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.

Wholegrain bread sauce

It’s day 23 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar and it’s only 2 days to go until the big day! Recipe-wise, we’re down to the nitty gritty, the little extras that complement the main dish of the day. Even though we’re not serving a roast meat, there is one condiment we will not be doing without – bread sauce.

Traditionally made with butter, milk and/or cream, it may seem an unlikely side to serve. But we all love it and it’s surprisingly easy to make dairy-free and even bread (and therefore gluten) free. There’s something delightful about clove infused gloop that just hits the Christmas spot!

There are so many milk alternatives to choose from that side of things is pretty easy. I use oat milk as it is still a little creamy; almond milk is another good option. To make it extra creamy, I add a little oat cream during the last bit of cooking – Oatley cream is great for this.

For the bread crumbs, I use wholemeal bread for the rest of the family. As I am yeast intolerant, that doesn’t work for me, so I keep a little of the infused milk to one side and make a small portion of bread sauce using brown rice crumbs. It tastes just as good, although the texture is slightly more grainy.

The only downside of making your own bread sauce is you need to ensure there’s adequate infusing time; the milk needs time to absorb the onion and clove flavours. A couple of hours is enough, more if possible. If you remember, do it the night before and then it’s super quick to bring it all together on Christmas Day.

My Advent Calendar is is nearly at it’s end – only 1 more post to go! Don’t forget to let me know how you’ve been getting on with the recipes.

Wholegrain or gluten free bread sauce

  • 500ml creamy dairy-free milk like Oatley or Almond Milk
  • 1 onion, peeled but left whole
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 black pepper corns
  • 100g wholemeal bread or brown rice crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons oat cream
  • salt to taste
  • flaxseed oil (optional)

Infuse the milk at least 2 hours before you want to make the bread sauce. Pour the dairy-free milk into a small saucepan. Stick the whole cloves into the side of the onion. Drop this into the milk along with the bay leaf and pepper corns. Slowly bring to the boil, simmer for a minute then turn off the heat and leave to infuse. If you are doing this the night before, transfer the milk and flavourings into a bowl and leave covered in a cool place.

Blitz the wholemeal bread into fine breadcrumbs. When you are ready to make the bread sauce, remove the clove-onion, bay leaf and pepper corns from the milk. Pour the milk back into a saucepan (if you have removed it) and place over a low heat. Add the breadcrumbs or rice crumbs and gently bring to a simmer, stirring regularly. The crumbs will swell and the mix thicken until it’s thick and gloopy. This may take up to 15 minutes.

Add the oat cream (if using) when it’s thick along with a little salt and stir well. Turn off the heat, transfer to a serving dish and place the onion and bay leaf back in the top until you’re ready to serve. Remove these and add a little flaxseed oil if using before serving.

Apple and oat muffins

Muffins were in the news earlier this year following a report that outed many shop-bought versions as being the less-than healthy option they might appear to be (click here for the link). Some blueberry ones tested didn’t have anything close to a real blueberry in them, just some synthetic sugar replacement. Plus lots of refined sugar and oils. That’s definitely not a healthy muffin!

These muffins on the other hand are on the complete other end of the scale. Being a whole-food plant-based version, they contain no refined oils, eggs or sugar but do have wholegrain and oats plus lots of healthy fibre and phytonutrients. Perfect for a breakfast on-the-go, mid-morning snack, lunch box treat or to fuel some exercise. Or you could just eat them because they taste delicious!

The key difference with these muffins to those made with lots of oil and sugar is the texture. Apple puree replaces the oil and it’s heavy. This makes it more difficult for the baking agents to elicit a light fluffy rise, resulting in a dense and somewhat heavy muffin. Pick it up and you know that muffin is going to be good for you!

Apple also replaces much of the normal added sugar; eating apples do not need to be sweetened and cook down into a good puree. The ones I made for the photos used some puree I had in the freezer from my own prolific apple tree, so maybe they tasted even better for being home grown! The combination of apple and cinnamon not only tastes amazing but does magic tricks in your body. Cooked apple is a wonderful pre-biotic, feeding the friendly bacteria that live in the gut – they love it! And cinnamon helps the body to absorb sugar from the bloodstream into the cells, promoting healthy blood sugar metabolism.

A word of warning – because these muffins contain no oil, they have a habit of sticking to the muffin paper, although oddly only on the day they are baked (which is also the day they taste the best, fresh out of the oven). This is frustrating, especially if you want to dive in and end up consuming more fibre than you anticipated by nibbling on wrapper! One way around this is to skip using the cases and bake directly into a well-greased non-stick muffin tin. If you’re not too worried about have extra oil, you could add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the mix. I just know the one I eat the day I make them will require some paper nibbling and just enjoy them as they are!

So if you are looking for a tasty muffin that’s filling, full of healthy nutrients and ticks all the ‘good’ boxes, then try a batch of these. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Oat and apple muffins (makes 12)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
200mls non-dairy milk (preferably soya)
Squeeze of lemon or ½ teaspoon cider vinegar
220g unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
80ml maple syrup
200g oats (gluten free if needed)
200g wholemeal or gluten free self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch salt
1 medium/large eating apple, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon coconut sugar to top (optional)

Mix the flaxseed and water together in a small bowl and leave to one side to thicken – this makes a flax-egg. Whisk the dairy-free milk and lemon or vinegar together in a bowl and leave to stand for a few minutes. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line muffin tins with 12 muffin wrappers or grease non-stick muffin tins with a little oil.

Mix the applesauce, maple syrup, vanilla and flaxseed egg with the milk and whisk together well. Place the flour, oats, baking powder, salt and spices to a large bowl and mix to combine. Pour in the wet ingredients into the dry and mix together quickly. Do not over mix. Quickly fold in the chopped apple.

Spoon out mix into muffin cases, filling each one just under the rim. Tap the tin than place in the oven and bake for 17-19 minutes.

Once firm and lightly browned on top, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooking rack. Sprinkle a little extra ground cinnamon on the top if so desired and leave to cool completely.

 

Super quick quinoa and brown rice salad

I’m so excited now that the weather is finally improving and we are beginning to see more sunshine. Add that to the long light evenings that we have at this time of year and I’m positively brimming with the joys of Spring!   Some days have already been lovely and warm – fabulous opportunities to get outdoors. Which leads me neatly on to one of my favourite warmer month activities – eating outside.

There’s something so wonderfully compelling about al fresco dining, whether it’s a quick snack, lazy lunch or full on evening gathering with friends. Unfortunately, evening outside eating is still a rarity in the UK, even in the height of summer – or at least it is for me, I get cold too easily! I guess that’s why we find spending time further down in Europe so attractive. It’s certainly one of the influencing factors for our latest adventure – we’re buying a home from home in Portugal! More about that another time though.

It’s great to get invites round to friends for a BBQ or an impromptu dinner; eating whole-food and plant-based means I always offer to takes something with me, partly to take the pressure of the host who may not be used to cooking that way, and partly to make sure I get something to eat! Sometimes this can be a bit of a challenge though, especially if it’s a last-minute arrangement and the fridge is looking rather empty! That’s when you need a quick and easy fall-back dish to take; this wholegrain salad can be rustled up in a minute. Literally!

Since changing the way I eat, I spend little time in the supermarket aisles dominated by packets of processed foods. It actually makes shopping much quicker! There are however still a few items that I always make sure we have in the cupboard – sachets of pre-cooked wholegrain is one of them.

It’s not the cheapest way of buying whole-grains, but a fantastic time-saver and remarkably versatile. You still need to take care and check the ingredients label, as some brands add in a wide selection of flavourings and preservatives, as well as refined oils. Plus you need to make sure the word ‘wholegrain’ is on the packet otherwise you will be losing vital nutrients and fibre. Quinoa and wholegrain rice is my favourite combination; a tiny bit of olive oil helps it not to stick together in the pack, otherwise that’s all there is in the sachet. That means that the only other flavours are the ones I choose to add, ones that are natural and as whole as possible. They are a great quick option for people with food intolerances or sensitivities too, or for anyone who needs to look for gluten-free options.

I always have fresh herbs in my fridge – this is a great way to use up any bits and bobs left over from other recipes. My little herb garden out the back is also coming to life, giving me another source of flavour. This particular recipe asks for a combination of parsley, coriander and mint – that’s what I had in the fridge! But they are a naturally a great combo anyway (phew!). Add in some alfalfa or other sprouted seeds if you have them along with some toasted seeds like pumpkin and a good amount of seasoning and bam, there you have it – a simple yet super-tasty salad in the blink of an eye. Not only that, but it’s a great way to use up left-overs and reduce food waste (herbs are one of the most commonly thrown away foods). If you have a bit more time, soak some sultanas or raisins in hot water to plump them up before adding them in. Or chop up bits of cucumber or radish for an extra crunch. Let your imagination fly and see what combo you can come up with, and enjoy it with friends – or just yourself if you prefer!

Super quick quinoa and brown rice salad
1 sachet (250g) cooked quinoa and brown rice
3 tablespoons fresh herbs (parsley, coriander, mint etc) finely chopped
2 tablespoons sprouted seeds (alfalfa, broccoli seeds etc)
2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons raisins, soaked in hot water and drained
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir well then taste, add more seasoning or herbs as needed. Serve chilled.