Monday, 30 September 2013

Sweet corn – Let’s try some simple southern cooking with a healthy twist

So sweet corn is back in season, and it is fantastic! Sweet corn is made up of rows of golden kernels tightly packed along a tough inner core. The sweet taste comes from the natural sugars in the kernels, which like peas; turn to starch if not eaten when ripe, so eat as fresh as possible or tinned to enjoy the full taste!

This blog posting will explain the health benefits of Sweetcorn, how to ‘kernel a sweet corn’, and as always a couple of recipes, this time in a southern style, guaranteed to please, for you to try out yourself.

So the health benefits, what are they? Like many other fruits and vegetables sweet corn is rich in many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre, which in turn have their own health benefits, but here are a few extra reasons why to eat sweet corn:

·         Rich in folate – so for pregnant women or those looking to become pregnant, sweet corn is a great way to get the folate your body and baby needs from a natural source. Folate is also associated with lowering homocysteine levels in the blood, an amino acid that can damage blood vessels, so it is great for cardiovascular health.

·         Rich in beta cryptoxanthin – Beta cryptoxanthin is converted into vitamin A in the body, and has shown to reduce risk of developing lung cancer. Vitamin A is also important for healthy skin, hair and nails. So getting munching girls!

·         Rich in thiamine – a nutrient vital for brain cell development and cognitive function. Studies have shown links between high thiamine intake and improved memory. Thiamine is needed for the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter required for the maintenance of memory capabilities, low levels of this are linked to the development of Alzheimers.

·         Rich in zeaxanthin – zeaxanthin is found in the yellow pigment in sweet corn, and is linked to protecting the eyes against age related diseases such as macular degenerative disease.

How to kernel a sweet corn:
Step 1 – Remove the husk and silk from the corn

Step 2 – Brush with butter (optional) and grill or boil for 10-15 minutes until softened

Step 3 – Cut one end of the sweet corn to create a flat end for safety, then with the sweet corn resting on the cut, flat side, using a sharp knife carefully cut off the kernels from top to bottom. Now add to a salad or cook with and enjoy!
Recipe time!

Southern Creamed Corn

This is a great dish for barbeques, or as an alternative for mashed potato, and if you use tinned corn, is a really cheap and cheerful dish!

  • 8 ears corn, husked
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup double cream cream
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease
  • 1 tablespoons butter
In a large bowl, cut the tip of the corn and carefully run a sharp knife down the corn, cutting off the kernels. Next, using the back of the blade, press down firmly on the kernels squeezing out the milky liquid. Whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, pepper and cream, and add the corn and water. In a large skillet add the bacon grease, use goose fat or lard if you don’t have bacon grease, and heat the pan to a medium heat. Add the corn mixture once, and cook for around 30mins until creamy. Add the butter right before serving. Yum!

Sweetcorn Fritters

These are great for picnics, and provided you are careful can be great to make with the kids for their packed lunches the next day. Also taste great with ketchup or salsa!

·            100g/3½oz plain flour
·            1 tsp. baking powder
·            salt and freshly ground black pepper
·            pinch smoked paprika
·            1 tbsp. caster sugar
·            2 free-range eggs
·            75ml milk
·            350g sweet corn kernels (if using tinned, drain well)
·            6 finely chopped spring onions
·            125-150ml vegetable oil, for frying

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, paprika, and caster sugar together in a bowl. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and milk together, and gradually add to the dry ingredients to combine a batter. Place the sweet corn and spring onions in a separate bowl and add just enough batter to combine them.  Heat the oil in a pan, and drop in a tablespoon size of the mixture. Cook for two to three minutes on each side, and then pop onto kitchen roll to drain off the excess oil. And enjoy!

Both of these recipes use everyday household cupboard items, so are cheap to try out and put your own touch on. So try some fresh sweet corn, whether it’s fresh off the cob, in a recipe or a salad, or tinned, and enjoy the flavours and the health benefits!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Paleo Diet – what’s it all about?

The Palaeolithic diet, or ‘paleo diet, is based upon eating what we would have done a hundred generations or so ago, when we were hunter gatherers. Before we became farmers and harvesters, and processed food became a norm in our everyday life. It promises weight loss, healthy skin and nails, and a reduced risk of many common diseases. So what does it include? And what are the benefits?

Well the Paleo diet is based around the following basic principles; if you could have hunted or gathered it, you can eat it. So let’s take a look at the basics and what they include:

1.       High Protein Intake – This diet recommends that protein should account for an average of 20-35% of our daily intake of calories. This is traditionally much higher than in the current western diet, and can come from grass fed meat, eggs, fish, nuts and seeds.

2.       Low carbohydrate Intake – foods such as potatoes, pasta, breads and cereals are all on the do not eat list in this diet. Carbohydrate intake should never be eliminated completely as it is essential for glycogen storage in the body, however some carbohydrates can be found in the fruits and vegetables in this diet, so they do not call for complete elimination of all carbohydrates

3.       Moderate to higher intake of fat – unlike most other diets that eliminate fat altogether, which is needed for the absorption of some vitamins, the paleo diet recommends a good intake of fats, provided that they come from mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated sources such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. This recommendation also includes a generous intake of omega 3 and 6 oils which can be found in these sources. These types of fats are more commonly known as ‘the good fats’, which are not harmful to the body. For more information on fats, see my blog on ‘Cholesterol – the good and the bad’.

4.       Low sodium and high potassium intake – due to the low intake of processed foods in the paleo diet, and the high fruit and vegetable intake, the intake is naturally lower in sodium and higher in potassium. Low sodium intakes are associated with lower blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease and strokes.

5.       High intake of fruits and vegetables – fruits and vegetables are included in generous amounts at every mealtime in this diet, with this comes good fibre, vitamins and minerals intake.

6.       Higher alkaline load to balance acid intake – lower intakes of grains, legumes, cheese, dairy and salt which produce an ‘acid load’ and claimed in this diet in the long term to promote bone and muscle loss, and increased risk of kidney stones. However this is not confirmed.

As you can see, this diet is naturally high in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and low is processed sugar, fat and carbohydrates, so you can see where all of the claims for health benefits come from. Dietitians are still slightly hesitant on the health benefits and claims made by this diet, there is research out there to suggest that some of them may be true, however these trials are not especially well validated. But in the meantime:

·         Obesity – The healthy fats, lower sugar and lower calorie content than your average western diet should lead to weight loss, so can lead to weight loss dependant on portion sizes.

·         Gout – this diet is lower in certain high purine foods, such as grains which can lead to gout, but with the high meat and oily fish intake, this could be argued. Also more commonly known low purine foods such as milk, breads, cereals and pasta are eliminated in the diet.

·         Lower risk of cancer – the high antioxidant and fibre content of this diet, and the grass fed meat could be responsible for a lower risk of certain cancers

·         Lower risk of heart disease and stroke – the lower intake of saturated fats and salt could certainly lead to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke

·         Many other claims including preventing autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, acne, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, gastric reflux and myopia are made in this diet, with very little or no research  to back it up, but having a healthy diet can impact on these conditions anyway.

And finally to finish up with some recipes! Here is a take on a normal recipe adjusted to fit this diet to try in your own time:
The Paleo Correct Meatloaf

·         2lbs of extra lean minced beef

·         2 red onions, finely chopped

·         4 garlic cloves, crushed

·         ½ red pepper chopped

·         ½ cup of cilantro, chopped

·         ½ cup of parsley, chopped

·         2 tsp cumin

·         1 tsp pepper

·         3 free-range eggs

·         2 tsp flaxseed oil

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, then spoon into a lined loaf tin. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.


Monday, 9 September 2013

Figs – back in season!

Figs are most commonly consumed dried throughout the year, but nothing can beat the unique taste and texture of fresh figs. They are beautifully sweet, with the different textures like the chewiness of the flesh, the smoothness of the skin, and the crunchiness of the seeds, complimenting every mouthful.

Figs are part of the mulberry family and come in many varieties, but come into season in September in the UK, so this is the time when they are at their most flavourful and plentiful. So what are the health benefits?

·         Figs are low in calories, totting up to only 74kcal per 100g – so by adding figs to desserts or dishes for natural sweetness or flavour can be a great alternative

·         Figs are high in fibre providing 2.9g of fibre per 100g – your recommended intake is 25g per day. By meeting these requirements you can aid digestion and regular bowel movements, and decrease the risk of some cancers

·         Figs are rich in vitamins such as A, E, K and vitamin C. All of which are vital for the body to grow, repair and maintain its healthy state

·         Both fresh figs and dried figs are excellent sources of B vitamins which are needed for the healthy metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates

·         Figs are rich in antioxidants which prevent certain cancers in developing, infections, diabetes and reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes

·         Figs are rich in cholorgenic acid which some studies have shown to help control blood sugars and control blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes

·         Figs, particularly dried figs, are excellent sources of minerals such as iron and copper, (needed for red blood cell production) calcium, (needed for teeth and bones) and potassium (an important component in cell structure and body fluid).

Recipe time! Figs are fantastic in recipes, and there shape and colour can add flare and a touch of fancy to any dish! Here are a couple of recipes, one of mine and one from the ‘BBC good food’ website, both are deceptively easy, and are just delicious.

Sticky Cinnamon Figs – this is great low fat dish
8 ripe figs
Large knob of butter cut into eight small pieces
4 tbsp. of clear honey
2 tbsp. of chopped pistachios
1 tsp. of ground cinnamon
Greek yoghurt or low-fat vanilla yoghurt to serve (Rachel’s yoghurt is lovely!)
1.       Cut a deep cross in the top of each fig, and sit the figs in a deep baking dish (I would line it with tin foil to prevent excess scrubbing of your dish!), drop a piece of butter into the top of the fig and drizzle with honey and top with the cinnamon and chopped nuts. You can use any nuts you like in this dish, but pistachios compliment the dish well.
2.       Pop under a medium heat grill for 5mins, until softened, then pop the figs on top of the yoghurt, spooning the sauce in the bottom of the dish on top, and done!

Prosciutto and fig-finger sandwiches – a great twist on a packed lunch or great finger food!
Butter, for spreading
4 slice of ciabatta or white bread
50g of thinly sliced prosciutto
2 figs
½ tsp. of olive oil
½ tsp. of balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
Rocket leaves
1.       Butter the slices of bread and fold the prosciutto over two slices.
2.       Remove the skin from the figs and slice thinly, and place over the prosciutto
3.       Mix together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and drizzle over the figs, and top with rocket leaves and the other slice of bread. To serve as finger food, if using white bread, slice off the crusts and cut into finger sized pieces. Delicious!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Five a day – two little or too much?

The Department of Health, the NHS and the British Dietetic Association all recommend five portions of fruit and vegetables per day combined. For many people this seems impossible, for other this is too little, so just what is a portion size and where does this recommendation come from? Well here is some quick guidance as to what can be ‘qualified’ as one of your five a day.
·           Fresh fruit and vegetables, in dishes or on the side
·           Frozen fruit and vegetables, in dishes or on the side
·           Tinned or canned fruit and vegetables. Where possible buy the ones tinned in natural juice or water, with no added salt, sugar or syrup.
·           Dried fruit, such as sultanas, currants, dates, cranberries and figs.
·           A 150ml glass of unsweetened 100% fruit or vegetable juice, counts as one of your five a day, but can only be counted once a day.
·           Smoothies! Smoothies count as up to a maximum of two portions per day, provided that they are made with all of the edible parts of the fruit and not just the juice.
·           Beans and pulses. Despite being a great source of protein, these only count as one portion a day, no matter how many you eat. This is because they contain fewer vitamins and minerals than other fruits and vegetables.
·           Fruit and vegetables in convenience foods, such as ready meals and shop-bought pasta sauces, soups and puddings. However, many convenience foods are high in salt, sugar and fat, so try to use them as a last resort and stick to home cooking where possible.
·           Sweet potatoes, swedes and parsnips do count towards your five a day, but potatoes, yams, plantains and cassavas do not, however they do provide as great sources of carbohydrates – so don’t leave them off the plate!
Taken from the NHS website, here is a guide of what constitutes a portions size of common fruits or vegetables. However a good rough guideline to follow and an easy one to remember is each portion, compressed, should be about the size of a clenched fist.
Fruit portions
·         Small-sized fresh fruit - One portion is two or more small fruit, for example two plums, two Satsumas, two kiwi fruit, three apricots, six lychees, seven strawberries or 14 cherries.
·         Medium-sized fresh fruit - One portion is one piece of fruit, such as one apple, banana, pear, orange, nectarine or Sharon fruit.
·         Large fresh fruit - One portion is half a grapefruit, one slice of papaya, one slice of melon (5cm slice), one large slice of pineapple or two slices of mango (5cm slices).
·         Dried fruit - A portion of dried fruit is around 30g. This is about one heaped tablespoon of raisins, currants or sultanas, one tablespoon of mixed fruit, two figs, three prunes or one handful of dried banana chips.
·         Tinned fruit in natural juice - One portion is roughly the same quantity of fruit that you would eat for a fresh portion, such as two pear or peach halves, six apricot halves or eight segments of tinned grapefruit.
Vegetable portions
·         Green vegetables - Two broccoli spears or four heaped tablespoons of kale, spinach, spring greens or green beans.
·         Cooked vegetables - Three heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables, such as carrots, peas or sweet corn, or eight cauliflower florets.
·         Salad vegetables - Three sticks of celery, a 5cm piece of cucumber, one medium tomato or seven cherry tomatoes.
·         Tinned and frozen vegetables - Roughly the same quantity as you would eat for a fresh portion. For example, three heaped tablespoons of tinned or frozen carrots, peas or sweet corn.
·         Pulses and beans - Three heaped tablespoons of baked beans, haricot beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, butter beans or chickpeas. However much you eat, beans and pulses count as a maximum of one portion a day.
The five portions of fruit and vegetables per day are recommended based on a varied diet, as a rough guideline to meet your daily vitamin, mineral and fibre requirements. Have a look back through some of my other postings for more information on the benefits of certain fruits and vegetables in relation to diseases prevention. So how many are you getting in each day?
Here are a few tips on how to get a few more portions into yours and your family’s diet to increase their dietary intake and instil some good habits to get into:
Breakfast – add dried fruit to cereal, and fresh fruit juices to the table. If having a breakfast smoothie, add in whole fruit, and even small portions of vegetables such as raw cabbage, cucumber or spinach. It won’t ruin the flavour, but will add in some more vitamins and minerals and increase its fibre content.
Lunch and Dinner – Add chickpeas, lentils and left over veg to stews and other dishes. If you have a picky family, pop all the veg in a food processor and then stir into the sauce to disguise, or top steamed vegetables with sauces to encourage their consumption.
Snacks – Make pre-prepared snacks that include chopped fresh fruit to pick at with a squeeze of lemon juice to stop it from spoiling, and chopped carrot, cucumber and celery sticks with a bit of hummus to encourage their consumption.
Home baking – try experimenting, many tasty recipes add in vegetables for depth of flavour and a little more health. Try parsnip cakes or beetroot brownies as a starting point!