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Chillies are in the same family as capsicums (peppers) and have many of the same nutritional qualities. However we tend to eat them in smaller quantities, depending on how hot they are. Chillies are eaten all around the world. They are central to Mexican cooking, and used broadly throughout Africa, India and much of Asia.
The heat comes from the phytonutrient capsaicin. The highest concentration of capsaicin is actually not the seeds as commonly thought, but in the white pith surrounding the seeds. If you want to reduce the heat in your dish, make sure you remove this and use just the flesh of the chilli.
Capsaicin has been studied as an anti-cancer agent, with some promising results from animal and cell line studies in the lab. Be careful with eating too many really hot chillies - burning the cells of your mouth and throat is not a sensible idea. There is also divided evidence linking chilli consumption with stomach cancer, with studies for and against. The strongest positive evidence is for the use of extracted capsaicin from chillies used topically to treat pain. Here it does seem to be effective.
The nutritional components of chilli are less important as you're likely to only eat a small amount. However a benefit is that by flavouring your food with chilli, and other spices, you can use less salt.
Capsaicin has been studied as a potential weight loss aid. When you eat chilli you feel hot, and that's because you are indeed producing some extra heat. This means a few kilojoules are being lost as heat. For a time you could even purchase chilli supplements, sold to help weight loss, but since the effect is so tiny people quickly realised it was not an effective strategy.
Cucumbers have been cultivated for over 300 thousand years, originally in India. Today they are produced all over the world with China being the largest producer by a long shot, producing well over 400 million tonnes a year! They belong to a family of vegetables called Cucurbitaceae that includes squash, pumpkins, zucchini and melons.
If you're thinking that cucumbers are mostly water you're absolutely right - they are 95% water. This means that they contribute to your hydration levels and they are excellent added to vegie juices and smoothies. Unsurprisingly they are extremely low in energy - 50g of cucumber (about 6 slices) has only 25kJ and less than a gram of carbohydrate, with no fat and only a tiny trace of protein. They are not devoid of nutrients however. You will get small but significant amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A and traces of several other nutrients.
So while cucumbers are not exactly a superfood delivering stacks of nutrients, they do add texture and a lovely crunch and refreshing taste to salads, sandwiches and wraps.
Cucumbers are best when they are fresh, plump and full of water. But because of the high water content they can freeze in the bottom of your fridge if it is too cold. This breaks the plant cell walls and you will lose the lovely crisp texture of the cucumber. If this is happening keep your cucumbers on the top shelf of your fridge instead.
Although green cabbage is more popular, red cabbage should not be overlooked! It is jammed packed with phytochemicals known as polyphenols and it is these that give it that fabulous red/purple colour. These polyphenols offer anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antioxidant benefits. Plus, red cabbage is a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and carotenoids including beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Red cabbage contains no fat or sodium and has very few kilojoules per serve. It is a good source of dietary fibre and can be eaten raw or cooked. Try slicing finely to make a slaw or add to a salad or stir-fry, and it is awesome sautéed with onion in extra virgin olive oil and then add a splash of apple cider vinegar and a little honey.
Potassium and manganese are two minerals that are present in red cabbage. Potassium is essential and helps to regulate heartbeat and blood pressure. While manganese is important for energy conversion and metabolism.
Red cabbage is part of the brassica group of vegies that includes broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Collectively they are associated with a lower risk of colon cancer and several other cancers, better gut health in general and seems to be good for the brain.
If you have a juicer, try getting the kids to do a science experiment with red cabbage juice. It can be used as a pH indicator. Add another liquid and if it is acidic the colour will be red or pink, in neutral solution purple and in alkaline solutions it will change to blue, green and yellow.
Compared to other common nuts, cashews (along with pine nuts) top the charts for iron and zinc. Try consuming with a vitamin-C rich piece of fruit to optimise iron intake, especially if you are a vegetarian.
Cashews also provide some protein, with a 30g handful supplying about 5g. Of the total energy in cashews, 75% comes from fat, 12% comes from protein and 12% comes from carbohydrates.
Although fat-rich, cashews are full of exactly the good fats we want in our diets. 63% of the fat present is monounsaturated fats, 15% is polyunsaturated fats, and 17% is saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are a cornerstone of the healthy Mediterranean dietary pattern, and a high intake of these fats is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and less fat around the middle.
Cashews are rich in magnesium with a handful delivering you about 20% of your RDI. Magnesium is an increasingly popular supplement, but it's not all that difficult to up your dietary intake for greater benefit. Adding a handful of nuts a day is a good start!
Ginger is the root of a plant called Zingiber officinale. It is a traditional cooking spice in India, China, South East Asia, East Africa and the Caribbean. It is also pickled and served with sushi and sashimi in Japan. It has a slightly spicy, pungent aroma and taste, and adds huge flavour to your curries and stir-fries.
Aside from its culinary qualitites, ginger has been used medicinally for many hundreds of years. More recent scientific evidence seems to be confirming some of these traditional folk uses. Ginger is rich in several phytonutrients - including gingeroles, beta-carotene, capsaicin, caffeic acid, curcumin and salicyclate - and has a high antioxidant capacity. It is being studied for its' potential to reduce pain associated with arthritis, to reduce nausea, reduce nerve damage, improve immunity and for its' anti-inflammatory effect.
If you're suffering from heartburn, try eating some pickled ginger - the type you get with sushi. It really can work!
Coconut water is the fluid from the middle of a young green coconut. As the coconut matures to the hard brown shell as we typically think of them, the water is mostly absorbed into the flesh. So the harvesting of coconuts for coconut water is different to that for other coconut products.
When I trekked the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea our local guides would deftly slice the top off a fresh coconut from the tree for us to drink the contents. It tasted wonderful and helped us to stay hydrated, while providing some carbohydrate to fuel our trek. In Australia the closest we can get to this is to buy a drilled fresh green coconut with a straw - these are sold at many grocers, farmer's markets and other outlets. It makes for a wonderfully refreshing drink on a hot day.
A 250ml cup of coconut water is relatively low in energy, providing 220-250kJ (for comparison consider that a cup of apple juice has about 380kJ). It has no fat, no significant protein and 12-13g of carbohydrates, mostly present as sugars. Only one brand of coconut water is listed in the International GI Tables and the result was just into the low category, with a GI of 55 (low GI is classified as a score of 55 or less).
Coconut water contains several nutrients, although there are discrepancies between brands and between different food databases. This may be due to seasonal variations in the coconuts, different varieties and coconuts grown in different regions. However in general coconut water contains good levels of potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin C, and has small but significant levels of iron, calcium, phosphorus and B group vitamins.
A lot of extravagant claims are made about coconut water, and most of them are unsubstantiated. It is not some miracle cure for everything that ails us, but it is all natural, lower in kilojoules than fruit juices, and contributes to hydration. It does contain some electrolytes but this does not make it equivalent to a sports drink. Coconut water is high in potassium and has a small amount of sodium. For general health this is exactly what most of us need. However if you are doing long exercise sessions of more than 90 minutes duration, a sports drink is still the way to go as it is specially formulated with higher levels of sodium for maximal speed of absorption and replacement of the sodium lost in sweat. For the rest of us coconut water is a natural drink to be enjoyed. I often have one after a run in summer, and use them in my green smoothies - check out the recipe bank for some of my favourites.
One of the wonderful things about the start of summer is that mangoes come into season. These delicious tropical fruits are a real treat both in taste and nutrition. They provide several nutrients including vitamin C - a cup provides about 3/4 of your daily requirement. They also provide several B group vitamins, especially vitamin B6 and are fibre rich. Mangoes are also incredibly rich in beta-carotene, much richer than other fruits, and hence the wonderful orange colour. This can be converted to vitamin A in the body or used as an antioxidant in its own right.
Enjoy them sliced on your muesli for breakfast, chopped in a salsa and served with chicken, or simply as a mango 'hedgehog' on a summers afternoon.
Mangoes have a low glycaemic index making them ideal for those living with diabetes and for all of us watching our weight. A cup of diced mango provides about 28g of carbohydrate that is slowly absorbed, providing you with slow release, sustained energy.
Snow peas are a variety of pea where the pod is edible along with the small seeds inside. They can be eaten raw in salads or lightly cooked so that they retain a lovely crunchy texture. Toss them in stir-fries, slice them finely to add to salads or soups, or lightly steam of microwave to serve as a side dish.
Nutritionally they are fabulous for vitamin C, particularly if you eat them raw. They also provide excellent levels of vitamin K, provitamin A (from the carotenoids present) and good levels of several B group vitamins including thiamin, B6 and folate. They are also a pretty good plant source of iron.
As you would expect you also get fibre with about 2.6g per 100g (a cup).
The French word for snow peas is mangetout and this is used in the UK to cover both snow peas and sugar snap peas. The latter are very similar but have a more rounded pod. Both are delicious!
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