Heart healthy beetroot hummus

Beetroot Hummus (and why you need to eat it)

Escalate hummus to a vibrant, earthy treat with the addition of beautiful beetroot.

Hummus is one of my all-time favourite foods. It is a simple Middle Eastern staple that is both delicious and super-nutritious at the same time. A winning combination!

Made from chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and tahini (sesame seed paste), hummus (or houmous), has become increasingly popular in the last decade with tubs available at most supermarkets, corner shops and delis.

The good stuff

Besides being absolutely delicious, hummus is a popular ‘go-to’ food for nutritionists.

Here are five reasons why hummus should be a fridge staple.

    1. Hummus is high in fibre. Chickpeas are an excellent source of dietary fibre. Most western diets do not include good levels of fibre which is necessary to keep your cholesterol in check, balance your blood sugar levels and keep your hormones in harmony.
    2. Hummus is high in protein. Chickpeas are rich in the amino acids lycine, isoleucine and tryptophan. This makes hummus an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Amino acids are the building blocks of our cells, so it is important to include a variety of sources in our diets.
    3. Hummus keeps your blood sugar balanced. In order to avoid peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels, I always recommend that snacks should contain an element of fibre, protein or fat (as these slow down the release of sugar into your blood stream). Swapping sugary snacks for wholesome alternatives like hummus will help you maintain your energy levels and help you manage sugar cravings.
    4. Hummus is rich in phytonutrients. Garlic, chickpeas and the sesames in tahini are a holy trinity of superfoods. Your heart and liver will be jumping for joy. Garlic’s medicinal benefits have been recognised for decades. Its compounds have been shown to decrease the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver, help with inflammation and enhance the immune system. Sesame seeds and chickpeas are rich in a group of phytonutrients called lignans.  Lignans have mild oestrogenic properties, which is why lignan-containing foods are recommended for women moving into menopause or for those with hormonal imbalances. Lignans have also been associated with reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
    5. Hummus is convenient. Hummus is portable, so makes a great snack on the go. A tub in the workplace fridge will last a few days and, paired with an oatcake, carrot sticks or some rye bread will provide a quick, easy, filling snack.

Homemade beetroot hummus

Beetroot Boost

This version of hummus incorporates the marvellous superfood beetroot. Its vivid colour is a tell-tale sign that this vegetable is packed full of health-promoting nutrients.

Besides gifting this hummus dip with its awesome colour, beetroot also lends a slightly earthy taste to the recipe, as well as additional fibre and antioxidants.

Studies have shown that beetroot may be helpful in lowering blood pressure. Furthermore, the prominent phytonutrient in beetroot, betaine, protects cells and enzymes from environmental stress and fights inflammation. Beetroot also supports Phase 2 liver detoxification.

So, while hummus is excellent in its traditional form, adding beetroot takes it to another level.

Enjoy this delicious dip with a virtuous smile on your face. It is also a great way to get children’s lunchboxes healthy and bright.

The ultimate healthy snack

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 250g cooked beetroot (about 2 medium beetroot), peeled and cubed
  • 2 tbs tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 250ml water (approx.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Put the chickpeas, beetroot, tahini, lemon juice, cumin and half the water into a food processor and blend, scraping down the sides with a spatula a few times.
  2. Continue blending and slowly add the rest of the water until you have the consistency you desire – you may need to add a bit more.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste and give it a final whizz.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Serve as a snack with oatcakes or vegetable batons, on rye toast for breakfast or lunch with avocado and pumpkin seeds or inside a pita with salads. This beetroot hummus pairs well with horseradish, mint and halloumi (not necessarily all together!).

 

South African low carb rusks

High Fibre Rusks (dairy-free, grain-free, low carb)

Gluten Free Rusks (grain free, high fibre, low carbohydrate)

Rusks are a very South African thing. In that sunnier part of the world, rusks are a real comfort food, and packets of the dunkable delights inevitably find their way into expat care packages. And, it is important to note – they are enjoyed by young and old alike.

Alas, rusks are a hard sell to any adult in the UK and Ireland, where they are only found in baby aisles and associated with teething. Pfft!

Rusks are basically thick, wholesome cookies – what’s not to like? Biscotti is not treated with such disdain…

The traditional, commercially available rusks in South Africa tend to be made from flour, sugar, buttermilk and eggs. They are baked until cooked through, then sliced and cooked further to dry out. These are the ones most locals will remember fondly dunking into tea or coffee morning, noon and/or evening. However, homemade rusks have always been better than the store-bought versions.

I’ve had my eye out for a decent gluten/grain-free version for a while and I was delighted when my mum introduced me to a gluten free recipe. We adapted it slightly and the result is happily very close to the traditional South African homemade rusks.

Gluten free, high fibre biscotti-style snacks

A bit of Sweet

The recipe calls for xylitol, which makes these rusks perfect for any one with blood sugar imbalance (but you can substitute with maple syrup if you like). I’m not a huge fan of processed sweeteners, but I do find that xylitol is the most palatable.

Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance found in the fibres of many plants. It is widely used to sweeten sugar-free chewing gum and mints. In the last few years it has been increasingly marketed as a sugar alternatives to diabetics – it has fewer calories and does not raise blood sugar levels.

However, there are a few watch-outs when using xylitol.

While it is a very handy sugar alternative, at the end of the day, xylitol is a highly processed substance. It goes through a process of sugar hydrogenation and much of the commercially available xylitol is made from corn which may be from genetically modified sources (i.e. check the label before buying).

Also, if you are following a low FODMAP diet, you’ll need to avoid xylitol as it could lead to bloating.

For those reasons, I only use it very sparingly when it’s absolutely necessary. I generally prefer to use raw honey or maple syrup (unprocessed natural sweeteners). However, there are some people who cannot take these simple sugars and xylitol is, in my opinion, the preferred natural alternative out there. For me, sweet treats are just that – treats. I’m not expecting people to be ingesting large amounts of xylitol, so a little in your baking it perfectly fine.

 The Good Stuff…

All in all, this recipe turns out particularly nutrient-dense snacks. They are high in fibre, protein, vitamin E, zinc and good fats.

I have made this version dairy-free by using coconut milk, but you can substitute with organic cream or buttermilk.

These nuggets of home comfort are easy to make (great for kids to help out), but require a little patience. Like their Italian cousins, biscotti, they need time to dry out to crunchy perfection. They are worth waiting for – full of wholesome nuts and seeds, they are a guilt-free mid-afternoon snack, or a few will do you for a breakfast on the move.

Drying rusks

Ingredients (makes 28 rusks)

  • 120g coconut oil (or organic butter), melted
  • 1 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 4 organic eggs
  • 1 cup milled flaxseeds
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds
  • ¼ cup poppy seeds (optional)
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons aluminium-free baking powder
  • ¼ cup xylitol or ¼ cup maple syrup
  • Pinch of salt

Method

  1. Whisk the butter, coconut milk and eggs together in a large bowl. (TIP: shake the can of coconut milk thoroughly before opening)
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well
  3. Scrape the mixture into a greased 1kg loaf tin (or two smaller tins) and bake at 1800C (or 1700C fan) for 35-40 minutes until golden and firm (slightly less for smaller tins)
  4. Remove from the oven. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack
  5. Once the loaf is cool to the touch (but not completely cold), cut into 1cm slices and then cut in half again, across the crease. Set the oven to 50-700C.
  6. Arrange the rusks on a baking tray (or directly on the wire oven shelf) and leave to dry for 6-7 hours or overnight
  7. Store in an airtight container. Delicious with a traditional rooibos tea!

Leftover coconut milk? You can use it in this recipe

 

Immune-boosting paleo cauliflower fried rice

Immune Boosting Cauliflower Fried Rice

This is a brilliant comfort-foody dish that you will love!

Made from scratch, it won’t take you much longer than 30 minutes to from start to finish and it is sooo tasty!

Cauliflower rice is very chic these days. Whether you’re trying to avoid carbs for weight loss or need to avoid grains for health reasons, the net outcome is that replacing rice with cauliflower will not have a negative effect on your diet. In fact, it will super-boost your vegetable intake without even trying. This dish is all vegetable with some egg (and optional meat/fish) for a bit of protein.

A vegetable super hero, returned

In 2010, a study showed that UK sales of cauliflower had fallen 35% in 10 years. This was driven mostly by a younger generation perceiving cauliflower to be old fashioned and not versatile.

However, cauliflower has had a bit of a comeback in the last few years thanks to the increasing popularity of the paleo diet and the increasing number of people looking for gluten-free alternatives to their favourite dishes.

New ways of thinking about cauliflower have proved that it is one of the most versatile vegetables out there. From pizza crusts, tortilla wraps, rice, mash and steaks (yes, steak, that’s not a typo), the cauliflower revolution is well under way and, I for one, am so pleased.

The good stuff

Cauliflower is not the most glamorous looking vegetable and, it doesn’t have the green colour that gives it’s brothers and sisters in the brassica family their healthy street cred. But looks can be deceiving…

Did you know that one cup of cauliflower will provide you with 77% of your RDA of vitamin C? It’s also particularly high in folate, vitamin B6, potassium and magnesium.

Being a member of the brassica family, it also contains glucosinolates which  are showing positive anti-cancer effects in studies. These compounds are also great for balancing hormones, so eating a daily portion of brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale etc) is important for all women.

Immune Booster

This fried rice dish is chock full of fresh, tasty ingredients that are particularly good for your liver. Even better, a bowl will provide you with an army of immune-boosting nutrients: cauliflower, peppers, chilli and spinach all contain good amounts of vitamin C, and, the supporting team of ginger, garlic and mushrooms all contain brilliant anti-flu, pro-immune compounds. It’s an alternative to chicken soup!

Paleo vegetarian cauliflower fried rice

 

Ingredients

Serves 2-3 (generously)

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (or butter)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 onion, finely diced (or 3 spring onions, sliced)
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 pack chestnut or shiitake mushrooms, sliced (you can reconstitute dried shiitake if you can’t find fresh)
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1 thumb-sized chunk of ginger, finely grated
  • 2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes (or ½ fresh chilli)
  • 1 small head cauliflower (or ½ large head), cut in florets
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (or soy sauce / tamari)
  • 2 handfuls spinach
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Optional extras: peas, finely sliced carrots, bean sprouts
  • Method
  1. Heat ½ tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan over a med-high heat. Add the eggs and cook into a thin omelette. Remove from heat, slice into thin ribbons and set aside
  2. Heat the remaining oil in the hot pan and sauté the onions until tender.
  3. Add the red peppers and fry for another 1-2 minutes
  4. Add the mushrooms and fry for another few minutes until soft, then add the garlic, ginger and chilli flakes
  5. While the vegetables are frying, whizz the cauliflower in a food processor until you get coarse, rice-sized bits – avoid over blending. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate the cauliflower
  6. Add the cauliflower rice to the pan and toss with the vegetables. Put a lid on the pan and cook for 6-7 minutes until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy.
  7. Add the fish sauce and spinach and toss well.
  8. Once the spinach has just wilted, remove the pan from the heat, add the sesame oil and egg ribbons and toss through.
  9. Serve on warmed plates as is, or with your choice of beef, salmon or chicken.

Keep any left overs in a sealed container in the fridge and warm up by re-frying over a medium heat.

Note: the fish sauce and sesame oil are central to this dish’s flavour – I recommend that you use them to enjoy the dish to its full effect.

Inspired and adapted from this recipe

Broccoli and Fennel Soup with Almonds (vegan, gluten free)

Creamy broccoli and fennel soup

This soup was thrown together in an attempt to use up a glut of vegetables in the fridge.

I had bought some fennel on a whim in the week, so I knew I needed to use it. I wanted something warm and hearty, so a soup seemed like a good idea. I wanted an element of protein, but didn’t feel like adding legumes – so almonds came to the rescue. I was going to call this soup ‘The Kitchen Sink’, but after tasting it, I thought that would do it a disservice.

It tasted good, so it’s made it onto the blog. Also, the more I looked at the ingredients, the more I realised that together the ingredients are a brilliant tonic for a number of ailments. This is the soup you want to make if you are feeling a little under the weather (great immune boosting qualities), but would be equally good for ladies who need to balance their hormones. Here’s why.

Fresh fennel bulb

Fennel

If you’ve eaten fennel before, you’ll know that the stylish white bulb with feathery leaves has a subtle aniseed-y flavour that adds both depth and freshness, depending on how it’s cooked.

Medicinally, fennel’s properties are widely known. Fennel has been used for increasing lactation, promoting menstruation and increasing libido – these possibly linked to the subtle oestrogenic effect of some of its constituents. But it is as a carminative where fennel is particularly effective. It’s been used for centuries to soothe gas and bloating in both adults and infants.

Fennel has also been shown to be effective for respiratory problems – so there’s no harm in getting in a good dose if you’re fighting off a chesty cold.

Nutritionally, fennel bulb is a great source of fibre, vitamin C and folate.

Broccoli

One of my favourite friends. Broccoli has so many excellent nutritional properties, I could write a whole blog post on it alone. In the interests of brevity and to stay on topic, I’ll summarise as follows:

    • 100g provides almost double the amount of vitamin C than an orange
    • Broccoli contains glucobrassicin, which is broken down to indole-3-caribinole (I3C). I3C improves oestrogen metabolism and is particularly effective on ‘bad’ oestrogen (16-alpha-hydroxysestrone). I3C also seems to have antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus (the one that gives you cold sores).
    • Broccoli is a sulphurous vegetable. This means that it provide excellent support to the liver
    • There are a good number of studies showing convincing anti-cancer properties of broccoli
    • Broccoli is very high in antioxidants
    • Broccoli contains sulfophane, which is anti-inflammatory

The support team

Onion, ginger and garlic are well known for fighting colds. They have excellent anti-microbial properties and provide your body with extra immune-boosting compounds. Onions and garlic are also great for your liver, so therefore good news for hormone metabolism.

Coconut oil, also has anti-microbial properties, so definitely use this if you’re under the weather.

Now, don’t let the thought of almonds in a soup put you off. The almonds provide a wonderful creamy texture without a particularly nutty taste. If you are struggling with a chesty cold, dairy can sometimes aggravate symptoms, so almonds are a brilliant alternative to a dairy creamer in your soup or stew. They also provide a good amount of protein and fibre to this dish to ensure that it keeps you fuller for longer. It is better to soak the almonds before using them in the soup, so remember to prepare them at least an hour before you start cooking – you could really soak them all day.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 fennel, finely sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, finely sliced
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter
  • 1 litre stock (vegetable or organic chicken)
  • 1 medium head broccoli, in florets
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ¼ cup whole raw almonds, soaked for at least 1 hour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Drizzle of olive oil

Method

  1. Heat a medium saucepan and sauté the onion, fennel and ginger in the oil until soft
  2. Add the stock and bring to the boil
  3. Lower the soup to a simmer and add the broccoli and garlic. Simmer until the broccoli is just cooked and remove from the heat.
  4. Thoroughly rinse the almonds and place them in a liquidiser with ½ cup of the soup broth. Blend until the nuts break down.
  5. Add the rest of the soup to the liquidiser jug and blend until smooth. The soup may still be quite hot, so blend in short spurts and open the lid after every blitz to allow steam to escape. Hold the lid of the liquidiser down with a tea towel to protect your hand. You could also use a stick blender for this step.
  6. Return the lovely creamy soup to the saucepan and test the seasoning. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to your taste.
  7. Serve in warmed bowls with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.

 

 

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

 

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!

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.

 

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.

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.

High protein, gluten free pancakes

Super Banana Pancakes (grain free, diary free, high protein)

Super banana pancakes

I love pancakes. There is something about them that is comforting and feels like a treat. Since going gluten free, I’ve struggled to find a pancake that results in the same satisfaction as the ‘full flour’ versions.

Breakfast-style pancakes can definitely be made gluten free. However, in the past I’ve found that the grain-based versions taste odd, the coconut flour versions can be too dry and others can be too runny. I also prefer to use as many wholefood ingredients as possible (gluten-free flours can be very processed).

I came across a recipe on Facebook from which these banana pancakes are based: 1 banana and 2 eggs – mix together and fry off in small batches. Brilliant – protein and fibre with a bit of natural sweetness! The result was moderately successful, but I wanted a bit more fibre and a bit more protein to make it a more rounded breakfast (or snack). I added ground flaxseeds and ground almonds to the mix – these essential store-cupboard ingredients also up the vitamin and mineral profile of of the recipe. If you are avoiding flax or nuts, the plain egg/banana version does work, but you need a good hot pan, a good amount of butter and nimble wrists to flip without splatting!

So, after a bit of trial and error, here is my offering. Even the husband likes them!

The Good Stuff

These lovely pancakes pack a particularly good nutritional punch. The eggs and protein will keep you feeling satiated (avoiding sugar cravings!) and eating a full portion will provide half* of your RDA of vitamins B2, B6 and magnesium! The high fibre and magnesium content makes these a great addition to your diet if you’re feeling a little constipated. See the end of this post for nutritional details on each of the ingredients.

This truly is a super-delicious, super meal!

Gluten and grain-free banana pancakes

Ingredients (makes about 12)

  • 1 banana
  • 2 organic eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
  • 2 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1.5 teaspoons aluminium-free bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon almond or cashew nut butter (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Raw coconut oil or organic butter for frying

Method

All you need to do is combine the ingredients into a batter. There are a few ways you can do this:

Option 1: put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until it comes together

Option 2: put all the ingredients into a jug and process with a stick blender (my preference as you can then pour the batter directly into pan (less washing up!)

Option 3: if you don’t have any of the electronics, you can simply mash the banana with a fork, then add the other ingredients and whisk together.

  1. Ideally, leave the batter to sit for about 15-20 minutes before cooking. This will help it mature and make flipping a bit easier.
  2. Heat a knob of butter or raw coconut oil in a pan on a medium-high heat and fry off smallish pancakes (about the circumference of an orange slice).
  3. Use a thin, wide egg lifter or spatula to flip – you need to get right under them without breaking the cooked film on the edge.

Serve with a light drizzle of good quality maple syrup or honey, some organic plain yoghurt, berries or even some bacon.

These are not just for weekends. Because of the nutritional profile, they are great for a replenishing snack after sport, an after-school treat or a quick breakfast any day of the week.

Nutritional facts

This recipe is full of nutritious, whole foods. Each ingredient is particularly rich in key nutrients that contribute to a balanced diet and keep your energy levels up.

Eggs: protein, vitamins D and B12, selenium, choline,

Bananas: magnesium, potassium, fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B6

Almonds: high in protein, fibre, omega 3, magnesium, vitamins B2 and E, and potassium

Flaxseeds: vitamin B1, iron, magnesium, selenium, omega 3 and fibre

Cinnamon: balances blood sugar

 

*RDA percentages are estimated using NutritionData.com. Actual percentages may vary based on age of product and country of origin.

I have updated the recipe slightly from the original post – the addition of 1 teaspoon of chia seeds really helps the batter hold together well!