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Apples are one of our most commonly eaten fruits, yet are not usually thought of in any special nutritional light. That's a real shame as they truly deserve recognition.
They are an excellent source of fibre with one apple providing about 4g, 13-16% of your recommended daily amount.
Apples have a low GI, so the natural sugars present in the fruit are slowly absorbed, helping you to feel full and eat less. They make for a pretty perfect snack!
Apples are incredibly rich in antioxidants - they have twice the antioxidant power of an orange, and a Choice review found Red Delicious apples to have 10 times the antioxidant power of goji berry juice sold on its antioxidant credentials! Be sure to eat the skin as this is where most of the antioxidant compounds are found.
Apples also provide a good level of vitamin C, potassium along with small but significant amounts of B group vitamins and several minerals.
The old adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" now has pretty solid scientific evidence to support it. Oxford University researchers recently published a study in the prestigious British Medical Journal showing that in the over 50s eating an apple a day would have similar effects in terms of reducing blood cholesterol and heart disease risk, to taking a statin drug. The benefits would go way beyond heart health, it would be far cheaper, far tastier than swallowing a pill, and there would be no side effects. I'd take the apple over a drug any day!
Onions are part of the family of vegies called alliums - these also include leeks, garlic, shallots (or green onions), spring onions and eschalots. These vegetables have been associated with a lower risk of several cancers, including cancer of the stomach, colon, oesophagus, pancreas, breast, prostate and brain.
You have no doubt heard of probiotics – healthy bacteria that we want to colonise the gut – well research suggests that prebiotics might be more important. These are compounds in food that act as specific fuel to these good bacteria. Having prebiotics in your diet therefore encourages the growth of healthy bacterial populations and pushes out the bad guys. Alliums provide a particular group of these prebiotics called fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS).
FOS can cause problems for people with irritable bowel disease (IBS), but that may be due to having an imbalance of bacterial groups present, with more of the bad guys. See a dietitian or other health professional for more advice.
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.
Garlic stands out as having particularly potent anti-cancer effects. It has high levels of allicin and other sulphur compounds that are thought to be responsible. Garlic is also anti-bacterial, it can block the formation of carcinogenic substances, can enhance the repair of DNA in cells around the body and can assist in killing off rogue cells that may progress to cancer. The World Health Organisation recommends we eat a clove of garlic a day for general health.
High heat, prolonged storage and exposure to light are known to affect the levels and form of the potentially beneficial substances in garlic. But on the other hand raw garlic disagrees with many people. You might find that raw garlic repeats on you and garlic breath is not so desirable! Or you may find it causes heartburn or indigestion. Since there are many studies showing a benefit of cooked and raw garlic, as well as other cooked allium vegetables, there is clearly still a benefit from enjoying them in this way. What you might like to do is rather than frying your garlic at the start of the dish, try adding it a little later to the pan to reduce the heat exposure.
Garlic can help to improve your blood cholesterol profile by raising HDL-chol by 10-15% and reducing LDL-chol by 10-20%. These studies used garlic supplements of between 600 and 1200mg a day. Unless you're prepared to munch on raw garlic cloves every day, a supplement is probably the way to go to hit these levels!
Chicken is now one of the most popular and commonly consumed meats in the Western World. It wasn't always that way, and a Sunday roast chicken was once a rare treat. Unfortunately with the rise in popularity, the quality of chicken meat has declined as a result of the intensive methods used in how they are farmed. A chicken that is intensely reared to grow fast in a barn, and slaughtered young has not nearly the same flavour as a bird allowed to forage on pasture and grow to maturity. However rest assured that, despite the number of times I see "hormone-free" chickens being sold, hormones have not been used in poultry production in the US, the UK or Australia for some 50 years. Chickens grow fast because they have been selectively bred to be that way, and the exact nutritional requirements for optimum growth are known.
There is no doubt that intensive farming of chickens has brought the cost down and that makes it easier for us all to be able to afford that Sunday Roast. Nevertheless if you can, I do recommend you buy free range chicken, for both taste and animal welfare considerations. I also urge you to buy and use the whole bird as much as possible. In the era of low fat eating we were all urged to eat only the breast. It is indeed the leanest part of the bird, but the brown meat from the leg and thigh is much higher in nutrients such as iron and zinc. It's also more flavourful, not to mention what waste there is if you only ever buy the breast! You'll also find you'll save significantly if you buy the whole bird and learn how to dissect it yourself (buy poultry shears to make the job easy), or simply cook it whole.
From a nutritional perspective there are no real differences between intensively reared chicken and the very best organic - it is in the flavour that you will notice the difference, and of course that decision is also an ethical one and a cost one. All chickens are an excellent protein choice for your Dr Joanna Plate. They are also especially rich in niacin. In addition you'll get a good dose of riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and a little iron.
A good reason to choose chicken over other meats is that it has a relatively small environmental footprint. As our populations grow, how we feed us all without destroying our planet becomes top of the priority list. There is much credence in choosing to eat more smaller birds and animals, and fewer big methane-producing animals that contribute to global warming.
Mushrooms are thought of as a vegetable, but they are actually a fungus with no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds. They are rich in many micronutrients including the B group vitamins riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid and biotin, along with the minerals copper, chromium and selenium. All this for less than 100kJ a cup.
Mushrooms are also one of only a few foods to provide vitamin D. Look out for special Vitamin D mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light to boost their vitamin D levels, but even regular mushrooms exposed to sunlight for an hour can provide you with 100% of your daily vitamin D! This is a terrific way to get your vitamin D in winter, or for those who cover up during the sunnier summer months.
Mushrooms truly are a unique plant food and well worthy of a place in your shopping basket. For more information on mushrooms head to Australian Mushrooms.
Shiitake mushrooms originated in Asian where they have been consumed and used medicinally for thousands of years. Some of the earliest books on Asian herbal medicine discuss the therapeutic value of the shiitake mushroom. Today scientific research is uncovering various phytochemicals in shiitakes, and other mushrooms, which may account for the legendary health benefits. These include:
Lentinan – a polysaccharide shown to have anti-cancer properties in the lab. Studies are ongoing using extracted lentinan with promising results in cancer patients. It also seems to play a role in strengthening the immune system and early studies indicate it may be of value to individuals infected with HIV.
Eritadenine – a compound shown to lower cholesterol in animal studies.
Ergothioneine – a powerful antioxidant found in the highest quantities in mushrooms. Wheat germ and chicken liver were previously thought to be the best sources until mushrooms were tested. Shiitake, oyster, king oyster and maitake mushrooms were found to contain as much as forty times the amount in wheat germ. The more common button mushrooms can’t quite match this, but still contain appreciable amounts and up to 12 times as much as in wheatgerm.
Chives always make me think of my mum's boiled potatoes growing up - she'd add a pat of butter and freshly chopped chives from the garden. These days I use extra virgin olive oil instead but the addition of the chives works just as well. They're delicious!
Chives are a grassy looking herb and they have an onion kind of taste, but are far more delicate. They add a fresh, pretty touch to your dishes when used at the last minute. They go partcularly well, aside from potatoes, with tomatoes and with eggs. Use a pair of scissors to cut them directly over an omelette, your poached eggs, tomato salad or over any fresh salad.
Like all herbs chives undoubtedly have a weatlh of antioxidants and other phytochemicals present. However you're unlikely to use them in such amounts as to gain much benefit. Nevertheless as part of a plant rich diet they certainly add to the overall healthfulness of your diet.
If you won't use the whole bunch before they go soggy in the bottom of your fridge, wrap them in a paper towel, pop them in a ziplock bag and freeze.
Bacon is cured and smoked pork meat. The curing process involves soaking the meat in brine (salty water), injecting it with brine or dry curing in plain salt. This is why the end product has a high salt content with around 1000mg of sodium per 100g of bacon.
On average a 50g serve of bacon contains almost 500kJ, 10g of protein, 8g of fat, no carbohydrate and 500mg of sodium.
Bacon would have originally been produced as a means of preserving the meat and indeed the high salt content prevents the growth of many pathogenic bacteria. However today chemical preservatives, usually sodium nitrite (E250), are almost always added as an extra precaution. Although this is usually thought of in a negative light, it's worth remembering that the pathogens you could pick up from cured meat would do you far more harm and potentially make you very sick. They do therefore play a safety role.
However a high consumption of processed meats including bacon has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, especially colon cancer. The nitrite preservatives, the high salt content or other unknown factors may be to blame. If you enjoy your bacon you can certainly continue to do so, but I do suggest that you don't eat it every day. I suggest limiting bacon to no more than once or twice a week for this reason. You can also help to protect yourself by ensuring the rest of your diet is rich in plant foods with their beneficial compounds.
Nutritionally bacon varies enormously depending on the cut. Streaky bacon comes from the pork belly and has visible streaks of fat throughout the rasher. Back bacon is leaner as it is mostly the loin from the middle of the back of the pig. In Australia bacon sold as middle bacon, has both the eye of the loin at one end with a long streaky bacon 'tail'. Short-cut bacon has this tail removed so is far leaner. Depending on the cut bacon can range from 5-16% fat, with about 40% of the fat present being saturated fat.
Sourdough bread is made using a bacterial culture called the “mother” rather than using yeast to rise the dough. This gives a slight acidity to the bread, which in turn lowers the glycaemic index. The starch present is therefore broken down more slowly and has a gentler effect on your blood glucose levels.
Even white sourdough has a lower GI than regular white bread, but for the best choice go for a grainy sourdough bread. This gives you all the benefits of the wholegrain, including fibre and the vitamins and minerals found in the intact grain, as well as the slow release energy of the carbs.
Sourdough bread is usually more expensive than regular supermarket bread as it takes longer to make. But be wary of copycat cheaper varieties that are not in fact true sourdough at all, and are just flavoured to taste like sourdough. I like to use a local artisan baker, or a proper sourdough bakery so that I know the quality of the bread I am buying.
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