Sweet potato and bean soup

Autumn is definitely here.  Crisp mornings with air that tingles the end of your nose, leaves turning an array of colours before they drop to the ground in a pile ready to be jump in. Or, more sadly, stormy grey days with enough rain to send you into the back of the cupboard to hunt out the wellies. But whatever the weather, autumn is also time for thick, soul-soothing soup. Continue reading “Sweet potato and bean soup”

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.

Asparagood!

Seasonal food is a hot topic; should we only buy what’s available locally to reduce the environmental impact of transporting food around the world? Or should we buy whatever we want at any time of the year, something the big supermarkets are keen for us to do (they can charge more out of season!)? Then there’s the argument that purchasing beans from Kenya, for example, boosts the local economy and helps relieve poverty and raise living standards.

It’s a complex issue that can be debated for a long time. There are some foods that I really can’t manage without all year – apples and bananas for example, although once the stored UK apples have finished, I do try to buy apples from Europe that are transported by land rather than air. And then there are some foods that, although you can buy throughout the year, should only be eaten during their short local season. For me, that’s strawberries (British strawberries are just sublime!!) and asparagus.

There is something just wonderfully luxurious about fresh asparagus stalks; juicy and succulent, their strong pungent flavour bursts in your mouth, juices dripping down your chin, texture firm and crunchy (or that’s how I like them any way). So beautiful they need little adornment other than a light seasoning of salt and pepper; I used to love then coated in frothy butter, but that’s not possible on a dairy free diet (and sunflower spread just doesn’t do it!).

Traditionally, the UK asparagus season is only 8 weeks long, from the end of April through to the end of June; it may last a little longer this year due to the cold spring. So now is the time to go grab your bunches of asparagus and indulge in some delectable dining. And your body will love you for it to, because each spear is packed with powerful nutrients. Asparagus is a fabulous source of folic acid, vitamin K, fibre, vitamin B6, thiamin, vitamin A and C. It also contains some interesting phytonutrients which work some amazing tricks inside the body!

Asparagus contains saponins and flavonoids as well as other anti-oxidants which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Research shows that saponins can help relieve some chronic degenerative neurological conditions. The anti-oxidants, B vitamins and fibre can help improve heart health and reduce diabetes.

Asparagus also contains inulin, a carbohydrate that has a beneficially effect on the digestive system, or rather on the ‘friendly bacteria’ contained within. Much of our modern diet and way of living takes it’s toll on the delicate eco-system in our guts. The inulin in asparagus isn’t digested in the upper digestive tract, and provides a wonderful food source for the friendly bacteria lower down to feed on and grow, helping to heal a damaged gut lining and promote overall health. This is particularly relevant to people with food intolerance or allergies; re-establishing a colony of healthy bacteria is a good place to start the healing process.

Unfortunately for some, eating asparagus may bring many benefits, but there is one massive side effect – smelly wee!  Apparently, the pungent post-asparagus wee smell is formed after the break down of asparagusic acid, a concentrated sulphur containing compound. Up to 50% of asparagus eaters suffer from this phenomena to a greater or lesser extent. It really bothers some people, but if you don’t mind, or don’t suffer from this slightly embarrassing condition, then munch on those glorious stems whilst the going is good – your body will love you for it, even if your nose doesn’t!

TGIF – totally great information on food and an Estofado recipe

Life is just so busy at the moment, it’s hard to find time to blog. Our shipping still hasn’t arrived back either, so I’m missing the computer as well as all my cookery books and paraphanalia.

Although I’ve not been writing as much, I have been cooking! Being back in the UK, I feel like I’m discovering a whole new range of products again. It’s amazing how things have changed in just under three years. And how much things cost!

One of the great things I’ve noticed is how much awareness of food allergies and sensitivities has increased, as well as recognition of different diet choices. The range of products on a menu may still be limited (unless it’s a vegan restaurant!) but it seems much easier to order food that’s not going to create problems a few hours later. For example, I visited TGI Friday’s yesterday with the kids, and they have a special menu for people with allergies, mainly gluten and lactose. Our waitress was so helpful, and not only told us about this menu (you need to ask for it) but got the kitchen to serve our nachos in a way that it was half with cheese and sour cream, and half plain near to the guocomole. And they happily swapped bits around so we had a meal we could all enjoy without worrying what was in it. And there’s more information on their website too that takes the guess work out of  how to avoid intolerances.

The recession, and the general need for people to reduce their household expenditure has also increased the popularity of vegetarian food, with food magazines and programmes jumping on the bandwagon. Generally, vegetarian food is cheaper than  meat based, as long as it’s made from scratch rather than just another ready meal, over processed and full of sugar and salt..And campaigns like Meat Free Monday, which promotes the environmental benefits of a plant based diet, not just the financial, is gaining more support.

This is good news for those who eat a wholefood plant based diet, or have to avoid certain foods like dairy. I love reading food magazines and articles, but so often the recipes are packed full of items that are a no no. One of my favourites is the Obeserver Food Monthly; a couple of weeks ago I excitedly bought my first issue for some time. The theme was cooking on a budget. One article challenged top chefs to come up with a family meal for under £5.00. There were some interesting suggestions in there, including a mouthwatering dahl, but the one that caught my eye was this vegetarian estofado.

Estofado is Spanish for stew (so the internet tells me!), or slow cooked food. This dish doesn’t really take much time to cook and the flavour develops well. The outstanding surprise was the amount of garlic – a whole bulb! I have to say that it does give you serious garlic breath, but it’s what gives this stew a deep, rustic flavour.

Nutritionally, it has just about everything you could ask for – protein in the chickpeas, beta carotene and vitamin C in the pumpkin, folates and other B vitamins in the spinach and omega 3 fats in the walnuts, as well as the healthy heart properties of the garlic. Unless you have a nut allergy, there’s not much in there to upset any sensitive eaters, and it passed the kids test with flying colours (I did cut down on the garlic a bit!!). Serve this with some rustic wholemeal crusty bread, or wholegrain rice, and you have a fabulous tasty and cheap dinner.

Chickpea, pumpkin, spinach and walnut estofado (recipe by Jose Pizarro) 1 small onion
1 bulb garlic
1 tbspoon olive oil
400g tin chopped tomatoes
800g of pumpkin or squash flesh, chopped into 2.5cm pieces
800mls vegetable stock
400g tin chickpeas, drained
1 bag baby spinach
50g walnuts roughly chopped
Chop the onion and garlic. Heat the oil in the base of a large pan and sizzle the onion and garlic for a few minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Add the tinned tomatoes and fry off the excess juice gently. Once reduced, add the pumpkin and vegetable stock, and simmer until the pumpkin is tender. Add the chickpeas and seasoning, and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Most of the fluid should have evaporated by now. Just before serving, stir in the spinach and heat through for a couple of minutes until it’s wilted. Serve out into dishes and scatter the walnuts over the top. Enjoy!