Maximising the opportunity to eat well

“We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly” says designer and author Anna Thomas. And it’s so true – food is a basic essential of life. But there’s so much food available (to most of us) alongside so many opinions on what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ that deciding what to eat has become complex and confusing. Continue reading “Maximising the opportunity to eat well”

Making a difference

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a challenging year to date. There is so much going on in the world that it can seem so bleak. And overwhelming. There has been much sadness and loss. But if you can look past that, there’s some positives too, in particular in relation to the environment.

Although some will still deny it, the climate is in crisis. But when humans went into lockdown, the natural world was gifted a much needed break. We used less resources, created less pollution and just had less of an impact on the environment. Animals roamed more freely, skies cleared and demand for oil dropped so much the price crashed.

But did this really make any difference? Well, apparently it did.

Have you heard of Earth Overshoot Day? It’s the day in the year when the human demand for natural resources and services exceeds what the earth can regenerate in a that year. Last year it was 29th July, which means we spent 5 months of the year taking more out of the environment than it could recover. That’s a shocking figure! In 2018 it was 1st August, 2017 – 2nd August. So as you can see, it was gradually getting worse each year.

This year, however, Earth Overshoot Day was 22nd August – that’s a big improvement, but still leaves 4 1/2 months of excess resource usage (especially now we’re out and about more!). So that’ still a big problem, but by the date moving so significantly (even though it wasn’t by design!) it shows that improvements are possible. If you want to find out how this was calculated, you can read about it here. Although I don’t think anybody will say that living with pandemic restrictions and related economic challenges is the best way to move forward!

Fortunately, there are lots of things we can do to reduce our impact on the environment. One of the biggies is also connected to how we can improve our health and resilience – eat a plant-based diet. Because plants agriculture uses less land and natural resources and produce less emissions than animal, changing to eating a plant-based diet has a direct impact on the environment. For the better. Which might not make much difference when one or two people change (although it still does) but when hundreds and thousands do, it can make a huge difference.

Which is why the groundswell in people looking to make positive changes to their diet is so exciting. It’s the slither of light in a otherwise dark and overwhelming problem. Every food choice can make a difference if we want it to. Even down to what milk you put in your coffee.

August 22nd was also World Plant Milk Day (an odd coincidence). The rise in demand for plant-based milks has led to a wave of disinformation questioning the environmental impact of plant milks. And of course there is some. But compared to dairy milk, it’s much less, especially when you look at the effect of huge, intensively farmed dairy herds that are increasingly found throughout the world. Have a look at this table to see the environmental impact of the most popular milks (including cow).

Seeing information like this shows the stark reality of our choices. And how those choices can make such a positive – and negative – impact. Certainly one of the things I love about plant-based eating (and there are many!) is that I know my choices are having a better impact on the world around me.

When I first changed to a plant-based diet, the information out there was limited. Now it’s everywhere, which is awesome as it makes it much easier, and more acceptable, to change. Plant-based food, ingredients and recipes are readily available – it really is the best time to eat more plants, especially as we are still mid-pandemic. Plant-baed eating boosts immunity and helps deal with chronic health issues, both big topics at the moment as well.

If you are looking to shift to plant-based eating but are still not sure where to start, or you have been trying but just can’t get inspired, then have a look at this amazing plant-based diet info stack – 22 incredible resources (courses, books, cooking classes, apps) that will definitely help you head in the right direction. It’s all online, so no physical resources used, and only $49 (approx £38). But it’s only available for another 48 hours though.*** I don’t normally promote things like this, but I can assure you it’s an amazing offer – and you’ll find a version of my course in there too! It’s a feel good offer for challenging times.

I hope in a few years time we can look back at 2020 and see it as a positive turning point, rather than the havoc and chaos we have today. I really do believe we can all make a difference in many ways but particularly by eating amazingly tasty whole plant foods. We have nothing to lose!

*** the plant-based diet info stack is available until 04.59 on 26th August – so grab it now!

 

 

Refreshing melon, mint and lime salad

When I think of August, it brings to mind long, hot, sunny days (hopefully!), chilled glasses of Pimms and gorgeously ripe melons. The memories of sunny days and melon go back to my childhood (not so much the Pimms 🙂 ) when a slice of sweet melon was a delicious treat. Then as a teenager we holidayed in the Algarve and ate deliciously sweet, fragrant melon for breakfast every day. Wonderful memories.

Even though you’ll find melon in the supermarkets all year round, now really is the time to enjoy them at their best. The flavour is sublime (something that’s definitely missing in out of season fruit) and the nutrients hidden inside are perfect for supporting the body when you might be exposing it to a little bit too much sunshine.

All melons contain special phytonutrients, those tiny little natural chemicals that help keep our bodies working well. Cantaloupe melons, with their orange-coloured flesh and slightly green, textured outer skins are particularly good as they’re packed full of betacarotene, the plant precursor to vitamin A which is essential for skin, hair and eye health. There’s also a shedload of vitamin C, polyphenols plus potassium. This is essential for good cell function and can help keep your blood pressure within healthy limits. Vitamin C and phytonutrients have a strong antioxidant effect in the body, helping to reduce inflammation and keep damaging free radicals under control. This occurs everywhere, but particularly in your skin at this time of year.

“But what about the sugar?” I hear you cry. Yes, there are natural plant sugars in melon but it’s all tied up in the fibre plus the large water content. If you eat melon in chunks rather than add it to a smoothie (which by-passes the first stage of digestion, the chewing bit), the sugar is released slowly as the fibre is digested, giving a stable and sustained energy release that your body can handle.

This

 

The flavours in this salad complement each other rather wonderfully. The sweet crunch of the melon mixed with peppery salad leaves, minty freshness and sour lime juice create a taste sensation on your tongue that is light, refreshing and so thoroughly enjoyable that you will forget it’s also good for you too! Enjoy.

Melon, mint and lime salad

A fresh, light summer salad packed full of body-loving nutrients and flavour.
Prep Time 7 mins
Total Time 7 mins
Course Salad
Servings 2 portions

Ingredients
  

  • 1/4 medium cantaloupe melon cut into small chunks
  • 2 handfuls peppery salad leaves
  • 8 cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1/2 small ripe avocado cut into small chunks
  • 1 handful fresh mint leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 medium lime juice only
  • salt and pepper to taste

Optional additions

  • 1/4 small red onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp balasmic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed flaxseed oil

Instructions
 

  • Grab two plates. Scatter the green leaves over each plate. Top with melon, red onion (if using), tomatoes and avocado.
  • Scatter mint leaves over the top and season with salt and pepper. Finish with the lime juice. Garnish with balasamic vinegar and/or oil if using.
  • Eat straight away.
Keyword antioxidants, phytonutrients, summer salad

Courgette compendium

One of the outcomes of lockdown for us is we have had time to create new raised beds to start growing our own veggies. This is actually the third time we’ve done this (we kept moving!) and these ones are by far the best. For a start, we have much more space (oh boy do we have space!) rather than squeezing them into a small corner of a small garden as before. That’s not to say that growing veggies in a small space is not worth it. It definitely is. We also spent more time researching and learning how to grow in tandem with nature. Less impact, more output.

This end bed isn’t finished yet – a good place to deposit grass cuttings.

Not that I can really take much credit for our lovely new beds! My hubby spent more time and energy researching and building them. After much debate he chose to use a technique called hugelkultur. A centuries old technique from Germany and Easter Europe, it uses garden debris as the source of nutrients needed for new plants to grow. It’s basically a big compost heap!

We wanted to build up a structure to our beds, so we used wood to create an outline and dug down a little into the soil, taking off the grass layer and a little more. This gave a large area that needed filling – fortunately we have a lot of garden debris to use! A few logs on the base were covered with more tree cuttings, then grass cuttings, stuff from the compost bins, more grass, some sand, then the top grass layer we cut out, the soil dug out and finally finished with some bought organic compost (as we wanted to use them now). We buried so much! Covered up, the debris will break down, releasing nutrients into the soil providing nourishment for our fresh produce. Well that was the plan – we were not too sure how well it would work year one…..

Beans and squash going rampant!

I am pleased to say, so far so good! The squash in particular are going crazy and the beans are prolific. And the courgettes that were planted rather late are just beginning to flourish. So much so, I see a glut coming in a few weeks time!

Courgettes are funny vegetables. I love them now, but used to hate them as a kid. Their high water content can make them tricky to cook. In soups and stews they have the potential to make them too watery, fritters and veggie cakes too wet and steamed they can go from firm to a horrid mush in the blink of an eye. But on a good day, with the right treatment, they are a delight.

Nutrition wise, courgettes are excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium and phytonutrients like betacarotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. You’ll also find a reasonable does of B vitamins, manganese and vitamin K (which is in the news at the moment relating to the Covid 19 virus). Vitamin C and phytonutrients play an antioxidant role in the body, quashing damaging free radicals. Betacarotene, zeaxanthin and lutein all support eye health which is good to know if you are at risk of macular degeneration or other age-related eye conditions. Potassium is important for good blood pressure control and is a key player in cell health. It’s easily lost once food is processed, so eating courgettes raw or lightly cooked can really support your health. If you’re interested in how to manage your blood pressure or health issues with food, we discuss this in much more detail in my online course.

If you are heading into a glut of courgettes – lucky you! There’s so much you can make with them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make summer soups. This courgette and cumin soup is particularly tasty
  • Add them to pasta sauces, veggie chillis, stir fries, fajitas or risotto. This red rice risotto works well with courgettes.
  • Stuff them! One of the recipes on my Eat Well Live Well course is a gorgeous aduki bean stuffed courgette boat (another good reason to take the course 😉 )
  • It’s getting a bit retro now, but use them to make courgetti. Here’s a BBC Food article about what to do.
  • If you squeeze out excess water, courgettes make tasty fritters and veggie cakes.
  • sweet courgette loaf

    Make cake! Oh yes, courgettes provide moisture and nutrients to cake – it’s a great way to get courgette haters on board! Try this easy courgette loaf cake.

I’ll be experimenting with more recipes over the next few months by the looks of it, so no doubt you’ll see more ideas on the blog soon as we work our way through them. What are your favourite courgette recipes? I’d love to know.

As for our veg garden, it has a lot of room for development. I can see many more beds being built over the next couple of years as we learn more about growing our own food in a way that supports and sustains our local ecosystem. We’re not aiming for self-sufficiency, but being plant-based we certainly hope to grow more than we buy. Let’s see what happens!

Ways to support your immune system

Daily life is in flux at the moment with the current corona virus Covid 19 spreading like wild fire around the globe. Out of the many different reactions to the situation, ranging from panic to none, feeling powerless is one of the most negative. And there’s no need to, because there are some very simple things that can be done to help support your body’s defence mechanism. Continue reading “Ways to support your immune system”

Easy changes – step 4

The next step in my Easy Changes series is all getting the most out of the food you eat –  the most nutrients and benefits that is. The beneficial nutrients in fresh produce starts to diminish as soon as it’s harvested, even more so when processed.  A huge percentage of food eaten in the Western world is highly refined and processed and many people are missing out vital nutrients. So this step is about asking yourself if you are eating ‘whole food’ or ‘hole food’.

The world of health and nutrition can seem rather overwhelming and contradictory at times. There’s a lot of confusion, much of which is made worse by the food and diet industry as well as the media reporting sensational headlines. The reductionist approach to food – looking at the component parts rather than the whole thing – is useful for discovering what is actually in it, but focusing only on the component parts has created a seemingly never-ending debate about whether we need to eat more protein or fats or carbs. I talk about this in my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie if you want to delve into this discussion more.

Outside of this reductionist view point, eating whole foods gives so much more than just its large component parts. And in a balance that’s natural and works for our bodies. When you look at what whole foods contain, it can be surprising just what is in there! For example, rice is defined as a carbohydrate, and as we saw in my last post, is pretty nutrient deficient. But when eaten as a whole-grain, it contains a good amount of protein and even some essential fatty acids, along with a range of minerals, vitamins and even phytonutrients.

Processing and refining means that food loses a lot of the nutritional benefits. The big losers are:

  1. Fibre. Essential for gut health, removal of waste products and feeding the microbiome, much of it is lost once refined.
  2. Vitamins. Particularly water-soluble ones like vitamins B and C.
  3. Minerals. Many essential minerals like magnesium and zinc are bound up in the fibre. Potassium, essential for blood pressure control, is a big loser too.
  4. Omega fatty acids. Locked up in the oily germ of whole-grains but also in a whole host of fresh produce, this delicate but essential oil gets easily lost.
  5. Phytonutrients. The magical chemicals found within all plant foods that work together as a team and support metabolic processes are delicate and lost once the produce is refined.

Even eating whole foods does include some element of processing, as even cutting and cooking fresh produce can lead to some form of nutrient loss. But it’s much less. And it’s real – ultra-processed foods are increasingly massively but have a real negative nutrient effect on our bodies. This is particularly important if you have food intolerances and are therefore a sensitive eater, or are using food to manage a health problem.

So how do you maximise your intake of whole foods and avoid the hole food? Here’s a few simple things to help:

  1. Eat real food as near to its original form as possible. This is one of the key principles of eating a whole-food plant-based diet. Look at the product in your hand and ask yourself “Is this whole or hole?”. The author Micheal Pollan as some good advice on real versus processed food – “If it’s made from a plant, eat it. If it’s made in a plant, don’t.”
  2. Eat food lowest in the food chain (ie plants!). That way you get all the nutrients first hand rather than second, third or more and less of the toxins (think big fish like tuna accumulating mercury).
  3. Eat food that is as fresh as possible. That means seasonal with lower food miles. It’s also cheaper too.
  4. Go for brown (as per last post) and for whole. So eat an orange rather than drink orange juice. Or eat seeds whole instead of having it as an oil.
  5. Buy products with minimal ingredients. Once you start reading labels you soon realise just how much has been added in as well as taken out, particularly with ‘free from’ items, which seems somewhat ironic!

Once you start thinking ‘whole’ it does get easier to make positive changes to the way you eat which your body will love. But give yourself time to do it in the way that works for you – remember going at your own pace is just as important as making the change in the first place.

There’s one more easy step to come. And also some exciting news that will give you support for making your own positive changes for the New Year. So keep an eye out for the last instalment, and don’t forget to let me know how you get on.