Thursday, January 21, 2016

15 Healthiest Staple Foods from the Middle East




Middle Eastern cuisine is becoming more popular in America because of the many health benefits associated with it and the wide variety of healthy dishes. The Middle Eastern diet  which also a part of the  Mediterranean diet emphasize the use of olive oil, fish, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes as primary foods. Many Middle Eastern dishes contain high amounts of olive oil, beans, lentils and chickpeas. Olive oil provides the body with a good source of healthy fats while chickpeas and lentils are high in protein and fiber to aid in digestion.

Middle Eastern cuisine encompasses the fresh ingredients and aromatic flavors used by countries such as Syria, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey . Always full of fresh herbs, warm spices and savory flavors, typical Middle Eastern meals include salads, vegetables, bread and  small amount of meat. Increasing numbers of Americans are indulging in the once-exotic flavors of Middle Eastern favorites like hummus, baba ghannouj and tabbouleh.

Fresh vegetables, fruit, legumes, low-fat dairy products, fish, nuts and seeds are the foundation of Middle Eastern cuisine. Many staples  including olive oil, a variety of nuts, stuffed vegetables, yogurt as well as baklava derived from Ottoman influences. Fresh ingredients are enhanced with herbs and spices instead of heavy sauces. The most common seasonings include mint, parsley, oregano, garlic, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Fresh fruits and vegetables are consumed in much larger portions than meats and flat bread or pita is eaten at nearly every meal.


15 Healthy Staple Foods and Spices of the Middle East

Chickpeas or Garbanzo Beans
(hummus, falafel, stews)



Chickpeas, with their subtle nutty flavor and buttery texture, are used as a main ingredient in hummus, a rich garlicky dip that's growing in popularity here in the United States, and falafel, ground chickpeas and spices that are fried and eaten as a street food or fast food in much of the Middle East. Chickpeas are also popular in soups, stews and side dishes.

Health Benefits: Chickpeas contain healthy nutrients including protein, manganese, folate, tryptophan, copper, phosphorus and iron. Plus, they're an excellent source of fiber, which is known to help lower cholesterol, fight heart disease and stabilize blood sugar levels.


 Grape Leaves (dolmas, warak inab mahshi)








Grape leaves are a popular wrapper for rice and meat in the Middle East. Perhaps the most popular use is for stuffed grape leaves (warak inab mahshi or dolmas) an appetizer of grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions and sometimes ground beef. You can find grape leaves canned or bottled, but fresh leaves can also be used after they're steamed or blanched.

Health Benefits: Aside from being incredibly low in calories (five leaves have only about 14 calories), grape leaves are packed with nutrients including vitamins C, E, A, K and B6, niacin, iron, fiber, riboflavin, folate, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese. If you use the bottled variety, give them a rinse before you use them. This will remove some of the excess sodium in the brine.

Eggplant








Eggplant is the most commonly consumed vegetable in Middle Eastern cuisine, and is the featured ingredient in baba ghannouj (eggplant dip). It's served grilled, stewed, fried and even pickled in a number of dishes, or on its own.

Health Benefits: Nasunin, a phytonutrient found in the eggplant's skin, is an antioxidant that protects against free radical damage and protects the fats in brain cell membranes. Eggplants also contain chlorogenic acid, which is known to have anti-cancer, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties, as well as help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. They're also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, copper and vitamin B1.

Mint





Fresh mint leaves are a popular herb in Middle Eastern cooking, used in tabbouleh salad, yogurt sauces, vegetable dishes, soups and beverages, including a strong mint tea, which is traditionally offered to arriving guests.

Health Benefits: Aside from being a good source of manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A, the peppermint oil in fresh mint leaves is soothing for the stomach -- it's been found to relieve irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, colonic muscle spasms and more. It also contains potent phytonutrients that have been found to protect against cancer, neutralize free radicals, and benefit asthma and allergies. And, peppermint oil is anti-microbial, which means it can stop the growth of various types of bacteria and fungus.

Olives and Olive Oil 








Olive trees abound in the Levant and North Africa, and the olives  are used for oil and also for appetizers, stews, salads and sauces. Olive oil is used generously for cooking and salad dressings and also as a dip for crusty breads.

Health Benefits: Olives contain healthy monounsaturated fatty acids that have been found to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.Olives and olive oil also contain antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids and vitamin E. This combination has been found to help fight colon cancer and heart disease, as well as reduce inflammation.

Turmeric



Ground turmeric, which lends a characteristic yellow color to foods, is used in many Middle Eastern meat and vegetable dishes. It has a peppery, slightly bitter flavor that is a staple ingredient in curries.

Health Benefits: Turmeric is a nutrition powerhouse. Most notably, it contains curcumin, which gives it not only its color but also many of its health benefits. Turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory properties and has been found to be helpful in fighting inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. It may also provide cardiovascular and liver protection.

Lemons

Lemons are used as a feature flavor in sauces, appetizers, entrées, and salad dressings

Health Benefits: Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin B6, iron and potassium, and a very good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. They also contain calcium, copper, folic acid, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc.Aside from their many nutrients, lemons are rich in bioflavonoids, which protect against damage from free radicals, act as natural antibiotics and may help prevent heart disease and cancer. Lemons are also anti-bacterial and anti-septic, making them good for mouth ulcers, canker sores and sore throats.Finally, lemon pulp and skin contains pectin, a compound that may lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in diabetics

 
Lentil Beans (lentil soup, mujadarrah)





There are a variety of lentil soups served in Middle Eastern cuisine, and for good reason. Lentil soups are a great option for calorie-conscious foodies, primarily because the beans that make up the bulk of the meal are very filling without providing a high calorie count. Lentil soups are a great source of fiber and are low in calories and fat.Most of the fats present in lentil soups come from olive oil, making them healthy fats. Popular recipes for lentil soup vary, but some of the common ingredients aside from lentils include diced tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil, carrots and celery.

Health Benefits: They are a good source of potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin and vitamin K, but are particularly rich in dietary fiber, lean protein, folate and iron. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods like lentils can lessen your risk of many serious medical 0problems.

Cumin



Cumin, a spice with a nutty, peppery flavor, is used in whole-seed and ground form to flavor a host of Middle Eastern dishes. Cumin is so popular in some Middle Eastern regions that it's kept in a shaker on the table, as salt and pepper are kept in the United States.

Health Benefits: Cumin is rich in iron, which is excellent for energy and keeping the immune system healthy. It is also known to benefit the digestive system, as cumin may stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes that help with digestion and nutrient assimilation. Cumin may also have cancer-fighting properties.

 
Tahini (Sesame Seed Paste)





 

Tahini, a paste made from ground sesame seeds, is mixed with chickpeas as a key ingredient in hummus and is also often used in the eggplant dip baba ghannouj. Tahini is also part of a popular sesame confection called halvah, and is mixed with lemon juice and used as a sauce for meats, vegetables and salads.

Health Benefits: Sesame seeds contain beneficial fibers called sesamin and sesamolin, both of which belong to the lignan group. These substances help lower cholesterol and have been found to prevent high blood pressure and increase vitamin E in animals. Sesamin also protects the liver from oxidative damage. Sesame seeds are also rich in manganese, copper, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, vitamin B1 and zinc.

Spinach   



The Middle East is well know for it's spinach pies (fatayer bil sabanekh) and spinach and meat stews.

Health Benefits: Spinach is loaded with health benefits. It contains at least 13 different flavonoid compounds that are potent antioxidants and are known to fight cancer. It also contains ample quantities of nutrients that can help protect your bones, heart, brain and eyes, and fight inflammation, asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Plus, it's a great energy food.Spinach is a rich source of vitamins K, C, B2, B6 and A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, tryptophan and dietary fiber (among many others).

 
Yogurt (Laban)


 

Very popular in the Middle East and is part of daily eating habits. Yogurt dishes include labneh (strained yogurt) and khiyar wa laban among others. Laban is also used in stews and rice dishes.

Health Benefits: Yogurt is nutritionally rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.[38] It has nutritional benefits beyond those of milk, namely due to its probiotics.[39] Lactose-intolerant individuals may tolerate yogurt better than other dairy products due to the conversion of lactose to the sugars glucose and galactose, and the fermentation of lactose to lactic acid carried out by the bacteria present in the yogurt.[40] Yogurt contains varying amounts of fat. For example, some cows'-milk yogurts contain no fat; others of low fat content have 2% fat, whole-milk yogurt may have 4% fat.

Dates 



 

Originated in what's called now Iraq, dates are a staple food of the Middle East  Dates are an important traditional crop in Iraq, Arabia, and north Africa west to Morocco. Dates are also mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible and 20 times in the Qur'an. In Islamic culture, dates and yogurt or milk are traditionally the first foods consumed for Iftar after the sun has set during Ramadan

Health Benefits: Dates  are a good source of dietary fiber. Dates are rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants and the essential minerals potassium and magnesium. A diet that regularly includes low-fat, nutrient-dense foods like dates may enhance your health and help decrease your chance of developing many chronic diseases.

Couscous





A staple and very popular dish of North African nations (Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria) and also in Palestine and Lebanon.

Health Benefits A 1-cup serving of couscous contains 180 calories, 35 grams of carbohydrate and 6 grams of protein. Both couscous and pasta contain 2 grams of dietary fiber per serving. Although couscous is slightly lower in calories, the pasta provides you with more protein.

Garlic









Garlic is used extensively in Middle Eastern food from dips such as hummus and baba ghanouj to stews to rice. Toum, a Lebanese garlic sauce, is a potent and very popular sauce or dip for chicken sandwiches and roasted chicken.
Health benefits: Strong flavored, garlic cloves contain many noteworthy phyto-nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that have proven health benefits.Laboratory studies show that allicin reduces cholesterol production by inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme within the liver cells.Allicin decreases blood vessel stiffness through facilitation of nitric oxide (NO) release. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and thereby, bring a reduction in the total blood pressure.Allicin and other essential volatile compounds also found to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal activities.Garlic is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health. The bulbs are one of the richest sources of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium. Selenium is a heart-healthy mineral, and is an important cofactor for antioxidant enzymes within the body. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is required for red blood cell formation.It contains many flavonoid anti-oxidants like carotene beta, zea-xanthin, and vitamins like vitamin-C.




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