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Cauliflower belongs in the family of brassica vegetables, along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. These vegetables have a unique group of antioxidants, including glucosinolates, that seem to offer us protection against certain cancers and heart disease. In particular the evidence is strong showing a reduction in risk of cancers of the stomach, colon, rectum and lung with a high consumption of brassicas.
Despite the research including all of these vegies, cauliflower seems to be thought of as the poor cousin to broccoli. It's true that broccoli is higher in some nutrients, including riboflavin, magnesium and pre-vitamin A. But cauliflower has 26% more folate, with 100g providing 16% of your recommended daily intake. Cauliflower is also an excellent source of vitamin C; 100g raw provides 1.5 times your daily requirement. Some will be lost in cooking, but you can minimise this by lightly steaming, microwaving or stirfrying rather than boiling.
Cauliflower is amazingly versatile, so if you've only ever had it in a cheesy white sauce, it's time to get more creative! Cauliflower is fantastic stirfried with spices, mashed on it's own or with other vegies as a more nutritious alternative to potato mash, grated raw and then steamed as an alternative to rice, or even made into a cauliflower base for pizza.
There are actually four colours of cauliflower - white, orange, green and purple. Although white cauliflower is the most common, it was actually bred to be that way by preventing the plant from producing chlorophyll, the chemical that gives plants their green colour (this is also how white asparagus is grown). The other colours are worth looking out for as they have higher antioxidant power. Orange cauliflower has beta-carotene present, green has chlorophyll and purple contains anthocyanins - as found in red cabbage and red wine. I don't have data for the antioxidant power of the orange variety, but of the others purple has the highest value on the ORAC scale, green comes next, and white has the lowest.
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.
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!
You might think of parsley as simply a garnish to make a bowl of soup look nice, but that would be to grossly underestimate the herb’s nutritional value. Parsley is packed with nutrients including vitamin K, involved primarily in blood clotting, vitamin C, several B group vitamins including folate, useful amounts of iron and other minerals, and the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Beta-carotene is an important antioxidant in it’s own right, helping to protect the fat-soluble areas of the body, but can also be converted to vitamin A when required. Both lutein and zeaxanthin have been associated with a reduction in the risk of age-related macular degeneration of the eye, a common cause of blindness, and lutein has additionally been shown to play a possible role in preventing colon cancer.
Parsley also has antimicrobial effects.
Of course one sprig won’t do much good, you need to use more of it to gain the benefits. The classic Middle Eastern dish, tabouli is packed with fresh parsley, or you could add liberally at the end of cooking to sauces, soups, casseroles or mix through a salad.
Parsley has been grown in the Mediterranean for thousands of years and was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for medicinal purposes before being used as a flavour in cooking. You can increase the storage life by wrapping your parsley in a damp kitchen paper towel, putting in a plastic bag and storing in the fridge. Wash just before use.
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.
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.
Nutmeg may be helpful in reducing excessive gas and bloating, stomach problems and bad breath.
There are thousands of species of beans and peas and botanically they are known as Leguminosae - or as we simply call them, legumes. Cannellini beans are kind of like a white kidney bean and indeed are often referred to as such. They are popular in Italian cooking where they are called fasolia beans.
You can buy them dry or ready cooked in canned form. I have to admit I usually do the latter for convenience. If you have them ready to use in your pantry you are much more likely to use them! Nutritionally nothing is wrong with using canned - just be sure to rinse them well in a sieve under the tap to wash away much of the salt that is in the storing liquid. To me this is a good example of modern food preservation that makes healthy eating easier and hurray for that!
Nutritionally cannellini beans are pretty fabulous. They are high in protein and fibre, they have a very low GI of 31, and are low in fat. A half cup of cooked beans provides 6g of protein, 11g of carbohydrate, 6g of fibre and 0.5g of fat, all for only 325kJ (78 calories). They are an excellent source of folate with that same half cup providing 74μg (19% of an adult's RDI) and a good source of niacin (11% RDI for women, 10% for men) and iron (8% RDI for women, 19% for men). You'll also get a significant dose of magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.
In the Australian Dietary Guidelines legumes are included as a vegetable, but also as a protein food - for vegetarians and vegans legumes are invaluable in this regard. Using the Dr Joanna Plate you can count legumes as either your protein choice when consuming a vegetarian meal, or as your smart carb.
To cook from dry place the beans in a bowl, cover with water and leave to soak overnight. The next morning discard the soaking water, rinse well and transfer to a large pot. Cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and then cook for a couple of hours until soft. Adding a splash of oil to the pot helps to improve the texture. Be sure not to add any salt at this stage as it tends to split the skins and toughen the insides. Only add salt at the end of cooking or once using them in a dish.
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