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Blueberries are without doubt one of my favourite foods. I have them almost every day during the warmer months - either on my muesli for breakfast, with natural yoghurt and nuts for an afternoon snack, or I eat them straight up from the punnet. During winter the price for fresh berries spikes, so that's when I switch to using frozen. These are just as good nutritionally as they are snap frozen on the day of picking so the nutrients are well preserved - in fact vitamin C levels may be higher than fresh!
They are pretty much impossible to overeat since they are low in kilojoules with only 115kJ per 1/2 punnet (60g), but are packed with phytonutrients (antioxidants and other beneficial plant chemicals) that boost our health.
The glycaemic index of blueberries is irrelevant since the level of carbohydrate is pretty low. A half punnet has only 6g, with a pretty even split of glucose and fructose. This makes them suitable for those on low FODMAP diets for management of irritable bowel syndrome. You'll also get a gram of fibre in that same serving.
They are rich in vitamin C - that half punnet of blueberries gives you 24% of your recommended daily amount. They are also great sources of vitamin K - essential for healthy blood clotting - and manganese - required for blood glucose control, healthy skin and bones, and is part of an antioxidant enzyme in the body so plays a role in protecting cells from free radical damage.
The fabulous purple-blue colour of blueberries comes from wealth of antioxidants present, primarily anthocyanins, a sub-group of flavonoids. These compounds have been shown in scientific studies to help protect our heart and blood vessels, protect blood components such as LDL-cholesterol from oxidative damage (it is damaged LDL that is taken up into plagues lining blood vessels resulting in atherosclerosis), reduce age-related oxidative damage so we look and feel younger, and they have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
Blueberries seem to also have an impact on our brain health, with several studies showing beneficial effects on reducing cognitive decline with age, and improving memory.
Almonds are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats - the same family of fats found in olive oil. They are also fibre rich and provide some plant protein. This makes them an excellent snack as they help to cut hunger pangs and keep you satisfied until mealtime. Despite their relative energy density, almonds as with all nuts are associated with better weight control. Make sure you therefore you are not choosing low fat processed snack foods in place of all natural, nutrient dense almonds.
Almonds are head and shoulders above other nuts for vitamin E. A handful is pretty much all your need for your daily vitamin E quota. Vitamin E is the major fat-soluble antioxidant in the body.
Almonds provide you with calcium - especially important if you don't consume any dairy foods. They're great for many B group vitamins, especially riboflavin and folate, minerals including magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and copper. You'll also benefit from a significant amount of iron and zinc - both commonly low in Western diets. That's a pretty impressive package for a single natural whole food!
Recent research has shown that eating a handul of nuts a day is associated with living longer! It's one of the easiest and tastiest ways to improve your health. I add almonds to my homemade muesli, sprinkle over my kids porridge and snack on them in the afternoon while I drink my green tea. Thank goodness the low fat days are long gone!
If you’re confused over eggs you’re not alone. Once upon a time, before we really understood how diet affects blood cholesterol levels, it made sense to limit foods high in cholesterol. Since egg yolks come under that category, the advice was to limit the number of eggs you ate. Today we know that the types of fat in your diet plays a more important role in determining your blood cholesterol profile and dietary cholesterol is far less of a factor. Even if you have high blood cholesterol, the current advice is that you can happily enjoy up to 6 eggs a week - and I can't see what more would be a problem. That’s great news as eggs are a nutritional smorgasbord!
Eggs provide very high quality protein, with a near perfect balance of the amino acids the human body needs. There’s a reason why eggs have been a body-builders’ staple for many years!
The yolk is especially rich in the B group vitamins folate, vitamin B5, vitamin B12, thiamin (B1) and riboflavin (B2). The fat is important as it also contains excellent levels of the fat-soluble vitamins A and E, and one of the few foods to provide vitamin D.
Eggs are a terrific breakfast choice. Studies have shown that people who eat eggs for breakfast are less hungry later and correspondingly eat less at lunch.
There is no truth to the rumour that cooking eggs damages nutrients; in fact the reverse is true. Egg white contains a protein called avidin and this binds to the vitamin biotin tightly making it unavailable for uptake and use by the body. When you cook the egg white this denatures avidin and the problem does not occur. Actually it would only be a problem if you were eating raw egg whites every day and didn't have significant other sources of biotin in other meals - extremely rare. It has been documented in body builders following very strict diets and eating drinks with raw eggs in them repeatedly over months. Generally though it's not something we need to worry about.
Raw eggs can of course carry E Coli or other pathogenic bacteria. Pregnant women, young children and those with compromised immune systems should play safe and avoid raw eggs.
Don't throw the yolks away! Not only do they contain most of the nutrients, they are rich in two carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin. These are found in high concentrations in the eye and seem to play a crucial role in eye development and ongoing eye health throughout life. Eating foods such as egg yolks that are rich in these two carotenoids reduces your risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
Wholegrain flour is made using the whole grain kernal. The intact grain is milled through a series of rollers to create the flour. To make white flour this mixture is then sifted to separate out the bran and the outer layers of the grain kernal. However this step is omitted to make wholegrain flour.
Nutritionally that is important as it is the outer layers of the grain kernal that contains most of the fibre and micronutrients. Comparing wholegrain to white flour, it contains three times as much fibre, almost twice as much niacin, almost three times as much folate and magnesium, two and a half times as much zinc and twice the iron. It also has about 10% less carbohydrate but slightly more protein. All up the nutrition credentials of wholegrain flour are head and shoulders above white flour.
This does mean that it bakes differently however. White flour is popular because it makes fluffy muffins, bread and cake. If you bake at home you'll find that white flour will make your recipe rise more and be lighter in taste. But that comes at a cost. Our bodies break down the carbohydrates in white flour very quickly and most foods made from it have a high GI. Part of it I believe is just getting your family used to the taste from wholegrain flour and often a clever recipe designed for using wholegrain will add ingredients that improve the outcome. Just start experimenting and you'll soon find everyone gets used to the new taste. You can also use half and half to gradually move your family over to a more wholesome, nutritious end product.
It's not just fruits and vegetables that provide phytochemicals such as antioxidants. Wholegrains are also a pretty fabulous source. They are also plant foods after all and grains are the seeds of grasses - it's not that surprising that they are rich in various beneficial compounds. Even phytates, given a bad rap as they bind some of the minerals present preventing them from being absorbed, have been shown to have beneficial effects including being anti-inflammatory. Phytates will only be a problem to you if you are a strict vegetarian or vegan and are consuming a large amount of wholegrains like wheat flour. For the rest of us there are plenty of other food sources of minerals in our diets making the effect of phytates pretty small and probably unimportant.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats – they are also only one of two fruits that are fat rich (the other being the avocado). A solid body of scientific evidence supports making these fats the major ones in your diet. They can help you to achieve a healthier blood cholesterol profile, improve your insulin sensitivity, help you to control blood glucose levels, improve a fatty liver, and even reduce the amount of fat you store around your abdomen.
The Mediterranean diet is hailed quite rightfully as one of the healthiest in the world. This diet has been associated with lower rates of heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower risk of stroke, better cognitive health, lower risk of diabetes, and lower risks of many cancers. There are many factors that may contribute to this, but one of the key characteristics is the use of olive oil as a staple food and the principal fat.
It is important to buy extra virgin olive oil however and not products labeled as “light”, “pure olive oil” or “pomace”. These are all refined products and do not contain the health promoting qualities of fresh extra virgin olive oil. Refining the oil removes many of the antioxidants, phytosterols and polyphenols present in the fresh extra virgin oil that benefit us. Oil is not like wine – it doesn’t get better with age. The fresher it is the better. Choose quality over quantity and you will reap the benefits.
It’s a myth that cooking with extra virgin olive oil destroys its benefits. Good quality extra virgin olive oil has a high smoke point of around 210°C. It can be used for stir-fries, on the BBQ, roasting foods in the oven and pan-frying. Store your oil in a cool dark place to retain the freshness and health-promoting properties. And use it regularly so that you are always consuming this year’s batch.
Fat helps deliver taste and flavour, but it is also necessary for the absorption of many antioxidants including beta-carotene, not to mention the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Drizzling extra virgin olive oil over your salad or steamed veg adds flavour (so you eat more plant food) and makes sure you can absorb more of those beneficial plant compounds.
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