Get your geek on!… this is an alphabetical, nutritional guide on most of the ingredients that we mention… the keys to youth, vitality and your inner Mojo are all in here somewhere!
Apples – “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away” – an old phrase but perhaps a bit of an overstatement — but it does hint at the nutritional powerhouse that this humble fruit actually is. This is low GI fruit which shouldn’t spike blood sugar too dramatically because the polyphenols in the fruit lower the rate of glucose absorption which then lowers the sugar load in the blood. A good source of water-soluable fibre, these will keep you feeling satisfied for longer whilst helping alkalise and clean up the digestive tract. Studies have also shown that regular consumption of whole, raw apples has a positive impact on bad cholesterol levels (this was really an apple a day… no more than that was needed to show the benefit!) These also provide antioxidants to keep us healthy and glowing inside and out.
Asparagus – This veggie provides a unique combination of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and anti-oxidants together with a hit of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E and minerals zinc, manganese and selenium. Asparagus contains an excellent quantity of B-Vitamins which are key to our energy levels, metabolism and blood sugar management. These combined properties, mean this vegetable contains many of the nutrients which are considered to be potential risk reducers for Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease — research into this continues and early findings seem to be positive. Asparagus is excellent for overall digestive health as well both due to its rich fiber content and also its inulin content. Inulin is a often considered a “prebiotic” as it doesn’t get broken down in the first parts of the digestive tract which means it reaches the large intestine in tact. Once it has reached the large intestine it it becomes an ideal food for some of our “good bacteria” there (e.g.. bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.) If these bacteria are allowed to flourish — then our bodies are better able to absorb nutrients which means we boost our immune systems, get lowered risks to some diseases/vulnerabilities and generally function/process more efficiently.
Aubergine – a wonderful source of dietary fiber and also of manganese, magnesium and vitamin K which are great for bone-building. Also a decent source of potassium and copper which are good for keeping our hearts healthy. Aubergines are also rich in a specific compound called, “chlorogenic acid” which is extremely potent and effective in terms of having a positive impact on bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and also being a strong, natural antiviral compound. A word of caution is that Aubergines do fall into the group of foods which are high in “oxalates” and over consumption of these foods can inhibit calcium absorption and also can cause some health problems especially if you have kidney or gallbladder issues (in which case we would advise you speak to your doctor about oxalates and whether you should be monitoring your intake in your diet at all.) However, if your digestive system is healthy and you are chewing your food slowly (rather than gulping it down) then you will still get significant benefits from eating this versatile and delicious vegetable.
Beetroot – These deeply coloured root vegetables are packed with vitamins A, B & C, magnesium, fiber, phosphorus, iron, beta-carotene and folic acid. They also contain a very special combination of antioxidants which means that they will help with heart health, nerve tissue health and will keep us looking and feeling radiant! They are also now considered to be one of the essential veggies to be consumed during any kind of detox because of how they support the body during a cleanse. Beets are also full to the brim with anti-inflammatory compounds which will keep you healthy and full of vitality. One other positive side effect…the Romans used to use them for their apparent aphrodisiac properties too! Enough said!
Berries – taste yummy, add natural sweetness and are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. For those of you who consider the Glycaemic Index/Glycaemic Load (GI /GL) – berries are lower sugar fruits relative to most of the others so are good options.
Bulgur Wheat – a carbohydrate source, rich in fibre and an excellent source of folate/ vit B9 which can help with heart health and is supposed to be beneficial for women trying for a baby and also for women who are already pregnant– but again, we’re not doctors, so please ask your medical practitioner about this stuff in more detail… they went to school and studied for years you know. They’ll be a lot more useful to you than we will… but they might not all be able to cook quite as well!
Butter – The ultimate evil food of the ‘80s is now gaining a surge in popularity. We definitely prefer butter and other “healthy fat” sources to margarine (which you will not find anywhere on our blog) and we were both actually raised to be quite wary of margarine with its list of unpronounceable weird/chemical-sounding ingredients. However, we suggest that you do your own research into the pros and cons of butter — but we can give you some of the basics here. The general consensus on butter is that organic is best wherever possible. Also, there seems to be a lot of interest in “grass-fed” butter which is considered to have beneficial health properties with higher quantities of some vitamins (A, E & K) and Butyric acid — a short chain fatty acid — which may have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-stress properties. Butter does still contain high levels of saturated fat and, as with any other fat, it is high in calories — so keep this in mind when considering your overall daily fat/calorie consumption countered against your daily activity levels and any health/weight loss or weight management goals.
Carrots – Some say that carrots were first used as medicine and not food, so it is no surprise then to find out that they are jam packed with nutrition. Most of us have heard of beta-carotene, an anti-oxidant which is so prevalent in carrots that it was named for them! In addition, carrots are bursting with other anti-oxidants too which means that they are great for protecting against cardiovascular disease and keeping our cardiovascular systems efficient. Whether you are eating orange, purple, yellow, red or white carrots – they are all still jam packed with nutrients — but humble orange carrot is the one bursting with the most beta-carotene! Carrots also are an absolutely excellent source of Vitamin A (also known as retinol) which is good for our teeth, skeletal and soft tissues, the skin and the mucous membranes. Be a little careful if you need to take care with your blood sugar levels, as carrots are naturally sweet (hence being so versatile in sweet and savoury dishes)… so take care with your portions so avoid sugar spikes.
Cauliflower – This veggie is low cal, high fibre (great for digestive support) and packed with antioxidants (Vit C, manganese, beta-carotene to name just a few of them here!) Antioxidants reduce the risk of oxidative stress on the body — a stress which is widely considered to be a risk factor in the development of many cancer types. Cauliflower is also full of Vit K which is a key anti-inflammatory compound and then also contains many of the B-complex group of vitamins (B1, B3 B5 & B6) which we need to take in from an external source and which help boost our energy levels as well as the efficiency of our metabolism.
Chestnuts – like all nuts these are a good source of healthy fat but chestnuts actually do have a relatively low fat content in comparison to many other nuts which means that they are slightly lighter on calories. They are packed to the brim with vitamins and minerals to keep you glowing with health! The B vitamins (which they contain in moderately high amounts) will help with red blood cell production, maintaining healthy skin and will also boost your brain power. High levels of manganese means an antioxidant fix which helps supports the heart and, according to some research, helps reduce the risk of certain cancers. Copper will help keep bones strong and will support both the nervous and immune systems. They also have a high fiber content — soluble, to help reduce cholesterol and keep blood sugar levels stable and insoluble, for a healthy, efficient digestive system. Chestnuts also contain higher complex carb levels than most other nuts which makes them a good source of sustainable energy. However, these are not the best nuts to use if you’re looking for a protein fix as they are also slightly lower in protein than many other nuts. As with all nuts, be aware of the calorie density of these.
Cinnamon – tastes good and sweet (we think!) and research suggests it can significantly keep blood sugar levels stable too. Research also indicates that this type of use of cinnamon could help people who need to be careful about their sugar intake generally. However, please always follow the advice of your medical practitioner!
Coconut Water – this has been hyped up so much recently because it really is a nutritional powerhouse! It is super hydrating, low in calories and really rich in potassium (a much richer source than bananas for example.) Coconut water is low fat (unlike coconut milk/cream) and low sodium but does contain natural sugars to it — many brands do add additional natural sugars as well, so watch out for that. Just be careful with how much you consume as calories can add up. This is not a replacement for good old water — but is an excellent supplement to your overall weekly nutritional intake.
Couscous Couscous – a carbohydrate — which means it helps us with our energy levels and a good source of fibre and, interestingly, a decent source of iron too which will help counter fatigue!
Cucumber – The humble cucumber is super low calorie and has a great deal to offer nutritionally with recent studies showing it has higher antioxidant levels and anti-inflammatory properties than previously thought. As many of us know, cucumbers are around 95% water and so are a great way of adding to our hydration levels whilst also helping the body to cleanse itself of toxins. They also contain amazing levels of vitamins with a healthy dose of Vits A, B and C just underneath the skin. Currently there are many studies being undertaken to assess the anti-cancer properties of cucumber as they contain certain compounds (cucurbitacins and lignans) which are already known to be effective fighters for a number of cancer varieties. As we often eat the skin of a cucumber, try to buy organic or ensure that you are really washing it thoroughly before use — to avoid ingestion of pesticides and waxes.
Dill – This herb really is a little powerhouse as it contains a number of volatile oils which can help neutralise certain carcinogens and can also help prevent bacterial overgrowth (in much the same way garlic does.) Surprisingly it is also a very good source of calcium which can help with supporting bone strength (pre and post menopause) and some conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Also contains minerals (iron, manganese and magnesium.) Dill seeds can be used separately and to very good effect in a simple tea to aid with digestive issues and bloating.
Echinacea – available as tablets, tinctures and sweets to suck — echinacea is a herbal/plant based remedy which many say helps support the immune system (many say that it doesn’t either!) Do your research if you’r going to use this and never exceed the dose recommended by the brand that you take.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Priya is actually obsessed with this stuff to the point that she keeps Greek, Italian and Spanish oils for their different flavours. But generically, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is packed with nutritional benefits and is a good fat. Let’s stop all thinking that every fat is the devil shall we. Yes it is calorific and so you will need to be sensible in terms of how you’re going to use it (common sense stuff really — how much other fat are you consuming in the day and are you burning it off with exercise of some sort?) EVOO is considered to be anti-inflammatory, heart healthy, heavy on oleic acid (for balancing out cholesterol levels), protective against some types of cancer cells and plenty of research is being done to see if there is a link between this an improved cognitive function in adults. There is actually so much to say about EVOO, that it will get its own post in “Obsessed” at some point soon… so watch that space.
Fennel – Fennel is from the same family as carrots and parsley (who knew?!?) and you can have it in the fresh, bulb form or in the dried seed form (which is very popular in natural remedies.) A fennel bulb is high in fibre and fat free. It is a nutritional powerhouse containing numerous vits and minerals including B-vitamin folate and vitamin C and it’s also rich in antioxidants — so it’s great for keeping us fighting fit and also getting our skin glowing! The seeds and the bulb are both powerful anti-diuretics which means they really helps with water retention problems because they help the body flush out excess water easily. Fennel seeds are used in herbal teas or are chewed to help ease indigestion extremely effectively.
Feta Cheese – aside from the salt content, feta is considered a relatively healthy cheese in comparison to most. It’s strong flavour means that you can also get away with using less which means calories are streamlined if you use it carefully. Nowadays many varieties are made with cow’s milk but traditionally this was made with sheep/goats milk — and this variety is also still available — so it can be suitable for those who are intolerant to cow’s milk. If you suffer from high blood pressure or water retention, then be careful with this cheese as its saltiness is not going to help either of those conditions. The calcium content in this cheese is on a par with others and, consumed in moderation, this will help with bone health. Be cautious with this cheese (or any cheese) because of its salt and fat content.
Flaxseeds – honestly, where to begin with this one? This is an absolute powerhouse of a seed in terms of nutritional payoff with excellent amounts of fiber and omega 3 fat. It is also actually quite low in carbs which means it is good for anyone watching their intake of starches/sugars for whatever reasons. A great source of B vitamins, magnesium, manganese and antioxidants — so this really will contribute to your well being on many many levels. Use this carefully as the fiber load can be quite draining for some people (excuse the toliet humour pun!) — so start gradually with your intake and check the recommended intake on the brand that you buy and do not exceed that. Also, use your flaxseeds up relatively quickly as the fat in them does oxidise/turn rancid quickly which means you won’t be getting the benefits!
Garlic – oh where to start with this? It is such a wonderstuff! An alkalising food, good for heart health, natural antibiotic properties, an immune booster, anti-inflammatory and boosts iron absorption… plus you’ll be safe from vampires. Bonus!
Ginger – in addition to its warm, zesty flavour, ginger also possesses tried and tested medicinal properties. Anyone suffering from trapped wind, indigestion from overindulgence or nausea/sickness (morning sickness or self-inflicted hangovers) will find that sipping warm water with grated ginger in it will provide noticeable relief. Ginger also provides a natural warming action which can, not only keep us warm, but also help us fight colds/infections because it supports the immune system by encouraging healthy sweating which pushes the germs out of our systems. In addition to this, the presence of “gingerols” provide potent anti-inflammatory properties and many people with ostearthritis or rheumatoid arthritis have reported reductions in pain levels when ginger is consumed regularly. The nutritional benefits of ginger are so highly concentrated that only a little needs to be consumed for the body to reap the benefits.
Kale – currently touted as the superman of the vegetable world, kale is high in fiber, low in calories and has zero fat. High levels of iron, vitamin K (good for bones and blood), brimming with antioxidants, alkalising, helps lower cholesterol levels AND has more calcium than milk! Great in smoothies, juices and for cooking… this is a versatile and relatively inexpensive ingredient which should make it into everyone’s kitchen regularly.
Leeks – belong to the same family as garlic and onions and so contain some similar nutritional, health properties such as being a good support for the cardiovascular system (if you’re preparing them in a healthy way.) They also have a good concentration of Folate, which is a B vitamin which supports cardiovascular health. Leeks are also pretty low calorie which means they can bulk up dishes without bulking up waistlines – hurrah! They also have good quantities of vitamins A and C in them too!
Lemon – oh where to start with these? Priya is obsessed with lemons. It’s quite weird actually. That aside, these bad boys are packed with vitamin C and, contrary to what you might think, are also an amazingly alkalising food (yes really.). Vitamin C is essential in helping with iron absorption …so the lemon in this salad not only tastes great but will help you suck up much more of the iron content in the leaves and herbs. Hurrah! Vitamin C is one of the most important antioxidants and is the primary water-soluable antioxidant in the body. This means it can work through our system fast and effectively helping fight free radicals, positively impact bad cholesterol levels and keep our immune systems all fired up. These are so delicious and you can use almost every part in cooking….the juice/fruit, the zest and also the leaves themselves. Just be a little careful, the more you love lemons, the more your dentist stresses out about your tooth enamel…listen, we’re not dentists here…but we get that teeth and gums need to be kept healthy. So be kind to them.
Milk Thistle – available in tablet or tincture form, this is a herbal/plant based remedy which is said to support the body’s ability to detox through assisting with liver function. Quite frankly, the jury is really out on this still and so do some research on this if you want to use it and never exceed the dose recommended by the brand that you use.
Mint – yes it’s refreshing but did you know it is alkalizing packed with Vitamin C and has tons of essential minerals in it including calcium (for strong bones), iron (to help carry oxygen around our body) and potassium (an electrolyte which helps balance fluids in the body to keep us hydrated.) Mint is considered helpful for digestive discomfort and also apparently could provide some relief to those who suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) — but again, always take guidance from your medical practitioner.
Nuts and seeds – contain good levels of protein (which keeps you feeling full and helps keep blood sugar stable), healthy omega fats and vitamins and minerals – they can be calorific because of the good fats in them – so keep that in mind.
Oats – a healthy carbohydrate which means they provide slow, steady fuel which means stable energy without a blood sugar spike which can leave you feeling tired and reaching for an unhealthy snack or additional caffeine fix. They also keep you feeling fuller for longer as they are rich in dietary fibre. Oats are also proven to have a beneficial effect on bad cholesterol levels in the body (without lowering good cholesterol levels) and are packed with vitamins and minerals too! There seems to be a fair amount of research to suggest that pre-soaking oats overnight (if you remember to) could be beneficial because they will become easier for digestion and the composition of the oat changes in way that will help optimise nutrition absorption of other things you’re eating at the same time and later that day. In terms of whether it makes any real difference to the taste… not really… so it’s entirely up to you if you want to do this!
Onion – they’re not especially high on vits and minerals but they do have vitamins C, B6 and K in them and also beta-carotene, calcium, iron and potassium in them… cooked to varying levels of caramelisation, these can be the key foundation of so many dishes… used raw, they add a zing to meals that nothing else can match… the raw state has the bonus of being quite handy in keeping unwanted admirers at bay too (chewing on them , not throwing them!)
Oranges – We all know this is super rich in Vitamin C, one of the most important antioxidants in our diets. However, in addition to this, research has shown that oranges are rich in something called herperidin which may help to lower high blood pressure and may have a positive impact on bad cholesterol levels. To get to this good stuff, you need to eat the pith (no, we’re not being rude)…this is the stuff just under the zest and also the heart of the white pulp inside the fruit. Eat it all up and your body will thank you. These are also a great source of fibre (as long as you are eating the fruit rather than just drinking “smooth” versions of the juice which don’t have the fibre content in them to anywhere near the same extent.) These are also amongst the alkalising super heroes out there so they really will help balance your system. As with all citrus fruit, these are harsh on the teeth though…so make sure you are getting all the advice you need from your dentist to keep your tooth enamel in tip top form and strong enough for the citrus goodness in these orange globes of sunshine!
Parsley – is a nutritional powerhouse! Some of its highlights are that it is alkalising, a rich in fibre, a strong source of anti-oxidants, vitamin C (we all know this is great for our immune system but did you know it is also your body’s primary, water soluble anti-oxidant), beta-carotene which then converts to vitamin A (which again is amazing for your immune system), iron (for carrying oxygen) and folic acid (one of the most important B vits for us) which can help towards cardiovascular health (with a sensible diet and exercise as directed by your medical practitioner.) Parsley is also a natural diuretic and so can help with mild water retention and digestive issues.
Pomegranate – Most of us know that these are packed with anti-oxidants but there is actually some protein benefit from these seeds but they are also a good supplier of vitamins C, B and minerals such as potassium and copper (which supports antioxidants.)
Pomegranate Molasses – you can buy this ready made but you can also make your own pretty easily (lots of recipes online) now that pomegranate juice is so widely available in the shops. It is pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice which is cooked down until it becomes concentrated and thick. The taste is really intense and is both sweet and sour and it adds a real depth to dishes it is used in. The addition of sugar in this ingredient means that it may not be suitable for diabetics and so, if you are diabetic, consider leaving this out altogether or just using a very small amount. Aside from the sugar, these molasses do give you most of the same health benefits as pomegranate juice/fruit which means they contain both antioxidants and several B vitamins which, amongst other things, will help with your overall energy levels, immune system function and general health and well being. However, please don’t forget about the sugar in the molasses — use this in sensible quantities.
Prawns – seem to be one of the ingredients which has caused a divide in opinion — on the one hand, they are a great source of protein and certain vitamins (B12, B6, Niacin.) They also contain some key minerals (zinc and selenium — which help our immune systems and copper, magnesium and phospherous which help our metabolism and bone health.) On top of that they provide some healthy omega-3 fats but, on the other hand, there have been studies for many years which suggest that they are not good for people who have high cholesterol problems. If you are worried about this aspect, we suggest you are guided by your doctor as to whether you should be eating them and, if so, how much you need to limit your consumption of them.
Quark – if you are okay consuming dairy, then this is an ingredient to get to know. Quark is naturally fat free and is totally neutral in flavour – hence making it a perfect ingredient for sweet and savoury dishes. It can be used instead of regular cream cheese, cream, creme fraiche in many (but not all) circumstances – it melts into dishes and adds a creaminess but without the same calorie density! Quark is a good source of protein and is low in salts and natural sugars. Also contains Vitamins A & B (for eyesight and immune system support.)
Quinoa – most of us now know that this is a protein rich carbohydrate but did you know that it contains all 9 of the “essential” amino acids (these are the amino acids that we need to get from our diets as we cannot create them in the body ourselves.) Quinoa has almost double the fibre in it compared to other grains (fibre can help with some digestive issues, can help stabilise glucose levels in the blood and could play a part towards helping lower bad cholesterol levels too.) This ingredient also has good levels of vit B2 (for your metabolism and energy production).
Raisins – although these are low fat and high fibre, these are also a good source of fast energy because they are relatively high in fructose and glucose which are forms of sugar. Sugar accounted for, like the grapes they are made from, raisins are rich in antioxidants. They are also a good source of boron which is especially important for women ‘s bone health/ osteoporosis prevention (although avoid eating vast quantities because of the sugar levels!) Diabetics and anyone watching their blood sugar levels, do need to be careful of dried fruits as the sugar in them, although natural, is quite concentrated.
Salt – use sparingly. Use a quality, natural sea salt or Himalayan Pink salt as these have a higher trace mineral content than refined, table salt and a more intense flavour so you will use less. Here you really are using a teeny-tiny pinch.
Scallops – Lean protein, low fat (mostly good fats) and low calorie too — it seems this shellfish may be good for cardiovascular health due to containing Vit B12, Magnesium (also good for our bones) and Potassium (for muscular function and regulating blood pressure levels) – all of which play their part in protecting our CV system. They are also a decent source of phosphorous (especially good for our bones & teeth) and are rich in healthy omega 3 fats which are vital for optimised health, boosting our moods and can even help reduce depression!
Smoked salmon – like fresh salmon, the smoked variety is a great source of protein, vitamins (B&D) and minerals (magnesium & selenium.) It also provides omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), the combination of which could protect against heart disease, macular degeneration (degeneration of the eyes) and possibly even Alzheimer’s. Other studies have shown that regular, moderate consumption of smoked salmon may help people suffering with mild levels of depression too. A word of caution – smoked salmon is often high in salt, so be aware of this when considering your overall salt intake.
Spelt – a whole grain, closely related to wheat but with a nuttier and deeper flavour. Spelt is often considered to be a healthier alternative to regular wheat. However, in real terms, spelt and wheat have, for the most part, very similar nutritional properties (although spelt has higher quantities of vitamin K which may be good for heart health, bone health and blood clotting. A common misperception is that spelt is gluten free. It isn’t. It simply has lower gluten levels than wheat and so it may be the case that some people who are gluten intolerant can tolerate moderate quantities of spelt occasionally. However, it is not suitable for celiacs. Spelt has very similar properties to flour and spelt flour therefore can be used as a wheat-flour substitute when baking without needing to alter quantities and without effecting the final result of the bake (apart from a slightly deeper flavour.)
Spinach – Popeye wasn’t wrong in guzzling spinach knowing he would feel like a total hero afterwards! This is a versatile, affordable ingredient that can be used in cooking, smoothies and juices with wild abandon! Packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it will support blood, nervous system and bone functions in the body. Very low on calories and also fat free – it really packs a nutritional punch. Excellent raw or cooked.
Spring Onion/Scallion – these are actually a good source of vitamin K (essential for blood clotting and could play a role in bone strength) and are also rich in potassium. You’ll also get some calcium, magnesium (good for your muscles and energy levels) and antioxidants from these!
Tahini – this is a paste made from ground sesame seeds and is widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Although this has a high fat content, including some saturated fat, the majority of the fats in Tahini are healthy omega 3 and 6 varieties which play a vital role in our overall health and well being. It is also full of B vitamins which help with our energy levels, immune system, muscle tone and nervous system. Sesame Seeds are also a good source of calcium so Tahini does provide this too. It also is rich in magnesium which is great for our circulation and cardiovascular health and research suggests it may also be able to positively impact bad cholesterol levels because of clever little compounds called “phytosterols.” So this really is a nutrient rich ingredient. However, be sensible with it. Consume in moderation as this is high in fats and therefore high in calories. Your skinny jeans may not forgive you if your love affair with Tahini becomes too all consuming!
Tomatoes – another alkalising food containing potassium, iron, vitamin A (a good all-rounder for bones, teeth, skin and hair) and packed with the antioxidant, lycopene (a phytonutrient which is apparently effective in reducing the risk of some forms of cancers.)
Watermelon – at around 92% water, this is a super hydrating food to eat occasionally which also nourishes you with Vitamins A and C. A ripe watermelon is a “high lycopene” food and, interestingly, a cut watermelon, unlike other fruits, does not start depleting it’s lycopene content for as much as 48 hours which means you can cut it ahead of time and know it is still holding on to its goodness. Lycopene is important for both cardiovascular and bone health. It also contains an amino acid (citrulline) which our body converts to a second amino acid (arginine) which is especially good for improving blood flow (which means oxygen is carried round the body more efficiently.) Interestingly, the most nutrition dense part is right near the rind… so as well as eating the yummy pink/red flesh, make sure you scrape off the white bit near the peel and have that too. Phenolic compounds in this fruit mean it is considered to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant health benefits. High GI but Low GL means consuming in moderation should not result in serious blood sugar spikes (however, diabetics, please be guided by your medical advisers.)