Eating Healthy by Accident

healthy ingredients, best food for your healthDining out in Kingston is really fun. Good food, good vibe, and a fair amount of diversity. Many of us toggle between old standbys and adventurous new dishes. Many of us also start long term relationships with certain dishes and restaurants. (I am going on 6 years with Woodenheads’ Calamari Mumbai.) Unfortunately, eating out isn’t exactly the healthiest way to consume food, and according to “experts”, it should be done in moderation. But what if there are too many delicious things than what moderation calls for? We all know that the chef at our favourite restaurant might use a little more butter than we would at home, and most definitely does not buy ‘lite’ coconut milk. But while some people are worrying about how many calories are in their saffron aioli, chefs are sneaking healthful ingredients into many of their menu items. If we pay attention, these ingredients quietly tout their own nutritional benefits.

So here’s to dining out in Kingston and not feeling guilty about it! No calorie counts or sugar substitutes here, just foods that are good for us in one way or another. It’s easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of a diet culture and forget the subtle health benefits many day to day foods offer us. I’ll be the first to admit that restaurants are places to enjoy, try new things, indulge and sometimes be downright gluttonous. But although we won’t be getting any points from our personal trainers for that fried portobello burger, it’s great to keep in mind that everything we eat nourishes our bodies in one way or another, and that all of those important nutrients, proteins, and vitamins can be tucked away in unexpected places. So join me on an evening out in Kingston and see what kinds of good things we can find.

First things first – make a beeline for Harper’s and order the “Seoul”. It comes with goat cheese, red curry sauce, and kimchi. Doesn’t it seem like everywhere we turn nowadays we run into kimchi? Aside from the Seoul burger, it can also be found at virtually any sushi place. Classics Tea Lounge in the Hub has been advertising a ‘kimchi sale’ for about 5 years now. Kimchi is a fermented cabbage condiment, which also happens to be South Korea’s national dish. As a fermented food, it contains lactobacilli, an anaerobic bacteria. Recall the Activia commercials that promoted probiotics – that’s basically kimchi, but without the belly dancing. This bacteria helps regulate digestion and supplies the body with new enzymes that can diminish with age. One serving of kimchi also contains about 50% of our daily Vitamin C.

If we’re having burgers, we might as well throw in some add ons. Jalapenos perhaps? Jalapenos, and hot peppers in general, have a lot going for them. The capsaicin in the pepper is a major antioxidant – in fact the hotter the pepper, the higher the antioxidant content. What’s more, hot peppers make you happy! Literally – they cause your body to release endorphins onto the tongue to counteract the pain of the chili. That’s also what is causing that euphoric post-dinner feeling as you stumble back onto Princess St.

Sometimes, though, all we want is a big salad. The kind with all the fancy ingredients we may not buy at home – like beets! Throw a dart at the menu at Days on Front, Casa Domenico or Pan Chancho and you may very well find yourself ordering beets. Beets are the ideal food to get at a restaurant, because someone else has to deal with the stained fingernails. Beets contain betaine, which is a stimulant that helps in the production of serotonin and dopamine. As such, eating beets is considered a type of natural antidepressant, or more generally a mood regulator.

Another great night of the week is sushi night. Everyone has their allegiances to certain places, but one thing’s for sure, no matter where you go, you are bound to encounter seaweed. Up to 47% of its weight is made up of vegetable protein (depending on the type of seaweed), which provides a healthy daily dose of essential amino acids. Since they grow in the sea, they absorb large quantities of potassium, iodine, iron and magnesium from the water that we ingest. They are also one of the few vegetable sources of the super elusive vitamin B-12. B-12 is incredibly important, and a deficiency can cause depression, mania, and damage to the brain and nervous system.

When summer rolls around (hopefully sooner rather than later), no patio happy hour is complete without a bloody mary and a half dozen oysters. As the weather allows us to dine outside, Olivea and Le Chien Noir always have tempting daily oyster specials on their menus. Aside from being briny and delicious, we all know that oysters are an aphrodisiac. Interestingly, it is the content of zinc that gives aphrodisiac foods their reputation, since it helps with hormone release. Oysters are the food with the highest zinc content per serving, so get slurping!

Did you know that there is a significant percentage of people who are genetically predispositioned to think cilantro tastes like soap? Which is a huge shame, because one of my favourite spicy dishes is the Spicy Coriander from Royal Angkor. It is a deathly hot curry topped with a layer of freshly chopped cilantro. For those of us who don’t think cilantro tastes like soap, there is a world of possibilities. It is often cited for its effectiveness as a ‘natural cleansing agent’. Toxic metals in the body, like mercury, bind to cilantro and are flushed from the body in this way. In fact, it has been used as a natural remedy for people with mercury poisoning. Some studies also suggest that it can help ease anxiety and improve sleep quality!

While we’re on the topic of curry, we can’t forget about turmeric – that magical spice that turns our curries and shirts yellow. Turmeric is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial, and therefore can help fight colds and flus. It can also ease joint swelling, and people with arthritis often add turmeric to their diets for this reason. Studies have also suggested that turmeric may prevent the progression of Alzheimers.

After so much eating, it’s nice to call it a night with a cup of tea. Back when The Tea Store still existed, they sold pure hibiscus tea, an herbal tea made from dried hibiscus flower. Hibiscus tea is potentially a miracle drink – no pseudo-science intended! It has gained traction in scientific studies because of its ability to lower blood pressure, especially among people with Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. In fact, some studies found that drinking 3 cups of hibiscus tea per day may be comparable to taking blood pressure medication. Move over Pfizer! So if you find a new hibiscus tea dealer please let me know, Menchie’s doesn’t seem to sell it.

The list surely goes on, as those sneaky Kingston chefs find a way to both get us our daily recommended Vitamin K and expand our waistlines simultaneously.

Thanks to Farmanac, Rubber Slippers in Italy, Jamie Frater, and chrismar, whose original photos appear in the above composition featuring beets, oysters, kimchi and cilantro.

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