Get cooking, and be creative in the kitchen!
Cooking should be a central priority in our lives because it has the power/ability to prevent chronic diseases. The two most prominent chronic diseases around the world are cardiovascular diseases and cancer. They are also the leading causes of death and disability. Both of them are linked by common and preventable biological and behavioural risk factors, one of which is an unhealthy diet (1).
We know that genetics alone do not entirely determine our health status. Our genes interact with the environment around us. Our thoughts and attitudes in life, and our lifestyle such as physical activity, food, sleep patterns, stress levels and so on, influence the expression of our genes and whether or not we develop certain illnesses. A healthy lifestyle can give us the capacity to adapt to the stresses of life and to repair and remodel our genes throughout our life (2). The food that we eat can improve the expression of thousands of genes, help to balance our hormones, reduce inflammation, and optimize our microbiome (the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses – that live on and inside our bodies).
Food has numerous bioactive compounds which are extremely beneficial for our health. For example, a way to prevent inflammation, which can lead to carcinogenesis or cardiovascular disease is through the use of bioactive food compounds found in spices and herbs. Through research have shown to possess both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (3).
Food can not only help us to reduce the risk of these chronic diseases and to extend our lives, it can make us more resilient to the Covid-19 pandemic. The power of food cannot be underestimated. Food can work faster, better and cheaper than any drug, and without side effects.
Cooking our own food is the missing link between us and nature in our modern and fast way of living. We tend to think of cooking as an activity that is too costly and occupies too much of our time and effort. This is very strange if we remind ourselves that we spend around 8 hours a day in front of a screen whilst current research demonstrates the negative effects on our health and the addictive nature of being switched on for such long periods of time.
Cooking our own food allows us to control how we nourish our bodies in the best possible way, taking control and ownership of our health.
Cooking: an essential art
Cooking is an essential art that we need to explore through our lives, to enable us to optimise our overall health, to connect with others, to spend time with our families and loved ones, and to develop our creativity (crucial for brain health).
I feel very strongly that there is a need to teach young generations as part of the school curriculum how to cook and develop basic skills and knowledge of healthy eating. This then, should be integrated or instilled into our households, with parents/adults being able to lead a good example of how to live in harmony with nature and our food. There is a lack of education – the basic skills, knowledge, and confidence to buy and cook real foods. The reality is that cooking can be fun, exciting, quick, inexpensive and easy to prepare. Our dishes should always be nutritious (to give our body and mind what they need to fully enjoy life) and tasty. There are not many relationships in life as important as the one we have with food, something we do every day and literally depend on for sustenance.
Starting to cook your meals from scratch can be overwhelming but with determination and creativity anybody can do. Below I will show you some of the things I use to motivate and inspire me to cook healthy meals:
1. To create dishes that maximise quality, quantity and diversity of nutrients, I use my kitchen chop board as a palette, exactly as an artist uses his/hers to display the colours they need for their paintings.
Ingredients for Stir Fried Vegetables with Eggs
- 2 organic eggs
- Red onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 red pepper
- 1 yellow pepper
- Mix mushrooms
- Black olives
- Pomegranate seeds
- Avocado oil
- Pink Himalaya salt
- Lemon juice
2. I aim for at least three to four different plants, mainly non-starchy veggies such as: artichoke, asparagus, green beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celery, cucumber, leeks, garlic, mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomato. Starchy vegetables: peas, sweet potatoes, baby potatoes, parsnips, butternut squash, are some of my favourites.
3. Then, I think of my protein (we only need a palm-sized portion of protein per person) pasture-raised/wild-caught protein when animal or seafood-based. If you eat eggs, 2 eggs, is a good size portion. Plant-based protein such as organic tofu or tempeh around 100g; and peas, beans & lentils around 85g. Some of my personal favourites of protein are anchovies, sardines, herring, cod, haddock, pollock, mackerel, sea bass, salmon, prawns, free-range organic chicken/eggs; organic gluten-free tempeh & tofu; peas; black beans & chickpeas; Puy, red and black lentils.
4. After, I like to think of which herbs and spices can go with those vegetables and protein. I always have herbs in the kitchen counter to fragrance the kitchen, they remind me to include them in my dishes. I love to use Mediterranean herbs and spices such as parsley, saffron, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage, and coriander for my curries. I strongly recommend a drawer or shelf to display your spices and herbs. You can keep adding new herbs and explore more about their health benefits. Please see my blog about “Herbs & Spices”.
5. Then, sometimes, not always, I add a small amount (no more than 100g) of gluten-free whole grains such as black, brown, red & wild rice, quinoa, millet, teff, amaranth or buckwheat.
6. To add healthy fats, I look for omega-3 fatty acids in fish, nuts & seeds, small amounts of cold pressed nut & seed oils, avocados, olives, butter, ghee, coconut & avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil. Flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are some of my favourites to add in my salads, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on my veggies and also for salad dressings and homemade pesto; organic virgin coconut oil, organic butter and organic avocado oil for high temperature cooking.
7. Display on your fridge posters with the nutritional value of different vegetables and fruit. Children love them, they are great tools to educate them from an early age about the benefits of vegetables and the wide variety/selection available to them. Encourage them to choose and experiment with different vegetables every week. Through my own personal experience I learnt that children need to be exposed to some vegetables around 7 times over a period of time for them to begin enjoying them.
8. Discuss your meals with your family, plan ahead, get excited to try new things.
9. Sit down at the table, make an effort, the presentation of your plate is very important as is the room/space which you sit down to eat. Take your time to enjoy your meals, your body and heart will appreciate it.
Stir Fried Vegetables with Eggs.
(2)Murray, MT. (2018). The Magic of Food: live longer and healthier-and lose weight-with the synergetic diet. Jul 2018. New York: Atria Books, pp.2-3.
(3)Teodoro AJ. Bioactive Compounds of Food: Their Role in the Prevention and Treatment of Diseases. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Volume 2019, Article ID 3765986, 4 pages. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/3765986