June means cherries

cherries for JuneI’ve chosen cherries, peas and broad beans as this month’s seasonal produce. All have a short season, so grab them while you can! Indeed, you might find it hard to get hold of fresh peas and broad beans, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition. If so, these recipes work perfectly well with frozen – though I think they taste a bit better with fresh (as was proved some years ago, the nutritional value of frozen veg is the same, or higher, than fresh as they are frozen – or should be – within minutes of picking, which preserves the nutrients).

Cherries, peas and broad beans are all excellent sources of vitamin C, fibre and antioxidants. Cherries are also a relatively low GI fruit – handy to know if you’re watching your intake of carbs/sugars. Tart cherry juice has also been credited with numerous health benefits, such as helping with gout and joint pain and preventing inflammation.

Summer cherry smoothie

I had not tried tart cherry juice (bought from a health food shop) before. I didn’t much care for it on its own, as it tastes a bit like prunes (reminder of school dinners), but it makes a delicious smoothie with fresh berries.

Serves one
Carton of raspberries
Carton of strawberries, hulled and chopped
One tsp. matcha powder
One tbsp. chia seeds
One tbsp.. raw cacao powder
Tart cherry juice
Blend the berries, powders and seeds with the cherry juice in a Nutribullet or similar device.
Red fruit salad
Here’s an alternative way with berries and cherries.
Serves two
Carton of raspberries
Carton of strawberries, hulled and chopped
Carton of cherries, stoned and halved

Mix the fruits. Delicious with Greek yoghurt for breakfast or as a healthy dessert at a summer barbeque or garden party.

Pea guacamole

This is guacamole with both avocado and peas. The marscapone makes it rich and creamy but for a lower-fat version, I’m thinking you could substitute cottage cheese, quark or thick yoghurt.

Serves two to three
200g tub marscapone
Two avocados, peeled and chopped
200g peas, cooked
Handful of mint leaves
One chilli, deseeded and chopped
Juice of two limes
Flaxseed oil
Sour cream

Blast all the ingredients except the oil and sour cream in a Nutribullet or food processor. Check the consistency and, if too thick, add a little oil and/or sour cream to thin it down. Serves with a colourful selection of crudités and/or seeded flatbreads/interesting bread. This tastes even better after a night in the fridge! Definitely one for sharing at a summer party.

Broad bean salad

Serves two
Bag of your favourite salad leaves (I used pea shoots and a few lettuce leaves from the garden)
Around 200g fresh or frozen broad beans, cooked and cooled
50g pine nuts
Two avocados, peeled and chopped
Dressing: mustard, flax seed oil and cider vinegar with a squeeze of lemon
Chopped mint and chives to finish
Mix all ingredients, dress, toss and finish with the chopped herbs.

Next month: Runner beans and nasturtiums.

Why dark chocolate is good for you

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 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.  Future You, supplements manufacturer, has developed what has been dubbed a ‘chocolate pill’, Blood Flow+  which contains CocoActiv, a highly potent cocoa flavanol extract.  This is equivalent to a giant bar of chocolate but only has  five calories. CocoActiv, the active ingredient in Blood Flow+ has been officially recognised by the European Food Safety Authority following studies which show that the high-quality cocoa flavanols help to maintain the flexibility of blood vessels and contribute to normal blood flow and circulation.

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.

In the past, research at Harvard Medical School showed that cocoa flavanols can lower blood pressure by producing nitric oxide in the body, with benefits equal to that of aspirin. Similarly flavanols can improve the cardiovascular system and prevent heart disease, and deep vein thrombosis, which can occur 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)

 

Eat berries for superhealth

Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries are full of healthy nutrients and are claimed by Patrick Holford to be the ‘superfood’.According to leading nutritionist, broadcaster and founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, Patrick Holford, ‘Berries are the superfood of the century. Packed with essential nutrients, berries are the best fruit to include in your diet.’

A survey by Medix found that only 27 per cent of doctors consider nutrition to be important so most are unlikely to give the kind of advice than can lead to optimum health.

Ten reasons to eat berries

1. Antioxidants for anti-ageing: Full of anti-ageing antioxidants berries improve circulation to the skin, resulting in a ‘youthful and attractive glow’.

2. Burn fat and lose weight: because berries have the slowest releasing natural sugars they help to cut down cravings for sugar that make blood sugar levels fluctuate.

3. Prevent cancer: they are full of powerful anti-cancer nutrients – particularly strawberries and raspberries for inhibiting cancer of the cervix, mouth, and oesophagus.

4. Reduce chances of heart attack or strokes: loaded with folic acid which is needed to keep homocysteine levels down (see and protect arteries from damage. High levels of Vitamin C help to keep cholesterol at safe levels.

5. Improve memory and prevent Alzheimers: because they contain high levels of folic acid which helps to reverse memory decline and sharpen concentration.

6. Boost the immune system: the folic acid and Vitamin C means plenty of antioxidants to keep your defences high.

7. Improves libido in men: raspberries and strawberries are high in zinc, a vital mineral which men need to maintain an erection for longer. Blueberries and blackberries contain an antioxidant that helps to ensure smooth blood flow to the genitals!

8. Avoid varicose veins: high quercitin levels in berries, particularly strawberries and cranberries, and other bioflavonoids improves the health of capillaries and connective tissues all over the body, including in the veins of the legs.

9. Increased vitality: red fruit sends energy boosting messages to the brain, and by helping to keep blood sugar levels balanced there are no dips in energy.

10. Relax and sleep: high in magnesium which helps to relax the muscles in the nervous system.

Just five strawberries (100g) gives 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C!

M is for May

Salad leavesThis month I’ve made lettuce, radishes and pak choi my seasonal choices. They’re all low in calories and a good source of vitamins, including the key nutrient folic acid, and minerals. And I’ve given my three recipes a bit of retro feel, updating them with a healthy twist, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Lettuce party

Time was when salad was a few leaves of cos lettuce, a bit of diced beetroot, a couple of slices of tomato, half a hard-boiled egg, finished off with salad cream. Nothing wrong with that simple approach if the ingredients are fresh and locally sourced. I’ve made this into an exclusive lettuce party, by gathering together (at least) four types of leaves and adding extra flavour and texture with the cheese and seeds.

Serves four
Romaine lettuce, shredded
Two little Gem lettuce, torn into individual leaves
Bag of lamb’s lettuce
Bag of baby mixed leaves
Grated Pecorino (or other hard Italian) cheese
Pomegranate seeds
Mixed seeds (pumpkin, linseed and so on).

Mix the leaves, add the seeds and finish with the cheese. Make up a dressing with your favourite oil, vinegar, lemon juice and chopped herb.

Radish fondue party

I received a coffee percolator for my 21st – but many of my friends were given fondue sets, which were very trendy in the 1970s. I’ve used radishes (instead of steak or bread cubes) to recreate the fondue party scene and used it as an excuse to create a new healthy dip instead of melted cheese with wine. This recipe is also a bit of a throwback to 1960s/1970s party canapes with pineapple and cheese on sticks, and so on…This would work well at a BBQ party!

Serves up to six
Radishes
Pineapple cubes
Feta cubes
Cherry tomatoes
Olives
For the dip
One tub of high-quality hummus
One tbsp. horseradish sauce
One tbsp. peanut butter
Flaxseed or olive oil to thin

Make little ‘kebabs’ by sticking the radishes on wooden sticks, pairing them with the pineapple and so on. Dip the kebabs into the horseradish hummus.

Sweet and sour stir fry

When I was a student, my favourite takeaway or meal out was sweet and sour pork. Here’s a healthier version – still sweet and sour, but focusing on pak choi and mushrooms.
Serves two
Two heads of pak choi
100g mixed mushrooms, sliced
100g shredded pineapple
Pineapple juice
One tbsp. peanut butter
Soy sauce

Heat coconut or sesame oil in a wok or big frying pan and stir fry the mushrooms and pak choi till the leaves are wilted. Then add the peanut butter, pineapple juice and soy sauce to make a sweet and sour sauce. Stir till heated through. Serve with two nests of high-protein wholewheat noodles (I used spelt, but other varieties are available).
Next time. Celebrate early summer with peas, broad beans and cherries.

M is for March – three early spring recipes

Citrus MarchFor the next few months, I’m going to go seasonal and pay more attention to when my fruits and vegetables are at their best and to buy local, where possible, for best freshness and quality, and loose from a high-quality greengrocer, rather than pre-packaged from a supermarket writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger and freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

I used the BBC Good Food seasonality table as a guide (other such tables are, of course, available). For March, I chose the following from the list:

• Bramley apples
• Brussels sprouts
• Cabbage
• Grapefruit
• Leek
• Lemon
• Onion and spring onion
• Pak choi
• Peppers
• Purple sprouting broccoli
• Rhubarb (Netherlands)
• Oranges (Italy)

Unless indicated otherwise, all of these are available as UK grown (indeed, you might even be inspired to grow your own, or maybe join an allotment swap scheme).

Bramley apple and red grapefruit juice with ginger

Professor Jane Plant survived breast cancer from 1993 to 2016 and devised a dairy-free diet to help her fight the disease. She has some interesting recipes in her book The Plant Programme, where she suggests using Bramley apples for juicing for their folic acid and vitamin C content. Red grapefruit, which also rich in vitamin C, contains the antioxidants hesperidin and naringenin. The combination, with ginger, makes a refreshing, tangy juice.

Serves two

Three to four Bramley apples, chopped into large pieces
Two to three red (white or pink) grapefruit, peeled and pulled into segments
Two inches root ginger, peeled and chopped into large pieces
Juice everything and drink immediately.

Spring stir fry with high protein noodles

No need for exact quantities in this recipe. Just choose three or four of the seasonal vegetables from the list above, all of which are healthy choices. The brassicas (cabbage and so on) contain sulphoraphane and indoles, which are said to have an anti-cancer benefit, while onions and leeks contain alliums, which can help lower blood pressure, as well as being prebiotic, which will encourage a healthy gut flora.

Serves two
Chop/shred the vegetables finely and stir fry with soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic and ginger (add chopped chilli/chilli sauce if you like it hot). Serve with high protein noodles and/or salmon baked in foil with pesto (200˚C, 20 minutes).

Rhubarb, orange and strawberry crumble

I’ll admit that, apart from some soluble fibre, rhubarb does not have much going for it healthwise. But, like asparagus in May, it is one of my seasonal treats, especially in a crumble. It is delicious combined with oranges (which come into season in the first quarter of the year). I included the strawberries (not seasonal, of course) to add some sweetness to the fruit mix, so you don’t need to add any sugar. For the crumble, I experimented with coconut flour, which nicely absorbs some of the juices from the fruit layer.

Serves four
One pack of rhubarb, chopped
One or two oranges, segmented
One pack of strawberries, sliced
For the topping
150g wholemeal or coconut flour
100g butter, chopped
One tsp. coconut blossom nectar to sweeten
Cinnamon

Layer the fruit in a baking dish. Rub the butter into the flour, coconut blossom nectar and cinnamon mix, to make crumbs. Then top the fruit with it. Bake at 200˚C for 35 to 40 mins till top is brown.

Next time. A is for April: recipes for a healthy Easter break.