Antioxidants

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Colour code your health by eating the rainbow!

Colour code your health by eating the rainbow!

Colour code your health by eating a rainbow of foods (download as PDF Colour code your health with rainbow foods)

It feels as though we are continually being told to eat more fruits and vegetables to maintain good health and keep diseases at bay, with current research suggesting that eating five-a-day is not enough to reap the health benefits they have to offer.  So, what exactly is it about these nutritious colourful allies that makes them so great? 

The protective effect of antioxidant micronutrients such as the ACE vitamins and selenium have been understood for some time now.  These antioxidants are essential to help reduce free radicals in the body (unstable molecules produced from digestion and exposure to pollution, sunlight and cigarette smoke) and they have have been attributed to lowering the risk of many diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia.  However, research has now moved forward to discover the beneficial effects of compounds known as phytonutrients that are responsible for colouring fruits and vegetables, and how they too can have a powerful effect on our health and reduce the risk of disease.

 


“The protective effect of antioxidant micronutrients such as the ACE vitamins and selenium have been understood for some time now”


 

Phytochemicals originally evolved to help plants protect themselves from diseases and insects and research is beginning to demonstrate that in the same way they can also help to protect us from disease.  There are thousands of phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables and as the research is new we’re only just starting to unveil their identity and extremely complex action within the body.

Although the science is complex, the message is simple; eat a wide variety of different coloured foods.  As nutrients in foods work in synergy and different phytonutrients can be more freely absorbed depending on their make up within the structure of the food, it’s also a good idea to not only mix colours and types of fruits and vegetables but also cooking methods combining raw with cooked (such as adding roasted sweet potato or tomatoes to salad).

 


“Although the science is complex, the message is simple; eat a wide variety of different coloured foods”


 

By dividing different fruits and vegetables by their hue you can see how mother nature has allowed us to colour code our health by eating a rainbow of foods.

 

Red and pink 

 

 

Foods:  watermelon, pomegranate, red peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, pink grapefruit, cranberries, red grapes, raspberries, rhubarb, red chillies

Benefit: Most red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene, which is a member of the carotenoid family which are converted into vitamin A within the body.  This vitamin along with vitamins C and E help to protect the body from free radical damage.  Studies show that Lycopene* may reduce the risk of prostate cancer as well as helping to promote good colon health.  Red berries contain ellagic acid (helps to support the immune system) and anthocyanins, which research suggests reduces inflammation and help preserve memory whilst helping to slow down the degenerative processes of ageing.  These are also considered to be protective against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease as well as showing antiviral and antibacterial properties.

*Lycopene is more freely available in processed or cooked tomatoes.  Try roasting cherry tomatoes with balsamic and a little olive oil, which helps with the absorption of lycopene.

 

Yellow and orange

 

 

Foods: Yellow peppers, orange peppers, cantaloupe melon, carrots, sweetcorn, butternut squash, mangoes, grapefruit, peaches, pineapples, oranges

Benefit: The key antioxidant found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are carotenoids (also found in green leafy vegetables). These are converted to vitamin A in the body, which is essential for healthy skin and eyes.  Beta-carotene has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers as well as playing a role in the immune system, reducing cognitive decline and possibly dementia risk.  You will also find a group of compounds in this hue known as bioflavonoids which studies suggest reduce inflammation in the body and may also work to slow down the development of cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Combining your orange foods with healthy fats found in avocados or oils will help with the absorption of carotenoids.  Try drizzling olive oil over roasted butternut squash.

 

Green

 

Foods: Peas, kale, broccoli, kiwi fruit, avocado, mint, gooseberries, grapes, asparagus, artichokes, pak choi, honeydew melon, green peppers, Brussles sprouts, cabbage, green beans

Benefit: Lutein (found also in yellow fruits and vegetables) and zeaxanthin found in green vegetables are major pigments in the eyes and important for the maintenance of healthy vision.  Studies have shown that people who eat higher amounts of these compounds in their diet have a lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) which is a major cause of blindness as we age. Zeaxanthin may also help to reduce the risk of breast and lung cancers, and play a role in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. Leutiolin is another antioxidant found in green peppers and celery which has been found to lower inflammation in the brain and central nervous system. Green foods also contain quercetin which also has an anti-inflammatory effect within the body.

 

Purple and blue

 

Foods: black grapes, beetroot, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, red onions, aubergines, purple potatoes, purple cabbage, plums

Benefit: Anthocyanins are present in this colourful group of fruits and vegetables.  These compounds are thought to reduce inflammation, which may help with preservation of memory and reduced risk of certain cancers. Blueberries have been the focus of research into the effects of anthocyanins and reduced mental decline (including Alzheimer’s).  Purple grapes are especially high in a type of polyphenol known as resveratrol, which has been shown to protect against heart disease and promote a healthy circulatory system by reducing the levels of bad blood fats and blocking the formation of blood clots (which can cause heart attack and stroke).  Blackberries contain ellagic acid and catechins, which may help to protect against cancer.

 

White

 

Foods: Mushrooms, garlic, onions, cauliflower, endive, parsnips, turnip, taro, celeriac

Benefit: Although not strictly a colour of the rainbow, white vegetables also contain a variety of phytonutrients that can have a protective effect on your health.  Onions and garlic contain quercetin and allicin, which are known to kill harmful bacteria and protect capillaries (smallest of the body’s blood vessels).  You will find powerful polyphenols in mushrooms which can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.  Glucosinolates and thiocyanates found in cauliflower may also help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer as well as help with digestive disorders.

 

Just adding a few more colours to your meals each day can make a big difference to the nutritional quality of your diet.  Here are my top five tips to adding a little extra colour to your diet:

  • Try to include at least two different colour vegetables with each meal, this could be a salad with tomatoes and cucumber, roasted squash and beetroot or peas with baby onions
  • Smoothies and juices are a great way to combine lots of different coloured fruits and vegetables such as beetroot, carrot and apple
  • Homemade soups are an easy way to combine colours as are stews and casseroles
  • Snack on a variety of chopped veggies (perhaps with a dip such as hummus) such as courgette, red peppers and carrot
  • Throw a handful of mixed berries over porridge, breakfast cereal or yoghurt;  you could even combine them with sweet apples to make a antioxidant-rich fruit compote

 (download as PDF Colour code your health with rainbow foods)

How easy is it to get your 10-a-day?

How easy is it to get your 10-a-day?

How easy is it to get 10-a-day? (download PDF How easy is it to get 10)

So, just when you thought you were managing to eat your 5-a-day, new research by Imperial Collage London shows that we should be eating 10-a-day to get the best benefits for our health.  Evidence shows that eating fruits and vegetables can help to protect against diseases such as heart disease and cancer.  The benefits of these plant foods lie in their high fibre content as well as the vitamins, minerals and other plant compounds they contain. 

 

What makes fruits and vegetables so beneficial for health?

As well as vitamins and minerals that are essential for life, fruits and vegetables also contain a good source of fibre, which is lacking in the average UK diet.  Fruits and vegetables also contain phytonutrients, which are not essential to life but have an added health benefit.  These plant compounds are responsible for their bright colours and act as antioxidants in the body that help to reduce inflammation and the damage caused by excess free radicals that can build up because of a poor diet, environmental factors and stress.   Such compounds include beta carotene (found in orange and green varieties), anthocyanins (found in blue and purple varieties) and lycopene (found in red varieties).  Certain phytonutrients have also been linked to specific conditions such as lutein and zeaxanthin (found in yellow and green vegetables), which have been shown by research to help protect against age related macular degeneration (leading cause of blindness in older people.

The other significant factor here is that if you’re eating 10-a-day then the chances are you have a very heathy diet, which of course will protect you against diseases as well as help you maintain a healthy weight (a risk factor for many diseases).

 

How much do we currently eat?

The last National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS 2016) showed that the average intake of fruits and vegetables is 4 serving per day.  If you take fruit out of the equation, then this drops to 3.4 servings per day.  On average, it seems that only 27% of adults manage to eat 5-a-day.

The key benefits lie in vegetable intake so it’s this that we need to focus on to glean the greatest benefit to health. 

 

So what counts?

A serving of fruits and vegetables is 80g (40g of dried fruit).  All fruits and vegetables count and some portions may be heavier than 80g such as a whole pepper (160g) or half an aubergine (150g).   Smoothies are classed as 2 servings and juices as 1 serving but only once in the day.   A single portion of pulses and beans (even baked beans!) are classed as 1 serving but only once in the day.  Cook-in-sauces can also count if they’re tomato-based so if you chuck in a few handfuls of frozen peas to your pasta sauce you’re already getting 2 servings.

 

Is 10-a day completely unachievable?

Absolutely not! You could even be eating more than you think.  In relation to the 5-a-day guidance, the NHS says, “evidence shows that there are significant health benefits to getting at least five 80g portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. That’s five portions of fruit and veg in total, not five portions of each.”  So, the new 10-a-day goal is 800g of fruit and vegetables not necessarily 10 individual servings of each, although including lots of different varieties can means a wider range of nutrients.

This may help to ease the daunting thought of 10-a-day as composite dishes add up.  A simple chilli could in fact provide you with 2-3 servings when you count the canned tomatoes, red kidney beans, peppers, onions and garlic.  Serve with guacamole or a tomato salad and you could get as much as 4 servings in one meal.

Some people may feel that cost is an issue but frozen vegetables can provide a cheaper way to add these foods to your diet.  Canned pulses are also a cheap way to add a serving of vegetables as well as bulking out meals and adding protein and key minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc. to your diet.  You can also source cheaper vegetables from local markets and buying in season helps as well.

 

Top ten tips to achieving 10-a-day 

  1. Keep frozen vegetables and canned pulses to hand as they’re a quick way to add a serving of vegetables to your dishes.  Just remember to grab a few handfuls when you’re cooking.
  2. Dried fruit makes for a great healthy snack and 40g counts as one of your five-a-day.
  3. Get creative with toppings at breakfast by adding fresh or dried fruits to cereal or yoghurt.
  4. Toast can either be a breakfast option or a snack and you can add a serving of fruit and vegetables by topping with mashed banana or guacamole (try jazzing this up with lime juice, chillies and spring onions or even a sprinkle of chill powder).
  5. Potatoes don’t count but sweet potatoes do.  Swap them for your usual baked potato or add them roasted and chopped to salads.  They also make great dips!
  6. If your trying to make a dish go further or reduce your food bill by cutting down on meat then replace half the meat in a recipe with canned lentils, which are a good source of protein and key minerals as well as adding a serving of vegetables to your daily intake.
  7. Remember it’s the sum weight of the vegetables that count.  Homemade soups and stir fries can add as much as 3 servings to your daily intake.
  8. Choose vegetables that are the least hassle to prepare.  There’s no point buying squash and beetroots if you don’t know what to do with them and they just end up going off in the fridge.  Green beans, Tenderstem broccoli, frozen peas or soya beans are easy to chuck in a pan of boiling water.
  9. If you find vegetables boring, then explore cuisines such as Indian that make the most of vegetables by using tasty spices.  Dried spices also help to boost your intake of minerals such as iron and have been shown to hold some interesting anti-inflammatory properties.
  10. Get creative!  If you have picky eaters, then try blending vegetables before adding to dishes.  There are also lots of recipes on the internet that provide inventive ways to add vegetables to dishes such as parsnip muffins or beetroot and chocolate cake.

Meeting the new guidance is not as difficult as you think and using the simple tips above can help.  Also, try searching the internet for recipe ideas that float your boat using your favourite flavours and cuisines.

For more information on how to get more vegetables into your diet go to NHS choices.  You will also find lots of recipe ideas at BBC food.

 

Download as a PDF How easy is it to get 10

Can we eat our way to good health? Most definitely yes!

Can we eat our way to good health? Most definitely yes!

Current state of health and nutrient intake in the UK (Download as PDF Current state of health in the UK)

Two thirds of the UK population are now classed as being overweight or obese.  It’s well established from research that eating the right foods that lower your BMI can help reduce your risk of developing a whole raft of diseases from heart disease to cancer.   UK Food surveys also show that a significant number of people have low intakes of certain nutrients, which may impact on areas of your health including tiredness and fatigue, poor skin and digestion. 

Fibre intake in the UK is low as is intake of omega 3-rich foods such as oily fish, both of which help protect against heart disease and certain cancers.  Women in particular are shown to have low intakes of certain minerals in their diets including magnesium and iron (nearly quarter of women have inadequate intakes of iron) both of which can impact on energy levels and fatigue. One in five Brits are also at risk of profound vitamin D deficiency according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey that can impact on bone health which is especially important for the young and older people (research has also linked this vitamin to helping with symptoms of depression).

 Research shows that in some cases, including or removing certain foods from your diet may help to reduce the symptoms and management of certain conditions including high cholesterol, depression, PMS or menopause.

 

Can you heal yourself with food?

 So, it is possible to heal yourself with food?  Yes, absolutely.  Food has the ability to heal and nurture your health and getting your diet at a place of balance is the way to start, from there you can begin to add or remove certain foods according to your health concerns.  Don’t get me wrong, there is no magic food to suddenly cure you of disease and many conditions require medical intervention but diet may certainly help to compliment a treatment or provide a more holistic approach, it’s also just food so why not give it a go.

 

Restrictive diets

There is a growing trend to follow alternative ways of eating that restrict certain foods groups such as paleo and Pegan but do these ways of eating really improve our health and is the approach of cutting out wheat, dairy and sugar make a difference? I don’t believe that cutting out large swathes of foods is the best approach to take unless you are aware of what foods you have to replace them with to still get a balance of nutrients in the diet.  

Too many people embark on highly restrictive, complicated diets and end up suffering nutritionally, whilst diagnosed food intolerances and allergies are relatively rare for some people replacing dairy with calcium-rich alternatives and cutting down on the amount of refined carbs they eat simply makes them feel better and often helps improve digestion which is why we took this approach with the Detox Kitchen Bible cookbook.  Be realistic and be sensible about removing foods from your diet as they have to be replaced with similar foods to maintain a balanced diet. There’s little benefit removing it if it doesn’t cause a problem!”

 

Top tips for taking a food approach to some of the UK’s top health concerns.

 Weight loss

  • Include a mix of healthy fats, protein and  a little wholegrain carb for a balance of nutrients guaranteed to keep you feeling full between meals
  • Mindfulness and intuitive eating can play a key part in maintaining weight so think before you eat!
  • If you are reducing calories then choose high nutrient dense foods
  • Setting realistic goals and avoiding extreme diets are the best approach for lasting results
  • Fill up on veggies at each meal (fresh or frozen)
  • Choose foods with a high water content such as soups, stews and casseroles to increase fullness

Healing foods: aubergine, quinoa, eggs, brown rice, seeds, broccoli, kale

Recipe: Roasted aubergine and pomegranate

 

 

Heart health

  • High fibre diets (especially oats) are effective for reducing cholesterol, weight loss and risk of T2 diabetes
  • Soy foods are shown to be effective at reducing cholesterol
  • Omega 3 fatty acids help to thin the blood, reduce inflammation and increase levels of ‘good’ cholesterol
  • Food high in potassium can help to maintain health blood pressure
  • Plant compounds such as beta-sitosterol found in avocados and olive oil effective at reducing cholesterol
  • High sugar and refined carbs just as damaging if not more so than saturated fat in the diet
  • Antioxidants such as flavanoids and polyphenols affective at reducing free radical damage and reducing inflammation

Healing foods:  Avocados, extra virgin olive oil, almonds, berries, beetroot, edamame, brown rice, salmon

 Recipe:  Salmon, green beans, orange and hazelnut salad

 

 

Women’s health – PMS, Menopause

  • High intake of non-meat iron (pulses, dried fruit) may be effective at reducing symptoms of PMS
  • Limit spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol to help with flushes and night sweats
  • Maintaining steady blood sugar levels is an effective strategy for PMS, PCOS and menopause
  • Ganestien, a compound found in soy foods (especially fermented varieties such as miso) may help reduce hot flushes during the menopause as may other phytoestrogen rich foods such as lentils sprouts.
  • Women suffering with PMS are often seen to have low levels of calcium and affective to treat with calcium and vitamin D supplements 
  • Boost intake of the amino acid, tryptophan to increase serotonin production (along with eating Low GI carbs) – low levels are a result of sensitivity to progesterone during ovulation – affect mood and responsible for PMS cravings

Healing foods:  Edamame beans, miso, pumpkin seeds, lentil sprouts, dried fruit, eggs, turkey, quinoa

RecipeAvocado smash with toasted nuts and seeds

 

 

Skin health  

  • Sufficient intake of zinc may help to regulate the production of sebum
  • Omega 3 fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation and may help with conditions such as psoriasis
  • In the case of eczema and psoriasis, try avoiding foods such as eggs and dairy that are rich in arachidonic acid (a type of omega 6), which promotes inflammation.
  • Eat plenty of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants to help fight free radical damage from environmental factors.
  • Eat plenty of foods rich in beta-carotene (orange and green vegetables) as this is converted to vitamin A in the body which is essential for the repair and maintenance of healthy skin.

Healing foods:  Kale, butternut squash, mango, salmon, dried figs, berries, prawns, seeds

Recipe: Cajun chicken with avocado salad and mango salsa

 

 

Tiredness and fatigue

  • Low intake of iron responsible for fatigue (23% of women have low intakes in the UK)
  • Low levels of magnesium and B vitamins may also result in tiredness and fatigue
  • Migraine sufferers faced with fatigue – reducing intake of tyramine foods (red wine, pickled foods, chocolate) and increasing vitamin B2 (mackerel, eggs, mushrooms) can help
  • Low levels of magnesium may lead to insomnia, which can impact on tiredness.
  • Combine foods high in vitamin C with iron-rich foods to boost absorption.

Healing foods: Brown rice, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, cashew nuts, mushrooms, almonds, mackerel, egg

Recipe: Beetroot falafel

 

You can find more information on health and recipes to help health the body in the new edition of the Detox Kitchen Bible.

Download as PDF (Current state of health in the UK)

Top ten tips to beat a hangover

Top ten tips to beat a hangover

How to cure a hangover:  the good, the bad and the ugly (Download as a PDF how-to-cure-a-hangover_website)

It’s that time of year again when many of us wake up after a busy social event muttering those fateful words, “I am never drinking again”.   Even healthy nutritionists like myself have had to deal with some real corkers!  As the festive season looms closer and your diary fills up, it’s a good time to think about some of the good and more infamous hangover cures that may help to relieve your symptoms the next day.

What is a hangover?

 When you drink alcohol, it gets broken down in the liver to a compound called acetaldehyde, which is a toxic compound that contributes to the feelings associated with a hangover.   Obviously, the more you drink the greater the buildup of toxin and hence worse hangover. The main symptoms of a hangover include headaches from the dilation of blood vessels, dehydration from the increased need to urinate, nausea and stomach aches from the increased acidity.  Sleep also plays a major part in the severity of your hangover and the less you get the worse you will feel across the day. 

Try and prep your liver

 If you know December is going to be a whirlwind of parties, then try and be good to your liver when you’re not out on the town.  Try classic herbal remedies such as milk thistle (try Healthspan, 30 tablets for 12.95) or artichoke extract (try Healthspan, 120 tablets for £8.95) that have been traditionally used to support your liver health. 

Eating healthily at all other times is obviously a good idea too and foods such as bitter green vegetables and globe artichokes have been shown to improve bile flow (helping to remove toxins more efficiently) and help with the detoxification process (1).  Beetroot has also been traditionally associated with liver health by way of a plant compound called betaine (2).  Regardless of their potential to promote liver health, brightly colored fruits and vegetables make a valued addition to the diet and help by reducing the damage cause by excess free radicals as well as adding fibre and micronutrients to the diet.

Hangover cures

There are very few hangover cures that will generally work and in reality the only way to prevent one is to stay sober, which is not much fun during the party season.  Try and make sure you eat before you go out and try and keep hydrated by alternating water with alcoholic drinks.  If all else fails, try the tips below, which are some of the best, the worst and downright ugly of hangover cures.

The good 

  1. Rehydrate

Dehydration can leave you feeling tired, irritable, dizzy and generally not well especially when partnered with a drop in electrolytes that may occur after a heavy session.  Drink plenty of fluids the next day but try and avoid very sugary drinks as this can affect blood sugar levels leaving you feeling even more sluggish.  You could also try adding in an electrolyte sachet to help rebalance your system and replace nutrients commonly depleted by alcohol including magnesium, potassium, calcium and B vitamins.

  1. Go Long!

Try opting for drinks made with soda water or low calorie mixers as these will help to dilute the alcohol and give you a longer lasting drink.  Go for single shots of spirits or small glasses of white or rose wine to top up.

  1. Don’t drink on an empty stomach

This is a classic mistake, especially if you’re going straight out after work.  Drinking on an empty stomach can kame you much more sensitive to the effects of alcohol and is often a recipe for disaster.  Alcohol also acts as an appetite stimulant so you’re more like to end up tucking heavily into the buffet or queuing up in MC Donalds on your way home. Try eating something nourishing before you go out that has a good source of protein and fat to help keep you feeling full and soaking up some of the booze.

  1. Eggs for breakfast

Try something light in the morning that will help to get your blood sugar levels back up and bring a little closer to feeling yourself again.  Something like eggs on toast is a great option as these nutritional powerhouses contain a good source of the amino acid,  cysteine that helps to breakdown acetaldehyde in the liver.

  1. Avoid brown drinks

Conjeners are more concentrated in darker coloured alcohol drinks.  These compounds are a toxic byproduct of the fermentation process and are often added for taste and appearance.   Brown spirits and red wine contain a higher amount of congeners than lighter coloured drinks and can make hangovers more intense the next day

The bad

  1. coffee

If you can tolerate it then sure have a coffee.  However, slugging back high caffeine drinks can leave you a bit jittery especially if you do so on an empty stomach.  This can be a disaster if your stomach is feeling particularly sensitive.  Try ginger tea for nausea or peppermint, caraway and fennel to relieve any bloating.

  1. Energy drinks

However bad you feel try and steer clear of energy drinks.  These are often loaded with sugar that will further upset blood sugar levels and the stimulants such as caffeine and taurine are likely to increase spasms in the bowel, which is not great for a delicate gut.  Caffeine can also increase anxiety and suppress appetite, which is last thing you need when food is required to get you blood sugar leves back up.

  1. The greasy fry-up

 Some people swear by a good old greasy fry-up after a big session but this may not be your best option.  Heavy, fatty foods take a while to digest and can be hard going on sensitive stomachs, whilst also increasing the chances of indigestion and heart burn.  These stodgy types of foods will also leave you feeling sluggish across the day, only adding to your lack of vitality.

The ugly

  1. The Prarie Oyster 

This is not for the faint hearted and its recipe goes back to the early 1920’s (think Sally Bowls in the movie, Caberet).  Combine tomato juice, raw egg, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper then enjoy?

  1. Pickled plums (Umeboshi)

 These taste both salty and sour.  Umeboshi are traditionally viewed as a hangover remedy in Japan given their supposed ability to help relieve nausea, dizziness and fatigue. These are definitely an acquired taste and not sure they’re really what you would want to be eating with a sensitive stomach and nausea but feel free to try!

 

Hangover tonic

Try this Hangover Tonic the next morning to get your blood sugar levels back up and replace the vitamin and minerals depleted by alcohol.

Green vegetables like kale help increase bile flow through the liver to remove toxins effectively.  Cucumbers and lettuce are great foods to help hydrate the body after a boozy night and the fruit sugars in pears can help to raise low blood sugar to help you feel yourself again. 

Serves 2

 1/2 cucumber

3 kale leaves (take soft leaves off the stem)

1 small handful coriander

1 lime (juice only)

1 head Romaine lettuce

2 pears

Method

  1. Chop ingredients and blend high for 30 seconds
  2. Lay muslin over a bowl, pour in juice then grab the four corners of cloth and squeeze out the juice

There’s no reason to be a fun sponge during the seasonal festivities and often a hangover is just the price you pay.  It’s important to make sure that you drink sensibly and within the recommended number of units.  For more information go to www.drinkaware.co.uk 

Download as a PDF how-to-cure-a-hangover_website

 

 References 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22010973
  2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/3/539.full#sec-4

 

 

 

 

 

Glorious greens!

Glorious greens!

Eat your greens

Most of us are more than familiar with the term, “eat your greens”, as a well-used mantra for good nutrition and it seems we can’t get enough of them.  Green is a colour most commonly associated with all things healthy and their position in the current wellness landscape is clear from the popularity of juices, powders and self-proclaimed ‘superfoods’ derived from this group of vegetables.  The social media site, Instagram has become one of the main platforms for people to share their love of food with hashtags for kale revealing over 2 million posts and avocado exceeding 4 million.

 

The green revolution

Foods such as kale, avocado and courgette have become the heroes of the ‘green revolution’ as influential food bloggers showcase innovative ways to serve these vegetables such as spiralised courgette, kale chips or avocado on toast.  The positive press about green vegetables has also resonated with shoppers as market research shows how they choose kale for health in 9 out of 10 occasions.  Other green vegetables also carry a similar message with three quarters of consumers actively thinking about health when eating spinach and broccoli.

 

Popularity of green vegetables

Last year’s sales figures from Waitrose showed that courgette sales were up 13% from the previous year and that spring greens were up 23%.  The popularity of kale, the ambassador for healthy greens, is also continuing to rise with Marks and Spencer reporting that they have sold twice as much as the previous year.  Market research from Kantar Worldpanel echoes these figures by reporting that overall sales of kale in the UK were up by 54% on the previous year.  However, despite their popularity and sales figures, the NDNS survey shows that greens are still not our preferred choice as intake of vegetables such as kale, broccoli, sprouts and cabbages are low compared with more popular choices such as tomatoes.

 

Nutritious greens

So are green vegetables any more nutritious?  Well if you compare vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli with other coloured vegetables then they do contain a richer source of minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium but this doesn’t mean you should be skimping on reds, yellows, oranges and purples.  All vegetables are highly beneficial to health and contain their own unique blend of nutrients and no single variety should be viewed as superior.

Aside from vitamins and minerals that are essential to life, vegetables also contain Phytonutrients.  These compounds are pigments that give plants their vivid array of colours and originally evolved to help protect against diseases and insects.  Research has shown how these plant compounds help to protect our health and reduce the risk of disease.  There are many thousands of phytonutrients and research has only just started to unveil their identity and very complex action in the body. 

Phytonutrients also act as antioxidants that help to prevent against the damage caused by the oxidation of molecules, which is a process that creates free radicals.  Free radicals are a natural byproduct of metabolism but an excess can build up in the body when we are exposed to environmental factors such as too much sun, pollution or smoking.

 

Eye health

Two such phytonutrients found in green vegetables are lutein and zeaxanthin that have been shown to help maintain good eye health.  Both are found in high concentration in the macula, which is an area within the retina of the eye.  One purpose of these phytonutrients is to help filter our harmful light that can potentially damage the eye.  Large studies have shown that these nutrients help to lower the risk and slow down the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is a leading cause of blindness in older people.  Further studies have also shown that people with the greatest intakes of foods rich in lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene, in particular kale, spinach and broccoli, are less likely to develop cataracts.

 

Still not eating enough vegetables

Although green vegetables receive a lot of attention, regardless of colour, the reality is that as a nation we still don’t eat enough of any vegetable.  The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) has shown that on average we are only eating four daily servings of fruits and vegetables and that only 30% of us are eating more than the recommended 5-a-day.

 Research by University College London has suggested that there is a greater benefit to be had by eating more than seven servings daily and that this should include more vegetables as these hold greater health benefits.  They found that those who ate at least seven serving daily were 42% less likely to die from any cause over the course of their study.

 

Include a rainbow of colours!

Green vegetables are undeniably very nutritious and have been widely studied for their health benefits including those related to eye health.  Whilst it’s a good idea to included them in your daily diet you should avoid the hype and eat a rainbow of foods to maximise your nutrient intake. These foods in particular are often labelled with the term ‘superfood’ but this holds little nutritional significance and no single vegetable or any food for that matter can be viewed as a panacea.  The focus should start with increasing overall intake of vegetables as their benefit to health is well proven.

Sesame crusted tuna with Asian salad and soy/mirin dressing

Sesame crusted tuna with Asian salad and soy/mirin dressing

Japanese-style lunch bursting with omega 3 (download as a PDF japanese-style-tuna-with-asian-salad)

Don’t be scared off by the long list of ingredients as this dish is simple to prepare and is beyond tasty and fresh. Tuna is a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids that have are thought to benefit the heart by increasing HDL cholesterol and reducing inflammation in the body.

These fatty acids are also good for the skin by supporting cell membranes that act as a passageway to nutrients in and waste out of cells as well as retaining water that moisturises and plumps the skin. This dish is also a good option for those trying to cut down the carbs in their diet, but you can serve with brown rice or quinoa as an option.

 

Serves 2

480 calories per serving (using 1 tbsp of chive oil)

 

Ingredients

250g fresh tuna (the best quality you can find)

25g sesame seeds

 

Salad

1 medium avocado

½ cucumber

1 head of pak choy

1 tbsp chives, chopped

Small handful of coriander, finely chopped

A few mint leaves, finely chopped

2 tsp sesame oil

½ lime, juiced

 

Dressing

 

30ml reduced sodium, light soy sauce

30ml mirin

2 tsp rice wine vinegar
Chive oil
120ml light olive oil

Large handful of chives, finely chopped

 

Method

 

  1. Place the sesame seeds on a small plate.
  2. Brush the tuna with a little light olive oil and roll in the sesame seeds until all the sides are covered then set aside.
  3. Prepare the salad. Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone then peel off the skin. Cut each half into thin slices. Half the cucumber and remove the seeds then cut each half into thin slices diagonally. Trim the bottom off the pak choy and wash the leaves then dry and slice each leaf into thin strips. Add the avocado, cucumber and pak choy to a medium-sized bowl and gently combine. Add the chives, coriander and mint along with the sesame oil and lime juice then continue to combine.
  4. Prepare the dressing by adding the ingredients to a small bowl and whisking with a fork.
  5. For the chive oil, place the oil and chives in a small blender and whizz for 30 seconds. This will make a larger quantity of oil than required but you can keep it in a container in the fridge.
  6. Heat a little oil in a large, non-stick frying pan or griddle until smoking hot. Place the tuna on the pan and cook for one and a half minutes on each side (medium-rare).
  7. To serve the dish, cut the tuna into thin slices and place on a long, rectangular, shallow-sided dish. Mound the salad at one end of the dish. Pour the soy dressing over the tuna and salad the drizzle a little of the chive oil over the tuna (to taste).

 

Download as a PDF (japanese-style-tuna-with-asian-salad)

 

 

Moroccan butternut squash and red lentil soup

Moroccan butternut squash and red lentil soup

High fibre soup

Butternut squash is a very rich source of beta-catorene, which is pant chemical that gives its bright orange colour.  This pigment also acts as a profile antioxidant in the body that helps to reduce oxidative damage from free radical (caused by environmental factors). This soup is also high in fibre that helps maintain good digestion and has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, control blood glucose levels as well as help with weight maintenance.

Ras El Hanout is a Moroccan spice made from a blend of coriander, ginger, paprika, allspice, cardamon, cloves and rose petals.

 

High vis soup

Serves 2 (generous servings)

Ingredients

1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut in to chunks

2 garlic cloves

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

100g red lentils

2 tsp Ras El Hanout

Small pinch of dried chillies

800ml vegetable stock

Sea salt

Black pepper

 

To serve

Sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Pomegranate arils

Fresh mint, finely chopped

 

Method

  1. Pre heat the oven to 200C.
  2. Season the squash with salt and pepper then wrap in foil with the garlic. Place the foil package on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 20 minutes until tender then remove from the oven and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion.  Fry for 5-8 minutes until soft.  Add the Ras El Hanout and dried chillies then cook for a further 1 minute.
  4. Add the squash, garlic and lentils to the pan and stir.  Pour in the stock and bring to the boil.
  5. Once boiled turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the lentils are tender.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Take the soup off the heat and blend with a stick blender until smooth.  If the soup is too thick then add water until you get your desired consistency (soup should be a thick consistency).
  8. Divide the soup between two bowls and garnish with seeds, pomegranate and chopped mint.

 

Soup in a row

 

 

 

Nutrient packed protein snack

Nutrient packed protein snack

I’m always getting asked for post-training snack ideas so thought I would take a quick snap of today’s little number.

If your fitness regime involves a few trips to the gym each week, and your goal is to lose weight, then there’s really no point in replacing those calories you have sweat your heart out to burn.  However, if you’ve skipped breakfast or eaten very little for lunch before a workout then this snack is perfect to satisfy your hunger.

There’s also no need for mega protein shakes after training.  They don’t make you miraculously sprout muscles and are usually loaded with sugar.  You’ll get more than enough protein from your daily food intake.  If weight gain is your goal then bulk up with lots of small meals throughout the day that also include carbs and healthy fats (gaining weight can be just as hard as losing it for some people).

For those who are super-fit, training hard to gain weight or maintain a high calorie intake to meet your intensive training needs, then nutritious snacks will make up an essential part of your regime.

This snack is rich in healthy fats, including anti-inflammatory omega 3’s, which research suggests may help with post training soreness (although the amount of omega 3 implied in such studies exceeds what this snack provides but hey, my legs will thank any help they can get!). It’s also rich in magnesium (natures muscle relaxer), low levels of which may encourage cramping.

As always, a good supply of antioxidants from fresh veggies is beneficial for overall health and may be especially important for professional sports people who are exposed to an excess of free radicals from intensive training regimes.

If you’re training hard or looking to gain weight then you may want to add some carbs to this dish.  Try a little white pitta bread as it’s quickly broken down to restore glycogen stores in the muscles and liver.

 

Lentil sprout salad with smoked salmon

Serves one

270 calories per serving

Rich in protein, omega 3, potassium, magnesium, vitamins B & C

 

Ingredients

2 slices of smoked salmon (about 60g)

5 raw cashew nuts

1 tsp pumpkin or sunflower seeds

3 radish, quartered

1/6th small white cabbage, finely shredded

1 tbsp lentil sprouts

1/4 small cucumber, diced

1/2 small courgette, diced

Small handful of coriander, finely chopped

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 small lemon, juiced

Sea salt

Ground black pepper

 

Method

  1. Place the salmon on a plate.
  2. Set a small frying pan over a low heat and add the nuts and seeds. Toast gently for a few minutes until slightly coloured (don’t leave the pan as they will burn!) then set aside to cool.
  3. Add all the veggies to a medium-sized bowl and combine with the oil and lemon juice then season well.
  4. Add the nuts and seeds to the salad then serve alongside the salmon.

 

Green juices

Green juices

I love a green juice as much as any other health conscious person (something about the colour that psychologically feels superiorly healthy). However, given the fuss around them in recent years you couldn’t be blamed for thinking they were some sort of elixir for eternal youth and a life free of disease!

Most gourmet juice companies talk about enzymes, phytonutrients, antioxidants and ‘clean food’, which is just the oddest term with little nutritional relevance. Many also offer ‘juice cleanses’, which I will happily say I don’t agree with, but for those that swear by them and genuinely feel better after them then go for it, in the short term they won’t do you any harm (although I would be starving and not very nice to be around).

My view is; why not focus your health kick on putting as much good stuff into your body from a range of (solid) foods that include healthy fats, veggies, nuts, seeds and wholegrains whilst cutting down on the baddies such as processed foods, booze and sugar. Better still, whilst your at it, why not adopt a few of these healthy eating habits for the long-term instead of quick fixes and the illusion that somehow purging your body will correct the damage done by an unhealthy lifestyle (especially if you just return to that way of living afterwards). The irony is that ‘cleanses’ tend do be done by people who are already very healthy.

Sugar is also used as a marketing tool to demonise fruit juices like orange and apple, in favour of green veggie juices. Sugar has received much bad press recently, and rightly so as we now understand the effect it has on health when eaten in large quantities (heart disease, inflammation, obesity, oral health). Fruit juice got caught up in the exposure, particularly as the liver breaks down fructose, too much of which can lead to a build up of fat (fatty liver), elevated blood fat and bad cholesterol, insulin resistant tissues and increased free radical damage. Most of this damage though is caused by excessive consumption and particularly high fructose corn syrup which is the main sweetener used by manufacturers in certain countries (especially the United States). A daily glass of fruit juice as part of a balanced diet poses little harm to your health and a good dose of vitamin C.

Many juice companies also talk about the difficulty in eating enough fruit and veg on a daily basis, and whilst the new research suggests we should increase our intake nearer to 10 servings each day, a juice is still only classed as one serving given the removal of fibre. A serving of fruit or veg is actually not that big at 80g and can easily be notched up across the day.

Breakfast: yoghurt with berries, juice (2)
Snack: hummus with carrot and pepper sticks (2)
Lunch: vegetable and lentil/bean soup, fruit salad (3)
Snack: dried fruit/nut bar (1)
Evening meal: chicken stir-fry (3)

As a rule of thumb:

Half a large fruit or veggie (grapefruit, avocado, courgette, pepper, carrot)
One medium fruit (apple or pear)
Two small fruits (tangerine or plum)
Three dried fruits (apricots, figs, prunes) or one small handful (sultanas)
One handful of beans and pulses (red kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas)
One handful of larger vegetables (prepared broccoli, cauliflower, squash or sliced cucumber)
One handful of leaves (lettuce, spinach, kale)

See more at NHS choices

I’m definitely not going to start knocking gourmet juice companies (many of whom I know) for what they do; the guys who run them are great and have a genuine interest in health and the juices taste delicious with a nice ‘filtered’ freshness to them. Fresh organic fruit and veg is also expensive and for people that can afford them, they offer convenience. It is worth checking the ingredient list before you buy, there are some brands offering cold-pressed green juices that have very little green veg and over 80% apple juice (that’s expensive apple juice!)

Whilst green juices may contain a wider range of nutrients than boring old orange juice, it’s still just a juice, a glass of which contributes to one of your daily fruit and veg intake. Having recently worked on a juice project I was staggered at the price of some cold-pressed juices on the market but the average cost is around £6.  At this price (£2160 per year) that would buy you you’re own Vitamix, years supply of veggies and a relaxing two week holiday in the Mediterranean so here are a few recipes to make your own green juices at home. You can control the sweetness by adding more or less fruit.

Green goddess juice

Serves 2

90 calories

Ingredients

1/2 cucumber
3 kale leaves (take soft leaf off the stem)
1 small handful coriander
1 lime (juice only)
1 head Romaine lettuce
1-2 apples
Ginger (to taste)

Green aniseed juice

Serves 2

90 calories

Ingredients

1 big bunch spinach
Handful of mint
1 cucumber
1-2 green apples (or pears)
1 fennel bulb
1/2 lemon, juiced

Method

1. Chop ingredients and blend high for 30 seconds.
2. Lay muslin over a bowl, pour in juice then grab the four corners of cloth and squeeze out the juice.