Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Basil – reduces swelling and inflammation AND has anti-aging properties

Most closely associated with Mediterranean cooking but also very prevalent in Asian food, the herb basil has a sweet, strong aroma and flavour. There are three main Mediterranean types: sweet, with large green leaves; Greek, with smaller leaves and a peppery undertone; and purple, whose dark leaves have a milder flavour.

Asian varieties include lemon basil, which has a citrus note and smaller leaves; Thai, like sweet basil, but stronger; and holy basil, spicy and intense, and unusual in that it's best when cooked, rather than raw.

Health Benefits

A study by researchers at Purdue University revealed that basil "contains a wide range of essential oils rich in phenolic compounds and a wide array of other natural products including polyphenols such as flavonoids and anthocyanins."

The herb contains high quantitites of (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP), which may be useful in treating arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases, according to research conducted at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Reduce inflammation and swelling - a study presented at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's annual event, revealed that "extracts of O. tenuiflorm (Holy basil) were shown to reduce swelling by up to 73%, 24 hours after treatment".

Anti-aging properties - according to research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference (BPC) in Manchester, basil has properties that can help prevent the harmful effects of aging. Holy basil extract was effective at killing off harmful molecules and preventing damage caused by some free radicals in the liver, brain and heart.

Rich in antioxidants - results of a study published in the Journal of Advanced Pharmacy Education & Research showed that ethanol extract Ocimum basilicum had more antioxidant activity than standard antioxidants.

Nutritional value of basil per 100 g (3.5 oz):

Energy - 94 kJ (22 kcal)
Carbohydrates - 2.65 g
Dietary fiber - 1.6 g
Fat - 0.64 g
Protein - 3.15 g
Water - 92.06 g
Vitamin A - 264 μg
Thiamine - 0.034 μg
Riboflavin - 0.076 mg
Niacin - 0.902 mg
Vitamin B6 - 0.155 μg
Folate - 68 μg
Choline - 11.4 mg
Vitamin C - 18.0 mg
Vitamin E - 0.80 mg
Vitamin K - 414.8 μg
Calcium - 177 mg
Iron - 3.17 mg
Magnesium - 64 mg
Manganese - 1.148 mg
Phosphorus - 56 mg
Potassium - 295 mg
Sodium - 4 mg
Zinc - 0.81 mg

Quick and easy cooking with basil

Pounded in a pestle and mortar or food processer with garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil to make pesto; added to tomato-based pasta sauces; combined with sliced mozzarella and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil for a classic Caprese salad; chopped and beaten into softened butter, then melted over steaks, roast chicken, or crushed boiled new potatoes.

And now, time for some recipes…

Strawberry and basil shortcakes

An American twist on our plain or sometimes fruity scones, but absotluely delish!

For the Shortcakes
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg, beaten to blend

Berries And Assembly
1½ pound fresh strawberries, hulled, quartered (about 3 cups), divided
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 sprigs basil
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons crème fraiche

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk sugar, baking powder, salt, and 2 cups flour in a large bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, work in butter until the texture of coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. 
2. Add cream and mix until dough just comes together (it will be sticky). Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a 12x4” rectangle about ¾” thick. Cut out rounds with a 2½” biscuit cutter, re-rolling scraps as needed to make 8 rounds.
3. Whisk egg with 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl. Transfer rounds to a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush tops with egg wash. Bake until tops are golden brown and shortcakes are cooked through, 15–20 minutes. (Do Ahead: Shortcakes can be made 2 days ahead. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature)
4. Coarsely chop 2 cups strawberries (use any bruised or less perfect ones) and cook with 2 Tbsp. sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until berries are softened and mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Let berry compote cool.
Meanwhile, toss basil, 1 Tbsp. sugar, and remaining 1 cup strawberries in a medium bowl and let sit until fruit begins to release juices, 10–15 minutes. Discard basil.
5. Using an electric mixer, beat cream, crème fraîche, and remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar to soft peaks, about 4 minutes.
6. Split shortcakes and fill with berry compote, whipped cream mixture, and macerated strawberries.

Melanzane Alla Parmigiana

For the Red Sauce:
1/4 cup  olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
Two 400g cans pomodori pelati tomatoes (whole peeled tomatoes), blended smooth
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Large handful fresh basil leaves

For the Aubergine Parmigiana:
Canola oil, for frying aubergines
2 cups  plain flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 medium aubergines, sliced  1/4-inch thick
1 1/2 pounds light mozzarella, grated
1 pound Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated , plus more for garnish
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves only (about 3 loosely packed cups ), plus more for garnish
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1. For the red sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and onions and saute until tender, 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and some salt and black pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Tear the basil leaves and stir into the sauce at the end of simmering.
2. For the aubergine parmigiana: Preheat the oven to 200°C. Pour 2 inches of olive oil into a heavy-bottomed pot or high-sided frying pan and heat to 180°C.
3. Pour the flour into a wide casserole dish. Whisk  in salt and black pepper. Dredge the aubergine slices  in the flour, and then fry them in the hot oil in batches. When they are browned, remove them from the oil and lay them on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat as necessary. Let cool.
4. Start layering your ingredients in individual gratin dishes or in 2 disposable trays if making family-style servings: a few slices  of fried aubergine, a small spoonful of red sauce, a couple of handfuls of mozzarella, a couple of tablespoons of Parmesan, a few leaves of basil. Repeat the layering 2 to 3 times (3 is better if your dish can accommodate it). For the top layer, finish with a final spoonful of red sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake until bubbly and golden on top, 25 to 30 minutes. Reserve any remaining red sauce for another use.
5. Serve garnished with a few leaves of basil, a sprinkle of Parmesan, and a touch of extra-virgin olive oil.

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Health Benefits of just 5-10% weight loss

When thinking about weight-loss, one often has an “ideal” body weight in mind or an ultimate weight-loss goal. It’s very common for people to think that unless they lose dozens of pounds, they will not be any healthier. This is a misconception. Studies have shown that health benefits resulting from weight-loss are evident with a weight reduction as low as 5-10 per cent. This means that an individual that weighs 200 pounds will benefit greatly from losing 10 to 20 pounds.

There’s scientific evidence that many obesity-related conditions improve with a 5-10 per cent weight-loss. Let’s look at these related conditions and see how modest weight-loss may greatly improve them and your overall quality of health:

Although we have good medications that decrease our 'bad' cholesterol also called LDL cholesterol, doctors and patients alike know how hard it is to increase the 'good' cholesterol otherwise known as HDL cholesterol even by a few points.

A 5-10 per cent weight-loss can result in a five point increase in HDL cholesterol. This deserves applause as raising HDL by these few points can lower the risk of an individual developing heart disease. HDL cholesterol of more than 40 mg/dl for men and more than 50 mg/dl for women is protective against heart disease.

There are other fat-like particles in the blood that are harmful in elevated amounts. They are called triglycerides. People with high triglycerides are at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes among other problems. A normal level should be below 150 mg/dl, while anything above 200 mg/dl is considered high.

Losing 5-10 per cent of body weight was shown to decrease triglycerides by an average of 40 mg/dl, which is a significant drop. This level can further improve with exercise, a diet low in concentrated sugars, carbohydrates and fats as well as with reduction of excessive alcohol intake.

Excess body weight accounts for about 25-30 per cent of cases of hypertension. As body weight increases, it causes haemodynamic abnormalities and other changes that result in elevated blood pressure. By losing 5-10 per cent of one’s weight, blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic, decrease by 5 mmHg on average. In conjunction with a salt restricted diet, rich in vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy, this weight-loss could be potentially even higher.

One of the laboratory markers used to screen for diabetes and to monitor its treatment is called Haemoglobin A1C. The normal level should be below 6.5. Research has shown that a 5-10 per cent weight-loss can decrease this marker by half a point on average. This comes close to the effect that some anti-diabetic pills have on blood sugars.

Insulin Resistance
Another condition that is seen with weight gain is a phenomenon called insulin resistance. In this disorder, the pancreas produces larger than normal amounts of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is responsible for keeping blood sugar levels normal. In this condition, high levels of insulin are needed because tissues are resistant to its effects.

When someone has insulin resistance, the resulting high levels of insulin in the blood cause an increase in fat tissue especially in the waist area, abnormal cholesterol, and sometimes a change in certain hormone levels in women that causes male pattern hair growth and infertility. Modest weight-loss was found to significantly decrease insulin levels and thus to help with reversing these conditions.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
Obstructive sleep apnoea is a sleep disorder commonly diagnosed in patients affected by excess weight that snore or gasp for air during sleep. It’s caused by pauses and gaps in breathing during sleep and results in insufficient oxygenation. This causes fatigue and sleepiness during the day. It also is responsible for making certain diseases less responsive to treatment, like hypertension for example.

When sleep apnoea is significant, oxygen levels in the blood are too low during sleep and the use of a breathing machine called CPAP is necessary. It has been shown that a 5-10 per cent weight-loss may improve sleep apnoea and sometimes if the apnoea was not very severe, one can be weaned from the CPAP breathing machine. This is a big achievement for some, as having to use a CPAP is life-saving but often perceived as cumbersome by those who need to use it.

In studies looking at the effect of excess weight on cells of the human body, it was found that fat cells and especially abdominal fat cells produce a large number of substances that result in inflammation in blood vessels. This inflammation then can result in plaques and clots and turn into strokes and heart attacks. When weight-loss achieves a level of 10 per cent, the levels of inflammatory substances circulating in the blood drop significantly and therefore the risk of vascular damage is reduced as well.


All these improvements caused by weight-loss as low as 5-10 per cent ultimately lead to very significant benefits including a lesser chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Now, the next question that comes to mind is since we know that a 5-10 per cent weight-loss is very beneficial, how can it be achieved?

First and foremost, weight-loss starts with lifestyle changes: diet and exercise. The first step is to talk to your local dietitian - ask your GP for a referral for weight management. There are many ways to lose weight, but the most successful way is to lose weight and keep it off is as part of a group, look for support from others around you to make these changes permanent.

And now for some healthy recipes to help change these theories into a reality….

Sesame Chicken Salad

2 skinless chicken breasts
85g frozen soya beans
1 large carrot, finely cut into thin matchsticks
4 spring onions, finely sliced
140g cherry tomatoes, halved
small bunch coriander, chopped
small handful Thai or ordinary basil leaves, chopped if large
85g herb or baby salad leaves
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
For the dressing
grated zest and juice 1 small lime
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sweet chilli sauce

1.Put the chicken in a pan and pour over cold water to cover. Tip the soya beans into a steamer. Bring the pan to a gentle simmer, then cook the chicken for 8 mins with the beans above.

2.Meanwhile, mix the dressing ingredients in a large bowl. When the chicken is cooked, slice and toss in the dressing along with the beans, carrot, onions, tomatoes, coriander and basil. Mix really well, pile onto the salad leaves and sprinkle with the sesame seeds

Spiced Singapore Noodles with Cauliflower, Chicken and Prawns

juice ½ lemon
2 tbsp medium curry powder
300g cauliflower florets
100g skinless chicken breasts, diced
100g spring onions, whites and greens separately sliced
200g white cabbages, cut into chunks
25g fresh red chillies, finely chopped
100g straight-to-wok fine rice noodles (I use Amoy)
50g raw peeled prawns, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
½ tsp golden caster sugar
5g coriander leaves

1.Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Mix the lemon juice with ½ tbsp of the curry powder and toss with the cauliflower on the baking tray. Roast for 25-30 mins until tender and slightly golden.
2.Heat a non-stick wok or frying pan and add the chicken, spring onion whites, cabbage, red chilli, remaining curry powder and a splash of water. Fry, adding splashes of water if it starts sticking or looking dry, until the chicken is cooked through and the cabbage is softening. Add the noodles, prawns, soy sauce and sugar, and fry for another few mins until piping hot and the prawns are cooked. Scatter over the spring onion greens, roasted cauliflower and coriander leaves, and serve