I had the good fortune to discover James Wong when he presented a fascinating BBC2 award-winning programme called ‘Grow Your Own Drugs’.
This was at a time when my interest in food as medicine was beginning, so to find I had his new book How to Eat Better sent to me for review was a pleasure. James Wong is a botanist, writer and broadcaster based in London. He is the author of the bestselling books Grow Your Own Drugs, Homegrown Revolution and Grow for Flavour.
“How to Shop, Store and Cook to Make Any Food a ‘Superfood’” is the premise of this book, and basically it is all that and more. We have all been inundated with what the latest superfood is for this week. We’ve had kale, coconut oil, goji berries, chia seeds and organic produce versus the conventionally grown produce. No wonder we all get a little confused.
Here I am swallowing the vile tasting kale smoothies and then I find that they for example ‘can inhibit the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland’. And kale is not the only supposed villain. What is a woman supposed to eat? I ask in bewilderment.
James Wong has produced in How to eat better a simple guide on how to turn any food into a superfood. He debunks a few of the superfood myths and provides a concise but yet in-depth guide on how to get the best out of your ordinary food without spending a fortune. He discusses how to select, store and cook food for supercharging optimum nutrition. He asks why some foods are labelled ‘good’ and others ‘bad’. He talks about some of the prevailing schools of thought on the local and ‘in season’ movement, processed foods, carbs being considered ‘bad’ and more. He also provides a more in-depth summary of what he calls ‘decoding geek speak’ and gives a simple explanation of how nutrients work.
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And now for the good part. James gets into which foods are good for us. He provides the health benefits, for example, the humble tomato. He suggests keeping them out on the bench so they can produce more lycopene (helps to lower the risk of prostate cancer by 35%). Tomatoes are good for heart health. Even green tomatoes can benefit your health. And then he provides several gorgeous looking yet simple recipes to make the most of the nutrients in this simple fruit. There are some great photos to whet the appetite and then he moves on to the benefits of salad leaves.
Did you know leafy greens are great for you, but leafy red leaves are even better as they’re packed with loads of anti-oxidants? Then again there are more recipes to encourage us to use more leafy greens in our diets.
Time will not allow me to write about every food that James writes about, but I learned a lot from this wonderful book. It’s both a handbook and a recipe book, so it is both informative and practical. Did you know that the much maligned Brussels sprouts have five times the potential cancer-fighting glucosinolates of even extremely close relatives like cauliflower? Bring up that little fact at your next dinner party. I found out about which potatoes to choose in the supermarket and drooled over the recipes that accompanied the information as potatoes have always been close to my heart.
Moving on through the veggies we demystify the onion and garlic family and learn how to optimise them for the best health benefits. Chillies and capsicums have their own arsenal of health benefits along with beetroot and asparagus. My suggestion would be to read about one vegetable or fruit at a time and then experiment with one of the simple but delicious recipes, taking into consideration his advice on preparation and storage to gain the most health benefits. Win win!
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Good old bananas are considered a ‘prebiotic’. The Braeburn apple has more antioxidants than any other variety. Berries are winners in the heart health and brain boost stakes. Citrus fruit offers a reduced cancer risk, heart protection is brain food and can boost your memory. Even the rind is good for you. Grapes lessen oxidative stress and brain ageing, and again like other fruits, are best left on the bench to up their anthocyanin content. We move on to summer fruit, rice, pulses and more. The information is easy to understand and the recipes appealing.
I really enjoyed this book. How to eat better by James Wong is an excellent entry point for those dabbling into the science of nutrition and embarking on the journey of improving their health by eating better food.