein and vitamins.
The Agricultural Benefits of Mung Beans
There is extensive research that attests to the agricultural and socioeconomic benefits of mung bean cultivation. A study of governmental funding of mung bean research in Myanmar found that the governmental return on investment (ROI) was at least 27%, creating financial benefits and increasing food security in the region. A study published in the American Journal of Plant Sciences lauds mung bean crops as a solution to droughts, soil with depleted mineral content and atmospheric nitrogen levels.
Nori Is a Historical Japanese Food With Significant Potential for the Future
Nori use in Japan dates back to at least 702, as mentioned in a tax law produced in that year, but its consumption most likely predates this date considerably. Nori is a type of dried Japanese seaweed used in sushi, soups, noodles and rice dishes, often being toasted before use..
The Health Benefits of Nori
A study in the Advances in Food and Nutrition Research journal notes that Nori contains many beneficial compounds, such as various vitamins, minerals, amino acids and high fiber content. Another study from the Journal of Epidemiology found Nori can effectively prevent high blood pressure in children.
The Agricultural Benefits of Nori
Nori holds many agricultural benefits over land-based crops. It does not require land space to grow and doesn’t require fertilizer, pesticides or freshwater. Additionally, seaweed is known to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby alleviating global warming.
Hemp Seed Nuts
As the use of hemp plants becomes increasingly destigmatized (such as in textiles and biodiesel), more research begins to shed light on the potential benefits of the non-psychoactive components of the cannabis plant.
Hemp seed nuts are the seeds of the cannabis plant, but consuming them does not produce any psychoactive effects. Hemp seed nuts can be mixed with cereals, smoothies, salads and yogurts to add a crunchy texture and a delicious, nutty flavor.
The Health Benefits of Hemp Seed Nuts
Hemp seed nuts are exceptionally nutritious, as they contain healthy fats (such as omega-3 and omega-6), minerals, vitamins and a high protein concentration. Consuming hemp seed nuts is known to lead to improved digestive and cardiac health benefits.
The Agricultural Benefits of Hemp Seed Nuts
The cannabis plant has numerous uses outside of the consumption of hemp seed nuts. Growing cannabis crops is space efficient. Hemp fibers can be used in textiles, while hemp seed oil can be used in various types of biodiesel.
Unexpected Healthy Foods Are a Great Way to Diversify Your Plate
The aforementioned healthy foods are diverse, and everyone should find a few that they find easy to implement in their cooking and eating regimen. Doing so will not only expand your culinary palette but potentially benefit your health and the planet.