Archive | FOOD MATTERS RSS for this section

Meat Free Mondays ~ Salt : Saviour or Sinner?

“Salt is what makes things taste bad when it isn’t in them.” – Unknown

I though this article was fascinating, so I’ve pinched and copied it here… Feels like there’s so much to know about salt ~ but who knows…?

Salt is arguably the most important ingredient in cooking. Without it, most meals would taste bland and unexciting.

salt-51973_640However… not all salt is created equal and there are many “types” to choose from.

We have Himalayan Pink Salt, Kosher Salt, Sea Salt, Celtic Salt (to name a few)… and then we have plain old refined table salt.

Not only do they differ in taste and texture, but there are also some differences in mineral and sodium content.

This article explores the most popular salt types… then at the end, gives you a direct comparison of their nutritional properties to help you make the right choices.

But first, let’s take a look at what salt is and why it’s such a controversial ingredient among health experts.

What is Salt and How Does it Affect Health?

Salt is a crystalline mineral made of two elements, sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl).

Sodium and chlorine are absolutely essential for life in animals, including humans.

They serve important functions like helping the brain and nerves send electrical impulses.

Most of the world’s salt is harvested from salt mines, or by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich waters.

Salt is used for various purposes, the most common of which is adding flavor to foods. Salt is also used as a food preservative, because bacteria have trouble growing in a salt-rich environment.

The reason salt is often perceived as unhealthy (in large amounts), is that it can bind water in the bloodstream and raise blood pressure.

But even though studies have suggested that lowering salt intake can reduce blood pressure by 1-5.4 mm/Hg, there is no evidence that lowering salt prevents heart attacks, stroke or death (12).

The great majority of sodium in the Western diet comes from processed foods. If you eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods then you don’t need to worry about adding some salt to your meals.

Bottom Line: Salt is made of two minerals, sodium and chloride, which are essential for human life. Too much salt can raise blood pressure, but there is very little evidence that eating less salt can improve health.

Refined Salt (Regular Table Salt)

salt-91539_640

The most commonly used salt is plain old table salt.

This salt is usually highly refined. It is heavily ground and most of the impurities and trace minerals are removed.

The problem with heavily ground salt is that it can clump together. For this reason, various substances called anti-caking agents are added so that it flows freely.

Food-grade table salt is almost pure sodium chloride, or 97% or higher.

Here’s an important point… iodine is often added to table salt.

This was a successful public health preventative measure against iodine deficiency, which was (and still is) common in many parts of the world and a leading cause of hypothyroidism, mental retardation and various health problems (34).

Therefore, if you choose not to eat regular iodine-enriched table salt, then make sure you’re eating some other foods that are high in iodine, like fish, dairy, eggs and seaweed.

I personally take kelp tablets (seaweed) a few times per week because I rarely eat iodized salt. They are very high in iodine.

Bottom Line: Refined table salt is mostly just sodium chloride, with substances called anti-caking agents added in order to prevent clumping. Iodine is often added to table salt.

Sea Salt

Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater.

Like table salt, it is mostly just sodium chloride.

However, depending on where it is harvested and how it was processed, it usually does contain some amount of trace minerals like potassium, iron and zinc.

The darker the sea salt, the higher its concentration of “impurities” and trace nutrients will be. However, keep in mind that due to the pollution of oceans, sea salt can also contain trace amounts of heavy metals like lead (5).

Sea salt is often less ground than regular refined salt, so if you sprinkle it on top of your food after it has been cooked, it may have a different mouthfeel and cause a more potent “flavor burst” than refined salt.

The trace minerals and impurities found in sea salt can also affect the taste, but this varies greatly between different brands.

Bottom Line: Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater. It is very similar to regular salt, but can contain small amounts of minerals. It can also contain trace amounts of heavy metals if it is harvested from a polluted sea.

Himalayan Pink Salt

Himalayan salt is harvested in Pakistan.

It is mined from the Khewra Salt Mine, the second largest salt mine in the world.

Himalayan salt often contains trace amounts of iron oxide (rust), which gives it a pink color.

It does contain small amounts of calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. It also contains slightly lower amounts of sodium than regular salt.

A lot of people prefer the flavor of himalayan salt compared to other types of salts, but personally I haven’t been able to notice a difference.

The main difference seems to be the color, which can give a meal a nice look if you sprinkle it on top after it has been cooked.

Bottom Line: Himalayan salt is harvested from a large salt mine in Pakistan. It has a pink color due to the presence of iron oxide. It also contains trace amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium.

Kosher Salt

Kosher salt was originally used for religious purposes.

Jewish law required blood to be extracted from meat before it was eaten. Kosher salt has a flaky, coarse structure that is particularly efficient at extracting the blood (6).

The main difference between regular salt and kosher salt is the structure of the flakes. Chefs find that kosher salt, due to its large flake size, is easier to pick up with your fingers and spread over food.

Kosher salt will have a different texture and flavor burst, but if you allow the salt to dissolve in the food, then there really isn’t any difference compared to regular table salt.

However, kosher salt is less likely to contain additives like anti-caking agents and iodine.

Bottom Line: Kosher salt has a flaky structure that makes it easy to spread on top of your food. There is very little difference compared to regular salt, although it is less likely to contain anti-caking agents and added iodine.

Celtic Salt

Celtic salt is a type of salt that originally became popular in France.

It has a greyish color and also contains a bit of water, which makes it quite moist.

Celtic salt contains trace amounts of minerals and is a bit lower in sodium than plain table salt.

Bottom Line: Celtic salt has a light greyish color and is quite moist. It is made from seawater and contains trace amounts of minerals.

Differences In Taste

Foodies and chefs primarily choose their salt based on taste, texture, color and convenience.

The impurities, including the trace minerals, can affect both the color and taste of the salt.

The size of the salt can also affect how the salty flavor hits the tongue. Salt with a larger grain size can have a stronger flavor and last longer on your tongue.

However, if you allow the salt to dissolve in the food, then there shouldn’t be any major taste difference between plain refined salt and the other “gourmet” types of salt.

If you like to use your fingers to sprinkle salt on food, then dry salts with a larger grain size are much easier to handle.

Bottom Line: The main difference between the salts is the taste, flavour, color, texture and convenience.

Minerals in Different Types of Salt

There is one study that compared the mineral content of different types of salt (7).

The table below shows the comparison between Table Salt, Maldon Salt (a typical sea salt), Himalayan Salt and Celtic Salt:

Salt Mineral Content

As you can see, celtic salt has the least amount of sodium and the highest amount of calcium and magnesium. Himalayan salt contains a bit of potassium.

However… keep in mind that these really are tiny amounts. For example, the 0.3% content of Magnesium for celtic salt implies that you would need to eat 100 grams of salt to reach the recommended daily amount.

For this reason, the mineral content of the various salts is actually not a compelling reason to choose one salt over the other. These amounts really are negligible compared to what you get from food.

Which Salt is The Healthiest?

I looked long and hard and couldn’t find a single study actually comparing the health effects of different types of salt.

However… if such a study were done, I highly doubt they would find a major difference. Most of the salts are similar, consisting of sodium chloride and tiny amounts of minerals.

The main benefit of choosing more “natural” types of salt is that you avoid additives and anti-caking agents that are often added to regular table salt.

At the end of the day, salt is salt… its main purpose is to add flavour, not nutrition.

Fascinating! Who new?

Advertisements

Brain Food to Boost your Mood!

depression1 A friend of mine is suffering from depression and has been admitted to hospital. Feeling shocked and at a loss as to how to help, I took her some brain food! We all know that how we feel can influence what we choose to eat or drink -mood to food. But what is less well known is how what we eat can affect our mental functioning – food to mood. I’m not talking about the ‘blues’ we all get from time to time. In contrast, depression is a serious disorder that can last for weeks. Here’s what happens in the brain for those diagnosed with depression.

Neurotransmitters ~ how the brain works

Everything we do relies on neurons communicating or transmitting with one another. There are 80 billion neurons in the brain and over 10 trillion transmissions, or synapses taking place. (Numbers so high, you’d think I was writing about bank bonuses!) Neurotransmitters send chemical messages between neurons to make the synapses happen. Mental illnesses, such as depression, can occur when this process doesn’t work correctly. The neurotransmitter Serotonin helps control many functions, such as mood, appetite, and sleep. Research shows that people with depression often have lower than normal levels of serotonin. The types of medications most commonly prescribed to treat depression act by blocking the recycling, or reuptake, of serotonin by the sending neuron. As a result, more serotonin stays in the synapse for the receiving neuron to bind onto, leading to more normal mood functioning. brain2

Boosting serotonin naturally and providing key nutrients & minerals is essential to the healthy functioning of the brain and crucial to our sense of well being. We can easily choose to do this by including in our diet foods which are known to have the right constituents to maximize the brain’s performance.

brain_foodHere’s a list of supporting foods to include daily ~ having a minimum of five portions, daily, of fresh fruit and vegetables (organically grown, if possible) provides the nutrients needed to nourish mind and body (one portion equals about a handful).

water

Water ~ Water is extremely important for our bodies to function properly – and even the smallest degree of water loss can impair our physical and mental wellbeing. It’s not only our body that is affected by hydration but also our brain. So when dehydrated, it can affect our ability to concentrate. It’s a low-cost convenient and simple measure we can all make sure we take – 6 to 8 glasses per day is recommended.

Dark chocolate ~ The good news is chocolate isn’t only a delicious treat, but it can also give your mood a lift as well. The darker the chocolate, the better. A small square of dark chocolate can cause the brain to release endorphins and boost serotonin levels because it contains the amino acid Tryptophan, which produces serotonin. (Milk chocolate does not contain tryptophan so put that box of ‘milk tray’ down right now and pick up the ‘after eights’ instead!). Dark chocolate is also high in magnesium.chocolate_dark

Walnuts ~ Rich in antioxidants, serotonin-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium, walnuts are beneficial to your physical and mental health. Research suggests that magnesium deficiency may cause depression, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. (Another reason to have a square of dark chocolate!). Have some ready to pick at snack times, chop onto your cereal, toast and toss onto pasta dishes, cook it into your cakes.brain1walnut5

Essential fatty acids ~ omega-3 type oils ~ found in oil-rich fish, such as mackerel and sardines, linseeds (flax), hemp seeds and their oils, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts, omega-3 type oils are vital for the formation and healthy functioning of the brain and also contain important ‘good mood’ nutrients such as selenium – low levels of which have been associated with tiredness and anxiety.

Leafy greens ~ spinach ~ certain deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to depression – serotonin production can actually be hindered by low B vitamin levels. Important B vitamins to look out for include folate, vitamins B3, B6 and B12. Eating leafy green vegetables – such as spinach or broccoli, for example – will help keep your levels up.

Bananas ~ bananas contain the important amino acid tryptophan and also vitamins A, B6 and C, fibre, potassium, phosphorous, iron and carbohydrate. Mood-boosting carbohydrates aid in the absorption of tryptophan in the brain, and vitamin B6 helps convert the tryptophan into the mood-lifting hormone serotonin. This helps to boost your mood and also aids good sleep. It’s the potassium in bananas that make them such a good snack for those feeling stressed or tired. It’s important in the transmission of nerve impulses, heart rhythm and muscle function. Peel back a banana today!

Complex carbs ~oats, lentils, whole grains~ are fantastic kitchen staples. Complex carbohydrates have a low glycaemic index (GI) meaning they release energy slowly and provide it for longer, stabilising blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal in order to maintain a stable mood. This results in a calmer, happier state of mind with less anxiety.

Eggs ~ an egg contains countless nutrients to help support a healthy body and mind. It has a high protein content for promoting normal growth and building muscle. Although egg yolks are commonly shunned for their high cholesterol content, they’re also rich in good-for-you nutrients. Eggs and egg yolks are rich in vitamins D, B12, and choline, nutrients that are all important for brain development and function. Get cracking!

Vitamin C ~ Vitamin C deficiency is often associated with low energy, depressed mood, and irritability. Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, provide an instant burst of vitamin C. Vitamin C also aids in your body’s absorption of iron, a mineral crucial for the production of healthy red blood cells. You can get a good boost of Vitamin C from other foods, such as broccoli, red bell peppers, strawberries, cabbage, spinach, and baked potatoes. Most fruit & veg is pwoer-packed with Vit C!

food+mood

Foods to avoid or consume in moderation if you’re suffering mood swings or depression

Caffeine: avoid drinks that contain caffeine. They may make you feel better at first, but they cause dehydration and can leave you feeling irritable, jumpy and prone to withdrawal headaches.
Sugar: the secret is to avoid sugary foods that give an instant pick-me-up. This will be followed by a sudden slump and your energy levels will crash, along with your mood, and you’ll find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin again.
Alcoholalthough alcohol can briefly produce a pleasant and relaxed state of the mind, it can contribute to feelings of irritability, low mood and anxiety and even aggression if taken in large quantities.

A signed copy of Nikki's recipe book is available from UTLT for 10€ + p&p, or from http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=under+the+lime+tree+.+cook&x=0&y=0

A signed copy of Nikki’s recipe book is available from UTLT for 10€ + p&p, or from http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=under+the+lime+tree+.+cook&x=0&y=0

 

 

Stop horsing around!

Maybe its time to stop horsing around with food and get back to basics folks! Keep your food simple, organic whenever possible and free from processing! Plant it! Grow it! Love it! Eat it! Give yourself a fighting chance – eat loads of fresh fruit and veg in your daily diet – your body will love you for it!

Food-Matters.We-are-what-we-eat.

Boost Your Immune System!

Make sure you get lots of these 3 things in your diet on a daily basis! Start the day with a glass of warm water and a wedge of lemon juice squeezed in – you couldn’t do a better thing for your body! Slice & dice garlic and ginger into pretty much anything – including your lemon water drink! Don’t be tempted to tip boiling water straight onto the lemon, you’ll scold the nutrients and destroy the enzymes and Vitamin C! It’s a devilish detoxifier – flushing the kidneys and liver, and stimulates the immune system. Get sipping straight away!

3 foods

photo courtesy of The Earth Diet.

Hot “ChocoNana” Smoothie

Home made Hot Choconana Smoothie - smoother than even George Clooney!

Home made Hot Choconana Smoothie – smoother than even George Clooney!

We’ve been keeping warm and cosy by sipping on this deelish delight during the recent cold snap! Oh my! How it hits the spot! Food of the Gods and Heaven in a Cup! This simple smoothie will take only moments to prepare but it’ll have a magically L O N G lasting effect that’ll warm you right through from head to toe and help you realize that the only reason for cold weather is so we can snuggle up on the sofa, log fire blazing, old movies playing, cats purring, dogs – uh, well, I don’t have one, so I’m guessing they’ll be sitting on either your lap or on top of the cats – with the world stopping while you sip and savour…

This particular hot choconana is packed full of goodies, so there’s no need to feel guilty and it’ll be great for the kids too. The star of the show is of course, the chocolate. Use 100% cocoa powder to make sure you benefit from all the wonderful compounds real chocolate contains or releases~ anandamide, flavanols, phenylethylamine, magnesium. It has the highest level of antioxidants found in any food; it releases ‘happy’ neuro transmitters known to increase levels of endorphins and other opiates in our brain; it can change blood pressure and blood sugar levels leading to feelings of excitement and alertness.

Not making much sense? Think of it this way ~ 100% cocoa is GOOD FOR YOU AND IT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD! What more is there to say? Well, the most obvious comment coming up is moderation moderation moderation! Sorry to put a damper on things, but too much of anything is a bad thing! Except maybe love. You can’t ever get too much love and you can’t ever give too much love. Which brings us nicely back to the humbly heroic cocoa bean – that compound I mentioned? – phenylethylamine – its other, rather easier and certainly more catchy name is the “lurve drug”! Yep, that’s why chocolate is the number one gift considered an aperitif for love…

hot_chocolate_banana_smoothie_vegan

Ah! But don’t be getting confused and bravely break out those chocolate stashes you’ve been hiding away, oh no! Not all chocolate is made equal. Those flavanols, the antioxidant compounds, are more bitter than an olive straight off the tree! (Don’t try it, ever! I thought Sean was a good man till he tricked me into trying one when we were soaking up some Spanish sunshine down in Andulucia. I’d rather eat fire!).

So, here’s the rule of thumb ~ the higher the cocoa content, the more bitter the taste. Dark chocolate is good for you, milk chocolate sucks!

Ok, well what else? The other star is banana, but I bet you guessed that already! Amazingly, some people don’t like bananas! We go crazy for them here at UTLT and maybe that’s because we were both born abroad, in more tropical climes. No matter, because although delectable, it’s not detectable in this recipe so if you have a ripening banana throw it in, if not, throw it out. Nutrients in the ‘nana are plentiful, the most abundant of which is potassium ~ essential for the heart, the nervous system, our kidneys, bones and muscles. Wait, there’s more! Vitamins C and B6 are also in abundance and it’s natural sugar content make the ‘nana a natural ‘pick-me-up’. Going to add one afterall?

So now we only need some milk, a yogurt and a mixer. I used soy milk and a dairy vanilla yogurt. Use what you prefer. Added to the mix can be cinnamon, or ginger, or nothing at all. Again, experiment and use what you prefer. Spices though will add that special twist, whipping the hot choconana up into the realm of the gods. I also added pieces of real chocolate, just for that extra something. Takes you even higher.

There’s one drawback ~ as good for you as the hot choconana smoothie is, it’s gone too soon! Enjoy!

hot_chocolate_smoothie_vegan

Recipe for Hot ChocoNana Smoothie ~ makes 2 cups

2 tps 100% cocoa powder; 1 cup milk – soy or dairy; 1 pot vanilla yogurt – soy or dairy; 1 ripe banana (optional); spices – 1 tps cinnamon or ginger (optional); 1 piece dark chocolate (optional).

Place all the ingredients in a mixer and blast for a couple of seconds. Transfer to a pan and bring to just under the boil, stirring frequently. Pour into waiting cups and if it takes your fancy, top with a sprinkle of extra cocoa powder or dessicated coconut or the zest of an orange (clementine, tangerine etc etc). I did all three just to be totally decadent.