Food for the Brain

Food for Brain Health

Brain health is big news. There are a number of brain-related conditions on the rise including depression, multiple sclerosis and dementia.

Dementia is one that is becoming of increasing concern to governments worldwide. There are different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common. With Alzheimer’s, the chemistry and structure of the brain changes, leading to the death of brain cells.

There is no cure for dementia and the precise causes haven’t been identified. However, we do know that dementia doesn’t manifest overnight. And, did you know that only one in 100 cases of Alzheimer’s is caused by genes?

There are over 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia and worldwide, the number is a massive 44 million. This is set to double by 2030. That is only 14 years away, which means that there is a possibility that the way we are living right now can impact our neurological health just a few years down the road.

Prevention is always better than cure, so this article provides some basic information on how to care for your brain throughout your life. Having a forward-looking approach to everyday health can help you and your family future-proof your well-being for decades to come.

RISK FACTORS FOR DEMENTIA

According to the World Alzheimer Report in 2014, smoking, high blood pressure and unmanaged diabetes are some of the key risk factors for developing dementia in later life. In fact, the correlation between diabetes and Alzheimer’s has prompted some researchers to refer to Alzheimer’s as ‘diabetes type 3’.

Certainly managing blood sugar can result in profound improvements in a number of conditions, but I think there is more to Alzheimer’s than just blood sugar control. What is fairly clear, is that what we eat, how we move and how we feel can possibly influence whether dementia will affect us in the future. So, it’s what we do in our younger years that can make a big difference to the quality of our lives as we age.

NUTRITION TIPS FOR A HEALTHY BRAIN

The following tips provide some pointers on how to eat well now, to ensure that your brain is receiving all the nutrients it needs.

  1.  Get your B’s (B6, B12 and folate).

broccoli-freeimages

These three nutrients are critical for ensuring that your body clears an amino acid called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are bad news in general, but have been closely associated with Alzheimer’s.

Nutrition tip: Eat leafy green vegetables every day: broccoli, spinach, cabbage, kale, chard, watercress and sea vegetables are excellent sources of B6 and folate. B12 is found in animal products, so ensure you include things like eggs, organic chicken, grass fed beef and lamb and some dairy in your diet. Vegans should consider a B12 supplement.

  1. Healthy Fats = Healthy Brain (omega 3 fatty acids).

walnuts

A number of studies have reported significant benefits of omega 3 fatty acids on cognitive decline. In fact, much of the brain is made of DHA, a type of omega 3. Some studies have found that lower levels of DHA are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Omega 3 also has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is being investigated as a contributing factor in dementia, so a diet rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients can be very important.

Nutrition tip: Focus on eating foods rich in omega 3. The best sources are oily fish: herring, mackerel, sardines and wild Alaskan salmon (avoid farmed salmon). Milled flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp and walnuts are good vegetable sources of omega 3. Incorporate the vegetable sources of omega 3 into your diet regularly and aim for 2-3 portions of oily fish per week. Young children, women of childbearing age and pregnant women should aim for 1-2 portions.

  1. Reduce Sugar.

Sweets

Besides predisposing you to diabetes, imbalanced blood sugar can result in inflammation, mood disruption, fatigue and poor immunity. Sugar does not only come from sweet foods – simple carbohydrates can also spike blood glucose levels.

Nutrition tip: Choose foods high in fibre and avoid processed carbohydrates and sugary foods. Easy changes include swapping white bread for wholegrain bread, white potatoes for sweet potatoes and limiting sweets and sugary foods to occasional treats. Eat plenty of vegetables and make sure your snacks contain protein, fat and/or protein. Try swapping your mid-afternoon biscuit with oatcakes and almond butter or hummus.

  1. Look after Your Gut.

Probiotic-rich food - kimchi

New studies are revealing the connection between the gut and the brain. In fact our gut is also called the ‘second brain’. We are coming to understand the critical role that gut health plays in all types of chronic conditions. In particular studies have shown that what is happening in the microbiome can influence inflammation in the brain.

The good news is that we can positively impact our microbiomes by what we eat.

Nutrition tip: Eat foods with plenty of fibre (that’s what the good bacteria need to thrive): whole grains and vegetables are your best sources. Also include foods that already contain beneficial bacteria – these include plain yoghurt with live cultures, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and my favourite, kimchi.

AN INTEGRATED APPROACH

Good nutrition is one part of a lifestyle approach to future-proofing your health. These food tips are a good start, but should be part of an integrated approach to wellness that includes stress management, sleep and activity.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them to my Facebook page.

 

Resources

If you would like to read more about dementia, here are some hand-picked resources:

Brain Maker – David Perlmutter

Foodforthebrain.org

Alzheimer’s Disease International

Alzheimer’s Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hayfever sneeze

5 Nutrition Tips for Hay Fever

Watery eyes, itchy throat, runny nose? For some people, the start of summer is a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s warmer and gardens are blooming, but… the blooming can trigger the annoying symptoms of hay fever.

HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?

Hay fever is a relatively common ailment afflicting many people each spring / summer.

Hay fever is essentially an allergic reaction and is most commonly triggered by grass or tree pollen, but other types of pollen can also be problematic.

The symptoms are a reaction of the immune system to the pollen, resulting in the inflammation of the nasal passages and eyes.

When a person with sensitivity to pollen inhales the allergen, the immune system reacts, producing the antibody IgE. IgE binds to white blood cells called mast cells and basophils, and these cells release histamine resulting in the physical symptoms of the reaction. These include: runny nose; sneezing; itchy watery eyes; fatigue; coughing and sinus congestion.

CAN FOOD HELP WITH HAYFEVER?

Yes, what we eat can have a positive impact on how the body reacts to allergens.

From a nutritional therapy perspective, intervention focuses on two key aspects:

  1. Addressing a sensitive immune system. In some respects, this is the root cause of hay fever. Not everyone produces antibodies to pollen, so suffering from hay fever, suggests that your immune system may be ‘overreacting’.
  2. Promoting a diet that is anti-inflammatory. Most symptoms of hay fever are inflammatory in nature. By favouring foods that have anti-inflammatory actions, your body is less predisposed to inflammation, which could calm down the system’s response to any allergens.

Green apples - quercetin

TOP FOOD TIPS FOR MANAGING HAY FEVER

Follow these tips to help strengthen your immune system and reduce your hay fever symptoms:

  1. Eat foods rich in quercetin.

Quercetin is the plant sterol with the most research connected to hay fever. Studies suggest that the body uses quercetin to prevent the release of histamine (i.e. it is a natural anti-histamine). Quercetin has also been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory compounds (prostaglandins and leukotrienes).

Bromelain is another phytonutrient that may be beneficial. You’ll find it in pineapples. It helps the body absorb quercetin and also has anti-inflammatory properties. Because it is helpful in digesting protein, bromelain may help break down mucus, a symptom of hay fever.

Green tea, apples, onions and kale are great sources of quercetin.

  1. Feed your gut with fermented foods.

Most of your immune system is located in the gut, so ensuring that it is in balance is essential. It is important that you have the right balance of gut bacteria for a healthy immune system. A 2014 study indicated that hay fever sufferers given certain strains of beneficial bacteria saw significant improvement in quality of life, in particular a reduction in runny eyes1.

Including fermented foods into your diet is the easiest way to start getting the balance of bacteria right. Sauerkraut, kimchi, whole plain yoghurt*, kefir and kombucha are excellent sources and are becoming more commonly available. Supplements of beneficial bacteria may also be helpful.

  1. Enhance your vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D helps to keep the immune system balanced and also has anti-inflammatory properties.

It is quite difficult to get enough vitamin D through the diet, but oily fish, egg yolks and dried mushrooms are the best food sources. Ideally, get responsible exposure to sunlight when you can or you might want to consider a good supplement.

  1. Eat plenty of omega-3 rich foods.

The EPA and DHA found in omega 3 oils help the natural production of anti-inflammatory mediators in the body.

Oily fish like wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring are good sources. Aim for 2-3 portions per week. Flaxseeds/linseeds and chia seeds are also good sources, but you will need to eat them in larger amounts.

  1. Incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet.

Curcumin, the active compound in the spice turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Its plant cousin, ginger, also provides anti-inflammatory actions. As such, they may be helpful in reducing some hay fever symptoms.

Curries are a perfect way to incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet. You could also try ginger tea or ‘golden’ tea (turmeric, coconut milk, black pepper and honey). TIP: turmeric is MUCH better absorbed if it is taken with a source of fat and black pepper.

Superfood fish cakes

ANTI-HAY FEVER MEAL IDEAS

  • Marinate fillets of salmon or mackerel in a mix of soy sauce, local honey, turmeric, ginger and garlic. Cook as you prefer and serve with a large helping of kale.
  • Brew a cup of green tea, add a squeeze of lemon and grate in a little fresh ginger. Make in bulk and refrigerate for a cooling, anti-inflammatory summer drink.
  • Grate fresh green apple onto your breakfast porridge. Add milled flax and chia seeds for extra omega 3.
  • Scramble eggs (add a pinch of turmeric), and serve with sautéed kale and onion and a side helping of smoked salmon.
  • Salmon and Sweet Potato fishcakes. Made with ginger, add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric for an extra boost.

 

*Some people may find that dairy increases mucus production.

1D J Costa, P Marteau, M Amouyal, L K Poulsen, E Hamelmann, M Cazaubiel, B Housez, S Leuillet, M Stavnsbjerg, P Molimard, S Courau and J Bousquet, “Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei LP-33 in allergic rhinitis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (GA2LEN Study)”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014) 68, 602–607

 

Fibre and how to get it

Fibre: Why it’s important and How to get more

We often hear about the importance of certain food components, but fibre tends not to make the headlines very often. Fibre is not glamorous, but it deserves as much attention as essential fatty acids, protein and vitamins.

I wanted to take some time to set down exactly why fibre is important. It is not less or more important than vitamins, minerals, protein and fats to our health, but the fact is, without enough dietary fibre, we are susceptible to some unpleasant health concerns and even some cancers.

WHAT IS FIBRE?

Fibre is the component of plant cell walls and cannot be digested or absorbed into our bloodstream. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, and you can find them in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, seeds and grains.

Soluble fibre tends to ‘dissolve’ or turn to gel in our digestive systems. If you have ever soaked flax or chia seeds you’ll know what I mean. Insoluble fibre does not absorb or dissolve in water but remains in its original form and helps move bulk through the intestines. You need both types of fibre for a healthy digestive system.

WHY IS FIBRE IMPORTANT?

  1. Fibre is critical for detoxification: One of the most important functions of fibre is to keep things moving through our digestive system. If you have fewer than one bowel movement a day, it is possible that you are constipated and fibre can help improve your transit time. If you are not having regular bowel movements you may feel sluggish, experience skin rashes, headaches or an inability to lose weight.

Fibre binds to bile and eliminates it from the body. Bile is manufactured in the liver and holds all the toxins that the liver has processed. If a person has a low fibre diet, the bile and its toxic load not bound in the faeces very well and they are reabsorbed. This can impact us in many ways, here are two examples:

Hormone balance: the liver processes hormones that have been used and packages them up in the bile for excretion. If there is not enough fibre in the gut, the hormones are reabsorbed and can contribute to issues like PMS, acne and oestrogenic cancers.

Heavy metals: The liver normally clears 1% of the body load of mercury every day. However 99% of what is excreted in the bile is often reabsorbed due to insufficient dietary fibre.

  1. Fibre helps to prevent diabetes and weight gain by keeping blood sugar levels balanced: fibre slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, increases cell sensitivity to insulin and improves the uptake of glucose by the liver. This keeps your blood sugar levels balanced and helps to prevent weight gain.
  2. Fibre could prevent cancer: studies have indicated that a diet high in fibre can be protective against colorectal and breast cancers.
  3. Fibre helps manage high cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease: legumes and oats in particular, appear to be effective in lowering total and LDL cholesterol.
  4. Fibre feeds gut bacteria: Data is now showing that a good diversity of gut bacteria is essential for good health – from immunity to mental health and autoimmune conditions. Gut bacteria feed on fibre, so if we don’t feed them, they will die off which is very bad news for us. In essence, we cannot be healthy without good gut bacteria, so we cannot be healthy on a low fibre diet.

Butternut soup

HOW TO GET MORE FIBRE INTO YOUR DIET

The typical western diet is generally low on fibre – foods like pasta, bread, potatoes, dairy and meat make up the majority of plates and have little to no fibre. Therefore, it is not surprising that heart disease, diabetes, colorectal cancer and gut-associated disturbances are on the rise.

The following foods are full of fibre and contribute to a balanced, healthy diet. Remember to eat them whole and unprocessed to get the most fibre.

Vegetables: All vegetables have fibre, which is one of the reasons why people who eat a plant-based diet* tend to have lower levels of chronic conditions and live longer. Remember, much of the fibre resides in the skins, so don’t peel your potatoes, carrots or parsnips – just give them a good scrub and cook as usual.

Artichokes, beetroot, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts and carrots are particularly high in fibre.

Fruits: Fruits can be very sugary, but fibre helps to slow down the release of the sugar into your blood stream. Apples, pears, prunes, figs and dates have the highest levels of fibre. Fruit juices do not contain much (or any) fibre, so please avoid them.

Legumes: Haricot beans (i.e. baked beans), chickpeas, lentils, black beans and broad beans are brilliant legume sources of fibre. They are also good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. If you are cooking them from dry, remember to soak overnight in warm water with a little acid (lemon juice or vinegar). This helps to pull out enzymes that block the absorption of essential minerals.

Wholegrains: When it comes to grains, always opt for brown/wholegrain options. The fibre in grains tends to in the outer covering, which are removed to make them white (i.e. white bread, white pasta, white rice). When you remove the outer husk, you remove the fibre which means these foods will have a higher glycemic load (i.e. cause havoc with your blood sugar levels). Oats, barley, brown rice, rye, quinoa and spelt are the best grains and full of fibre. Also try to soak grains in warm, acidulated water before cooking.

THE POWER OF PLANTS

The reasons why a plant-based diet is good for us go beyond the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are important to good health. The fibre that they provide us is invaluable. Imagine a world without fuel for our cars, buses or planes? It would come to a standstill. That is exactly what happens to our bodies without fibre – we literally cannot operate properly without it – we cannot detoxify and our good bacteria cannot survive.

Unlike vitamins, minerals, protein and good fats, there are no real supplement options for fibre, so you really must eat real food to keep your system healthy – there are no shortcuts!

Fibre is essential to overall good health, maintaining energy levels and avoiding lifestyle diseases. Are you getting enough?

Here are some top tips to get more fibre into your diet:

  1. Add chickpeas, lentils or beans to your soup or stew. Legumes are full of fibre and adding them to stews and soups are a great way to bulk out meat-based dishes and improve the nutrient content of your meal.
  2.  Keep the skin on! Did you know that much of a fruit or vegetable’s fibre content is in the skin? Leave the skin on apples, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash to increase your fibre intake and keep your immune system healthy.
  3. Get seedy! Seeds are fabulous sources of fibre. They are also full of protein, minerals and healthy fats. Add them to your porridge, smoothie or even bake with them.
  4. Aim to eat 5-7 portions of vegetables and fruit daily. It may sound like a lot, but fruit and veg are some of the best sources of fibre that provide food for our gut bacteria and help us eliminate toxins. An easy way to add more vegetables to your diet is to use them to replace low fibre carbohydrates like pasta. Try courgette noodles or cauliflower rice!
  5. Snack with fibre. Instead of the sweet biscuit or cake, choose snacks filled with fibre. Not only are they better for your digestive system, they will also keep your blood sugar levels balanced, giving you more energy. Snack on walnuts, almonds or Brazil nuts or try nut butter on oatcakes or hummus with vegetable sticks.

Check out these fibre-full recipes:

Bircher Muesli (oats, nuts, needs)

Chia Pudding (chia seeds)

Huevos Rancheros (beans, avocados)

Butternut Soup (butternut, skin on)

Sweet Potato Fishcakes (sweet potatoes, oats)

Beetroot hummus (beetroot, chickpeas, tahini)

High Fibre Rusks (nuts, seeds, coconut)

*Plant-based diets are not necessarily vegetarian or vegan diets. They are diets that focus on eating plenty of fresh produce, which may be supplemented with good quality protein and healthy fats.

Crispy oatcake crumb

Salmon Sweet Potato Fish Cakes

Fish cakes are a wonderful thing.

They are easy to make, easy to cook, great to prepare in advance and, if done right, mighty healthy. Fish cakes (and other items crumbed and fried) also seem to be a way of enticing picky eaters to try something a little different. If you or any of your family are not keen on fish, then this is a recipe for you.

While regular shop-bought fish cakes can fill the gap – you never really know what goes into them. Making them at home couldn’t be easier and this recipe uses whole food ingredients high in fibre, antioxidants and heart-healthy fats.

Omega 3: the godfather of good fats

Omega 3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids (EFAs) as they cannot be manufactured by the body – therefore we must get them through food. There are two types of EFAs – omega 3 and omega 6.

Most people probably have heard that omega 3’s are good for you. Over the last few years they have been added to products from infant formulas to breakfast cereals, and it’s not just hype – the word essential gives you a clue to how important it is to include omega 3’s in our diets.

There’s not much of an issue getting in enough omega 6 – they are found in many foods and, in fact, most people take in too many. The ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 should be in the region of 1:2, but many people eating western-style diets have a ratio of up to 1:20! As omega 6’s are generally more pro-inflammatory, it’s important to ensure we eat enough omega 3’s to keep in balance.

Current studies have shown the following in relation to omega 3’s and our health:

  1. A large body of scientific research suggests that higher dietary omega-3 fatty acid intakes are associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease risk.
  2. Low levels of DHA (a type of omega 3) may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
  3. Increasing omega 3 intake may be beneficial in individuals with type 2 diabetes, especially those with elevated serum triglycerides.
  4. Randomized controlled trials have found that fish oil supplementation reduces the requirement for anti-inflammatory medication in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. The brain’s gray matter contains high proportions of essential fatty acids, suggesting they are important to central nervous system function. Animal studies have shown that depletion of DHA in the brain can result in learning deficits.

The best sources of omega 3’s are oily fish – about 2-3 times per week. Remember the handy acronym SMASH: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring (aka kippers) and always aim to buy wild fish (rather than farmed) as much as possible. You can also get omega 3’s from vegetable sources such as seaweed, flax/linseeds, chia seeds and walnuts, but they are not as bioavailable as animal forms.

The problem is, not everyone likes fish. So, getting the required amounts of good fats can be tricky. Enter, the sweet potato…

Orange is the new white

I’m not a white-potato-hater. I love them, they are comforting and delicious. However, white potatoes need a bit of a break – we eat too many of them and they are often fried in seed oils (high omega 6!).

Sweet potatoes bring a new dimension to potato eating. They have a similar texture, but add a sweeter taste to the plate and have a much lower glycaemic load. This means that they release sugars much more slowly into the bloodstream – keeping you fuller for longer and your blood sugar balanced.

Sweet potatoes are also full of vibrant antioxidants and excellent sources of vitamin A (immunity, growth), vitamin C (immunity, antioxidant), vitamin B6 (brain function, energy production) and vitamin E (nervous system, heart health).

Taste and Texture

In this recipe, the sweetness of the sweet potato is a useful flavour for those who struggle with the fishy flavour of fish. But don’t stop there. If you like something a little more exotic, add in a few teaspoons of Thai or Indian curry paste, smoked paprika or loads more ginger, garlic and herbs.

I’ve used oatcake crumbs to bind and coat the mixture. I like them as they are full of fibre, B vitamins, beta glucans and are gluten-free. However, if you don’t have any to hand, you could also use other types of crackers.

Go on. You don’t only deserve it – your body needs these fish cakes!

Superfood fish cakes

Salmon and Sweet Potato Fishcakes

Makes 4 large (or 6 medium) fishcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 2 fillets salmon (ideally wild / line caught)
  • 1 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup oatcake crumbs (about 10 oatcakes)
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
  • Big bunch of chives or three spring onions*
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbs coconut oil

*If your child doesn’t like to see anything green, replace with a shallot or finely chopped red onion.

Method

  1. Cut the sweet potato into chunks and steam or boil until soft. You can leave the skin on for extra fibre.
  2. While the potato is cooking, fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the salmon filets and vinegar, cover and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the fish to poach in the water for a further 5 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
  3. Blitz the oatcakes in a food processor (or put them in a bag and bash with a rolling pin) and set aside.
  4. Once the potatoes are ready and cooled to touch, mash in a large bowl with the ginger, garlic and chives/onions.
  5. Flake the fish and stir into the potato mixture.
  6. Add half the oatcake crumbs, season to taste and mix well. The mixture should be firm enough to hold together without sticking to your hands. If it is too wet, add some more crumbs.
  7. Season the remaining crumbs with salt and pepper.
  8. Form the mixture into individual fish cakes and coat in the seasoned crumbs. Cover and chill for at least 15 minutes in the fridge. These can be made the day before.
  9. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and melt the coconut oil. Fry the fishcakes until crisp and golden brown on each side.
  10. Serve with a side salad or vegetables.

Collage

How to make chia eggs (and what to do with them)

If you are allergic or intolerant to eggs, chances are you’ve been missing out on some of your favourite dishes.

Fortunately, nature has provided a workaround in the form of chia and flax seeds. Once soaked, these seeds become gelatinous – similar to egg white. This means that they are a good substitute in recipes which need eggs to bind ingredients together.

Now, it is important to know that chia or flax eggs will not always work in all traditional baking recipes like sponges or custards. They are a decent stand-in, but cannot completely fill all the roles of the egg.

Ground chia and flax seeds are useful alternatives for those following a gluten or grain-free diet as they can be used to substitute traditional foods that ‘hold’ ingredients together. For example:

  • Thickening sauces and gravies instead of wheat or corn flour
  • Making grain free crackers (their gelatinous consistency when soaked holds ingredients together, much like psyllium husk)
  • A substitute for breadcrumbs in meatballs or fishcakes
  • Chia puddings (chia seeds only)

I’ve included a list of chia-egg recipes from around the internet (and my own blog) below the tutorial. I recommend trying a recipe you feel most comfortable with and be open to experimentation.

STEP 1: Choose your seeds: 1 tablespoon for 1 egg. You can use whole or ground chia seeds, but flax seeds must be ground.

Seeds

 

STEP 2: Soak for five minutes. 3 tablespoons water to 1 tablespoon seeds. Soaking seeds

 

STEP 3: Get cooking. Your egg substitutes are now ready to be added to your recipe. 3 Soaked seeds

 

Recipes using chia or flax eggs

Egg-free Banana Bread

Cherry Coconut Chia Pudding

Black Bean Chocolate Cookies

Walnut and Date Cookies

Egg-free Almond Pancakes

 

 

 

 

Coconut chia pudding with cherries

Cherry Coconut Chia Pudding (dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo, vegan)

Cherries are currently in season in Europe and I get a little over-enthusiastic about them every year. Growing up in South Africa in the 80’s and 90’s, only glace cherries were available. Once I moved to Europe and experienced fresh cherries for the first time I was hooked!

Cherries are as versatile as they are delicious – their sweet, but complex flavour lends them to all types of dishes, sweet and savoury. And, of course, they are full of goodness, bursting with nutrients!

Broadly, there are two types of cherries: sweet and sour. It’s the sweet ones we see on our supermarket shelves and the sour ones tend to be used for juices etc. Both are full of nutrients, however the sour cherries, appear to have a slightly higher concentration of vitamin C and some phytochemicals.

Three Cheers for Cherries

These vibrant berries are well known for their vitamin C and fibre content, but the real potent, health-giving properties appear to come from their rich abundance of antioxidants.

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Think of how lemon juice prevents apples from going brown – that’s the antioxidant in the lemon juice preventing the air from oxidising the apple flesh. We need the same process to happen in our bodies, so it is important to eat foods rich in antioxidants.

Antioxidants are measured by their ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score – the higher the better. 1 cup of sweet cherries has a score of 4,873 while a medium banana has a score of 650. You can read more about oxidation and antioxidants in this post.

Cherries are full of anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid with strong antioxidant potential. Flavonoids are being researched in relation to numerous health conditions, including cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, in laboratory studies, ‘anthocyanins inhibit the growth of cancer cells and stimulate their self-destruction, without affecting healthy cells. These compounds also show anti-inflammatory and strong antioxidant effects1.

When it comes to cherries in particular, studies have shown that they can be helpful for three common ailments:

  1. Arthritis: Arthritis is an inflammatory condition affecting the joints. It can be painful and debilitating, and affects around 400,000 people in the UK. Cherries appear to help symptoms of arthritis due to the anti-inflammatory properties of the anthocyanins.
  2. Gout: Gout is a type of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the bloodstream. This can result extremely painful inflammatory arthritis if the uric acid crystallises in joints. Joints of the foot, knee, hand and wrist – especially the big toe are most affected. Studies have shown that cherries can lower uric acid in the bloodstream and could reduce gout attacks by 35%.
  3. Insomnia: Insomnia needs no introduction – most people have experienced it at some point, and some suffer from chronic inability to get a good night’s sleep. The hormone melatonin regulates our circadian rhythm, allowing for a restful sleep. However, things like bright lights, poor diet, jet lag and device screens can interfere with melatonin balance. Cherries are one of the few food sources of melatonin, so including them in your diet may help improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

C4: Cherries, Coconut, Chia and Cocoa

This recipe features four powerful foods, each providing nourishment for your body: cherries, coconut, chia and cocoa.

You now know all about cherries and you can read more about chia in this post. Chia seeds form the basis of this dish and the dairy-free coconut milk binds all the lovely flavours together in a creamy ‘mousse’. You can substitute the coconut milk for almond milk or water if you like, but I recommend the coconut milk for its good fats and the level of satiety it brings to a breakfast dish.

Cocoa is a great source of iron and magnesium as well as the powerful flavanol antioxidant. Everyone knows that cherries and chocolate are best friends, however, the chocolate is optional in this recipe. If you want a fruitier flavour, feel free to leave out the cocoa powder.

Chia pudding with cherries and coconut

Pudding for Breakfast   

So, if you are looking for fresh breakfast ideas, then this is one to try. If you’ve never tasted chia pudding before, then expect something between that is rice pudding and chocolate mousse in texture. I like to grind the chia seeds for a smoother pudding, but some do prefer the texture of the whole seeds (more rice pudding than mousse!).

I also think that it’s important to try and get a bit of crunch into the final product. I use fresh shaved coconut and fresh fruit, but dessicated coconut, nuts and/or seeds will do.

The good news is that you can make this pudding with other berries too (try blueberry or raspberry). If cherries are out of season, 30-40ml of CherryActive* concentrate will give you the cherry flavour with most of the nutritional benefits. You should be able to pick it up at your local health store in the UK and ROI and, I believe, they do have stockists in South Africa, Australia and parts of Asia.

 

CHERRY COCONUT CHIA (CHOCOLATE) PUDDING

Serves 2 for breakfast and 3-4 for dessert/snack

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole fresh cherries (or 30-40ml cherry juice concentrate)
  • 1 can full fat coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder (optional)

For serving:

  • Fresh cherries
  • Shaved fresh coconut, toasted

Method

  1. Put the chia seeds into a coffee/spice grinder and grind into a powder. This step is optional – you can use whole chia seeds.
  2. Remove the stalks and stones from the cherries and place into a liquidiser or food processor with the other ingredients. Blend until combined. You can also use a hand-held stick blender.
  3. Scrape the mixture into a container or individual bowls/glasses, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight. Store in an airtight container for a breakfast or snack on the go.
  4. Serve with fresh cherries and toasted coconut shavings (or anything else that gives it a crunch: toasted and chopped nuts, muesli or seeds).

Cherry and chia pudding to go

*This post is not sponsored by CherryActive, nor am I affiliated with them. I have personally tried and tested the product and I think that it is a viable alternative if fresh cherries aren’t available.

 

Beetroot Risotto with Walnuts and Goat’s Cheese (vegetarian, gluten-free)

Beetroot is just coming into season in Europe and this recipe is a perfect for the not-so-hot summer we are experiencing in Ireland.

Risotto’s make brilliant meals – they are extremely versatile and the saviour of those looking for gluten-free options on menus. They can be warming in winter and crisp and cheerful in summer. This recipe would work well across the seasons, so give it a try this month and save it up for those winter days when you need a bit of bright pink cheeriness in your life.

Beetroot Benefits

I’ve written about beetroot before, but as a reminder, here are 8 health benefits of eating this beautiful root:

  1. Beetroot may help lower blood pressure. It is rich in nitrates, which convert to nitric oxide, a chemical thought to lower blood pressure.
  2. Beetroot is high in fibre. This helps keep your digestive and immune systems in good nick.
  3. Beetroot is high in folate, which makes it a must for ladies who are pregnant or looking to conceive.
  4. Beetroot is a brilliant source of vitamin C – eat plenty to keep your skin healthy and your immune system supported.
  5. Beetroot is a great source of the minerals potassium, magnesium and iron.
  6. Beetroot is also a source of phytosterols – the compounds that help reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
  7. Beetroot contains betaine, which protects cells from environmental damage. Betaine has been associated with lower levels of several inflammatory markers, including C reactive protein, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha.
  8. Beetroot is great for liver health. The betalain pigments in beetroot support your body’s Phase 2 detoxification process.

Beetroot risotto

The Whole Package

The health benefits of this recipe are pretty good, but that’s just the cherry on top. The flavours of the beetroot, walnut and goats cheese are lovely together, and the rocket adds a kick of peppery freshness to offset the earthiness of the other ingredients. A bowl of this risotto is a real treat that happens to be good for you. It’s also quite pretty (I think) and is relatively easy on the pocket.

So, banish the beige and add a bit of flair to your dinner table this week.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 litre (1¾pints) vegetable or chicken stock
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 250g (8oz) risotto rice
  • 125ml (3 ½ fl oz) white wine (optional)
  • 300g (11oz) fresh beetroot, peeled and grated
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 50g (2oz) butter*
  • 50g rindless goat’s cheese*
  • Rocket leaves, to serve

Method

  1. Bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan, then turn the heat right down until barely simmering.
  2. While the stock is heating, toast the walnuts in a frying pan over a medium heat. Be careful not to burn them. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the olive oil and gently sauté the onions.
  4. Add the rice and stir until well coated.
  5. Add the wine, or if not using, a ladle of stock. Stir until the liquid has been absorbed.
  6. Continue to add ladleful’s of stock, one at a time, stirring continuously.
  7. After three ladles, add the grated beetroot and garlic and stir well.
  8. Continue to add the stock in batches and stir until the rice is cooked, but still firm.
  9. Once the rice is cooked, stir in the butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  10. Serve in individual bowls and top with crumbled goat’s cheese, the toasted walnuts and a handful of rocket leaves.

* If you are looking for a dairy-free option, swap the butter for 3 tbs olive oil and omit the cheese (although some with cow’s milk intolerance can manage goat’s milk).

Fruits and vegetables on rustic background

Can food help balance teenage hormones?

This month I am launching a special clinic for adolescent girls, and I want to explain why.

I believe that everyone, in any age group and of any gender, can benefit from enhancing their diets to include whole, fresh, health-promoting foods. But I strongly believe that adolescent girls are one of the groups that can benefit the most.

From the onset of puberty, a woman’s body undergoes tremendous changes. Some girls sail through this period without a bother, but for others it can be a tricky time. As someone who has experienced some of the less pleasant side-effects of maturing into a woman, I know first-hand how it feels and, how what you eat can have an enormous effect on mitigating the hormonal storm going on in our bodies.

For both males and females, the onset of puberty is signalled by the release of sex hormones testosterone and oestrodiol. These hormones introduce changes to the body and manifest as physical changes and growth, behavioural changes and psychosocial changes

As a person matures, so their bodies require specific nutrients to ensure that growth and development take place properly. For that reason alone, it is important to eat a balanced diet, but teenage years often throw other challenges into the mix: acne, menstrual pain or irregularity and fluctuating moods. It is unclear why some suffer from hormone imbalance more than others.

There are a handful of medications used to treat female teenage problems, including antibiotics, oral contraceptive pills and isotretinoin (Roaccutane). While these are effective for some, all come with a list of side-effects ranging from nutritional deficiencies and thrush to more severe issues such as birth defects and liver problems.

Apple in waterCan a natural approach compete?

Natural methodologies generally look to address the underlying imbalance causing the complaint, and look to restore the body’s homeostasis, rather than treat symptoms. When it comes to hormone-related issues, a nutritional therapist will work on a number of systems, including:

  • The digestive system: ensuring used hormones are promptly excreted and that there is the right balance of good bacteria in your gut. It’s also important to establish whether you are properly absorbing nutrients from the food you eat;
  • The liver: ensuring that you have the right vitamins, minerals and other co-factors for optimal detoxification and hormone metabolism;
  • The nervous system: for many, acne flares up during stressful periods;
  • The endocrine system: this is the system responsible for manufacturing hormones. Proteins, fats and other nutrients are required for proper hormone development.

The good news is that nourishing your body with clean, whole foods is an effective way to get the hormones in balance. Nature provides its own dispensary of nutrients that ensure that the systems above are operating effectively.

How long will it take?

For many health conditions, people are often looking for a quick fix – prompt relief from their symptoms. This is completely understandable. For the most part, pharmaceutical drugs are able to deliver quick results as they often target the symptom, not the cause.

However, in the case of balancing hormones, especially associated skin conditions, even pharmaceutical interventions could take a minimum of three months to see results. When it comes to the pill, many are advised to stay on it long-term (as ceasing results in the reoccurrence of symptoms) and Roaccutane treatment generally lasts 8-10 months.

A natural approach, can also take 3-6 months to show results, but the upside is that the root cause is addressed, meaning reoccurrence is less likely.

Berries for hormone balancing

Getting started

Everyone is different and has a unique set of health requirements, but these five food heroes are a must for getting those hormones into balance:

  1. Water. Sounds obvious, but without it you will struggle to eliminate built up internal and external toxins.
  2. Good fats. Did you know that hormones are made from cholesterol? Good fats are essential for the manufacture of hormones and some, like omega 3’s, are anti-inflammatory. Avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds all provide excellent sources of good fats.
  3. Berries. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, especially berries, contain high amounts of antioxidants which are anti-inflammatory.
  4. Broccoli. Perhaps not as glamorous as cherries or avocados, but broccoli and related vegetables (cauliflower, turnips and kale) are the go-to foods for hormone balancing due to their powerful liver-supporting compounds.
  5. Flax seeds. These lovely little seeds work in a number of ways to help bring hormones into balance. They provide fibre for good digestive health, omega 3’s and important polyphenols, called lignans.

Blossom, for adolescent girls

Natural Teenage Health

So, my new clinic for teenage girls is up and running. First and foremost, I would like to help young ladies take control of their health by educating them on how diet (good and bad) and small lifestyle changes can impact their overall wellbeing.

Established dietary guidelines already exist for women going through menopause, so it makes sense that young women are also eating correctly for their life stage.

This is not about going against conventional treatments. It’s about trying an approach that has the fewest side effects and long-term results.

At the very least, a focus on fresh, whole foods will never do you or your health any harm!

Drop me a line if you have any questions or would like some more information.

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy fruit, nut and seed breakfast

Pineapple and Coconut Breakfast Bowl

This is a quick, tasty and nutritious breakfast that will give you a boost in the morning.

Full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and good fats, this tasty breakfast bowl will keep you energised all morning.

Coconut and pineapple is a classic combination – and this breakfast gives you the taste of a pina colada, but with a much better nutrient profile!

Pineapple is the most summery of summer fruits. It smells, tastes and looks like a fiesta! This lively fruit is also packed with great nutrients. It is full of vitamin C and fibre – the benefits you can only enjoy if you eat the fruit whole. Pineapple juice might feel healthy, but the fibre is removed and, if not 100% fresh, the vitamin C will be reduced through pasteurisation and exposure to oxygen.

The blueberries in this dish add an extra dash of phyto-nutrients (thanks to the dark skins) and additional vitamin C.

Nuts for coconut

I’ve used fresh coconut in this recipe, as my local supermarket has had a stock of them for the last few months and they are generally reasonably priced. Yes, there is a bit of work opening them and slicing out the flesh, but I don’t mind – the ‘packaging’ is all natural and the flesh can be used for so many sweet and savoury dishes! Chunks of coconut are also excellent for snacking.

Coconut flesh is full of the healthy fats capyrlic acid, lauric acid and capric acid. These are known as medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and there is increasing evidence to show that they are beneficial to our health. Among the cited benefits are:

  • They are anti-microbial and anti-fungal
  • Due to their size, the body uses them easily for immediate energy
  • They are great for building muscle

Best of all, coconut tastes delicious. If you can’t find a fresh coconut, feel free to substitute with desiccated coconut in this recipe.

Pineapple and Coconut Breakfast Bowl

Ingredients:

Serves 2

  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • ¼ fresh pineapple, cut in wedges
  • ½ cup fresh coconut, cut into small pieces (or shaved with a potato peeler)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Squeeze of lemon juice

Method:

  1. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and gently toast the pumpkin seeds, almonds and walnuts.
  2. Mix with the remaining ingredients and serve.

If you’ve never opened a coconut before, here is a YouTube video that will help you get started. Remember to keep the coconut water to drink!

Vegan banana bread

Banana Bread Makeover

Banana bread must be one of the all-time best comfort foods. The sweet, moist cakey bread is loved the world over.

But what if banana bread could be healthy? Not just ‘not too bad, once in a while’, but actually healthy. Like, you can eat it for breakfast healthy. That was the aim when I set out to make a wholefood banana bread. I also wanted to make a banana bread that is vegan-friendly.

So, this is the result – a nutritionally dense loaf that is naturally sweetened, high in protein and fibre and, very tasty.

Baking outside of the box (no compromises on taste)

One of my aims is to promote meals that are made with natural, unrefined whole foods. In the case of most baked goods, that means finding alternatives to refined flour and sugar. And, when you can’t eat eggs, it makes life even trickier.

This recipe does not use eggs, wheat, refined sugar or butter*. Chia seeds perform the role of eggs and the moisture comes from ground almonds and coconut milk. Naturally gluten-free buckwheat flour ensures that the final product has the springiness of a sweet ‘bread-cake’ that you’re used to.

It is the perfect baked treat for anyone with multiple food allergies.

Wholefood banana bread

Molasses: a naturally fortified sweetener

Voluptuous blackstrap molasses is today’s sweetener. Molasses is the left over component of sugar cane juice after sugar is extracted. As such, it contains concentrated levels of the vitamins and minerals that were present in the sugar cane plant. There are different types of molasses (depending on the number of boiling cycles), but blackstrap molasses has the highest nutrient content because it is the most concentrated – it also has had the most sugar removed.

Blackstrap molasses’ nutritional credentials are based on its high level of naturally occurring iron. However, it is also particularly high in vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium, potassium and selenium. This lovely sweetener also has a low glycaemic index, which means that its sugar is more slowly released into your bloodstream, stabilising your blood sugar.

Molasses is still a sugar, so while it’s a better choice, please still use in moderation. It’s a good supplement for anyone with anaemia or those looking to swap out refined sugar for a more wholesome alternative. The taste differs from traditional sugars and syrups – it’s a bit more robust and earthy, but delicious nonetheless.

The good stuff

In order to credibly promote banana bread as a breakfast alternative, or healthy snack, it needs to be nutritionally sound. That means that the final product needs to offer good levels of protein and fibre to keep blood sugar levels balanced; a spectrum of vitamins and minerals; and be naturally sweetened. This recipe delivers on all those requirements… and more!

Besides the bonus of a fortified sweetener (molasses), the other ingredients tick all the ‘healthy eating’ boxes.

The buckwheat, nuts and chia seeds provide fibre, protein and good fats (omega 3’s), while the banana brings the natural sweetness, potassium and more fibre.

Besides lending a lovely creaminess and richness to the bread, the coconut milk also contributes good levels of protein, folate, iron, magnesium and selenium.

Have fun experimenting with this new take on banana bread – there’s no compromise on taste and you really are nourishing your body with each bite!

AAIMG_3856

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs chia seeds, ground if possible
  • 6 tbs water
  • 1.5 cups ground almonds
  • ½ cup buckwheat flour
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder (gluten-free if necessary)
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 180ml full fat coconut milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbs blackstrap molasses
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbs desiccated coconut (optional, for sprinkling)

Method

  • First, make your chia eggs. Grind the chia seeds in a coffee/spice grinder and mix with 6 tablespoons of water. Mix well and set aside. If you don’t have a grinder, you can leave them whole, or you can use two eggs.
  • Next, mix all the dry ingredients together: ground almonds, buckwheat flour, cinnamon, cloves, sea salt and baking powder.
  • In a separate bowl, mash the bananas before adding in the coconut milk, vanilla extract, molasses and the chia eggs (they should be quite gloopy). Mix well.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir.
  • Fold in the chopped walnuts.
  • Scrape the mixture into a 1kg greased and lined loaf tin and sprinkle with coconut (if using).
  • Bake at 1800C for 25-30 minutes. When it is ready, a toothpick inserted in the middle should come clean.
  • Allow the baked bread to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack. Leave to cool for at least 10-15 minutes before attempting to slice.
  • Eat warm, cool or toasted!

This banana bread will be darker and a bit denser than versions made with wheat flour and sugar.

Leftover coconut milk? You can use it in this recipe.

*p.s. I don’t have a problem with eggs or butter, but they’re no good for vegans and folk who are sensitive to them. Feel free to replace the chia eggs with regular eggs (organic if possible), but you can’t directly replace butter for the other ingredients in this recipe.