As the years go rushing by, I find myself becoming more aware of, and concerned with, the ability of the foods I consume to provide more than just basic nutrition and oral gratification. Studies are revealing more and more all the time that the correct foods can make significant contributions to improving our overall health, strengthening our immune systems, and warding off disease. And how satisfying when you can virtuously enjoy your favorite foods, knowing that they will also enhance your well-being and protect you from harm!
Utterly delicious, and oh so good for you... Salmon supplies a massive helping of protein, to be sure, but it's the omega-3 fatty acids that are the main attraction for me. The benefits to improved heart-health are nearly endless; its anti-inflammatory effects contribute to reduced risk of fatal arrhythmia, lowered triglyceride levels, and increased protection against high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. And as I approach one of the "big" birthdays, I'm especially grateful for the protection that this cold-water fatty fish provides against cognitive decline.
This leafy green vegetable has so many helpful aspects, I scarcely know where to begin. It's low in calories but high in Vitamin K, which strengthens bone mass and limits damage to neurons in the brain - yes, more protection against cognitive decline! And there are 13 flavonoid compounds that provide anti-oxidant power and protection against cancers, especially prostate and ovarian. Iron to provide increased energy and folate to guard against heart attack also help to make this veggie a can't-lose proposition.
This gorgeously-colored fruit has been prominent in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, but is only now coming into its own in Western culture. The most convenient and readily-available form is the juice, and though lacking the fiber of the whole fruit, it is rich in a unique polyphenol called punicalagin. This element causes the pomegranate to be the highest-rated fruit for anti-oxidant activity, and provides protection against atherosclerosis and prostate cancer, as well as making numerous other contributions to improved health.
I love strawberries so much, I wouldn't even care if they were lacking in preventive "heft". But their rich array of phenols make them a triple-threat protector -- anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and heart-helpful, they guard against such maladies as rheumatoid arthritis, liver cancer, and atherosclerosis. Delicious medicine indeed!
This is actually the star of my list, believe it or not. Endless studies have shown that this mild-mannered beverage is actually an aggressive warrior against numerous potentially-fatal conditions. Cardiovascular maladies of all sorts are blocked, including heart attack, stroke, and hypertension; and there are multiple compounds that fight a wide array of cancers. Green tea has been shown to promote fat loss, increase exercise endurance, and even fight the flu. The list goes on and on. This is one beverage you want to keep on your daily menu without fail.
From Market to Table
I definitely recommend wild-caught, not farmed, whenever you can. Smell it to make sure it's fresh -- it should seem faintly briny, but not fishy. Ask your fishmonger for a bag of ice, or bring your own cold-bag; it's best to keep it chilled at all times, especially in the summer months. Store it in the bottom back of the fridge, and use within 24 hours. Grill, broil, roast, poach -- it's all good!
The leaves should be bright green and crisp, with no yellowing, bruising, wilting, or slimy coating. Store loosely packed in a plastic bag in the veggie drawer of the fridge for up to four days. Rinse well just before cooking (even the pre-washed, bagged kind). Cook quickly, no more than a minute or two; blanch, steam, or sauté.
Try to find a brand with as little added sugar as possible. Check the date, make sure it's fresh. Once opened, keep refrigerated. Use for sauces, salad dressings, smoothies. Oh, and it makes a killer cosmo -- just replace the cranberry juice with a splash of this, and crush in a few mint leaves.
They're very perishable, so try to buy them the day you'll use them. And organic is infinitely preferable -- conventionally-grown berries get a lot of pesticides. They should be firm, plump, and nicely red; yellow or green colors indicate unripe berries, which will tend to be sour. Check for mold or bruises; if they've been tightly packed, they're more likely to be crushed and spoiled inside the container. Rinse well, pat dry, and store loosely in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.
It should be as fresh as possible. For loose leaf tea, pinch a small amount and smell it -- it should seem sweet and grassy; for bagged tea, check the expiration date. Buy in small amounts, and store in an opaque container with a good seal -- dark glass or ceramic is best. Keep the container in a cool, dark cupboard. Brew up a pot and serve it hot for breakfast, cold for lunch, and freeze it for a granita for dinner!
So... here's a menu incorporating all five of my favorite "preventive" foods. Grill up some corn on the cob to go with the salmon and spinach, crush a handful of fresh mint leaves into a pitcher of iced green tea, and finish it all off with a bowl of juicy local strawberries to nibble on - a perfectly delicious and perfectly healthy summer feast!
Grilled Planked Salmon w/ pomegranate & port reduction
This intensely flavored and vividly colored dish is filled with all sorts of preventive goodness...
4 6-oz. filets of wild-caught salmon
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup port wine
a dozen or so dried cherries
cedar cooking planks, soaked in water according to directions
Preheat grill to medium-high.
Make reduction: in a small skillet over medium heat, cook shallots in one tablespoon of olive oil until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add pomegranate juice, port wine & cherries, bring to a slow boil. Reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
Moisten salmon filets on both sides with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Place planks on grill with salmon on top, close grill lid, and cook until firm but not dry, about 10-13 minutes depending on thickness.
Divide spinach (see below) among four plates, top with salmon filets. Drizzle a ribbon of the reduction over the salmon and spinach, and serve any extra reduction on the side. (I like to garnish the plates with ruby-throated nasturtium blossoms from the garden... makes it even more beautiful!)
Seared Baby Spinach w/ lemon & garlic
8 ounces baby spinach leaves, well-washed
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, divided
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely-grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Heat 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat; throw in spinach and wilt lightly, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Remove spinach to colander, press out as much liquid as possible; then place on three layers of paper towels and squeeze out some more liquid.
In the same pot, cook the garlic in the remaining tablespoon of oil until slightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach, lemon zest and lemon juice, and stir until just warmed through. Add salt & pepper to taste and serve.
A version of this post appears in the August issue of Better Nutrition Magazine.