Turn everyday items into superfoods with these simple tricks
It’s not just the glamorous goji berry, glass of wheatgrass or trendy turmeric that deserves superfood status. Chances are, you have some everyday health heroes lurking in your kitchen already and, with a few tiny tweaks, they can be even better for your body. We asked expert nutritionist and author Angelique Panagos (angeliquepanagos.com) how to ramp up the ordinary to make it extraordinary….
“Juicy, plump tomatoes are abundant at this time of year and are one of those foods that actually benefit from being cooked a little,” says Angelique. “In fact, heating tomatoes or cooking them down into fresh pasta sauces is one of the healthiest ways you can eat them. This is because cooking tomatoes helps the body to absorb more of the antioxidant lycopene, especially if you add a drizzle of olive oil into the mix, too.
“Lycopene is a special carotenoid found in reddish-hued fruit and veg (think papayas and grapefruits, too) and there is evidence it strengthens the heart, reduces your risk of developing certain cancers and even protects the skin from damaging sun rays.”
“Often simply tossed into meals to add flavour and va-va-voom, humble garlic is not frequently thought of as a health food,” says Angelique. “However, it is a superfood in its own right – there’s a reason it’s been used in the past to ward off vampires, or was believed to protect from the plague! Garlic is rich in a sulphur containing compound called allicin, which has antibacterial and antiviral properties. This wonderful allium is also thought to help relieve cold and flu symptoms, feed our good bacteria (microbiome) and also help prevent heart disease. However, to make the most of it, it’s best eaten raw, or at least semi-cooked – yes, really! Another tip is to chop your garlic up finely (this helps to release the allicin) ten minutes or so before using or cooking.”
Leafy greens are some of the ‘detox warriors’ that I discuss in my book The Balance Plan (£14.99, Aster), as they help to detoxify and protect from certain diseases. The humble broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse – high in vitamin C, K, calcium and folate, which are essential for the immune system, as well as stress, healthy bones, strong teeth and fertility. It also boasts fibre, to help boost digestion, and indole-3-carbinol, which is liver loving and helps convert excess oestrogen into a safer form to be excreted, rather than re-circled by the body.
“However, much of broccoli’s health benefits lie in how it is cooked. We’ve often been led to believe that steaming is the best way to keep broccoli’s nutrients intact, and it is! At least, this beats boiling broccoli to within an inch of its life. However, new studies show that the best way to eat broccoli and enjoy all its amazing goodness (especially the compound sulforaphane) is to eat it raw, or to chop and leave for five minutes before stir-frying for two to three minutes.
“Another study also shows that we should eat our veggies whole (this means eating the whole thing – florets, leaves, stems and all!) because different parts of the plant contain different nutrients.” So next time you go to throw the stalk in the bin, chop it up small instead and throw it in with the florets!
“Juicy blueberries are one of my favourite snacks – tossed into smoothies, sprinkled over porridge or simply by the handful,” says Angelique. “They are one of the healthiest berries around, and are bursting with goodness (think antioxidants, fibre to help with healthy digestion, vitamins K, C, E and B6). They are also thought to improve heart health, ease inflammation, boost the brain and even protect against cancer. However, rather than buying fresh blueberries, it may be best to eat frozen berries – many studies have shown that frozen berries retain more of their goodness, including polyphenols and vitamin C, than those lying on supermarket shelves. Frozen blueberries are also usually of the wild variety, which means more antioxidants!”
“Carrots are one of my favourite veggies!” says Angelique. “For starters, they’re full of beta carotene (a form of vitamin A), which helps to keep our eyes healthy. They also help us to fight free radicals, reduce inflammation in the body and can even keep our teeth strong and healthy. Cooking carrots helps to break down their cell walls, which makes the nutrients easier to absorb. Another tip is to eat carrots with some fat, such as a drizzle of olive oil. Studies show that eating fresh veggies (including salad and tomatoes) with fats helps the body to absorb the nutrients such as beta carotene.”
Wonderful mushrooms are a great source of plant protein, as well as fibre, vitamin D2, selenium (an antioxidant which is known to boost the immune system and keep your thyroid functioning optimally) and B vitamins,” says Angelique. “However, mushrooms are another veggie which need some gentle cooking before they are eaten, and grilling mushrooms rather than frying them can boost their antioxidant activity.” Studies show that you can further boost the vitamin D content of mushrooms by exposing them to UV light. Just pop them on a sunny windowsill for a couple of hours, gill-side up, before cooking.
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