Butternut squash: Ever tried it? As a food blogger myself I’m extremely embarrassed to admit that I have not only never cooked butternut squash, I’ve also never even eaten it! This is borderline foodie blasphemy, I say, but that’s all about to change. Today we’re taking a nose dive right into this delectable squash and uncovering its health benefits, cooking methods and just what kinds of savory and and sweet recipes it can be used in. Let’s start with the important stuff: Is it good for you?
Health benefits: To answer the above-asked question in one word, “yes.” Butternut squash is a member of the gourd family, which also includes melons, cucumber, and pumpkin. And just like its seedy siblings, butternut squash is also technically a fruit. Who would’ve thought? In addition, it’s considered the most common among winter fruits, according to Nutrition and You.
When it comes to health benefits, this squash is ripe with vitamins and nutrients: phytonutrients, antioxidants, and plenty of fiber. In addition to these perks, this winter fruit is also rich in potassium, vitamin B6, and folate, which help support bone health, the nervous and immune systems and heart health, respectively.
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Artichokes: Where do I begin? As a child I was absolutely terrified by them and as an adult I’m still a little bit unsure of their distinct texture, taste and shape. When I order a salad at a restaurant and it comes with artichokes, I usually manage to eat about half before throwing in the towel. However, I think the problem here is two-fold: 1) I didn’t realize how good they were for you, and 2) I’ve never actually cooked them myself. However, all of that’s about to change.
Health benefits: It’s no surprise that artichokes are a staple in the Mediterranean diet as they’re loaded with vitamins C and K, folate, magnesium, potassium and manganese.
Like many other fruits and veggies, artichokes are also high in fiber – nearly 10 grams in one medium choke. Each serving also contains approximately 3-4 grams of protein and less than one gram of fat for a satisfying, healthful indulgence. One of the tricks to getting the most nutrients out of your artichoke is eating the whole vegetable. If you opt only for the hearts, you will inevitably miss out on some of the vitamins and minerals. However, with that being said, the hearts are still worth devouring as they’re no doubt a healthy, low-calorie food.
Nutritional statistics: 1 cup contains approximately 76 calories, 1 g fat, 15 g carbohydrates, 8 g of dietary fiber, 1 g sugar and 5 g protein.
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Cacao is one of those elusive ingredients that I’ve dared not used up to this point. Many of my more experienced, sophisticated blog friends use it quite frequently in their dishes. Raw cacao cakes and fancy spelt cookies with cacao nibs – sounds dreamy and all, but my timid self couldn’t possibly brave those wild waters…right?
If you’re in the same boat as I am when it comes to cacao, what do you say we venture into these unchartered waters together and claim some of the delicious bounty for ourselves?
Cacao vs cocoa: For starters, there is a pretty big difference between cacao and cocoa. Cacao (pronounced kuh-cow) is the name of the actual tree that produces chocolate. Its species name is Theobroma cacao, which produces cacao seeds that are then dried and fermented. The end result is what we more commonly know as cocoa, which can then be processed into cocoa powder, cocoa butter or all kinds of chocolate.
In baking you may see a recipe that calls for cacao nibs, which are not as sweet at chocolate chips thus giving the recipe a more sophisticated, healthy appeal.
Health benefits: The health benefits of cacao are more abundant than that of chocolate since it is unprocessed and the vitamins and minerals are preserved in its raw state. Because of this cacao contains much higher levels of antioxidant flavanoids, which are extremely beneficial for fighting free radicals in the body. In fact, according to lifesuperfoods.com cacao contains the most antioxidants of any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine, and even black and green teas.
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To be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever cooked with leeks myself – I find them somewhat bizarre and intimidating, so this lesson in all-things leeks is actually quite beneficial for me! Some of my favorite bloggers utilize leeks in their everyday cooking – one being Sara from Sprouted Kitchen whose two gorgeous recipes I’ve featured below. Feeling inspired and curious all at the same time, I’m ready to dive in and find out what this peculiar little vegetable is all about.
Leeks are a member of the onion family, and are similar in texture and appearance to garlic and chive. The leek itself exudes a sweet flavor that isn’t overpowering or nearly as strong as an onion. However, it inserts an amazing bright, earthy flavor when seasoned appropriately and paired well with other ingredients in dishes.
Health benefits: Like most vegetables, leeks are extremely low in calories and have a high fiber content. They’re also high in vitamin A, which promotes healthy function of the mucosal lining of the throat, nose, and urinary and digestive tracts, according to livestrong.com.
Leeks are also an excellent source of folic acid, potassium, calcium, and vitamin C and provide laxative, antiseptic, diuretic and anti-arthritic benefits. And among other perks, leeks are also a great source of flavonoid antioxidants, which help fight various types of cancer in the body.
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Even for beginner-level cooks, sage is a beautiful and robust herb that should be introduced into recipes early on in the experimenting process. This soft, leafy herb has a woodsy, slightly sweet and minty aroma and infuses dishes with a distinct flavor that screams all-things Thanksgiving. In addition to making dishes taste wonderful, sage also adds much nutritional value. The following notes are just a few reasons why you should start incorporating this unique into your recipes today.
Health benefits: Sage is an incredibly healthy herb that carries a number of nutritional benefits. In fact, according to WorldsHealthiestFoods.com, sage won Herb of the Year in 2011 for its superior health-promoting properties. Sage is in the mint family and claims rosemary as a “sister herb.” It contains many volatile oils, flavonoids, and phenolic acids which boast such benefits as reducing inflammation, fighting free radicals in the body, and improving brain function.
According to AntioxidantsforHealthandLongevity.com, few people know that herbs like sage contain higher concentrations of antioxidants that many common fruits and vegetables. In addition, they contain a wider variety of antioxidants, which makes them one of the top antioxidant food sources available. For ways to sneak more sage into your daily diet, try adding it to dishes like smoothies, dips and soups for a fresh and flavorful spin.
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