It seems that when another new year comes around, so does a fresh crop of weird and wonderful foods that we are told to start eating to extend our lives.
But with that being said, I can’t be the only one who feels a little sceptical about the regenerative powers of chia seeds or how goji berries are supposed to stop me from getting cancer.
However, there is solid science to back up the health benefits to consuming green vegetables, oily fish, green tea and whole grains and so if we are looking to eat healthier I wanted to know what these so-called ‘superfoods’ actually do for my body and where I can get my hands on them in Manchester’s restaurants.
When your mum told you to eat your greens she actually had a point. Dark, leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach, broccoli and Calevro Nero are a great source of vitamins A and C as well as calcium.
Greens also contain phytochemicals which are chemicals produced by plants which are known to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and even some kinds of degenerative neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
In recent years, it feels like kale is everywhere you look. Every salad, every steak and every breakfast dish comes with a peppering of kale, but it turns out it is one of the mightiest of superfoods.
I must say, I cannot stand it raw but I can settle for it lightly steamed (although crispy kale is the most preferable), and so I must say I enjoy the Mushroom and Kale Crumpets from Leaf at lunchtime. Topped with two perfectly poached eggs and a little drizzle of hollandaise, this is a refreshing spin on a breakfast classic which is healthier than you might initially expect.
In the same family as kale, is its slightly sexier Swiss cousin chard. This is a larger leaf with a thick stem running up the middle which is full of nutrients. Chard needs cooking much longer than spinach and kale, but the thicker stems can provide chefs with an interesting vegetable texture which can be compared to nothing else.
The Lowry Hotel has an excellent chard dish on the menu right now which takes chargrilled rainbow chard with vegan black pudding, confit hassleback potatoes all tied together with a delicious mulled red wine and fig dressing. Seriously, this dish is vegan food at its very finest.
If you don’t want to eat these greens, the very least you could do is eat your broccoli. I know you hated as a child, but how about trying it smothered in garlic with beetroot romesco down at Volta? Healthy eating ever tasted so good.
Ahh, eggs, where would we be on a Saturday morning without eggs? As long as you do not fry them in three inches of oil or serve them with butter-dripping sourdough, eggs are exceptionally good for you. Loaded with high-quality proteins, good fat, vitamins, minerals and all the trace nutrients we need to survive, eggs really are the unsung heroes of healthy eating.
Eggs are rich in iron, selenium (which we need for good hair and nails) and vitamins A, B12, B2 and B5 just to name a few.
That’s not to mention that they are only 77 calories each with 5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein with 9 of the special amino acids which help us break down food. You really can live off just eggs – looks like Frank Reynolds was right all along.
The only issue is it is all too easy to go too far with eggs and ruin their nutritional value by drowning them in hollandaise sauce. If you want to get the full super-food value out of eggs, I would suggest you stick to eating them poached, baked or in omelette form.
Brasserie Abode has a fantastic egg menu which is available all day for you to get stuck into. The Baked Eggs with goats curd and mushrooms are a favourite of mine, as well as the deliciously elegant Crab Omelette.
The Super Green Omelette from the Garden in Hale is healthier than a vegan yoga instructor called Crystal, and pairs eggs with spirulina (algae powder), broccoli, kale and tahini dressing. I’ve got to say, it is pretty delicious, and you will find yourself feeling extremely zen afterwards with the overwhelming feeling to say ‘Namaste’ at every given opportunity.
If you are a seasoned sushi eater, you will know and love the power of a good bit of seaweed. Not only is it crispy, sweet and packed full of that delicious umami flavour, seaweed is low in fat but packed full of soluble fibre which helps control blood sugar and keeps your gut in check.
It is also full of various minerals such as calcium, iron, iodine and selenium.
Seaweed is most commonly used in sushi rolls, but its use doesn’t just stop there. I am a massive fan of the Nori Tacos from Cottonopolis which uses the seaweed like a crispy taco shell and fills with your choice of wagyu beef, salmon, kimchi and togarashi or avocado, chilli and coriander. To put it bluntly, they are fit AF and you’re going to love them.
Wakame seaweed is also a favourite of mine and has a very contrasting texture to Nori as it is not dried. Granted, it has a bit of a slimy texture that isn’t for everyone, but the flavour is just amazing as it is sweet and almost nutty. I like getting wakame in my Tuna Ahi Poke Bowl at Oke Poke which is a great choice if you are looking for a healthy lunch.
Like seaweed which also hails from the depths of the sea, fish, and particularly oily fish, is also classed as a superfood. Fish is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce inflammation, increase brain function and lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
Salmon lovers can rejoice as it is bursting with omega-3, and it is also incredibly delicious. Luckily, salmon is one of the more popular fishes and so is easy to find on many a menu across Manchester.
Recently, I popped into Harvey Nichols and sampled their Salmon Rockefeller from the Winter Dining menu and it was delightful. Lightly fried and served with kale and chive oil, this dish was a sumptuous way to get omega-3 fish oil into my body. Honestly, I could eat it every day now and forever…and I’d probably become a genius as a result.
The other fish that is high in oil is mackerel, but it has to be said it is not for everyone. My mum, an avid fish eater, doesn’t even let anyone cook it in the house because the truth is it stinks to high heaven if it isn’t straight from the sea.
If you can get it fresh though, it is one of the most stunning of culinary experiences and is best served fried or grilled in a little butter and lemon.
The flavour is strong, to say the least, but has a soft flaky texture and a lovely taste of the sea. I love the pan-fried mackerel from Elnecot the best – served with salted beets, horseradish, hazelnuts and quince ketchup it is the most wonderful way to get your brain function up and reduce your risk of heart disease if you ask me.
It isn’t a secret that Green Tea is probably the healthiest beverage on the planet. The antioxidants and nutrients it contains have powerful effects on the body and studies have shown that green tea can improve brain function, aid weight loss, lower the risk of cancer to name but a few of its impressive benefits.
It is traditional in China, Japan and the rest of East Asia to drink green tea, and the ceremony of doing so is loaded with symbolic meaning. If you want the full experience, you should head to Cha’ Oology in Ancoats for the real thing.
Cha’Oology is a traditional Japanese tea house which makes green tea the right way in a calm, peaceful environment. They seriously know their stuff about green tea too, and it comes down to things as precise as the quantity of tea, the quantity of water, the temperature of the water, and extraction time to making the perfect cup.
If you want to get the green into your life in a more day-to-day way, then luckily the western world has caught on to the beauty of the matcha latte. Matcha green tea is the best of the best because it is from the whole leaves and made into a powder.
Macha lattes expectedly mix this powder with milk (either dairy or dairy-free) for a comforting, creamy drink chucked full of goodness. Federal matcha lattes are the stuff of legend, and no brunch there is complete without one. I am also a fan of the ones from Foundation, but that’s mainly because it is within a stone’s throw of my office.
Not only is it a fun word to say if you feel like pretending you are French, But legumes are also good roughage and are therefore incredibly kind to your body. Chucked full of fibre and vitamin B12, this broad category includes beans (kidney, black, red, soy) lentils, split peas, chickpeas and peas to name but a few.
Legumes are a strong source of plant protein, which means they are a great choice for our vegan and vegetarian friends. Studies have shown that these little beauties can help reduce the risk of a heart attack too, and they are excellent at adding taste, texture and substance to any dish.
Edamame beans are a great place to start, and no Asian feast is complete without them. Simply steamed in their pods and seasoned with a little salt, edamame beans are a low-calorie snack which is oh-so-satisfying to eat. I like the beans from Fress on Oldham Street – that siracha dipping sauce is the one.
If you want to get stuck into lentils, look to Indian food which is well-known for their liberal use of lentils. Daal (or Dhal or even Dall) is one of the most humble dishes and is simply made from a slow-cooked concoction of different lentils with water and spices. Daal is one of my favourite dishes, and I feel even better eating it knowing it is pretty good for me.
Here in Manchester, we are spoilt for choice with fantastic Indian restaurants who all serve up a beautiful and diverse rendition of daal. I like the Black Daal from Dishoom the best for its creamy texture and buttery taste, but something tells me it is a little more on the naughty side. Zouk is also home to a delicious Tarka Dall cooked with green chilli, garlic and turmeric in a spicy sauce.
Some people say that Kombucha is so powerful it makes you live forever (as long as you don’t smoke, drink, eat carbs and get regular exercise.) If you have never heard of it, Kombucha is basically fermented tea with a strong sour taste and a slight fizz. It is usually sweetened with fruit to create a refreshing beverage when chilled or served over ice.
It is unbelievably good for you because it is chucked full of probiotics produced in the fermentation process. These probiotics keep the balance of good bacteria in your gut and can, therefore, improve many aspects of health including digestion, inflammation and even weight loss.
I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, it is an acquired taste, and nothing is going to put you off more than watching it being made (just Google ‘Scoby’ to see what I mean), but if you want to give your gut some love and give it a go, there are plenty of places to try.
You can buy it in bottles from 8th Day Health Food Shop and you can buy some proper homemade stuff from The Plucky Pickle down at Altrincham Market. If you don’t want to venture out of town, you can get it on the drinks menu at The Bay Horse Tavern.
There you go, eating out isn’t all about cheat days and it is officially possible to get your hands on superfoods here in Manchester’s restaurants. Looks like healthy eating never looked so exciting.