Celebrating pulses

Did you know that today, 10th February is World Pulses Day? And why not, as pulses — beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils – are awesome for so many reasons and play a key role in a whole-food plant-based diet.

But why have they been designated their own special day? As with most international or national ‘days’, it’s really a campaign to increase awareness of the importance of pulses in our global food system. And for us as humans, the impact of climate change, growing populations and food scarcity and security, finding a sustainable food source that provides excellent nutrition and minimal environmental impact is key to our future survival on this planet. And pulses may just be the answer.So what difference can pulses make?

Firstly, they are good for health. And in a world where chronic health problems are on a massive increase, that’s a major factor. Research shows that pulses can contribute towards reducing health problems like heart disease and obesity, a major issue in countries that have an excess of food products but malnutrition (ie: getting too much of the bulk nutrients, not enough of essential micronutrients). Equally, they are great for those populations that still suffer from food scarcity and undernutrition. Because beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas are packed full of wonderful nutrients ranging from plant-base proteins to tiny rainbow phytonutrients. This infographic explains more.

As well as being good for us, they’re also good for the environment. They enrich the soil they grow in, reducing the need for harsh chemicals and fertilisers, which is better for the local ecosystem and waterways. They grow in harsh environments, areas of the world where many things won’t grow, a plus for remote populations. And they also have the lowest carbon footprint of any food group, requiring fewer natural resources. For example, approximately 1800 gallons of water is needed to produce 1lb of meat, whereas only 43 gallons are needed to produce 1lb of pulses. That’s a huge difference.

There are so many different ways to use pulses in every day meals, ranging from super snacks like hummus and falafels, to curries, savoury bakes and even bread. Here are links to some of my favourite recipes where beans, lentils, peas or chickpeas are the star.

If you want to know more about pulses and World Pulses Day, have a look at their website https://pulses.org/what-are-pulses – there’s some fascinating information on there.

So on World Pulses Day, are you going to celebrate with a special dish? Do let me know what you choose to eat!

Last day of Advent

It’s Christmas Eve, and day 24 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, the last instalment for this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts over the last 3 weeks or so and that they have helped make your plant-based Christmas a little easier!

As it’s Christmas Eve, I’m gifting you an early present – access to 5 of the recipes coming up in my new book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie. I’m so excited as it’s been a long-held ambition to be a published author. Out in February 2019, my dream is coming true!

More than just a plant-based cookery book, Eat Well, Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie is an accessible guide to understanding the connection between the food we eat, our health and the wider world around us. I explore our amazing bodies and how they prefer to live like Baby Bear – just right. It’s packed full of loads of fascinating facts, useful information and my tried and tested top tips.

Of course there are delicious recipes too – over 100 of them. Easy to follow and full of deliciousness there will be something to please even the fussiest of veggie eaters!

As valued readers of my blog, I’m giving you opportunity to have a sneak-peak of 5 recipes and exclusive access to pre-launch offers. Just sign up to my special book mailing list and you will can try out the recipes straight away, just in time for Christmas (in case you haven’t got anything else to do 😉 ).

Sign up now!

Finally, the last thing to do is thank you for being part of The Sensitive Foodie community and wish you all a very merry and tasty Christmas.

Christmas tipples

As well as fine food, Christmas is a time for a little alcoholic indulgence too – some more than others! Whether it’s the office party, a friends gathering or the main meal itself, there’s usually a glass or two on offer. But when you’re following a plant-based diet, or have restrictions due to allergies or intolerances, it can create another whole dilemma, as there can be many hidden ingredients in your drink of choice.

So for day 19 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, lets have a look at booze!

One of the reasons I started my journey to wellness was to make sure I could drink wine again. That may seem a little shallow, but discovering I had an intolerance to yeast meant that wine was off the menu. And that was very disappointing, but equally a great incentive to make positive changes. It wasn’t that I couldn’t live without wine, it’s just a very social and enjoyable thing. But one of the things I learnt about wine really surprised me – the agents used for fining, or in layman’s terms getting all the gunky fermented leftovers out.

This old blog post explains more, but basically ingredients like milk protein, egg white and isinglass (fish bladders!) are used to filter out the gunk. This means that elements of these are left behind (although some wine makers deny this), creating potential problems for anyone with a intolerance to dairy, egg or fish, or who has chosen to follow a vegan diet. Legislation has meant that labelling is supposed to clearly state what may be lurking in the wine, but this is not as good as it’s supposed to be.

And even if you find one make that seems to be ok, that might only apply for one year’s batch, not another. I realised this whilst browsing the wine in a local supermarket. A particular white wine labelled vegetarian on the shelf, but when I examined the bottle label it contain shellfish. Looking more closely, there were 2016 and 2017 batches next to each other on the shelf. One was with shellfish, the other without. It would have been very easy to pick the wrong one when the shelf label clearly said vegetarian.

Supermarket own brand wines are generally clearly labelled, which is great. The other sure way to ensure no animal product has been near your wine is to choose those clearly labelled vegan. This can be tricky when you’re actually in the supermarket, so do some research before hand on their website. Wine store like Majestic Wine have some useful information about their vegan wines and I’ve found independent wine shops are generally very helpful. Barnivore is still a great resource for getting the right wine and beer (as you can have the same issue here).  If you’re looking for some recommendations, here’s two useful articles that might help –  20 best vegan wines and 10 vegan beers.

What about the expensive stuff, champagne? Although the double fermentation process removes the problem for people with yeast sensitivities, animal products may still be used for fining. But there are well-known brands that are safe to purchase. Check out this great article on champagne, and prepare your credit card for a battering!

Sometimes it’s not the fining that’s the problem, but sulfites. These are produced as a natural by-product of fermentation, so it’s impossible to have completely sulphite-free wine. But extra is often added as a preservative, creating problems for those with a sulphite or nitrite intolerance.  If it’s an allergy then wine is just a no-go area. If a small amount is ok, look for low-sulphite options. Some organic wines fit this bill. Have a look on supermarket websites or Majestic Wine again for options. But remember that sulphites act as a preservative, so will need drinking more quickly. Not often a problem at this time of year!

As for other drinks, most clear spirits are free from animal additives, although I did come across a special Christmas gin infused with wafts of roast turkey! Needless to say, we didn’t buy it. Creamy liquors are not an option though for anyone avoiding dairy products. Good news for Baileys lovers though, as their Bailey’s Almonde is now available in the UK, although it carries a hefty price tag. I will be making my own version again this year – check out this recipe to see how. It may not taste like exactly like the original, but it’s pretty close and delicious.

Whatever your tipple choice this Christmas, please do remember to drink responsibly, particularly if you have a health problem or are taking medication and never if you are the designated driver. The older I get, the less I can tolerate, so it’s important to drink quality rather than quantity!

What’s your favourite tipple? Do let me know, especially if I haven’t mentioned it here. 

Christmas canapés

If you’re hosting drinks or having a party this Christmas period, you may be wondering what to have for nibbles. There’s lots of different snacks to buy, but when you have food sensitivities or are following a whole-food plant-based diet this can be a real minefield due to the additives and extra ingredients you want or need to avoid. This is particularly pertinent if you are dairy or gluten free, as either or both of these pop up everywhere in snack food.

So for day 11 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, here are 9 recipes already here on the blog that might just help you out.  

 

 

Savoury Welsh cakes http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/plant-based-welsh-cakes-for-st-davids-day/ Not just for St David’s day after all! Make up the dough, then use a smaller cookie cutter to create bite-sized Welsh cakes. Top with a little dairy-free boursin (below)  and a sprinkle of chives to jazz them up, and look pretty too. 

Baba ganoush http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/the-mighty-aubergine/ I love rich, smoky baba ganoush. This goes really well with the sesame coated chickpea dippers featured on day 9 

Creamy mashed beans http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/lunchtime-creamy-mashed-beans/ Lunchbox filling gone posh! Grab some super crispy lettuce leaves and fill with a couple of spoonfuls of the creamy mashed beans. Top with finely chopped parsley and you have an interesting canapé in your hand.

Dairy-free ‘boursin’http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/gorgeous-dairy-free-boursin/ Not exactly like the real thing, but a very tasty creamy dip with cheese-like properties. Make it super thick and use it to top Welsh cakes or fill trimmed celery sticks. 

Lentil and walnut patéhttp://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/amazingly-tasty-lentil-and-walnut-pate/ Grab some mini oatcakes or rice cakes and top with this delicious savoury paté. Garnish with some chives to make them look pretty.

Beetroot hummushttp://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/the-brightest-hummus-ever/ Why serve normal plain hummus when you can make it pink? 

Pumpkin diphttp://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/pumpkin-licious-dip/ If hummus is too mainstream, try this pumpkin dip instead. Infused with warming spices, it’s so delicious you might not want to share it with your guests!

Baked onion bhajis. http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/onion-bhajis-a-super-food/ Make mini bhajis and serve with mango chutney or a dairy-free yoghurt dip on the side. Not only do they taste delicious, there’s no greasy fingers afterwards as they’re baked not fried.

Farinata. http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/farinata-or-frittata/ I always make this when I’m catering for a buffet, partly because it’s quick and easy, but you can use whatever mix of flavours you want. Leek and pea work well, as does red pepper and sun-dried tomatoes. Use a larger rectangle tin so it’s thinner, then cut into bite-sized pieces when cold. 

 

 

5 brilliant gadgets for Christmas

When you start cooking from scratch and creating new plant-based recipes, it’s handy to have some time-saving devices to hand. After all, there can be a lots of chopping, grating and blending involved!  I have a selection of kitchen gadgets, some are more useful than others, some are extras rather than essentials.

I am often asked which ones I recommend, so as Day 4 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar, I thought it might be useful to give you some suggestions. After all, Santa might as well bring you something you are going to use! There’s a full range of prices too, depending on how much you want to splash out. Just to let you know, the photos linked to Amazon are connected to my affiliate account. This means if you order them with the link, I get a little commission. You can of course choose to buy them wherever you like!

If you have a favourite gadget I haven’t included, do let me know what it is.

1) Hand blender and small grinding pot. You may be surprised to see this at the top of my list, but it’s the most frequently used gadget in my cupboard! I have a Bosch one that has lasted me well. I love this kit because it’s:

  • Perfect for blending soups when I’m too hungry to wait for it to cool down to use the blender
  • Comes with a blender jug to whizz up mayos or sauces
  • The grinding pot is perfectly sized for making pestos and chopping small amounts of veggies
  • Comes with lids to keep things in the fridge so you don’t need to waste plastic
  • Doesn’t need much storage space
  • Is pretty cheap for so many functions

2) Food processor. When I first started eating a whole-food plant-based diet I had an old Kenwood food processor, a wedding present that had been abandoned to the back of the cupboard collecting dust. It certainly started earning it’s keep though and chopped, blended and grated on a daily basis until it finally refused to work no more! Needing to upgrade, I went for durability (and Mother-in-Law’s recommendation) and invested in a Magimix. It was a good decision.

I like the Magimix because:

  • It is powerful so can deal with anything you throw at it. The power used varies according to what you put in it as well – clever stuff!
  • It has multiple functions – chopping, blending, whisking, slicing and grating.
  • There are 3 bowl sizes to choose from for different roles and different overall machine sizes so you can buy one with a smaller capacity if you are cooking for less people
  • It comes in easy to clean finishes
  • The customer service is excellent and the guarantee worth having
  • It looks lovely on the worktop.

There are a couple of down sides as well.

  • It’s very heavy so not so practical to move in and out of cupboards
  • The accessory holder takes up space in the cupboard (although it’s very neat)
  • It is more expensive than other brands on the market, but not excessively so for the quality of product.

3) Silicon baking mat. The cheapest gadget on this list, and the only none electrical item. It may not seem like the sexist gadget but once you have one you’ll wonder how you managed without!

When you’re cooking without oil, or making pastry without fat or gluten, a silicon baking mat makes all the difference. Of course you can always use baking paper, but I prefer to have a non-disposable item for less environmental impact.

These mats are durable and fold away into a drawer. They do need washing well if you are cooking with strong odours. Plus I would suggest using a scent-free washing up liquid otherwise it can take on some of the aromas which may not go so well with your cookies!

4) Soup maker. Now full disclosure here – I don’t actually have one of these. But there have been a flurry of these being bought by people who have done my Eat Well Live Well course that maybe Santa might like to bring me one this year!

Soup features a lot in my course, and my upcoming book (which is not out until February otherwise it would be on this list 😉 ). It’s so automatic for me now that it doesn’t take long to chop, pop in a pan and cook up. But if you’re new to it, or have little time to spend in the kitchen, this soup maker could be the answer. You just add the ingredients, press the button and it does the business.

Word of warning – the chopping bit is quite loud so don’t disappear and do something else then wonder if someone is trying to break into the kitchen! It cooks at a temperature that keeps the nutrients intact too. The full-sized ones make 6 portions, so you may have some left over for another day. If that’s too big, there is a small one on the market too.

There are other brands than this Morphy Richards one, but this is the one highly recommended by my group, so I’m trusting their judgement.

5) Thermomix. This is a big ticket item, but could be the ultimate gadget you’ve been looking for. Again, full disclosure – I don’t have one of these as I love spending time in the kitchen. However, if you are short on time, or just don’t enjoy the process, this machine gives you the opportunity to cook healthy, fresh food without being a slave to the oven. The people I know who have bought one swear by it.

The main benefits of this piece of kit are:

  • The machine does most of the work for you
  • It chops, sautés, braises, boils, stews, blends. You can even steam things on the top.
  • Variable cooking temperatures means you have control. Also, as it cooks at a lower temperature, it retains many of the lovely vitamins and phytonutrients that can be lost.
  • You can access a huge range of Thermomix recipes online – although still come back to my Foodie blog for inspiration!

You can’t buy Thermomix in the shops. Instead they are sold through independent consultants. That’s good as you can actually spend time learning about and experiencing the equipment before making the investment. Beatriz, the lady I know who sells Thermomix, will even come and cook a meal for you and some friends so you can see and taste just what it does. Click on her photo to go to her website or send her an email to btriznuez@gmail.com

 

The incredible rise of plant-based eating

If you’ve noticed lots of plant-based eating trivia in the news today, it’s because it’s World Vegan Day. Whilst the rise of plant-based eating may upset some, I for one am (unsurprisingly) delighted that more and more people, of all ages, are beginning to make changes to the way they eat.

Research by Waitrose (click here)  indicates that 1:8 people in the UK now classify themselves as vegetarian or vegan, with many more declaring they are ‘meat-reducers’. I’m sure the irony that the editor of Waitrose magazine resigned this week over his unnecessarily aggressive comments on vegans is not lost on them!

It’s amazing how quickly things have changed in a very short period of time. I think back to when I first started The Sensitive Foodie blog in 2012 – it was all shiny and new then! Now plant-based cookbooks are the third most popular genre and it’s even featured on Great British Bake-off! It’s now much easier to eat out, with most restaurants offering at least one option and supermarkets are employing chefs to develop new ranges of vegan ready meals.

And it’s not just the UK; the movement is growing throughout Europe and further afield.

Whilst detractors may dismiss these changes as a short-term fad fuelled by social media, there are many good solid reasons why people are making the move to a more plant-based lifestyle

  • Health. Basically, eating a diet that’s high in plant foods is good for you. And there’s piles of research that backs it up. In particular, a whole-food plant-based diet can be used to reverse chronic health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease and halt a whole host of other health challenges ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer.
  • Weight. Eating plant-based food that is packed with fibre helps you lose weight. Lots of people who have come on my Eat Well Live Well course have had amazing success, some losing up to a stone in only three months. That’s eating whole plant-food not refined and processed ready meals. Sorry to be a bore, but junk food is still junk food!
  • Environment. Humans have a devastating impact on the world. The food industry, particularly animal-based food, uses huge amounts of natural resources and produces lots of waste. And an every-increasing world population that continues to pillage and pollute means the problem is only going to get worse unless action is taken. There are many things we can do as individuals to help care for our beautiful world; eating a plant-based diet has the most direct impact.
  • Animals. The internet has helped opened people’s eyes to the reality of using animals as food, something that many of us were brought up to believe was totally normal, natural and necessary. Footage of intensively farmed animals fighting to survive, processes in abattoirs or the heart-broken cry of a cow parted from her new-born calf is now readily available. And it’s making people think.

The food industry is changing too. As demand increases, so does the variety of products available. This year alone has seen a 61% increase in new vegan products on the market.

But a word of warning; if you are increasing the amount of plant-based food in your diet for your health or to lose weight, swapping to vegan versions of processed foods will not yield the results you are looking for. Many of these new products, or ‘accidently vegan’ products like Oreo cookies or Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream are packed with refined sugars and fats as well as food-like chemicals, just like their mainstream versions.

When I changed to a whole-food plant-based diet because of my food intolerances, there was much less to tempt me away – there just wasn’t the option. Now it’s much harder and I think I would struggle if my new ways of eating weren’t firmly established. My taste-buds are definitely attuned to whole foods; anything with refined sugar in is just way too sweet and not enjoyable at all.

The good thing about more options though is that it’s much easier to make positive changes. There are more resources available too, from organisations like Viva and Veganuary, on-line programmes and Facebook groups and a whole variety of cookery books. And websites, like The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen of course. My blog has a whole variety of simple but tasty recipes that have been road-tested and work, which is most important.

If you find the world of plant-based eating for health fascinating and want to read more, my new book The Sensitive Foodie: Eat Yourself Well will be for you. Being published early 2019, it covers all sorts of information you may not have come across before as well as over 100 recipes to try yourself at home.

In the meantime, if you’ve started your own plant-based journey, congratulations for taking action that helps not only yourself but the world around you. Happy eating!

 

 

 

 

Top tips for perfect plant-based pancakes

It’s Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day. Traditionally made with milk, eggs and flour, at first glance it might seem pancakes are off the menu for sensitive eaters or plant-based diners. Fortunately, that’s not the case. There’s a whole assortment of plant-based pancake recipes available that are egg, dairy and even gluten free.

Here are three versions on the website you could try:

  1. A simple buckwheat pancake, so gluten free as well as dairy free, more like a traditional pancake and still just as good! http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/buckwheat-pancakes-for-pancake-day/
  2. A lovely thick and fluffy pancake made with apple and maple syrup – http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/half-term-breakfast-pancakes/
  3. If you fancy something even more unusual, why not give these pumpkin pancakes a go? http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/pumpkin-pancakes/

Whatever type of plant-based pancakes you try, there is the potential for disaster in creating the mix or cooking the pancake. So to avoid disappointment and frustration, and to have wonderfully light and tasty pancakes to devour tonight, here are my top tips for a perfect Pancake Day. Enjoy!

  1. If you are making a flax-egg, make sure you use freshly ground flaxseed and leave the mix to thicken for a few minutes before pouring into the pan. You need to let the flaxseed to do it’s magic and help stop the pancake falling apart when you flip it.
  2. Use a good quality non-stick pancake pan or thin frying pan. Pre-heat the pan on a medium heat for a couple of minutes before pouring in the first dollop of batter. This will help the pancake to cook through more evenly, preventing it from either burning, or just not cooking at all!
  3. Patience is key. Once you have poured in your pancake mix and spread it around the pan, leave it be until the surface is covered with lots of bubbles. If you have the heat right, it won’t burn and will be set enough to flip successfully. Go to soon, and it will collapse in a soggy heap.
  4. Be adventurous – plant-based cooking is the perfect opportunity to let your creativity run wild, either with the mix or with the toppings.
  5. Have fun. Letting the kids help with creating and cooking your pancakes is the perfect opportunity to spend quality time with them, as well as help them learn about real food and flavours.

Rewarding work

I’ve been shortlisted in the category of Inspiring Business Parent in a national award that celebrates flexible working. I’m very excited. And honoured. And more than a little surprised! But mostly I’m delighted as it shows that even when challenges and difficulties appear to knock you off course, wonderful things can come from it.

This particular award is focused on parents and working; still today there are challenges for mums (and dads) to combine work and family needs, an issue that is slow to be resolved despite on-going efforts to change attitudes and working practices. Similar challenges are faced by many other groups, including disabled, or less abled people who have much to offer but need flexibility that traditional working environments find hard to offer. So when you are a mum and a parent and less abled or restricted by health problems in some way, it just gets even harder.

My career of choice was always nursing; I was one of those people who did it because I loved it, a bit of a stereotype I guess! Human beings are fascinating, the human body the most incredible piece of technology you will ever find. Working in intensive care gave me a deep respect for everything that happens inside and outside the body to keep us functioning well. And an awareness of how easy it is to mess it all up!

When I discovered that my food intolerances were making me feel ill, it was my respect for the human body that made me do something about it. I didn’t want to feel that way, and I didn’t want to take medication to treat my migraines that could cause further damage elsewhere. So I chose food; and it worked! Removing the offending foods – dairy and yeast – started the healing process, discovering the benefits of a whole food plant based diet continued it. Little did I know at the time that these migraines were most probably the first signs of autoimmune disease, and that the actions I took then helped dampen down the inflammation and subsequent damage.

Making changes to the way you eat is hard. I started my blog The Sensitive Foodie to share my new discoveries with others in a similar situation, then I started running workshops and cooking demos; at the time, this was not mainstream at all. How things have changed over the last few years! Showing others how to make changes that helped gave me real encouragement, something I definitely needed when I was suddenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative neurological condition. There had been signs, and I had already given up my job working in ITU as I could not cope with the long shifts, the harsh lighting and the stress of working in a critical care environment. It also didn’t help that I kept dropping things!

Fortunately I had lots of support at the time to help, particularly my lovely family and friends, as well as my Buddhist practice. Two things stand out – my wonderful husband who agreed to provide the financial support so I didn’t have the pressure of making loads of money from my fledgling business, and the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis programme that uses food as a basis for healing. It was reassuring to know I was already following a research-backed way of healing, that had kept me well for some time, and continues to do so today.

So now, my work keeps me well – through the food and by being able to work flexibly and pace myself day to day. I am fortunate to be in this position, and I now help others in a similar situation make the changes they need to keep well by being an Ambassador for the OMS programme (click here to find out more about OMS) as well as running my Eat Well Live Well courses, giving talks and working with people on a one to one basis.

Interest in the food we eat, health and the environment is growing. I love running my courses and sharing the wonderful world of whole-food plant-based eating, sharing my enthusiasm and passion and seeing that growing in others, making it easy for them to eat well without being a slave to the kitchen. They take that home with them, share it with their own families and friends, and make a choice to be well. That’s a pretty awesome feeling, knowing something positive has come out of something that’s been hard. I may not be able to work as a nurse any more, but it’s good to know I can still help people, and hopefully prevent them from needing that care in the first place.

I’ll find out on 6th February if I’m a finalist for the awards, so I wait with finger crossed to see. I’m sure there are lots of inspiring parents out there who deserve recognition; it’s so great there are organisations like mumandworking and NatWest that are willing to give it.

To find out more about my next course starting on 5th February, click here.

To find out more about The Mumandworkingawards, Sponsored by NatWest, click here

 

 

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!

Top tips for a healthy start to the year

It’s day two of the New Year. How are your resolutions going? You may be of the opinion it’s not worth making any as they are doomed to fail, right? Wrong! Apparently, new research suggests that 44% of people manage to stick with their resolutions six months into the year. That may not seem a lot, but as the previously generally accepted statistic is that only 8% stick to their good intentions, with many failing within the first 24 hours, that’s a major breakthrough!

A top New Year’s resolution is to eat more healthily, whether to lose weight or for a health problem. Membership for slimming groups and gyms rocket at this time of the year – great for their business plans, maybe not so good for their clientele in the long term. According to one research programme, 84% of dieters with a well known dieting club were return customers over a 5 year period (ie only 16% successfully kept their weight off over 5 years).

Diets for weight loss tend to be viewed as a short-term venture; many people slip back into their old ways of eating, only to pile the pounds back on at a scarily rapid rate. Real success comes from changing life-long habits, and (I believe most importantly) from eating delicious food that satisfies and cares for the body.

Before I discovered my food intolerances and changed to a whole-food plant-based way of eating, I was forever ‘on a diet’. Now I don’t have to be, as it turns out that the foods I used to love and crave, were also the ones that contributed to my weight gain. Dairy and yeast turn up in so many different food products; once I cut them out and started eating more fresh produce and wholegrains, the weight just naturally came off, and whilst there is a little fluctuation now and then, I generally stay the same. It’s a great side effect to have – along with reducing my risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems! And plant-based eating is also a positive way to manage my autoimmune condition.

That’s not to say the journey has been easy – my transition to a whole food plant-based diet took some time. You only have to look back on some of my earlier blog posts to see how my recipes have changed! There’s also been some major changes over the last five years in the acceptability and availability of plant-based food, which is amazing and makes life much easier. But these changes also include an increase in vegan processed food; junk food is not going to get you healthy, no matter where it’s sourced.

So if you’re starting out on making some healthy choices for the new year, here’s a few questions to ask yourself so you can succeed and keep your resolution intact. Tomorrow, I will post my top 5 tips for eating well and helping you reach your goal. If you want to know more, or think I can help you keep your resolutions this year, then why not comment below or send me a message on the contact page here.

Questions to think about:

  1. Is this the right time of year to make major changes? The beginning of January is not always the best time to ‘go on a diet’. It’s cold, wet and dark for a start, not ideal particularly if you are planning to try juice or raw food plan (not that I’m keen on them any time of the year!). Personally, my New Years resolutions start on 6th January as it’s my birthday on 5th and am more than likely to eat out and enjoy a glass of something bubbly! So there’s no point in starting something before then. Recognise challenges and limitations and be ready for them. That’s not an excuse not to take action at all, though. It’s about being aware and making constructive choices. One of the benefits of eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that you are eating amazingly healthy food all year round, so there’s no real need for a new healthy regime anyway!
  2. Are you an all or nothing person? Know yourself. Some people can only set out with strict parameters and an all-in attitude, whilst others think they should be that way but are more suited to gradual changes. Be honest with yourself and find what works for you. This is a new way of eating and living, not a short-term project. Recognise your personality tendencies and work with them, not against them.
  3. What’s your ‘why’? This is most important. Whether you are making changes to deal with a food intolerance, a health or weight problem, to help the environment or animal welfare, or just because ‘going vegan’ is the in thing to do, you need to know your goal to get you through the tricky times. It doesn’t have to be high brow – my initial aim for going plant-based was to deal with my yeast intolerance so I could drink wine again! It may seem superficial, but it helped when temptation loomed.
  4. What support do you need to achieve your goal? If you’re diving in to a plant-based way, campaigns like Veganuary may be your inspiration, or you may find a favourite blog or cookery book, follow a Youtuber or Instagrammer. Then there’s courses and groups you can join (like my Eat Well course!). Most importantly, you need the support from the people around you, your family and friends. That’s why you need to know your why, so you can explain it to them and get them behind you.
  5. Are you prepared for obstacles? This links back to your why, but it’s also a practical issue. Despite the increase in interest in a more plant-based way of eating, it is still seen as being a fad, unsustainable or even dangerous to health (depending on which commercial interest is being challenged). It can be hard to find something quick to snack on when you’re out and about. Medical professionals may not be aware of the benefits. Family members may see it as a slight on them if you won’t eat the meal they’ve prepared for you, even if you’ve told them it will make you ill. Food is a contentious issue! Then theres your own internal obstacles, negative self-talk or deep-seated cravings that nag and tell you that just one cream bun won’t hurt. Obstacles will appear, particularly when you don’t expect them, and sometimes you may lapse. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you do. Just notice what happened and try to act differently next time. You may even find that eating something you’re trying to avoid doesn’t actually feel so good – that’s your body telling you it prefers the good stuff. It knows best, trust me.