Tag Archives: magnesium

Hayfever sneeze

5 Nutrition Tips for Hay Fever

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

HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?

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

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

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

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

CAN FOOD HELP WITH HAYFEVER?

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

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

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

Green apples - quercetin

TOP FOOD TIPS FOR MANAGING HAY FEVER

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

  1. Eat foods rich in quercetin.

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

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

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

  1. Feed your gut with fermented foods.

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

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

  1. Enhance your vitamin D levels.

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

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

  1. Eat plenty of omega-3 rich foods.

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

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

  1. Incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet.

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

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

Superfood fish cakes

ANTI-HAY FEVER MEAL IDEAS

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

 

*Some people may find that dairy increases mucus production.

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

 

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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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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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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!

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3 ingredients, one great treat

Healthy Dark Chocolate Truffles (dairy free)

There are plenty of healthy truffle recipes out there, but this is one of my favourites. The dairy element of the traditional truffle (i.e. cream) is replaced by avocado, elevating this delicious treat to a healthy snack!Dark chocolate truffle ingredients

Besides the heart-healthy oils in the avocado, this recipe uses ground nuts to add texture and more nutrients to the mix. I use toasted hazelnuts as they add a lovely depth of flavour and allow these nutrient-dense balls to give Nutella or Ferrero Rocher a run for their money!

What is fabulous about these truffles is that there are only three main ingredients, but they pack a significant nutritional punch:

Avocados are rich in vitamins C, E and B5, folate, choline, magnesium and potassium. Half an avocado can also give you up to 13g of dietary fibre.

Hazelnuts are great sources of vegetable protein and vitamin E. Using almonds will up the magnesium and walnuts will add an omega 3 boost.

Dark chocolate is a good source of iron and magnesium, as well as copper and manganese. Most brands do include sugar, so while there is no need to add any sweetener to this recipe, do bear in mind the sweetness if you need to watch your sugar intake. On the positive side, the good fats, fibre and protein provided by the avocados and nuts will ensure that the sugar is slowly released into your blood stream, making these truffles a better bet for an afternoon snack or after dinner treat.

These truffles are very quick and easy to make and all the mashing and rolling is brilliant fun for any little helpers you may have.

Dairy free chocolate truffles

 

Makes 15 truffles

Ingredients:

  • 160g good quality dark chocolate
  • ½ medium avo (ripe)
  • 1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts (or almonds, or walnuts)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional flavourings: ground ginger, ground cinnamon, chai spices, ground cardamom, rose water

Method:

  1. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water
  2. Pulse the nuts in a food processor until they are gritty (you can make them finer for a smoother textured truffle)
  3. Mash the avocado into a smooth paste
  4. Once the chocolate has melted, remove it from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes before adding the avocado, nuts and vanilla extract
  5. At this point, you can add any flavourings if you like. I tend to divide the mix in two.  Add about 1 teaspoon of ground ginger or cinnamon to half the mix and stir mix through. You can add more to taste, but the texture will change slightly based on the amount of dry ingredient you add, so work carefully
  6. Allow the mixture(s) to firm up in the fridge for 15-20 minutes
  7. Take about a tablespoon of mixture and roll into truffles with the palms of your hands. If you have spilt the batch you can make alternative shapes to differentiate between your flavours (small round or triangulated logs work with this recipe)
  8. Roll in cocoa powder or desiccated coconut to finish (another way to differentiate between flavours)
  9. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week (if they last that long)

 

 

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Best of Both Worlds Chocolate Shake

This chocolate ‘milkshake’ is one of those perfect creations that feels like a treat, but is actually a super nutrition boost (aka a guilt-free chocolate shake, hooray!).

Healthy chocolate shake.

Healthy chocolate shake.

Loaded with magnesium, potassium, antioxidants and protein, it is a powerhouse of essential nutrients. This gem is a perfect post-workout smoothie or even a delicious breakfast-on-the-move. It is also a secret weapon in the war on picky eaters – I defy any child (or adult) opposed to spinach to turn down this indulgent shake!

Cocoa powder makes this smoothie. Not just for the chocolately flavour, or because it provides a ‘cover’ for the raw spinach, but because cocoa is absolutely loaded with magnesium and zinc – critical minerals for good health.

Baby spinach brings a little more magnesium to the party, along with a fibre, B vitamins and the antioxidants vitamins C, A and E. These lovely little leaves get blended into a chocolatey swirl, leaving no trace of their green goodness to the naked eye.

The frozen banana in this recipe provides the sweet and cold ice cream consistency (alongside a potassium boost) that allows this shake stand proudly alongside it’s dairy-based comrades.

For a final flourish, the tablespoon of almond butter provides a protein hit which will keep your blood sugar balanced (and provide yet more magnesium and vitamin E). Cashew or peanut butter would also work as substitutes.

Ingredients (makes one large shake)

  • 1 frozen banana*
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach
  • 1-2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I prefer Green & Black’s)
  • 2 cups filtered water (or nut milk)
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • pinch of cinnamon (optional)

Place all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. You  may want to adjust the liquid to your desired consistency. Enjoy!

Choc Spin 1

* I keep a stash of sliced, frozen bananas in the freezer. Make sure to use bananas that are quite ripe.

 

 

 

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