vitamin C

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. 

Nutrition from the Ocean

It’s not something most of us in the west grew up with, but sea vegetables – or ‘seaweed’ – is something we should all consider incorporating into our diets. It enhances our diet from a culinary as well as a health perspective. In Japan, sea vegetables have been eaten for thousands of years, but even here in the UK – where we are surrounded by water after all – seaweed is part of a traditional dish: Welsh laverbread.

 

nutritionist Southend-on-Sea Leigh-on-Sea

Sea vegetables contain virtually all the minerals found in the ocean, and there are no other plants that carry more nutrients, trace minerals and minerals. As a group, sea vegetables are known for their ability to detoxify environmental toxins and heavy metals, such as cadmium, from the body. Not only are sea vegetables rich sources of iodine – a mineral required for proper thyroid function – but also calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. They also supply some B vitamins, such as folic acid, riboflavin (B2) and pantothenic acid (B5). Moreover, they contain lignans – a chemical compound from plants – that is thought to provide protection from cancer and helps alleviate menopausal symptoms – as well as fucans, which can help reduce inflammation. Lignans (another great source are flaxseeds) block the hormonal signalling of oestrogen-related cancers. In addition, seaweed appears to impair angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels for the nutrient supply to tumours. Fucoids, another component of sea vegetables, a polysaccharide (carbohydrate) that is particularly rich in kombu and wakame, is believed to be cancer-protective, too, but is easily destroyed even by light cooking. To benefit from it, kombu or wakame need to be consumed in their raw or dried form.

The sea vegetables most commonly used for food are from the family of brown seaweeds (arame, hijiki, kelp, kombu, wakame) and red seaweeds (nori, dulse).

Arame

This wiry Japanese sea vegetable has a sweet and mild flavour. It contains 100 – 500 times more iodine than shellfish and is a great source of iron and vitamin A. Arame has ten times more calcium than milk.

Hijiki

Another Japanese sea vegetable, which is the highest in calcium, but also a good source of iron (eight times more than beef) and vitamin A. It has a stronger flavour than arame. Both hijiki and arame are available dried (long strands, similar to pasta) and will expand when rehydrated.

Kelp

Kelp – like arame is a rich source of iodine and has four times more iron than beef. It is often sold as a powder or flakes.

Kombu

Kombu is sold dried in wide strips or sheets. Adding a strip of kombu to dried beans and lentils during cooking helps them cook faster and alleviates digestive problems (flatulence, bloating) some people suffer when eating pulses. It contains potassium, calcium, iodine and vitamins A and C.

Nori

Nori is probably the best known sea vegetable as it is used to wrap sushi. It is usually sold in shiny, black sheets that are made in a similar way to paper, from nori pulp, but is also available as flakes. Nori is rich in calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin A.

Dulse

Dulse has a reddish brown colour and a chewy texture. It is available in pieces (dried) or as flakes. Although all of the above contain protein, dulse and nori are particularly rich sources of it, with 20 – 30 per cent of their dry weight consisting of protein.

Most health food shops sell dried seaweed, either as long, dried strands, sea vegetable salad (dried pieces) or flakes. It is also available as a condiment, mixed with sea salt. Some supermarkets sell seaweed, too, but mainly nori for sushi making. It is also a component in some healthy snack foods such as crackers or savoury biscuits. Note that ‘crispy seaweed’ in Chinese restaurants or the ready meals aisle in the supermarket is not usually made from seaweed, but cabbage. Delicious as it may be, it is also deep-fried and covered in sugar and salt, so it really has nothing in common with the sea vegetables discussed above.

For ideas on how to incorporate sea vegetables into your diet, read tomorrow’s Nutrilicious News. It is not too late to subscribe!

 

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!

 

 

'Tis the season ... for cold and flu

When everything is going to plan, our immune system does a terrific job in protecting us without us even noticing. It fends off harmful agents – such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, pollutants and allergens – all the time, using a variety of different mechanisms.

The first line of defence are barriers: the skin, saliva, a mucous lining along the respiratory system and digestive tract as well as stomach acid do a good job keeping invaders out or destroying those we might ingest. A healthy gut also produces universal antibodies, which act like bouncers and check out the contents of the intestine to make sure that only the good stuff is absorbed. Undesirables are denied entry and passed along for excretion.

Pathogens that do manage to invade the tissues or even the blood stream will be attacked by white blood cells, which either destroy them or cling on to them to prevent them from doing harm. Any resulting debris is swept out via the lymphatic system. Fever, too, is a symptom of your immune system fighting: Heat can destroy microbes, and that’s what your body is trying to do so it serves a valuable purpose, but if it persists for more than two days, seek medical help.

A healthy immune system works incredibly well, but what we eat and drink can strengthen or weaken it, so here are my tips on how to build up your defences:

Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates

Sugar is an immune suppressant, affecting the immune system in different ways, either directly or via the stimulation of insulin secretion. “Refined carbohydrates” are white flour products, such as bread, bagels, pitta and white pasta, or white rice. Although they might not taste sweet, they are very quickly turned into sugar in the process of digestion and therefore have the same effect.

Stay hydrated

Your mucous membranes need to stay hydrated. If they dry out, their barrier function is impaired. Moreover, fluids help the lymphatic system to flush out waste. Avoid alcohol, tea and coffee. Go for herbal teas, green tea or water instead. Lemon is rich in vitamin C and ginger has antiviral properties, tea made with those two is not only great to fight colds or flu, but also very tasty.

To strengthen your defences, you could have a daily dose of fresh (!), homemade juice. If you have a juicer, try Jason Vale’s delicious Lemon and Ginger Zinger.

Garlic and Onions

Garlic and onions, too, have antiviral and antibacterial properties, so use them liberally, cooked or raw.

Keep your diet ‘clean’

Stay away from junk foods, take-aways and ready meals. If there are more than five ingredients listed, put it back on the shelf. Just eat natural foods as you would find on a farmers market or around the edges of the supermarket: fresh fruit and veg, fish, chicken, beans and pulses, brown rice or quinoa, nuts and seeds.

If you already have a cold, it is best to avoid dairy as it is mucus forming. Cheese – especially melted cheese – and meat are hard to digest, so you may want to give your body a break during recovery.

Vitamin C

Have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables to increase your intake of vitamin C. However, avoid orange juice and fruit juices in general as they are high in sugar. Eat an orange instead. Citrus fruit might be the most famous for vitamin C, but really all fresh fruit and veg contain it. Cabbage, kale, spring greens, and broccoli are excellent choices.

Of course there are more ways to protect yourself, which are not food related:

Wash your hands regularly. The most likely way to catch a cold or flu virus is via your hands. You could pick it up from a handrail or doorknob and later touch your face. That’s all it takes. Ordinary soap will do just fine. There is no need to buy sanitiser gel. The alcohol in it will only dry out your hands (weakening the skin’s barrier function) while achieving little more than soap.

Stay warm and if you have a cold avoid changes in the temperature of your surroundings for at least two days.

Rest. If you have caught a cold or flu, rest. Stay at home, don’t go to work. You will only struggle with it for longer and your colleagues will not thank you for spreading the virus.

Exercise helps strengthen your immune system and so does the regular use of a sauna at least over the winter. Just a single session is enough to temporarily increase your white blood cell output, thus strengthening the immune system. Avoid both sauna and exercise, however, if you already have a cold and resume when you’re back to normal.

To receive a lovely recipe for a cold and flu fighting soup and for my own tried and tested home remedy, subscribe to Nutrilicious News. There is still time, it’ll go out tomorrow morning.

If you frequently catch colds and infections, maybe your immune system would benefit from a little extra help and support. To find out what you can do, why not come and see me in clinic at The Body Matters in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, for your own personalised Health and Nutrition Programme?