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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)

Cooking seared tuna with Fighting Fifty

Cooking seared tuna with Fighting Fifty

So, I have previously posted the delicious recipe for sesame seared tuna with Asian green salad but had the chance to cook the dish with Tracey McAlpine from Fighting Fifty.  Always love cooking with Tracey as we have such as laugh.

What you need to know about tuna

Tuna belongs to the oily group of fish along with salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring.  These fish are a rich source of omega 3, which research has shown can have a positive effect on many areas of health.  Tuna, along with other oily fish is beneficial for heart health and although it is not entirely clear exactly how omega 3 fatty acids benefit the heart, the results show they do.  It is also thought that the heart health benefits may be a combination of omega 3 fatty acids and some other component of oily fish.

Omega 3 fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation in the body which is thought to be at the root of many diseases including that of the heart.  These fats also help to increase the amount of good (HDL) cholesterol and reduce overall triglycerides in the body as well as thin the blood, which also benefits the health of your heart.

Omega 3 has also been associated with good skin and helps to maintain healthy skin cell membranes that keep it supple and moisturised.  The anti-inflammatory effect of these fats may also help with skin conditions such as psoriasis.

It is recommended that we try and eat about two servings of oily fish each week in order to glean adequate omega 3.  These fatty acids are referred to as essential as they must be obtained from the diet.  However, you should try and limit your intake to no more than four servings each week given the fact that oily fish have a high level of heavy metals, which may build up over time.

Tuna is also rich in vitamin A, which is important for healthy skin, immune system and normal vision.  Iron is also an important mineral in the diet and food surveys show that up to 23% of women in the UK have inadequate intakes, which can result in tiredness and fatigue.  Tuna contains a useful 10% of the RDA for iron.  Another key mineral is magnesium that plays a key role in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body and is involved in muscle relaxation and the conversion of food into energy (tuna contains 17% of the RDA per serving).

Tuna are also a rich source of many B vitamins, in particular B12 (over 200% of the RDA).  B vitamins are essential for the health of your skin and required for energy metabolism.  Low intakes of B vitamins can result in tiredness and fatigue.

Try this recipe for yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

Shakshuka

Shakshuka

A heart healthy breakfast

Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death in the UK.  Diet and lifestyle factors have a huge influence on the likelihood of developing heart disease and most of us are well aware of what these are, however, it is the the willingness to change behaviour that poses one the biggest barriers to improving health.  Living a sedentary lifestyle and smoking are risk factors for the condition as is being overweight, which comes with its own set of risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, all of which are directly associated to the food choices we make.

Eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods will ensure that you get all the nutrients your body needs to maintain good heart health as well as limit those that can increase your risk of heart disease.  A diet rich in plant-based foods, healthy fats (found in foods such as extra virgin olive oil and oily fish) and small amounts of meat, as illustrated by the Mediterranean diet,  is the ultimate heart-healthy way of eating and research has highlighted the benefit of certain foods included in this particular diet such as extra virgin olive oil and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

The best way to start your day is by eating a nutritious breakfast. Not only does it set you up for the day ahead, but research shows that eating breakfast can help with weight loss as you are more likely to eat less across the day.  Opting for high protein foods is also good for weight loss and studies have shown that eggs can lead to greater satiety (feeling of fullness) than grain-based breakfasts, making you less likely to reach for snacks mid-morning.   If you do not eat eggs then try another protein-rich breakfast such as smoked salmon, scrambled tofu or yoghurt with seeds and nuts.  Choosing sensible portion sizes is also important for weight loss and eating from a small plate is a good tactic (You can find useful examples of average portion sizes of individual foods by visiting sites such as NHS choices or Weight Watchers).

Eggs still get a bad wrap when it comes to heart health as they are naturally high in cholesterol, however we now know that naturally occurring cholesterol in foods has little significant impact on harmful levels in the body.  The British Heart Foundation states that there is no limit on the amount of eggs you can safely include in your diet (although people with very high cholesterol or familial hypercholesterolaemia need to be more cautious).

This delicious shakshuka recipe may not be something to cook on a daily basis, but it makes a great healthy brunch dish for the weekend.  Red peppers, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and tomatoes are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (found in plants) that act as antioxidants in the body and help to protect it against disease.  Try serving with slices of toasted sourdough bread or on its own if you are trying to cut down on carbohydrate foods.  This dish is also really versatile.  I have added in a few handfuls of green peas but it can also be modified into something heartier for supper by adding cannellini beans or a serving of brown rice or quinoa.

 

Shakshuka

Serves 3-4

300 calories per serving (without bread)

Ingredients

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

300g cherry tomatoes, halved

½ lemon, zested

1 tbsp smoked paprika

2 tsp ground cumin

Small pinch of saffron

500ml stock (chicken or vegetable)

3 sweet red peppers, de-seeded and sliced

1 red chilli, chopped

2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

2 handfuls of frozen peas

1 tsp sea salt

Ground black pepper

6 large eggs

Small handful flat leaf parsley

Small handful chopped coriander

 

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pan set on the hob over a medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and garlic then fry for 5-8 minutes until soft.
  3. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Add the lemon zest, paprika, cumin and saffron then cook for a further minute.
  5. Add the stock, peppers, chilli and chopped tomatoes. Cook for 20 minutes or until the peppers are tender. Add the peas after 15 minutes of cooking. You may need to add a little more water if the dish dries out too much. The consistency should be thick but not dry.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Make a well in the sauce using a spoon and crack in one egg. Repeat for the other five eggs.
  8. Place the pan in the oven and cook for about five minutes until the egg whites are cooked and the yolk is still runny. Cook a little longer of you do not like runny yolks.
  9. Remove the pan from the oven and garnish with the herbs.
  10. Serve the shakshuka with freshly toasted sourdough or other bread of choice.