Sarah Raven's top five good-for-you ingredients

By
Eve O'Sullivan
Added
10 September, 2016

Good Good Food is packed with health-boosting recipes, so we asked Sarah to pick out her ingredients must haves and explain exactly why we should be eating more of them.

Tomatoes


Tomatoes contain high levels of lycopene, the most powerful antioxidant to have been measured in food. It is responsible for the deep red pigment in plants, and is also found in watermelon, pawpaw and rosehip. (Grapefruit, asparagus, parsley and basil – although not red at all – are also rich sources.) Lycopene’s anti-cancer benefits have been repeatedly shown, with the evidence being strongest for reducing the incidence of prostate cancer, but they are also linked to a decrease in lung, stomach and breast cancers. In tomatoes, lycopene is concentrated in the skin, and is up to three times more available when the tomatoes have been cooked. So leave the skin on, and use as much tomato paste, tomato purée and sundried tomatoes as you can in your day-to-day food. Tinned tomatoes are also full of lycopene, they’re just not as good as they don’t have their skins. Always eat tomatoes with a small amount of oil, as lycopene is fat-soluble and is more bio-available when eaten this way: make sure you use oil when cooking them in sauces, but also add an oil-based dressing or some avocado to tomato salads. Tomatoes belong to the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which also includes aubergines, peppers and potatoes. 


For some reason, they have the reputation of causing inflammation of the joints, and aggravating or causing arthritis, but the Arthritis Research Council states that there is no evidence for this.


Kale


There is now a ton of evidence that kale (along with broccoli) is one of the healthiest foods we can eat. One measure of the healthiness of a food is its ability to remove certain free-floating molecules – called free radicals – from our system. These do all sorts of damage to the body at cell level, and have been implicated in a wide range of diseases, so the more of them we can get rid of the better. Antioxidants are compounds in food which switch on the cells’ own resources to deal with these free radicals, and kale is an antioxidant superstar. Kale is particularly rich in glucosinolates. From research carried out on broccoli, these glucosinolates appear to reset cells to self-cleanse, thus protecting us from a wide array of diseases, including cancer.

Kale is also a rich source of calcium, which helps to prevent osteoporosis, and the leaves contain vitamins K and A, as well as fibre. The fibre in kale has recently been proved to bind with bile acids in the gut, thus helping to get rid of them. Bile acids are made from cholesterol, and in this way kale reduces overall cholesterol levels (this is far more effective if the kale is steamed for 5 minutes). And finally, as well as helping us to keep young and healthy on the inside, kale keeps us looking good on the outside too, as it’s incredibly good for the skin.


Avocado


Avocado may be high in fat, but the majority of the fat is monounsaturated oleic acid, which is also found in extra virgin olive oil, and is very good for us. Trials have demonstrated that avocados can reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet, and they also have anti-inflammatory properties that help to protect us against other diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Avocados also contain vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin, and a key nutrient that looks after cell membranes and our all-important DNA.

Avocado oil is becoming increasingly available and is good in dressings, as its beneficial balance of oils helps us to absorb all the fat-soluble nutrients found in in salad leaves, leafy greens, carrots and tomatoes, such as vitamin A and carotenoids.


Pumpkin seeds


Pumpkin seeds Like other nuts and seeds, pumpkin seeds provide a healthy dose of protein and fibre, as well as essential fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; they are a great option for a healthy snack as the fats they contain are mostly unsaturated and monounsaturated. They are nutritional powerhouses, generally supporting gastrointestinal and cardiovascular health, balancing hormones and protecting cells from damage. Pumpkin seeds contain good quantities of magnesium, zinc and iron, amongst other micro nutrients, and are particularly useful if you want to increase your intake of zinc. Various compounds in pumpkin seed oil have been noted to work synergistically in men to help prevent enlargement of the prostate, and further research into the effectiveness of eating the whole seeds is under way.


Cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil


Olive oil Good olive oil has a high proportion of oleic acid (which you also find in avocados and many nuts). This is the main ingredient responsible for its wide health benefits – it helps to protect the heart and the brain, and a promising line of research indicates that it is also associated with lower cancer risk. Of course, olive oil is a pillar of the Mediterranean diet and it has been proven to contribute to the renowned Mediterranean longevity, but the olive oil you choose is important. Depending on the type of olives, and the site and soil in which they’re grown, as well as the production process, the amount of oleic acid varies from 55 to 85 per cent of the total fat content. Extra virgin olive oils made from the first cold pressing of the finest olives are at the top end. And that’s not all – olive oil also contains heart-healthy flavonoid antioxidants and vitamin E, with extra virgin olive oil again containing the highest levels. So good olive oils don’t just taste nicer, they’re better for us too.

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