Thursday, 16 December 2010

Naughty but nice

NITC will be taking a well earned break over Christmas to eat, drink and be merry and I'm sure most of you will be doing the same. This will undoubtedly be much more enjoyable for all of us without being interrupted with blogs on how we should all be eating our greens and avoiding coffee!! So this is ... somewhat unbelievably ... my last blog for the year! (where did it go ... I feel like it's still March!?)

I'm sure I'm not the only one looking forward to relaxing my usual healthy regime in favour of some Christmas indulgence, and whilst I won't be going on a chocolate/alcohol bender I am looking forward to some Christmas treats such as my mum's pork and apple stuffing (I eat more of that than of the turkey!), a nice big slice of stollen and a healthy dose of champagne!!

So my final thoughts for the year are treat-related, inspired by a friend's question ... why are the foods that are bad for you also the tastiest. My first thought was that this is also true for men ... but that's for another blog! When it comes to food there are some simple answers:

Firstly most tasty treat food contains either sugar or fat or both, why?

- Sugar is addictive and so eating it makes us want to eat more of that food. It is a strong taste on the taste buds and has a drug like effect when eaten producing feelings of euphoria and energy highs ... which are sadly followed by sugar lows.

- Fats are extremely effective flavour carriers making flavours richer and deeper. This is why the fatty cuts of meat, including steak, taste better and why the full-fat muffin will always taste better than the skinny one.

Combine fats and sugar together (ice cream, donuts, chocolate, cake etc.) and you get a super taste hit for your taste buds. This is why sugar is often found in savoury foods you wouldn't expect it to be in (pizza, gravy, soup, crisps) - to provide that super combo to make the food even more moorish.

So the sad truth is the 'tasty' food is often the 'naughty' food, but it is possible to adjust your taste buds to enjoy much healthier foods. However it's Christmas so let's leave that for the New Year and enjoy in a little naughtiness!

I hope you all have a fabulous Christmas and New Year and I look forward to blogging to you all again in 2011.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Powering through

Apologies again for a lack of blog yesterday - I was totally out of it with flu but I'm thankfully pretty much over it now.

Hopefully the rest of you have all been well and making merry! But if you're halfway through the party season and starting to feel a bit sluggish here are some ideas to help you power through to Christmas:

- juice it up: a vegetable juice is a great pick me up to start the day with especially if you're hungover. If you feel the need for a coffee, first have a juice and a big cup of water and then have your coffee. If caffeine is the only way you'll get through the day match it cup for cup with water.

- have a light lunch: stick to soup, sushi or salad at lunchtime to compensate for any evening indulgence and stop you falling asleep at your desk in the afternoon.

- seek out fruit and vegetables: Party buffets aren't exactly waistline friendly but look closely and you'll often find crudites and fruit hidden between the chicken wings and cheese board. The antioxidants will keep the colds at bay and fruit and veg are at least 60 per cent water so they'll help keep you hydrated whilst the salted nuts will do the opposite.

- love your B's: b vitamins are the energy vitamins so you need a lot more of them when you're low on sleep whether it's due to partying hard, working hard or baby induced. They're also leached out the body by alcohol and caffeine so it's super easy to run low in party season. I take a B complex with breakfast everyday (but away from caffeine) to get me going.

- don't abandon the gym ... just yet: you might want a break over christmas but getting your heart pumping for even just 20 minutes a day these last few days will keep your energy levels up and help sweat out a few of the toxins you're taking in.

- don't knock disco naps: there's really no substitute for a good night's sleep but if you're partying all night and working all day, a 20-40 minute cat nap before you go out can be a much needed pick me up. If you work for one of the trendier employers and are lucky enough to have a chill out zone grabbing, forty winks and lunchtime can also be a godsend. Just remember to set an alarm!

- give yourself a break! If you've been running around buying everyone's gifts, getting your work done and being a social butterfly make sure you get at least a ten minute time out each day to sit down and chill on your own. Stop thinking about your to do list or what you're going to wear that evening and just zone out.

- pace yourself: this is Christmas not an endurance event so know when to quit - if you're struggling just slip away from drinks a bit early to give yourself a proper nights sleep, or have a couple of nights out booze free - it's really not as painful as you'd think, you might even enjoy yourself more watching your colleagues disgrace themselves whilst you keep it together!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Here's one I made earlier

First up apologies for the lack of blog yesterday ... I was brought down by a bad case of flu on Sunday and was in no state to string together coherent sentences! After a day in bed I'm not much better placed ... but do have one I prepared earlier ... enjoy!

If your digestion isn't working properly you won't be able to digest and absorb the nutrients form your food, so you won't get the full benefits of improving your diet.  

Digestion starts in the mouth where your food should be broken down into a puree so it's vital to make you sure chew all your food properly until there are no more solid lumps in it, before swallowing.  This may feel strange at first if you are used to eating quickly, but it is essential for proper digestion.  Also put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls, only loading up your fork when you have swallowed your last mouthful. This will give you time to chew properly and also slow down the rate at which you take on your food.

Eating too quickly often leads to over-eating as it takes 15 to 20 minutes for your stomach to register that you are full, so if you have eaten a large meal in that time you may not feel full immediately.  It is also important to be relaxed when you eat as stress or anxiety can prevent proper digestion, so make sure you aren't working, watching tv, reading or multi-tasking whilst you are eating.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Pointing out the obvious

Some things may seem like obviously bad ideas to you and not to others ... like wearing 4 inch stilettos in the snow or sporting long side burns (never a good look).

So apologies in advance if this blog falls into the pointing out the obvious category but with everyone off sick at the moment I feel the need to point out that exercising when you're ill is not a good idea!

I guess a lot of us are slaves to the gym, but when you're ill your body needs rest and not stress, and exercise is stressful. Hundreds of years ago if you got a cold you'd take to your bed and stay there til you were better ... now everyone takes lemsip max, goes to work to spread the germs and then does half an hour on the treadmill for good measure!!

All this does is hamper the immune system prolonging your days off work. What you should be doing is staying at home, doing nothing (no getting chores done whilst you're at home) keeping warm, eating hot nutritious food (soup is always great), taking supplements (vitamin C plus olive leaf and echinacea are my favourites at the moment) and sleeping ... lots! If you do this straight away you may be surprised how quickly you bounce back.

I'm also a big fan of drinking freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice in hot water every day during the cold and flu season. It's a good vitamin C hit, directly onto the tonsils, one of the first points of immune defence.

If you're not totally wiped out it can be good to move a little to get your lymph fluid circulating. This is the fluid in your body that clears toxins and carries your white blood cells around the body - but it relies on muscle contractions to move the fluid through the body. A short walk to get some fresh air or some gentle hatha or sivananda yoga would be sufficient ... if you find yourself eyeing up your running shoes immediately hide them in a cupboard and take to your sofa!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Making friends with food

I was discussing my blog with a friend recently, in particular how I was surprised (but delighted) so many of you are reading this every day! He pointed out that everyone is interested in food because we have to eat every day - obvious and logical, but something I hadn't thought of.

For anyone who has an issue with food, whether it's allergies, food phobias, compulsive eating or fear of weight gain this obviously presents a big problem. If you're addicted to cigarettes and want to do something about it you can avoid them for the rest of your life, the same with alcohol and drugs, but you can't go without eating so you have to think about, see and eat food every day.

For compulsive eaters some companies, like Lighter Life, try and address this by putting people on an entirely liquid diet so they don't have to eat properly. Well that's certainly one approach but really it is more important to establish a healthy relationship with food.

That said there are some addictive foods which compulsive or comfort eaters benefit hugely from avoiding totally:

Sugar - some research suggests that sugar in it's refined form is more addictive than cocaine (the lab rats preferred sugary water to cocaine in water when presented with both!). Fortunately fructose is not addictive in the same way as sucrose so fruit and fruit sugars are usually still fine.

Wheat, dairy and gluten - if you're allergic to a food you can crave it and these are three very common food allergens. I know that if I have one slice of regular toast then I can easily finish off a whole loaf! If you have any foods you can't resist it may be worth checking if you're intolerant.

Even if you don't eat compulsively a lot of people still have a love-hate relationship with food.

Food should be enjoyed and give nourishment to the body so make food your friend - eat health giving veggies, wholegrains and lean proteins that will make you feel good but also eat food that you enjoy.

Find healthy recipes for your favourite meals - most comfort foods can be adapted to be both healthy and tasty (although I'm yet to find a healthy dairy free cheesecake recipe that hits the spot!) Reduce the quantities of fat, salt and sugar in the recipe and add in extra veggies and nuts and seeds. Regular yoga is also great for balancing appetite and addressing comfort eating, you can evem benefit from just taking 5 deep cleansing breaths before you eat.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Do it delicious!

You'd think that with such interest in food I'd be a great cook, but infact I'm a pretty lazy cook. With a busy diary and a healthy appetite I rarely cook anything during the week that takes longer than 15 minutes to throw together. So I'm always on the lookout for quick and tasty recipes.

These two are new discoveries from cookbooks by Jessica Seinfeld .. yes as in wife of Jerry Seinfeld! The fast and juicy herb chicken produces a tasty and tender result that usually only comes with slower cooking, whilst the pasta with pea pesto is wonderful winter comfort food. I make it with gluten free pasta and instead of adding the parmesan and pine nuts just blend a generous amount of dairy free pesto with the peas ... sounds odd but it works!

Both recipes are from the Do It Delicious website:


Fast & Juicy Herb Grilled Chicken

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Serves 4
This is a simple and speedy recipe we love—it only takes 3 minutes to cook in a panini press (george foreman grill works fine)! We also show you a no-mess way to pound a chicken breast. You'll want to prepare this yummy chicken dish over and over again, especially on busy nights.

4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (if you don't have fresh to hand then dried herbs work too)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, quartered

Heat a panini press or grill pan over medium-high heat. Wash and pat dry the chicken. One at a time, place the chicken in a plastic bag and pound to an even 1/4-inch thickness (I used a rolling pin to do this). Remove from the bag and coat both sides of the chicken with the herbs, oil, salt and pepper. Place the chicken in the press (you may be able to cook several at once depending on your press) and cook until cooked through, about 3 minutes. If you use a grill pan your cooking time will be longer. Serve with the lemon on the side.
Pasta with Pea Pesto

Prep time: 10 minutes, Total Time: 25 minutes | serves 6

2 cups peas (fresh or frozen, blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds and shocked in cold water)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 medium cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp salt
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 1/4 lbs)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp olive oil
8oz whole-wheat pasta, such as penne or fusilli

1. For the pesto, combine the peas, Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, water, and salt in a food processor. Blend until the ingredients are combined and form a thick sauce.
2. Season the chicken breasts with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Brown the chicken on each side until cooked through, approximately 5 to 6 minutes per side. Cut into 1-inch cubes.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Toss together the pasta, pesto, and chicken and serve immediately.


Monday, 6 December 2010

Drying out

This morning I really struggled to get up and felt really tired most of the morning ... I wasn't hungover and I'd had plenty of sleep so what was the problem?

It wasn't til I got to 11:30am and realised I hadn't had my usual 'comfort break' that I realised that I was dehydrated ... one litre of water later and I felt right as rain.

But it's freezing outside so how can someone get dehydrated? Well firstly we lose moisture all the time, just by breathing, secondly whilst it's cold we don't feel so much like drinking cold fluids and thirdly with the heating cranked up to the max it's easy to accidentally create a home sauna. Infact I'd followed a good gym session with a proper sauna and not enough water on Sunday which is why, after a night in a warm room, I woke up dehydrated and groggy.

Fortunately, as I stay off the caffeine, I didn't exacerbate things by starting my day with a cup of tea (a diuretic) ... but this is exactly what most people do when they feel tired.

Instead you should start the day with a large glass of water to replace any fluids lost overnight, and then continue drinking water throughout the day. Your pee should be very pale yellow if you're drinking enough, if it's straw coloured you're dehydrated (although if it's luminous yellow and you've just taken B vitamins don't worry that's normal).

You'd be surprised how much fatigue (and hunger) is caused by dehydration so it's always important to remember to drink enough water ... although it can be easy to forget!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

No free ride

Today I was looking at a flyer for 'free from' products full of gluten and dairy free christmas treats such as mince pies and christmas cake. It brought to mind when I first went gluten free, eight years ago, having to devise my own recipe for a gluten and dairy free christmas pudding.

Back then it was a real trial to buy dairy and gluten free alternatives and now we're spoilt for choice with whole 'free from' sections in the supermarkets.

Whilst this is great for anyone with intolerances it is worth noting that, other than missing the allergens, a gluten free mince pie is no healthier than a regular one - it will still be high in sugar, fat and refined carbohydrates. So going on a gluten or dairy free diet isn't license to start eating packets of 'free from' custard creams and hunks of garlic bread (yes you can now get gluten free garlic bread!).

I save all these foods for treats and infact there are very few items that I buy regularly from the 'free from' sections. These tend to be pesto, pasta, pita or wholemeal bread, and milk.

But when Christmas comes around it's so nice to be able to enjoy the traditional treats ... especially given the shop bought 'free from' Christmas pudding is a lot tastier than my attempt!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Keeping cosy

I do love the snow but when it's this cold I just feel like hibernating in bed all weekend!

If, like me, you find it hard to stay warm then you can get quite uncomfortable in the cold weather and your body can quickly go into 'power save' mode, basically preserving energy and diverting heat to your organs leaving you with super cold hands and feet. This is why climbers have sometimes been left for dead on the mountain, with no detectable pulse, only to revive when the sun came out.

As your metabolism slows your temperature can drop further leading to weakened immune defenses, not what you need this time of year. It can also slow down your digestion and healing and repair.

The problem is that the colder you get the less you feel like moving about, although I did see one crazy guy out running this evening. So given that we sadly can't curl up like door mice and stay in bed for three months, how can we keep our metabolisms up and running?

Keep moving - you might not feel like going for a run (and quite frankly it would be madness) but regular exercise will keep your metabolism and temperature up, whether that's at the gym or at home ... now might be a good time to dust off your exercise dvds!

Heat up from the inside - hot food and drink can help enormously and protein rich meals can keep you warm for quite a while after eating them. You probably won't much feel like cold drinks so regular herbal teas are a good way to keep up water intake.

Spice it up - pepper, chillies and spices not only have a hot taste but also all speed up the metabolism if eaten regularly so now's the time to enjoy some curry!

Turn up the heating! - not very environmentally friendly I know, but your body will have a better chance of fighting off any bugs going around if you keep it warm. Also if you're cold at night your muscles may tense up leading to restless sleep. I'm loving my hot water bottle at the moment and sleeping like a baby.

Sweating it out

I see all sorts of dodgy outfits in the gym, indecent 80s running shorts, midriff baring crop tops, all sorts of lurid dayglo colours. Lately guys seem to be a lot more into their lycra - I think it's all the cycling.

What I don't normally see is gym kit with massive holes in it, and by massive I mean 10 cm squared, but today I saw just that. Anyone who can afford to go to a gym in the city can surely afford a new tee shirt for the gym.

They can also afford to have enough kit to wash it every time they wear it. By not doing so the salts excreted in sweat have time to corrode the material - hence the holes ... grim.

It's not just salts that you excrete through your skin. Your skin is your second excretory organ (after the liver) and so is used to excrete toxins too.

This explains why after a particularly heavy night you can feel (and sometimes even smell) the alcohol coming out of your skin. This is also why eating a high toxin diet can bring you out in spots .

It's worth noting that your skin isn't a one way street - you can also absorb toxins through it as well. This is why it's a good idea to have a good shower straight after the gym or sauna and when you wake up in the morning, as you detoxify overnight so will have excreted toxins in your sweat as you sleep.

To be honest most people know when to wash ... Just apparently not everyone!