Thursday, 13 December 2012

Lap up the love!

Yuletide greetings readers!

Having put up my tree, eaten some mince pies and done half my christmas shopping and done my gym workout to a soundtrack of wham's 'Last Christmas' and 'Santa Baby' I'm now feeling properly festive.

I hope you are too, especially because Christmas can be a such a positive time. It's an excuse to reinforce friendships, bond with work colleagues and get the family together. A time for showing appreciation for others through presents and serving up and enjoying great feasts!

Most of us don't have enough of these positive human contact day to day so make the most of it - relationships with others can have such a beneficial effect on our mental and physical health and are something we should all make more time for, so make the most of everyone's festive spirit and lap up the love.

Christmas is also time to make some time for yourself and appreciate what you've achieved over the previous year.

Make sure you have some 'me' time over the next couple of weeks and don't spend the whole time rushing around after others - Mum's have a particular propensity to do this and forget themselves so make sure you give them a helping hand.

Equally christmas is a time to enjoy your food. For me Christmas day and boxing day are the two days in the year when I let myself indulge in any food I fancy. It's only two days and by the 27tjh I'm just left craving vegetables and rice! I do usually take home some vegan chocolates and a gluten free christmas pudding, just because I don't want to spend new years eve feeling bloated!

If I had to give two tips for not letting things go totally haywire over Christmas I would give these:

1. Drink a glass of water before every meal and snack. This will help your liver detox all the naughty food you're eating and massively regulate your appetite so you might be indulging but you'll eat a lot less than you would otherwise.

2. Be physically active for 30minutes every day, even if that just means walking to and from the pub or doing some housework. It will make you feel much less slovenly and get your lymph fluid moving, again helping you detox.

I'm off now until the New Year when I'll be back with some tips on starting the New Year with a healthy frame of mind.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Super Thursday!

Apologies for my absence yesterday - I've now entered proper Christmas party season and seem to be out for drinks every night and lunch every lunchtime - not good on the waistline or the wallet!!  I'll be signing off for my Christmas hols properly tomorrow but in the meantime here are some tips on surviving all those xmas drinkies.  Apparently tomorrow night is the busiest party night in the city for the whole year and Addison Lee expect 16,000 individual cab bookings - that's alot of drunk people trying to get home! Enjoy and stay safe!

Top tips for post-work drinks:

1) hydrate and snack before you leave, drink 500ml water and have something healthy like hummous and carrot sticks, some nuts, some natural yoghurt, or even a wholegrain low fat sandwich.  If you go out thirsty or hungry you will drink more alcohol and eat more unhealthy food. If you have time go to the gym first and grab a protein shake on the way out - this way you can feel super virtuous and enjoy your evening guilt free.

2) once out match every alcoholic drink with a glass of water - just ask for both when people order if you don't want to ask for a fully non-alcoholic round. I don't drink at all and whilst that might raise a few eyebrows for the first round, after that people know just to get me a soft drink.

3) even for your soft drinks avoid the high sugar options and still alternate with water, or you'll be drinking alot of calories.

4) do eat something - just drinking, even soft drinks, isn't good for your blood sugar levels. Hopefully there will be some nuts or olives around which are a great healthy bar snack. Otherwise hopefully someone has ordered some Mezze with dried meats, sundried tomatos and hummous.  If it's traditional Christmas snack food then it's easiest to stick to protein only - mini sausages, chicken goujons etc. and skip the carbs. Avoid anything with pastry or batter if possible, but if the carbs are unavoidable (you've gone to a pizza place) then stick to vegetarian options.

6) don't be the last one to leave the party. Always it's best to leave when the night is still swinging, plus if you're the last one there you'll be the most tired the next day at work. Have fun, but call it a night before things get messy!

7) As soon as you get home hydrate - drink a pint of water then go to bed, then go straight to bed for maximum sleep

8) the next day have a filling fibre rich breakfast with plenty of fresh fruit. The fibre will help your liver clear any toxins from the night before and the vitamin C will also help with damage limitation and to perk you up. If you can't stay awake have a green tea rather than a milky latte.  Good breakfast options as muesli with added berries, fresh fruit salad with natural yoghurt, porridge with chopped fruit, fruit smoothie with added whey protein or natural yoghurt.  For a real reviver go to Crrush or any other juice bar and order a detox vegetable juice.  Then drink a glass of water every hour to rehydrate and get you through the day.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Water check

Managing the air conditioning system for a large office seems to be an impossible task.  Wherever I've worked the office temperature has always oscillated between greenhouse sleep inducing warmth to uncomfortable teeth-clenching chilliness, neither of which is particularly comfortable.

I cope with this by layering my clothes and always having a scarf in the office, but when it's really cold, like it was today, I find that by the end of the day I haven't drunk my full 1.5litre bottle of water and consequently feel more tired and hungry than I would usually.  When it's warm I guzzle through the stuff but when it's cold the idea of drinking a cold drink just isn't appealing.

This is why I'm taking a big thermos mug into work tomorrow with lots of herbal tea bags so I can regularly drink a nice warm and hydrating drink.  Some of you may be in the same situation so pay attention to how much water you're drinking at the moment, and make sure you have a mug of water or herbal tea or something non-caffeinated every hour to keep you hydrated and feeling awake! I even sometimes just drink plain hot water. That might sound odd but it's actually pretty nice on a cold day!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Feeding time

Friends would probably describe me as a pretty organized person, but bizarrely when it comes to meal prep I'm not actually that organized.

For example, today I was rushing around doing chores and even though I knew lunchtime  was approaching I didn't do anything about cooking some lunch. By the time I stopped my chores it was 3pm and I was too hungry to wait for lunch and had to eat a cobbled together snack meal that could be prepared in minutes.

This is fairly normal for me, to be caught out hungry and not be able to wait to cook a proper meal, as is not having my fridge stocked with enough ingredients to cook any recipes!  The problem is that foods that tend to be ready to eat instantly, other than raw salads, usually require some preparation so without some forward planning your diet is likely to be less nutritious than it could be.

It shouldn't be a surprise when I'm going to want my food - it's fairly predictable that I will get hungry and if you eat a well balanced meal you should be hungry approximately five hours after a proper meal, and a couple of hours later if you have a small snack inbetween.  So even if a meal takes a whole three hours to prepare (don't worry I never cook anything that takes that long) you should be able to have it ready approximately for when you'll be hungry.  For a weekday my routine should be 7:30 protein shake, 9am proper breakfast, 1:30 lunch, 4:30 small snack, 7:30 dinner.  On a weekend it's harder to stick to as I have a late breakfast but it's usually 10am breakfast, 2pm lunch, 4pm snack, 8pm dinner.

I was actually with a friend on the weekend who has a 4 month year old baby and was telling me about the importance of sticking to a feeding schedule to keep her little one happy. but eating at the same time every day also helps adults by putting our bodies in a routine where it knows it will be fed and has no perception of starvation (very irregular eating can put your body in a survival mode where it stores more calories that are eaten and can lead to central weight gain).

So time for me to start an early new year resolution and start planning my meals, at least for dinner, in advance ... it's not rocket science, find a good recipe, see how long it takes to cook, add 15 minutes (timings on recipes are always out!) and then start cooking that amount of time before my usual dinner time, even if I'm not hungry when I start.  Also time to get back into an old routine of picking out some recipes for the week on a Sunday night and then going shopping on Monday evening so I have all the right ingredients!!

ps I'm not having an advent calendar this year but I am using that as an excuse to have some christmassy treats, today it was a Sainsbury's Free From Deep Filled Mince Pie which was yummy!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The free-from christmas

Being gluten-free over Christmas isn't that easy - I already have mince pie and sausage roll cravings!

But with a bit of planning you can easily enjoy a gluten-free Christmas with lots of indulgent treats that won't leave you feeling bloated and sluggish.

If you're the one doing all the cooking it's worth checking the dietary requirements of your guests, they may have changed since last year.

Fortunately the bbc good food website, an absolutely brilliant resource for easy tasty recipes, has put together a whole gluten-free Christmas menu (as well as a veggie one) to take the guess work out of it. 

It all looks yummy and I know I'll be having a go at making some of there mince pies, yum! 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Taking to my bed!

Yesterday I was taken down by a bug I'd been fending off since Friday and had to admit defeat and have a day of total rest.

I'm not a natural at lying around doing nothing, but when my body tells me to stop I have learnt to listen to it. So I spent the day lying on the sofa, watching some tv but not too much, napping and eating food that involved less than 5 mins preparation.

With the pressures of work and family it isn't always possible to take sick day even when you need it, and Lemsip can be a saviour to get you through when you really can't stop, but at the end of the day you need good old fashioned bed rest to get over a bug properly.

This means staying home, not being physically active and keeping warm to encourage your immune system to fight off the bug. If you're rushing around working your body will register that now isn't a good time to stop and channel all your body's energies into recovering, so instead it will moderate your immune response, ultimately slowing down your recovery.

This is why it's better to take action as soon as you feel ill, clear your diary and stay home, keep warm and get as much sleep as possible - you'll recover quicker rather than soldiering on and feeling rotten for days.

Nutritionally this is a time you need food that is easy to digest, nutritious and warming, hence why soups are so good when you're ill. If you're not stocked up get your flatmate or other half to buy some ready soups, a big bottle of fruit smoothie and a selection of fruit to snack in - you don't need to waste energy cooking so something you can just heat up and eat is ideal.

Also make sure you have the appropriate arsenal in your supplement cupboards.
For me I have two supplements I rely on consistently to speed up my recovery - start taking them as soon as you feel ill and you may even find the bug never really takes hold.

First choice is always vitamin C the virus fighting stalwart. I take 3-6 grams a day, spread out over the day. It might sound a lot but the body can take a lot more and it's used up much quicker when your immune system is fighting off a virus.

Second, I always take a herbal supplement. Whilst everyone thinks of echinacea when it comes to anti-cold herbs, I find it's better as a preventative than a cure. Instead I go for cat's claw or olive leaf, 1-2 capsules three times a day, until I feel fully well. When I start taking them I'm usually better in under 48hrs.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Christmas coping

Having just had my second three course Christmas dinner of the year I thought it would be worth sharing my Christmas dinner strategies to avoid piling on the pounds if you're having more than one.

As with most 'special occasion' meals there are two ways to go to mitigate the damage ... The fact is if you eat all that naughtiness in combination it's going to be damaging for the waistline, but if you miss out a few elements you can reduce the damage quite significantly.

The first choice is the low-carb one, this way you can enjoy the fattier indulgences but by minimising your insulin production you minimise the damage of the meal. For this option to work avoid carbs three hours before and four hours after the meal:

Starter: go for smoked salmon, soup or pate, but skip the bread

Main: turkey, veggies, pigs in blankets are all allowed, but skip the stuffing, cranberry sauce and roasties.

Pudding: no sugar allowed I'm afraid so skip the pudding course and have a herbal tea or decaf coffee. However you can tuck into the cheeseboard, just without the crackers.

Option 2, the carby option. With this option you can enjoy the carbs but need to reduce the fat intake and keep the foods relatively low GI.

Starter: smoked salmon or vegetable soup are again both good options (pate is too fatty), have with wholemeal or rye bread (white bread is too high GI).

Main: turkey (a pretty lean meat) and veggies are great, let yourself have a couple of roast potatoes too but skip the stuffing, pigs in blankets and cranberry sauce (too much sugar).

Pudding: if a fruit salad is available go for that, otherwise if you want a proper pudding a dark chocolate mousse or a Christmas pudding (without custard) will be the lower GI options. Afraid no cheese allowed with this option.

If you've got more than one christmas dinner lined up you can try both strategies and that way you get to eat a full Xmas dinner, just not all on the same day!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Dear Santa...

December is finally here, so I now feel it's allowable to start talking about Christmas shopping. I'm a big list maker and no different when it comes to presents, not only have I been jotting down present ideas for my nearest and dearest all year, but also a list of pressies for myself.

This means that this time of year I have a nice big list to email off to Santa (aka my sister) and then magically everything I unwrap on christmas morning will be something I actually want - no novelty socks or useless gadgets for me :-) 

Whilst some of you might like a surprise, for those of you who might need some list inspiration, either for yourself or others here are some of the more health-oriented pressies on my list this year:

OXO Good Grips Hand Held Mandoline Slicer, make preparing veggies effortless. Create beautiful salads with sliced carrots and courgettes, cut perfect aubergine rounds for veggie lasagna, or lovely fruit slices to snack on.  If you want the luxe version go for this one

For anyone in need of some kitchen supplies anything from joseph Joseph is a great gift like these Joseph Joseph Index Colour Coded Chopping Board Set

My ultimate Christmas gift is the Vitamix Blender. OK so I know I'd have to be really really good for Santa to bring me this one, but it's on there just in case.

Moving out of the kitchen I'm always happy to receive spa vouchers for my local dove spa and they're a great way of buying a loved one some time for themselves.

For the at home option to get the tension out your shoulders after a long day get them a Homedics Quad Massager

Here's a few healthy ideas for the bookshelf:

Elana's Pantry Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook make delicious grain free treats for yourself and all the family.

And for the new year... to get you in the right place of mind for a healthy start of the year:

The Headspace Diet
The Lean, gradually nudge yourself into a new healthy lifestyle in the new year.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Top of the podge

Please excuse yet another link this evening but this one just had to be shared.

It comes from Here is the City my source of daily banking gossip, sadly these days mainly redundancy news and leaked depressing internal memos.

So I was very surprised to find something health related on there today. I'll let the article do the talking (it's mainly pictures so easy reading for friday morning), but the key question coming out of it is why are South East Asians so much less likely to be obese than we are.

The answer is a simple one and is also the answer to lower cancer rates, less heart disease and general longevity:

Eat a diet that is virtually gluten free, virtually dairy free and high in vegetable content, including veggies with your breakfast. Protein sources are mainly eggs, fish and sea food and food is steamed, poached, grilled or shallow fried with lots of fresh spices and herbs added for flavour.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Grave grapefruit

I was interested in this article that appeared on the bbc website this week about the dangers of mixing grapefruits and medication. My interest wasn't because this was news to me - it's a standard part of our training to learn about drug food interactions - what was interesting about it is that doctors have warned of a "lack of knowledge" around this.

Surely where there's a danger around mixing the two doctors should be warning patients about this, so there's no unpleasant surprise if they mix the two.

And the surprise my indeed be unpleasant. Grapefruit can cause overdoses of some drugs by stopping the medicines being broken down in the intestines and the liver. According to the article some drugs became five to ten times more potent when taken with one glass of grapefruit!

There are 43 drugs where grapefruit may have this effect including drugs for blood pressure, cancer, statins and drugs taken to suppress the immune system after an organ transplant. If you're concerned about such an interaction with your medication check with your GP.

But there's no need to worry excessively - there's some good news in that part of their effect means that grapefruit can be used to upregulate the first part of the detoxification pathway, so can be used as part of a detox regime for anyone not on medication.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sensible Scales

Whoever came up with the idea of making scales big enough to weigh a person has a lot to answer for. Getting on the scales can make you feel great when they read a loss, but more than likely will make you feel lousy.

This is especially the case if you weigh yourself everyday, being a weight you're happy with one day and three pounds heavier the next.

New york nutritionist Martha McKittrick
and author of city girl bites has done a great job of explaining why your weight fluctuate so much and therefore why you shouldn't take the scales so seriously. Definitely worth a read:

Monday, 26 November 2012

Time to get strict

With my recent desire to cosy up on the sofa in the evening with some comfort food I've fallen back into a couple of bad habits. Firstly eating in front of the tv, particularly because hot doc has been away so I have a tendency to just put on the tv for some background noise whilst I'm cooking and then eating. The second is eating on the sofa, not main meals but definitely snacks of pudding have been eaten on the sofa in front of the tv .. oh dear.

This might not seem like a bad thing to everyone but health wise it isn't good. Eating in front of the tv means you nervous system has sensory overload, this stops you being able to tell when you are full meaning you'll always over-eat in front of the tv, and it also means your body isn't fully relaxed and so your digestive system may not work as well as it should.

Worse still if you are eating on the sofa, rather than at a table, your abs will probably be engaged to some degree whilst you're eating and this crunching action will also impair your digestion.

The end result of both is usually over-eating and poor digestion of your evening meal which can lead to bloating and disrupted sleep, and in the longer term digestive issues.

As with all bad habits it's best to nip it in the bud as soon as you notice it creeping in, so from tomorrow I'm imposing a ban on myself of no eating infront of the television. If I'm eating I have to be sat down at a table, and if I'm watching tv I can't be eating.  If this is something you also do regularly I invite you to join me for a week in not mixing the two and hopefully you'll see some benefits by the end of the week.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Losing your sweet tooth

I think that most people are their own harshest critics and, whilst by average standards I eat extremely healthily, I still regularly reprimand myself for not eating or living as healthily as is possible.

But it's important to remind myself how different my diet is from 10 years ago and I got such a reminder on Friday when I accidentally bought some flavoured vanilla soya yoghurt on the way home instead of the plain unsweetened variety I usually have. At the first mouthful I was surprised how sweet it was and after eating a portion realised that taste wase I'd rather have had the unsweetened variety, which I usually have with fruit.

It just reminded me how much my tastes have changed through changing my diet. I used to eat refined sugar every day, now I avoid it as much as possible and naturally lean towards healthier foods.

This is why, whilst sugar can be one of the hardest foods to give up, it is worth persevering and gradually weaning yourself off it. As you eat less and less artificially sweetened foods your taste buds will become more sensitive to the natural sweetness in food. Consequently you'll start to appreciate more subtle natural flavours and find your sweet tooth easily satisfied with a piece of fruit, whilst some milk chocolate or sugary dessert may end up tasting too sweet and so not be so appealing.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Thank goodness for the gym

As I write this the wind is howling outside and I feel like I just want to stay indoors for the next few months until spring arrives!  Of course we will have some nice clear sunny days between now and then,  but I have to admit that whilst I love the great outdoors I also really like to be warm so it takes alot of motivation for me to get outside over the winter.

Thankfully the gym is still nice and warm, so whilst I don't feel like doing any running or cycling outside I still have somewhere I can go and work out without wearing loads of layers. Whilst it's dark and cold outside I can take refuge in the gym and watch trashy tv whilst I burn off a few mince pies, infact it's actually one of the few activities that I can still enjoy whilst the weather is miserable.  Even if you're not a gym person, give it a go, you might find that watching E4 makes the time go quicker, or discover the joys of a nice warm sauna at the end of the session.

Exercising through the winter keeps your metabolism up, keeps you feeling warm and helps your immune system work properly.  If you give up on exercise altogether you'll feel colder and more tired and be more likely to catch some bugs. If work is quieter over December try and fit in a half hour lunchtime workout, or even if you've got evening drinks, join them an hour later and go for an indoor run first.  It may be tempting to hibernate over a winter like a doormouse but a couple of gym sessions a week will do you alot of good and give you a free pass to then come home and crash out on the sofa.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Healthy bribery

Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season in the US and I feel like it's also getting started here, certainly in the food department. The shops are full of advent calendars and mince pies and I'm having my first Christmas lunch this Sunday.

Whilst it's somewhat cheering to start to feel festive this early, it's also important to stay vigilant on the diet front to keep you healthy through to the new year.

Waistlines aside, we're into cold and flu season and you don't want your festivities ruined by being laid low. This is why you need to make an extra effort to fit in your fruit and vegetables inbetween all the naughty stuff.

Unfortunately the more wintery veg tend to be the least popular - suede and cabbage are never going to be favourites. This is where a bit of flavour enhancing can play it's part.

Personally I find that pretty much any veg is palatable when served with some nice hot gravy. Now really is the weather for roast dinners so load your plate up with veg and gravy and tuck in. If you eat your veg first you'll also be less likely to binge on the roast potatoes. Avoid the oxo when possible and use either homemade or an MSG and maltodextrin free variety.

Curries are another nice warming winter meal and easy to sneak some more veg into. Add some okra, french beans, cubed sweet potato or mange tout in with your meat/fish, curry paste and coconut milk.

Mashed potato is a winter favourite for me, but it's easy to add some carrot or suede whilst you're cooking to make it a mult-veg mash. Alternatively fry some leek and onions or winter greens and add these at the mashing stage.

When it comes to pudding make sure you pick something fruity, think apple crumble or fruit cake rather than chocolate brownie and ice cream.

However bad you've been the night before try and keep breakfast as healthy as possible, even if you're feeling lazy grab a ready made smoothie or fruit salad on the way into work.

Even when it comes to treats you can choose those with a healthy ingredient, for example dark chocolate covered nuts or dried fruit are much better for you than quality streets.

If necessary resort to some healthy bribery - you can have a minced pie but only if you eat a clemintine first!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Comfort cocoa

I have to admit I'm struggling to stick to my usual healthy habits at the moment. The cold weather and it being dark when I leave work just makes me want to skip the gym and rush home to cosy up on the sofa with some naughty comfort food.

Having had chocolate cravings all day I decided that rather than raid the sweet cupboard this evening I'd satisfy my desire for comfort food with a healthy version of hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is usually a sugar and dairy laden calorie bomb, but this dairy free recipe sweetened with agave still feels like a treat without sending you off on a blood sugar rollercoaster. Plain cocoa is also a good source of antioxidants and it's only really when it gets mixed with milk and sugar to make chocolate that it becomes bad for us.

So if you're also need of something comforting try this out:

Emilie's home comforts hot chocolate:

In a saucepan heat 1 cup of Kara Coconut milk.

As it heats up whisk in 1 heaped tsp of pure cocoa powder (I like bourneville), 1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence (I use Ndali) and 2 teaspoons of agave syrup.

Bring to simmering point and serve.

Zen dog also informs me that you can make a great latte with coconut milk. Again heat up in a pan, or microwave if you're at work, and then stir in a shot of fresh espresso (decaf or regular). Yummo!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Am I mad?

No you don't need to answer that ... but I have to ask myself the question having just spent £250 on supplements.

Ok so it was for three months worth, but still this is a fair chunk of cash and to put it in my usual currency, would buy me a pretty fabulous pair of shoes.

So why would I prioritize forking out for supplements rather than spending the money shopping, or treating myself in some other way?

Well for me supplements are a key investment in my health pension. Not only do they keep me healthy and well when my lifestyle can't always be as healthy as I'd like, but these are also a way of protecting myself from the development of symptoms and diseases that might not materialise for several years.

As an illustration, a heart attack generally occurs 10 years after narrowing of the arteries has begun. Unfortunately the NHS isn't able to provide systematic testing at a level to detect this, so if your doctor picks up that you have heart disease you have probably already clocked up at least five years of heart disease.

At a much shallower level this is also an investment in anti-ageing and will hopefully pay for itself in delaying the age at which I feel compelled to start having botox!

The key point is that you don't want to look back in ten years and wish that you'd invested paid more attention to your health, it's much harder to undo the damage than it is to prevent it.

I know I'm pretty extreme in my supplement taking, but you don't have to be to make a difference. A good quality multivitamin like Biocare's One a Day Plus will set you back less than £100 a year, a small but worthwhile investment.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Time for gratitude

This evening I watched the movie 'The Blind Side'. I've seen it a couple of times before but it's so good I was happy to watch it again.  For anyone who hasn't seen it, I recommend you watch it, but to summarise without giving the whole thing away the plot it's essentially about a disadvantaged child who gets adopted by a rich family and the changes to his life that result.

What always sticks with me when I watch this film is how fortunate most people are without realising it.   We don't have to worry about where we're going to have to sleep at night or where our next meal is coming form - our day to day worries are usually about nothing that fundamental that puts our lives at risk.

So the next time you're worrying about to eat for dinner, or stressing over having just over-indulged, take a moment to remember that this is a luxury that not everyone has and we should all be grateful for the fact that we can always put food on our tables.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Power porridge

There are some people who eat the same breakfast all year round but my tastes change with the season and as it gets colder my desire for hot and easily digestible food increases with porridge top of the bill.

A comforting breakfast that warms you up after a cold commute, it also contains a lot of fibre and liquid so has the ability to keep you full til lunch.
Oats are also a good source of energy giving B vitamins and have been found to have cholesterol lowering properties.

For those of you who can eat oats this is also a readily available breakfast in the city, either at work, at pret, eat or crussh and you can often get dairy free versions.

For anyone gluten free, missing out on porridge is a sad necessity, however oats aren't the only grain you can use to make it.

I buy organic rice and quinoa flakes in my local healthfood store and use these in a mix, cooked up with some rice milk or kara coconut milk which I then heat up the next morning at work. Alternatively I cook up organic brown or basmati rice or quinoa grains again with dairy free milk to make a kind of rice pudding. Adding a teaspoon of Ndali sugar-free vanilla essence to any of these helps make them a bit creamier.

Once you've got your basic porridge you then might want to spruce it up a bit.

Firstly if you've got a sweet tooth try and skip the brown sugar. Honey isn't too bad, but healthier sweeteners are agave syrup, chopped dried fruit such as dates or figs or some sugar-free st dalfour jam.

Adding some fruit is another great way to sweeten porridge and get one of your five a day. Berries are my favourite and the most antioxidant rich fruits, but I use frozen ones this time of year when they aren't in season. Just stir them into hot porridge and they'll defrost. Chopped pears or apples are also lovely as is some chopped banana.

Next up you might want to add some crunch with some healthy fats at the same time. Flaked almonds, chopped hazelnuts or even pumpkin and sunflower seeds all add a nice bit of texture whilst the extra essential fats will keep you feeling full for longer.

Finally it's time for some spice. Allspice and cinnamon both add a lovely wintery warmth with some antimicrobial action to boot, whilst turmeric is also nice and anti-inflammatory so good for any stiff joints.

The blame game

Hot doc is a masterchef addict and thoroughly enjoys watching the highly stressed competitors stress over creating a perfect lobster bisque. Personally it's not my bag - I find watching people mess-up on television pretty stressful which is why you also won't catch me watching The Apprentice and other similar shows.

But something that I do notice when I'm subjected to this viewing (our kitchen, lounge and dining room is all one room so it's hard to avoid), is that everyone always makes excuses for their poor performance or blames someone else for their failure rather than taking responsibility.

Anyone who's worked in the city will at some point have been on the end of some buck passing. When things go wrong everyone jumps to blame someone else rather than put their hands up and admit their failings.

I fear that this culture of making excuses rather than taking action has become fairly insidious and seems to be a fairly common reaction to anything negative that happens to us.

When it comes to health, taking responsibility for our own actions is essential in keeping us on the right path. We all continually make choices about what to eat or not eat, what to do or not do.

Whilst there are some things we can't control health wise, when faced with ill health we can choose to take action or choose not to take responsibility and just wallow.

So next time you find yourself complaining about your health or weight or blaming something or someone else ask yourself what action you can take? Should you make yourself a doctors appointment to check out your symptoms, do you need to change your diet, can you get some help to quit smoking, should you put down the chocolate bar and get down the gym?

Once you start thinking this way you'll find you're taking healthy steps all over the place, and ultimately might find you no longer have anything to complain about!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Skin deep

All too often diets and nutrition get associated with superficial goals such as being slim or keeping wrinkles at bay rather than the more long term and significant benefits of keeping your organs healthy and preventing disease and ill health.

However, as far as I'm concerned anything that motivates people to eat more healthily is a good thing and if that means tapping into more superficial motives then so be it.

Keeping wrinkles at bay and maintaining a red-carpet worthy glowing complexion are two such motives, but even just keeping your skin clear is a strong motivation to make dietary changes - having a breakout is bad enough as a teenager but will make you even more self-concious as an adult.

Here are my top tips for a clear and glowing complexion, with more general health benefits

1, Eat more fruit and veg - ok I know this is pretty much on every list I write but it's true, the antioxidants in the skin of fruit and vegetables that protect them from their environment can help protect our skin from our environment, whilst also protecting all our other cells.
Red and orange fruit and veg are particularly key as these are rich in beta carotene which the liver converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is very important in skin health and encourages skill turnover and replacement - keeping skin youthful and avoiding blocked pores.

2. Avoid sugar and minimize eating high GI carbs - this is because high circulating sugar levels in the blood can lead to a kind of crystalization of your cell walls, this hardening shows up as wrinkles, but is also a major course of hardening arteries so important for cardiovascular health.

3. Your skin cell walls are primarily constructed of polyunsaturated fats so you want plenty of these healthy fats to keep your skin cells plump and youthful, whilst cutting down on unhealthy saturated fats. This is why salmon is such a great skin superfood as are nuts and seeds, but the benefits don't end there - the healthy omega fats reduce inflammation in the body and encourage fat burning, whilst saturated fats from meat and dairy can encourage inflammation and inhibit the body's ability to make use of any good fats you're eating.

4. Cut the caffeine and alcohol - both dehydrate you and therefore dehydrate your skin making it look lined and dull. They also encourage excretion of B vitamins (basically you pee them out) which are important vitamins for skin health, but also key for energy production and your stress reaction, so basically they ultimately make you more tired and more stressed!

5. The flip side of rule 4 is to make sure you drink plenty of water. It's so often said that it's the secret to good skin, as well as being fundamental to every process in the body, but something I think we often forget, maybe because it's such low effort. A big glass 10 minutes before each meal and snack, plus one before bed is an easy way to remember this.

6. Lack of sleep really shows in your face and can be really ageing. There's also no cheat or easy substitute and over time lack of sleep will take an overall toll on your body through accumulated stress and insufficient time to detox and repair. Try for 8 hours a night but if the work week is a nightmare then at least try and have an afternoon nap and/or massive lie in on the weekend.

7. Eliminate allergens/intolerances. Dairy is a really major culprit in all skin conditions and not just acne. I have had a long term issue with lactose that affected my digestion, but it wasn't until I cut out all dairy including lactose free hard cheese and butter that my skin totally cleaned up. Bear in mind, as I said yesterday, not all trigger foods will come up in allergy tests - chocolate is guaranteed to give me a breakout, even if it's delicious diary free 85% cocoa lindt chocolate :-( , and yet cocoa has never come up on my allergy tests, so a certain amount of detective work and elimination may be needed to work this out. Also if it's affecting your skin then that food is also probably having other negative health effects within your body so take it as a sign that you should cut it out.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Testing, testing 1, 2, 3...

I read a number of nutrition related columns, blogs and magazines but these are always tailored to nutrition professionals and so are generally pretty pro nutritional therapy. On the flipside I find mainstream press can be often dismissive and biased against nutritional therapy. However I find it interesting to read about nutrition when it's written about for the general public as a gauge of where public perception is and progress in terms of attitudes.

Today's lovefood newsletter, which is very much pitched at foodies, rather than health obsessives, had a brief article today on food intolerance testing which may be a sign of the general public's increasing awareness around food intolerances and the benefits of avoiding certain foods.

I have to say I personally have mixed feelings around the tests - they certainly do pick up food reactions and so can help you avoid problem foods, but there are several different types of immune reactions to foods so just because a food doesn't come up on the test doesn't mean it definitely isn't a problem for you. For example these tests don't pick up if you have coeliacs disease, but also it has recently been suggested that other types of gluten intolerances can also be missed. I can vouch for this as I have a very clear gluten intolerance that has never been picked up in testing, on the flipside testing has made me aware of some other foods I needed to avoid that I hadn't worked out on my own.

As first principles I think it's worth everyone following a basic elimination diet for 3 weeks to check for reactions to the obvious culprits. Three weeks off gluten, dairy, eggs and soy is a good place to start, then reintroduce each one separately for three days. You're looking for changing symptoms both when you give up the food and when you reintroduce it. If you can't face giving them all up simultaneously just try one at a time for two weeks at a time, or if you're feeling particularly motivated combine it with a detox diet (I usually do the Carol Vorderman detox), which will naturally exclude most allergens and give you a good diet overhaul at the same time.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Today I enjoyed a day as close as possible I imagine to a day on the island of Ikaria that I blogged on last week. Without any appointments in the diary or any particular things to get done I enjoyed a lie in, ate whenever I was hungry, which was some fairly random times, enjoyed a leisurely trip to the gym, some reading in the sunshine, took some time to cook a proper dinner and had a nap on the sofa!

Without looking at my watch or trying to meet any deadlines the day actually felt much longer than usual and somehow I'm now ready for bed much earlier than usual and am going to bed when I feel tired, rather than when I think I should.  I appreciate, I'm lucky in being able to take a full day off like this, but even for those of you with kids it should be possible to at least have one sunday a month where you don't let the clock determine what you're doing.

Without clock watching you are more likely to listen to your bodies natural rhythms and energy levels and behave in a much more natural way. Whilst this isn't something we can do during the week, it's definitely worth taking the opportunity on the weekend as a way to totally unwind and either rest or work out, depending on what your body is asking for.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

No free lunch

At a recent seminar I attended on auto-immune conditions, the lecturer spoke briefly about endotoxicity associated with eating.

Endotoxins are toxic byproducts produced within the body and eating and digesting is one source of these toxins. These toxins can damage and age cells in the same way as exotoxins - toxins from external sources such as pollution, drugs, alcohol etc.

Whilst we need to eat to live, food can also be detrimental to health, invoking an insulin response, some allergic responses, inflammation and this endotixicity.

You've probably felt this affect anytime you've eaten a particularly large meal or a meal that was particularly unhealthy. Feeling foggy headed, tired, headachy, almost as if you're hungover are classic symptoms. Even healthy foods can have an endotoxic effect, just on a much smaller scale.

The answer obviously isn't to stop eating but it's worth bearing in mind that over-eating and eating when you're not hungry is creating unnecessary endotoxins in your body.

This is also a reason not to constantly graze as this will produce a continous stream of these endotoxins without giving your body a break - whilst rushing your meals isn't desirable it can also be harmful to drag them out too long. Eating a meal should generally start and finish within an hour and main meals should be 4-5 hours apart to give your body at least 18 hours in 24 when you're not eating and preferably just drinking water to help detoxify.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Land lubbers

Last weekend I went to visit the Cutty Sark which has been beautifully restored following the terrible that gutted it.

It's definitely worth a visit, particularly as you can walk all round the boat, even underneath it. The exhibit is more interactive than usual without lots of cabinets to look in and boards to read. One thing that caught my eye wandering around was a keg of lime juice that the sailors drank to stave off scurvy during the 90+days they were spending at sea.

Having had scurvy myself as a child (seriously!) I know why that keg of lime juice was vital for the trip. Easily absorbed, lemon and lime juices are a super easy way to top up your vitamin C. This is a particularly good idea as we enter the winter months with more infections around for us to fight off and less inclination to eat raw fruit and veg.

I usually mix lime juice with some cherry active as a pre-breakfast drink, but you can add lemon or lime juice to any fruit or veg juice. Lemon juice can also be squeezed over salads, casseroles, fish or rice dishes.

Leon helpfully provide a wedge of lemon with a lot of their hot dishes and their lemonade is a delicious and lazy way to get a vitamin C shot.

For a nice warming breakfast drink add the juice of half a lemon to hot water with a teaspoon of manuka honey to sweeten it up and add some extra antimicrobial power.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The place to live

Lately I've been so busy that I haven't had much time for reading and have pretty much skim read any articles I've looked at.

So when a friend of mine sent me this new york times article as soon as I clocked it was seven pages long I parked it in my 'to read' folder for when I'd actually have time to read it properly.

Fortunately I didn't then forget about it, and took the time to read it. It is an enjoyable read and transported me into a pleasant daydream about an idyllic life where I only did what was good for me, ate what was healthy and chilled out with my friends, sadly far removed from my frenetic city life.

The article is titled 'The island where people forget to die' but really I think it should be titled 'The place to live'.

The subject is the Greek Island of Ikaria whose residents live unusually long lives. This is attributed to their super healthy diets comprised of lots of organically homegrown vegetables, fruit and legumes (beans and pulses), olive oil, red wine, fish twice a week, meat only a few times a month, natural yoghurt and nothing processed or unnatural, combined with a relaxed lifestyle of lie ins, naps and socialising.

The Mediterranean diet has long been known to extend life, although I think a lot of people interpret this with a much higher meat content than is healthy and is the case on Ikaria, however I don't think the Mediterranean lifestyle is considered enough when studying the benefits. If we all had the same relaxed unhurried approach to life combined with a sense of community and making time for each other we would all I'm sure have much lower stress levels, a much higher sense of well being and live longer and happier lives.

I hope you all take time to read the article in full, but incase you don't let me leave you with this small section that captured the attitude of the islanders, and made me realise how much stress I have create for myself just by rushing and worrying about the time:

'"People stay up late here," Leriadis said. "We wake up late and always take naps. I don't even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then." He took a sip of his wine. "Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don't care about the clock here."'

Monday, 5 November 2012

Breakfast of champions

I love answering reader questions and here's a great one on breakfasts:

'I have a busy couple of weeks ahead of me and need a really substantial breakfast to help me make it through the day. Can you make some suggestions that I can pick up from my local supermarket or buy from my very traditional work canteen.'

Firstly gold star for recognizing the importance of breakfast, particularly when you know you're going to be facing a busy day ahead. A good breakfast can set you up for the day on an even keel whilst skipping breakfast or having a sugary option can set you off on a blood sugar rollercoaster that will leave you feeling stressed and grouchy.

As it happens nutritionist and personal trainer, Alex Ravenscroft, has done a good job of answering this question in an article for sheerluxe this week: 

It's worth a read, but I'm not going to be lazy and will still answer this myself:

The key to any meal being filling and keeping you sustained is the PFF combo. This isn't some government financing vehicle or some text speak, no it's the winning combo of Protein, Fats and Fibre.

All three slow down digestion, releasing energy slowly and keeping you feeling full for longer so you don't need to waste precious time hunting for snacks.

These should be the building blocks of your breakfast. Carbs aren't a definite pre-requisite in this formula, but I'd suggest some fruit as a minimum.

1. Protein:
Any protein will keep you feeling full but to keep this healthy you should avoid fatty cuts of meat - no sausages or bacon I'm afraid.
Good options are:
Natural yoghurt - soy if you're dairy free
Fish - depending on how traditional it is your canteen may sell kippers, but if not smoked salmon, salmon flakes and smoked mackeral are available in most city supermarkets
Eggs - preferably poached - most canteens will poach your eggs if you ask nicely (smiling helps!)
Nuts and seeds, don't underestimate the protein power of nuts and seeds. For breakfast today I had a rice homemade powerbar made mainly of almond flour and it kept me going til lunch.
Pulses - but not baked beans, a popular breakfast food but they are sadly full of added sugar. You can make your own sugar free baked beans at home but that is not very practical, so hummous or a ready made bean salad (check in the lunch chiller cabinet) are the best bean options.
Protein powder - I keep a pot at work and if all else fails shake it into a fruit smoothie, go for unflavoured whey or rice protein

2. Fats
Fats slow stomach emptying so are the secret to feeling full and the absence of them is why diet food can be so unsatisfying.
However unhealthy saturated or heat damaged fats are all bad for you, so this isn't an excuse for some bacon fried in butter. Instead you want some healthy plant fats or fish oils, top breakfast fats are. Nuts, seeds, oily fish as well as avocados and olives are all good breakfast fats.

3. Fibre
Fibre is key in reducing the glycemic index of any food and also in regulating your digestion and helping detoxification so an all round winner.
Luckily adding fibre in your breakfast is easy:
- choose wholegrains, oats, rye, wholewheat are all naturally rich in fibre. Muesli, wholegrain toast, rye bread, oatcakes are all good options.
- fruit and veg are rich in fibre, just add an apple and you're set for fibre content
- nuts and seeds score the triple being rich in protein, fats and fibre. Keep a pot of mixed seeds and another of chopped nuts in your desk and add liberally to your breakfast.

There are infinite combinations but here's some examples of PFF power breakfasts:

Rolled oat muesli with extra chopped nuts to boost the protein content and some fresh berries.

Wholemeal sourdough bread or rye bread (bring into work if the canteen doesn't stock it) toasted and topped with poached eggs or smoked mackerel and grilled tomatoes.

Hummous and oatcakes, with an apple and a palmful of almonds.

Fresh fruit salad topped with natural yoghurt and chopped hazelnuts.

Mushroom and pepper omelette with smoked salmon strips and an apple, buy the smoked salmon on the way in if it's not available at work.

Avocado and salmon wholemeal sandwich with a piece of fruit - a packed brekkie to make at home and take in with you.

High fibre low-sugar cereal, such as shredded wheat, topped with a chopped banana and a generous serving of seed mix (a mix of sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds in available in most supermarkets).

Fruit smoothie (bought on way in) with 1 tbsp added protein powder shaken in and a small bag of mixed nuts.

Oatcakes topped with smoked salmon flakes and a fresh fruit salad.

If you're feeling organised make some Paleo bread (recipe from, which is rich in fibre, protein and essential fats, freeze it in pairs of slices, take to work, toast and serve with your favourite low-sugar toppings (natural nut butter, st dalfour jam, sliced banana etc).

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Spy snacking

I can't remember the last time I queued to get into a cinema, I think because I usually catch a movie weeks after it comes out or maybe because I'm not a buyer of the big block busters, but tonight I queued to see Skyfall for the full cinema James Bond experience including rustling from the people next to me as they munched their way through a huge bag of popcorn.

I do love popcorn but eating infront of a movie just distracts me from what I'm watching. That being said eating infront of the tv is an easy bad habit to fall into and one I'm not immune to myself.

Eating and watching tv together involves all your five senses at the same time, taste, smell, touch, hearing and vision. You can't fully appreciate one single sense when all the others are being stimulated - you won't be so engaged in what you're watching and you won't be fully enjoying the taste of your food.

Distracted from your taste buds and the sensation of being full you can mindlessly eat your way through a lot of unhealthy snack food during a two hour movie, without necessarily even enjoying it that much.

This is one of the reasons why whenever possible you should eat without the tv or radio on in the background. Enjoy your meal first and then put on your entertainment afterwards.

Besides James Bond deserves your full attention!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Getting your daily d

This week is national vitamin D awareness week. Admittedly not the most exciting week in your calendar but an important one as we enter winter proper and all become sunlight-deprived vampires.

Vitamin D is a vital vitamin for immunity (particularly prevention of organ cancers), bone strength (deficiency is a common cause of osteoperosis) and mental health (a possible cause of SAD) and has undoubtedly many other undiscovered health benefits.

However unlike a lot of other micronutrients, we only get a very small amount of our required vitamin D intake from our food. Instead our bodies are cleverly designed to manufacture it in our skin when exposed to sunlight and if we're making too much we are also able to store vitamin D during the summertime to use over the winter months - all in all a pretty clever system.

Well at least it was a great system for our ancestors who didn't have to spend all day in the office. A combination of being indoors most of the time, wearing clothes (thankfully!), increased use of sunscreen and living in the cloudiest country in the industrialized world (depressing I know) means we don't stand a chance of producing the optimal amounts.

As a result the incidence of rickets, a bone deformity in children due to insufficient vitamin D, has risen 400% in the UK since 1996 and cases of premature bone weakening are also on the rise.

Under 5s, the elderly and pregnant women are most at risk but due to the fact we can't get enough from vitamin D from our foods, and that a lot of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can go undetected for along time, I think everyone should take a good vitamin D supplement over winter.

I always take Biocare vitasorb vitamin D drops daily from late september to May and that way I don't need to show any skin until spring!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Trick or treat?

Happy Halloween readers, I hope you're enjoying some ghoulish antics
or even a spot of trick or treating this evening.

Overtime I have revised the dietary advice I give and follow inline with research and developments in nutrition but there are a couple of truisms that just get further reinforced:

- We should all be eating plenty of fruit and veg
- We should all avoid processed foods, especially those with non-food additives - which I'm afraid includes a lot of Halloween treats.

As further evidence of why we should be giving these kinds of ingredients a wide berth, I read today on the 'city girl bites' blog that phosphorous, another non-food additive, has now been identified as a possible cause of heart disease:

It doesn't surprise me - our bodies are designed to cope with foods and ingredients as we would find them in nature, not when they've been highly refined or artificially synthesised. Overtime I'm sure we'll discover even more negative effects from eating these kinds of foods.

This is why we should be eating a diet of wholefoods and home-cooked meals for our optimal health, however I appreciate that in practice that isn't possible.

To minimize the damage of any ready-prepared or processed foods you need to religiously start reading ingredients labels and avoiding non-food additives. By that I mean anything that isn't a standard ingredient you might use in your kitchen. So rice, that's a food ingredient, sulphur is a non-food additive. It only takes a few seconds but will help you avoid any nasty tricks in your treats.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Cupboard confessional

Us brits like to complain about our tepid weather, but the devastation in the US is a good reminder that we are actually very fortunate to live somewhere with such a moderate climate.

Thankfully all my friends and colleagues in new york are safe, but the idea of them all holed up in their apartments got me wondering about how I would fair foodwise if I couldn't leave my flat.

As is usual for a central london pad my kitchen is fairly tiny so I don't have room for any serious stockpiling, I do however keep a cupboard full of rice, pasta and noodles so I'd definitely be fine on the carb front for a couple of weeks.

Fresh fruit and veg would obviously be the first items to run out, but I do always keep a drawer full in the freezer with frozen fruit and veggies, so I've no excuse not to have my five a day.

If it wasn't for my big tub of rice protein powder, I'd run out of protein fairly quickly. I do keep a few fish fillets in the freezer and cans of pulses in the cupboard, but probably only enough for a week.

Infact the first thing I'd run out of would probably be treats - I deliberately keep supplies of chocolate, cakes, crisps and biscuits to a minimum at home as the easiest way to stop me eating them. This does mean that I'd be in trouble if the power went out though as I keep very little ready to eat food in my cupboards.

I'd be fine on the fat front with a couple of pots of nut butter permanently in the fridge and a shelf full of nuts and seeds to add to my breakfast porridge, salads and stir-fries.

All in all I'd be able to eat pretty healthily for at least a couple of weeks, electricity permitting. Have a look in your cupboards tonight and see how you'd fair - if you'd find yourself living of dorritos and biscuits then it might be time for a cupboard clear-out and healthy restock!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Preparation is key

A few people have asked me recently for some advice on how to cut out diary, gluten or both.  Cutting these out can be beneficial for a host of reasons and I think are worth everyone cutting out for at least a couple of weeks a year.

However it can be tough both mentally and practically. You need to be armed with a shopping list, some good recipes and to know what substitutes you can have for your favourite foods to keep on the straight and narrow.

Gluten free shopping list:
Bread - waitrose gluten free is the nicest in my opinion but all major supermarkets now stock a full range of breads, keep a sliced loaf in the freezer for toast cravings
Pasta - my favourites are Asda's own brand or Salute which is available in waitrose
Treats - most supermarkets also stock a range of gluten-free treats - scones, brownies, biscuits etc.  These are all sugar laden like their normal counterparts, but are good to have on standby for when you have serious cravings

Gluten-free recipes:
Asian recipes are gluten free 9 times out of 10 so get a wok and start stir frying. Here are a couple of my favourites:
Jamie oliver's Salmon stir fry
Delia's Chinese prawn stir fries
See my recipe page for my other favourites - they're all dairy and gluten-free:

For puddings I revert to Elana's pantry for recipes for fruit crumbles, brownies and other goodies:

Dairy free shopping list:
Milk: this can take some experimentation to find your favourite.  Sweetened soya milk or rice milk can be the more palatable and are a good place to start. I vary between unsweetened soya, rice milk and Kara coconut milk.
Dairy-free spread - switch your butter or margarine for a pure sunflower spread - check the label, I use 'Pure' brand or Tescos own 'free from' sunflower spread
Treats: Booja booja ice cream is my ultimate dairy-free indulgences but fruit sorbets are also a good freezer option.  Dairy milk is a no no but alot of dark chocolate is dairy free, Lindt is my favourite and I keep a bar of their 80% dark chocolate in my cupboard at all times.
Yoghurt: If you're a a natural yoghurt fan but going dairy free I'm afraid there isn't anything that tastes anywhere near as good as some organic bio yoghurt. Sojade is the closest thing and sugar free, otherwise you can get some Alpro Yofu which is pretty palatable but sweetened.
Cheese: There also isn't anything anywhere need cheese I'm afraid. You can get soya cheeses but they don't taste like cheese and are highly processed so I tend to skip them.
Dairy-free pesto: Meridian pesto is a store cupboard staple for me - adding lovely pesto basil flavour to freshly cooked gluten-free pasta, without the dairy hangover.

Dairy-free recipes
Again for recipes the best ones are the ones that are just naturally dairy free - don't try and make a diary free cheesecake or lasagna it will only end in disappointment!
Daily bites is a great blog to sign up to for gluten and dairy free recipes:
Vegan recipes are also of course naturally dairy free as are the ones on my page:

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Flag fresh

Firstly a big thank you for Ms Haribo and Zen dog for filling in from me last week. Great blogs as always and a useful reminder for me of a couple of things ... firstly that sugar is a real trigger food for me and a definite case of where a little leads to alot and also that I need to dedicate some more time for proper chilling out, yoga and meditation and not wait til my body starts telling me to stop.

On my way home this afternoon I stopped off for some groceries and started putting my usual staple fruit and veg into my basket ... then I snapped myself out of my auto-pilot and started looking at the labels ... nothing I'd put in my basket was from the UK and the most wasn't even from Europe.

It's a reminder, along with the freezing weather, that the seasons have changed and so has the British produce that's on offer.  Thankfully most supermarkets now put helpful union jack style labels on their british produce so it's easy to spot what's been grown locally and therefore is in season.  Eating seasonally helps keep variety in your diet, keep your food nutritious as local produce is fresher and helps the environment by avoiding unnecessary air freighting, plus it supports the UK economy.

I ended up putting back everything in my basket and instead buying some leeks, spring greens, carrots and peppers as well as a bag of conference pears. As we move into winter oranges, clementines, potatoes, squash, cabbage, broccoli and parsnips are also all coming into season but no need to memorize the list, just look for the Union Jack and shop accordingly.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Prevention over cure - good vibrations

I am going for an acupuncture appointment this evening which I always look forward to.  I go every 3 to 4 weeks as a preventative measure to help keep me well.  People ask me why I go for acupuncture and always expect me to have something wrong already but instead I say I use it to assist in keeping me feeling good.  I am by no means perfect in keeping myself well but I try my hardest to use all the preventative options out there rather than letting what might feel like a little niggle turn into something bigger.  In old China some doctors were, infact, kept on a retainer to keep people well and not paid when they got sick!  The change in this mentality is a different subject altogether!
Originally I went for acupuncture some years ago due to a lower back and sciatica problem and it really helped.  (This is what then got me interested enough to study it and change careers!).  I normally combine treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and nutrition to keep on top of any niggles, aches, change in mood or feelings of fatigue.  According to quantum physics we, and everything around us, are energy and energy vibrates at different frenquencies.  Slower energy takes more form (like a table) and faster energy take less form (like gas).  As humans, we have our own resonance and I like to imagaine that the beginnings of illness is actually a slowing down or alteration from our optimal resonance into one that doesn't suit us anymore.  This energy change is the point at which using complementaty/alternative medicines as a preventative can really work well for us.
In current times these preventative therapies could be seen as a luxury but there are many colleges and universities offering reduced price treatments in their student clinics.  This is a great option to be able to have regular treatments or dip and in out of different types of treatment depending on what you feel you need.  The student clinics are for final year students to gain hands on experience and are normally very well supervised by their tutors during the treatment.  I have listed below a few places in London that I have found.
Of course there are also totally free ways to increase your vibration such as meditation, relaxation, a walk in nature, listening to calming sounds, some yoga at home or even sending out kind thoughts to yourself and others.  But sometimes a nice massage is just what is needed and you deserve to take time out to look after yourself!
Have a lovely weekend - and remember to put your clocks back on Saturday night!  That extra hour is a free treatment to yourself and could help increase your vibration and have you feeling tip top in this murky weather! :o)
Zen Dog
yoga therapy
therapy - low cost option

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A wealth of information.....

Hi NITC readers, Zen Dog here for the last couple of blogs this week.....
Even though I am not a trained Nutritionist I try to stay on top of food news and views and have some blog/FB feeds setup to my phone to be able to catch-up with the latest health information from all over the world.  As a student of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, food is one of the key components in health and potential illness.  Someones diet can tell us alot about the symptoms they are experiencing and how an illness has progressed, so I always try to be watchful of my own food intake.
Out of all the new nutrition and health information out there though, today I wanted to talk about the new concept of the 5:2 fasting plan (note: I hate the word diet as it has so many negative connotations for people so I have chosen the word plan)
After watching Eat, Fast, Live Longer (BBC2) I trialled the 2 days fasting and 5 days usual eating plan for 6 weeks and I am still doing it to some degree depending on what is going on in my life.  If you are interested in this new concept then I would recommend watching the programme and doing some research first (some links at the bottom of the blog). 
The main points are that by cutting calorie intake, the bodies fat stores can be accessed and burned for fuel.  Scientific research has also shown the body can go into a 'growth' and 'repair' mode when dealing with less calories and also can switch down some reactions in the body which disturb the balance of health. 
Personally, I certainly noticed benefits such as weightloss and more specifically a change in my shape (I hold alot of my weight on my thighs).  I was more alert and had more energy.  On days I fasted I would just do gentle yoga and also try to not be doing anything stressful.  These are the important things to be mindful of as overexcising or having to give a stressful presentation at work can have a counterproductive effect during the fasting times. 
After the 6 weeks I had a week off when I had abit of a cold (which I nipped in the bud with some timely acupuncture) and also when I was juggling alot with my work and study.  Even when not fasting though, I have noticed it has somewhat changed my eating habits as it has brought extra awareness to what I am putting in my mouth and the biggest question - 'do I really need this?' 
I always hated the thought of counting calories (after lots of Weight Watcher experiences in my 20's!) and I know Emilie is not a fan but for 2 days a week when you make sure you only eat 500-600 calories it again brings focus onto your food and becoming more of a conscious eater.  Another major point is to make sure your 500-600 is from highly nutritious foods like green veg, pea protein, green juice, fresh vege soups, beans and pulse etc.  These will provide you with the energy you need and not spike your blood sugar which will take you into hunger!  This 5:2 concept does need a certain amount of organisation so you know what you will be eating.
From my Chinese Medicine training we know everyone is different and everyone needs to be treated as such - there is never a one certain treatment for one condition, it always depends on the individuals' symptoms.  So I take this and relate it to food too.  The 5:2 concept is not for everyone and I am not recommending as such.  But I would advise my patients - take responsiblity for your health and be open to new information.
Everyone can find their optimum health in different ways and if something isn't working for you then change it.  Be empowered by food and trial things in the knowledge that it doesn't have to be set in stone.  Make health work for you and be excited by all the accessible information out there that can help you to help yourself and get your body functioning well.
Zen Dog

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Miss Haribo again,


I realised a terrible oversight from yesterday: I forgot the great Gary Becker aged 81 who still maintains a very interesting blog.


Becker's Nobel prize winning lecture "The economic way of looking at behaviour"  is well worth a read. (link but may be gated: )


But despite him inspiring my life of crime, today I'm going to talk about addiction. Becker is well known for his work on "rational addiction". To me this is really interesting because it means that we have more control over our addictions (sugar, Grazia, cigarettes) than the word "addiction" would imply and we have the power to shake them.

Addiction occurs because consuming the addictive thing now means we get happier from consuming it in the future, in other words eating a krispy kreme today makes you love them even more in the future, meaning you want to eat more of them. Even small increases in consumption today can lead to large increases in future consumption. We really need to remember the effects that "one delicious doughnut" will have on our future selves and our desire to eat more. It's not just my waistline today that will thank me for passing on sugar laden stuff but my future waistline.

Becker's work gives us some excellent strategies for dealing with our addictions:

First: sharply cutting consumption now can be very successful in giving up our krispy kreme habit

Second: even events in the future, such as a tax increase next year on alcohol, can make us cut down our drinking today.

Third: There are two stable situations: one where we consume a lot of the addictive good and another when we don't. We can keep the "good" state forever.

But to me the most useful thing is to really remember that we have control over our addictions and often there really are things (often with the help of others) that we can do to get rid of them.

Don't forget that addiction can be positive as well as negative such as exercise and that warm fuzzy glow when you do something nice. Just doing a bit of exercise today can set off a virtuous cycle of happy healthiness.

Miss Haribo

Monday, 22 October 2012

Acting your age

Miss Haribo here again,


Yesterday I talked about Al Roth. But this year's Nobel prize in economics was also awarded to Lloyd Shapley.


Lloyd Shapley is admirable in many ways, but I think one which few people know about is that despite being 89 he's still an active economist, still publishing work on very advanced topics.  He even gave some of my colleagues some advice on one of their papers recently! (Yes Miss Haribo is jealous.)


He's not unique amongst economists in producing good work in their later years:


J.K. Galbraith, who wrote some very famous work on the 1929 stock market crash published his last book at the grand old  age of 95.


Charles Goodhart is 76 yet has made massive contributions to understanding the cause of the financial crisis and possible reform efforts.


Paul Volcker is 85, yet has a rule (on banking activity restrictions) that came into effect this year, and only last week he flew over to these shores to give evidence about the effectiveness on proposed structural reform in banking.


I consider these four as role models in staying mentally active, well after their traditional "working" years are behind them.


We focus a lot on keeping our bodies healthy into old age, but our minds are important too, and we need to ensure that we keep getting mentally stimulated. It's easy to do a repetitive tiring job and then to come home and turn on the TV (I really love the Kardashians) and to veg out.  So try to make use of all the many things London and other cities offer such as art galleries, museums and adult learning centres such as Citylit or Morley College.  


And with that I'm fully justified at gawking at Ballgowns at the V&A for its "keeping me clever in my old age" properties.


Miss Haribo

Sunday, 21 October 2012


Miss haribo here,

In the first of an annual series I'm taking over the blog and writing about the economics nobel prize winners.

However, I don't intend to add to the number of articles explaining their work on the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design. That is far better done by peple elsewhere.  (e.g. )

Al Roth is also very well known for work on repugnance and other things which constrain markets. One of the regularities is that somethings become repugnant when money is offered or it certainly changes the nature of the transaction, for example paying for the food when someone has invited you to dinner or paying for sex. So my suggestion for this column, especially in these cash-strapped times, is to stop focussing on the things that you can't afford but to take this week celebrate the things you have that money can't buy.

Miss Haribo

Ps Probably the most famous example of Al Roth's work is on kidney exchanges. The shortage of donor organs is a real problem, yet only 30% of people are on the register.  I'm (probably) never going to acheive immortaility with my work but I can help someone live a better life after I die with only two minutes of effort.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Protein power

Well I'm already making tweaks from my Food Doctor reading and first on the list is upping my protein intake.

I'm a bit of a carb monster usually and having given up most meat and seafood it's made it even easier to end up eating carb heavy meals.

However skipping the protein isn't a good move as protein is an essential macronutrient, and also one that you can't absorb alot of in one go. Just because you have a big steak with your dinner, it doesn't mean you're getting as much as you need.

So what do you need it for?
Well firstly it's the building blocks for all our cells, not just our muscles, so a good regular supply of protein is needed to keep every part of your body in good nic. This includes hair, skin and nails which can become dull and weak with insufficient protein.

It's also of course the main constituent of your muscles so in order to maintain muscle mass and repair damaged muscle tissues you need plenty of protein, particularly after exercise and also more so as you get older when you body get's less efficient at digesting and utilizing protein so your muscles can start to waste. A higher lean muscle mass also raises your metabolism helping to avoid unhealthy weight gain.

Protein plays a key role in endocrine hormone balance and also blood sugar regulation. Insufficient protein can impair your thyroid and adrenal function leading to fatigue and inability to burn fats for energy. Eating protein with carbohydrates also helps slow the rate of digestion thereby reducing the amount of insulin you produce in response and so keeping your blood sugar more stable.

Pretty important stuff isn't it!

With protein on the brain I made sure every meal and snack today had some added protein and did find my energy levels were more consistent. I had a rice protein shake to supplement my breakfast cereal, I then had some plain soya yoghurt with raspberries for my midmorning snack, lunch was brown rice sushi with salmon, for my afternoon snack I had some major crisp cravings, but with protein in mind I had a palmful of raw almonds. Dinner was tofu stirfry.

As Ian Marber says, when you sit down to eat any meal or snack you should ask yourself 'Where is my protein'?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Untapped resources

This evening I went to the library, something I haven't done in years! The last time I was there I was trying to finish my dissertation on co-enzyme Q10 and Parkinsons disease and my broadband was on the blink at home so I was just using their free WiFi!

Like most people I tend to buy my books rather than borrow them, but given that loans are free for three weeks (and you can also rent dvds for free) I'm starting to wonder why I haven't been using my library instead!

It's a fairly small one (canary wharf, churchill place) and yet they still have quite a good range of relatively recent health books including the rather scary 'OMG' diet book which tells you to drink lots of caffeine and skip breakfast, along with some more sensible titles from Ian Marber and Patrick Holford.

Whilst I like to own my cookery books and some nutrition books that I go back to again and again, I think it's good to keep my reading fresh and be aware of the latest ideas in food and health. Reading new books also helps give me some meal and snack inspiration when I start getting bored of my usual options.

I tend to alternate a book I'm reading just for pleasure, such as a novel or biography, with a book on health, whether that's a book on nutrition, exercise or another self-help book - usually on how to keep my life simple and stress-free!

Even if you're not a health professional, making time to read self-help health books can be time well-spent. As a result of my reading I find myself gradually making tweaks to my diet and lifestyle. Changes I've made prompted by reading include dramatically cutting down on my meat consumption, reducing my intake of processed foods (which were mainly gluten-free treats), totally eliminating any dairy food from my diet (rather than just avoiding lactose) and not getting so hung up on my to do list and what's still on it!

The result has been I've dropped a couple of spare pounds without going hungry, I sleep better and have blemish-free skin. The to do list still bothers me, but I'm better at sitting down and relaxing instead of multi-tasking like a maniac!

Tonight I took out the 'Food Doctor Diet Club' book for some new recipe ideas and helpful meal planners to get some more variety into my diet. The lady at the counter serving me clocked it was a diet book and kindly pointed out that they also have a 'Slimming World' club at the library if I wanted to join :-)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Total washout

Although I feel consistently pretty healthy I like to give myself an annual health-check to check everything is as it should be and help me make beneficial tweaks to my diet and lifestyle to keep me on track.

This involves a range of laboratory testing to check my mineral and vitamin levels as well as testing various biochemical pathways and organ function.

In order to collect accurate results these tests usually require a 'washout' period beforehand where you stop taking all supplements (and medications where you're on them and it's safe to come off them). This is to get a good picture of your base health level without the help of whatever drugs or nutrients you like to take.

I'm now four days into my washout and really starting to feel it. I feel less energetic, am getting tired more quickly and need more sleep. My concentration isn't as good as usual and I'm craving more sugar and carbs.
I take a fair amount of supplements so it's no surprise to me that I'm feeling worse for cutting them out. Work's also been hectic so I reckon I'm using my b vitamins quicker than I can eat them which is why my energy levels have dropped.

It's only a five day washout and I'll be glad when it's over and I can get back to my usual regime.

I have to say that over time I've forgotten how different (and not in a good way) I felt before I reformed my diet and starting taking some comprehensive supplements. This washout serves as a useful reminder of why it's all very much worth the money and effort!