Healthy eating: Go with the grain
Improve your physical and mental well being by introducing some of nature’s treats to your diet, by MORAG MAXWELL
SOME of the smallest, yet most potent of nature’s goodies provide countless benefits in our quest for a healthy body and happy mind. Nuts, seeds and grains are renowned as ‘brain-foods’, ‘mood foods’ and are nutritional power houses. More importantly, they can be conveniently added to any or all of your main meals and also make a handy, tasty snack.
Our foraging ancestors would have scoured the forests and lands for fruit, nuts, grains, tubers, roots and seeds. There is evidence that nomadic people gathered nuts 10,000 years ago. The Bible makes reference to the use of almonds, pistachios and chestnuts. Pumpkin seeds have been found in Mexico, dating back over 7,000 years to 5,500 B.C, where they were treasured for the nutritional and medicinal properties.
Nuts comprise of the seed and the fruit whereby the fruit does not open to release the seed. Most seeds originate from fruits. Cereal grains are grasses which are grown in larger quantities and provide more food energy worldwide than any other crop.
These three food types are amazingly beneficial in preventing a host of conditions and adding greatly to your overall physical and mental wellbeing.
Nutty nutrition: Nuts commonly include almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashew, pine nuts, pistachio, peanut and Brazil nut.
All of these, but in particular, almond and walnut, contain high levels of Omega 3 and 6 similarly found in oily fish. Research has shown that these essential fatty acids can boost your brain-power, memory and even enhance your mood.
Nuts are a rich source of B vitamins – thiamin, niacin and riboflavin which all assist a healthy central nervous system. Their vitamin E content will work wonders for your skin, fight wrinkles and signs of aging, boosting healthy hair, teeth and nails.
They contain auxones, a natural skin renewal agent. Minerals found in nuts range from calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium to iron. A 1/2 cup of nuts is likely to contain 400 calories. However, the fat content is unsaturated and vital for healthy cell production.
Nutty uses: Nuts give a tasty enhancement to foods, such as breads, fish, meats, salads and desserts. Toasted nuts provide a colourful and fragrant addition to foods and can be stored at room temperature in air-tight containers for up to a week. Ground, sweet almonds form the basis of marzipan, nougat and macaroons.
They’re especially useful in baking and may be substituted for flour to create a moist texture in cakes and biscuits. Indian cooking welcomes the almond and it is widely used to thicken and add texture to dishes such as chicken korma.
Brazil nuts and chocolate go hand in hand, making an interesting addition to chocolate brownies. Asian stir-fry, noodle and beef dishes work well cashew nuts and peanuts. Walnut oil provides a strong, nutty flavour, delicious with steaks, fish or salad. Remember that people can have an allergic reaction to nuts and they may be easier to choke on due to their gritty texture.
Seed benefits: Flax seed, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, sesame and linseed have countless health benefits, are rich in dietary fibre and therefore greatly assist your metabolic and digestive system.
Sunflowers in particular are very high in vitamin E, with a 1/4 cup providing 90 per cent of your RDA (recommended daily amount) and 32 per cent of your magnesium requirements. This can lead to a reduced risk of stroke, heart attack and migraines. Likewise pumpkin seeds have major nutritional benefits, their high Omega content reducing arthritic discomfort and zinc properties reducing symptoms of Osteoporosis. Pumpkin seeds contain phytosterols which lower cholesterol and also boost the immune system.
Flax seed or oil is one of best sources of alphalinolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid necessary for a healthy heart. Both pumpkin and sunflower seeds contain tryptophan, easing the effects of insomnia and even mild depression. Just as with nuts, seeds are rich in unsaturated fat.
Seed uses: The benefits of pumpkin tea may be enjoyed by adding two teaspoons of seeds in a cup. Steep for 10 minutes then strain to feel uplifted in body and mind. Seeds can be added to breads, cereals, muffins, salads, yoghurts, smoothies, dips and soups.
The tiny poppy seed provides a delicious crunchy addition to any pasta or noodle dish. They are suited to pot roasts, stews and used in many Middle-Eastern dishes.
Bear in mind that the poppy and sesame husk are eaten while in pumpkin and sunflower, the husk is usually removed. Seeds may also be toasted and eaten as a nutritionpacked snack.
Go with the grain: Wheat, barley, rye, brown rice, oats and spelt are all common constituents of a healthy diet. They are generally found in breads, flours and cereals. Going with the grain lowers your likelihood of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and can lengthen your life-span.
Brown rice, oats and whole-grain foods are laden with flavanoids, the strongest antioxidant of cancer fighting properties. One of the most significant health benefits of oat, wheat and rice bran is in the high dietary fibre content. They are rich in omegas, starch, protein, mineral and vitamins. Studies show that eating at least three servings of whole grains a day greatly reduces risk of coronary disease.
Grain uses: Wheat and oat bran can be added to many of your regular foods. Add to porridge, muffins, cakes and breads for a multi-grain treat. Always include whole grains such as wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholegrain couscous or whole-wheat pasta at dinner.
As an alternative to the biscuit tin, think of popcorn when you feel like a snack. Low in fat, high in nutrients, it’ll boost your fibre intake, providing a more filling and satisfying snack. Nature’s smallest foods can have such a powerful and lasting effect on your life.
Time to go nuts, get seedy and go with the grain.
© Sunday World Magazine