March is nutrition month. I'm highlighting some amazing gifts from nature each day this month. Many of the foods I'll be featuring are typical of and grown in Chile, since I'm in Chile the majority of the month. If you don't know much about Chile, it has an abundance of produce as its land is very fertile. The climate in the central region resembles that of the Mediterranean. I feel lucky to be here and talk about some of its wonderful foods. I'll also try and include some not-so-typical foods (not in week 1 though). I'm posting these daily on Instagram. I will post them weekly on my blog, in sets of 7 foods.
The first gift from nature I'll be featuring is garlic (ajo in Spanish). Garlic contains many powerful compounds. Allicin is the main one. Many studies have found that garlic can lower blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure. It may also help reduce total and bad cholesterol. Generally speaking, garlic is great for the cardiovascular system.
In herbal medicine it is used as an antimicrobial. That's why it's a great idea to have lots of garlic when you're catching a cold or sick.
Some individuals have a hard time digesting raw garlic. For therapeutic purposes, try a high quality garlic supplement. Otherwise, cooking garlic makes it more digestible.
My favorite way to eat garlic is pretty much every way. I use it in all of my cooking. There is no (savoury) dish that doesn't include garlic in my house. One of my favourite dishes with garlic is home-made tomato sauce (fresh, ripe tomatoes), basil and lots of garlic.
Nutrition month food #2, blueberries. I love fruit and I love blueberries. Blueberries are among the fruit with the highest antioxidant content, if not THE most. They contain antioxidants called anthocyanins which are responsible for much of blueberries' health benefits. The antioxidants in blueberries protect cells from oxidative damage to cells, helping to protect against cancer and keeping cells healthy. Oxidative damage can also accelerate the brain's aging process. Some studies suggest that blueberries help to improve brain function and age related mental decline. Studies have also shown that anthocyanins in blueberries have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and sugar metabolism. To get the most nutrition out of blueberries, eat them raw. Throw them in your yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, or salads. I'm sure you've all had blueberries in your baked goods, such as blueberry muffins, breads, etc, or even jam. Raw is best but for enjoyment eat them any way.
My favourite. Not only are they delicious but also incredibly nutritious. They have a high fat content but that does not equate to unhealthy- old school thinking! In fact, avocados are high in monounsaturated fat, a heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory fat.
Avocados are also high in fibre and contain around 6g per half a fruit (that's the equivalent fibre of 2 to 3 slices of whole wheat bread and comparable to 1 slice of dark rye). Some studies showed that avocados helped reduce total and bad LDL cholesterol, while increasing good HDL cholesterol.
Avocados are loaded with vitamins and minerals, such as B5, B6, C, E, folate, potassium and magnesium.
I love avocado on my toast (pan con palta Chilean style), in salads, on tacos, in sandwiches (again, Chilean style), as guacamole, and more!
This juicy summer fruit has a high antioxidant content. One of the antioxidants in peaches is called caffeic acid, claimed to be anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antiviral. Caffeic acid has also been suggested to protect the body from aflotoxin, a carcinogenic mold found on peanuts.
Peaches also contain lutein, an antioxidant that helps protect the cells of the eyes.
Peaches, believe it or not, are low glycemic, which means they won't spike your blood sugar the same way that sugar or white bread do. One medium sized peach has around 60 calories, 2g fibre, 16% of the daily recommendation of vitamin C, 9% for vitamin A, 8% for potassium. Since arriving to Chile, I've sliced them in my oatmeal almost every morning (pictured left).
These mini-brain looking nuts are incredibly nutritious. They contain significant amounts of folic acid, vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, manganese and copper. They also contain antioxidants which are largely concentrated on their brown skin. Did you know that walnuts also contain melatonin? Yup. So have a small handful daily to help support your circadian rhythm and sleep. If you have chronic sleep problems however, please go see your doc.
Walnuts are great for heart health. Studies have shown that walnuts can lower bad LDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and improve blood vessel function.
Walnuts don't just look like mini brains but they're also good for our not-so-mini brains. Some studies suggest that walnuts may help with age-related brain function decline. Studies on animals showed improved memory and learning when fed walnuts for close to a year.
Walnuts are high in omega-3, which may be partly the reason for their brain-boosting benefits. Either way, omega-3s in their vegetable form, alpha-linolenic acid, are heart healthy and anti-inflammatory.
Tip: Try, as much as possible, to buy them in their shells so that you eat them fresh. Invest in a nut cracker! Walnuts go rancid quickly as they are high in polyunsaturated fats (i.e. omega-3s). Once they go bad, they're neither good for you nor do they taste good. And don't heat them up either (with the occasional exception of using them in baked goods, like brownies or banana bread). I love the crunch of walnuts in my morning oatmeal along with berries.
Nutrition month food #6, watermelon. Watermelon is absolutely delicious and is made up of 90% water. Great way to hydrate in the summer! If you're in the southern hemisphere, like me, you may be enjoying the last of this juicy fruit as we speak. If you're north of the equator, only a few months left to go.
Aside from good quality water, watermelon also contains vitamin C, lycopene (an antioxidant), L-citrulline, an amino acid which can help protect against muscle pain, and cucurbitacin E, a compound which blocks pain and inflammation.
Glycemic Index You may have heard that watermelon is high on the glycemic index. High glycemic foods spike your blood sugar compared to low glycemic foods. And you're right. Watermelon is a high glycemic index food. This is because the glycemic index measures 50g of carbs of foods. So basically, they would measure someone's blood sugar before and after eating 50g worth of carbs of watermelon. That's a lot of watermelon!! I mean, don't get me wrong. I can probably easily eat that much watermelon. But 50g of carbs is somewhere close to 1/4 of an entire fruit (a bit less). This means that if you have a wedge (i.e. 1/16th of the fruit), it will not spike your blood sugar significantly. If you suffer from blood sugar disorders, you can eat a wedge of watermelon. Glycemic load refers to how much a 'portion' of a food spikes your blood sugar. So basically, 50g of carbs worth of watermelon is way more than a portion. Other foods, like white bread, not hard to eat 50g of carbs worth.
I love eating watermelon on its own. In Chile, it's often eaten right after lunch. I usually wait a couple of hours before having my piece.
Cabbage is an incredibly healthy vegetable. It belongs to the Brassica vegetable family along with broccoli, kale and cauliflower. These are all kick-ass nutritious!
Cabbage is often fermented (sauerkraut and kimchi). Fermented cabbage is a good source of pro-biotics which can help improve digestion and immune function, reduce inflammation, and support mood and cognition.
Onto raw cabbage. One cup of this cancer-fighting vegetable has less than 25 calories and 85% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K, half of the recommended intake of vitamin C, as well as smaller amounts of folate and vitamin B6 and the minerals manganese, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Cabbage is anti-inflammatory. It contains many antioxidants, some of which help reduce inflammation markers in the blood. Cabbage helps protect against cancer, particularly cancers of the GI tract. This is partly due to a potent compound in cabbage called sulforaphane. Red cabbage contains anthocyanins, an antioxidant that may slow cancer cell proliferation.
Cabbage improves digestion since it is high in fibre. Fermented cabbage is good for digestion since it contains probiotics.
I know cabbage isn't necessarily everyone's go-to veggie. But with a little bit of prep and planning you can include it in your diet on a regular basis. Shred it in a salad, sautee it with garlic and sesame oil, blend it and make a soup, throw it in the oven with garlic and olive oil (I tried this once and it was delicious), make some sauerkraut.