WITH the new season comes a crop of fresh produce which has astonishing benefits for body and mind.
A member of the lily family, asparagus has been prized for millennia for its unique flavour, succulent texture and medicinal qualities. Asparagus spears contain a prebiotic that encourages healthy gut flora and the vegetable has mild laxative and diuretic properties.
Thanks to high levels of rutin and glutathione, antioxidants that protect cells against free radicals, asparagus also has anti-inflammatory powers.
It is also a great source of B vitamins including folate, which may help control homocysteine, a substance that promotes heart disease, cancer and cognitive decline. Increased folate intake during pregnancy can help fight birth defects and with its beta-carotene content, asparagus has a purifying effect on the skin.
Eat it: Add cooked cold asparagus to a colourful salad to make a delicious light meal or serve warm with hot pasta, cooked fresh fish or chicken or add it to vegetable tarts.
This salad leaf is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, which also includes cabbage and broccoli. A great source of antioxidants and vitamin C, studies have found that regularly eating watercress can help reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum and bladder.
It is rich in sulphur, which aids the absorption of protein, blood purification and cell building while promoting healthy skin and hair.
The chlorophyll that gives watercress its green colour is rich in digestive enzymes that help the body absorb the nutrients in any meal. Watercress is also a natural diuretic and is rich in potassium.
The volatile oils that give watercress its peppery taste are also a good remedy for coughs, colds and flu.
Eat it: Buy organic watercress to remove the risk of contamination from harmful bacteria and eat within five days as it quickly loses its nutrients. Make watercress soup or use as the perfect base to any salad.
Red meat is a good source of easily absorbed protein which helps the body repair and build tissue, generate energy and maintain healthy skin and hair.
Lamb is great for a healthy nervous system as it contains good levels of B vitamins and is particularly rich in B12 and folate which help prevent heart disease, mood disorders and dementia.
Lamb is one of the few commercial meats which is still mostly pasture fed, making it naturally lower in cholesterol than some other meat. It contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Eat it: Spring lamb is easiest to digest when eaten with non-starchy vegetables. Choose green beans, broccoli, kale and spinach.
Belonging to the cruciferous family of vegetables, fiery-tasting radishes grow in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours.
Both the roots and leaves are rich in potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and trace elements which help fight hypertension while the pungent essential oils support the liver and can reduce inflammation and congestion.
Great for detoxing, the radish is a useful tool for fat digestion as it stimulates the flow of bile. Radishes also have a cleansing and decongesting action on the gall bladder and the blood and have traditionally been used to help break up gallstones and kidney stones.
They have a diuretic and laxative effect and their high vitamin C content can help in the treatment of colds and flu.
Eat it: Make a fiery detox drink by juicing apples, celery and radishes. Alternatively, braise them in butter and vegetable stock, add some fresh watercress and serve. Add thin slices of raw radish to a salad.
Oily fish protect the heart and the blood vessels. They are particularly high in certain omega-3 fatty acids that promote a healthy cardiovascular and nervous system. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are also abundant and boost bone, joint, muscle, skin and eye health.
Sardines are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
They have been found to lower triglycerides (fatty deposits) and “unhealthy” (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood.
Sardines are also an excellent source of vitamin B12 and their vitamin D plays an essential role in bone health since it helps increase the body’s absorption of calcium.
Eat it: Canned sardines make a quick and nutritious meal served on toast or with pasta. Fresh sardines are delicious grilled or barbecued.
Although we think of rhubarb as a fruit, it is actually a vegetable and a member of the buckwheat family. It is too sour to eat raw but has many beneficial properties when cooked.
Calcium and notable amounts of vitamin K are found in rhubarb and help strengthen bones and protect the skeleton as it ages. They may also protect against bleeding and strokes. Studies show that including rhubarb in the diet can help reduce an overbalance of “unhealthy” (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood.
Rhubarb is also a good source of fibre and contains moderate levels of vitamin C along with lutein, which can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration or vision loss.
Eat it: Use in compotes, jams, muffins and fruit pies instead of cherries and berries.
A good anti-inflammatory, cherries are rich in potent antioxidants. Drinking tart cherry juice has been shown to reduce post-exercise pain and inflammation in athletes and distance runners.
Cherries may also be useful in treating diabetes as their abundant antioxidant anthocyanins can increase insulin production and help regulate blood sugar levels.
Sour cherries are one of the few foods to contain a significant amount of melatonin, a hormone produced naturally by the body as part of our sleep-wake cycle.
Studies show that a glass of cherry juice before bedtime can promote sound sleep.
Cherries have also been found to lower levels of urates in the blood and to help cut the risk of contracting gout.
Eat it: Add dried cherries to cereals and yogurt or eat them in jam and pies. Pitted cherries are also a great addition to a fruit smoothie.