I love a good bargain. The other day I was at T.J. Maxx and found this simple, beautiful peachy-pink top for $14.99. It even had a layered look with straps and went long, which I like. It is now hanging in my closet waiting for a sunny day of 70 degrees or more.
Just like clothes, I like a good bargain in foods. I am always on the hunt for foods that give you a lot of nutrition and fighting power per bite. Good news! The five foods I am sharing here are amazing. You can squeeze from them 10 and even 40 times more nutrition power by following some prep and storage tips.
Part of the secret in these foods’ fighting power is how you select and prepare them. I have highlighted the secret tips for each food. On top of this, two chefs from top restaurants in the area and one caterer have very generously created recipes to showcase these food items. Give these recipes a try, find one that you look forward to making and put it on your regular menu rotation:
Arugula is a dark green salad leaf with a slightly bitter, mustardy, and peppery flavor. It is actually part of the cruciferous family of vegetables which launches it into super power nutrition class because it is stocked full of phytonutrients.
Super-Natural Nutrition Fighting Powers: The secret power in arugula comes from compounds called glucosinolates. These compounds are great at fighting off cancer and are heart-protective, too. The glucosinolates in the leaves are broken down when they are chopped. This is because the chopping releases an enzyme that is otherwise tucked away in the cells. But once you start chopping away it is released to do its good work. This enzyme works with the glucosinolates to form the tough warriors isothiocyanates and indoles. This is a little complicated but it is key you understand you need to chop or tear to start the powerful process.
Prep Secret: Acid in your stomach and heat from cooking stop the secret power conversion with the enzyme. So you want to chop the arugula (or tear it up into bit-sized pieces) and let it sit for 10 minutes before eating or heating. This small step will give you 3 to 20 times more cancer fighting and heart protective properties.
Selecting and Storage: Look for vibrant green leaves, which indicate a high level of nutrients. Keep arugula dry and store in a cool place in a micro-perforated bag in the crisper drawer of your frig. You can make your own with a baggie and paper towel in it to absorb moisture and several small hole punctures to allow air to circulate. Try to use within a few days of getting to preserve the flavor and nutrition.
BOTTOM LINE: In the store, select the greenest and freshest leaves. Take time to chop and tear up arugula and let it sit 10 minutes before continuing on with the recipe.
At the end of this article is a delicious recipe for Arugula Salad from Executive Chef Jared Lin at Barley & Rye Bistro in downtown Moline.
Wild blueberries are smaller than domesticated berries and are very dark in color. Most wild blueberries are grown in Maine and Canada in the ‘wild’. Regular blueberries are still packed with powerful fighting nutrients, but in today’s market it is easy to find wild blueberries. To me, they are worth the little extra cost for their more intense flavor and nutrition.
Super-Natural Nutrition Fighting Powers: Blueberries contain the powerful antioxidant anthocycanin, and wild blueberries have significantly more of this powerful defense for your body than domesticated blueberries. This secret antioxidant fights tumors, lowers blood pressure, reduces plaque buildup and reduces inflammation – all in a big way. There is even some growing evidence for slowing age-related dementia including Alzheimers, the sixth leading cause of death in this country. And all these benefits from these tiny full-flavored berries without any side effects.
Prep Secret: Keep them frozen until you need them. Do not thaw them on the counter or in the frig. You want to “flash thaw” them. You can do this in the microwave. I know, it sounds counter intuitive. I thought the microwave would destroy the nutrients, but the opposite is true. Tests show that thawing in the microwave retains twice as many antioxidants as berries that are thawed at room temp or in the frig. By keeping the time down on thawing, the bad enzymes in blueberries which destroy nutrients, have little time to do their dirty work. The result: more than a double in savings of antioxidants.
One more amazing fact about blueberries – cooked is better than raw. The heat rearranges the structure of the phytonutrients and makes them more bioavailable. Keep in mind this is not true for all fruits and vegetables, just berries. So make more berry tarts, cobblers, scones, pancakes, sauces and syrups.
Selecting and Storage: Frozen is actually a great option. The berries are flash frozen within a couple hours after being harvested. This freezing stops the bad enzyme in blueberries from destroying the berries’ phytonutrients and vitamin C.
BOTTOM LINE: Select small and intense purple wild blueberries. Keep them frozen until you need them. Either transfer them directly from the freezer to cooking in the recipe or “flash thaw” them in the microwave to reduce the time they are at room temp.
You’ll find a recipe for Blueberry Scones with Blueberry Topping at the end of this article.
Cherry & Grape Tomatoes
With some simple tips, you can increase your nutrition and phytochemicals in tomatoes by as much as 20 times. Yes, 20 times! Tomatoes, like many fruits and vegetables, were given a major makeover during the 19th and 20th centuries. They were farmed to make them more uniform in appearance, higher yield and more attractive looking. What they left off though was flavor and nutrition.
Most tomatoes in the store are harvested two weeks before they turn red in order to make transporting easier. Once tomatoes reach regional warehouses they are fully ripened using ethylene gas. This entire process is safe, but reduces by a long shot the nutrition and flavor of the tomatoes you see in the grocery store.
Super-Natural Nutrition Fighting Powers: Tomatoes are part of the class of fruits and vegetables called carotenoids. The carotenoid in tomatoes is called lycopene. The red color comes from the lycopene, so you want more intense red tomatoes (the yellow taste great but have less lycopene in them). For the typical U.S. diet tomatoes are the biggest source of this powerful antioxidant.
Lycopene plays a big role in many cancers, we know for sure prostate and evidence is growing for breast, digestive tract, cervix, bladder and lung. Lycopene blocks free radicals in the body. It also interferes with the growth factors that stimulate cancer cells to grow and multiply. Another benefit is its natural sunblock ability – a natural SPF for your skin that happens from just eating it.
Prep Secret: Cooked is best, even longer cooking times are great. Studies find the lycopene is doubled with cooking times of 30 minutes or more. The cooking breaks the tomato’s cell wall, making the nutrients more bioavailable. Secondly, cooking changes the lycopene molecule into a new configuration that is easier for your body to absorb. Canned tomato products are super high in the antioxidant lycopene with tomato paste being king of concentrated amounts.
Selecting and Storage: First and foremost: smaller tomatoes are better. This is why cherry and even the smaller grape tomatoes have a whole bunch more flavor and nutrition stuffed in them. Secondly, the more red the color the more lycopene the tomato has. So pick the reddest and smallest tomatoes. Use them in salads, cooking, omelets, guacamole, salsa, tacos and to snack on.
The last secret is to store them at room temp (55 – 70 degrees). The worst thing you can do is to store them in the refrigerator. When the internal temp of a tomato dips below 50 degrees, it stops producing flavor compounds. So they will taste less sweet and bitterer when refrigerated.
BOTTOM LINE: Select the reddest, smallest cherry or grape tomatoes to use in recipes and cook them for longer times, but even raw as a snack is good. Store fresh tomatoes at room temp. Lastly, when you can, sneak in tomato paste to dishes, and don’t be afraid to double up on tomato sauce for pastas and pizzas.
Check out the recipe at the end of my post for Garlic and Tomato Sauce from Catering & Events Planner Ronnie Brooks with The Butcher’s Daughter.
Even during World War II, before penicillin became widely available, Russian medics applied raw garlic to infected wounded soldiers and coined the term “Russian penicillin.” There is some truth to it. One milligram of allicin, the main active ingredient in garlic, is equivalent to 15 international units of penicillin. Each garlic clove has 7 to 13 milligrams of allicin, so three cloves of garlic are nearly the same antibacterial activity as a standard dose of penicillin. Garlic definitely is not a replacement for penicillin, but it definitely has strong antibacterial properties.
Fortunately, the garlic we have today is very similar to the garlic from hundreds of years ago. There has been little attention given to trying to grow larger, sweeter or milder tasting garlic. This means there is a lot of nutrition power in the garlic that we find today in the grocery store.
Super-Natural Nutrition Fighting Powers: Garlic's power as a heath promoter comes from its rich variety of sulfur-containing compounds. Of the nearly one hundred nutrients in garlic, the most important in terms of health benefits is the sulfur compound allicin—an amino acid. Allicin is not present in whole garlic, but it is formed when cloves are crushed, chewed, or cut.
Eating one clove of crushed garlic studies have found can decrease your bad cholesterol by as much as 10 percent. For cancer, preliminary studies suggest that garlic consumption may reduce the risk of developing several types of cancer, especially of the gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, the garlic component diallyl disulfide is being studied for potent preventative effects against skin, colon and lung cancers.
Another benefit--garlic may help improve your iron metabolism. That's because the diallyl sulfides in garlic can help increase production of a protein called ferroportin.
Prep Secret: “Press, then rest.” You want to mince or press garlic and then let it rest for 10 minutes. This way you can save all the fighting properties of garlic before heating it. You lose 90 percent of the cancer-fighting ability in just microwaving 60 seconds without any resting period or in as little as 2 minutes of sautéing without resting.
A garlic press does the job the best. It maximizes the breakdown of the garlic cell walls, thus increase the production of allicin to its peak. You want a garlic press with a large bowl that can press several cloves at once and is easy to hold.
Selecting and Storage: Look for garlic with plump, firm cloves, tightly wrapped in outer intact wrapper. Stay clear of convenience products (pre-peeled, powdered, and minced in a jar) with the exception of freeze-dried garlic. The convenience products are lacking in flavor and nutrition. Store fresh garlic in a sealed container out of light with some circulation (brown paper bag).
BOTTOM LINE: Press garlic and then let rest for 10 minutes before continuing on with the recipe. Stay away from convenience products and opt instead for a good garlic press.
Try this delicious Garlic and Tomato Sauce from Catering & Events Planner Ronnie Books with the Butcher’s Daughter. The recipe, like the others, is at the end of this article.
Kale is king when it comes to nutrition and special detoxifying molecules that can help your health. It dates back to 2000 BC when it was first cultivated in ancient Greece and Italy. Amazingly, the kale we grow today has changed very little since then.
Super-Natural Nutrition Fighting Powers: The secret power in kale comes from compounds called glucosinolates. Kale along with Brussel spouts have the most glucosinolates of all the vegetables. See above under arugula for details on how the glucosinolates work their powers. In test-tube studies, extracts of kale have blocked the progression of six types of cancer. Kale is also one of the highest vegetables in antioxidants based on the ORAC scale. ORAC stands for oxygen radical absorbance capacity. On top of all this, kale is a good source of carotenoids, another cancer fighting component. No surprise that kale is a top fighter for both cancer and heart disease.
Prep Secret: The best is to chop and let kale sit for 10 minutes and then add to salads. You will reap up to 3 to 20 times MORE of the cancer fighting components doing this one small step. For cooking, go with steaming or sautéing in a little oil to preserve nutrients. A bonus is cooking softens the bitter flavor and the sulphur-like order is gone. If you bake kale (like for kale chips), keep the temp low – 325 degrees or less.
Selecting and Storage: To get the most from kale, store it in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and use it within a few days of buying. Keep kale dry and store in a cool place in a micro-perforated bag in the crisper drawer of your frig. You can make your own with a baggie and paper towel in it to absorb moisture and several small hole punctures to allow air to circulate.
Look for kale with leaves that look fresh, are firm, unwilted and free from signs of browning, yellowing, and small holes. Choose kale with smaller-sized leaves since these will be more tender and have a more mild flavor than those with larger leaves.
BOTTOM LINE: Chop then let rest for ten minutes before continuing on with the recipe. If heating, use low heat with a little olive oil. Store in bags in the fridge.
A big thank you to the chefs and catering company that so generously contributed the recipes:
Catering & Events Planner Ronnie Brooks at The Butcher’s Daughter at (309) 236-1718.