Eating is one of life’s great pleasures and cooking, for me, is the manifestation of love. As a dietitian, obviously I am health conscious but I choose to reject words like ‘poison’ when talking about food. To me, it’s all about balance. And in the pursuit of balance, I love to experiment with new ingredients, find a place for these newcomers in my weekly meals and ensure that my family is getting varied, nutritious and delicious food.
As dietitians running a practice that takes a special interest in digestive disorders and gut health, it’s exciting to see the emergence of traditional foods that are easy to integrate into our eating and that add new textures and tastes for people to enjoy. If there is one buzz topic in nutrition now it’s got to be the topic of ‘plant foods’. Plant foods are reigning supreme as foods with nutritional integrity, foods that impact less on the environment, foods that are beneficial for heart health, gut health, weight management and promote a more diverse and abundant microbiome.
From a personal perspective, the things I strive for with my meal planning and cooking are –
1. Try to include lots of vegetables into our meals and
2. Try to add extra fibre.
Fibre is simply roughage, it has no calories but fills us up and adds bulk to the food mass moving through our digestive system. Fibre helps with regularity (and being regular keeps us happy) by increasing the bulk and size of your stools plus helps to soften them, making them easier to pass. Fibre also helps with the control of blood sugar levels and lowers total blood cholesterol. And I haven’t even gotten to the best bit!
Fibre feeds those amazing microorganisms living in our gut. We are learning more and more about the ‘microbiome’ – the eco-system of microorganisms living in and on us. And we are discovering that these microorganisms play a role in good health and disease prevention. So the goal is to have healthy populations of the good bacteria living in our gut. And we know that good bacteria feed on fibre (we call fibre a prebiotic) and then release by-products of the fibre fermentation that are good for gut health. So lots of fibre = well-fed, happy bugs = healthier me.
Some easy tips for increasing fibre and variety are:
- When cooking rice, add another grain/seed that cooks in a similar amount of time. Try ½ rice, ¼ teff and ¼ quinoa. Not only does the taste improve, but the leftovers are excellent in a salad.
- When cooking a beef curry, add ¼ cup red lentils and ¼ cup of teff grains to the pot. Again, they will thicken the curry, add fibre, micronutrients and add a delicious flavour
- I love making a big batch of vegetable risotto on a Sunday to freeze in smaller containers for lunch. Risotto rice is great for resistant starch but low in fibre. So to boost the fibre content, to pumpkin risotto I add red lentils, to mushroom risotto I add ivory teff grains and to green veg risotto I add green split peas.
- We love bircher muesli in my house (oats soaked overnight in water/milk) and if I’ve got leftover grains of any kind (buckwheat, rice, quinoa, teff, farro, freekeh etc.) I add them to the mix. In the morning, I add seasonal fruits, nuts, seeds and yoghurt for a delicious and nutritious (gut healthy) breakfast.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”J.R.R. Tolkien