Eating well to age well (our Kale and Cocoa mantra) isn’t about the odd sprinkle of chia seeds and goji berries (although we love them both) – it’s about making real change to how we eat: whacking up the amount of vegetables and fruit, reducing processed, refined foods and focussing on foods that do us good. Near the top of my list of great pro-ageing foods are NUTS . They’ve got it all: fibre, vitamins, minerals and natural oils to keep our hearts healthy, brains powering and skin glowing.
A study at the Harvard School of Public Health, published in New England Journal of Medicine showed ‘daily nut eaters were less likely to die of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.’ The Harvard researchers suggested that the composition of nuts—may provide “cardio-protective, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.” It is thought the fats in nuts (and let’s not pretend they are a low-calorie food) lower bad cholesterol levels. The Omega-3 fatty acids help the heart, as do the high levels of vitamin E, plant sterols and L-arginine – believed to keep artery walls flexible.
While all good for your heart, different nuts have different health benefits. Brazils are high in selenium which supports healthy thyroid function and the immune system: I keep a tub in the larder to snack on. Three or four provide all the selenium we need each day. Pistachios – quite apart from looking beautiful – are rich in vitamin B6, which keeps hormones balanced, and contain lutein: an antioxidant that plays an important role in protecting the eyes. Recent research found they also reduce the risk of diabetes. I sprinkle them, chopped, over salads and porridge. Walnuts contain high levels of Omega-3 for brain and skin health. I toast them and make pesto (recipe coming in a couple of weeks). But my Number One nut is the almond. Rich in calcium, they prevent osteoporosis – a major concern for ageing women. I put almond milk on my breakfasts (I love the Blue Diamond brand, unsweetened) and am borderline obsessed with crunchy almond butter – a million times better than the peanut version – which I fell in love with in Toronto, and recently found in my local Little Waitrose (made by Meridian Foods). I use it to make this sauce/dip – for crudities, daubed onto steamed veg, thinned down as a salad dressing or stirred through noodles. The latter is one of my children’s favourite meals – topped with grated carrots, edamame beans and cucumber, they don’t even notice how healthy it is!
CRUNCHY ALMOND-GINGER DIPPING SAUCE (serves four, makes one small jar)
125g crunchy almond butter (or peanut, if you prefer)
2tbs hot water – approximately, depends how much you want to thin this down
1tbs soy sauce
1tbs minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1tbs maple syrup
Pinch of cayenne or chilli powder
1tbs white wine vinegar
Simply stir all the ingredients together. You may need more warm water to slacken the mixture. Taste to see if you have the balance of flavours right (I like it a little sharper so often add a splash more vinegar) and enjoy. This keeps for at least a week in the fridge.