In last weeks blog, I looked at the origins of claims about excessively high protein requirements and the potential health effects. If we don’t want too much protein as it increases cancer growth rates, and we don’t want too much fat because because it clogs up our bodies and causes heart disease and dementia. Then where exactly are we supposed to get most of our calories from? Carbohydrates….
There is a lot of confusion on this subject due to double naming standards. The term "Carbohydrate" scientifically refers to a type of macronutrient, which is present within nearly all foods in varying amounts. However the term "Carbs" has also come to be a nickname for certain types of foods that contain the majority of the carbohydrate content in a traditional meal. People tend think of meat as the "Proteins" (even if it contains a lot of fat!) and Rice, Bread, Pasta etc as the "Carbs".
"Simple Carbohydrate” foods have given carbs a bad name in the public eye. These refined foods have had a lot of their vitamins and minerals stripped away during the refinement process and we are left with mainly empty calories. In history these food provided an important role in growing society by staving off hunger and starvation as population numbers rose as these refined foods usually have a long storage life and can be stockpiled for times of need. But where as in the past they were a solution to a problem (Starvation), now they can be cause of the new problem (Obesity) due to the ease of access to these long shelf-life foods (cakes, biscuits etc). There is a reason we crave these foods, we are meant to eat a lot of carbohydrates, just not the refined “Simple” type. The type of carbohydrates I am talking about are the "Complex Carbohydrates" found in fresh fruits and vegetables. If you check the macronutrient content of any fresh grocery item (leafs, or fruits, or tubers) you will find they are all mostly carbohydrates, with a little bit of protein and virtually no fat. I have already spoke about how all the other great apes consume foods in this macronutrient ratio. If we have spent most of our evolutionary history eating this way then our bodies are bound to have evolved features to encourage us to crave these foods when we are low on carbohydrates, we just misinterpret these cravings and end up eating a sugary dessert when really we just need to consume more fruit. Being our closest living relatives, apes can give us a good insight into our ancient eating habits but surely we have changed significantly since then, so what about in modern-day humans, what is the best example we have of healthy long living people?
A "Centenarian" is someone who has lived to be over 100 years old. There are some places in the world where a significantly larger portion of the population make it to this age, or even to be supercentarians (over 110 years old). These areas are referred to as the “Blue Zones” and are areas of intense scientific study to figure out what is special about these people and how they are living so long. The blue zones all seem to have some lifestyle factors in common, such as low meat consumption, high intake of fruits and vegetables and a lot of physical activity. Of all the “Blue Zones”, perhaps the most famous is an island off the coast of Japan, called Okinawa. These people live off carbohydrates, traditionally 80% of their daily calorie intake came from carbs, and the majority was just sweet potatoes! If carbs were bad for you surely these people wouldn’t have been able to live such long life (and remain so active well into their later years).
Now I love sweet potatoes, the people in Okinawa seems to be lucky as they have access to what seems to be a “Super Sweet Potato” In the form of the Okinawan sweet potato, also known as the purple sweet potato. The vibrant bright purple colour of this tuber comes from a high density of antioxidants within the vegetable. So its like they are consuming a bowl of berries at the same time as getting the calories from the potato. Remember the more colourful your food is the better it is for you, that’s why we can see in color to help us pick out the ripe fruit from far away.
Unfortunately the purple sweet potato can be hard to find in other countries and when you do find it, its not usually cheap! If you get a chance to try one, I’d recommend it as they are delicious and I usually treat myself to some once or twice a year but they aren’t in my weekly shop! So combining normal orange sweet potatoes with a vibrant purple food seems to be the answer…. Red Cabbage is full of those anthocyanins that gives the Okinawan sweet potato that intense purple color. Cabbage is also very low in calories while providing physical volume, so that works well with my current theme of increasing the volume of recipes while driving the calorie content down. In England, there is a traditional dish called "Bubble and Squeak" which is basically mashed potatoes with cabbage mixed in. So I decided to reimagine this dish using Sweet Potato and Red Cabbage instead to create a tasty meal that quick and easy to make while being in line what we have learned from the people in Okinawa. So lets get to the recipe.... "Bubble and Squeak" - Sweet Potato Mash Recipe