Sunday, 27 May 2012

Food for thought for Spring

Officially it is still Spring and the supermarket shelves and market stalls are alive with fresh, colourful produce.
By happy chance, most of the foods that are at their best at this time of year are low in fat, high in vitamins and minerals and will therefore help you to shift pounds and arrive at summer looking your finest.

Delightfully zingy and peppery, watercress is also high in goodness and low in fat. Dietitian Cara Lewis says: "Like all dark green leafy vegetables, watercress is a rich source of a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that should feature in any healthy diet. It's a particularly good source of carotene, a precursor to vitamin A which is also needed for healthy eyes, skin, bones and a strong immune system. Try watercress soup or adding to salads or sandwiches with fresh herbs."
Sugar snap peas
Sweet and crunchy, chowing your way through a handful of sugar snap peas is a good way to satisfy hunger pangs and keep your calorie intake in check. Lewis says: "Another vegetable which is high in vitamins and minerals, sugar snaps are particularly rich in the B vitamin biotin. Eat them raw or steamed as a snack or a side dish, they're great in stir fries with peppers, sesame seeds and a protein like meat or fish."
Rejoice! British asparagus season, which runs from May until June, is upon us. This eight-week window passes in a flash, so make sure you fill your boots while this delicious home-grown vegetable is available. Lewis says: "Asparagus is tasty steamed and drizzled with lemon juice or baked wrapped in parma ham." With less than four calories per average spear, asparagus (which is also low in cholesterol and has zero fat) as part of a balanced diet will help weight loss. It'll also make your urine smell, but we're sure you can live with that.
Get childhood memories of Watership Down out of your head. Rabbit is often unfairly overlooked in favour of more mainstream meats, and it's time to put an end to this prejudice. As well as being lip-smackingly flavoursome, rabbit is low in fat compared to other types of meat. Lewis says: "Rabbit is lean with a similar fat content to white meat. The fat content of cooked rabbit meat is approximately 3g per 100g, compared to 5-7g for chicken and 10g for lamb. Lean meat like this is also a great source of protein, which will help you stay fuller for longer, iron and B vitamins."
In addition to its long list of health benefits, including large doses of vitamins K, C, A, manganese, folate, iron and calcium, spinach is also rich in fibre, which is crucial for weight management. Lewis says: "Spinach and other leafy veggies like kale, cabbage and spring greens are not only low in calories, they are all excellent sources of fibre which keeps us feeling full, so we're therefore less likely to overeat on other calorie-dense snacks."
We most commonly eat it in crumbles and other sugar-laced desserts to reduce the tartness of this vegetable (yes, it is a vegetable), but rhubarb, which is at its best at this time of year, also works brilliantly in savoury dishes (it's great with lamb and duck, for example), where you can make the most of its fat-busting benefits. A good source of fibre, vitamin C and calcium, rhubarb also contains catechins, an antioxidant which, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, is thought to boost your body's fat-burning abilities by speeding up your metabolism.
Lamb may seem to be an odd choice, considering its fat content, but, like most meats, it has leaner cuts that are less destructive to your waistline. Plus, it's an excellent source of B vitamins to give you energy, and iron. Lamb is also high in protein, which we need for lean muscle growth and to help us feel fuller for longer. Lamb is, of course, available all year round but spring is when it's at its best (plus it tends to be reared locally). Have it with fresh mint sauce and vegetables or try slow-cooking lamb shanks and serving with wholegrain rice and asparagus.
Just coming into season now, the British berry season means it's time to fill up on luscious fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, among others. Low in calories, strawberries contain 140% of your daily recommended amount of vitamin C (per one cup serving), as well as high levels of manganese and, most importantly of all, dietary fibre.
Want to satisfy your sweet tooth without loading your system with sugar (thus putting an end to your plans to get rid of your belly for summer)? Try apricots, which, as their orangey/yellow hue suggests, are full of carotenoids, the phytonutrients that provide us with powerful antioxidant protection. Relaxing in the sun with a bowl of fresh, ripe apricots is the perfect way to say hello to the warmer months and goodbye to fat-laden foods.
Romaine lettuce
Salads are back on the menu now that winter has left us. One of the most nutrient-rich varieties of lettuce, romaine is loaded with vitamin C and chromium, which helps to regulate our blood sugar levels, making it the perfect base for all the other gloriously healthy spring produce you are going to consume this year. 


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