Tag Archives: fibre

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.

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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

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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

 

 

 

 

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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).

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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!

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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.

 

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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!).

 

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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

 

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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

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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

 

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