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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.
Brown Rice is nutritionally superior to white rice as only the outer husk of the grain is removed. This retains some fibre and many of the nutrients that are lost in making white rice. It has a nuttier taste that I for one prefer - it may take a little getting used to but I'm willing you'll be a convert if you stick with it! It does take longer to cook than white rice, but you can also purchase ready cooked brown rice in microwavable pouches. These are prefectly acceptable and make for quick easy meals.
Unfortunately the GI is not always low for brown rice - it varies depending on the type of brown rice. Interestingly another plus for the pouches is that the Uncle Ben's brand produced by Effem Foods in the US have been tested by the Sydney University GI testing unit and found to have a low GI of 48 (low is a score of 55 or less). In Australia look for SunRice Low GI Brown Rice - this has been tested by the same unit and found to have a GI of 54.
Despite the variations in GI, I still like brown rice as an option. Half a cup of cooked brown rice provides 23% of your phosphorus for the day, 22% of your niacin, 20% of your magnesium, 16% of your thiamin, 14% of your zinc and 12% of your vitamin E. You'll also get smaller but significant amounts of iodine and iron.
Brown rice is not as rich in fibre as other wholegrains - half a cup of cooked brown rice provides 1.5g of fibre - but a major plus is that it tends to a very well tolerated food, even with the most sensitive individuals. It is also gluten free making it a valuable food for coeliacs or anyone following a low or gluten free diet.
The popularity of low carb diets in the West has pushed rice out of favour, but it's worth remembering that rice has been cultivated in China since approximately 2500BC. Today it supplies upwards of a third of the daily kilojoules to over 3.3 billion people living in Asia.
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!
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!
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.
Yoghurt is simply fermented milk and it probably came about as a method of making milk last longer. In doing so there were unexpected side effects and they were beneficial. Many cultures (excuse the pun) around the world from Nepal and India to the Middle East and Europe have long considered yoghurt a medicinal food and for good reason.
Yoghurt is rich in top quality protein, an excellent source of calcium and gives you a serious boost in several B group vitamins including riboflavin, magnesium and zinc.
While many people cut out dairy foods from their diet while trying to lose weight, this is quite contradictory to what the research shows. Studies where dairy foods are included as part of an energy restricted diet show that they promote better weight loss, and most importantly they seem to help improve body composition. That means they help you to lose fat and keep your muscle. Exactly what you want for a lean and fit body. Just what it is about dairy that is responsible for this effect is not fully understood, but it seems to be a combination of the protein and in particular the amino acid leucine high in dairy including yoghurt, along with calcium.
Dairy foods can also help to reduce blood pressure and big population studies show associations with lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
But of course not all yoghurts are the same. They have different levels of fat, added sugars, may have fruit and other additions, and some are thickened with gums or have other additives. Always read the ingredients list to know exactly what you are getting. Your absolute best options are natural yoghurts with live cultures, and nothing else in the ingredients list.
If you buy yoghurt with live cultures (probiotic bacteria) these have the potential to boost the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut while minimising the growth of pathogenic bacteria. The knock on benefits to your health includes a stronger immune system with fewer coughs and colds, and a healthier gut.
The live bacteria in the yoghurt also help to break down the milk carbohydrate lactose. This means that if you are lactose intolerant, as many adults are, you might well find that while you are running to the loo after milk, you can eat yoghurt.
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.
If you live in the States or parts of Europe you might know coriander by its Spanish name Cilandro, or in parts of Asia as Chinese parsley. Coriander is a fragrant herb used extensively in many cuisines including Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean, African and Scandinavian.
You can both use the fresh or dried leaves, as well as the coriander seed. You can buy the seeds whole, and then crush in a mortar and pestle, or ready ground. Generally I prefer to buy the whole seeds and grind fresh, but for convenience the ground seeds are useful. Just be sure to use frequently to ensure freshness - all to often spices sit in our pantries for months (or years!) on end and lose both their flavour and their potential health benefits.
Like other herbs and spcies, coriander is a powerful phytochemical mix. The seeds and the leaves contain various terpenes including linalool which gives coriander it's characteristic scent, and pinene. These have protective functions in the plant, including having a natural pesticide effect, and research is ongoing to uncover the potentialy beneficial effects in humans.
Use coriander seeds to make curries and marinades for meat, while the fresh leaves are divine added right at the end of cooking to curries, stir fries and South American dishes such as fajitas.
Coriander leaves provide a whole range of carotenoids including beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These all have antioxidant potential in their own right, but the latter two also play an important role in eye health, reducing the risk of age-related cataracts and macular degeneration.
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