By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe
Aging is affected by what we eat
Readers of our articles on this site and various newspapers and magazines in Spain will know that we take a holistic approach to the development of our garden and delight in the growing and eating the traditional rural artisan produce and products that the worldwide Slow Food organisation is trying to protect and in some cases reintroduce. We ourselves try to use as many seeds of old varieties as we can and are currently growing some to recycle seeds to the Valencian Seed Bank.
However we are not only interested in eating gastronomically but also healthily. Over the years we have made a note of what a wide range of health experts say about the impact on our aging of what we eat and drink. Glancing through our summary it’s very obvious that the only way one is going to eat the best anti aging foods on a regular basis is by growing your own since one of the provisos is that the fruit and vegetables should be eaten fresh and when at their best. Fresh described as within a day of harvest to ensure that the beneficial anti aging agents are at their maximum in what you eat and at their best being when most flavoursome and digestible especially in the case of fruit and fruit vegetables .
There is no comparison between going out into the garden and eating a fully ripe juicy peach, apricot or pear directly of the tree compared to a fruit picked long before ripe in order that it can withstand the battering of being crated, pre-packed, transported and displayed for several days and still not be ripe. Unfortunately sometimes such fruit never ripens fully in the fruit bowl. Likewise young peas and broad beans eaten within an hour are very different from those left on the plant until they are of maximum size to increase the harvests and income of the grower.
Our book Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain and Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain describe how to grow over seventy tropical, subtropical and temperate fruits and over a hundred vegetables. Obviously not all can be grown on the coastal plain or in the coldest inland valleys but the most beneficial can.
Recognised anti aging produce
Articles in our files list the following as particularly high in anti oxidants which protect ones body against the free radicals which age us if we are not careful.
Garlic is easy to grow and could well be the healthiest vegetable to eat by including it chopped up in salads, mashed with ripe tomatoes on unsweetened bread, steamed or baked as a vegetable or included in cooked dishes. Various articles and books claim antioxidant, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antiviral properties and that some of the major benefits are helping maintain healthy hearts, circulation, blood pressure, reduce effects. Dick has used it an essential ingredient of his healthy eating programme for the past fifteen years started as an alternative to radio/chemo therapy after cancer operations on the advice of his thoughtful surgeon and we both have a triennial detox based on an ancient recipe from a Tibetan monastery. You can plant up garlic between October and December and harvest it young ‘tierno’ for use in salads and omelettes or leave until the bulbs have fully grown in early summer. Young garlic is also easily grown in containers.
Ripe tomatoes especially if grown organically/ecologically are also said to be good antioxidant and anticancer agents and again are easy to grow even on apartment terraces in containers as described in the book.
Dark green vegetables
Dark green leaf vegetables such as broccoli, acelga , spinach, red lettuces and rocket are also said to be especially good for us. Luckily one can harvest broccoli during many months of the year and when the plants stop flowering we cut back the healthiest plants and let them re-grow as a perennial plant for two or even three years.
Unfortunately one cannot grow brazil nuts on the costas – as far as we know – but almonds and walnuts contain essential oils plus of course olives which can be cold pressed to produce your own virgin olive oil if you have sufficient trees and kilos of olives. Lesser quantities can of course be pickled.
Other of the most healthy vegetables
Other easy to grow healthy vegetables include carrots, fennel, parsley, basil, beetroot, onions and indeed most that are bright green, red , orange or yellow.
One can even find seeds for red carrots. And of course all the vegetables can be included in delicious salads.
And when weeding the garden recognise that dandelion and wild chicory leaves are excellent vegetables in their own right and are still the ingredients used to fill empanadas by elderly Spaniards in their eighties and nineties. Likewise guard any patch of nettles you have unless in the most important flower beds for the leaves make an excellent spring cleansing soup and the mature leaves if steeped in water an excellent root or foliar fertilizer sprayed onto leaves including your citrus trees in the spring.
Many of the seventy Spanish fruits described in our book Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain have beneficial properties so it is not difficult to eat the worldwide minimum recommended five to nine portions of fruit a day and ensure that they are among the healthiest for those of middle and later years.
Hope that this stimulates more readers to grow even just a few healthy vegetables and fruit . The books mentioned plus the third of the trilogy Your Garden in Spain are full of useful tips and soon pay for themselves. They were written to share our twenty plus years experience with you.
© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe August 2008