Simple New Year changes that have a big impact

Wow, it’s the last day of 2018! What a busy year it’s been. How’s it been for you? For me, there’s been some amazing experiences, incredible changes and smattering of challenges and obstacles. A pretty standard year all in all!

So now it’s time to start thinking about the new year ahead. Have you thought about your New Year’s resolutions, or what you would like to achieve over the next 12 months? For many, January is a time for ‘going on a diet’ and ‘getting fit’. Both great goals to have, but more often than not the enthusiasm starts to wane after just a couple of weeks. Or it might be that you are planning on going plant-based, either by joining a campaign like Veganuary or following your own ideas. This works really well for anyone who is an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of person. But it’s not for everyone.

I actually think that early January is not a good time of year to make major changes. For a start, the weather is cold and the whole month can seem rather dull and miserable after the colourful build up to Christmas. Going on a diet has connotations of missing out or deprivation. The cold weather outside naturally drives us towards warming comfort foods rather than salad. Plus the ‘hang-over’ from all the Christmas and New Year excitement and celebrations takes a while to pass.

It’s because of this that I never run my Eat Well Live Well course until the end of January or beginning of February – that’s the time when you’re fully recovered from the festive fun and truly ready to make some positive, lasting changes.

Now that’s not to say that being a bingeing coach potato is a good idea! If you want to ease yourself into a positive health change or just want to make some easy changes, here are 5 simple changes to make that will have a big impact.

  1. Eat more. Ha, bet you didn’t expect that one first! If you’ve pigged out over the last week, this might not sound like a good thing. But I don’t mean eat more of everything. Just eat more fresh fruit and vegetables every day, some raw, some cooked. An incredible 75% of the UK population still don’t hit the 5-a-day target (click here for statistics) so if you are one of them, now’s your chance to go for it. But don’t stop at 5. As fresh fruit and vegetables are packed full of amazing nutrients and phytonutrients that support our bodies right at cellular level, 10 portions a day is much nearer to what we should be aiming for. Your body will love you for it and you’ll soon start feeling the benefits. Plus if you fill up on the fresh stuff, there’s less room for the junk!

2) Go brown. White flour, pasta and rice have all their wonderful nutrients stripped away and all you’re left with is the starchy endosperm that rapidly gets broken down into simple sugars. It’s calories and not much else. Wholegrains on the other hand retain their fabulous fibre, essential oils and protein as well as other nutrients. They’re more filling and your helpful friendly bacteria love them. If you want to give it a try but don’t think your family will be on board with it, don’t tell them! Just change one at a time and see if they notice (sneaky but effective 😉 )

3) Eat real. Have you explored the label on processed foods recently, even ‘healthy’, and specifically ‘free-from’ items? Do you recognise half the ingredients? Many of the common items bought contain a cacophony of refined ingredients or lab-made chemicals. Even ‘natural’ ones are not quite as natural as you might think. Hundreds of new chemicals are passed as safe for human consumption every year, but most have not been tested over long periods of time (for accumulation) or in combination with other chemicals. A report last year highlighted that 51% of the food consumed in the UK is now ‘ultra-processed‘. That’s far away from the original ingredient, if it even had one. Our bodies take time to recognise and respond to these chemicals. They much prefer things simple and natural. So next time you go to buy something, ask yourself “Is this real?”. If not, put it back on the shelf and find something else to put in your basket.

4) Eat a rainbow. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about this before, but it’s so important, I’m saying it again! Plant foods all contain magical tiny chemicals that help support the body in a multitude of ways. We evolved foraging off the land and consumed whatever the land provided, much of which was colourful and attractive to the eye. Try to make a conscience decision to eat red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple, brown and white produce every day.

5) Eat variety. As well as eating different colours, we evolved eating a wide variety of food items – basically whatever was found. Variety is key to our gut health, to look after our magical microbiome. The modern western diet tends to offer four main food sources – meat, dairy, soya and wheat – as 90% of the food eaten. Our ancestors are known to have eaten about 130 sources. Whilst that may be hard to achieve, try to avoid eating the same things day in, day out. Make a conscience effort to try new things too. Your gut will love you for it!

That’s it – more, brown, real, rainbow variety and you’re set for a healthy 2019! If you need any recipe ideas, then have a browse through the recipe index on the menu above. There’s loads to try, all of which will help you achieve these 5 easy steps. If you haven’t already subscribed to the blog, why not do that now and get new recipes directly to your inbox?

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year.

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 plus there’s lots of extra fibre in the oats. This means the sugar is released slowly so it doesn’t give you a sugar rush, followed by a sugar low. This is much less stressful for your body and suitable for everyone; if you’re gluten-free, then gluten-free oats work really well too.

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 (gluten-free if needed)
  • 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. 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Super crunchy red cabbage and walnut salad

With all the hot weather that’s been around, salad is definitely on the menu. If you find it hard to think up quick and tasty alternatives to satisfy the taste-buds, this crunchy red cabbage and walnut  mix will hit the spot.

I love red cabbage, and enjoy it just as much raw as cooked. My family are not so keen however, as it does have quite a pungent, bitter taste. That’s actually all the marvellous phytonutrients packed within the crisp leaves. Bitter flavours often contain the most medicinal properties, but most of us are not so keen on them. Many types of produce have been cultivated to remove the bitterness to make them more palatable for the general market – think how harsh brussel sprouts used to be. Nowadays they tend to be small and sweet, unlike the tough, bitter bullets I remember from my childhood.

So although these veggies taste more delicious, some of their healing properties have been removed. Not that it’s a waste of time eating them, far from it. They’re not just quite as helpful as they used to be.

One way to make raw cabbage less bitter, and therefore more palatable, is to let it marinate in something salty or acidic for a while. Sauerkraut for example tastes much less bitter, plus contains helpful friendly bacteria from natural fermentation, but it takes a while to make. Leaving cabbage to soak in an acidic dressing for a short period of time does the job really well – and keeps the satisfying crunch too.

Vinegar works well, but for anyone like me who cannot tolerate fermented products that’s not an option. I prefer to keep it simple – fresh lemon juice does the job just as well. Add a little salt and the two combine to help draw out some of the fluid and bitterness, making the cabbage slightly softer and easy one the palate. Try to remember to marinate for a minimum of an hour – longer is even better. But if you forget, do it as soon as you can then finish off constructing the salad at the last minute.

This also works for raw onion. It seems to help make it more digestible and less repeatable later on in the day, something many people suffer from. I’ve used red onion in this recipe, partly because it’s slightly less harsh than yellow but mainly because the red pigments contains extra super-healthy phytonutrients and anti-oxidants.

If you have a nut allergy or intolerance, then walnuts can be replaced with toasted pumpkin seeds. Try and find some big ones to stand out in the salad. Or if you wish to dress it up, add some gorgeous sparkly pomegranate seeds or dairy-free feta or labneh cheese.

That’s it! So with the weather to stay warm for the foreseeable future, why not give this super crunchy simple salad a go? Let me know how you get on.

Red cabbage and walnut salad (4-6 servings)
1/3 medium-sized red cabbage, finely shredded
1 medium red or white onion, finely sliced
50g walnuts, lightly toasted
1 big lemon, juice only
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (I used parsley, coriander and mint)

Place the red cabbage and onion together in a large bowl. Use you fingers to ensure they are combined well. Whisk the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper together in a small jug then pour it into the bowl. Toss well to ensure everything is coated, then leave to marinate.

When you’re ready to serve, add the chopped herbs and walnuts, season with a little extra black pepper, toss together well and serve. That’s it! Enjoy.

 

Empower yourself

I’m in the process of fulfilling one of my life’s ambitions – writing a book. It’s a huge and often overwhelming project – it’s certainly tested my commitment and drive on many occasions as I go on the emotional rollercoaster of self-doubt and belief. I’ve abandoned it at times, and yet still get pulled back in and over 100,000 words later, I’m still going!

The book – The Sensitive Foodie (of course!) explores the connection between food and health based on my experiences of dealing with food intolerances and autoimmune disease followed by a whole range of (mainly new) delicious whole-food plant-based recipes that I can’t wait for people to try. The recipes section was the easy part, and is all wrapped up. The first half has been more of a challenge as I’ve had to work out how to get all the ‘stuff’ in my head out into words that form some kind of sense. It’s made my brain work hard, which it doesn’t like to do!

What’s interesting is that the more I write, the more I realise the power of eating a whole-food plant-based diet. And the thing is, it’s not that difficult! Up until now, this way of eating has been on the fringe, but fortunately the tide is changing; a body of independent research is finally coming up with extensive proof and health professionals are beginning to open their mind to the power of plants. Excitingly, the first plant-based conference in London for doctors and other health professionals in March this year sold out, and reports suggest it was a great success. New evidence continues to support using a whole-food plant-based diet (often alongside existing medication) to help manage and improve a whole host of chronic health problems ranging from diabetes to heart disease to cancer to autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

One fabulous example of this is Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, the evidence-based diet and lifestyle programme that I follow that helps keep my MS under control. It’s a plan than can be applied to many health problems – super healthy and tasty food, adequate amounts of vitamin D, exercise, stress reduction through mindfulness or meditation and medication if needed. It’s premise is to do whatever it takes to stay well – that’s something that’s surprisingly hard for some people to get on board with! We’re so used to relying on medical professionals to be able to give a pill that will solve the problem. It’s so easy to become a ‘patient’ or a ‘sufferer’.

A change in mindset makes a huge difference; one way to persuade people is through their pocket. Companies like Kaiser Permente, a pre-paid health insurance provider in the US, are encouraging and supporting people to make life-style changes that will reduce the amount of health care services they will need to use, rewarding them with lower premiums.

Even without such financial incentives, it’s worth taking a look at how you feel about your health, whether you have a problem or not. It’s all about empowerment. Programmes like OMS pass the power back to you, the person with the problem. MS is my problem, and it’s up to me to do something about it; I refuse to be a victim but chose to empower myself to make the most of the situation. And get to eat fab food in the process – that can’t be bad! Today (30th May) is World MS Day, designed to raise awareness of the condition and the research being undertaken to find a cure for this currently incurable condition. It’s also a day to celebrate programmes like OMS that may not be a cure, but can go a long way to keep it under control. Check out www.overcomingms.org if you want to find out more.

There are many things in the modern world that conspire to make us feel pretty crap. But crap can be useful – lotus flowers feed off the crap at the bottom of the pond. The most beautiful blooms flourish from the dirtiest silt. If you have a health challenge, don’t let that overwhelm you, use it as a spur to make amazing changes to the way you eat and live, and you will flourish beautifully.

Getting the most from your greens plus a quick curry

I have a big pile of food-related books to read, each with a different focus and all fascinating. Currently, I’m working my way through ‘How Not To Die’ by the wonderful Dr Michael Gregor, who has a head full of knowledge, a bag-load of common sense and a fabulously dry sense of humour  (plus lots of bowel humour – it’s a nurse thing!).

Dr Gregor does an amazing job of examining all the latest research about food and health, questioning the validity of the conclusions and providing clarity for anyone interested in eating good food – that is, food that is good for you! His website – nutritionfacts.org – is packed full of 5 minute videos covering all sorts of topics, checking the facts behind the headlines and challenging spurious claims found in newspaper headlines and on-line. There is so much confusions out there, it’s hard to identify the ‘truth’!

You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of cruciferous vegetables, wonderful produce like broccoli, cabbage of all sorts, cauliflower, kale and watercress. Dr Gregor is too and regularly refers to research findings about how the sulphur-containing compounds found within these veggies can promote good health, particularly in preventing and even treating some types of cancer, supporting the immune system and liver function (there’s many others too). Broccoli has been researched the most, but all cruciferous veggies contain the beneficial phytonutrient sulforaphane. But there is a potential problem in accessing it – for sulforaphane to become available, it needs to be activated by another chemical reaction involving an enzyme (myrosinase). This occurs once the broccoli or other cruciferous veg is cut or bitten into. All ok so far. The problem is how we tend to eat this group of veggies – cooked. Heat kills myrosinase – and no myrosinase, no magical sulforaphane. But who really likes to eat lots of raw broccoli? I know I’m not keen!

Fortunately, there is something you can use to overcome this problem – patience! Sulforaphane is heat resistant, so cooking is not an issue, you just need time for it to form. So to get the most magic out of your broccoli, just chop it and leave for 30 minutes or so before you cook it. This gives plenty of time for all the enzymes to do their business and create lots of this wonderful phytonutrient that your body will just love. It does mean you have to plan ahead a little, but if you’re cooking other things as well, just remember to chop the broc first, then get on with the rest of it. Then you can cook it however you like, although please don’t boil the life out of it, especially if you are using food to manage a health problem, as there are other wonderful nutrients inside that will suffer. Also, if you’re trying to persuade your kids to eat veg, serving up soggy offerings is not going to help (remembering granny’s over-cooked Christmas sprouts!).

So try to remember to give your greens time to brew to get the most out of them – you won’t notice the benefit, but your body will. Here’s a quick curry recipe featuring brilliant broccoli to try out this weekend. Packed full of flavour and amazing nutrients, eating well never tasted so good!

Broccoli and squash curry (serves 4)

1 head of broccoli
1 medium onion
1 large clove garlic
2cm chunk ginger, peeled
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 small squash
½ teaspoon turmeric
½-1 teaspoon red chilli powder (depending on heat requirements)
salt and pepper
fresh coriander

First, rinse the broccoli and chop of the stems and dice. Chop the broccoli heads into small pieces and put to one side to allow the phytonutrients do their thing.

Roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger then place in a small blender and blitz into a paste with a little water. Wash and peel the squash. Chop into small chunks/bite sized pieces.

Place a pan on a medium heat and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Dry toast them for a couple of minutes until they release a lovely aroma and start to pop. Take the pan off the heat for a moment and stir in the paste mix (if the pan is too hot it will burn). Pop the pan back on the heat, turning it down a bit, and sauté for a few minutes until the paste starts to lightly brown. Stir in the spices with a little water and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the chopped squash and broccoli stems along with some salt and pepper and stir well. Add about 50ml of water, bring to the boil, then pop on a lid and reduce the heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the squash is soft. If the mix is dry, add a little more water along with the broccoli heads and simmer for 5 minutes or so until the broccoli is lightly cooked through (I still like it with a bit of bite). Turn off the heat and garnish with chopped fresh coriander. Serve with dairy-free yoghurt, rice or whole-wheat chapatti.

 

 

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!

Rebelling with eating well – why is that a problem?

Of of all the things the younger generation, the so called ‘Millenials’, could do to rebel, who would have thought that eating healthy food would be high up on the list? How dare they turn their backs on junk food and bad health? Who said they could have a conscience, want to save the environment and animals? It’s like Edina and Patsy in Ab Fab looking as Saffi and wondering where they went wrong? How dare they be so good?

Stories are regularly appearing in the media about the dangers of ‘clean eating’. Attention grabbing headlines claim the younger generation are enslaved to the fashionable myth of super-healthy food, in peril of becoming malnourished and even mocked for eating real food as opposed to prefabricated rubbish. And it’s not just the tabloids; an article in last weekend’s Guardian ridiculed the desire to eat baked sweet potato as opposed to a processed potato waffle. Surely the healthier choice should be supported, not mocked?

But what is really happening? Despite it’s well known dangers and drawbacks, I believe that social media is empowering young people to become super-aware of what is going on in the world, enabling them to question what they are told as ‘fact’, what is real and deciding what is right and wrong.  If you’re in the next generation up, it’s good to know what is out there yourself, to enable you to have a level and balanced discussion with your off-spring. Having an open mind is a good thing!

Of course the internet brings it’s own dangers; these are the negatives that hit the headlines. Young minds are impressionable. I have come across teens who believe they can survive on juice alone for ever more. Or who follow ‘Banana Girl’ who claims to eat up to 50 bananas a day. Neither is sustainable or healthy. And using the term ‘clean’ when it comes to healthy food does imply that others are dirty or ‘bad’. It’s certainly not terminology I ever use – apart from anything else, a bit of dirt can actually be good for us, but that’s another story!

What about the positives? Awareness of issues in the food industry, the environment, in the world as a whole – is that not good?

There is no denying that eating disorders remain a big issue; many media scare stories are blaming ‘clean’ eating. But this isn’t a new story.  The deeply embedded and complex psychological problems that lead to serious eating disorders have always been an issue. A multitude of triggers can affect this terrible condition. The ‘modern world’ is always being blamed, whether it’s skinny models, skinny jeans, peer pressure, exam stress (and that was just when I was a teen back in the 80’s). One of my school friends turned orange from eating only carrots. That wasn’t due to ‘clean eating’. That was because she was ill. Blaming a popular movement is looking outside the real issue, not the actual cause. It makes me wonder about the true purpose of media scare stories……..

Move away from the headlines, and what do you find? Lots of science that backs up the claims that eating a mainly whole food plant based diet is the best way to stay healthy and fit. Is it really that radical or surprising that eating lots of vegetables and whole foods, i.e.: real food, is a good thing?  And if you happen to have already picked up one or more of the chronic health problems that are connected to poor ‘lifestyle’ choices, or have food intolerances or allergies, then guess what – a plant based diet can even help reverse the problems. To see how much of a difference it can make, check out Dr Micheal Gregor’s great book How Not to Die!

And if you think that eating a whole food plant based diet is restrictive or boring, then have a look at my recipes – there’s nothing boring there! They’re also family-tested, and real too! No risk of malnourishment in my kitchen. There will be more coming soon in my book The Sensitive Foodie. Or if you want to get in the know right now, then come on one of my Eat Well Live Well courses to find out more.

As to all the negative stories in the press, I would take it with a pinch of (Himalayan?) salt! Let’s support our Millennials just a bit more, and join in the fun. And if you’re worried about your young person eating too many veg, just embarrass them in public by snapping your lunch and posting it on Instagram. They’ll be heading for the sex, drugs and rock and roll before you know it!

 

8 reasons to enjoy sweet potatoes

There are some vegetables that are always on my shopping list; sweet potatoes is one of them. This amazingly versatile tuber appears in a meal at least twice a week, if not more, either as part of a dish or as the main star. Sweet potatoes can be baked, roasted, steamed or (if you really have to) boiled. I sneak them into all sorts of recipes, sweet as well as savoury.

Lots of foods get given the ‘super food’ label; sweet potato is one of them. Is it justified? Yes! Bright orange sweet potato is packed full of betacarotene, the precursor to vitamin A. A deficiency in this vitamin can lead to a number of health problems, including eyesight and skin disorders. This episode of Food Unwrapped headed off to Africa to investigate these superfood claims, and it is remarkable to see the effects of eat just one sweet potato a day can have. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/superfoods-the-real-story/videos/all/s1-ep2-sweet-potato/4340125985001

If you don’t have time for watching TV, then have a look at this infographic I’ve put together. I’ll be posting some new recipes using sweet potato soon.

Are you a fan? I’d love to hear your favourite ways of eating this tasty tuber!

If you want to make your own infographic but don’t know where to start, check out www.canva.com (this is the site I used!). It’s not as difficult as you might think!

Incredible cruciferous

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know by now that veggies are a main part of my daily diet. Packed full of super healthy vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, it’s really important to ensure a selection of vibrant veg are on the plate every day to keep healthy and strong.

Whilst all veggies are good, there is one particular group which are superbly good – cruciferous vegetables. This lovely bunch has been attracting a lot of research recently as they have been found to be particularly good in protecting against and even treating many chronic Western health problems.

So what’s in this diverse vegetable family? There’s a lot to choose from – if you’re not too keen on one, you can find another equally good one to add to your essentials list:

Cabbage – including Chinese cabbage such as bok choi and spring and summer greens

Kale – all types    

Brussel sprouts

Broccoli

Cauliflower

Swede and turnips

Watercress

Radish, include horseradish, wasabi and daikon

Rocket

Kohlrabi

Mustard greens and seeds.

What is it about this group that makes them so healthful? For a start, they have fabulous amounts of vitamin C, E and K, and folic acid, as well as contribute a high amount of fibre, which is essential for happy, healthy guts. Dietary fibre contributes to reducing a number of health problems, including high cholesterol and (the obvious) constipation. But on top of that, cruciferous vegetables contain amazing sulphur containing phytonutrient compounds that help the body to resist chronic health problems and stay healthy. The Linus Pauling Institute in America states that active biological compounds found in them can help reduce inflammation, protect cell DNA and can protect against some cancers, which makes eating a portion of cabbage worthwhile!

The great thing about this group of vegetables is that it’s pretty easy to include in the diet every day; all parts of the plants can be eaten (cauliflower is the flower part, turnip the root and leaves) and as many are traditionally found all round the world in different forms, there’s a whole host of different recipes and flavours to try out. So it’s not about having to force yourself to eat a school dinner’s special of soggy, overcooked cabbage every day, but rather start an exiting journey of discovery that’s great for the taste-buds as well as the body.

Here are a few ideas to try out:

One post is too short to share the glories of this wonderful group of veggies – next time I’ll give you some top tips on getting the most benefit out of these veg plus a new recipe to add to the list. In the meantime, why not try one or all of the above – and let me know how you get on!