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Carrots are fantastically rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene. In fact that's what makes carrots orange, and how beta-carotene got its name. It can also be converted to vitamin A in the body. This is important since vitamin A is not so widely distributed in foods. 100g of carrots provides more than 2.5 times your vitamin A needs for the day. Vitamin A has many roles, but is key for eye health and good vision. This is why carrots got their reputation for helping you to see in the dark.
While an excess of pre-formed vitamin A can be toxic (it is particularly harmful during pregnancy), there is no danger of this from eating beta-carotene-rich foods. A word of warning however – supplements are not the same. While beta-carotene rich diets have been shown to benefit health, supplements do not have the same effect and can be harmful. Stick to real foods such as carrots to gain all the benefits without any risks.
Carrots also provide fibre, vitamin K and manganese, and smaller amounts of B group vitamins, copper and iron. All for very few kilojoules - less than 150kJ/100g.
Be sure to eat your carrots with some fat however - beta-carotene is fat-soluble and therefore you won't absorb much of it without any fat present. Another reason for using a delicious olive oil vinaigrette with your salad!
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. In fact, recent analysis shows that eggs are much higher in vitamin D than previously thought, with a serve of 2 eggs providing 82% of the recommended daily intake.
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.
Lemon's are usually not eaten in great quantities due to their sour taste, but do dleiver a lot of taste in small quantities. This is largely due to the citric acid, comprising 5-6% of the juice. I'm not sure why I continually see references on the internet to lemons being alkalising, when lemon juice is undoubtedly acidic. The common practice of drinking hot water with lemon first thing in the morning 'to aid digestion' is without scientific rationale. All I can see this doing is eroding your tooth enamel. A very real hazard of acidic drinks.
However I do love to use lemons and they have much to offer us. The juice is rich in vitamin C, although if you cook with lemons you destroy much of the vitamin C. But you will benefit from fresh lemon juice in dressings or simply squeezed over your steamed greens.
The skin of a lemon contains a potentially beneficial phytochemical called limonene. This is terrific at dissolving oils and so if often added to natural cleansers - or simply use a fresh lemon to clean your bench top. But there is interest in what this chemical can do within our bodies that may be beneficial. At least in the lab it has been shown to block carcinogens and kill cancer cells. We need more research to know if this happens in the body. For now you might like to grate some lemon zest into your salad dressing or into your stirfry or baking.
Trout is a wonderful fish and it's a shame it is often over-shadowed by it's more popular cousin salmon. But like salmon, trout is an oily fish and is one of our best sources of long chain omega-3 fats. The total omega-3 content per 100g of raw trout is on average 308mg (CSIRO Marine research data 1998). Our suggested dietary target set by the NHMRC is 610mg for men and 430mg for women. You can see that having a serve of trout sets you well on your way to meeting your daily target.
Like all fish trout is a fabulous source of protein. 100g provides 20g, along with 8g of fat and no carbohydrate. A regular sized fillet is more like 160g and so you'll get more like 31g of protein in most restaurant served meals or if you cook the whole fillet at home.
Trout is a fantastic source of iodine, often low in Western diets. Iodine is essential to produce thyroid hormones but it's also essential for brain growth and development. Giving trout and other fish to your kids is therefore a great way to boost their iodine intake too. Trout is excellent for phosphorus, and a good source of zinc, magnesium, riboflavin and vitamins E and A. It is also one of the few food sources of vitamin D.
Rainbow trout is listed as amber on Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide. This is due to concerns over the amount of wild-caught fish being used to feed trout in fish farms. Currently the weight of wild-caught fish is greater than the weight of trout produced. There is ongoing work to try to fix this and produce better feeds not reliant on so many wild-caught fish.
Trout is quite a hardy fish and therefore it freezes really well. Keep a few fillets or even the whole fish in your freezer to help ensure you hit your target of at least two fish meals in the week (bar vegetarians and vegans of course).
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.
Dill sprigs have been used in Mediterranean and Eastern-European cuisines for thousands of years but what most people don’t realise is that dill seeds can also be used in cooking and actually provide a richer flavour.
Dill provides a source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, potassium and folate, but unless you intend to munch on dill sprigs day and night; the amount of these nutrients you get per spring is negligible. Nevertheless dill is rich in antioxidants, including flavonoids and monoterpenes which are known for their chemprotective properties. Just be sure to be generous with your use of dill to maximise these benefits.
Use dill and lemon to compliment a fish dish in place of a kilojoule-laden creamy white sauce, or mix dill sprigs with low fat Greek yoghurt and use in place of mayonnaise in a potato salad. I love to include it with a bunch of other herbs in a salsa verde, blitzed together in my Vitamix. You can then use this as a salad dressing or drizzled over BBQ meat or seafood.
To maximise the life of dill, chop and freeze half the bunch and store it in a ziplock bag in the freezer. Wrap the other half in a damp paper towel and store in the crisper section of your fridge. Dill has a short ‘fridge life’ so in order to prevent waste, freeze what you don’t think you’ll use in two days. Chopped, frozen bundles of dill can easily be added to a casserole or soup.
The word dill is derived from an Old English word “dilla” which means to lull. Lull is thought to indicate the calming effect dill has on the stomach and in particular relieving stomach upset and flatulence.
Maple syrup is the concentrated sap of the maple tree. Be careful not to confuse maple-flavoured syrups with the real thing. These are usually just a processed glucose syrup with added flavourings to mimic the real thing. It’s much cheaper as a result.
Real maple syrup is so much tastier and since it's far sweeter than regular sugar you can use less. It contains small amounts of nutrients, including riboflavin, manganese and zinc, but let's be honest - we can get these nutrients in far greater quantities elsewhere. However it also contains a whole host of antioxidant compounds - the darker the colour the more antioxidants present. These may well be of benefit to our health.
The sugars present in maple syrup are primarily sucrose, with small amounts of glucose and fructose. It has a low GI of 54, making it a good choice for blood glucose control.
I love using maple syrup as an all natural, minimally processed sweetener and it tastes fabulous. When using maple syrup in place of table sugar, you only need about 2/3 of the amount, allowing you to cut down the total sugar level.
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