This is the beginning of my ingredients list, information has been supplied by our resident nutritionist, Glen Matten MSC.
Agar-agar is a gelling agent that is a vegetarian substitute to gelatin. Made by boiling different varieties of seaweed together, it can be found in a powder or flake form. It is great for making vegetarian fruit jellies. Gelatin is not vegetarian as it is made from the boiled bones, skins and tendons of animals.
- Agave Syrup
Undeserving of its healthy reputation, agave is a sweetener with a high fructose content, and consequently far from the healthy sugar alternative people have been led to believe.
- Almond Milk
Almond milk is the dairy-free milk option I like to use most; it works well as a dairy milk substitute in most aspects of cooking and I like its subtle flavour. I use it on breakfast cereals, in smoothies etc. Its nutritional value is nothing to write home about, so if using as part of a dairy-free diet, it would be wise to opt for a calcium-enriched version. Beware of sweetened versions too.
Whilst I don’t buy into the whole ‘an apple a day…’ malarkey (we need variety, not monotony, in our diets), apples do come up trumps as a predictably good source of fibre and vitamin C. But look beyond those conventional nutrients and things get a bit more interesting still, as we find that apples are a rich source of polyphenols, aka health promoting plant compounds. Notably, they are an excellent source of flavonoids, high dietary intake of which is linked with numerous beneficial effects on our health, such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Don’t forget that these health-giving polyphenols are produced as a natural means by which plants protect themselves from their environment, which explains why they are predominantly found within or just under the skin of fruits such as apples. So, don’t be too hasty in peeling your apples and discarding the skin – the peel is where all that good stuff resides!
- Apricots, Dried
Dried fruits are inevitably high in sugar, so are best eaten sparingly. But don’t fall into the trap of being too reductionist about it and casting them aside as no better than eating confectionary. Do that and you risk overlooking the nutritional attributes of dried fruits such as apricots, namely their rich content of dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, antioxidants and polyphenols.
Avocado is used as a vegetable, but it is, technically, a fruit. I like to use the Hass variety; it’s delicious and also one of the most widely available. Don’t be put off by their high fat content, as it comes primarily in the form of healthy monounsaturated fats. As well as healthy fats, avocadoes contain other nutrients good for heart health, including vitamin C and E and potassium. To top it off, adding avocado, rich in monounsaturated fat, to a salad has been shown to dramatically increase the amount of health promoting carotenoids that can be absorbed. And they are, of course, the main ingredient in guacamole, my favourite dip of all time! In my books, the avocado can do no wrong – just remember to keep them outside the fridge
- Baking Powder
A powder that acts as a rising agent in baked goods and batters etc; you can make plain/spelt/wholegrain flour into self-raising by adding 2 teaspoons of baking powder per 250g of flour.
- Beetroot (Beets)
Beetroot or Beets as they are known in the states, contain unique plant compounds, notably betalains, natural pigments responsible for their bright red colour, which act as antioxidants and proffer protection against the damaging effects of excess free radicals. Beets contain a good source of both potassium and fibre and are a plentiful supply of folate. But most excitingly, beetroot juice has recently come into the spot light with research showing it to have blood pressure-lowering and also sports performance enhancing benefits. The active ingredient in beetroot is nitrate, which when we consume it, gets turned into nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to dilate, thereby lowering our blood pressure.
- Birds Eye Chilli
The most recent research shows that those who eat hot spicy food three or more times per week have a 14% lower death rate compared with those that eat it less than once per week. Great news for those who like it hot and spicy, and things don’t get much more fiery than Bird’s eye chillies! What makes chilli hot property is its active plant constituent capsaicin, a fascinating compound being actively researched for its health benefits.
- Black Beans
Black beans are often used in Mexican and Latin American recipes. Like all beans, they provide a great source of plant protein, whilst simultaneously being full of dietary fibre. We’ve all been alerted to the idea that brightly and deeply coloured fruits and vegetables are good for our health, but why stop there? The ‘black’ in black beans comes from just the same precious natural pigments, called anthocyanins,that we find in the much hailed berry fruits. Anthocyanins are hot property in the world of nutritional research, covering everything from heart health, to brain health, to bone health, rendering the black bean quite the super bean.
Berries rightly deserve their healthy reputation and this is largely due to their rich content of anthocyanins, the natural plant pigments responsible for their vibrant colour. These clever compounds are being increasingly researched for a host of health benefits. These include benefits for cardiovascular health, keeping the brain working well as we age, and even boosting bone health. Whilst there is a lot of anti-sugar sentiment and fruit frequently finds itself in the firing line as a result, berries are typically low in sugar. Indeed, a generous 100g serving of strawberries contains a mere teaspoon of sugar. Add to that the fact that their rich content of anthocyanins helps to slow down the rate at which carbohydrates from other foods get released into the body, and we see that we have a fine food for sustained energy release.
- Brown Rice
Regular consumption of wholegrain cereals is linked to less heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Opting for rice in its ‘brown’ wholegrain form is no exception, rich in fibre, B-vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and certainly a healthier choice than its white refined counterpart, which is stripped of much of this goodness. If you want to go up a notch further, then seek out black rice, increasingly available, and rammed full of anthocyanins, the same darkly coloured plant pigments found in berry fruits like blueberries. Brown rice is naturally gluten-free, thus a boon for anyone following a gluten-free diet.
Despite its culinary use as a grain, buckwheat is actually better described as a ‘pseudo-grain’ (it’s in fact a fruit seed related to rhubarb). It provides a great source of slow-releasing carbohydrates, and adds useful protein to vegetarian diets. Being naturally gluten-free, it is a boon for anyone following a gluten-free diet.
- Buckwheat Flour
Despite what its name suggests, this gluten free flour has no wheat in it at all, rather coming from a pseudo-grain, related to the rhubarb family. Whilst it can be used in its wholegrain form (see above), it can also be ground to make flour. Other buckwheat-based staples are also increasingly available now, including buckwheat noodles (also called soba), buckwheat pasta, buckwheat crackers and buckwheat bread.
- Beans (e.g. butter beans, cannellini beans etc)
A food rich in plant proteins, dietary fibre, and low GI carbs, has got to be a winner. And beans, such as butter beans, cannellini beans, haricot beans etc, are exactly that, with regular consumption strongly linked to a who’s who of health benefits such as a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Beans are also rich in resistant starch, a type of fibre that remains undigested until it comes into contact with the friendly bacteria that inhabit our large intestine, which ferment it to produce very useful substances known as short chain fatty acids, which help to promote the health of the colon.
Carrots are prized for their beta-carotene content, responsible for their bright orange hue, which is an antioxidant and can also be converted in the body to vitamin A, an important vitamin for maintaining healthy skin both on the outside, as well as the inside, such as our mucus linings in the digestive and respiratory tracts. Eating a rainbow of colourful vegetables is very much encouraged, and carrots don’t just come in orange. Go for purple carrots and you get a completely different hit of phytonutrients in the form of health boosting anthocyanins.
- Cavolo Nero
Also known as black kale, black cabbage, or Tuscan kale, it originates from the fields of Tuscany, and is a cousin of the more common or-garden kale we are used to, and therefore part of the cruciferous family of vegetables. This is significant because the frequent consumption of cruciferous vegetables is linked with a reduced risk of common cancers, due to natural plant compounds called glucosinolates which are unique to the cruciferous family. With such deep dark green leaves, cavolo nero also delivers a healthy dose of bone-friendly nutrients calcium, magnesium, vitamin K and folate, as well as eye-friendly lutein and zeaxanthin.
- Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are rich in essential fats, with a preponderance of omega-3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. This is a boon for vegetarians, as vegetarian diets tend to lack fats from the omega-3 family. Whilst we humans are not very efficient at making the conversion, at least some of that alpha-linolenic will be converted in the body to the much more potent omega-3 fat EPA. But chia seeds are not just a one-trick pony and offer a very rich source of dietary fibre, which is great for digestive health and cardiovascular health. The one thing we never hear about chia seeds is that they’re also packed full of polyphenols, notably myricetin, quercetin, kaempferol and caffeic acid . These are natural bio-active plant compounds being vigorously researched for their numerous health benefits and undoubtedly add a new angle to the benefits of consuming chia.
Chickpeas belong to the legume family and unsurprisingly are a very rich source of fibre, especially the soluble type of fibre that helps lower levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. That they also pack a cracking source of plant protein makes them an especially good inclusion in vegetarian diets.
Great news for those who like it hot; recent research shows that those who eat hot spicy food three or more times per week have a 14% lower death rate compared with those that eat it less than once per week. What makes chilli hot property is its active plant constituent capsaicin, a fascinating compound being actively researched for multiple health benefits.
- Coconut oil
Virgin coconut oil comes in solid form and is widely available in health food shops, supermarkets or online. Coconut oil has a wonderful subtle aromatic flavour that makes it a great ingredient for sweet and savoury cooking. Because it is a saturated fat, it is more stable when used in cooking, thus being especially suitable for higher temperature cooking such as frying.
- Coconut Sugar
Don’t be duped into thinking there are any special health benefits to be gained from eating coconut sugar. Rather than regarding it as somehow healthy, we should regard it simply as just a bit less bad than plain old table sugar. Sure, it’s less processed and refined, and contains small amounts of nutrients, including inulin (a prebiotic that feeds our friendly bacteria) as a result, but it’s still pretty much pure sugar and not discernibly different to standard sugar.
- Chocolate, 70% Dark
Lots not beat around the bush, cocoa, and bitter dark chocolate, is a wonder food and one of the healthiest foods going. That’s because it is packed full of a specific type of polyphenol called flavanols. There’s now growing evidence to show that flavanol-rich cocoa is especially good for heart health, with reviews suggesting it also has positive effects in relation to diabetes, cancer and brain health. Dark chocolate has a distinctive bittersweet taste and is what I like to use for cooking, the perfect ingredient for brownies, cookies, sauces etc. I keep a bar in the fridge so that I can break off a few squares when I need a sweet fix.
Note: It’s better not to give a high % chocolate like this to kids as it’s strong and can make them quite buzzy.
It’s such a shame that most people still regard coffee as somehow bad for you. Coffee is packed full of beneficial phytonutrients, notably the polyphenol chlorogenic acid. Such are the health credentials of coffee that regular drinkers are at significantly less risk of type 2 diabetes, along with neurodegenerative diseases too. And here’s the ultimate irony: coffee is one of the first things people stop drinking when they go on a so-called “detox”, yet coffee drinkers have healthier livers and significantly less liver diseases. Wrap your head around that and you’ll realise that coffee is more friend than foe. Of course, coffee’s caffeine content won’t be right for everyone, and should be limited in such situations as pregnancy.
In my recipes, I recommend using large, free-range eggs (preferably organic too) but if you use medium-sized ones, it’s up to you. Hens that are allowed to roam outside lay free-range eggs, rather than eggs produced by hens kept in cages inside in factory farms. The good news is that due to the consumers’ higher demand for free-range eggs more suppliers are replacing factory conditions with free-range. Eggs are a great source of amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
The primary ingredient in falafel is chickpeas, an excellent source of plant protein, dietary fibre, and slow burn energy. Indeed, diets rich in fibre packed legumes such as chickpeas help to lower levels of ‘bad’ fats in the bloodstream, namely LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. As well as their cardio-protective credentials, their consumption also appears to protect
against diabetes and obesity.
- Fava Beans
Also known as broad beans, fava beans contain protein and provide a good supply of vitamin K, vitamin B6, potassium, folate and fibre.
When we hear talk of ‘let food be thy medicine’ look no further than garlic, renowned for numerous health benefits, notably its
cardio-protective qualities. Thanks to all those organosulphur compounds and array of other bio-active constituents, regular consumption of garlic is also associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, such as stomach cancer, and most notably colorectal cancer.
Although hemp seeds have a botanical relationship to cannabis they contain no psychotropic action and instead possesses several health benefits. Like all nuts and seeds, hemp seeds are rich in ‘good’ unsaturated fats. But what marks them out for a special mention is their perfect 3:1 balance of omega 6 to omega 3 fats. Intriguingly, hemp seeds are one of the few dietary sources of a specific anti-inflammatory omega-6 fat known as GLA, which is very rare to find in foods. This is the same active ingredient as found in evening primrose oil, well known to many women who find it helpful in relieving PMS symptoms. Alongside their near perfect fatty acid balance, hemp seeds add
useful protein and fibre to the diet. All of that, along with a good smattering of vitamins, such as vitamin E, and minerals, such as magnesium, mean that hemp seeds shape up as a good protector of heart health.
I always like to keep a jar of good quality honey in the store cupboard; it has antioxidant and antibacterial qualities. Some studies have shown that if you suffer from allergies, eating honey from your local area can help. Long live the bees!
Note from Glenn: A good quality natural honey has the advantage of containing trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other bio-active substances. But Whilst better than refined sugar it’s still naturally very high in sugar.
Iodine is a mineral that is needed by the body to make thyroid hormones, which are the hormones that are absolutely vital for regulating our metabolism. Vegetarian diets (especially those with a low milk intake) and most notably vegan diets are frequently lacking iodine. Sea vegetables are
an incredibly rich source of iodine, thus used sparingly and occasionally can add valuable iodine to plant-based diets. However, too much iodine can be as bad for the thyroid gland as too little, which is why sea vegetables shouldn’t be eaten in anything more than small amounts.
Hailing from the cruciferous family of vegetables, kale rightly deserves its plaudits as a health food. Cruciferous vegetables such as kale are unique due to their rich content of natural compounds called glucosinolates. These are thought to confer cancer protective benefits, explaining why regularly consuming cruciferous vegetables is linked with a lower risk of several cancers. Kale also offers up a smorgasbord of other nutrients, such as the bone friendly trio of calcium, magnesium and vitamin K, along with the eye-friendly carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
- Kidney Beans
These are a good source of protein, vitamin C, iron, folate and provide a good supply of dietary fibre.
A great source of protein, lentils can also help to lower cholesterol because they contain plenty of soluble fibre.
- Maize/corn Flour (not to be confused with Corn starch)
Maize/corn flour is pale, yellow in colour and is made using finely ground dry corn (maize) kernels. It’s gluten free and should not be confused with cornstarch. This is an ingredient that is used around the World and I particularly love to use it in Mexican food.
- Maple Syrup
Maple syrup comes from the sap of some varieties of maple tree and is completely natural. It contains the minerals magnesium, manganese, potassium and calcium. Look for pure maple syrup, as there are a lot of ‘Maple-flavoured’ syrups with other hidden ingredients such as corn syrup. Maple syrup can be expensive but it’s very sweet, so a little goes a long way.
Note from Glenn: Small amounts of minerals and antioxidants give it an edge over refined sugar, but it is still essentially just a form of sugar.
The primary reason tea is so good for us is because it is rich in natural plant compounds known as catechins, and especially a particular type called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Compared to black tea, which contains about 3–10% catechins, green tea contains a staggering 30–40%. Regular consumption of green tea is linked with a wide range of health benefits, most prominently for reducing the risk of succumbing to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. What makes matcha particularly potent is the fact that the whole leaf is consumed, which means ingesting far higher amounts of catechins and EGCG than would be found in a standard cup of green tea. Indeed, just one gram of matcha green tea provides the equivalent of 3+ cups of normal green tea.
Whilst high in sugar, this by-product of the sugar refining process is at least rich in minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium and potassium
As well as being a culinary wonder food, mushrooms have long been revered for their health benefits. The ancient Greeks thought mushrooms provided strength for warriors in battle, the Romans considered them as ‘Food of the Gods’, whilst for hundreds of years Chinese culture has prized them as an ‘elixir of life’. Whilst there is a lot of huff and puff about so-called superfoods, nobody is ever mentioning mushrooms in that context, which is a travesty. Starting with basics, mushrooms are a rich source of many essential nutrients such as B-vitamins, and vitamins C, D and E. But that is really only the beginning of the story and such is the interest in the health benefits of mushrooms that researchers even refer to some mushrooms as “mini-pharmaceutical factories” such is their immune enhancing and anti-cancer properties, amongst other things. This is primarily the case for those mushrooms classified as ‘medicinal mushrooms’ some of which, like shiitake and oyster mushrooms, are now readily available in many supermarkets.
- Nutritional Yeast Flakes
Nutritional yeast has a strong flavor that can described as nutty, cheesy or creamy, which makes it popular ingredient as a cheese substitute. Perfect if you follow a plant based diet, or if you’d like to cut down on dairy. As a supplement, it is well known for being a good source of protein and B-complex vitamins. As a vegetarian it’s sometimes harder to find B12, so I like to add this to meals to get an easy dose but keep in mind that not all brands of nutritional yeast are fortified with vitamin B12, I like to use Marigolds, which is. I have used it in my post for homemade kale chips.
Consumption of cereals in their wholegrain form is linked with numerous health benefits, notably a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers. Oats are no exception and are especially noteworthy for their low Glycaemic Index (GI), which makes them a good source of slow releasing fuel for the body. Oats are also a particularly good source of beta glucans. These are polysaccharides found in the bran of cereal grains, which help to reduce cholesterol levels. Oat beta-glucans also help to smooth out blood sugar levels by blunting the glycemic and insulin response.
- Olive Oil
There are many different varieties of olive oil. I tend to use light olive oil for cooking, as it has less flavour and has a higher smoking point. Then I use extra virgin olive oil for cold dishes or low temperature cooking. Extra virgin olive oil is made by cold-pressing the olives, which means it’s best not to heat it and it has a stronger flavour. It’s also a good source of monounsaturated (healthy) fat.
Orange can be added to recipes for it’s vitamin C content which improves the absorption of the non-haem form of iron in some foods.
Peaches are a good example of a nutritional all-rounder packing a spectrum of essential nutrients, notably appreciable amounts of vitamin C, carotenoids, potassium and fibre.
- Frozen Peas
Frozen peas are blanched and then frozen, fresh peas. As well as being a good source of protein and antioxidants, these have anti-inflammatory properties and provide good amounts of vitamins B1, B2 , B3 and B6 and vitamin K. I always have a bag stored in my freezer.
Pistachio nuts, like other nuts, are the archetypal cardio-protective food. Eating pistachio’s regularly not only helps lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol and protect it from becoming oxidized, but also decreases the amount of particularly harmful small dense LDL. This helps to explain why large studies now clearly demonstrate that regularly eating nuts like pistachio slashes the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Plain Flour
A general purpose, fine, white flour milled from wheat. Some plain flour is bleached to make it whiter and for this reason I search out unbleached brands such as Doves Farm.
- Pumpernickel bread
The reputation of grains, especially those containing gluten such as rye, have really taken a battering in recent times. Whilst some people have a genuine need to avoid gluten that doesn’t mean it should be struck off the menu for everybody else. Quite the contrary, as consumption of wholegrain foods, of which pumpernickel bread is a perfect example, has been consistently shown to protect against heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Boasting a low Glycemic Index or GI, in pumpernickel bread we also have a slow-burn fuel, well suited to keeping energy levels on an even keel.
Their deep orange colour is a bit of a give-away that pumpkin and squash contain an abundance of carotenoids, such as beta carotene and beta cryptoxanthin. Diets rich in carotenoids tend to correlate with lower rates of serious diseases such as heart disease and certain cancers. Whilst we hear a lot about beta carotene, we hear much less about beta cryptoxanthin, and it is of interest to note that higher intakes of this carotenoid are linked to less risk of rheumatoid arthritis. This particular carotenoid may also exert benefits for bone health and helping to stave off osteoporosis.
- Pumpkin Seeds
Rich in magnesium, manganese, iron, zinc and copper, pumpkin seeds offer a bumper crop of minerals and trace minerals. Whilst their high fat content leaves many folk feeling wary of them (somewhere in the region of two thirds of their calories come from fat), this is unfounded, as the bulk of them are of the healthy unsaturated type. Good fats, abundant magnesium, plenty of fibre, add it all up and in pumpkin seeds you have a powerhouse of nutrients for heart health.
- Puy Lentils
In Puy lentils we have a huge heap of goodness, plant based powerhouse of protein, loads of fibre, and a very slow releasing source of energy. No surprise then that regular consumption of pulses such as lentils is linked with improved cardio-metabolic health, resulting in a lower rick of chronic health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Indeed, the type of soluble fibre we find in lentils is very helpful for lowering levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. Lentils offer an iron boost for vegetarians too. This comes in the less well absorbed form of ‘non-haem’ iron, but the simple trick of including vitamin C rich foods as part of the same meal (think tomatoes, bell peppers, green leafy vegetables, or berries for dessert) helps give a significant boost to the amount of iron that can be absorbed.
Quinoa is an ancient grain that dates back to the Incas. It’s a complete protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s also a good source of fibre and iron too. Quinoa is super versatile and I often cook up a batch and keep it chilled in the fridge in an airtight container for as and when I need it. I often use it instead of rice and it works well in salads and soups. I even use it to replace oats to make breakfast porridge.
- Red Cabbage
Red cabbage is part of the cruciferous family of vegetables (along with the likes of broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts), which are unique because they contain glucosinolates, naturally occurring plant compounds that are being extensively researched for their anti-cancer properties. When we chop or chew them, these glucosinolates get transformed into highly active natural chemicals called isothiocyanates, which are thought to bestow the cancer protective properties seen from regular consumption of cruciferous veg. We know that we should eat a rainbow of colours each day and with red cabbage we are blessed with anthocyanins, the natural plant pigments that put the ‘red’ into red cabbage. These are the same compounds you would find in berries, and which are a hot topic of research with benefits evident for cardiovascular health and brain health, amongst others.
- Red Onion
Onions are a great food with many health benefits, and red onions are just that bit better, thanks to a very high content of quercetin, an intriguing natural plant compound researched for multiple benefits to health including anti-inflammatory and cancer protective properties. Onions also chalk up some more health credentials as a good source of prebiotics, a type of fibre that helps to feed and nourish our friendly gut microbes.
- Red Pepper
Red peppers are a vitamin C powerhouse, with just half a small red pepper comfortably meeting an adult’s daily requirement for this vital vitamin. Add to that their rich content of carotenoids, notably beta carotene and beta cryptoxanthin, and we have a true antioxidant all-rounder.
- Rice Flour (not to be confused with rice starch)
Gluten free, flour made of finely milled, whole brown or white rice grains. It has a delicate, fine, grainy texture. Not to be confused with rice starch.
- Rice Milk
Rice milk is a dairy free, plant based milk made using rice. It doesn’t have many extra minerals and vitamins, so manufacturers often fortify it with extra calcium and vitamins.
Culinary herbs and spices are a potent treasure trove of potent plant compounds and sage is no exception. Sage is only ever going to be eaten in small amounts so it won’t really add a great deal of conventional nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals to the diet. Instead, focus on the ‘accessory’ nutrients, the phytochemicals, that are abundant in sage. These are the nutrients responsible for the longstanding reputation of sage in traditional herbal medicine as a memory enhancer. In fact, there are now small scientific studies that lend credence to this idea.
- Sesame Seed Oil
There are two main types of sesame oil, one that is darker in colour, made by using toasted sesame seeds, which has a nice nutty flavour. The other is light sesame oil, which is made with untoasted seeds, which makes it lighter in colour and milder in flavour. I mainly use the darker sesame oil as it adds great flavour to stir fries, marinated tofu and dressings.
- Spelt flour
Spelt flour is an ancient wheat variety, which is said to be more easily digestible. The white spelt flour has been sieved from the coarse outer layers of the bran and has a similar texture to plain flour. If a recipe calls for plain flour I tend to use spelt, stone-ground white flour, in its place.
- Soya Cream
Soya cream is a plant-based, cream made using soya. I use it as a dairy cream alternative. When using it in cooking, I heat it gently before adding to hot ingredients, as I find that way it doesn’t curdle. It works well in soups instead of dairy cream, and is good poured over desserts.
Vegetable stock, for bases in soups and sauces. Also a delicious hot drink on it’s own, I like Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon Reduced Salt.
- Sugar. Natural, Granulated or Caster
Unrefined cane sugar is a good alternative to bleached, white, refined sugar. For baking, I like to use Billington’s Organic Unrefined Natural Granulated Cane Sugar.
- Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are a surprisingly good source of vitamin C, and just one medium sweet potato sets you well on the way to meeting the daily requirement for this important vitamin, which helps to bolster the immune system and improves the health of the skin due to its role in making collagen. Just as with carrots, the deep orange colour of sweet potatoes reveals a very rich source of beta carotene, and its worthy of note that diets rich in carotenoids (from colourful fruits and vegetables) are consistently linked with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. If you are partial to a sweet potato, keep your eyes peeled for the purple varieties that are now becoming more available. These are rich in anthocyanins, the same precious plant pigments that account for the health benefits of berries. If you need more persuading, then consider this: purple sweet potatoes formed a cornerstone of the traditional diet of the long lived Okinawans who boast record numbers of centenarians. And to top it off, sweet potatoes provide a slow-burn source of energy, ideal for keeping blood sugar levels balanced.
Tamari is a dark type of soya sauce that is made without wheat, so usually it’s gluten free (but please do check the label). I use this a lot, to add extra flavour to roasts, stews, soups, stir frys etc.
- Tofu (Beancurd)
In tofu, a staple food of the Asian diet, we have an excellent protein source for vegans, vegetarians or simply those looking to evolve toward a more plant-based diet. Tofu is made from soya beans, which are a uniquely rich source of isoflavones, plant compounds that have weak oestrogenic activity, a fact that has stirred up plenty of controversy as to whether we should be embracing or shunning soya-based foods. The picture is actually pretty positive overall. Benefits for cardiovascular health and cholesterol-lowering are fairly well established. Whilst the state of play is not decisively clear, soya foods do appear to have some anti-cancer properties in relation to breast and prostate cancer.
Tomatoes, like other fruits and veggies, bag a good range of essential vitamins and minerals. But tomatoes have an altogether more interesting string to their nutritional bow, namely a rich content of lycopene, a plant pigment from the carotenoid family responsible for their characteristic red colour. The potential health benefits of lycopene include cardio-protective effects, cancer-preventive properties (with most research looking at prostate cancer), benefits for staving off bone loss and osteoporosis prevention, and even protecting the skin from the damaging effects of the sun. Because lycopene is very tightly bound up in the cells of tomatoes, our ability to absorb it is greatly enhanced by mechanical processing and/or cooking. The presence of fat at a meal also really helps bump up the amount of lycopene we can absorb. Thus, look no further than a fresh tomato sauce served with a glug of extra virgin olive oil for the ultimate lycopene fix.
Known as ‘Indian Solid Gold’, turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 4,000 years for its wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties. These beneficial effects are down to a very active constituent of turmeric, known as curcumin. It is a prevalent spice used in traditional Indian cooking and is believed to contribute to the lower cancer rates in India compared with Western countries. This is supported by scientific evidence showing that curcumin has anti-cancer properties, with other benefits including reducing inflammation in the body, with potential benefits in arthritis and even staving off dementia.
- Vanilla Extract
Soaking vanilla beans in alcohol and water so that the flavour is infused into the liquid makes vanilla extract. It can be expensive but keeps in the fridge for a long time while retaining its flavour. Not to be confused with vanilla essence.
- Vegetable stock/bouillon
I often use Marigold reduced-salt Swiss vegetable bouillon powder if I don’t have any fresh stock. In my first cookbook, FOOD, I have a recipe for fresh vegetable stock, which once made, can be cooled and kept in the fridge or freezer until required.
Watercress is a dark green, leafy vegetable that is a member of the Brassica cabbage family. It has a deep peppery, leafy, flavour to it. It is packed full of health benefits and is rich in iron, calcium, folic acid. It’s also a good source of Vitamins A and C and iodine. I love to include watercress in salads and it’s brilliant blended into fresh pea soup.
- Wholemeal Flour
Wholemeal flour uses the whole, finely ground whole wheat kernel, which means it has more texture, fibre and nutrition.
Xylitol, a polyol, is a low calorie sweetener that looks and feels like sugar, and is equally as sweet, typically manufactured from birch trees. Xylitol is only partially and slowly absorbed in the intestine, therefore having a lesser effect on blood sugar levels compared with conventional sugar. It is also well researched for its benefits for dental health when added to chewing gum. But beware as too much can have a laxative effect leading to diarrhoea, with other side effects including bloating and gas.