Variety is the spice of life, so why not introduce (or reintroduce) some of these Afro-Caribbean favourites into your diet.
Ripe or unripe. Boiled, baked or fried. Sliced into circles, sliced at an angle or sliced in the middle. Plantains are an extremely versatile food!
To keep it short and to the point, plantains are fruits and therefore a source of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals such as potassium and vitamin C and fibre. Plantains are a source of resistant fibre (these are soluble and so can dissolve in the fluid within the gut) which can help to improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, reduced appetite and all in all cause various benefits for digestion. Important to note that resistant starch levels drop as the plantain ripens (aka as the skin gets darker)
To retain as much of the nutritional qualities as possible, baked unripe plantain would be the best option, followed by boiled and then fried. This is because boiling the plantain will allow much of the minerals within the fruit to leak out into the water.
As with all foods, frying adds additional calories so it’s important to remember this when deciding on how to cook this food. If weight gain is the goal, then frying may be the preferred option. Consider using a poly-unsaturated oil such as rapeseed or vegetable oil. If you want the taste and texture of fried plantain without the additional calories us no oil at all by cooking slices of plantain in an air fryer!
2. Sweet potato (not the orange one)
I introduce to you the purple, red (3) and white skinned (2) , white fleshed sweet potato. This variety of sweet potato is common among Caribbean and South American diets and can be purchased from any well stocked cultural food market in the UK.
The interior of a white sweet potato looks a lot like the western starchy potato, while its shape and texture resemble that of the rust coloured skin, orange fleshed sweet potato.
While the white sweet potatoes don’t boast as many nutrients as the orange sweet potato, it is still a healthier option than starchy potatoes.
Gram for gram, white sweet potatoes have less calories, and more fibre. Visually, the white sweet potato can better replicate the appearance of the more familiar ‘western’ potatoes. Taste and texture wise, white sweet potatoes sit right in the middle between the sweet orange and starchy potato.
Health benefits of white sweet potato include: decrease fasting blood glucose and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and an increase insulin sensitivity in people with Type 2 diabetes.
This is something I have recently learnt myself….what is typically referred to as ‘pumpkin’ in Caribbean dishes is in fact a squash! And more specifically a Calabaza squash (1 in the image above).
While there aren’t any astounding or unique health benefit associated with this particular variety of squash, what we do know is that all squash are vitamin C and antioxidant rich and are a lower carbohydrate alternative to starchy white potatoes or rice. It is also extremely versatile and can be roasted, pureed, or boiled. Calabaza squash is often added to Caribbean soups called Ital or ‘Satday’ (short for Saturday) soup.
To Note: The skin, seeds and innards of squash are a source of bioactive nutrients including fibre, vitamins and protein so don’t throw these away!
Available as dehydrated red flowers, this can be made into a warming herbal tea or can be brewed to be enjoyed as a cold beverage. The sorrel flowers are part of the hibiscus plant family and, like many Caribbean plants, originate from West Africa.
A popular time to drink sorrel is during and slightly past the festive season (November- January) where the fresh plants would be in abundance and ready for harvesting in Caribbean islands.
Traditional healers across the Caribbean, Western Africa and Asia have been using sorrel and other plants from the hibiscus family (such as Roselle) to treat a number of ailments from water-retention to mild constipation. Recent studies suggest that hibiscus tea can be used to lower blood pressure in people with mild to moderately high blood. This isn’t however more effective or a replacement for prescribed medication designed to lower blood pressure (these medications are called antihypertensives). Another recent study showed that hibiscus tea can significantly lower levels of low-density lipoprotein compared with other teas and placebo. This suggests that there could be heart protective benefits associated with drinking this tea regularly.
It’s presumed that the high antioxidant and fibre content and it’s particularly high flavonoid content are responsible for giving hibiscus derivative teas (such as sorrel) it’s health properties.
The amount that needs to be taken does vary and there a number of side effects associated with taking this drink in excess. These side effects include bloating, stomach pain and constipation and can even cause some changes to kidney and liver biomarkers. It is also important to not that many recipes suggest adding moderate to large amounts of sugar or honey to balance out the tart, sour taste of the tea. This will inevitably make it a high calorie drink. Soo, how much to drink to get some of the health benefits without the side-effects?…I would say no more than 2 cups a day and with as little added sugar as possible but if you have hypertension, kidney or liver dysfunction please do consult your GP or dietitian before incorporating into your diet.
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