Traditionally, psyllium is renowned as a laxative, since it absorbs water and swells as it moves through the digestive tract. But this all-star soluble fibre has many health benefits: lowering LDL, or "bad," cholesterol, helping control diabetes (it reduces the post-meal rise in blood sugar) and aiding in controlling appetite and weight (it makes you feel full longer). Since psyllium is a concentrated source of soluble fibre (with eight times more soluble fibre than oat bran), it's easy to eat enough of it during the day to enjoy its potential health benefits.
Dietary uses: Just 1/3 cup (75 millilitres) of Bran Buds with Psyllium, available at most grocery stores, provides 12 grams of fibre (almost half of our daily fibre needs). Caution: Incorporate psyllium and other high-fibre foods into your diet slowly to avoid abdominal pain and bloating, and drink plenty of water to avoid constipation.
This vegetable deserves an award thanks to its active ingredient: fructo-oligosaccharides, a prebiotic that some researchers have chosen as the hottest in food and nutrition research. Prebiotics take centre stage for their potential to promote gut health by encouraging the growth and function of "good bacteria" that live in our digestive tract.
Emerging research is also revealing an important supporting role for flavonoids, antioxidants that are abundant in shallots. Preliminary research is investigating flavonoids for their preventive role in cancer and heart disease, but further research is still needed to support these potential benefits.
Dietary uses: Shallots are more subtle in flavour than their cousins, the onion and garlic, and they do not cause bad breath. Eat them raw or cooked till tender. Add shallots to soups, stews, spreads and stir-fries.
8. Milk thistle
Best known as a liver tonic, the power ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin, which may have protective effects on the liver, due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Differences in research design -- variations in the type and extent of liver disease, and dose and duration of milk-thistle therapy -- make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions on the effectiveness of this herb.
Dietary uses: Milk thistle is available at drugstores and health food stores; take as directed.
Curcumin -- the active ingredient of the Indian curry spice turmeric -- may ease aches and inflammation. In Ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India), this herb has been used for thousands of years to treat arthritis and other ailments. Some research suggests that turmeric may help relieve some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis; however, the evidence to date, while encouraging, is still far from conclusive.
Dietary uses: Turmeric is sometimes substituted for saffron. Use in Indian curries or dishes such as chicken tangine and chicken tandoori.
10. Borage oil
Borage oil, which is produced from the borage seed, has made the nutritional spotlight for its high content of gamma-linolenic acid -- an omega-6 essential fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. Evidence suggests that specialty formulas that contain borage oil may reduce inflammation of the lung in critically ill, hospitalized patients with respiratory distress.
Dietary uses: Borage oil is a component of Oxepa -- a specialty formula used in the critical-care unit to reduce lung inflammation. In concentrated (oil) form, borage can cause liver toxicity; pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid using borage oil. The medicinal plant can be eaten raw or cooked. Use fresh borage leaves to add flavour to cream cheese and vinaigrettes.
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