What foods and drinks will make us feel healthier?

The new year is the perfect time to make important nutritional decisions. Yael Dror, a clinical dietitian, explains how you can make this year healthier - and much tastier.

 Green tea (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Green tea
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The beginning of a new year gives us a chance to think about new changes and habits that we need to adopt, so that we can have a successful, healthy year. 

Nutrition is one of the most important areas for maintaining our health. Especially today, with coronavirus, choosing the right foods and beverages every day can have a crucial impact on reducing the risk of various diseases and health problems.

In the realm of nutrition there are various foods that have been preserved since ancient times and have been part of our tradition for hundreds and even thousands of years. 

It’s amazing how recently researchers have proven that some traditional foods also contain many nutritional benefits. Perhaps this is why they have always been part of our culture and traditions. What are the six traditional foods that science has proven to have an important part in keeping us healthy? What is recommended to eat daily during this new year? Here are the answers.

Green Tea

Green tea is a popular drink that is part of the tradition of many peoples and originated in the Far East. Sources claim that drinking green tea in China began 4,000 years ago and continued through thousands of years due to its many health benefits. The uniqueness of green tea is that when processed, the tea leaves don’t undergo the oxidation process (like black tea), but are dried while still green. This makes green tea healthy, since oxidation takes away healthy properties of black tea.

Recently, science has shown great interest in green tea and discovered that it can prevent cardiovascular disease, balance blood sugar in diabetics, lower blood pressure, prevent and treat anxiety and mental stress and even treat or prevent various types of cancer. 

One reason that science has investigated the connection between green tea and various diseases is the high content of antioxidants - the two known are EGCG and EGC. 

An article published in the scientific journal BioMed Research International in 2018 found that consumption of these two components helps the body not only cope better with diseases and infections, but also prevents them

So how much is it recommended to drink? Based on studies, a large portion of the health benefits of tea come when consuming three cups of green tea a day. Since the recommendation for drinking water is 8-10 cups a day, three cups of green tea should be on your daily drinks list. 

Pomegranates

Pomegranates have a place of honor in Jewish traditions and are mentioned in several places in Jewish biblical literature. 

Various sources state that the pomegranate was eaten in ancient times and was a remedy and preventive agency for various diseases. According to different documents it was used to treat parasites and worms, and was attributed many important medicinal properties.

Science, too, has begun in recent decades to discover the health benefits of pomegranate and its important properties for the prevention and treatment of diseases. 

An article published in 2019 in the scientific journal Current Pharmaceutical Design examined existing studies on the link between pomegranate and various diseases or other health problems. The results of the study showed that pomegranate juice and extracts obtained from various parts of the pomegranate, including the peel and seeds, have proven health benefits such as diabetes prevention, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease (directly affecting cholesterol), balancing blood pressure, an antimicrobial effect and preventing the growth of cancerous tumors.

Honey

Honey is one of the oldest known foods. The pharaohs would bury their kings with jars of honey so they would have something to eat in the next world. 

For many years honey was said to have medicinal properties of healing and disinfection of wounds and cuts (honey is a sterile compound). The polyphenols, which are chemical compounds of the "flavonoid" type found in honey, are the natural compounds that are the main source of the medicinal properties of honey. The source of flavonoids is pollen. Honey also has antimicrobial properties that have the ability to kill pathogens and stop the growth of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other one-cell organisms.

These properties are due to a number of factors found in honey: high concentration of sugars, acidic pH (3.9-3.5) and accumulation of H2O2 due to enzymatic activity. It’s important to know that the medicinal properties of honey are destroyed at a temperature of over 40 degrees Celsius, so it’s recommended to consume honey in its fresh form in order to enjoy all its health benefits. Don’t cook it-honey cake won’t give you the same benefits!

Olive Oil

(Creidt: Ingimage)(Creidt: Ingimage)

Olive oil is one of the most well-known and important foods since ancient times. It was an integral part of daily life among many countries in the Mediterranean region and especially in Israel, and is therefore mentioned and integrated into many stories as far back as the Bible and of course is an integral part of the stories of the "heroes of the Maccabees.”

One of the most notable health benefits of olive oil - a key ingredient in the "Mediterranean diet" that has been proven for years in studies as a healthy diet that protects the body from many types of diseases - is the high content of essential fatty acids contained within it. It’s a monounsaturated acid of the oleic acid type, and there are healthy amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acid of the linoleic acid type.

In addition, olive oil contains vitamin E, which is considered a very important antioxidant in nutrition and body health. Another health benefit of olive oil is the high content of polyphenols known for their strong health benefits, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. It protects the heart and can be a crucial ingredient in treating various types of cancer. Based on studies, regular use of olive oil in the diet can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol, protect against free radicals, and maintain the health of body cells and skin.

Wine 

When speaking about foods that are an integral part of the "tradition," it’s impossible to ignore the importance of wine in Judaism. The source of wine is from the grapes that undergo fermentation and form the alcohol. Hence the nutritional benefits of wine come directly from the grapes. Two particularly important chemicals found in grapes are the polyphenols and anthocyanins (pigment in purple grapes) which have strong antioxidant properties.

Studies show that wine has many significant health benefits: it can slow down the aging process and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially due to the direct effect on LDL cholesterol which is considered the "bad cholesterol" that causes blood vessel narrowing. 

In addition, the natural chemicals in wine have a beneficial effect on the endothelial function around the blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and preventing the formation of blood clots (affecting platelet aggregation), reducing inflammation. Also, some studies discuss the connection between wine and slowing down the aging process of the brain.

One of the important substances found in wine and of paramount importance in the health context is resveratrol, which is a polyphenol found in the skin of the grape. According to studies, it’s especially important in the context of preventing various types of cancer, neutralizing the activity of free radicals in the body and preventing inflammation.

Dates

The date palm is without a doubt one of the most delicious and healthiest foods that has been with us since ancient times and is an integral part of Jewish tradition. It’s no coincidence that it’s mentioned 42 times in the Bible. The date was also known and famous in ancient Rome and Greece.

Nutritionally, dates contain mostly carbohydrates, little protein and less fat. They contain dietary fiber and essential minerals: potassium, magnesium and calcium. In addition, dates contain antioxidants that are very important for the health of the body. These are antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavonoids

In 2013, a study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that showed that the antioxidants in dates lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. The study was conducted by Prof. Michael Aviram and his research group from the Rambam Medical Center and the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion, together with Dr. Hamutal Borochov-Nauri and her group from Southern Arava R&D. According to this study and previous studies: eating three dates a day doesn’t increase blood sugar levels, lowers triglyceride levels (blood lipid index), and even improves the quality of cholesterol in the blood (lowering its level of oxidation). So if you’re looking for something sweet and healthy that can fit into your daily menu, dates are perfect!

This article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post's sister website, Walla!