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Five unsung food heroes

The media love to report on the 'superfood' of the moment, and it's very easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding the newest healthy eating magic bullet.

Image: Ross Elliott via Flickr
Image: Ross Elliott via Flickr

However, what sometimes gets lost amongst the craze of acai berries and chia seeds, is that some of the most nutritionally powerful foods are already sat amongst the contents of our kitchen cupboards and fridges.

Hail the unsung food heroes!  

Tomatoes

The key ingredient in many of our favourite recipes, the versatility of tomatoes gives them 'superfood' status before we even consider their health benefits. And when it comes to nutrition, they don't disappoint. Tomatoes are a fantastic source of the powerful antioxidant lycopene which gives these trusty fruits their bright red colour. Research now implicates a link between lycopene and reduced cancer risk, particularly prostate cancer.  Lycopene is most readily used by the body when tomatoes have been cooked; so roasting tomatoes and making sauces and soups is the best way to get super-charged with this fantastic nutrient.   

Oats

A wondrous breakfast staple, porridge is not only highly nutritious (and of course a national treasure), but makes a fantastic vehicle for so many delicious toppings. The combination of fibre, vitamins and minerals in wholegrain jumbo oats (avoid refined 'instant' oats which are stripped of much of this goodness) have been linked to reduced risk of a host of diseases including heart disease and diabetes. Oats are a rich source of a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which has been intensively studied for its cholesterol lowering effects. Oat beta-glucan dissolves inside the digestive tract and forms a gel which is able to bind to excess cholesterol, and facilitates its excretion.  

Cinnamon

This fragrant spice has an abundance of therapeutic properties. Much of the current research focuses on its ability to assist in blood sugar control for patients with Type-2 diabetes, and its consequent role in helping to prevent sugar cravings.   A sprinkle of cinnamon on your morning porridge may well help to fight the urge for that 11am biscuit tin raid! Cinnamon also displays anti-inflammatory actions in the body, and has been linked to reduced pain in arthritis sufferers. 

Broccoli

When it comes to goodness, broccoli packs a serious punch, bursting with vitamin C, folic acid, iron, fibre and vitamin A. It is rich in antioxidants and contains the phytochemical sulphoraphane which gives it powerful cancer-protective effects. To preserve all the fantastic nutritional properties just lightly steam, and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice, or toss with sesame oil and some fresh red chilli.

Garlic

Antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory, garlic is nature's healer, and has been used medicinally for centuries. It is a powerful immune-boosting agent, and has been shown to stimulate the activity of the immune system cells that destroy cold and flu viruses. A daily dose of garlic may also help to lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart disease. Garlic cloves should be peeled, crushed and then left to sit for around 10 minutes before using, to fully release their powerful active compound allicin.

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