Prunes, cod liver oil, sardines and alfalfa sprouts might sound like throwbacks from your grandma’s era. But here’s why nutritionists are giving these four old-school health foods a second chance.

Prunes

Dried plums are full of vitamins A, C and K, plus manganese and iron, says Rebecca Katz, MS, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook. “Most people think of prunes as just a laxative because of their high fiber content and sorbitol, but prunes are packed with antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage,” Katz tells LivingHealthy. In a Tufts University study, prunes topped the antioxidant food list, beating out blueberries (which had half the antioxidant capacity of prunes) and fresh plums.

Prunes also help stave off bone loss, according to researchers at Florida State University. In a 2011 study, scientists tested two groups of post-menopausal women: One group ate prunes, and the other, dried apples, daily for 12 months. The prune group had a significant increase in bone mineral density, which the researchers attribute to the fruit’s high concentration of the antioxidants that suppress bone breakdown.   

Like all dried fruit, prunes contain concentrated sugar, so if you’re limiting sweets (or calories), eat just a small handful every other day. Katz recommends adding chopped prunes to oatmeal or pairing them with olives in pork and chicken dishes.  

Cod liver oil

Extracted from the livers of Atlantic cod, this oil “is rich in the most bio-available forms of vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acid,” says Laura Kraber, a nutrition coach at Eleven Eleven Wellness in New York. “Cod liver oil reduces inflammatory skin conditions such as acne or eczema, and is not only great for your heart and joints, but also the brain,” adds Kraber, who believes the oil can be helpful for mood disorders and depression. That may be due to the high levels of vitamin D, which many medical experts believe play a key role in maintaining good brain function in old age and may help regulate serotonin (new studies are underway).

“Cod liver oil supports tooth and bone health, so it’s great for growing children, too,” Kraber tells LivingHealthy. New guidelines suggest ½ teaspoon for kids under 12, but how do you get them to swallow this fishy-tasting oil? Try mixing it into a smoothie or opt for soft-gel capsules (beware of fishy after-burps). Liquid cod liver oil usually has fewer additives, is absorbed better than capsules and now comes in new flavored versions with chocolate, cinnamon or orange extracts that help mask the taste.

Sardines

Like cod liver oil, sardines have minimal risk for mercury contamination and are loaded with omega-3s and vitamins D and B-12—all of which, says Katz, help bone health and may lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Kraber adds that sardines are also a rich source of niacin, which helps foster mental clarity. What’s more, these fish are full of iron and calcium (if you eat the tiny bones), and most varieties weigh in at less than 200 calories.

If you’re tempted by the health benefits, but not crazy about the flavor, Katz suggests trying sardines in place of tuna on a salad or chopped up with celery, relish, lemon and mustard.

Alfalfa sprouts

The hippie food is hip again, showing up on grocery shelves and in backyards (they’re easy to grow). “Alfalfa sprouts are surprisingly nutrient-dense,” says Tom Campbell, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Nutrition Studies and author of The Campbell Plan. The sprouts (part of the pea family) are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins C and K, and a slew of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and folate. 

Not only are alfalfa sprouts making their way into the mainstream, but all sorts of sprouted seeds, grains and legumes are popping up, too. Unlike refined grains, which lose nutrients in the milling process, sprouted whole grains and seeds retain all of their nutrients.  

Raw sprouts of all types, however, have been linked to bacterial food-borne illnesses (cooking them kills the bacteria, but also some of the nutrients), so Campbell advises people with weak immune systems to avoid sprouts. The rest of us should rinse them well, pat dry and enjoy.

Sources:

  1. HealWithFood.Org: Health Benefits of Prunes
  2. PubMed.Gov: Comparative Effects of Dried Plum and Dried Apple on Bone in Postmenopausal Women
  3. The Healthy Mind Cookbook
  4. Medical News Today: What are the Benefits of Cod Liver Oil?
  5. The Boston Globe: Research Suggests Vitamin D Could Affect Brain Function
  6. SFGate: What Are the Benefits of Sprouting Seeds?