Welcome to Eat Well Every Day

Welcome to Eat Well Every Day!

I've spent years researching nutritional information, food ideas and recipes, because cooking and eating - especially with family & friends - are some of life's great pleasures. And guess what- healthy food doesn't have to be boring! It can be exciting and delicious!


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Friday, January 22, 2010

Calcium – moo-ve away from dairy and still have strong bones

As an older woman in a family where the women have typically fine bones and tend to develop osteoarthritis and even osteoporosis, I’ve been aware for many years of the need for adequate calcium in my diet.

But it isn’t just older women who need sufficient calcium circulating in their blood for physiological functions like blood clotting, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, enzyme activity, and cell membrane function. We all need it, from babies to elderlies, boys and men as well as girls and women.

Pregnant women need to get enough calcium for their own body's needs, as well as those of the baby developing inside her. And young children need plenty of calcium in the first five years of life to build their growing bones and teeth, as well as their central nervous systems.

And when it comes to building strong bones, the more calcium laid down before the age of 35, the better structure there will be to deal with later deprivations. After about 35, the depletions are greater than the additions when it comes to calcium and bones.

Although it’s well-known that women are at risk of osteoporosis after menopause, when oestrogen’s protective power is removed, it’s not so well-known that men can get osteoporosis, too. In either case, when the dietary intake of calcium is too low to maintain normal blood levels of calcium, the body draws on calcium stored in the bones to maintain normal blood concentrations, and after many years, this can lead to osteoporosis.

However, our bones can be strengthened right through to old age with a good calcium-rich diet and resistance exercises.

Cheese, Yoghurt, Milk (and Dairy Milk Chocolate)

Dairy farmers, food manufacturers and chocolate companies would like us to believe that dairy products are the best sources of calcium. And, as one who grew up in a dairying state that produces some of the world’s finest cheeses and ‘gourmet’ cream, and who still has a soft spot for dairy farmers (and for a chocolate company that promotes the “glass and a half of full-cream dairy milk in every block”), I have to admit they have a point.

But dairy products are not the best sources of calcium, and they are generally high in fat – at least all the good tasting ones are! Then there’s the problem of lactose–intolerant people and vegans. How are they to get enough calcium without going to supplements?

Strangely enough – the same way as dairy cows do!

Eat Green for Good Calcium Intake

I’m not suggesting we all get down and attempt to graze our lawns or the grass in our local park, but it turns out that bright green and dark green vegetables are the best way to eat calcium.

There are some non-green foods (apart from dairy), but green is go when you’re chasing calcium.

Excellent sources of calcium include spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens and collard greens. Very good sources include Swiss chard (silverbeet), kale, basil, thyme, and, surprisingly, peppermint leaves.

(For an in-depth look at the health benefits of Swiss chard, see my article Swiss Chard - Phytonutrient Power for Diabetic and Bone Health. )

Good calcium sources include romaine lettuce, celery, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, oregano, rosemary, parsley, kombu, and kelp.

Non-green foods that have surprising amounts of calcium are blackstrap molasses, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, garlic, tofu, oranges, summer squash, crimini mushrooms, dill seed, cinnamon and dried figs.

So, to the recipes. Although I’ve just finished up the last of a delicious home-made spanakopitta, in which lots of dark green silverbeet combined with three types of cheese for a calcium-rich savoury dish, I won’t give that recipe, as it would discriminate against people who don’t eat dairy. Instead, I offer these:

Stir-Fried Green Vegetables with Tofu and Almonds

This is a basic stir-fry in which you use as many different green vegs as you have in the fridge, together with garlic, ginger, tofu and almonds. All the quantities are estimates.

  • About 500 grams (1 lb) of green vegs – broccoli, broccolini, bok choy, choy sum, spinach, silverbeet, washed dried, stems cut into similar sized pieces, & leaves roughly torn
  • 2 cloves of garlic or more if you like it, crushed,
  • 250 grams (8 oz) firm tofu, in small cubes,
  • 2 teasp finely grated fresh ginger,
  • 1 tablesp soy sauce or tamari
  • About 2 tablesp cooking oil (a biggish slurp)
  • 1 teasp sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoon of almonds, can be blanched & slivered or left whole

Heat the oil in the wok and add the ginger and garlic. Cook over high heat for a minute, stirring. Add tofu cubes and stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Remove tofu with a slotted spoon and keep warm.
Add the vegetable stems to the hot oil and stirfry for one to two minutes (no more). Add the leaves and wilt them in the hot oil. Toss in the almonds. Toss the tofu cubes back in and pour over the soy sauce/tamari and the sesame oil. Toss all together to combine and serve immediately on steamed rice or noodles.
Serves 4

Proven├žal Parsley Soup

This is one to make if you have masses of parsley growing in your garden, or have just bought a huge bunch of it at the market. This is another with estimates for quantities.

  • About 800 grams (1½ lb) mashing potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • A very large bunch of parsley – at least several handfuls when chopped
  • About 2 tablesp butter or olive oil
  • Garlic (optional, but if using, put in at least 2 cloves, crushed)
  • Stock to just cover potatoes, with more kept hot
  • Salt & pepper

Cook potatoes in as little stock as possible until soft enough to mash. Mash or puree with the garlic and the butter/olive oil. Mix in the chopped parsley, and simmer with a little extra stock for five to 10 minutes.
Adjust seasonings, add more hot stock if soup seems too thick. Serve with crusty bread.
Serves 4

Buon Appetito!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Making the Most of Mangos

"Let me tell you 'bout my mango..."
Some time in the mid-80s or maybe early 90s, there was a sexy Calypso-style song on the radio, that started "Let me tell you 'bout my man-go.." I don't remember any more, but it certainly tied mangos and warm sultry weather together in my mind, long before I ever got to taste the luscious fruit.

Along with tomatoes, mangos represent summer to me. Specifically, the long, hot, Australian summer. Growing up in Tasmania, which has a more English climate than mainland Australia (or some would say more Irish and others, more Scottish), summers were fairly short, and Christmas could often be cold and drizzly, or occasionally snowing. Fresh cherries were the seasonal fruit to look forward to at Christmas and the start of summer. I didn’t taste mangos until I was in my 40s. And when I did, I fell in love!

Now I live in Sydney, I can indulge myself with mangos each summer – truly a seasonal delight!

Now, mangos may not be on the list of the The Top ten Good Mood Foods, or even in the list of worlds’ 100 healthiest foods (a list compiled in the US, where mangos are apparently considered exotic), but for my money they are both a very healthy fruit, and better still, an amazing mood lifter.

Who could not feel joyous eating a fresh mango, with its luscious aroma and sweet juicy flesh, the juice dripping down your face and hands – truly sensual experience! When I first read about mangos as a child, the advice on eating these fragrant and mythical fruit – surely the Golden Apples of the Hesperides – was to “sit in a cool bath, so the juice can drip over you and be washed off.”

What Mangos Add to a Healthy Diet

Australian nutritionist Catherine Saxelby votes in favour of the mango as part of a healthy diet (assuming you live somewhere that mangos are cheap and easily available in season).

With their bright golden-yellow colour, mangos are high in beta-carotene and other carotenoids, so they’re a good source of vitamin A. Apart from their flavour, that’s probably their main claim to nutrition fame.

They also offer good levels of vitamin C and potassium, and smaller amounts of other vitamins and minerals, plus a tiny amount of protein.

Golden-yellow is a good colour to add to the rainbow on your plate.

Eating and Cooking with Mangos

The best way to eat a mango is au naturel – whether or not you choose to sit in a bath. By au naturel, I mean straight from the skin in chunks, or in a fruit salad.

Mango puree makes fabulous icecream, sorbets and mousses, so if you can get a large quantity of mangos cheap during the peak season (December and January), it’s worth the mess of cutting up and freezing them for later use.

Mango chunks and mango puree work well to make sauces and accompaniments for chicken, pork and fish dishes.

Mangos can also be bought frozen or canned, and o course, there is always wonderfully hot and flavourful Indian mango chutney! You could make your own if you can get enough mangos that are not fully ripe.

So, to the recipes. First up is one I’ve used with variations for several years – a simple mango sauce for stir-fried pork or chicken. I haven’t tried it with tofu, as a vegetarian alternative, but I’m willing to bet it would do something magical to that meat alternative.

Mango Stirfry Sauce

  • ¼ cup lime or lemon juice
  • ¼ cup sweet chilli sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hoi sin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 500g chicken or pork stirfry strips
  • 1 onion, cut into wedges or rings
  • 200g broccoli or broccolini, cut into small florets
  • 400g bok choy leaves or baby spinach, or small silverbeet leaves torn roughly,
  • any other small vegs like baby corn, capsicum strips, snowpeas, whatever you have that will cook quickly & not overcook
  • pulp or chunks of 2 medium mangoes,
  • fresh mint leaves and/or fresh coriander leaves for garnish

Mix together the mango chunks/pulp with the citrus juice and sauces in a glass bowl.

Heat the oil in a wok, stirfry the onion and meat, until meat is just cooked. Take meat out and put aside.

Throw in all the vegetables, starting with the biggest or most solid, leaving the leaves till last. Stirfy quickly until vegs are just done but still crispy.

Add the meat and sauce. Bring back to the boil, simmer for a couple of minutes. Serve or steamed rice or rice noodles, and top with torn mint and coriander. A dollop of yoghurt on the side is good as well.

Serves 4

Mango Icecream

I’ve found a mango icecream recipe I’d love to make, if only I had an icecream machine. I’m not a great icecream fan, but homemade icecream is another seasonal treat that I enjoy occasionally.

This one uses yoghurt and no eggs, is so quite different in flavour and texture from a rich custardy icecream. I could make it with the wonderful yoghurt I get from the farmers’ market, if I could work out how to churn it.

Buon appetito!

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Vegetarian Option

As I posted last time on the joys of eating meat, occasionally, it’s only fair to look at the other side of the plate and consider the vegetarian option.

As millions of people worldwide – notably the Hindus and Jains of the Indian sub-continent, among others, it is possible not only to eat healthily without any animal foods, it’s possible to create a colourful and richly flavoured cuisine at the same time.

Since this blog is about healthy eating, let’s tackle the health aspects first. No less a conservative authority than the American Dietetic Association has given a vegetarian diet a tick of approval.

The ADA says "a properly planned vegetarian diet can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy" – surely the greatest challenge - with both mother and baby remaining healthy. It is also suitable for growing children, adolescents and adults and even athletes.

The trick is balancing your food combinations so as to build amino acids from grains and legumes to get the full complement needed to make human muscle protein. Vegetarians, and vegans even more so, also need to ensure sufficient variety to meet all their calcium, iron, zinc, B vitamins and other mineral and micronutrients that would otherwise come from meat, eggs, fish and dairy.

The advantage that vegetarians gain over omnivores – even the omnivore following the Mediterranean diet is enhanced protection from many of the degenerative diseases that attack Western people, particularly as we age. It confers protection from or improved health with heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), Type 2 diabetes, many cancers, lowers LDL cholesterol levels and helps maintain a healthy body weight.

Be Veg Go Green Save Our Planet

This is the motto of a religious and humanitarian organisation under the leadership of Supreme Master Ching Hai. It emphasises the contribution of livestock production on climate change and the “planet saving” effects of taking up the vegetarian lifestyle, and its followers hand out free dvds of vegan and vegetarian recipes at climate change and sustainability rallies.

Whatever I might think about Supreme Master Ching Hai’s recipes – very few of the ones on the free dvd I received appealed to me – she is right about the environmental impact of trying to create meat from grasses and grains, instead of eating them ourselves.

Vegetarian Food Need Not be Difficult or Dull

Despite the need to be more aware of food sources and food combinations, vegetarian cuisine need never be dull. There is a huge range of ethnic cuisines from many of the poorer, agrarian cultures of the world, which, while low or absent in animal products, still provide balanced nutrition. Indian, Mexican, South American, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, are just some of the cuisines that are predominantly vegetarian. There are probably hundreds of others.

A creative cook can also convert meat-based western cuisines such as French, Italian, Hungarian, Austrian, and Australian – once described by a visiting British food critic as “large slabs of protein” – into tasty and appetising vegetarian alternatives.

What’s Today’s Recipe?

Despite not having fully converted to vegetarian eating, as I confessed in In Praise of Meat as a Treat, I do still enjoy lots of meatless meals. I dive into my battered Indian cookbook, the 20-year-old paperback copy of Sameen Rushdie’s Indian Cookery.

So here’s the first dhal recipe I learnt to make, and still eat about once a month. It’s simple and tasty, the kitchen smells fantastic as the spices are frying, and combined with rice you get your complete protein.

Khari Kali Masoor ki Daal

This is made with whole green lentils, which the Indian grocery near me sells as Masoor lentils.

  • 225 grams/1 cup whole Masoor lentils
  • 1 small onion peeled and blended to a smooth paste (or just chopped fine)
  • ½ teasp red chili powder (or to taste)
  • ½ teasp turmeric (or to taste)
  • 1 teasp ground coriander
  • dollop of butter or 1 tablesp oil
  • salt to taste
  • 2-3 tablesp thick tamarind juice or lemon juice
  • 1 dessertsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 2 green chilies (or to taste) finely chopped
  • 1 tablesp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped.

For the Bhagar
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 small onion peeled and finely chopped into rings or half rings
  • 2 small garlic cloves finely sliced into rounds

Wash the lentils in several changes of water. Into a heavy bottomed saucepan put a dollop of butter or some oil and fry the spices for a few minutes. Then add the lentils and stir to mix in the spices. Add the onion paste and 3 cups of water and salt to taste. Bring to the boil.

When it boils, turn down the heat as low as possible, and cover. Cook for about 45 minutes, checking every so often to see it doesn’t boil dry. When the dhal has softened, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. Only add extra water if it has all evaporated and the lentils seem dry, when you can stir in about half a cup.

Now add the tamarind or lemon juice, grated ginger, green chillies and about half the mint, and continue cooking over a low heat, covered for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile make the bhagar. Fry the onion slices in hot oil until golden and sizzling. Add the sliced garlic and as soon as they turn golden, pour the whole sizzling mixture over the dhal.
Garnish with the remaining mint.

Serve with plain boiled rice and steamed green vegetables such as bok choy.