When you think of Spanish beverages and food do you think of ham, red wine and tapas? Spain has many foods with great health benefits as you will discover with the top ten super Spanish foods for health.
My main outcome during almost two weeks in Spain and two months of travel in twelve countries of Europe this summer was to discover the best foods for health and longevity. In addition my goal was to discover the least healthy foods and biggest health challenges facing the people in Spain and European Union (EU).
The Spanish Diet
Spain is famous for the fruits, meats, vegetables and of course olives. The Spanish culture is also very fond of their red wine. The focus of this article is to share those foods that offer the best health properties.
While some of these foods raised and prepared in Spain offer better quality than the same foods prepared in other countries, unfortunately many of then are slipping in quality there as well. Many people in Spain are now consuming larger quantities of cheese, meat and potatoes as well as more pasta, pizza and prepared and processed foods, so they are facing the same health challenges as other European countries with increasing cancer, coronary disease, diabetes and obesity.
A primary goal on this trip was to participate in the Vaughn Town Program to teach English to Spaniards and learn more about the inside story of the most healthy and least healthy aspects of Spanish cuisine. My quest to discover and enjoy great nutrition inspired me to seek the healthiest foods Spain has to offer. This article will share my Top Ten Great Spanish Foods for Health as well as some food trends to be concerned about which are harming the citizens of Spain and the world. Let’s start with the top 10 healthy foods.
Top Ten Super Spanish Foods for Health
1. Olive trees are plentiful in Spain. Olives are believed to have been used for food for at least 7,000 years. Olives are a delicious and nutritious treat that yields many health benefits. Olives and olive oil is used in almost every dish and meal served in Spain except maybe deserts. Olives are pressed for extra virgin olive oil and used generously for cooking, marinating, salad dressings and as a tasty dip for breads.
Olives come in many varieties and the most common versions are green, black and sun dried black olives. Cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is an unsaturated fat and very hearty healthy when used in moderation. Any fat or oil even a good one can be harmful if consumed excessively. Olives contain monounsaturated fats that seem to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Olives and olive oil also contain antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols and Vitamin E. This combination is believed to help fight colon cancer and heart disease.
2. Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats and therefore cholesterol-free. When you eat healthy almonds and reduce your animal fat intake you can help reduce cholesterol and thereby reduce the risk of heart disease. Almonds are also high in Vitamin E a powerful antioxidant which helps prevent plaque accumulation in the arteries. They are also a good source of calcium to build strong bones.
3. Herbs such as cilantro, nettles, onions, oregano, parsley and rosemary are used abundantly in Spanish cuisine. Herbs are enjoyed for their great taste as well as beneficial antioxidant and therapeutic health properties. Herbs synthesize special essential oils and substances that maintain the health of the plant which is also helpful in humans and animals. This includes aromatic substances such as phenols and derivatives known as tannins. There are also many beneficial secondary metabolites (over 12,000 have been identified). Also compounds known as alkaloids serve as defense mechanisms for plants to guard against being destroyed by herbivores, insects and microorganisms. Herbs like spices are great for seasoning food and also providing useful medicinal compounds.
4. Sea foods such as anchovies, herring and sardines are abundant in Spain. These small fish are rich in nutrients and typically low in mercury and other heavy metals. They are commonly sold canned, fresh, pickled and smoked. They are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. These fatty acids also appear to help lower blood sugar levels and help provide a steady level of energy. They offer a good source of calcium, protein and vitamins B 12 and D. Squid is another healthy sea food frequently consumed in Spain.
5. Grapes, grape seed oil and grape leaf are great foods. Grape vines are common throughout Spain and yield three great sources for year round nutrition by producing grapes, grape seed oil and grape leafs. They grow a large variety of green, red and black grapes which are a great source of antioxidants, minerals, phytonutrients, resveratrol, trace elements and vitamins. Grapes can be dried and used when fresh grapes are not available. Grape seeds are a great source for healthy essential fatty acids, fiber, minerals and trace elements. The grape leaves are also a great food and many of the ethnic cultures in Spain such as the Greek, Moroccan and Turkish often use stuffed grape leaves in popular delicious dishes.
6. Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, lemons, limes, and oranges are abundant in Spain. Citrus fruits are an excellent source of fiber, minerals, trace elements and vitamins. In addition they are rich in antioxidants and bioflavonoids which help protect our cells against damage from free radicals. There are also compounds which act as natural antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral agents that may help prevent cancer and heart disease.
7. Green leafy plants such as arugula, cabbage, lettuce, mustard and spinach are commonly made into delicious and nutritious dishes. They are a rich source of antioxidants, fiber, phyto-nutrients and vitamins. Green plants are also rich in chlorophyll which is very similar in composition to the hemoglobin in our blood which carries oxygen to our tissues.
8. Potatoes are one of the oldest root vegetables known to man and native to Central and South America. Potatoes were brought to Europe from the Americas by the early explorers and sailors. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of antioxidants, fiber, minerals, phyto-nutrients, trace elements and vitamins. Many varieties of potatoes are grown in Spain which provide many great dishes.
9. Beans are a staple food in Spain and one of the healthiest and oldest foods we know. Adding beans and legumes to your diet is an easy way to enhance your health and well being. Some of the most common beans enjoyed in Spain are black beans, fava beans, green beans, lima beans, red beans, pinto beans and white beans, Lentils and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) are a staple part of many Spanish dishes. Beans are an excellent source of nutrition and for their many health benefits. They are very high in fiber which is great for helping with lowering cholesterol, fighting heart disease and stabilizing blood sugar levels. They are a complex carbohydrate and source of protein. They also provide many minerals, trace elements and vitamins.
10. Rice is used in many dishes in Spain. While white rice is the one most commonly used in various dishes it is much better to use brown rice instead. White rice is the result of milling natural brown rice to remove the rice bran and rice germ. Unfortunately this removes the best part of the rice grain which provides the best nutrition. Brown rice has a better flavor, more fiber and is loaded with minerals and vitamins. The fiber also lowers the glycemic index of rice which reduces the increase in blood sugar after consumption. Brown rice is a great dish to serve in casseroles, soups and with vegetables. Brown rice is a complex carbohydrate that also provides many other nutritional benefits.
A Nutritious Plant Based Foundation
Unfortunately people in Spain like many other countries are indulging in excessive amounts of cheese, fish, meats, sugar, wheat, refined and processed foods that are robbing them of their health and well being.
Now is a great time to begin eating lower on the food chain with a primary plant based foundation to enjoy better health and nutrition while saving money.
When you shop for and prepare these great foods be sure to source local and organic fruit and produce whenever possible. Spanish food has many great health benefits as you learned from the top ten super Spanish foods for health article. Discover some great recipes and plan to enjoy some great new taste treats that also offer great health benefits.
Mastery Action Plan
Check out the book, May All Be Fed – Diet for a New World by John Robbins to discover the benefits of consuming a primary plant based diet.
Our next blog post will share: Top Ten Italian Foods for Health