Liver, insects, sardines — oh my!: 8 'gross' foods that nutritionists say you should eat

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Would you dare add sardines to a salad? How about tossing a cut of chicken liver on the grill for tonight’s main dinner course?

You might be skeptical — but it turns out that some of the foods perceived as offputting have numerous health benefits.

No food is inherently “gross,” stressed Natalie Gillett, a registered dietitian and owner of Natalie Gillett Nutrition, a New Jersey-based private practice. Instead, such judgments are often shaped by cultural and psychological factors, she said.

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“The foods that may cause us to cringe are actually widely appreciated in different countries,” said Gillett. 

“It’s time to challenge these stigmas and give seemingly ‘gross’ foods a second chance to win you over with their health benefits and surprisingly delicious flavors that contribute to our overall well-being,” she also said. 

Gillett also said that “slimy, smelly, chunky” are all food descriptions that may initially elicit a “yuck” factor. 

“But hold onto your taste buds and keep your gag reflex in check, because these perceptions often lead us to overlook the remarkable nutritional value hidden within these foods,” she said.

Paulina Lee, a gut health functional dietitian and founder of Savvy Stummy, LLC in Texas, echoed Gillett’s sentiment. 

Some experts say foods that have a “yuck” factor may be worth trying as they contain B vitamins and protein that are beneficial to your health.

“Every culture has healthy foods that some may find unappetizing. Because individuals are different, they have different food preferences and cultural foods that they may have grown up with,” she said. 

Preferences may vary due to smells, textures and tastes. Still, “it doesn’t make the food any less nutritious,” Lee said.

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So-called “icky” foods such as organ meats like liver have lots of B vitamins and protein that are beneficial to your health, according to Lee. 

Fermented foods, she also mentioned, “tend to have strange smells and odd textures, but which contain live bacteria or probiotics, that are beneficial for our gut health.”

Ahead, here are 8 foods that might elicit a “yuck” but are a big “yes” for your health.

1. Tremella mushrooms

Lee singled out these mushrooms — also known as silver ear mushroom, yin’er or snow fungus — as nutrient-dense stars. 

They are popular in China, she said, but some may find the slimy texture of the mushroom odd. 

“Despite its shape and texture, tremella mushrooms are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin D, and also contain antioxidants, vitamins B1, B2, and B6, folate, zinc, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper,” she said, adding that Tremella mushrooms have hydrating and anti-aging properties.

“Tremella mushrooms are usually purchased in its dried form,” she said. “When preparing, they need to be soaked in water before cooking.” 

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Lee recommended adding them to stir-fries for a nice crisp texture, or you can make sweet, nourishing dessert soup with tremella mushrooms, goji berries, jujubes and honey. 

2. Natto 

Natto is a traditional Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans “and characterized by a distinctive aroma, a wrinkly bacterial layer on the surface of the soybeans and a desirable degree of stickiness that may be off-putting to some,” said Lee. 

Despite its smell and appearance, natto has many nutritional benefits, said Lee, “like enzyme and probiotic potential to aid digestion, vitamin K2 content to help build strong bones and high fiber content to promote heart health.” 

natto soybeans

If you’re ready to add natto to your next meal, Lee suggested enjoying it with soy sauce and mustard or adding it into rice, miso soup or omelets.

3. Cottage cheese

“Cottage cheese is one of those foods people have a visceral reaction to, which is a shame because it is a lean protein that is also rich in calcium,” said Rachel Engelhart, a registered dietitian with RE Nutrition LLC based in Washington, D.C. 

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“Many people take issue with the chunky consistency,” she added. 

“Choosing a whipped variety (like Friendship’s whipped 1%) might be preferable for people who take issue with the texture. As long as you don’t have a dairy allergy, there is nothing gross about cottage cheese!” 

cottage cheese

When it comes time to chow down on it, Engelhart said this versatile food can be served sweet or savory. 

Eat it as a “sweet meal or snack topped with berries and granola. Toast topped with jam and cottage cheese is also delicious, or for a savory twist, it can be enjoyed on toast with mashed avocado and cottage cheese topped off with some salt and pepper,” she suggested.

4. Fermented foods

As noted above, some people who are turned off by fermented foods may be doing their health a disservice.

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“Sauerkraut, a European classic, and kimchi, a Korean staple, may initially repulse you with their tangy flavors and unique textures. But hold on tight, because they are teeming with probiotics that promote a healthy gut microbiome and aid digestion,” said Gillett. 

saurerkraut

As for how to eat this gut-health-supportive food more regularly, Gillett suggested topping your salads or sandwiches with a generous portion, for an “extra zing of flavor.”

“Blend kimchi or sauerkraut into dressings or sauces, injecting a tangy kick into your favorite dishes,” she said.

5. Sardines

Does your bodybuilding friend or gym partner chow down on sardines straight out of the can post-workout, much to your disgust? The person might be onto something. 

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“Although some might find sardines to be fishy and slimy, sardines are packed with nutrients, like vitamin D, vitamin B12 and selenium and are packed with protein,” said Lee. 

can of sardines

“Despite how sardines look and smell, they are low in mercury, and provide benefits like anti-inflammatory properties, promoting bone health, and supporting metabolism and detox.” 

To enhance their taste, Lee advised sprinkling salt, freshly ground pepper, and lemon or vinegar over them. 

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Or, “add them to crackers with some hot sauce or mustard. Add a few to your salad, or mix sardines with mayo, salt and pepper, like a tuna salad.” 

For another tasty use of sardines, add cream cheese to them for a sandwich.

6. Tuna fish

Ah, the lunchtime staple — how some folks hate thee. 

You may, however, be missing out on a lot of healthy perks.

“Tuna fish is a food that many think is gross because of its aggressive smell. The truth is that tuna fish is a wonderful source of protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12 so if you can get over the strong smell, it’s a really good food to enjoy on occasion,” said Engelhart.

can of tuna

Because tuna is also a source of mercury, Engelhart said it’s better to limit the intake of albacore white tuna to four ounces a week and skipjack light tuna to 12 ounces a week. 

When preparing it, try it mixed with mayo, as per tradition or opt for mashed avocado or greek yogurt, suggested Engelhart. 

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“It’s delicious stuffed in a pita, or topped with cheese on a tuna melt,” she said.

7. Organ meats

Pass the kidneys, please. 

While liver, kidneys, and heart may seem daunting with their strong flavors and unfamiliar textures, they are celebrated in various culinary traditions worldwide,” said Gillett. 

“French cuisine delights in foie gras, a delicacy made from duck or goose liver. In Chinese cuisine, chicken livers and beef tripe shine in flavorful stir-fries and soups,” she added, commenting that these organ meats are powerhouses of nutrition – packed with vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. 

chicken liver

“Chicken liver, for example, contains 350% of your daily value (%DV) for vitamin B12 and 72% DV for iron,” she said. 

“Try it for yourself by marinating and grilling slices of organ meats with onions and herbs, creating a rich and savory dish.” 

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Here’s another pro-tip from Gillett: If the visual challenge of organ meats on your plate grosses you out, “embrace stealth health by mincing them and adding them to meatballs or sausages.”

8. Insects

You may not be excited by this one, but believe it or not, insects “offer a sustainable and protein-rich food source, brimming with essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals,” according to Gillett.

Gillett said just two tablespoons of cricket powder provide excellent sources of riboflavin, vitamin B12 and biotin — not bad for a small serving size.

eating a cricket

“In Thailand, fried crickets and silkworm larvae are relished as crunchy snacks, while Mexico boasts chapulines — seasoned roasted grasshoppers,” she said. 

“Incorporate insects into your diet by adding cricket flour to baked goods for an extra protein boost. The cricket-for-consumption market is slowly growing in the U.S. so you just may be able to find cricket protein powder and bars at a store near you,” Gillett added.

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle.

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