So, it’s out with the five-a-day message and in with the 7. Or perhaps 10. Or maybe just more than we are currently eating.
To my delight, scrolling across the ticker tape style heading, was news of the latest and biggest UK study on diet and health. And for once the news was good. Better than good. This study, from the esteemed University College London, delivered the unambiguous news: plants protect. But more than that, we now have a good idea of the amount that we need to eat to get protected.
To some it seems a helluva lot.
Of course media pundits, some dieticians and other cautious health professionals have been lining up to throw cold water on the results. But, this snapshot study of 65,000 UK adults, cross linked with national death records, states in its conclusion that “A robust inverse association exists between fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality, with benefits seen in up to 7+ portions daily. Further investigations into the effects of different types of fruit and vegetables are warranted.” This was published in a respected journal under the British Medical Journal umbrella. They controlled as much as possible for all of the usual suspects – social class, income, other lifestyle factors like drinking and smoking. And still the data shone. Robustly.
Much of the handwringing today has been due to the indisputable fact not many people are listening to the 5-a-day message. And if they aren’t heeding the 5 a day advice what hope a 7 a day one? Or more? And incidentally, the study did not look at ‘or more’ but other data appears to support up to 12 vegetables and fruits a day.
The current and incumbent number-picked-at-random 5-a-day message (a well-meaning but not scientifically backed campaign from 1991) is understood and recitable by almost anyone you ask in the UK. But I agree that hardly anyone seems to be attaining it, let alone breaching it to get to 10. However, that doesn’t make the study wrong, or not worth discussing.
Instead of saying that increasing our plant food intake is pie in the sky – budgets, time, taste, desire – why aren’t health professionals and other concerned bodies making it their business to show that it is achievable by almost anyone, on almost any budget? And wouldn’t it be a fantastic achievement for governments to not just pay lip service to healthy eating but back it up with money to make or enable real food to be more affordable and accessible for all?
Simply prepared seasonal veg paired up with low-cost pulses and beans will nearly always be cheaper, more flavourful and healthier than a pre-prepared equivalent. And now we really have pretty solid evidence that vegetables and fruits can prevent disease and prolong life. Isn’t that much more appealing than popping pills for existing ills and suffering the side effects? Does it really matter that the ‘how‘ is still elusive?
There is so much more I could say on this, but I know that I would be preaching to the choir. I know it isn’t you that needs convincing. But I would urge you to spread the message, by word and deed. Bring a healthy veggie lasagne to your next pot luck supper (and I mean healthy, not just vegetarian), take in sweet ripe cherry tomatoes to fill the office sweets bowl, bake some kale chips for your next book group – do whatever you can to gently educate those around you. I feel very strongly in collective responsibility on this issue. We can’t wait for government, the food industry, the media to get their finger out/embrace the really simple but empowering message that we are what we eat. We need to do it ourselves. And fast.
Feeling calmer now.
Today as I was preparing a (vegan) meal for tomorrow’s cancer nutrition class I was listening to one of the talk radio stations. Although there were the usual Mr Angry ‘nobody can tell me what to eat/do’ type of callers, there were many more calling in with good and do-able ideas for making fruit and especially veg the centre of our daily diet. And quite a number of these people were also saying how much doing so had improved their lives in many ways. What struck me more than their suggestions and stories was how happy these people sounded. I could ‘hear’ them smiling as they were speaking. It made me feel very hopeful that perhaps this credible study will sink into the collective conscious of us all. At least it is a start.
So, the recipe. A salad. A salad packed with more vegetables than may actually fit on one plate. You’ll have to get a big plate. A platter in fact.
And why not a salad? After all it is summer. Or at least the change in clocks says so. In fact it feels anything but. Today I found out how unwaterproof are Ugg boots. And my waterproof ski (!) jacket is dripping over the shower rail. To top it off I have a cat under each arm for warmth (their idea, not mine). But I really couldn’t keep back this recipe for when the weather decides to play ball. So here is my Loaded Cauliflower Couscous Salad with Roasted Turmeric Chickpeas to honour today’s happy food news. It is a bit OTT but I hope you like it. I think Hippocrates would approve.
How do you get your five + a day? What are the guidelines in your country?
Two years ago: Caldo Gallego – Spanish Greens and Potato Soup
Three years ago: Chocolate Beetroot Cake (one of my most popular recipes at my cancer nutrition classes)
This a healthy, pick n mix salad based around the idea of using cauliflower as a substitute for couscous. Of course use couscous if you wish – wholegrain would be fab – but do consider the ‘grainified’ cauliflower. It’s super simple and surprisingly effective as a carb-alike. Try and have all of the add-ins prepared before the cauliflower and optional roasted chickpeas are ready.
Oh, before I let you get on with this, I’ve given a simple lemon dressing with added dukkah seasoning. However this salad is very amenable to going in a completely different direction. I’m thinking lime, orange, cumin and oregano for a South American taste, or maybe grated ginger, miso and sesame oil.
Makes one very large ‘meal’ salad for 4.
1 large cauliflower, washed and broken into three or four large hunks
Dressing: Juice of one lemon + 5-6 tbsp best evoo + 1 crushed garlic clove + salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in a jug and set aside.
Dukkah spice blend, about 2 tbsp (bought or homemade)
Add in any or most of the following:
Green leaves, such as rocket, baby chard, baby spinach, sorrel, amaranth
Chopped red pepper
Marinated or steamed artichoke hearts, quartered
Pitted Kalamata olives
Carrot curls or shreds
Lightly toasted seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower
Sliced tomatoes or semi-dried tomatoes (watch the sodium content though)
Roasted turmeric chickpeas (see below)
Edamame, green beans or peas (instead of the chickpeas)
Peperoncini or other hot peppers
Additional protein ideas to choose from:
Grilled tofu or tempeh pieces
Roasted chicken shreds or slices
Roasted Turmeric Chickpeas: 1 tin of chickpeas, or about 300 grams homecooked + 1 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp turmeric (method below)
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
2. Begin with the cauliflower. Use a box grater to grate each hunk of cauliflower into couscous sized pieces – more or less. Grate the entire cauliflower (including as much of the stem as you can) over a baking tray and shake to distribute the ‘grains’ of cauliflower into a single, even layer. You will need two baking sheets. You can do this in the food processor, pulsing rather than pressing ‘on’, but the pieces will probably be uneven.
3. Pop the grated cauliflower into the preheated oven and roast for about fifteen to twenty minutes, or until the ‘grains’ look browned in patches. It isn’t necessary to use oil but you may like to spray the tin with oil spray to keep the cauliflower from sticking. Remove from the oven and set aside. Drape ove a tea towel to keep warm and absorb any steam.
4. Now, onto the chickpeas. If you have a double oven you may do the chickpeas at the same time as the cauliflower. In any case, rinse the chickpeas and dry with a tea towel. Pop the peas into a bowl and add the oil and turmeric. Toss until well coated. Lay the chickpeas on a baking tray and roast in the oven at 180C/400F for about 30-35 minutes, shaking once or twice during cooking.
5. Lay some green leaves on a serving platter. Mix together the chickpeas and the cauliflower and then start layering up your add-ins. Toss through the dressing with two forks and serve on a large platter. I like to finish the presented salad with a scatter of the seeds and some saved back chickpeas.
Make a raw version by grating but not roasting the cauliflower, and using all raw vegetables plus the dressing. Use sprouted chickpeas other favourite protein-rich sprouts.
Note: Most experts say that 80 grams of vegetables (exception for lettuces) is a portion, so weigh your salad and tot up the numbers!