Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Attack of the killer carb cravings

The busier I get at work the more I crave a really carby dinner like a big plate of pesto pasta.

This is a pretty normal phenomenon in times of stress - when you're stressed you produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol levels spike your blood sugar levels rise through releasing glycogen from the muscles and breaking down fat cells. However these spikes are followed by blood sugar lows when your body tries to reduce the blood sugar high by producing insulin. This sugar low is what causes you to crave carbs to get blood sugar levels up again. Eating a large serving of carbs also causes serotonin production making you feel better.

Unfortunately this means people tend to eat sugary and more refined foods when they are stressed when they need more nutritious foods such as veggies + wholegrains. Combined with the increased insulin production this generally leads to weight gain.

When I find myself falling into this trap I enforce these dinner rules to limit the damage and keep my diet balanced.

- firstly I always eat my veggies first either as a salad, soup or a veg juice before my main meal. If you've got a juicer you can easily get your five a day into a glass of juice in 2 minutes and drink it whilst you cook the rest of your dinner. Or instead of a juice have a fruit smoothie but blend in a handful of spinach leaves to increase your greens.

- secondly I make sure my meal includes a portion of protein the size of the palm of my hand. This is really important to regulate blood sugar levels and also to support your thyroid which can become suppressed in times of stress. I then alternate forkfulls of carbs for forkfulls of protein until all the protein is gone. If I really crave pure carbs then I have a protein shake first to tick this off the list.

- only once I've finished my protein can I then eat the rest of my pasta, by which time my appetite has usually regulated.

It takes some discipline not to just go straight to the carbs but this strategy really works making me feel more balanced and alert than when I just go full on carb monster, so it's worth the effort.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Keeping it clean

I'm firmly against conventional dieting - calorie counting, weighing portions and having to consult a list before being able to eat anything are not for me. But I am totally for having a food philosophy and following quality based diets where it's all about what you eat rather than how much.

In that vein this lovefood challenge caught my eye as a great way to clean up your diet and shed spare pounds if you have any.

The challenge is to only eat un-processed foods, or do any necessary processing yourself. So no ready meals, biscuits, cakes, bread, pasta, processed meats. Just raw unrefined ingredients - white rice is out, brown or wild rice is in, jars of sauces are out, homemade sauces like last weeks instant marinara are in.

The benefits are two fold, firstly eating this way cuts out so much rubbish from your diet - no sugar, no refined carbs, no fatty processed meats, biscuits, desserts etc. - which will massively improve the nutritional composition of your diet.

Secondly the foods you're left with haven't had all the goodness stripped out of them by processing - the grains are whole with all the fibre and B vitamins that come with their husks, meals are homemade with fresh fruit, veg, meat and fish
so have higher nutrient levels.

It's a tough challenge and whilst it would be amazing for your health to eat like this all the time it's fairly time consuming/impractical. But even if you just think about this for a week when you make your food choices you'll make much better choices and realise how much of our day to day foods are processed. 


Thursday, 21 March 2013

A bit of reverse psyhcology

I went to the gym this evening only to find I'd left my trainers at home! With no yoga class to go to I had to leave without doing any exercise feeling pretty disappointed.

Although this was altogether an annoying experience it did remind me how much I like the gym and made me appreciative of the fact that I can workout.

I think exercise and eating healthily can all too often be seen as a chore giving them a negative connotation. If you see them in this way you're bound to be less motivated and have an inner resistance to them.

But what if you imagined a world where you couldn't exercise and you could only eat processed junk food?

Ok some people may think this is heaven but I'm sure most people can think of some activities and foods they'd miss. I can think of loads - I'd be totally gutted if I couldn't run, cycle, swim, play tennis, go snowboarding. I'd even miss doing weights (I know this as I once had to totally stop exercising for six months and found it very demoralizing).

As for food there are some fruit and veg I could easily live without but loads of healthy food I'd miss terribly - all berries, limes, lemons, tomatoes, new and sweet potatoes, carrots, aubergines, delicious corn on the cob, avocado ... on reflection I'd even miss spinach.

Just making the list and imagining not having these foods is creating a craving for these foods in me just in the same way as you crave chocolate when you go on a diet.

Just take two minutes to jot down everything you'd miss and then turn the list of foods into your next shopping list, you'll find you enjoy your healthy foods with a new enthusiasm.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A fruity issue

Fruit is mother natures candy, delicious, sweet and full of good for you nutrients, so it's a bitter pill to swallow if you find out that you can't eat it.

Can't eat fruit? Why wouldn't you be able to?

Well if you have IBS symptoms then there's a chance you may have fructose malabsorption, this is a digestive disorder where your small intestine can't absorb as much fructose as an average person. In not absorbing the fructose it leaves it to pass undigested into the large intestine where it is metabolized by colonic bacteria into short chain fatty acids, producing hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane gases, causing bloating, gas and commonly diarrhoea or urgently.

So how do you know if you have fructose malabsorption?
Well firstly you'll have these symptoms when you eat fruit, but you might be getting these symptoms on and off all the time so it might be hard to isolate.  Even if you know it's happening with fruit this is also a common symptom with small intestine overgrowths such as candida.  The only conclusive test is a hydrogen breath test using fructose, but you can always just eliminate fruit from your diet for a couple of weeks and seeing if your symptoms improve.

What can you do it if you have it?
Well unfortunately there is no known cure if you have genuine malabsorption other than to avoid fructose. If your symptoms are due to small intestine bacterial overgrowth including candida, you can treat this with antimicrobials, probiotics and a low sugar diet to rebalance your gut flora at which point you should be able to tolerate fructose again.

Apples and pears are the highest in fructose content so most likely to cause symptoms in those with fructose malabsorption, however berries, citrus and ripe bananas are the lowest so may be tolerated. I generally limit my fruit intake to berries, lemons, limes and the odd grapefruit and find that I tolerate these pretty well.

Fructose and fructans are both part of the group of carbohydrates called FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides and Polyols). Therefore if you have an issue with fructose you may also benefit from trying a diet excluding all the FODMAP foods including wheat, pulses, lactose and certain vegetables.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Pasta pronto

Apologies for the sporadic blogging at the moment, work and life are getting in the way!! I am still here and still blogging, but maybe not every day for the time being!

If you need some daily motivation to keep you on track I really do recommend printing off Hailies monthly day by day health calendar from her excellent blog. Stick it to your fridge or desk and read it every day - her suggestions are super easy and just enough to keep you conscious of what you're eating, drinking and whether you are moving or not.

Anyway back to my blog and some good wholesome food.  I was reading up on some research this week and read a summary of some research into ways of lowering unhealthy LDL cholesterol.  The study gave participants either an apple, a supplement containing an equivalent level of apple polyphenols or a placebo.  What they found was that both those on the supplement and eating the apples had significantly lowered levels whilst those on the placebo had no benefit. What was interesting was that there was a significant benefit above the supplement for those eating the whole apple.

This just provides more evidence as to why we should always look to food first as our primary source of nutrition.  Supplements are a great addition to our diets and I honestly wouldn't want to try living without my supplements! But the foundation of health is to be found in whole and healthy foods, which gets me to today's recipe.

I learnt this recipe on the raw food course I did a couple of months back but today I got to try it out on hot doc, my official taste tester, and it passed!  I'm happy to admit that I'm pretty lazy in the kitchen and when I'm tired the temptation of reaching for a jar of sacla pasta sauce is strong, but this Marinara sauce recipe is so ridiculously quick and easy (and according to hot doc tastier than the Jamie Oliver version that actually requires some effort) that you just don't have an excuse to ever use sauce out of the jar ever again!  It's also full of fresh and nutritious raw herbs and veggies.

For a true raw version put some courgettes through a spiraliser to make some raw veg pasta and stir the sauce through. But it was a cold wintery evening so I stirred this into hot spaghetti (gluten-free for me) and added kidney beans to mine and topped hot docs with the easiest chicken recipe i know.

Raw Marinara sauce:

Put the following in a glass bowl or jar and blend with a hand blender or food processor until it's almost smooth ... that's it!

1 red pepper
1 stalk celery
1/2 cup soaked dried tomatoes (I use Merchant Gourmet as they don't add sugar)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic (I lightly fried mine first as I can't eat raw garlic)
1/2 a handful of fresh basil leaves
spring fresh rosemary
small bunch of fresh parsley
a sprinkle of sea salt
1-2tbsp olive oil

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Intolerant ignorance!

London is such a great city for many reasons, one being the amazing range and high standard of food available.  Fortunately most restaurants are now much more clued in on allergies and intolerances so I can eat out without worrying that  I can't be accommodated.  However this isn't universal...

Last weekend in a trip to the alps I found myself in an argument with a restaurant manager as to whether rice contained gluten in it! Apparently 'the customer is always right' doesn't apply in France!

Fortunately rice, potatoes, corn quinoa, buckwheat and millet are all gluten free carb choices. Whilst it's rare for a restaurant to stock gluten-free bread, some have gluten-free pasta and it's hard to think of anywhere that couldn't serve you a side of either rice or potatoes if you suggested it.

Clearly I could have saved myself an argument by just asking for rice rather than pasta!  But in the end I got my rice (the manager checked with the chef who backed me up!). It did remind me though not to assume that everyone knows what does or doesn't contain gluten and if in doubt to always ask exactly what is included in a dish, this is especially important for anyone with a true allergy.  Hopefully over time it will become more normal overseas as well as at home, so anyone trying to eat 'free from' won't have to face an angry restauranteur!

Monday, 11 March 2013

But rice is a grain!

London is such a great city for many reasons, one of which is the amazing range and high standard of food available.

Fortunately restaurants are also so much more clued in on allergies and intolerances that I rarely have any issues with them accommodating me. However this isn't universal everywhere you go.

Last weekend in a trip across the channel I found myself in an argument with a restaurant manager as to whether rice contained gluten in it! Apparently 'The customer is always right' doesn't apply in France!

Fortunately rice, potatoes, corn, quinoa, buckwheat and millet are all gluten free so there are plenty of carb choices for the gluten intolerant. It is rare for a restaurant to stock gluten-free bread, some have gluten-free pasta, but it's hard to think of a type of restaurant that couldn't serve you a side of rice or potatoes.

Clearly I could have saved myself an argument by just saying that I wanted rice rather than pasta! In the end I got my rice (he checked I was right with the chef!) but it's certainly taught me not to assume that everyone know what does or doesn't contain gluten and if in doubt to check with the chef!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Super skin

Birthdays tend to focus the mind on the ageing process and how it's going! Some people like my cousin, have got such naturally fine and soft skin that they never seem to age, but sadly I'm not so lucky and this birthday has definitely brought a couple of extra wrinkles with it!

Luckily for those of us without porcelain skin there is a lot you can do to keep your skin baby soft rather than old and weathered.

Externally it's the usual list, wear spf everyday to stop sun damage, exfoliate and moisturize religiously and don't just take care of your face (a wrinkly neck or hands tend to give your age away!)

Internally it's all about fat and water - your skin is made up of water held in a balloon made of fat. So you need to drink plenty of water and eat healthy fats everyday - oily fish, nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil, avocados etc. If you don't like these or can't manage to eat them regularly get a good EFA supplement and take it every day.

Anything that dehydrates you is therefore the enemy, so caffeine of any form, alcohol and salt should both be avoided to get your skin in top condition.

Also anything that hardens fats will harden your skin cells so to keep it baby soft you need to avoid alcohol and refined sugar. Remember hard skin = wrinkles.

Any exposure to toxins also damages fats and hardens them so smoking, drugs (legal or illegal), food additives and burnt or fried foods are all extremely ageing. I'm sure we all have seen or known people who've aged prematurely from too many cigarettes and glasses of wine.

This is why antioxidants are also so key as they can minimize the damage of toxins on our cells. All fruit and veg are therefore skin friendly, but particularly those with red, orange, purple and blue skins.

For a daily skin checklist have one portion of each (eg a plum, red pepper, sweet potato and blueberries) plus a serving of oily fish or a palmful of seeds, nuts or their oils plus 1.5 litres of water.

This may all sound super vain and respect to those of you who can ignore the endless pressures to look eternally young. But remember that anything that keeps your skin young from the inside is also keeping every other cell young - your heart, your brain, your lungs, liver, kidneys etc will all age slower which means a longer, healthier and happier life - now that isn't so superficial is it?!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Miss Haribo looks fantastic!

Miss Haribo here again

I enjoyed Monday's run so much that I decided to go back for more of the Nike flyknit experience. This time it was an event organised by Elle Magazine. As you can imagine all the girls looked fabulous in some pretty fantastic kit. I guess I wasn't alone in wanting to look nice for Paula Radcliffe!

One thing I've noticed in the last few years is a growing availability of gym kit that actually looks nice and doesn't make you look like some hideous 80's lycra addict. I think we have a lot to thank Sweaty Betty and Stella McCartney for Addidas for.  

But why does this matter? One thing that got mentioned last night is that often women don't exercise because they are worried about what they look like; other people mentioned that new kit was often the thing that motivated them when they were feeling low. Looking the part gives me confidence. I often go to races looking totally made up for this very reason (ok this is partly because it gives me something to do between paranoid peeing).  

Sanya Richards-Ross's mantra is  "look good, feel good, run good". And if it's good enough for an Olympic gold medal winner it's good enough for me.

Miss Haribo


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Miss Haribo raves it up

Miss Haribo here again

Yesterday I went on an absolutely amazing run. It was part of the Nike Flyknit experience at Somerset House (sadly I did not get to keep the fantastic trainers).

As soon as I turned up and found it was being led by rundemcrew, the people responsible for my murder mile sessions, I knew that I was in for a treat. But what a treat! We ran around Somerset house, the South Bank and through the Old Vic tunnels. The route was great enough but we got given giant glow sticks to run with, ?there were DJs at various sports (where we all stopped and had a dance), we sprinted to a man holding a giant flare and as we ran over millennium bridge a huge amount of balloons got released.

Obviously part of this brilliance was aimed at us feeling good about Nike. But, as explained in the Q and A session beforehand, there was another purpose too.......creating happy memories. Training isn't just about training your body. When we are tired during a race or a training session sometimes the thing that gets us through is to bring up a happy memory. In other words you are no longer at mile 17 running through the Isle of Dogs in the rain but running through the park in the sunshine.

So take a break from getting harder, better, faster, stronger and, sometimes, work on creating a happy memory.

Miss Haribo.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Proper pilates

Someone stole my trainers in the gym today .... seriously! This is not a cheap gym, anyone who can afford membership there does not need my old, almost worn out, trainers.

Still the outcome, other than having to fork out for a new pair, is that I found myself in a pilates class (the only thing I could think to do sans trainers).  I do occasionally do the odd pilates dvd but always find I get bored quite easily - however when you have a very strict teacher standing over you, making sure you don't use lazy technique, it is not only not boring but also really hard!

My stomach muscles didn't know what had hit them and I was way more sweaty than seemed warranted given the tiny muscle movements I was making.  It made me super aware that our bodies are not some simple construct, we have so many muscles we're not even aware of and most of us don't know how to hold them properly when we sit, stand or move.

Despite my remedial class, I still find myself slouched on the sofa right now, but it has made me resolved to be more conscious of my posture and how I'm holding myself instead of just being so caught up in my own thoughts that I lose awareness of my body.

Good posture isn't just good for your bones and muscles, it is also good for overall health creating space  for you to breathe properly and encouraging proper circulation, rather than limiting the flow of blood and lymph to and from certain areas.  Just try sitting tall and taking a few deep breaths when you feel tired at work and you'll instantly feel more awake. Therefore if you slouch you're impairing your immunity, cardiovascular system, metabolism and detoxification amongst other things.  It's time to start sitting tall ... and going to pilates classes more often!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Food fatigue

Waiting for spring to arrive is always a painful experience. This is most obviously due to waiting for the weather to warm up (and for me getting bored of my winter clothes!) but there's another food related reason this period of year is a bit of a drag and that is that there's very little food in season so most of our fruit and veg isn't as flavoursome as it should be, having travelled thousands of miles to our supermarkets.
Love Food have put together some brilliant seasonal fruit and veg calendars (link at the end of the article below) to help you eat in season, which are worth printing out and putting in your kitchen.  You'll see from them that February and March have the least number of food options for any time of ear.

Eating locally grown food is the most environmentally friendly choice and usually the shorter the distance your food has travelled the higher the nutrient content, but when your only options are cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower (ok there are a few more than that!) you can be forgiven for not being inspired in the kitchen.

Boredom is a healthy diets worst enemy, leading to eating convenience or comfort foods.  So whilst the end of winter is dragging on I actually positively encourage you go out and buy some fruit and veg that you haven't had for the last couple of months without concern for where it's come from - the changing flavours will wake up your taste buds and inspire a new interest in using healthy fresh ingredients.