By Esther Boateng
We’ve all heard the saying, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” I’m clearly not a guy, but this resonates deeply with me, because nothing makes me happier than being fed. Food and sleep rank high on my list of priorities. Too much or too little of either causes a glitch in my system. But the right balance? Ah, pure bliss. So, how do you find that sweet spot when it comes to fueling your body for optimal performance?
Trial and error is the way to go. In theory, it’s simple. But in practice, it can be a minefield, especially if you’re susceptible to greenwashing, i.e. ‘food fraud’, and unfamiliar with reading tricky food labels. There’s a ton of nutritional advice on every media platform. It gets overwhelming and, quite frankly, can be contradictory, not to mention darn well confusing. If you’re at war with the scale, battling any other health challenge, or simply want to live to a ripe old age, free from disease (yes, please!), stay tuned.
I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to eating. Whenever a new fad diet goes viral, I roll my eyes and think, here we go again. Instead of jumping on the latest diet bandwagon, I follow a few simple guidelines. The body is incredibly intuitive; it knows what to do. Given the right tools and the right conditions, it will happily get on with its work, uninterrupted.
Eat R.E.A.L, rejuvenating foods from the earth, that are alive with nutrients and promote longevity. If I eat nuts, grains, or seeds, I like to sprout them first. This involves an overnight soak, followed by a stint in the dehydrator. Now they’re ready to consume. Soaking removes some of the phytic acid found in all nuts, grains, and seeds. Phytic acid is a food inhibitor, which blocks the absorption of certain minerals in the body. Soaking increases bioavailability, which means it’s easier for our body to digest and absorb nutrients. Beans are a good source of protein, B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Bean consumers are likely to have better nutrient intake levels, healthier BMIs, and lower systolic blood pressure, compared to non-consumers. Just for the record, I prefer to pressure cook my beans.
Given the choice, I’ll take a real meat burger over a bean burger any day. Foods such as grass-fed meats, poultry, game, fish, liver, and meat organs are amazing sources of protein. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on meat organs from a trusted local supplier, I envy you. I grew up eating steak & kidney pies, and liver, and thought little of it. Now, I’d be hard-pressed to find any of these organ meats at my local grocery store.
Grass-fed and grass-finished beef is more readily available than fresh organ meats. If I spot this label on my meat, I know this means that the cows ate grass, plants, and shrubs their whole lives, and remain free from pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. A grass-fed label means the cows started off eating grass, but could have been fed grain at any point in their lives, which results in decreased nutrition. If that isn’t enough to persuade you to opt for grass-fed and grass-finished beef, budget permitting, grass-finished beef also contains roughly 2-4 times more omega 3 fatty acids than grass-fed beef. Holy cow!
Herbs and spices deserve to take center stage in everyone’s diet. They have a reputation for healing that stretches back thousands of years. They make a world of difference to the taste and color of your food, and as you might have guessed, they can also make a huge difference to your health.
Black pepper supports circulation, reduces inflammation, and increases the production of pancreatic digestive enzymes. It has antioxidant and antidepressant properties and has been linked to chemoprevention. Bell peppers boast similar properties. Bursting with powerful antioxidants, known as carotenoids, they contain sulfur compounds that have been shown to have anti-cancer benefits. They’re an excellent source of vitamins E and C, and contain the anti-oxidant mineral, manganese.
For me, ginger reigns supreme. Not only does it enhance the absorption of nutrients in the body, it also helps to clear sinuses and congestion, relieve nausea, and reduces joint pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties. I discovered the potent effects of ginger when I was looking for a safe, natural, and extremely effective remedy to alleviate chronic menstrual cramps. I used to rely on strong painkillers every month. I instinctively knew this was a bad idea, so I sought alternative methods and stumbled across ginger during my juicing phase. This was way before I even knew ginger powder existed. I used to knock back shots of homemade, freshly squeezed ginger, and within minutes, I was spasm-free. Wahey.
Amazing food requires amazing spices. Herbs and spices have always been an important part of my cooking. My culinary creations wouldn’t be the same without the seasoning. The spice rack I have today is a far cry from the one I owned as a student. I had one packet of All Seasons spice, which I used for every dish, along with the cheapest salt and pepper available.
Even if you’re not a master chef, chuck a few herbs and spices into your dishes and watch them transform into Michelin star meals. Maybe.
Eat Organic and biodynamic foods whenever possible. Beyond organic food is less likely to be contaminated with herbicides like glyphosate, which is the main ingredient in the weed killer, Roundup. It’s nutrient dense, better for the environment, and supports local farmers; it’s a win-win situation.
If you’re strapped for cash, and can’t afford to buy everything organic, check out the clean 15 and dirty dozen lists from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Every year the EWG report ranks fruit and vegetables that contain the least pesticides, Clean 15, and the ones with the highest levels of pesticides, Dirty Dozen. This year, conventionally grown strawberries, once again, take first place for the most contaminated fruit with the highest level of pesticides. Spinach, kale, collard, and mustard greens are next in line, followed by nectarines, apples, and grapes. On the Clean 15 list, avocadoes, sweet corn, and pineapple rank the highest. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean-fifteen.php
One way to make sure you’re well fed, and not undernourished, is to grow your own food. Grow Food Nation is a great online source for those who like to get their hands dirty in the garden. I don’t have green fingers, yet, but I have every faith it will happen one day. For now, I’m happy to follow experts online, like Ron Finley. This ‘Gangster Gardener’ takes public spaces, like abandoned lots, and turns them into communal gardens to grow food for his community in South Central LA. If you lack motivation to grow your own food, check out Ron’s moving speech on Ted Talk. It’s a game-changer.
Eat foods in season. Due to modern farming practices, you can get pretty much get any fruit and vegetable throughout the year, although fresh produce is best consumed at certain times of the year. Harvest dates might vary slightly according to the climate of your region, but in general, you can enjoy the following produce at this time of the year: beets, carrots, artichokes, asparagus, chard, kale, spring onions, dandelion greens, and fennel are a few vegetables that spring to mind when I think of seasonal foods. They also happen to be some of my favorites, especially beets, asparagus, and fennel.
Eat food cooked by you so you know exactly what you’re eating. Dining out is a minefield for me. When I interrogate my waiter, I have to tread carefully so I don’t sound like a lunatic: ‘What oils do you use? It’s not canola is it? What do you mean fried? Is that pan-fried or deep-fried? Is there any sugar in your sauces…?
The waiters probably think: ‘Next time, lady, do us all a favor and keep your ar*e at home,” which, funny enough, I’ve managed to do rather well. I love to experiment with dishes that are new to me. Although I have to admit, I generally slip into old habits and rely on my go-to meals; meat and two veg. Whatever dish I decide to cook, it’s always something nutritious, delicious, and according to my husband, sometimes suspicious, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Bon appetit.