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!

 

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!

Veg box challenge

I love getting my Riverford veg box every Wednesday! Unless we’re over run with potatoes or artichokes, I never look at the box contents on line, but wait to be surprised when the box arrives. It might help planning if I checked, but I love a bit of creativity and spontaneity, particularly if there is a vegetable that I’m not particularly familiar with, or that’s not a bit hit with the family. And cooking dairy free, gluten free and plant based just makes the challenge a little more interesting!

I’ve been getting a Riverford organic veg box for a long time now, apart from when we were in India – bit too far for them to deliver! I did, however, find a local one whilst I was there, which presented an even bigger challenge at times.

In my opinion, organic vegetables not only taste better, but being grown more naturally in cared for soil means they contain more nutrients, less chemicals and are better for the environment. And I know that everything grown is as local to the UK as possible, not flown half way across the world, and is therefore fresher and more vibrant.

So when I get asked “what do you eat in a normal week, then?’, my answer is that it depends on what’s in my veg box! And as I’ve been a bit lax with the blogging recently, I’ve decided to do a blog a day for a week, all about what I’ve made with the veg from my box.

This weeks gorgeous delivery was waiting on my doorstep earlier. We’ve got potatoes, carrots, onions, fat leeks, parsnips, chard, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, a huge sweet mama squash and a couple of vibrant green batavia lettuces. Nothing surprising or unconventional this week, so not too difficult to think up some yummy dishes. I’m thinking parsnips for tonight’s dinner – tomorrows post will tell you all about it!

Brussel sprout soup

Some foods are just synonymous with traditional Christmas dinner – roast turkey, bread sauce and of course the little green powerhouse that is the brussels sprout! Love them or hate them, the meal is not complete without at least one small green ball decorating the plate.

Whilst for some, Christmas Day is the only time of the year that a sprout with pass their lips, I personally love them, and quite happily eat them any time of the year. Thought to originate from Belgium (hence the name), seasonally brussels sprouts are a winter veg in the West, best between October to March. Whilst growing, they prefer colder temperatures – I did manage to find some sprouts in the shops in Bangalore,as there can be cooler temperatures in this area of India during winter. Small, hard bullets with yellowy leaves on the outside, they just weren’t right, so apart from the one Christmas dinner I cooked (never again – too hot!!), the sprouts were generally avoided. So it was with great joy that I tucked in to beautifully crisp green sprouts on Christmas Day this year, and started remembering all the dishes I could create with them.

When your mum told you to eat your greens because they were good for you, she was not wrong. Brussels sprouts are classified as crusiferous vegetables (so called as the leaves open up into a cross shape – crucifer is cross-bearer in Latin don’t you know!), a group packed full of powerful nutrients and antioxidants that can boost your immune system and have anti-cancer properties. The high fibre content is not only good for your digestion but helps to lower cholesterol as well. They also have a variety of vitamins including folate which promotes healthy heart, vitamin A and vitamin K which helps to reduce inflammation and is good for bone health too. Mind you, too much of any one thing is never good for you, as this salutary tale about a man who messed up his blood clotting by eating too many sprouts!  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-20805966.

Cruciferous vegetables like sprouts contain special compounds called isothiocyanates (ITC) that boost immunity – these are released when the cell walls are opened. So cutting or blending before cooking releases these extra goodies and whilst some of the vitamins and potassium will be lost in the cooking process, the ITC will still be there. So, whilst a spout smoothie really doesn’t appeal, sliced brussels stir fried or chopped and used as soup certainly does.

Brussels sprouts fried with bacon is a beautifully tasty dish, but as I’m only eating plant based food these days, that’s off the menu. But sprout soup is definitely on. If you’ve never tried it, do – it’s really simple and has a delicious deep, rich flavour. Unfortunately, my sprout soup recipe is still boxed up in storage ( I can’t wait to get my hands on my recipe books!). Lots of recipes ask for cream, but being dairy free, I leave the potato to do the creamy bit which of course makes it much healthier. It needs seasoning well, but it’s very simple, so here it is from memory….hope it works!!

Sprout soup

Green and healthy brussels sprout soup
1 tbspoon olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 medium potato, diced
500g or so of brussels sprouts
600mls of vegetable stock
1 tspoon thyme
salt and pepper
Remove the top of the sprouts and chop. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion until it starts to soften, then add the potato, turn down the heat and cover the pan with a lid, letting the veg cook until it’s soft. Add the chopped sprouts and thyme and saute for a minute or so. Pour in the stock, season and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, pop on the lid and leave to simmer away merrily for 10 to 15 minutes until the potato and sprouts are cooked. Turn off the heat, leave to cool a bit then blitz in the blender until smooth. Put back in the pan and reheat. Sprinkle some toasted chopped walnuts on the top if you want some texture.