We are using small amounts of natural sugar sweeteners. Organic dates, raw honey, stevia or fresh fruit juice has been chosen for our recipes. Raw honey is unprocessed (it has not been heated or pasteurised) and packed with natural vitamins and amino acids. Agave syrup is natural, plant derived alternative to natural sugar.
Wild-caught fish, meat and poultry
If you can, it is by far the best to eat meat from animals that have been raised in natural environments, and with their natural foods, such as grass-fed beef. Cows are ruminants and their digestive systems are developed to eat grass. Pasture-raised animals enjoy a much higher quality of life than those confined within industrialise ‘factory farming’ environments, moving around freely and eating the way ruminants are meant to eat. Grain-fed animals are usually crowded into cramped facilities, often without access to fresh air of sunlight with their unnatural diet causing all manner of health problems. Both their unnatural diets and the stressful, overcrowded conditions they are raised in are a breeding ground for bacteria, which is why they are routinely treated with antibiotics to prevent outbreaks of disease.
Antibiotic resistance is a common outcome, which many are claiming has contributed to the development of the ‘superbugs’ that now affect humans. Add the synthetic growth hormones and/or steroids they’re subjected to speed up their growth, and you have a potent cocktail of misery and toxicity that you do not want to be taking on board. And it’s not just your own body that bears thinking about as industrial farming involves large amounts of fossil fuels to truck feed and animal waste around, and the use of herbicides and pesticides on crops grown for feed which pollute the air, ground water and soil, all of which have a terribly disruptive effect on the environment. Interestingly, the European Union has banned the use of implants in beef and refuses to import American beef treated with chemicals even though trade sanctions have been levied against them for this action. If you are what you eat, you are what you eat ate.
So while truly pasture-raised meat comes at a premium, it’s worth considering the hidden personal and collective costs of the industrial system when you make your choice. Numerous studies have shown that both the meat and the milk derived from grass-fed beef contains more CLA, more antioxidants, and more vitamins and minerals than that from grain-fed animals. The same applies to other forms of red meat (including wild meats or venison) and poultry so even though you might have to work a little harder to find it, the health benefits alone are worth the effort. Beware you don’t allow yourself to be ‘greenwashed’ by labels containing terms that actually don’t mean much as there are loads of suppliers out there who will happily have you thinking that their animals were raised ethically, when in fact they actually weren’t. For example, ‘pasture-raised’ doesn’t always mean livestock has grass to eat, and ‘access to the outdoors’ can mean only a small doorway in one side of a densely packed barn.
In addition to grass-fed red meats and naturally fed poultry, the so called ‘fatty’ fish such as salmon are also very rich in high-quality proteins and many nutrients. Most of the fats are omega 3 fatty acids, which most us don’t get enough of. The big BUT here is that while we might think that fish are caught as they freely roam the seas and rivers, most of the salmon in supermarkets has been farmed, so you’re looking at the same level of antibiotic and other noxious content. The Environmental Working Group, working with other researchers in Canada, Ireland and the UK, have found that cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) exist in farm-raised salmon at 16 times the rate of wild salmon. So look out for wild-caught salmon or at least wild-farmed, RSPCA- approved salmon, as this way you’ll know it’s clean.
Botanically, cacao is a nut, with the chocolate most of us are at least somewhat enslaved to coming from cacao beans, which are in turn the seeds of the cacao fruit. Rich in magnesium (the highest source of magnesium in all foods in fact) and flavanol antioxidants, cacao contains far more antioxidants per 100 g than acai berries, goji berries or blueberries. It is also a great source of serotonin, dopamine and phenylethylamine, three well-studied neurotransmitters, as well as the amino acid tryptophan, all of which help alleviate depression and are associated with feelings of wellbeing – little wonders it’s the go-to substance for many of us when stuff goes down that exceeds our stress thresholds.
It’s the trash that goes into commercial chocolate that puts it on the ‘to be seriously avoided’ list. However, using raw cacao nibs, powder and butter are perfectly permissible, if not downright desirable, given the properties noted above. Blend the nibs into your smoothies (great with a shot of organic espresso), or add to your trail mixes and granolas. Use the powder and butter for raw desserts and treats. Expensive they most certainly are, but with an intensity of flavour in a little giving a lot of satisfaction. So, what’s the difference between raw cacao and cocoa powder? Both are produced by grinding cocoa nibs to a paste or liquor and then removing the cocoa butter (the fat component of the cocoa).
During the production of raw cacao powder, the cocoa butter is removed by cold-pressing, with the temperature constantly monitored to ensure it does not exceed about 40 ̊C – in theory at any rate, given there is no certifying body monitoring this. Cocoa powder, on the other hand, arises from a process where the beans are hydraulically pressed to remove the cocoa butter, and this process generates lots of heat, frequently in excess of 150 ̊C. Look out for natural, unsweetened cocoa powder if you can find it, which is bitter and slightly acidic, and needs to be paired with an alkali, such as baking soda, to reduce the acidity.
Most commercial cocoa powder, however, is Dutch processed, which means it has its natural acids neutralised with an alkali, but this results in it having up to 90% fewer antioxidants than natural cocoa powder. It is less bitter though, with a milder, mellower flavour. As heat destroys the antioxidants, it makes sense to use raw cocoa for raw dishes and natural, unsweetened cocoa for baked goods.
This favourite and familiar food and ingredient gets its name from xocoatl, an Aztec word that means ‘bitter water’. Many forms of chocolate are used in the culinary arena, but whether it is unsweetened, milk, bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, all these forms use a base of ‘cocoa liquor’ that is derived from ground, roasted and blended small pieces of the cacao bean nibs. The higher the cocoa percentage, the lower the percentage of other ingredients, such as milk solids or sugar, which is why the highest cocoa percentage you can handle is recommended when you’re desperate for little fix – dark chocolate has an ORAC score of 21 00 by the way, an indication of the level of antioxidants it contains. Truly medicinal stuff!
On a dietary and culinary level alone, the coconut is arguably deserving of the title ‘superfood’ given its nutritional profile and the fact that we can use the coconut flesh (fresh or dried), the water, the milk or cream, the fat or oil, and the sweetener that is derived from the coconut blossom nectar. In fact, coconut is an indispensable food item for most people under the tropical belt. It is a complete food rich in calories, vitamins and minerals.
A medium-sized nut, carrying 400g edible flesh and some 30-150ml of water, may provide almost all the daily-required essential minerals, vitamins and energy for an average-sized individual. Although its flesh is disproportionately high in saturated fats in comparison to other common edible nuts, coconut has many bioactive compounds that are essential for better health. And the important saturated fatty acid in the coconut is lauric acid. Lauric acid increased good HDL cholesterol levels in the blood (HDL is high-density lipoprotein, which has beneficial effects on the coronary arteries by preventing vessel blockade aka atherosclerosis).Its water is one of nature’s most refreshing drinks, consumed worldwide for its nutritious and health-benefiting properties, composed as it is of a very particular combinations of sugars, B-complex vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamine and pyridoxine, and folates, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, cytokine and phyto-hormones.
Fresh coconut juice is also one of the highest sources of electrolytes known to humankind, and can be used to prevent dehydration, for instance in cases of diarrhoea or strenuous exercise, instead of a sugary sports drink. Coconut flour is made from ground and dried coconut flesh. One of the many health benefits of coconut flour is its high levels of healthy saturated fats in the form of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). These are used by the body easily for energy and help to support a healthy metabolism, and balanced blood sugar levels. It is also high in fibre and protein, and low in sugar, digestible carbohydrates and calories, with a low score on the glycaemic index.
Almond flour is one of the key ingredients in most low-carb baking. Almond flour is higher in overall calories and fat and is lower in carbs than coconut flour but doesn’t have the same levels of fibre. Coconuts contain MUFA fatty acids and thus they are low in omeg-6 fats, while nuts in general add omega-6 fats to your diet. Coconut flour absorbs more water than almond flour does due to its high-fibre content, is denser, and creates a softer product than almond flour. Almond flour also has a stronger taste and tastes like almonds, while coconut flour has a milder taste. Combine these two types of flours as they balance one another out in some respects.
Arrowroot ‘flour’ or powder is a fine powdery substance that is made from the roots of a tropical plant widely cultivated in the Philippines, Caribbean islands and South America. It’s a starch, but a very digestible one which contains very good levels of the B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, thiamine, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. Many of these vitamins take part as substrates for enzymes in carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism in the body, we use it in small amounts to help ‘stick’ gluten-free baked goods together while adding some tenderness along the way. Flax meal, cassava, organic cultured millet, quinoa and brown rice is also used extensively in low-carb, gluten-free baking as a form of ‘flour’.
One of the biggest benefits nuts have to offer is their gamma-tocopherol content. Gamma-tocopherol is a type of Vitamin E that acts as a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radical damage and oxidative stress that are linked to many chronic illnesses and to cancer in particular. To get maximum nutrition it is best to soak them before they are eaten.
As with dairy, though, not all eggs are equal. Ethical considerations aside, chickens raised in stressful environments – eating corn and soy, pumped with antibiotics, and relegated to a tiny cage that would result in atrophy were it not for the steroids – do not produce high-quality eggs. When it comes to quality of life, there is no comparison between the life of truly free-range hens and that of battery-cage hens, and that quality of life shows up in the eggs. Eggs from hens that are truly free range and naturally fed (natural for chickens that is) have a much higher nutritional value and are specifically higher nutritional value and are specifically higher in omega-3s, beta-carotene and the vitamins E and A.
One US study has also shown that free-range eggs are also 98% less likely to carry salmonella than those from chickens raised in battery cages. However, be very aware that ‘free range’ is something of a loose term, with interpretations varying wildly, and not much by way of oversight in this country, so where you can, procure yourself eggs from somewhere you know the chickens really, really do run around freely and are fed their natural foods.
Dairy products remain controversial, being praised by many health organisations as an essential food for bone health with other experts of the view that dairy is harmful and should be avoided. Before the agricultural revolution, humans only drank mother’s milk as infants. They didn’t consume dairy as adults, which is one of the reasons dairy is considered ‘unnatural’ and is excluded in many health regimens.
About 75% of the world’s population suffers from lactose intolerance as we lose the ability as we grow up to produce the digestive enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose (the main form of carbohydrate in dairy).It is, however, full of highly bio-available saturated fat, protein and carbs in equal measure and for those who can tolerate it, there are numerous studies showing that dairy products have clear benefits for bone health, improving bone density in the young and lowering the risk of fractures in the elderly.
That said, of course, not all dairy products are the same, varying greatly depending on how the cows were raised and how the dairy was processed. Cows that are raised on pastured and fed grass have more omega-3 fatty acids and up to 500% more CLA. Grass-fed dairy is also much higher in fat-soluble vitamins, especially Vitamin K2, a nutrient that is incredibly important for regulating calcium metabolism and has major benefits of both bone and heart health. Keep in mind that these healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins are not present in low-fat or skim dairy products, which are often loaded with sugar to make up for the lack of flavour caused by removing the fat.
Sources of good fats include olives, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Trying to find the healthiest oil to cook with is something of a daunting task. Particularly when you’re cooking at a high heat, you want to use oils that are stable and don’t oxidise or go rancid easily. When oils undergo oxidation, they react with oxygen to form free radicals and other harmful compounds that you definitely don’t want to be taking on board. Try to stick with organic, unrefined, cold-processed oils.
Avoid oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats (such as corn, cottonseed, soy, sunflower and certain other seed oils) as they’re also loaded with omega-6s and most of us have too many of these in our diets anyway, With high-temperature cooking, use oils with a higher smoke point, such as hazelnut oil, avocado oil, coconut oil or clarified butter. For low-temperature cooking, or for dressing dishes and salad dressings, chose oils with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids as they promote healthy cells, decrease stroke and heart attack risk and have an anti-inflammatory action.
Use pure, clean, water when drinking and cooking. Most tap water contains chemicals, radiation, heavy metals, pharmaceutical drugs and fluoride.