"Black pepper provides zero calories and adds a lot of punch to meals," notes Elisa Zied, M.S., R.D., author of "Nutrition at Your Fingertips." But that's not all. Considered so precious in ancient times it was used as currency, black pepper has been valued for its culinary properties, which include enhancing flavor as well as preserving freshness. And capsaicin, the substance that gives pepper its heat, has anti-cancer effects and works to reduce inflammation, a root of chronic disease.
The sunflower gets more attention than its edible progeny, sunflower seeds. Yet, these black-striped, tear drop-shaped shells housing grayish seeds are amazing in their own right. Naturally rich in heart-healthy polyunsaturated oils, sunflower seeds are very high in the powerful antioxidant, vitamin E -- a 1/4-cup serving provides over 90 percent of the Daily Value (based on 2,000 calories/day.) These nutty seeds also provide protein, B vitamins and important minerals, such as manganese, magnesium and selenium. And that's not all -- sunflower seeds are one of the best sources of phytosterols, a compound known to lower blood cholesterol levels.
When you were a kid, you probably heard your mom tell you to "eat your peas."She was right, as these jade pearls are packed with nutrition. Whatever pea you prefer -- garden peas (fresh from the pod,) snow peas (flatter pods,) snap peas (plump pods,) or dried peas (from field peas that are less sweet) -- know that they are plump with vitamins A,C, K and B, minerals, and fiber and protein. Studies have linked diets rich in green and yellow vegetables, including green peas, with heart disease prevention. Peas also supply a significant quantity of the eye-healthy compounds beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
You might relegate onions to the list of old-fashioned kitchen standbys, as you can slice and dice them into everything from home fries and soups to omelets and casseroles.
But onions can lend your dishes a powerful nutritional punch in addition to their trademark flavor. These pungent bulbs are rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins C and B6. Scientists are interested in onions' abundant polyphenol and sulfur-containing compounds, such as quercetin and allyl sulfides, that may lower the risk of some cancers and help maintain heart health and immune function.
One of the oldest condiments known to man, sesame seeds can add a nutty, nutritious crunch to any dish.
High in important minerals like copper, manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc, as well as fiber, vitamin B1 and protein, sesame seeds should be a staple on your pantry shelf. They also contain the cholesterol-lowering plant compounds lignans and phytosterols. Don't limit sesame seeds to ethnic cuisine; sprinkle them over salads, meats, side dishes, pasta, and breads for nutrition and flavor.
The "stinking rose" -- the name derives from Greek and Roman antiquity -- offers far more than its characteristic flavor and aroma; garlic may help protect you against heart disease.
Studies have linked this member of the onion family with lowering cholesterol levels, as well as providing anti-clotting activity and reductions in blood pressure. "Garlic contains lots of phytochemicals, such as allicin, saponin and coumaric acid," adds Zied. Such compounds are behind garlic's anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects that contribute to heart health. Consider the supply of manganese, vitamins C and B6, and selenium in garlic, and you can see why it should always have a home in your kitchen.