R is for raspberries

raspberries SAWe are approaching the peak season for UK raspberries, so make the most of them while you can, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Raspberries, which belong to the same botanical family as blackberries and roses, are not only delicious, but low in sugar, high in soluble fibre, vitamin C, potassium and phytochemicals.

You’ll be familiar with the red raspberries pictured, but you can also buy purple, gold and black raspberries. It’s worth seeking out – or even growing – black raspberries, as they are particularly rich in antioxidant phytochemicals like ellagic acid and anthocyanins. Raspberries should always be eaten on the day, as they don’t keep well. But you can freeze them, and keep up your supplies of this ‘superfruit’ all year round (if you are tempted to buy imported raspberries, just think of the air miles and carbon footprint!)

Green smoothie

At only 120 calories, and containing five servings of fruit and vegetables and 10g, this is a very healthy and delicious snack or light meal.

Serves one

200g raspberries

Handful of spinach

250ml hemp or almond milk

Blast the above ingredients in a Nutribullet or other blender.

 

Red fruit salad

This is a lovely dish, full of contrasting textures and flavours, to take to a summer party or barbecue. Also nice with yoghurt for breakfast, especially with a dollop of stewed rhubarb.

Serves two to four

Wedge of watermelon, cut into chunks

Punnet of raspberries

Punnet of strawberries, hulled and chopped

Chopped mint

Mix the fruits and scatter with the mint.

 

Summer raspberry sundae

This is the recreation of a delicious, yet simple, dessert I had on holiday in Germany a couple of years ago. Go for the best quality ice cream you can find to make the most of it.

Serves two

Punnet of raspberries

Mascarpone cheese

Ice cream (works well with vanilla, coffee, chocolate and, of course, raspberry)

Tip the raspberries into a saucepan and heat on a low heat for a couple of minutes until they make a thick sauce. Serve with the ice cream and a scoop of marscapone.

Raspberry vinegar salad

Search out raspberry vinegar in specialist food shops and use in a sweet/red themed salad. Delicious with or without flaxseed, olive or hazelnut oil in a salad of beetroot, red onion, tomatoes, hazelnuts and cranberries.

 

A little chocolate every day..

Dark chocolate is good for you as flavonols, natural compounds in the cocoa bean, have neuro-protective effects.  Therefore, they  improve blood flow to the brain, especially the hippocampus that controls memory and becomes less efficient as we age*. Apparently flavonols also help to maintain heart health.

Apparently the effect is more pronounced in women and can help those who have had a bad night’s sleep. A good excuse to eat some chocolate!

Milk chocolate is not as high in cocoa but is much higher in sugar, so it does not have the same effect.  But the health warning is that chocolate contains fat so it will also help you to gain weight, if you don’t stick to the moderate amount of two or three squares a day.  And it contains caffeine so too much too late in the day can have the opposite effect and stop you sleeping.

A 50g bar of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) contains the same concentration of flavonols as two glasses of red wine, six apples or seven onions.

In the past, research at Harvard Medical School showed that it can lower blood pressure by producing nitric oxide in the body, with benefits equal to that of aspirin. Similarly flavenols can improve the cardiovascular system and prevent heart disease, and deep vein thrombosis, which can be experienced when you fly.

One of the other chemical compounds in chocolate is phenylethylamine, which is a stimulant similar to dopamine and adrenaline in the body. It is said to induce the feelings of falling in love, so maybe that’s why chocolate is so popular!

 

* (Source: Frontiers In Nutrition, 2017; 4: doi: 10.3389/fnut.2017.00019)

M is for mint

mintOur vegetable garden is failing again this year – the spinach and rainbow chard look weak and weary, the kale is wobbly and the potatoes (which might be worth a post in August) have taken over in a way I wasn’t expecting. But at least I’ve got the mint…   writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

 

There are up to 20 varieties of culinary mint. Last year’s chocolate mint bounced back impressively so I bought basil mint and spearmint. I put them in big pots and they have done really well. A quick browse through gardening catalogues shows that pineapple, Moroccan, apple and grapefruit mint plants are also available – so ideas for next year’s collection.

Now to health benefits. Mint is very high in antioxidants – but surely you’d have to eat a lot to get any positives? I think mint has more to offer if you use its soothing and refreshing qualities for healthy summer recipes that replace sugar and salt. So, I’ve created one for each of my mint varieties. We also have a very healthy lemon balm plant, which features in the first recipe. The dip and salad are perfect for summer barbeques!

Mint water/mint tea

At the start of the day, add crushed chocolate mint leaves, lime and/or lemon slices to a big jug of water. Add ice. Drink throughout the day to keep hydrated. Top up the ice cubes. If you want to make it pink, add some pure pomegranate juice.
For the tea, pour boiling water onto a handful of lemon balm and mint leaves. Drink while warm, or leave to cool, add ice and drink cold. This is definitely soothing, refreshing and [warm] aids sleep.

All-purpose dip

Serves two
200g high-protein/Greek yoghurt
Two garlic cloves
One tbsp. flax seed oil
Handful of spearmint leaves
Half a cucumber (grated)
Whizz all ingredients, except the cucumber, in a Nutribullet or blender to make a thick sauce. Stir in the cucumber.

Mint tomato salad

Serves two
Handful of chopped basil mint
100g tomatoes – go for two varieties (eg plum, heritage, cherry, salad etc)
One red onion/three shallots and/or two chopped cloves garlic
One tub of your favourite deli olives
Flax seed or olive oil
Mix all the salad ingredients, dress with the oil and mint

S is for Spanish: the Mediterranean Diet Part Three

peppersThere is more good news about the Mediterranean Diet. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer in March, and reported in the Telegraph showed that women who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean style of eating had a 40 per cent reduced risk of oestrogen receptor-negative breast cancer, which is one of the most deadly forms of the disease. The research tracked women aged between 55 and 69 for 20 years, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy eating habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – Spain, France, Italy and Greece. It is typically high in cereals, fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, low in red meat and moderate in dairy products, fish, poultry and wine. For more details, see the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.

For this instalment of the Mediterranean diet blog, we visit Spain. Spanish cooking contains three of my favourite healthy food choices – olives, peppers and tomatoes. Olives contain high amounts of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid which lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. They are also packed with a wide range of phytonutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Meanwhile, peppers and tomatoes are both rich in antioxidant carotenoids (the phytochemicals that give them their bright colours).

Gazpacho Smoothie

Make your smoothie into this classic, refreshing Spanish soup.
Serves two
400g cherry tomatoes
One cucumber
One red pepper
100g yoghurt
One tbsp. cider vinegar
One tbsp. flaxseed or olive oil

Whizz the above in a Nutribullet. Put in the fridge overnight. Add an ice cube to each serving and then serve with little bowls of diced cucumber, tomato, red and green pepper, red onion or shallots.

Rainbow Peppers

Padrón peppers are famous in Spain. Here, I combine this classic dish with stewed red, orange and yellow peppers.
Serves two
One red, one yellow and one orange pepper, halved and sliced into strips.
Three garlic cloves, crushed
One red chilli, diced
Jar or tub of sun dried tomatoes
One carton cherry tomatoes
One tub mixed olives
One tbsp. your favourite spice(s) – I use cinnamon and paprika
One tbsp. rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil and cook the peppers, chilli, garlic and spices for one minute so everything is covered in oil. Lower the heat and cook gently with the lid on the pan till the peppers are soft. Now add the tomatoes, turn up the heat and cook with the lid off until most of the liquid has evaporated. Eat hot or cold, alone as part of a Mediterranean buffet or as a topping for pasta (not Spanish, I know, but perhaps with a sprinkling of grated Manchego cheese to add an extra Spanish accent). If serving the peppers cold, try adding a slug of flaxseed oil for an omega-3 boost.

Vegetable Tortilla

A classic tortilla contains potatoes, but if you are looking for a no-carb version, use peppers, shallots/red onions, peas and asparagus with the eggs.
Serves two
Six eggs
One red pepper, diced
Two shallots/one red onion, diced
100g peas
100g asparagus
Olive or rapeseed oil

Fry the onions and peppers in the oil till soft. Cook the peas and asparagus, beat the eggs and mix. Add the egg mixture to the frying pan and, when it just starts to solidify at the edges, take the pan off the heat and place it under a medium grill. Cook until the omelette has solidified.

Coming next: M is for Mint

G is for Greek: the Mediterranean Diet Part Two

Greek saladEating a diet with a higher ‘Mediterranean diet’ score reduces the risk of further heart problems in those with established (but stable) coronary heart disease, according to a new study, writes HS guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

The research covered 15,482 people in 39 countries. In lifestyle questionnaires, they were also scored on their consumption of a ‘Western diet’ (refined grains, deep fried foods, sweets and desserts, sugary drinks). Surprisingly, perhaps, the study showed no link between the Western diet and the risk of further heart problems. This finding led lead researcher Ralph Stewart of the University of Auckland to comment. “The research suggests we should place more emphasis on encouraging people with heart problems to eat more healthy foods, and perhaps focus less on avoiding unhealthy foods.”

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy eating habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – France, Spain, Italy and Greece. It is typically high in cereals, fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, low in red meat and moderate in dairy products, fish, poultry and wine. For more details, see the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.

Greek olives
Restaurant and ready meals from the Mediterranean countries are, of course, readily available in the UK. But how healthy are they? Think greasy kebabs, pizzas with thick crusts stuffed with cheese….

So, I’m going to visit each of the four Mediterranean countries and come up with three new healthy recipes for any of you that want to start (or continue with) the Mediterranean diet. And I’ll include a new piece of research with each one. This week we are in Greece.
Extra protein hummus

Add some texture with the chick peas, and protein with the nut butter.

Serves 4–6 (and keeps for up to a week)

400g tin of chick peas
200g tub of your favourite/high-quality hummus
Two tbsp. nut butter (look out for mixed nut/seed butters and butters with different nuts – I used mixed peanut, almond and cashews but there are lots of other options)
Flaxseed/olive/rapeseed oil – whatever high-quality oil you like
Lemon juice
Garlic cloves, crushed

Mash the drained chick peas and then mix with the hummus and nut butter to make a smooth paste. Add oil, lemon juice and garlic to taste. Serve with crudites, pitta bread and my special Greek salad. Add the falafels (recipe below) for a Greek feast!

Special Greek salad

I’ve added some healthy pomegranate seeds and chunks of watermelon for sweetness and texture to this classic Greek salad.

Serves 4 and keeps well

100g pomegranate seeds
Quarter watermelon, cut into chunks
Half cucumber, chopped
One or two chopped red onions
Bag or bunch of watercress
Handful of pumpkin/sunflower seeds
220g cherry tomatoes, halved
200g mixed olives
200g barrel-aged feta cheese, cut into chunks
Cider vinegar
Lemon juice
Flaxseed or olive oil
Fresh chopped herbs

Mix main ingredients in a big bowl and toss with oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Dress with herbs.

Baked falafels

I like the idea of baking falafels rather than deep or shallow frying them. First, I’ll confess I’m not good at frying stuff – I tend to over or underdo it! Second, baked has fewer calories than fried. This is a good chance to experiment with different herbs and spices in the falafel mix (I noticed the Moroccan spices hadn’t had an outing for a while).

Makes 16

One small onion, finely chopped
One garlic clove, crushed
400g can chickpeas
Two tsp ground cumin
One tsp sumac
One tsp ras el hanout
One tbsp finely chopped mint
One beaten egg, beaten

Fry the onion in the oil till softened and then add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes (watch that the garlic doesn’t go too dark). Remove from heat. Cool and transfer to a mixing bowl. Drain the chickpeas and add to the onions and garlic. Mash up the mixture to a rough paste. Add the herbs and spices (plus salt and pepper to taste, if you like). Now mix in the egg. Take spoonfuls of the mixture and shape into falafel-size balls on a baking tray. At this stage, pop the falafels in the fridge for a bit and heat the oven to 200C. Then bake for 25 minutes, till brown and crisp and golden-brown, turning from time to time.

Coming next: S is for Spanish