Brain food

Have you ever thought about how the food you eat directly affects your brain? As its Brain Awareness Week, it’s worth sparing a minute or two to do just that. Do you give your brain what it needs?

The brain is the hungriest organ in the body. Mind you that’s not surprising really as it’s always on the go, managing and controlling everything else in the body, even (and particularly) when we’re asleep. 25% of the body’s energy supply (in the form of glucose, its fuel of choice), is used in the brain Continue reading “Brain food”

Fabulous fibre

Have you noticed how fibre has suddenly appeared in the news again? That’s food-related fibre, not the high-speed broad band type! A large meta-analysis of research studies published in The Lancet last week concluded that a diet high in complex fibre and whole-foods could prevent the development of many chronic health problems. It concluded their study provided a ‘causal link’ between a low fibre diet and poor health (read more here).

The world of food and health is complex and fickle. The fact that fibre is good for health has been known for a long time, but gets conveniently forgotten when more popular diets come along, like low-carb/high fat, or ketogenic programmes. There’s a lot of confusion about the carbohydrate element of foods with many people automatically associating ‘carbs’ with sugar. And it’s true, refined sugar isn’t good for us, but complex, unadulterated carbohydrates are.

As anyone who has participated in my Eat Well Live Well course will know, I’m a big fan of fibre. And one of the benefits of eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that it is packed full of lovely complex fibres that the body just loves. And rather than worrying about how much you should consume, it’s just part and parcel of every meal – as long as you eat a wide range of whole plant foods that is.

So why might you not get enough fibre in your diet?

  1. Only food from plants contain fibre, so if you eat mainly meat, dairy and eggs you’ll be missing out on fibre.
  2. Refined cereals and grains loose their healthy complex fibre, so if you eat white bread, pasta or rice, processed breakfast cereals or ready meals, you’ll be losing all the lovely complex fibre.
  3. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain fibre too, so if you don’t hit your 5 portions a day (like 70% of the UK population), you’ll be missing out on fibre.

So what does fibre do for us? Lots, as it turns out. I go into more details in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie (out next month!), but in a nutshell it:

  1. Improves gut motility – ie: make you poo!
  2. Removes excess bile, fats and toxic waste
  3. Fills you up
  4. Releases nutrients slowly
  5. Looks after the friendly bacteria living in your gut.

As more is learnt about the importance of gut health, this last one is really key. Bacteria living deep down in the large intestine dine out on the insoluble fibre found in complex carbohydrates that we can’t digest ourselves, and then puts it to good use, carrying out functions we have outsourced and can no longer do ourselves. Gut health is connected to many health challenges, including food sensitivities and autoimmune conditions, hence my personal love of all things fibre!

So how do you get more fibre in your diet? It’s easy – eat more plants! And a wide variety of them too. Add beans to soups and stews, more veggies to dishes. Ditch the processed breakfast cereals and opt for wholegrain or oats. Swap to wholegrain pasta, rice and bread. Or just focus on eating amazing plant foods throughout the day and then you don’t have to worry where your fibre is coming from.

A word of warning though, if you’re not used to eating lots of lovely fibre, or have IBS or something similar, take care! Fibre makes you fart. And if your gut is not happy, a sudden overload of high fibre foods could find you trumpeting at inappropriate moments or doubled up in pain. So think about gradually increasing the amount of whole foods over a few days rather than all at once – you, and anyone around you, will appreciate it!

If you’re not sure how to start eating more fibre, check out the recipes on my blog. Made with whole plant foods, they’re all packed with fibre in various forms. And if you’re interested in finding out more, my book is a good place to start. Look out for more information about publication date, or sign up to my book mailing list. You’ll get the lowdown before anyone else, plus special launch information and offers. Just click here.

Getting the most from your greens plus a quick curry

I have a big pile of food-related books to read, each with a different focus and all fascinating. Currently, I’m working my way through ‘How Not To Die’ by the wonderful Dr Michael Gregor, who has a head full of knowledge, a bag-load of common sense and a fabulously dry sense of humour  (plus lots of bowel humour – it’s a nurse thing!).

Dr Gregor does an amazing job of examining all the latest research about food and health, questioning the validity of the conclusions and providing clarity for anyone interested in eating good food – that is, food that is good for you! His website – nutritionfacts.org – is packed full of 5 minute videos covering all sorts of topics, checking the facts behind the headlines and challenging spurious claims found in newspaper headlines and on-line. There is so much confusions out there, it’s hard to identify the ‘truth’!

You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of cruciferous vegetables, wonderful produce like broccoli, cabbage of all sorts, cauliflower, kale and watercress. Dr Gregor is too and regularly refers to research findings about how the sulphur-containing compounds found within these veggies can promote good health, particularly in preventing and even treating some types of cancer, supporting the immune system and liver function (there’s many others too). Broccoli has been researched the most, but all cruciferous veggies contain the beneficial phytonutrient sulforaphane. But there is a potential problem in accessing it – for sulforaphane to become available, it needs to be activated by another chemical reaction involving an enzyme (myrosinase). This occurs once the broccoli or other cruciferous veg is cut or bitten into. All ok so far. The problem is how we tend to eat this group of veggies – cooked. Heat kills myrosinase – and no myrosinase, no magical sulforaphane. But who really likes to eat lots of raw broccoli? I know I’m not keen!

Fortunately, there is something you can use to overcome this problem – patience! Sulforaphane is heat resistant, so cooking is not an issue, you just need time for it to form. So to get the most magic out of your broccoli, just chop it and leave for 30 minutes or so before you cook it. This gives plenty of time for all the enzymes to do their business and create lots of this wonderful phytonutrient that your body will just love. It does mean you have to plan ahead a little, but if you’re cooking other things as well, just remember to chop the broc first, then get on with the rest of it. Then you can cook it however you like, although please don’t boil the life out of it, especially if you are using food to manage a health problem, as there are other wonderful nutrients inside that will suffer. Also, if you’re trying to persuade your kids to eat veg, serving up soggy offerings is not going to help (remembering granny’s over-cooked Christmas sprouts!).

So try to remember to give your greens time to brew to get the most out of them – you won’t notice the benefit, but your body will. Here’s a quick curry recipe featuring brilliant broccoli to try out this weekend. Packed full of flavour and amazing nutrients, eating well never tasted so good!

Broccoli and squash curry (serves 4)

1 head of broccoli
1 medium onion
1 large clove garlic
2cm chunk ginger, peeled
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 small squash
½ teaspoon turmeric
½-1 teaspoon red chilli powder (depending on heat requirements)
salt and pepper
fresh coriander

First, rinse the broccoli and chop of the stems and dice. Chop the broccoli heads into small pieces and put to one side to allow the phytonutrients do their thing.

Roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger then place in a small blender and blitz into a paste with a little water. Wash and peel the squash. Chop into small chunks/bite sized pieces.

Place a pan on a medium heat and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Dry toast them for a couple of minutes until they release a lovely aroma and start to pop. Take the pan off the heat for a moment and stir in the paste mix (if the pan is too hot it will burn). Pop the pan back on the heat, turning it down a bit, and sauté for a few minutes until the paste starts to lightly brown. Stir in the spices with a little water and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the chopped squash and broccoli stems along with some salt and pepper and stir well. Add about 50ml of water, bring to the boil, then pop on a lid and reduce the heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the squash is soft. If the mix is dry, add a little more water along with the broccoli heads and simmer for 5 minutes or so until the broccoli is lightly cooked through (I still like it with a bit of bite). Turn off the heat and garnish with chopped fresh coriander. Serve with dairy-free yoghurt, rice or whole-wheat chapatti.

 

 

Top tips for New Year eating

Yesterday I listed five questions to think about when your New Year resolution is eating better food.  If that made you think, and you want to make some positive but simple changes, here are five top tips that will help you eat ‘well’.

1) Eat more! That may seem like a strange thing to encourage! To be specific, eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. That doesn’t mean you should start munching your way through platefuls of lettuce, unless you’re into that kind of thing! If you have decided to ‘do the vegan thing’ this January, then you should naturally eat more each day, as long as you are not choosing lots of processed products. If you’re doing a more gradual transition, there’s lots of way to sneak extra veg into everyday foods. Soup is the perfect way to load up on the veggies. Add extra helpings to stews and curries. Sneak some fresh stuff into cakes (carrot and courgettes work well as does fresh fruit). Have a side salad with your main meal, or just increase your veg portion size. Plants can be very filling, so you feel less hungry plus give you a whole range of marvellous nutrients.

2) Eat whole. We hear a lot about the perils of fat and/or sugar. We also hear about how they are an essential part of our daily diet. Confused? Most people are. The key to the fat/sugar issue is really about whether it’s refined or whole. Once fresh produce is processed, it loses much of its micronutrients and fibre, leaving higher amounts of fats and sugar in an altered molecular state. Think about oranges and orange juice. If you eat an orange you get the juice and sugar, plus essential oils, fibre and other nutrients. Unless it’s a very small one, or you have a huge appetite, most people can only manage to eat one orange at a time. For a start, it can take ages to peel it and by the time you’ve finished one there’s no desire left for another. Orange juice on the other hand is a different matter. An average glass of juice takes about 4 oranges. That’s four times the amount of sugar, no fibre and less of the essential oils and other phytonutrients. Sugar with no fibre gets rapidly absorbed into the blood stream, and it’s not long before you want more. So look at what you’re eating – if its whole then go for it, if it’s had the fibre removed, don’t.

3) Eat brown. This is connected to the point above. Wholegrain and wholemeal contain lots more nutrients and fibre than white. So brown pasta, rice and bread are all more beneficial than the plastic white stuff. You can even get brown rice pasta if you’re gluten free! It does take a few minutes more to cook, particularly rice, but if you leave it to soak whilst you’re out in the day, it cooks super quick when you want it.

4) Eat when you’re hungry and don’t feel deprived. This is most important. Making changes is hard and if you feel resentful about missing out then it makes it even harder, increasing the likelihood that your resolutions go by the wayside. If you’re out and about, don’t rely on being able to pick up a suitable snack; always have something with you to fall back on when hunger strikes. It could just be an apple or banana, or a small bag of nuts and dried fruit. When you eat a whole food plant-based diet, it’s not about calorie counting or limitations. It’s about eating great food, so if you want an extra helping of the gorgeous veggie meal you’ve prepared then do so. And if sweet stuff is your preference, make sure you learn how to make healthy cakes. There’s lots of recipes on the blog that will hit the spot.

5) Eat yourself happy. This is not me encouraging you to console yourself with a tub of ice cream!  As mentioned above, whole-foods are packed with fibre. As well as helping slow sugar release and keeping you ‘regular’, fibre also keeps the friendly bacteria that live in your gut happy. And happy bacteria can mean a happy you, as one of their many jobs is to keep the gut lining healthy and intact so that it can keep working to maximum capacity. This includes secreting optimum amounts of serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter that influences mood. Gut health is key to health and well-being, so feeding it with gorgeous tasting whole plant foods is a great way to get you feeling happy all over!

Autumnal delights – pumpkin and squash

This is the first year I’ve tried to grow squash in my little vegetable patch. A bit late in planting them out, they’re still not quite ready despite the weather beginning to change. They seem happy where they are though, for now, and will hopefully grow and ripen a little more than this!

You will find a number of links to different pumpkin or squash recipes on my blog – I have a bit of a thing for this wonderful veg! During the autumn and winter months, it’s a staple in our house, appearing in recipes at least twice a week. Apart from their versatility, sweet flavour and smooth velvety texture, these wonderful vegetables are an amazing source of nutrients, bringing a burst of veggie sunshine in the long, grey months.

Pumpkins and squash really can help to keep the body healthy during winter. You only have to look at the amazing orange coloured flesh to know it’s packed full of goodies. Winter squash have been found to have the highest percentage of beta-carotene of any vegetable. Beta-carotene is the plant form of vitamin A (easily converted in the body), essential for healthy eyes, skin and immune system. There are many types of beta-carotenes, wonderful little phytonutrients that acts as co-enzymes and catalysts for metabolic processes – all things that keep us functioning properly. On top of that, pumpkin and squash also contains an amazing array of anti-oxidants, including vitamin C, that help mop up harmful free-radicals, and a great selection of B vitamins, and essential minerals like magnesium, manganese, potassium and calcium.

And it doesn’t stop there. The sugars in pumpkin and squash are super-healthy too. Not only are they full of fibre, they also contain a specific type of polysaccharide sugar called homogalacturonan (I haven’t just made that name up, honest!) that has special anti-inflammatory effects on the body particularly for heart disease and diabetes. The fibre also contains pectin, a favourite food for friendly gut bacteria, so benefiting gut health too.

So what’s not to love? Unfortunately, all good things have a not so good side – with pumpkins and squash, it’s how they’re grown. These water-loving veggies can be used to de-contaminate land, as they readily absorb anything in the soil and water. So if there is a lot of soil pollution, that will end up in the final product – and inside you. So it’s best to buy organic whenever possible, or from a reliable source. There is a small organic farm near me that always has a wonderful selection – here’s their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lainesorganicfarm/.

To celebrate this pumpkinlicious time of year, I’m going to add some extra recipes over the next few week. In the meantime, why not check out one of the yummy recipes already here on the blog? They’re all fully plant-based, dairy free and really tasty. Here are the links to take you there.

Pumpkin pancakes, perfect for breakfast, lunch or any time! http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/pumpkin-pancakes/

Try this stuffed squash for a satisfying and filling supper http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/stuffed-squash-for-thursday/

A gorgeous soup to warm you through http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/happy-earth-day-have-some-gorgeous-squash-soup-to-celebrate/

This hubby-inspired curry is a winner every time http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/steves-saturday-night-squash-curry/

Watch this youtube video about a family friendly dip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HuweHV24ao&t=16s

Happy eating!

 

8 reasons to enjoy sweet potatoes

There are some vegetables that are always on my shopping list; sweet potatoes is one of them. This amazingly versatile tuber appears in a meal at least twice a week, if not more, either as part of a dish or as the main star. Sweet potatoes can be baked, roasted, steamed or (if you really have to) boiled. I sneak them into all sorts of recipes, sweet as well as savoury.

Lots of foods get given the ‘super food’ label; sweet potato is one of them. Is it justified? Yes! Bright orange sweet potato is packed full of betacarotene, the precursor to vitamin A. A deficiency in this vitamin can lead to a number of health problems, including eyesight and skin disorders. This episode of Food Unwrapped headed off to Africa to investigate these superfood claims, and it is remarkable to see the effects of eat just one sweet potato a day can have. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/superfoods-the-real-story/videos/all/s1-ep2-sweet-potato/4340125985001

If you don’t have time for watching TV, then have a look at this infographic I’ve put together. I’ll be posting some new recipes using sweet potato soon.

Are you a fan? I’d love to hear your favourite ways of eating this tasty tuber!

If you want to make your own infographic but don’t know where to start, check out www.canva.com (this is the site I used!). It’s not as difficult as you might think!

Incredible cruciferous part 2

My last post “Incredible Cruciferous” http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/incredible-cruciferous/ looked at the range of veggies to try in this group and their amazing nutritional properties, as well a few suggested recipes to try out. This time, I want to share some top tips on how to get maximum benefit from these gorgeous vegetables – and a new recipe idea to try out too.

Cruciferous vegetables are determined to provide us with their beneficial properties. Scientists have discovered that raw or cooked cruciferous vegetables have different effects and benefits at varying stages in the gut. In freshly picked broccoli, for example, enzymes stay active for 48 hours. If that broccoli is eaten raw in this time, the enzymes are absorbed more readily in the upper part of the gut; these nutrients then head straight to the liver to be put to good use. Excellent! Storage and heat deactivates these enzymes, however, so the older or more cooked, the less these enzymes are available for absorption in the higher part of the gut. All is not lost though, because bacteria that live in the lower part of the gut reactivate the enzymes. This ensures the nutrients are absorbed as well as keeps the lower gut healthy. It’s a win-win!

Here are some other top tips about eating these super health-supporting vegetables:

  • Food preparation makes a difference. Chopping or cutting these vegetables activates enzymes. So prepare your vegetables and then leave for a few minutes before either eating raw or cooking. This makes the nutrients available throughout the gut.
  • Steam or simmer in soup or stews is the better way to preserves the active enzymes and nutrients; the high heats of boiling or microwaving is too hostile
  • Eat plenty but don’t eat too much! There is evidence that eating excessive amounts of cruciferous vegetables every day for a period of time could lead to an underactive thyroid. There is evidence that a lady who ate 1 -1.5kg of bok choi every day caused her thyroid to stop functioning. This is an extreme amount! So what is a safe amount? A study found that eating 150g brussel sprouts every day for a month had no detrimental effect on thyroid function – that’s still a lot of sprouts!

Kohlrabi is one of the more unusual veggies in this group. Not found so often in supermarkets, they turn up in my Riverford veg box every now and then, and it’s always a joy because I love the crunchy texture. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Recipes mainly focus on the bulb, but the leaves can be eaten too, although better cooked when larger. And who wouldn’t want to eat them – this photo is from a gorgeous purple kohlrabi that turned up in my box this week; the leaves are so pretty!

Packed with vitamin C and B vitamins, kohlrabi also has a good amount of potassium, and in particular has an excellent sodium:potassium ratio, which means it’s good for maintaining blood pressure and heart health. And of course it provides a good dose of fibre, keeping your guts healthy and happy.

This salad is quick to make, light and refreshing, perfect for the hot weather we have been having recently. It’s an excellent side dish for a BBQ, so why not give it a go the next time you light the coals for some summer time dining?

Kohlrabi, carrot and daikon salad (makes 4 large servings)

1 medium kohlrabi
3 medium carrots
1-2 daikon radish
2 spring onions, finely chopped
couple of handfuls of fresh coriander
sprinkle toasted seeds (optional)
For the dressing:
4 heaped tablespoons dairy free yoghurt
1-2 tablespoons tahini
juice of a lime
salt and pepper

Grate the kohlrabi, carrots and radish on a large hole (or get out the spiralizer if you have one). Place in a bowl with the chopped spring onion and half of the fresh coriander. Mix well.

Place the dressing ingredients into a small blender bowl and whizz to mix well. Taste and add more lime, salt or tahini as needed. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well. Sprinkle the remaining chopped coriander and toasted seeds over the top and serve. Enjoy!

Incredible cruciferous

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know by now that veggies are a main part of my daily diet. Packed full of super healthy vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, it’s really important to ensure a selection of vibrant veg are on the plate every day to keep healthy and strong.

Whilst all veggies are good, there is one particular group which are superbly good – cruciferous vegetables. This lovely bunch has been attracting a lot of research recently as they have been found to be particularly good in protecting against and even treating many chronic Western health problems.

So what’s in this diverse vegetable family? There’s a lot to choose from – if you’re not too keen on one, you can find another equally good one to add to your essentials list:

Cabbage – including Chinese cabbage such as bok choi and spring and summer greens

Kale – all types    

Brussel sprouts

Broccoli

Cauliflower

Swede and turnips

Watercress

Radish, include horseradish, wasabi and daikon

Rocket

Kohlrabi

Mustard greens and seeds.

What is it about this group that makes them so healthful? For a start, they have fabulous amounts of vitamin C, E and K, and folic acid, as well as contribute a high amount of fibre, which is essential for happy, healthy guts. Dietary fibre contributes to reducing a number of health problems, including high cholesterol and (the obvious) constipation. But on top of that, cruciferous vegetables contain amazing sulphur containing phytonutrient compounds that help the body to resist chronic health problems and stay healthy. The Linus Pauling Institute in America states that active biological compounds found in them can help reduce inflammation, protect cell DNA and can protect against some cancers, which makes eating a portion of cabbage worthwhile!

The great thing about this group of vegetables is that it’s pretty easy to include in the diet every day; all parts of the plants can be eaten (cauliflower is the flower part, turnip the root and leaves) and as many are traditionally found all round the world in different forms, there’s a whole host of different recipes and flavours to try out. So it’s not about having to force yourself to eat a school dinner’s special of soggy, overcooked cabbage every day, but rather start an exiting journey of discovery that’s great for the taste-buds as well as the body.

Here are a few ideas to try out:

One post is too short to share the glories of this wonderful group of veggies – next time I’ll give you some top tips on getting the most benefit out of these veg plus a new recipe to add to the list. In the meantime, why not try one or all of the above – and let me know how you get on!

Fabulous flaxseeds

It's no surprise to anyone who follows my blog that cake features high on my list of favourite things! When I first went dairy free, I still used eggs in my recipes but this changed once I turned to eating a plant based diet. The question was, how to still make good cake when it was both dairy and egg free?

I soon discovered there are many different alternatives which yield awesomely delicious results. Many of my recipes actually don't need a direct egg replacement, but when required, a flax egg comes to the rescue.

A flax egg is very simple to make, so don't be put off if a recipe asks for one. Just mix one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and leave to thicken for 5 minutes or so. You will end up with a thick, gloopy mix, similar to a whisked egg. It doesn't look that appetising, but you won't notice it once added to your recipe.

Flaxseed, otherwise known as linseed, is a tiny powerhouse of plant based nutrients; if you haven't yet discovered these seeds, then you really might want to! Packed full of super healthy essential omega 3 fatty acids, flaxseeds are also a fabulous source of complete plant protein, minerals like manganese and magnesium as well as some of the B vitamins and phytonutrients called lignans that act as anti-oxidants and help to balance hormones. On top of that is the fibre; packed with soluble and insoluble fibre, flaxseeds not only keep you regular but also feed friendly gut bacteria (a pre-biotic), so promoting gut health. All that fibre also helps to steady blood sugar levels and fills you up too. So much goodness in one little seed! But a word of warning - if you are not used to a high fibre diet, then go easy to start off with and have a little at a time, building up slowly otherwise your gut might get a bit overwhelmed!

To get the nutritional benefits, flaxseed need to be ground as the tough outer coating is too much for our digestive systems to crack into properly. You can buy it ready ground, but many products are quite expensive, and once ground the seeds start to lose some of their nutritional powers. So it's much better to grind your own in small batches, then keep them in the fridge ready for use. You will need a coffee grinder or high-speed blender for this - an average food processor just isn't up to the job! I do a small batch at a time in my NutriBlend and store them in an old jam jar.

So what else can you use flaxseed in apart from cake? Lots of things - here's a few suggestions:

  • in raw snacks and cakes
  • sprinkled on breakfast cereals
  • on yoghurt
  • added to a crumble topping
  • as a binder for pastry
  • added to smoothies
  • thicken soups or stews
  • in homemade bread or crackers

Flaxseed oil also has some amazing nutritional uses, but that's a blog post for another day! In the meantime, why not grab some flaxseed the next time you're shopping and add it into your daily diet. Let me know how you get on!

 

 

Celebrating garlic

Out of all the ‘national days’ and ‘awareness’ weeks that pop up during the year, National Garlic Day (19th April) is one that really is worth celebrating. As well as adding flavour and pungency to even the most simplest of dishes, this small, stinky bulb also has some wonderful medicinal properties too. Food as medicine is certainly true when it comes to garlic!

Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, with Sanskrit records documenting its use 5000 year ago. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian also document it’s use, and it has been used around the world to treat coughs, colds, dysentery, heart disease and toothache to name a few. And that’s not forgetting it’s magical powers to ward off vampires – or at least a bad date! One of my books about food quotes this 17th century poem by Sir John Harrington about the pros and cons of garlic, although I’m not sure why it ‘maketh men wink’!

There is so much to write about garlic, more for a book than a blog post. Instead, I want to share a couple of top tips about making the most of garlic’s beneficial properties, as well as a couple of alternative ways to use it in cooking plant based dishes to add more flavour and depth.

Garlic has a multitude of different health-giving active compounds that work together. Many of these are sulphur-containing compound which activate enzyme functions within the body. One particularly beneficial substance is alliinase (yes, two i’s!), an enzyme that is released when a garlic clove is crushed. This aids the formation of allicin, one of the active organo-sulphur compounds in garlic, that is associated with many of garlic’s healthy attributes, as well as the recognisably pungent garlic aroma.

Cooking for more than a few minutes can kill off the alliinase and therefore reduce the health giving properties within the garlic, so a top tip is to crush garlic and leave it to stand for 10 minutes before frying or boiling in a sauce to enable the alliinase to do it’s job and activate the allicin before it’s killed off.  It seems that baking, however, keeps many of the active properties intact – research done in 2007 found that baking did not significantly affect it’s anti-clotting properties, although over cooking did. This is good news for those who find raw garlic rather indigestible but still want to get the goodness in.

Amongst its many medicinal uses, raw garlic has been shown to be effective in the treatment of cancers, particularly in the digestive system. It is also has anti-fungal effects and can be used to treat candida infections. This requires more than your normal clove in a pasta sauce though, and often adding garlic into a green juice is recommended. Not that I have tried this as yet, I’m not that brave! But my trusty healing foods encyclopaedia suggests wrapping the garlic up in a green vegetable like parsley. The cloves are juiced more effectively, and this also helps reduce some of the after odour, as the chlorophyll in the greens binds up some of the sulphurous compounds. Good to know if you’re planning on trying it and socialising the same day!

I use a lot of garlic in my recipes, raw and cooked, as it’s a great way to infuse flavour. To add extra depth, I often add roasted garlic. Roasting is easy to do and, as we have seen above, preserves it’s medicinal properties. Just wrap a clove or two up in tin foil and pop it in the oven for 15 minutes or so whilst you are cooking something else – you’ll know when it’s ready as delicious, garlicky wafts start emanating out of the oven! Leave to cool then wrap in clean foil or baking paper and keep in the fridge until you want to use it. Add it to dips, plant based patés, sauces, mashed veggies – even spread it directly on toast, it’s delicious! The flavour is sweeter, less pungent and doesn’t linger in the the same way as raw.

The other way of infusing strong flavour into dishes is to use smoked garlic. If you haven’t already done so, this is really worth a go – but be careful, it’s powerful stuff and will create a flavour explosion with only a small amount. Previously I have bought mine from farm shops (if you’re ever visiting the Isle of Wight, the Garlic Farm is amazing and has some wonderful smoked garlic), although I did see it recently in my local supermarket as well. I have some garlic growing in my little veg patch, and want to smoke my own, but think I’ll wait until BBQ season to give it a go, as creating an indoor smoker looks like a major fire hazard!

So enjoy National Garlic Day, and don’t forget to crush your garlic and leave it to activate before cooking. And if you happen to have a friend who has their own smoker in their shed, then let me know!