Scottish superfoods.

S-PLAN DIET

SALLY RAIKES

WE DRAG ourselves off to the gym and dutifully slap on anti-ageing creams, but there are easier ways to look younger and live longer. For example, choosing foods that are low in trans-fats (which can damage the heart), salt and refined sugars, and high in nutrients, can make a real difference to your health and appearance.

There are dozens of 'superfoods', ranging from wheatgrass and seaweed to blueberries, bananas and chickpeas, and Scotland produces some of the most important, including oats, berries and oil-rich fish. "The great thing about these products is that they are all natural and wholesome, not manufactured or created in a laboratory," says Alan Stevenson of the Health Enhancing Food & Drink project, an initiative run by Scottish Enterprise. "Scotland is fortunate to have a wide range of produce that is both natural and tasty. Some, such as oats and oily fish, have been proven to have health benefits; others have nutrients that we know are good for us, but we are awaiting the scientific research that will prove this."

The following is a selection of native foods that will keep you healthy, slim and bursting with energy.

Venison

Game is healthier than many red meats and is an excellent alternative to beef. Venison in particular is naturally lean (at 1.6% fat, it is leaner than skinless chicken and has less than half the cholesterol), and is a good source of Omega-3 acids, protein and B vitamins. Better still, it's full of flavour and easy to cook. There is an increasing number of ready-to-cook game products available, and Scotland has no shortage of producers - check out www.seriouslygoodvenison.co.uk. Use venison mince as a substitute for lamb or beef in a traditional shepherd's pie, bolognaise sauce or burgers, as sausages or cubed in stews and casseroles.

Oats

A brilliant source of slow-release energy, oats are a supergrain. This means that unlike other types of wholegrain (wheat and barley), they contain two types of fibre: soluble fibre (beta glucan), which is recognised to actively lower cholesterol, and insoluble fibre, which helps to maintain a healthy digestive system. Oats are also high in unsaturated fats, which are essential for good health. Use them to make porridge in the morning, as a snack (try Quaker's oat bar) or in a savoury evening dish.

Milk

An essential source of calcium, protein and vitamin B, milk is particularly important for the development of strong, healthy teeth and bones in young children. There is the same amount of calcium in one glass of milk as there is in 12 portions of spinach, eight portions of red kidney beans or more than four servings of broccoli. Last summer, Marks & Spencer started selling 'super' milk, which contains Omega-3 fatty acids derived from oily fish - these tackle heart disease and ensure healthy nails, hair and skin. A study last year also suggested that organic milk has more health benefits than non-organic milk, as it contains 50% more vitamin E and two or three times more antioxidants. The National Institute of Health recommends drinking three 250ml glasses of milk a day.

Salmon

A study carried out last year revealed that eating one to two portions of oily fish a week reduces the risk of developing coronary heart disease by 25%. Salmon, together with other oily fish such as mackerel, anchovies, whitebait, herring, sardines, sprats, shrimp, crab and fresh tuna, is full of health-enhancing Omega-3s, EPA and DHA, which help maintain healthy joints. Pregnant or breast-feeding mothers can also benefit from Omega-3s, as these aid babies' development.

Green vegetables

"All dark-green vegetables are a good source of fibre, antioxidants and folic acid," says nutritionist Amanda Johnson. "Brussels sprouts and cabbage are a good source of vitamin E." Broccoli is a very rich source of carotenoids, especially betacarotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, and which helps to improve and prevent a range of skin problems, particularly acne. It also contains iron, which helps treat anaemia and fatigue, and is a useful vegetable for diabetics because it helps to curb sugar cravings.

Berries

Soft summer fruits, which are in season from April until December, are full of antioxidants and high in vitamin C. Scotland is especially famous for its raspberries and strawberries; the zinc found in both fruits is thought to be good for the libido. Brambles, which are a good source of folate and vitamin E, are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease and inhibit colon cancer, while plums are full of vitamin E. For more information, visit www.britishsummerfruits.co.uk .

Garlic and onions

These belong to the same family as leeks, chives and shallots. A wonderful anti-cancer and heart-preserving group, they are best eaten raw for maximum health benefit. Cooked, they are still healthy, but the heat destroys the allicin, which is an antioxidant and lowers cholesterol. The Really Garlicky Company ( www.reallygarlicky.com ), which is based in the Highlands, has a range of recipe ideas and garlic products. Try finely sliced garlic in salad dressings or guacamole, or in pitta bread wraps filled with smoked salmon, avocado and fresh rocket, with a squeeze of lemon.

Honey

Used as an energy food, for sweetening and as a preservative, honey contains fructose, glucose and sucrose, and lesser amounts of maltose and dextrins, all of which are forms of sugar. Thanks to its fructose content, though, honey is much sweeter and contains fewer calories than cane or beet sugar, making it a healthier option. It also contains the natural antiseptic propolis. Historically, it has been used in a soothing drink for coughs, colds and the relief of stomach pain, indigestion and ulcers, and applied externally to heal cuts and wounds. It can also be used to treat hay fever.

Tap water

"It's all too easy to overlook the ultimate super-beverage: water," says Michael Van Straten, author of the book Superfeast (£9.99, Little Books Ltd). And Scottish tap water is particularly good. Water helps to keep your energy levels up and cholesterol down. By helping to swell the fibre in foods such as oats, pulses, vegetables and fruits, it also helps you to digest food better and absorb nutrients. How much you drink will also affect how you look: well-hydrated skin is visibly plumper and glowing. Aim to drink 2.5 litres (or six to eight glasses) a day and increase your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, which have a high water content.

This article: http://news.scotsman.com/features.cfm?id=15972006

Last updated: 08-Jan-06 00:35 GMT

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