Looks can be deceiving! These unsightly foods are packed with health benefits
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No wonder your mother always forced you to eat brussels sprouts—they’re excellent for your cells. “They contain substantial amounts of a compound called brassinin, which helps support healthy cell growth. They also contain diindolylmethane (DIM), which supports healthy hormonal balance in both men and women by promoting the excretion of xenoestrogens, which are bad estrogens we encounter through toxins and pollution,” says medical expert Dr. Isaac Eliaz.
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Creepy-looking swordfish is a great fish to eat. “Certain types of oily fish help reduce inflammation in the body that can lead to heart problems,” Eliaz says. “Fish is also rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit brain and heart function.”
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Ginger root improves digestion and reduces inflammation, Eliaz says. “It has long been used as a natural treatment for colds and the flu, as well as stomach flus or food poisoning, given the positive effects ginger has on the digestive tract,” he adds. “In addition, studies have shown that ginger powder may induce cell death in ovarian cancer cells. Ginger is also shown to be a powerful painkiller and can be used to relieve heartburn and migraines.”
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As ugly (and as stinky) as they are, mushrooms bring a lot to the table. “They provide a lot of nutrition considering they’re very low in calories and sodium, and cholesterol and fat free. They are also a great source of B vitamins and are one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D, which aids in bone health by helping to absorb calcium,” says registered dietician Rachel Begun. “Research shows that vitamin D plays a role in improving cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and can boost immunity.” Maitake mushrooms, in particularly, are especially high in vitamin D, Begun says.
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Celeriac (also known as celery root), is a knobby-shaped bulb that often has smaller, spider-like root protrusions. So gross looking! It’s an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of dietary fiber though, according to Jackie Newgent, culinary nutritionist and author of Big Green Cookbook. “Vitamin K promotes strong bones and may protect against osteoporosis,” the chef instructor adds. “The fiber has cancer-protective qualities—among other benefits. Plus, [celery root] only has 30 calories for a 1/2 cup serving.”
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This creature from the sea is packed with iodine, which is important for proper growth and development. It also does wonders to your thyroid, immune function, and hormone regulation. “Kelp also contains lots of tummy-lovin fiber,” says Alyssa Phillips, a physician assistant with a degree in nutrition.
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In case you didn’t already know, wakame is a sea vegetable. It’s an excellent source of iodine (good for thyroid health) and vitamin K (fab for proper blood clotting and bone health). “Vitamin K also plays a role in cardiovascular health,” Begun says. “Sea vegetables are also a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins. They also contain the antioxidant vitamins C and E and the antioxidant minerals manganese and zinc.”
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Next time you see octopus on a menu, consider giving it a try. It’s delicious (when cooked properly) and is a great protein. “Octopus is low in saturated fat and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for cardiovascular health,” Begun says. “It is a good source of iron and contains many other vitamins and minerals, including A, C, B, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and selenium.”
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The idea of eating anything fermented doesn’t sound too appealing, but fermented foods like kefir have many benefits. “They offer probiotics and are commonly eaten in many indigenous diets,” says registered dietician and author Jill Weisenberger.
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Although it looks like a mangled ginger root, the Jerusalem artichoke is jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Ignore its rough exterior, Newgent advises. “It’s an especially notable source of iron, a mineral that’s challenging to get enough of for many women. The other main nutrients in Jerusalem artichoke are potassium, magnesium, and fiber, “ Newgent says. “The many benefits these nutrients provide include maintaining good digestive and immune system functioning and potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
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Next time you dance past sardines at the supermarket, stop and consider the fish. It’s rich in omega-3s and easy to keep on hand, according to Weisenberger.
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Although black garlic might look like pieces of coal, it’s absolutely divine and practically a delicacy. “It boasts double the antioxidants of raw garlic,” Newgent says. “It also provides S-Allycysteine, a natural compound that may play a role in cancer prevention.”
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No wonder people suggest you eat prunes when you’re constipated. The ugly fruit is great for digestive health and is rich in antioxidants, Weisenberger says.
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Oysters are an excellent low-calorie protein source. “They are also said to be one of the best food sources of zinc available,” says Randy Rabney, chef, board-certified health counselor and author of Delicious for Life. “I love the briny flavor that varies depending upon the type of oyster. I love fresh oysters alone, or for a real treat, they’re especially delicious as ‘Russian oysters,’ which have a small dollop of sour cream and caviar.
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“People have told me that they don't eat figs because they don't like the way that they look,” says Rabney. Those people are missing out! “Figs are high in fiber and full of vitamins and minerals. They are sweet, juicy, and delicious alone or in a salad with arugula and cheese.”
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It doesn’t look as delicious as a steak, but liver’s health benefits have landed it on our list of ugly foods you should be eating. “If you choose to eat meat, liver can be a great addition to your diet because it's packed with vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins and iron,” Rabney says “Ideally, you should choose liver from grass-fed and/or organically-raised animals."
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Native to Asian countries like Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, durian is not easy to find. The fruit, which has been dubbed the "King of Fruits," tastes divine. Its smell, on the other hand, leaves little to be desired. “It has a very distinct odor—much like a skunk or sewage,” says Beth Aldrich, certified nutritionist, healthy lifestyle counselor, and author of Real Moms Love to Eat: How to Conduct a Love Affair with Food and Still Look Fabulous.” “In fact, the fruit is prohibited in hotels and public transportations in Southeast Asia.” But it’s a great source of vitamin C, dietary fiber, and B-complex groups of vitamins.
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Jackfruit, which is indigenous to India, Bangladesh, Philippines, and Sri Lanka, has a juicy pulp around the seeds that taste a lot like pineapple, but it’s not as sweet. You can get it in the form of sweet chips or packaged in cans. “The jackfruit is a great source of dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins A and C,” Aldrich says. “It supplies plenty of energy, yet does not contain saturated fats or cholesterol, making it one healthy fruit.”
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Tempeh, a fermented soy food that looks like a bunch of beans with white stuff on them, is a great protein. “This type of soy is more digestible because it has been fermented,” says Jill Nussinow, a registered dietician and cooking teacher.
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“Miso is usually a dark brown paste that isn't very attractive, but it is also a fermented soy food that has beneficial qualities for your digestive system,” Nussinow says.
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The mangosteen might look like a brain, but its edible peel contains one of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature. “Xanthones, a mega phytonutrient, has been linked to remarkable cardiovascular benefits, cancer prevention, and healing skin infections,” Phillips says. “Plus, it is a natural antibiotic.” It’s a super food!
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We promise green smoothies taste better than they look. Plus, they’re full of nutrients. “We all know we need to eat our greens,” Phillips says. “This is an easy way to get a whopping dose of all the super-alkalizing, skin-clearing, energy-boosting, fiber-filled, nutrient-packed greens that you should otherwise be eating.”
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This fruit that resembles a wrinkly cucumber may actually treat diabetes. Bitter melon can lower your blood sugar and burn fat, says clinical nutritionist Stephan Dorlandt.
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Cone-shaped okra has been dubbed “ladies fingers” and has weird seeds inside. But don’t knock ‘em until you try ‘em, because the vegetable can help your digestion and colon due to its lubricating mucilage, Dorlandt says.
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If you’re not already familiar, the nopal cactus looks like a ping pong paddle with thorns. But Dorlandt recommends eating the food because it can lower your blood sugar.
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Chayote is a squash that looks like a hand grenade. “It’s good for you because it is an excellent source of vitamin C,” Dorlandt says. The food can also treat kidney stones.
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Seaweed removes residue of radiation in the body, improves water metabolism, is a lymphatic cleanser, and strengthens the thyroid, says Kristen Burris, a nationally recognized acupuncturist and herbalist. “Seaweed secrete mucilaginous gels including algin, carrageenan, and agar—all of which rejuvenate the gastrointestinal tract and the lungs,” Burris says. “Seaweed also contains the broadest range of minerals of any organism and has a plethora of amino acids and vitamins, including calcium, iodine, and iron.”