Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Beachcamp: Pec deck

In response to my blog on what I should cover in Beachcamp I received a request on building pectorial muscle, which I'm sure most of your would assime came from a guy wanting to improve his chest definition to impress on the beach.

Infact the request was from a female reader. Those ladies who don't do weights may scoff at the suggestion that women would want to undertake any kind of body vuilding, but actually women can benefit greatly from doing weights. Fears of starting to look like a female body builder can be brushed to one side - it takes a huge effort to get yourself looking like a man by doing weights!

Free weights are excellent exercise both to improve muscle tone and core strength and to increase bone density, particularly important after menopause. In addition, and why the NITC reader requested this focus, building your chest muscle creates a firm and solid foundation, preventing future sagging and reducing bounce for the larger chested amongst us who run the risk of exposure with danger when sporting a bikini on the beach!!

As for the boys, let's be honest a moob is not a good look for the beach so it's important not to neglect this area in your exercise routine.

Chest flies, chest press and push ups are all good for building and toning chest muscle. In addition, if you want to build muscle you need to provide your body with the building blocks of muscles - amino acids.

To maximise muscle gain you need to eat 20g protein every 3-4 hours including within 1hour after any weight training when uptake of protein to the muscle will be up regulated, which is when protein shakes can be useful. However if you're not going for the Jersey Shore look, just make sure you eat a serving of a lean protein the size of your clenched fist at every meal and don't forget your Cherry Active post workout for muscle recovery.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Beachcamp: Ab attack

Something both men and women covet when it comes to beach bodies is nice abs. However with our stressful lives it is more common for city folk to lay their fat around their middle. This is due to the fact that when under stressful conditions we produce more of the stress hormone cortisol which encourages fat to be deposited closer to your organs as emergency fuel reserves and this is also encouraged by eating foods that stress the body such as caffeine, sugar and alcohol.

Fortunately the preceding Beachcamp rules will help reduce stress from food on the body, but in terms of reducing your cortisol levels it's also vital to dedicate time each day and week to active relaxation if you need to shift your love handles. For example chilling out on the sofa (no TV) for 10 minutes or doing a yoga class.

Nice abs are a combination of not holding excess fat around the middle and having muscle definition. So whilst you won't see a six pack til the excess fat is shifted, toning exercises are still worthwhile. A six pack isn't de rigeur for the ladies, but for the guys look no further than the body for life training programme for amazing abs in 12 weeks (check out the transformation photos for inspiration): http://bodyforlife.com/library/exercise/weight-training
For a less muscular more toned stomach for the ladies pilates classes strengthen inner core muscles, and you don't need to be a gym member, there are plenty of good dvds out there. Tracy Anderson Method
workout has ab exercises specifically designed for creating a toned flat stomach rather than a six pack.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Beachcamp rule #6: Get moving

In case you couldn't tell, I love talking about food and nutrition! which is why I count myself as very fortunate to have quite a few friends also interested in the subject.

One of my good friends always has a few food-related questions saved up for me when we meet up often leading to a good chinwag on the latest diets and food fads. Recently he's been encouraging me to read 'Why We Get Fat' by Gary Taubes, one of the few recent books on nutrition to bring some original ideas to the table.

Whilst I would love to read this book my 'to read' list is longer than most of my blogs and my free-time not so 'free'! Still my friend kindly filled me in on Gary's theories, one of which is that the amount people exercise makes no difference to how fat or thin they are.

Contentious as it may sound I actually agree with his argument. That is to say that if you listen to your appetite and only eat enough to satisfy it all times then it will adjust to exercise (increase) neutralizing the extra calories burnt and your body fat percentage would then stay roughly the same. But there are a few problems with this argument in practice:

Firstly, there are very few people who eat strictly according to their appetites - most people are influenced by the portion size they are given and other factors such as comfort or boredom eating. Therefore by exercising, and burning off some of these spare calories consumed, these individuals will be slimmer than they would be without doing any exercise.

Secondly, this just addresses body fat and ignores the benefit of increased muscle mass and muscle tone. Anyone who belongs to a gym just has to have a quick look around the changing room to see how different peoples bodies can look even at the same level of fat. A slim woman who doesn't exercise may look good fully clothed but in her bikini a saggy bottom and undefined abs won't look so good. As BeachCamp is designed to get in shape for the beach, incorporating regular toning exercises for a toned behind and firm stomach is pretty fundamental.

Thirdly, it ignores the important health benefits of exercise, mainly strengthening your muscles including your heart, protecting your bones by increasing bone density and reducing the risk of breaks and fractures, improving circulation and detox and upregulating your immune system.

Beachcamp is about more than losing weight, it's about getting into top health to reach the summer full of vitality and have the energy to do more than just fall asleep on the beach!

So BeachCamp rule #6 is to exercise for 30 minutes 5 days a week.

I'm sticking to only half an hour as at this level exercise doesn't add any stress on the body. It is also easy to fit in/achievable which is important as stressing about not fitting in 1.5 hours of exercise a day may actually make you put on weight through the production of stress hormones.

I'm going to alternate a cardio workout with weights and toning. The important thing is to do something enjoyable and try and work out every major muscle group once a week. If all else fails go for a brisk walk ... just get moving!

For the non-UK NITC readers please note that we have a UK bank holiday on Monday so Beachcamp will be back on Tuesday.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Beachcamp Rule #5: Get your fats rights

Whilst I do genuinely think that sugar is more to blame for weight gain than fat, there is no ignoring that eating alot of a fat is a sure way to take on alot of spare calories that in all likelihood will end up stored as fat. However, when it comes to weight loss all fats are not created equal - there are the good cops and the bad cops of the fat world.

The good cops are the essential fats found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, olives and avocados, which are not only great for your skin and hair condition but also can help increase your metabolism and fat burning. These should be eaten regularly and I'm already having them daily as per Beachcamp Rule #2.

The bad cops are saturated fats which are pretty much any fats from an animal source other than oily fish, so the fats in eggs, meat and dairy products. These fats are not only bad for your heart but they also stop your body properly utilizing the good fats which means they can actively inhibit fat burning. In addition these fats can interfere with hormone balance, both in men and women, which can also lead to weight gain, particularly around the middle - leading to the dreaded muffin top. In addition our modern farming methods mean that these foods may contain hormones, antibiotics and other substances that you're body would be better off without and which can lead to hormone imbalances and fluid retention. So if you suffer from cellulite this rule is particularly important as the appearance of cellulite is a combination of fatty deposits and fluid retention and anecdotally I have found cutting out animal products can make a big improvement.

So if you want to lose your love handles and reduce your cellulite make sure you follow Beachcamp Rule #5: avoid all meat, eggs and dairy products.

This isn't forever - just for the three weeks of Beachcamp - and this rule comes with the disclaimer that some people with low iron, low thyroid status, or impaired adrenal function may not do well on a totally meat/egg free diet - I'm personally a fan of everyone avoiding dairy foods and at the same time think eggs can be a healthy addition to a diet. I will be supplementing extra B vitamins, vitamin D and iron to compensate for cutting these foods out of my diet for the duration of Beachcamp.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Beachcamp Rule #4: Stick to savoury

A growing body of research is suggesting that sugar is actually more culpable for obesity and cardiovascular disease than saturated fats - a view I'd agree with. And what's worrying about this is how many savoury foods have sugar added to them - pizza, pasta sauces, curry and stir fry sauces, soups, dips, flavoured crisps - start reading ingredients lists and you'll realise it's added to most processed foods.

This means we are constantly eating sugar without necessarily realising and this means our pancreas is constantly being stimulated with sugar in our food to produce more insulin - the hormone that encourages fat storage. The more sugar you eat the greater the percentage of the calories you eat that will be stored as fat - which means sugar is banned on beachcamp!

A good rule to start with is to not eat anything that tastes sweet other than fruit, but to really stick to this rule I'm not going to eat any foods with more than 5g of sugars per 100g (shown on the label under the total carbohydrate levels) unless they are sweetened with fruit.

If you've got a sweet tooth this may sound too challenging - but just stick to it for a week and let yourself have a sugary reward at the end of the week - be it a slice of cake or bar of chocolate - in terms of weight loss being strict when it comes to sugar can really pay off.

But it's not just sugar you need to be wary of, refined 'white carbohydrates' can be almost as bad as sugar when it comes to provoking insulin production so for the duration of bootcamp I'll be avoiding all white rice, white pasta, white bread and anything made with refined flour (biscuits, crackers) etc. If you want to get in shape for summer it's got to be wholegrains all the way.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Beachcamp Rule #3: Natures diet pill

As I've blogged before fruit and vegetables (particularly vegetables) are natures diet pill - the higher the percentage of your diet that is made up of fruit and veg the easier you should find it to lose weight.

This is because your body uses your appetite to increase your intake of essential nutrients for both macronutrients, as per yesterdays blog, and micronutrients. Fruit and vegetables are rich in two important macronutrients - fibre and water - but also a great source for lots of vitamins and minerals. These will help satiate the bodies need for these micronutrients and are also nutrients used up in the fat burning pathway in the body so actively help the process of fat burning. In addition the antioxidants they contain help get skin and hair in good condition, important for looking your best on the beach.

Therefore Rule #3 of BeachCamp is to eat some fruit and/or vegetables with every meal and snack you have.

For example have berries with breakfast, a banana for a mid-morning snack, salad with lunch, carrot sticks with hummus for an afternoon snack and a few different vegetables with your dinner.

Always aim to eat more portions of vegetables than fruit in a day (I try and restrict fruit to mornings only) and limit tropical fruit, such as bananas and mangos, to just one portion per day.

Not only will this make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need, but by making sure you include fruit and veg with every meal and snack it will fill you up and stop you eating other less healthy foods and snacks.

if you're not a fan of fruit and veg and struggle to get enthusiastic about them I strongly encourage you to read Jason Vale's Slim for Life: Freedom from the Diet Trap
for some healthy brain washing to the virtues of eating a diet high in fruit and veg,

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Beachcamp rule #2: The big 5

Most diets and weight loss programmes are focussed on avoiding and restricting foods in an effort to take in less calories. As regular NITC readers will know, however, I'm not a great believer in calorie control as the best weight to achieve and sustain weight loss as it ignores your bodies natural food regulation and appetite and can distort eating behaviours - anyone calorie counting usually avoids foods rich in healthy fats such as nuts and oily fish. It is worth remembering that eating certain foods can actually help you lose weight by providing the nutrients you need, both to help keep stoke your metabolism, but also to regulate your appetite - if you're not getting the vitamins, minerals, essential fats and other nutrients that you need your body will increase your appetite, so that you'll eat more, to try and get those nutrients.

This is why Beachcamp rule #2 is to make sure each meal contains a healthy food from the five main macronutrient groups:
1. Water - covered in rule #1 - drink a glass when you wake up and before every meal
2. Fibre - found in fruit, vegetables and unrefined wholegrains (brown rice, wholemeal bread etc.)
3. Carbohydrates - these need to be unrefined to be good for you - so that means sticking to the brown grains - brown rice, brown bread, oats, as well as the slower digesting starchy vegetables: new potatoes, sweet potatoes and pulses.
4. Protein - have lean sources of protein such as seafood, pulses and tofu
5. Fats - have a source of essential fats with every meal. This could be oily fish, but also just adding a few olives or a sprinkling of seeds to your salad, or some chopped nuts stirred into your porridge.

Making sure you include a source of each of these five macronutrients will help keep your diet balanced and your body satisfied. I also make sure I have some fruit and/or vegetables with every meal .. but more on that tomorrow.

Just run through these in your head when you make your food choices and you'll quickly find it easy to include all the macronutrients.

For example:
Breakfast - say you usually have a brown of cereal then switch to a wholegrain variety - that ticks off fibre and carbohydrates, add a tablespoon of some flaked almonds or other nuts and seeds, that ticks off fats. And then have a small natural yoghurt, that's your protein, with some berries (extra fibre and antioxidants).

Lunch - Easy to tick these all off with a salad or sandwich - have brown bread or pasta or brown rice (carbohydrates and fibre), seafood, pulses or boiled eggs (protein) and then add some seeds for a salad, or spread of tahini or some sliced avocado to a sandwich and that's your fats ticked off the list.

If dinner is the traditional fare of meat and two veg, switch to fish (protein and essential fats if it's oily fish), swap the roast or mashed potatoes for new potatoes (carbohydrates) and then enjoy whichever other veg you would usually eat.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Welcome to Beachcamp: Rule #1

It was pouring down with rain when I left the office this afternoon, supporting last weeks advice of being prepared for all weather this time of year! However, despite the grey skies, summer is still just around the corner and that means having some beachtime :-)

Nothing quite spoils sunning yourself on the sand, than feeling out of shape and self-conscious. Whilst I try and keep myself in good shape all year round I'm still prone to the usual winter weight gain and pre-summer holiday bikini anxiety!

So I'm putting myself into beachcamp for the next 3 weeks and invite you to join me! Even if you're not trying to lose weight, all the aspects of beachcamp will be aimed at promoting good health so still worth reading.

As with all the info I put on this blog this shouldn't be taken as individual dietary advice - if you want weight loss advice please contact a nutritional therapist and don't embark on any weight loss programme if you have any health problems or take any medication, without first consulting your doctor.

Ok so disclaimer over - letks get started!!

As with my usual philosophy on food they'll be no calorie counting or portion size restriction in Beachcamp - just some simple rules to follow. If you eat healthy food that you enjoy and eat in response to hunger your appetite will naturally regulate and excess weight should come off in a smooth and sustainable way. The rules will build on each other - and I'm going to start with a simple one!

So rule #1:

Drink a glass of water on waking and 15 minutes before every meal or snack and cup of caffeinated tea or coffee

We should all drink 1.5-2 litres of water a day but alot of people don't drink enough and pay the price.

Drinking insufficient water leads to poor concentration, impaired sports performance and headaches and impairs immune and detox function.

But what's this got to do with getting bikini ready? Well water is one of the essential inputs into the chemical reaction in your cells which burns fat or sugars to create energy. So if you're dehydrated you won't be able to burn fat as effectively as when you are properly hydrated.

Another reason this rule is so important is that when you're dehydrated your body will upregulate your appetite as food is a source of water. By drinking a glass of water before eating you will be making sure that your appetite is genuine and slightly down-regulating it.

It's a similar scenario with regards to tea and coffee - we usually reach for caffeine when we're feeling tired, but fatigue is very often due to dehydration as we don't have the necessary water to generate energy in our cells. Once you've had a cup of water and waited 15 minutes, as if by magic you probably won't need a coffee saving you money, unnecessary calories and reducing your caffeine intake which is good news for weight-loss (caffeine provokes insulin production which causes fat storage).

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Emergency supplies

I was at a conference today with the usual conference catering of pastries for breakfast and sugary biscuits and muffins for mid-morning and afternoon tea and it struck me, as I tucked into the small pack of almonds I had brought with me, that my advice yesterday on strategic snacking for weddings was infact pretty useful advice for a lot of business scenarios. This includes conferences, air travel or the days where you're booked into back to back client meetings with no time to eat inbetween.

It also reminded me of some advice I read in French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure
by Mireille Guiliano. In this enjoyable guide to the french approach to eating Mirelle emphasizes the importance of carrying an emergency 'en-cas' - a healthy snack carried with you just incase to eat either when you find yourself hungry between meals, or facing temptation - if you have a healthy snack on you then you can't use hunger as an excuse to tuck into biscuits or chocolate!

An en-cas needs to be portable, non-perishable and easy to eat discretely without risking staining your suit. So whilst you might ideally snack on fresher foods day to day such as fruit and crudites, these are still all good options to keep in your briefcase or handbag for when your appetite kicks in at an inconvenient time.

Mini bags of nuts - tescos do handy snack packs of natural nuts - I alternate between almonds and brazil nuts
Nakd hars
Laar bars
Fruitus bars
Bounce balls
Food doctor bars
Food doctor seeds or soya nuts
Clearspring seed packs
Mini boxes of raisins or other dried fruit

Submit a question:
NITC loves to hear from my readers - please submit your nutrition or diet questions and I'll aim to answer them in my blog.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Wedding planning

Most londoners enjoyed the wedding of the year last month either by making the most of the extra bank holiday and getting away (as I did) or by soaking up the spectacle from the comfort of their sofas.

For any of you who did the latter you at least had the option of snacking whilst enjoying the proceedings unlike the guests who had to turn up early and then be on their best behaviour under the scrutiny of numerous film cameras until the event was over.

The Queen was good enough to put on a lunch for the guests, but at most english weddings you can easily wait until 5pm for the first bite to eat by which point you're ravenous. It also usually means you're having your first glass of champagne on an empty stomach - a good recipe for getting drunk early in the proceedings, leading to inappropriate dancing, speech heckling and finding yourself slumped over a table wishing you could go to bed before the bride and groom have even made their exit.

English weddings are normally around 1pm and so chances are that without a snack you'll have to go 5+ hours without any food. This is why planning some strategic snacking is usually a good idea if you've got a wedding in the diary.
Firstly it's important to start the day with a good breakfast - something slow to digest and full of fibre such as muesli with some natural yoghurt. If you have a long journey to the venue pack a small snack to eat when you arrive at your destination.

Something discreet like a Laar bar or Fruitus bar can easily fit in a clutch bag or jacket pocket and be eaten without any mess/risk of staining your outfit, on the way from the church or registry office to the venue. If it's all in one place there's still usually an interlude whilst the bride and groom have their photos taken when you can subtly snack.

Once the drinks and appetisers come out, try and have three or four morsels to eat before making headway into the champers. Anything with protein and a bit of fat - smoked salmon, parma ham, cheese etc - will help line your stomach and slow the rate at which the bubbles kick in and the room starts spinning!!

Hopefully with a bit of strategic snacking you won't be so ravenous by the time the wedding breakfast is served, so try not to go over-board on the food. Usually there's table service but in a buffet scenario it's easy to over-eat leading to a sudden drop in blood sugar and energy lull 90 minutes after the meal and then a bad case of the munchies later in the evening leading to an embarrassing raid on the wedding cake.

And don't forget in all of this to keep alternating your drinks with water. A whole day of champers and sunshine (if you're lucky) can leave you seriously dehydrated and with an unnecessarily painful wedding hangover!


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Delicious Jamie

When hosting dinner parties the temptation can often be serve very rich food, I guess this is usually because you want to serve the tastiest food to your friends and we usually associate great taste with unhealthy indulgent food. However if you're trying to stay on the health wagon or trying to lose weight this means that dinner parties can be difficult to navigate.

But dinner party food doesn't need to be unhealthy to be tasty. A great example of this was the wonderful thai green curry I was served on the weekend which was both delicious and healthy. It was served with a choice of brown and white rice, very thoughtful of the host for the health conscious amongst us, as well as extra vegetables - super healthy, super tasty. So I thought I'd share it with all of you.

Turns out it was another wonderful recipe from the Jamie Oliver - the King of simple but tasty recipes. Ours was served with chicken and the red chillies on the side for those that liked it hot!

A large bunch of asparagus
1/2 a fresh red chilli
1tbsp groundnut oil
1tbsp sesame oil
400g king prawns, raw, peeled
1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
A handful of mangetout
1 lime

2 stalks of lemongrass
4 spring onions
3 fresh green chillies
4 cloves of garlic
A thumb-sized piece of fresh root ginger
A large bunch of fresh coriander
1tsp coriander seeds
8 fresh or dried lime leaves (optional)
3tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp fish sauce

Trim the lemongrass stalks, peel back and discard the outer leaves, and crush the stalks by bashing them a few times with the heel of your hand or a rolling pin.
Trim the spring onions. Halve and de-seed the green chillies. Peel and roughly chop the garlic and ginger. Set aside a few sprigs of fresh coriander, and whizz the rest in a food processor with the lemongrass stalks, spring onions, chillies, garlic, ginger, coriander seeds and lime leaves (if using), until everything is finely chopped - the smell will be amazing!
While whizzing, pour in the soy sauce and fish sauce and blitz again until you have a smooth paste. If you don't have a food processor, chop everything by hand as finely as you can - it may take a while but it will be so worth it.

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and discard them. Run the stalks through a runner bean slicer, or finely slice them lengthways with a knife. Finely chop the red chilli and put to one side.

Push down on the lime and roll it around to get the juices going, then cut it in half. Squeeze the juice into the pan - this will give your curry a lovely tang
Place a large pan or wok over a high heat. When it's really hot, add the groundnut and sesame oils, swirl them around, then carefully drop in the prawns. Add the asparagus and your green curry paste and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Pour in the coconut milk and add the mangetout.
Give it all a good stir, bring to the boil and cook for a few minutes. Have a taste and add a bit more soy sauce if you think it needs it. Push down on the lime and roll it around to get the juices going, then cut it in half. Squeeze the juice into the pan - this will give your curry a lovely tang.

Pick the leaves off the remaining coriander sprigs. Serve the curry sprinkled with the coriander leaves and the chopped red chilli, and some fluffy lime and coriander rice.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Going for the big 100

Some people find it odd that one of my goals in life is to live to 100 years old - I think because people assume that by that age life isn't any fun anymore. But, whilst I doubt I'll still be partying into the small hours, the goal is more about making sure that I enjoy my old age as much as possible by staying healthy.

I think it is also seen as a bit unrealistic to live that old so I was much cheered when I read in an e-mail I received from www.mightymuesli.com that there will be 11 million people in the world who have reached or will be reaching 100 years old in the next few years. So I'll be in good company!

Although having good genes is pretty important for longevity (all my grandparents lived into their 80s) there's got to be more to it if that many people can manage it!

So what's the recipe to living long and living well?

Well firstly there are lots of important nutrients you need to slow down the ageing process and keep your cells young. In particular:

Antioxidants and fibre (fruit, veg and wholegrains)
Essential fats (Oily nuts and seeds)
Lean protein (fish, seafood, white meat, beans, tofu)
Pure un polluted water

Plus some other things you need in plentiful supply:
Relaxation - proper time out to switch your brain off
Sunlight and fresh air - we need natural light and oxygen to thrive
Daily exercise - it's important to keep your body moving

Then there are the baddies that speed ageing up and should be avoided:
Fried foods/anything cooked to a high temperature
Artificial additives
Saturated fats and trans fats
Sugar and refined foods - a big contributor in ageing and disease
Alcohol (in excess)
Smoking - an absolute no no

What's also important is to keep your mind sharp - you won't enjoy old age, even if you're fit and healthy, if you lose your mental faculties.  This is why it's important to keep your mind active as well as your body.

Whilst most of us fantasize about retiring early it's better for our brains to delay retirement - not that I'd suggest slaving in the city into your 80s, but. I'm sure a few of us will be on our second or third careers by then, and hopefully doing something a bit less stressful but still stimulating!

It's also important to keep stimulating the brain with new activities such as doing something creative like painting, dancing, writing, doing mind games, such as crosswords and sudoko or taking up a new hobby. By the time I'm 100 who knows what new skills I'll have acquired!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Time to layer up

You've got to love the naive way the brits get over-excited about the weather ... a couple of sunny bank holiday weekends and we all assume summer is in full swing, ditch our jackets and swan around in short sleeves.

Then the inevitable happens, like today, the temperature drops and everyone finds themselves freezing without a jacket.

As I mentioned in my blog a couple of weeks ago the changing of seasons can be quite stressful psychologically. However it can also be stressful on the body, particularly in periods of extreme temperature fluctuations.

Your organs need to be kept within a tight temperature range to function properly and the hypothalamus works hard to regulate your internal temperature through various means. Your body can, over time, aclimatize, as alot of the London based antipedians will know! However if your external temperature changes frequently during a short period of time your hypothalamus has to work doubly hard.

The experience of being too hot or cold produces a stress response in the nervous system which in turn stresses the adrenal glands. In addition the immune system is much less effective at lower temperatures so being caught out without a cardigan could make you more likely to catch a cold.

So what's the solution given our changeable spring weather? Well for once it's not a nutritional one, other than having hot drinks and food to warm up! Being prepared clothes wise for all weather when you set out in the morning is probably prudent given the unreliability of our weather forecasts! Although I've found the combination of my Oregon Scientific temperature gauge, which let's me know the actual temperature outside, and metcheck.com (the most reliable weather forecast I've found) help me decide if it's jumper or jacket weather.

I've also found keeping a jumper and spare brollie in my desk invaluable, and if all else fails consider relocating to the ecuator!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Manners make a comeback!

Just last week someone offered me a seat on the tube (I'm hoping because I had 10cm heels on and looked tired rather than because they thought I was pregnant) and later that week I was kindly rescued by a passer by when my stiletto got comically stuck in a grate. I was even asked this week by a fellow passenger on the DLR whether I minded if he ate his cheeseburger next to me! Long may it continue!

Sadly dining etiquette has been somewhat lost and, whilst it doesn't change the nutritional value of the food you're eating, it does make the experience altogether more pleasurable for all at the table if the basic rules are followed as well as aiding proper digestion. So, at the risk of sounding somewhat like a house mistress, here they are:

First up is not eating til everyone, particularly the chef, is seated and served - not a rule always observed at West family gatherings! Not only is this polite but it gives everyone a little breather to relax before they start eating instead of rushing into eating whilst their bodies are still in stress mode.

Sitting tall and keeping your elbows off the table - this encourages good posture which doesn't just look good but is also good for digestion. If you're hunched over then blood flow will be reduced to your abdomen and your food won't pass through your intestines as easily as they should.

Don't talk with food in your mouth - combining talking and eating can cause you to swallow air and usually means you won't be chewing your food properly. Alternating between the two gives you a break between mouthfuls, slowing down your intake of food. Most of us eat too quickly so it's also good to get in the habit of putting your knife and fork down whilst speaking or chewing to slow the pace right down. Equally out of courtesy try and avoid directing questions at a fellow diner when they are mid mouthful!

Don't overload your fork - shovelling in huge fork fulls of food isn't just super unattractive, it also makes it pretty tricky to chew properly meaning you're likely to swallow food that isn't sufficiently broken down. This can lead to incomplete digestion and uncomfortable stomach symptoms such as cramps and bloating.

Always eat with your mouth closed - I'm pretty sure all NITC readers will be polite enough not to eat with their mouths open, but for anyone who doesn't that's another sure way of swallowing air leading to hiccups/indigestion.

Offer any communal dishes around the table - this isn't just good manners but if you're entertaining also means you're less likely to be left with a big pile of leftovers that you feel compelled to eat your way through.

Boin appetit!

Monday, 9 May 2011

A healthy dose of curiosity

I was talking to a friend recently about how she'd started systematically trying all the foods she didn't like as a child and had found that she actually liked some of them that she'd been adamant she'd really disliked as a child. I thought this was a very worthwhile experiment - there can be all sorts of non-taste related reasons why we decide we dislike certain foods as children, and in addition our taste buds change alot as we get older so we may experience foods in a totally different way.

Fortunately for me my mother had a zero-tolerance policy on fussy eating so I haven't grown up with any strong dislikes of any particular foods and infact have a healthy curiosity to try new foods which keeps my diet evolving over time. All too often people fall into a food rut and only eat what is familiar to them, however by trying new foods you may find some new foods that you love and in the same time introduce a healthy level of variety into your diet.

So next time you're in the supermarket maybe pick up a fruit or vegetable that you're not familiar and then dig out some recipes to find out how to prepare it. Or if you're not great in the kitchen try something new in a restaurant instead of going for your usual choice.

I also find that health food stores are a great source of new and exotic foods. My latest health food store discovery has been Ume Plum seasoning, a vinegar made from the Japanese fermented Ume plum, which is considered a superfood in Japanese cuisine and macrobiotics.

This vinegar makes a delicious dressing when mixed in equal parts with olive oil and I have taken to having this over greens (steamed bok choi, kale) or salads or poured into the hollow of half an avocado as a quick and yummy snack. Go on .. try it .. you might find you like it!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Will the real fruit and vegetables please stand up!

Going for a big night out when you're not drinking could be a bit challenging for most people. Fortunately over the years I've gotten totally used to it and can party with the best of them without a drop of alcohol! However sometimes drinking just water does get a bit dull and most other soft drinks on offer are either full of sugar (lemonade, cranberry juice, non-alcoholic cocktails) or artificial sweeteners (diet coke). To liven things up I usually have a fruit or tomato juice, but I've also become partial to the odd appletize for a bit of fizz!

The good thing about appletize is that it is just made from fruit juice and doesn't have added refined sugar so is less harmful for you than the usual fizzy drinks. However this weekend I was horrified to see that on a lid of fruitiser it said 'one of your five a day'! How a glass of highly processed carbonated fruit juice can count as one portion of fruit and vegetables is really beyond me, and a claim that I find pretty irritating, given that some uninformed individuals could think that by drinking five glasses of appletize a day will keep them in good health!!

The benefits you get from fruit and vegetables are from the vitamin and mineral content (dramatically reduced by any processing), fibre content (not present in juices) and live enzymes (destroyed by any processing or cooking). This is why I only count portions of fresh or freshly cooked fruit and vegetables as part of my five-should really be eight-a-day - so please remember that drinking a cranberry juice with your vodka really doesn't count!! And for the masses not reading NITC I just hope the government at some point amends their criteria for what counts as a portion to something a bit more sensible!!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Time to take a sabbatical!!

I read in the news today that researchers have recently discovered that having a desk job for more than a decade doubles the risk of developing lower bowel cancer and increases the risk of rectal cancer by 44%. Now I don't like to admit my age, but it will only be a couple more years before I'll fall into this category ... maybe time for that sabbatical trip round Latin America??
But then again the reason for this increased risk is due to physical inactivity during the day ... so given I'm a bit of a gym bunny I shouldn't have to worry?! Unfortunately this study concluded that no amount of physical activity could offset the harm done by spending long periods of time at a desk: ‘We found those who spent the most time in sedentary work had a risk of distal colon cancer that was twice that of those who spent the most time in a job requiring light activity. Even a high level of vigorous recreational physical activity did not modify the effect of sedentary work.’ So basically when it comes to colo-rectal cancer my intensive gym sessions aren't going to save me ... damn!

This is definitely bad news for city folk who spend way too much time chained to their desks, but this is a definite kick up the posterior to break that habit!! Time instead to get into the habit of getting up from the desk every hour and going for a quick walk - use the toilet or photocopier furthest from your desk, pop outside for a quick bit of freshair, or even just do a quick lap of the trading floor. This won't just get you moving, but will also keep your energy levels up and improve circulation.
On top of this it's important to minimize the other main lifestyle risk factors for colo-rectal cancers: diets high in saturated fat and red meat, low intake of fruit and veg and drinking alot of alcohol - but hopefully as regular NITC readers these are things you're already all doing :-)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Tricks for treats

I often get asked whether I feel deprived because I eat such a healthy diet and don't eat cakes, chocolate, pizza - or other unhealthy treat foods. The truth is that most of the time I don't feel deprived at all - the feeling of being healthy and full of energy is pretty addictive in itself - and i know that by eating a muffin and having a coffee is going to make me feel rubbish so it's just not that tempting.

However there are times when I do crave comfort food - usually cake or crisps - and I don't have some amazing willpower that means I can resist these cravings!! But this is why I stick to the 80/20 rule - eating healthily 80% of the time and limiting other foods to 20% of the time. This means I keep my diet healthy, but don't feel deprived ... telling yourself you can never eat something is a sure way to make yourself crave it even more.

The only danger with not being totally strict with your diet, is that the percentages can get a bit out of whack and your 20% gradually creeps up to 30% or even 40% of the time without you really realising it. For this reason I think it is best to make a conscious decision as to when you are going to have a treat food and also choose what you are going to have. If, for example, your colleagues regularly bring biscuits and chocolates into the office and you find yourself frequently picking at them it's probably better to decide not to eat treat foods at work and instead have them at home or in restaurants. Although I did used to have a treat breakfast at work every Friday - a cooked English breakfast to help me get through the day after a usually late night!! and found that I then didn't fancy unhealthy food so much on the weekend.

Another good strategy is that if you really fancy something naughty then make a note of it and decide that when you get to the weekend and have your treat meal that you'll eat it then - often by the time your treat meal comes the craving will have passed, but by telling yourself you can eat that food later in the week you'll find it easier to resist it in that moment. It's also good to make sure you eat really high quality treats, instead of alot of the highly process junk food available - for example if there are chocolates in the office tell yourself that if you still feel like having chocolates by the weekend then you'll buy yourself some really good quality chocolates and enjoy them on the weekend instead of chewing through a load of (not so) quality streets!

Does it really need to be this complicated?

I noticed an article in last nights Evening Standard reporting that scientists have found a way to transform white 'bad fat', usually found around the abdomen, into the less harmful 'brown fat' which is more easily burnt for energy.

The theory is that by converting the fats it will be easier to burn fat stimulating weight loss and from this they have concluded that a transplant of brown fat stem cells could be used as a means of encouraging weight loss and dealing with the obesity epidemic in the Western world.

Sounds great doesn't it - like it's the new lipo - pop into the docs for an injection of brown fat stem cells and wait for the fat to melt away! But, just as for liposuction, this procedure would do nothing to address why the individual became obese in the first place, or to make sure it didn't happen to them again.

What strikes me about this is that there's a tendency to over-complicate treatment of obesity, with huge sums of money spent on research into weight loss drugs and procedures such as gastric banding (available to some individuals on the nhs). What I'd like to see is this money diverted into education for the public on the dangers of obesity and the simple ways to avoid it and reverse it.

Weight-loss doesn't require a magic tablet or expensive injection, just sensible advice (not the calorie restrictive information found in the press) and in some cases counselling to deal problems in the emotional relationship with food and weight. Once an individual knows how to eat to stay slim and healthy they have that skill for life, no nasty side effects and no repeat prescriptions necessary!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Mountain fuel

Alot of the time I'm focussed on recommending foods high in nutrients and low in calories to maximize nutrient intake. However sometimes calorie rich foods are in order, and that was the case this weekend on my hiking trip in Wales where I needed easy to digest calorie rich snacks to power myself and my friends up Mount Snowdon.

My cohorts packed bags of Haribo and Mars bars as their fuel of choice, however there are plenty of healthy ways to get the calories in when undertaking any kind of endurance sport or particularly physically activity periods.

No effort healthy snacks:
Bananas - easy to carry and conveniently come with their own wrapper! Also naturally rich in potassium which is lost through sweat.

Raisins and other dried fruit - most supermarkets do small snack packs of dried fruit and, whilst I don't usually recommend eating alot of dried fruit due to the concentrated fruit sugars, these are perfect top ups for blood sugar when you're being active. Dried figs and dates are also great energy boosters.

Nuts - nuts are calorie rich, but mainly due to the fat content, so whilst they don't provide an instant calorie boost, they're good to eat alongside dried fruit to give more long lasting energy supplies. Vegan ultra-athletes eat huge amounts of nuts to maintain their calorie intake through training and endurance events. It's best to eat them natural, but a small amount of salted nuts can also be good to replace sodium lost through sweat - just make sure you're also taking on plenty of water. Bounce and Pulsin protein snacks are also great nut-based protein snacks that are easy to and give slower release energy to keep you going like a Duracell bunny!

Ready made bars - alot of muesli and granola bars have lots of added refined sugar, however the following bars are all sweetened with fruit sugars or dried fruit, making them a much healthier alternative but still a great easy source of energy:
Nak'd bars, Food Doctor snack bars, Fruitus bars and fruit sticks

Sugary emergencies - anyone who did Duke of Edinburgh awards at school will know you never go on a hike without some Kendall Mint Cake for any low blood sugar emergencies!! However I've moved on from those days, and for my sugary backup take Oskri Coconut bars (from Holland & Barrett) which are pretty sweet, but sweetened with rice syrup rather than glucose, which provides a quick sugar supply but without the same addictive qualities as sugar.

The downside of stocking up on readymade snacks is that they can burn quite a hole in your wallet (as per last weeks blog on my expensive trip to the Health Food Store). So for this trip I also packed some homemade snack bars. It's pretty easy to make healthy granola or muesli bars by using Agave syrup instead of sugar, but if you're gluten free these aren't an option.

Fortunately Elana's Pantry came to the rescue again with this great recipe for Breakfast bars, which I baked on Thursday night, and kept me fuelled through the weekend. These tasty bars aren't just good for those who are gluten-free - they'd also be great as a mid-afternoon pick me up at work, or healthy lunchbox snacks for kids.

Gluten Free Breakfast Bars

1 ¼ cup ground almonds

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

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ cup grapeseed oil

¼ cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup shredded coconut

½ cup pumpkin seeds

½ cup sunflower seeds

¼ cup almond slivers

¼ cup raisins (I used Goji berries)

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

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

Stir dry ingredients into wet

Mix in coconut, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almond slivers and raisins

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