Thursday, 15 December 2011

Tip #5 having your cake and eating it ... a bit later!

Christmas is a time to indulge and even I like to relax the rules for Christmas week - having a few glasses of champers or port, some mince pies and stollen and raiding the cheese board!

Something that takes the shine off it though is getting to new years eve and not fitting into your best party frock having gained more than a couple of christmas pounds. I read in Grazia (admittedly not quite QI) that on average women gain 5Lbs over Christmas.

An extra 5lbs would rule out half my wardrobe and leave me wearing leggings and jogging bottoms with baggy tops, so I follow this simple rule as best I can to enjoy my Christmas treats without turning into a dumpling:

Don't eat if you're not hungry

Your appetite is your own personal calorie counter - if you're eating richer foods and exercising less your appetite will naturally regulate down.

Mince pies being handed out at work? Save yours til your peckish, you'll enjoy it more.

Find that your Christmas dinner is three times the size of your normal dinner? Serve yourself little portions of everything so you enjoy all the flavours but leave some room for pudding.

And don't waste any calories eating foods you don't like - that's my license for you not to eat your sprouts!

Above all make sure you enjoy your indulgences, try and buy the best quality treats (home made is even better) and enjoy every mouthful. If somethings under par put it to one side and find something else to eat.

On that note I'd like to wish all NITC readers a wonderful Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year. I'll be back in January with tips on how to make a healthy start to 2012.
Best wishes

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Question time

I love putting together my random thoughts for the blog, but I also love answering your health questions just as much so please send them in along with any suggestions for topics you'd like me to blog on to

Dear NITC,
I love your zen diet, but do you think this is a good time of year for detox, as it's New Year and i think a lot of people might consider doing one?
Also do you think it's good to detoxify for a few days eating only certain foods, or drinking fruit and vegetable juices for example, or not and what do you think about detoxifying supplements and diets and using hydrocolonotherapy?

Well that's a great question for this time of year but a big one also, so I'm going to answer it in two parts!

Firstly I don't think January is a good time for a proper detox, and by that I mean anything from a strict fruit and veg juice fast for a few days, to a restrictive detox diet for a month ala Carol Vorderman. The reason is that, incase you hadn't noticed, it's still freezing outside which means your body will be naturally trying to store more fat for warmth than in spring/summer. For your body to detox properly it needs to break down stored fat where excess toxins that your liver couldn't cope with have been stored. Therefore, this is the most difficult time of year to detox as it's in conflict with your body's survival mechanism.
In short, if it's cold enough to need a winter coat it's too cold to detox.

Having said that it's always good to cut down on the usual culprits post Christmas - sugar, chocolate, alcohol, cheese, caffeine and fizzy drinks. If you usually eat healthily this should be pretty easy, but if you consume a lot of these you may still get detox symptoms such as headaches and lethargy so cut down gradually.

But .... when it does warm up, come springtime, I do think a detox can do you a lot of good, either as a short strict fruit and veg detox or a longer, clean diet detox.

City lives expose us to loads of toxins, both in terms of pollution and in terms of eating processed or unnatural foods that evolution has not had time to adapt us to, so we need to give our bodies a toxin free holiday to recover every now and then. Plus it gives the body the time and energy to recover - the body has amazing powers to heal itself but only when it's not using all it's energy processing toxins and digesting heavy meals.

Out of the two I think
on balance following a longer detox diet is more beneficial, than a short juice fast, but if you can do both once a year then that's going to be brilliant for you. Details on a short fruit and veg detox or my favourite longer detox diet -Dr Joshi's Holistic detox can be found in these previous postings.

As for supplements and additional therapies, I don't think these are essential to follow a detox and get benefits and I usually just stick to my usual supplement regime. Admittedly that includes a multivitamin, extra vitamin c, b complex, fish oil, antioxidant complex, cherry active (more antioxidants) and spatone (natural iron supplement) plus digestive enzymes! Which is a lot more than I'd expect most of you to be taking but a good multi containing a range of antioxidants and some extra vitamin C would be a good place to start. But there are a few key nutrients that can really help accelerate the detox process and some other alternative therapies that can complement the process, but more on that next week!


I was in my absolute favourite shop Precious this evening picking up some sale bargains from their fab clothing selection and got chatting about the trends in peoples spending habits.

In a time of austerity and uncertainty it's natural for people to cut back on discretionary spending and save more money for their rainy day fund and when it comes to clothing, admittedly a weakness for most city chicks, this is translating into more considered purchasing - less impulse buys and more 'how much will I wear this' and 'does it go with the rest of my clothes'.

But don't worry, I'm not about to got all SATC on you, I know my limits when it comes to fashion advice! However it got me thinking on health investments and getting value for money.

The health industry, weight loss products in particular, is worth billions of pounds and is an easy sell - people love the idea that buying a product or taking a pill will miraculously make you model thin. But when you think about the return on your investment you may find these quick fixes aren't such good investments.

Diet meals and shakes - certainly these make dieting easy, buying all your food pre-prepared means no time spent shopping, cooking or meal planning. BUT:
Firstly it's not cheap - buying ready meals is more expensive than preparing healthy meals yourself and alot of the diet shakes are overpriced versions of protein shakes you could easily make at home with pure whey protein and fruit which would be a) cheaper and b) healthier.
Meal delivery services such as purepackage and bodychef offer much healthier options but definitely aren't a cheap option.
Secondly, most diet meals are highly processed reducing their nutrient content. Shakes and bars usually have a high milk content and sugars or artificial sweeteners to make them palatable, all of which are positively bad for you.
Thirdly, this way of dieting doesn't teach you how to eat properly in the long run. Do you really plan to spend the rest of your life drinking slim fast?
Investment value: low
Better alternative: Invest in some education - give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll have food for life - the same goes for healthy eating. Books by The Food Doctor and Michel Montignac are good sense places to start and secondhand copies can be picked up very cheaply on Amazon.
A nutritional therapy consultation is a more expensive way to get educated but after a couple of consultations you'll be able to navigate your way through the supermarket or restaurant menus and pick the foods that work best for you for the rest of your life, instead of vexing over the calories or weight watchers points in everything you eat so in the long run it's money well spent.

Gym membership: Let's face it, city gyms aren't cheap, even if you get a corporate discount so the cost per wear clothing principal is very prescient - if you're only going once a week your gym
could be costing you up to £25 a pop. But saying that exercise itself is a great investment, helping prevent diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and a host of other debilitating diseases. Whilst keeping you in shape and your energy levels up.
Investment value: Unless you have a free work gym or go several times a week this may be a poor investment. If you are already a member make the most of the classes and free services. Most gyms will offer free or heavily discounted personal training sessions when you join which you should take up. Go armed with questions and pick up as many new tips and exercises as you can then there's no need to commit to weekly sessions, although having a PT session every couple of months can keep your training varied and targeted.
Better alternative: exercising outdoors is almost free, bar buying appropriate shoes, and certainly running and cycling are great cardio workouts. For toning and equipment based exercise pay per go gyms and park based boot camps are usually good value for money. Your local council gym may also be surprisingly affordable even if it doesn't have the luxury spa facilities!
Can't afford a personal trainer? Don't worry, just pair up with a buddy and take it in turns to train each other picking different exercises each week. Running and fitness magazines are cheap good sources for training inspiration.

Natural supplements:
Vitamins and minerals are certainly good for you but there's a totally vast range out there from the basic vitamin C to the latest natural diet craze such as colon cleanse tablets or goji supplements. Good supplements can help keep you in good health, encourage fat burning and get your skin, hair and nails in great condition, whilst a bad one can be a total waste of money but is unlikely to cause you harm.
This is where sticking to reputable brands is a good policy. I mainly recommend Biocare, Eskimo, Solgar and Higher Nature products (all available from nutricentre) as these brands base their products on research and feedback from qualified practitioners. In some cases they may be more pricey than the supermarket version but if you look at the actual amounts of individual nutrients in each tablet you'll find that per microgram you're probably paying more in tesco or boots and just swallowing a load of unnecessary fillers. In addition if you call up the manufacturers they can give you some guidance on the best supplements to take for your requirements or send you their informative catalogues.
Investment value: poor to excellent depending on your selection
Best option: go for reputable brands and long-standing formulas rather than the latest fad product. Ask for advice either from the supplier or a nutritional therapist, to make sure your taking the best supplements for your needs.

Once you've applied some health investment common sense you should have some money spare to
invest in some rewards - Ms Haribo is the expert on self-incentivizing as a means of motivating, but in essence just plan a reward for when you hit your goal, whether it's losing a few pounds or giving up chocolate for two weeks. I've certainly got my eyes on a new season dress from Precious as a reward for losing my Christmas pounds through my January zen diet!

Brain bars

As my zen diet is focussed on maximizing the healthy foods in your diet it's a good time for me to look up some new recipes and dig out some old favourites focussed around some superfood ingredients.

One such ingredient on my hit list this month is the humble walnut. Packed with vitamin E, omega 3 fats and antioxidants it is a superfood for the brain helping protect the brain's delicate fatty tissue. Infact a recent study based on feeding students with banana bread with or without ground walnuts in it, found that daily walnut consumption over eight weeks increased their results in mental reasoning tests by 11per cent - pretty impressive.

Unfortunately it's not one of my favourite nuts by a long way, but it is one of the most beneficial. Consequently, whilst I wouldn't enjoy eating a bag of them, I will add them chopped to salads, risottos, muesli and breakfast cereals as a booster. Mixed in with other foods I find I actually enjoy them.

Another great way to incorporate them is in a homemade snack bar. I've been making these breakfast bars from Elanas pantry for ages, but recently have started playing around with the ingredients and made a Christmas version with chopped walnuts, allspice and dried cranberries (see below, original recipe is on
my recipe page). Even my mum, with her high taste standards, enjoyed them and will be making them as her new hiking snack!

You can pretty much subsitute any nuts/seeds for the seeds in this recipe and use any dried fruit instead of the cranberries. Just stick to the same volumes. Enjoy!

ps It appears that along with all you lovely people, Santa also reads NITC, as he delivered all the books on my Christmas list ... Lucky me! Thank you Santa :-)

Christmas nut snack bars:

1 ¼ cup ground almonds

1/8 teaspoon celtic sea salt (I used Solo low sodium salt)

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon allspice

¼ cup grapeseed oil

¼ cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup walnuts

½ cup flaked almonds

¼ cup dried cranberries

In a small bowl, combine almond flour, allspice, salt and baking soda

In a large bowl, combine grapeseed oil, agave and vanilla

Stir dry ingredients into wet

Mix in walnuts, almond slivers and cranberries

Grease an 8x8 baking dish with grapeseed oil (I used a 1lb loaf tin)

Press the dough into the baking dish, wetting your hands with water to help pat the dough down evenly

Bake at 180°C for 20 minutes (until firm and golden coloured)

Cut into bars and allow to cool before taking out the tin

Makes 6-8 bars

New Year, new diet

Greetings NITC readers and Happy New Year!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year and that you're not suffering excessively from being being back at work today.

The New Year is time for new starts and kicking off healthy habits which means the gym will be annoyingly full for the next few weeks. But I'm all in favour of using some New Year resolutionitis to kick off some healthy habits.

Last year I started off the New Year with my bootcamp which I'd definitely recommend to anyone wanting a quick post Christmas weight loss and tone up. However this year I'm taking a more zen approach .. perhaps because I'm mellowing in my old age, or perhaps it's that I know I have a busy couple of weeks ahead and don't want to put too much pressure on myself to stick to a strict programme.

But even if you don't fancy going all out at the gym, or can't be bothered with inflicting a strict new diet on yourself that you'll just abandon after a few days, there are easier less regimented ways to get yourself fit and healthy this January.

So what does the zen diet involve?

Well rather than listing a million foods that are bad for you and trying your best to avoid them it's about focussing on eating what's good for you.

So before you sit down to your next meal you just need to ask yourself these three questions:

1) Am I genuinely hungry? No? Have a cup of tea and distract yourself with a task or some tv, and wait til you are.
Not sure? Just have a glass of water, wait 15 minutes and then see, remember hunger is in your stomach and not up in your throat or chest.

2) Is what you're about to eat actively good for you?
Facing a big bowl of pasta with cheese sauce, think again ... that is not going to be good for you. You're looking to maximize nutrients - so fruit + veg (antioxidants and fibre), pulses (fibre, minerals, protein), fish + nuts/seeds (essential fats) and other lean proteins (skinless poultry, tofu, pulses) should be the basis for your meals. Base your meal choices on what would be positively good for you ... this will keep you in good health over the colder months and any spare weight will come off naturally. But at the same time make sure you choose food that tastes good to you, eating should always be pleasurable.

3) Is there anything you can add to what you're about to eat that will make it healthier?
Add some veggies to your pasta dish, sprinkle some nuts and seeds over your breakfast cereal and add some berries. Are you in a restaurant facing a plate of steak? Make sure you order a side of vegetables or a salad to start to add in some greens.

4) Finally, and importantly, have a day off, or just a meal off a week for quicker results. Eat whatever you like without worrying about how healthy it is, just pure foodie enjoyment.

and that's it ... in the words of the Meerkats ... simples!

I'm going to be similarly zen on my approach to exercise, but more on that tomorrow.

Tip or Treat #4 - Keeping Cozy

I got chatting to a super trim lady in the sauna the other evening (as you do) about why sauna's are so good for you. I use them in the winter to keep colds at bay, as a warmer body temperature helps your immune system fight bugs more effectively. But what my companion suggested was that a regular sauna can help you keep off the winter weight.

It wasn't something I'd thought of before but it actually makes sense. It's well known that it's natural to put on a bit of winter weight in the colder months, your body trying to keep you warm with a fat blanket, so if you make an effort to stop yourself getting too cold you could reduce your bodies desire to store fat.

Sauna's can also help you detox, particularly useful during times of higher booze and processed or sweetened foods, so there's lots of reasons to have a weekly Sauna in the lead up to Christmas, just make sure you drink plenty of fluids afterwards to avoid dehydration.

Personally I find lying in the sauna for 5 minutes pretty relaxing and a great antidote to the winter blues so this one's a Tip or a Treat depending on how you see it!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Tip #3 keeping the bulge at bay

It's tough, pre-christmas, to not let yourself turn into a christmas pudding before the day itself. With all the tempting treats around the place and christmas drinks and parties it's easy to just give in to the whole thing and let yourself go.

But even if you can't say no to a mince pie or a pig in a blanket you can minimize the damage by squeezing in some exercise.

Christmas is generally a quieter time in the city, this usually means post-work drinks starting early, but it's also a good opportunity to fit in a workout before you go out. Your friends will still be in the pub when you're finished and you'll have missed out on at least a couple of drinks in the process. Plus, even if you're tired, a quick gym session can really perk you up and give you a bit of personality for the evening.

Even if you just do 20 minutes of interval training you'll feel better for it and you'll have burnt off some calories built up an appetite that means you can to tuck into the pub platter knowing that you've earnt it.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Treat #2 Pick n mix

In our office we have what we call the 'tuck shop' - a corner where people take it in turns to leave biscuits and sweets - usually when they come back off holiday, but sometimes just for the hell of it. Currently it's stocked up with old school sweeties ... strawberry laces, foam bananas and milk bottles ... treats I used to love as a kid but just don't appeal to me now - perhaps because they taste too synthetic.

Still having something sweet to nibble on is always pleasant, so here are my alternative sweeties which would also make great healthy stocking fillers:

Bear yoyos - a healthy alternative to strawberry laces, you can get these in Holland & Barrett and some Boots

Dried mango slices - chewy and supersweet, I get mine from the Camden Food Company

Dried strawberries sweetened with apple juice - I get a small scoopfull from Cranberry when I feel I need a sweet treat but they also sell them and also dried cherries in my local tesco.

Dried fruit and nut mixes - sweetness with the added crunhc, these mixes are sold pretty much everywhere. Natural is best but for a treat I love the savoury sweet combo of salted peanuts and raisins.

Dark chocolate brazil nuts - way healthier than yoghurt or milk chocolate covered nuts (less sugar and no dairy) but still have the whole Christmas snackiness about them! Add dark chocolate covered apricots to that too.

On the theme of dark chocolate I just discovered Thornton's mini dark bars. I've always loved the Green & Black mini bars, but these are also super tasty and are mini versions of their new dark chocolate blocks. They had plain, mint and ginger available in my local Thornton's but the larger blocks come in even more tempting flavours and are all gluten free and vegan. I've always found Thornton's chocolate too sweet but these have just the right level of sweetness, plus they're a bit more substantial than the G&B mini bars.

Feeling lazy ... sign up to Graze - they do the most adorable little snack boxes with amazing dried fruit, nut and chocolate combinations such as mayan mocha (dark chocolate coated coffee beans, blanched almonds, physalis and jumbo raisins) or jaffa cake (roasted hazels, orange infused sultanas and dark chocolate buttons), plus healthier chocolate free versions.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Tip #2 The morning after the night before

If I'm hungover, which is pretty rare these days, the last thing I want to go is go into work, but by the look of a few of the faces in the canteen this morning not everyone is that bothered by the prospect.

Unsurprisingly, hangovers seem to extend the queue in the canteen for bacon sandwiches significantly - when you're feeling worse for wear a bowl of rice krispies just isn't going to cut it. But beware - a few too many of these and you'll be doing damage both to your waistline and overall health. Infact the government actively recommends minimizing pork products in your diet to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

So before you join the bacon buttie queue consider your options:

Firstly are you really hungry? Wait until your body asks for some food before tucking in. Post-bender it might actually want a break so just have some fluids til your appetite kicks in.

Make yourself have a piece of fruit and a glass of water before you eat anything else. This will give you vitamin C and water - two essential inputs for your liver to detoxify alcohol. If you really can't face fruit have an OJ and if water doesn't appeal have a bottle of Vitamin water or a decaf tea.

Next up assess your options at the hot food counter:
Are poached eggs available? Poached eggs on wholegrain toast makes a great comforting and filling breakfast.

If you fancy a fry up limit the damage by going veggie:
Have beans, poached or fried egg, veggie sausage, grilled tomatoes or mushrooms and wholegrain toast. This fibre full selection can't fail to fill you up, but with significantly less fat, and therefore calories, than having sausage, bacon, black pudding and hash browns.

Really can't go without a breakfast buttie? Go for bacon rather than sausage (less fat and additives) and have with grilled tomato rather than ketchup (the sugar in the ketchup makes your body store more of the fat in the bacon).

And for those with a bit more self-control: a glass of OJ with some muesli with natural yoghurt followed by a herbal tea can work wonders for a thick head.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Tip#1 surviving work xmas drinks

It feels a bit early for Christmas drinks but I suppose my office, and most others, try to get these done early before everyone goes on holiday. Work drinks can be a lot of fun, but also can end up rather messy so here's how to keep it all under control;

Firstly eat before you go there. Have a substantial snack in the office before you go, a sandwich or mini portion of sushi are good options. This will line your stomach and stop you hoovering up the unhealthy bar food on offer.

Secondly pace yourself with drinks. Alternate every drink with a glass of water - this applies for soft drinks as well as alcohol as these are usually full of sugar and other badies but easy to get through quickly, by alternating you'll cut the calories you're consuming.

When your appetite does kick in it's best to stay low carb - go for crudites, mezze, parma ham, smoked salmon, nuts or olives, avoid chips, wedges and crisps. The former contain more protein to fill you up and are less moreish, plus they are low GI minimizing the damage to your waistline.

Finally know when to turn into a pumpkin - you don't have to wait for midnight to make your curtain call. When you've had enough sneak off home to bed - remember sleep is the best way to reduce a hangover and no ones going to give you a prize for staying out til you couldn't stand up!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Santa's stress busters

I love Christmas and always have, but what I miss as a grown up is being at my parents when school broke up and having two weeks before Christmas to decorate the house, buy and wrap presents and soak in the festive spirit.

Sadly for us city folk a two week christmas break is hard to come by and christmas can feel like a last minute rush which is no fun.

So here are my top tips to make sure you enjoy Christmas as much as possible without any last minute stresses:

1. make lists - I'm a massive list maker but it helps keep me sane when I'm trying to juggle too many tasks. Make three lists of things you have to do before Christmas: Things to buy (xmas pressies, food for entertaining, party dress), things to do at home (write cards, put up tree, prepare for guests), things to do in town (hair cut, facial, going to the post office) and things to do at work (there's usually some tasks that have to be done by the end of the year). These might be fairly long, but once you've got them down you can get stuck in. Anything not on the lists can wait til the New Year, get these ones dealt with as soon as poss. and then you can relax and enjoy the party season.

2. Like a good girl scout be prepared for every eventuality - have some dinners in the freezer for when you won't have time to cook, keep spare christmas cards and gifts at home and work to give to anyone you missed off the list, get your christmas food shopping list setup and ready to go online so you've not got a big shop to do and get your party togs dry cleaned so you're not caught out without an outfit.

3. Let yourself get festive. With all the rushing about it can be easy to forget that Christmas is fun. Put your christmas playlist on your ipod and use it to get in the mood whether you're at home doing chores, on your way to work or at the gym - I'll be working out to Christmas tunes all December! Get an advent calendar for your desk, put up some super tacky decorations at home and have some mulled wine whilst you write your Christmas cards - it's the one month a year when you can do all this without anyone thinking you're a bit odd so make the most of it!!

Alternative advent

Well many of you may have already made headway into your advent calenders this morning, our christmas treats that mark the countdown to Christmas. But I personally haven't had one in years (milk chocolate just doesn't agree with me).

So I thought I'd give you all an alternative advent calender with tips or treats to keep you healthy, happy and sane over the Christmas period.

Treat #1
Whilst I don't eat milk chocolate (lactose + sugar is terrible for digestion + skin) I do still enjoy dark chocolate. My current chocolate treat is Green + Blacks current and hazelnut 60% dark chocolate. Dairy free and with much less sugar than milk chocolate it's a healthier alternative to my old favourite - dairy milk fruit and nut, plus being so rich you can't eat more than a few squares. Keep some in your desk and have a couple of squares whilst your colleagues tuck into the quality streets.


Sunday, 4 December 2011

Dear Santa

Ok so it's officially December which means my xmas decorations are up (minus the tree) and the C word is no longer banned! It also means most of you are likely to be starting or thinking about your Christmas shopping so I thought it would be a good idea to share with you my Christmas wish list, which may provide you with some gift inspiration for your loved ones.

As a child I used to write a letter to Santa every year about what I wanted and post it off to Lapland and then somehow those very presents magically would appear under the tree (I suspect some parental interception was going on!), if only it still worked like that!

Cookery books
For anyone who loves to cook a new cookery book can be a wonderful present. I read mine in bed like novels and regularly pour over them looking for new recipes to try.

A cookbook written to help parents get their kids to eat their greens ... but I'm not a parent so why's it on my list? In her quest to get her kids to eat healthily Jessica Seinfeld (yes wife of Jerry) has come up with the simplest, quickest, easiest tasty recipes possible, without endless lists of complicated ingredients. Just ridiculously easy to follow - good gift for the first time cook or a busy mum.

I'm a lover of Leon, eating their wholesome hearty food regularly for lunch, so I was delighted to be given their first cookbook Leon: Ingredients & Recipeslast year - a total treasure trove of foodie information that I regularly go back to. Well I had a look at this new book in Waterstones and it looks like another total gem - an encylopediea on baking ingredients and techniques as well as including also loads of allergy friendly gluten and dairy free recipes made with healthier sugars such as agave, rather than table sugars and being Leon recipes I know they'll be yummy.

. I was given The Kind DIet last year as a wonderful gift from a client, and ever since then have been regularly cooking and enjoying more vegan food. Having exhausted the recipes in that wonderful tome, the Skinny Bitch cookbook is next on the list for some super healthy recipes.

Cookbooks can be a bit hit and miss, but the better known celebrity chefs usually have a team of assistants to make sure their recipes are up to scratch. This means they can often be relied upon for delicious go to recipes for dinner parties and feeding your friends and family, but whilst impressive these recipes aren't usually that healthy ... hence this book - proper cooking but with a thought to the health factor.

As well as books, health magazines can be great sources of healthy inspiration - giving you some new ideas each month to keep you from getting bored. That's why a subscription to Zest is on my list this year but there are loads of options depending on someone's interests - runner's world, men's fitness, men's health, natural health etc.

Kitchen gadgets
A whisk? Yes seriously that's what I'd like - my current flimsy one isn't standing the test of my baking experiments!! If you have a friend who likes to cook, a good budget present is to identify a small gadget they want and then find them a decent quality version - they'll be delighted and you won't have broken the bank.

At the other end of the scale ... I know I'll have to be very good for Santa to bring me this one:
It cooks, dices, juices, blends, kneads and makes delicious fresh nut butters in seconds. You can even make your own flour with it ... to be fair I'm not sure what this genius devise can't do!

I first saw these chopping boards in the MoMa shop in New York (brilliant source of stylish and clever kitchen gadgets), but now you can get them here. Not only are they hygenic - making sure you don't cross-contaminate between chopping - but they also provide an easy tidy way to store chopping boards (mine are forever propped up behind the taps).

Everyone likes a sweet treat at Christmas and I'm no exception, but for the dairy free avoiding the temptation of all that chocolate around the house isn't easy, which is why Montezuma's vegan chocolates make a great gift for the dairy free. One of the few chocolatiers with a vegan range they also do truffles and a dark chocolate lovers box.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Farewell to the facial hair

I'm sad now the November has ended and we'll no longer see the amusing moustaches city gents have been growing over the past month. There have been some wonderful specimens ranging from blackadder the second style RAF tashes to some proper starsky and hutch mos.

Still for all the amusement Movember is a very serious cause - raising awareness about Prostate cancer and the importance of raising any symptoms with your doctor.

Awareness is so necessary as, with all cancers, the earlier it's caught the more effective the treatment. Still the best cure is prevention which is very much what nutritional therapy is all about.

My top tips for reducing your risk are:
Cut down on your meat intake, particularly processed meats and pork (ham, sausages, bacon).

Reduce your diary intake and have organic when you do have dairy

Reduce your intake of refined sugar

Eat six to eight portions of fruit and veg per day, if that seems tricky just make sure you have one portion with every meal and snack and keep some fruit on your desk at work.

Take extra anti-oxidants if you do particularlyintensive excersize as this raises your need for antioxidants. Cherry active and using juices and smoothies are good to top up.

One particular antioxidant that's effective in prevention of prostate cancer is lycopene. Tomatoes are the best source of lycopene, however interestingly cooked and processed tomatoes are a better source than raw tomatoes.

This may seem odd, given there's a regular emphasis on eating raw fruit and veg on the basis that they are more nutritious. But infact that isn't always the case, which is one of the reasons why an entirely raw food diet might not be the best for optimum health.

In practice this means that regularly having passata or tomato puree may be cancer protective particularly against prostate cancer. Both can easily be used in homecooking - home-made pizza, bologneise, lasagna, stews and soups.

If prostate cancer runs in your family it may be an idea to supplement with lycopene as well.


Time to slow it down

I feel like I haven't stopped since I got back from hols - work's been super busy, I've had two full weekends and have been trying to get my chores done in between. All in all I feel like I need another break but my holiday allowance is all used up for the year :-(

Probably as a result of this, and half the office coughing and spluttering around me, I've also felt like I'm fighting off a bug for the last week ... not good.

In my previous incarnation I would have ploughed on til I collapsed. But these days I take action before I get totally depleted.

For anyone feeling a bit under par right now, or anyone who has a tendency to plough on regardless of how they feel here's my action plan:

Number 1 is to prioritise sleep - you need more of this if you're fighting infection or under stress/pressure so this is especially important in the face of both. Chores and friends can wait til you've caught up - you won't be any fun if you're tired and no one will thank you for passing on your bugs to them! Cancel weeknight plans and leave saturday and sunday morning free for a decent lie in.

Number 2 is to scale back exercise - I'm limiting myself to a 20minute walk per day til I feel myself again. This is hard for me as I love the gym and do worry about turning into Kirsty Alley if I don't go! Still as long as you follow your appetite (rather than eating the same volume as you would on a gym day) the damage to your waistband over a couple of weeks off actually shouldn't be that bad. Do some gentle hatha yoga to keep yourself sane til you're able to go back.

Number 3 is to take a deep breath - even if your day is running away from you take 10 minutes off the desk at some point. Find a quiet spot or get some fresh air. Take 10 deep breaths and get some perspective - city work doesn't usually involve life or death scenarios - the world won't end if you don't finish your powerpoint presentation!

Number 4 is to stop shovelling - If you can't avoid eating and working at the same time then at least pace yourself by putting your fork down between mouthfuls - if you're working it doesn't matter how long you're taking to eat your meal so slow it down. By slowing down you'll un-knot your stomach and absorb a few more nutrients from your food.

Finally number 5 is get some extra vitamin C - take supplements, drink smoothies, eat fruit - just get it in!! Vitamin C is used up so much in stress and also so needed for immune function, so if you're run down you're more than likely running low. Keep it up til you feel better!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Top toppings

As the temperature drops my craving for hot food extends to breakfast. Whilst a cooked breakfast is appealing (when I have one I always go for the vegetarian version to limit the damage), porridge is undoubtedly the healthy warming winter breakfast of choice.

Having gone gluten and dairy free sometime ago I make mine with organic rice flakes, rather than oat flakes with rice milk which makes it naturally sweet. I also often add a tsp of Ndali natural vanilla extract to make it taste creamier and some ground flaxseeds for extra fibre.

It's actually a pretty tasty alternative but, as with all foods, having the same breakfast everyday isn't much fun. It's also healthier to eat a greater variety of foods to ensure you're taking in a variety of nutrients.

Consequently I like to have my porridge with different healthy toppings. These both add extra flavour and texture and extra nutrients: Dried fruit contain iron and other minerals, fresh fruit adds vitamin C and antioxidants and the nuts and seeds add essential fats and extra fibre slowing down digestion of the meal helping me feel fuller for longer.

These toppings are also great to add flavour to natural yoghurt as a healthy pudding or sustaining snack.

My favourite porridge toppings:

Chopped Dried apricots, chopped figs and sunflower seeds (leave the dried fruit to soak over night or buy pre-soaked)

Dessicated coconut, turmeric and goji berries. I tend to cook in the goji berries in the porridge so they soften. Don't be put off by using turmeric, it's used in Indian pudding and gives a warm spicey flavour.

Apple, cinnamon and raisins - delicious old school combo!

Banana, agave, chopped hazelnuts.

Stewed berries, cinnamon + flaked almonds. I keep frozen berries in my freezer over winter so I can always make a quick berry compote to go with breakfast. Just add a couple of tbsp water and stew for 5-10mins.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Making the connection

On the way home tonight I read an interview in the evening standard with Kirsty Wark. It wasn't a very good interview (when the interviewer themselves admits it's not going well that's a bad sign!) but she did say something with regards to her stint on masterchef that I thought was worth sharing:

"To know what you are eating and to know why you are eating it and to feel passion for it is a great thing."

I think that this is so true and that a passion for food and an understanding of it are key to having both a healthy body and a healthy relationship with food.

So many kids today are brought up not knowing how their food is grown or produced, how to cook a meal from scratch, or what effect that food then has on their bodies. This mindless approach to food leads to mindless eating and not respecting your body through eating well.

I'm sure most people would stop eating fast food if they saw the whole process of how it was produced, but even with something like a beautiful homemade cake - until you've made one yourself you won't realise how much sugar and fat goes into them!

Whilst having the time to cook meals from scratch is a luxury for most city folk, making time to do so, even just once a week, is worthwhile. Learning to cook helps us express our creative sides and can be very satisfying at the same time it can teach you a lot about what's going into the food you're eating during the rest of the week.

Here's my suggestion for how to approach this:
Choose a recipe for a meal you know you like and give yourself time to get all the ingredients you need (missing out ingredients generally leads to disappointing results).
Buy the best ingredients you can afford - organic meats and dairy products both taste noticeably better. Buy local and in season fruit and vegetables for maximum flavour and try and choose seasonal recipes.
Give yourself extra time to cook - first time recipes always take longer than they state
Think about the nutritional value of the meal - what's good about it and what's not so good.
Once you've tried it a couple of times have a think about how you could healthy it up - could you use healthier fats or less sugar? Could you up the ratio of veggies to carbs?
Once you've mastered a recipe invite some friends round and cook for them, feeding appreciative friends can be very rewarding and they might even be inspired to try your recipe themselves.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sugar and spice and all things nice

I felt like a proper Sunday lunch today and that involved having a proper wintery pudding. I'm quite happy with a bowl stewed orchard fruit this time of year, especially with a bit of cinnamon cooked in, but today I wanted something a bit more substantial and quite frankly there was only one thing that would fit the bill .... crumble!!

Fruit crumble is such a wonderful pudding .. stodgy, comforting and rich in flavour. It's also a great way to get fruit into your diet over the cold winter months when you might not feel like raw fruit. Crumbles are also a sneaky way to get fruit into the diets of fruit (or adult!) averse children and use up any bottled or frozen fruit from the summer.

Sadly despite it's virtues, crumble is not sugar, dairy and gluten free (most puddings aren't). But, as with all my favourite dishes, I don't see cutting these out as a hurdle and with a little help from Delia Smith and Elena from Elena's Pantry I came up with a hybrid crumble .... rich in flavour but without the saturated fats, sugars and flour.

This recipe is particularly up my street because it incorporates some of my favourite wintery spices, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, with my favourite fruit. These spices are all wonderfully warming but also have antibacterial qualities, much needed as the winter bugs start emerging. Cinnamon is also helpful in balancing blood sugar levels and enhances the sweetness of anything you add it to, that means you need less sugar in the recipe, so you won't get the usual sugar low after this pudding that you might after other sugary desserts. Cloves and nutmeg also have anti-inflammatory properties, so good for those creaking joints on a cold morning.

Spiced pecan & apple crumble
Core and chop 5 medium dessert apples into large slices and put in a small ovenproof dish.
Add to this 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg, 1 tbsp agave syrup and 1oog raisins. Stir thoroughly and leave.

In a cup mix 1/3 cup of grapeseed oil, 1/4 cup of agave syrup and 1 tbsp vanilla essence.

In a bowl mix 2 cups of ground almonds with 100g chopped pecans (I used my little handheld braun blender with it's chopper attachment) and a pinch of salt. Stir in the liquid from the cup and mix thoroughly. Spread over the apple and spice mixture and pat down firmly with your fingers to seal the top.

Bake at 180C for 40-45 minutes (until golden on top).

Hot doc is a pudding purist and insisted on having custard with this, but it was delicious on it's own. Otherwise serve with natural yoghurt (soya for dairy free), or you can even make your own dairy free custard with custard powder, rice milk and fructose or agave to sweeten to taste.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

How to be a happy puppy

On the tube home there was a guy with the most adorable little staff puppy, so full of energy and inquisitive. A stark contrast with the sad faces of tired commuters.

I know what it's like to feel worn down from a long days work and it's easy to feel sorry for yourself, but right now if you're in the city and still in your job you probably should be counting your lucky stars not feeling sorry for yourself.

It all comes down to perception and attitude - two people can be in the exact same circumstances and one can feel fortunate and the other one down on their luck. It's certainly true with health - there are some people with serious health problems who feel lucky to be alive and bring a positive attitude to facing their conditions, and others who may actually be in reasonable health but still find something to complain about without taking any action.

I don't want to be a total polyanna and say you can deal with anything with a positive mental attitude - there's obviously a strong genetic factor in numerous health conditions - but I do think people generally would benefit from recognising the positive aspects of their lives and taking more responsibility in fixing anything they're not happy with.

It's not even that difficult all you need is a pen and paper:

1. Write down everything you like about your life and everything you're grateful for ... Give yourself some time to think and include little things like 'pancakes for breakfast' and 'a lie in on the weekend' - the list may end up pretty long.

2. Write down everything you don't like and aren't happy about. Be honest here - still the list probably won't be longer then 1 - your glass is already more than half full.

3. Next to every item on the second list write down an action that you could take towards fixing or improving that problem. Start with baby steps where possible rather than big actions so against something like 'I want a flatter stomach' 'do an abs class once this week' rather than 'exercise for an hour a day' or against 'I don't like where I work' list 'review my cv' rather than 'get a new job'.

4. Set aside an hour or two on the weekend and tackle as many of the actions in list 3 as you can. As soon as you take action you'll already feel less negative about that item.

Keep working through the actions and repeat step 1 once a week until you start to feel like a genuinely happy puppy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Serious side-effects

I've taken my fair share of flu medications and pain relief in my time but since cleaning up my act diet and health-wise I've been keen to keep all medications to a minimum and try and use natural remedies when possible.

Sometimes though when it comes to pain relief, no amount of garlic and ginger is going to cut it! and anyone who's endured any long-term pain will feel hugely grateful to the inventors of ibuprofen and paracetamol. The problem is once you get used to using pain relief on a regular basis it's easy to fall into a habit of taking pain relief medication for every slight twinge.

Today in the bbc there was an article on the dangers of taking too much paracetamol - and these aren't just nasty side effects - experts have warned that taking slightly too much paracetamol day after day can be fatal, even just a few pills too many taken regularly over days, weeks or months, could lead to serious and irreversible liver damage.

In my opinion anything where the side effect is death should be avoided whenever possible and even if you're not taking a dangerous dose, it's just not something you should be taking regularly even in small doses. Obviously when you're injured or genuinely ill over the counter medication can be a real godsend, but if you've just got a headache or a slight twinge, maybe think twice before popping a pill.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Winter warmers

There was a winter chill in the air today which finally gave me cause to don my winter coat. But it's not just my outer wear that has to change when the temperature drops ... so does my lunch.

A salad just doesn't cut it when it's chilly out, instead I crave hot cooked food. This actually makes sense in terms of how the body reacts to the cooler temperatures. Firstly our immune systems operate better at a higher temperature so sitting still at a desk all day can leave you cold and vulnerable to infection - this is why exercise is important over the winter months and also why having hot food and hot drinks can help keep the bugs at bay.

Secondly, despite not being doormice (although I sometimes feel like I am one!) our bodies do crave certain elements of hibernation, we need to (and tend to want to) sleep more, we naturally store more fat to keep us warmer and our digestive systems become more sensitive, so stewed and cooked foods which are easier to digest are better for you over winter.

I'm not a huge fan of microwaving and as the party season starts I won't always have time to make a packed lunch so as a result I tend to buy my lunch much more often over the winter months.

One of my go to winter lunches is soup - easy to digest, satisfying and usually pretty healthy. However, assuming all soups are healthy is a mistake, they can be just as fat laden as other city lunches.

One way to make sure your bought lunch is healthy is to go for the vegan option. You meat eaters may turn your nose up at this suggestion but by choosing a vegan option you're guaranteeing you're missing out on any unhealthy animal fats. You'll also likely be getting a lot more nutrient rich veggies than in the other options. For the budget conscious meat-free options are also usually relatively cheaper (lunches in the city are pretty extortionate).

Unfortunately if you want vegan and gluten free you're much more restricted on choice but both EAT and Pret have options that fit both, just not every day.

However man cannot live by soup alone, although the EAT very big soups are filling enough! But I like a bit more variety to my lunch. Firstly if the soup doesn't contain any pulses I'll want some extra protein to go with it and might get a small serving of sashimi or sushi to go with it. A natural yoghurt, low-fat cottage cheese, or some hummous with crudites would be some other healthy protein options.

Even with the soups with pulses I still enjoy some nice bread to dip in it. EAT actually does a good wheat-free bread, but sadly if you want gluten free you'll have to BYU. Dietary specials wholemeal ciabatta rolls are my favourite for soup dipping. It's a simple meal but one I find totally satisfying and warms me right up.

Vegan/Gluten free soups:

Spicy tomato and basil
Goan potato

Lentil and coconut dahl
Spicy three bean chilli
Sweet potato and lentil

Monday, 21 November 2011

A soothing supper

I usually get the tube home but tonight I got the bus and witnessed an unbelievable amount of road rage in my ten minute wait at the bus top.

I'm not entirely sure what all of it was about, certainly alot of beeping came from the swarm of motorbikes and scooters hurtling down the bus lane and there was also some close misses as a drunk weaved his way across four lanes!

A lary commute really isn't what you need after a stressful day in the office and it got me thinking about the effect on all these commuters from this extra daily dose of agro.

You see you don't just feel grumpy and annoyed after a horrid commute home, you will also have actively depleted your body of some pretty useful nutrients.

Amongst others the body's stress response tends to use up:

B vitamins - also important for nerve function, good skin condition and fat burning - one of the several reasons that stress can make you over-weight

Vitamin C - super important for the immune system - one of the reasons that stress can make you more susceptible to catching bugs

Magnesium - also needed for muscle relaxation, including the heart - one of the reasons that stress can lead to higher blood pressure as well as general muscle tension

In the past I've actively recommended people change their route to work, even if it's to a slightly longer one, to make it less stressful for them to help improve their health. Avoiding multiple changes, particularly nasty stations (Bank/Holborn top my list) or walking down particularly polluted or dodgy roads. For cyclists, following the cycle super highways reduces the chance of having an accident or near miss.

If there's really no way round it at least load some uplifting tunes onto your ipod to listen to on the way home and when you get home make sure you have a regenerating dinner.

Wholegrains and oily fish will help top up you B vitamin levels, dark leafy greens such as spinach, rocket and kale all provide magnesium and add in some red and orange veg for some vitamin C - grilled salmon with brown rice, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes would be just the ticket.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Lasagna Lite

In my quest for healthy comfort food I'm always trying to adapt my favourite recipes to health them up but keep the comforting element.

Lasagna is one such meal that I've always enjoyed eating, but felt very heavy afterwards. Sadly that combination of wheat, pasta and cheese is a recipe for indigestion and falling asleep and if consumed too frequently a recipe for weight gain and ill health.

Obviously now I don't eat dairy, gluten or meat making lasagna posed a bit of a challenge and to be fair I couldn't expect my lasagna substitute to taste like the original, but my substitute actually hit the spot in terms of comfort food keeping that tomato/pasta/stodge factor.

This recipe is gluten free, dairy free, vegan, low in fat, high in fibre and basically guilt free .. perfect for a cold wintery evening ... if one comes along soon!!

Emilie's Light Lasagna:
Prepare 4 lasagna sheets according to instructions - I used dietary specials gluten free lasagna sheets

Heat 1.5 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and add 1 onion diced and 2 cloves of garlic minced. Once the onion has softened add 1 small courgette and half a small aubergine cubed. Fry for 10 minutes til softened and take off the heat.

In a jug mix 1 tin of green or brown lentils, 500g passata, 1 tsp each of drived oregano and dried basil plus 1 tbsp tomato puree and a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Brush an oven proof dish with olive oil (I used an 8 inch diameter circular dish) and put a layer of half the courgette and aubergine mix in the bottom, top with one third of the tomato/lentil mix and then top with two lasagna sheets. Repeat the layers again and then on top of the final lasagna layer pour over the final third of the lasagna/tomato mix (this will stop the top layer of lasagna from burning)

Bake for 40 minutes in an oven preheated to 140C.

Serve with a green side salad.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Blurred lines

This evening on my way home from work I saw something that really saddened me. I watched a Big Issue Seller sell a copy and then rush straight into M&S and buy some cheap alcohol with the proceeds as if their life depended on it.

Alcohol for a lot of people has positive associations of celebrations, fun nights out and being pleasently tipsy. However it's important to remember that alcohol is a drug which is why it can be such a destructive force in peoples lives and to society. Just the cost to the NHS from alcohol related disease or treating injuries caused by alcohol is astronomic and such a terrible waste when money is short and needed for much more worthwhile treatments.

In fact I'm pretty sure that were it invented today alcohol would be never be licensed, and that may be no bad thing. But when consumed sensibly, and by those not pre-disposed to addiction, I think it can be an enjoyable treat without being harmful.

Still the problem is a lot of people don't have alcohol as a treat, they have it as a regular part of their diet - often drinking daily, without thinking this is bad for them. However having more than one medium glass of wine a day, as a woman means you're already over the government limit - and that's a recommended maximum to avoid harm - not a target to hit!

Regulalry drinking over the limit can lead to heart disease, liver disease, depression, mood disorders, reduced libido, weight gain, hypothyroidism, increased risk of cancer ... the list goes on. But even if you haven't got any of these yet (I hope you don't) prevention is so much better and easier than cure, especially in the case of alcohol. Even reduced energy, hard to shift dark circles under the eyes and a bit of a muffin top/spare tyre are signs you could benefit from a break.

Personally I think it's best to avoid drinking during the week when possible and to limit alcohol to two nights a week. In addition, I think it's extremely beneficial to have one month off all drugs including tobacco, caffeine and alcohol every year to give your body a proper break.

If the idea of giving any of those up for a whole month horrifies you that's a pretty good sign that it's something you should do. Maybe not right now - but sometime after Christmas when the social calendar is emptier and less hard to navigate sober.

By the end of the month you'll likely feel full of energy, be sleeping better, have better skin, have lost spare weight and be in a much better mood. I gave up for three months and felt so significantly better that I never went back to regular drinking. A couple of glasses of champagne a month is more than enough for me!

Ps The current government advice for pregnancy is not to drink any alcohol, which I entirely agree with, a developing featus is extremely sensitive and you should limit it's exposure to toxins as much as possible, including tobacco, over the counter or illegal drugs, caffeine and alcohol. I would, however, go further and say that anyone trying for a baby should also not drink as you will likely be pregnant for a couple of weeks before knowing. In addition drinking alcohol reduces fertility in both men and women so guys should also stay off the beers for the best chance of conceiving.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Dining without

Something I get asked about a fair bit, and can be a problem for people trying to improve their diets, is how to cope with eating out when on a restrictive diet, particularly on holidays. So now seems like a great time to cover this off with a bit of a food diary from my trip.

It might help to first explain what I don't eat to give some context to my choices, but as with all nutritional programmes this is specific to my health needs so won't be the best list for everyone. This also applies about 80 per cent of the time and the other 20 per cent I'll eat whatever I fancy. It's worth noting that I can do this as most of the foods I miss out are intolerances rather than tru allergies. If you have a true allergy you should avoid the food altogether and also double-check when ordering if any of the foods you are allergic to will be in the dish.

My preference infact is to eat a vegan diet most of the time but I tend to eat fish and seafood when I eat out. If also avoided fish and seafood altogether I know that eating out would be a lot more difficult.

I totally avoid
Gluten (includes wheat) (intolerance)
Dairy (Intolerance)
Coffee + tea
Oranges (allergy)
Raw onions/raw chillies (intolerance)

I generally avoid:

So with this in mind here are the choices I made - you'll see I have a bias towards Asian cuisine, which is mainly because I love it, but also because it's the most gluten and dairy free friendly cuisine available.

Thai cuisine:
Tofu and aubergine curry with rice

Broccoli and shrimp stir fry with rice noodles (sauce had some sugar in it)

Vegetarian ramen soup - I asked for rice noodles instead of soba noodles which contain wheat - most japanese restaurants will happily make this switch for you

Veggie mixed starter with veggie skewers, vegan summer rolls and rice dumplings, followed by mixed vegetable curry with brown rice (the tofu on the menu was battered so I gave it a miss).

Jack Lallane veggie burger in a gluten free bun. I couldn't believe my luck when I saw this on the menu at Ellen's Stardust diner on Broadway.
It was delicious as were the waffle fries it came with and felt totally indulgent despite having half the calories and hardly any of the fat of hot docs cheeseburger! And of course I was delighted to see Jack honoured in this way - what a legend.

Minestrone soup (in the states this is just veggies no pasta) followed by steamed sea bass with courgettes and fennel - delish

Spinach salad followed by salmon and asparagus risotto - this has to count as a 20 per cent exception as risotto is made with butter.

Modern European
Scallops with apples and watercress followed by plaice with artichokes and new potatoes.

Lunches on the go:
When you're playing at tourist you generally don't want to stop for a long lunch so these were more like my city lunches:
- pret, sushi box
- au bon pan, tuscan bean soup
- mangia, green smoothie and tuscan bean soup
- kelley + ping, veggie pad thai (had eggs and a little sugar so was a 20per cent exception), with ginger pak choi and summer rolls

Breakfasts in nyc:
Brunch in america is an egg or dairy laden affair so pretty tricky for me. Instead I headed to the wonderful Wholefoods Market and got myself some gluten free bagels which I had each morning with no sugar peanut butter - yummy and kept me full til lunchtime.

To be completely honest in this diary I have to fess up to my indulgences of the week which were half a slice of new york cheese cake - delicious but too sweet to finish! and two squares of a godiva dark chocolate truffle bar - divine!

Still if I had to stick to my diet more strictly and hadn't had these I wouldn't have felt hard done by - despite sticking to my healthy rules I still felt I'd indulged thoroughly and enjoyed all my meals.


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Flying solo

Anyone who has ever travelled with me will know that I don't travel light. Partly because I like my creature comforts and partly because I usually take a fair amount of food with me when I go abroad. This comes from experience of struggling to stick to a gluten, sugar, dairy free diet in an unfamiliar neighbourhood without knowing whether or not the land I'm visiting will cater for me.

This planning usually pays off as I always have something healthy to snack on but I still find it frustrating that I can't just travel light and grab food as and when I feel like it. So in the spirit of taking a true holiday, including from my usual fastidious food planning, I took off to the states with absolutely no supplies with me at all ... And survived!

Ok so there were a couple of instances where I had to resort to unhealthy ready salted crisps as a snack (usually just potato, oil and salt so pretty allergy friendly). But generally I found it fairly easy to stick to my usual healthy diet without having to go out my way.

One place I usually never go without some snacks is the airport because plane food is both unappetising and rarely healthy, so that was probably the area I was most worried about. But I was positively surprised by my vegan meals - yes you can now pre-order a vegan or gluten-free meal on your flight but sadly not in combination so I had to eat some wheat, but I'd rather that than the usual cheese/cream laden gluten-free vegetarian food.

On the flight out dinner was rice with cannelini beans and veggies with some grapes for dessert, which hot doc stole as it was nicer than his nasty plane dessert, and the pre-landing snack was a filling and tasty roasted Mediterranean vegetable ciabatta. On the flight home dinner was pasta with ratatouille, again with fruit and breakfast was a granola bar with a banana. I did supplement all this with a packet of kettle chips and a bottle of water I picked up in the airport as you don't always get fed when you're hungry and I usually need more water than I get given.

Even if you're allergy/intolerance free ordering vegan meal is a great idea if you're flying long haul - you'll sleep much better after a lighter meal and feel a whole lot better when you wake up than if you'd had some rich meat or cheese dish. You also get more fruit and veggies that way, so more vitamin C to fight off your neighbours germs, and less calories than the standard meal so it's better for you all round.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Howdy partners!

Well hello there ... NITC is back in the saddle after my holiday in the Big Apple and champing at the bit to start blogging about my American food fest. But quite frankly looking at the FAB blogs from the lovely Lisa and my great friend the Zen Dog, I'm not sure I'm even needed back on the blog! Major thanks to both these amazing ladies for blogging in my absence and providing me, and hopefully all of you, with inspiration to make some positive changes.

In particular I know I need to get some Zen back in my life and start up my regular yoga practice again. On the environmental front I don't exactly feel saintly about all those airmiles, but I did have to have a clear out to fit my shopping in my closet and put a bag of clothes in the charity bin this evening .. does that count?!

Anyway enough of the preamble and onto my lessons from New York, one of my top three favourite cities. I remember my mum being very concerned about my first visit, back when I was 19 years old, thinking of New York as a very dangerous city and murder capital. But New York has undergone a huge transformation since the 1980s being cleaned up both literally and in terms of crime.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani kicked off the good work based on his “broken window” theory of government. The “broken window” theory is that a broken window left unfixed in an apartment block would give the appearance of decay and disrepair to the area encouraging the congregation of criminals, who would see the physical deterioration as a sign that their shady activities will go unnoticed. Once the criminal element started congregating then law-abiding citizens would start avoiding the area pushing it further into decline. By clamping down o,n and cleaning up vandalism and graffiti, the police were able to reduce the amount of run down areas and associated crime.

But this isn't just a phenomenon observed in big cities .... it applies elsewhere including in my bedroom! No it's not a centre of crime, but whilst I generally keep my bedroom pretty tidy and put my clothes away, if I have a couple of tops left out then I'm more inclined to dump the next one on top the pile and before you know it I have clothes all over the place!

The broken window theory also made me think of how this applies to eating habits. Something I've observed both with clients, and in myself, is that if you start letting yourself eat little unhealthy treats here or there you almost always end up gradually eating them more and more often and in larger portions. It starts with a couple of chocolates from a box in the office, a few biscuits with your tea, a chocolate bar from the vending machine because you were tired .... and without even realizing it you end up eating unhealthy snacks pretty much every day.

This is why I recommend people have their regular healthy day to day diet and then deliberate meals or days off, rather than just letting yourself have little treats here and there. If you have some basic rules you follow for healthy eating ... avoid sugar, don't eat dairy foods, avoid wheat ... whatever is healthy for you ... then it's easy to make healthy choices day to day. It also means that when you have your day off or meals off you can eat whatever you want without restriction and truly enjoy the food without feeling guilty.

I usually have a couple of meals a week where I indulge and eat whatever I fancy, which I can work around a special occasion, a nice meal out, or just feeling like a bit of comfort food on a night in. The point is I know how to eat the rest of the time so I don't have an excuse for naughty food to gradually creep into my diet without me noticing, but at the same time I don't feel deprived from never having any treats. This rule works for me and keeps my diet clean and crime free just like the streets of NYC!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Born to run.... but sometimes need a little help....

This is my last blog and I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.  I thought I would go back to where I started and touch back onto the subject of acupuncture....

I was totally enthralled by the set of programs, Origins of Us.  In one episode, it was described that our bodies haven't changed much in the last 200,000 years. When it was required for us to leave the forests in search of food on the savannah, this was the point our bodies started to stand upright and create a form so we could run for our food and run so we didn't become food!  To help us run, our gluteus maximus fires every time we land our foot to stop us from falling over, our big knees act as a pivot, the swinging of our arms stops our heads from jolting forward and our achilles tendon acts like a shock absorber.  Our bodies are amazing and watching programs like that just highlights it.

These days though we don't necessarily need to run to have dinner but there is still an instinct within us that likes to run, or do other cardio, to burn off excess energy.  Acupuncture can help our bodies stay well in our activities and also provide extra support if we injure ourselves.  The Chinese and Japanese Olympic teams have always had a resident acupuncturist as part of their athlete support, but its only recently this is starting to be integrated into teams from the West.  There has been a lot of research into the effect of acupuncture on sports injuries with very positive results.  Acupuncture is great to use on a fresh sports injury but is so versatile and can work so deeply that it can be used at any stage of the injury.

The trauma of an injury can stop the natural healing process and the area can change to a 'cold' state in Chinese Medicine.  Using acupuncture can warm the area and stimulate qi and blood through the superficial channels of the body, also directing the body to heal in this area.  The needles can stimulate nerves and tissues that will release endorphins, our natural painkillers.  They can also help relax the muscles and tendons and keep the joints mobile.  The approach of a Chinese Medicine acupuncturist is that they will look at the whole picture and also try to help any underlying condition that could be contributing to the possibility of being injured.  Also anyone that participates in competitions, acupuncture can help to dissipate any pre-race tension or nervousness to leave you fully focussed on the competition.

Now we have moved off the savannah and into offices it is good to explore the plethora of therapies at our disposal for us to keep on top of our well-being.  So if you are feeling a bit of a niggle then maybe this weekend is the time to check in with it and see if you can show yourself some TLC.... but also even if you don't have anything bothering you right now it is nice to invest in yourself to keep things at bay.

Just a quick note before I finish, if you were as touched by the film 'Life in a Day' as I was, then the day for us to be filming for 'Britain in a Day' is this Sat 12 Nov (  'Life in a Day' is a beautiful representation of the ups and downs, loves and fears, kindness and cruelty of humanity.  The film captures how weird and wonderful we can be, connecting up the human race and pulling together simple moments in peoples lives filmed on one day last July.

Happy weekends all

Zen Dog