Summer skin smoothie

The weather over the last few days has been beautifully sunny and warm, the perfect temperature for enjoying summer food offerings like this gorgeous pink watermelon that I ordered with my veg box last week.

I always associate watermelon with hot weather; maybe it’s just because I ate so much when we were in India! 92% water, it’s really rehydrating on a steamy hot day. The fantastic nutrients found in its gorgeously crisp flesh help to minimise the damage caused by too much sun, as getting the right amount for us Brits is a tricky thing!

The majority of vitamin D that circulates in the body is created through the skin being exposed to sunshine. Vitamin D is not only essential for strong bones and teeth, but also supports the immune system and low levels can lead to a whole array of health problems ranging from asthma to multiple sclerosis. So we really need to get outside and catch some rays. Too much sunshine though can lead to skin damage and potentially skin cancer.

Our weather in the UK is so unpredictable getting regular sun exposure can be difficult. So when the sun does come out, it’s tempting  to expose lily white skin a bit too long and burn – that’s where the damage occurs. Fortunately, food like watermelon can help.

As well as rehydrating the skin, watermelon is packed with vitamin C and betacarotene that act as anti-oxidants, mopping up damaging free radicals created by the damaging rays. It also has large amounts of lycopene that also helps reduce inflammation and can help protect the skin from lasting damage – marvellous!

Apart from just eating it as a chunk, watermelon is delicious in salad (see this old blog post and also works as a fantastic base to green smoothies, making it completely dairy free and plant based.

To add in some extra anti-inflammatory power (as well as awesome flavour) I’ve blended ginger and turmeric into this spinach and watermelon smoothie, and added a good squeeze of lime to help absorption of the vitamin C.

Both ginger and turmeric have amazing medicinal properties. Ginger is thought to help with digestive issues, reduce pain from muscle soreness to arthritis to migraine and also help stabilise blood sugars. Turmeric is being hailed as a wonder spice, a surprise to the western world but not to anyone hailing from India where it’s amazing properties have been used for thousands of years. It’s not only anti-septic but also helps reduce all sorts of inflammation in the body. There is so much to say about turmeric it needs it’s own blog post (and more!) but for now it’s a good idea to include some in your diet every day.

So as we bask in possibly the last of the summer sun, why not try this super healthy smoothie and give your skin a super summer treat.

Summer skin soother smoothie

A couple of handfuls of spinach leaves, washed and roughly chopped
1 quarter chunk watermelon (from a small one) chopped
2 cm chunk fresh ginger chopped
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric or 1 cm chunk of fresh turmeric chopped
juice of 1 lime

Place all the ingredients into a high speed blender and blend until smooth. Drink straight away.

Happy New Year hangover juice

It’s time to reflect on the year that has been, and celebrate the arrival of a new one. In recent years, we’ve seen in the New Year in some pretty different places – an Indian jungle, on the street in the centre of Bangkok and, last year, in a local Chinese restaurant. All have been memorable, but this year is my favourite way of celebrating – a crowd at a friends house. Good conversation, lots of laughs and a relaxed atmosphere. And of course, lots of alcohol!

No matter how careful I am, I always seem to feel hungover on New Year’s Day, even if I’ve not been drinking! Maybe it’s the combination of excitement and a late night, but telling signs of headache, tiredness and lethargy always seem to rear their unpleasant head.

A hangover is a combination of dehydration and an accumulation of toxins from the alcohol plus a low blood sugar which affects your brain. This can lead to a stonking headache, nausea, vomiting, lethargy and insomnia. Keeping well hydrated is key, so having a glass of water to every glass of alcohol helps. An extra good guzzle of water before going to bed along with a little snack should also smooth the way to a better morning after along with a milk thistle tablet (this helps support your liver detoxifying everything). Of course, you need to be in a reasonable state to do all this before collapsing in a post-party heap!

This year I’m armed with vegetables and fruit that will aid a faster recovery in the morning. – a juice that helps rehydrate, detox and settle a disturbed stomach. A combination of beetroot, celery, apple, carrot, lemon and ginger should do the trick.Beetroot is your liver’s best friend when it comes to excess as it helps remove toxins and is packed full of anti-oxidants. Celery is high in potassium and sodium and so helps with replacing those electrolytes lost with dehydration. Carrots are packed full of vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant, B6 (good for the liver) as well as potassium. Apples also rate high with vitamin C and potassium and can help settle the digestion; ginger does the same and can reduce any nausea that might be hanging around. Finally, lemon provides another shot of vitamin C and can also provide some additional phyto-nutrients.  If you fancy, a couple of handfuls of spinach can be thrown in for good measure; loads of B vitamins provide additional support to your liver.

There’s still time to make sure your fridge is stocked up ready for the morning after – give it a go and your body will love you for it!

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year!

Hangover juice (serves 1 poorly person)
1 medium beetroot
1 large carrot
1-2 sticks celery
1 large apple
chunk fresh ginger
1/2 lemon
couple of handfuls spinach (optional)
Put all the ingredients into a juicer to extract all the goodness. I like to add my spinach separately, by putting the juice into a blender, then popping in the spinach and whizzing it all up.  Add water if you desire and consume with gusto, or great care, depending on how delicate you’re feeling!

Green smoothie and blue skies

The spring weather is just beautiful. Blue skies, birds tweeting, bluebells in the woods and new life sprouting out everywhere. I’m so fortunate to live near the countryside, but pretty close to town as well. It takes only a couple of minutes to be out in the fields and woods.

I used to go to the gym to exercise, but have gone right off it now. In India, there wasn’t really an option, as it was either too hot outside or too chaotic and polluted on the crazy roads. Since coming back, though, I’ve just not wanted to go back inside. Maybe it’s just my ‘hippy tendencies’ that make me want to convene with nature, but there’s so much more than just burning calories by exercising outside.

For a start, it’s visually stimulating – I get to see real life rather than garbage on a TV screen or someone elses backside (sometimes a good view!). I catch snippets of conversations, people deep in discussion, men at work – all carry my imagination off in random directions piecing together what their story might be. Then there’s the “morning” calls and “beautiful day for it” comments from dog walkers and fellow runners – as humans we need to interact; it helps us realise we’re not alone.

And then there’s trees. Maybe I lived deep in a forest in a previous life, but I find trees so soothing. Nurtured by nature; I always feel so good once I’ve been out through some woods, even if there is still lots of mud to navigate.

Research studies have concluded that exercising outside is really beneficial to our mental and physical well being – trials show that people feel more revitalised, positively engaged and have increased energy as well as have reduced levels of anger, confusion, tension and depression.   Mother nature provides once again.

As I was beginning to struggle near the end of my run today, I remembered an article I read earlier in the week about this incredible guy called Scott Jurek ( He’s an ultra-marathon champion who does crazy things like run 165 miles in one day. Made my 10km look more than pathetic! Why this stuck in my mind is that he’s a vegan, eating a plant based whole food diet – 5000 calories a day of it when training hard (that’s a lot of beans!).  So much for vegans being fey and wimpy (although don’t think anyone would say that to Serena Williams’ face!).

Once back home, I needed some instant energy, especially as I had gone out early before breakfast and run further than I meant to. So I whizzed up this green smoothie; it definitely hit the spot. Spinach is packed full of beta-carotenes, folate, manganese, magnesium, iron and a whole range of other B vitamins, to name a few. I added the lemon juice to help the absorption of these goodies in the gut. Flaxseed is a fabulous plant source of omega 3 fats as well as protein to help cells repair and cinnamon is a great anti-inflammatory, so should help with some of the inevitable post run aches. On top of all that, it just tastes great, and as everything is all whizzed up and broken down, starts getting absorbed and hitting the spot pretty quickly.

Next time, I’m going to drink this before I go out for my run!

Running green smoothie
1 banana
200mls almond milk
couple handfuls baby spinach
1 tablespoon flaxseed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
squeeze lemon juice
Bung all the ingredients into your blender and whizz until all the spinach is fully broken down and blended into a vibrant green. Dairy free and delicious – enjoy!

Coconut water

I wrote an article earlier this year about tender coconut water, the fluid found in the immature green coconuts sold by the roadside, for our local expat associations magazine. The virtues of coconut water are being discovered in the West and there is much discussion about its value as a post-workout drink, so I thought I’d write about it again here.

Coconut sellers are dotted all round the city, and next to any road in South India; vibrant green, occasionally mottled, nuts either piled up high forming a little stall, displayed on a hand cart or hanging off the side of  an old, rusty bicycle.  Normal tap water is not really potable, so these coconuts provide a safer option to assuage the thirst of the passing traveller – the fluid inside the green coconut is sterile as long as the nut is not damaged and there are reports that it has been used as an intravenous fluid in cases of severe dehydration when sterile normal saline is not available. Not one to try at home though!

Harvested from trees in clusters when they are between 5-7 months old, these immature nuts contain between 200mls-1 litre of sweet, unctuous water that is highly refreshing on a hot summers day and incredibly nutritious and healthy, and possibly the secret to youthful skin!! The water is contained within a gel like flesh on the inner lining of the nut and tastes very different to the milk taken from the coconut meat (see Cocoloco). This is the endosperm of the nut and contains simple sugars fructose and glucose. These sugars change and become more complex as the nut matures, as does the flavour. Once fully matured, 90% of the sugar content is sucrose which gives it a much sweeter flavour and higher calorie content.

Coconut water though is very low in calories – only 19 calories per 100ml – and contains excellent amounts of potassium and good amounts of calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins along with an impressive array of amino acids, cytokines and other antioxidants. This is what makes coconut water such a great medium for rehydration, specifically the potassium content which helps the body to revitalise at cellular level. And probably why the sports and health foods industry are beginning to promote this as a wonder product – with a wonder price! Seeing a bottle of coconut water on sale in the UK back in the summer, I was stunned to see it carrying a price tag of £2.50 – they cost Rs 15 here (equal to 17p).

Coconut water is a fantastic fluid replacement drink post diarrhoea, and much tastier than those revolting rehydration salts. My poor husband has been so sick the last few days with a nasty case of ‘Bangalore belly’ and has managed to recover drinking glass after glass of chilled coconut water. Lemon juice can be added to increase the flavour – I have a friend who added fanta, but not sure that’s such a good thing (you know who you are!!).
Along with hydration, tender coconut water aids digestion (in Ayurveda it promotes Agni, digestive fire), its antiseptic properties kill intestinal worms, helps clear urinary tract problems, increases mental concentration, helps cleanse the liver and reduce jaundice and, apparently, is an aphrodisiac! So even with a hefty price tag, you can’t really lose!

But that’s not all! Tender coconut water is reported to be wonderful for the skin (as are other coconut products). It can help prevent prickly heat and reduces and soothes rashes from chicken pox, measles, sunburn and just general random itching. It’s light, cooling properties soothes and calms. This is particularly useful in general skin care. If you have oily skin, tender coconut water can be used as a skin cleanser. For all skin types, it can also be dabbed on the delicate skin areas underneath the eyes – it soothes puffiness and hydrates the skin thereby reducing wrinkles. I must say, I’ve not tested this yet, but will soon and eagerly await good results!

So if you ever get the chance to stop at a roadside coconut seller, you can either drink it there and then (watch out how clean the straw is though!) or get the vendor to prepare the nut for easy opening at home, unless you happen to have your own machete in the kitchen drawer that is! Once opened, coconut water starts losing it’s beneficial properties and if left more than 48 hours could turn bitter and unpalatable. I don’t know how the coconut water that ends up on the shelves far away from their origins is prepared and stored, but it probably has lost a fair amount of goodies and maybe flavour. When I finally return to the UK at the end of the year, I’ll give it a go and see how it compares. Maybe it will bring back some amazing memories!

Green gunge – but it’s good for you!!!

One of my dear friends recently lost loads of weight by following a juicing diet. I was sceptical at first –  how couldjust drinking juice be good for you. It may be full of vitamins and minerals, but what about the fibre and surely you get too hungry (I like my food fairly solid!) and end up bingeing? But she practically glowed with good health as she dropped 2 dress sizes, so there must be something to it.

Health, whether good or bad, comes from the food we put in to our bodies. Juicing provides extra shots of vital goodies to help our bodies deal with the constant stresses and toxins we are exposed to, both external and internal, although I believe in the long run it’s best to eat the whole food rather than just the juicy parts. But if you want to know more about juicing, including some great recipes and tips on when to drink them, check out this article on the Health Ambition website –

Our bodies know what we need if we learn to listen to it. Since living in India, I have craved green leaves which must mean I’m low in B vitamins, iron or calcium (not sure which) and have even been known to stir fry cauliflower leaves that are usually discarded just because green leaves are hard to come by. On my recent trip to Kashmir, I came across hak which is grown locally in Srinigar. It’s similar to kale and I couldn’t get enough of it and begged the hotel to serve it to me at every meal, it was so gorgeous. It was sautéed in water along with mustard oil, Kashmiri red chilli, salt and a little local masala, or seasoning. Occasionally a little spicy, it’s deep rich green flavours were just divine!

After attending a healthy eating cooking seminar a few months ago, I discovered green smoothies. Made up of 60% fruit and 40% green leaves, they really are quite delicious and leave you feeling revitalised and full of energy – that’s after you’ve managed to get your head around the fact that the green gunge in the glass is actually something you want to ingest! Spinach is pretty easy to come by here; the little organic grocers stocks some beautifully green bunches, leaves not too big. It tastes pretty strong, much more so than the lovely baby leaves you can by in the supermarkets in the UK, so it’s green hard core from the off. Called palak, it’s not traditionally eaten raw here – my maid was horrified to find out I ate uncooked leaves, and surprised to find out I lived to tell the tale!

Green smoothies can be made with any green leaf as it’s base – spinach, celery or beetroot tops even mint. The key is to vary your intake and not have them every day – raw green leaves contain oxalic acid. Consuming large amounts of oxalic acid can be toxic (you would need a lot of greens every day for this to happen). It binds to metals, such as iron, making it unavailable for absorption in to the body. This therefore means that spinach isn’t a great source of iron in the diet, despite what Popeye might say. However, vitamin C enhances iron absorption, so matching spinach with lemon for example counteracts the negative effects of oxalic acid. And green leaves are an amazing source of vitamin B, calcium and magnesium to name a few.

I’ve featured my favourite green smoothie combination, but you can make up whatever you like. Grind the green leaves in the blender first before adding the other ingredients as the cellulose in the cell walls takes some time to break down.

Spinach, watermelon and banana smoothie
Handful of spinach leaves, thoroughly washed
Big chunk of watermelon
2 small ripe bananas or 1 medium
juice of sweet lime
flaxseed powder (if you want an omega 3 shot).
Place the spinach in the blender and blast on full power until the leaves are broken and mushy. Add in the fruit and juice and blast again until everything is incorporated and fluid – this may take up to 2 minutes depending on the speed of your blender. Sprinkle in flaxseed powder if you are using it and whizz again for a moment. Poor into a glass, close your eyes and deceive your brain as you knock it back. I managed to get my son to try it despite his dubious face – he actually admitted it tasted good but preferred his fresh pineapple juice as it looked more normal!