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”

Seedy crackers

Crackers are great! Crisp and crunchy texture that carries off all sorts of flavours, they’re perfect to have in the cupboard for lunch or snacking. What’s not to love? Well, for many people, the ingredients in shop-bought crackers are not ideal, particularly if you have food intolerances, follow a specific way of eating for health or want nourishing whole foods that don’t include ingredients that have a negative effect on the environment. Continue reading “Seedy crackers”

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.

 

The Sensitive Foodie Guide to Christmas Cooking

It's December, and I now feel it's ok to start talking about Christmas. I always love this time of year; I'm particularly fond of all the seasonal treats! However, when you're a sensitive eater, whether because of food intolerances or health problems, it can be difficult to fully indulge.

That's why last year I ran my Countdown to Christmas, an advent calendar of delicious seasonal recipes; all whole-food, plant-based and adaptable to be gluten-free and nut-free (except for the nut loaf - sorry!). It covered soups and salads, mains and sides. And of course lots of sweet treats!

As these recipes are scattered over the blog, I've collated them into this guide so you can easily find the one (or two) you're looking for. And to make life even easier, I'm pinning this to the top of the blog until 26th December so you don't have to go rummaging for it. Christmas sensitive eating made easy!

Oh, and if there's something you love to eat at Christmas that's not included, do let me know so I can include them in the future.

Christmas biscotti
Christmas biscotti
Roasted squash, red onion and Brussel sprouts
Roasted squash, red onion and Brussel sprouts
Mince pies
Mince pies
Stuffed nut loaf
Stuffed nut loaf
merry-christmas-2953721_1920

Spicy Indian pancakes

It only seems like a few weeks since I wrote my last pancake post for Shrove Tuesday, and yet here we are again. How time flies!

Last years post shared my top tips for achieving perfect plant-based pancakes – click here to check it out. This year I thought I’d give you something a little different, inspired by my time in India. They’re dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free plus wonderfully tasty – suitable for everyone! Continue reading “Spicy Indian pancakes”

Healthy oat and flaxseed cookies

The last few weeks have been so busy, getting the last bits of my new book finalised. It’s very exciting – I have 250 copies of Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie currently being printed and hopefully being delivered tomorrow. I’m at the Horsham Vegan Festival on Saturday (click here for details) where I’ll be giving a talk and selling my book for the first time! If you’re in the area, do pop by and say hi.

In the meantime, there’s still some baking going on (if nothing else it’s therapy to being on the computer for hours on end!). And as its half term, I thought you might like something simple to do with the kids, especially if you’ve run out of ideas that don’t cost money, as school holidays can be such an expensive time.

I used to love baking with my children when they were young, but it had to be simple otherwise 1) they would run out of patience and 2) the kitchen would turn into a baking bomb-site! And sometimes is was wise not to do highly sugar-laden cookies otherwise it would send them a bit bonkers – not ideal on a wet February day!

These cookies are super easy to make and contain no refined sugar, the sweetness coming from the ripe banana and dried fruit. If they are not sweet enough for your family’s taste-buds, add a little maple syrup. I’ve used raisins and almonds in my recipe, but there’s lots of alternatives like cranberries, pecan nuts, peanuts or chocolate drops (dairy-free of course!).

These can be made strictly gluten-free if that’s important to you by using gluten-free oats. And there’s loads of lovely fibre here from both the oats and the flaxseed to keep your gut bacteria happy. The flaxseed also provides health omega 3 fatty acids which help boost brain power and reduce inflammation in the body. Yay!

Of course, you don’ have to be a child to enjoy these! Just a lover of cookies! Perfect for lunch-boxes and snacks, you could even get away with eating them for breakfast. And as they are fully plant-based and low in fat, they are suitable for many specialist health programmes like Overcoming MS and reversing diabetes and heart disease.

I hope you give these a go. If you do, let me know how you get on. And if you can come to Horsham on Saturday – see you there! If not, I’ll be posting details on how to buy my book very soon.

Healthy oat and flaxseed cookies

Quick and tasty oat based cookies with no added sugar but lots of yummy flavour.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Snack
Servings 10 cookies

Ingredients
  

  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
  • 100 grams oats gluten free if needed
  • 50 grams ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 30 grams raisins
  • 30 grams sliced almonds
  • 3 tablespoons dairy-free milk

Instructions
 

  • Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper or a silicon mat. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan). 
  • Hunt out 10 good almond flakes and put to one side for decoration. Roughly chop the remaining almonds
  • Place the ripe banana in a bowl and mash it until soft and smooth. Add the oats, ground flaxseed, salt, cinnamon, raisins and almonds to the banana and mix well to combine. Pour in the dairy-free milk and stir to form a thick dough. Leave it to settle for 5 minutes. If the dough is really dry, add a little more dairy-free milk but take care not to make it soggy.
  • Split the dough into 10 equal sections. Roll each one into a ball, place on the baking sheet and flatten with your hand until it’s approximately 2cm thick. Repeat with the remaining sections. 
  • Press a sliced almond into the top then place the tray in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn over and bake for another 10 until firm and lightly browned. 
  • Remove from the oven and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. That’s if they don’t all get eaten at once!

Notes

Don’t forget you can swap the raisins and almonds for any dried fruit, nut or seed of choice, or use dairy-free chocolate drops.
Keyword cookies, dairy free, gluten free, no added sugar, plant based

Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

The snow may have gone, but it’s still definitely winter! Whilst my husband sends me pictures of brilliant blue skies and crisp white snow from his skiing holiday, I sit here looking at a dull grey February day, the type where you wonder if it’s ever really going to get light.

There are signs of spring though – I snapped these brave little snowdrops yesterday outside a friends house – and I’ve notice the daffodil leaves beginning to sprout. All hopeful signs of better weather to come.

In the meantime, comfort food is needed! Something to warm, sustain and give you a little hug on the inside. This deliciously quick mushroom and lentil stew should hit the spot. Packed full of rainbow veggies, it tastes wonderful and provides a whole range of helpful anti-oxidants and nutrients that help support the immune system. Not only that, but it contains a range of fibre that helps keep helpful gut microbiome happy too. That’s important, as this time of year can be hard for people suffering from depression and low mood. Recent research from the Gut Project suggests that the make-up of gut bacteria and psychological health are directly connected. So the food we eat really can make a difference to how we feel.

I’ve used tinned lentils for this recipe, purely to save time. If you want to cook your own, feel free to do so, just add extra water and give yourself more time. Using tinned makes this a quick plant-based and gluten-free mid-week supper when time is short. This also freezes well, so get ahead of the game and double the amount, keeping half aside to freeze for another day.

I’ve added a little balsamic vinegar to the recipe. This is optional, to add a little extra flavour. If you cannot tolerate vinegar, then try a little tamari or even vegan Worcesteshire sauce, but take care not to overdo it, as they are strong flavours that easily dominate.

I hope you enjoy this recipe; it certainly hit the comfort food spots for me! Let me know what you think if you make it – don’t forget you can now print it out now I’m using the WP recipe maker plug in. I hope it makes it more user friendly. And remember, winter always turns to spring!

Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

Quick and tasty, this is a perfect mid-week plant-based dish. Serve on pasta or baked potatoes (it’s particularly good with sweet potato) and a seasonal green like broccoli or kale.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1 medium onion, red or white diced
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 1 large celery stick diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 fat clove garlic finely chopped
  • 200 grams mushrooms sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian herbs
  • 400 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 400 grams tinned cooked lentils rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Heat 2 tablespoons water in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan – add a little more water if it does
  • Add the garlic and sliced mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes, then pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and add the herbs. Stir well, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the tinned lentils and balsamic vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove the bay leaf and serve.
Keyword comfort food, dairy free, dinner, gluten free, plant based, vegan

The perfect roast potato

I’m not one for bragging, but I do know for sure that I make amazing roast potatoes. So for day 17 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, I’m giving you my top tips for getting perfectly crunchy crispy spuds without really making that much effort.

I honed my roast potato skills soon after I left home to do my nursing training. I always seemed to be on a diet – often that was Rosemary Conley’s Hip and Thigh Diet, a low fat programme. Looking back now, I realise that there was a lot missing from this way of eating, but then hind-sight is a wonderful thing. But it did introduce me to dry roast potatoes.

If you search how to cook roast potatoes, there are a multitude of opinions on what fat to use, and how much. Ranging from normal vegetable oil to expensive goose or duck fat, the aim of the fat is to create a crispy outside and a soft fluffy potato on the inside. Using large amounts of fat on a high oven heat means that large amounts of liquid fat gets absorbed into the potato, which then gets absorbed into you. This high heat can also damage fat structure, which is not good for your body.

I have been making roast potatoes without all this fat for so long that I find I don’t really enjoy them when we eat out purely because they often seem overcooked and all I can taste is the fat. Since I’ve been following a whole-food plant-based diet it seems even more of a problem as my taste-buds have completely changed. And for anyone who follows a special diet like the Overcoming MS programme, fat soaked potatoes are off the menu. 

Rather than the fat being key, for me it’s the potato, and how it is prepared before it goes into the oven. Most recipes suggest par boiling potatoes, but often this isn’t enough. You want the surface structure to be breaking down properly before going in the oven – this is what goes all crunchy once roasted. And you don’t need lots of fat to do it.

So here are my top tips. If you don’t already roast your spuds this way, why not give it a go this Christmas? And don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

  1. Use floury potatoes not waxy. Maris Piper or King Edwards are the best. Also try to by organic or more naturally grown ones. They taste better too.
  2. Don’t make them too big or too small. And try to keep them a similar size. I find medium-sized chunks work best.
  3. Boil the potatoes so they are properly cooked. Keep an eye on them though as you don’t want them to fall apart into mush. Boiling time will depend on the type of potato and how many you have in the pan. Once they’re beginning to be flaking on the outside and you can easily pierce them with a knife, turn off the heat.
  4. Drain as soon as the heat if off. Give them a good shake to clear away excess water and break the surface a bit more. If they are still a little soggy, pop them back in the pan on a low heat for a minute to dry off.
  5. Make sure the oven is pre-heated at 200ºC. Fan ovens work best, but electric and gas still produce good potatoes. I can’t comment on an AGA.
  6. Use a good, non-stick baking tray with no scratches. You can pre-heat it if you like, but I tend to forget so it’s not necessary.
  7. Tip the potatoes onto the baking tray and give it another shake. You can add a little oil now if you like. I tend to use a few squirts of an olive oil spray just to mist the top.
  8. Pop the tray in the oven and let the potatoes roast for 15 minutes, then remove the tray and turn the spuds. You will see a lovely golden crust forming when you turn. Move them around the tray if you need to if the outside ones are cooking faster than the inside ones. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until they are all crispy and brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and transfer to a hot dish. Serve straight away and enjoy that lovely crunch without the grease.