Apple Cider Vinegar
/ap-uhl sahy-der vin-i-ger/

Other

Apple cider vinegar is touted as being a cure all for pretty much everything from sore throats to detoxing the body. Unfortunately there is very little evidence to back up any of these claims, and some have been completely disproven.
 
Vinegar is produced as a result of fermentation of the particular food, in this case apples, by a bacteria or other microorganism. This process converts the sugars in the food to alcohol, and then to vinegar, which literally means ‘sour wine’.
 
Apple cider vinegar can help to lower blood sugar levels, but in this regard it is no different to other vinegars. It may be one of the benefits of adding a vinaigrette dressing to a meal; it lowers the glycaemic index by slowing digestion and absorption of the carbohydrates. This may also help you to control your weight, as you feel fuller for longer and so you eat less overall. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Vinegar is highly acidic and so on it’s own it’s pretty harsh on body tissues and undiluted it can damage the soft tissues of the mouth and oesophagus. It can also be extremely damaging to tooth enamel. If you do drink or gargle with apple cider vinegar, avoid brushing your teeth for at least 30 minutes afterwards to minimise the loss of softened tooth enamel.

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Bay Leaves
/bey/

Other

Bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) are often used in Mediterranean and french cooking and use can be traced back to ancient Greece. The leaves can be use fresh and they have a lovely aroma, but are usually dried. However over time the dried leaf loses flavour and so do ensure you use them before the best before date - after about a year they will add little to your dish.

Bay leaves add flavour to stocks, casseroles, soups and are traditionally used to infuse milk that goes into sauces or milk puddings. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Because the french name for bay leaves is laurier they are sometimes wrongly translated as laurel leaves. This is dangerous as leaves of laurel other than bay leaves can be highly poisonous. If you're picking your own fresh leaves make sure you are confident you have the correct tree!

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Bee Pollen
/bee pol-uhn/

Other

Bees pack collected pollen into little chambers within the hive, mixing it with a little honey, bacteria, fungi and enzymes along the way. The resultant pollen balls are the food source for the newly born bees in the hive. It is collected and sold as a health food product with claims of being ‘nature’s perfect food’, for boosting energy, enhancing athletic performance, strengthening the immune system, and as a supplementary protein.
 
Despite the hype, unfortunately there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims. There have also been documented cases of severe anaphylactic reactions to bee pollen. Pregnant and breast-feeding mothers should avoid bee pollen. The nutritional composition of bee pollen is not listed in standard food data tables, and so the only sources of information are those selling it. It does seem to be protein-rich, varying from 30-40%, and it may well contain a number of nutrients. However it is far from being a perfect food – but no food is.

Claims that taking bee pollen can help to reduce seasonal allergies to pollens are also unsubstantiated. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
The only published research I could find on the nutritional composition of bee pollen found that it contained no fat-soluble vitamins, no vitamin C, and no carotenoids. It is certainly not a 'perfect' food there. Unless properly conducted trials, with results published in peer-review journals appears, I would give this product a miss. You can obtain your nutrients elsewhere, or take a properly controlled supplement so that you know what you are getting.

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Cardamom Pods
/kahr-duh-muh m /

Other

Cardamom pods are the beautifully aromatic seeds of a plant called Elettaria cardamomum, a member of the ginger family. They are widely used in Indian cuisine, but also many countries in Asia and Indonesia. The pods quickly lose their flavour when split and the seeds ground into powder - sold as ground cardamom. You are much better off buying the whole pods to use yourself, splitting and using only the seeds if the recipe called for it. Usually the pods can be added whole - you just remove them before serving.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Cardamom is used medicinally in many parts of Asia to treat gum infections and tooth ache, digestive disorders and lung conditions. It certainly contains essential oils that may have health benefits in the body and may explain some of these uses.

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Cinnamon
/sin-uh-muhn/

Other

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a group of related trees and has a long history of use as both a flavouring in food and for its medicinal value. Cinnamon is a rich source of antioxidants and has antibacterial and antiviral effects.
 
Cinnamon has been reported to help with blood sugar control, but studies have not been conclusive as yet. If there is an effect it comes not from ‘true’ cinnamon but from cassia cinnamon grown in China, Vietnam and Indonesia. Be sure to check the labeling of the cinnamon you purchase to ensure you have the right type.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
We can't eat an unlimited amount of cinnamon as it contains a potentially toxic substance called coumarin. This does not present us with any issues in the usual doses of cinnamon, but there are upper levels that can be used in cinamon flavoured products for that reason.

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Cumin
/Cumin/

Other

Cumin may benefit digestion by increasing the secretion of the pancreatic enzymes that we need to break down our food. They are also being studied for their anti-cancer potential and possible effect on improving the liver’s detoxing ability.
 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
You can buy cumin as the seeds or ground into a powder. Buying as the whole seeds gives much more flavour, and you can grind yourself should the recipe require ground cumin.

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Fennel Seeds
/fen-l seedz/

Other

Fennel seeds come from the fennel plant native to the Mediterranean region. The seeds seem to be helpful in relieving indigestion and bloating caused by trapped gas in the intestines. They have even been studied as a potential treatment for colic in babies. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Fennel seeds have a slightly aniseed like taste, but don't confuse the two. They are very different plants with different flavours and benefits.

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Fish Sauce
/fish saws/

Other

Fish sauce is an essential ingredient in South-East Asian cooking. It is made by fermenting small fish - usually anchovies - in brine for many months. The end result is a very salty, brown liquid with a distinct flavour and smell. It doesn't taste all that enticing on its own, but adds an amazing depth of flavour to stir-fries, dipping sauces and Asian curries. 

The salt content is extremely high so do take care not to add table salt as well to the dish, particularly since recipes often call for fish sauce along with other high salt Asian condiments such as oyster or soy sauce. A tablespoon of fish sauce contains approximately 1830mg of sodium - consider the you want less than 2300mg of sodium in your day, 1600mg if you are on a low salt diet. Do use it sparingly.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Fish sauce is not just an Asian condiment. Apparently a version of fish sauce was used by both the Romans and the Greeks. 

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Kaffir Lime Leaves
/kaf-er lahym leevz/

Other

Kaffir lime leaves are commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine. You'll find them in the fresh herb section of the supermarket or in the grocers. Look for bright green glossy leaves - they do not dry well unlike bay leaves, and therefore you need to use them fresh. They will keep in a ziploack bag in the crisper section of your fridge for about a week. If you don;t think you will use them all, pop them in the freezer.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
To use remove the centre vein and then thinly slice the leaf. You can then add to stirfries, or add to your rice while cooking to add a delicate citrusy flavour.

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Miso
/mee-soh/

Other

Miso is a traditional Japanese food used as a seasoning. It is made from fermenting soybeans with a particular fungus Aspergillus, along with salt and a number of other ingredients including rice, beans, barley or other grains. Those following strictly gluten-free diets need to therefore look for a miso without the addition of gluten-containing grains such as barley or wheat.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Miso is high in salt so be sure not to add additional salt when cooking. Those with high blood pressure, or kidney problems, who require low salt diets should not use miso.

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Monk Fruit
/Monk Fruit/

Other

Monk fruit is a type of subtropical melon that has been grown for hundreds of years in South and South-East Asia. Until relatively recently it was mostly unheard of outside of local areas, but is gaining notoriety as the latest all natural sweetener. Legend has it that Buddhist monks discovered the sweetening power of monk fruit, hence the name. 

Although the whole fruit does contain some naturally present sugar, as with all fruits, the interest in monk fruit comes from the fact that it contains a group of sweet tasting antioxidant compounds. A little like stevia, these compounds deliver sweetness without the sugar and kilojoules. This makes it of huge commercial interest as consumers want an alternative to artificial sweeteners, are trying to reduce their sugar intake, but would still like to enjoy a few sweet treats.

Monk fruit extracts are now sold as a powder that you can use to sweeten drinks, and to use in baking and cooking. Brands include Monk Fruit and Norbu. It is more expensive than sugar and other low kilojoule sweeteners, but I have found it to work really well in most applications including baking muffins for my kids lunchboxes. It has a natural, genuine sweet taste without the aftertaste of many other sweeteners. Monk fruit extract has 96% fewer kilojoules than sugar and it has potential to help you control your weight, and will not affect your blood glucose levels.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Can we have our cake and eat it? This is the only issue I have with these kinds of sweeteners. Using monk fruit in a wholegrain fruit muffin recipe is a great idea, but if you use it in a cake made with white refined flour, or as an excuse to indulge in a whole host of sweet treats, this is not helpful. All you will do is continue to stimulate your desire for something sweet and the cycle will continue. Make sure you step back and see the big picture - good nutrition is not all about sugar. Your overall diet matters and to me, whole real food will always win. In that context a little monk fruit can add a touch of sweeteness, help you to control blood glucose levels and is all natural.

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Nutmeg
/nuht-meg/

Other

Whole nutmeg is the seed from the nutmeg tree native to Indonesia and the Caribbean. You can also buy ground nutmeg, but since the flavour deteriorates rapidly you are much better off finely grating the whole seed as you need. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Nutmeg may be helpful in reducing excessive gas and bloating, stomach problems and bad breath.

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Saffron
/saf-ruhn/

Other

Saffron threads are the dried stigmas (thread-like parts of the flower) of the saffron plant. It may also considerable health benefits. It has been studied for its potential benefit in relieving premenstrual syndrome and menstrual discomfort, as well as having potential benefits for the brain in treating depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Saffron is considered to be the world’s most expensive spice!

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Soy Sauce
/soi saws/

Other

Soy sauce is an Asian condiment that appears in pretty much every dish. It is made by fermenting soy beans and roasted grains by a mixture of micro-organisms, including aspergillus - a type of fungus. The grain used is most often wheat and so soy sauce is not suitable for those with coeliac disease. Tamari is a Japanese type of soy sauce that does not use wheat and is therefore gluten free.

A salt brine is added during the culturing process and the end result is a product that is extremely high in sodium. One tablespoon of soy sauce has on average 1380mg of sodium. The recommended maximum daily intake of sodium is 2300mg, while we only need somewhere in the range 460-920mg/d.

Those with high blood pressure or who have to follow a low sodium diet for other medical reasons should avoid soy sauce. For everyone else just be aware of the salt content and use it sparingly for flavour and be sure to avoid adding additional salt to the meal. You can purchase reduced salt varieties and I recommend looking for these.


’s ‘Did You Know?’
Soy sauce has been around for a very long time. It is thought to have originated in China somewhere between the 3rd and 5th century. Salt was very expensive back then and so perhaps using it to create a condiment such as this was a way to eek it out and make it go further. 

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Spirulina
/spahy-ruh-lahy-nuh/

Other

Spirulina is a cyanobacterium (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae although this is not technically correct) that grows in lakes. It is now  a common dietary supplement, but there is evidence of ancient communities such as the Aztecs in Central America and in Africa consuming spirulina. It is usually dried and sold as a powder or as tablets.
 
Spirulina is rich in protein – a tablespoon of dried spirulina provides 4g of protein - and contains all of the essential amino acids. It is also a very good source of iron, making it a great supplement for vegans and vegetarians who can struggle to meet iron requirements. It’s rich in B group vitamins, copper and manganese, and is a source of the plant omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Some spirulina supplements have been found to be contaminated with microcystins. These toxins are produced by the cyanobacterium and although quantities detected are tiny, there are concerns that chronic exposure over time may cause harm. In higher doses these toxins cause liver cancer. Take care therefore to use spirulina supplements from a reputable distributor.

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Star Anise
/stahr an-is/

Other

Star anise may have benefits in treating coughs, colds and the flu, although research studies have yet to provide strong evidence for this. It may also be useful in stomach upsets and excessive gas. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Aside from the medicinal properties, star anise adds a wonderful flavor in cooking, or in hot drinks such as cocoa or mulled wine!

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Stevia
/Stevia/

Other

Stevia comes from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana native to Peru and Brazil. For many centuries the leaves have been used to sweeten tea and to make sweet treats. Since it comes from a plant, stevia is promoted as a natural sweetener to use in place of artificial sweeteners.  Since it also has a minimal effect on blood glucose levels and has no kilojoules it can be a useful way of reducing your sugar intake.
 
However there have been some queries over the all-natural claim. It’s hard to buy stevia in the traditional leaf form. Instead it is used to produce a white powder that can be used in a similar way to sugar. While the ingredients used are indeed natural, the end product is highly refined.
 
The sweet compound in the stevia leaves, called steviol glycosides, are extracted and refined before mixing with other ingredients including sugar alcohols (which are not alcoholic) such as those used in sugar-free mints and gum. Many stevia products on the market are in fact 99% sugar alcohols, commonly erythritol, with only a tiny amount of stevia plant extracts.
 
Sugar alcohols occur naturally in many foods albeit in very small amounts. Our own digestive enzymes cannot break down most sugar alcohols and so they pass straight through the small intestine and enter the colon, where they are fermented by the resident bacteria. This can have a laxative effect and make you feel gassy, uncomfortable and have you running to the loo. If you have a sensitive gut or irritable bowel syndrome you may want to avoid sugar alcohols. In addition to erythritol look for names such maltitol, xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol.
 
Erythritol is usually more readily tolerated as about 90% of it is actually absorbed, leaving only a small amount available for bacterial fermentation. The absorbed erythritol is excreted unchanged in urine.
 
The major advantages of sugar alcohols is that they provide very few kilojoules and they are tooth-friendly – hence their ubiquitous use in sugar-free gums and lollies.
 
Commercial stevia powders sometimes also bulk out the product with maltodextrin. This is just partially broken down starch and it’s very easily digested and absorbed up into the bloodstream as glucose. It doesn’t however have to be identified on the product as sugar as it’s classified as refined starch. If you want to try stevia, I recommend you choose one that is not mixed with maltodextrin. Read the ingredients list of the stevia product before you buy.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Stevia is increasingly being used in soft drinks and other commerical products. However because the flavour profile is different, it tends to be mixed with sugar to give a more acceptable or familiar taste. These products are therefore reduced sugar but are not sugar-free. 

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Turmeric
/tur-mer-ik/

Other

Turmeric can be purchased as the whole root, or ground as a bright orange powder. It’s traditionally used in curries but is increasingly recognized for its health benefits. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Turmeric is rich in curcumin, shown to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Plants

 
 
Xylitol
/zahy-li-tawl/

Other

Xylitol is a natural sweetener that is found in many plants. Chemically it is known as a polyol or sugar alcohol, but that doesn't mean it is alcoholic! It has become increasingly popular as an alternative sweetener to sugar as it has about 40% fewer kilojoules and 75% fewer carbohydrates. This means that it has almost no effect on blood glucose levels and minimal insulin is required in its metabolism. The other big advantage is that it looks and tastes just like sugar, with none of the after-taste problems associated with artificial sweeteners. 

You can buy xylitol from the supermarket or online to use at home. You use it just as you would sugar and I have found that it works brilliantly as a sugar substitute in baking, where ingredients such as stevia just don't work to completely replace sugar. 

The only thing to watch out for with all of the sugar alcohols (maltitol, erythritol and others ending in -ol) is that they can have a laxative effect if consumed above a certain threshold. For those with an irritable bowel and following a low FODMAPs diet, you should avoid these sweeteners for that reason. If you are using sugar-free gums, mints and experiencing bloating or other gut changes, try stopping these to see if symptoms improve. Aside from this potential side effect, xylitol is perfectly safe.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
In terms of dental health, xylitol is showing real promise as an anti-cariogenic substance - in other words it helps to prevent tooth decay. This is likely due to its anti-bacterial qualitites. However this effect is most likely where the xylitol is in a chewing gum, toothpaste or sugar-free mint or lollly where it stays in the mouth for some time.

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