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”

Raw gingerbread balls

Gingerbread is synonymous with Christmas, but sometimes it’s good to have something a bit different to the norm. So for day 7 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar, I bring you raw gingerbread balls.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a bit partial to a tasty energy ball. I’ve posted a few different ones over the years including yummy carrot cake balls and last years raw Christmas cake balls. 

Energy balls are great, especially if you have a sweet tooth as they hit the spot with sweetness but are free from shedloads of refined sugar. That’s not to say they’re sugar free, far from it! But the sugar is still bound up with the fibre in the whole foods so they give a slower, more sustained release. Much less stressful on your body and helps to avoid sugar lows.

I always see energy balls as a wonderful benefit of eating a whole-food plant-based diet. The flavours are intense and they’re just so enjoyable. But I know some people find them too much of a faff, or haven’t got the right equipment to make them. If that’s you, then let me introduce you to Charlotte of Frog Hollow Catering. 

I met Charlotte a few years ago through The Mumpreneurs Networking Club (MNC) and she then came along to my Eat Well Live Course. As with many trained chef, she had previously thought that rich, animal-based food was the best way of eating, until she had serious health problems. She discovered the benefits of eating whole, plant food and started to use her skills in a different way. She now has a fabulous business making energy bites and delicious raw cakes. And I mean delicious! 

Charlotte has a range of products you can check out on her website here, but if you want something super special for Christmas, she makes these gorgeous raw chocolate truffles that are dairy-free, vegan and contain no refined sugar, just lots of fabulous nutrients and deliciousness. Last order date before Christmas is 18th December, so don’t delay if you want some. Btw, I’m not on commission here, I just love what Charlotte does!

Right, back to the gingerbread balls. Ginger is an amazing ingredient to include in your cooking, particularly at this time of year with all the colds and viruses going around. It contains an array of phytonutrient compounds that help with all sorts of things including nausea and pain. It can also help support the immune system and reduce inflammation. 

Ginger can be a bit perky on the flavour side of things though; I certainly find it more fiery than other members of my family. One of the benefits of making your own gingerbread balls is that you can get the flavour to your own liking. I’ve set it at a moderate level, but if you prefer more of a ginger hit then feel free to increase the amount of ground ginger.

These balls do contain almonds; if you have to eat nut-free, replace them with sunflower seeds. The flavour will be slightly different, but still works really well. And don’t forget that if you are strictly gluten-free, please use gluten-free oats. 

I’ve coated some of these with sesame seeds; they’re not essential but add even more nutrients and make them slightly less sticky to pick up. Feel free to omit if you so desire.

These are also great fun to make with the kids as they can get their hands in and fully sticky. If you give them a go, let me know how you get on!

Raw gingerbread balls (makes 18 )  

  •  75g dates, stone removed 
  • 50g oats
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 50g raisins
  • 100g almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)                                                   

Soak the dates in hot water for 10 minutes if they are very dry, then drain, retaining the water. Place all the ingredients apart from the sesame seeds into a food processor and blend until combined and sticky. Add a little soaking water if it’s too dry to bind.

Take a heaped teaspoonful of the mix out and roll it into a ball in the palm of your hand. Roll in sesame seeds if using. Repeat the process until all the mix is used up.

These balls will keep in an air-tight container for up to 7 days, or can be frozen. 


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.

Top tips for New Year eating

Yesterday I listed five questions to think about when your New Year resolution is eating better food.  If that made you think, and you want to make some positive but simple changes, here are five top tips that will help you eat ‘well’.

1) Eat more! That may seem like a strange thing to encourage! To be specific, eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. That doesn’t mean you should start munching your way through platefuls of lettuce, unless you’re into that kind of thing! If you have decided to ‘do the vegan thing’ this January, then you should naturally eat more each day, as long as you are not choosing lots of processed products. If you’re doing a more gradual transition, there’s lots of way to sneak extra veg into everyday foods. Soup is the perfect way to load up on the veggies. Add extra helpings to stews and curries. Sneak some fresh stuff into cakes (carrot and courgettes work well as does fresh fruit). Have a side salad with your main meal, or just increase your veg portion size. Plants can be very filling, so you feel less hungry plus give you a whole range of marvellous nutrients.

2) Eat whole. We hear a lot about the perils of fat and/or sugar. We also hear about how they are an essential part of our daily diet. Confused? Most people are. The key to the fat/sugar issue is really about whether it’s refined or whole. Once fresh produce is processed, it loses much of its micronutrients and fibre, leaving higher amounts of fats and sugar in an altered molecular state. Think about oranges and orange juice. If you eat an orange you get the juice and sugar, plus essential oils, fibre and other nutrients. Unless it’s a very small one, or you have a huge appetite, most people can only manage to eat one orange at a time. For a start, it can take ages to peel it and by the time you’ve finished one there’s no desire left for another. Orange juice on the other hand is a different matter. An average glass of juice takes about 4 oranges. That’s four times the amount of sugar, no fibre and less of the essential oils and other phytonutrients. Sugar with no fibre gets rapidly absorbed into the blood stream, and it’s not long before you want more. So look at what you’re eating – if its whole then go for it, if it’s had the fibre removed, don’t.

3) Eat brown. This is connected to the point above. Wholegrain and wholemeal contain lots more nutrients and fibre than white. So brown pasta, rice and bread are all more beneficial than the plastic white stuff. You can even get brown rice pasta if you’re gluten free! It does take a few minutes more to cook, particularly rice, but if you leave it to soak whilst you’re out in the day, it cooks super quick when you want it.

4) Eat when you’re hungry and don’t feel deprived. This is most important. Making changes is hard and if you feel resentful about missing out then it makes it even harder, increasing the likelihood that your resolutions go by the wayside. If you’re out and about, don’t rely on being able to pick up a suitable snack; always have something with you to fall back on when hunger strikes. It could just be an apple or banana, or a small bag of nuts and dried fruit. When you eat a whole food plant-based diet, it’s not about calorie counting or limitations. It’s about eating great food, so if you want an extra helping of the gorgeous veggie meal you’ve prepared then do so. And if sweet stuff is your preference, make sure you learn how to make healthy cakes. There’s lots of recipes on the blog that will hit the spot.

5) Eat yourself happy. This is not me encouraging you to console yourself with a tub of ice cream!  As mentioned above, whole-foods are packed with fibre. As well as helping slow sugar release and keeping you ‘regular’, fibre also keeps the friendly bacteria that live in your gut happy. And happy bacteria can mean a happy you, as one of their many jobs is to keep the gut lining healthy and intact so that it can keep working to maximum capacity. This includes secreting optimum amounts of serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter that influences mood. Gut health is key to health and well-being, so feeding it with gorgeous tasting whole plant foods is a great way to get you feeling happy all over!