- A quick post before I don my walking boots and head off to the South Downs. When I’m not walking, I’ll be eating plenty of sage, large handfuls of capers, a little fish, and lots of plant-based protein. Here’s why…Let’s start with pickled capers which have long been a favourite ingredient of mine. A recent study identified capers as a nutritional powerhouse, rocket fuel for both our brains and our hearts. How so? Capers contain a compound that activates proteins critical for both brain and heart health. The compound is a flavonoid known as quercetin, also described as ‘an atypical KCNQ potassium channel activator’, which means it helps get potassium in and out of our cells. Without adequate potassium our cells don’t function. Capers are the richest-known natural source of quercetin. Enthused researchers think that quercetin from the caper binds to a region of the KCNQ channel, tricking it into opening when it would normally be closed. They speculate that capers could even lead to future therapies for the treatment of epilepsy and abnormal heart rhythms.Capers have been eaten and enjoyed for over 10,000 years, and are already being studied for their anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as their possible circulatory and gastrointestinal benefits. They feature heavily in the Mediterranean diet, and are both delicious and inexpensive, particularly when pickled not salted. Read more here.Capers go beautifully with fish (there’s a rather good, caper-dense salsa verde recipe in the recipe section of The Age-Well Project – if we say so ourselves). There’s more good news when it comes to fish. According to a new study, older women who eat more than one to two servings a week of baked or grilled fish or shellfish are likely to have enough omega-3 fatty acids to counteract the effects of air pollution on the brain. For Susan and I, this is great news, as we’re subjected to large doses of air pollution every day. The study involved over 1,300 women over the age of 70 and you can read the details here. The lead author explained that Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to fight inflammation and maintain brain structure in aging brains. They have also been found to reduce brain damage caused by neurotoxins like lead and mercury. And now, it appears they also have a protective effect against the miniscule particulate matter (PM2.5) found in air pollution.If you think fish and chips might work, I have to disappoint. Deep frying kills Omega-3s. Stick to poaching, steaming, grilling, or flash frying with a splash of soya sauce or white wine.
We’re partial to tinned sardines which are cheap and sustainable. Our sardine pate (pictured) contains capers, as does one of my favourite ways to eat salmon. Take a salmon fillet, squirt a little lemon juice over it, drizzle with oil. Add a handful of capers and some black olives, and bake for 15 minutes at 180.
Sage (the herb) is also turning out to have remarkable properties. Clinical trials suggest sage might work wonders for our brain and cognition. The science is, as ever, complex. You can read more here, or simply add some chopped sage to your sauces and stews. I love pairing sage with trays of roasted pumpkin and squash, or adding plenty to casseroles. It’s pungent, but don’t be shy. Most dishes can take a much heftier quantity than we think. Our chicken liver pate includes an entire bunch of sage. As does our Brown Rice and Butternut Bake.
My final study for today is a meta analysis reported in the British Medical Journal, linking a diet rich in protein with a longer, less diseased life. Protein is good for us as we age (indeed we need more protein as we age) but plant proteins win over animal proteins. In a nutshell: Diets high in protein, particularly plant protein, are associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, says this report.
Intake of plant protein was associated with an 8% lower risk of all cause mortality and a 12% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. Interestingly, the study also found no link between consumption of animal products and a greater risk of heart disease or cancer. Not everyone will agree (you won’t hear this from Dr Michael Greger, for example). But one thing’s certain: Including plenty of protein from nuts and pulses in your diet isn’t going to do you any harm. Quite the reverse it seems. In the words of the study authors: Replacement of foods high in animal protein with plant protein sources could be associated with longevity. Read more here.
Enjoy your summer!