These days the term ‘super-food’ is pretty common. You’ll hear it in relation to a berry only found growing high in the Himalayas, a bean that South American tribes have been cooking with for centuries, tribes where the average life expectancy is reported to be about 150, or a fruit that is reported to contain more Omega 3 than a school of mackerel and looks like it comes from outer space.
There’s likely nothing wrong with these foods of course, they’re fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds after all, but you’ll likely pay a fair price for them to be transported from the far reaches of the planet and packaged in recycled brown paper with pictures of snow-covered mountains and beautiful sunsets.
If you want some super foods, it is possible to look a little closer to home. There’s a range of fruit and vegetables cultivated in Britain and Europe that could easily be considered super, they just haven’t got the right agent! With a little marketing support they could easily be found in those articles in glossy magazines telling you the secret foods that Jennifer Aniston eats to stay looking so young and thin.
Here’s just a few of the foods that I’d promote from their standard 'non-league’ persona at present to stars of the 'Garden Premier League’.
With 40% of your daily vitamin K, a third of your manganese needs and 30% of your vitamin B requirements in just one cup of peas, I think super is a fair description. Add to this the discovery that coumestrol, a nutrient found in peas may protect against cancers and that saponins, antioxidants present in these delicious green pods could play a role in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. Peas frozen straight from picking are easy to store, unbelievably simple to cook and they go with almost any evening meal.
An apple a day may actually help to keep the doctor away, or to quote the original 150-year old version of this rhyme:
“Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread."
Apples contain vitamins A, C and E and the nutrients quercetin and pectin. The former has been linked with everything from decreased risk of cancer to heart disease and Alzheimer’s, while the latter is a soluble fibre shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Those of you who have read my post sin recent times will know I’m a proud supporter of the humble spud. In many comparisons it beats its celebrity cosine the sweet potato and it’s so versatile, tasty and cheap that you’ll often find it in my trolley. Spuds have probably had bad press because they often get a makeover that results in them being transformed into a chip or a packet of crisps, but baked, boiled or mashed they’re a great addition to many classic meals and a good source of nutrition too.
The thing I really love about blackberries, apart from their nutritional content and their great taste, is that for a month every year you can pick enough of them to freeze and eat the whole year round. I’ve done this previously and it saves a couple of quid each week on my shopping. At this time of year you’ll need to buy them, but they’re worth it. The rich blue colour means you’ll find plenty of antioxidants inside with plenty of vitamins C and K to keep, amongst other things your immune system strong and blood working as it should.
Onions are rich in nutrients known as flavonoids, in fact pound for pound they contain more of these wonderful little things than most. They’re also high in sulphur which is essential for keeping bones, connective tissues and muscles healthy. They’re sooooo cheap and can be added to salads, stews, stir-frys and just about anything you can think of, with Michael Ruhiman describing them in his book 'The Elements of Cooking’ as 'perhaps even the most important ingredient.’ For use in stock, to add flavour, as a paste, or just to eat in their own right, add a few to your trolley and plates each week.
Not that long ago, oranges, like bananas, were one of those foods considered a delicacy as they were shipped in from abroad. Getting one in your Christmas stocking was a real treat but nowadays they’ve lost out in their popularity stakes to foods equally rich in vitamin C but a little more exotic like kiwi.
As well as vitamin C there’s a host of B-vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, choline, zeaxanthin, and of course carotenoids or vitamin A that are found in red, orange and yellow foods. This wondrous combination of nutrients has been linked to better sleep, decreased risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and healthier skin. Not bad eh? Super some might say.
This peppery little salad leaf has been shown to have medicinal properties in the treatment of stomach ulcers. These days it’s just considered a cheap addition to a side-salad, but it’s flavour and nutrient-rich content means it should get a bigger billing. Maybe if it used one of it’s alternative names like arugula or rucola it’d get better press? Like Prince or good old Reg Dwight, aka Elton John, a name change can make such a difference.
A recent Dutch study suggested that orange-coloured fruit and vegetables appear to have the strongest protective effect against heart disease. Just one portion of carrots has your body’s daily recommendation for vitamin A sorted so maybe that’s one of the reasons. Try them steamed to keep in as many of the nutrients as possible and maintain their fresh taste at the same time.
From experience I can say that mint is without doubt the easiest herb to grow. In fact it’s the hardest one to stop growing! Keep it in pots so that your garden doesn’t suffer from a remake of that famous B-movie 'Attack of the Mentha’ (that’s its posh Latin gardening name). Used in everything from teas to gum, soups to toothpastes, it is a great addition to peas (see number 1) or as a herb to flavour meats like lamb. Through history it has been used to soothe the stomach, to freshen breath and as an anti-bacterial agent.
OK so you may class strawberries as belonging to the 'super foods’ generation but as they’re grown in the UK and are easy to get hold of, I’ve popped them in my list too. Rich in vitamin C they have a protective effect on the immune system and have been linked with protection against cancer, eye health, lowering cholesterol, weight management due to their fibre content and even preventing wrinkles!
How much is all this going to set you back? Well, I’ve popped onto Tesco online and priced up these 10 items compared to 10 traditional super-foods. Here are the results:
Peas £0.98 for 1kg frozen vs Mangetout £1.40 for 215g
Apples £0.79 for 5 Braeburn vs Avocados £1.75 4-pack ripen at home
Potatoes £1.75 for 2.5kg of white potatoes vs Sweet potatoes £3.00 for 2.5kg
Blackberries £2.00 for 150g vs Blueberries £2.00 for 150g
Onions £0.16 each vs Leeks £0.44 each
Oranges £0.30 each vs Pineapple £1.50 for a large size
Rocket £1.00 for 1 bag vs Asparagus £1.65 for a bunch
Carrots £0.60 for 1kg vs Beetroot £1.00 for 300g cooked
Mint £0.70 for 30g vs £0.70 for 2 lime grass stems
Strawberries £2.00 for 400g vs Goji berries £3.20 for 200g
With a mocked up shopping list and a quick bit of maths I reckon I could easily save about £11 every shop by choosing the everyday foods over the more exotic 'super-foods’. As I said previously the more expensive foods are good for us too, we just don’t have to spend a fortune to get a whole host of nutrients and keep us healthy.
Maybe a nice balance of both is a good idea?