28 Mar

8 Secret Superfoods of the Arab World

The Arab World diet, a sub-type of the Mediterranean diet, has many positive influences on health, including cognition, brain function, and overall mortality. It can reduce risks for heart diseases, cancer, and developments of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Since most foods are prepared with small quantities of olive oil, rather than fat-rich butter, the cuisine is generally more heart-friendly and a healthier alternative to other global foods. Here are some of the healthiest ingredients found in the Arab World diet.

1. Chickpeas

Originally cultivated in the Middle East, chickpeas, which are also known as Garbanzo beans, are a versatile legume that can be eaten hot or cold. It is also used as a main ingredient in the traditional Arab meze dish hummus (mashed chickpeas blended with olive oil, tahini, salt, garlic and lemon juice).


Health Benefits:

  • High fiber content that regulates digestive tract
  • High protein content that strengthens bone, skin, blood, and muscle health (a wonderful replacement of protein for vegetarians!)
  • Strong source of iron relieves anemia and iron deficiencies
  • Balances blood-sugar levels that reduce heart diseases (recommended for diabetics!)
  • Gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free, which reduces the overall risk for allergy and reactions
  • Antioxidants contained, such as Isoflavones, help lower cholesterol

2. Freekah

This ancient Middle Eastern kind of wheat is harvested when young and green, followed by a roasting process of the power-packed grain. It also can be consumed cracked or whole. It can be used as a form of grain super-food in dishes, such as pilaf, salads, vegetarian dishes, and even breakfast.


Health Benefits:

  • More protein and twice the fiber as Quinoa, which can keep you feeling full for much longer
  • Rich in lutein, which is important for eye health, especially against age-related macular degeneration
  • Low on the Glycemic Index (GI = 43), making it a great choice for diabetics
  • High iron, calcium, and zinc
  • Acts as a prebiotic, which promotes good bacteria in your digestive system
  • Beneficial for preventing constipation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

3. Za’atar

This is a unique spice blend from the Arab World, which includes a combination of dried oregano, thyme, sumac, salt, and sesame seeds. It is widely used as a paste with olive oil to spread over flatbread. This is called manakish or mankousheh in various regions. Za’atar can also be added as savory kick when sprinkled over with chicken, salads and other dishes.


Health Benefits:

  • Rich mineral content that can boost circulation, brain power, and stimulate neural activity in the brain
  • Sumac is rich in Gallic acid which serves as anti-fungal and anti-viral
  • Thyme clears respiratory tracts with immune-boosting abilities that can help fight off illnesses
  • Anti-inflammatory effects, which help soothe arthritis, gout, and other inflammatory conditions
  • High concentration of Polyphenols and Flavonoids powerfully boost energy and can keep metabolism moving
  • Improves appearance of skin, speeds up wound healing, and even reduces age spots and blemishes, thanks to the mix of antioxidants

4. Tahini Sauce

This is a traditional Arab dense paste made from toasted, crushed sesame seeds mixed with garlic, lemon juice, and water. Tahini can be served as a dip on its own or used as a major component in other Arab dishes such as hummus, halva, and baba ghanoush. Tahini sauce paired with chopped parsley is also a popular sauce for fish.


Health Benefits:

  • A source of healthy fatty acids, including omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. They are extremely beneficial for the brain and heart, as our body does not naturally produce these fatty acids
  • Phosphorus mineral that strengthens teeth and bones
  • Thiamin, also known as Vitamin B-1, positively impacts the nervous system, muscles, and digestion
  • Also high in Vitamin E, Vitamin B2, B3, B5 and B15
  • Great source of Methionine, which helps with liver detoxification
  • High Alkaline mineral content which aids weight loss

5. Lentils

Widely cultivated in the Arab World, this high-protein legume plant has flattened, edible seeds that are cooked and eaten. Lentils are used in Arab dishes such as mujaddara (lentils, rice or cracked wheat, and onions) and shorba (Arab lentil soup).


Health Benefits:

  • Selenium, a mineral found in lentils that are not present in other foods, prevents inflammation, decreases growth of tumors, and improves overall response to infections by stimulating killer T-cells production
  • Great source of iron to beat deficiency (Lentils contain 1/3 of your daily iron needs in 1 cup)
  • Rich in magnesium, which improves the flow of nutrients, blood, and oxygen throughout our body
  • High levels of soluble fiber, which keeps arteries clean, lowers cholesterol, and reduces risks of stroke and heart diseases
  • Contains folate, also known as folic acid or Vitamin B-9, which supports nervous system, improves energy metabolism, and is required for the process of synthesis of RNA, DNA, and red blood cells
  • Lentils are a better protein choice than beef, fish, and poultry (all of which have increased amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol)

6. Pomegranate

Grown in the Middle East for several millennia, this shrub produces the large ruby red fruit with a tough rind that contains numerous juicy, delicious nutrient-packed red seeds. Arab cuisine favors this fruit and its molasses, which can be used as a secret element in many plates and topped on salads, soups, rice, fish, and more. It can also be made into a healthy juice.


Health Benefits:

  • One of the few foods that contain aromatase inhibitors. This means that they inhibit the production of estrogen, which can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
  • Phytochemicals in the fruit can lower blood pressure and reduce LDL oxidation
  • It contains anti-angiogenic properties, which may prevent growing tumors from acquiring blood supply and growing larger
  • Punicalagins are powerful antioxidants acting as food in the juice and have three times the antioxidant activity of green tea
  • Pomegranate extract can slow down cancer cell reproduction and may even induce apoptosis (cell death) in present cancer cells
  • Pomegranate juice daily can significantly improve visual and verbal memory

7. Eggplant

These are large, purple-skinned vegetables that are white on the inside. They can also come in other shapes and colors, such as green and white. In Arab countries, over 150 dishes are made using eggplant. Some popular ones include baba bhanoush (eggplant with tahini), badhinjan mishwi bil furn (baked eggplant), salad, and eggplant stuffed with herbs, rice, and ground meat. Eggplant also makes excellent side dishes.


  • It contains significant amounts of chlorogenic acid, one of the most powerful free radicals found in plants
  • Decreases LDL levels, and serves as an anti-microbial and anti-carcinogenic agent
  • Polyphenols in the vegetable promote anti-cancer effects
  • Daily consumption of eggplants can prevent blood clots and strengthen capillaries due to the Vitamin K and bioflavonoids
  • Low in calories (35 calories in 1 cup) and contains no fat
  • Large quantities of minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium that help prevent health conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, and heart problems.
  • Dietary fiber protects against colon cancer and makes the stomach feel full more quickly

8. Molokhia

A leafy plant from the Corchorus species, molokhia is commonly utilized in Arab cuisine. It is extremely versatile and used in salads, soups, garnishes, curries, and other agents. With more than 30 vitamins and minerals in molokhia, it is a significant positive contribution to human health.


Health Benefits:

  • Rich in potassium content that can lower blood pressure levels
  • Contains high iron levels, which reduce anemia and boost energy levels due to ensured circulation
  • Magnesium content helps eliminate sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, since magnesium releases particular hormones that soothe the nerves, and is known to produce restful, uninterrupted sleep patterns
  • Rich with vitamins A, E, and C help strengthen overall immune system
  • Has iodine and selenium that work to prevent various skin disorders and regeneration
  • Contains beta-carotene, which fights against oxidative stress and other health conditions

Source:, by Yusra Al Shawwa

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