Fabulous fibre

Have you noticed how fibre has suddenly appeared in the news again? That’s food-related fibre, not the high-speed broad band type! A large meta-analysis of research studies published in The Lancet last week concluded that a diet high in complex fibre and whole-foods could prevent the development of many chronic health problems. It concluded their study provided a ‘causal link’ between a low fibre diet and poor health (read more here).

The world of food and health is complex and fickle. The fact that fibre is good for health has been known for a long time, but gets conveniently forgotten when more popular diets come along, like low-carb/high fat, or ketogenic programmes. There’s a lot of confusion about the carbohydrate element of foods with many people automatically associating ‘carbs’ with sugar. And it’s true, refined sugar isn’t good for us, but complex, unadulterated carbohydrates are.

As anyone who has participated in my Eat Well Live Well course will know, I’m a big fan of fibre. And one of the benefits of eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that it is packed full of lovely complex fibres that the body just loves. And rather than worrying about how much you should consume, it’s just part and parcel of every meal – as long as you eat a wide range of whole plant foods that is.

So why might you not get enough fibre in your diet?

  1. Only food from plants contain fibre, so if you eat mainly meat, dairy and eggs you’ll be missing out on fibre.
  2. Refined cereals and grains loose their healthy complex fibre, so if you eat white bread, pasta or rice, processed breakfast cereals or ready meals, you’ll be losing all the lovely complex fibre.
  3. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain fibre too, so if you don’t hit your 5 portions a day (like 70% of the UK population), you’ll be missing out on fibre.

So what does fibre do for us? Lots, as it turns out. I go into more details in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie (out next month!), but in a nutshell it:

  1. Improves gut motility – ie: make you poo!
  2. Removes excess bile, fats and toxic waste
  3. Fills you up
  4. Releases nutrients slowly
  5. Looks after the friendly bacteria living in your gut.

As more is learnt about the importance of gut health, this last one is really key. Bacteria living deep down in the large intestine dine out on the insoluble fibre found in complex carbohydrates that we can’t digest ourselves, and then puts it to good use, carrying out functions we have outsourced and can no longer do ourselves. Gut health is connected to many health challenges, including food sensitivities and autoimmune conditions, hence my personal love of all things fibre!

So how do you get more fibre in your diet? It’s easy – eat more plants! And a wide variety of them too. Add beans to soups and stews, more veggies to dishes. Ditch the processed breakfast cereals and opt for wholegrain or oats. Swap to wholegrain pasta, rice and bread. Or just focus on eating amazing plant foods throughout the day and then you don’t have to worry where your fibre is coming from.

A word of warning though, if you’re not used to eating lots of lovely fibre, or have IBS or something similar, take care! Fibre makes you fart. And if your gut is not happy, a sudden overload of high fibre foods could find you trumpeting at inappropriate moments or doubled up in pain. So think about gradually increasing the amount of whole foods over a few days rather than all at once – you, and anyone around you, will appreciate it!

If you’re not sure how to start eating more fibre, check out the recipes on my blog. Made with whole plant foods, they’re all packed with fibre in various forms. And if you’re interested in finding out more, my book is a good place to start. Look out for more information about publication date, or sign up to my book mailing list. You’ll get the lowdown before anyone else, plus special launch information and offers. Just click here.

Comforting yellow split pea soup

I’m always amazed by people who manage to be ready for Christmas way before the actual big day arrives. I used to be, but then when I was pregnant with my son he decided to arrive one week before Christmas, 4 weeks early and it’s all been chaotic ever since!

It’s easy to become frazzled in the busy run up, so for day 21 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, I give you a gorgeously warming and comforting yellow split pea soup.

This soup is packed full of healthy nutrients and healing spices, perfect to help keep the seasonal bugs at bay and soothe frayed nerves. Yellow peas are grown specifically for drying; their natural break in the middle allows them to be split than stored. In India they’re used for dal and traditionally in the UK for making pease pudding, something I remember being fed as a child but seems to have gone out of fashion.

Yellow split peas contain fabulous amount of fibre, perfect to promote gut health, a key part of our immune system. And it’s yellow, so another addition to rainbow phytonutrients that support the body’s metabolism. In fact, this soup is a cacophony of rainbow colours and flavours and will bring a little sunshine to a dull December day.

So why not take a moment to sit and enjoy the wonderful flavours and switch off from all the craziness going on around you. Your body and mind will love you for it, that I guarantee.

Comforting split yellow pea soup (serves 4-6)

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium leek, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 large celery stick, diced
  • 1 fat clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 100g yellow spilt peas]
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 800ml vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • flaxseed oil to serve (optional)

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water to a large saucepan and add the onion, leek, carrot and celery. Stir well and sauté for 5 minutes until the veg starts to soften. Add the garlic and tomato and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the spices and yellow split peas to the pan, stir well to combine and cook for a minute, then add the tinned tomatoes and stock. Stir well, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and pop on the lid. Simmer for 35 minutes or until the yellow split peas are soft and the veg is mushy. Turn off the heat and leave to cool for a minute.

Using a stick blender, blend the soup, but not completely to leave a little texture. Season with salt and pepper, and serve steaming hot in bowls with a glug of flaxseed oil if desired. Enjoy!

Autumnal delights – pumpkin and squash

This is the first year I’ve tried to grow squash in my little vegetable patch. A bit late in planting them out, they’re still not quite ready despite the weather beginning to change. They seem happy where they are though, for now, and will hopefully grow and ripen a little more than this!

You will find a number of links to different pumpkin or squash recipes on my blog – I have a bit of a thing for this wonderful veg! During the autumn and winter months, it’s a staple in our house, appearing in recipes at least twice a week. Apart from their versatility, sweet flavour and smooth velvety texture, these wonderful vegetables are an amazing source of nutrients, bringing a burst of veggie sunshine in the long, grey months.

Pumpkins and squash really can help to keep the body healthy during winter. You only have to look at the amazing orange coloured flesh to know it’s packed full of goodies. Winter squash have been found to have the highest percentage of beta-carotene of any vegetable. Beta-carotene is the plant form of vitamin A (easily converted in the body), essential for healthy eyes, skin and immune system. There are many types of beta-carotenes, wonderful little phytonutrients that acts as co-enzymes and catalysts for metabolic processes – all things that keep us functioning properly. On top of that, pumpkin and squash also contains an amazing array of anti-oxidants, including vitamin C, that help mop up harmful free-radicals, and a great selection of B vitamins, and essential minerals like magnesium, manganese, potassium and calcium.

And it doesn’t stop there. The sugars in pumpkin and squash are super-healthy too. Not only are they full of fibre, they also contain a specific type of polysaccharide sugar called homogalacturonan (I haven’t just made that name up, honest!) that has special anti-inflammatory effects on the body particularly for heart disease and diabetes. The fibre also contains pectin, a favourite food for friendly gut bacteria, so benefiting gut health too.

So what’s not to love? Unfortunately, all good things have a not so good side – with pumpkins and squash, it’s how they’re grown. These water-loving veggies can be used to de-contaminate land, as they readily absorb anything in the soil and water. So if there is a lot of soil pollution, that will end up in the final product – and inside you. So it’s best to buy organic whenever possible, or from a reliable source. There is a small organic farm near me that always has a wonderful selection – here’s their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lainesorganicfarm/.

To celebrate this pumpkinlicious time of year, I’m going to add some extra recipes over the next few week. In the meantime, why not check out one of the yummy recipes already here on the blog? They’re all fully plant-based, dairy free and really tasty. Here are the links to take you there.

Pumpkin pancakes, perfect for breakfast, lunch or any time! http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/pumpkin-pancakes/

Try this stuffed squash for a satisfying and filling supper http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/stuffed-squash-for-thursday/

A gorgeous soup to warm you through http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/happy-earth-day-have-some-gorgeous-squash-soup-to-celebrate/

This hubby-inspired curry is a winner every time http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/steves-saturday-night-squash-curry/

Watch this youtube video about a family friendly dip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HuweHV24ao&t=16s

Happy eating!

 

Sunny sweetcorn soup

This summer has been lovely, but now autumn has decided it wants a look in and seems to have arrived somewhat early. The air is decidedly cooler and today in particular is looking rather bleak and grey – for Brits, its a typical bank holiday Monday!

However, the gorgeous, fresh produce that’s around at the moment should bring rays of sunshine into anyones life. The hedgerows are laden with berries, fruit trees heavy with magnificent bounty (my apples this ear are just huge!) and my tiny little veg patch has been providing us with gorgeous beans and outstandingly flavoursome leeks, whilst I obsessively monitor the growth of some tiny squash.

One vegetable that has been particularly awesome this year is sweet corn – fabulously juicy kernels, so sweet, tender and firm, completely superior to any tinned or frozen variety and great example of seasonal eating.Sweetcorn has a bit of a bad boy reputation though in the ‘dieting’ world; higher in calories than other veg as they contain a higher concentration of simple sugars. Nutritionally, though, it’s fabulous as it’s packed full of phytonutrients and antioxidants that keep your body health at a cellular level, along with beta-carotene and some of the B vitamins. But the main benefit is it’s fibre content.

Fibre is essential to keep us healthy – not only does it aid the process of digestion by moving things along nicely in the gut (less time for toxins to build up and be absorbed), it releases it’s sugars more slowly and actually feeds the gut friendly bacteria to keep it happy and healthy. Processed foods, animal and dairy products contain no fibre, so you need lots of other sources to help things along and stop your gut from becoming stressed and feeble. Which is one reason (of many) why a plant based whole food diet is beneficial to your overall health and well being. And if you can’t go the whole hog, then big up your plant fibre intake – your tummy will love you for it!

I love eating sweetcorn on the cob, boiled and seasoned with a little black pepper, with the juices dribbling down my chin in an unladylike manner! However, this soup is another great way of getting all the benefits and flavour of that gorgeous sunny corn, and it can be eaten with slightly more finesse!!
A warming soup for a miserable day in summer – sunshine in a bowl, dairy free and delicious!

Sweetcorn soup
3 sweet corn cobs, nibs cuts off
2 carrots diced
1 onion diced
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
3 small potatoes/1 medium diced
sprinkle thyme
1 litre vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Heat a small amount of olive oil (or water if you don’t like oil) in a large pan and sauté the onion and carrot gently until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute but don’t let it burn. Add the potatoes, sweetcorn, thyme and stock, bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes or so until everything is cooked. Turn off the heat and blitz with a hand blender until smoothish. Add extra stock if necessary if too thick. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy. You and your stomach will feel the joy!

Asparagood!

Seasonal food is a hot topic; should we only buy what’s available locally to reduce the environmental impact of transporting food around the world? Or should we buy whatever we want at any time of the year, something the big supermarkets are keen for us to do (they can charge more out of season!)? Then there’s the argument that purchasing beans from Kenya, for example, boosts the local economy and helps relieve poverty and raise living standards.

It’s a complex issue that can be debated for a long time. There are some foods that I really can’t manage without all year – apples and bananas for example, although once the stored UK apples have finished, I do try to buy apples from Europe that are transported by land rather than air. And then there are some foods that, although you can buy throughout the year, should only be eaten during their short local season. For me, that’s strawberries (British strawberries are just sublime!!) and asparagus.

There is something just wonderfully luxurious about fresh asparagus stalks; juicy and succulent, their strong pungent flavour bursts in your mouth, juices dripping down your chin, texture firm and crunchy (or that’s how I like them any way). So beautiful they need little adornment other than a light seasoning of salt and pepper; I used to love then coated in frothy butter, but that’s not possible on a dairy free diet (and sunflower spread just doesn’t do it!).

Traditionally, the UK asparagus season is only 8 weeks long, from the end of April through to the end of June; it may last a little longer this year due to the cold spring. So now is the time to go grab your bunches of asparagus and indulge in some delectable dining. And your body will love you for it to, because each spear is packed with powerful nutrients. Asparagus is a fabulous source of folic acid, vitamin K, fibre, vitamin B6, thiamin, vitamin A and C. It also contains some interesting phytonutrients which work some amazing tricks inside the body!

Asparagus contains saponins and flavonoids as well as other anti-oxidants which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Research shows that saponins can help relieve some chronic degenerative neurological conditions. The anti-oxidants, B vitamins and fibre can help improve heart health and reduce diabetes.

Asparagus also contains inulin, a carbohydrate that has a beneficially effect on the digestive system, or rather on the ‘friendly bacteria’ contained within. Much of our modern diet and way of living takes it’s toll on the delicate eco-system in our guts. The inulin in asparagus isn’t digested in the upper digestive tract, and provides a wonderful food source for the friendly bacteria lower down to feed on and grow, helping to heal a damaged gut lining and promote overall health. This is particularly relevant to people with food intolerance or allergies; re-establishing a colony of healthy bacteria is a good place to start the healing process.

Unfortunately for some, eating asparagus may bring many benefits, but there is one massive side effect – smelly wee!  Apparently, the pungent post-asparagus wee smell is formed after the break down of asparagusic acid, a concentrated sulphur containing compound. Up to 50% of asparagus eaters suffer from this phenomena to a greater or lesser extent. It really bothers some people, but if you don’t mind, or don’t suffer from this slightly embarrassing condition, then munch on those glorious stems whilst the going is good – your body will love you for it, even if your nose doesn’t!

TGIF – totally great information on food and an Estofado recipe

Life is just so busy at the moment, it’s hard to find time to blog. Our shipping still hasn’t arrived back either, so I’m missing the computer as well as all my cookery books and paraphanalia.

Although I’ve not been writing as much, I have been cooking! Being back in the UK, I feel like I’m discovering a whole new range of products again. It’s amazing how things have changed in just under three years. And how much things cost!

One of the great things I’ve noticed is how much awareness of food allergies and sensitivities has increased, as well as recognition of different diet choices. The range of products on a menu may still be limited (unless it’s a vegan restaurant!) but it seems much easier to order food that’s not going to create problems a few hours later. For example, I visited TGI Friday’s yesterday with the kids, and they have a special menu for people with allergies, mainly gluten and lactose. Our waitress was so helpful, and not only told us about this menu (you need to ask for it) but got the kitchen to serve our nachos in a way that it was half with cheese and sour cream, and half plain near to the guocomole. And they happily swapped bits around so we had a meal we could all enjoy without worrying what was in it. And there’s more information on their website too that takes the guess work out of  how to avoid intolerances.

The recession, and the general need for people to reduce their household expenditure has also increased the popularity of vegetarian food, with food magazines and programmes jumping on the bandwagon. Generally, vegetarian food is cheaper than  meat based, as long as it’s made from scratch rather than just another ready meal, over processed and full of sugar and salt..And campaigns like Meat Free Monday, which promotes the environmental benefits of a plant based diet, not just the financial, is gaining more support.

This is good news for those who eat a wholefood plant based diet, or have to avoid certain foods like dairy. I love reading food magazines and articles, but so often the recipes are packed full of items that are a no no. One of my favourites is the Obeserver Food Monthly; a couple of weeks ago I excitedly bought my first issue for some time. The theme was cooking on a budget. One article challenged top chefs to come up with a family meal for under £5.00. There were some interesting suggestions in there, including a mouthwatering dahl, but the one that caught my eye was this vegetarian estofado.

Estofado is Spanish for stew (so the internet tells me!), or slow cooked food. This dish doesn’t really take much time to cook and the flavour develops well. The outstanding surprise was the amount of garlic – a whole bulb! I have to say that it does give you serious garlic breath, but it’s what gives this stew a deep, rustic flavour.

Nutritionally, it has just about everything you could ask for – protein in the chickpeas, beta carotene and vitamin C in the pumpkin, folates and other B vitamins in the spinach and omega 3 fats in the walnuts, as well as the healthy heart properties of the garlic. Unless you have a nut allergy, there’s not much in there to upset any sensitive eaters, and it passed the kids test with flying colours (I did cut down on the garlic a bit!!). Serve this with some rustic wholemeal crusty bread, or wholegrain rice, and you have a fabulous tasty and cheap dinner.

Chickpea, pumpkin, spinach and walnut estofado (recipe by Jose Pizarro) 1 small onion
1 bulb garlic
1 tbspoon olive oil
400g tin chopped tomatoes
800g of pumpkin or squash flesh, chopped into 2.5cm pieces
800mls vegetable stock
400g tin chickpeas, drained
1 bag baby spinach
50g walnuts roughly chopped
Chop the onion and garlic. Heat the oil in the base of a large pan and sizzle the onion and garlic for a few minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Add the tinned tomatoes and fry off the excess juice gently. Once reduced, add the pumpkin and vegetable stock, and simmer until the pumpkin is tender. Add the chickpeas and seasoning, and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Most of the fluid should have evaporated by now. Just before serving, stir in the spinach and heat through for a couple of minutes until it’s wilted. Serve out into dishes and scatter the walnuts over the top. Enjoy!

Cocoloco – cucumber salad with coconut and peanuts

I love coconut. My love affair with that wonderful deep, sweet flavour started with my first Bounty bar and has continued ever since. In the days when I consumed milk, I would always chose coconut ice cream or frappe, or anything coconut flavoured, unless strawberry was on offer. Living in South India is ideal for me as coconuts are everywhere! It’s a key ingredient in local dishes, and of course it’s dairy free.

Coconut, and coconut trees, have so many different uses. According to The Coconut Research Centre, about one third of the world’s population rely on coconut to some extent for food or income. The insides of coconuts are used in cooking, for health and skincare, but the shell, leaves and wood from the tree all have different uses too. The compound I live in has a whole area dotted with trees which provide lovely shady areas and a batch of highly sought after nuts. Some even grow in peoples garden, which can actually be quite hazardous as if the nuts fall before they can be harvested, they will damage your roof and certainly your head if one lands on you. There are many internet claims that falling coconuts kill 10 times more people a year than sharks (150) but I don’t think there are any solid statistics.

According to legend, coconuts, or coco nucifera, were given their name by 15th century explorers. The brown fibrous outer shell with three indentations were said to remind them of a monkey’s face (coco). Nucifera means “milk bearing”.  The mature nut is protected by a dense fibrous husk, 2-3 cms thick, which can be quite challenging to open up. There are machines which will open your nut and remove the meat inside, but I prefer to use the unusual kitchen tools of hammer and screwdriver or smash them outside onto the paving – great stress remover!

In India, coconut is consumed at two different stages of maturity – tender coconuts, young green nuts that are sold by street vendors for the water inside, and the mature, brown husk covered nut that are more familiar in Western countries, often found on the coconut shy at a summer fete. It’s the meat from the mature nut that is used to make coconut milk – the milk doesn’t come from the fluid inside but the flesh, or meat, which is scraped out, ground and then strained to extract the white fluid. Due to its fat content, when put in the fridge, the milk separates with a thinner milk lying underneath and a top layer of cream. 

If you can’t get your hands on a tin of coconut milk, or prefer to make your own fresh, it’s really easy. All you need break open a coconut and remove the flesh with a sharp knife – a thin brown layer of husk will come out too but that’s ok. Grind some of the meat – fill the grinder about half full. When all finely chopped up, add half a cup of warm water and grind again until the coconut is all mixed up with the water. Pass this through a fine sieve or muslin cloth (or fine weave tea towel) and squeeze out as much milk as you can. Put the fibre back into the grinder and add a bit more water and repeat the process, just to get as much milk out as possible. Once fully squeezed, discard the fibre – you could use it for a facial scrub I guess (not tried that out tho’).

Coconut meat, and therefore the milk, does have quite a high fat content (27g per 100g), but it’s a mixture of saturated, mono-unsaturated and omega 6 fatty acids. There is no cholesterol though, as this is only found in animal fats. Fat in coconut is in the form of medium chain fatty acids; these are easier to break down and can actually help reduce cholesterol levels. Lauric acid is the main fatty acid in the chain, a fantastic immune booster and an anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent.
Coconut meat is also great for the digestion as it’s high in fibre and can help reduce constipation, flatulence and stomach ulcers and can help stabilise blood sugar levels. It’s also a natural source of iodine and therefore can help support thyroid function as well as protect the body against cancer, osteoporosis and pancreatic disorders.

You can buy dried coconut milk powder but beware if you have a milk allergy as most of the brands I have seen also contain dried dairy milk. The freeze drying process would also knock out most of the nutritional benefits as well, so I would avoid those if at all possible. Wholefood and raw food diets advocate using fresh ground coconut as a fat or oil replacement as you can all the benefits, including the fibre, without needing to add extra oil. Try this South East Asian style salad and see what you think, although not if you have a peanut allergy!

Cucumber salad with peanuts and coconut (serves 4 big portions)
1 -2 cucumbers, depending where you live – one long English style or 2 shorter Indian style
3-4 tablespoons fresh grated coconut
3-4 tablespoons roasted peanuts (unsalted) crushed
juice 1/2 lime
salt to taste
finely chopped green chillis – depending on how hot you like it
dash of jaggery, or raw brown sugar
chopped fresh corianderMix all the ingredients except coriander together, adjusting the sugar, lime and salt to taste and garnish with the coriander.
Enjoy!