Words: Hannele Steyn
If you are serious about your health and optimum sports’ performance, then nutrition is as important as following the correct training programme.
Similarly, nutrition plays an equally essential role if you are an adventurer or someone who just wants to be healthy and have energy. And the good news is that you don’t have to be a great cook to make sure that your meals are nutritional and still tasty. When preparing healthy and delicious-tasting dishes, the first rule is to avoid man-made foods, such as foods that are baked and fried, and contain preservatives. You also need to use the correct cooking methods and fresh ingredients, as well as fresh herbs and spices for flavour.
However, when it comes to flavour, we seem to have lost the ability to enjoy food the way it was intended to taste. Enhancing food with all kinds of flavourants has contributed to various intolerances, heartburn, and even illnesses. For example, why do we eat cauliflower with cheese sauce? Is it because we love cheese sauce or because we love the taste of cauliflower? If you like cauliflower, then don’t spoil it with cheese sauce, and if you like cheese sauce, then don’t spoil it with cauliflower! The same goes for a baked sweet potato. Why do we smother it with sugar and butter? If you are looking for that butter-sugar-caramel taste, then rather make yourself caramel by frying sugar and butter in a pan. There's a lot less calories without the sweet potato, but it has a lot of things to kill you nice and slowly! See what I am trying to say?
Beware of quick 'fixes' to make your food taste better, such as shop-bought spices, sauces, flavour enhancers, and the like, because they contain high amounts of preservatives, trans fats, and an overload of sodium. If you use fresh herbs, you will not only enhance and complement the flavours of your foods but also do your health a big favour. Furthermore, herbs can help preserve food for longer periods and boast many health and medicinal qualities.
There are numerous types of herbs that are easily available, but I'll just focus on some of the more common herbs that are found in most kitchens, and why you should be using them. Most of this information comes from the 'herb lady' herself, Margaret Roberts, and the facts on vitamins and minerals are based on scientific proof from ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), which is used to estimate the antioxidant potential in fruit, vegetables, and herbs.
Rosemary goes well with just about anything, especially lamb. It is packed with calcium, Vitamin A, and potassium, and may help with anxiety, depression, and rheumatism.
Thyme has an extraordinary fragrance and is a member of the mint family. It was used as a medicine and food preservative in ancient Greece and can assist with many ailments, such as soothing sore throats, coughs, hay fever, ringworm, athlete's foot, insomnia, blood circulation, and asthma. It can also be mixed with an oil to create a lovely massage rubbing oil.
Ginger: Known as the 'wonder spice', it's excellent to use in curries and Asian foods. It is a warming spice that has anti-inflammatory properties and can help to relax your intestinal tract. It can also relieve heartburn, morning sickness, menstrual pain, and migraines. You can infuse it in water and drink it as a delicious-tasting tea too.
Oregano, ciao bella! This is the Italian Mama's spice and commonly used on pizzas and pasta. Studies have shown that when chewing on a piece of oregano, it can relieve toothache, bad breath, and helps to ease mouth infections and exhaustion. Its pungent smell is also an effective insect repellent. So you can go camping amongst the insects, eat your pasta, and perk yourself up all in one with this herb J. It is a great substitute for salt too.
Chilli: It is great to cook with, and it is also very good for blood circulation, and clearing nasal and chest congestion. But don't go and sniff it now, rather add it to hot milk and honey. Be careful if you have stomach related problems, such as ulcers. This spice has also been used for centuries as a stimulant, antibiotic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. According to Margaret Roberts, it is packed with antioxidants such as capsaicin and Vitamin C. I have even heard that it is nature’s own antioxidant.
Basil: Commonly used in Italian-type foods (who doesn’t know pesto?). It can help with infections and skin ailments, and when mixed with aqueous cream, elderflower, and calendula petals, it can be used to soothe insect bites and itchy spots - another one to pack when you next go camping. I could go on and on about the many other beneficial cooking herbs and spices you can use, but I encourage you to convert from the unhealthy options to the wonderful culinary combinations that can be made with fresh herbs and spices.
Cinnamon: It's rich in antioxidants and full of flavour. One teaspoon of cinnamon has the same amount of antioxidants as a teacup of blueberries, without the calories - but don’t stop eating your blueberries. Studies have shown that it helps to stabilise blood sugar, which is very important for sports people, as it contains polyphenols (compounds that act in place of insulin in the body). Here I have to mention that Passion4Wholeness muesli contains heaps of cinnamon.
My own Passion4Wholeness muesli, ‘oats porridge with a twist’ and ‘meal-on-the-go’, contain cinnamon to help stabilise your blood sugar levels for more sustained energy and, of course, to awaken the memory of ancake to stimulate the taste buds.
Try this recipe
Here’s a great recipe when preparing fish the healthy way:
• Use any type of fresh fish.
• Mix a little water, soya sauce, fresh lemon juice, fresh ginger, chili, dill, garlic, and Bulgarian yoghurt.
• Put the fish into this mixture skin side up so that just the skin sticks out, and brush the skin with a little grape seed oil.
• Place the fish about 20 cm below the griller in the oven and grill until the skin is brown and crispy.
• Sit back, relax and enjoy this delicious and healthy meal that has been prepared without deep-frying the fish and any preserved spices or shop-bought sauces.
*References from an article by Samantha Parrish, from Longevity.