At all times of the year I am very conscious of what I eat and I’m always trying to ensure I get the proper intake of vitamins and minerals. That old proverb that we are what we eat is very true — and the other one that says ‘tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are’ also hits it on the nail.
So at this time of year, when summer is bowing out and winter is moving towards centre stage, I run down my rather long list of foods that keep us healthy — it’s a good idea to remind ourselves of what we should be buying at the markets and supermarkets.
For some years now medical research scientists, doctors and nutritionists all over the world have been bombarding us with reports on superfoods and other nutrients that should be part of our daily diet if we want to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I have been an avid reader of these surveys since the age of 23 and I follow their advice to the letter. When men were told they should be eating more cooked tomatoes because the lycopene content safeguards them against prostate cancer, I started to eat more cooked tomatoes.
That was an easy one to keep to, because I was already eating fresh tomato sauce on pasta most days of the week. My theory is that even if the special benefit of these particular foods doesn’t work for me, then I will be getting some other advantage. It’s a win-win situation.
However, the list of superfoods as well as everyday fruit and veggies that should be part of our daily fare is now so long that I lose track of what I should be buying.
So in a notebook I drew up lists of the principal recommended foods and keep it in my shoulder bag for easy reference. If you also need to be reminded of those items that will strengthen your defences, give you better concentration and memory and generally keep you fit and lively, then here is a hotchpotch list that will be most useful.
Renowned for its omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the brain and also help us to concentrate better, as well as boosting our mental agility. Sardines, mackerel and salmon are especially rich in omega-3 and all three are available in any supermarket with a fish counter. And they are sold in fillets, which makes it so much easier for cooking them.
Possibly the best breakfast dish for winter (certainly the cheapest) it is one of the true superfoods. It is the only US ingredient allowed to advertise that it can help reduce cholesterol levels… because strict and reliable tests have shown that it does so. Use 50-80 grs per portion and twice its volume in full milk. I soak my 80 grs in milk overnight, bring it slowly to the boil and it’s ready in another three minutes. The German oats in Mercadona are excellent and cost only 77 centimos for a 500 grs packet.
These include spinach, Swiss chard (acelgas), lettuce and other salad greens such as rocket (rúcula) and lamb’s lettuce (canónigos). Rocket has two advantages: a longish shelf life and it cooks up nicely, especially in sauces for pasta. A diet rich in these veggies can slow down mental decline by up to 40 per cent.
Rich in iron that promotes the production of disease-fighting antibodies. Also a good source of fibre and potassium. If it comes with its green leaves when you buy it raw, be sure to cook them and eat them as a vegetable with meats, because they have high vitamin A content. You can also find beetroot precooked and vacuum-packed which is ideal for those who have a job as well as looking after a home. Go easy on beetroot conserved in jars: it’s loaded with salt.
An absolute essential and a rich source of protein. It is one of the best foods for choline, an amino acid the brain needs to build the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, low levels of which could impair memory. Although scientists showed many years ago that eggs do not increase cholesterol, the message hasn’t got completely through and many people still think we should only eat two or three per week. One egg per day is essential — and two are even better. Mercadona’s XL eggs at €2.17 a dozen (18 centimos each) are the most economical source of high protein I know of.
Extremely rich in protein, vitamins A and B, potassium and folic acid. They contain a rare digestible oil not found in other fruits, which makes them high in calories — weightwatchers should go easy on them. I rediscovered them this summer by mashing the ripe pulp of a biggish one, seasoning it with salt to taste, lots of Modena vinegar and spreading it on slices of Swedish crispbreads. It’s so much better than guacamole.
This pungent bulb was a superfood thousands of years before nutritionists started to use that S word. It is Nature’s antibiotic and its ability to prevent a huge variety of ailments is truly amazing. We should be using it at every opportunity, in every possible dish. You can buy jars of garlic cloves that have been cooked and conserved in brine. The cooking kills their pungent taste so they don’t give you garlic breath.
They are called ‘ajos aliñados’, and come in 150 grs jars (drained weight) that cost 99 centimos at El Corte Inglés and Mercadona. Munch three cloves every morning before breakfast and you’ll be doing your general health a great big favour.
Watch this space for more foods that keep us healthy.