There are certain foods I always have in my pantry and refrigerator because they are delicious, versatile and full of great nutrition. By keeping these around as staples, you’ll always be able to boost the FoodTrient value of whatever you’re preparing. Both of my award-winning books, The Age Gracefully Cookbook and my newest one, The Age Beautifully Cookbook, would not be complete without these culinary essentials:
Loaded with fiber, eating an apple a day has been associated with reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, asthma and diabetes. A key ingredient in apples is a flavonoid that a 2001 study at the Mayo Clinic showed to help inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells. The phytochemicals in the skin have been shown to reduce the growth of colon cancer cells according to a study at Cornell University. Plus, apples are an excellent source of bone-building boron that can help fend off osteoporosis. Whether eaten fresh out of hand or baked into something delicious like my Pear and Apple Tart, apples are something to always have around.
With their intense purple (or golden) color, the betacyanin that makes beet juice stain your clothes has been shown to be a serious cancer fighter. Beets are also a significant source of betaine and folate, which work together to help reduce a naturally occurring amino acid called homocysteine, which can be harmful to blood vessels. Beets also contain a high amount of potassium as well as some magnesium and a small amount of vitamin C. The natural sweetness of beets is enhanced by roasting them. Or create a refreshing beverage—Beet Orange and Watercress Juice, a recipe from the Age Gracefully Cookbook.
This relative of cabbage and cauliflower contains high levels of vitamin C and folic acid, which helps to reduce the effects of ‘bad’ cholesterol and triglycerides, which can contribute to cardiovascular disease. Broccoli also contains a large amount of indol-3-carbinol, a powerful antioxidant that stimulates detoxifying enzymes, which studies show protects the structure of DNA. I cup of broccoli contains 2 gm of protein, 288 mg potassium, 43 mg calcium, 81 mg vitamin C plus lutein, which is essential for eye health. Try Miso Glazed Broccoli as a delicious side dish or one of several recipes featuring broccoli from the Age Beautifully Cookbook, including “Cream”of Broccoli Soup, Homemade Vegetable Stock, Vegetable Chips and Vegetable Crackers.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
A mainstay for the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet, extra virgin olive oil is the result of the first cold pressing of olives. Unlike other vegetable oils, you can eat this unprocessed oil and it tastes delicious. It can appear from golden in color to deep green and has a fruity flavor with only 1% acid. Olive oil is high in antioxidants and is made up of monounsaturated fat, which lowers LDL (the ‘bad’) cholesterol and can lower the risk of colon cancer, too. Use extra virgin olive oil in salads and for dipping bread. Heating it for cooking diminishes the nutritional value. I use a lot of extra virgin olive oil in my recipes, but try Mom’s Mayonnaise from the Age Beautifully Cookbook. Even if you like to avoid mayonnaise most of the time, there is nothing like homemade mayo!
Garlic has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and today, no self-respecting cook would ever be without it. The compounds in garlic lower cholesterol, blood pressure and can help fight certain cancers. Garlic can even fight the common cold. Studies have shown that garlic has antibacterial properties that also hinder the activity of viruses, parasites and fungi. The secret ingredient in garlic is a compound called allicin. It reacts with another enzyme in garlic that’s released when the clove is crushed. The best way to add garlic to food is to add it just at the end of cooking. Try a delicious superfood ‘twofer’ with my Turmeric-Garlic Potato Salad. It benefits from the garlic, but also contains turmeric (which we’ll get to shortly), which is great for reducing inflammation.
The sweet/pungent flavor of fresh gingerroot is a great addition to everything from Asian stir-frys to traditional European desserts like gingerbread. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and can help relax muscles, increase circulation, sooth nausea and aid digestion. Studies on animals suggest that ginger can help boost the immune system as well as act as an antiviral agent. Ginger has also been used for thousands of years to ease pain and fever. My recipe for Tangy Ginger Dressing is one of my go-to dressings because it’s good on so many things—as a marinade or on my Green Tea Noodles with Edamame. This recipe is delicious cold.
Onions are another super-hero food in flavor and FoodTrient properties! Onions and their relatives (like garlic, shallots and leeks) can lower the risk for a number of different cancers. In places where people consume a high quantity of onions, the death rate from stomach cancer is 50% lower from the disease than in places where onions are not a significant part of the diet. Onions are good for maintaining bone health because they contain a compound that inhibits cells that weaken bone structure. The pungent aroma of onions and their relatives tells you there’s a lot of nutrition in those layers. Along with broccoli, tea and apples, onions are excellent at reducing deaths from heart disease. With summer here, my recipe for Strawberry-Avocado Relish is perfect with barbequed fish or chicken and contains beautiful purple onions.
The piney fragrance of rosemary is attributed to the caffeic and romarinic acids found in the herb. These acids are anti-inflammatory and may help in the treatment of asthma, liver disease, and heart disease. There has also been research that has associated rosemary with inhibiting certain cancers and several compounds found in rosemary may help maintain brain function. Try adding rosemary to olive oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic as a marinade for meats before barbequing them. Rosemary and diced raisins can turn leftover chicken into a delicious chicken salad (homemade mayo, anyone?). At the 2017 Natural Products Expo in March, we tasted sweet/savory rosemary granola bars. Here’s a recipe for Rosemary Dessert Bars that delivers that unique flavor pairing, which is great any time of the year.
When we talk about salmon as a superfood, we mean wild Alaska salmon as opposed to farmed salmon. Farmed salmon is raised in net pens and the fish are fed grain, which is not their natural food. The fat in the flesh of farmed salmon lacks the healthy omega-3 fatty acids present in wild salmon. Omega-3s are vital for brain and heart health. They help reduce inflammation in the body, improve circulation and keep blood sugar in check. The flesh of wild salmon is a beautiful salmon color because the naturally carnivorous fish eat a lot of krill and shrimp. The color comes from a natural pigment that’s in the carotenoid family and has ten times the antioxidants of beta-carotene. The meat of farmed salmon is naturally white, but the color is manipulated by additives to their feed. Wild Alaska salmon is an excellent source of protein with just three ounces providing 18g. It also contains 360 mg of potassium and half the daily value of the trace mineral selenium, which helps to fight cancer. Salmon is a versatile fish that’s great on the barbeque or poached. Try the recipe for Salmon Poached on Pickling Spices and Salmon with Ginger-Apricot Sauce, both from the Age Beautifully Cookbook.
Spinach contains calcium for strong bones, is a great source for vitamins K and A, and provides almost as much iron as an ounce of beef. Spinach also contains significant amounts of manganese, folic acid, vitamin C and an anti-inflammatory compound called quercetin.
Spinach contains more nutrients than just about any other fruit or vegetable all while contributing very few calories. Spinach can help fight cancer, keep the mind sharp, and provide antioxidants for cell and blood vessel health. So the next time you go to make a salad, skip the pale iceberg lettuce and use fresh baby spinach. Try Savory Spinach or refreshing Spinach and Grapefruit Salad, perfect for easy summer suppers.
The best tomatoes are starting to come into season now, so don’t miss out on this fruit that’s low in starch and sugar but high in fiber, vitamin C and lycopene. When tomatoes are cooked in olive oil, the antioxidant lycopene is absorbed better (there’s the Mediterranean diet again!) and it is especially good at preventing prostate cancer. There has also been evidence that lycopene helps prevent other cancers such as stomach, esophageal, pancreatic, and breast. As if that weren’t enough, evidence suggests that lycopene helps protect the heart against oxidative damage. Tomatoes are also high in vitamin C, but vine-ripened tomatoes have a higher concentration of this infection-fighting, tissue-repairing vitamin. There are countless ways to enjoy tomatoes—raw, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a little sea salt, or as an ingredient in any number of dishes. Try Mama’s Chicken Sauté, which is one of my ultimate comfort foods, or for a light summer entrée, try my Tilapia Fillets with Cilantro.
A member of the ginger family, turmeric has a long history in India, China and Polynesia as a healing herb. It’s been used for centuries to treat arthritis because of its ability to calm inflammation. In animal studies, the compound curcumin found in turmeric has been known to shrink tumors, which suggests it’s a promising treatment for certain cancers in humans. With its bright yellow color and pleasingly earthy flavor, turmeric is delicious sprinkled into egg dishes, on chicken or fish or in potato or pasta salads. It’s used to give chicken soup its appealing golden color and is the basis of most Indian curries. Why serve plain rice when you can serve my exotic Turmeric Rice? Cool down with a glass of my refreshing Turmeric Juice. Add freshly squeezed orange juice, crushed ice and kick back!
These tasty nuts have the highest level of antioxidants of any nut and provide a significant amount of omega-3 that helps promote heart health by lowering triglycerides. Talk about nutrient-dense! Walnuts also contain protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese, which is an important trace mineral that supports the reproductive system, brain function and metabolism. Walnuts may also help with weight loss, as eating a few halves before meals may prevent over eating. Walnuts are delicious in any number of baked goods or tossed into salads. They’re featured in my recipe for Spinach and Grapefruit Salad as wells as sprinkled onto my Fig Salad. For dessert, here’s one of my favorites — Prune and Walnut Bars.