Kitchen medicine workshop aims to show how eating healthily can be fun

Tue, May 21, 2013, 01:00

More and more people are interested in healthy eating but don’t know exactly how to integrate nutritionally dense foods into their everyday diet. Naturopath, herbalist and passionate cook Áine Fanning holds regular kitchen medicine workshops to introduce people to tasty foods with health benefits.

In the workshops, Fanning – a natural performer – gives participants a whistle-stop tour through foods with high levels of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids and offers tastings of her homemade smoothies, dips, bread, curries and lots more.

As she makes the various dishes, she explains some of the basics of food chemistry, digestion and those famous antioxidants that we need to prevent the development of many chronic diseases.

So, let’s start with the antioxidants and why they are so important for health-maintenance. Basically, antioxidants are molecules that prevent the process of oxidation by interacting with free radicals (loose electrons) before they can damage the structure of our body cells and contribute to cancerous tumours, heart disease and diabetes. Antioxidants are present to a greater or lesser degree in all fruit and vegetables, nuts and beans, which is why these foods feature strongly in Fanning’s recipes.

First off, she makes us a delicious super-antioxidant smoothie with berries (frozen ones are fine), kiwi, sunflower seeds, ground almonds, cinnamon (which helps with blood glucose balance) and raw cocoa powder.

While we taste, she advises we aim for seven daily portions of fruit and vegetables (two fruit and five vegetables is best), eat a rainbow of colours and pack in lots of herbs and spice. “Also, don’t add store-bought juices to smoothies as they are too sweet. Add water or soya or almond milk or natural yogurt,” she suggests.

Moving on to digestive health, she makes a dandelion, spinach and beetroot salad with sesame and pumpkin seeds. A fan of foraging, she is, however, keen to remind us that identifying some plants can be difficult and that beginners should go along with seasoned foragers until they become familiar with what they are looking for.

“Your digestive system loves bitter foods like chicory, rocket, endives, dark chocolate but soothing foods such as stewed apple also protect the intestine from inflammatory damage,” she explains. Chamomile, fennel seeds and ginger are all excellent herbs for digestion and Fanning makes some very tasty dips and an anti-fungal pesto for us to try.

She also dedicates some time to skin health, paying particular attention to the role of vitamins A, C and E and essential fatty acids in our diet. She is not an advocate of low-fat diets and stresses that the best fats come from nuts, seeds, fish and oils.

You might need a personal consultation, though, to work out the correct dietary balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Then it’s on to the immune system and stress-busting herbs such as lavender, chamomile and lemon balm get some attention. Herbal teas and herbal honeys (you can add your own sage and thyme to make a good honey to sooth a sore throat, for instance) and yes, chicken soup with thyme, sage and rosemary comes highly recommended.

Individual differences
Fanning is keen to point out that there isn’t one healthy diet that will suit everyone and that we have to recognise our individual differences and use food to help with our personal imbalance.

“It’s about listening to your body. If you don’t like something, don’t have it. And if you experience a certain symptom, make a note of it and write down what you’ve eaten and what you’ve done in the last 12 hours to work out what’s causing the symptom,” she says. She advises us to bring fruit, dried fruits and nuts to work. “You’re more likely to make a bad food choice when you’re busy so if you have healthy food with you, that’s better.”

Fanning also has some words of caution on raw food diets. “Yes, they do contain more nutrients and enzymes but they don’t suit everyone. If your digestion is under par or if you are a cold person by nature, they can be difficult for you,” she says.

And she advises we get our nutrients from our foods first before considering supplements.

“There are some studies now showing that supplementation is not showing such good results. It’s about having a nutrient-dense diet from our foods. And it’s the synergy of nutrients – phytochemicals, minerals and vitamins – in foods which works best.”

But, before you rush off to the health store to stock up on dried seeds and herbs, chickpeas, herbal teas, crystalised ginger and the like, Fanning suggests weekly purchases of new food items helps you build up your kitchen cabinet with healthy foods while integrating them into everyday cooking in a more structured way.

“In an ideal world, I would only use organic, pesticide-free, locally produced food but in reality, you use what you can,” she says. For instance, if you want to buy some organic food, buy vegetables such as broccoli rather than bananas and oranges, which you will be peeling the skin from anyway.

In a nutshell, Fanning believes we should follow the 80/20 rule and eat as healthily as we can 80 per cent of the time. “Happy, optimistic people live longer, so you’ve got to enjoy your life and eating healthily can be fun.”

Á ine Fanning will hold kitchen medicine workshops in Hunting Brook Gardens, CoWicklow, on May 26th and in the Dublin Holistic Centre, South William St reet on June 22nd. Cost is €35 per person.
See for more details or call 086 3788857.

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