Thursday, September 9, 2010

Change of Address!

The Anti-Cancer Challenge has moved to the website of my new book, Zest for Life, The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet.

Same format, same themes, more frequent posts -- please keep reading and commenting, and do tell your family and friends about this resource.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cancer cells love sugar, and they're not fussy

Pancreatic cancer cells use the sugar fructose to help the tumor grow more quickly, researchers have discovered. Published this month in Cancer Research, these findings serve as a powerful reminder that anyone wishing to curb their cancer risk should start by reducing the amount of sugar they eat.

Since fructose makes up a large proportion of western diets (high-fructose corn syrup accounts for more than 40 per cent of caloric sweeteners added to foods and drinks), a research team at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center wanted to study its effect on cancer cells.

The researchers added fructose to one set of human pancreatic cancer cells in petri dishes and glucose to another set of cells. After letting the cells interact with the sugars, both fructose and glucose were found to increase cancer cell growth at similar rates, but through different metabolic pathways. This is the first time a link has been shown between fructose and cancer proliferation.

"In this study we show that cancers can use fructose just as readily as glucose to fuel their growth," said Anthony Heaney, the study's lead author. "The modern diet contains a lot of refined sugar including fructose and it's a hidden danger implicated in a lot of modern diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and fatty liver." While this study was done on pancreatic cancer, these findings may not be unique to that cancer type, Heaney said.

Americans in particular consume large amounts of fructose, mainly in high-fructose corn syrup, a mix of fructose and glucose that is used in soft drinks, bread and a range of other processed foods. High-fructose corn syrup is about 45% glucose and 55% fructose. People also get fructose from sucrose, known as table sugar, which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

It has been known for decades that cancer cells thrive on glucose. Moreover, foods that cause a sharp rise in blood glucose (i.e. foods with a high glycemic index (GI) ranking) trigger the secretion of insulin and insulin growth factor (IGF-1), two hormones that also promote cancer growth.

Many health-conscious eaters have therefore shifted to foods with lower GI rankings - an excellent idea if this involves replacing refined, processed starches with natural, whole carbohydrates rich in fiber, protein, fat and micronutrients. However, some people have also switched to fructose-rich sweeteners because these have low GI rankings. Indeed, popular ‘low-carb' weight-loss diets such as the Montignac diet promote the use of pure, crystallized fructose as a sweetener.

More recently, a fashionable sweetener widely touted as a natural and healthy alternative to other sugars has taken the health food community by storm: agave syrup. True, it has a low GI ranking and is ‘natural' to the extent that it is derived from a plant (albeit after intense processing). However, some brands of agave syrup contain as much as 90% fructose.

In the light of the UCLA study, agave syrup may therefore not be helpful for dietary cancer prevention. Indeed, cancer patients would probably be better off avoiding it. Indeed, "efforts to reduce refined fructose intake or inhibit fructose-mediated actions may disrupt cancer growth," the study states.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), commenting on the study on its blog, "the findings are interesting, but more research is needed before it can be used to make recommendations on public health." This is only one study, they note, and it is a cell study. This means that its findings may not necessarily be replicated in animals or humans.

However, the study does highlight that adding sugar to our diet raises cancer risks. "A healthy diet will always include some sugar, as it naturally occurs in nutritious foods like fruit and milk," the AICR writes. "The key is to limit added sugars of all types, rather than focusing on glucose versus fructose or sucrose."

With obesity in the US continuing to rise, "Americans need to cut back on added sugar, no matter where it comes from. Reducing added sugar will help people get to and maintain a healthy weight, and that is one way research clearly shows that we can prevent pancreatic cancer," says the AICR. The WCRF/AICR in its 2009 policy report found that 28% of pancreatic cancers could be prevented if Americans maintained a healthy weight.

In my next post I'll take a look at practical ways to rein in our desire for sugar. It's not as hard as you think!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mediterranean diet may lower breast cancer risk

In a study that appeared recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that among 14,800 Greek women tracked for a decade, those who stuck most closely to the region's traditional diet were less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those who least closely followed Mediterranean eating patterns.

The link was observed only among women who were past menopause: those with the closest adherence to the Mediterranean diet were 22% less likely to develop breast cancer during the study than those who adhered least to this style of eating.

As I wrote here recently, I believe that Mediterranean-style eating is a key component of lifestyle cancer prevention. Best of all, you don't have to live in a Mediterranean country to reap the benefits of the Mediterranean diet: this term simply describes a pattern of eating that is rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, garlic, herbs and spices and relatively low in dairy and meat.

The wide variety of fresh plant foods that characterizes this diet provides a vast array of cancer-fighting compounds. These are largely absent from modern western diets which comprise a large proportion of highly processed factory foods rich in sugar, refined starches and industrially transformed vegetable oils. These types of ‘foods' are thought to provide a fertile ground for cancer cells to grow and spread.

The Mediterranean diet may be breast-cancer protective in several ways. For one, studies (this one or this one) have found that women who closely follow the diet tend to have lower levels of estrogen, a hormone that fuels the growth of the majority of breast cancers.

Moreover, cell studies conducted in laboratories (this one or this one) indicate that the fats in the Mediterranean diet - olive oil and the omega-3 fats in oily fish - may slow the growth of cancer cells.
The Mediterranean diet is also typically rich in flavonoids (in particular, flavones, flavonoids and resveratrol), substances with important antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect body cells from free-radical damage that can eventually lead to disease, including cancer.

But why should the Mediterranean diet may offer greater protection to postmenopausal than to premenopausal women? According to the study, most younger women who develop breast cancer tend to have a genetic predisposition to the disease, whereas in older women, lifestyle and environmental factors may be more important contributors to risk.

That's not to say that younger women don't also derive benefits from Mediterranean-style eating. As far as I'm concerned, the earlier we can get healthy eating patterns in place (ideally in childhood!), the better armed we are against illness in later life - and not only cancer, but also cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, fertility problems and depression.

A vast body of research going back to the 1950s suggests that the Mediterranean diet offers substantial protection against all these conditions. And when paired with other healthy lifestyle habits - regular physical activity, adequate rest, not smoking, and avoiding excessive alcohol intake - the protective effects are even greater.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Strawberries: not just good, but good for you!

Summertime is strawberry time, and I am enjoying it to the full. For I have discovered that the best strawberries don’t come from the supermarket, but from a local farm not three miles from my home.

In the past, strawberry season was an exercise in frustration. Keen to avoid the early berries from Spain (grown in hothouses, tended by underpaid African migrant laborers, sprayed with pesticides and harvested before maturity) I would wait impatiently for the local berries to appear on the supermarket shelves. However, the season being short and hostage to the vagaries of the local weather, the long-awaited berries rarely made it to my supermarket, or only brioefly and at exhorbitant prices. Before I knew it, strawberry season was over and my plans for a freezer full of pureed strawberries had to be shelved until the following year.

A few weeks ago, as I was selecting beautifully fragrant strawberries at the local farmers’ market, the enterprising young grower selling them told me I could come and pick them myself – at half the price he was charging at the market! My family and I went for a short drive to the strawberry farm and as we got out of our car, a beauteous scene unfolded before our eyes: row after row of ruby-red, ripe strawberries glistening in the afternoon sun.

We were handed two wooden crates and set about filling them in the company of the friendly farm dog. Within ½ hour we had picked 8 kilograms of sweet, aromatic mara des bois strawberries, probably the most fragrant of all strawberry varieties, with a flavor resembling the sweet, spicy miniature forest berries you sometimes discover on particularly successful country walks. (They remind us why the Italian name for strawberry is fragola – essentially meaning ‘fragrant.’)

Best of all, the berries had not been treated with any chemicals; to rein in the weeds, the farmer had covered much of his field with black plastic sheeting into which he had cut holes for the strawberry bushes to grow through.

Strawberries are the very incarnation of nutrient-dense food: low in calories (1 cup only contains 43 calories) and brimming with nutrients. Eating just 10 medium-sized strawberries (1 cup or 140 grams) gives you 82 mg of vitamin C – or 136% of the recommended daily average! Strawberries are also rich sources of fiber, potassium, manganese and folic acid.

Strawberries (and other berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and blackberries) are also one of our staunchest allies for dietary cancer prevention. A large body of research has established the anti-cancer potential of berry fruit phytochemicals. These include anthocyanins (pigments that impart the attractive colors to berry fruits and colorful vegetables), quercetin (a compound also found in onions, apple skins and tea), proanthocyanidins (common to green tea, grape skin and seeds, blueberries, cranberries, dark chocolate, etc.), tannins (particularly ellagitannins, found in strawberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, blackberries, muscadine grapes, some nuts and oak-aged beverages) and other plant chemicals.

Their cancer-protective effects are multiple: berries contain powerful antioxidants (notably ellagic acid, particularly prevalent in strawberries and raspberries) that protect our cells from free-radical attacks which can lead to cancerous changes. Berry compounds have been shown in laboratory experiments to inhibit cancer cell proliferation and to promote the detoxification of carcinogens. They can even induce apoptosis (cell death when a cell is no longer needed) and reinforce the cancer-destroying effects of certain chemotherapy drugs.

Interestingly, organically grown strawberries appear to have stronger anti-cancer effects than conventionally grown ones. Swedish scientists recently found that extracts of organic strawberries contained higher levels of vitamin C and phenolic compounds than their conventional cousins. Tested on human colon cancer and breast cancer cells, both types of strawberry extract  reduced cell growth,  but the organically grown ones were more effective at inhibiting proliferation than the conventionally grown ones.

If you can’t obtain organically grown strawberries but have a garden (even a small one will do), strawberries are easy to grow, even for beginners, and are very rewarding. Not only can they carry up to three flushes of fruit throughout the summer, but they are also perennial, meaning that they  flower and carry fruit every year, year after year. They reproduce by producing runners with nodes along them that are the beginning of new strawberry plants, so if you take good care of your strawberries and feed them and trim them when appropriate, they will reward you generously. Detailed information on planting and caring for strawberries can be found here.

So let’s enjoy strawberries while the season lasts! Most often I eat them as they come off the bush, or perhaps cut into creamy ewes’ milk yogurt along with a finely chopped mint leaf and a smidgen of acacia honey. Strawberries elevate any morning smoothie to a feast (I usually add banana and a spoonful of almond butter to make it more filling), as well as lending a lovely burst of color and freshness to porridge or muesli in the morning. To make the season last a little longer, I also puree them and freeze them in ice-cube trays or containers, to enjoy when fresh strawberries have become a distant dream.

To ring in the changes, I recently came up with a savory strawberry sauce that’s delicious with chicken or duck; if you would like to try it, I have posted it on my website.  

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My year of not taking supplements

We took the children to the circus last weekend. When it came to the Flying Sandros, a terrifying trapeze act, I was on the edge of my seat. For during the third jump, a daring reverse triple salto, the catcher’s and the flyer’s hands missed each other by a nanosecond and the flyer came crashing down into the net. Thank goodness for safety nets!

For the last 12 years, I have had my own dietary safety net: nutritional supplements. When I stopped taking them 79 days ago for my Anti-Cancer Challenge (in line with the World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendations, upon which the Challenge is based) I felt like a trapeze artist working without a net, for this is the first time in over ten years that I am supplement-free.

Over the past ten years I have swallowed approximately 50,000 supplements pills. At my peak intake nine years ago, my husband would joke that if you shook me, I’d rattle. For a while, my daily regimen included a high-dose multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, extra vitamin C to boost my immune system, a herbal combo to support my liver, a formulation to stabilize my blood-sugar, probiotics to aid my gut flora, magnesium to help me relax at night and digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid capsules to assist me in digesting and assimilating my food.

After moving to France from the UK nine years ago I scaled back my supplement intake. When I ran out of my British supplements and couldn’t find easy replacements (in France there aren't entire shops dedicated to the sale of supplements as there are in the US and the UK) I noticed that I felt no worse-off, even after several months of supplement-deprivation. Moreover, as I discovered irresistible fresh, locally-grown food at greengrocers’, farmers’ markets and bistros I quickly lost interest in the encapsulated astronaut fare I had leaned on for years. I was happy to invest the $4-5 a day I was saving on supplements in delicious, fresh and healthy food.

According to the WCRF, some 35% of Britons and 50% of Americans regularly take supplements. In France, that number stands at a modest 20% but it is rising. Many of us see supplements as a sort of top-up health insurance, a safety net for when we don’t get around to eating well. Let’s be honest: isn’t it reassuring to think that if we take multivitamins and minerals, probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids in capsule form, it’s OK to give the real foods that contain these – fruits, vegetables, yogurt, nuts, oily fish – a miss occasionally?

Sporadic dietary transgressions are fine, of course. The problem is, ‘occasionally’ often becomes ‘regularly’ and before we know it, we rely increasingly on supplements to provide our nutrients. For instance, many people who do not eat fish (alas, there are many!) will struggle to obtain enough omega-3's or selenium from their diet.

In terms of cancer prevention – the remit of this blog – supplementation does not appear to deliver great benefits; in fact, in some cases, for instance in smokers taking beta-carotene supplements, they may actually increase risks. That’s why the WCRF concluded in its 2007 Expert Report: “For otherwise healthy people, inadequacy of intake of nutrients is best resolved by nutrient-dense diets and not by supplements.”

“Nutritional supplements contain forms and concentrations of nutrients that don’t occur in nature,” says Dr Rachel Thompson, science programme manager in charge of nutrition at the WCRF, adding that “supplements don’t contain fibre or the many bioactive components found in food and which are important for health.”  Indeed, it is increasingly understood that the different vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and plant chemicals bound up together in natural foods reinforce each other’s actions in synergistic ways that supplements cannot replicate.

To be sure, many nutrients have been found to offer cancer-protection, but these should ideally come from food, not pills. For instance, according to the WCRF the mineral selenium (found in Brazil nuts, whole grains, fish, crustaceans and meat) probably protects against prostate cancer, calcium (from kale, spinach and other green, leafy vegetables, nuts & seeds, canned whole sardines, tofu and dairy products) is thought to act against colon cancer and vitamin E (from plant oils, seeds, nuts & whole grains, berries and green leafy vegetables) may cut prostate-cancer risk.

Granted, swallowing a pill takes a lot less time than preparing a healthy meal. However, healthy, nutritious food is a lot tastier and need not be time-consuming, as my previous post shows. So let’s prioritise real food over laboratory nutrients. For optimal nutrition, the food we eat should be as fresh as possible (ideally, locally grown in rich, healthy soil and eaten as soon as possible after harvesting), highly varied and carefully prepared. Long-distance transportation, long-term storage and overcooking can significantly reduce nutrient levels in foods.

There are exceptions where supplements are advisable. In people who have marked nutrient deficiencies or heightened nutritional needs, or who have trouble eating, digesting and absorbing food, supplementation is important. People over 50 who have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 should supplement this. Moreover, women planning to conceive should take folic acid. Vitamin D is recommended for people who are not exposed to sufficient sunlight or those (such as the elderly or people with dark skin) who do not synthesise adequate vitamin D from sunlight. However, do not self-administer supplements; if you think you need extra nutrients or have difficulty digesting and absorbing the nutrients in your food, consult a doctor or nutritionist.

I will report over the next few months on my year without supplements. For now, anyway, I’m feeling fine without my nuritional safety net - indeed, last week I was the only member of my family to escape a spring cold that was doing the rounds.

Picture credit: Five female trapeze artists performing at the circus. Published by Calvert Litho Co., Detroit, Michigan; obtained from the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When fast food is health food

Working in my home office today I felt a pang of hunger around lunchtime. I sloped off into my kitchen in search of a quick bite so as not to interrupt my train of thought. (I confess, I was planning to grab a not-very-Mediterranean cheese sandwich; quick, tasty, but not exactly packed with plant-food goodness...)

As soon as I entered the kitchen, my eyes lit on an avocado idling on the counter. It was heavy and firm-yet-yielding -- in other words: perfectly ripe. This sight got my juices flowing and my mind wandering: hmm, what could I do with an avocado that really had to be eaten now? It certainly didn’t go with cheese sandwich, so I’d have to think of something else.

Then I remembered some left-over salmon puree in the refrigerator (canned Pacific salmon mashed with home-made mayonnaise and plain yoghurt, spring onion, parsley and lemon juice). Yes, that would go nicely in the avocado’s hollow.

No sooner had I opened the fridge to retrieve the salmon puree than I spotted a tomato on the vegetable shelf, sitting very still, no doubt hoping I wouldn’t spot it. I did spot it though and out it came. Just as I was about to chop it all up and dump it in a chipped breakfast bowl (part of me still wanted to rush) I remembered four lonesome asparagus spears left over from last night’s dinner and shunted to the back of the fridge. This had to be fate. No more rushing; the time had come for an impromptu feast.

I put away the chipped bowl, took a white china plate out of the cupboard and arranged on it the quartered avocado, a blob of salmon puree, the tomato quarters and asparagus spears, drizzled them with home-made olive-oil dressing (I always keep some in the refrigerator), sprinkled it with dried pepper flakes and a few leaves of parsley. I even found some pine kernels nestling at the bottom of a nearly-empty jar and so while I was arranging my plate, I toasted these lightly in a small, dry pan and scattered them over the plate.

This meal took only seven (yes, 7!) minutes to assemble; that’s my definition of fast food. It was infinitely more nutritious – and delicious! – than the cheese sandwich it replaced. And it helped me 'get out of my head,' sit down on my terrace and savour my meal listening to birdsong, a light breeze on my face -- rather than gobbling it down in-between office tasks.

Yes, there are days when I *do* eat the cheese sandwich, when there are no perfect avocadoes or salmon purees waiting to be discovered. But there are many ways of rustling up basic, delicious and healthy meals in a matter of minutes by keeping healthy supplies in pantries, refrigerators and freezers and not yielding to the temptation of the fast-but-suboptimal snack.

A few things that make healthy impromptu feasts easier:
  • A supply of canned fish (especially sardines or mackerel), tomato concentrate, pesto or tapenade in one’s pantry (delicious on toast as a base for sardines or sliced tofu, or to liven up salads or soups).
  • A stock of plain yogurt, home-made mayonnaise and salad dressing, goat’s cheese or feta (tastes great crumbled over salads or soups).
  • Some longer-lasting items in the vegetable drawer (e.g. tomatoes, cucumbers, washed lettuce in a zip-lock bag, some parsley – washed, dried and kept fresh in an airproof container, carrots, vacuum-packed beets).
  • Herbs and spices, nuts and seeds ring in the changes and liven up any dish.
  • Left-overs! I generally cook a little more than we need for dinner so that I can eat the rest the next day, either cold or briefly reheated in a small saucepan.
So next time we think we don't have time to prepare healthy food,  let's hunt around and see what pleasant surprises our refrigerator may hold!

    Friday, May 21, 2010

    Family feasts for body and soul

    As my family and I gathered around our dinner table yesterday evening, the Mediterranean Spirit was among us.

    Three generations – my three children, their parents and visiting grandparents – sat down for a shared meal of chili con carne* that my 13-year-old son had prepared. Before we began to eat, each gave thanks for something they felt grateful for: the fine weather, the delicious meal, a good day at school. When it came to the chef’s turn, my son said: “I am thankful that we are all together, and for this nice atmosphere.” Amen to that!

    In my last post, I sang the praises of the Mediterranean diet – its healthy vegetables and fruits, fish, herbs, garlic and olive oil. However, the health benefits of Mediterranean-style eating go far beyond mere molecules: taking time to prepare and savor good food in the company of people we love also has immeasurable benefits.

    Indeed, possibly the most life-affirming aspect of the Mediterranean food culture is the central role of conviviality: the pleasure of sharing food with others, of celebrating communal culinary traditions and life at large. Without it, the Mediterranean diet would be just another health-food prescription; conviviality, at its heart, makes it a lifestyle.

    The word ‘convivial’ derives from Latin, where it means quite simply ‘the act of living together.’ We are drawn to conviviality by our need for safety, companionship and comfort. But in today's hyper-efficient, fast-paced world, we often sacrifice that which made us human – our fundamental need for food – and the communality that was born of this need. Instead, we rush from one task to the next and eating becomes just another chore to be slotted into our busy schedules.

    Over the long term, this modern way of eating cannot provide us with the biological or emotional sustenance we need to thrive. For a truly anti-cancer way of life, let's rediscover the joys of eating calmly, at a table, using cutlery and plates, ideally in the company of people we are fond of.

    Shared, leisurely meals are about much more than fuelling our bodies, they are “uniquely human institutions where our species developed language and this thing we call culture,” Michael Pollan argues in an impassioned plea for a return to more traditional eating habits (In Defence of Food, Penguin Books 2008). “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fuelling our body to a ritual of family and community, from mere animal biology to an act of culture.”

    In recommending the Mediterranean diet, I want to move beyond the ‘food-as-medicine’ paradigm, where our diet is seen merely as an amalgamation of molecules that support bodily functions (a mechanistic view popular in Anglo-Saxon countries). Instead, I espouse the more holistic ethos prevalent in Mediterranean cultures where food is also a source of spiritual nourishment, of pleasure, comfort and vitality – a celebration of life in the fullest sense.

    Although modern eating patterns have been making inroads into Mediterranean countries, many retain a rich and joyful food culture. Indeed, French bistros at lunchtime throng with office workers enjoying a leisurely meal and engaged in lively conversations not pertaining to work. On Sundays, three-generation families gather around many a restaurant table for two to three hours’ eating, relaxing and laughter. These groups often include babies and toddlers who learn from an early age that eating with others is an occasion for joy and communality.

    Sociologists have compared habits of conviviality in Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon countries and their results make fascinating reading. In an international survey of people’s attitudes to food and eating, respondents were asked to describe what, to them, constituted a ‘healthy diet’ (Fischler C, Masson E. Manger – Français, Européens et Américains face à l’alimentation. Odile Jacob (Paris), 2008).

    Whereas primary health-concerns for the Americans and Britons surveyed touched on scientific concepts such as 'proteins,’ ‘carbohydrates’ and ‘fat,’ Italian and French respondents overwhelmingly focused on the notion of pleasure.

    There was also a great divergence in respondents’ attitudes to conviviality: when asked what constitutes a healthy diet, French and French-speaking Swiss participants spoke spontaneously of ‘family meals’ or ‘eating with friends.’ In the French-speaking focus group, the word ‘family’ came up 39 times, ‘friends’ 51 times, ‘convivial’ 72 times and ‘sharing’ 38 times.

    This is in striking contrast with the Anglophone groups, where ‘family’ was mentioned eight times, ‘friends’ four times and ‘sharing’ only three times. Lastly, while Anglophones and Germans valued ‘conviviality’ on special occasions, the French, in particular, said they treasured conviviality as an ordinary, day-to-day event.

    In addition to their attachment to conviviality, the French and Italian respondents were also found to adhere most closely to strict rules about meal times (three times a day, at fixed times), portion sizes (modest), table manners (no phones, no TV), in-between-meals snacking (forbidden), second helpings (frowned-upon), dietary variety (essential), eating environments (tables, real dishes and cutlery, not cars, sidewalks or desks).

    Thus, ‘Mediterranean’ anti-cancer eating, as I see it, isn’t just about eating healthy food. It’s also about consciously developing a health-promoting attitude to food which nourishes body and soul.

    Call me a hopeless romantic, but to me, healthy nutrition is about eating natural food grown nearby under open skies, moistened by rain, ripened by the sun and brimming with essential nutrients, simply prepared and enjoyed in a relaxed mood, ideally in the joyful company of fellow-humans. This celebration of the senses and the grateful, guilt-free acceptance of pleasure is one of the best things we can do for our health.

    *If you think that ‘chilli con carne’ has no cancer-prevention virtues, let me assure you that my son’s stew contained only 60 grams (cooked) of grass-fed beef per person, supplemented with copious amounts of red kidney beans, five red and yellow peppers, two large onions, 6 cloves of garlic, four large tomatoes, tomato concentrate, generous amounts of cumin, coriander and paprika powder, a pinch of red pepper flakes, raw cocoa powder and a lavish scattering of fresh cilantro. Alongside it we ate steamed quinoa, a tasty, low-glycemic alternative to rice, low-salt tortilla chips (a small bag between 7 people, which yielded 8 chips each. Boy, did the children savour those!), and cubed fresh avocado to scatter over the stew. Bursting with flavour and nutrients, the dish contained little meat, yet it satisfied even the most rabid meat-eater in my family.

    Every month I publish two Mediterranean-diet-inspired recipes on my website (click 'my recipes' tab on left menu). They are tasty, simple and affordable -- why not give them a try?