Sunday, 6 April 2014

Seven ways to eat healthier food

The latest missive on diet, brought to us this week from experts at University College London, that we should be eating seven, rather than five, portions of fruit and veg a day drew a variety of responses – mostly groans. Vegetables are the key – yes, fruit is good but contains high levels of fructose, which our body doesn't differentiate from refined sugar. And when it comes to drinking the juice, moderation is the thing. Without the roughage fruit has in its basic form, it is really not beneficial.

So how do you get more veg into your diet? It's actually not as hard as you might think. Here are seven tips to up your fruit and veg intake without it seeming like a chore on

1) Discover the joy of onions

Onions are incredibly nutritious, and complimentary to so many dishes. They add zing to any number of dishes:

Pink citrus onions: Peel and finely slice two red onions, add a pinch of salt and toss well. Squeeze a whole lemon in – they will slowly cook in the acidity and go the most beautiful pink, and are then ready to eat. When they are very soft I pop them in a jar. They're great in salads, with boiled new potatoes, on top of grilled fish or chicken or any kind of spiced dish from a simple daal to a spiced beef casserole. Add any number of herbs, chilli and a little oil, and you have a salsa or dressing. These beauties keep refrigerated for up to five days.

Melted onions: Peel and finely slice four medium onions (brown or red, or shallots). Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy-based pan with a lid, add the onions and stir to coat. Add some salt to let out water, stir, add a tablespoon of apple juice and some thyme and bayleaf, heat through on a medium heat, then reduce to lowest heat and leave the onions to soften and break down for a good 30-45 minutes (stir occasionally to avoid sticking). They are cooked when a strand of onion squeezed between the finger and thumb disintegrates with no give at all. Keep this sweet mass of onions in a jar or tupperware in the fridge for at least a week and use in vegetable salads, gratins, as the beginning of a casserole or sauce, in an omelette or as the basis of a tart, bruschetta or dressing.

2) Replace potatoes with other veg

Another trick is to replace or supplement potatoes with different vegetables. If I'm craving roast spuds, I'll add lots of other colourful things (beetroot, for example). And for mash I'll use a variety of roots – celeriac, parsnip, carrot, squash, sweet potato, turnip are all brilliant. I try to work out what will go well with the dish I'm doing and then make a mix. The English classic, clapshot – roughly mashed carrot and swede with butter and a good grating of nutmeg, is great. The substitution trick works brilliantly in gratins and on pies.

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