In this article, you will discover foods that are both genuinely natural and are what I like to call 'nutritionally dense'. Gram for gram, they will provide you with more vitamins, minerals and healthy oils than virtually any other food on the planet. If you would like some great delicious superfood recipes, then keep an eye on the recipes area of this website, where we regularly add new recipes.
While many of the superfoods are individual performers, like avocado, spinach and garlic, others are superfood groups, such as organic meats.
- Cruciferous vegetables.
- Organic meats
- Oily fish
- Fermented foods
- Dark chocolate
- Bone broth
While it is not essential that you read through each of the superfoods in detail, if you have the time, you will find some little nuggets of info that will help you better understand how they can assist us in optimising our nutrition.
Before we get going, I want to touch on a few things first. Previously, coconuts have received negative press, with some misguided researchers suggesting their fat content leads to high cholesterol and heart disease.
Sadly, these reports are just recycling old news where they linked saturated fats to heart diseases, which has never been established and is just plain wrong! Ignore the misinformed journalists and instead take note of Hindu mythology, where coconuts are called ‘kalpavriksha’, which means ‘tree that gives all that is necessary for living’.
Coconuts are highly beneficial for our health as they contain vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, C and E, and come jam-packed with healthy minerals such as calcium, selenium, sodium, magnesium and phosphorous. What’s more, they’re full of fibre, which today is sadly lacking in most diets.
Interestingly, coconut is a fruit, not a nut, as its name implies. Spanish explorers prefixed their nut with ‘cocos’ – meaning ‘grinning face’ – because the three little ‘eyes’ (known as germination spores or stoma) on their base reminded them of a smiling monkey.
Simply a gift from heaven, or at least from some very tall trees. If it weren’t for the holy coconut, making bread without grain flour would be pretty tricky. Derived from the dried ﬂesh of the coconut, this is a ﬂour packed with ﬁbre, protein and healthy fats. It’s free of both gluten and grain, and it can be used to make tasty bread or cakes, pancakes and desserts. You can also use it to thicken up sauces and curries, as well as add it to smoothies to ensure you are getting your daily ﬁx of healthy fat.
Coconut cream and milk
Unlike cow’s milk, coconut milk is completely lactose free! While I am not against organic cow’s milk, coconut milk is deﬁnitely more beneﬁcial to our overall health. Not to be confused with coconut water, coconut milk and cream are produced by grating the coconut ﬂesh and then soaking it in hot water. The thick cream rises to the top, where it is skimmed off, and the remaining juice can be ﬁltered and bottled as milk. Why is it so beneﬁcial? Well, it’s no normal fat. As we discussed elsewhere, it’s the richest source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which is the closest thing for sale in a can or bottle to human breast milk! As it’s very dense, most people don't drink pints of it, like they would with cow’s milk.
Even though we don’t count calories, if you do want it as a stand-alone drink, just go for half a glass. Even this small amount will provide you with 25g of healthy fat, plus a good dose of manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Where I find coconut milk comes into its own is in adding both flavour and thickness to curries. I have also been known to make a white Russian kahlúa cocktail with it in the summer, but I guess I shouldn’t really be mentioning that!
This is the actual juice extracted from the shell of a young coconut before it develops into ﬂesh. It is naturally sugary, and because of this, you often hear people say you shouldn’t drink it if you want to lose weight. Complete rubbish! Well, unless you drink gallons of it. Coconut water contains less than 3g of natural fructose per 100g. When you compare this to a can of Coke, which has 11g of cane sugar per 100g, it sounds virtually sugar-free! And there is less sugar in a glass of coconut water than in an orange. It's also widely regarded as an incredibly healthy option when we need to rehydrate our body, which is why medical centres in several developing countries use it as a treatment for diarrhoea.
There are six minerals found in the human body that are all types of electrolyte, which rehydrate and recharge our body – which is especially useful after a workout or illness. Potassium is one of the major electrolytes, and coconut water is an extremely rich source of this mineral. In addition, it also contains smaller concentrations of sodium, calcium and magnesium, 3 other minerals which are part of Nature’s electrolyte-hydration formula. Next time you’re about to reach for a sports drink to rehydrate during a workout, do yourself a huge favour and replace it with Nature's all-natural sports aid: an electrolyte that has been used for centuries by some of the healthiest nations on our planet.
Nutritionally, coconut water is very different from coconut milk. It has zero fat, around 40 calories per glass and contains 10% of our daily vitamin C requirement; plus it’s an excellent source for vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B6. One glass also contains about 11% of our daily dietary fibre, 6% calcium, 15% magnesium, 17% potassium, 11% sodium and 17% manganese. In short, it is full of natural goodness.
One word of coconut caution. I found nine different coconut water offerings in my local supermarket, but on close inspection, only two were completely natural. The others had artiﬁcial ﬂavourings, additional sugars and a whole host of other nasties. As with most foods, make sure you always read the label carefully.
Coconut chunks or ﬂakes
Both are great to snack on, put into salads or add awesome ﬂavour to curries. I will often sprinkle ﬂakes in with nuts or a bowl of berries topped with probiotic yoghurt.
The definition of desiccated means to remove moisture from something that usually contains moisture. Desiccated coconut is produced by drying the shredded coconut and then heating it. Even though it tastes lovely and sweet, it’s totally natural, and as none of the fat is removed, all of its amazing health benefits are preserved.
Soy sauce is a popular ingredient, especially in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. However, for those looking to avoid gluten, Coconut Aminos makes for a wonderful alternative. It’s a dark coloured sauce made from coconut sap, and as the name suggests, it’s rich in amino acids, as well as vitamin C and several vitamin Bs.
The avocado is not just a superfood, it is one of the very few superfruits. While most fruits have numerous health benefits, they are still primarily carbohydrates, so not helpful for us when we are trying to lose a lot of weight, and certainly not good when we consume too many of them. But the superfruit avocado is unique in that it is primarily a fat. There are so many beneﬁts of regularly consuming avocado that, if I had to pick just one food to take on a desert island, it would be a toss-up between avocado and coconuts.
Avocados contain an amazing line-up of vitamins and minerals. They are composed of a whopping 77% heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, 19% carbohydrates and 4% protein. The majority of fat found in avocado is oleic acid (also known as omega 9), which also happens to be the super ingredient found in olives. Oleic acids provide numerous health beneﬁts, including helping to reduce inﬂammation and warding off cancer. They are full of antioxidants that help, among other things, to protect our sight. There are lots of white papers and studies that suggest that having a high intake of potassium helps to reduce blood pressure (a major factor in heart attacks) and kidney failure. One of the greatest sources of potassium is avocado.
If we eat both halves of an average-sized avocado, we will be consuming around 150g of delicious healthiness. Avocados are packed full of vitamins B5, B6, C, E, K, folate and potassium. In addition, they contain copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, vitamin B1, vitamin B3 and zinc, and are also a superb source of fibre. Of its huge fibre content, 25% of it is soluble, which allows it to feed our friendly gut bacteria.
When I was diagnosed with high cholesterol in my early forties, I was told to avoid eating egg yolks as they were high in cholesterol. So, for years, I would spend time delicately removing them before cooking. But now we understand that egg yolks are full of goodness, and even if we are diagnosed with high levels of cholesterol (and don’t forget many leading doctors don’t actually believe that high cholesterol is a contributing factor in heart disease), the yolk doesn’t actually increase it any further.
Eggs are loaded with quality proteins. In fact, they contain all nine essential amino acids, vitamins A, B12, B2 and B5, as well as lots of minerals. They are full of good fats and many traces of helpful nutrients, such as phosphorus and selenium. I guess when you think about it logically, an egg is full of the greatest ingredients Nature could create. After all, each shell must contain all of the essential elements to create a new life. Nothing added, nothing taken away. Eggs are full of pure, healthy, life-giving goodness, and each one contains a small amount of almost every nutrient we need.
While a little more expensive, it is crucial to try to buy organic eggs. There is a huge difference in the balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6, with some reports suggesting the difference can be tenfold!
When you ﬁnd eggs where the label says they are rich in Omega-3, they are created by feeding hens a diet of ﬂax seeds, which contain a high level of Omega-3.
Egg box labelling
In the UK we consume nearly 13 billion eggs each year, and while 67% are free-range, only 3% are certiﬁed organic.1 The Soil Association website2 informs us that standards have been set for organic and ‘free-range’ eggs that stipulate, among other things, ﬂock sizes, stocking densities and how many hens can share a space. Organic standards go further than free-range standards in several essential aspects:
- Soil Association organic standards stipulate smaller ﬂock sizes and lower stocking densities (the number of birds per square metre). Max 3000 vs 16,000 in free-range systems.
- Organic farms certiﬁed by the Soil Association have to provide more pop holes (exits from the hen house) than free-range farms to encourage and promote ranging.
- No beak trimming – a procedure that is carried out on day-old chicks, mainly to prevent hens from pecking and hurting each other. There is a strong movement to ban all beak trimming, but for now, most UK hens kept in free-range systems are routinely beak trimmed.
I remember being in Tanzania when a Maasai member approached my Jeep, clutching a bunch of root vegetables he had just plucked out of the soil. I asked my Mark (who had lived in the country for more than 20 years) what the vegetable was. It turned out to be peanuts. “But they can’t be,” I said, “nuts grow in trees.” I was surprised that it turns out that the most consumed nut in the world, the peanut, is not really a nut at all but a legume. When someone has a nut allergy and is only allergic to peanuts, they don’t have a nut allergy at all but a legume allergy. And that label you see on some packs of peanuts saying ‘may contain nuts’ is, therefore, technically incorrect!
Botanically speaking, a nut is defined as a dried fruit with one seed (on rare occasions, it can be two), in which the seed case wall becomes hard at maturity. In reality, there is very little difference between nuts and seeds. The reason why they are so incredibly healthy is that they all are the embodiment of a plant or tree’s life. Just as the yolk of an egg carries all the vital ingredients and nutrients for a chicken to hatch, seeds and nuts are packed full of both energy and nutrients: sufficient to sprout huge trees.
Just a thought. Have you ever stopped and pondered why the word ‘nutrition’ begins with the word ‘nut’? Walnuts, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamias and chestnuts all have numerous health benefits and can also add real flavour to our new lifestyle. “You missed out cashews and almonds!”, I hear you shout. Well, these are technically seeds and not nuts. That said, as this is about how to live better and not a botanical lesson, let’s keep in simple and treat them as if they are part of the nut family.
Why are nuts in our list of superfoods? All nuts are rich in protein and healthy oils such as Omega-3. Most of them also contain healthy levels of magnesium, potassium, iron, copper and various vitamin Bs. But with nuts, we do need to demonstrate a little bit of portion control if we are trying to keep on top of our weight.
You won’t be surprised to hear me say that one thing we should try to do is purchase nuts as unprocessed and as organic as possible. Sadly, many branded nuts are over-processed, covered in masses of salt and roasted in hydrogenated oils. All that said, when you are out and about and feel the need to eat something, it’s still preferable to buy almost any quality of nuts than to reach for sweets or crisps. My view is that any negative or toxic effect from eating processed nuts will be outweighed by the beneﬁts you will receive. Nuts are really good for us. It’s that simple. That said, here are some scientiﬁc words you might ﬁnd in articles speaking about nuts and what they really mean:
Phytochemicals - ‘Phyto’ is a Greek word for ‘plant’. These chemicals help the plant protect its seeds and nuts from fungi, bugs, germs and other threats. As the word ‘chemicals’ just sounds too negative, I replace it with ‘phytonutrients’.
Phytosterols - A type of phytonutrient similar in structure to the body’s cholesterol. It might sound paradoxical, but when our diet is high in phytosterols, we absorb less cholesterol. In addition, researchers believe that phytosterols may play a role in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Polyphenols - A type of phytonutrient with antioxidant capabilities that play an important role in preventing and reducing the progression of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. They also act as a prebiotic, helping feed our good bacteria.
Flavonoids - A type of phytonutrient that is an extremely potent antioxidant. More than 4,000 different ﬂavonoids have been identiﬁed, and they are accountable for many of the vivid colours we see in fruit and veg.
Lignans - These are chemicals that activate our bacteria when we digest them. Lignans are considered a form of phytoestrogen, which, as the name implies, are oestrogens found in plants. Research is starting to suggest that lignans may be anti-cancerous, anti-inﬂammatory and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.3
The Excellent Eight
Nuts have been designated as superfoods because they are high in fibre, packed full of antioxidants, and are all a rich source of minerals and vitamins. Eight specific nuts are recognised as the healthiest of them all: the ‘Excellent Eight’. They are better consumed than avoided in all forms but, if possible, head down the baking aisle and look for nuts that have not been salted, roasted in oils or coated in CARBS and flavourings. Any coated in dark chocolate are fine, but don’t try to sell yourself on the health benefits of nuts coated in crispy sugar!
In June 2015, a Dutch study suggested eating half a handful of nuts every day could lower your risk of a heart attack or dying from cancer and diabetes. Epidemiologist Professor Piet van den Brandt, who led the study of more than 120,000 Dutch people between the ages of 55 and 69 at Maastricht University, said "It was remarkable that substantially lower mortality was already observed at consumption levels of 15g of nuts or peanuts on average per day."4
5. Seeds (The Magnificent Seven)
Like nuts, seeds are in our superfoods category as they are high in ﬁbre, packed full of antioxidants and offer rich sources of minerals and vitamins. Those that make up the ‘Magniﬁcent Seven’ are all available in leading supermarkets. As I mentioned with nuts, they are better consumed than avoided in most forms, but if possible, head down to the baking aisle and look for seeds that have not been soaked in oils or flavourings.
6. Berries (The Fab Four)
While several other berries are undoubtedly beneﬁcial for our health, such as including cherries, cranberries and redcurrants, as well as the currently highly trendy acai and goji berries, there are four that, for me, stand above all in terms of nutritional value.
Blueberries are rich in the ﬂavonoid anthocyanin, which is responsible for their vivid colour. Among the most commonly consumed foods, blueberries contain one of the highest antioxidant levels.5 An American study gave senior citizens two and a half cups of blueberries every day for 12 weeks. Dr Robert Krikorian, who led the research,6 said, “Our new ﬁndings corroborate those of previous animal studies and preliminary human studies, adding further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real beneﬁt in improving memory and cognitive function in some older adults”.
The great news is that we can eat them all year round, as it appears that freezing blueberries has no negative effect on their antioxidants.
A British tradition, and very good for our health. Full of flavour and fibre, it surprises many people when I tell them how healthy strawberries are. For some reason, many believe they are full of sugar, but fresh ones are actually very low in fructose. They are packed with vitamins (especially vitamin C) and minerals, and they’re one of the best sources of fruit antioxidants we can consume.
How about this for a critical reason to consume raspberries regularly: they are full to capacity with cancer-fighting antioxidants (anthocyanins).7 To put their power in perspective, they are said to be ten times more concentrated in antioxidants than tomatoes, which in themselves are miracle workers. They boost our mood and help us retain our memory as we age.
I remember as a child picking blackberries from thorny bushes at the end of summer. Just like strawberries, they are naturally very sweet but don’t contain many calories. In fact, their nutritional value is tremendously high, with one cupful containing 30% of our daily fibre and 50% of our vitamin C requirements. Blackberries are chock-a-block with lots of other vitamins and minerals too.
What The Experts Say: Author Dr Patrick Holford
Berries have a different type of sugar called xylose. I was talking to a top dentist and asked what the best things are you can do to prevent cavities, and he said xylitol. In Finland, as children arrive at school, they give every child a sweet containing xylitol. They have learnt that when bacteria in the mouth feed on this sugar, the bacteria can’t stick to your teeth and it prevents cavities. So, they have the healthiest teeth because of xylose, which is the sugar in berries.
7. Cruciferous Vegetables
Pronounced ‘crew-sif-er-us’, this family of vegetables are descendants of the Brassica genus of plants, famed for their disease-ﬁghting compounds. For more than 30 years, consuming high amounts of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of cancer. Researchers have discovered that it is the sulphur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates (particularly sulforaphane) that, while giving cruciferous vegetables their slightly bitter taste, are primarily what provides them with their cancer-ﬁghting benefits.8
An increase of cruciferous vegetables in diets has been indisputably linked to a decreased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and overall mortality. If that’s not enough to motivate us to add them to our daily diet, they also make our hair shine and our skin glow, promote strong bones and nails and, above all, pack more nutrients per calorie than virtually any other food. Plus, as I have already mentioned, cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates that help to detox the body.
Top cruciferous vegetables:
- Brussels sprouts
- Swiss Chard
- Bok Choy
You may know that rice is not good for us if we are either diabetic or overweight. Many of our recipes contain ‘cauliflower rice’ - cauliflower chopped up into rice-sized pieces and cooked to replace the CARB-loaded normal rice. But in certain states in America, to protect the rice farmers and I guess the huge taxes they provide the state, they have banned cauliflower rice from being called rice!
For someone who believes that CARBS and other sugars are evil, shirataki appears to me as Nature’s culinary magic trick. The word itself is Japanese for ‘white waterfall’, which conjurs an image of health and vitality. Shirataki comes from the konjac plant (also known as elephant yam) and is largely composed of glucomannan, which is a water-soluble fibre. It holds water so well that when cooked, it looks like pasta or noodles but contains virtually zero CARBS or calories.
There are several shirataki brands on the UK market. They come in a pouch of water, which you simply drain off, rinse and then cook as normal. While they don’t contain any flavour themselves, their fibrous nature means that they easily absorb the taste of the spices or oils we cook them with. I personally love throwing in lots of herbs and seasonings and serving with a Thai curry. Here is the magical thing – shirataki can take on the appearance of pasta, noodles or tagliatelle. Yet, a serving contains approximately ten calories, practically zero CARBS and is gluten-free, wheat-free, sugar-free and normally totally natural!
Whether you consume glucomannan as noodles or as a weight-loss supplement, it works brilliantly for those who want to lose weight naturally, as it absorbs water like a sponge and therefore quickly fills up the stomach and suppresses appetite.
This superfood is a terriﬁc source of antioxidants, full of minerals such as iron, potassium, zinc, calcium and selenium, as well as vitamin E, K and vitamin B9 (folate). When you make a salad, chuck in two cups of spinach and you will add just 15 calories. In return, you will receive two wonderful antioxidants by the names of lutein and zeaxanthin, which help maintain healthy eyesight and promote a strong, healthy heart. As you might expect, with their big green leaves, they are full of phytonutrients that possess anti-cancer properties. In addition, the vitamins in spinach strengthen our bones, prevent anaemia, boost our energy and help us ﬁght infections.
If you would like Popeye-sized biceps, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have discovered that nitrate trapped within spinach leaves is the secret behind its muscle-building properties.9 The nitrate reduces the need for oxygen when exercising, which increases the efﬁciency of the mitochondria that power our cells. Spinach also contains many flavonoids that help protect our body from free radicals.
As with all big leafy green vegetables, it’s absolutely crucial to go organic. With non-organic spinach, just imagine how much pesticide has landed on their huge surface areas. And remember, washing vegetables rarely removes the pesticide. If it were as easy as just rinsing them under the tap, the chemicals wouldn’t be able to withstand rain. If you have to purchase non-organic, the only way to remove artificial chemicals is to soak the spinach in a bowl of water, with a few drops of vinegar.
Tomatoes are believed to contain thousands of different phytonutrients. With more and more research being carried out into how powerful phytonutrients are in the prevention and cure of many diseases, especially in the prevention of cancer, ensuring tomatoes are part of our regular diet makes common sense.
Tomatoes are another excellent source of the double act lutein and zeaxanthin, which have multiple health beneﬁts. They have possibly the highest concentration of a ‘super-phytonutrient’, known as lycopene. Not only is it the source of their colour, but it’s also a powerful antioxidant that has several reported health beneﬁts, longer than your average shopping list!
Firstly, lycopene is possibly the most powerful antioxidant of all. In the Westernised polluted world, even when living better, we simply cannot avoid all toxins and pesticides. However, a regular portion of tomatoes, naturally loaded with lycopene, helps balance unwanted toxins in the body. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth suggest that lycopene has the ability to slow the growth of both breast and prostate cancers.10 It’s also great for keeping our brain cells connected with one another and our bones strong too. You can now purchase it as a supplement in many health shops if you don’t like the taste but still want to beneﬁt from the multiple benefits offered by lycopene.
There are so many different types of pepper that, at ﬁrst, it can be a little daunting. If you say the word ‘pepper’, most people would think of the big, vividly coloured but mild-mannered bell peppers, while others would think of chilli peppers found in curry. The black pepper you add to your meals are from peppercorns, a completely different plant.
Let’s look at the 2 main groups of pepper: ﬁery peppers and mild to sweet peppers. With all peppers, as it is with all salad vegetables, it is very important to buy organic.
Mild to sweet peppers
It is the fabulously talented bell pepper (also known as capsicum) that led me to add the pepper family to the superfoods list: mainly because I wanted to highlight it as a high source of vitamin C. A big yellow bell pepper has 341mg of it – that’s roughly the same as five whole oranges! One red bell pepper equates to three oranges, and the green bell pepper, which is a little less sweet, still contains twice the vitamin C found in an orange.
Green peppers are, in fact, red bell peppers that have not yet ripened. As they ripen, they become sweeter and the vitamin C content increases. Orange and yellow varieties are specially bred to offer colour variety and are also sweeter in taste. Bell peppers aren’t just about vitamin C, as just one pepper provides approximately 10% of our daily ﬁbre requirements, plus they also contain vitamin B6, magnesium and potassium.
Whether you call it sport or punishment, there are various competitions worldwide where slightly insane individuals try to eat the world’s hottest chillies. The heat of chillies is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU), named after the American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, who created the scale back in 1912. The heat in all peppers, regardless of their name, shape or colour, is supplied by the phytonutrient capsaicin, which the plant uses to protect itself from animals, bugs and insects.
As well as proving fun in a curry house, capsaicin offers many health beneﬁts. It has been proven to aid weight loss, help with chronic pain and help ﬁght cancer. In 2006, the UCLA School of Medicine in Los Angeles carried out research to ﬁnd what effect consuming capsaicin had on prostate cancer.11 They concluded that it had a ‘profound antiproliferative effect’. Moreover, they discovered that consumption also signiﬁcantly stopped the spread of prostate cancer cells. Research in South Korea in 201512 found that it might also be beneficial in helping kill certain breast cancer cells. In other countries, capsaicin is used both in preventing and treating diabetes.
“Hot peppers as a magic slimming pill”. It’s not quite how they worded it in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, but they demonstrated how fiery peppers speed up metabolism, and thereby we lose weight by burning more energy.
Capsaicin can also be found in topical creams to relieve pain. These creams can be really powerful and definitely beats toxic deep heat sprays.
Onions, just like garlic, are members of the Liliaceae plant family. After broccoli, Brussels sprouts, shallots and celery, onion is one of the richest sources of polyphenols. These are one of the best types of phytonutrients and include both tannins (as found in red wine) and ﬂavonoids, which are great at protecting against many unhealthy strands of bacteria. As well as their natural antibiotic powers, onions are thought to help prevent certain cancers and lower the risk of diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.13 They also help protect the heart, help maintain strong bones, and at the same time, lower the risk of arthritis and asthma.
Dice up an onion, and one cupful will provide 20% of our daily vitamin C requirements, 10% vitamin B6, 10% manganese, 8% folate, 8% potassium and 5% vitamin B1 (thiamine).
Due to their anti-viral and anti-inﬂammatory beneﬁts, old wives’ tales recommended tying a bunch of onions around our neck to clear sinuses. While that might not look very elegant, there is plenty of research to suggest eating them helps fend off colds and ﬂu. Plus, if you get a nosebleed, holding an onion under our nostrils could act as a natural coagulant to stop the ﬂow!
While growing in the soil, onions absorb sulphur that later turns into the amino acid sulfoxide. When we cut through an onion, this is released, causing the familiar sore eyes and crying. Remember that antioxidants found in fruit and veg were once the plant’s self-defence system. With onions, especially larger ones, most of the healthy stuff is in the outer section, so when peeling, try not to lose too many layers. They also contain plenty of other antioxidants, with two in particular – quercetin and anthocyanin – known to be extremely beneﬁcial.
Just as the phytonutrients were designed to keep away pests and insects, if we rub onion on our skin or put it in a bowl of water, it helps keeps away mosquitoes (a 100% natural alternative to spraying toxic chemicals onto our skin while on holiday).
Olives and their oil are a staple part of the diet of those living in the Mediterranean, where a combination of lifestyle and food choices dramatically reduces the occurrence of heart attacks and leads to a disproportionate number of centenarians. Enough said!
14. Organic meats
All organic meats offer a wide variety of health beneﬁts. While bison, venison and goat are available if you go looking for them, I am going to detail the beneﬁts of the most popular three: beef, pork and lamb.
All meat on the Health Results programme has to be organic - which means, among other things, that the animals were raised on food they were designed to eat. All those reports about meat being unhealthy might have an ounce of correctness if the researchers were analysing the effect on the health of just factory-produced meats. However, when we talk of meats that originate from animals that have lived their entire lives only eating their natural diet, and have roamed freely, then meat is truly magnificent for our wellbeing.
Whether it is meat from cows, lambs or pigs, they are all rich in both protein and healthy fats. If we weren’t designed to eat meat, then our forefathers would have just gathered plants and vegetables. But they didn’t. They spent most of their days hunting wild animals, and when they caught them, they feasted on every part. Without realising it, they gained immense health and brainpower by eating all the animal’s organs, which are, without a doubt, full of the greatest nutrients of all.
Today, when you go to a supermarket, look how cheap all the organs are. Why is it that I can make a liver pâté for just nine pence per portion? The answer is simple – our generation has forgotten how to cook organs, and thus there is now more supply than demand. Yet, enter a high-end restaurant, and we ﬁnd plenty of organs on the menu. For a quick overview of the beneﬁts of meat, I am going to assume that you have bought only organic and totally natural produce. In other words, it has not been packaged or altered in any way (apart from butchering).
Health beneﬁts of organic beef
Rich in Omega-3 and an excellent (possibly the best) source of protein, grass-fed beef also contains a healing component called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Early research into the benefits of CLA revealed how it could reduce tumours by more than 50% in cancers of the breast, skin, stomach, lung, bowel and colon. CLA is also said to help people with asthma, lower blood pressure, ﬁght off cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. If you don’t eat meat, then there are now dozens of CLA supplements on the market, and they seem to be becoming hugely popular in both the UK and the USA. Among their many claims is the ability to help control type 2 diabetes, assist in losing body fat and then maintaining a healthy weight by retaining muscle mass.
When it comes to pork, look for a pack that carries the organic label. If you want to be put off mass-produced pork forever, then simply listen to my “Fat & Furious” podcast episode with Patrick Holden or watch Food, Inc., by Robert Kenner. This 2008 documentary goes undercover in a huge slaughterhouse in the US that reportedly processes more than 32,000 pigs every day in what appear to be the most horribly inhumane conditions. It might cost a little more to buy from real farms rather than animal factories, but it’s not just better for the pig: it’s far better for our health and the planet too. Let’s quickly look at the various labels we might find in the supermarket and understand what they all mean. These are very similar to what you will find for beef and chicken too, and I have listed them in order of preference.
Organic Pork - The UK and EU has a group of requirements for pork to carry an organic label, but better still, try and find pork with the Soil Association’s (www.soilassociation.org) organic label, as this is a stricter standard. All pigs must be fed organic food without antibiotics. To avoid overcrowding and allow access to sustainable food, there is a minimum amount of land that farmers must have per pig.
Free-Range Pork - these pigs are born outdoors and stay outdoors their entire life.
Outdoor Bred - these pigs are born outdoors but tend to be moved back inside at around four weeks old or once they are weaned.
Outdoor Reared - Similar to outdoor bred, but here the piglets get to stay out for around half their lives.
If pork doesn’t carry any of these labels, we shouldn’t buy it. But why eat pork anyway? It’s an excellent source of vitamins such as vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboﬂavin) and vitamin B6, plus minerals phosphorus, selenium, zinc, iron, potassium and magnesium. Pork offers a great source of protein without CARBS but is very low in fat compared to other meats.
Just like beef, lamb is an excellent source of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. It’s rich in minerals such as zinc, iron, selenium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and magnesium, plus it’s a great source of vitamin B12, vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B2 (riboﬂavin), vitamin B6 and B5 (pantothenic acid). Both lamb and beef are regarded as red meats.
Have you ever wondered what meat is? For example, if you saw a diagram of a lamb, you would not see the word ‘meat’ but muscle, fat, organs and bone. When the animal dies, it’s the muscle that becomes the meat that we eat. Red meat is a great source of iron. If you feel that you are lacking in it, then adding a few lamb dishes to your weekly line-up of meals should prove beneﬁcial.
The Soil Association normally carries out the accreditation for organic lamb in the UK. Unlike cattle, sheep are rarely kept indoors, so the only real question to consider is whether they were reared organically or not.
If you see an organic emblem on the packaging, it guarantees that any dips the sheep have been in are organic, and that the soil and, therefore, the grass they eat, is free from pesticides too. The UK government’s website states, “Organic sheep must be fed on organically produced feedstuffs. Maximum use should be made of grazing, and all of the feed required should ideally be produced on the farm”.
What is the difference between lamb and mutton? Pretty much globally, lamb is called lamb if the animal is less than one year old. But when meat is sold in Britain as lamb, the age of the animal must be between ﬁve and six months. Meat from younger sheep, from three to ﬁve months old, is normally called spring lamb. Meat from a sheep that is more than one year old is called mutton. Lamb is rich in zinc, which among other things, supports our immune system. From some farms, depending on the pasture, lamb can actually provide more Omega-3 per gram than beef. It also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which we detailed above.
If it’s not both organic and free-range, don’t buy it. Not just for the sake of our own health, but for the sake of the bird and our planet too. Only organic birds offer a clean source of protein and healthy fat. In the UK, it is estimated that 46% of the protein of the average Brit comes from chicken, and our small nation consumes a staggering 17 million chickens a week.
Let’s explain a few details that you might find on the label. First, it’s important to cut through all of the nonsense. ‘Natural’, ‘Farm-Fresh’, ‘Premium Chicken’ and ‘Country Style’ are completely meaningless and just marketing ‘fowl’ play! They’re prominently placed on the packaging only to encourage us to pick up the produce and feel good about it. Just as I mentioned regarding the welfare of pigs, if you watch the film Food, Inc., I am pretty sure you will immediately be converted to the merits of organic and free-range.
Organic Poultry - In the UK, this is again regulated by the Soil Association. Organic chicken flocks are five times smaller than non-organic flocks.14 Every bird must have continuous and easy daytime access to outdoor pastures, and each bird should have a minimum of four square metres each to roam freely. The pasture must be covered with suitable vegetation, and the bird must reach a minimum age of 81 days. The chicken must be fed organic foods, and antibiotics must not be used at all.
Free-Range - Chickens must have outdoor access for at least half of their life, and there must be the equivalent of one square metre of land for each and every chicken. The minimum slaughter age is 56 days.
RSPA Assured - This is a welfare scheme run by the RSPCA that can apply to indoor, organic or free-range chickens. It limits how many can be raised in each space and also details such things as how much straw they get, the size of their perch, etc.
Red Tractor – Means you are buying British produce with a transparent supply chain. There are some standards for animal welfare, but these mainly echo the basic rules and guidelines the EU require.
If you want to see the most detailed report on chicken produce ever, which breaks down the nutritional value between breasts, skin, wings, thighs, whole chickens, drumsticks, drumsticks with skin and many more varieties, then please pay a visit to https://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/statistic/10-essential-nutrients/.
Why is it important to buy organic chickens and only eggs from organic hens? Because those living indoors are often genetically modiﬁed to gain weight more quickly, meaning they take less time to mature and therefore are both cheaper to rear and less expensive to sell. By overcrowding indoor sheds, the cost per chicken becomes lower. With such cramped conditions, many companies rely on the heavy use of antibiotics to fight off diseases. It is said that of the 50 billion chickens farmed around our small planet each year, 70% of them are no longer organic. For the sake of our health, the chicken’s health and the health of our planet, always buy organic and local if possible, then be sure to eat the organs too.
What The Experts Say: Patrick Holden CBE
We need to align our future diets to the output of sustainable farming systems in the region or country where we live. We need to say, “Right, what would Britain produce if it was all farmed sustainably? What portions of grass-fed red meat, chicken pastured and organic?” We shouldn’t eat the industrialised chicken at all. It’s not even good for us. No more intensive pork because that’s all feeding on grain that’s produced in environmentally disastrous ways, and then what vegetables can we grow in these crop rotations? Let’s look at the proportions and align our diets accordingly: we would eat very healthily if we did that, but we all need to become a little bit more expert on these issues.
Only buy chickens that come from a truly sustainable farming system, such as organic. Preferably, those chickens should again drive a lot of their nutrition from grass (about a third), and the grains they do eat are sustainably produced, which means chickens which meet all of those criteria will be four times more expensive. The truth about the cost of the apparently cheap chicken is that the price ticket does not reflect the damage to the environment, the welfare implications or the damage to human health that the production of that chicken causes. If you compare the fats and antibiotic resistance in the industrialised chicken compared to that of the pastured chicken, you will see just how different they are. So, people think (erroneously in my view) that if you want to eat meat, then the ‘least worse’ meat to eat is chicken, but if it’s not pasteurised, then chicken is still part of the problem and not the solution.
We are probably only ten years away from irreversible climate change, and the single biggest influence on avoiding it is to change the way we farm. Farmers can’t change the way they farm without having correspondingly loyal consumer support in the marketplace. It’s our buying habits that will force change. Even the politicians won’t act. The market is always ahead of policymakers. We need to encourage governments to do more to make sustainable farming the more profitable option for farmers and a more affordable option for consumers.
As a nation, we need to apply the ‘polluter pays’ principle to the damaging practices and inputs which are causing climate change and causing destruction of soil and which are compromising the health and wellbeing of animals. And if we did that, the difference between the price of the cheap and the expensive chicken would shrink.
How weird it is that if you farm in a way that causes damage to public health and the environment, it pays better than if you farm in an ecological way. It has to change. Please take a look at the short film we made, A Tale of Two Chickens. You can find it on YouTube.
15. Oily Fish (The Slippery Six)
There are thousands of different edible ﬁsh in our oceans and rivers, and the vast majority are healthy to eat.
As with all food, there are a few questions we need answering before eating them. After concerns about the environment or sustainability have been met, it’s important to check how the fish were caught or raised. One key concern we have with farmed fish is the conditions in which they are kept.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations recently issued a report that stated farmed salmon production had risen 4,000% over the past 20 years. Today, most of the produce we are offered in shops appears to be farmed rather than caught. One of the problems with farmed ﬁsh, especially those from inland waters, is that the food they are fed is not all natural.
Let’s remind ourselves of a Health Results mantra, ‘we are what we eat – eats’, and if that is pellets full of synthetic foodstuff, it’s not really something we want to be putting in our body. I could go on and on about toxins and the huge difference in nutritional value between wild and farmed ﬁsh, but let’s get on with the positives of eating ﬁsh with just one caveat – all comments about the health beneﬁts of the top six slippery fish relate to those that have been caught in the wild. By the way, I named them the ‘slippery six’ because the health beneﬁt linking them together is their richness in Omega-3 oil.
The Omega-3 found in most seafood is derived from small plant life, known as phytoplankton, that the ﬁsh feed on. Virtually all ﬁsh and shellﬁsh are sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, but their concentrations vary based on the diet of each species and both the season and location they were caught.
Fresh ﬁsh vs farmed ﬁsh
One of the reasons most people eat ﬁsh is because of the health beneﬁts associated with their high concentration of Omega-3. But did you know that ﬁsh only contains Omega-3 because of what they eat? One of the highest concentrations of Omega-3 on the planet is algae. Fish consuming this algae thereby become a rich source of Omega-3 for humans. But if we are consuming ﬁsh that have been factory farmed, what happens if the pellets they are being fed don’t contain Omega-3? It’s simple: you aren’t going to be receiving any. If you have been eating farmed ﬁsh for years, simply in the belief that because they are rich in Omega-3, you have been reducing your risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s, then you have every right to be furious!
Have you ever noticed how some ﬁsh becomes dry even if we just slightly overcook it, yet salmon always appears to remain moist? Guess what – that’s the Omega-3 holding the ﬁsh nicely together in our frying pan. Salmon is one of the richest sources of Omega-3 in both our oceans and rivers.
When it’s caught in the wild, both the skin and the ﬂeshy meat of salmon are full of nutrients. Yes, the skin too. In fact, the skin is full of nutritional goodness, and I personally love to fry it (in healthy oil, of course) until it’s really crispy and then serve it separately on a salad.
A typical salmon ﬁllet weighs about 150g (5.2oz). It provides us with around 20g of healthy natural fat (approximately 70% of our daily requirement of Omega-3), three times our RDA of vitamin B12, one and a half times the vitamin D we need, plus it provides 100% of our selenium requirements and 70% of our daily protein! Wow, all in one small ﬁllet! It also packs in 70% vitamin B3, 67% phosphorus and really big doses of vitamin B6, iodine, choline, vitamin B5, potassium and biotin.
What does all this mean for our health? Pretty much everything! It’s simply a miracle food. It’s good for our cardiovascular system, our bones and joints, our blood and our immune system. It participates in the prevention of many diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.15
If you are not a big fan of salmon’s taste, then a close relative that’s a lot milder in flavour is trout. Being of the same family, trout are also rich in Omega-3 and share many of the other wonderful nutritional benefits that are enjoyed when eating wild salmon.
For a different perspective on the health benefits of oily fish, I recommend you read this Review of Nutritional & Health Benefits for the British Trout Association, conducted by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh (if you don’t have time to read all 30 pages, the executive summary nicely highlights the key points).
They might taste different, but did you know that mackerel and tuna both belong to the same ﬁsh family? Known as Scombridae, they offer a full menu of nutrients for the healthy eater. It also a more sustainable choice than tuna, which is often over-fished and has higher levels of mercury than mackerel.
In 2014, off the coast of New Zealand, Donna Pascoe caught a blueﬁn tuna on her line and wrestled with it for more than four hours. She eventually hauled it onto her boat, and it weighed in at twice the weight of a baby elephant at 411kg (906lbs, or 64 stone). It was said to be so large that it could ﬁll more than 1,700 tins of tuna! However, you can also ﬁnd tuna that weigh one or two kilos. While historically we haven’t seen many big examples in UK waters, over recent years, the huge blueﬁn have started to appear off the coast of Cornwall.
Whether it is in a can or a fresh slice of raw tuna, this ﬁsh is packed to the brim with goodness. In fact, let’s start with the can. There’s little point buying the versions with added oil, as when we drain it, we also drain away a lot of the Omega-3. If the tuna is canned in water, as water and oil don’t mix, when we drain off the water, we retain all the fish’s natural oil. A typical small can, where the chunks are stored in water will, depending on the variety of tuna, provide around 300 to 1,000mg of Omega-3. While not as potent as salmon or mackerel, it’s more easily consumed when we are out and about and don’t have time to prepare a full meal.
Sardines (A.K.A. Pilchards)
The word ‘sardines’ was ﬁrst used in England to describe small ﬁsh towards the end of the 14th century. Its origin probably relates to the warm waters off the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where small fish were abundant. There are 21 different species of ﬁsh that the World Health Organisation (WHO) allows to be classed as a sardine. Small herring, sprats, shad and brisling are all varieties of sardines.
While ‘sardines’ and ‘pilchards’ are often interchangeable, technically speaking, sardines are normally under 15cm (6in) in length, and pilchards are longer. One of the great things about sardines is that we don’t have to spend time worrying about whether they are farmed or not. All sardines and the bigger pilchards are caught in the wild. They are full of oily goodness and wonderful to eat.
Often an acquired taste, I personally love anchovies and confess that when dishing up a salad at home, my plate always contains the most! There are more than 100 different species of anchovies, and some of the very best tasting are from the Mediterranean.
They are full of mineral goodness, including calcium, selenium, iron and magnesium, plus they’re loaded with vitamins such as riboﬂavin, niacin, folate, vitamin E, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and vitamin K. And of course, they provide a rich source of Omega-3: in just 100g (3.5oz) of canned anchovies you will ﬁnd more than 2,000mg of oily goodness.
I struggled to push some other foods out of the Top 20 so that I could include garlic. But as garlic is so powerful and amazing for our health, I felt it needed to take pride of place in the Top 20.
Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” (I love this quote), and he used to prescribe garlic for various ailments. Its use as a medicine has been well documented across many civilisations, including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans and Chinese. Its main claim to fame lies in its use as an all-natural antibiotic. For thousands of years, people have known about its ability to kill off various unhealthy strands of bacteria and fungi. Its strong aroma comes from a compound called allicin, which provides both its antifungal and antibacterial properties. Garlic is also rich in selenium, vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B6, folate, calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, sodium and zinc.
Garlic is famed for its ability to lower blood pressure. There is also mounting research that suggests its antioxidant power is one of the best at helping to prevent cancer.16 For those prone to spots, adding more garlic to your diet could help manage future breakouts, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Many people believe the sulfur in garlic helps prevent collagen breakdown, which is what we need to keep the skin supple as we age.
17. Fermented Foods
While there are a whole host of supplements we can take in order to create the right balance in our intestines, one of the more natural processes is to eat fermented produce. While it is true that the fermentation of yeasts is used to convert sugar in grapes into wine, unfortunately, I am not suggesting that consuming plenty of alcohol is the right approach for the rehabilitation of our gut’s friendly bacteria!
Fermented foods go through a process of lacto-fermentation whereby, in the absence of oxygen, natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food, creating lactic acid. It gets its name from a specific species of bacteria, Lactobacillus, which was ﬁrst discovered when studying the fermentation of milk. When it comes to fermenting vegetables, they are normally soaked in saltwater or sometimes just their own juice. Given sufﬁcient time, the bacteria eat the sugar in the vegetable, turning it into a sour tasting and incredibly healthy lactic acid. But why would we want lactic acid in our gut? It helps our immune system fight off harmful bacteria, acts as a natural antibiotic, defends the lining of our gut and helps control and regulate inﬂammation, all while protecting our essential levels of vitamins and enzymes. Did you know that the word ‘probiotic’ to describe food with beneﬁcial bacteria was coined more than 100 years ago by Russian zoologist Élie Mechnikov, the father of immunology and the 1908 winner of the Nobel prize in medicine?
Fermented foods aren’t a new concept. In fact, before tinned goods became the norm, it was the way that most foods were preserved in jars. Sally Fallon, in her book Nourishing Traditions, says, “The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes, as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy ﬂora throughout the intestine”. The US publisher Doctors Health Press ran an article in September 2015 stating, “Aside from the high calcium, potassium and B-vitamins, the major beneﬁt to yoghurt and keﬁr is the probiotic content”.17 This is really why we urge everyone to include them in their new lifestyle. Probiotics are good bacteria for our gut that provide several beneﬁts – many of which are still likely to be unknown. The impact of a healthy and diverse gut bacteria has been tied to many things, including:
- Lower LDL cholesterol levels
- Reduced Alzheimer's risk
- Reduced blood pressure
- Allergy and eczema prevention
- Improved digestion
- Alleviation of bloating and constipation
- Improved mood
- Treating IBS and Crohn's disease
- Treating depression
- Potential treatment and preventative measure for colon cancer
The following are my top ﬁve fermented food recommendations:
Just as wine is made from fermenting sugar in grapes, yoghurt is made by fermenting the sugar in milk (lactose). The fermentation process requires the presence of two friendly bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Of course, we should only consume yoghurt from grass-fed cows, yoghurt that’s totally organic and contains zero added ﬂavourings. Try to choose a natural plain Greek yoghurt or, for that matter, any unsweetened natural live yoghurt (these should contain nothing other than milk and added bacteria).
In 2013, there was a study carried out at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece to measure the effects of eating probiotic yoghurt.18 The scientists split a number of lean mice into two groups. The ﬁrst group ate nothing but fast food, and the other ate fast food and probiotic yoghurt. Those eating just fast food became obese, whereas the group who ate the same volume of fast food but also probiotic yoghurt remained lean. They concluded that supplementing the diet with probiotic yoghurt inhibits obesity.
Without a doubt, a totally natural fermented yoghurt is full of millions of Nature’s tiny miracles, and adding a daily portion to our diet can do wonderful things for our gut ﬂora. But there is just one slight word of warning. A whole cup of yoghurt can contain 10 to 15g of CARBS, and remember we ideally want to stay below 50g a day, especially when we want to remain in ketosis, so don’t go mad on it!
The fermented milk of cows, sheep or goats. Its texture is like a cross between milk and yoghurt, and it is an excellent source of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2 and a whole host of healthy bacteria. If you suffer with gut health issues, then consuming half a cup of keﬁr each day might just help alleviate your symptoms.
Many experts claim that keﬁr is superior to probiotic yoghurt because it is home to a wider array of helpful bacteria. My advice is that we should use both in our weekly routine and beneﬁt from a dietary double dose!
When people ask me what the difference is between the Paleo diet and the Health Results way of living, I always start by saying that we love cheese! Cheeses that are made from raw milk and haven’t been pasteurised are a brilliant source of naturally fermented goodness. Soft cheeses (like Brie) are especially rich in helpful bacteria and can aid many smaller digestive issues while helping support the immune system. But don’t rely on cheese at the exclusion of yoghurt or keﬁr because many of the helpful strands of bacteria can be lost in the production process.
Full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and friendly bacteria, pickles work wonders for the gut. As always, it is really important to look for an organic jar and don’t buy any pickled in vinegar or with added sugar or other sweeteners, as these ingredients kill off the helpful bacteria. It’s okay to purchase them in brine, as not only are they great for the gut, they also often provide a rich source of vitamin K that, among other things, supports both healthy bones and a healthy heart.
Dating back more than 2000 years, the Romans fermented vegetables to take on long sea voyages. Made from cabbage, sauerkraut is one of the oldest traditional foods available and is not only a great source of probiotics but is also rich in vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin B. Also, sauerkraut contains iron, copper, calcium, sodium and magnesium. As well as helping cultivate a healthy gut, it is believed to boost our digestive system, aid blood circulation, give us stronger bones and fight inflammation.19
Another popular form of sauerkraut is the traditional Korean dish kimchi. Just like sauerkraut, its main ingredient is fermented cabbage, but it’s more ﬂavoursome, with a host of extra spices and seasonings.
18. Dark Chocolate (and ten reasons to eat it)
Before we get carried away with any old chocolate bar, let me set out the rules from the start. What we are after is real chocolate, not highly manufactured, sugar-stuffed chocolate bars. Chocolate is made from ground cocoa beans, which grow on cocoa trees in Central and South America. Around 3,000 years ago, Maya Indians discovered cacao and named it ‘theobroma cacao’, meaning ‘food of the gods’. They didn’t start by making chocolate, but a spicy drink called ‘chocolatl’. Making your own chocolate bars and desserts is really easy, but if you are not a big cook, then purchase bars of dark chocolate where the cocoa content is higher than 70%. Most supermarkets have a variety of brands and strengths. Ideally, the closer we can get to 100%, the more beneficial the chocolate will be, but many people find that strength of cocoa a little too bitter at first. What you will probably find is that over time your taste buds will change, and you will start to enjoy bars with more than 90% cacao.
The difference between Cacao and Cocoa
Raw cacao (pronounced ‘ka-cow’) powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa (pronounced ‘coe-coe’) beans. Because it is unroasted, cacao retains more of its powerful antioxidants. In his book Tales From the Medicine Trail, author Chris Kilham says, “If cocoa were a pharmaceutical drug, it would be hailed the greatest medicine of all time, and its discoverer would reap the Nobel Prize in Medicine”. While I agree with this, always remember that it is cacao which is richer in antioxidants. Here are ten health beneﬁts on offer:20 21
- Increase insulin sensitivity
- Protect against type 2 diabetes
- Lower blood pressure
- Support brain function such as memory
- Decrease inflammation
- Support our cardiovascular system
- Helps restore flexibility to arteries
- Prevents white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels
- By triggering leptin, the hormone that tells us we are full, it helps us to lose weight. Who would have thought that dark chocolate could actually help us lose weight?
- Protect against free radicals, thereby guarding against certain cancers
19. Bone Broth
You may have heard the description of cavemen hunkered down around a ﬁre, chewing on a bone and extracting the goodness from it - and if you haven’t, then I’m sure you have seen a dog engaging in a similar act. It’s not that the caveman was lazy and couldn’t be bothered to track down another animal, but that there was and still is so much hidden goodness to be obtained from the bones.
It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about chicken or cow bones. They are all excellent sources of nutrients, minerals and vitamins. They are full of gelatine and marrow that are brilliant for aiding joint pains and mobility. One of the greatest beneﬁts of boiling up bones into a lovely, tasty broth is its ability to break down larger protein molecules of gelatine into a speciﬁc amino acid, known as collagen. Its name is derived from the Greek word ‘kolla’, which translates as ‘glue’. In many ways, collagen is, in fact, the glue that holds the human body together. There is a huge amount of it residing on the inside of bones, in our joints and our tendons, and it also provides elasticity in our skin (the ability for the skin to bounce back into shape).
As we get older, our body becomes less efﬁcient at creating collagen, which is why we can often suffer with joint pains, and our skin can become wrinkly. In addition to food, collagen is often found in both skincare and supplements, where it is said to help reduce cellulite and stretch marks.
Put simply, collagen is made up primarily of an amino acid called glycine. This is not classed as an essential amino acid as our body is able to create it, but according to recent research, we are not that efficient at synthesising it.22 Therefore, many people in the medical and supplement world are now calling glycine a semi-essential amino acid.
It’s the smallest of all the 22 amino acids. It plays an important role in the health of our skin, our digestive system, circulatory and nervous system, muscle growth and repair and in managing our hormones. As you can see, glycine gets involved with pretty much everything that goes on in our body. Glycine also helps our body in synthesising, amongst other things, salt, a mineral which might now be lacking from our new diet because of the high intake of water and avoidance of salt-loaded packaged and processed foods.
Let’s get back to our caveman ancestor for a moment, or man’s best friend, the dog. By sucking on bones, they are extracting possibly the most important amino acid of all. However, as we would look pretty weird doing the same in a restaurant, instead we should make sure that we put bone broth on our weekly menu. There is plenty of guidance on the web on how to make it at home, but if we don’t have time, then there are cubes available that you can add to boiling water.
It should come as no surprise that the ultimate super fungi, the mushroom, makes its way into our superfood list, as we can be pretty certain that our primal ancestors consumed plenty of them. For the past few thousand years, Eastern cultures have literally worshipped the health beneﬁts of mushrooms. They are rich in protein and ﬁbre and an excellent source of water-soluble vitamins B and C. They also contain calcium, vitamin D, selenium and potassium. They support our immune system and, among other things, are said to help prevent certain cancers.23 In particular, beta-glucans - found in the cell walls of bacteria living on mushrooms - inhibit the growth of cancerous cells, so much so they are available in pill form and often prescribed for people not only with cancer but also sufferers of diabetes, high cholesterol and HIV/AIDS. Mushrooms also contain linoleic acid that helps prevent the production of excess oestrogen, which is one of the prime causes of breast cancer in women after the menopause.
More recently, there has been lots of media attention around the positive effect consuming mushrooms has on our cognitive functions. In January 2017, The Mirror newspaper wrote an article under the headline, ‘Mushrooms could be the newest “Superfood”, as study shows they can stave off dementia’.24
One word of warning about how to buy your mushrooms. Because they are super absorbent, they soak up both good and bad chemicals and minerals from the soil. Therefore, it’s crucial that we only purchase organic mushrooms. For our health’s sake, if it isn’t organic, we should leave it on the shelf and choose something else.
Other Healthy Foods
All the following are excellent sources of micronutrients, and while they just missed out on the Top 20, they made it into my Top 40:
- Lemon and lime
- Romaine lettuce
- Green Tea
- Other Teas
Shellfish are split into 2 groups: molluscs and crustaceans, Oysters, mussels and clams are molluscs, and crustaceans are the likes of shrimps and prawns. Because we eat nearly the entire shellfish, is among the most nutrient-dense foods we can possibly eat. We should also include the much bigger lobsters and tiger prawns, which are a rich source of selenium and B12.
Lemon and lime
Both lemon and limes are packed full of vitamins and minerals, and serve a much greater nutritional purpose than just adding a twist to your gin and tonic. However, with their very strong bitter taste, few will enjoy sitting down to a plateful, and therefore we have added them to the Top 40 for a slightly different reason.
In 1747, Scottish physician James Lind was aboard a navy ship when many of the sailors became very sick. He conducted what many believe to be the first clinical trial ever when he divided the sick into different groups and fed them different foods. The only group to recover on the voyage was the group of sailors who exclusively ate oranges and lemons. A century later, the Royal Navy realised that lime was stronger than lemon, and so, in order to prevent this disease known as scurvy, they began adding it to sailor’s drinks. This amused the Americans, and the nickname for Brits as ‘Limeys’ was born. What was it that prevented scurvy? It was the acid in the lemon and limes, an acid that we call vitamin C.
These citrus fruits really do pack an extremely beneficial vitamin C punch. Their concentration of antioxidants helps prevent free radicals and therefore reduces the likelihood of many cancers.25 The sharp flavour, caused by a phytonutrient called limonin, literally can halt inflammation and therefore reduce the effect of many common illnesses. I squeeze them into my filtered drinking water, yoghurt smoothies and onto my salads. If I am making a curry, I will often slice up a whole lemon and put it into the dish while it cooks, removing the slices just before serving. The skin of a lime can be grated to enhance an authentic tasting Thai curry.
One small kiwi provides our entire recommended daily intake of vitamin C, plus a shot of potassium, magnesium and iron. Despite their sweet taste, they are surprisingly low in sugar, and their abundant ﬁbres provide a natural counterbalance to the fructose. With more vitamin C than an orange, the health beneﬁts of a kiwi are huge. Beyond its high vitamin C concentration, it’s brimming with antioxidants and phytonutrients, including carotenoids that strengthen our eyesight, polysaccharides that help our skin to stay youthful by synthesising collagen, and it even contains serotonin that helps us get a good night’s sleep.
I could list a dozen more reasons why the kiwi fruit is so healthy, but let me headline lutein: kiwi is the richest food source of this carotenoid vitamin. Lutein, also known as ‘vitamin eye’, is said to help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts and damage to the retina. It is also associated with healthy skin and in preventing various types of cancer.26
Used for centuries as a medicine, celery contains an array of phytonutrients that help lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease and inﬂammation. With their high-water content and array of minerals, they’re full of electrolytes that help prevent dehydration.
Dr Josh Axe, who created one of the most informative natural health websites (www.draxe.com), says, “It can help prevent or reduce the formation of painful ulcers. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Biology found that celery contains a special type of ethanol extract that is useful in protecting the lining of the digestive tract from ulcers. Celery extract has the ability to signiﬁcantly replenish depleted levels of gastric mucus that is needed in the stomach lining to prevent tiny holes and openings from forming”.
Not only do they look like the toughest and most sturdy plant we are likely to ﬁnd on our plate, but they are also so full of nutrients and goodness that I just had to place them in my Top 40. While most people only eat the heart, the leaves are so full of beneﬁcial antioxidants that we should try to include them in our dishes too.
The ‘tough guy’ image of artichokes is enhanced by their fibrous construction. Their nutritional line-up includes vitamin B12, vitamin K, vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, vitamin B6 and many other smaller traces of beneficial minerals.
Artichokes are famed for preventing the most serious of Westernised conditions such as diabetes, various cancers and cardiovascular disease.27 They also help maintain a healthy digestive tract. They contain some pretty powerful phytonutrients, including quercetin, rutin, cynarin and gallic acid. These, combined with their high ﬁbre content, have been known to diminish the symptoms of IBS and even cure it.
I didn’t include peanuts in the excellent eight nuts, as you may recall we learned they are not nuts but legumes. Nevertheless, are they good for us? Simply, yes. They are full of monounsaturated fats, which are really good fats. In fact, the average peanut is roughly 50% fat and the same healthy type that you ﬁnd in olives and oleic acid. While legumes as a family didn’t make it into the Top 40 and, in the main, should be eaten in moderation, peanuts should be considered differently.
Why are peanuts good for us? A large handful of peanuts is roughly 38 peanuts (28g, or 1oz) and will deliver the following percentages of our recommended daily intake: copper 36%, manganese 28%, vitamin B3 22%, molybdenum 19%, folate 17%, biotin 16%, phosphorus 15%, vitamin E 15% and vitamin B 14%. When it comes to antioxidant content, peanuts are on par with berries and provide a richer array of antioxidant than most fruits. They also have one amazing antioxidant you won’t ﬁnd in other nuts – resveratrol. It’s the same antioxidant found in red wine and is believed to help prevent both heart disease and certain cancers.28
So, peanuts are super healthy but don’t eat too many. Even though they are 50% smart fat, 30% protein and 8.5% fibre, if you consume too many handfuls, especially while socialising at a bar, for example, you will undoubtedly not realise how many you have consumed and are likely to create a huge calorie surplus. There are so many nutrients packed into just one 28g serving, that this is all we need each day to reap the benefits.
Here’s a double-edged sword. At Health Results, for all of the reasons I have already stated, we have pretty much stayed clear of CARBS to help those that need to reset their health. However, I felt it was important to put lentils into my Top 40 for my vegetarian friends, as they offer one of the richest protein levels we can get from a plant. The CARBS are also very complex, making them fall towards the bottom of the GI index. Lentils also contain lots of ﬁbre, folate, iron, manganese, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, vitamin B1 (thiamin) and vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). I don’t personally eat them as I get plenty of protein from meat and poultry, but if you are a vegetarian or vegan, then lentils will almost deﬁnitely help ﬁll some nutritional gaps in your diet.
If the only time you ever eat seaweed is when it’s holding together sticky rice in a sushi roll, then it’s probably not going to prove to be a healthy choice. But served in soups or used to roll up avocado and prawns or salad rolls for hors d’oeuvre, then it’s simply magical. Seaweed is one of the only vegetables we consume from the oceans, and it’s full of calcium, folate, iodine, magnesium and a whole host of vitamin Bs. Recent research from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne suggests that seaweed, which is also full of ﬁbre, is excellent for our guts and helps slow down digestion, making us feel fuller for longer.29
I was originally going to give both Romaine and Iceberg lettuce their own Top 40 listings as both leaves are healthy, but the more I researched, the more I realised that Romaine lettuce was the hands down winner in macronutrients. For example, it is more concentrated in vitamin K, so if we are worried about our bones or developing osteoporosis, or have concerns about cancer, then choosing Romaine over Iceberg would again be a wise decision. Romaine also wins hands-down in the two super beneﬁcial carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, so to maintain healthy eyesight, Romaine is the better lettuce choice.
Oh, how a little knowledge can be a bad thing. One message remains clear to this day as I left the hospital after having kidney stones, ‘don’t eat grapefruit’. Yet medical research in the USA now suggests that it helps to prevent kidney stones.30 The citric acid in it is believed to bind with calcium in the kidneys, helping the body ﬂush it out. In addition, the citric acid increases the pH in our urine, which is also believed to help prevent kidney stones. Grapefruit’s somewhat bitter taste is full of antioxidants and fibre, making it one of the healthiest citrus fruits we can eat. It’s rich in vitamin C, plus smallish concentrations of various beneﬁcial minerals. Several reports are emerging that suggest that it might help in preventing cells from becoming insulin resistant, therefore preventing type 2 diabetes.
How can something so tasty be so good for us? It’s rich in vitamin C and an excellent source of manganese, but most importantly, it’s the richest source of bromelain, a mixture of enzymes that are anti-inflammatory and which animal studies suggest protects against tumour growth and cancer.31 Its ability to reduce swelling makes it an excellent choice for people with arthritis, plus it can cure certain muscle injuries and soreness. Bromelain is also heralded as a natural anticoagulant, therefore it can play a role in the prevention of strokes and heart attacks.
The only slight negative is that 1 cup of pineapple contains 15g of fructose (compared with 1 cup of strawberries, which contains 3.8g), but portion still contains fewer calories than an apple and way less than a banana. If you are trying to lose a lot of weight quickly or abstaining from sugar completely, or maybe you’re just not a fan of the tropical taste, today, there are dozens of brands of bromelain supplements on the market instead.
It wasn’t until recently that my family added pomegranates to the fruits that ﬁll our fridge. They are great to add vital nutrients to a morning yoghurt or toss into almost any salad. Their health beneﬁts lie in their incredible line-up of antioxidants and other beneﬁcial compounds. When you stop to think about it, they are a cross between a seed and a fruit, and therefore we get a double serving of healthiness.
Rich in vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium, studies have shown that pomegranates may help reduce the risk of cancer and all kinds of inﬂammation.32 They are also said to help treat high blood pressure, reduce oxidative stress and hyperglycaemia. They have also long been recognised as an aphrodisiac. A study at the Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh suggested pomegranate juice lowered cortisol levels, which can lead to an increase of testosterone not just in men but in women as well.33
When most people think of asparagus, they think of the aftereffects when you pee! But did you know it is believed to be the ﬁnest aphrodisiac wrapped up in a vegetable? The Kama Sutra advised that it should be consumed as a paste, and the Greeks linked it to love in poetry. In history, the French would include it in all meals leading up to a wedding in the belief that it increased libido before the wedding night.
However, my own story has nothing to do with sex drive. When I had a kidney stone, my lovely wife did lots of research on how to break the stone up naturally. I had to check myself out of the hospital (where doctors had procrastinated for two days and therefore not had a chance to zap it) to attend an important meeting in Hong Kong. So, my wife made me eat lots of mushed-up asparagus. Within 48 hours, the pain had eased, and when I returned to the UK, the doctor was amazed that it had completely vanished. It appears that its high concentration of potassium helps to cleanse both the kidneys and the urinary tract and literally caused my stone to disintegrate.
But back to increased libido (which is frankly far more interesting than kidney stones): asparagus contains aspartic acid, which can neutralise the excess ammonia in our body, which is often a root cause of a drop in libido. On top of busting kidney stones and increasing our sex drive, from its tip to stem, asparagus is loaded with other nutrients too.
There are three nutrients in cucumber that aren’t mentioned anywhere else in this programme, and that are all very beneﬁcial to our health. Lariciresinol, secoisolariciresinol and pinoresinol are antioxidants that support our immune system and are excellent for balancing hormone levels. These three phytonutrients are said to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as several types of cancer, including prostate, breast and ovarian. Cucumbers also contain another nutrient called ﬁsetin (also found in strawberries), which helps keep the brain in good working order and has slowed down the development of Alzheimer’s in lab experiments with mice.34
Besides its unique phytonutrients, cucumbers have a vast list of beneﬁcial minerals and vitamins, but because they are 95% water, their concentration is very slight. That said, the reason why you often see therapists placing them on eyes during a beauty session is that they possess effective anti-wrinkling nutrients known as ascorbic and caffeic acid.
They really do help us see in the dark! They are rich in beta carotene that the liver converts into vitamin A. When vitamin A reaches the retina, it is further converted to rhodopsin, a pigment that helps enhance night vision. Beta carotene is also associated with preventing certain cancers, specifically lung, colon and breast.35
Vitamin A also slows down the ageing of our skin while boosting the quality of our hair and nails too.
While cheese does not feature in a strict Paleo diet, I believe (as long as you follow a few guidelines) it fits perfectly well in the Health Results lifestyle. Above all, it’s really important to ensure the cheese is organic. The last thing we want to be putting in our mouths is cheese that originated from the milk of a cow that was pumped full of antibiotics.
But isn’t cheese full of lactose, and isn’t lactose essentially sugar? Here is the good news for cheese lovers. The fermentation process that turns milk into cheese signiﬁcantly reduces its lactose (sugar) content. Indeed, the longer a cheese is aged, the more time it provides healthy bacteria to ferment even more lactose. Brie, feta, goat’s cheese, blue cheese, cheddar, Camembert, Gruyère, Edam, Roquefort, mozzarella and Parmesan all have less than 4% CARBS, and in moderation, they are healthy additions to your fridge.
While a lot of people sing the praise of cottage cheese, they tend to have a higher CARB content. As always, avoid any cheeses that say low or reduced fat, as these are most likely pumped with added sugar, sweeteners or other such additives to make up for the lack of natural healthy fat.
Coffee is rich in caffeine. The coffee plant produces caffeine in its seeds to defend itself from predators who, if they do have a nibble, go weak, lose their alertness and either fall from the plant, or are easily swallowed up by prey that know better than to consume it. Instead of sending us humans weak at the knees, it stimulates our central nervous system. I like to have coffee when I am weight training as it unlocks fat in the bloodstream and turns it into energy.
Some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others. Personally, I can take a big mug to bed, and it has no effect at all on how long it takes me to fall asleep, while others ﬁnd its stimulation of the nervous system too much and it prevents them from sleeping. Sleep is really important, so if you ﬁnd coffee keeps you awake, then as a bedtime drink, I’d recommend a herbal tea like ginger, camomile or lemongrass.
In his book The IF Diet, Robert Skinner explains coffee’s effect on sleep brilliantly: “Throughout the day, a chemical called adenosine normally builds up, hour by hour. Adenosine dampens down brain activity, eventually allowing us to drift off. Caffeine causes mischief – because it looks like adenosine and jumps into the places where adenosine normally builds up. With the spaces blocked, adenosine can’t get in to tell your brain ‘dim the lights’, and we stay... unsleepy”.
A slight downside of caffeine is that it’s a diuretic, which means it tells our kidneys to pass water, meaning coffee will dehydrate us a little. As a result, either before or after a coffee, I try to remember to drink a similar amount of water to balance it out.
A study in Finland of 1,409 people, aged between 65 and 79, found that those who drank more than three to five cups of coffee a day were a staggering 65% less likely to fall victim to Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those that drank either no coffee at all just one or two cups a day.36 How is this possible? It is to do with the effect coffee has on our microbiome. In the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers reported that gut-friendly bacteria (particularly bacteroidetes and prevotella) receive a 60% growth boost for up to 24 hours after coffee fibres enter the gut. Coffee isn’t just great at reducing the risk of mental diseases, its high concentration of polyphenols makes it a great antioxidant too. If you don’t like coffee, you can also get the same polyphenols in red wine, tea, vegetables and dark chocolate.
For centuries, tea has been regarded as good for health, happiness, and wisdom, especially in the East. According to the hugely popular website WebMD, “Studies have found that some teas may help with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; encourage weight loss; lower cholesterol, and bring about mental alertness. Tea also appears to have antimicrobial qualities”.37 Let’s divide tea into two camps: green and other types.
This is possibly the healthiest natural drink you could have and is created by drying leaves from the tea plant Camellia sinensis. It’s full of epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), which speeds up our metabolism while at the same time suppresses hunger. With every cup, we get a double dose of goodness. It increases the hormone adrenaline, which in return produces heat. For the body to produce heat, it has to burn energy and burning energy causes us to lose weight.
Green tea is not just about ECGC. There are numerous other phytonutrients and antioxidants that boost the immune system, acting as natural antibacterial and antiviral compounds. Its ability to protect us from free radicals and, therefore, certain cancers is well documented, as too is its ability to prevent symptoms associated with colds and flu. Green tea is so beneﬁcial for our health that there are plenty of brands that make ECGC supplements for those who don’t like tea.38
One day, for a bit of fun, my daughter Jessica and I went to our local supermarket to count how many different flavours of tea were on sale. We found a staggering 97: from ginger with cranberry, to rose and sweet vanilla to oat flower with lavender and lime flower. From a tea infused with chamomile that claims to stop us from snoring, lemon balm, and lavender to a palate-refreshing triple mint tea containing peppermint, spearmint and field mint. My current favourite is green tea infused with ginger. On the isles of Ikaria and Okinawa, both regions of extraordinary longevity and very good health, drinking organic and local tea is part of their daily ritual.
As someone who has always slightly overindulged in alcohol (although as I write this, I am currently on a dry month), I ﬁnd ﬂavoured teas a great replacement, especially in the evenings. On my fasting days, where I stay alcohol-free, if I feel the urge for a gin and tonic or a glass of red wine, I can always put my alcohol monkey (if you have read Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters, you will know what I mean) back in its box and satisfy my craving with a ﬂavoured tea. And as a way of keeping tea-drinking interesting and varied, I sometimes even put two different bags in the same cup to create different tea mocktails.
According to Dan Buettner in his brilliant book The Blue Zones (subtitled ‘Nine lessons for living longer, from the people who have lived the longest’), while discussing the incredible number of centenarians on the island of Ikaria, he says, “Ikarians drink herbal teas made from wild oregano, sage, and rosemary – all of which lower blood pressure. How they drink them is important too: They drink these daily but rotate the ﬂavours”.