Delightful Date Smoothie from the Middle East

Dates are very popular in the Middle East, where I currently live. You can find many types of dates and date-based products including honey, syrups, sauces, preserves and spreads in any supermarket or “souq”.

It is a very important fruit for the Arabs, for several reasons. Most importantly, it is one of the “fruits of paradise” in the Islamic tradition. Also, it is one of the few nutrient rich plants that grow in this region and both the fruit and the palm tree are very versatile. For example, branches of the date palms were used to weave baskets and ropes and to thatch rooftops in traditional Arab households. Trunks of the date palm were used in building structures. Cooking oils were derived from the pits of dates and the palm tree’s other parts were made use of too, e.g. the heart of the palm was used in salads and the flower cluster’s sheath was used as medicine for upset stomach.

There are several types of dates and they are distinguished by being “soft”, “semi-dry” and “dry”. Soft dates include the “barhee”, “halawy”, “khadrawy” and “medjool” varieties. The semi-dry type can be found under the names “dayri”, “deglet noor” and “zahdi”, while the dry is the “thoory”. They are all different by look, feel and taste and they also differ in their glucose, fructose and sucrose contents.

Dates are also considered as “superfood” in the Middle East. The date pulp contains phytochemicals, natural sugars and amino acids. Dates are low in fat but rich in fibre and phytosterols, which control cholesterol levels. Dates also contain minerals including selenium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese and iron, in addition to vitamin B and C and omega fatty acids. Dates are also rich in compounds like carotenoids and polyphenols, which are efficient free-radical scavengers.

Generally dates are known as agents that boost the immune system and nurture people living in the harsh deserts of the Middle East. It is believed that consuming dates helps to detoxify the human body, fortify the liver, stimulate the thyroid, aid the nervous system and prevent vision problems. Arabs believe that they can help eliminate parasites and they also cure bronchitis. They use it to ease digestive disorders and prescribe it to pregnant women to boost bone building in the foetus. Women in labour eat dates to regulate contractions and prevent haemorrhage. Dates are also believed to cure infertility and sexual problems.

This lovely date smoothie recipe is from the Guardian. It will make two glasses of a delightful date-based drink that can be consumed either as as a breakfast drink or as a lovely and healthy dessert.

dates from picture

  • 25 gram dried dates (halved)
  • 2 small bananas (chopped)
  • 100ml low-fat natural bio yoghurt
  • 150ml semi-skimmed milk or plant-based milk (e.g. almond milk or hazelnut milk)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 wheat biscuit (crumbled)

Preparation method:

  • Cover the dates in boiled water, set aside and leave it to soften for 10 minutes. It is necessary if you use dry dates. If you use soft types of date, soak them for a few minutes only.
  • Meanwhile, blend the bananas, yoghurt, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and the oat biscuit. Add the dates and 3 tablespoons of the soaking water and blend until smooth and creamy.
  • Pour into 2 glasses and top with cinnamon. Serve immediately.

data and banana smoothie from picture
Bon appetite!

Living Long in Ikaria

Ikaria is a tiny Greek Island surrounded by the Aegean Sea in the far east of the Mediterranean, just 30 kilometers off the Turkish Coast. Why is this isolated little island so special? It is unique as it is one of the few places on Earth, where longevity is not the exception, but the norm.

Ikaria, Pinterest, Pinterest
The Blue Zone Island  

Ikarians tend to live much longer than people normally do. It is not surprising to come across centenarians on the island, who enjoy good health and an active life.

Dan Buettner, a former long-distance cyclist discovered this special feature of Ikaria in 2004, when he researched demographics and longevity in the world. He teamed up with physicians and demographers and investigated locations where life expectancy was high and the concentration of centenarians exceeded the average. He only found five such locations in the world, which he named “blue zones”. One of these blue zones is Ikaria, where approximately 8,000 people enjoy the privilege of longevity.

In Ikaria, the likelihood of people living to the age of 100 is a staggering 10 times higher than in other parts of the world. Ikarians not only live long, often to 100 years of age and beyond, but they do maintain good health throughout their lives. For example, Buettner and his team discovered that elderly Ikarians tend to be free of dementia, depression, cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

Ikarian elderly -, Pinterest, Pinterest
When Buettner and his team started to investigate the reasons of longevity on the island, they looked into the island’s history, culture and climate and they also interviewed locals about their lifestyle, nutritional habits and general outlook on life.

From a historic point of view, it turned out that in the past, Ikaria was frequently invaded by Persians, Romans and Turks. The invasions prompted the local population to move to the central area of the island, where they lived in isolation. Because of their isolation, they developed a micro-culture, which is unique and completely their own. In the Ikarian micro-culture, family, traditions, social life and support of each other are very important values. As an elderly Ikarian pointed out, “It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.”.

Climate may also be a contributor to the exceptional life expectancy on Ikaria. The warm weather, the proximity of the sea and the good quality air definitely support health. Just like the mountainous terrain that prompts locals to maintain an active, outdoors lifestyle.

The traditional, low calorie Ikarian diet may also contribute to the healthy and long life of locals. Ikarians don’t’ consume refined sugars or processed foods and they eat meat very rarely. Instead, they maintain a primarily plant-based diet, consisting of home-grown vegetables. They consume beans, lentils, potatoes and wild greens. They eat plenty of fish, too. Dairy is rarely eaten, except for goat’s milk. Also, Ikarians drink lots of coffee, herbal teas infused with sage and mint and well as home-produced, pure red wine. Everything they eat and drink is home-grown and locally produced, therefore they don’t consume pesticides and chemicals. Ikarians also fast occasionally, which is also said to be beneficial for their health by slowing down their aging process.

As Ikarians grow their food and raise their animals themselves, they maintain an active, outdoor lifestyle. They spend a lot of time outdoors and they also walk fair distances every day, mostly on the mountainous inland terrain of the island. Life in Ikaria is active, but not stressful. Locals take afternoon naps, don’t rush and spend a lot of time with their families, friends and neighbours. They have purpose in life.

The research came to the conclusion that longevity in Ikaria is down to a multitude of factors including culture, geography, climate, nutrition, lifestyle and positive spirits. Life is not only long, but it is of high quality.

The Recipe of Ikarian Longevity

Let’s see what we can take over from the Ikarians to support a long and healthy life for ourselves:

  • Adopt a Mediterranean diet: Follow a primarily plant-based, organic diet. Add lots of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and pulses and try cooking with olive oil. Drink some good quality red wine and try herbal teas. Avoid meat as much as possible, but do include some fish in your diet.
  • Minimise your dairy intake: Minimise processed dairy intake, and replace cow’s milk to goat’s milk in your diet.
  • Be active: Exercise is key in the traditional Ikarian lifestyle in the form of farming, gardening and walking. It is advantageous to adopt some of these practices into modern, urban lifestyles, too. Try walking, a bit of gardening if possible and just spend time outdoors.
  • Drink herbal teas:  Herbal teas include antioxidants that keep diseases at bay and strengthen the immune system. Sip a cup of tea infused with mint, sage, rosemary or oregano and enjoy their health benefits.
  • Take a nap: A midday rest can be beneficial for your health as it lowers stress hormone levels and rests the heart. It is, unfortunately, wholly impractical to include naptime into urban lifestyles. Nevertheless, if you try having a nap at weekends, you may enjoy some of the benefits.
  • Fast: Ikarians are Greek Orthodox Christians, who occasionally fast due to religious purposes. Try restricting your calorie intake occasionally by 30 percent or more, as it is a proven way to slow down the aging process of mammals.
  • Socialise: Spending time with family, relatives and friends is beneficial for our mental health. Keep good spirits and socialise!
  • Manage your stress levels: Ikarians are not stressed-out folks. Do try to manage your stress levels to maintain your health and enjoy a longer life!

Let’s learn from Ikarians and adopt their way of life as much as we can! We may live longer and happier lives!

How to Have Healthy Hair?

We all love to have beautiful, strong and shiny hair. However, sometimes our hair starts to show signs of weakness. It becomes dull, dry and lifeless and sometimes it even starts to shred excessively. When the hair loss starts to be visible, we all start to worry.

Hair problems are often down to nutritional deficiencies. This is especially true in the case of people who follow vegetarian and vegan diets. They do need to pay special attention to create a balanced diet for themselves. Otherwise, they may become deficient in certain important nutrients, primarily vitamins, proteins, minerals and fats. The nutritional deficiencies can rapidly start to show and the first signs concern the health of the all so precious hair.

Hair Health from BBC Good Food
BBC Good Food
Let’s take a look at these important nutrients that we absolutely must consume in other to preserve or restore our hair health.

  1. Protein: Protein deficiency is very common among vegetarians and even more among vegans. It is challenging to consume enough protein from plant-based sources as mostly protein is found in meat and fish. However, we must find appropriate, plant-based protein sources, as it is the building block of our hair as well as of our essential organs. If we are protein deficient, our bodies utilize whatever protein we consume to tissue growth in essential organs. The body will always prioritize these organs, therefore our hair will suffer first. Therefore, consuming some protein is not enough. We have to consume enough for our hair to glow. The best plant-based protein sources include quinoa, seitan, tofu, soy, tempeh beans, lentils, nuts, chick peas and white beans. Milk, cheese, dairy products and eggs also contain plenty of protein.
  2. Iron: Iron is a very important mineral and deficiency leads to anemia, which can cause hair loss by disrupting the nutrient supply to hair follicles and the hair growth cycle. Unfortunately, iron is found mostly in animal products, especially in red meat. Nevertheless, there are plant-based sources, including lentils, spinach, broccoli, okra, kale, salad greens, watercress, beets, dried apricots, figs, prunes, soy beans, pulses and almonds. However, the iron from plants is not as easily absorbed by the body as iron from meat, therefore these foods need to be consumed in large quantities to avoid iron deficiency. In case you have very low levels of iron, a good quality supplement may help to overcome your deficiency.
  3. Vitamin C: While Vitamin C is generally important for the human body, it has a particular role to help our hair glow. It helps the absorption of iron and boosts the production of collagen, a protein made up of amino-acids, which is the major component of hair. Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, broccoli, kiwi, oranges, strawberries, guava, red pepper, grapefruit, Brussels sprouts and cantaloupe.
  4. Omega-3: Omega-3 fatty acids are very important for our scalp and hair, because they keep them hydrated. Unfortunately, omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fish including salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel, the consumption of which is not in line with most vegetarian diets. In case you want to avoid eating fish, you need to consume flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, avocados, walnuts, soybeans and leafy greens to maintain your strong and lustrous hair.
  5. Vitamin A: Vitamin A is necessary for our bodies to make sebum, an oily and waxy substance that lubricates and waterproofs our skin and hair. If our bodies do not produce enough sebum, we might find our scalp itchy. Also, our hair may become dry. In order to help our bodies produce sufficient amount of sebum, we should eat liver. However, that is not an option for vegetarians and vegans. Vitamin A from plant-based sources can be found in sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy vegetables, squash, dried apricots, cantaloupe, red peppers and mango.
  6. Zinc and Selenium: The consumption of zinc and selenium is important for maintaining a healthy scalp and preventing hair loss. Seafood and eggs generally contain ample amount of these minerals. Plant-based sources include spinach, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, beans, mushrooms, Brazil nuts, whole-wheat bread, sunflower seeds and whole grains.
  7. Vitamin E: Sufficient intake of Vitamin E can help us avoid sun damage to our hair and skin. Nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, tomatoes, Swiss chard, avocado, asparagus, mustard greens, kale, papaya and kiwi are all excellent plant-based sources of Vitamin E.
  8. Biotin: Biotin is a B complex vitamin, which can help grow healthier and stronger hair, skin and nails by improving the keratin infrastructure, which is a basic protein that makes up hair, skin and nails. Biotin deficiency is fortunately very rare, but when it occurs it may show signs of brittle hair and nails. If you eat eggs, milk, Swiss chard, carrot, nuts, strawberries, raspberries, onion, avocado, cauliflower and cucumber you probably don’t need to fear biotin deficiency.
  9. Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is a complex vitamin that our bodies need for healthy hair growth by supporting the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to hair strands. If hair strands do not receive sufficient amount of oxygen, the hair cannot grow in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, B12 vitamin is only found in meat, seafood, eggs and dairy. Vegetarians may consider eating eggs and dairy to consume sufficient amount of Vitamin B12. Vegans may consume soy milk and cereals fortified with B12. Also, they may benefit from taking a supplement to maintain healthy hair.

hair health, pinterest, Pinterest
Let’s include these foods in our diets and maintain our shiny, beautiful and strong hair!