Antioxidants – will we live longer if we eat them?

Antioxidants are compounds in food that research shows can play a role in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, eye disease and slowing down ageing. Little powerhouses indeed.

Supplement and skincare companies know that youthfulness and staying young is right at the top of our wish lists don’t they? There is every powder and potion known to man, designed to smooth our skin, get rid of wrinkles and stop the ageing process on retail shelves all over the world.

A 2012 meta-analyis of over 70 clinical trials found antioxidant supplements are ineffective or even detrimental to health. The high doses of antioxidants found in supplements can lead to severe health problems.

Just Imagine Being Able to Get Youthful Benefits From the Food You Eat, Instead of Spending Money and Time on False Promises

Firstly, lets look at the science behind these little beauties.  Antioxidants exert their protective effects by preventing damage to body cells and tissues caused by free radicals and singlet oxygen. They sound very impressive but the easier way of remembering what antioxidants do is to picture the 1980’s Pac-Man game where the aim was to get the Pac-Man to gobble as many ‘ghosts’ as possible.

Pac-Man is the antioxidant and the ‘ghosts’ are the free radicals. Thanks to the ‘Pixels’ movie starring Adam Sandler released a couple of years ago, everyone remembers the Pac-Man.

There you have the essential role of antioxidants.

Now About Those Free Radicals

They are produced in the presence of:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Ultra-violet light
  • Radiation
  • Carcinogens
  • High PUFA diet
  • Exercise
  • Inflammation

We need those antioxidants to help mop up those free radicals and thankfully they are conveniently colour coded for easy identification.

Red

Good source of lycopene, which helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer in males.  Found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, and ruby grapefruit.

Lycopene is among the most powerful antioxidants around. It is a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red colour and occurs naturally in many red foods, including watermelon and pink grapefruit. Tomatoes do provide a rich source but tomato paste is even better as cooking and processing tomatoes further stimulates and concentrates the lycopene content.  There is no current recommended dosage but suggestions range from 5-35mg per day, which equates to at least one to two servings of tomatoes or tomato products per day.

Orange and Yellow

Good source of beta-carotene, which can protect against a range of cancers.  Found in pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, mango, paw-paw, apricots and rockmelon.

Green

Good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two compounds related to beta-carotene that can protect our eyes as we age.  Found in broccoli, spinach, silver beet, capsicum, chilli, parsley and dark lettuces.

Blue and Purples

Good source of anthocyanin’s for antioxidant and antibacterial properties.  Found in grapes, blueberries, cranberries, beetroot and radicchio lettuce.

Brown

Good source of catechin’s for blood vessel health and of course, our happiness!  Found in some of our favourites such as tea, coffee, chocolate and red wine.

How Many of These Antioxidants Do We Need?

There are no recommended intakes just yet. We do know that it is preferable to consume antioxidants through food rather than supplements, because there are other nutrients in food that enhance their absorption. The average worldwide intake of fruit and vegetables at present is too low and we need to work toward the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables, which are 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables daily.

To keep our bodies zinging on the inside and out during winter, go grab some. Like now.

Beer, wine or spirits: which is the healthiest choice?

One of the most common questions I am asked is, “Beer, wine or spirits: which is the healthiest choice?” Lets face it, it is an important question, most especially on a Friday afternoon, Saturday night or even a Sunday lunchtime.

The Breakdown

Essentially, beer and wine are very similar in terms of kilojoule content when drunk in the most commonly served quantities and they can contribute to weight gain. 

If wine and beer are compared on a 100ml basis (except for the vodka at 60ml) this is what we find:

Wine, red                                        295 kJ

White wine, dry.                            283 kJ

White wine, sweet                         275 kJ

Beer, average                                  149 kJ

Vodka (60 ml)                                282 kJ

Fantastic you may be thinking, these figures are reassuring, beer is looking great.  There is a small problem though.  Most people don’t usually drink just 100ml of beer. In practical real life terms, this would mean you cracking open the beer, enjoying 100ml and then passing it onto someone else for their 100 mls and so on down the line. Never going to happen. 

Standard drinks vary in size depending on the type of alcohol.  A standard drink of beer is 250ml or 2/3 can or stubby and a standard drink of wine is 100ml.  Measure that 100ml and I can almost guarantee that is not the amount you are pouring yourself.

An average restaurant size serving of wine is 180ml or 1.8 standard drinks and the average serving size of a full strength beer is 375ml or 1 middy/can/stubby, which is equal to 1.5 standard drinks.

The Fat and Alcohol Express Train

If you go out for a drink and enjoy 2-3 wines or 2-3 stubbys of beer, you will clock up around 1500 -1600 kJ in both cases. This is equivalent to chomping through 4 slices of multi-grain bread, although not quite as nutritious. Beer, wine and other drinks can weaken resolve and many people reach for high fat snacks after a few drinks.  Combining fatty foods with alcohol is the worst combination of all for weight gain, so it is a good idea to eat before drinking alcohol to lessen the temptation to reach for the chips and peanuts. If you can separate these two things, it is a game changer in terms of weight gain.

Are Low Carbohydrate Beers the Beer Equivalent of Celery?

Yes, low carb beers are low in carbohydrate but carbohydrates are not the only source of kilojoules.  The average stubby of full strength beer contains 560 kilojoules, light beer contains 360 kilojoules and a low carb beer will contain approximately 470 kilojoules. This means that choosing a low carb beer over a full strength will save you about 100 kilojoules.  Not a huge difference when all is considered.

In a 375ml can or stubby of full strength beer there will be approximately 13 grams of carbohydrate compared to 3 grams in the low carb version.   Diabetics may benefit from the lower carbohydrate content but the bigger issue for them is the alcohol content and this is not altered in the low carb versions.

Low carb beers are not new in Australia. The marketing of these drinks is usually accompanied by terms such as ‘health and lifestyle conscious’, ‘low carb diet’ and ‘for those who like to have a beer but are watching their weight’. Basically these beers somehow seem to promise to keep you slimmer while drinking a full strength beer.  Low carb beers are not necessarily the same as ‘light’ beers.  The light alternatives are lower in alcohol.

Drinking low carb alcoholic beverages does not lessen the risks associated with drinking alcohol such as becoming overweight or obese, cancer, high blood pressure and stroke. If you are concerned about your weight, consider choosing a beer that you enjoy and drinking less of it. For some more details on low car beers check this summary out here.

And What About The Goodness Of Red Wine?

It is true that red wine is a rich source of antioxidant flavonols (sub-group of flavonoids). This means that these antioxidants in red wine COULD lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, the ‘baddie’ of the bunch and reducing the likelihood of blood clots in our arteries. However, to achieve this protective effect, a fair bit needs to be consumed and this is not ideal from an alcohol perspective.

The early 1990’s were heady days for red wine drinkers. This was the time when scientists had observed that red wine might have some very positive health benefits because it was a good source of antioxidants.  It was the time that red wine was celebrated as being a friend and a time when the beneficial quantity was unknown.  It meant that there was a perceived license to drink red wine whenever you felt like it. Alas, we know that this is not the case.

 

How to Make Healthy Easter Chocolate Bliss Balls

The truth is, its hard to avoid all the Easter chocolate isn’t it? Despite the deliciousness, I do know that Easter eggs are jam packed with calories and it is very hard to stop at just one, especially the little teeny tiny ones.

Enter the Easter Chocolate Bliss Ball. The concept of ‘balls’ have become very popular over the last few years and it is very common to see them adorning the glass display cabinets of many a cafe. The thing is, although the ingredients in these so called ‘healthy and natural’ treats, may look good on paper they still contain a bunch of calories and are not actually healthy.

Todays recipe is my own for Easter Chocolate Bliss Balls and a modification on my Festive Chocolate Balls (which may contain a little alcohol…). These guys are so quick and easy and make the perfect Easter chocolate gift. If there are any left of course. These balls are high in fibre and a great source of healthy fats and antioxidants too.

Easter Chocolate Bliss Balls

Ingredients
10 Medjool dates + 8 dried apricots
2 tablespoons cacao powder
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
1 cup raw hazelnuts or mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin) or
1 tablespoon chia seeds

Method
Throw ingredients into a food processor and blitz for a few minutes until nicely combined and sticky. Make tablespoons of the mixture into balls, roll in extra shredded coconut and enjoy.

Wishing you all a safe and hoppy Easter!

The Perfect Pair – Food Nutrient Combo’s that Really Work for Your Body

It seems that there are so many nutrients that our body needs to function at its best. Think vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, carotenoids, trace elements……you get the picture right? The list is long and sometimes it feels like a mammoth task to get the whole bunch of them in our diets regularly.

The good news is, the nutrients in some foods love to pair up with nutrients in other foods, because together they are a perfect nutrition match. A single nutrient (Hans Solo) will work by itself but two and sometimes three nutrients (a bunch of battle troopers) can work even better.

The magic word is ‘bioavailability’ and when we talk about this in relation to food, it means that the nutrients are ready for the body to absorb and use effectively. This is why teaming up particular foods means a win for our bodies. On the flip side, sometimes we make decisions about food combo’s that actually interfere with the body’s ability to maximise the good nutrients, so for your best health and well-being it is good to know which foods are the team players.

My top food combo’s include:

Iron + Vitamin C

Iron deficiency is a condition in which the number of red blood cells or their capacity to carry oxygen is limited. The end result of this is tiredness and fatigue, breathlessness, repeat infections and failure to grow in kids. The thing is, dietary iron can be difficult to obtain and is found in two different forms – ‘haem’ iron which is found in animal foods and ‘non-haem’ which is found in plant-based non-animal food.
‘Haem’ foods usually contain more iron, which is well absorbed compared to non-haem iron, which is not.
Help is at hand though, as Vitamin C boosts the absorption of non-haem iron, if eaten in the same meal. The best sources of Vitamin C are fruit and vegetables, preferably in their whole form.

Top Food Combo’s = wholegrain breakfast cereal and sliced banana, baked beans on toast with fresh tomato or chickpea curry with fresh lime

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is essential for strong bones and effective working muscles but without Vitamin D, its absorption within our body is greatly reduced.
Calcium can be found in the largest amounts in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt and although it is found in other foods, they often contain much less calcium which is also inefficiently absorbed.

Vitamin D is also crucial to our well-being and is synthesised under the skin in the presence of sunlight. Of course, this can be hard to come by in some countries on a regular basis!

Regardless, it is very difficult to get enough Vitamin D through diet alone and most dietary Vitamin D comes from table margarine, canned fish and eggs.

Top Food Combo’s = Berry smoothie + a short stint in the sunlight each day

Antioxidants and Healthy Fats

The scientific explanation of how antioxidants exert their protective effect is that they prevent damage to body cells and tissues caused by free radicals and singlet oxygen.

The less technical and easier way of remembering what antioxidants do is to picture the 1980’s Pac-Man game where the aim is to get the Pac-Man to gobble as many ‘ghosts’ as possible. Pac-Man is the antioxidant and the ‘ghosts’ are the free radicals. For those too young to have played this 80’s game, go check out the 2015 movie ‘Pixels’ starring Adam Sandler and you will be all over it!

One of the most powerful antioxidants in food available to us is lycopene, found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, and ruby grapefruit.

Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red colour and its best friends include the healthy fats found in oils, avocado and nuts.

Top Food Combo’s = Fresh tomato and bocconcini salad with sliced avocado or tomato pasta sauce cooked with a drizzle of olive oil.

Carbohydrates + Lemon Juice or Vinegar

Carbohydrate foods are classified according to how quickly they are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose and this is known as the Glycemic Index (GI). Low GI foods are digested and absorbed more slowly and high GI foods more quickly. If we choose mostly lower to medium glycemic index carbohydrates, our energy levels are more stable, meaning we have greater endurance and less spikes and dips in our day which is always a good thing.

Many aspects of a meal can affect the overall GI including fat, fibre, protein, cooking methods and processing of the food.

But, there is something you can add to a meal containing carbohydrate that lowers the glycemic index and is just so simple – lemon juice or vinegar! The acidity of either of these combined with carbohydrate means longer lasting energy for you.

Top Food Combo’s = Baked sweet potato and a side of spinach and strawberry salad dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil or Linguine topped with lemon juice, capers and salmon.

What are your top food combo’s for the perfect partnership? Share away – I would love to hear about them.

Whizzing up a Carrot and Mango Smoothie

It is an absolute scorcher today in Perth! By lunchtime we had already hit 42 degrees and its hard not to feel like a melted puddle. Knowing that the weather was going to be a little harsh today, I whizzed up one of my favourite smoothies. The colour is super vibrant and it is so packed full of vitamins, antioxidants, fibre and fluid that it feels like your body is virtually zinging. With a 5-minute preparation time, this Carrot and Mango Smoothie is a low calorie winner. It is also a tasty way to stay hydrated on a hot day.

Carrot and Mango Smoothie

Place 3 unpeeled carrots + the pulp of 1 mango (or 1 cup frozen) + 1 cup cold water + 1 cup ice in a blender and mix until lovely and smooth. Enjoy!

When it comes to preparing anything, including your body, it is so much easier if you have directions isn’t it?

How to make Pumpkin Damper

Pumpkin Earlier this week over at Kale and Co., I wrote about the ‘it’ vegetable that we should all be eating – super versatile, orange in colour and so easily paired with both sweet and savoury ingredients. The humble pumpkin is one of my favourites and this scrumptious vegetable has certainly been making itself known over the past few weeks in the lead up to Halloween. You can read more about my friend the pumpkin over at Kale and Co., who do delicious things with the orange one such as – pumpkin almond ‘burgers’ with red rice and herbs or roasted pumpkin with cinnamon and paprika – both of which are a taste sensation. One of my go to recipes featuring pumpkin has been with me for years – moved across the country on a little piece of paper and yet is still firmly glued into my recipe collection. It’s too good and too easy not to share – full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and fibre, pumpkin damper is a great friend to soup or a side to salad. The kids can help too and love kneading that dough!  

Pumpkin Damper 1-tablespoon poly or monounsaturated margarine 2 teaspoons sugar 1 egg, beaten 3/4 cup reduced fat cheese, grated 2 tablespoons chopped chives 1 ½ cups cooked, mashed pumpkin 1½ cups of self-raising flour

Mix margarine and sugar together and add beaten egg. Add cheese, chives and pumpkin. Add flour until dough is formed and knead into a round shape. Cook in a moderate oven (160 degrees fan forced or 180 degrees regular) for approximately 40 minutes or until cooked.

Chocolate Cake Batter Chia Pudding Recipe

chia puddingIt might seem like I am a little obsessed with chia seeds lately as it’s not long ago that I was whipping up a batch of Blueberry Chia Jam. The thing is, I can’t help it.  These little seeds are just so good for our health with their bundle of healthy omega-3 fats, fibre and protein.  Chia seeds can be added to so many dishes, including puddings which are pretty hot right now.  I have tried a few of these, but none that I really loved.  In my search for recipe idea’s I came across a handful that promised the taste and texture of cake batter and given that I was a helicopter kid waiting for that hotly contested mixing spoon, I was quite keen on the idea.  The problem with some of these recipes though, is that although promoted as ‘healthy’ they sometimes contain way too much fat and sugar even if they do originate from a ‘natural’ source. So, I created my own version of the Chocolate Cake Batter Chia Pudding, which I made for breakfast this morning and then launched on the Morning Show on 6PR 882Am radio.  It is very delicious and I think that you might like to try it.

Chocolate Cake Batter Chia Pudding

Ingredients: (Serves 6) 6 tablespoons chia seeds 6 Medjool dates, seeded and chopped 1 x 400 ml can evaporated light milk with coconut 1/4 cup rolled oats 1 tablespoon of nut butter (whichever takes your fancy) 1 x 400 ml can light coconut milk Method: Mix all ingredients together except the coconut milk and place in the refrigerator for one hour.  Place mixture into a blender and add 2 x tablespoons of cacao powder, 1 x teaspoon vanilla extract and a splash of milk if more liquid is required.  Pour into six small bowls, jars or cups and leave overnight in the fridge. In the morning: Open the tin of coconut milk and carefully scoop out the solids at the top of the can, placing in a mixing bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and using electric beaters, beat until smooth and soft peaks form. Spoon a little onto the top of each pudding and finish these cute little bundles with a sprinkling of finely grated dark chocolate. Nutrition per serve = 230 calories, 8.5 g fat, 23.5 g carbohydrates, 11 g protein and 250 mg calcium

 

Magic Bean

Legumes and I are good friends from way back.  We get together 3-5 times every week and I share the love between baked beans, cannellini beans, chick peas, kidney beans, lentils and others. We are friends because I know that legumes and beans are a great way of adding fibre, protein, Vitamin C and resistant starch to my diet. I love that research shows resistant starch can promote intestinal health and may play an important role glucose and energy management. For those of you who don’t enjoy legumes such as baked beans and other dried or tinned varieties, my friend Belinda may have delivered a solution to get you into the market.  Last week she dropped off five little chocolate cupcakes that at first glance just looked plain delicious.  But these weren’t just ordinary cupcakes. These little morsels of chocolatey yumminess contained legumes as their base along with antioxidant rich cacao. I was sold at hello and they delivered with amazing texture and taste.  My children and husband still have no clue they are still raving about cupcakes that are full of magic bean goodness. Belinda kindly shared the recipe, originally from CleverCook who develops Thermomix recipes.  I don’t have one of these wizzy machines and they work just as well in a blender.  The recipe makes 12, with each iced cupcake containing 180 calories. It’s good to know that when having a treat like this, you get a boost of nutrients to go with it.  Go try them, I dare you.

Magic Bean Chocolate Cupcakes

440g can kidney beans, drained 1 tablespoon water 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 70g raw cacao powder 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 125g butter or poly/monounsaturated margarine 5 eggs 140g sugar 1. In your blender or Thermomix, puree the beans, water, 1 egg and vanilla until smooth and set aside 2. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. 3. Add the remaining eggs and beat well followed by the bean mixture, cacao powder, baking powder and bicarb, beating to mix to a smooth batter 4. Pour mixture evenly into 12 cupcakes papers and bake for 20 minutes until firm to the touch.  

Hail Kale Caesar

kaleThis leafy green vegetable now seems to be a stalwart at the growers market that I frequent each weekend but until recently, I wondered what I would actually do with this cruciferous vegetable. A trip to New York this year solved this dilemma when within two days I had experienced Kale Caesar Salad twice. Kale is available as the curly voluminous form or the Tuscan Kale (cavalo nero) which has a flatter, darker leaf. Both are known for their bitter taste but this can be minimised by cutting out the tough middle stems and shredding the leaves finely. This cousin of other brassica vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts is a very rich source of antioxidants such as carotenoids, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, magnesium and fibre. However, it also contains oxalates which can interfere with the absorption of any iron and calcium found in the vegetable. Kale is a new addition to my diet and I am still experimenting but I claimed my first bunch of the curly variety last weekend and I am on the trail to perfect the delicious Caesar Salad I found in NYC. Around the world, people have been eating bunches of this green goodness since the middle ages and the most common method of cooking is braising with lemon or herbs and as an addition to potatoes. Kale chips are also doing the rounds at the moment but in all honesty, it’s not really kale that you are tasting but the deep-fried flavours added to them, and the nutritional benefits have certainly taken a back seat. Kale doesn’t need to be eaten with other foods to enhance its health value but take care when preparing it to enhance its flavour, that way it may just become a regular feature. Chef Ryan Angulo of Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, New York started substituting romaine for Kale back in 2008 and by all accounts can be credited for the Kale Caesar Salad. However, the recipe below is the tasty, low fat Julie Meek version. Enjoy!

Kale Caesar Salad

½ bunch curly or Tuscan Kale (washed, dried and leaves trimmed off stalks) 4 slices proscuitto (fat trimmed), grilled 4 slices sourdough bread Dressing ½ cup low fat natural yoghurt 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil 1 large garlic clove ¼ cup lemon juice 2 tablespoons fresh parmesan cheese, grated Once trimmed, roll up kale leaves, slice finely and place in large salad bowl. Break the grilled proscuitto into small pieces and scatter over the kale leaves. Tear the bread roughly into 1 cm pieces, place on a baking tray and spray with cooking spray.  Bake in a moderate oven for approx. 10 minutes until crispy. For the dressing, mix all ingredients together in a shaker or jug and pour over kale leaves. Using your hands, mix the dressing through the salad and serve.

Cinderella or Halloween?

Cinderella and Halloween come straight to mind when I think of the humble pumpkin.  One is a visual of a converted coach hurtling towards a ball with an unsuspecting prince waiting and the other is of a spooky lit up pumpkin face. In reality, we are talking about an orange vegetable of the cucurbitaceae family. Try and say that fast three times, it’s not easy. There are quite a few varieties of pumpkin and they are all very low in calories, excellent sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals plus provide good dose of antioxidants such as leutins, xanthins and carotenes. Pumpkin is very handy as a colour enhancer in a meal and works so well incorporated into a soup.  Hence, my $2 (actually less) meal today is the ubiquitous winter warmer, soup. Red lentil and pumpkin soup 175g red lentils, rinsed 1 kg butternut pumpkin, peeled and chopped 1 brown onion, diced 2 x garlic cloves, crushed 1 teaspoon minced ginger or 1cm piece of fresh ginger 2 x 10g vegetable stock cube 2 teaspoons curry powder (reduce to 1 teaspoon if kids don’t like the spice) 1.5 litres of water 1 tablespoon olive oil Heat oil in large saucepan and cook onion for 2 minutes until slightly soft. Add garlic and curry powder and cook until aromatic. Pour in water, crumbled stock cube, pumpkin and lentils and bring to boil. Turn heat to low and simmer covered for 30 minutes until pumpkin is soft. Once removed from heat, use a stick blender to purée the soup.  Serve with 1/3 cup low fat natural yoghurt and shredded fresh coriander. Serves 4 Cost per serve = $1.67