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Benefits of Basil
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Benefits of Basil

Adding herbs and spices to your dishes is not just about flavour.  There are a host of nutritional benefits and it’s a good idea to include them in your diet each day. Basil is one such example.  It evokes the aroma’s of Italian sauces and adds a perfect pop to a pizza.  It’s also really good for you.

One benefit is its anti-bacterial qualities, so much so that food scientists are currently looking at using basil oil in food packaging that will act as an antimicrobial agent, inhibiting the growth of food-borne bacteria. Another benefit is its anti-inflammatory properties, but what does this mean?  In general, eating food that inhibits inflammation is about reducing your risk of many preventable diseases in later life and improving your overall health.  It’s about using food as part of a disease prevention plan.  Basil has an active ingredient called Eugenol which has anti-inflammatory properties, so it can help reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes.

It also is a great source of vitamin K (a nutrient important for bone health) and a ¼ cup delivers nearly a 3rd of your daily intake.

A great way to get plenty of basil into your diet is by adding pesto to your meals.  Add it to fish or chicken, stir through pasta, add to tomato and serve on toast or add it your pizza. Yum!

Don’t refrigerate your basil. Store at room temperature in a glass of water.  It’s best used on the day of purchase, as it wilts very quickly and get depleted of nutrients.  If you have any left over, simply process with a bit of olive oil and freeze it in an ice-cube tray.  Better still, grow your own so you only pick what you need.

BASIL PESTO RECIPE

Benefits of BasilBasil evokes aroma’s of fresh Italian dishes and can be eaten cooked or raw.  Not only is is so delicious, it’s also incredibly healthy. Read about the health benefits of basil here and enjoy this simple pesto recipe.

Ingredients

3 cups well packed basil leaves
1 cup well packed fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to cover when storing
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (leave out if you’re diary free)
Salt
Fresh ground pepper

Instructions

  • Combine all ingredients (except the cheese, salt and pepper) in a food processor or blender and whizz to a smooth paste.
  • Stir in the cheese and add salt and pepper to taste
  • Pour into an airtight container and add the extra olive oil to cover the surface (this prevents discolouration)
  • Store in the fridge for up to 7 days or freeze for 3 months

Tip: Great with grilled fish, chicken or lamb or stirred through vegetables

Sub-lethal poisons in food
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Get Your Daily Dose of Poison – Seriously!

Sub-lethal poisons in foodIn my last post I wrote about the fact that the marketing and hype around taking antioxidant supplements is not supported by the research – and that numerous research studies show that taking anti-oxidant supplements (especially individual supplements) may actually cause us harm – partly by down-regulating our own natural antioxidant defence system.

However, it’s important to differentiate between supplements and real food – fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of anti-oxidants, and they have them in a complex cocktail that is necessary to sustain life.

There are quite a few researchers who question whether the quantity of antioxidants in fruit and vegetables is enough to have a significant physiological effect in humans, and that the antioxidant defence model has been massively oversimplified. I (and many others) feel that we should be talking much less about anti-oxidants and much more about plant botanicals, or phytochemicals, in general.

Polyphenols are a sub-class of phytochemicals and some of them act as antioxidants (improving cell survival through complex mechanisms), whereas some act as pro-oxidants.

As we have over-egged (and over-simplified) the antioxidant story, I want to focus on the pro-oxidant story, which is really a story of hormesis in action. Remember from earlier posts that hormesis is the stress resistance that comes from sub-lethal exposures to toxins that would be lethal at higher doses.

It turns out that sub-lethal exposure to pro-oxidants in fruit & veg up-regulates protectives genes (increases gene expression), which not only increases our powerful anti-oxidant defence systems, but can also prevent tumor growth.

Let’s take the cells of our brain, known as neurons, and investigate how hormetic plant chemicals can protect against Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

WARNING – geeky science bit inbound!! – It is known that Galantamine (from the snowdrop plant) increases levels of an important neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (which is reduced by AD). Cathechinsfrom Tea, Caffeine from tea & coffee, and Capsaicin from capsicums/peppers help this acetylcholine to release calcium ions in the other neurons (which is how the brain works). Inside the neurons, the plant TOXINS Sulphoraphane (from brocolli), Curcumin(from the spice tumeric), Resveratrol (from grapes – and wine!) and Allumin(from onions and garlic) all help to increase the expression of protective genes, which produce growth factors as well as our endogenous anti-oxidants that combat the cellular stresses that create the damaged proteins that are teh hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease.

This is not a process that is exclusive to the brain – it happens in all of our cells and it turns out that the vast array of plant phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables play critical roles in cellular metabolism.

There are a long list of phytochemicals that have been broken down into numerous sub-classes (such as Flavenoids, isoflavones, Lignans and Cartenoids) and studies have shown that these plant phytochemicals protect us against Aging, Cardiovascular Diseases, Diabetes, Cancer and Brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases.

The bottom line – eat real foods that we have co-existed with for millions of years, rather than eating a diet with significant processed foods and trying to off-set it with chemically manufactured supplements.

Lastly, remember that hormesis is about a sub-lethal exposure and that although many plant phytochemicals are great for our health, overconsumption of some of these can have both beneficial and harmful effects – soy isoflavines being one example. Eating a varied diet rich in fruit and veg will help keep you healthy –partly by exposing you to small doses of poison!