Monday, 30 April 2012

the non-fat foodie

I love Jamie Oliver both for his rustic and easy recipes and his efforts to get proper food into schools.  Unfortunately the poor guy came under fire recently for his weight, responding to an Australian journalists question on his weight withI do my best. Working in the food business is quite hard when someone is constantly asking you to try things.”

The fact is that whilst Jamie produces some pretty wonderful healthy recipes he also has some real heart attack recipes out there such as his delicious refrigerator cake:

The problem is that if you enjoy cooking it’s easy to over-indulge, tasting recipes as you go, eating the first cookie of the batch to check it came out ok, trying out new recipes.  However food and cooking is such a pleasure in life, so it’s such a shame to have to give up your love of cooking and delicious recipes in order to keep your figure.

So how can you be a slim foodie?

- One of the great things about being into cooking is cooking enjoyable food that you want to savour … food far removed from tasteless diet food.  This is something you should take advantage of … great tasting fresh food is more satisfying than processed bland food.

- look to cook with and eat the freshest ingredients, and always think of how you can up the flavour of your food … add fresh berries and chopped hazlenuts to your breakfast cereal or a spoonful of greek yoghurt to your muesli for a luxurious taste

- savour your delicious food … people tend to eat the least tasty food much quicker than the really tasty stuff … taste is only perceived in your mouth, so if it tastes good you’re going to chew it and savour the flavour

- your high foodie standards are a good thing … look for the freshest highest quality ingredients and buy organic where possible. Your kitchen creations will taste better as a result, and if something you cooked up doesn’t taste good discard it.

- when trying out recipes have people on hand to eat your output, partners and kids are good and forgiving food tasters. If no one is available to try out your food be ready to store it … you can freeze most cooked meals and a lot of desserts. If you make a full size cake you can freeze it in slices.  For other goodies like cakes and biscuits, if you can’t store them share them with your friends, colleagues or neighbours … you’ll make yourself popular with them and they won’t be around to tempt you to eat them.

- experiment with healthy taste enhancers .. I love Ndali vanilla essence to make lower-fat recipes taste creamy and cinnamon and ginger enhance sweetness and add depth to the taste of baked goods. Using molasses sugar, rather than refined sugar, adds a lovely treacally taste.

- get into garnishes, top your food with fresh herbs, they look good, add flavour and taste

- remember not to eat when you’re not hungry, either cook up for a meal time or save it for later

- when cooking you do sometimes have to taste foods as you go, but limit yourself to a teaspoon taste at each stage in the process and put the used bowls and spoons straight in the sink with some washing up liquid, to avoid the temptation to lick the spoon or bowl clean!

-   make sure all your cooking is based on healthy ingredients … always look for recipes that incorporate fruits or vegetables or wholegrains. If the recipe doesn’t call for veggies then make them up as a side dish and serve your main dish over them as a stack.

-   Use your cooking curiosity to find and develop the best healthy recipes you can, a lot of savoury meals can be cooked with less fat, most cakes can be made with wholegrain flour and most desserts taste better with some fresh fruit added.

- when you are cooking super rich indulgent food remember it’s much more calorie dense, so you shouldn’t eat a huge portion … serve yourself a starter size portion for your main and only cook one indulgent course, so if you have a steak and ale pie planned then go for a salad starter and light fruit dessert, or if you’re planning a triple chocolate pudding extravaganza then have a nice fish main.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Getting motivated

So what's the answer to the obesity vicious cycle?

Well what was unusual about last nights lecture is that the doctor presenting did not recommend exercise to his obese patients who had no desire to exercise!

What, no exercise? But surely that's the way to encourage weight loss.

His argument was that when someone is that leptin insensitive that they can't burn fats, then the only exercise they can do is fuelled by glucose stores in the muscles. After 15-20 minutes they will have used these up and find themselves exhausted and hungry.

Instead he recommended a dietary strategy to undo the insulin and leptin resistance and encourage the dopamine pathways, under the principal that once these were restored his patients would be naturally inclined to start exercising.

The diet has no refined carbohydrates or sugars and is generally low in all starchy carbs, instead focussing on 6 small, protein rich meals daily plus specific antioxidants and protein supplements that encourage dopamine production.

The absence of sugars and carbs massively reduces insulin production whilst the regular meals balance blood sugar. A high protein diet has also been shown to increase basal metabolic rate, so increase calories burnt at rest.

If you flip that diet on it's head then what this implies is that over time a diet high in sugar and white refined carbohydrates could actually reduce your natural inclination to exercise meaning you start to exhibit laziness and exercise avoidance.

So should we all be living on high-meat, low-carb diets?

This is an argument I myself struggle with - yes naturally we have evolved to live on a high meat diet supplemented with native fruits and vegetables, but at the same time our lives nowadays are so far removed from this that our dietary requirements can't be exactly the same as they were thousands of years ago. Also our food is so different - getting your hands on pesticide and antibiotic free and lean meat is actually pretty difficult.

In particular our fast paced lives put a constant stress on our adrenal glands which can impair their ability to burn fats for energy - by not consuming any carbs we could be putting them under more stress than they can cope with ultimately leading to fatigue, something I have definitely seen happen overtime in clients.

Whatever your diet ethos the fact is that refined sugars and refined carbohydrates are not good for us whatever our lifestyle and should be limited to occasional treats. So remember next time you eat a chocolate bar or slice of white bread it's going to make it you less inclined to go to the gym!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Understanding obesity

As a nutritional therapist I find that I often meet naturally thin people who are very unsympathetic to obese people and often can't understand why they don't just eat less food and go for a jog to lose weight!

I was at a seminar this evening on the obesity epidemic in the developed world which actually covered this topic extremely well so I thought I'd share the science and hopefully enlighten a few of you as to the plight of the overweight individual.

Very slim people, who can eat whatever they want without gaining weight, generally don't have proper nutrient absorption so this is not an optimal state. In the days of the cave man these people wouldn't have survived due to the shortage of available food.

We are infact designed to be very economical with our calories so with the current abundance of food it is very easy to over-eat, and therefore gain weight.

Secondly, a sedentary lifestyle is self-perpetuating on a motivational level which means if you are over-weight, and in particular have central obesity around your tummy, then you will have a larger appetite and a lower neurological impulse to exercise than a healthy person.

But surely exercising is just a case of will power?

Not so, the motivation to get up out of your chair and move around is a neurological pathway, you may be lying around on the sofa feeling apathetic, but once you get hungry this dopamine pathway will kick in and you will be motivated to get up and go to the fridge. However the more fat you have around the middle the less active this spontaneous exercise pathway is, so overweight people are naturally less motivated to exercise than slim people. Overtime these pathways can atrophy making it even harder to produce a motivational response to a physiological need.

The other problem is that the more sedentary you are the more insulin and leptin resistant you become, which means your ability to burn fat for energy becomes impaired. As a result you can be over-weight and sedentary but still have a huge appetite as your body can't access any of your fat stores for energy. A very determined overweight dieter can get themselves to a point where they are eating less than 1000 calories a day and yet still can't burn fat for energy (they will just feel extremely tired and not lose weight).

So what's the way out of this vicious cycle?

Well I think that's enough science talk for one blog ... So you'll have to wait til tomorrow for the answer!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The bloggers blogs

With everything going on in my life I don't get as much time to read as I wish I did, but I do follow a few blogs and newsletters that keep me up to date and give me health and recipe ideas, some of which make it into my own blogs. One such blog is the daily bites blog, which I started following recently as a source of healthy gluten and dairy free cooking inspiration. As well as posting some pretty ingenious recipes Hallie also posts on nutrition and healthy eating. Today's blog on managing hunger I thought was a particularly good one and worth reading in full:

Monday, 23 April 2012

The final list

I feel like I'm playing that shopping memory game we used to play at kids parties, where you go round the group and have to remember the shopping list the person before you listed and add one item to the list yourself!

Still we're very almost there with my daily food checklist so I'm going to finish it off today with the last two items.

Remember this isn't a comprehensive list of everything you should eat - instead it's the minimum you should aim to have daily to get the nutrients you need - then you can add any other food you need or want on top.

The final two items on the list are protein and fats. The amino acids in protein are the building blocks for all proteins in the body, whilst fats are a key component in the cell wall of every cell, so both are essential for the body.

So how much do you need?
Well for protein you're looking to have a minimum of a portion of lean protein the size of a deck of cards with each main meal, but if you're working out a lot or trying to gain muscle mass you could have double, plus half to 1 deck of cards worth with 2 snacks.

This guide amount applies to all animal sources - skinless poultry, less than 5 percent fat beef mince, lean game meats, eggs (have only 1 yolk per portion) seafood and fish as well as tofu, seitan and tempeh. If you're having pulses as your protein source in a meal you need to double the volume and eat some wholegrains on the same day, which you should be doing anyway, to make a complete protein. You can also use a scoop of protein powder as a protein source in a meal or snack, which I do regularly, whey is a good source but if you're vegan or fully dairy intolerant (rather than just lactose intolerant) like myself
then use rice or pea or soya protein instead.

You can kill two birds with one stone by having oily fish as your source of protein three times a week for healthy fats. I generally only eat fish once a week, so take a fish oil supplement daily.

For a daily habit have 2 tablespoons of raw unsalted nuts or seeds, either on your breakfast cereal, mixed into a salad or as a snack. Ground flax seeds are also a great source, add to soups or smoothies or have 1 tbsp flax oil over a salad.

So here's the final list:
- 1.5litres water
- 5 portions of veggies and 2 fruit (1 red, 1 orange, 1 leafy green, 1 cruciferous and 1 of onion or garlic)
- a daily portion of pulses
- two portions of wholegrains
- 2 tbsps raw unsalted nuts/seeds
- three portions of healthy protein per day (including 3 portions of oily fish per week) or a good fish supplement daily
.. and a partridge in a pear tree (only joking)!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Grainy goodness

Something I've been waiting for for a long time has finally happened and I'm very excited about it ...

Waitrose now stocks gluten-free sandwiches!

I appreciate that to those of you who are wheat eaters this may not seem important, but I've been waiting 8 years to be able to buy a gluten free sandwich, so it's pretty exciting.

Not only is it convenient to be able to buy one, but it signifies that the number of gluten free individuals in the UK has reached the critical mass needed to accept gluten free as a normal eating habit ... The only frontier left for me is to be able to buy a gluten free pizza in a restaurant (waitrose already sell gluten free pizza bases so you can make your own).

Anyway back to my daily food checklist and talking of bread brings me onto wholegrains.

A wholegrain is one which hasn't been processed so the fibre/husk hasn't been removed. This is good news for your health not just due to fibre content but the fibrous parts of the husk contain the grain's B vitamins which are vital vitamins important for numerous functions. Two of which are energy production and coping with stress.

If you're under stress your body prioritizes the use of B vitamins in the stress response and so energy levels drop, which is why everyone feels tired after a stressful day and also why most city folk need more B vitamins in their diets.

So on top of 1.5litres water, 5 veggies, 2 fruit and a daily portion of pulses I'm adding two portions of wholegrains to my daily food checklist.

This is pretty easy to achieve:
Start your day with an oat based breakfast such as muesli or porridge made with whole oats (for gluten free porridge use brown rice or quinoa flakes and add extra rice bran).

If you're more of a toast person have wholegrain toast, preferably wheat free such as rye or spelt which is still wheat but lower gluten. If you're gluten free you want a bread with added rice bran or whole millet/buckwheat flakes. I like warburtons wholegrain rolls or dietary specials ciabatta rolls. Alternatively use these wholegrain breads to make a lunchtime sandwich.

For dinner brown rice should be top of the list and is good with a stirfry, casserole or fish dish otherwise have barley or quinoa, or if you're having soup have some german rye bread to dip into it ... simples!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Pulse power

A group I deliberately didn't include in my blog on veggies yesterday was pulses. If you believe the labels then one portion of pulses counts as one of your five a day, but I don't include them when I'm counting my fruit and veg.

This isn't because they're not worthy of being grouped with vegetables, but infact because they are so healthy they warrant their own category.

So on top of 1.5litres water, 5 veggies and 2 fruit, I'm adding in a daily portion of pulses.

Why? Pulses are a good source of the main vitamins and minerals associated with energy production and fat burning. On top of this they are a very very low GI carbohydrate giving a good sustaining source of energy. The reason they are low GI is due to both their high fibre and protein content. On top of this they contain phyto-oestrogens, which have protective effects against hormone cancers and balancing effects on hormones in general, and they can even lower LDL cholesterol. Pretty fab all round.

I find it easy to have a portion every day as I just add some to my lunchtime salad and vary them so they don't get boring - pinto beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils are my favourites.

If you're really not keen try adding them to casseroles and chillies where you won't notice them and they'll boost the fibre content and reduce the amount of meat you eat, and most people enjoy hummous as a dip with some crudites or oat cakes.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


So did you all drink your 1.5litres of water today?

I managed it, despite changing offices three times ... wherever you're working there's usually a water cooler somewhere nearby.

So what's next on the list of healthy foods for you to include in your diet every day?

Well next up is my favourite health food - good old vegetables!

I have to say I'm not a natural veggie lover. I could eat fruit all day but with vegetables I often feel I wouldn't miss them if I didn't eat them. However they are so good for you that everyone should make an effort.

The trick is to find the ones you like - everyone likes some kind of veggie, even if it's just something unadventurous like peas or carrots.
If you're veggie averse it's also worth paying up for the ready prepared mixes that are easy to cook and more varied in flavour. M+S vegetables, fresh or pre-prepared, always taste a bit better than average.

Whilst veggies are healthiest plain or dressed with some olive oil, I'm also not totally against using sauces or dressings to help up the taste factor. This can be a critical factor in getting kids to eat their veg, just buy the sauces with the lowest sugar content.

I aim to have five portions of veg and two fruit daily, but in particular I would recommend at least one portion of each the following to have every day:
- a green leafy vegetables such as, spinach, spring greens, collard, any salad leaves. These are rich in chlorophyll and minerals
- a cruciferous vegetable such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower or watercress. These aren't the most popular vegetables but they are the anti-cancer warriors of the food world so worth the effort.
- a red fruit or vegetable such as berries, plums, cherries, peppers, chillies, tomatoes, beetroot, red grapes. These are rich in anti-ageing and anti-cancer antioxidants.
- an orange fruit or vegetable such as carrots, sweet potatoes, oranges, apricots which are rich in betacarotene and vitamin C, both great for skin and eye health.
- onions or garlic - these don't agree with everyone (especially when eaten raw) but if you can tolerate them have at least one of these daily. They are easy to cook into most dinners and are good for heart health and circulation.
- fresh herbs, such as basil, coriander, chives etc - always have a bag in the fridge and add a tbsp to your lunch or dinner
- also try and eat all your fruit and one of your veggies raw to benefit from the live enzymes they contain.

Sound too complicated? Here's how it works in practice
Have some berries with your breakfast cereal (red fruit - 1 portion fruit)
For lunch have a salad with some (green leafy veg) and red + orange red peppers (red + orange + raw, 3 portions veg)
Have an orange or a couple of apricots as part of your afternoon (1 portion fruit) or have this for dessert after your dinner
For dinner have a stirfy made with a mix containing onion and cabbage, broccoli or kale, and add some garlic for good measure. (3 portions veg. Garnish with coriander.

Monday, 16 April 2012

A new perspective

I feel that lately my blogs have been too focussed on what people shouldn't eat and not on which foods are positively good for you.

This is of course useful to know, but there's a problem with this approach - if someone says to you 'Don't eat any chocolate for a month' you're immediately going to be thinking about chocolate and you'll notice a lot more of it around you making it harder to avoid.

A more constructive approach to healthy eating is to focus on all the wonderful health-giving foods you should be eating and look for opportunities to have them. This approach doesn't feel like deprivation and by the time you've eaten the foods on your healthy check-list you'll find there isn't that much room in your stomach left for unhealthy and processed foods.

So in that vein I'll be blogging this week on the foods you should make sure you're eating and why. Starting with water.

Ok so it's not a food but it's an essential input into the functioning of every cell in your body so pretty fundamental to health. Unfortunately it's not particularly tasty and some people positively don't like drinking it so it's easy to neglect your water intake.

The recommended intake for an adult is 1.5-2 litres daily which ideally should be had as plain water or herbal teas. Those doing a lot of exercise need more and should replace fluids at a rate of 1litre per kg of sweat loss.

The easiest way to make sure you have enough is to buy or fill a 1.5 litre bottle at the start of your day and make sure you've drunk it by the time you go to bed.

If you really can't stand it plain then flavouring it with fruit juice is the best option, or buying the many different flavours of 'vitamin water' available. Water mixed with fruit squash/cordials also counts, although they're full of sugar. Still if it's the only way you're going to get someone to drink any water it's worth doing.

Tea, coffee and coca cola are diuretics so these don't count, and I'd recommend always drinking a full cup of water before having any caffeinated drink. This will help mitigate the dehydrating effect and combat fatigue that made you want some caffeine in the first place.

So if you're not a regular water drinker add this healthy habit in from tomorrow - you should feel more alert, have less headaches and will probably eat less/crave less carbs.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Shock news! Celebrity loses weight without extreme dieting

Having never been a reader of the gossipmags I've never been that up to date on celebrity gossip ... it's always the same thing to me ... someone getting married, someone getting divorced, someone's lost 10lbs - look how great they look, someone has gained 10lbs - look how bad they look. However whenever I want an update I just ask Ms Haribo who's plugged into multiple gossip sources and always knows the latest rumours round tinseltown.

This evening Ms Haribo updated me on the latest diet of Kim Kardashian. Now most celebrity diets are pretty extreme - super low carb, super low calorie, no solid food - all pretty unhealthy and unsustainable in the long run, so I was expecting much of the same. But Kim's recent 10lb weight loss was attributed to giving up gluten, dairy and sugar. It does also include limiting herself to 1300 calories a day, which is low, but not dangerously low like the usual <1000cal celebrity diets.

However, losing 10lbs in two weeks is not going to be a pure fat weight loss - what this indicates is that Kim has an intolerance to one of these food groups, and so when she eats these foods her body is retaining water in the body as part of the over-active immune response to these foods. However water retention isn't the only downside - by stimulating an immune response, eating foods your are intolerant too can trigger eczema, asthma, migraines and acne and also lead the body to develop other allergies and intolerances such as hayfever, and multiple food intolerances. For anyone suffering from an inflammatory condition, such as arthritis, this heightened immune activity will also aggravate this condition.

Personally I think that the majority of the population will have a negative reaction to at least one of these three prime suspects, and from a health perspective we would all benefit from giving them up. You can test for intolerances using various tests, however I've done a couple and none have ever come up with a gluten intolerance, but when I first gave up gluten I lost 6lbs in a fortnight and felt significantly more awake, which is a pretty strong indicator of an intolerance. If I ever go back to regularly eating gluten I feel really lethargic and start needing naps during the day. I also gain 4-6lbs of water weight over a couple of weeks, so gluten is definitely a problem for me.

So for once I'd actually recommend this celebrity diet regime, and go as far as to suggest you should all try it for two weeks. No gluten (buy gluten free bread and pasta), no dairy (have soy, rice or coconut milk and soy yoghurt, skip the cheese) and no sugar (sweets, biscuits, puddings, plus savoury processed foods - read all labels). Just do it as an experiment and remember it's only for two weeks. If you don't feel any different at all at the end of two weeks (having stuck to it strictly) then you've not lost anything in the process, but if you do then you might want to consider giving them up for the long term - this could be the key to restoring your energy or getting down to your perfect weight.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Why is ice cream and chocolate so irresistible?

Not one of life's great philosophical questions but I think an important one for a lot of us and one that needs answering!

It actually came to mind when reading an invite for a full day conference on fats. Fats are so important for good health that it's common in nutrition to have entire seminars dedicated them. These are more and more focussed on the importance of eating the healthy 'essential fats' rather than on just the downsides of eating saturated or processed fats such as transfats.

The fact is that the functioning of every cell in our body is reliant on the presence of flexible unsaturated fats in the cell walls, so it's not surprising that they're on the body's checklist when it comes to food. This is why following a strict low-fat diet is so unsatisfying and leaves most people feeling hungry all the time.

Unfortunately the body isn't so good at differentiating between sources of healthy and unhealthy fats, so if you don't eat enough healthy fats your likely to experience indiscriminate fat cravings leaving you yearning for crisps, chips, cheese, butter and fatty cuts of meat.

And once you combine fats with sugar, which has well-proven addictive and drug like qualities, then you have a truly irresistible combination ... chocolate, ice cream, cookies ... Mmmm!

I digress! The point is that if you eat healthy fats every day your desire for the unhealthy types can be dramatically reduced.

It's good to start early in the day - with a couple of tablespoons of chopped nuts and seeds in your muesli or with your fruit salad or yoghurt. If you don't like either then take a good omega3+omega6 supplement with your breakfast or stir some ground flax seeds into your porridge.

Having some oily fish at lunchtime is another great way to keep afternoon crisp pangs away ... Mackerel, fresh tuna and salmon are all filling and satisfying because of their fat content. Just limit them to 3-4 times a week due to pollutant content.

Otherwise add some vegetarian healthy fats to your lunchtime salad - have some avocado or olives in your salad, add an olive or flax seed oil dressing and make sure you choose a seeded roll to go with your soup.

By dinner time your body should be fat happy and not craving steak and chips, followed by cookies and cream haagan daas. But if you are then start your dinner with a vinaigrette dressed salad or half a wholemeal roll from the bread basket dipped in olive oil. Fats also slow down stomach emptying so can help you feel more full ... by the time you get to dessert you'll feel too full to order!


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Time for a grope

I was reading an article on testicular cancer last week which quoted the shocking statistic that 41 per cent of men who find a lump in their testicles don't go to the doctors to get it checked.

Now I haven't checked the stats but I would bet that if a woman found a lump in her breast the first thing she would think to do would be to book an appointment with her GP. So why would a man do the exact opposite?

It's well known that men are more reluctant to visit their doctor if they're ill than women and I was pondering why this in the gym when I spotted the following slogan on the back of a guys T-shirt - 'There is no finish line'.

It made me think that maybe the resistance to going to the doctors is down to guys not ever wanting to be defeated. This is of course a sweeping generalisation, but men hate to admit weakness and feel they should be able to deal with anything life throws at them.

Unfortunately there are some things in life that you no one can deal with on their own, and when it comes to serious illness the sooner you get help the better.

So whether you're a guy or a girl have a bit of a feel when you get home tonight and if you find any strange lumps book yourself a checkup with your GP immediately. You don't need to tell anyone you're going and believe me your doctor has seen way more embarrassing conditions so won't even bat an eyelid (watch 'Embarassing Bodies' if you don't believe me).

Monday, 9 April 2012

The creme egg calorie index

Ms Haribo here, wishing you all a happy easter. I am a massive xkcd fan, which is a great comic with a slightly geeky twist. The other day they had this awesome comic (I’ve included the link for those who want to check out more and read the funny caption behind the comic). But I really liked this one. Probably because I sometimes take the position of the girl in the strip and find ways to justify eating chocolate eggs, but also because it reminds me that we don’t think much about the amount of sugar in calories in what we drink and tend to forget about them when totting up our calorie and sugar intake for the day. Partly because they don’t fill us up and we don’t really pay attention to what we are drinking and tend to forget about it. But we also forget because mentally we don’t expect a ‘drink’ to have as many calories as food and don’t account for it properly.

I was amazed to find out recently that calories from soda are the third biggest source of calories for Americans (number 1 is “grain based desserts” )

So this Easter Miss Haribo will be eating her crème eggs, savouring and remembering their sickly goodness and definitely counting it as her 20% ‘bad’.

When they moved production from New Zealand to the UK and switched from the runny white centers to the thick, frosting-like filling, it got way harder to cook them scrambled.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Soupy Sundays

Despite my comments earlier this week about my healthy influence on hot doc I have to admit he's actually a very good influence on me too.

I probably have healthier eating intentions than he does, but he's much more useful than me in the kitchen and much more organised about what he eats.

This evening when I got home late from work I scarfed down some sardines and avocado on toast and fruit salad whilst stood up making my breakfast for lunch tomorrow. Definitely breaking all my usual advice about eating slowly sat down at a table!

In contrast hot doc is much more organised and usually has something healthy defrosting in the fridge awaiting him when he's home from a late shift. Along with freezing stews and curries he also freezes batches of veggie soup.

Vegetables are the healthiest thing you can eat and fresh veggie soups make a filling and healthy addition to any dinner, but for some reason I don't eat them that often. I think this is partly a time thing, if it takes more than half an hour to cook it's probably not going to get made on a weeknight. However if you make a big batch of soup on a Sunday you can freeze portions for the rest of the week and defrost them during the day for your dinner.

To get you started here's an easy and tasty recipe for red pepper and tomato soup, courtesy of hot doc of course!

For most of us this weekend is a long weekend so tomorrow is effectively Friday which means I'll be enjoying the long weekend and blogging again on Tuesday!

Happy Easter and enjoy your chocolate eggs!

Red pepper and tomato soup

2tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped

2 large red peppers, seeds removed and roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

600g (21oz) ripe tomatoes, quartered

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

1l chicken stock or vegetable stock

1tbsp chopped fresh basil, to garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the onion, peppers, garlic and chilli for about 5 minutes. Add the fresh tomatoes and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Add the tinned tomatoes, the stock and a cup of water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Purée the soup in batches in a food processor or with a hand-held blender.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot, and garnished with the basil / coriander and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A balancing act

As per yesterday's blog, whilst a certain set of healthy eating recommendations may hold true for most healthy individuals, the truth is that most nutritional therapy clients can't just follow the same diet and need something taylor-made to keep them in top health.

I'm actually an excellent example of this - due to digestive and endocrine imbalances I've had quite a range of symptoms and conditions in my life. Each on their own might benefit from following distinct diets but combined these conflict in certain areas so they require a bit of a balancing act.

Something I suffered with from quite a young age was impaired absorption of nutrients, in particular Vitamin C and iron levels. Whilst alot of people don't need to eat meat to get sufficient iron, and are fine with plant sources and maybe a good supplement, I find that if I totally avoid meat I tend to get a bit low in iron and my energy levels can suddenly drop. Vitamin C is also really important for proper iron absorption so I have higher requirement than average for both nutrients.

Unfortunately, due to an overly sensitive digestive system, I have problems digesting fructose so can't eat too much raw fruit. I therefore have to generally stick to lower sugar fruit such as berries and orchard fruit, and I find that cooking them helps me digest them. In addition I eat plenty of fresh vegetables and treat these as my main source of vitamin C.

I have also suffered in the past from skin breakouts due to disregulated hormones, but find that if I follow a meat and dairy-free diet my hormones are much more balanced and my skin is perfect. However I have to balance this with my need for iron, so do eat meat but only once or twice a week.

Getting enough protein on a vegan regime is tough, the main sources are pulses, tofu, soya protein, tempeh, seitan (which I can't have due to it being wheat derived) and nuts and seeds. Unfortunately my sensitive digestive system can't handle too much soya milk so I tend to rely on pulses and occasional tofu for main meals and nuts and seeds in snacks. I have a protein shake in the morning with breakfast, but of course being dairy intolerant I can't have whey protein! So I have rice protein instead. I also have oily fish a couple of times a week for some extra protein and omega three fats.

Energy and weight wise I feel best on low GI carbohydrates balanced with healthy proteins but unfortunately my intolerance to gluten, and some other grains, means I can't eat the nice super low GI wholegrains such as oats, rye, buckwheat and spelt. Instead the only wholegrain my body can cope with on a regular basis is brown rice, which does get a bit dull, so I do allow myself some of the processed higher GI gluten-free pastas and breads.

This approach may sound overly complex and quite frankly pretty restrictive, but it isn't a diet I suddenly switched too overnight. It has evolved over time and I fine tune it according to how I feel. Plus I only follow these restrictions eighty per cent of the time, allowing myself offplan indulgences, but infrequently enough as to not de-rail my health.

The point is, that we should all base what we eat around some healthy fundamental principals, but we then need to pay attention to how our body responds to food, both positively and negatively, and adapt accordingly. Just because your colleague feels great on a low-carb diet doesn't mean it will suit you, but that shouldn't stop you trying it out ... just remember finding that right diet can be a balancing act, and if you don't feel good you probably need to change something.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Should we all be on the same diet?

One of our tutors at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition used to calm nervous second years before their first supervised consultations by pointing out that at the end of the day we are all recommending pretty much the same diet.

Infact this isn't the case, as a nutritional therapist you approach all clients individually and always have in mind that everyone is biochemically unique and so reacts to foods in different ways, but what he was saying is that the fundamentals of a healthy diet are pretty constant and a good place to start for most people.

More on the individual approach to diet tomorrow, but I thought it would be worth sharing the more common recommendations that hold true for most clients:

These are:
- Eat a healthy/lean source of protein with every meal and snack to balance blood sugar levels
- eat wholegrain carbohydrates, rather than refined grains, so whole oats, rye, wholewheat pasta and bread
- eat at least five portions of fruit and veg daily, varying the types and colours
- drink 1.5-2 litres of water throughout the day (preferably filtered or mineral)
- eat oily fish 3 times a week
- eat a palmful of natural nuts or seeds daily
- eat at regular times, preferably leaving a minimum of 3 hours and a maximum of 5 between meals and snacks
- always have breakfast and avoid having a large late dinner

- avoid sugar whenever possible
- minimize intake of refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white flour and processed goods such as crisps, biscuits, cakes
- don't eat wheat every day
- avoid dairy products with the exception of live natural yoghurt
- limit red meat to once a week and eat only lean, skinless cuts of meat to limit saturated fat intake
- avoid all stimulants - caffeine (tea/coffee), cigarettes, stimulant drinks
- limit alcohol intake to one glass of wine per day and have at least two alcohol free days per week

The final part is to eat healthily 80 per cent of the time but also allow yourself to indulge 20 percent of the time. This bit is for your mental health :-) which should never be neglected!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A healthy nudge

It must be annoying to go out with a Nutritional Therapist .. hot doc has to put up up with me wittering on about food a fair bit, regularly going awol in the supermarket whilst I examine the latest health foods on offer, plus giving a running commentary in the kitchen on the various ingredients he's using. To be fair he eats very healthily, but an NT can always see room for improvement, so I do have to try and stop short of giving him a full blown lecture on what he should and shouldn't be eating!!

Still I think by natural osmosis and listening to some of my ramblings his diet has gradually evolved in a healthier direction, and he was even quite happy to have soya sausages in his breakfast buttie this morning, rather than regular ones!! This is courtesy of Sainsbury's having come up with some pretty passable soya sausages from their new 'love soya' range (I don't think I could have got away with a Linda Mccartney vegetable sausage). But what it made me realise, is that whoever is responsible for doing the shopping and cooking in a household has great potential to improve the health of whoever they live with.

Let's face it, most adults will eat whatever you put infront of them (within reason), and most people will eat what's in the cupboards rather than make a special trip to the corner shop for their favourite snack. So even if your partner/children naturally gravitate towards KFC you can gradually nudge them towards healthier eating without having to get them offside by announcing that they need to go on a diet or start eating healthier.

You can of course go all out and ban unhealthy foods from your house - but this is likely to lead to opposition, resistance and even secret visits to MacDonalds!! Instead I'd suggest making small changes gradually and still keeping some 'naughty' foods in the house, so no one feels their under a fascist food regime.

Top tips for giving your household a healthy nudge:
- Add some healthy goodies to the snack cupboard mixed in with the unhealthy stuff so it doesn't stand out .... start with muesli bars alongside the double deckers, and salted nuts in with the crisps ... but gradually evolve to small packs of natural nuts, dried fruits and no-sugar healthy treats such as nak'd, EAT natural and fruitus bars, fruit roll-ups and dark chocolate dipped raisins.

- Make up a batch of healthy snack bars or cookies, see elanas pantry for some great ideas, and put these in a glass cookie tin on the worktop ... being in line of sight these will be more likely to be snacked on than the regular biscuits you have in the cupboard.

- Put some no sugar muesli and lower sugar cereals in the cupboard alongside the special K and frosties. In the winter make-up some porridge - if it's hot and available most people will eat it when it's cold outside. Chop up some fruit in advance and leave it on the table with some chopped nuts, dried fruit and other healthy breakfast toppings ... again if it's infront of your family but not forced upon them they'll probably try it. In the same vein you could try putting out some milk alternatives, start with sweetened soya milk as it's more palatable, but also put out rice milk and coconut milk (the one specifically for use as a milk substitute) as not everyone likes the same ones.

- Take the saturated fat out of as many recipes as you can without your household noticing ... most recipes that involve frying in butter can use olive oil instead and lots of dishes that recommend a sprinkling of cheese at the end, can easily go without. Your family also won't notice if you start using more tomato based sauces, rather than cream-based. When it comes to meat dishes gradually cut down on red meat til you're just serving it once a week. Instead cook with skinless white meat or fish and try serving a vegan supper a couple of times a week (no dairy, meat or eggs). If presenting a bean chilli to your family for dinner will get a bad reception then serve it up as a side dish .. perhaps as another option alongside chicken to go in your fajitas .. once it's on the table someone is bound to try it and they might even like it.

- Serve multiple side dishes of vegetables rather than one big mix .. once they've taken a tablespoon from each bowl they'll end up with more veggies on their plate.

- Pulses and beans are very good for you, they are rich in fibre, minerals and phytoestrogens, low in fat, but not everyone loves them. So rather than serving up a lentil casserole, just add some whenever you cook a stew, casserole, tagine ... anything with a sauce and vegetables in it can easily hide some pulses. You can also blend white pulses such as cannelini of flagolet beans into most soups to thicken them up (instead of using a potato) and no one will notice.

- Add some variety to your bread bin ... always have a wholemeal option if you usually have white bread, but also put some rye bread and wheat/gluten free rolls in there and they'll probably get eaten.

- Always put a jug of water on the table and pour everyone a glass whether they've asked for one of not ... most people will drink it, even if it's just so they can have a glass of something else once they' finished.

- Put some crudites and hummous out on the dinner table 20 minutes before you serve dinner ... it's an easy way to get hungry little ones to eat some vegetables before anything else.

- If you're serving dessert always offer a healthy pudding alongside you're usual unhealthy one - no one likes to feel left out by not having any dessert, but they might go for fruit salad with greek yoghurt rather than cheesecake if it's on offer.