‘The lessons I’ve learned while growing organic food also apply to my health’
While superfoods are the big guns of a healthy diet, you need an arsenal of wholesome habits, writes Jane Griffiths
I started writing my latest book, Jane’s Delicious Superfoods for Super Health (Jonathan Ball Publishers), just before lockdown last year, but my journey towards healthier eating began more than 25 years ago when I started growing my own herbs, vegetables and fruit using natural and sustainable methods.
The lessons I’ve learned while growing organic food also apply to my health and wellbeing.
As I became more aware of the importance of beneficial micro-organisms and how destructive pesticides and chemicals are in the garden, so I became more conscious of food additives and preservatives and what I was putting into my body.
I started questioning where food came from and how it was made. I began understanding how health is inextricably linked to what we eat.
In much the same way that healthy, fertile soil produces strong and nutritious plants, eating a balanced and nourishing diet is the foundation for a healthy body and vigorous immune system.
Becoming more conscious of what we eat and how it affects us is the first step towards improving our health and changing potentially harmful habits.
Here are some of the many things I’ve learnt from growing my own food:
BALANCE IS KEY
Successful vegetable growing relies on an equilibrium between good and bad insects, between too much or too little moisture or food, and between overcrowded beds or the right spacing for optimal development.
When it comes to healthy eating, this balance is equally vital. Just because something is touted as the latest, greatest superfood doesn’t mean we should eat it at every meal.
The key to healthy eating is to consume a wide variety of nutritious foods in the right quantities.
COOK FROM SCRATCH
In the same way an organic garden produces healthier food, cooking from scratch using whole, fresh ingredients is much healthier for us.
Cooking our own food with an array of ingredients ensures a wide range of flavours and nutrients, including many trace elements and healthy compounds. These have multiple synergistic benefits which we don’t get from most processed foods or supplements.
In a garden, the practice of monoculture depletes the soil, inviting insects and disease. A diet consisting of mostly pre-packaged, processed food does a similar thing to our bodies, as these foods are stripped down to the bare basics of nutrients and are packed with salt, sugar, preservatives and chemical flavourings, which are just as bad for us as chemical pesticides and fertilisers are for our garden soil, plants and insects.
The first step to super-healthy eating is to start preparing at least some of your food from scratch with nutritious, wholesome ingredients — preferably home-grown (even if you only grow herbs on a windowsill).
The time invested in this is time you’re investing in your long-term health and wellbeing. It’s also supremely satisfying to eat a meal when you know exactly what all the ingredients are, especially if many of them are from your own garden .
Why not start by making your own seed and nut butters? See tips below.
CHEW YOUR FOOD
It’s not just what we eat, it’s how we eat. My grandfather would famously tell us to chew each mouthful 20 times — “Even your soup”.
He was right: eating slowly and mindfully is healthy for us.
Consider the Mediterranean approach to eating, where they literally “make a meal” of it with lunches that last for hours. Compare this to the American fast-food style, where eating quickly is part of a glorified “business”. The concurrent explosion of obesity, diabetes and heart problems isn’t a coincidence.
Hunger, how much we eat and feeling full are controlled largely by hormones. As we eat, it takes a while for the “I’m feeling hungry” hormone to switch off and the “I’m feeling full” one to turn on. The faster we eat, the more food we ingest before it turns on.
Eating slowly not only assists with weight control but also helps our bodies to assimilate food more efficiently. The act of chewing is the first step in digestion, breaking down food into more easily digestible bits and triggering saliva, which tells the stomach there’s food coming.
Some people find it hard to slow down their eating habits. A trick that works is to put down your utensils in between bites, and not pick them up until you’ve finished chewing what’s in your mouth and swallowed it.
HOW TO MAKE SEED AND NUT BUTTERS
Nuts and many seeds can be made into healthy butters or pastes. Delicious and versatile, they can be used as spreads, made into dressings or mixed into sauces, dips and curry pastes.
The process is easy-peasy. Simply blitz the nuts or seeds until they turn into a smooth butter or paste.
Cup or smoothie blenders are a good choice as they do the job quickly and are easy to scrape out. Larger blenders generate higher heat — not a good idea when working with heat-sensitive nut and seed oils.
Smaller seeds, like sesame, will blend quickly. Some nuts, like almonds, have less oil and take longer. Once smooth, decant into an airtight bottle and store in the fridge.
Never add water. If the paste or butter is too thick (which doesn’t happen often), add oil to thin it out right at the end. Choose a suitably unflavoured oil, such as grape or sunflower, or one that suits your butter, such as peanut oil with peanut butter or sesame oil with tahini.
Try these tips:
- Toast the nuts or seeds first to add a layer of flavour.
- For added crunch, include roughly chopped nuts.
- Experiment by mixing nuts and seeds together, or adding cacao powder and other flavourings such as cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, chilli or black pepper.
- If left for a while, the oil can separate — simply blitz again to combine.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Jane’s Delicious Superfoods for Super Health showcases more than 150 nutrient-rich foods that boost our immune system, improve our health and reduce our risk of disease.
The write-up for each ingredient sets out why that particular food is good for us, and how to maximise its benefits and easily incorporate it into our daily diet.
For those keen on trying to grow some of their own superfoods, there’s also growing advice. Visit janesdeliciousshop.co.za
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