G is for Green

GreensEat your greens – it’s one of the simplest ways of improving your health! Forget boiled cabbage and tired lettuce – green vegetables (and fruits) can be tasty and satisfying (as I’ve tried to show in the recipes below), according to Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives green plants their colour and it is the most abundant pigment in nature. Research has shown that chlorophyll can prevent the absorption of carcinogens in the diet and is capable of killing cancer cells. Chlorophyll’s intense colour masks the presence of other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory pigments, like carotenoids, in green fruits and vegetables.

Greens are also high in potassium, vitamin C and magnesium and leafy greens are rich in folic acid (the word ‘folic’ means ‘leafy’ in Latin). Finally, greens also low in calories, high in fibre and have a low glycaemic index. So why not challenge yourself to eat something green every day, if you feel your diet could do with a nutrient boost?

CKC juice

Couldn’t be easier and the kiwi adds a touch of sweetness.
Serves one

Two big handfuls of kale
One inch piece of peeled ginger
Two peeled kiwi fruits
One cucumber, chopped into big chunks
Juice everything and drink immediately.

Green Curry
Serves two

Jar of green curry sauce
One tbsp grated ginger
One chopped green chilli
Two cloves crushed garlic
Two heads of pak choi, chopped
Two leeks, finely chopped
One pack tenderstem broccoli, chopped
One green pepper, finely chopped

Stir fry everything for five minutes in coconut oil, add curry sauce, turn down the heat and simmer till tender (about 15 mins). Serve with a ‘healthy’ grain, like red rice, freekeh, amaranth, quinoa…

Super Green Salad
Serves two to four

Assemble as many green ingredients as you can – e.g.

Cooked French beans
Cooked runner beans
Cooked/raw peas
Watercress
Lettuce
Chopped cucumber
Kiwi fruit, sliced
Diced celery
Watercress
Baby kale….
Serve with avocado dressing

For the avocado dressing

One avocado
Two tbsp flax seed oil
Two cloves garlic
One red chilli
Handful of mint leaves
Juice of one lime

Blast the above in a Nutribullet to make a dressing of mayonnaise like consistency. Add more oil or lime juice if it comes out too thick. Scale up as needed to dress the amount of salad greens you have.

F is for French: the Mediterranean Diet Part Four

Lavender SusanA report at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggested that following a Mediterranean diet can help preserve cognitive function in later life and thereby reduce the risk of dementia. The research is part of the US Health and Retirement Study which involves nearly 6,000 adults. Those who stuck most closely to the Mediterranean diet had a 30 to 35 per cent lower risk of cognitive impairment, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, 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 the final (for now) instalment of the Mediterranean diet blogs, we visit France. I’ll admit that, although I’ve travelled a lot in France, the prospect of writing about French food is a little intimidating! So I thought about my ideal, simple, French meal and have applied the Eatwell plate/food pyramid principles to it. This is for a French style dinner party, where you make the starter the largest course, the main the simplest and the dessert the smallest.

Rainbow Crudites
Serves two

Two cooked beetroot, chopped
One pack cherry tomatoes, halved
One tub of your favourite olives
100g grated carrot
100g fine French beans, cooked and cooled
50g sweetcorn
Arrange all the ingredients like an artist’s palette and dress with raspberry vinegar and extra-virgin cold pressed olive oil.
Omelette aux fines herbes

2/3 eggs per person
Chopped herbs
Beat the eggs, add the herbs. Heat olive oil in a pan till it begins to smoke and add the egg mixture. When it begins to go frilly round the edges, tip the pan and let the liquid mixture run into the base and continue like this till set. Serve immediately, with a green vegetable (asparagus, tender stem broccoli or runner beans (in season now) on the side.

Lavender chocolate pot
Serves four

Provence is famous for lavender and it’s often included in cooking in that regions. You could also make this dessert with rose or violet flavoured chocolate. I buy rose-flavoured and lavender and lime-flavoured milk chocolate from the shop at Kew Gardens and it provides all the sweetness you need in this recipe – no need for added sugar.

100g bar of lavender (rose or violet) flavoured chocolate, finely chopped
200ml double cream
75ml whole milk
One egg yolk
Berries to serve

Put chocolate in a bowl. Warm cream to boiling point, pour over chocolate and stir till chocolate melts. Mix egg and milk in separate bowl. Pour into chocolate mix, stir and strain, put into pretty teacups or glasses (the smallest you can find) and refrigerate overnight. Top with an edible flower before serving with berries.

Coming next: G is for Green

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