Forget Black Friday - the real excitement can be found in the kitchen!
Originally, Black Friday referred to a financial crash back in 1869, more recently it is synonymous with a huge surge in retail sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Although, Thanksgiving is not such a big deal here in Ireland, the trend of spending big on the days that follow has certainly caught on. Most of the hype is baseless and unless you are prepared to camp outside your target shop for a specific item, there really isn’t much to it all. Do not be too disappointed, you probably didn’t need a 70-inch TV anyway but there is still unbelievable value in switching your Black Friday Deals to Black Friday Meals! Walking around the shops this month, keep your eyes peeled for some black foods to add to your cooking – not only are they good value, but they also pack a mighty punch when it comes to your nutrition and health!
The notion that we should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day falls short of the amount of plant foods needed for optimum health. The Japanese believe that we need at least seven to ten plant foods from at least five colour categories every day. There are thousands of studies that back this theory up, and diversity of plant food is as important, if not more, than the quantity of plant foods we eat. Recently, studies indicate that thirty different plant foods per week is what is required to maintain a robust microbiome, which is central to both our physical health and mental wellbeing. While eating your greens remains an important component of your daily menu, eating a wider variety of colours can help you keep your diet varied and diverse. Interestingly, black and very dark foods are ideal Winter fodder as the pigment responsible for their colour nourish the brain, nervous system, kidneys and bones – the organs most associated with the Winter season.
The black pigment found in many plant foods comes from a deep blue/purple colour. This category of foods are rich in polyphenols, anthocyanidins, resveratrol – all of which are powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and anti-cancer nutrients. Receptors for these plant chemicals are concentrated along nerve cells and pathways suggesting that black foods support cognitive health, nerve health and mood. Black beans, for example, have twice as much calcium and folate than their white counterparts – two vital nutrients for our nerves! Here are some more black beauties to add to your plate:
Black Sesame Seeds: Small yet mighty these seeds contain a wealth of nutrients particularly good for stress and anxiety. Just two tablespoons of these little seeds provides 15% of both calcium and magnesium, two minerals that work in tandem for the constriction and relaxation of nerve pathways and blood vessels. Try them sprinkled over cooked vegetables or in salads, easy peasy!
Black Lentils: Often called Black Beluga Lentils, getting their name from the famous caviar but the flavor is full-bodied and earthy like a black bean. They take approximately 25 minutes to cook and are the most nutritious variety of lentils. One half cup of uncooked black lentils provides 26g protein, 18g fiber, 100mg calcium, 8mg iron, and 960mg potassium, as well as the anthocyanins noted for anti-cancer activity. Pair them with carrots or butternut squash for a super fancy colourful plate
Black Rice: In ancient China, it is said that black rice was considered so unique and nutritious that it was forbidden for all but royalty. Someone, somewhere made a show and now we all can enjoy this nutritious grain no matter of our social standing! The pigment, again, comes from anthocyanins but it also contains over twenty other types of antioxidants and has the highest antioxidant activity of all rice varieties. It is one of the few grains known to contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two major players protecting our eyes from Age Related Macular Disease.
Black Cumin Seeds: Botanically known as Nigella Sativa, this seed is revered in many cultures all over the world. So far, numerous studies demonstrated its main active constituent, thymoquinone, to be medicinally very effective against various illnesses including different neurological and mental illness, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, diabetes, inflammatory conditions, and infertility as well as infectious diseases due to bacterial, fungal, parasitic, and viral infections. Now, who wouldn’t want a bit of that with the dinner!
Black Pepper: This one is so common, it hardly gets a mention, but it is worth knowing that black pepper is a great digestif, helping the digestive system absorb and assimilate all kinds of nutrients in our food. Piperine, the active ingredient stimulates appetite, relieves gas, can help clear congestion and proven to be a natural antidepressant! Nice one, pepper!
Black Mushrooms: Not talking about white mushrooms gone black in the back of the fridge but Shiitake mushrooms prized for their rich, savoury flavour described as umami. Black mushrooms are high in protein, vitamin B2, which maintain the body's energy, and B12, which keeps cells and nerves healthy. Shiitakes contain beta glucans support immune health and good for lowering cholesterol. These mushrooms include all nine essential amino acids, crucial to our immunity and building muscle. They are one of the few plant foods to contain Vitamin D, as their skin can absorb UV light (a bit like ourselves) and convert to Vitamin D2. Our body can convert D2 to the more favourable form of vitamin D3. Traditionally, they have been used in medicine to treat parasites, heart problems and exhaustion. These are delicious added to soups and risotto for a real mushroomy taste!
Black Olives: A true hero for circulatory health, black olives are rich in Vitamin E, iron and healthy monounsaturated fats. These too, get their colour from anthocyanin, making them the perfect tonic for the heart and mind!
We still have blackberries, black garlic, black squid ink, black sea spaghetti, black grapes and black plums but no more space here to write about them! For those who are not bothered about the big spend for Black Friday, you can always splash out on caviar and black truffles washed down with a nice cup of black tea and still be part of the fun!