Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Ten store cupboard secrets

We may have upped our fruit and vegetable intake, but we’re still ignoring many nutritious foods in our kitchens, writes Jane Feinmann

1 SWISS CHARD

What is it?

A dark green vegetable that looks too tough to be tasty.

Why is it healthy?

Like kale and spinach, it's an excellent source of beta-carotene, iron and folate. “But it's not just the vitamins and minerals that are worth consuming,” says Bridget Aisbitt of the British Nutrition Foundation. “There are other plant chemicals that are packed into these vegetables and unavailable through other sources.”

How to eat it

Boil or saute until the leaves wilt and the stems are tender and serve as side dish or bed for pan-seared fish or grilled meat.

2 BARLEY

What is it?

“For 10-o-clocks we'd have barley bannocks and a piece of Willimer Whang [a hard cheese from West Cumberland],” recalls William Dodd, a farmer and Cumbrian historian quoted by barley enthusiast Andrew Whitley founder of the Melmerby-based Village Bakery |and author of Bread Matters (Fourth Estate, 2006). The grain, now used almost exclusively in brewing, has an overly quaint image.

Why is it healthy?

Research now shows that barley is a rich source of vitamin E and has high levels of soluble fibre that can lower cholesterol.

How to eat it

Add 30 per cent barley flour to a wheat flour when baking bread to achieve “a pronounced sweetness and a suggestion of maltiness to the bread without affecting dough quality,” says Whitley.

3 PURSLANE

What is it?

This invasive weed is a favourite salad ingredient and herbal remedy in 17th-century England.

Why is it healthy?

It is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fats of any edible plant, according to researchers at the University of Texas in San Antonio. The scientists also report that this herb has up to 20 times more cancer-fighting melatonin.

How to eat it

Use the succulent, lemony-tasting leaves as an alternative or addition to lettuce in a salad along with chives, parsley and a little olive oil or cook them like spinach.

4 CINNAMON

What is it?

The dried bark of laurel trees: sticks are rolled, pressed and dried while ground cinnamon is one of the most common baking spices.

Why is it healthy?

It's another potent antioxidant, says nutritionist Patrick Holford. One third of a teaspoon is equivalent to the antioxidant power in half a cup of berries. Studies show that the active ingredient in cinnamon MCHP (methylhydroxy chalcone polymer) helps lower cholesterol.

How to eat it

Add to stewed fruit as well as buns and biscuits or add to chicken dishes or aubergines to give them a subtly delicious Middle Eastern taste.

5 LENTILS

What are they?

India's comfort food, yellow, red or black lentils are seen as merely a side dish in the curry house by most Brits.

Why are they healthy?

“They are high in antioxidants,” says Holford. “Half a cup is the equivalent of four cups of broccoli for antioxidants. They also contain plant sterols which lower cholesterol.”

How to eat them

Lentils can be stored a long time, are easy to make, and are one of the cheapest protein sources going. Unlike other pulses, you don't have to soak them before cooking. Just rinse them in cold water and simmer in water or broth. Add turmeric and ginger and eat with rice or naan bread.

6 FISH

What are they?

A nutritious feast that seven out of 10 of us avoid like the plague. “We are an island race but 80 per cent of our fish is exported,” says Michelin-starred chef Chris Horridge, the Bath-based pioneer of three-dimensional cooking: the way it tastes, the way it looks and what it does for your health.

Why are they healthy?

Fish are a rich source of minerals including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as B vitamins. Oily fish, in particular, is the best source of omega-3 essential fats.

How to eat them

Eat tinned fish if you can't stand the smell of fresh fish, says Aisbitt. Mix tinned salmon, mackerel and pilchards into salads and pasta or as a topping for baked potatoes.

Sardines mashed on toast are a “health food in a can”, says Jonny Bowden, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth (Fair Winds Press).

Kippers were a staple in Victorian times and are still a healthy, if now unfashionable, fish, says Holford.

Looking for recipes? Shop at Morrisons – their fish counter is unparalleled, says Horridge.

7 BEETROOT

What is it?

The raw root itself, rather than the pickled, purple stuff in jars.

Why is it healthy?

Think of beets as red spinach, says Bowden. “Just like Popeye's power food, this crimson vegetable is one of the best sources of both folate and betaine.” These two nutrients that have been shown to reduce potentially toxic levels of homocysteine, a compound that causes inflammation, damaging arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease. What's more, says Bowden, beetroot's natural pigment, betacyanin, has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer – at least in the laboratory.

How to eat it

Heating beetroot decreases its antioxidant power, so eat it freshly picked and sliced in a sandwich or grate it into a salad with olive oil and lemon juice.

8 POMEGRANATE JUICE

What is it?

A popular drink in the Middle East, pomegranate juice is still little known among most UK consumers.

Why is it healthy?

Israeli scientists discovered that downing just two ounces of pomegranate juice daily for a year reduces blood pressure by 21 per cent and significantly improves blood flow. More recently, researchers at the University of California identified chemicals in the juice that can slow prostate cancer and perhaps even kill off cancer cells. It's also been shown to have a higher antioxidant activity than red wine, green tea or blueberry juice. Even a small glass daily packs a powerful punch – and “as part of a healthy diet, it's definitely something we recommend,” says Linda Main, dietetic adviser to Heart UK.

How to drink it

It can taste unpleasantly medicinal. Pomegreat, the UK's leading brand, has added fruit extracts and a recent study showed that nine out of 10 people found it very drinkable.

9 FIBRE, THE NATURAL SUPER-NUTRIENT

What is it?

It's the structural part of cereals, fruits, vegetables and pulses and we should be consuming 25g of it a day. Yet average consumption in Britain is just 13g a day, with eight out of 10 of us failing to eat enough fibre to stay well, according to a new study. The study also says that more women than men consume a virtually fibre-free diet.

Why is it healthy?

It's a wonderfully healthy nutrient, according to the evidence. A fibre-rich diet significantly cuts the risk of heart disease and boosts the immune system. Get more fibre in your diet and you'll halve the chances of developing bowel and breast cancer and reduce the chances of diabetes by a third. You'll also look and feel better: weight loss is up to three times greater in people consuming high-fibre and low-fat diets, compared to low-fat diets alone. And you'll have better digestion, more energy and improved mood.

How to eat it

“It's not difficult to incorporate fibre-rich foods into your diet” says Dr Sarah Jarvis of the Royal College of General Practitioners. “Simply start the day with a bran cereal or swap from white to wholemeal bread.”

10 PUMPKIN SEEDS

What are they?

Widely available in supermarkets and health food shops, they are the most nutritious part of the seasonal pumpkin – as well as the most frequently discarded.

Why are they healthy?

“Pumpkin seeds are rich in both omega-3 and 6 essential fats and one of the best sources of magnesium, which helps promotion relaxation and lower blood pressure,” says Holford. They are also rich in zinc and vitamin E.

How to eat?

Seeds are never easy to incorporate into your diet so “you've got to make them so tasty, you're desperate for more,” advises

Horridge. Separate the seeds from the stringy bit of the pumpkin and either eat raw or boil for 10 minutes, roast in olive oil and add to salads or stir-fries. Don't eat them all the time, says Aisbitt. “They're high in fat and so a handful now and again is quite sufficient.”

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