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5 Superfoods You Already Have in the Cupboard

Superfoods is a word that’s banded about a lot these days, and marketers have got on the bandwagon, telling us we need to be buying superfoods (complete with super-hefty price tag) for optimum health and well-being. If you’re into sustainable living, and don’t want to spend a fortune on your food budget, purchase overpackaged ingredients that increase your plastic consumption, or buy produce shipped from faraway countries, superfoods can seem like they’re an impossible ideal.

Thing is, if you know what “superfoods” actually means, and look through all the marketing hype, you’ll find it’s possible to source superfoods that are cheap, sustainable and readily available – in fact, you probably already have a few in your pantry. Not all superfoods are super-expensive air-freighted plastic-packaged portions of exotic berries, or fancy obscure powders.

The term “superfoods” means foods that are particularly nutrient-rich, and considered beneficial for our health. The sometimes outrageous health claims that accompany some of these ingredients are marketing hype, often designed to sell more or to justify the hefty price tag. Whilst these claims may or may not be true, superfoods are proven to be packed with minerals, nutrients and vitamins that our bodies need.

Disclaimer: this is for information purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Superfoods are not a substitute for professional medical care.

Five Superfoods You Probably Already Have in the Cupboard

1. Cinnamon

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Cinnamon is a spice made from the bark of Cinnamomum trees, which can be found as rolls of dried bark or as a ground powder. There are two main varieties of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon and Chinese (or Cassia) cinnamon.

In studies, cinnamon has been shown to control blood sugar levels, and aid people with type 2 diabetes to respond to insulin. It is anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, preventing the growth of bacteria and fungi, including Candida. Cinnamon also boosts brain activity – even the smell of cinnamon improves cognitive processing! There have also been links made to prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, MS and HIV. (If you’re interested in the science, check out this link).

Cinnamon is very high in manganese, a mineral used by the body to form connective tissue, bones, blood clotting factors, and sex hormones. Manganese also plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism and calcium absorption. Cinnamon is also a very good source of calcium and an excellent source of fibre.

Serving suggestions: sprinkle some cinnamon on your porridge in the morning, add to muesli or hot chocolate, or use to spice up your baking.

2. Turmeric

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Turmeric is the bright yellow spice used in curries and Asian cooking. The powder is made by drying and grinding fresh turmeric, a root that looks similar to ginger on the outside, but with orange flesh inside.

Turmeric contains the compound curcumin, which is responsible for many of its health benefits. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant (antioxidants absorb free radicals which cause cell and tissue damage), which may help reduce symptoms of inflammation-based diseases such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel symptoms and and heart disease. It supports healthy liver function and is thought to aid digestion. Studies have shown curcumin having the potential to fight degenerative brain diseases and depression; in lab experiments curcumin has been shown to inhibit tumour growth.

Turmeric is high in iron, and also contains calcium. Fresh turmeric is a source of vitamin C. Black pepper aids absorption of curcumin into the bloodstream.

Serving suggestions: Add to curries and soups, or add to egg dishes such as omelettes. If you’re feeling braver, add some to your smoothie. Some health cafes serve turmeric lattes as a coffee alternative – they’re usually made with nut milks.

3. Cacao

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Cacao needs no introduction – yes, we’re talking chocolate! Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. This is different to cocoa, which is made using roasted cacao beans and treating the powder with an alkaline solution (called Dutch processing) to produce a more mellow flavour. The processing also makes the resulting cocoa lower in nutrients, particularly antioxidants. Confusingly, the two names are sometimes interchanged, but raw cacao will always say “raw” on the label.

When the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory tested the antioxidant activity of a number of foods, measured as an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score, raw cacao was found to contain the highest antioxidant activity of any food, with a score of 95,500 per 100g. Whilst only having around a quarter of the antioxidant properties of raw cacao, roasted cacao still contained the third highest level of antioxidants of the foods tested, and more than berries such as acai, goji and blueberries.

Not only that, raw cacao has the highest concentration of iron of any plant (double the iron in spinach), and is very high in magnesium. Cacao also contains potassium, manganese and zinc, and also the “bliss chemicals” theobromine, phenethylamine (a mood enhancer) and anandamide. These are what cause the happy feeling you get when you eat chocolate!

Serving suggestions: use raw cacao powder in smoothies, desserts and baking. If buying bars of chocolate, dark is best and the higher the cocoa content the better.

4. Honey

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Honey has been used by humans for millennia. Cave paintings in Spain dating to 7000BC showing beekeeping practices, and Egyptian hieroglyphs from 2400BC showing bees kept in hives.

Honey has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been found to help burn wounds to heal more quickly. In lab tests, honey has shown antibacterial activity against bacteria including E. Coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus. Honey also helps soothe coughs and sore throats.

Antibacterial quality varies between different types of honey. Manuka honey is a particularly potent anti-bacterial honey, due to the presence of methylglyoxal (MG) found in manuka flowers native to New Zealand (you can read more about manuka honey here). West Australian Jarrah honey also has high antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Generally, honey that is darker will have more antibacterial and antioxidant power. Raw unprocessed honey is considered better and more nutritious than regular honey, which has been heated and pasteurised.

Nutritionally, honey contains manganese, iron, zinc,selenium and calcium, plus B vitamins. Refined white sugar contains none of these!

Serving suggestion: anywhere in place of refined sugar! Drizzle on porridge, add to smoothies, include in salad dressings or use in baking as an alternative to sugar.

5. Oats

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Oats are a grain that, unlike wheat, rye and barley, are naturally gluten-free. (NB Because oats are often processed in the same facilities as these other grains contamination may occur, so they are not usually considered gluten-free unless processed in a separate facility.) And yes…actually, oats are a superfood!

Oats contain more dietary fibre than any other grain. The insoluble fibre aids in digestive health, whilst the soluble fibre, beta-glucan, has cholesterol-lowering properties. Oats have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels due to the presence of tocotienols, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, relieve hypertension and to stabilise blood sugar levels.

Even when hulled, oats contain all three parts of the grain: the bran, endosperm and germ. This makes them wholegrains, meaning they retain their natural minerals and vitamins. Oats contain manganese, selenium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, molybdenum and iron, and also folate, B vitamins and vitamin K.

The other super thing about oats? They’re super cheap!

Serving suggestions: start the day with a bowl of porridge or make your own oat-based muesli, bake into cookies or cereal bars, or grind into flour. You can make oat milk by soaking oats, blending with water and straining.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to be healthy. Ordinary foods have super powers too!

Recipe! Cacao Banana Smoothie

This smoothie is my current new favourite drink. I guess it’s more of a dessert than a drink, but it’s delicious, takes about 2 minutes to prepare and it is actually full of nutritious goodness!

Here’s just some of the great stuff that it contains. Raw cacao is massively high in antioxidants, and contains calcium, magnesium and iron. Bananas are high in potassium and also contain vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin C. Cashews contain omega-6, iron, phosphorus and calcium. Flaxseeds are really high in omega-3  and also contain calcium, fibre and lignans.

You know those chocolate milkshakes that you buy in the supermarket? Well, rather than all this great stuff, they contain sugar, milk and other powders, modified starch, stabilisers and gums. How un-delicious does that sound?

Here’s a couple of examples. According to the frijj (UK) website, their chocolate milkshake, which they describe as a “chocolate lover’s dream”, consists of: Skimmed Milk (68%), Whole milk (22%), Sugar, Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder, Buttermilk Powder, Modified Maize Starch, Stabilisers (Carrageenan, Guar Gum).

Now I love chocolate, and I definitely don’t dream about those ingredients!

In Australia, the Kick Double Choc milkshake manufactured by Brownes is made up of: Milk, Sugar, Chocolate (1.7%), Flavours, Cocoa, Colours (150c, 155), Emulsifiers (Soy Lecithin, 471, 476), Vegetable Gums (407, 412).

Yuk!

So rather than consume that synthetic, nutritionally-devoid rubbish, try this instead!

Cacao Banana Smoothie Recipe

This is the recipe for one smoothie. But make two and share it with someone – they will appreciate it!

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashew milk (see how to make your own here – it’s dead easy)
1 tbsp raw cacao
1 small banana (or half a large one)
1 tbsp ground flaxseeds

(Optional – 1 dsp maca or mesquite powder)

Recipe:

Put the banana, cashew milk and cacao in a blender. Blend until combined.

Add the flaxseeds (and maca/mesquite powder if using) and whizz briefly to mix.

Top with some cacao nibs for some crunch!

And enjoy!

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Getting sick…and eating myself better

Getting sick is your body’s way of telling you that you’re doing too much and you need to slow down and take it easy. Of course I know this, but every time I feel like a cold/flu virus is coming on, I decide that the best way to deal with it is to ignore it, carry on at full speed with the things I normally do, and hope it goes away.

This never ends well. My body’s response is, well if you’re not going to slow down after I’ve given out the warning signs, then I’m going to force you to stay in bed by making you too sick to get up.

You’d think I’d learn, but oh, no. And so it goes that on Monday I started feeling unwell but decided to push through, and by Tuesday night I was in bed by 7.30m. And so today, when I have a million things I need/want to do, I’m forced to spend the morning in bed. I don’t like sitting around and doing nothing, I like to be going at 100 miles an hour all the time, so if I’m overdoing things I only find out about it when I’m forced to stop. If only I’d heeded the warning signs!

So now I’m accepting defeat and am trying to do my best to make myself better again. It would have been far better if I’d done this at the start, but still.

Echinacea

I don’t take many (actually I don’t take any) supplements but I do take echinacea when I’m sick, having been recommended it by my regular GP over 10 years ago. There are many studies that show it is effective in reducing cold symptoms and I do feel that once I start taking it, the recovery process seems to speed up. And if it seems to work, I’ll continue to take it!

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Fresh fruit juice and smoothies

Having recently had my enthusiasm for juicing and smoothie-making revived, these two gadgets are getting a pretty good workout at the moment. Since I started with the daily green smoothie for breakfast I thought I’d never get ill again. (Although I didn’t have one on Saturday morning – could that be the reason for all this?) The great thing about smoothies and juices is that in addition to the fluids that you’re always told you’re supposed to have when you’re ill, you getting all the nutrients, minerals, vitamins and enzymes from the vegetables and fruit that you’re blending or juicing too. If you’re making juice you really need to use organic where possible, because otherwise you’re just squeezing a load of pesticides in there too.

Superfood Salads

The other thing I think it’s really important to do is eat loads of nutritious foods. This is difficult when all you can be bothered to do is make toast, but your body will get better faster if it’s getting more vitamins and nutrients. Hot buttered toast may be one of the ultimate comfort foods, but it ain’t exactly packed with nutrition. And just looking at a colourful meal packed full of vegetables makes me feel better!

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Quinoa salad with beetroot, sweet potato, flaxseed oil, broccoli, cucumber, chickpeas and almonds. Yum!

Rest

Okay, okay, so I’m still writing the blog, which isn’t exactly total rest, but I’m sitting in bed, and for me sitting still at all is a pretty big achievement. Resting gives your body the chance to use all those nutrients and boosts your immune system, so it can fight off the infection. Of course the temptation will be, as soon as I start to feel marginally better, to get up again and try to do all those things that are just waiting to be done. Hopefully I can take my own advice and stay still long enough to recover properly. Fingers crossed!