One of the nicest things I have found from sharing my experiences with others is that it's given the old creativity fire a good kick into action. Now that's not to say that this is all just a show and I actually sit at home munching away on shop bought sandwiches, but more that when you are just cooking for your own enjoyment you tend to pick ingredients you love and kind of circle around a select few dishes. Although I'm sure you will all be riveted to hear about my staple go-to dinners and snacks I think after three weeks or so they may get a little stale.

Right enough of the sentimental stuff (I'm bored listening to myself already) let's talk food.

Join me if you will in winding back the clock a mere 24 hours or so. I was standing waiting for the kettle to boil and contemplating what to make for lunch, dinner & snacks this week (I have to forward plan due to my nature as a list lover plus otherwise I walk in late and end up just going for the veggies. A good choice but lacking in protein which as we will move onto later this week is exceptionally important). Anyway I'm gazing into the corner of my kitchen counter where I have a jumble of different sizes of glass jars & bottles filled with pulses, seeds, grains & nuts generally just thinking about how nice they look when suddenly two thoughts pop into my head. The first one is granola bars & the second one is falafel. Then there's a third one; well that's kind of boring isn't it.

What is the answer then to the "Been there, done that" enigma? Abandon the things you fancy merely because they don't make for an exciting menu? Perish the thought! Nope the solution is "Be there, do that but do it better". Variety is the spice of life & all that jazz plus by varying the foods you eat you naturally increase the pool of potential nutrients you can take in.

Now I could live an entirely blissful existence consisting entirely of sweet potatoes, avocado, broccoli and coconut chips (all fab choices bursting at the seams with wonderful things). However they can only give what they've got hence why we need a bit of everything to keep us from breaking down (in the sense of a car without fuel rather than emotional dissolution, I wouldn't want to be accused of terrifying people into healthy eating for fear of their mental health, although good nutrition can be instrumental in stable moods.....I digress).

So how can we take something that's already pretty great on the nourishment scale & give it some extra welly? By picking other things to bolster our ingredient armoury that also happen to bring with them some extra gold stars in the form of our new favourites; antioxidants.

Lets begin with the granola bars.

Despite my oaty obsession I allowed my hand to pass over my flaky friends & instead land on the deep, wine coloured grains of a camarague red & wild rice mix. What is so brilliant about red rice you may ask? Why not just stick to oats seeing as you harp on about their brilliance all the time? Allow me to elaborate....

Red Rice: Like its good friend brown rice these blushing morsels are whole grains so you are eating both the bran and the germ. This is imperative when we talk about regulating our blood sugar which among others things forms the basis of a sensational snack. More information on this topic can be found in my previous post 'To Dunk or Not To Dunk That Is The Question'.

Both are also great sources of B Vitamins, Calcium, Zinc, Iron, Manganese, Selenium and Magnesium which all contribute to the vital metabolic processes that keep us pottering along happily. Whole grains also pack a fabulous fibre rich punch & our russet friend brings in 3g per serving. Adequate fibre intake supports healthy digestion which then goes on to balance all of our body systems by ensuring proper elimitation of toxins and waste products. Excess triglyceride levels are an example here, so once again we've found a way for you to include taking care of your ticker into teatime, bring on the baking! And to think, all that perfectly packed up into such tiny little parcels....anyone suddenly ravenous for rice?

The thing that cinches it for the red rice however is its characteristic ruby hue. When you see colour think antioxidants, in this case anthocyanins. They are indeed those self same ones you would gain from deep red & purple vegetables and fruits like red cabbage, aubergines or blueberries. Now this is not to take anything away from brown rice, we love the guy, but in this instance we are supercharging our snack by opting for his slightly more colourful compatriot.

One of the largest areas of research with anthocyanins is their protection against cancer. These terrific little troopers combine the ability to scavenge free radicals with modulating oestrogen levels. This means they protect against oxidative stress all over the body whilst also preventing the proliferation of the specifically oestrogen driven cancers (ovarian, breast, endometrial & prostate). This then expands into decreased oxidation of blood lipids (which would have then gone on to form atherosclerotic plaques), decreased fragility of capillaries and anti-inflammatory activity i.e. evenmore protection against cardiovascular disease. And if that wasn't enough anthocyanins are also known to modulate the immune system to make sure it's responding in the right way to the pressures of our everyday life. Pretty good ey?

I'm hoping after that you've all come round to my thinking with regards to the rice so now we will segue on to our next protective pink pigment of the day & this will be delivered in the form of beetroot & it's group of antioxidants; the betalains.

Beetroot: are unusual because as I mentioned we have come to expect red/purple vegetables to appear so because of anthocyanins whereas it's the betalains that give beetroot their blood red stain. This also makes them unique in the way they provide antioxidant protection. Research into this radical root is still in its infancy but lab studies have shown significant tumour shrinking properties for a number of cancers (including stomach, colon, nerve, lung and testicular). It is suggested that it's the combination of the betalains with high levels of Manganese (another antioxidant) and Vitamin C that make beetroot unique in their form antioxidant activity with particular benefit for eye and nerve tissue health. One thing to mention about the betalains though is that they are more vulnerable to oxygen and losses through cooking than other pigments, because of this I keep the beetroot raw in my falafel mix and keep baking time under 40 minutes in line with the current research.

And if it wasn't enough that they're already bucking the trend & cutting new waves in antioxidant colour circles, beetroot are also extremely rich sources of Lutein & Zeaxanthin. If you remember the story of Bugs Bunny (here) these two carotenoids are the big daddies in the health of our eyes. So they may make our fingers (and urine, don't be scared it's completely normal!) pink but they'll also keep our blinkers in tip top condition which I thinks makes for an extremely good trade in our favour!

I hope my excitement at discovering new ways to use familiar ingredients has transcended this page & that you enjoy the results, as always any comments are hugely welcome.


Red Rice Energy Bars

Beetroot and Split Pea Falafel with Dill