Simple New Year changes that have a big impact

Wow, it’s the last day of 2018! What a busy year it’s been. How’s it been for you? For me, there’s been some amazing experiences, incredible changes and smattering of challenges and obstacles. A pretty standard year all in all!

So now it’s time to start thinking about the new year ahead. Have you thought about your New Year’s resolutions, or what you would like to achieve over the next 12 months? For many, January is a time for ‘going on a diet’ and ‘getting fit’. Both great goals to have, but more often than not the enthusiasm starts to wane after just a couple of weeks. Or it might be that you are planning on going plant-based, either by joining a campaign like Veganuary or following your own ideas. This works really well for anyone who is an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of person. But it’s not for everyone.

I actually think that early January is not a good time of year to make major changes. For a start, the weather is cold and the whole month can seem rather dull and miserable after the colourful build up to Christmas. Going on a diet has connotations of missing out or deprivation. The cold weather outside naturally drives us towards warming comfort foods rather than salad. Plus the ‘hang-over’ from all the Christmas and New Year excitement and celebrations takes a while to pass.

It’s because of this that I never run my Eat Well Live Well course until the end of January or beginning of February – that’s the time when you’re fully recovered from the festive fun and truly ready to make some positive, lasting changes.

Now that’s not to say that being a bingeing coach potato is a good idea! If you want to ease yourself into a positive health change or just want to make some easy changes, here are 5 simple changes to make that will have a big impact.

  1. Eat more. Ha, bet you didn’t expect that one first! If you’ve pigged out over the last week, this might not sound like a good thing. But I don’t mean eat more of everything. Just eat more fresh fruit and vegetables every day, some raw, some cooked. An incredible 75% of the UK population still don’t hit the 5-a-day target (click here for statistics) so if you are one of them, now’s your chance to go for it. But don’t stop at 5. As fresh fruit and vegetables are packed full of amazing nutrients and phytonutrients that support our bodies right at cellular level, 10 portions a day is much nearer to what we should be aiming for. Your body will love you for it and you’ll soon start feeling the benefits. Plus if you fill up on the fresh stuff, there’s less room for the junk!

2) Go brown. White flour, pasta and rice have all their wonderful nutrients stripped away and all you’re left with is the starchy endosperm that rapidly gets broken down into simple sugars. It’s calories and not much else. Wholegrains on the other hand retain their fabulous fibre, essential oils and protein as well as other nutrients. They’re more filling and your helpful friendly bacteria love them. If you want to give it a try but don’t think your family will be on board with it, don’t tell them! Just change one at a time and see if they notice (sneaky but effective 😉 )

3) Eat real. Have you explored the label on processed foods recently, even ‘healthy’, and specifically ‘free-from’ items? Do you recognise half the ingredients? Many of the common items bought contain a cacophony of refined ingredients or lab-made chemicals. Even ‘natural’ ones are not quite as natural as you might think. Hundreds of new chemicals are passed as safe for human consumption every year, but most have not been tested over long periods of time (for accumulation) or in combination with other chemicals. A report last year highlighted that 51% of the food consumed in the UK is now ‘ultra-processed‘. That’s far away from the original ingredient, if it even had one. Our bodies take time to recognise and respond to these chemicals. They much prefer things simple and natural. So next time you go to buy something, ask yourself “Is this real?”. If not, put it back on the shelf and find something else to put in your basket.

4) Eat a rainbow. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about this before, but it’s so important, I’m saying it again! Plant foods all contain magical tiny chemicals that help support the body in a multitude of ways. We evolved foraging off the land and consumed whatever the land provided, much of which was colourful and attractive to the eye. Try to make a conscience decision to eat red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple, brown and white produce every day.

5) Eat variety. As well as eating different colours, we evolved eating a wide variety of food items – basically whatever was found. Variety is key to our gut health, to look after our magical microbiome. The modern western diet tends to offer four main food sources – meat, dairy, soya and wheat – as 90% of the food eaten. Our ancestors are known to have eaten about 130 sources. Whilst that may be hard to achieve, try to avoid eating the same things day in, day out. Make a conscience effort to try new things too. Your gut will love you for it!

That’s it – more, brown, real, rainbow variety and you’re set for a healthy 2019! If you need any recipe ideas, then have a browse through the recipe index on the menu above. There’s loads to try, all of which will help you achieve these 5 easy steps. If you haven’t already subscribed to the blog, why not do that now and get new recipes directly to your inbox?

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year.

Rainbow dal

If I ever ask my family what they fancy for dinner, more often than not the answer is dal. Ever since our time living in India, it has become a firm favourite for all of us. And we’re not the only ones as the page with my simple dal recipe (find it here) is one of the most frequently visited on the website.

As you have probably gathered by now, I love a bit of rainbow eating. Adding a variety of colourful vegetables to dishes can increase their micro and phytonutrient properties enormously. And dal is the perfect base for a rainbow make-over, so it just had to happen!

Just changing from white to red onion improves the phytonutrient profile, as the red pigment contains anthocyanins. These tiny chemicals help support cell functions and act as anti-oxidants, neutralising free radical activity. Essentially, they contribute to supporting our health. There are a huge number of different types of anthocyanins, and as with all phytonutrients they work best together as a team, hence why whole-foods are always the best option.

Sweet potatoes and spinach contains their own variety of micro and phytonutrients too, as does turmeric, tomato and the curry leaves. In fact this rainbow dal really is a veritable smorgasbord of pigments! Add in the fab fibre content and this dish really is one that will make both your taste-buds and your body buzz with joy!

The most important thing about this rainbow dal, though, is that it tastes gorgeous! Adding the extra vegetable gives it more body and texture, so all the senses are cared for. Serve it with a good dollop of dairy-free yoghurt and some steamed wholegrain rice and it will fill the hungriest of stomachs too.

So next time you’re cooking up a dal, bring a bit more rainbow power to the dinner table and give this one a go. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on. Enjoy!

Rainbow dal – serves 4
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 medium tomatoes
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato
10-12 curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
225g yellow split peas
750ml water
150g spinach
for the tempering:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4 dried red chillis and/or 2 fresh red chillis sliced lengthways
2cm piece of ginger thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh coriander

Chop the onion and tomatoes, finely chop the garlic. Peel and dice the sweet potato.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan until bubbling then add the onion. Lower the heat and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the chopped tomato, curry leaves and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the sweet potato. Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the ground tumeric, lentils or yellow split peas and a good pinch of salt. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes then add the water. Pop on the saucepan lid, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the water is absorbed, the sweet potato soft and the dal is thick and sumptuous. Add the spinach leaves and cook for another couple of minutes until wilted.

Heat a small non-stick pan and add the cumin and black mustard seeds. Once the seeds start to pop and release their aromas (about 1 1/2 minutes), turn off the heat and add the dried red chillis and ginger. Shake the pan and let them cook in the residual pan heat. After a couple of minutes, tip the tempering into the dal, stir well to combine and heat through gently.

Finally, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the fresh chopped coriander then serve.

Delicious plant-based Pad thai

It’s supposed to be the first day of autumn today. After a couple of weeks of distinctly autumnal weather, today’s glorious sunshine surely signals that summer has just a bit more to give. That’s good news as I’m defiantly not ready for the colder temperatures and early evenings just yet.

I’ve had a real hankering for pad thai recently, a dish that reminds me of hot holidays and sultry evenings out during our time in India. I know it’s not an Indian dish, but during that time I seemed to have it on a regular basis, giving it a particularly warm place in my memory!

The flavours in Pad Thai traditionally come from fish sauce and tamarind. To make it fully plant-based and super tasty, I prefer a peanut-based sauce. And I use a mix of tamari and lime juice rather than tamarind for the deeper flavour, just because they are more common stables in my kitchen. Blitzing the sauce all together  takes seconds and by using brown rice noodles that take only a couple of minutes to soften this really is a rapidly assembled dish that doesn’t miss out on those distinctly Asian flavours. I guess this sauce is more like Gado Gado and tastes wonderful with simple steamed veggies and rice.

Peanut butter supplies a good helping of fats in this dish. Sources of whole fats are a key feature of a whole-food plant-based way of eating – as long as the peanut butter in your jar is 100%. To make it cheap, most brands of peanut butter include extra refined oils, salt and often sugar. None of these are needed and turns this simple nut butter (even though it’s not a nut!) from health food to junk food in one foul swoop.

So what’s the solution? The easiest is to buy only 100% peanut butter. Unfortunately, this can be more expensive, although some home-brand supermarket versions are now available at a good price. The other solution is to make your own – it’s not that difficult and once you’ve made it once, you’re suddenly much more mindful about how many peanuts are needed to make just a small amount of peanut butter. I’ll do another blog post soon showing you how. There is something rather wonderfully satisfying about making your own; I’ve found I eat less now I’ve seen just how many peanuts are in one spoonful of peanut butter.

As soon as anything is ground down and processed, it’s difficult to calculate how much you are actually eating. Even eating a handful of shelled peanuts means you are probably consuming more than you would if you were shelling them yourself. Anything that Mother Nature has wrapped up in packaging should be eaten with more care. After all, if you are sitting eating nuts that have to be shelled, you can’t eat palmfuls at a time and you reach satiation point way before the packet has gone, unlike shelled (and often salted) nuts that are just so easy to wolf down.

If you cannot tolerate peanuts, then almond butter will work but the underlying flavour will be slightly different. And if you’re completely nut-free, try some sunflower seed butter instead. Again, a slightly different flavour but worth experimenting with.

Back to the Pad Thai. Apart from the yummy sauce, it’s the textures that tick my boxes, with lightly stir-fried broccoli or beans and lovely fresh crunchy bean sprouts mixed with sweet red pepper. It’s a definite rainbow in a dish. Make sure the tofu you use is extra firm otherwise it will just crumble in the pan rather than brown. Smoked works as well as plain, if you fancy something different, or leave it out all together if you just fancy the veg.

Of course, this dish can be made any time of the year, not just summer. In fact, it’s the perfect bit of warming sunshine on a cold winters day! Do let me know if you make it – and if the sun shines for you too!

Plant-based pad thai (serves 2)
2 nests of brown rice noodles
1 red pepper, finely sliced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
3-4 spears broccoli with stems, sliced
handful of green beans, sliced
100g bean sprouts
100g extra firm tofu cut into small chunks
handful of chopped fresh coriander
handful of chopped peanuts
chopped fresh red chilli (optional)
For the sauce:
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
juice of 2 limes
4-5 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Place all the sauce ingredients into a small blender bowl and whizz until thick and well-combined. If it’s too thick, add water to loosen. Place the rice noodles in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes until soft. Drain.

Heat a little water in a non-stick frying pan and fry the tofu until it starts to become lightly browned. Tip into a bowl, then add a little more water and stir fry all the vegetables except the beansprouts for a few minutes until they start to soften but remain crunchy.  Return the tofu to the pan along with the beansprouts and noodles, mix together well then pour over the sauce. Cook on a low heat for 3-4 minutes.

Serve in large bowls and garnish with fresh coriander, peanuts and red chilli if using. Eat straight away.