It’s satisfying when you’ve managed to start new habits around food. It’s also frustrating when you get it nearly right - but not quite. Here are three ‘near misses’ to watch out for.
It’s always worth checking when you’ve found some tasty, balanced foods that work for you, that you are actually getting the nutrients you planned for. Sometimes we think we’ve nailed it, ensuring a supply of health-giving benefits from what we’re eating, when in fact we’ve missed the mark by overlooking something important. (Sorry in advance if this bursts any bubbles, always better to know than to kid ourselves).
Raw honey loves to be cool
Raw honey has been proven to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties leading to health benefits, and it has long been used to accelerate wound healing. It is also deliciously sweet, which makes it seem too good to be true. Because honey has health benefits, compared with, say, sugar, people have been led to substitute honey for sugar in baking recipes and desserts.
Makes sense? Except - and this is the ‘near miss’ - much of the goodness in honey is destroyed by heating it. So the honey in your cake, biscuit, cheesecake of flapjack is hardly any better than using granulated sugar.
In the beehive honey can reach temperatures of around 95F, so gently warming it (to drizzle over fruit or yoghurt, for example) is OK, but anything that requires an oven or a saucepan is likely to destroy many of its significant nutritional benefits.
If you want a heat-stable natural substance as an alternative to sugar then maple syrup is heat stable and contains some compounds that carry a health benefit. (Always remember that both honey and maple syrup are still very sweet and so their consumption should be limited). However, replacing ordinary sugar with honey (for cooler dishes) and maple syrup for cooked/baked ones is a healthier, more natural option.
Note: Do not give raw honey to infants under 12 months.
Broccoli - cut it and leave it
‘Superfood’ might come to mind when you think about broccoli, and it’s true that this vegetable can get you medals for healthy eating. Broccoli is a good source of vitamins K and C, folic acid, potassium and fibre. But it’s the substance called sulforaphane in broccoli that makes it so beneficial to your body, sulfurane is said to have anti-cancer properties and can help regulate blood sugar.
However, and here’s the ‘near miss’, when we are busy boiling, steaming or even roasting our broccoli we are also busy destroying many of the very chemicals that make it so good for us. In fact, researchers from Zhejiang University of Science and Technology, Zhejiang in China have found that if you chop broccoli and immediately fry it then you end up with almost 3 times less sulforaphane content in what you eat. Not good.
Apparently the best way to eat broccoli (apart from raw that is) is to chop it into 2cm pieces and leave it for 90 minutes before doing anything else with it. Cutting the broccoli stimulates the development of sulforaphane which increases during the next hour and a half. After this, the best way to preserve the sulforaphane that has developed is to stir fry the florets for as little time as possible.
Don’t despair too much if boiled broccoli is your thing, some of the good qualities will still be preserved, just not as much as you might imagine.
You could compensate for what’s lost in cooking by eating larger portions. If you like stir fry though and don’t mind being an advance-broccoli-chopper then you’ll get more out of your broccoli this way.
And leave the bagged salad leaves
Since retailers started putting salad leaves in bags it has seemed that one of the real pains of salad prep - dismantling lettuces to get to the good bits, washing and drying the leaves, throwing away the stalks etc - was all in the past. You could open a bag of salad like crisps, dish out generous handfuls onto your plate and your healthy meal was halfway there.
Of course, this is another ‘near miss’. Yes it’s a salad, it’s green, it grew in the ground and it looks great, but it’s not really very healthy at all.
Although certain foods, like carrots or apples, hold onto their nutrients for months after they are picked, more delicate veg like salad leaves lose a lot of their nutrients every hour after being picked. Although your bag of salad leaves might still look fresh after four or five days in the fridge, looks are deceptive and it’s likely to have very few nutrients left.
Fresh looking sealed bags of salad leaves often look that way because they have been washed in water containing chemicals like chlorine and then ‘bagged in gas’ to preserve them. So even though they look clean, they really need washing before you can safely and sensibly use them.
(You can buy unsealed bags with holes in which haven’t been preserved in gas and may be washed or unwashed; these are better. Kale is often sold like this).
At any rate, whatever you buy, grow or pick will need washing.
What is a better option? Grow your own salad leaves.
It only requires a pot or two, a few seeds (buy online or from garden centres) and some water. This way you can just cut the leaves you require when you need them and they’ll be fresh and full of nutrients but minus any toxins. All kinds of lettuce leaves can be grown on window sills, conservatories or outside in the summer. It’s a way to be kinder to the environment too - no transportation, fertilisers or exploitation! Or go back to buying your salad leaves as fresh, whole veg and wash and prepare them yourself.
If all this has just made salads seem too much trouble, it’s good to know that there are other ways to get nutrients from vegetables. Frozen peas, for example, couldn’t be easier and are packed with nutrients - just substitute and feel good about it.
Lets us know if you’ve had any ‘near misses’ with switching to healthy food that you could help others by commenting below.