Despite the fact that we (French) eat richly creamed and buttered sauces, full fat cheeses and consume tons of croissants and other assorted pastries and cakes, we have low rates of heart disease despite a penchant for these artery-clogging goodies. Why? We drink red wine, most of us follow a balanced diet, we exercise and often take a walk after dinner. We also believe in preventive health (official gov link, in French. Use automatic translator, you'll be amazed at the wealth of good info)
My last piece on eating healthily can be found here, it dealt with some of the best food trends.
Today we'll take a quick tour of some of the best eats. Obviously, this will be incomplete, please add your secret food weapon.
In this piece I am not going to include all the good ingredients I've been writing about in the past (walnuts, wild salmon, garlic, oats, olive oil, citrus fruits, spices like turmeric, sage & ginger, among others) but instead give you the lowdown on some of the best stuff that we all know about but do not use on a regular basis. Next week (apart from the Tales from the Larder series which is on part 4 of the seafood diaries) I will post a piece called Junk....foodstuffs we should get rid of, for good. So look out for it, possibly Sunday evening...
First these two beans are simply brilliant: cacao & coffee. Coffee? Well, yes, you'd be surprised at the goodness coffee imparts when properly understood. The humble coffee bean, much like the cacao bean, is incredibly rich with antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Check this link. Freshly ground coffee has been known to have numerous brain and body health benefits including the caffeine content which has recently been shown to be extra great for the brain. Regular coffee consumption (3 to 4 or 5 cups a day) has been shown to actually reduce the risk of mental decline and diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer's. Forget about instant coffee though, as with all processed foodstuffs the goodness disappears when manipulated in factories. In the summer I make a jug of iced coffee or iced green tea, both beneficial and not expensive. If you must sweeten your coffee, make sure it's done with either dark sugar, honey or molasses. Stay away from manufactured sweeteners, it's silly money going down the drain.
Some studies show that cardiovascular risk also decreases with coffee consumption. Using data on more than 27,000 women ages 55 to 69 in the Iowa Women’s Health Study who were followed for 15 years, Norwegian researchers found that women who drank one to three cups a day reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 24 percent compared with those drinking no coffee at all.
Cacao! Most people I know love this hedonistic bean. Who hasn't eaten a whole bar when in distress! Recent studies have shown to be not only a veritable powerhouse of cognitive enhancement, mood and bliss-enhancement but also contains sizable amounts of antioxidants, flavonoids, catechins and many other goodies. However, if you want to extract maximum health from it buy the dark chocolate bar with at least 75% cacao content or higher (dark chocolate is proven to lower blood pressure. Depending upon your age, you can decrease your blood pressure if you are at a high risk of developing chronic hyperntension, dark chocolate has clear benefits to your health). I get mine from Fair Trade, with 85% cacao...it packs a wallop! Three more reasons to eat dark chocolate (apart from tasting great): it stimulates endorphin production (makes one feel well being), it contains serotonin (which acts as an anti-depressant) and it contains theobromine which stimulates the formation of digestive acids. Caveat: it's not wise to eat more than 100 grams a day. Don't be greedy!
Over the years I have been drinking a fair amount of green tea but only recently I have switched to matcha which is the finely-ground powder of the highest-quality, upmost part of the shade-grown green tea plant (Gyokuru). In Japan it is carefully grown, selected, dried, stone-ground, processed and prepared according to an ancient Japanese tradition. This ain't no tea bags stuff! It comes only in a powder form that you mix with hot, but not boiling, water (matcha has over 33 times the antioxidant levels of the powerhouse blueberries). The powder itself is so rich in chlorophyl that it's literally bright green! Finding good quality matcha may be the most challenging aspect of making it, but it's not all that difficult with an ever-growing plethora of online shops. I will try to make a sorbet out of matcha and will report.
Green teas contain a high amount of antioxidants, chemically compounds known to forestall aging. Antioxidants are found in many fruits and vegetables – even chocolate. A testing method known as ORAC – short for oxygen radical absorbance capacity, evaluates the antioxidant levels found in food. According to research done by Tufts University, the ORAC capacity of matcha green tea is exponentially higher than other foods known for their high antioxidants levels such as blueberries and spinach.
The ORAC rating of matcha is 1300 units/g, compared to 105 units/g for pomegranates and 91 units/g for wild blueberries.
Now we come to the Acai berry. Much has been said about this wondrous eat and much has been disinformation from food manufacturers that have been touting this berry as the next best thing to eternal life. Not true. Even Mitch McConnell could not keep a straight face when confronted by this kind of bs. The fault rests largely on advertisers as a multitude of local generic health food shop pills are sold claiming to contain Acai. Always read the labels. If you can't buy it fresh (I can't here) buy only from reputable brands: Acai needs to be quickly processed (flash-freeze dried or flash-frozen) if you're to get the full benefits of this berry outside of South America. Of course one can always buy blueberries instead, easier to find and perhaps even cheaper in comparison.
A 100-gram serving of acai contains only 90 calories, just two grams of fat and no cholesterol. Plus, it delivers 3.5 grams of dietary fiber, something we could all use more of in our diets. Subsequent research has shown that in addition to the anthocyanins and essential fatty acids, acai also contains a healthy dose of plant sterols, another class of phyto-chemicals that have been shown to reduce cholesterol, protect the immune system, and relieve prostate enlargement. In fact, it turns out acai is in the same family as saw palmetto, a common herbal treatment for prostate enlargement.
Tofu! Again, we turn to Japan for the secret of longevity: on the Japanese island of Okinawa, it may be why residents age gracefully to 100+ more often than anywhere else on earth. Researchers credit this mild-tasting soy curd's low fat content and high levels of good-for-you saponins and isoflavones. It doesn't have to be the plain kind one finds in most supermarket; I prefer the smoked version, it is firm and great in either stir-fries or salads. The fresh kind should be marinated first to heighten flavor: ginger, garlic, lemongrass and low-sodium soy sauce does the trick for me. Soy got a bad rap lately but like many things in life, variety and moderation is key. So, as long as you're not taking large amounts of pills containing soy isoflavone or consuming large amounts of soy every day it's okay to eat it three or four times a week (personally I eat more tempeh than tofu).
Tofu is a very good source of iron, providing 33.8% of the DV for this important mineral in 4 ounces. Iron is primarily used as part of hemoglobin, a molecule essential to energy production since it is responsible for transporting and releasing oxygen throughout the body. But hemoglobin synthesis also relies on copper. Without copper, iron cannot be properly utilized in red blood cells. Fortunately, both minerals are supplied in tofu, which also contain 11.0% of the daily value for copper.
Vegetables! On some Greek islands, one-third of the residents have already celebrated their 90th birthdays. Their longevity secret? The famed Mediterranean diet (you do remember this one, don't you? When researchers quizzed nearly 25,000 Greek women and men about what's on their plates, they found fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, whole grains, hard cheeses and olive oil. Lots of olive oil! And very little red meat: those who ate red meat just a few times a month lived longer than those who indulged more frequently.
I don't have to repeat this but here it is anyway (and my chance for another slap in the face of Bush the Elder!) Broccoli (and other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage) helps fight cancer, especially affecting the breast, colon and lung. It boosts the immune system. Steam some, drizzle a little olive oil and top it up with a scattering of walnuts and you have a power lunch or dinner.
Vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, cellulose, and fiber. Green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins A, C, E, K, and folic acid. Carrots are rich in Vitamin A. Potatoes are a good source of Vitamin C. Vegetables are important for your child's digestion, growth, heart and nerve functions, teeth, and bowel regulation. Ideally, vegetables should be served raw, steamed, or lightly baked.
Ok, now we come to my favorite: wine, and in particular red wine. I could rhapsodize about wine ad infinitum. In our country, local red wine is king. And for good reason. Moderate drinking (1 glass for women, up to 2 for men) with a meal a day seems to explain some of the "French Paradox". It may help explain why we tie with the Italians as Western Europe's longest-living people. Wine's the drug (as I keep saying): it contains ethanol, which boosts levels of healthy HDL cholesterol; resveratrol, which new research suggests can mimic the life-extending effects of cutting calories; and polyphenols, which rev up the body's own cell-protecting antioxidants. Do you need more proof?
It isn't the alcohol in the wine that provides a health benefit but the anti-oxidants, the red wine polyphenols, anthrocyanidins and resveratrol. Resveratrol, in particular, has been demonstrated to be a potent anti-oxidant (about 20-50 times as effectively as vitamin C alone) and act synergistically with vitamin C enhancing the effects of each. Resveratrol has been demonstrated to have an anti-clotting effect that prevents the formation of thrombi or blood clots in the blood vessels. The formation of thrombi that block small blood vessels is believed to be a cause of heart attacks and strokes. Resveratrol has been demonstrated to have anti-cancer effects as well.
However, the amount of wine you drink matters tremendously. Drink more than what’s recommended, your health benefits are lost and your health risks go up. Remember: moderation is the operative word for good health.