Wednesday, 30 November 2011
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
"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
Thursday, 24 November 2011
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.
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
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
Lentil and coconut dahl
Spicy three bean chilli
Sweet potato and lentil
Monday, 21 November 2011
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
Thursday, 17 November 2011
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
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)
Coffee + tea
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.
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.
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
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
Thursday, 10 November 2011
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
As we know from last week's blog, qi (or energy) is produced by our cells. It is the energy produced by the smallest atoms and molecules of the universe. Qi is our life force and that which connects us to everything around us.
The two most important components to forming healthy qi are the quality of food we eat and the quality of air we breathe. Common sense really, when we think how terrible we can feel after a few days of heavy/greasy food or even the weakness from not being able to have much food at all. Also, perhaps you have adventured to the top of a high mountain and felt the body start to give way due to lack of oxygen. The qi we gain through food and air can be replenished on a second-by-second basis and is added to our unchanging pre-birth qi. Pre-birth qi is like our inherited constitution which also forms a part of us.
Breathing is not something we really think about and if we did have to think about the process of breathing we really wouldn't have much time to do much else with our day! It is easy to forget how much capacity the lungs have and I remember being told on my yoga teaching training that 60% of our lungs are in the back of the body - and hardly get used... Emotional issues and stress can cause us to breathe just in our chests and not take air down into the lower lungs. This weakens the diaphragm, the most important muscle in breathing. The diaphragm muscle contracts to allow the lungs to expand and draw air in, it then relaxes so we can exhale fully. Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is done in alot of yoga classes to help increase lung capacity, efficiency and also relax the body. Diaphragmatic breathing slows your breath, relaxes your nervous system, detoxifies your organs, aids circulation and digestion, improves your immune system, reduces high blood pressure, builds stamina and heightens your sense of well-being.
Swimming is also particularly good for increasing lung capacity due to the pressure of the water on the chest and also the need to be very efficient with your air as you only have certain opportunities to breathe when your head is in the water.
If you are interested in going deeper into the benefits of conscious breathing there is a movement called Transformational Breathing (http://breathguru.com/) I went on their half day course and find the techniques very beneficial. During the course the body starts to tingle with the increased oxygen intake and you can also enter a trance like state due to the rhythmic breathing technique which is taught.
Breathing is our connection to life and when we aren't breathing properly we can lack mental alertness and energy for difficult tasks. Lack of oxygen will impact all functions in the body as oxygen needs to be diffused out to our organs, tissues and muscles and carbon dioxide needs to be dispelled. I know how difficult it is to try and breathe properly when we are at a desk most of the day but if you can just take a moment to bring awareness to your breath, this in itself will deepen it, focussing on breathing into your belly and seeing it softly expand. Sometimes just putting your hand on the abdomen can help your breath direct itself there. Be gentle, don't constrict the stomach muscles or tighten the shoulders.
There have been many books written about breathing and one of them is by a Buddhist monk called Thich Nhat Hanh - he says, "Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor."