Monthly Archives: January 2015

Bircher muesli - to go

Bling Your Breakfast – Bircher Muesli

Muesli is one of those foods vastly misunderstood. Often promoted as a healthy breakfast, commercial varieties can be full of sugar and, worse, many contain trans fats. However, if made right, and eaten in moderation, muesli is absolutely a healthful food. It is also one of those dishes which acts as a vessel for many other ingredients that can provide a super-boost of nutrients for the day.

Oats are the base of all mueslis and there are generally two types: those that are roasted to a crispy crunch and the soaked kind. This recipe is all about the soaking and the method is generally described as Bircher muesli (after the Swiss naturopath who popularised the dish in his clinic).

A Quick Fix

There are plenty of nutritional advantages to Bircher muesli, but one of the main advantages is its ease. Yes, many cereals are easy, but they won’t have a touch on the nutritional value that Bircher muesli provides.

This makes it a brilliant dish for those of you who, for convenience, either skip breakfast or opt for no-cook mug varieties (not good, please switch to this recipe!).

There are many ways to prepare Bircher muesli, but what they all have in common is soaking the grains. What this means is that you can prepare breakfast the night before and lob it into your handbag (or briefcase) on your way to work. Soaking oats overnight also allows them to become lovely and creamy, without the need for dairy. Because the mixture keeps well in the fridge, you can soak a batch and scoop out what you need on a daily basis.

Soak Your Oats

Oats are a wonderful source of vitamins and minerals, however, they also contain phytic acid which can combine with nutrients like magnesium, iron and zinc and block their absorption.

That’s why a diet high in unfermented whole grains can contribute to deficiencies and soft bones.

Soaking oats neutralises the effect of phytic acid, so be sure to sit your oats in water for at least 30 minutes before making porridge. I recommend an overnight soak though. It means that you can have a delicious and nutritious breakfast without too much hassle in the morning.

The Good Stuff (pay attention if you’re managing your cholesterol)

Oats are full of B vitamins (particularly B3, B5 and folate), essential for energy production and overall healthfulness. ½ a cup will also provide you with 20% of your zinc and iron RDA and 35% of your magnesium RDA (if you absorb them – hence the soaking).

Oats are also cholesterol busters. A number of studies have demonstrated that individuals with high cholesterol levels experience significant reductions with frequent oatmeal consumption.

“In individuals with high cholesterol levels (above 200mg/dl), the daily consumption of the equivalent of 3g soluble oat fibre typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This is highly significant, as with each 1% drop in serum cholesterol level, there is a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease1.”

So – oats are a nutrient powerhouse and help manage cholesterol – what a win. But wait, there’s more…

Oats are a fabulous source of prebiotic fibes. These feed the beneficial bacteria in our guts and keeps our digestive system healthy (which in turn keeps the rest of us healthy!).

Because all balanced meals should have an element of protein, this recipe contains ground almonds and ground seeds. Besides donating their protein content to the meal, they also provide excellent levels of vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids (also excellent for heart health).

So, get soaking.

Healthy Bircher Muesli

 

Ingredients

1 Serving:

  • 1/2 cup oats (or gluten free if required*)
  • 1 dessertspoon ground almonds
  • 2 teaspoons desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax and pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon raisins

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together and add enough filtered water to just cover. Cover well, and leave overnight in the fridge.
  2. Add your optional ‘sprinkles’ before serving: grated apples or berries, some more coconut and seeds – I like a bit of crunchy texture. In winter, you can add a splash of boiling water and stir through for a warmer dish.

The mixture can keep in the fridge for up to a week, so try making in bulk for a quick, nutritious breakfast.

 

*There’s no consensus on whether or not oats are gluten free. One of the arguments is that the grain is naturally gluten-free, but ends up being contaminated during processing. Some people with gluten sensitivity manage just fine on regular oats, but if you are a coeliac, you absolutely must go for certified gluten-free oats. They are a bit more expensive, but your long-term health is worth it.

 

1 Murray and Pizzorno, The Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine 3rd Ed. p683-684

 

Please like & share:
Baked eggs with smoky baked beans

Huevos Rancheros with Smokey Baked Beans and Avocado (vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free)

Huevos Rancheros is a wonderful breakfast of Mexican origin and is a balanced (and delicious) way to start the day.

This baked egg recipe takes all the elements of the traditional rancher’s brunch and simmers them up in one pan – a perfect alternative to a fry-up and only one pan to clean!

The Good Stuff…

Huevos (eggs in Spanish) Rancheros is one of those robust meals that sets you up for a long day. In many respects, it is a perfectly balanced meal:

  1. It contains protein: from the eggs and baked beans
  2. It is high in fibre: from the spinach, tomatoes and beans
  3. It is full of antioxidants: from the red peppers, tomatoes, garlic and spinach
  4. It is great for your liver: the onions, garlic and spinach provide sulphur, which your liver needs to detoxify (so I guess this makes it a perfect hangover dish…)
  5. It is delicious! The smokiness of the paprika muddled with the acidic tomatoes, sweet baked beans and sunny egg yolk is an absolute pleasure. You can make the dish as spicy as you like – the avocado is there to cool down the heat and the lime adds a final zing to the dish.

This recipe also provides a whopping 9 portions of vegetables in total (so 3-4 per person)!

Gluten free, high fibre breakfast

Food as medicine

This meal is a great example of how a combination of relatively simple ingredients can be a nutrition powerhouse.

You could do worse than planning in a meal of Huevos Rancheros a few times a month if any of the following are pertinent to you: blood sugar management, constipation, prostate health, high cholesterol, sugar cravings, hormonal imbalance or one-too-many-the-night-before…

The slow release of carbohydrates from the beans means it is a great option for those with blood sugar problems or if you are trying to lose weight (you’ll be fuller for longer).

The high fibre content is great for your gut – everyone knows beans can get things moving, but high fibre foods also prevent you absorbing too much cholesterol and help regulate your hormones.

The tinned tomatoes and baked beans are excellent sources of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene has been shown to keep the prostate healthy.

Besides containing a plethora of essential nutrients, eggs are also one of the best food sources of vitamin D during the winter months.

So, do yourself a favour and rustle up a batch of Huevos Rancheros. Sugary breakfast cereals cower in the shadow of this mighty breakfast.

Huevos Rancheros with Smokey Baked Beans and Avocado

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

  • Knob of organic/grass-fed butter, lard or coconut oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 red pepper, finely sliced lengthways
  • ½ chilli, finely sliced (optional)
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika (or more to taste)
  • 1 tin whole baby tomatoes (large ones are fine if you can’t find baby)
  • 1 cup low sugar baked beans
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach
  • 4 organic eggs
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • Handful chopped coriander or flat leaf parsley (to garnish)
  • Fresh lime

Method:

  1. Melt the oil in a frying pan or skillet, over a medium heat (a wok would also work) – add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent.
  2. Add the garlic, red pepper, smoked paprika and chilli (if using) and cook until soft.
  3. Add the tinned tomatoes (do not drain) and the baked beans. Stir to combine and turn up the heat until the mixture is bubbling.
  4. Season to taste – add a bit of salt, ground pepper and more chilli or paprika if you like.
  5. Add the spinach and gently fold in.
  6. Once the spinach is slightly wilted, make four wells in the stew and break an egg into each one.
  7. Cover and simmer until the eggs are cooked to your liking (about 3-4 minutes for a soft egg).
  8. Serve with sliced avocado and top with the fresh coriander or parsley and a squeeze of fresh lime.

 

This recipe is part of my Fresh Start 28-day Cleanse and Health Reset programme. Contact me if you want to make 2015 your year of eating well!

Please like & share:
Detoxing is not about fasting

In Defence of the ‘Detox’

Detoxing. Detoxing. Detoxing. You’ll see the word more times than you care to at this time of the year. Like ‘superfood’, it’s one of those words used to describe a multitude of concepts, principles and products and has inevitably lead to confusion (and some negative press).

So what is detoxing? Is it a ‘real thing’ or slick marketing speak?

Given that I’m a nutritional therapist, I have a particular view on detoxing which may be contrary to those of a doctor or even other nutritionists. So this is all my perspective. When it comes to all things health-related, you are the ultimate judge – read up, consider arguments and decide what is right for you.

I do think that the word detox can be misused, but in general, credible detox products, detox programmes and detox recipes are generally designed to help enhance the body’s inbuilt detoxification organs. The liver, skin, digestive tract and kidneys are all used by the body to rid the body of toxins – i.e detoxify.

So technically, your body detoxes every minute of the day, but certain ways of eating (or not eating!), can help optimise natural mechanisms.

Many religions have periods of fasting built into their calendars. While these are usually associated with a specific event, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this behaviour exists across so many cultures. There are benefits to periods of abstinence and, if poor health isn’t a trigger, then having a spiritual point of reference can help with motivation!

What are toxins?

Toxins can be broken up into two types: endogenous and exogenous.

Endogenous toxins are by-products of metabolism and energy production. These are naturally occurring as part of the process of living (like exhaust fumes are a by-product of driving a car). They can be used hormones or by-products of exercise and energy production.

Exogenous toxins are those we absorb from the environment. These include toxins from cigarettes, mould, pollen, chlorine from water, insecticides and pesticides from food, alcohol, caffeine, medications, chemicals from food packaging and cosmetics, any many, many more.

You can see from the list above, that since humans were ‘designed’, there are a few new toxins on the market! So, while our bodies are naturally equipped to get rid of toxins from our bodies, modern life has introduced many more elements for our organs to manage.

Therefore, the concept of an annual period of considered detoxification makes sense – give the body an opportunity to get rid of all the nasties that have built up over a period of time.

How does detoxification work?

The liver and digestive system are really key to getting rid of toxins. Very simply, the liver first breaks down toxins and then packages them up into forms that can be excreted by the digestive system or kidneys. The liver needs B vitamins, zinc, sulphur, amino acids and the anti-oxidant vitamins E and C to do its work properly. If you don’t get enough of these nutrients, the process of detoxification in the liver doesn’t work well.

Equally, if your digestive system is sluggish due to constipation or an imbalanced gut flora, you may not be able to properly excrete the toxins, so they are reabsorbed into your blood stream. This can make you feel tired, but in some can also manifest as skin issues, headaches and hormonal problems like PMS.

Given that the liver needs a good supply of nutrients to do its job properly, you can see why a balanced diet, which favours fresh vegetables and fibre is very important to good health.

So, why detox?

If you agree that:

  1. our bodies are continuously exposed to every-increasing exogenous toxins; and
  2. our diets are not always providing the nutrients our organs of detoxification need…

…then, you can see that at some point something is going to give.

If we’re taking in many toxins and not taking in enough of the fuel an optimal detoxification system, then we’re going to start getting ill.

So, in my opinion, detox ‘diets’ should be about reducing the burden on the liver and providing fuel to enhance natural detoxification.

This is where things start to diverge and you get variations on the best way to detox. These range from juice fasts, colonic cleansing, raw food diets and more moderate programmes which just eliminate lifestyle toxins (alcohol and caffeine).

My approach to detox programmes

I run detoxification programmes which reduce some foods and nourish the body with plenty of fresh produce to optimise our already brilliant detoxification mechanisms.

I’ve participated in juice fasts and there are benefits, but there can be drawbacks and they are not appropriate for everyone. I encourage you to do some research, get some advice and decide if it is for you.

Whatever detox you choose to do, the most important thing is that it is undertaken with a qualified healthcare professional. Detoxification needs to be carefully managed if your liver is not in good shape, or you are on important medication. A registered nutritional therapist will be able to advise you on the best way to detox, based on your individual needs.

January is naturally a time for considering detoxing – it’s a new year and the guilt from the Christmas binge is reinforced by the miraculous shrinking of our clothes! However, in the northern hemisphere January is the middle of winter, so a full-blown juicing or raw food detox is not ideal. However, it is an ideal opportunity to start eating healthily with a view to a ‘spring clean’ in April/May time.

So, in a nutshell, if you are feeling a bit sluggish and know that your diet is not as clean as it should be, a detox can play a really important role in boosting your overall health. You don’t need supplements, or to starve yourself – just some guidance and a bit of will power. Doing it with a friend or family member also helps.

FreshStart Cleanse and Health Reset

I am regularly run a 28-day Cleanse and Health Reset programme called FreshStart. It is a seasonal eating programme designed to enhance detoxification systems and help start you on the road to healthy eating.

Fresh Start header

Click here for more information or contact me for local dates.

 

Please like & share:
Gluten free noodles

Courgette Noodles with Tomato Sauce (gluten, dairy and grain-free)

Pasta is the ultimate comfort food. A steaming bowl of fettuccine coated in a flavoursome sauce can make you fall in love, forget your ex or make a wintry Friday evening at home that much more cosy.

Unfortunately for some, a big bowl of pasta also signals bloating, cramps or spasms for hours or days later. If you are a coeliac or are sensitive to gluten, the pleasure sought in that delicious bowl is paid for – and it’s not pleasant.

Some get on just fine with gluten-free varieties of pasta, however, I just can’t. Some are too slimy and others have long lists of very refined ingredients I am not partial to.

So, this dish uses courgette noodles. Inspired by the paleo ‘scene’, it takes a wholesome vegetable and turns it into an excellent vessel for your favourite pasta sauce. There’s no mucking about with ingredients and kneading – all you need is a sharp knife and pasta joy is a few minutes away.

How many have you had today?

I developed this recipe for a client who struggled to comprehend how he could eat 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables daily, so the sauce is heavy on the veg. However, as the courgette is relatively neutral in flavour, you can substitute any of your favourite pasta sauces.

This recipe delivers a whopping seven (that’s 7) portions* of vegetables! That’s 3.5 portions per serving. If you add in any of the other optional ingredients, you can shoot up the nutrient content of this delicious meal even more.

This dish is also a brilliant vitamin C boost. The peppers, tomatoes and courgettes will take you to pretty much 100% of your RDA (although you typically need a little more than that for great health) and the courgettes alone will provide you with around 40% of your vitamin A RDA (per serving)

This recipe is remarkably simple and the noodles are a great way to get young children to try a green veg.

Enjoy!

 

Courgette Noodles and Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

Serves 2

For the noodles:

  • 400g courgettes (about 2 med-large. The longer the better)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil

For the sauce:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 anchovy fillets (optional)
  • 1 tsp crushed chilli flakes or fresh chilli to taste
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, sliced
  • 1 can cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup Kalamata olives
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped (for garnish)

Method:

  1. Prepare the courgette noodles. Cut the courgettes into long thin strips using a sharp knife, a mandolin, spiraliser or a peeler
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on a low heat. Add the chilli, garlic and the onion and cook until translucent. It is important that the oil doesn’t get too hot
  3. Add the anchovies if using. These cook away to nothing, but add a lovely flavour. Just two fillets also add about 160mg of omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. While the onions are cooking, pit the olives and roughly chop.
  5. Add the peppers and sauté for another few minutes.
  6. Add the tomatoes, olives and vinegar to the pan. Stir well, cover and simmer for at least 10 minutes.
  7. Now, cook the noodles. Heat the coconut oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add the courgette noodles and sauté them for a few minutes until just cooked.
  8. Check the seasoning of the sauce – add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Divide the noodles into two warmed bowls and top with the sauce. Add a sprinkle of parsley and a drizzle of olive oil on top of each serving.

Optional extras: Boost the nutrient value of the dish by adding any of the following:

  • ½ cup sliced mushrooms at step 5 (=1 portion veg)
  • 2 cups of sliced kale – add to the sauce 2 minutes before serving (=2 portions veg)
  • 1 cup sugarsnap peas – add to the sauce 5 minutes before serving (=1 portion veg)
  • ½ cup frozen peas – add to the sauce 5 minutes before serving (=1 portion veg)

 

*Portions estimated based on the NHS fruit and vegetable portion guide.

 

This recipe is part of my Cleanse and Reset programme – a healthy start to the year with tasty, nourishing food. Get in touch for more details.

Please like & share:
Kitchen essentials (2)

Essentials for a healthy kitchen

If you are transitioning to a diet that is focussed on fresh whole foods and light on packaged food, then you may find that preparing meals takes a little longer than you’re used to. This isn’t a bad thing – you know, ‘good things come to those who wait’…

I encourage my clients to consume 6-7 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables daily (at least five of those should be vegetables). Don’t panic! It is possible and you don’t have to spend your day cleaning  a juicer to achieve the target. Eating clean, doesn’t have to be hard work. However, it does help to be prepared, organised and have a few kitchen tools that make preparation work a little easier.

For the remainder of this post, I’m going to list out the items that I find indispensable in my kitchen. If you are thinking of taking your cooking to a healthier level, some of these may help.

I am not promoting products on behalf of any brands. These are items that I have tried and tested and can wholeheartedly recommend. I’ve provided links to each item for visual purposes – these link to amazon.co.uk*, but you should be able to purchase most of these at any good cook shop or department store.

So, in no particular order of preference, here we go.

Microplane Fine Grater

This little guy is great for zesting citrus fruit, finely mincing garlic or finely grating chocolate or fresh coconut. I bought mine about 7 years ago with my first London pay check as a treat to myself. If you want to get delicate flavour and texture into your sauces, dips, baking and stews, this is a wonderful tool.

Food processor with liquidising jug

If there is one thing you invest in this year, let it be a food processor. It doesn’t have to break the bank and it will save you loads of time and effort (which makes eating healthier easier). I use mine almost daily to make pesto, energy balls, banana ice-cream, nut butters etc.

There are plenty of food processors to choose from. However, I would encourage you to look into one that is at least mid-range in price. Because I use mine so much, I know that a cheaper model would succumb to ‘wear and tear’. It’s a false economy to buy any electronics on the cheap, and, let’s be honest, it’s your health we’re talking about, so invest a little. This is the version similar to the one I use, but have a look, see what’s available and what you can afford. Sites like Amazon have customer reviews which may be helpful.

Kenwood food processor

 

Food processors come with a variety of attachments. I would recommend that you get one with at least a liquidiser/blender jug and grater attachments. The liquidiser is essential for smoothies, nut milks and sauces, and with the grater, you can literally whip up a healthy salad in 10 minutes – no fuss. An added bonus is a spice grinder, but you can also purchase this separately (see below).

Of course, the daddy of all processors is the Vitamix. If you can afford one, it’s a great investment, but a decent food processor will do all the key things you need.

Stove-top steamerStove-top steamer

If you want to get the best out of your veg, steaming is the way to go. I use this stove-stop steamer. I prefer it to a plastic plug-in version and it’s extremely versatile. Use it for vegetables, steaming fish or warming up meals (as I don’t use a microwave).

Spice grinder

If you don’t have a grinder attachment with your blender, I highly advise purchasing a separate spice grinder.

I use mine mostly for grinding flax seeds. They pop up in many healthy dishes and need to be ground in order to make the omega 3 oils available for absorption. You can always buy ready-ground seeds, but making your own is more economical.

Non-toxic, non-stick pans

If you’re going to go to all the effort of preparing healthy meals, ensure that your cookware isn’t leaching toxic chemicals into your food.

Cheaper non-stick coated pans, like Teflon, are likely coated with PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). PTFE is made from a chemical that can leach into cooking and release toxins into the air. Studies have been done to show that PTFE is not great for our health – do some research and decide for yourself. I also prefer not to use aluminum pots and pans.

There are other, non-toxic pans available on the market. I use ceramic, stainless steel or cast iron. These items are more expensive, but last much longer. I really believe that your pots and pans are a lifetime investment – if you buy good quality items they will be with you forever and have fewer ‘side effects’. I also advise buying pans that are oven-proof (very handy and less washing up!).

GreenPan

Ceramic, stainless steel and cast iron items can be pricey. So, start off with the items you use most at highest temperatures (frying, roasting etc) and replace those first. Take advantage of birthdays, wedding gifts or seasonal sales to get the most value for money.

Stick blender

If you have a liquidiser, a stick blender is technically not necessary. However, I have both and find the stick blender very useful for some tasks such as liquidising soups (in the pot), making pancakes or smaller quantities of sauces, dips and pestos.

Again, there is a spectrum of blenders available to suit your needs and budget. I have a fairly cheap version which keeps me going, but you may wish to invest in a more powerful blender.

Garlic crusher

Life is too short to chop garlic.

Besides that, crushing garlic is the best way to release the activate the compound, allicin. Allicin has been shown to have antibacterial and antiviral properties, so the more you can get the better!

Invest in a decent quality crusher to make your life easier and get the most benefit from this brilliant food.

Good quality knives Good knives

Poor quality, dull knives make preparing food a trial. On the other hand, a set of quality, sharpened knives can make food preparation a pleasure. It may sound extreme, but it is true.

Please, please invest in some good knives and look after them (i.e. don’t put them in the dishwasher). For my smaller, serrated knives, I love Victorinox – my grandmother’s are still in operation, so I can testify to the quality. These are my essential kitchen knives, but ask around for recommendations:

Victorinox Parer

Victorinox – Tomato Knife 11cm

Victorinox Chefs Knife

Thin, flat egg lifter

It may sound strange to have an egg lifter on the list of essentials, but I truly couldn’t do without mine. It must be thin, so make flipping pancakes a breeze. It should ideally be of a good quality plastic to protect your lovely pans and heat resistant to avoid the inadvertent melt when left on the side of the cooker.

This is one of my favourites:

SprouterJar sprouter

Sprouts are nutrient dense and easy to grow on a window sill. They are a great addition to your weekly diet – scattered on a salad, blended into a dip, pesto or smoothie, or eaten as a snack.

If you’re starting off, a BioSnacky is a good option. Try to source organic seeds – I use this distributor.

Good set of measuring cups / jugMeasuring cups

Getting portion sizes right is key. Having a good set of measuring cups or a well-marked jug will make things much simpler for you when preparing delicious meals.

Good quality pepper grinder Peugeot pepper grinder

Believe me, buying cheap pepper grinders is a waste of time, money and adds to our landfill problem. I recommend investing in a good quality pepper grinder, such as Peugeot. It has a lifetime guarantee on the mechanism. They are more expensive than other mills, but you will have it forever.

These also make great gifts by the way.

 

Have I missed something off that you can’t live without? Leave your suggestions in the comment box below.

 

*I belong to an affiliate programme with Amazon which rewards me when you buy a product. This helps me run and maintain the blog, but don’t feel obliged to buy through Amazon. I would be even happier if you supported your local, independent kitchen shop.

Please like & share: