Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Start stockpiling

Today we had our first snowfall this winter. As I'm still a child at heart waking up to a blanket of snow put me in a great mood, although I do appreciate that it can be a nuisance for anyone with a commute, especially when the council doesn't grit your road.

Anyone who lives in London knows that It snows here every year, though not normally so early, but every year transport grinds to a halt and the local authorities struggle to keep the roads clear. Whilst we can only hope that they've anticipated this years snowfall we can do our own forward planning to get us through December in one piece.

Firstly it's worth pointing out the inevitables for every December other than the snow:
- sleep will be in short supply as party season get's in full swing
- alcohol intake is pretty likely to increase
- tempting treats will be everywhere - mince pies in the office, party canapes, advent calendars, numerous christmas dinners
- free time for going to the gym or doing your food shopping will be scarce

So whilst the council stocks up on salt what should we be stockpiling?

- It can be hard to resist the chocolates and mince pies lying around the office if you're peckish so keep healthy snacks to hand. Clemintines and brazil nuts are nice christmassy desk snacks and if you find it hard to resist the chocolates keep some mini dark chocolate bars or some dark chocolate covered Brazil nuts in your desk to have instead.

- The same applies for at home - I don't keep unhealthy snacks around to tempt me but if you have them in the house for your partner or kids then make sure you have something healthy and appealing available to have instead.

- If you don't already I'd recommend keeping some snacks in your handbag (or manbag) - small bags of nuts or soya nuts, healthy snack bars or raw protein balls that you can pick up in most health food stores. It's easy to get stuck at drinks where no food is served and find yourself ravenous so make sure you have emergency provisions.

- Now is a good time to stock up the freezer so you don't get caught without food when you get home. Mine is stocked with lots of frozen veggies which can be cooked in minutes, chicken and fish which can be quickly defrosted in the microwave and frozen fruit, which can be added to muesli or porridge or defrosted with cinnamon for a quick hot dessert. It's also a good idea to freeze some sliced bread and stock your cupboards with pasta, rice and tinned pulses. From these you can easily rustle up a quick dinner leaving maximum time for much needed sleep!

- I think a fair amount of tea drinking in winter months can be put down to keeping warm, especially if your office is as cold as mine, so stock up on herbal teas to keep you warm without the caffeine. I'm currently loving Yogi teas African spice Rooibos and their Choco tea which reminds me of the german iced christmas biscuits.

- Stock up on supplements so you don't run out and start taking them regularly. I always take a multi plus extra vitamin C. For colds and flu I always have echinacea, olive leaf and horse radish supplements in the cupboard and for days when I haven't had enough sleep I have B vitamin and Magnesium powder and Cherry Active to hand (all good for hangovers).

- If you are drinking then Vitamin C and milk thistle can be useful antidotes taken before going to bed and on waking, and you'll need some wholegrains for breakfast to get your blood sugar back on track, so make sure you can get your hands on some no sugar muesli, porridge or wholegrain toast.

- By the end of December we can all start looking a bit worse for wear so it's worth making the extra effort to eat or supplement enough essential fats and drink plenty of water to keep your skin looking plump and fresh.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Staying sharp

I love writing my blog but do sometimes end up writing it in a hurry so many thanks to the NITC reader who pointed out the error in last weeks blog on cholesterol (HDL cholesterol is in fact the good type, and LDL the bad). I hope you'll excuse me - we all have the occasional lapse in concentration!

Excuses aside this does make me think about staying sharp ... If you have a tough city job you're be expected to be on the ball the whole time, no matter how hungover, stressed or sleep deprived you are. However, often with age you start forgetting things, losing words and not making the same quick connections that used to impress your boss.

So what foods can help keep you on the ball?

Oily fish, nuts and seeds: Water and polyunsaturated fats are the two biggest constituents of your brain which is why it is so important to regularly eat foods containing the healthy essential fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. Infact omega 3 fats have been shown to slow the progression of alzheimers disease and may help slow other age-related deterioration. Oily fish also contain the nutrient DMAE which the brain can use to manufacture acetylcholine - a vital neurotransmitter for memory.

Green leafy veg, brown rice and oats: These foods are all rich in B vitamins which the brain uses in large quantities. A short term deficiency can quickly affect your mental acuity and B vitamin levels are significantly depleted by alcohol so it's always worth having a B vit supplement in the office to get you through a hangover.

Water: in the same way that dehydration seriously affects sports performance it also impairs mental performance. This is why it's important to stay hydrated to keep both energy and concentration levels up.

CoQ10: CoQ10 is an antioxidant vitamin that is also a key nutrient in energy production in the mitochondria of your cells. Whilst CoQ10 is often supplemented to increase physical energy levels proper brain function actually takes up a lot of energy too so it's important that your brain cell mitochondria are properly fuelled. I actually wrote my dissertation on the use of high doses of CoQ10 to slow the progression of parkinsons disease through improving the function of brain cell mitochondria - not exactly riveting reading but definitely a nutrient worth remembering. Oily fish, nuts and seeds all contain CoQ10 but you need a supplement to achieve therapeutic doses:

When it comes to supplements I'm also a big fan of resveratrol, a potent anti-aging antioxidant found in red wine which studies show can reverse cell ageing. I'm convinced that since taking resveratrol that my reflexes have sped up, although that doesn't quite constitute a clinical trial!

Use it or lose it: I've had friends complain of having 'baby brain' after coming back to work from maternity leave. I think this is partly as when you have kids your focus understandably shifts massively from work onto them. But I also think that if a particular brain function is not used for a long period then like a muscle it needs to be re-trained. This could be done by regularly reading something intellectually stimulating, doing sudoko/crosswords/logic problems, memorising your shopping list rather than putting it in your phone, or even just having a stimulating conversation ... being quick witted needs quick synapses so a bit of banter might just be good for your brain!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

When it's got to be chocolate

Most of my friends think I'm very self disciplined when it comes to treat foods as I usually turn down whatever sugary treats on offer. To be honest, since I dramatically cut down on sugar six years ago, most of the time I just don't fancy it. But I'm not immune and there are some days when only something sweet and chocolatey will do.

That was why I was excited to receive this recipe for vegan brownies which are fat, dairy and gluten free. That for starters makes them sound unappetising, before I tell you that the main ingredient is beans ... yes beans! But they're actually really tasty ... which is why my flatmate demanded I make more of them! So for anyone looking for guilt free chocolate pleasure here's the recipe:

Heat the oven to 180 degrees

Blend 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed with 1.5 cups of agave nectar until smooth.

Add 2 tbsps ground flax seeds, 2tsps pure vanilla extract, half a cup of cocoa powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp of fine sea salt, 3/4 cup of whole wheat pastry flour (I substituted gluten free bread flour).

Blend again til smooth. The recipe stops there but I then add chopped pecans and dark chocolate chips to add texture.

Pour the mix into 8x8 pan lined with foil and lightly oiled.
Bake for 30 mins/until a toothpick comes out almost clean.

Allow to cool and cut into squares.

ps whilst these are fat free the agave syrup still makes them medium to high GI and the dark chocolate means they contain caffeine ... so don't eat too many or you might end up awake all night!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The good, the bad and the crunchy

Nutrition was so much simpler in the eighties, all fat was bad and to lose weight you just had to count calories.

It was subsequently discovered that there are good and bad fats.

The good fats, that increase 'healthy' LDL cholesterol, play a very important role in the health of most of our systems and can infact speed up our metabolism helping us to lose weight. At the same time excess intake of the bad fats, that increase levels of 'unhealthy' HDL cholesterol, can contribute to the development and acceleration of a whole host of diseases and morbidity.

Now it transpires that we manufacture much more HDL cholesterol internally than we get from food and that this production is influenced significantly by our hormone balance and stress levels and can therefore be increased by eating sugar and drinking coffee ... Confused.com?

Well it's no great wonder that no one knows what they should be eating anymore ... so how do you make sense of it all?

Well the first step is to take the guess work out and have your cholesterol levels checked. It is very difficult to tell from someone's appearance what their levels will be and this is something your doctor can test for you for free so just ask next time you're there.

Once you've got the results then it will give you a guide as to what you need to be focussing on:

If your 'good' LDL levels are high and your 'bad' HDL levels are low then well done you, give yourself a pat on the back.

If you have high levels of HDL cholesterol then it's important to work to lower these through cutting down on foods naturally high in HDL cholesterol (any saturated fats, which are the fats from any meat or animal produce), adding in exercise and increasing your intake of foods that help clear cholesterol from the body (high fibre foods such as oats, pulses and vegetables). You should also work to reduce the amount of stress on the body, to help balance hormone levels, by cutting down on sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine.

If your LDL cholesterol is low then it's time to tuck into some oily fish, seeds and nuts. These foods all contain the health-giving essential fats that are such an important component in all our cells. It's also worth noting that the good and bad fats compete for use in the body so to get the benefits of the good fats you are eating you need to minimise your intake of bad fats.

Whatever your results it's important to note that it's actually fats combined with sugar that create the most serious health problems by causing glycolysation. This is where the sugar hardens the fat, in the same way that icing sugar combines with butter to make icing crunchy.

This crunchiness causes the hardening of arteries which can result in blockages or burst blood vessels which can manifest as heart attacks and strokes. It also makes all the cells in your body stiffer and less flexible contributing to skin conditions and accelerated skin ageing. Good for cakes ... not so good for your health!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Being your own Mr Motivator

There's nothing like buying a new little black dress to get me on the treadmill, especially as the Christmas party season kicks off next week! But it's good motivation to keep me in the gym and off the hula hoops!

I remember reading that Gwyneth Paltrow did 1.5 hours of exercise a day whilst following a very strict low-calorie detox diet for two weeks to get 'in shape' for filming Iron Man 2. This might sound a bit extreme and impossible to stick to ... but if I was worrying about being in a blockbuster movie, rather than going to the office party, then I might find a way!

We all have our motivators and how much we're prepared to give up in terms of bad habits or unhealthy treats for the sake of our health. I know that if what I ate had no effect on my health whatsoever I'd probably live on a diet of pie, cake and champagne, but I also know how good it feels to be healthy and full of energy ... and to not have to buy a whole new wardrobe!

Whatever your goals, whether it's to look your best for a party, have the energy to keep up with your kids, be in peak fitness for a race or just to feel great, keep it in mind when you're making your choices ... I certainly would have preferred to chill out on the sofa when I got home, but by this time next week I'll be glad I hit the gym instead!

ps. I got my dress from my favourite shop Precious, near spitalfields, which has some fab dresses in at the moment and is always worth a look: www.precious-london.com

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Why you're only as healthy as your digestive system

When I was a kid I got scurvy ... yes you read correctly ... scurvy ... the gum inflammation that pirates used to get when they went to sea for months so couldn't eat any fresh fruit of veg.

Without going into the details I can assure you this was a really unpleasant experience and one that had my doctors scratching their heads. A dose of 100 mg of vitamin C daily should be sufficient to avoid scurvy which is roughly two portions of fruit and vegetables, so given I was eating masses of home grown fruit and vegetables how was this possible?

Infact it was only much later, when I turned to nutritional therapy to address my digestive issues, that it transpired that I must have had malabsorption. This is where the lining of the intestines become inflamed preventing the proper absorption of nutrients. It has a variety of causes and in my case it was food allergies.

The point of this anecdote is that you can have the healthiest diet in the world but if you can't digest and absorb your food properly it won't be doing you any good.

I also think a lot of people with digestive problems suffer in silence, either because they're embarrassed to discuss the condition, or they have spoken to their doctor but not had success with their treatment. In some cases someone may not even realise they have a digestive problem - discussing your bowel habits isn't considered polite conversation so a lot of people don't have a point of reference as to what is normal.

For anyone about to eat breakfast I suggest you stop reading here as I'm about to get very Gillian McKeith about bowels, but for everyone else here is a rough guide as to what is or isn't normal when it comes to your digestive system:

- You should have a bowel movement between. one and three times a day. Three infact is ideal although that's not commonly known.

- It's normal for a bowel movement to be triggered by eating. Your gut is basically one long tube so as you put food in it makes sense for some to come out. If however you don't get much warning and find yourself running to the loo then this may indicate an over-sensitized gut and this should be investigated.

- Constipation can cause a build up of toxins, as well as hormonal imbalances, elevated cholesterol and can damage the intestines so shouldn't be ignored.

- Equally diarrhoea or too frequent stools can be signs of digestive disturbances that should be investigated and may lead to dehydration and nutrient deficiencies.

- I appreciate that most people don't look, but stools should be medium brown (not nearly black or too pale) and formed but soft looking

- Blood in the stools always warrants a trip to the doctors and must be investigated and regular mucus in the stools may indicate gut irritation.

- Occasional burping and wind is normal but this isn't normal if experienced after every meal. Regular foul smelling wind is usually a sign of poor digestion and should be addressed.

- Regular indigestion or heart burn after eating usually indicates insufficient stomach acid rather than too much, as is usually assumed. Excess stomach acid is usually indicated by a warm or burning feeling in the stomach that is relieved by eating.

- It is normal for the abdomen to expand after eating, particularly after a large meal, but if distension is exaggerated or lasts longer than three hours it may indicate a digestive issue.

If you think you might have a digestive problem your first stop should be your doctor, but nutritional therapy can also be very helpful in this area. Remember you're only as healthy as your gut so don't ignore any symptoms.

Monday, 22 November 2010

What are you really eating?

I had an amusing conversation with a friend over the weekend about her and her boyfriend's tesco clubcard vouchers.

For anyone who doesn't have a clubcard, I should explain that you are periodically sent money off vouchers for the foods you often buy. My friends vouchers were for pretty regular healthy food, vegetables, chicken, fish, bread, milk ... however she was amused to see that her boyfriends vouchers included beer, wine and cheesecake!

I loved the diet snapshot these vouchers presented, but you can also tell a lot about someone from their basket at the checkout ... I like to nose at what people are buying and make assumptions about them:

- 1 pint of milk, a few single fruit and veg, ready meals for one: young, single female

- multi-packs of everything, lots of frozen foods, whole chicken, three loaves of bread, six pints of milk: big family

- some fruit and veg, fresh meat or fish, bottle of wine, GU chocolate pud: young couple

- big pack of chicken breasts, brown bread and pasta, pre-prepared veggies, eggs, chocolate bar or biscuits: male gym goer

- kipling cakes, sherry, piece of fish: old lady

- organic fruit and veg, gluten free bread and pasta, mackerel, seeds:, volvic: me!

For those of us who don't do one big weekly shop it can be hard to have an accurate picture of what you're eating over a week - I certainly find with food diaries that people have to write them as they go, as if asked to remember what they've eaten that week a lot gets left out! A food diary is a great way to have a regular check of your diet and whether it's gotten out of balance - have crisps crept in everyday, have you gotten out the habit of eating vegetables?

I always like it on diet programmes where they lay out on a table everything that person ate in a week - I think that would be a real eye opener for most of us, but a more practical alternative is to keep all your food receipts for seven days and then read then all through in one go. See which foods are eaten very regularly and which foods are missing - you might be surprised by what your receipts reveal.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sunday satisfaction

I was treated to a lovely Sunday roast today, the perfect comfort meal on a wintery day. However, unlike a lot of traditional english fare, a Sunday roast can infact be a pretty healthy lunch.

It combines protein, carbs and veggies and the issue of too much fat is easily addressed. Just trim the fat off your pork or beef and take the skin off your chicken or turkey, have boiled new potatoes instead of roasties (if you can bare it!) and avoid the crackling (I couldn't resist today).

If you're having pork apple sauce is also delicious but doesn't need the sugar - just stew and puree some fresh apples. A lot of shop bought gravies also have added sugar or flavourings but it's easy to make your own by thickening up the roasting juices with some corn flour.

I'm afraid I've not worked out a healthy alternative to yorkshire puds but most stuffing mixes are low-fat.

A good roast should always be served with plenty of veg. Today I had peas and braised cabbage with apple but there's a whole host of options. Aim to include a range of colours: orange: sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash; green: leeks, greens, spinach, peas, courgettes; purple: cabbage, cooked beetroot (no vinegar). If you don't cook your veggies to death school dinners style and add herbs, garlic or olive oil to add flavour they can be very tasty.

Huge portions and roast dinners do seem to go hand in hand. Ideally you wouldn't eat a huge mountain of food every Sunday lunch but if you are going to have big meal it's better to have it at lunchtime then dinner.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


I read an article today on lovemoney.com about the increasing prices of food. I've certainly noticed my food bill has gone up in the last few months whilst my diet hasn't changed.

Obviously in this time of austerity rising food bills are not what we need, but I wasn't on board with one of lovemoney's suggestions to save money by cutting back on organic food.

Personally I try and buy organic whenever I can, both for my health and to encourage shops to stock more organic food which has already over time reduced the price differential over regular food, so I definitely don't want everyone to stop buying organic.

I also think that health is paramount, especially in more stressful times, and so hate the idea of it being de-prioritized to save money.

Instead I think we should take the same approach to money as to calories - I recommend making every calorie count for your health - so never waste your calories on unhealthy processed foods when you could be eating something fresh and nutrient rich. The same can apply to money - don't waste it buying nutrient devoid processed junk, even it's 2 for 1!

Instead aim to get the most nutrients you can for your buck. This means buying fresh seasonal veggies, lean white meats instead of red meat (interestingly beef prices have risen dramatically whilst turkey is infact cheaper than last year), nuts, seeds and fruit instead of crisps and chocolate and wholegrain carbs instead of refined carbs (which will make you feel hungrier sooner). Meat is always relatively expensive so if you're a big carnivore experiment with introducing a few vegetarian meals a week to cut costs and improve your health.

I appreciate I'm starting to sound like my mother (hi mum!) but eating simply and healthily is better for you ... both your waistline and your wallet.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Know your limits

I'm loving all the feedback and comments on my blog - please keep mailing in any comments or suggested topics and I'll do my best to cover them. One request I've been meaning to respond to for a while is a blog on alcohol.

Now may not seem like a good time to be preaching the virtues of teetotalism, but given that most people drink the most in December now is probably a good time to try and convert some people into cutting down.

I infact drink very rarely, and by that I mean less than once a month. A few years ago I had to give up alcohol for health reasons for six months and when I drank again found firstly that I had become very sensitive to alcohol - having much worse hangovers than previously - but I also realised how much healthier and happier I felt if I didn't drink.

There were two reasons for this, firstly alcohol is a depressive drug. This is a fact - however upbeat you might feel when you're drunk in the long run regular drinking will lower your mood and for some people can infact lead to or exacerbate depression.

Secondly alcohol leaches b vitamins out of your system. This group of vitamins are key inputs into the energy production cycle in our cells which is one of the reasons you feel so tired when you're hungover.

If you're trying to lose weight alcohol can also really hinder progress. It provides empty calories (as in low in nutrients) and it's easy to drink 500-1000 calories in an evening. Alcohol also massively disregulates blood sugar levels leading to carbohydrate cravings both that evening (chips anyone?) and the next day and excess insulin production by the pancreas.

To be honest there are lots of reasons why you shouldn't drink to excess - fertility issues, liver damage, ageing, damage to brain cells, diabetes, heart disease - and I think, like smoking, most people know this but still choose to push these facts to the back of their minds and drink half a bottle of wine a night without thinking anything of it.

If you do drink regularly it's worth checking your intake against the government guidelines of 2-3 units per day for a woman and 3-4 for a man, this works out roughly to be one large glass of wine or two pints respectively.

The first thing to remember is that these levels are suggested as MAXIMUMS - not targets to aim for. You might think they are pretty low but if you regularly drink more than this amount then you ARE damaging your health (whether it's antioxidant rich red wine or not). Secondly you shouldn't drink everyday and equally shouldn't 'save up' your units for a big binge on one night.

When it comes to christmas party season and you're out almost every night, then you'll either have to have some alcohol free social events or get good at just having one or two drinks and then stopping. If you're a big drinker this may seem alien at first but alternating with soft drinks and water makes it easier.

Personally I find that most people are ok with you not drinking at all (although a bit surprised unless your driving) but that if you have just one drink they're much more likely to try and pressure you into having many more. The key is to realise that you can still have a fun night out without needing to be drunk - something I've learnt over the years and to which my friends can attest - particularly after last weekends karaoke!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Yoghurt for everyone!

One of the foods I thought of including in my recent 'Superfoods' series was natural yoghurt. In the end I left it out on the basis that so many people have a lactose intolerance (though may not realise it) that it wasn't universally beneficial enough.

Thankfully, for those of us who don't eat dairy foods, there is now a natural bio soya yoghurt that isn't full of additives. It's called Sojade and os currently available only in health food stores. Like all soya products it doesn't taste as good as its dairy counterpart is totally palatable with some fruit, or low sugar fruit jam (st dalfour) stirred in.

For those who can tolerate dairy foods, plain natural yoghurt is a super easy way to add some protein to your breakfast and also an excellent snack for keeping hunger at bay til your next meal.

Organic natural bio yoghurt is the healthiest - low in fat and sugars and containing live bacteria which can help the functioning of the digestive tract.

Fruit or flavoured yoghurts should be avoided as they're full of added sugar - if you really can't stand yoghurt plain then have it with a teaspoon of chopped dates or sultanas or better still some fresh fruit.

Organic yoghurts naturally taste creamier than regular varieties. Greek yoghurt is also more luxurious tasting and low-fat greek yoghurt with some natural vanilla essence stirred in makes an excellent alternative to serve with puddings instead of cream.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The C word...

The varyingly fetching moustaches being sported around the city reminds us that we're well into Movember! It also reminds me that we're only six weeks away from Christmas!

Now I don't like to bring up the C word for no reason, personally I think decorations, lights and trees shouldn't be seen until the 1st December, but when it comes to health a bit of forward planning goes along way to mitigate the damage of festive indulgence.

I'm all in favour of enjoying the festive season and relaxing your diet and exercise routine, however it's all too easy to end up writing off the whole of December as a month long binge and finding yourself feeling seriously lethargic and under par by January.

Rather than putting yourself through a ridiculously stringent diet and exercise regime in January that you can't possibly stick to, now is a good time to take some pre-emptive steps:

- Stick to your gym routine as close up to Christmas as you can, this will keep you in great shape throughout the party season and make it a lot easier to get back into the gym after Christmas. If you get to Christmas in good shape you'll also feel much less inclined to over-eat.

- Similarly don't let your diet 'go' until the week before Christmas. It's all too easy to start a month of over indulgence from the first Christmas party. Sticking to the 80/20 rule still allows some indulgence and stay conscious of making healthy choices at parties and dinners. Just remember that when you get to Christmas you'll be able to enjoy all the festive fare without needing an elasticated waist band!

- Do enjoy Christmas properly - it's only once a year and usually a chance to enjoy some really good home cooked food. Have the best of everything rather than the cheap junk food that fills the shops this time of year (godiva dark chocolate truffles versus quality streets!) and take time to enjoy your food and be grateful for it.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Are you really relaxed?

After a very relaxing afternoon I feel, somewhat paradoxically, compelled to write about stress.

I often talk to people who if asked would say they are not stressed or anxious, but whose physical signs and symptoms all say otherwise. I don't think these individuals are trying to hide that they're stressed - they just genuinely don't realise that they are. That's because sometimes it takes being very relaxed to realise quite how stressed you are and highly strung people rarely relax properly.

If you're someone who rarely takes time to chill out and do nothing then imagine that you're somewhere you'd consider relaxing ... maybe the beach, or the countryside or the mountains. Imagine you're there on your own for a break, there's no clock to tell you when to get up or go to sleep, no friends, partners or children to take care of or worry about, no one to impress or worry about your appearance with. You can spend your time as you wish, maybe go for a walk or a swim, read, take a nap in the sunshine, and go to sleep as soon as you feel tired.
There are no bills to pay, no deadlines, no to do list, no rushing, no worries ... imagine how you feel? How often in your day to day life do you feel like this?

Obviously you're unlikely to feel totally relaxed all the time as day to day life is stressful, especially in the city, but if you rarely feel that relaxed then you really should do something about it. Stress is implicated in so many health conditions that it's foolhardy to disregard it ... so go to the spa, put your feet up for half an hour or just have a long lie in ... if anyone questions this say it's medicinal!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Perfect pulses

Being brought up on french home cooking it's not surprising that I developed a taste for pulses from an early age. I'm particularly fond of lentils and flagolet beans but I know that pulses aren't so popular in english cuisine.

If you don't regularly eat pulses there are plenty of reasons why you should which is why pulses are the last entry on my superfood list:

- they are rich in fibre helping digestion, detoxification and the balance of hormones

- they are a good source of b vitamins, zinc, iron and magnesium

- pulses have a particularly low glycemic index when compared to other carbohydrates meaning they provide a slower more consistent release of energy and don't encourage the over-production of insulin that can lead to weight gain and diabetes. This makes them a particularly good choice as a carbohydrate side dish when eating red meat or any other fatty proteins.

- pulses are higher in protein than most other carbohydrates, making them more filling and less disruptive on blood sugar levels. If eaten with rice they also make a complete protein, that is to say they provide all the essential amino acids.

Pulses are extremely easy to prepare and cook with. I can't be bothered with soaking and cooking pulses but canned pulses are so readily available there's no excuse not to have some to hand.

Lentils and kidney beans can easily be added to stews, bologneise and chilli con carne to add fibre and reduce the meat content. Chickpeas can easily be made into hummous or this can be shop bought - a great mid-afternoon snack when eaten with crudites or wholemeal pita bread. Lentil dahl is also delicious and easy to make from split red lentils and I always order a portion when eating at an Indian restaurant.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Attack of the not so killer tomatoes

Tomatoes make it onto my superfood list due to their particularly high lycopene content. Lycopene is a potent anti-cancer antioxidant, also found in other red foods such as watermelon, that is particularly protective against prostate cancer.

I love to eat fresh tomatoes but somehow juicing, mashing or cooking the tomatoes makes the lycopene more bioavailable. Consequently tomato puree and passata are better sources of lycopene than raw tomatoes and a good example of why you should eat your veggies both cooked and raw.

As with my other superfoods it's super easy to add extra tomato into your diet:

- use passata with herbs as a quick easy pasta sauce

- add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste to your bologneise or lasagna to give it an extra rich flavour

- top wholemeal toast with a mix of tomato puree and tinned sardines and grill for a quick snack

- make your own healthy pita pizza with a wholemeal pita, spread with tomato puree plus your favourite pizza toppings and grilled for a few minutes.

- when eating out go for tomato based sauces whether it's a pasta or curry dish that you're ordering. These are usually the lower fat healthier options anyway.


Super spinach

I don't remember liking spinach as a kid, but now it's one of my favourite veggies, particularly because it's rich in the nutrients that city life demands: magnesium for relaxation, b vitamins and iron for energy and fibre and chlorophyll (the green pigment) for detoxification.

It's also easily available (it's in season now) and quick and easy to cook so there's really no excuses not to eat it regularly. If you're not already doing so here are some quick ways to add it to your diet.

- The easiest way is to serve it raw as salad. I'm not a fan of plain spinach salad but prefer to mix it in with some other baby leaves.

- Wilt fresh leaves in a pan with a little water for just a few minutes, add a pinch of salt and serve as a side to your dinner.

- For days when there's no food in the house keep frozen spinach portions in the freezer which can be defrosted in a pan or microwave with a little olive oil.

- For a quick and healthy lunch, whisk two eggs with a tsp of oregano or sage and a pinch of salt and pepper. Chop a handful of spinach leaves into thin strips and stir into the egg, cook as an omelette. If you want, top with goat's cheese, mushrooms, peppers or any other filling while it cooks and then fold as you serve.

- If you're into juicing add some spinach to your fruit or vegetable juices for an extra nutrient boost.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Ginger warmer

Wow it was cold today ... I couldn't wait to get home and cosy up on the sofa with a warming cup of Lemon and ginger tea, which brings me nicely onto number six on my superfood list - ginger.

Ginger is a great detoxifier and blood cleanser, stomach soother, and has anti-inflammatory properties so is good for any joint aches and pains brought out by the cold weather. It is also very warming and good for sore throats which is just what you need this time of year.

Like my other superfoods ginger is easy to add into your diet. I cheated this evening and used a Twinnings tea bag but you can easily make fresh ginger and lemon tea by putting a slice of lemon and three slices of fresh root ginger in a tea pot or thermos with hot water for five minutes. Add fresh grated ginger to soups or salads (lovely with carrot for either), blend it or juice it to add to fresh fruit and vegetable juices

If any of you are bakers ginger is a great addition, both for health and flavour, to biscuits and cakes and it's an ingredient in the Sticky Banana & Molasses Cake recipe included in my blog on iron in June. (Just search for molasses on www.nutritionistinthecity.blogspot.com and you'll find it).

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Please excuse the fat finger!

Please excuse my prematurely sent blog this evening ... it should be fairly obvious from it that the next item in my collection of super foods are berries.

I'm a big fan of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries and love to eat them fresh when they're in season. However you can enjoy them year round by buying them frozen, available in on their own or in various fruit mixes in most supermarkets.

The reason berries make the cut above other fruits is that they have a higher ration of nutrients to sugars than most fruits and are particularly rich in cancer fighting antioxidants including betacarotene (raspberries and strawberries) and ellagic acid (strawberries).

Another reason to put them on the list is that I think berries are delicious and a very versatile fruit - blend into smoothies, have in fruit salad, add to yoghurt and muesli, or serve with a healthy version of french toast (wholemeal bread dipped in raw egg, fried in v little fat and topped with a little agave syrup or st dalfour jam, fresh blueberries and a sprinkling of cinnamon). Berries are also wonderful for dessert, especially dipped in dark chocolate, or otherwise served with greek yoghurt with a little vanilla essence stirred in ... Yum!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Cinnamon, spice and all things nice

I love the smell and taste of cinnamon, it's so wintery and comforting. Cinnamon also has lots of health giving properties and like nuts and seeds is easy to add in to your regular diet making it an obvious choice for my superfood list.

The main benefit is that it helps regulate blood sugar levels and stave off sugar and carbohydrate cravings and it's also a mild anticoagulant (thins the blood). These effects are so well documented that Nutritional therapists have to exercise caution in recommending cinnamon for individuals on blood pressure lowering and diabetes drugs.

Cinnamon can be sprinkled on coffee, muesli or breakfast cereal, stirred into yoghurt, porridge and stewed fruit, cooked into cakes, biscuits and breads and even added to savoury dishes such as chilli con carne or bologneise to add extra depth to the flavour.

If you're a sugar fiend then add it to any foods to which you usually add sugar to make it easier to wean yourself off.

If cinnamon doesn't take your fancy, nutmeg, turmeric and cloves are also warming spices rich in flavour and beneficial for health.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The benefits of bird food

Mackerel is a wonderful source of essential fats but not so easy to carry around in your handbag for a snack on the go!

This is why nuts and seeds make it onto my 'superfood' list - they're portable, easy to get hold of and rich in essential fats as well as some antioxidant minerals. They also contain roughly equal quantities of carbohydrates and proteins so don't send your blood sugar soaring like some other snacks.

I add them to salads (pumpkin, poppy, sesame and sunflower seeds), yoghurt (chopped hazelnuts), muesli (chopped mixed nuts and sunflower seeds) and stir fry veg (flaked almonds and sesame seeds). I also keep them in my desk and handbag for snacks on the run.

For anyone who's averse to nuts and seeds (including fussy kids) they're also quite easy to hide in your food. You can blend nuts and seeds into soups and smoothies and replace some flour with ground nuts in cakes, breads, pastry and crumble toppings.


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A lime a day keeps the colds at bay

I enjoyed dressing up as a pirate for halloween but in the old days of the high seas being a pirate wouldn't have been particularly pleasant.
Pirates and seafarers used to have very poor diets due to the inability to store fresh food on a boat for long periods. As a result they often contracted scurvy, caused by a serious vitamin C deficiency. To counteract this the boat would stock up on lemons and limes before a voyage which would provide vitamin C and last longer than other fruit.

Limes are still relevant for health today as a great source of vitamin C and drinking the juice of a lime can do wonders to clear up a cold or keep your colds at bay.

Obviously pure lime juice is a bit tart to drink straight! I tend to dilute it with hot or cold water and also like it mixed with some diluted cherry active for extra antioxidants. If you really can't take it without some sweetness add it to some freshly squeezed fruit juice or stir in a little honey or agave syrup, but it's worth noting that sugar competes with Vitamin C for uptake into the cells so don't oversweeten it.

Lime juice can also zing up your cooking - I use fresh lime juice in both pad thai (delia's recipe) and in this super easy Mary Berry coconut and lime chicken recipe:

Serves 6,
Whisk together 200ml of coconut cream, 2 tbsp runny honey, 3tbsp thai red or green curry paste (whichever you prefer - I like Thai Taste curry paste which has no added sugar) and the juice and finely grated zest of 2 limes. Season well with salt and pepper and toss 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the marinate until evenly coated.

Cover with cling film and leave to marinate overnight (or for a minimum of 30 mins).

Preheat a non-stick frying pan to a high heat, add 2 tbsp sunflower oil (I prefer to use coconut fat) and brown the chicken thighs (leave the marinade in the bowl) for approx 3 mins on each side until golden brown. Lower the heat, cover and cook through for 10-15mins til the chicken is cooked through and then remove to a serving dish.

Pour the marinade into the same pan, bring to the boil and reduce for a minute to thicken the sauce, pour over the chicken. Serve hot with brown rice, lime wedges and stir fry pak choi or other veg,

Monday, 1 November 2010

Mighty mackerel

I'm conscious I've been blogging alot about lifestyle lately, but this is driven by the fact I find a lot of people don't realise what an impact their lifestyle has on their health and think that as long as they're having their five a day they'll be fine!

But enough of that for now, time to get back to talking about food...

One of the nutrition trends of the last few years has been using the 'Superfood' label. It's been used for regular foods such as spinach and blueberries to the latest food fad such as acai and pomegranate and is often used as a marketing tool.

There certainly are foods that are more nutritious than others but I think it's a bit dangerous to be faddy with food and suddenly eat lots of the superfood of the moment.

Over the years I've developed my own list of top foods for health that I eat regularly and which are all normal foods you can buy in the supermarket at a reasonable price. So for the next few blogs I'm going to talk about these foods and why they're on my top food list, starting with mackerel.

Mackerel happens to be one of my favourite oily fishes from a taste perspective and is also full of goodness. Primarily it's rich in essential fats which are beneficial for memory, mood, fat burning and the condition of your skin to name a few. I once ate mackerel every day for two weeks (as an experiment) and whilst I'd never recommend that anyone does that I must admit my skin never looked so good!

Mackerel is also a good source of some B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium and zinc and is a healthy source of protein which is important for so many of the body's functions.

I'm not a great cook, mainly because I don't have a lot of time for cooking (at least that's my excuse!), so I tend to have my mackerel smoked or out of a can both of which I enjoy, but it's not a patch on a grilled mackerel that's just been caught.

If you're not a mackerel fan sardines are another great oily fish to try - being so small they have much less toxin accumulation than the bigger fish like salmon or tuna, as do anchovies although it's hard to eat a lot of those in one go!