What is it with crisps?

checkoutI needed some extra income this summer so I’ve been working weekends on the checkout at a supermarket. It has really brought home to me the message that WE ARE WHAT WE EAT. Spend any amount of time looking at people and their shopping and you can clearly see the absolute correlation between health and diet.

One of the things that has shocked me most is the ubiquity of crisps. Just about every shopping basket contains a bag of crisps – of one size and type or another – from posh hand-cooked named potato varieties to strange puffs of something unrecognisable and flavoured like an exotic meal. There is a whole aisle of the supermarket dedicated to these savoury snacks.

CrispsAs a nation, us Brits must be eating our bodyweight in crisps each year. Why on earth do so many people buy sacks of 24 bags of crisps? (The quantity of non-recyclable packaging alone makes me feel queasy.) I wonder … is it because it’s only a small, light bag that we think they don’t count as food? Or that we can get away with eating them? Worse – why do we think every British adult’s and child’s lunchbox should contain a bag of crisps? Why does a supermarket ‘meal deal’ always include a bag of crisps? Do we think they are adding something to our nutrition? Or do we just believe they’re harmless to our health?

Crisps are BAD food. For a start, they wreak dental havoc because they are basically just starch – their digestion starts with the saliva in our mouths and they stick to our teeth better than sweets or chocolate. They are deep-fried at high temperatures in oil. (Don’t be duped into thinking the oils are healthy because they have pretty made-up names!) Any seed oil at high temperature becomes unstable (begins to create free radicals) and re-heating creates even more instability. Free radicals are most definitely a huge threat to our health. The ‘free’ (hanging on by a thread) molecule bits scavenge our body’s cells for a mate – at any price. They will even steal molecules from our very DNA to try to stabilise themselves. This is what causes diseases like cancer. Read the ‘Processes’ part of this Wikipedia article for more detail.

Unrecognisable ingredients!
Unrecognisable ingredients!

Furthermore, the ‘bad fats’ they contain cancel out the ‘good fats’ (omegas) in our diet – and the average UK diet is already very low in these essential fats. Finally, the flavourings they are coated with are high in artificial flavourings, sugar, artificial sweeteners (why??) and of course salt. Artificial chemicals are alien to our bodies and have to be neutralised and processed by our liver. A single serving pack of ready salted crisps contains at least 0.5g of salt. That isn’t a problem in itself but I bet crisp eaters are eating more than one of those little bags a day and I bet they’re also eating plenty of other foods high in salt – preserved meats (bacon, sausages, etc), ready meals, convenience foods (pasta sauces). So one of those little bags could well take them over the 5g recommended daily salt intake – for an adult.

Yes, crisps can be tasty but before you tuck in, please remember they are not food – in fact, they are anti-nutrition! If you’re in great health and your diet usually consists of lots of fresh vegetables and good sources of protein, then you can probably afford to ‘treat’ yourself once in a while. Otherwise, please leave them out of your daily diet!

If you want a salty snack, open a jar of olives or try one of these favourites of mine:

  • Tamari Seeds: put a handful each of (raw) sunflower and pumpkin seeds into a frying pan on medium heat. Stir all the time – do not allow them to brown! You will see the seeds begin to swell and puff up – at this point, remove the pan from the heat and drizzle on a teaspoon of tamari (wheat free soya sauce). Stir quickly and well. Leave to cool before serving.
  • Salt and Pepper Cashews: melt a teaspoon of coconut oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add two handfuls of raw cashew or cashew pieces (they’re cheaper!) – stir continuously – don’t let them burn. As soon as they begin to turn a golden colour, remove from the heat and sprinkle on sea salt and fine black pepper to taste (do NOT stir). Leave to cool before serving.
  • Linseed crackers – get my recipe here.

All of these recipes should be stored in an airtight jar for a few days only (if there’s any left over!).

Banana & walnut muffins (grain-free, dairy free, no added sugar – of course!)

Banana paleo muffins
Banana & walnut muffins

I’m always on the look out for snacks or sweet treats which are nutritional – something I can grab to eat which fills a gap or have with a cup of my favourite earl grey – and know there’s only good ingredients. I’m hooked on this recipe at the moment – big thanks to the Civilised Cavemen for this inspiration! I’ve even served one with garden raspberries and goats yoghurt on top as a dessert and everyone’s enjoyed them.

You will need:

  • 3 large or 4 small ripe bananas
  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 140g almond butter (I make mine in a Nutribullet with 140g whole almonds + a dessert spoon of coconut oil)
  • 4 heaped dessert spoons of coconut oil (+ some for greasing the tray)
  • 2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder (I use Doves Farm)
  • a heaped teaspoon of cinnamon (buy true cinnamon, not cassia bark – it doesn’t have the same health properties. You can find true cinnamon here.)
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 75g coconut flour
  • handful of walnut pieces (optional – or use any nut you like)

I make my muffins in my very ancient (but still going strong) Magimax. Here’s how:

Herbs: how to keep summer flavours alive for longer

Fresh organic basil from Goldhill Organics
Fresh organic basil from Goldhill Organics

Nothing says summer more than a fragrant bunch of basil. Fabulous with tomato salad and added to omelettes. But I don’t eat pasta very often so making pesto with this bagful in my veg box from Goldhill Organics isn’t an option. I’ve come up with two ways to make my bunches of summer herbs last longer … Even into the winter months.

  1. Basil oil – I thoroughly blitzed all the stalks and some of the leaves, two cloves of fresh garlic, some sea salt and a good glug of olive oil in my Nutribullet. This will keep for weeks in the fridge. I use it to drizzle on salads and roasted vegetables. I brush it onto stuffed peppers before roasting them and drizzle it onto steamed fish or roast chicken.
  2. Basil butter – I chopped all the leaves, added a pat of butter, the zest of a lemon and one clove of fresh garlic before roughly blitzing in my Nutribullet. I put teaspoonfuls onto a plate and quickly froze them before bagging them for the winter. A taste of summer melted onto steamed fish, veggies, steak, jackets potatoes, etc.

Raw Slaw – you can live on it!

raw slaw 1This recipe is ideal if you want to (a) get more nutrition from your diet, (b) cut down or cut out carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, etc, and (c) lose weight. It can be made either savoury or sweet. When I first started seeing a kinesiologist and she shared this recipe with me it was to replace breakfast cereals and gluten free bread. I was really sceptical about eating raw veg for brekkie but even my husband loved it and said it was better than muesli because it’s not as dry or bland.

Raw vegetables contain lots of vitamins, minerals and natural sugars – as well as two extra beneficial ingredients: the tiny fibres which feed the ‘good’ bacteria in our guts; and lots of active enzymes which we need for great digestion.

raw slaw basicsI love this recipe so much I probably eat it three times a week – but most often for lunch now, especially on the go. It’s great to pack in a lunchbox with some sardines or mackerel – what a nutrition-packed meal! That won’t give you an afternoon slump!

Here’s how to get some raw slaw in your life. The basic ingredients are nearly always carrots, cabbage (any kind) and beetroot. I get a weekly veg box delivery from the delicious Goldhill Organics so my raw slaw ingredients vary quite a bit. I use my ancient but trusty Magimix processor to grate the root veg and thinly slice the cabbage – but it works fine with a hand grater and a knife. Here’s a list of all the veg/fruit I can remember adding to the basics in my raw slaw:

  • turnip
  • kohl rabi
  • fennel root
  • spring onion
  • peppers
  • red onion
  • apple
  • courgette
  • celery

raw slaw 3When I worked in an office I used to take this for lunch most days. To save time, I grated big batches of carrots and beetroot in advance and kept them sealed in a box in the fridge. Each morning, I then added the extra ingredients and topped and dressed my slaw. If you store it dressed, it gets a bit soggy.

Toppings: add raw nuts, seeds and a little dried fruit for extra nutrition. I always add sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Cranberry and almond was my favourite breakfast version. (Make sure your dried cranberries are not coated with vegetable oil and/or sweetened with sugar!) You could also add walnuts, brazils, pecans, cashews, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, dates, raisins …

Dressing: drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, add plenty of raw cider vinegar and choose from tamari (wheat-free soya sauce), lemon, lime or orange zest and/or juice. You could also add flaxseed oil for extra omegas.

Suggested combinations:

  • breakfast/brunch version = the basics + cranberries + almonds
  • savoury version = the basics + spring onion + seeds + the dressing + tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
  • the basics + grated apple + celery + sliced dates + walnuts – with goat’s cheese
  • the basics + sliced fennel + cashews – with fish
  • the basics + sliced peppers + seeds – with feta cheese

Let your raw slaw imagination run wild!

“Go to work on an egg!”

eggThis famous slogan was first used in a 1950s and 60s UK advertising campaign for the Egg Marketing Board and I’d really like to re-launch it! At that time, Britain was beginning to swap its traditional, cooked, savoury breakfast for cereals with milk. Egg sales dwindled for a number of decades, however, they’re on the increase again – and for good reason.

Eggs are packed full of high quality protein (12%+) and relatively low in calories (66 each). They contain essential amino acids and are fairly easy to digest. Cooking with them can be incredibly versatile and I think of them as the perfect fast food. You can make scrambled eggs or an omelette in minutes – literally. You can even hard or soft-boil two eggs in the morning omeletteand take them with you on a trip or to work. Unbelievably, eggs contain ALL known vitamins except C. They are particularly high in B vitamins as well as containing A, D and some E. Their mineral content is impressive too – they contain iodine, iron, selenium and phosphorous. Yes, they are 9% fat – they’re high in omega 3, monounsaturated fats (as in olive oil) and polyunsatured fats. There is some saturated fat (approx. 28% of the 9%) and I can’t write a better article about why that’s NOT a problem than Chris Kresser here.

eggApart from the sugar-laden lures of cereals, egg sales also declined in the 1980s and 1990s because of old and bad research – the results of which are still perpetuating the myth that eggs are high in cholesterol. When I tell people that I have two eggs for breakfast most days, I usually get raised eyebrows and concerns for (a) my blood cholesterol score and, (b) my bowel movements! I’d love to know how the anti-egg campaign is still being waged when all limits on the number of eggs we should eat per week was lifted years ago. Read more here. The cynic in me says that Big Food is working so that we line their pockets again. Breakfast cereals are high profit products – really cheap ingredients, highly processed to make tasty, sugar-filled easy eating which is easy to bring to market. At best, cereals with milk will spike your blood sugar (which does cause high cholesterol – of the worst kind) and give you a crash an hour later so you have to snack on something sugary.

Break the sugar cycle! Swap your breakfast cereals for a spinach or courgette omelette, boiled eggs or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon or bacon … go on, go to work on an egg!

The Importance of Protein

Linseed & Almond crackersIn my kinesiology practice, I often see clients who eat very little or almost no protein at all. We have adopted a diet (in the UK and other so-called ‘developed’ countries) which consists mostly of cereal grains (primarily refined wheat) and dairy products. These are pretty limited in terms of proteins (and other nutrients) and in any case can cause digestive disturbances through the anti-nutrients (or allergens) they contain.

Protein is the best fuel for your body, unless you’re an athlete – in which case you might need more immediate energy in the form of glucose and a high glycaemic boost for post-training recovery. Most of us, however, lead sedentary lives and don’t meet anything like the guideline 2.5 hours per week of regular exercise such as walking. In any case, protein can be converted to glucose by our bodies to provide energy to every cell, including the brain. Our bodies are constantly breaking down and synthesising proteins as and when they’re required and any excess is simply passed out in urine. We need proteins to maintain muscle mass, grow and repair cells, produce hormones, enzymes, antibodies, skin (collagen) and hair (keratin). Some amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) cannot be synthesised and have to be obtained from food.

The best news, however, in the increasingly obese world we live in, is that eating protein leaves you feeling fuller than any other type of food (or macro nutrient). Nutritional scientists at The Rowett Institute of Aberdeen University recommend a diet which consists of 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbohydrates – for weight loss or maintenance. Don’t forget, fat provides an average of 9 calories per gramme, compared to 4 calories from protein or carbohydrates – in other words you need less than half the actual quantity.

Meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds are all great sources of protein and give us plenty of fats too – unfortunately for vegetarians plant sources are ‘incomplete’ (they don’t contain all the amino acids we need). Vegetarians must combine protein sources to make them complete – a great example is rice and peas(beans).

My clients look and feel so much better just by increasing the protein content of their diet (and thereby the fat content too). Some people have difficulty initially producing the digestive enzymes and stomach acid we need to digest and break down protein-rich foods. In which case, this supplement called Nutrigest tests really well.

Grain-free chestnut and chocolate cake

I had a packet of chestnut puree left over from Christmas. I thought it would make a good, moist cake and found this recipe which I have tweaked. It’s really delicious!  It would make a really special pudding with a dollop of creme fraiche and a fruit compote.

choc chestnut cake
Chocolate chestnut cake – gluten free and grain free

You will need:

  • 200g good dark chocolate (I used Lindt 90% and 70%)
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 200g chestnut puree
  • 100g butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup (optional)

Method:

  1. Put the oven on 165C. Butter an 8 or 9 inch cake tin with a removable base.
  2. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a glass bowl with the butter. Sit the bowl over a pan of simmering water until the contents are liquid (do not allow to bubble – keep removing from heat and stirring gently). Allow to cool slightly.
  3. Separate the eggs – yokes into one large bowl, whites into another.
  4. Add the maple syrup (if using) to the egg yokes and whisk until fluffy. Add the chestnut puree and ground almonds and mix well.
  5. Pour the chocolate/butter liquid into the chestnut/almond mixture and mix well but gently.
  6. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold very gently into the chocolate mixture.
  7. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 30-40 minutes or until risen and the surface has started to crack. Check that the middle springs back when touched.
  8. Allow to cool, remove from tin and serve (with lots of tea, of course)

Here’s a downloadable and printable version of this recipe: p51_MENU07

So, what’s the problem with gluten?

I’m being interviewed by BBC Radio Solent tomorrow morning about a gluten free article I’ve written for Menu Dorset magazine. I’m gathering my thoughts and preparing for their questions …

Close up of ripe harvested ears of wheat, a staple ingredient in cooking
Close up of ripe harvested ears of wheat. Photo Credit: www.freefoodphotos.com

What is gluten?

It’s a type of protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It can cause an immune response in the gut – in those who have coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.

What is coeliac disease?

I don’t like calling it a disease because you can’t catch it! If you are diagnosed as coeliac you have an autoimmune response to any trace of gluten in your food. Basically, your small intestine’s immune system starts to attack the cells in the lining of its own walls – destroying the crucial villi – the finger-like protrusions where a lot of absorption of nutrients takes place. Without them you don’t absorb your food’s nutrition properly. I was diagnosed because I was very, very anaemic as a baby. 

If you have that autoimmune response and the lining of your intestine is destroyed, you become very sensitive to lots of other things too. For example, I can’t eat the gliadin in oats, lactose in milk products or even drink coffee because it contains a protein that cross-reacts with gluten.

Why do so many people have a problem with gluten?

If you’re not allergic or intolerant then that’s great (I believe quite a lot of us are although we may not know it’s the cause of symptoms). Even if you can tolerate it, the problem is we’re being exposed to too much of it because:

  1. We’re eating more gluten-containing foods than we’ve ever eaten before – most peoples’ daily diet consists of breakfast cereal or toast, sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and pizza or pasta for dinner. That’s not a varied diet and it completely lacks the vital vitamins, minerals and other nutrients such as fibre and ‘good’ fats contained in vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc.

    Overhead view of a rounded crusty loaf of cob bread on a wooden bread board incised with the word Bread
    Photo credit: www.freefoodphotos.com

2.  The amount of gluten in modern wheat has increased as a result of genetic modification/farming methods compared to ancient varieties

3.   Extra gluten is added to bread so that the production time can be massively reduced. Gluten is released and activated when bread is proven, kneaded and rested. High speed bread making methods don’t do that so they add gluten to make it sticky.

Is it just gluten that’s the problem with grains?

No, grains contain other anti-nutrients that cause us problems. Phytic acid, lectins, gliadin – they can all cause digestive issues and other symptoms such as headaches, joint pains, even depression. The only grain I really eat now is rice because I’ve always loved it. I always soak it in plenty of cold water with a squeeze of lemon or cider vinegar for as long as possible to remove these other toxins. 

Also, refined grains (white wheat flour particularly) cause an insulin spike when they’re eaten. We are increasingly overweight, obese and insulin-resistant or outright diabetic. I believe this is down to our reliance on refined grains in our diet, as well as sugar, of course.

Paleo style nut cookies

cookiesMy friend Shreena and I have tried and tested lots of recipes for making our own caveman style cookies and this one is definitely our favourite. It’s satisfying and crunchy and delicious. It’s also pretty flexible in terms of ingredients – you could use any combination of nuts and sweeteners. Lots of paleo recipes are American or Australian so I bought myself a set of measuring cups a while ago. I’ve adapted (and tweaked) this recipe from the Australian version here.

  1. Chop 3/4 cup of brazil nuts (or macadamias, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, etc etc) into even chunks and place them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven at 150C until just starting to turn golden.
  2. Pour them into a large mixing bowl and add 1 cup dessicated coconut, 1 cup ground almonds, 2 tsps ground ginger (or cinnamon etc etc) – mix.
  3. In a small pan melt gently 1/4 cup honey (or molasses – mmm, lots of minerals) with 1/4 cup coconut oil.
  4. In a small glass, add 1/2 tsp baking powder (gluten free of course – I use this one) to 1 tbsp cold water – mix and pour into the pan – it will fizz and thicken the mixture.
  5. Pour the pan contents into the dry ingredients and mix well.
  6. Add up to 1/4 cup coconut flour until the mixture sticks together.
  7. Put a dessertspoonful into your hands and squeeze and roll it into a ball, place it on the baking sheet and flatten it into a cookie.
  8. Bake for around 25 minutes at 130C or until risen and golden.
  9. Leave to cool and then eat with lots of cups of tea!

We are designed to live at least 120 years

I’m re-reading Health Wars by Phillip Day. It’s a great read and makes so much sense to me. In the introduction, he talks a lot about the work of Sir Robert McCarrison – a pioneer in nutrition. Somewhat depressingly (because we don’t seem to have listened) he said in the 1920s or 30s: “the single greatest factor in the acquisition of health is perfectly constituted food”. Sir Robert was a medical doctor who worked in India for 30 years and was one of the first westerners to encounter a tribe living in the foothills of the Himalayas called the Hunzakuts. He was amazed by their health and longevity. In all his time observing them, he saw no incidence of illness or disease. Many of their elders were over 120 years old and just as vibrant and active as the youths. Based on their environment, lifestyle and diet, he came to the conclusion that the 6 principles of longevity are:

  • be well mineralised and eat properly constituted food (the Hunzakuts eat lots of mostly raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds)
  • be well hydrated (drink plenty of fresh, pure water each day – the Hunzakuts drink glacial water, cloudy with minerals)
  • be alkalised (ie, the right pH balance – brought about by the above)
  • be active (the Hunzakuts think nothing of walking dozens of miles up and down mountains, carrying heavy loads and they never seem to tire)
  • have a positive attitude and optimism for the future
  • live in a non-toxic environment (hmmmm, not easy in this world of pollution on every level)