NEW YEAR, NEW YOU – Step 2: SKIN

girl-1723686_1920Our skin appears to be waterproof, tough and protective. It is … to an extent … but it’s also porous. Think of your skin as lots and lots of layers of finely-meshed gauze. It allows small molecules in and out of your body. In my aromatherapy training, I learned that essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream, and found in major organs like the heart and kidneys, within seconds of application to the skin. I even experimented myself to prove the old adage that a clove of garlic in your shoe gives you garlic breath within minutes. It’s true! Try it!

On the basis that everything we put on our skin is absorbed directly into our bloodstream and carried to our organs, we could think more carefully about the products we use every day. If you wash with a supermarket shower gel, shampoo and conditioner and then apply body lotion, moisturiser, perfume, antiperspirant and make-up … first of all you’re probably blocking your skin from being an elimination route for toxins and, secondly, all (or most of) those chemicals are going straight into your bloodstream. There are a lot of conflicting reports about the effects of the chemicals in personal care products – from harmless to cancer-causing (read this balanced article for more information). I take the view that if my grandparents didn’t use it, then I probably should question it because we don’t actually know the long-term effects yet. However, sweating and body odour are not widely acceptable in the UK in 2017. Here are some of my ideas and product suggestions:

  • Pitrok crystal deodorant – still wet from the shower, I rub my armpits with this salt crystal and it creates a skin environment in which the bacteria that cause body odour cannot grow. You simply don’t get smelly. There’s also a spray version that might be easier for hairy armpits. Now, this is an effective but NOT ideal solution to body odour because it’s an alum salt crystal … so potentially you could be absorbing aluminium from it (although they say the molecules are too large to pass through the skin).
  • I use a blend of organic seed and nuts oils as a natural moisturiser for face and body. Ask me for a bottle next time you’re in.
  • For extra winter moisturising, add a tablespoon of fractionated coconut oil to a hot bath once a week. You could include a few drops of essential oil to make a really luxurious soak!
  • Try sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners such as this UK brand or this one.
  • Wash with a bar of soap … any simple, unfragranced brand will do. I buy these soaps unwrapped from Down To Earth in Dorchester.
  • Perfumes used to be made from essential oils – now they’re made from thousands of chemicals. Save wearing perfume for special occasions and put it on clothes, not skin.
  • If you wear make-up all day, every day you’re exposing yourself to lots of toxins all day long. Give yourself a break from it when you’re at home and try natural brands from health food shops. Dr Hauschka and Lavera are usually widely available. Read this article for more on make up.
  • Finally, toothpaste – our mouth and gums absorb even more quickly than the skin (sub-lingually is the fastest route into the bloodstream for medication). Fluoride is a nerve toxin so I prefer not to use it in my mouth! I used to like this natural toothpaste but I’m now using a refillable jar from Purple Nanny in Abbotsbury. (That’s one less plastic tube in landfill.)

So our skin is highly absorbent, but it’s also an important elimination pathway. We sweat out water-soluble toxins – especially lactic acid and urea. These are the waste products of glucose and protein use – so we’re producing them all day and all night. If we block this elimination route with antiperspirants and personal care products which form a barrier on our skin, then we are making other elimination routes (especially the kidneys) work harder, and could even potentially cause a backlog of toxins – which the liver then has to handle.

We need two things to help the skin be a good elimination route and therefore support our kidneys … which in turn supports our liver:

  1. See Step One – WATER! It’s what dissolves and carries the lactic acid, urea and other toxins through the skin.
  2. Healthy, supple, unblocked skin.

skin-1648752_1920Our skin cells need fats or oils (as well as water) to keep them supple and porous. We can apply as much moisturiser as we like to the outside layers but it will only help on the surface (fat cells are too big to fit through the layers of gauze). Drinking plenty of water and eating a diet rich in healthy fats and high in vitamin E makes for healthy skin. Read my fats article for more about healthy and unhealthy fats.

Your homework for Step Two:

  1. Add one of the following to your daily diet: half an avocado (or a whole one!); a small tin of sardines or similar oily fish, preferably in olive oil; an egg; a handful of raw, unsalted nuts and seeds, or consider supplements with fish oil or a spoonful of flaxseed oil.
  2. razor-414909_1920Go through your face and body products – do you really want those chemicals in your blood stream in seconds? Chuck out any products that are old – they can actually damage your skin cells. Question whether all the products are really necessary – and are they stopping your skin from being porous? Stop using an anti-perspirant now!

*Join my mailing list by emailing me and I’ll send you a discount voucher code to use when ordering the products and supplements I recommend in this article.

 

Chicken soup (my version of bone broth)

Chicken and veggie soupThe aroma from this bowl takes me straight back to Christmas as a child! The day after Boxing Day (ie, 27 December) we’d always have a version of this soup. The turkey carcass would have been simmering for hours in a pot on the stove and any leftover veg, stuffing and turkey bits would be added to the soup.

My version starts with organic chicken carcasses (from Riverford – currently great value at £2.45 per kg) slow-cooked in water for 24 hours. After a few hours, I remove the meat from the bones and the first extraction of stock. I put the bones back in and pour over more fresh water and simmer them again – usually overnight. I add lots of fresh veggies to the stock to make a really nourishing winter soup. I could also use the stock as a basis for risotto or for cooking vegetables such as leeks, cabbage, kale, etc – sort of steaming them in stock makes a really tasty side dish.

For variety, I grate in fresh turmeric and/or ginger root, add a handful of lentils or fresh herbs. Enjoy!

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.