It’s been said that sour is just a degree of tartness. In Ayurvedic philosophy, a form of alternative medicine native to India, practitioners believe that sour comes from earth and fire, and includes foods that are naturally hot, light and moist. They say sour fare stimulates digestion, improves circulation, boosts energy, strengthens the heart, sharpens the senses and nourishes the vital tissues. Western research shows that people who enjoy tart or sour foods tend to like brighter colors, be more adventurous eaters and prefer more intense flavors. Are you one of them? If so, you can get your fix without relying on processed candies or foods with artificial additives. Here are four healthy options that fit the bill:
Aside from bursting with vitamin C and antioxidants, these gorgeous gems are one of nature’s most potent pain relievers. In one study, scientists at the University of Vermont tested the effectiveness of tart cherry juice in preventing signs of exercise-induced muscle damage. The subjects drank 12 ounces of either a cherry juice blend or a placebo twice a day for eight days, and neither the testers nor the researchers knew which beverage was being consumed. On the fourth day of the study, the men completed a series of strenuous strength training exercises. Strength, pain and muscle tenderness were recorded before and for four days after the workout. Two weeks later, the opposite beverage was provided, and the study was repeated. Researchers found that the loss of strength and levels of pain were significantly lower in the cherry juice group. In fact strength loss averaged 22 percent in the placebo group compared to just 4 percent in the cherry group.
How to Eat:
Fresh, tart cherries are in-season in late summer, but you can reap the benefits every month. Look for bags of whole, pitted tart cherries in the frozen food section and select brands with no added ingredients. I like to thaw, spice up with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and orange zest and spoon the mixture onto my oatmeal. You’ll also find 100 percent tart cherry juice bottled in most health food stores.
One medium fruit packs over 100 percent of your daily vitamin C needs and the pigment that gives it the beautiful pink hue is from lycopene, the same potent antioxidant found in tomatoes. Lycopene is linked to protection against heart disease and prostate cancer. Bonus: pink grapefruit has been shown to slash “bad” LDL cholesterol by 20 percent in 30 days. One note of caution — some medications may be affected by grapefruit, so if you’re taking any prescriptions be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible food/drug interactions.
How to Eat:
I love grapefruit ‘as is’ or roasted in the oven. Just slice in half, cut a little off the bottom (so it won’t roll around), and place in the oven at 450 farenheit and remove when the top looks slightly browned. In my newest book, I top roasted grapefruit with herbed feta and chopped nuts, and pair itt with whole grain crackers as a hearty snack.
If you’re used to sweetened varieties, plain yogurt may make your mouth pucker, but stick with it and your taste buds will adjust. It’s well worth the transition since 6 ounces of 0 percent plain provides fewer calories, more protein and no added sugar. One of yogurt’s main benefits is it contains probiotics, the “friendly” bacteria tied to better digestion, immunity, and a reduction in inflammation. It’s also been linked to weight control. University of Tennessee researchers published a promising study in which obese men and women were put on a reduced-calorie diet that included three daily portions of yogurt. Compared to dieters given the exact same number of calories but little to no dairy products, the yogurt eaters lost 61 percent more body fat and 81 percent more belly fat over a three-month period. They also retained more metabolism-boosting muscle.
How to Eat:
There are a million ways to enjoy yogurt since it’s so versatile. Add savory herbs like roasted garlic, chopped scallions, parsley and chives as a dip with crudites, or fold in fresh grated ginger or mint and layer parfait style with fresh fruit, toasted oats and sliced almonds. Go organic if you can, which means the yogurt is made from hormone-free and antibiotic-free cows that were fed a pesticide-free vegetarian diet. Oh, and good news for those who need to avoid dairy— the same beneficial bacteria are used to make soy and coconut milk yogurts, so you can still reap the benefits.
This famously fermented dish is high in vitamin C and contains potent anti-cancer properties. But if the idea of adding sauerkraut to your plate turns your tummy, go for its unfermented cousin – one study that evaluated the diets of Polish immigrants found that women who ate at least three servings a week of raw cabbage or sauerkraut had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer risk compared with those who only downed one weekly serving.
How to Eat:
Sauerkraut is great as a topping for roasted skin-on potatoes, fish, or as an addition to an open-faced whole grain sandwich. But if you prefer plain old cabbage, enjoy it in a vinegar-based coleslaw or shredded as a topping for black bean or fish tacos.
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 Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.