W is for watermelon

Water melonIt’s the time of year when big wedges of watermelon start to appear on fruit stalls.  Watermelon is 90% water, so a slice makes a refreshing snack on a hot day, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.  It’s also rich in vitamins A and C, as well as being an excellent source of the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which gives the fruit its red colour.

However, watermelon does have a glycaemic index (GI) of 72, which is considered high, although its glycaemic load (GL) of 2, is low. The GL value reflects the fact that the carbohydrate content of watermelon is low, so it shouldn’t cause a ‘spike’ in your blood glucose after consumption. But if you are bothered by the high GI element, try combining watermelon with other foods, as in this month’s recipes!

Summer watermelon juice

I was curious about how much juice I might get from a watermelon. The answer is 250ml from a whole small watermelon (much less than I was expecting). Here it is used as the basis for a slightly tart and very refreshing juice that will energise you when temperatures soar.

Serves one

One watermelon, quartered with the flesh sliced into chunks

Two red grapefruit, peeled and segmented

400g raspberries

One inch of root ginger, peeled

Pure pomegranate juice

Juice the fruits and ginger and top up with the pomegranate juice.

 

Feta, olive and watermelon salad

In this salad, the salty creamy feta cheese complements the crisp sweet watermelon perfectly.

Serves two

200g pack of barrel-aged feta cheese, cubed

One tub of black, green or mixed olives

One red onion, thinly sliced

One red pepper or Romano pepper, thinly sliced

Watermelon chunks cut from a wedge

Oil

Lemon

Green leaves

Herbs

Mix the cheese, olives, onion, pepper and watermelon and serve on a bed of green leaves. Dress with oil and lemon and top with mint and basil.

 

Watermelon fruit salad

I was invited into a school recently and treated to lunch. I was interested to see what was on offer and very impressed by one of the best fruit salads I’ve had for a long time. It contained sliced plums so I’ve included these in the recipe below. Note, plums and raspberries are low GI fruits, so they balance the watermelon well.

Serves two to three

Watermelon chunks cut from a wedge

400g raspberries

400g strawberries

Six plums cut into quarters

Next month – late summer recipes with aubergines, beetroot and blackberries

J is for July – with nasturtium leaves and runner beans

NasturtiumsUK-grown runner beans should be readily available now – maybe you can even pick them fresh from the garden. You can’t go wrong, health wise, by eating lots of runner beans – they’re a rich source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin K, soluble fibre and minerals. Don’t just use them as a side – I’ve come up with a simple pasta dish and a summer potato salad here, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Meanwhile, I’ve planted nasturtiums everywhere this year – in the vegetable plot, in our hanging baskets and in pots. The leaves are flourishing though I’m still waiting for the flowers. Did you know every part of the nasturtium plant is edible? The leaves are a bit like watercress and are high in vitamin C. Add them to a salad for a green boost – here I’ve combined them with watercress, but they go well with any leaves.

Nasturtium and watercress salad

This is super healthy and a great mixture of colours, textures and flavours.

Serves two
Handful of nasturtium leaves, chopped
Bunch or bag of watercress
Heritage tomatoes (I found a box of green, orange, yellow and red), chopped
One tbsp. mixed seeds
Box of alfalfa sprouts
Chopped herbs (I used mint and basil)
Flax seed oil, cider vinegar and lemon to dress
Mix the leaves, seeds and tomatoes. Dress and top with the sprouts and chopped/torn herbs.

Runner bean pasta with chilli oil and pecorino and herbs

I was lucky enough to be invited to pick some runner beans from a colleague’s sunny terrace recently. Took them straight home and made this simple pasta dish – I really noticed the difference between these beans and those flown in to the supermarket from abroad. So, see if you can buy local or, better still, grow your own. I also think it’s good to experiment with tipping the balance towards more beans, less pasta and maybe even try this dish with one of the vegetable pastas.

Serves one
Around 10 runner beans, sliced
50g pasta
Pecorino cheese, grated
Fresh basil

Cook the beans for around 4 minutes and drain. Cook the pasta. Add the beans and finish with grated pecorino, torn basil and a drizzle of oil (I used chilli-infused flax seed oil).

Runner bean and new potato salad

This would be great with freshly picked beans and freshly dug potatoes. Go for as fresh and local as you can find!

Serves two
Around 20 runner beans, sliced
10 to 12 new potatoes
One tbsp. mixed seeds
For the dressing:
Horseradish mustard
Flax seed oil
Greek or other high-protein yoghurt
Fresh mint leaves, chopped.

Cook the beans for around 4 minutes, drain and leave to cool. Cook the potatoes till tender and leave to cool. Combine the dressing ingredients to taste (exact quantities don’t matter). Mix the beans, potatoes and seeds and toss in the dressing. Finish with chopped mint leaves.

Next time. August – bring on the watermelons.

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!