We are still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics and the Paralympics of last summer – marvelling at the extraordinary courage, stamina and sheer dedication of all the contestants. Apart from intensive training and absolute determination, did they have a secret ingredient? It would appear that some of them might have done just that! It’s perfectly legal; is classed as a vegetable; is a jolly and cheery red in colour and, at my convent boarding school, we used to have it boiled, then mashed with vinegar, as a side-dish to battered cod for our Friday lunch – one of the more strange foodie-combinations we had to endure! We are, of course, talking about the humble beetroot!
Rich in potassium, folic acid and antioxidants, a juice made from raw beetroot was found to reduce blood pressure and, more latterly, due to its nitrate content, to improve stamina, by increasing the efficiency with which the muscles use oxygen. Thanks to a study from the University of Exeter, we learn that it is of more benefit for high intensity athletes e.g. sprinters rather than marathon runners. Musicians should also take note – sorry, couldn’t help myself – a glug of beet juice before a performance helps them to sustain a note. (Don’t worry if your wee turns a delicate shade of pink).
From beetroot to berries and we learn that the flavenoids in strawberries and blueberries not only help women cut their risk of a heart attack but help muscles to recover more quickly after intense exercise. Research from the University of Warwick suggests the presence of a certain protein (Nrf2) which helps to lower blood fats and cholesterol. As always, there are caveats: berry consumption needs to be three-four times a week and even when in season, these are an expensive addition to the family diet in the UK. At least one of these studies came from New Zealand – which may in part explain the extra helpings.
Broccoli stems have been the subject of some interesting and amusing correspondence in The Daily Telegraph, throughout the summer. You may remember that we noted they were, amongst other stalks and peelings, a good source of vitamin C. But how to use them up? Suggestions include: together with leek, onion, peas and parsley, making a soup; cutting them lengthwise and cooking with the rest of the broccoli heads; shredding them with a potato peeler and adding them to salads and stir-fries; making them into a coleslaw instead of shredded cabbage, slicing them into rings and frying or, if all else fails, feeding them to your dog or your rabbit!
Some more maverick shoppers actually snapped them off before going through the check-out, while a writer’s grandson insists that they are left on, as they provide a handle with which he can dip the head into his favourite sauce – tomato ketchup!
At one time, my mother had an elderly neighbour, who, to say the least, was mildly eccentric. A vegetarian all her life (but, in fact, rarely ate vegetables), she was insistent that vegetables squeal when harvested, especially lettuce and cabbage, when lifted from their snug, little earthy beds. I’m not sure about that but again from the University of Exeter comes the extraordinary finding that, when cut, cabbage leaves emit a gas called ethyl jasmonate, which sounds as if it is akin to animal pheromones, and “tells” other cabbages in that patch to be on their guard! There is someone with a knife out there! Not satisfied with that, they apparently follow this up with the production of toxic chemicals to fend off predators, such as caterpillars. Next time you are in your allotment and about to cut a cabbage, bend down and listen: you might just catch the chatter and gossip of chemical cabbage-talk! They are indeed little gas-bags after all!
Watermelon is not often listed up there as one of our health-giving fruits – but, not only is it very low in calories, it would seem that it contains substances which help to dilate the blood vessels, which in turn, means that the heart does not have to pump so hard. Extracts of these substances were given to volunteers in the form of a pill – I doubt one could eat an appropriate amount of melon to achieve the desired result! Such early findings suggest such extracts are thus able to reduce blood pressure in obese middle-aged adults, which can only be a good thing.
Well into Lent, there are possibly many who have taken the pledge and given up alcohol for the duration. The benefits are many and include being kind to one’s liver, financial constraints and not least, no more hangovers! However, the latter does not have to occur, should you have some asparagus handy! Research from South Korea suggests that this exotic and extravagant vegetable contains minerals and amino acids that can replace those lost through over-doing the booze. I wouldn’t imagine that they would have had much difficulty in recruiting volunteers! The scientists recommend that you eat leaves and shoots to protect your liver!
We hear that children have no idea where their food comes from but a poll of 2,000 adults showed that one in five had no clue as to how their fruit and vegetables grow. One in five thought that parsnips grew on trees, that melons and tomatoes grew under the soil and did not know that Maris Piper was a variety of potato. As for “Granny Smith” … ! These findings come from the Potato Council who are campaigning to help us pick the right kind of potato for purpose.
We’ve all heard that we should try to eat “five portions” of fruit and vegetables a day – though this has been challenged by a dietitian recently, as being ludicrous – more of that another time! A more recent study from New Zealand suggested that the figure should be nearer eight, as this was associated not only with improved health (lower cholesterol and blood pressure) but also with improved mood. Veggie-munchers are happier! So how do you get your children to come on board with this? Try smiling, say the psychologists from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research! If YOU are enjoying eating your fruit and veg and make this obvious, children will be more willing to taste them.
And now some health warnings! Fruit smoothies can be as harmful as sweet fizzy drinks says a “Which?” report, due to the sugar damage on teeth. Further, in July 2012, Channel 4 demonstrated that the “five-a-day” message has been hijacked as a marketing tactic and used by the food industry to promote sugary, fatty and salty foods, like “fruit” drinks; soups and ready meals, aided and abetted by misleading wording on packaging.
Those on anticoagulant therapy should also take heed: green leafy vegetables contain vitamin K which encourages blood to clot. Eating too much can interfere with the drug and not allow it to do its job.
And finally: it comes as no surprise to learn that two-thirds of injuries in the kitchen have come from peeling and cutting those dashed awkward vegetables, like swede, butternut squash and pumpkin. These are “dangerous vegetables” indeed! Make sure that knives are sharp and in tip-top condition. Use an easy peeler and ensure that the cutting board you are using does not slip – put a tea-towel underneath to steady it.