Susan Tomassini - Licensed Nutritional Therapist
Healthy Foods a la Med – Eat your Way to a Healthy Summer
It’s summer on the French Riviera and with it come all those wonderful weddings, parties and BBQs that are a traditional part of the sunny season. But how do we keeping an eye on our health and on our waistlines while reveling in all the fun? The answer is to take advantage of the large variety of delicious and healthy foods that feature prominently in the local diet.
Fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables contain large quantities of antioxidants which protect against premature aging, cardiovascular and degenerative disease. Furthermore, they are high in fibre, the indigestible part of plants that passes through our digestive tract relatively unchanged. Aside from its well-known beneficial and regulatory effect on digestive function, fibre also slows down the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream (helping keep blood sugar stable and reducing the risk of diabetes), lowers cholesterol (reducing the risk of heart disease), binds to toxins (protecting the immune system) and gives a sense of fullness (helping weight control) – all excellent reasons to make sure we include plenty of local fresh produce in the menu.
Tomatoes deserve a special mention, as they are such an integral part of Riviera cuisine. They contain the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which helps neutralize the harmful free radicals that are implicated in many age-related illnesses. Cooking (as in the preparation of tomato sauces) is recommended as it greatly increases its availability of this important nutrient – another incentive to enjoy a guilt-free pizza marguerite?
Local cuisine typically contains plenty of olive oil and relatively low amounts of saturated and other forms of unhealthy fats. This may be one reason why it has long been recognized that people who live in the Mediterranean enjoy better cardiovascular health than people living in other parts of the world. The antioxidant properties of olive oil reduce blood pressure and improve circulation, while boosting levels of ‘good’ cholesterol and keeping arteries clear by helping prevent the formation of plaque build-up. Not only, but olive oil may also actually boost metabolism, burn calories more efficiently and thus help weight management. So it makes sense to follow traditional food preparation methods used in the South of France, where olive oil is used abundantly to cook with, as well as to ‘dress’ foods.
Many summer festivities would not seem complete without some sort of alcoholic indulgence and the healthiest choice would be to opt for the one that normally accompanies a typical meal on the French Riviera – a glass of red wine. This is because red wine contains resveratrol, a strong plant compound packed with powerful antioxidants and disease fighting weapons. In fact, resveratrol might be the key ingredient that that helps prevent damage to blood vessels reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol and prevents blood clots, perhaps explaining why the incidence of heart and degenerative disease is dramatically less among populations who consume moderate quantities of red wine than those that don't.
With all this appetizing and healthy fare on the doorstep, it’s easy to see how simple it is to eat yourself to a healthy Riviera summer and enjoy yourself at the same time!
Feature contributed by Susan Tomassini on May 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm.