Monday, 31 May 2010

Flying fit

On my flight back from Amsterdam this weekend I was presented with a packet of Dorman's cocktail mix (a bag of processed flour, sugar and milk proteins) with my glass of water and found myself wishing they were giving out Dorman's mixed nuts instead (delicious if too salty for me to recommend). So given the generally poor quality of aeroplane food how can you have a healthy flight?

For short flights try and eat before you get on the plane or if you're in a hurry grab some food in the terminal and eat on the plane. This means you can have something healthy and use the flight to catch-up on some sleep - most of us don't sleep enough so cat napping is a good use of a flight. Airports have a much better selection of food than they used to, I usually pick something up at Pret or EAT and fresh sushi is often available. A lot of airports now have juice bars so take the opportunity to top up your vitamin C and ward off plane germs with a fresh fruit or vegetable juice.

For long-haul flights aeroplane food is often unavoidable. Ordering the gluten-free or vegetarian options will usually get you a healthier option so worth doing even if your not veggie or gluten intolerant. Vegetarian food is often easier to digest than meat so can also be a good idea given it's often difficult to sit properly in a plane. Always skip the pudding, unless it's fruit, and instead pack some healthy snacks to keep hunger at bay. All the snacksbelow have a long shelf life so pack enough for the return flight:
Dried fruit (check no added sugar)
Unsalted nuts
Nairns oat cakes
Laar or Fruitus bars
Bounce protein balls

Avoid alcohol, tea and coffee as these will dehydrate you. Instead ask for water when the drinks trolley comes round and try and drink plenty of water before you get on the plane and as soon as you get off.

If your flight is long enough for more than just sleeping (the best use of a flight if you can get comfortable) use it to have some relaxing me time: catch-up on some non-work reading, listen to some of your favourite relaxing music or make the most of the inflight entertainment and watch your favourite sitcoms or enjoy a movie. Go for comedy over drama/horror - laughing is a great stress-buster and anti-ager whilst movies which evoke negative emotions such as fear or sadness can encourage the production of stress hormones in the body.

Always pack your flight socks and take a walk around the cabin when you wake up, also pack some anti-bacterial wipes to clean your hands before eating. Ear plugs or good sound-blocking ear-phones are a good idea to keep your trip much more relaxing - especially if you get sat near a toddler!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Planet organic

I was asked recently if organic food was really more nutritious and therefore worth the money?

Whilst studies quoted by the Soil Association show organic fruit and veg do have higher vitamin levels my main reason for eating organic food is not for any extra nutrients but for what it is missing compared to regular food.

This includes antibiotics, toxic pesticides, growth hormone (why organic chickens are much smaller than non-organic) and hormone disrupting chemicals (also found plastic food packaging and tap water) which all have negative health implications. Whatever the research says I personally wouldn't want to consume any of these by choice and so try and eat organic whenever possible.

Organic food is undoubtedly more expensive, although the price is coming down, so if you need to prioritise make sure all your meat and dairy produce are organic and buy regular fruit and veg (but wash thoroughly before use). If you've got time and a spare corner of garden you can grow your own fruit and veg organically at home. When buying organic food look for the Soil Association stamp, as the leading UK organic regulator they have some of the more stringent criteria to get their seal of approval.

Hope you all enjoy the long weekend.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Breaking through the plateau

I don't want to spend too many blogs talking about weight loss, as nutritional therapy is about getting someone in a state of optimum health, not just slim. However it is the topic I get asked the most about and being a healthy weight is vital for good health.

This week I've had a couple of questions about weight loss plateaus. These occur commonly after someone has experienced a few months or weeks of regular weight loss and then find the weight stops coming off despite continuing the same diet and exercise programme. Weight loss will naturally slow down as you approach your ideal weight, but if you plateau before that point how do you restart the weight loss?

Eat really regularly and combine carbs with protein in every meal and snack to keep your metabolism stoked up and blood sugar levels stable. If you cut carbs or calories too much your body is likely to adapt by slowing your metabolism which can lead to a weight-loss plateau. If you think snacking/eating regularly will make you gain weight check out for inspiration!

Go super low GI - High GI carbs and sugars are the enemy to weight loss. It therefore can help to have a couple of weeks on very low GI carbohydrates (rather than low and medium). This means no added sugar, white flour, white rice, bread (other than rye), rice or corn cakes, potatoes and dried or tropical fruit. This leaves the following: rye bread, pulses (any type but no added sugar), rolled oats or no sugar oat cakes, ryvita, peas, wholegrain rice, quinoa or wholegrain spaghetti (rather than penne or other pasta).

Make sure you're drinking enough water - this is an input in the chemical reaction for producing energy in your cells and therefore needed to burn fat.

Refresh your exercise routine - the body adapts to anything it deals with on a regular basis so rather than upping your exercise it can be just as effective to change your routine and give your body a new challenge. If you only do weights or cardio try mixing the two or try some new classes down the gym especially ones that involve all muscle groups (such as body attack/martial arts/circuit training).

The same applies to food - try not to eat the same foods every day, this can become dull very quickly and also the lack of variety increases the chances of developing nutrient deficiencies. Even if you eat a varied diet you may want to consider taking supplements - B vitamins, magnesium and essential fats are all needed for fat burning so if you're not getting enough in your diet it may hamper weight loss.

Eat at least six portions of fruit and veg a day as the nutrients in these help you burn fat and detoxify.

Keep a food diary - you may have started with an excellent diet but it's easy for bad habits to creep back in. Watch out for caffeine, sugary snacks and refined carbs. Alcohol and soft drinks are also often overlooked as sources of calories, sticking to water and herb tea can make a big difference.

Make sure you get enough sleep - stress will stop you losing weight and if you're doing lots of exercise this is stressful on the body so you will need more sleep to recover. If I'm exercising regularly I naturally need an extra hours sleep a night - so aim to go to bed early enough to wake naturally (8-9hrs sleep).

Spice up your life!

No it's not another Spice Girls comeback, thank goodness, but the follow-on to last weeks blog on beneficial herbs.

Adding spices to your food is an easy way to add some powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and all round health boosters to your diet whilst adding flavour.

Here are my favourites spices and some ideas on how to use them:

Ginger - a warming antioxidant spice with anti-inflammatory and blood thinning properties. A great addition to stir fries, and included in Mondays soy chicken recipe. I also like to put it through the juicer when making veg juices and blend into smoothies - see recipe below.

Turmeric - from the same family as ginger so has similar health properties. Is traditionally used in curries but also works well with sweet foods. I like it stirred into porridge, muesli or fruit salad and blended into fruit smoothies (see recipe below).

Cinnamon - helps balance blood sugar levels and keep sugar-cravings at bay. Cinnamon gives foods the illusion of sweetness without having to add sugar so is a good addition to porridge or sugar-free muesli, and if you haven't kicked the coffee habit sprinkle on your cappuccino!

Chillies - a very warming spice! Boosts the metabolism and the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties. However be careful not to start adding chillies to everything as they can be harsh on the stomach. Add fresh chillies or chilli flakes to casseroles to liven them up and have a medium to hot curry to help fight off a cold. If, like me, you unfortunately can't eat (or don't like) chillies then curcumin (pimento) has very similar properties.

Garlic - lots of research has shown the cardiovascular health benefits of eating garlic - lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels whilst boosting circulation. Garlic is also great for the immune system and a tasty addition to most recipes, particularly tomato based sauces/casseroles and vegetable dishes. Blend one clove with three fresh tomatoes, a little salt, pepper and olive oil, and serve on (or dip in) toasted rye or spelt bread as a healthy alternative to bruschetta.

Breakfast smoothie:
Adapted from 'The source' by Dr Woodon Merrell:
100g mixed frozen berries
120ml pomegranate or cherry juice
60ml water
90ml soya or rice milk (unsweetened)
Half tsp finely grated/chopped fresh ginger root
Quarter teaspoon each of cinnamon and turmeric
Half tbsp of ground flax seed

Blend ingredients til smooth and enjoy.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Some healthy brain washing

If most food adverts and film/tv product placements were to be believed the way to be slim, attractive and full of energy would be to live on a diet of chocolate biscuits, sugar laden breakfast cereals and fizzy diet drinks.

Sadly alot of people fall for this advertising and even the more intelligent viewer who knows it's nonsense can get lured into eating branded processed foods - even a nutritionist can succumb!

If I do ever find the 'rubbish' creeping back into my diet I turn to my antidote for junk food advertising: 'Slim 4 Life' by Jason Vale. This book is an easy, slightly trashy, read - the equivalent of Chick Lit for nutritionists! But it does a great job at brainwashing the reader into wanting to eat healthy food, sort of like the Alan Carr method but for junk food instead of cigarettes.

I don't agree with his approach 100 per cent, for example there is too much emphasis on juicing and the fruit only breakfast/food combining approach is not what I subscribe to. But he also makes some excellent points/observations - here are my favourites but you'll have to read the book to benefit from the brain washing:

The optimum diet for maximum health should be based in fruit and veg - these should form the bulk of your diet (rather than carbs as in the traditional food pyramid) and are the secret to lasting weight loss. Vegetable juices and fruit smoothies can be a useful way to up your intake.

Diets don't work - by this Jason means the traditional calorie restrictive diets and I totally agree. In the long-run these diets lead to a slow-down in metabolism and can also lead to binge eating/cravings as a consequence of the restrictive nature. The key to healthy sustainable weight loss is to focus on the quality of your food rather than the quantity and you don't have to feel deprived or be hungry to lose weight.

It is important to be physically active every day, but also important to enjoy exercising so spend some time thinking about what exercise/activities you enjoy and do those rather than getting bored on the treadmill.

Processed foods and refined sugars/carbohydrates can be addictive and so it's important to recognise these drug-like qualities and make it your goal to kick the habit.

It is important to eat when you have a 'real' hunger rather than a 'mental hunger'. If you eat for emotional reasons you will never feel satisfied and will over-eat.

Water intake is vital for good health - our body is mainly made up of water and it is essential for so many functions in the body. Drinking water, herb tea and eating lots of water-rich fruit and veg are all important for optimum health.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Salmon, soy and pak choi

Due to popular demand I'm going to start including some healthy, but always tasty, recipes in my blog.

This is an old recipe from the brilliant Sunday times low GI series from four years ago .. thank you to my sister for reminding me about it!

This recipe contains salmon, high in the essential omega 3 fats I talked about last week, as well as ginger, which is a natural anti-inflammatory. By cooking the salmon in a parcel you save the juices and use very little fat.

Whilst you cook the salmon cook some wholegrain or brown rice to serve with it.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees celsius.

Mix the following ingredients in a small saucepan, stir until the honey has dissolved and simmer for 4-5mins until reduced:

1tbsp each of soy sauce (with no added sugar) and sake, sherry or rice wine
1 tsp each of fresh finely chopped or grated ginger and honey or agave syrup.
2 tbsp water

Once reduced, remove the sauce from the heat and add 1 tbsp lime juice.

Brush a large sheet of foil with 1 tsp sesame oil and place two salmon steaks (200g each) on the foil, turn on the oil and leave skin side down, side by side. Pull up the sides of the foil, pour on the reduced sauce and then fold the edges of the foil together to create a lose parcel with thick edges. Cook for 15-20mins.

Whilst the salmon cooks, cut up and steam two pak choi for two minutes/until tender.

Serve the salmon on a bed of rice with any sauce left in the parcel spooned over the salmon and pak choi.


Thursday, 20 May 2010

The fats of life

I was recently asked what I thought was the healthiest fat to cook with and it reminded me that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about whether fats are good or bad for you and what types were healthiest.

I think it is a common mistake of people dieting or trying to eat healthily to dramatically cut their fat intake. Whilst saturated fats (fats from meat and dairy) and trans or hydrogenated fats (fats found commonly in processed, baked goods and processed oils/margarine) should be limited, you should make sure you have a regular intake of the essential fats. These are called 'essential' as they are necessary for the body to functions properly. They support brain function, energy production/fat burning, healthy skin, cardiovascular health and hormone balance.

So which fats are essential and which foods contain them?

Omega 3 fats, found in oily fish and sunflower and flax seeds. The omega 3 fats in fish are easier for the body to use than the plant sources which is why you should eat oily fish 2-3 times a week. But flax seeds are still beneficial and a valuable source for vegetarians. I add powdered flax seeds to muesli or blend it into smoothies.

Omega 6 fats are found in safflower, sunflower and other seeds and nuts and I try and have at least a tablespoon of nuts or seeds daily. The standard british diet generally contains more omega 6 fats than omega 3 fats due to the high use of sunflower oil in cooking and processed foods.

It is important to have a balance of these fats as they compete for use in the body so if you eat a lot more of one than the other try and redress the balance.

Omega 9 fats, found in olive oil, are not essential like omega 3 and omega 6 fats but are still better for you than saturated fats.

And in answer to the cooking question - olive oil, coconut fat and butter are more stable at higher temperatures so better to use in cooking than other fats or oils when cooking.

Hope you have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A taste of summer

Finally a sunny day in the city! It was nice to see everyone topping up their vitamin d levels at lunchtime - they must have read my blog ;-)

I enjoyed my ten minutes of sunshine with a lemonade from Leon (sweetened with fructose rather than sugar) where I also picked up one of their super healthy and tasty chicken superfood salads.

I'm always more inclined to eat salad and raw foods in the summer and they make such quick and healthy meals that if you enjoy them, especially now it's warmed up, you should have them as often as you can.

Good salads are easily available in the city if you don't have time to make one for lunch, I like M+S tuna and bean, any of the Leon salads, EAT superfood and pret Italian chefs salad or health and hummous. I also always keep a baby leaf salad in the fridge to have with my dinner.

However if you've time to make a salad for lunch or dinner you can put together a delicious salad in minutes based on these healthy components. Be creative and chop and change ingredients to keep it interesting:

Start with a base of green leaves - spinach, rocket and watercress are all much more nutritious than iceberg lettuce so try and include some dark green leaves.

Add extra vegetables - at least two different types aim for a range of colours. My favourites are raw peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, beetroot and carrot or cooked courgettes, peas or aubergine.

Add some lean protein - such as boiled egg, salmon (smoked or cooked), smoked or tinned mackerel or any oily fish, chicken or turkey (preferably organic), cooked prawns or tofu (I like to marinade with green curry paste and coconut cream to add flavour).

Add a tablespoon of healthy fats - found in seeds, chopped nuts (I like pecans or walnuts), olive oil or half an avocado.

Add some low GI carbohydrates - such as pulses, new potatoes, wholegrain (or gluten free) pasta, brown rice, cubed cooked sweet potato, quinoa.

Optional extras:
Add a tablespoon of fresh herbs - dill, parsley. coriander, basil or any you like.

Add a taste booster - something to liven up your salad - limit to one of the following:
A tablespoon of dried fruit eg. sultanas or chopped apricots
Half an apple or pear diced
1 tbsp chopped sun dried tomatoes
1 tbsp pitted olives
1 tbsp of pesto or sacla stir in pasta sauce if you're having pasta in your salad
1 tbsp healthy dressing - either homemade french (olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and mustard) or Newman's own vinaigrette.

Mix it all together and serve immediately or refrigerate in a container to take to work for lunch. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Helpful herbs

Often health advice involves cutting down on foods ... eat less meat, less sugar, less saturated fat, drink less alcohol ... yada, yada, yawn, yawn!

But eating healthily isn't just about deprivation and herbs and spices are a great addition providing both flavour and health benefits, ranging from fighting off bacteria to helping digestion. I try and add herbs and spices to at least one meal a day and think it's a really easy way to give yourself a health boost.

Chopped fresh herbs don't last very long and if you can grow your own that's brilliant, but even a inept gardener like myself can keep a potted herb from the supermarket alive for a couple of weeks with a bit of water. Alternatively freeze chopped fresh herbs and add to your cooking as and when you need them. I also keep a wide range of dried herbs to hand.

Here are some of my favourites:

Mint - soothes the digestive tract. Add chopped fresh mint to fruit salad or brew fresh leaves into mint tea just by adding hot water (also great in cocktails and with Pimms but not so healthy)!

Coriander - an excellent detoxifier with anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties as well. I add fresh to salads, stir fried and my beloved pad thai, also good as a soup garnish.

Basil - good for the immune and digestive systems and brings the taste of Italy to any dish. I add fresh to all salads, also good in pasta dishes.

Sage - anti bacterial and thought to be beneficial for the respiratory system. I add dried sage to omelettes or to chicken breast (along with some thyme) before steam-frying and serve with veggies.

Oregano - anti microbial and anti fungal. I use dried in all tomato based dishes and is also good in omelettes and soups.


Monday, 17 May 2010

How to avoid a sneezy spring

I talk a lot about food allergies/intolerances but this is because they are so common and can exacerbate so many health conditions.

As well as causing, fatigue, wheat gain, mood swings and skin and digestive conditions, eating a food you are intolerant to can make your immune system more sensitive to other allergens. This includes pollen, so if you suffer from hayfever you may get relief from avoiding certain foods.

The most common food allergens are listed below. By avoiding each one separately for two weeks at a time you should be able work out if any of these are aggravating your hay fever, however it may be a good idea to start by cutting out dairy and wheat (the two most common food allergens) straight away.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet can also help reduce allergic reactions, including hayfever, but I'll save that diet for another blog!

Top 10 food allergens:
Sesame seeds


Sunday, 16 May 2010

The pecking order

Having added back fish into my diet, following my veggie experiment, I have now added chicken back in. I have to say the first chicken I had last week wasn't as tasty as I'd hoped but that may have been something to do with the quality.

You see not all chickens are equal. Courtesy of different farming techniques one chicken can be very different to another. Low-cost chickens are intensively farmed, injected with growth hormones, laden with chemicals and pumped full of water and starch. These same hormones have been linked with hormone-related cancers and the manifestation of a 'male menopause' due to increased oestrogen intake. Obviously if there was conclusive evidence these farming practices would be banned altogether however common sense should tell us eating meat pumped full of hormones and antibiotics can't be good for us!

Organic chickens on the other hand must be reared in more humane conditions and will be free of the chemicals and hormones found in non-organic chicken and usually the meat tastes better as a result.

Due to the way it's reared organic meat is more expensive but the price is coming down and Asda seems to offer the cheapest organic meat. Personally if the cost is an issue I think it's better to eat less meat so that you can afford to buy organic. I also look for the 'Freedom' label on non-organic meat which means it's been reared in a humane way (monitored by the RSPCA). Buying organic chicken thigh meat rather than breast meat can be more economical and if you cook it with an electric grill some of the extra fat will drain away.

So do yourself and the chickens a favour and try switching to organic.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Voting with your feet

The result of UK election continues to dominate the papers this week, but for anyone sick of hearing about it I want to talk about a different kind of voting.

This is the power of voting with your feet when it comes to buying food. As consumers we have a lot more power than we may realise over what the supermarkets sell us. I personally would like to see more organic food available in the supermarket and so make a point of buying organic whenever possible even if that means buying from a few different shops. I have noticed a significant increase in organic fruit and vegetables stocked in the Tesco local to my office over the last year and so there must be other city folk also buying more organic food.

This is great news as this will not only encourage Tesco to stock more organic produce but will also lead other supermarkets to follow suit making organic food even more available. Furthermore the increased demand will bring the prices down making organic food more affordable for everyone.

It's not just organic food that has grown through consumer demand over the last couple of years. 'Free from' ranges of gluten, dairy and other allergen free foods have expanded massively. Sainsburys started the trend in 2002 and when their 'Free from' range proved popular the other major supermarkets followed suit.

In a similar way I'm sure the success of Pret led to the appearance of a host of healthy lunch spots in the city including a couple of my favourite healthy lunchtime eateries: Leon, Pod and Chop'd.

So if when you're doing your grocery shop or buying your lunch remember you're not just shopping for that day but voting for what you want to be able to buy more of in the future .. so use your vote wisely!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Seven a day

I was reading an article today on cancer prevention by top nutritionist Patrick Holford in which he advocated eating seven or more portions of fruit and veg per day. Whilst
I think your average Joe probably struggles to eat five a day, seven is achievable and worth trying to do.

Firstly what counts as a portion?

1 medium sized fruit such as an orange, apple or pear, 2 small fruits such as apricots or plums, half a cup of chopped fruit or vegetables or a cup of salad.
I don't count potatoes or dried fruit as portions, but do allow one portion to be a fresh fruit or vegetable juice or smoothie (not more due to the high concentration of fruit sugars). I also recommend not eating more portions of fruit than you have of veg.

So how do you get your seven a day?

The key is to get into the habit of having at least one portion of fruit or veg with every meal or snack you have:

Breakfast: start your day with a fruit salad (2 portions) or add some chopped fruit or berries to your muesli or cereal (1 portion). If you're having a cooked breakfast have some grilled tomato and/or mushrooms (1 portion each).

Lunch: having a mixed salad at lunch is a great opportunity to up your veggie intake and can easily have 2-3 portions of veg in it. If you're having a hot lunch have a vegetable side and some fruit for dessert (2 portions).

Snack: Have a palmful of nuts and a piece of fruit (1 portion), a fruit smoothie with natural yoghurt (1 portion), a carrot stick and hummous snack pack (1 portion) or a mini salad pot (M+S + Tescos) (1 portion).

Dinner: get into the habit of starting your dinner with a salad whether at home or in a restaurant (1-2 portions) and always have a vegetable side with your main meal (1 portion). If you've got room for pudding have some mixed berries (frozen or fresh) or a baked apple (1 portion).

Bar Snacks; along with the vine leaves, bread sticks and potato wedges order some olives, sun dried tomatoes or artichoke hearts (1 portion).

And just in case it needs clarifying having a peach bellini or an olive in your martini doesn't count!


Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Quick fixes

Life in the city can be pretty hectic and I'm sure a lot of unhealthy eating can be blamed on a lack of time for preparing food.

Most instant meals or easy snacks are low in nutrients and high in refined carbohydrates and fats. However in striving to be healthy whilst juggling a busy schedule I have come up with some pretty healthy suppers that can be prepared almost as quickly as a microwave ready meal, and I thought might be useful to share with you.
Bon appetit!

Salad: buy a ready washed baby leaf salad, add some tinned (drained) pulses (chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans etc.) for carbs, some smoked mackerel or smoked salmon for protein, add some chopped tomatoes/peppers and jazz up with some sun dried tomatoes, seeds, olives, anchovies or whatever you have in the cupboard. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Omelette: a very quick hot dinner. Beat two raw eggs, add salt and pepper and dried herbs (sage and oregano work well). Pour into a hot oiled frying pan. Once the egg is in the pan and slightly cooked top it with some chopped spinach, tomatoes and a little goats cheese. When the omelette is ready serve it folded in half and the goats cheese will melt.

Soup: an easy and filling meal or snack and the big supermarkets all stock fresh ranges. I've enjoyed Waitrose three bean and Tesco organic lentil and tomato soups recently. Go for soups with lots of veg in them and avoid those with added cream or sugar. Heat in the microwave and serve with a couple of slices of rye bread, ryvita or rice cakes.

Stuffed pita: stuff a wholemeal pita with
ready roasted chicken, or roast chicken or turkey slices, a generous amount or rocket and a teaspoon of mayo. For a veggie alternative swap the chicken for hummous and add some chopped peppers.

Instant wholegrain rice: not as good for you as freshly boiled brown rice due to the pre-cooking and addition of oil, but very useful to keep in the cupboard for emergencies. Microwave the rice, then microwave some frozen mixed veg. Mix the rice and veg together and add some Sacla stir in pasta sauce. Serve with some salad leaves and smoked mackerel, cooked chicken, or a grilled veggie burger. Alternatively heat some seame oil in a frying pan over a medium heat add the rice and mixed veg, a little no sugar soyasauce (clearspring or kikoman) and pour over a beaten egg, as it starts to cook stir it to break it up - voila super quick egg fried rice!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Lessons from a princess

This weekend I went to the Grace Kelly Style Icon exhibition at the V&A museum in London showing her beautiful clothes from her days as an actress and the crown princess of Monaco.

Grace was 5 foot 6 tall and a size 4-6 when she married Prince Rainier in 1956, perhaps a little on the slim side, but there has been an undeniable trend of expanding female waistlines since the 1950s and it got me thinking - how did women stay so slim before the advent of the gym, pilates and MBTs?

Women walked a lot more: Not everyone had a car and even princess Grace walked her children to school every day. Leisure activities were also more physical - playing tennis, swimming and dancing, rather than sitting for hours in the pub or vegging out on the sofa with a copy of Grazia!

Cheating with corsets: These cinched in the waistline creating an hourglass silhouette however they also stopped over-indulging. The advent of the tracksuit has made gorging a lot more comfortable - it's just not possible to eat a whole bag of doritos whilst wearing a tight-fitting boned corset.

Clothes were more expensive and less disposable: Nowadays if you go up a dress size you can buy a whole new wardrobe for £50 at primark ... in the 50s clothes were relatively more expensive and made to last. Even Grace re wore her designer clothes to red carpet events - now unheard of in celebrity circles.

Snacking was not socially acceptable: It wasn't the done thing to eat on public transport or whilst walking down the street and if you did want something to eat snacks were not so readily available. You didn't have the plethora of corner shops and fast food outlets we have today, to grab a quick bite.

Unhealthy food was expensive: Nowadays eating junk food and ready made dinners can be the cheapest way to feed a family, however pre-prepared foods were practically unheard of in the 50s and unhealthy foods such as butter and sugar were expensive and reserved for treats.

Being a housewife was hard work: Along with spending more time preparing food, more time was spent on chores which were much more physically demanding in the absence of todays modern gadgets. Being a housewife burnt alot more calories than sitting at a computer for 9 hours a day. I doubt Grace did the cleaning but she was apparently a keen gardener and also liked to prepare her childrens dinners.

So if you can't face the gym, hope is not lost - take some inspiration from a princess!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Fishy business

Since giving up my vegetarianism I am pleased to report that I haven't yet had the roast chicken binge I was anticipating.  Instead I have continued to eat quite a few vegetarian meals including a delicious tofu gluten and dairy free lasagne for dinner tonight (honestly much tastier than it sounds!) and have only reintroduced fish into my diet.

Fish is an excellent source of protein and minerals and in the case of oily fish essential fats (omega 3) important for skin and hormone and brain health and particularly associated with memory and concentration.  I remember eating fish everyday whilst taking my second year economics exams in a desperate bid to help remember some of the less interesting modules!

Unfortunately, due to the dumping of chemicals, pesticides and industrial waste into the rivers and oceans eating too much fish can lead to the accumulation of heavy metals, such as mercury, and harmful toxins in the body.  So once again eating healthily becomes a minefield ... should we eat fish or shouldn't we?

I'm definitely in favour of eating fish, but as with all foods moderation is key (I limit my intake to no more than 4 portions of fish a week, with a maximum 3 portions of oily fish) and knowing which fish are lowest in toxins can help you make healthier choices.   In the past I have been known to eat alot of tuna (when on a high protein diet for weight training) however it is the larger fish such as tuna and swordfish that tend to have higher levels of toxins as they eat the smaller fish, accumulating toxins up the food chain.  So it is healthier to eat smaller fish such as sardines, pilchards and mackeral which have lower toxin and heavy metal content. Haddock, salmon and halibut are also good choices.  When buying salmon, in order of lowest toxin levels, the first choice is wild pacific salmon, followed by wild atlantic followed by organic farmed. 

So if you're a tuna fiend it might be time to try some alternatives and if you're not a fish eater maybe now is the time to start!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Grumpy and hungry

I've managed to sustain a running injury and am therefore rather tetchy. This I because I'm now not able to do any cardio and can't run around in my beloved high heels. I also now have a big appetite and limited opportunities to burn off the calories.

This is a common problem for regular exercisers - when you're training you can eat more than usual to fuel the exercise whilst staying in shape but as soon as you stop exercising the pounds can pile on. I generally find it takes up to a month for your appetite to regulate down to normal so what can you do to limit the damage?

Well I'm totally against appetite suppressant drugs but by understanding how appetite works you can make some sensible food choices to stave off the hunger pangs, useful for both dieters and the injured. So what makes you feel hungry and what can you do about it?

An empty stomach: Pressure on the walls of your stomach tell you that you're full.
- eat high fibre bulky low calorie foods such as fruit and veg, pulses and wholegrains, this will take up a larger volume for less calories
- start your meal by eating healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocados, oily fish as fats slow the rate of stomach emptying making you feel fuller for longer
- eat protein with every meal as protein takes twice as long to digest as carbs delaying stomach emptying
- eat soup: by blending water with food it increases the volume in your stomach without increasing the calories. Note that drinking water with a meal isn't as effective.

A drop in blood sugar levels:
When your blood sugar levels drop your appetite kicks in to get you to take in calories. When your blood sugar levels go up the hunger goes away:
- eat slowly as this feedback takes 15 minutes to kick in
- eat regularly so that your blood sugar doesn't drop too low, this avoids getting ravenous and over-eating to compensate.
- eat low GI carbohydrates which release sugars into your bloodstream more slowly, delaying a drop in blood sugar levels

Hopefully by the time my appetite is back to normal I'll be back on the treadmill!

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

It turns out I am a carnivore after all

I've come to the end of my vegetarian week and must admit I'm glad I don't have to keep it up. I've actually missed fish more than meat, but still can't wait to have some roast chicken!

Food fantasies aside.. what did I learn?

The upsides:
A vegetarian diet is cheaper as meat and fish are relatively expensive. Lunchtime trips to EAT and pret were much less punishing than usual!

I discovered some tasty new foods. I particularly enjoyed tesco mushroom burgers, heinz lentil and tomato soup, pret health and hummous salad and had a delicious aubergine curry I wouldn't have chosen normally.

I ate more pulses than usual. This was as an addition to my lunchtime salads to increase the protein content. Pulses are a good source of fibre, a very low GI carbohydrate and also contain b vitamins and I enjoyed having them in my lunch so will keep them in even when I add back meat/fish.

One unexpected upside was that I slept better which I attribute to the fact I usually eat dinner quite late and that my vegetarian meals are quicker and easier to digest than meat would be. So I'm going to try and have more vegetarian dinners especially when eating close to bedtime.

The downsides:
Most vegetarian food in restaurants contains either wheat or diary or both so although I'm going to consider vegetarian options more than before when eating out I probably won't want to eat most of them. If you're not gluten and dairy intolerant then a veggie diet would certainly be much easier.

My appetite went up. I definitely feel that I've eaten more this week in volume (possibly not in calories), and particularly eaten more carbohydrates. I think this is a double effect of eating less protein. Firstly protein helps you feel full so you will eat a smaller portion and secondly eating protein helps regulate your blood sugar levels so they take longer to drop so you are not tempted to snack so soon. I'm definitely going back to adding some chicken or fish to my lunches ... can't wait for tomorrow's tuna/pasta salad!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The benefits of food rotation

As part of my veggie week I've found myself having to eat cheese on a few occasions - it seems that most vegetarian restaurant options contain wheat or cheese or both but rarely neither. I don't eat dairy or gluten due to food intolerances and so having to eat dairy this week has reminded me of the benefits I've had from cutting certain foods out of my diet.

I don't think everyone should avoid all gluten and dairy if they're not intolerant to them, however a lot of people may not realise they have an intolerance to a food or may develop one over time through eating too much of the same foods. In addition it's easy to get into a food rut where you eat the same foods everyday which may mean you're not taking in the full range of vitamins and minerals.

This is where food rotation comes in. For those of you who did GCSE geography this is a bit like crop rotation where you let a field recover before replanting!

The idea is to avoid a food for a whole week, firstly to give your body a break from that food and secondly to help identify if you may be intolerant to it.

To do this make a list of foods you eat very regularly, starting with the ones you have every day or the foods you crave/feel you couldn't give up. This could be dairy, wheat, rice or any type of grain, nuts a particular type of fruit or vegetable (I definitely OD on tomatoes) meat or fish ... basically any individual food. For one week stop eating the food and monitor how you feel for that week and then also how you feel when you reintroduce the food. Then try for the next food type.

Signs of an intolerance may include withdrawal headaches or cravings for the food, feeling very tired when you reintroduce the food into your diet, losing weight by cutting the food out of your diet (water loss), improvement in skin condition, improvement in mood, reduced bloating and reduced cravings for other foods

If you find you don't react to any foods, then lucky you! but it is still worth rotating your foods to avoid developing intolerances and to make sure you're getting plenty of variety in your diet.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Superfood or superfad?

I was reading on a forum today a question about superfoods and whether they were genuinely beneficial and thought this question was probably relevant to others.

'Superfood' is a term usually used to describe foods particularly rich in antioxidants and other phytonutrients which therefore may make them more beneficial for health than other foods. The superfood label is also used as a marketing tool by food retailers to market the 'health' product of the moment be it acai berries or pomegranate juice.

Whilst the label is sometimes used/abused for commercial reasons I think the concept is certainly useful - making sure you eat foods particularly high in antioxidants can only be beneficial given that antioxidants benefit all the bodies systems and help slow down the ageing process.

I am always wary of fad eating and wouldn't recommend consuming large amounts of the superfood of the moment. However trying to incorporate different superfoods into your diet, perhaps a different one each day, is certainly worthwhile.

The most commonly cited superfoods are listed below, most have deep/rich colours as it is the natural pigment that holds the antioxidant benefits:

Acai berry
Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
Green or white tea
Sweet potatoes