By Ayah Murad, Clinical Dietician
The incidence of patients suffering from overweight, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, and high levels of uric acid, is on the rise in Jordan. Their daily intake of meat and chicken along with rice contribute to an increased risk of these chronic diseases. Fortunately, our local Jordanian dishes offer plenty of health benefits – here the favourites I recommend to my patients.
Increasing our vegetable intake and reducing our meat consumption to twice a week are essential steps and shouldn’t be that difficult as our traditional cuisine offers us plenty of healthy and delicious alternatives:
Bread in general is very important in Jordanian cuisine. It is commonly used to scoop up dips, and is eaten as one of the main filler carbohydrates in the Jordanian diet. The fresh bread in Jordan is delicious, especially right out of the oven. But when it comes to slimming down, one of the first things you probably to cut out is bread. In Jordan, you can have your skinny jeans and eat bread too! That’s because Jordan produces the healthiest bread option: shrak is made of flour, water and a dash of salt. It is yeast free, easy to digest, filling and it provides us with essential B vitamins.
Our Jordanian thyme and sesame seed mix of herbs (za’tar) is usually mixed with olive oil to soak in bread. Rich in antioxidant, minerals and vitamins, it is also a natural expectorant as it enhances the immune system and is a source of omega-3,6 and 9, all important for brain development. Za’tar makes one of the healthiest breakfast options. You can enjoy it as a seasoning on top of your raw vegetables or in your sandwiches and salads. Combining za’tar with other herbs and seeds (fennel seeds, flax seeds chia seeds, turmeric and chilli pepper) have added benefits) have added benefits like reducing flatulence (medical term for releasing gas) and increasing your body metabolism. Try using raw leaves of thyme, combined with summaq, lemon, red onions and a dash of chilli – this combination can be eaten as a salad or just roll it in your shrak bread as a low calorie option that’s filling and is very rich in vitamins and minerals.
This well-cooked dish of chopped tomatos with onions, garlic, chilli and olive oil is a great vegetarian option rich in lycopene and beta-carotene. Lycopene, a nutrient in cooked tomatoes, has been shown in laboratory studies to slow the growth of (and even kill) prostate cancer cells. Lycopene is present in all red fruits and vegetables, but its concentrations are highest in tomatoes and it becomes more readily available and biologically active when it comes from tomatoes with a small amount of cooking oil added. Try to choose sweet, ripe, deep red tomatoes to boost your potassium intake.
A mixture of rice and lentils cooked raw together, mjadara is one of the healthiest options for a diabetic patient, especially when replacing rice with grouts and seasoned with turmeric along with cumin. It is low in glycaemic index, which means it can control the sharp elevation of your blood sugar. It is high in protein, is free of cholesterol for a healthy heart and is rich in anticancer properties. You may add dried pomegranate instead of caramelised fried onions to enhance its benefits.
Lentil soup is a common Jordanian vegetarian soup the winter. Lentils are boiled with water and then well blended, with fresh chopped parsley added on top with a squeeze of fresh lemon. This healthy soup doesn’t only keep us warm but also controls blood sugar levels. It is a rich source of protein and can get even healthier when we use 50 per cent lentils with the combination of zucchini and carrots seasoned with cumin and turmeric and black pepper to the soup.
Hedge mustard with yogurt
An amazing plant with superior benefits common in the northern areas of Jordan, the hedge mustard is a plant rich in flavour. It is usually mixed with yoghurt after it gets washed and chopped, salted and squeezed. This herb has so many therapeutic benefits as an expectorant (helps clears up mucus), is antibacterial, antifungal and enhances the contractility of the cardiac muscle. When mixed with yoghurt, it works as a prebiotic, sterilizing the intestine and enhancing the growth of the beneficial bacteria that is rich in iron, magnesium and folic acid. The hedge mustard can help you control your blood sugar, especially when you add to it one to two teaspoons of olive oil with a small piece of bread.
Bedouin coffee and mint tea
No Jordanian meal is complete without the Bedouin culture of hospitality with Arabic coffee or tea with fresh mint. These two hot drinks are common after a large meal as they help you digest the food, enhance your immune system and boost your metabolism. Try mixing them with slices of ginger.
It is said that our actions define what we are. I would add that our diet defines what we want to be. By combining traditional diet with modern nutrition, we can enhance the quality of healthy living and enjoy the taste of culture!