Archive for the ‘Ingredient Spotlights’ Category

Ingredient Spotlight: Red Peppers

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Sweet red peppers contain a number of compounds that could help to prevent cancer, including capsiates, which have been shown to induce cancer cell deaths in lab tests. They are one of the few foods that contain lycopene, the carotenoid phytochemical that gives them their rich colour. High dietary levels of lycopene are associated with lower rates of rectal, pancreatic and ovarian cancer, and have also found to be linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in women. In a recent case-control study in China, eating lycopene-rich foods such as sweet red peppers was found to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer by up to 50 per cent.

They are also rich in other carotenoids, some of which, like beta-carotene, are vitamin A-precursors (i.e. which the body converts to vitamin A). Carotenoids are important for eye health, helping to prevent conditions such as cataracts. Sweet red peppers’ high levels of the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin may cut the risk of lung cancer. An eight-year study following over 63,000 people in Shanghai found that those eating the most foods with the highest levels of beta-cryptoxanthin had a 27% reduction in lung cancer risk. Scientists also suggest that good dietary intakes of carotenoids can help to prevent insulin resistance, which is a precursor for type 2 diabetes.


While all peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C, the mature sweet red goes to the top of the class for a tremendous 190mg/100g – that’s 475% of your daily RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake) or recommended daily allowance for this essential nutrient from just one raw medium-sized pepper. It also provides 1.58mg of vitamin E, which is around 40% of a man’s and 53% of a woman’s RNI.


These are both powerful antioxidants, which prevent cells from damage by free radicals, in turn helping to protect against heart disease, cataracts and cancers. Research suggests that good dietary intakes of vitamin C and E are linked to increase activity of an enzyme called paraoxonase, which inhibits the oxidation of LDL and HDL cholesterol, a process that can lead to atherosclerosis. Population studies also show that a high intake of antioxidant-rich foods is inversely related to cancer risk, with vitamin E reducing the risk of prostate and colon cancer, and carotenoids helping to reduce breast cancer risk.


For added health benefit, the sweet red pepper’s dietary fibre (2g/100g – 11% of RNI) is associated with a lesser risk of both heart disease and colon cancer, while its good quantities of folate (18mcg/100g; 9% of RNI) are important for reducing high levels of homocysteine which are linked to coronary heart disease, as well as preventing spina bifida in the developing foetus.


Sweet red peppers are also a great source of all the B vitamins which are needed for energy and stress. They also provide good levels of the minerals manganese, magnesium and potassium.




Ingredient Spotlight: Aubergines

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Aubergines or eggplants (as they are known in some countries because of their egg-like shape) come in several sizes and colours. The most well known is the purple variety but aubergines can also be white, green, black and yellow.

It is thought that aubergines originated in China in the 5th century, so they have been around for a long time. 


The most common purple aubergine has a white flesh, which turns to a grayish colour when cooked. Although it is used as a vegetable, it is actually a fruit. The aubergine is very versatile as it can be used in a number of ways including baking, grilling, stuffing and sautéing. It’s used in many recipes around the world: in Italy it can be served as Aubergine Parmigiano, in Turkey as Imam Bayildi, Baingan Bharta in India, Ratatouille in France, served in tempura batter in Japan, roasted in the Middle East and served as Baba Ghanoush, and popular in Moussaka which is served in many countries.


Aubergines are a good source of calcium, folic acid, potassium and beta-carotene and are low in sodium. They are high in soluble fibre so can be helpful for lowering cholesterol because they will help bind cholesterol in the gut and pull it out of the body. Because of the bright purple colour, aubergines contain good levels of bioflavonoids and an antioxidant called monoterpene, which is thought to be helpful in preventing cancer and heart disease. The National Cancer Institute has taken an interest in aubergines and others of the nightshade family to see if they can help prevent tumour growth.


The possible negative side of aubergines is that (like potatoes, peppers and tomatoes) they belong to the nightshade family, which also includes tobacco. It is normally recommended that people with arthritis avoid the nightshade family to see whether symptoms improve if these foods are eliminated. 





Ingredient Spotlight: Mackerel

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Mackerel is classed as an oily fish, along with other fish such as salmon, herrings, tuna etc. Oily fish provide us with important Omega 3 oils, which can help to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, soften the skin, increase immune function, increase metabolic rate, improve energy, help with arthritis (as they have an anti-inflammatory effect) and help with skin problems such as eczema. 100g of mackerel can provide 1000mg of Omega 3 fatty acids, while the same size piece of cod can contain only 300mg.

Mackerel not only contains these Omega 3 fats but is also a good source of selenium, vitamins B3, B6 and B12 and also vitamin D.


The Department of Health recommends that we should double our intake of Omega 3 oils by eating oily fish two to three times a week. But concerns have been raised about mercury intake from oily fish. The research has shown that the health benefits from eating oily fish definitely outweigh the risks. And that in fact we are not eating enough fish in general. The Harvard School of Public Health has shown that eating about six ounces of mackerel each week can reduce the risk of death from heart disease by a third.