Earlier this week I went to get a passport photo. Granted most passports photos are terrible for various reasons and mine are no different, however this last one I got was particularly vicious. This time it wasn’t my weight that bothered me or my face in general, despite the fact that I am noticeably asymmetrical and flashing some wicked crazy eyes, it was something else that bothered me. I looked old. I have been blessed with looking younger than I am my whole life and this has usually made me happy, but for the first time I looked older, sagging and aged. Nobody else would have noticed I’m sure, it’s my own ego and unrelenting self-scrutiny that’s really the problem here. But nevertheless, I had a little crisis. A vanity crisis.
It doesn’t matter how much zumba or jogging I do, time will catch up with me. After all, I don’t really think it’s what we take out of our bodies that counts, it’s what we put in that has the most significant impact. I’ve read a lot about food and nutrition and have seen and appreciate the effects that the right diet can have. As a general rule we all know the things that are not great in large amounts like sugar, salt, meat, dairy and fat and it’s not hard to keep these things to a healthy level. The simplest way to minimise the bad elements in any diet is to eat as many low processed foods as possible – that is eating food as it occurs in nature. If your trolley is mainly full of fruit, vegetables, meat, nuts, yoghurt and eggs then you’re doing fine. If the bright packages of cereal, biscuits, chips, cans and packets are tipping the scales in your trolley, then it’s time to reassess.
But I’m not here to wag my finger. This post is dedicated to my ego and the fragility of a woman’s vanity as she ages. I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t want to look old. I don’t mind getting older, in fact, the older I get the better life is, but it doesn’t mean I want it to show on my face, or hands or belly.
In general, it seems that anything with a very strong colour is going to help. It’s the flavenoids in foods like red grapes, beetroot, turmeric, tomato, red onions and blueberries that help fight the effects of ageing. And I’m not talking about ageing on the outside, I mean ageing on the inside – but it’s all connected you see. If you are healthy on the inside chances are you’ll be healthy on the outside. Flavenoids help with inflammation that can cause sensitivities to certain foods as you age, they help fight free radicals, and help to keep your heart and blood healthy and your digestion.
Sluggish digestion occurs with age too, and so keeping a gut that works well is key to being able to absorb all the nutrients you need. Foods like processed flours, sugar and bad fats contribute to a sluggish digestion. Apparently beetroot is a super food when it comes to detoxing the system – notice it’s another richly coloured vegetable.
Of course we all know the benefits of leafy greens and brasicas but did you know that cabbage and brocoli are also testosterone-supporting foods, which women lose as they age leading to less muscle tone and a fat belly.
Oils and omega-3 are also well known in their role to keep us healthy and fight against heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol. We’ve all heard about the benefits of oily fish, salmon, eggs, olive oil and nuts but did you know that coconut oil is also very good for you? Even though coconut oil is a saturated fat and in the past has been shunned, because the fat is plant-derived it is now considered safe, and more importantly beneficial. Despite coconut oil being highly calorific, it can also help with weight loss — one study shows that women aged 20 to 40 have smaller waists after eating coconut oil for 12 weeks. Plus it’s been linked recently to brain function (read article here).
So as promised, here are some meals that will help you gracefully exit the blossom of youth and keep your skin and hair clear, tight and fresh, your tummy trim and your eyes bright.
One pan roast
In a large baking dish, put slices and chunks of spanish onion, sweet potato, red capsicum, beetroot. Toss with a bit of olive oil and harrisa paste, and then lay some mackerel, sardines, herring or salmon or trout fillets across the top and roast till everything’s cooked. Wash it down with big glass of red wine, and follow it up with some dark chocolate mousse made by whipping melted dark chocolate with cold water. Try this recipe at www.diamondsfordessert.com/2011/02/chocolate-mousse
Make a massive big salad built on a solid foundation of shredded baby spinach, rocket and any fine leafy greens. Throw in some tinned beets, sliced red onion, red and yellow capsicum, julienne carrots and cucumber. Top with some shredded BBQ chicken or honey-smoked mackerel and dress with a maple-mustard dressing (from this recipe) or for a more Asian flavour try this sesame oil dressing.
Have a watered down glass of super nutrient-rich pommegranate juice and a handful of blueberries.
Mix Greek yoghurt with honey and cinnamon to sweeten it up. You can either add some fresh berries like raspberries or blueberries or chuck in a bit of toasted oatbran.
Slices of avocado and prawn, topped with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and black pepper.
A handful of craisins and raw nuts, with emphasis on almonds, brazil nuts and walnuts.
Make a curry, using whatever flavour you prefer. Anything from a jar is what most of us use, but throw in an extra teaspoon of turmeric – you won’t even notice it, but is renowned for it’s anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory properties. Throw in vegies like brocoli, mushrooms, butternut squash, cauliflower lentils, chickpeas and green beans. I always put evaporated milk into my curries, to lessen the calories but since reading about the Paleo diet and research on coconut, it’s actually better for you to use a coconut cream or milk. The demonisation of fats has meant that we aren’t benefiting from the good fats available in food like nuts, coconut and seeds.
Instead of serving your saucy curry with loads of rice, serve it with a mountain of lightly steamed cabbage and baby spinach leaves. It’s the sauces we all love, so you won’t even notice that the high-carb, starchy element of the meal is missing.
Make an apple and rhubarb crumble. In your recipe replace the flour with almond meal, and add some flaked almonds, rolled oats and coconut.
OK, so I know grilled meat and veg is a basic meal, but it can be the best kind of meal to make mid week, when you don’t have loads of time. The trick is to find new ways with vegetables that you can serve up with your piece of baked salmon fillet or pan-fried pork chop.
A simple one that I love is simply sautéing sliced leeks and cabbage. With plenty of black pepper and a reasonable amount of salt, this simple side is simply super. Try adding some baby spinach for variety.
Ottolenghi has so many great recipes for spicing up the vegetables in your life – I would highly recommend his Plenty cookbook. But in the meantime, why not try his ratatouille or creamy lentils or simply roast up your meat with chunks of leek, fresh asparagus, fresh dill and wedges of lemon as I did in this post salmon-asparagus-and-the-fruits-of-laziness.
Make a summer greens tart by pan sauteing some asparagus, shallots, baby spinach, brocoli, courgette. Add some mint and crumble in some goat’s cheese and then pour some beaten eggs over the top. Place the contents in the oven till the egg is cooked.
Corn succotash is a favourite in my house, a bit of fresh corn, mushroom, courgette and shallot with lashings of black pepper and some salt. Read the recipe here.
Roasting vegetables is probably my favourite way to eat them. Think outside the box and add beetroot to your mix, and why not try brussel sprouts. They taste amazing when roasted, and take on a nutty flavour like asparagus does when roasted. I love roasting mushrooms and onions, sweet potato and courgette. Tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, you can’t go wrong, and it’s so easy to prepare.
In summer, salads are great for incorporating a variety of coloured vegetables. To make it even better, throw in some seeds and nuts. With a light toast, you can get some really exciting flavours.
Can’t get any better than combining two super foods in one cake, the chocolate and beetroot cake.