Archive for the ‘Ingredient Spotlights’ Category

Ingredient Spotlight: Cranberries

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Cranberries have been used for centuries by Native Americans to treat urinary tract infections, and there’s lots of research being done now to explain why these tart little berries are so bladder friendly. The first study to scientifically confirm this health benefit was undertaken in 1994, where women given 300ml of cranberry juice a day were found to suffer less than half the incidence of urinary tract infections as the placebo-ingesting control group.


It was originally believed that cranberry juice reduced the symptoms of cystitis by making the urine more acidic – obviously not a desirable effect, as it is the acidic urine that causes the burning sensation. We now know that cranberries work in a completely different way. It seems that certain substances in cranberries can stop bacteria such as E. coli from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. For bacteria to infect your urinary tract, they must first stick to the mucosal (mucous membrane lining) walls of the tract. If they are unable to do so, they cannot multiply and are flushed from the body when you urinate.


Don’t, under any circumstances, buy cranberry juice with sugar (or artificial sweeteners). Sugar has a negative effect on the immune system and will compromise the ability of the body to fight any infections. Sugar also encourages candida, which can in turn lead to cystitis. You can get cranberry powder in a concentrated form, which is especially helpful if you are prone to cystitis (see the Resources Page).


Researchers believe that the strongly antioxidant proanthocyanidins found in cranberries could be responsible for this unique bacterial anti-adhesion activity. In lab studies they have also been shown to inhibit the HSV-2 herpes virus, the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, that is increasingly recognised as a leading cause of peptic ulcers and the growth of oral bacteria, which cause dental plaque and periodontal disease.


Studies have also found that cranberries, which contain high levels of other antioxidant flavonoids and polyphenols, can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. This is caused by ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol silting up arteries, reducing blood flow and leading to angina, thrombosis and heart attacks.


Research from the Human Nutrition Research Centre on Aging at Tufts University in the US suggests that diets rich in foods with high levels of antioxidants and other phytonutrients, such as cranberries, could protect against chronic age-related afflictions, such as loss of memory and mental acuity.


100g of cranberries provides:


• 33% of your daily requirement for immune system-boosting vitamin C

• 26% of your dietary fibre, which helps to maintain a healthy bowel

• 36% of your manganese, which aids the absorption of key nutrients such as vitamins C, B1 and biotin, and is important for a healthy reproductive system





Ingredient Spotlight: Kale

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Kale is a member of the brassica family of vegetables. They are not only packed with health-boosting vitamins and minerals but are full of anti-carcinogenic phytonutrients, mostly in the form of the organo-sulphur compounds that give them their slightly bitter taste.


Kale’s sulphurophane, for example, interferes directly with tumour growth, as well as stimulating the body’s own defences against disease to create an antioxidant effect that lasts long after the kale has been eaten. Recent research has found that sulphurophane can disrupt the growth of breast cancer cells, even at the later stages, while an epidemiological study from China found that women who eat more brassicas, such as kale, have significantly reduced risks of breast cancer.


Kale has the highest levels of the carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene. Along with vitamin A and its beta-carotene precursor (which the body converts to vitamin A), good dietary intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin are vital for eye health. They are thought to act as filters in the eye, protecting against damaging ultraviolet light, and also as antioxidants that quench similarly damaging free radicals.


Epidemiological studies suggest that an increased consumption of the latter two nutrients is associated with a reduced risk for age-related macular degeneration, while another important study found that people who had the highest dietary intake of lutein-zeaxanthin had half the risk of cataracts as those with the lowest. Diets rich in carotenoids are also linked to lower rates of heart disease, while lutein protects against colon cancer.


Just 100g of kale provides 769mcg of vitamin A – that’s 110% of a man’s and 128% of a woman’s RDA – and very high levels of beta-carotene, which in the diet are linked to a reduced risk for heart disease. Kale can protect your heart in other ways, too: there are 120mcg of vitamin C per 100g of kale, providing an incredible 300% of your RDA. Apart from playing an important role in immunity and a healthy nervous system, this antioxidant vitamin is known to protect ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol from the oxidative damage by free radicals that can lead to cardiovascular disease. Kale is also high in fibre (2g/100g – 11% of RDA), and fibre-rich diets have been shown to lower the risks of heart disease by up to 12% and potassium (447mg/100g – 13% of RDA), which can help to lower blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of strokes.


Epidemiological studies suggest that diets rich in vitamin-C foods such as kale may protect against inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. These greens also supply you with lots of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which can also protect against arthritis and rheumatism, as well as reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks.



Ingredient spotlight: Peas

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Food in season: Peas


The pea is a type of legume which has been grown by man since the Bronze Age. Historically, legumes have been associated with cultures within which people regularly attained great ages (such as the Japanese, with a soya and tofu-rich diet), and a recent study conducted under the auspices of the World Health Organisation found that eating legumes such as peas was the most important dietary predictor of survival in old age, with a 7-8% reduction in mortality hazard ratio for every 20g increase in daily legume intake.


Peas have earned their spurs as a staple food through their excellent mix of vitamins, minerals and protein. Just 100g provides 5.42g of protein (that’s up to 15% of a woman’s recommended daily intake for protein, and 12% of a man’s); weight-for-weight, full-fat milk provides 3.22g and a hard-boiled egg just over twice that, so it’s a pretty generous serving.


They are a terrific source of vitamin C, providing 100% of your recommended daily intake in 100g (40 mg). A high dietary intake of vitamin C can reduce the risk of cancer, with this antioxidant vitamin protecting DNA from damage induced by free radicals and preventing the oxidation of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol which would eventually lead to blocked arteries and cardiovascular disease. It also enhances your immune system and ensures healthy teeth, bones and skin.


Peas are also extremely rich in B vitamins – including thiamine (B1) (27/33% of a man/woman’s recommended daily intake per 100g), niacin (B3) (12/16%), B6 (12/14%) and riboflavin (B2) (10/12%) – all of which are essential for metabolising food and therefore boosting our energy levels. They meet a good proportion of your daily requirements for iron, too, with 1.47 mg/100g being 17% of a man’s and 10% of a woman’s recommended daily amount. Iron is essential for red blood cell formation, and a deficiency leaves you fatigued and anaemic.


In addition, 100g of peas provides 32.5% of the recommended daily amount for folate, which not only prevents neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the developing foetus but also interacts with riboflavin to reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid which is linked to higher risks of coronary heart disease and strokes. And there’s more hearty news: research suggests that diets high in fibre can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and peas provide 5.1g of protein for every 100g eaten.


Eating peas could be a great way to protect your bones, too. Researchers in the Netherlands and the US have recently found that a high dietary intake of folic acid reduces the risk of osteoporosis-related bone fractures, again by lowering those homocysteine levels, while peas also offer lots of bone-protective vitamin K (24.8mcg), phosphorus (108mg/100g; 20% of RDA), copper (0.176mg/100g; 15% of RDA), potassium (244mg/100g; 7% of RDA) and manganese (0.41mg/100g; up to 41% of daily needs.).


These little green powerhouses are a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids which are essential for eye health, protecting against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (the most common cause of sight loss in older age). And they might even improve your sex life – they are bursting with zinc, a mineral essential for healthy reproductive cycle in woman and testosterone production in men. If you’re short on zinc, the consequences could be poor libido, erectile dysfunction and even infertility. Just 100g of peas will satisfy up to 31% of a woman’s and 23% of a man’s daily zinc needs.