Here are 10 superfoods to get your diet started. What are you waiting for?
Goat cheese: The milk of the goat, like that of the camel, is rightly famed as being healthier – lower in fat, higher in calcium and with fewer carbohydrates – than that of the cow. However, Kathleen Farren, nutritionist at Synergy Integrated Medical Centre, has observed over the course of her practice that ‘often the people who are allergic to cows milk, have the same reaction with goats’. You can drink it, of course, but to our mind it comes in no more palatable form than cheese. Try a locally-produced halloumi, such as that sold at Wafi Gourmet (04 324 4433), and we guarantee you’ll be converted faster than you can say Billy Goat Gruff.
Dates: Research reveals dates to be the best of fruits and the worst of fruits (to paraphrase Mr Dickens). On the one hand, they’re hailed by some as an actual cure for obesity – apparently because they’re so filling that one or two will stop you wanting to eat anything else between meals (no, we don’t buy that one either). On the other, there is copious evidence to support their goodness as a high-fibre, iron-rich snack (they are traditionally eaten to break the fast during Ramadan). Farren suggests eating them with almonds to make their high levels of sugar release in the body more slowly and brands them a ‘good post-exercise snack to boost depleted glycogen levels in muscles and liver’. Synergy Integrated Medical Centre, 04 348 5452, www.synergyctrdubai.com.
Coffee: Yeah, yeah, we know – it keeps you awake, over-stimulates heart and mind, and is almost as addictive as crack cocaine; the arguments against coffee are very well documented. Recently, however, a number of studies (rounded up by Harvard Medical School, no less), have revealed that in moderation (two to three cups a day) this Arabic staple reduces the risk of type-II diabetes (its incidence is lower in regular drinkers) and may do everything from improve cognitive function and discourage the development of colon cancer to reduce the risk of liver damage and Parkinson’s disease. As Farren notes, ‘I think it’s a mix of the good and bad, depending on the individual reaction.’ Celebrate with a cup of the strong stuff from local coffee roasters Orbis (orbisroastery.com) now.
Watermelon: There’s nothing like a glass of the pink stuff to keep you refreshed on a hot day, but its main benefit lies not in its watery juiciness. Rich in vitamins A and C, watermelon is, says Farren, ‘great for the immune system, a very high antioxidant fruit’.
What makes it truly super, however, is the presence of high levels of lycopene, which has been reported to fight diseases, including cancer. Lycopene is commonly found in red-hued foods – the darker the colour, the better.
Honey: Anyone who considers nature’s sweetest condiment to be nothing more than a suitable surrogate for sugar in tea, think again. Research from the University of California has revealed that honey consumption raises antioxidant levels, boosting the immune system and accelerating the healing process (honey applied directly to wounds has been shown to do the same). ‘Good local honey is best as it’s not processed,’ advises Farren. It also makes your hair shiny, moisturises your skin, soothes a sore throat and will cook you breakfast in the morning (OK, we lied about that last one).
Traditionally prepared and eaten for festivals and weddings, its surprisingly diificult to find camel meat on restaurant menus across Dubai. Surprisingly not only because it’s an abundant source source of protein, easily farmed in desert conditions ( Aussies have been promoting it as an alternative to cattle for a few years now), but also because of it’s very good for you. A naturally lean meat, it is, according to Unesco, who are currently extolling the virtues of the humble dromedary as a valuable food source, lower in fat than its bovine alternative and virtually free of cholesterol.
Camel Milk: Lower in fat than cows milk and lactose-free, this is an excellent substitute for anyone allergic to ‘regular’ creamers (described by many as an ‘acquired taste’, it might be a good idea to start with it in your tea or coffee). Feted as the next big thing in health circles, camel milk has a high mineral content and a nutritional punch that has led to claims that its various antibodies can help fight diseases from HIV to Alzheimer’s. Whether that’s overstating things is for the scientists to work out; what we do know is that ice cream aficionados can rejoice – a cone made from camel milk contains only 2.5 per cent fat as opposed to up to nine per cent in that made from cows milk.
Dried fish: A staple of the Bedouin diet because it allowed the fruits de mer to be carried into the desert, dried fish contains many of the nutritional benefits of its freshly-caught brethren – namely essential fatty acids, omega 3, and a good dose of protein. Farren notes, however, that it could be high in salt ‘so not good for those with high blood pressure’. Fresh fish is, of course, abundant across the UAE as well, but look out for some of the lesser-fished varieties, such as bream and barracuda to give poor, old hammour a break.
Red spinach: Like green spinach but with a telltale trace of rouge through the centre of the leaf, this little superfood grows abundantly in the UAE and can be picked up from food markets and supermarkets across Dubai. Like regular spinach, our specimen is high in iron (Popeye wasn’t wrong about that one), but the red variety has the added benefit of potential anti-cancer effects, according to a 2007 study from Malaysia’s Putra University.
Desert truffle: Like those highly-prized and highly-expensive ones found seasonally in the fields of France and Italy, desert truffles grow underground. While there is little information to be found about the health benefits of desert truffles themselves, they are a fungi that have been used for millennia for their medicinal properties, enhancing everything from the immune system to brain power. Get digging now.