Variety is the spice of life

We are all guilty of falling into an easy routine, even in our diets. However, have you ever considered that this might not be the healthiest option to keep your metabolism working properly? The advice from nutritionists is to keep our diet varied. Read why here.

Women’s magazines are full of articles about how to keep your marriage from falling into a routine which is said to lead to boredom and, ultimately, unhappiness. The usual advice given is “to spice things up” a little, do new things, surprise your partner, and generally try to get out of the rut.  But don’t worry, I am not about to embark on how to keep your relationships feeling fresh like in the heady first weeks.  Keeping fit and healthy is based on similar principles with the aim of avoiding your metabolism from becoming lazy. If you have ever been in training for a sports event or just to keep fit, your trainer will change your training routine regularly, so that your body keeps working hard, rather than just falling into a comfort zone where the metabolism will eventually slow down.  However, when it comes to diet, not many people consider that eating the same dishes over and over might not be a good thing for your body.  The maxim “variety is the spice of life” applies here, too.

I am not talking about adding a little bit of chilly or trying out some cumin in your next dish, I am referring to having a varied diet, and more importantly, introducing new foods into your routine. This helps the metabolism to keep working hard. It also brings different nutrients into your diet that you might not otherwise get. Yes, red meat and legumes might both contain iron, but according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition “the bioavailability of dietary iron and zinc can be reduced considerably by the phytic acid and possibly other constituents of some plant foods”. So you may be eating legumes trying to raise your iron levels, but this might not be working as well as having 100g of steak.

It is also worth noting that how you cook your foods can alter the nutrients in said foods.  This is why variety is just as important as alternating cooking methods. Taking it one step further, it is also important to become aware which foods still retain all their vitamins even after slow cooking, and which lose them once cooked. It is worth remembering that food combinations can also affect the nutritional aspects, such as absorption of certain vitamins consumed in conjunction with certain foods, as we saw in the blog post about what constitutes a healthy breakfast (read it here).

In addition, many claim that the foods we put on our tables nowadays are possibly less nutritious than they used to be due to soil depletion, use of herbicides, environmental pollutants and many other factors. Based on all of the above then, nutritionists’ advice is to have a varied diet.

Supermarkets (and markets) now offer a wide choice of fruits and vegetables such that our grandparents never saw, many grown locally. So, no excuses. Why not aim to try a new fruit or vegetable every month? Or even every week? Although our choices are often conditioned by what we grew up with, as well as influences from our environment and what is available in season, some of those fruits and vegetables you do not recognise, let alone name, are not as scary as they appear. You might even be surprised and find your next favourite food!

Introducing new foods into your diet

Personally, I like to discover new flavours and recipes not just when I am travelling, but also when I am at home. I get bored with eating the same things day in, day out. I look for different recipes for the same foods, but I also like to try new foods and combinations.  My latest experiment was with purple potatoes. I am not ashamed to admit that until recently I had never even noticed them amongst all the other types of potatoes available. So New Year’s Eve became an introduction to purple potatoes, their nutritional benefits and led to a search of the tastiest, healthiest recipes.

 Purple potatoes – the nutritional side

The nutritional composition of purple potatoes is very similar to that of sweet potatoes. Unlike the boring old white potato, its fibre content is much higher, but what makes it stand out is the anthocyanins that give it its purple colour. These are natural antioxidants and help fight free radicals.  In fact the antioxidant content of purple potatoes is two to three times higher that of its white cousin. According to various studies purple potatoes have been found to help reduce inflammation, help fight obesity, as long as you stick to portion control and you do not fry, and you use healthy toppings such as olive oil.  The chlorogenic acid contained in these potatoes is also said to help lower blood pressure and help prevent thrombosis (blood clots) according to the Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology. Further studies have also alluded to its anti-cancer properties. It appears fresh potatoes (not older ones) have managed to suppress early and late stage human colon cancer cells during in vitro trials.

So if you are looking for a healthier potato to the white potato, and an alternative to sweet potatoes, the purple potato might just be the answer to your prayers.

Cooking with Purple Potatoes

Remember it is best suited to boiling or baking, it should not be overcooked or it becomes mushy, and it will need more flavouring than sweet potatoes. Healthy flavouring additions might be thyme, rosemary and other herbs, rather than fatty sauces and toppings.

My first ever attempt to cook with purple potatoes was to make a very simple side dish. I boiled a handful of purple potatoes in salty water, skin on. When they had cooled down a little I cut them into large chunks, and seasoned them with olive oil, dry thyme and a little roasted garlic.  The second attempt was a warm potato salad with black olives and rosemary as the basic ingredients.  Ultimately, what you add to the potatoes is what will give them their flavour.  Next I’d like to try to use them to make purple gnocchi and maybe even as the topping to shepherd’s pie, who knows? The important thing is to keep it varied.

New foods – how many have you tried recently?

Other foods I have tried in recent times are: red rice, agar agar, dragon fruit, kohlrabi, quince, amaranth, red lentil pasta, sweet pea pasta, daikon radish (dried), lotus root and burdock tea, nigella seeds, dulse flakes, quinoa flour, springbok meat, coconut flour, Maprang (or Thai plum). These are just the ones off the top of my head but the list goes on. What about you?

Make it a New Year’s Resolution for 2019 and introduce a new food into your diet every month. Your body will thank you!

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