Foods of the Supergods

Or should I have titled it Superfoods of the Gods? I chose the former because as a precocious & nerdy kid, I had written my own paragon of gods as a companion piece to Greek & Roman mythology, my favorite subject, and named it the “Supergods”. In my quirky world, all gods were supergods – and in my feverish imagination – while they performed their supernatural duties, they ate and drank the very best because, you know, they could have anything they desired. Pic below is of my two favorites goddesses, Demeter and her daughter, Persephone.

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Yesterday, in timely fashion, I received an email alert from the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in which the result of a study on walnuts declared it the best food with the most antioxidant properties.

This time last year I wrote the Brain Foods diary, a piece on some of the healthiest foodstuffs so I’m not going to duplicate those items today (there are over 200 foods which can be listed as super foods, so if you don’t see yours here, do not panic, it merely reflect my own choice).

I try to list items that are widely available and reasonably priced and if you could add your favorite health food here, it would help all of us.

So I will start with the very best nuts in the universe! Walnuts. I did read most of the research and briefly summarize its findings: the antioxidants found in walnuts are 2 to 15 times as powerful as vitamin E, which as you know, is known to protect the body against damaging natural chemicals involved in causing disease. Not only walnuts are highly nutritious with loads of high-quality proteins, they have more vitamins & minerals than you can shake a stick at and are gluten-free as well. The research made the point of listing a whole lot of diseases (certain types of cancer and type two diabetes among others) that could help combating them by eating a small amount of those nuts (a handful) at least twice a week. Another good point in eating fresh walnuts is that unlike other roasted nuts such as peanuts or pistachios, the quality of their antioxidants are not reduced.

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Dr Joe Vinson, from the University of Scranton, analyzed the antioxidant levels of nine different types of nuts and discovered that a handful of walnuts contained twice as many antioxidants as a handful of any other commonly eaten nut.

When I was young we used to get our yogurt delivered with the milk. It came in earthenware jars with rubber lipped closing device, and it was incredibly delicious, creamy and whiter than snow. Eaten with berries and honey it does become food of the supergods indeed. Not only is yogurt a quick, easy and nutritious snack that is available just about everywhere, researchers are finding evidence that milk and yogurt may actually add years to your life as is found in some countries where yogurt and other fermented dairy products (like kefir) are a dietary staple. I’m sure you have heard of this story (though some put his age ranging from 136 to 157):

Zaro Agha is believed to be the oldest person in modern times. Zaro, a Turk who lived to 162 years, was credited by Time Magazine as attaining the title of the world’s oldest man. He was born two years before the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, and lived until 1934. He attributed his longevity to eating massive amounts of yogurt all his life. He stayed physically active. . Zaro worked as a porter in Istanbul, a physically demanding job which he held for 100 years. Zaro was the subject of much scientific and popular curiosity.

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Ancient medicinal uses of yogurt were for curing dysentery and all stomach swellings, purifying the body and skin, arousing the sex drive and, of course, prolonging life. What? You don’t like eating yogurt? Well, here’s a link to other forms of probiotics.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. No truer saying exists in describing an edible, although I’m sure Google could prove me wrong. My great grandmother, who lived to the ripe age of 94, would eat at least two apples a day, she said it complimented her Mediterranean diet perfectly. She would make the best baked apples, of which I was a huge fan, particularly if they came stuffed with dates or apricots and served with plain vanilla ice-cream. Who knew that such a fruit which caused some ruckus in the garden of Eden was so delightful, and packed with goodness!

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The phytonutrients in apples can help you regulate your blood sugar. Apples are good for diabetes and weight management, great source of vitamin C, flavanoids and antioxidants, both soluble & insoluble fiber, and are low in calories (zero fat, cholesterol, or sodium). As with most fruits, vitamins are concentrated in the skin, so wash it well before eating. One apple, eaten with its peel, has about 5 grams of fiber, probably more than your morning cereals. Fiber helps promote good intestinal health and helps lower cholesterol. If you have kids, wash and cut up a few apples, pour a little maple syrup or honey on them, and see how fast it will go.

Bored with spinach? How about rainbow chard? It’s a fabulous brain food, helpful in fighting Alzheimer’s and improving mental function, they say. A Tufts University study found a strong association between a higher intake of B-vitamin-rich foods—like chard—and decreased risk of cognitive decline. Rainbow chard is also a good source of vitamin E and folate, (nutrients believed to protect the brain) and packed with chlorophyll and vitamin K. Basically, it is a multi-colored relative of beetroot and silver beet, and as I explained in my preceding diary about growing vegetables, it is one of the easiest leaf to grow.

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The best way to prepare it is to wash it thoroughly, and cook the stems separately, a little longer than the leaves though I would simply chop the leaves finely and mix with frizzy or lettuce in salads. The Italians make an egg frittata with chard. And more good news: chard is rich in lutein, a carotenoid that helps protect against age-related macular degeneration.

So we know salmon is brimming with omega-3s but it is overfished. Sardines, OTOH, are just as rich rich in omega-3s and low in mercury, a great source of vitamin D (according to experts, a key nutrient that most of us lack in sufficient amounts). Getting more D does boost mood, lowers risks of heart disease and some cancer, and shores up the immune system. If you have walked in villages and towns around the Méditerranée, you will have noticed the plethora of kerbside grills serving freshly barbecued sardines, rolled up in newspapers and served with large slices of lemon.

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The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers of fish pour in out of the boats and the boats rise higher and higher until they are empty. The canneries rumble and rattle and squeak until the last fish is cleaned and cut and cooked and canned. John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

In a 1984 issue of the Town & Country magazine, James Villas wrote an article entitled “The Unsung Sardine” in which he said that “ounce for ounce, sardines provide more calcium and phosphorus than milk, more protein than steak, more potassium than bananas, and more iron than cooked spinach.” I agree wholeheartedly. There is nothing like grilled fresh sardines but tinned sardines are also pretty amazing: the World’s Healthiest Foods website, a not-for-profit foundation independent of the influences of commercial interests, offers some compelling scientific information about the health benefits of eating sardines. In addition to the nutrients already mentioned, WHF says sardines are also an excellent source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid. If you have read this diary so far, the title of my forthcoming novel is “Memoirs of a Sardine Lover”, that should tell you how much I love these little buggers!

I love fruits and berries. My very favorite dessert is poached white peach served with fresh raspberries. I grow quite a few stalks in my garden and I’m constantly amazed at the amount produced on a single stalk. Raspberries are the main berry source of ellagitannins, a type of antioxidant that may have anticancer effects. They are also a good source of vitamin K and contains strong antioxidants such as Vitamin C, quercetin and gallic acid. It is also packed with fiber and manganese (which helps increase bone-mineral density).

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I have some my own research on raspberries and found, strangely enough, that frozen berries are just as good as fresh. Since fruit and vegetables are harvested, transported, sorted and then transported again to their point of sale, sometimes it can be up to 10 days or more before it reaches your table. Those valuable nutrients are lost! Fresh spinach, for instance, loses 77% of its Vitamin C in just 2 days. Besides, fresh raspberries are not only expensive and seasonal, the frozen kind can bought all year-round and turned quickly into sorbets, smoothies, cooked with morning oat porridge and eaten with lashings of yogurt etc…

With this last item on today’s short list, the jury is somehow still out. Or is it? For years I have been told to beware of caffeine. The latest researches seem to have swung in the opposite direction, with studies now claiming that moderate amounts of coffee may reduce headaches and protect against diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, among others. It is becoming harder to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak!

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We don’t all have the same reactions to caffeine, Mehul Dhinoja, a consultant cardiologist at BMI London Independent Hospital, says. “Each of us has an enzyme in the liver that breaks down and metabolises caffeine. It’s that process that enables caffeine to have its effect around the body,” he says. “Some people are born with an enzyme that works extremely efficiently and others have quite the opposite. Because this isn’t controlled in studies about caffeine, it’s not surprising to find statistical contradictions.”

An analysis of 59 studies just published on the BioMed Central Cancer website suggests that coffee consumption may reduce your overall risk of getting cancer and that it may be inversely associated with the risk of bladder, breast, pharynx, pancreas and prostate cancers and leukaemia, among others. One study even discovered that caffeine can cut the risk of skin cancer by more than a third. You draw your own conclusions. Personally I have to have a strong cup of coffee first thing in the morning or my brains refuses to function. Occasionally I have another one to pick me up around 6pm.

I wanted to write about the kiwifruit, brassica and red beans but I have to get up and stretch out, and I deserve a glass of red. Another day, another post.

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