flavonoids

A Noble Family of Vegetables

cabbage, brassica, cauliflower, cruciferous, heart health, cardiovascular, anthocyanin

At this time of year, it is a little trickier than in the summer to get your fill of fresh fruit and veg to cover your needs for vitamins, especially vitamin C, and minerals, such as magnesium. But only a little. Even in the winter and even in Northern Europe, there are fresh local crops that provide the nutrition we need.

Now in season are Brussels sprouts, white and red cabbage, kale and cauliflower, with purple sprouting broccoli joining them soon (in January). All of the above are members of the Brassica family and have similar properties, which I have written about last year in a blog post about the lovely little Brussels sprouts.

Cabbage and its relatives are not getting very much credit as a delicacy, because it reminds many of school dinners with overcooked, smelly and soggy cabbage. It doesn’t have to be that way. Cooked right, cabbage can be delicious.

So, how do you cook it right? To avoid the pungent smell and sogginess, cabbage is best cooked very briefly and with as little water as possible. Slice it into ribbons or shred in a food processor and then either stir-fry or steam. If you don’t have a steamer, use your widest lidded pan, pour just a little water in the bottom (it doesn’t have to, in fact shouldn’t cover the cabbage) and cook very quickly, just so that it is just soft.

Red cabbage – a pretty type of cabbage that is rich in anthocyanin – is lovely when cooked long and slowly. In my native Germany, it is popular to go with the traditional Christmas dinner of goose and potato dumplings. Traditionally, it is cooked with cloves, cinnamon and chopped apples. But sliced raw red cabbage also makes a beautiful addition to a winter salad, where it goes well with winter leaves such as lambs lettuce and sliced orange. Anthocyanin is a phytonutrient with antioxidant properties. It is the pigment that gives the cabbage its vibrant colour, the same as is found in blueberries, red grapes and beetroot. Anthocyanin fights free radicals and has anti-inflammatory effects, so red cabbage (and similar coloured fruit and veg) help protect us from heart disease. Apart from anthocyanin though red cabbage is also a good source of the vitamins and minerals we need, including vitamin C and K, calcium, magnesium, potassium. It also contains beta-carotenes, the precursor to vitamin A, including eye- and skin-healthy lutein and zeaxanthin.

Cabbage won’t break the bank, and white and red cabbage even keep really well for quite some time – unlike cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts, which should be eaten as soon as possible after purchase. You’ll find the best deals at your local farmers’ market or the green grocers, who also thankfully sell kale still on its stems. Supermarkets usually sell bagged, chopped kale, but it gets chopped with the stem on, which means that there will always be that hard bit in each bite.

Here some ideas on what to do with it:

  • Cut a white (or red) cabbage in half and then slice thinly. Steam the strips and then smother in (homemade) pesto for a super low-carb meal.
  • Strip kale leaves off the stem and then use either in a salad – massage the dressing in and then let it sit for a little while, the leaves will become much softer – or to make kale chips. Chop and add to pasta with some roasted squash and goat’s cheese; or add it to a hearty white bean soup.
  • Steam chopped kale or stir-fry, seasoned with a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil and tamari, sprinkle with toasted sesame. This works well with sliced white or red cabbage, too.
  • Sauerkraut is excellent food for gut health, but make sure that it is raw, not cooked. The kind you find in supermarkets – whether in jars or plastic bags – is usually cooked. Some health food shops sell raw sauerkraut, but if you want raw sauerkraut, i. e. with live bacteria, you’ll most likely have to make your own.

Note: Avoid raw cabbage, incl. coleslaw, if you have thyroid problems, particularly when iodine levels are low. Most members of the cabbage family contain goitrogens, naturally occurring compounds that interfere with the function of the thyroid. Cooking deactivates goitrogens, so cooked Brassica are fine. If your dietary iodine levels are low, you can top them up by consuming sea vegetables, seafood and iodised salt. 

Now in Season: Strawberries

They’re here at last: British strawberries! All berries – including strawberries – are excellent low-sugar food, which is very rich in nutrients. They are high in vitamin C and K, fibre and – the best thing about them – flavonoids.

 

nutritionist Southend-on-Sea Leigh-on-Sea

Flavonoids are phytonutrients (plant nutrients), which have a wide range of health benefits. The most powerful flavonoids in strawberries are anthocyanins. They are what give them their rich, red colour. Anthocyanins have been found to be protective against inflammation, cancer, and heart disease. The anti-inflammatory properties of these phytonutrients mean that they can impair the activity of the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX). Some painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, work by blocking COX, but they come with side effects such as intestinal bleeding. Anthocyanins do not cause any side effects.

Strawberries are also a good source of manganese, a mineral that helps protect bones and supports the thyroid gland.

To get the full load of flavonoids from strawberries, they need to be ripe. A perfect strawberry is red, shiny, plump and firm and of course free of mould. I only buy strawberries when they are in season, and then only British ones. Although many other countries grow perfectly good strawberries, I avoid foreign ones because transport means that they have been picked too early, before they have had a chance to develop their nutrients, flavour and fragrance. The more local your strawberries, the fresher they are. If there is a ‘pick your own’ field near you, then that’s what you should take advantage of. Those will be the ripest, yet freshest strawberries you can get.

Unfortunately – like all berries – strawberries are very delicate. They are prone to disease and fungal attack and therefore get heavily sprayed with pesticides and fungizides. Strawberries always end up among the Dirty Dozen. So, if you can find (and afford) organic strawberries, they’re the superior choice. As with most fruit and veg, you can get a much better deal at the farmers market or greengrocer than you will at the supermarket. Those places may also have the tastier varieties, as supermarket fruit is grown for durability and looks rather than flavour.

Thanks to air transport, strawberries are now available all year round, if necessary from far flung countries. For reasons stated above, however, they do not taste all that good, but are very expensive. It really is worth waiting for the British season. Eating seasonally has the added advantage that the food in question – in this case strawberries – becomes more special, because there are times of year where I have to go without.

If you can’t get organic ones, spray them with diluted additive-free soap or commercial produce wash before eating or freezing. Strawberries are great for freezing, but they won’t retain their shape once thawed. They’ll look a bit soggy. I like to use frozen strawberries in shakes and smoothies or blend them with frozen banana for instant dairy- and sugar-free ice cream. If you freeze them straight after purchase, they’ll preserve most of their vitamin C.

Strawberries contain moderate levels of oxalates. If you are prone to kidney stones, it is advisable to limit your consumption. Unfortunately, strawberries are also one of the most common food allergens.

What to do with strawberries?

If you love strawberries, you probably won’t need any recipes and just eat them straight out of the punnet. That’s fine, but here are some ideas, just in case: 

  • Whip up some fresh cream with a teaspoon of powdered vanilla and dip your strawberries in it.
  • Chop into quarters and stir into yoghurt or quark.
  • Mix chopped strawberries with cinnamon, lemon juice, and maple syrup and use as a topping for pancakes (e. g. coconut flour pancakes).
  • Gently melt some dark chocolate and dip your strawberries in it. Leave to cool and for the chocolate to harden. 
  • Add sliced strawberries to a mixed green salad.
  • For the more adventurous: Blend strawberries with 2 – 3 basil leaves, 2 tbsp of xylitol, Greek yoghurt, and a grinding of black pepper.

My tomorrow’s newsletter will have an easy recipe for a delicious strawberry-based breakfast shake. It’s not too late to subscribe!

 

 

What's the deal with quinoa?

  It’s not new – even outside of South America -, and it has been around for a few years now, but have you tried quinoa (pronounced: keen-wah) yet? Yes, I know it has a bit of a health-nut and trendy reputation now, but if you can get past that you might find that it is a great addition to your larder.

First of all, it’s not a grain, even though it is often listed among the grains, or at least in the ‘starchy carb’ category. Quinoa is a ‘pseudo-cereal’, but really it’s a seed, just like buckwheat.

Couscous with vegetables

As it is not a grain at all, it is of course gluten-free, which is one reason it is so popular. Another is that it is a ‘complete protein’ food. So, what does that mean? Proteins are composed of varying combinations of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential, meaning the body cannot make them. They have to come from the diet.

If you are an omnivore, you won’t struggle to find complete proteins as all animal proteins (meat, fish, eggs and dairy) contain all essential amino acids, but not all plant proteins do. Combining grains and pulses creates a complete protein meal, and some traditional dishes must have been created that way intuitively (Mexican chilli: beans and corn; Indian dhal: lentils and rice; Japanese edamame and rice). It is not, however, strictly necessary to consume all 9 essential amino acids with the same meal, as long as they are all covered in a day.

Quinoa, however, is one of those rare complete plant proteins. It is also rich in minerals, particularly magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is common, most likely due to the low consumption of green leafy vegetables. Apart from magnesium, quinoa also contains significant amounts of manganese and phosphorus, and is a good source of folate, zinc, iron and copper.

It also contains valuable phytonutrients, the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol. Quercetin has been found to be beneficial for allergy sufferers, especially if their symptoms affect the upper respiratory tract. But it is also thought to support heart health, an even blood pressure and general health, as it is one of the antioxidants. Kaempferol, too, has antioxidant properties, protects DNA and the lining of the arteries. Needless to say: Quinoa is also a great source of fibre.

All the health benefits of quinoa aside, it is also very versatile, easy to cook and of course tasty. It takes just 15 minutes to cook, and once cooked, you can use it to replace bulgur wheat, eg in tabouleh, or like rice in both hot and cold dishes. Mixed with finely chopped veg and spices as well as a binding agent (whether that’s egg or, say, coconut flour), quinoa also makes lovely burgers.

For more more about quinoa – how to cook it, how to use it and the ethical downsides of the seed (and where to get it ethically), read next week's Nutrilicious News. It is not too late to sign up!