Month: July 2015

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Green juices

Green juices

I love a green juice as much as any other health conscious person (something about the colour that psychologically feels superiorly healthy). However, given the fuss around them in recent years you couldn’t be blamed for thinking they were some sort of elixir for eternal youth and a life free of disease!

Most gourmet juice companies talk about enzymes, phytonutrients, antioxidants and ‘clean food’, which is just the oddest term with little nutritional relevance. Many also offer ‘juice cleanses’, which I will happily say I don’t agree with, but for those that swear by them and genuinely feel better after them then go for it, in the short term they won’t do you any harm (although I would be starving and not very nice to be around).

My view is; why not focus your health kick on putting as much good stuff into your body from a range of (solid) foods that include healthy fats, veggies, nuts, seeds and wholegrains whilst cutting down on the baddies such as processed foods, booze and sugar. Better still, whilst your at it, why not adopt a few of these healthy eating habits for the long-term instead of quick fixes and the illusion that somehow purging your body will correct the damage done by an unhealthy lifestyle (especially if you just return to that way of living afterwards). The irony is that ‘cleanses’ tend do be done by people who are already very healthy.

Sugar is also used as a marketing tool to demonise fruit juices like orange and apple, in favour of green veggie juices. Sugar has received much bad press recently, and rightly so as we now understand the effect it has on health when eaten in large quantities (heart disease, inflammation, obesity, oral health). Fruit juice got caught up in the exposure, particularly as the liver breaks down fructose, too much of which can lead to a build up of fat (fatty liver), elevated blood fat and bad cholesterol, insulin resistant tissues and increased free radical damage. Most of this damage though is caused by excessive consumption and particularly high fructose corn syrup which is the main sweetener used by manufacturers in certain countries (especially the United States). A daily glass of fruit juice as part of a balanced diet poses little harm to your health and a good dose of vitamin C.

Many juice companies also talk about the difficulty in eating enough fruit and veg on a daily basis, and whilst the new research suggests we should increase our intake nearer to 10 servings each day, a juice is still only classed as one serving given the removal of fibre. A serving of fruit or veg is actually not that big at 80g and can easily be notched up across the day.

Breakfast: yoghurt with berries, juice (2)
Snack: hummus with carrot and pepper sticks (2)
Lunch: vegetable and lentil/bean soup, fruit salad (3)
Snack: dried fruit/nut bar (1)
Evening meal: chicken stir-fry (3)

As a rule of thumb:

Half a large fruit or veggie (grapefruit, avocado, courgette, pepper, carrot)
One medium fruit (apple or pear)
Two small fruits (tangerine or plum)
Three dried fruits (apricots, figs, prunes) or one small handful (sultanas)
One handful of beans and pulses (red kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas)
One handful of larger vegetables (prepared broccoli, cauliflower, squash or sliced cucumber)
One handful of leaves (lettuce, spinach, kale)

See more at NHS choices

I’m definitely not going to start knocking gourmet juice companies (many of whom I know) for what they do; the guys who run them are great and have a genuine interest in health and the juices taste delicious with a nice ‘filtered’ freshness to them. Fresh organic fruit and veg is also expensive and for people that can afford them, they offer convenience. It is worth checking the ingredient list before you buy, there are some brands offering cold-pressed green juices that have very little green veg and over 80% apple juice (that’s expensive apple juice!)

Whilst green juices may contain a wider range of nutrients than boring old orange juice, it’s still just a juice, a glass of which contributes to one of your daily fruit and veg intake. Having recently worked on a juice project I was staggered at the price of some cold-pressed juices on the market but the average cost is around £6.  At this price (£2160 per year) that would buy you you’re own Vitamix, years supply of veggies and a relaxing two week holiday in the Mediterranean so here are a few recipes to make your own green juices at home. You can control the sweetness by adding more or less fruit.

Green goddess juice

Serves 2

90 calories


1/2 cucumber
3 kale leaves (take soft leaf off the stem)
1 small handful coriander
1 lime (juice only)
1 head Romaine lettuce
1-2 apples
Ginger (to taste)

Green aniseed juice

Serves 2

90 calories


1 big bunch spinach
Handful of mint
1 cucumber
1-2 green apples (or pears)
1 fennel bulb
1/2 lemon, juiced


1. Chop ingredients and blend high for 30 seconds.
2. Lay muslin over a bowl, pour in juice then grab the four corners of cloth and squeeze out the juice.

Nutty couscous and veggie salad

Nutty couscous and veggie salad

There was a time when couscous was considered an unusual grain, something to create a Moroccan themed dish to impress your dinner party guests.  Now, this grain has become as commonplace as bread and pasta.  I have even been putting it on school menus for years as a healthy carbohydrate food option enjoyed but children.

Unfortunately, couscous has become less ‘hip’ in the shadow of more exotic, sexy, media-friendly grains and ‘pseudo grains’ like quinoa, amaranth, millet, teff and buckwheat, which also satisfy the current obsession with all things gluten-free (a special diet wrongly assumed as being superiorly healthy).

I’m just as guilty of never cooking at home with couscous; in the same way I never really eat pasta in favour of more interesting wholegrains and seeds.  However, how wrong have I been!  After roasting a chicken the other night and trying to rustle up an accompaniment that would make use the stray bits of food in my fridge and cupboards, I stumbled across a dusty bag of couscous.

Taking the lead from traditional tabbouleh, I added both pine and pistachio nuts along with additional veggies including a slightly limp courgette and shrivelled red pepper!  It turned out to be the most delicious accompaniment to my roast chicken.  If you don’t have any couscous or prefer a gluten-free alternative then use a 400g can of chickpeas.  If your veggie or vegan then try adding more nuts (or even additional toasted hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds) to increase the calorie and protein content to make a more substantial main meal.

I should probably be telling you to use wholemeal couscous but I prefer the taste and texture of the white variety, the veggies and nuts ensure sure this dish is high in fibre.  As well as fibre, this dish is a good source of protein and high in iron, magnesium, vitamin C and B complex.


Nutty couscous salad

Serves 2

380 calories


120g couscous
180ml vegetable stock (reduced sodium)
1 tbsp unsalted pistachio nuts
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 medium-sized red pepper, finely diced
1 medium-sized courgette, finely diced
2 spring onions, sliced (bulbs and tops)
Small handful of mint, chopped
Small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
4 dried apricots, sliced
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 lemon, juiced



  1. Place the couscous in a small shallow bowl or saucepan. Pour over the hot stock, stir and then cover. Leave to sit for 5 minutes then separate with a fork.
  2. Heat a small saucepan (dry) over a medium heat. Add the nuts and toast for 2 minutes until the pine nuts start to colour (don’t leave the pan and keep the nuts moving as pine nuts burn very easily!). Once toasted, transfer to a plate and leave to cool.
  3. Place the cooked couscous in a medium-sized mixing bowl with the other ingredients, season with salt and pepper  and combine well.
  4. Serve.
Iron boosting beef and super greens stir-fry

Iron boosting beef and super greens stir-fry

Worldwide, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder affecting large numbers of people (mostly women and children) in developing countries and one of the only nutrient deficiencies to be significantly prevalent in more economically developed countries.

In the UK, a significant number of women of all ages appear to have low intakes of iron with nearly a quarter shown to have low stores of the mineral putting them at risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia (compounded by monthly blood loss). Other groups at risk include older people, those who regularly take aspirin or ibuprofen, those with certain chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and pregnant women (particularly during the third trimester of pregnancy).

Iron deficiency can leave you feeling tired and lethargic as the there is not enough of the mineral to make healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. If left untreated this can lead to more serious symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations and hair loss. The human body is programmed to establish balance and when iron stores are depleted it absorbs more but if intake is low or losses are high then this is of little effect.

Red meat supplies one of the most efficient sources of iron in the diet but it’s not confined to this single food and other great providers include green veggies, tofu, quinoa, beans, nuts, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals and dried fruit. However, the amount of iron gleaned from plant-based foods is not as good as that of meat with some studies showing less than 25% absorption. The absorption of iron from such foods can be increased by teaming with those rich in vitamin C such as orange juice (some studies showing up to three times the amount of iron absorbed).

There are some foods that may inhibit iron absorption such as those rich in phytates (raw bran, beans), oxalates (spinach, kale, rhubarb, beetroot) and calcium. However, trying to consider all these foods on a daily basis is a lot to think about and if your diet is varied and balanced then your iron absorption is likely to not be significantly affected. In the presence of iron deficiency they may have some impact but my advice would be to focus on eating a wide variety of foods and especially those rich in iron. Polyphenols in tea and coffee are also thought to affect iron absorption so best to try and drink these between meals.

If you are worried about iron deficiency then go visit your GP who can run a blood test. If your stores are very low you may be advised to take an iron supplement and referred to a dietitian who can provide advise about your diet.

This stir-fry provides a mega-dose of high quality iron (9g per serving), which is 60% of the RDA for an adult female (set at 14.8mg). The veggies in this dish also provide nearly 300% of the RDA for vitamin C, which will help to maximise iron absorption.

I have indulgently opted for fillet steak in this recipe as it’s nice and lean, and remains beautifully tender when cooked. I also eat very little red meat so like to use the best quality on the occasions that I do (most supermarkets do a good value fillet steak). I have also used coconut oil which is great for stir-frying as it reaches a high cooking temperature as well as spring onions, green peppers, mushrooms and dark soy as these ingredients really complement the flavour of beef.


Beef and super greens stir-fry

Serves 2

400 calories (with quinoa)


100g quinoa
2 tsp extra virgin coconut oil
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
175g fillet steak, cut into thin strips
½ lime, juiced
200g tenderstem broccoli, stalks trimmed
4 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced into 1cm pieces (bulbs and tops)
1 medium courgette, diagonally sliced
1 small green pepper, sliced
½ green chilli, finely diced
Small handful of coriander
1 tbsp dark soy or tamari (reduced sodium)


1. Cook the quinoa by placing in a medium-sized saucepan with three times the amount of cold water (300ml). Bring to the boil and cook for 6-8 minutes until tender (the seeds will start to sprout when cooked). Drain using a sieve and set aside.
2. Heat the coconut oil in a wok over a high heat. Once the oil starts to glimmer add the garlic and ginger, cooking for 1 minute.
3. Add the beef strips and cook for a further 3-5 minutes depending on how cooked you prefer your steak then squeeze in the lime juice and stir.
4. Add the veggies to the pan (not the coriander) and stir continuously for 3-5 minutes (I prefer my veggies really crunchy but don’t like the taste of raw broccoli so once that is tender enough I take off the heat).
5. Turn off the heat and stir through the coriander and soy.
6. Serve in small bowls with the quinoa (you can stir the quinoa through the stir fry before serving)

Mushroom, lentil and walnut burgers

Mushroom, lentil and walnut burgers

Whilst they don’t really replicate the taste or texture of a meat burger, these vegetarian versions are pretty damn tasty, even got the approval of my carnivorous other half!

They’re a little squishy in a bun but work brilliantly with a crunchy avocado salad.  My top tip is to get your non-stick pan super hot before cooking the patties so the outsides get nice and crispy.

Mushrooms contain a good source of selenium and vitamin D, two nutrients shown to be lacking in the average UK diet.  These clever fungi have the unique ability to convert UV light into vitamin D, even after harvesting.  You can buy vitamin D rich mushrooms grown under UV light which is great for the winter otherwise simply leave your mushrooms in the sun so they can work their magic!


Mushroom, walnut and lentil burgers with crunchy avocado salad (download as PDF mushroom-lentil-and-walnut-burgers)

Serves 2/4

2 tbsp (30g) walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tsp olive oil
1 (75g) small onion, finely diced
2 (24g) cloves garlic, finely diced
150g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp (3g) smoked paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper (to taste)
Black pepper
½ of a 400g can puy lentils
10g coriander, finely copped
40g fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs


1 extra large avocado, halved and stone removed
1 small yellow pepper, finely diced
½ small onion, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely sliced
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds
½ red chilli, finely chopped (to taste)
1 lime, juiced
Sea salt
Black pepper


1. Set a small frying pan over a medium heat and add the walnuts to toast for a few minutes (don’t leave the pan as they can burn really easily!). Once toasted set aside to cool.

2. Heat the oil in a large deep-sided frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes or until softened.
Add the mushrooms and spices, cooking for a further 5 minutes. Season. Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool slightly.

3. Add the mushroom mixture and lentils to a food processor and blend until smooth.

4. Add this mixture to a large mixing bowl and combine with the walnuts, coriander and breadcrumbs.

5. Form the mixture into patties and set aside while you make the salad. You will get 2 large patties or 4 small from the mixture.

6. To make the salad, squeeze the avocado flesh from its skin into a medium-sized mixing bowl and break up, mashing slightly with the back of a fork.

7. Add the remaining salad ingredients and combine. Season.

8. To cook the patties, heat a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat. Once hot, add a little oil and gently place the burgers into the pan. Cook each side for 2-3 minutes so the patties start to colour and turn crispy.

9. Serve patties hot with crunchy avocado salad.


Download as PDF (mushroom-lentil-and-walnut-burgers)