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Barbara Rolek

Eastern European Foods Are Actually Good For You

By November 10, 2012

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There is always a lot of scuttlebut about Eastern European food being bad for you. But it all comes down to choices. Without a doubt, a steady diet of smalec (lard-bacon-onion spread) and bread is sure to send you to intensive care sooner or later, but that's true of any indulgence, isn't it? Eastern Europeans are actually fitter than most Americans and they are wild about whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and organics.

Kutia
Kutia
Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
These marvels of nature deserve their reputation for keeping the doctor away when you eat one a day. And now, it seems, they can help you melt the fat away too. First of all, they elevate your blood glucose (sugar) levels in a safe, gentle manner and keep them up longer than most foods. The practical effect of this is to leave you feeling satisfied longer, say researchers.

Secondly, they're one of the richest sources of soluble fiber in the supermarket. This type of fiber prevents hunger pangs by guarding against dangerous swings or drops in your blood sugar level, says Dr. James Anderson of the University of Kentucky's School of Medicine.

An average size apple provides only 81 calories and has no sodium, saturated fat or cholesterol. You'll also get the added health benefits of lowering the level of cholesterol already in your blood as well as lowering your blood pressure.

Take barley, for instance. This Eastern European staple is a filling grain that stacks up favorably to rice and potatoes. It has 170 calories per cooked cup, respectable levels of protein and fiber and relatively low fat. Roman gladiators ate this grain regularly for strength and actually complained when they had to eat meat.

Studies at the University of Wisconsin show that barley effectively lowers cholesterol by up to 15 percent and has powerful anticancer agents. Israeli scientists say it cures constipation better than laxatives and that can promote weight loss, too. Use it as a substitute for rice in salads, pilaf or stuffing, or add to soups and stews. You can also mix it with rice for an interesting texture. Ground into flour, it makes excellent breads and muffins.

Beans are one of the best sources of plant protein. Peas, beans and chickpeas are collectively known as legumes. Most common beans have 215 calories per cooked cup (lima beans go up to 260). They have the most protein with the least fat of any food, and they're high in potassium but low in sodium.

Plant protein is incomplete, which means that you need to add something to make it complete. Combine beans with a whole-grain rice, barley, wheat and corn to provide the amino acids necessary to form a complete protein. Then you get the same top-quality protein as in meat with just a fraction of the fat. Studies at the University of Kentucky and in the Netherlands show that eating beans regularly can lower cholesterol levels.

The most common complaint about beans, however, is that they cause gas. Here's how to contain that problem, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Before cooking, rinse the beans and remove foreign particles, put in a kettle and cover with boiling water, soak for four hours or longer, remove any beans that float to the top, then cook the beans in fresh water.

Berries are the perfect weight-loss food. Berries have natural fructose sugar that satisfies your longing for sweets and enough fiber so you absorb fewer calories than you eat. British researchers found that the high content of insoluble fiber in fruits, vegetables and whole grains reduces the absorption of calories from foods enough to promote weight loss without hampering nutrition.

Berries are a great source of potassium that can assist in blood pressure control. Blackberries have 74 calories per cup, blueberries 81, raspberries 60 and strawberries 45.

Broccoli is a go-to vegetable for many and it's a good choice. One cup of cooked broccoli has a mere 44 calories. It delivers a staggering nutritional payload and is considered the number one cancer-fighting vegetable. It has no fat, loads of fiber, cancer-fighting chemicals called indoles, carotene, 21 times the RDA of vitamin C and calcium.

When buying broccoli, pay attention to the color. The tiny florets should be rich green and free of yellowing. Stems should be firm.

Buckwheat, another staple of Eastern European cooking, is great for pancakes, breads, cereal, and soups or alone as a grain dish called kasha. It has 155 calories per cooked cup. Research at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences shows diets including buckwheat lead to excellent blood sugar regulation, resistance to diabetes and lowered cholesterol levels. You cook buckwheat the same way you would rice or barley. Bring two to three cups of water to a boil, add the grain, cover the pan, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed.

Cabbage, the darling of Eastern Europe, is a true wonder food. There are only 33 calories in one cup of cooked shredded cabbage, and it retains all its nutritional goodness no matter how long you cook it. Eating cabbage raw (18 calories per shredded cup), cooked, as sauerkraut (27 calories per drained cup) or coleslaw (calories depend on dressing) only once a week is enough to protect against colon cancer. And it may be a longevity-enhancing food. Surveys in the United States, Greece and Japan show that people who eat a lot of it have the least colon cancer and the lowest death rates overall.

Carrots is one of the best health-promoting, fat-fighting foods on the planet. A medium-sized carrot contains about 55 calories and is a nutritional powerhouse. The orange color comes from beta-carotene, a powerful cancer-preventing nutrient (provitamin A).

Chop and toss carrots into pasta, grate them into rice or add them to a stir-fry. Combine them with parsnips, oranges, raisins, lemon juice, chicken, potatoes, broccoli or lamb to create flavorful dishes. Spice them with tarragon, dill, cinnamon or nutmeg. Add finely chopped carrots to soups and sauces, they impart a natural sweetness without adding sugar.

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Comments

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