Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Fibre - Rich Diet

Eating an orange is more nutritious than drinking orange juice. While the juice contains fructose, vitamins, minerals and a bunch of other nutrients, what gets left behind is the all important dietary fibre, which though not really a nutrient has a very important role to play in our diet. Dietary fibre or roughage is an indigestible part of food that can be either soluble or insoluble; both types are vital. Dietary fibre is present in more plant based foods - vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, cereals and legumes are all important sources of fibre.

Consciously consuming vegetables and fruits on a daily basis ensures we get the needed amount of soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre slows down digestion, allowing the body to fully absorb nutrients from food and simultaneously reduces the amount of fat and sugars absorbed into the blood stream. So next time you eat a rich steak or a bowl of pasta, remember to eat a salad on the side. Insoluble fibre on the other hand adds bulk to your meal. When you begin with a portion of vegetables, fruits, seeds or other high fibre foods, you tend to feel full and avoid eating excess carbohydrates or protein. This insoluble fibre also keeps the digestive track clean and regulates bowel movements.

When you squeeze the juice out of fruits or vegetables, you lose out on roughage. It is always recommended that you eat fruits whole and make juices using the whole vegetable including the pulp. To maintain the fibre content in vegetables it is recommended that they be steamed, stir fried or grilled carefully, that is of course if you cannot consume the vegetable raw. The application of too much heat or overcooking vegetables reduces their fibre content. When adding vegetables to curries or soups do so towards the end, after the condiments, meat and curry base has cooked. This will ensure the vegetables don't overcook.

It is for their high fibre content that whole grains are recommended over processed or polished grains. Choose to eat brown rice or red rice instead of white rice. You don't even need to reduce the portion you eat. Brown rice has a higher percentage of fibre and a lower percentage of fat, carbohydrates and starch than an equal portion of white rice. One can enhance food with added fibre in many small ways. For example wheat bran, oat flour or millet flour can be added to your daily rotis, bhakris or chapattis. When making pita bread or a pizza base add semolina or replace refined flour with whole wheat flour for healthier bread.

 Oats, prunes, lentils, green leafy vegetables, barley, dates, pears and broccoli are some of foods with the highest fibre content. Eating these and other high fibre foods has several health benefits. Starting this habit early by introducing children to vegetables and fruits can keep them safe from so diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart problems and obesity. If you are already suffering from any of these diseases, high fibre foods are an important part of the cure. 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Health Benefits of Nuts

Energy boosting health foods like snack bars, granola and muesli have one thing in common; they are loaded with nuts – one of nature's most nourishing foods. Pistachios, walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts and cashew nuts are like little pills of nutrition packed with unsaturated fat, omega3 fatty acids, fibre, argenine, anti-oxidants and Vitamin E.  Each of them has a unique flavour which can be used in a number of ways and in almost every meal of the day.

The best way to eat nuts is by themselves as a snack. Make a small snack box with mixed nuts of your choice and keep them in your bag or at your work desk. That way you can much on them whenever you get hungry. Making a mini-meal of a handful of nuts makes it easy for the body to absorb all the nutrition they have to offer. You much however, be careful not to go overboard. While nuts are packed with nutrients they are also high in fat; and consuming too many nuts in the day can be counterproductive. It is best to stick to a handful at a time.

Among the commonly available nuts, walnuts, almonds and pistachios are perhaps the best. Pistachios have the highest fibre content and the lowest percentage of saturated fat. Almonds are the best source of vitamin E which is essential for skin and hair health. Walnuts are particularly high in omega3 acids which help fight high cholesterol and heart disease. Nuts like peanuts and cashews are on the fattier side of the spectrum. Macadamia nuts are the fattiest of all nuts. So when choosing to snack on nuts, be careful about which ones you choose based on your levels of activity, age and nutritional requirements.

One great way to enhance the flavour of nuts is to toast them in an oven or dry roast them in a thick bottomed skillet. Toasting nuts releases their essential oils, makes them fragrant and crunchy. Toasted nuts can them be tossed in dry herbs and powdered spices of your choice for a delicious snack. Even when adding them to salads or using them in desserts it is recommended that nuts be toasted first.

Besides these, there are several ways in which nuts can be added to your diet. Whole nuts or ground nuts can be used in cakes, muffins and cookies. They add texture and good oils to bakes which allow you to reduce the amount of butter or cooking oil used. The same applies when making curries and sauces. Ground nuts can be used to thicken gravies and the natural oil which is released from them adds a rich flavour to the dish. It is so much better to thicken a soup or curry using peanut or cashews than it is to use cornstarch or refined flour. Nuts can even be ground into nut butters; smooth spreads made with crushed nuts that can used to top bread or crackers.

For those of you who don’t have the time or inclination to make nut butters and nut based gravies, the easiest way to ensure you eat nuts is to just toss a few into your daily bowl of cereal or choose a packet of muesli which come pre-mixed with nuts. It’s a simple way to enhance your diet with the host of nutrients.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Cooking with Minimal Oil

There are several health risks associated with consuming excess oil. Cooking oils – no matter what nut, seed, vegetable or animal they come from, have a high fat content. It is this fat content that makes them an ideal medium for cooking. Besides, it is the fat that makes rich dishes so delicious! But of course, like all good things we pay a heavy price for indulging too much. A high fat diet is the root cause of so many modern lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high-blood pressure, obesity, high-cholesterol and heart disease. A reduction in the amount of fat consumed on a daily basis can help prevent and cure many of these diseases, which is why we are constantly reminded by doctors, dieticians, nutritionists and concerned grandmothers to reduce the amount of oil we consume.

Firstly, we must begin by choosing the correct kind of oils – those that are high in saturated fat should be replaced with oils high in omega-3 fatty acids, unsaturated fat and good cholesterol. Olive oil, canola oil, rice bran oil and sesame (til) oil are among healthier oils that can be used for cooking. Even flax seed oil and grape seed oil are good for dressing salads and drizzling over soups. Besides changing the kind of oil, a reduction in the amount of oil consumed is also recommended and there are several ways to do so.

Using the correct cooking equipment and cooking techniques can help reduce the amount of oil needed. For instance, non-stick pans can be used to saut̩, sweat or pan fry food. Because food doesn't stick to the surface of such pans, less oil is needed to lubricate food. Non-stick woks can be used to stir fry vegetables, meat, fish or rice. Stir fries, rice dishes, stews, soups and curries can all be made using just a little bit of oil. Even while grilling or baking food, one can use extremely small quantities of oil Рjust enough to carry flavour and glaze food. The microwave is another great tool for low oil cooking.

When cooking with dry coconut, crushed peanuts or cashews, one can be extremely frugal with the use of oil because these ingredients themselves contain oils which are released when heated. The same is with poultry and meat. A little oil just to lubricate the pan is enough to begin searing meat, then the meat itself begins to release oil which can go into making a sauce or glaze.

This being said, eliminating oil completely from one's diet is actually bad for health and not recommended. Fat is needed to lubricate joints, keep vital organs healthy and to keep the metabolism and energy levels high. Even skin and hair become dry and lifeless when the body is deprived of the necessary oils. Consuming oil in moderation is the only way to give our body the nutrition it needs, while ensuring we don't consume more than required.

If you're accustomed to eating food cooked with generous quantities of oil, it may take a little effort in getting used to. But the key is to remember that oil must be used just as a medium which carries flavour of spices, condiments, vegetables and meats. Remember, delicious and flavourful food can be made with a minimal amount of oil.