Brain food

Have you ever thought about how the food you eat directly affects your brain? As its Brain Awareness Week, it’s worth sparing a minute or two to do just that. Do you give your brain what it needs?

The brain is the hungriest organ in the body. Mind you that’s not surprising really as it’s always on the go, managing and controlling everything else in the body, even (and particularly) when we’re asleep. 25% of the body’s energy supply (in the form of glucose, its fuel of choice), is used in the brain Continue reading “Brain food”

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!

 

Edamame or pea and mint dip

Everyone is different; we look, sound, feel and act differently, and so it follows this is reflected in what we choose to eat, from what we just love to something that may potentially be lethal if we’re allergic to it. Food choices are influenced by a whole multitude of factors from family, religion or health to income, location or social standing. It’s a fascinating subject.

When it comes to food allergies or intolerances, anything goes – there’s no end to the variety of substances people can be allergic to. This could be due to the makeup of a person’s microbiota, the billions of bacteria and other microbes that live in the gut. In the same way a person has their own characteristics externally, their internal makeup does too! It’s an exciting area of research, but not really that new as ‘alternative’ therapists have been going on about gut health for decades!

Despite our individual differences, there are a number of foods that people are more commonly sensitive too – the ‘Big 8’. Top of that list is dairy, followed by eggs, fish and shellfish, then nuts and peanuts, wheat and finally soybeans. Interesting that most of these are used in processed foods in some form, either as a main ingredient or a chemical derivative. Another good reason to avoid the ready-meal aisle!

I often get asked my opinion about soya products; it’s amazing how controversial a small bean can be! One of the biggest issues is that in the US, the vast majority of soya products come from genetically modified crops. Living in Europe, we don’t have the same problem but I always aim to buy organic soya products if possible, or check where in the world it has come from to avoid GM – consumer choice.

Soya is a key feature in a lot of vegetarian food, whether as tofu or tempeh, textured protein or in vegetarian or vegan products or ready meals. This is often used as a criticism of a more plant based diet, particularly as an increase in growing soya crops is responsible for deforestation and the devastation of tropical rainforests. What’s interesting though, is that about 75% of soya crops are actually used for animal feed, not human consumption. So you may avoid eating soya directly, but if you eat meat, unless it’s grass-fed, you’re also consuming highly processed soya. The world of food production is a complicated place these days!

Another issue with soya products is that it is thought to be a hormone disruptor, particularly for the thyroid gland. For some people, this may well be true. As I mentioned above, we’re all different, and foods can harm as well as heal, so it’s good to be aware if your thyroid function is compromised, but then there are lots of factors that might be involved, far to many to talk about in a blog post. Current research has found little correlation*, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. Soya contains isoflavones, phytonutrients that can help balance hormone levels, good for ladies of a certain age suffering from hot flushes due to oestrogen fluctuations! But maybe another reason that soya may be associated with disrupting hormones is the type and volume of pesticides and insecticides that are used on non-organic crops. Chemicals and humans don’t tend to go together well, even when deemed ‘safe’.

Personally, I do include soya in my diet. It’s a great source of plant based protein, fibre and minerals and as well as phytoestrogen, it has other isoflavones beneficial for health. I don’t eat it every day, I check it’s source and tend to avoid highly processed ready meals, so mainly have it in the form of soya milk, yoghurt, tofu and edamame beans. But that’s my choice, which won’t be right for everyone!

If you don’t have a problem with soya but haven’t ever tried edamame, do give them a go. These are young, unprocessed soya beans. Bright green, fresh and packed with flavour, I love eating them straight out of the pod as a snack or starter at Japanese restaurants. This is soya at it’s most unprocessed, and so in my mind it’s healthiest – all the fibre and nutrients remain intact rather than lost in processing. Edamame have to be cooked otherwise it’s poisonous but only takes a couple of minutes, so no big deal. They can be added to salads, stews or just eaten straight from the pan. Alternatively, try this super tasty and simple dip to get a mouthful of flavour and bellyful of nutrients. If, however, you know that soya’s not for you, then peas work just as well – still lots of protein and fibre, just a slightly darker green. Enjoy!

Edamame (or pea) and mint dip
1 cup edamame bean or peas – defrosted if frozen
juice of 1 – 2 limes depending on size
20g fresh mint leaves
salt and pepper
flaxseed oil

Bring a pan of water to the boil and simmer the beans or peas for a few minutes until cooked. Drain and refresh with cold water. Leave to cool.

Place the beans or peas in a small food processor with the mint, lime juice and salt and pepper. Blitz until smoothish – a little texture is good – adding more lime juice or a dash of water if too thick. Add a glug of flaxseed oil, blitz again and taste. Add more lime juice, mint or seasoning if needed. Keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days.

* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16571087