Superfoods and Aussie cooks

Crocodile DundeeI think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of the Australian version of Masterchef.

It appeals on several levels – you follow an extraordinary story about ordinary individuals who have a more than ordinary talent at cooking. Not only is there a competitive edge but there is also an emotional edge – all the contestants live together so bonds are built up only to be broken when someone leaves the competition.


The directors do everything they can to ensure that even the most hardly Australian sheds a few tears. This modern Australia seems a far cry from the Crocodile Dundee Australia that I trained in some 30 years ago, when tears were a sign that something was seriously lacking in your emotional backbone.

I remember having to assess the depth of unconsciousness of an 18 year old who’d been brought into casualty in the early hours of the morning by some paramedics who had simply picked him up off the street. I had no idea why he could not be roused. My hardened Aussy colleague looked on with amusement as I squeezed the young man’s earlobe to generate some pain to help him wake up.

An eye watering squeeze

‘Awwh jeeze Nige, what you trying to do? You wouldn’t disturb an ant with that. If you wanna wake him do it properly’, upon which he proceeded to demonstrate how to do it properly, by giving his testes an eye watering squeeze. I say eye watering, because it was my eyes that were watering as my cerebral mirror cells were lighting up with the agonising pain that was filtering up to his brain.

He didn’t even stir. ‘Yep he’s well and truly out of it.’

Three hours later I was feeling pretty embarrassed and wishing I was well and truly out of it, when his friends turned up with an empty vodka bottle and a story about his eighteenth birthday – why was I embarrassed, not only had I been wussy trying to wake him up, I’d also shot him full of some pretty expensive anti-snake venom all because I’d convinced myself, Sherlock Holmes like, that the two little marks on his ankle could only be due to a snake bite.

I would have to explain my actions to the hospital managers later in the day. As this was the second time in a week that I’d used the anti-venom there were a few raised eyebrows and questions about that ‘overzealous pom’. At least the previous time one of the locals has indulged my curiosity when I’d explained that I’d never seen a tiger snake before – 30 minutes later I was examining the two bits which were left after the poor animal had dared to bite a local.

I did, at least, have some evidence that the first chap could have been bitten.

So seeing Aussie men shedding tears because their soufflés have failed to rise is a very different version of the Australia I came to love and admire. This all makes for fascinating and entertaining TV. I was particularly impressed with one episode of the ‘mystery box’ which involves the contestants creating a mouth-watering feast from some seemingly random ingredients. This particular box was full of superfoods – a term which I was as ignorant about as I was with the Aussie version of comatose pain assessment.


I now know that superfoods are actually a marketing ploy to get us consumers hooked on foods which are good for our health. Now this is obviously a little vague because let’s face facts if it’s a food it must have some nutritional value and without food we all die sooner or later depending on our fat reserves. So superfoods have been marketed as those foods which add a little extra, usually something for which there is some evidence and often the benefits appear a little unexpected.

Because the definition is a little loose and because this is predominantly a marketing tool, I felt it only reasonable that I shared with you my top ten superfoods.

In the tradition of Alan Freeman’s Top of the Pops here’s my top ten in reverse order.

At number 10 – Broccoli

Just making it on to the list is broccoli. This has a whole host of beneficial claims but most have not yet been scientifically proven, nonetheless it is packed full of nutrients and there is good theoretical evidence that it should help with the body’s fight against cancer. The only drawback is that it doesn’t taste wonderful.

At number 9 and number 8 – Goji Berries and Blueberries

… both of which contain anthocyanins.

There is good evidence from animal studies that high levels of anthocyanins help us live longer. I was actually tempted to put genetically modified tomatoes on my top 10 – these purple (almost black) tomatoes have snapdragon genes inserted to boost anthocyanin levels. Alas because they are genetically modified their production is limited to Canada and it is presently illegal to import them to the UK. However when they are available they will become a regular staple in my diet.

At number 7 – Fresh Air

Now I realise it’s difficult to describe fresh air as a food but if I was being really honest in terms of health benefit it should have come in at number one! Because eating fresh air, ie relative starvation or to give it the technical name calorie restriction has been shown in macaque monkeys and mice to prolong life. There are also a group of Americans who have been calorie restricting for many years and conventional measures of their relative biological age shows they are on course to extend their lives up to 30%.

There is also a theory that the present generation of 80 & 90 year olds are living longer because they were starved during the Second World War and they gained an extra 4-5 years as a result. If you want to calorie restrict but can’t quite summon up the mental energy to do it every day then Michael Moseley’s 5:2 diet might be the best alternative. I try to stick to a couple of days fasting a week purely for the hormonal benefits to feeling better and living longer.

Number 6 – Sweet Potato

Why number 6 purely and simply because they are yummy and packed with vitamin, A & C along with potassium and calcium.

At number 5 – Eggs

I suspect that no self respecting dietitian would include eggs on their list which is partly why its on mine. Edwina Curry had a devastating impact on egg sales and the medical profession have tried to kill them off completely with our advice about cholesterol. But the bottom line is that eggs are not the major factor to a high cholesterol – that’s down to your genes and your liver.

But eggs are the most versatile cooking ingredient on the planet, they transform recipes into something magical. Some studies show that if you have eggs for breakfast you consume less calories during the rest of the day, they have little impact on your cholesterol and are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals including choline which may improve your memory.

Number 4 – Garlic and Olive Oil

I realise it’s cheating to combine two ingredients but I really wanted to stress the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. Its extreme benefit is seen in Southern France where the cholesterol laden foods, smoking and alcohol consumption should reduce life expectancy down to that of the Scots. But they live longer than most and the likelihood is that is due to something in their diet and olive oil and garlic and two of the best contenders.

Number 3 – Oily fish, especially salmon

Salmon is such a versatile fish, you can poach it in water or olive oil, fry it, bake it, sous vide it, put it in a pie or risotto or anything. It’s a joy to cook and only takes minutes. You can also smoke it and it tastes completely different. It has versatility that is almost egg-like. And it’s really healthy It protects against heart disease, dementia, prostate cancer and so on. In fact dietitians recommend a couple of portions of oily fish a week. That’s almost as good as regular exercise.

Number 2 – Chocolate

That’s so good I’ve got to repeat it. At number 2 comes chocolate. How can the world’s biggest addictive substance be good for you? Most of us would assume that consuming copious quantities of the brown stuff is a major cause of the world’s obesity epidemic. And you’d be right. But the right sort of chocolate in the right sort of quantity is good for you. Chocolate is made with cocoa. Cocoa is a good source of iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc. It also contains the antioxidants catechins and procyanidins.

Research suggests it may help lower blood pressure, protect against bowel cancer and reduce stress. It has also been suggested it could help a variety of conditions from stroke to depression to Alzheimers – although I suspect the confectionary industry may be sponsoring a lot of the research!! The secret is to eat chocolate with a high cocoa content, in other words the darker the better. And remember too much can be a bad thing, like so much in life it’s about getting the right balance.

Finally at number 1 ….

I suspect most of you will be scratching yours heads in disbelief but for me this was a no-brainer because in terms of yumminess, flexibility and health benefits this food is in a different league from the rest.

To use a footballing analogy numbers 10 through to 2 are all Championship sides, Bournemouth are the choccies rather than the cherries. But the number one is the Real Madrid of the superfood world. It is in a league of its own. It is a food which has the power to cause significant concern and worry once consumed, and has on more than one occasion caused me to fast track patients for cancer screening because side effects can be so alarming, your urine and faeces turn red.

Apart from being packed with loads of minerals and vitamins this food also has high levels of nitrates which have been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain. It also has an amazing and distinctive taste, alas with all great tastes this does have the marmite affect – you either love it or hate it, which is why the majority of you will be shaking your heads in utter disbelief.

I either eat or drink some of this every day, I think my wife is able to detect if I’ve not had my daily dose because I may well get a little irritable, it’s not meant to be addictive but I’ve definitely developed a habit of drinking a glass of the red stuff when I chill after a day at the surgery.

Now many of you may be thinking about the French and their red wine, but grapes/alcohol are very definitely not in my superfoods list. The benefits of alcohol have been over hyped for years and I would only recommend alcohol in moderation purely for the immediate benefits when consumed.

So back to my red stuff. I’m a little surprised that international sports authorities haven’t put it on the banned list of substances because when consumed prior to exercise it improves performance significantly. It’s the closest I get to cheating when competing in a half marathon.

By now you must have guessed what I’m talking about, beetroot.

To my mind nothing beats beetroot!

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