We eat with our eyes as well as our stomachs, so foods that are aesthetically appealing tend to be more satisfying. But for some foods the beauty lies in their uniqueness — both visually and nutritionally speaking. Here are five worth a closer look:
This root vegetable can be intimidating. It kind of looks like it belongs in outer space. But underneath its odd surface it's deliciously refreshing — and slimming. Celery root is very low in calories, just 40 per cup, and is full of potassium, a mineral that relieves water retention to "de-bloat" you from head to toe. All you need to do is chop off the top, remove the skin with a vegetable peeler, then slice. I love it raw as a cold vegetable side dish. Just whisk a little Dijon mustard with apple cider vinegar, lime juice and fresh cracked black pepper, add the slices, chill, and enjoy.
Wood Ear Mushrooms
Honestly the first time I encountered one of these on my plate in an Asian restaurant I thought, "I cannot eat that." They really do look like the ears of some sort of creature. But if you can get past their appearance they’re actually pretty tasteless and the springy texture is well, interesting. But the best part is their health benefits. These mushrooms provide vitamins B, C and D, as well as iron, and have been shown to possess antitumor and cholesterol-lowering properties. They're typically found in soups and stir fry dishes.
Thought to be the first known citrus variety in Europe, which likely originated in India, this fragrant exotic-looking fruit makes a great centerpiece. Buddha’s Hand is considered a symbol of happiness, longevity, and good fortune, making it very popular around New Year's Eve. Its best culinary use is for zest in baked goods, fruit sauces, marinades, marmalade, and soufflés. The "fingers" can also be cut off, sliced longways (pith removed) for use in salads or to garnish rice or seafood dishes. In addition to vitamin C, citrus zest is loaded with antioxidants, including naringenin from the flavonoid family, which has been shown to prevent weight gain, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
There are thousands of varieties of sea vegetables and lately they're popping up everywhere, from dried seaweed snacks to seaweed chocolate, cookies and ice cream. I've never been a fan of its looks but kelp is incredibly rich in iodine and one of the few sources of this important mineral. Too little iodine can trigger hypo or hyperthyroidism, fatigue, weight gain and depression. Just a quarter cup packs over 275 percent of the Daily Value. It’s also a good source of magnesium, which can improve sleep and alleviate hot flashes in women going through menopause. A few fun ways to enjoy it include brushing a whole grain pizza crust with extra virgin olive oil and topping with garlic, onions, fresh sliced tomato and chopped seaweed, or adding it to an omelet along with sesame seeds, green onions, shredded carrots and mushrooms.
The list just wouldn't be complete without this bumpy, lopsided, unevenly colored cross between a grapefruit, Seville orange and tangerine that originates from Jamaica. Like other citrus fruits it's rich in vitamin C and fiber but I love that it's not as bitter as a grapefruit. And it’s super easy to peel. Enjoy the sections as is or slice and toss into a garden salad or veggie stir fry.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.