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National curry week 2018 – health benefits of curry

National curry week 2018 – health benefits of curry

National curry week 2018

Curry is a word that typically conjures up an image of late-night dining following one too many beers after work on a Friday night or an unhealthy take-away food, but I’m going to put myself out there as saying this reputation is poorly misplaced.

Any food within a particular context could be deemed as being unhealthy but if you break down the components of curry and remove the beers and comfort eating aspect then what you’re left with is actually very healthy.

The origins of curry

The UK has adopted curry as a ‘national dish’ with thousands of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants creating British-Asian meals we’ve all become familiar with such as chicken tikka masala, Balti and vindaloo.  The word ‘curry’ was invented by the British when they ruled India and adapted from the Tamil word ‘kari’, meaning sauce.  This word has now become an umbrella term to describe dishes that have originated from the Indian subcontinent, but is a definition reserved for the British.

India consists of 28 states with most of these having their own regional cuisines, few of which include the word ‘curry’.  The curry powder we have been accustomed to wouldn’t feature in your typical Indian kitchen and is a British creation, which was developed by Indian spice merchants.  The closest Indian comparison is a blend called garam masala that tends to be used towards the end of cooking.

Traditional dishes originating or inspired by Indian cuisine are characterised by the extensive use of spices, which define the unique flavour of this cuisine.  Indian cooking also includes many plant foods such as vegetables, pulses and lentils that are also thought to have a multitude of positive health benefits.

Variety is key

India is one of many countries whose mealtimes are a sharing affair, which involves a number of different dishes mostly cooked from scratch. This way of eating not only illustrates the positive impact of eating together and sharing mealtimes but also includes eating a wide variety of foods offering a broad spectrum of nutrients.  It’s a fair argument that such cultures dedicate a lot of time to preparing meals and often have an inherited knowledge of recipes and cooking, which is very different to our time-stretched culture that has become over reliant on quick-fix meals and snacking.  However, drawing inspiration from such cultural dining practices may help to improve the way we tend to eat in the Western world.

The health benefits of spices

Many spices are used in Indian cuisine and also feature as a key component of Ayurvedic medicine, which is one of the oldest of traditional medicine systems originating from India thousands of years ago.  Spices are commonly defined as an aromatic part of a tropical plant, which includes roots, barks, flowers and seeds, most of which are Asian in origin. Advances in scientific research has helped to identify and explain some of the benefits associated with spices and how they may contribute to health and the reduction of disease risk.

Spices fight Inflammation

Inflammation is essential to life and is the body’s natural response to injury or infection.  The flip side is that inflammation can have a harmful effect and research has shown that factors such as obesity, smoking, stress and a sedentary lifestyle can promote inflammation to the point at which is contributes to a variety of diseases (1)

Acute inflammation is characterised by redness, swelling, pain and heat, which is a protective response designed to heal the body and restore normal tissue function.  Chronic inflammation can begin in the same way but morph into a state that lingers over a long period of time, failing to respond to the immune systems attempts to eliminate the problem. This low-level inflammation can also occur even when there is no injury or disease.  When the immune system becomes uncontrolled in this way, white blood cells can attack healthy tissues and organs, setting up chronic inflammatory processes that are thought to play a key part in many diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even Alzheimer’s.

Alongside maintaining a healthy body weight and making healthy lifestyle choices, diet is thought to have a role to play in helping to reduce inflammation.  Research has shown that spices possess anti-inflammatory properties and whilst the findings are mixed, they’re still promising and suggest a benefit to including these foods in your diet.

Spices act as antioxidants 

Spices along with fruits and vegetables are a key source of natural antioxidants in the diet.  These antioxidants help to reduce oxidative stress in the body, which is caused by a high concentration of free radicals in cells and tissues induced by a number of factors such as excess exposure to UV, stress, polluted food, smoking and adverse environmental conditions. If the body becomes overwhelmed with free radicals and is unable to regulate them it can alter lipids, proteins and DNA, potentially triggering disease.

It’s worth pointing out here that free radicals are a natural by-product of metabolism, which is defined as the chemical processes that occur within the body such as those involved in converting food into energy.  Free radicals are essential to life as the body’s ability to turn food into chemical energy relies on a chain reaction of free radicals, which are also a crucial part of the immune system, which help to attack pathogens (foreign invaders).

The term ‘antioxidant’ is somewhat overused in the health arena and whilst achieving a balance between free radicals and antioxidant intake is key, they shouldn’t be be viewed as a panacea to good health.  Many foods contain nutrients that act as antioxidants and whilst eating plenty of these foods such as spices may help to protect against the damage caused by excess free radicals that can build up in the body, it’s important to make lifestyle changes such as losing weight, stopping smoking, drinking less, managing stress and spending less time in the sun rather than relying solely on such foods and supplements to counteract the impact of these lifestyle habits.

The antioxidant activity of spices is related to their chemical composition, mostly the presence of polyphenolic and other biologically active compounds.  The primary antioxidants and biologically active compounds in spices include flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans, essential oils and alkaloids (2, 3).  These all behave in different ways such as flavonoids have the ability to scavenge free radicals and form complexes with catalytic metal ions that render them inactive (4).

A source of minerals

All spices are a source of minerals such as potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc.  Amongst all the minerals in spices, iron exists in the greatest concentration.  This mineral is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide.  Food surveys have shown that more than 27% of women in the UK have inadequate intakes of iron in their diet and low levels are compounded by monthly menstrual blood losses (5).  Including spices in your diet can be a really useful way to boost your intake of minerals such as iron.

Reducing salt in your diet

Spices enhance the flavour of food and can help to reduce the amount of salt used in cooking, which is good for people with high blood pressure.  Adding spices to food is also a good way to ‘tantalise the taste buds’ and there are many ways to include these in our cooking in the place of salt.

Interesting ways to include more Indian spices into your diet

  • Add turmeric to scrambled egg
  • Add curry powder to boiled rice
  • Use spices to create rubs and marinades for meats
  • Spices such as cumin and ground coriander work well in salad dressings
  • Try adding curry powder or garam masala to traditional homecooked dishes such as shepherd’s pie for an Indian twist
  • Spice up a jar of tomato cook-in-sauce with Indian spices that could include garam masala, curry powder, mustard seeds, turmeric or fresh curry leaves.
  • Try making homemade cashew nut milk with turmeric (great served hot or cold). Add 100g of raw cashew nuts, 1 tsp of turmeric powder, 1 tsp of ground cinnamon and 2 tsp of honey to a high-powered blender with 500ml of water then blitz until smooth.  You can loosen the consistency by adding more water if you like.
  • Add curry powder or garam masala to basic vegetable soup recipe or even shop-bought fresh soups for an Indian twist.

Plant-based eating

There are many benefits associated with eating more plant-based foods.  As a nation we do not eat enough fruits and vegetables with only a third of people managing to meet the five-a-day guidance (5).  Plant foods also provide a rich source of fibre that has been shown to help with good digestion and reduce the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes and help with weight loss.  In the UK it has been shown that less than 10% of adults achieve the recommended daily intake of 30g per day (5).

Anecdotally, many people find vegetables boring to eat and often say that they don’t enjoy the flavour.  In my experience of cooking with people, I have found that with a little inspiration, even the most disliked vegetables can be reinvented with the use of spices and become something completely different.  Spices can also be used to add an Indian twist to vegetarian dishes.

Indian spices are always a great way to spice food and these are just a few ways to turn a plain old vegetable or vegetarian dish into something that’s irresistibly delicious:

  • Rub cauliflower with curry paste and roast in the oven.
  • Combine a 400g can of chickpeas (drained) with 1 tbsp of garam masala or curry powder and roast in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes.
  • Stir-fry okra with chopped red onion, ginger and cherry tomatoes, and fresh curry leaves.
  • Fry mustard seeds and crushed coriander seeds in a pan with a little oil until they begin to pop. Take them off the heat and stir through blanched green beans with a little oil.
  • I’m always looking for ways to make cooking tofu more enjoyable and found that it lends itself well to Indian cuisine and is a great alternative to paneer. I also discovered recently that you can bake tofu, which gives it a firm meaty texture.  You need to choose extra firm varieties and it can be marinated before or after cooking.
  • Learn to make a basic dhal recipe such as this one from mine and Lily’s cookbook

Healthy curry food swaps

There’s no doubt that many of us choose to eat curry on a night out or as take-away on a night in, but it doesn’t need to be a calorie laden affair.

  • Rather than ordering a meal solely for yourself, opt for sharing and choose plenty of plant-based options such as lentils and vegetables
  • Try choosing tomato-based curries over those laden with cream or coconut milk, which can be high in saturated fat
  • Try choosing oven cooked (tandoor) meats such as chicken and teaming them with vegetable dishes
  • Ditch the breads such as chapatti and naan

The true health benefits of curry are often overshadowed by the reputation this type of food has acquired.  The use of spices and plant-based foods are at the root of the health benefits associated with this the of cuisine.

Try this healthy vegetarian curry recipe, which not only provides many of the health benefits associated with South Asian cuisine but tastes bloody great!

 

Butternut, lentil and coconut curry

Serves 4 (very generously)

Ingredients

1 butternut squash

2 low-sodium vegetable stock cubes

1 tbsp coconut or groundnut oil

2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Large thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated

1 red chilli, finely chopped

400g can coconut milk

1/2 tsp of sea salt

250g red lentils

2 tsp turmeric

Pinch of black pepper

2 large handfuls of spinach

1 large lime, juiced

2 large handfuls of coriander, finely chopped

 

Method

  1. Peel the squash, halve and remove the seeds then cut into 1 inch chunks.
  2. Dissolve the stock cubes in 1000ml of boiling water.
  3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over a medium heat.
  4. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli then fry gently for about 5 minutes until the ingredients are soft.
  5. Turn up the heat and add the squash, stock and coconut milk to the pan and bring to the boil. Check the curry for seasoning and add salt. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and place the lid on the pan then cook for 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the lid and add the lentils, turmeric and black pepper then simmer for a further 15-20 minutes over a medium heat until the squash and lentils are tender. Add a little more water of the curry starts to dry out.
  7. Take the curry off the heat and stir through the spinach, lime juice and coriander. The curry should be a thick consistency but add more water if needed.
  8. Serve in large bowls.

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22226987
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27881064
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411016302024
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618098/
  5. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
Chocolate can be good for you

Chocolate can be good for you

Chocolate can be good for you

This week is Chocolate Week!!!!

The History of chocolate 

The history of chocolate dates back over 3000 years to the Olmec civilization.  Cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are harvested from a tree called Theobroma Cacao, meaning ‘food of the Gods’.  Aztecs are thought to have enjoyed cacao beans by making a ‘drink’ called Chicolati, which was believed to increase wisdom, boost energy and act as an aphrodisiac. This brew was seasoned with vanilla, chilli, honey or fruit and whipped into a froth using little sticks.  I love their choice of flavours, which have now become commonplace amongst chocolate bars and puddings.

Since its discovery by Europeans and the vast time through to modern day, millions of people have helped to drive the popularity of this ultimate sweet treat.  The reputation of chocolate has evolved over time from a luxury food synonymous with wealth, to an easily affordable comfort food whilst the association with romantic gesture (food of love) and mood has remained since first discovered.

Global retail sales of chocolate are staggering with estimates of over £75 billion per year and in the UK alone, we spend over £3 billion annually.

Types of chocolate

Chocolate comes in many forms nowadays and is defined by the percentage of cocoa it contains.  Milk chocolate contains a low percentage of cocoa (23% cocoa solids) and is high in sugar and saturated fat.  Darker varieties have a greater percentage of cocoa (anything from 70-90% cocoa solids) and slightly less sugar and saturated fat (although still high).  Cocoa powder contains hardly any sugar, low amounts of saturated fat and is rich in minerals and other compounds that may benefit health.

Nutritional content of cocoa

Cocoa in its raw form is a good source of minerals including iron (helps to maintain healthy red blood cell production), magnesium (helps to maintain healthy bones, promotes muscle relaxation and converts food into energy), phosphorus (healthy bones and converts food into energy), potassium (helps maintain fluid balance and helps the heart to work properly),  zinc (helps to make new cells and enzymes in the body and wound healing) and copper (helps to produce red and white blood cells and with iron usage in the body).

Nutritional breakdown of unsweetened cocoa powder per 2 heaped tsp

Calories         44

Fat                  1.9g

Sat fat             1.8g

Carb                 1.6g

Sugar              0g

Fibre               2.3g

Protein           2.6g

Also contains….

Iron                 1.57mg (11% RDA)

Magnesium    73mg   (19% RDA)

Phosphorus    92mg (13% RDA)

Potassium       210mg (10.5% RDA)

Zinc                 0.97mg (9.7% RDA)

Copper           0.55mg (55% RDA)

Other compounds found in cocoa

Cocoa is richer in antioxidants that almost any other food on the planet.  These antioxidant compounds are called flavanol polyphenols and have been shown to help reduce the risk of disease. Cocoa also contains a compound called theobromine, which acts as a stimulant similar to caffeine but without the jittery side-effects. You will also find phenethylamine (PEA) in cocoa, which is a compound that stimulates the central nervous system to amplify the action of brain chemicals including the ‘feel’ good hormones serotonin and dopamine.  Phenethylamine is also thought to mimic the brain chemistry of someone in love, which is why it’s often thought of as an aphrodisiac.

What are the potential health benefits of cocoa?

In moderation there’s nothing wrong with eating chocolate within the context of a healthy diet, but too much of anything can have its downsides and our reliance on high sugar snacks has been instrumental in the rise of diet related diseases including obesity.

Whilst overindulging on chocolate snack bars and puddings is clearly not great for your health, research has shown that there may be health benefits associated with cocoa, which is the raw ingredient.

Just to be clear, there are no benefits associated with tucking into a few packets of Minstrels and any positive impact on health is linked to cocoa in its raw form of cocoa powder or raw cacao.  The closest chocolate comes to having any health benefits is the dark variety with a high percentage of cocoa solids (70% and above), but this still needs to be eaten in moderation given its high sugar and sat fat content.

Heart disease

The polyphenols in cocoa are thought to dilate the arteries, which improves elasticity and may reduce the risk of heart attack. The effect of these antioxidants is also thought to be similar to aspirin in that they help to thin the blood and prevent unwanted clots with research showing that the effect after drinking a cup of cocoa lasting more than 6 hours (1).  Findings from a large analysis of seven studies carried out by researchers at Cambridge University found that both men and women with the highest intake of cocao were 37% less likely to suffer with coronary heart disease and 29% less likely to experience a stroke compared to those with the lowest intakes (2).

Cholesterol

Studies have shown that cocoa may have a positive impact on cholesterol, raised levels of which are considered to be a risk factor for heart disease.  Findings from a clinical trial published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that the polyphenols found in cocoa powder contributed to a reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol, elevation in HDL (good) cholesterol and suppressed the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is thought to be particularly damaging to tissues such as those lining the arteries of the heart (3).   The effect on oxidation may be explained by the antioxidant effect of polyphenols as they help to protect the body from free radical damage (4).

Blood pressure

Research around blood pressure stems from islanders of Kuna that don’t appear to develop high blood pressure as they get older, which is in part attributed to the high amounts of cocoa they consume on a daily basis. It was noticed that once they left the island and consumed less cocoa they lost the protective effect on blood pressure.  The link between cocoa and blood pressure is that the flavanols it contains increase the availability of nitric oxide in the blood, which dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.  Researchers from Adelaide University found that drinking cocoa (rich in flavanols) significantly lowered blood pressure when compared to a flavanol-free placebo drink (5).  Similar findings have also been shown in several other studies although the effect is not that strong (6, 7).

Brain health

Studies have shown that drinking cocoa at least 5 days of the week boosts the flow of blood to the parts of the brain that help with cognition and may improve performance and alertness (8).  The antioxidants in cocoa also help to neutralise the low-grade inflammation associated with ‘foggy’ thoughts. Studies of older people that are mentally impaired have found that those who regularly drank cocoa had greater improvements in memory and verbal reasoning than those who did not (9). It’s for this reason that cocoa has been of interest to researchers investigating dementia.

Chocolate as a functional food?

Advances in innovation have seen a rise in chocolate products with added health benefits.  Companies such as Ombar produce a dark chocolate bar fortified with probiotic cultures.

How to add more cocoa into your diet

Whilst many people enjoy eating chocolate and may understand the potential benefit of choosing dark over milk varieties, less people know how to use cocoa powder beyond a drink.

If you’re not familiar with using cocoa powder, then try these ideas below for a little inspiration:

  • Add 1 tbsp to your protein shake.
  • Add 1 tbsp to porridge.
  • Make homemade energy balls by blending cocoa or raw cacao powder, dates and chopped hazelnuts to a food processor.
  • Combine 1 tbsp with hot milk of choice for a warming evening drink rich in magnesium that helps to promote muscle relaxation and has been shown by research to induce sleep. Try adding cinnamon, ground cardamom or chilli for extra flavour.
  • Add cocoa or raw cacao powder to chilli con carne for richness and intense flavour.

The reality of chocolate and health

The truth still remains that chocolate, even dark chocolate, is never going to be considered a healthy food as it contains high amounts of sugar and saturated fat, which if eaten in excess will counteract any potential health benefits of cocoa.  However, you can reap the health benefits of cocoa by incorporating it into your diet in ways that allow you to control the amount of sugar and saturated fat.  It’s also worth pointing out that the true benefit of nutrition lies in the overall diet and not single foods so whilst the health potential of cocoa is interesting, you still need to focus on eating a well balanced and varied diet.

Try this recipe from my book The Detox Kitchen Bible.  These brownies are still a sweet treat but contain much less sugar than usual recipes and harness the benefits of cocoa.

Beetroot Brownies

Makes 9

Ingredients

150g raw beetroot, peeled and cut into small cubes

50g hazelnuts

100g gluten and wheat-free flour

1 tsp baking powder

60g raw cacao powder

120g runny honey

½ tsp salt

3 eggs

75ml rapeseed oil

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Line the bottom and sides of a 20cm square cake tin with greaseproof paper.
  2. Put the beetroot in a microwave-safe bowl with 50ml water, cover with clingfilm and cook on a high heat for 7 minutes until soft. If you don’t have a microwave, wrap the beetroot in foil and bake in the heated oven for about 40 minutes until soft.
  3. Put the hazelnuts in a blender and blitz until they are roughly chopped. Transfer them to a large mixing bowl. Sift in the flour, baking powder and cacao powder.
  4. Now blitz the cooked beetroot in the blender for 1–2 minutes until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients in the bowl but do not mix just yet.
  5. Using the blender for the third time, put the honey, salt and eggs in it and blitz for 3 minutes. Pour into the bowl and mix with the rest of the ingredients using a wooden spoon. Be gentle, as you want to keep air in the mixture whilst combining it thoroughly.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the heated oven for about 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

You can find more delicious recipes from Lilly and the gang at the Detox Kitchen website.

If you liked this blog and want to learn more about chocolate then have a read of these:

Raw cacao and avocado mousse recipe 

Raw cacao and cashew nut milk

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10871557
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21875885
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17513403
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11684527
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19910929
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17609490
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22301923
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16794461
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25733639

 

A natural approach to reducing cholesterol

A natural approach to reducing cholesterol

A natural approach to reducing cholesterol

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that comprise all heart and circulatory diseases which includes coronary heart diseases (CHD), angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease, hypertension, stroke and vascular dementia.  This collection of conditions contributes to the most common cause of death. The risk of developing CVD is closely linked to lifestyle and dietary habits and the foods you choose to eat can have a big impact both on blood fats and body weight.

A poor diet is characterised by foods which are high in sugar and unhealthy fats.   The impact of this type of diet on your health is amplified by the amount of food you eat, which dictates your body weight (a risk factor for CVD).  High cholesterol is a risk factor for CVD and according to statistics from the charity organisation Heart UK, more than half of all adults have raised cholesterol levels. Adopting a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise can help to lower your cholesterol and as such reduce your risk of disease.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood and in your cells. Your liver makes most of the cholesterol in your body and the rest comes from foods you eat. Cholesterol itself isn’t bad and your body needs it to make hormones, vitamin D, digestive fluids and for your organs to function properly.

There are two forms of cholesterol:

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the unhealthy kind of cholesterol often referred to as ‘bad’.  LDL cholesterol can build up in your arteries and form fatty, waxy deposits called plaques.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the healthy kind of cholesterol often referred to as ‘good’. It transports excess cholesterol out of your arteries to your liver, which removes it from your body.

What happens if you have high cholesterol?

High cholesterol itself doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, but it does increase your risk of serious health conditions.  Over time, high levels of LDL cholesterol, especially when oxidised, can damage your arteries, contribute to heart disease, and increase your risk of stroke. Oxidised LDL cholesterol is more likely to stick to the walls of your arteries to form plaques that clog blood vessels.  Smaller LDL particles are more likely to become oxidised by way of excess free radicles, which can build up as a result of smoking, poorly controlled diabetes, excess sugar, excess trans fats and stress.  Oxidised LDL cholesterol can increase inflammation, which over time has the potential to damage tissues and organs in the body.

What can increase your risk of having raised cholesterol?

Many factors can increase your chances of having heart problems or a stroke if you have high cholesterol.

  • An unhealthy diet– especially if rich in saturated fat and sugar, whilst lacking in vegetables
  • Smoking- one particular chemical found in cigarettes called acrolein stops HDL from functioning properly, which can lead to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Diagnosed with diabetesor high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • A family history of heart disease

Exercise also plays an important role

Being overweight and not exercising affects the fats circulating within the bloodstream.  Carrying excess weight can increase levels of LDL cholesterol, whilst being inactive can depress protective HDL cholesterol. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising can help to reverse these effects on cholesterol.

Where does diet fit into the equation?

Certain foods have been shown to reduce cholesterol and can be used alongside medication or as a natural approach to tackling raised cholesterol.  Certain foods work in different ways to lower cholesterol through the effect of soluble fibre (removes LDL cholesterol from the body), unsaturated fats (rebalances cholesterol levels) and plant sterols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.

There’s a misconception that foods naturally high in dietary cholesterol such as eggs and shellfish are harmful, but the effect of these foods has little impact.  Cholesterol production is tightly regulated and most of what circulates in the body is made ‘in-house’.  It’s the overconsumption of foods high in sat fats and sugar, and not dietary cholesterol that prompts the body to create excess.

Foods that help to lower and maintain healthy cholesterol levels

Certain foods have been shown to have a beneficial role in lowering and maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol including:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Beans, pulses and lentils
  • Nuts
  • Foods fortified with plant sterols
  • Oily fish
  • Soy foods

Ideas for food swaps that can help you to reduce your cholesterol levels

These food swaps encompass the foods that have been shown to help lower and maintain healthy levels of cholesterol.

Breakfast cereal for oats

UK dietary guidelines suggest that we aim to eat 30g of fibre per day but findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey have shown that most people only manage to achieve two thirds of this target and that only 9% of men and 4% of women meet the guidance (1).

As far as cholesterol is concerned, it’s soluble fibre that has the greatest impact.  These fibres dissolve in the gut to form a thick paste that binds with cholesterol and cholesterol like substances preventing them from being absorbed.  Oats contain a type of fibre known as oat beta glucan. To get the greatest benefit, research has suggested aiming to eat 3g of oat beta glucan per day (2-4 portions of oat-based foods) and shown that this may help to reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 10% over 4 weeks (2).

Swap you usual cereal for something oat based.  Oats can be used to make porridge or soaked oats, and granola is a tasty option to top yoghurt.  You can also add oats to breakfast smoothies.

Cow’s milk for soy alternative

The protein found in soy-based foods such as tofu, edamame beans and soy milk have been shown to help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and form a key part of the Portfolio diet. Research has suggested that a 25g daily intake of soy protein can help to lower LDL cholesterol by up to six percent (3).

Food Average serving size Soy protein per serving
Soya milk alternative 250ml 7.5g
Soya yoghurt alternative 125g 5g
Edamame beans 80g 9.3g
Soya nuts (roasted) 30g 15g
Soya mince 100g 16.4g
Tofu 75g 12g
Soya dessert 125g 3.8g

Switching cow’s milk with a soy alternative is a useful way to increase your intake of soy protein.  This alternative can be used in the same way as milk but look for a brand that’s fortified with calcium.

Chocolate bar for dried fruit and nut bar

Processed foods such as chocolate bars are not just high in saturated fat but also added sugars, which can increase levels of LDL cholesterol if eaten in excess.  Dried fruit and nut bars contain less saturated and more monounsaturated fats, which are found in nuts.  Monounsaturated fats help to lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Various studies have shown how nuts including almonds, peanuts and walnuts in your diet (50g per day) can slightly lower LDL cholesterol by up to five percent (4).

Dried fruits also have heart healthy properties as they contain resveratrol, which is a polyphenol antioxidant thought to be associated with good heart health.  Sultanas and raisins are particularly high in resveratrol.

Cream for low fat yoghurt

Cream is another food that is high in saturated fat, which can increase your levels of LDL cholesterol.  Saturated fat is not all bad and it does also help to lower triglycerides and nudge up levels of HDL cholesterol when eat in moderation.

Switching to low fat yoghurt over cream is a simple food swap that can be used in the same way when cooking.  You can flavour yoghurt with spices such as cinnamon, vanilla or lemon juice, which makes a nice accompaniment to fruit or fruit-based puddings.

The topic of saturated fat and its role in heart disease is one that continues to cause debate. Regardless of opinion, limiting your saturated fat intake, especially from processed foods will help to maintain a healthy body weight and balance out cholesterol levels.

Butter for low fat spread fortified with plant sterols such as Benacol

The market for functional foods has grown in recent years and at the forefront are plant sterols, which have been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol.  Plant sterols are extracted from plant gums and help to lower LDL cholesterol by inhibiting it from being absorbed in the body.  Foods with added plant sterols include spreads, milk, orange juice and yoghurt, which can all easily be incorporated into the diet.

Research has shown that consuming 2g of plant sterols per day can lower LDL cholesterol by around ten percent (5).  Try swapping butter for a lower fat spread fortified with plant sterols.

Red meat for oily fish

Red meat, especially fatty varieties, are rich in saturated fat, which can raise levels of LDL cholesterol.  There are many benefits associated with limiting your intake of red meat, which include reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.  Opting for alternative source of protein can be beneficial and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout not only help to regulate cholesterol levels but contain omega 3 fatty acids that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Omega 3 fatty acids increase HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol as well as reducing triglycerides in the bloodstream.  Swapping red meat for oily fish can reduce your overall intake of saturated fat and offer the benefits associated with omega 3 fatty acids.

White rice for barley

Like oats, barley contains beta glucans that have been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol.  Beta glucan binds to bile acids in the gut which increases their excretion from the body. This reduced level of bile acids stimulates its production in the liver. In order for the liver to synthesise bile acids it requires LDL cholesterol, which is drawn from circulation in the body. The net effect is a reduction in circulating LDL cholesterol.

Barley can be used in place of rice and works really well in risottos.

Raised cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease but is easily reversed by the adoption of healthy diet and lifestyle habits, which also influence many other areas of health. If you have high cholesterol and want to approach it from a diet perspective, then including the foods above can help you to achieve the greatest impact.

If you liked this blog and want to learn more about diet and cholesterol then try reading these:

How easy is it to get your ten-a-day?

Turmeric chicken with Asian slaw recipe

Mexican prawn and black bean salad recipe

Super green stir-fry with smoked tofu recipe 

Avocado and white bean smash recipe 

Nutty couscous and veggie salad recipe 

Oat Bircher muesli recipe 

Edamame bean salad recipe

 

References

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21631511
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409663/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16140880
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24468148
Ten prebiotic foods you need to know about

Ten prebiotic foods you need to know about

Ten prebiotic foods you need to know about

Gut health has become a hot topic in the world of nutrition and as research evolves it’s becoming very clear that the beneficial role of microbes found in the gut goes way beyond digestion.  The collection of microbes in your gut are referred to as your microbiome and advice about how to protect it has become commonplace.

Your gut microbiome is sensitive to your lifestyle and dietary habits; both  can either promote a good diversity of microbes in the gut or tip the balance in the opposite direction, which may have a negative impact on your health.

The foods that can have the biggest positive effect on your microbiome are those containing beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and those containing indigestible fibres referred to as prebiotics.

Your microbiome is unique like a fingerprint

The term ‘microbiome’ refers to the collection of microbes that live in and on the body, of which there are around 100 trillion, the majority of which are found in the gut.  These bugs form a protective barrier defending the body from foreign invaders, which can be harmful to health.

The microbes in your gut include bacteria, which are essential for efficient digestion.  These bacteria also help to digest antioxidant polyphenols, synthesise vitamins such as B12, D, folic acid and thiamine, and produce short chain fatty acids that provide energy to the cells of your colon helping to maintain a strong gut barrier.  Gut bacteria have also been shown to play a role in immunity and new research is starting to explore the effect on the brain with early findings linking the diversity of bacteria in your gut to mental health and obesity (via the effect on hormones that control appetite).

Like a fingerprint, your microbiome is unique, and its composition is dictated by the world around you and within you.

Cultivation is key to a healthy microbiome

It’s yet unclear what constitutes a ‘healthy’ microbiome but one thing for sure is that it takes a bit of cultivation.  If your gut becomes overrun with bad bacteria then this can upset the balance of your microbiome, which may lead to symptoms such as bloating, excessive gas, abnormal bowels, bad breath and fatigue.

A poor diet is characterised by an over-consumption of sugar and bad fats, whilst lacking in nutritious foods such as vegetables and other wholefoods including beans, pulses and wholegrains.  This type of diet has been shown to promote the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut  (1, 2, 3).

Medication can also impact on gut bacteria as the overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and antibiotics have the potential to destroy them, which can leave your gut vulnerable and increase the risk of infection.

What are prebiotics?

No doubt you will have heard about probiotics, which are friendly bacteria found in foods such as live yoghurt and supplements.  Other foods such as kimchi, kefir and miso also contain bacteria, which are beneficial to health.

The role of prebiotics is less well understood but they’re equally, if not more important than probiotics as these indigestible fibres help the bacteria in your gut to thrive.  Probiotic supplements have the potential to be very beneficial, especially if you need to re-balance the diversity of bacteria in your gut but the same is not necessarily true of prebiotics.

There are many food sources of prebiotics, which include inulin, lignin, oligosaccharides, mucilage gums, non-starch polysaccharides (pectin and beta glucans) and resistant starches.  Foods containing these prebiotics can easily be incorporated into your daily diet and many of which you may already be eating on a regular basis. You’re more likely to be eating prebiotic foods if your diet is healthy and contains plenty of plant-based foods.

Ten top prebiotic foods to include in your diet

There are quite a few prebiotic foods, but I have chosen the ones that are more commonly eaten and easily accessed from your local supermarket.

1.Jerusalem artichoke

This vegetable is now available in larger supermarkets and is in season between October and February.  Jerusalem artichokes contain 2g of fibre per 100g and 76% comes from inulin. You can also glean a good source of thiamine (healthy nervous system and releases energy from food) and iron (healthy immune system, red blood cell production and wards of tiredness) from Jerusalem artichokes.

These are not a commonly eaten vegetable as many people are unsure how to use them.  Jerusalem artichokes have a nutty flavour and can be used in the same way as potatoes in that they can be roasted and mashed, and also work well in soups.

2.Garlic

This vegetable is closely related to onions and leeks. Garlic can form the base of many home-cooked dishes alongside onions, which means it’s easy to add to your daily diet.  Around 11% of the fibre found in garlic comes from inulin and 6% from fructooligosaccharides, which add a slight sweetness to its flavour.

3.Onions

Onions are another food that can easily be included into your daily diet as it acts as a base for many home-cooked dishes.  Around 10% of the fibre found in onions comes from inulin and 6% from fructooligosaccharides.  Onions also contain a good source of vitamin C (protects cells, maintains healthy skin and helps with wound healing) and the flavonoid quercetin, which acts as an antioxidant in the body.

4.Leeks

This vegetable is similar to garlic and onions but less commonly used.  Around 16% of the fibre found in leeks is from inulin.  Leeks are also high in flavonoids, which support the body to respond to oxidative stress.  You can also glean a good source of vitamin A (healthy immune system, eyes, skin and mucosal linings such as the nose), vitamin C (protects cells, maintains healthy skin and helps with wound healing) and vitamin K (blood clotting and healthy bones) from leeks.

You can serve leeks as a side dish, incorporate into soups or a topping for pies.

5.Apples

There’s a lot of truth in the saying about an apple a day keeping the doctor away, and this includes the health of your gut.  Around 50% of the fibre found in apples is from pectin.  This prebiotic not only benefits the health of your microbiota but has been shown to help reduce cholesterol.  Apples are also high in polyphenol antioxidants.

As well as snacking on apples you can use them to make fruit puddings, add to savoury dishes and grate as a topping for yoghurt or soaked oats.

6.Asparagus

This vegetable is now available all year round with supermarkets importing it from countries such as Peru.  To savour the best tasting Asparagus and save on food miles, you’re better to wait until the British asparagus season, which occurs between April and May.   Asparagus is not as rich in prebiotics as other vegetables with only around 5% of the fibre coming from inulin. This vegetable also contains a good source of vitamin A (healthy immune system, eyes, skin and mucosal linings such as the nose), vitamin K (blood clotting and healthy bones) and folate (healthy red blood cells and protection against neural tube defects in unborn babies).

Asparagus is delicious served on its own with a big drizzle of olive oil or topped with a poached egg for breakfast.  You can also add asparagus to pasta dishes, risottos and soups.

7.Bananas

These fruits are one of the most commonly eaten in the UK and contain small amounts of inulin.  Unripe (green) bananas are high in resistant starch and feature as an ingredient in many Caribbean dishes. Bananas are also a good source of vitamin B6 (converts food into energy and helps to form haemoglobin in red blood cells).

Bananas can be eaten as a snack, baked and used in smoothies and fruit puddings.  For something different, try adding to curries.

8.Barley

This grain is not as commonly used as others such as rice but is actually hugely versatile once you know how to use it.  Barley contains around 8g of beta glucan per 100g, which is not only good for your gut but has been shown to help reduce cholesterol. Barley also contains the minerals magnesium (converts food into energy, promotes muscle relaxation and healthy bones) and selenium (protects cells and promotes a healthy immune system).

Barley can be used in place of rice to make risotto, added to soups or salads (cooked).

9.Potatoes

Potatoes are a starchy carbohydrate as are other foods such as grains.  Starches are long chains of glucose, which the body uses for energy.  When potatoes are cooked and then cooled, they develop resistant starches, which the body is unable to break down and as such behave as prebiotics.

10.Flaxseeds

These seeds are hugely healthy and a good source of prebiotics with 20-40% of their fibre coming from mucilage gums and 60-80% from cellulose and lignin.  Flaxseeds also contain phenolic antioxidants and are a useful source of protein. You can also glean a good source of minerals from flaxseed including magnesium (converts food into energy, promotes muscle relaxation and healthy bones), iron (healthy immune system, red blood cell production and wards of tiredness), calcium (healthy bones and teeth) and zinc (converts food into energy, involved in making new cells and enzymes and helps with wound healing).  Flaxseed are also rich in omega 3 and although the conversion to more usable forms of this fatty acid in the body is poor, it’s still a useful source, especially for people following a plant-based diet.

You can add seeds to any dish and also smoothies.

If you’re eating a healthy diet, then many of the foods included will naturally take care of your gut and including the foods listed above will be especially useful to promote the health of your microbiome.

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3493718/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4005082/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4083503/
Colour code your health by eating the rainbow!

Colour code your health by eating the rainbow!

Colour code your health by eating a rainbow of foods (download as PDF Colour code your health with rainbow foods)

It feels as though we are continually being told to eat more fruits and vegetables to maintain good health and keep diseases at bay, with current research suggesting that eating five-a-day is not enough to reap the health benefits they have to offer.  So, what exactly is it about these nutritious colourful allies that makes them so great? 

The protective effect of antioxidant micronutrients such as the ACE vitamins and selenium have been understood for some time now.  These antioxidants are essential to help reduce free radicals in the body (unstable molecules produced from digestion and exposure to pollution, sunlight and cigarette smoke) and they have have been attributed to lowering the risk of many diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia.  However, research has now moved forward to discover the beneficial effects of compounds known as phytonutrients that are responsible for colouring fruits and vegetables, and how they too can have a powerful effect on our health and reduce the risk of disease.

 


“The protective effect of antioxidant micronutrients such as the ACE vitamins and selenium have been understood for some time now”


 

Phytochemicals originally evolved to help plants protect themselves from diseases and insects and research is beginning to demonstrate that in the same way they can also help to protect us from disease.  There are thousands of phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables and as the research is new we’re only just starting to unveil their identity and extremely complex action within the body.

Although the science is complex, the message is simple; eat a wide variety of different coloured foods.  As nutrients in foods work in synergy and different phytonutrients can be more freely absorbed depending on their make up within the structure of the food, it’s also a good idea to not only mix colours and types of fruits and vegetables but also cooking methods combining raw with cooked (such as adding roasted sweet potato or tomatoes to salad).

 


“Although the science is complex, the message is simple; eat a wide variety of different coloured foods”


 

By dividing different fruits and vegetables by their hue you can see how mother nature has allowed us to colour code our health by eating a rainbow of foods.

 

Red and pink 

 

 

Foods:  watermelon, pomegranate, red peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, pink grapefruit, cranberries, red grapes, raspberries, rhubarb, red chillies

Benefit: Most red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene, which is a member of the carotenoid family which are converted into vitamin A within the body.  This vitamin along with vitamins C and E help to protect the body from free radical damage.  Studies show that Lycopene* may reduce the risk of prostate cancer as well as helping to promote good colon health.  Red berries contain ellagic acid (helps to support the immune system) and anthocyanins, which research suggests reduces inflammation and help preserve memory whilst helping to slow down the degenerative processes of ageing.  These are also considered to be protective against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease as well as showing antiviral and antibacterial properties.

*Lycopene is more freely available in processed or cooked tomatoes.  Try roasting cherry tomatoes with balsamic and a little olive oil, which helps with the absorption of lycopene.

 

Yellow and orange

 

 

Foods: Yellow peppers, orange peppers, cantaloupe melon, carrots, sweetcorn, butternut squash, mangoes, grapefruit, peaches, pineapples, oranges

Benefit: The key antioxidant found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are carotenoids (also found in green leafy vegetables). These are converted to vitamin A in the body, which is essential for healthy skin and eyes.  Beta-carotene has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers as well as playing a role in the immune system, reducing cognitive decline and possibly dementia risk.  You will also find a group of compounds in this hue known as bioflavonoids which studies suggest reduce inflammation in the body and may also work to slow down the development of cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Combining your orange foods with healthy fats found in avocados or oils will help with the absorption of carotenoids.  Try drizzling olive oil over roasted butternut squash.

 

Green

 

Foods: Peas, kale, broccoli, kiwi fruit, avocado, mint, gooseberries, grapes, asparagus, artichokes, pak choi, honeydew melon, green peppers, Brussles sprouts, cabbage, green beans

Benefit: Lutein (found also in yellow fruits and vegetables) and zeaxanthin found in green vegetables are major pigments in the eyes and important for the maintenance of healthy vision.  Studies have shown that people who eat higher amounts of these compounds in their diet have a lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) which is a major cause of blindness as we age. Zeaxanthin may also help to reduce the risk of breast and lung cancers, and play a role in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. Leutiolin is another antioxidant found in green peppers and celery which has been found to lower inflammation in the brain and central nervous system. Green foods also contain quercetin which also has an anti-inflammatory effect within the body.

 

Purple and blue

 

Foods: black grapes, beetroot, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, red onions, aubergines, purple potatoes, purple cabbage, plums

Benefit: Anthocyanins are present in this colourful group of fruits and vegetables.  These compounds are thought to reduce inflammation, which may help with preservation of memory and reduced risk of certain cancers. Blueberries have been the focus of research into the effects of anthocyanins and reduced mental decline (including Alzheimer’s).  Purple grapes are especially high in a type of polyphenol known as resveratrol, which has been shown to protect against heart disease and promote a healthy circulatory system by reducing the levels of bad blood fats and blocking the formation of blood clots (which can cause heart attack and stroke).  Blackberries contain ellagic acid and catechins, which may help to protect against cancer.

 

White

 

Foods: Mushrooms, garlic, onions, cauliflower, endive, parsnips, turnip, taro, celeriac

Benefit: Although not strictly a colour of the rainbow, white vegetables also contain a variety of phytonutrients that can have a protective effect on your health.  Onions and garlic contain quercetin and allicin, which are known to kill harmful bacteria and protect capillaries (smallest of the body’s blood vessels).  You will find powerful polyphenols in mushrooms which can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.  Glucosinolates and thiocyanates found in cauliflower may also help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer as well as help with digestive disorders.

 

Just adding a few more colours to your meals each day can make a big difference to the nutritional quality of your diet.  Here are my top five tips to adding a little extra colour to your diet:

  • Try to include at least two different colour vegetables with each meal, this could be a salad with tomatoes and cucumber, roasted squash and beetroot or peas with baby onions
  • Smoothies and juices are a great way to combine lots of different coloured fruits and vegetables such as beetroot, carrot and apple
  • Homemade soups are an easy way to combine colours as are stews and casseroles
  • Snack on a variety of chopped veggies (perhaps with a dip such as hummus) such as courgette, red peppers and carrot
  • Throw a handful of mixed berries over porridge, breakfast cereal or yoghurt;  you could even combine them with sweet apples to make a antioxidant-rich fruit compote

 (download as PDF Colour code your health with rainbow foods)

How easy is it to get your 10-a-day?

How easy is it to get your 10-a-day?

How easy is it to get 10-a-day? (download PDF How easy is it to get 10)

So, just when you thought you were managing to eat your 5-a-day, new research by Imperial Collage London shows that we should be eating 10-a-day to get the best benefits for our health.  Evidence shows that eating fruits and vegetables can help to protect against diseases such as heart disease and cancer.  The benefits of these plant foods lie in their high fibre content as well as the vitamins, minerals and other plant compounds they contain. 

 

What makes fruits and vegetables so beneficial for health?

As well as vitamins and minerals that are essential for life, fruits and vegetables also contain a good source of fibre, which is lacking in the average UK diet.  Fruits and vegetables also contain phytonutrients, which are not essential to life but have an added health benefit.  These plant compounds are responsible for their bright colours and act as antioxidants in the body that help to reduce inflammation and the damage caused by excess free radicals that can build up because of a poor diet, environmental factors and stress.   Such compounds include beta carotene (found in orange and green varieties), anthocyanins (found in blue and purple varieties) and lycopene (found in red varieties).  Certain phytonutrients have also been linked to specific conditions such as lutein and zeaxanthin (found in yellow and green vegetables), which have been shown by research to help protect against age related macular degeneration (leading cause of blindness in older people.

The other significant factor here is that if you’re eating 10-a-day then the chances are you have a very heathy diet, which of course will protect you against diseases as well as help you maintain a healthy weight (a risk factor for many diseases).

 

How much do we currently eat?

The last National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS 2016) showed that the average intake of fruits and vegetables is 4 serving per day.  If you take fruit out of the equation, then this drops to 3.4 servings per day.  On average, it seems that only 27% of adults manage to eat 5-a-day.

The key benefits lie in vegetable intake so it’s this that we need to focus on to glean the greatest benefit to health. 

 

So what counts?

A serving of fruits and vegetables is 80g (40g of dried fruit).  All fruits and vegetables count and some portions may be heavier than 80g such as a whole pepper (160g) or half an aubergine (150g).   Smoothies are classed as 2 servings and juices as 1 serving but only once in the day.   A single portion of pulses and beans (even baked beans!) are classed as 1 serving but only once in the day.  Cook-in-sauces can also count if they’re tomato-based so if you chuck in a few handfuls of frozen peas to your pasta sauce you’re already getting 2 servings.

 

Is 10-a day completely unachievable?

Absolutely not! You could even be eating more than you think.  In relation to the 5-a-day guidance, the NHS says, “evidence shows that there are significant health benefits to getting at least five 80g portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. That’s five portions of fruit and veg in total, not five portions of each.”  So, the new 10-a-day goal is 800g of fruit and vegetables not necessarily 10 individual servings of each, although including lots of different varieties can means a wider range of nutrients.

This may help to ease the daunting thought of 10-a-day as composite dishes add up.  A simple chilli could in fact provide you with 2-3 servings when you count the canned tomatoes, red kidney beans, peppers, onions and garlic.  Serve with guacamole or a tomato salad and you could get as much as 4 servings in one meal.

Some people may feel that cost is an issue but frozen vegetables can provide a cheaper way to add these foods to your diet.  Canned pulses are also a cheap way to add a serving of vegetables as well as bulking out meals and adding protein and key minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc. to your diet.  You can also source cheaper vegetables from local markets and buying in season helps as well.

 

Top ten tips to achieving 10-a-day 

  1. Keep frozen vegetables and canned pulses to hand as they’re a quick way to add a serving of vegetables to your dishes.  Just remember to grab a few handfuls when you’re cooking.
  2. Dried fruit makes for a great healthy snack and 40g counts as one of your five-a-day.
  3. Get creative with toppings at breakfast by adding fresh or dried fruits to cereal or yoghurt.
  4. Toast can either be a breakfast option or a snack and you can add a serving of fruit and vegetables by topping with mashed banana or guacamole (try jazzing this up with lime juice, chillies and spring onions or even a sprinkle of chill powder).
  5. Potatoes don’t count but sweet potatoes do.  Swap them for your usual baked potato or add them roasted and chopped to salads.  They also make great dips!
  6. If your trying to make a dish go further or reduce your food bill by cutting down on meat then replace half the meat in a recipe with canned lentils, which are a good source of protein and key minerals as well as adding a serving of vegetables to your daily intake.
  7. Remember it’s the sum weight of the vegetables that count.  Homemade soups and stir fries can add as much as 3 servings to your daily intake.
  8. Choose vegetables that are the least hassle to prepare.  There’s no point buying squash and beetroots if you don’t know what to do with them and they just end up going off in the fridge.  Green beans, Tenderstem broccoli, frozen peas or soya beans are easy to chuck in a pan of boiling water.
  9. If you find vegetables boring, then explore cuisines such as Indian that make the most of vegetables by using tasty spices.  Dried spices also help to boost your intake of minerals such as iron and have been shown to hold some interesting anti-inflammatory properties.
  10. Get creative!  If you have picky eaters, then try blending vegetables before adding to dishes.  There are also lots of recipes on the internet that provide inventive ways to add vegetables to dishes such as parsnip muffins or beetroot and chocolate cake.

Meeting the new guidance is not as difficult as you think and using the simple tips above can help.  Also, try searching the internet for recipe ideas that float your boat using your favourite flavours and cuisines.

For more information on how to get more vegetables into your diet go to NHS choices.  You will also find lots of recipe ideas at BBC food.

 

Download as a PDF How easy is it to get 10

Can we eat our way to good health? Most definitely yes!

Can we eat our way to good health? Most definitely yes!

Current state of health and nutrient intake in the UK (Download as PDF Current state of health in the UK)

Two thirds of the UK population are now classed as being overweight or obese.  It’s well established from research that eating the right foods that lower your BMI can help reduce your risk of developing a whole raft of diseases from heart disease to cancer.   UK Food surveys also show that a significant number of people have low intakes of certain nutrients, which may impact on areas of your health including tiredness and fatigue, poor skin and digestion. 

Fibre intake in the UK is low as is intake of omega 3-rich foods such as oily fish, both of which help protect against heart disease and certain cancers.  Women in particular are shown to have low intakes of certain minerals in their diets including magnesium and iron (nearly quarter of women have inadequate intakes of iron) both of which can impact on energy levels and fatigue. One in five Brits are also at risk of profound vitamin D deficiency according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey that can impact on bone health which is especially important for the young and older people (research has also linked this vitamin to helping with symptoms of depression).

 Research shows that in some cases, including or removing certain foods from your diet may help to reduce the symptoms and management of certain conditions including high cholesterol, depression, PMS or menopause.

 

Can you heal yourself with food?

 So, it is possible to heal yourself with food?  Yes, absolutely.  Food has the ability to heal and nurture your health and getting your diet at a place of balance is the way to start, from there you can begin to add or remove certain foods according to your health concerns.  Don’t get me wrong, there is no magic food to suddenly cure you of disease and many conditions require medical intervention but diet may certainly help to compliment a treatment or provide a more holistic approach, it’s also just food so why not give it a go.

 

Restrictive diets

There is a growing trend to follow alternative ways of eating that restrict certain foods groups such as paleo and Pegan but do these ways of eating really improve our health and is the approach of cutting out wheat, dairy and sugar make a difference? I don’t believe that cutting out large swathes of foods is the best approach to take unless you are aware of what foods you have to replace them with to still get a balance of nutrients in the diet.  

Too many people embark on highly restrictive, complicated diets and end up suffering nutritionally, whilst diagnosed food intolerances and allergies are relatively rare for some people replacing dairy with calcium-rich alternatives and cutting down on the amount of refined carbs they eat simply makes them feel better and often helps improve digestion which is why we took this approach with the Detox Kitchen Bible cookbook.  Be realistic and be sensible about removing foods from your diet as they have to be replaced with similar foods to maintain a balanced diet. There’s little benefit removing it if it doesn’t cause a problem!”

 

Top tips for taking a food approach to some of the UK’s top health concerns.

 Weight loss

  • Include a mix of healthy fats, protein and  a little wholegrain carb for a balance of nutrients guaranteed to keep you feeling full between meals
  • Mindfulness and intuitive eating can play a key part in maintaining weight so think before you eat!
  • If you are reducing calories then choose high nutrient dense foods
  • Setting realistic goals and avoiding extreme diets are the best approach for lasting results
  • Fill up on veggies at each meal (fresh or frozen)
  • Choose foods with a high water content such as soups, stews and casseroles to increase fullness

Healing foods: aubergine, quinoa, eggs, brown rice, seeds, broccoli, kale

Recipe: Roasted aubergine and pomegranate

 

 

Heart health

  • High fibre diets (especially oats) are effective for reducing cholesterol, weight loss and risk of T2 diabetes
  • Soy foods are shown to be effective at reducing cholesterol
  • Omega 3 fatty acids help to thin the blood, reduce inflammation and increase levels of ‘good’ cholesterol
  • Food high in potassium can help to maintain health blood pressure
  • Plant compounds such as beta-sitosterol found in avocados and olive oil effective at reducing cholesterol
  • High sugar and refined carbs just as damaging if not more so than saturated fat in the diet
  • Antioxidants such as flavanoids and polyphenols affective at reducing free radical damage and reducing inflammation

Healing foods:  Avocados, extra virgin olive oil, almonds, berries, beetroot, edamame, brown rice, salmon

 Recipe:  Salmon, green beans, orange and hazelnut salad

 

 

Women’s health – PMS, Menopause

  • High intake of non-meat iron (pulses, dried fruit) may be effective at reducing symptoms of PMS
  • Limit spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol to help with flushes and night sweats
  • Maintaining steady blood sugar levels is an effective strategy for PMS, PCOS and menopause
  • Ganestien, a compound found in soy foods (especially fermented varieties such as miso) may help reduce hot flushes during the menopause as may other phytoestrogen rich foods such as lentils sprouts.
  • Women suffering with PMS are often seen to have low levels of calcium and affective to treat with calcium and vitamin D supplements 
  • Boost intake of the amino acid, tryptophan to increase serotonin production (along with eating Low GI carbs) – low levels are a result of sensitivity to progesterone during ovulation – affect mood and responsible for PMS cravings

Healing foods:  Edamame beans, miso, pumpkin seeds, lentil sprouts, dried fruit, eggs, turkey, quinoa

RecipeAvocado smash with toasted nuts and seeds

 

 

Skin health  

  • Sufficient intake of zinc may help to regulate the production of sebum
  • Omega 3 fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation and may help with conditions such as psoriasis
  • In the case of eczema and psoriasis, try avoiding foods such as eggs and dairy that are rich in arachidonic acid (a type of omega 6), which promotes inflammation.
  • Eat plenty of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants to help fight free radical damage from environmental factors.
  • Eat plenty of foods rich in beta-carotene (orange and green vegetables) as this is converted to vitamin A in the body which is essential for the repair and maintenance of healthy skin.

Healing foods:  Kale, butternut squash, mango, salmon, dried figs, berries, prawns, seeds

Recipe: Cajun chicken with avocado salad and mango salsa

 

 

Tiredness and fatigue

  • Low intake of iron responsible for fatigue (23% of women have low intakes in the UK)
  • Low levels of magnesium and B vitamins may also result in tiredness and fatigue
  • Migraine sufferers faced with fatigue – reducing intake of tyramine foods (red wine, pickled foods, chocolate) and increasing vitamin B2 (mackerel, eggs, mushrooms) can help
  • Low levels of magnesium may lead to insomnia, which can impact on tiredness.
  • Combine foods high in vitamin C with iron-rich foods to boost absorption.

Healing foods: Brown rice, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, cashew nuts, mushrooms, almonds, mackerel, egg

Recipe: Beetroot falafel

 

You can find more information on health and recipes to help health the body in the new edition of the Detox Kitchen Bible.

Download as PDF (Current state of health in the UK)

Top ten tips to beat a hangover

Top ten tips to beat a hangover

How to cure a hangover:  the good, the bad and the ugly (Download as a PDF how-to-cure-a-hangover_website)

It’s that time of year again when many of us wake up after a busy social event muttering those fateful words, “I am never drinking again”.   Even healthy nutritionists like myself have had to deal with some real corkers!  As the festive season looms closer and your diary fills up, it’s a good time to think about some of the good and more infamous hangover cures that may help to relieve your symptoms the next day.

What is a hangover?

 When you drink alcohol, it gets broken down in the liver to a compound called acetaldehyde, which is a toxic compound that contributes to the feelings associated with a hangover.   Obviously, the more you drink the greater the buildup of toxin and hence worse hangover. The main symptoms of a hangover include headaches from the dilation of blood vessels, dehydration from the increased need to urinate, nausea and stomach aches from the increased acidity.  Sleep also plays a major part in the severity of your hangover and the less you get the worse you will feel across the day. 

Try and prep your liver

 If you know December is going to be a whirlwind of parties, then try and be good to your liver when you’re not out on the town.  Try classic herbal remedies such as milk thistle (try Healthspan, 30 tablets for 12.95) or artichoke extract (try Healthspan, 120 tablets for £8.95) that have been traditionally used to support your liver health. 

Eating healthily at all other times is obviously a good idea too and foods such as bitter green vegetables and globe artichokes have been shown to improve bile flow (helping to remove toxins more efficiently) and help with the detoxification process (1).  Beetroot has also been traditionally associated with liver health by way of a plant compound called betaine (2).  Regardless of their potential to promote liver health, brightly colored fruits and vegetables make a valued addition to the diet and help by reducing the damage cause by excess free radicals as well as adding fibre and micronutrients to the diet.

Hangover cures

There are very few hangover cures that will generally work and in reality the only way to prevent one is to stay sober, which is not much fun during the party season.  Try and make sure you eat before you go out and try and keep hydrated by alternating water with alcoholic drinks.  If all else fails, try the tips below, which are some of the best, the worst and downright ugly of hangover cures.

The good 

  1. Rehydrate

Dehydration can leave you feeling tired, irritable, dizzy and generally not well especially when partnered with a drop in electrolytes that may occur after a heavy session.  Drink plenty of fluids the next day but try and avoid very sugary drinks as this can affect blood sugar levels leaving you feeling even more sluggish.  You could also try adding in an electrolyte sachet to help rebalance your system and replace nutrients commonly depleted by alcohol including magnesium, potassium, calcium and B vitamins.

  1. Go Long!

Try opting for drinks made with soda water or low calorie mixers as these will help to dilute the alcohol and give you a longer lasting drink.  Go for single shots of spirits or small glasses of white or rose wine to top up.

  1. Don’t drink on an empty stomach

This is a classic mistake, especially if you’re going straight out after work.  Drinking on an empty stomach can kame you much more sensitive to the effects of alcohol and is often a recipe for disaster.  Alcohol also acts as an appetite stimulant so you’re more like to end up tucking heavily into the buffet or queuing up in MC Donalds on your way home. Try eating something nourishing before you go out that has a good source of protein and fat to help keep you feeling full and soaking up some of the booze.

  1. Eggs for breakfast

Try something light in the morning that will help to get your blood sugar levels back up and bring a little closer to feeling yourself again.  Something like eggs on toast is a great option as these nutritional powerhouses contain a good source of the amino acid,  cysteine that helps to breakdown acetaldehyde in the liver.

  1. Avoid brown drinks

Conjeners are more concentrated in darker coloured alcohol drinks.  These compounds are a toxic byproduct of the fermentation process and are often added for taste and appearance.   Brown spirits and red wine contain a higher amount of congeners than lighter coloured drinks and can make hangovers more intense the next day

The bad

  1. coffee

If you can tolerate it then sure have a coffee.  However, slugging back high caffeine drinks can leave you a bit jittery especially if you do so on an empty stomach.  This can be a disaster if your stomach is feeling particularly sensitive.  Try ginger tea for nausea or peppermint, caraway and fennel to relieve any bloating.

  1. Energy drinks

However bad you feel try and steer clear of energy drinks.  These are often loaded with sugar that will further upset blood sugar levels and the stimulants such as caffeine and taurine are likely to increase spasms in the bowel, which is not great for a delicate gut.  Caffeine can also increase anxiety and suppress appetite, which is last thing you need when food is required to get you blood sugar leves back up.

  1. The greasy fry-up

 Some people swear by a good old greasy fry-up after a big session but this may not be your best option.  Heavy, fatty foods take a while to digest and can be hard going on sensitive stomachs, whilst also increasing the chances of indigestion and heart burn.  These stodgy types of foods will also leave you feeling sluggish across the day, only adding to your lack of vitality.

The ugly

  1. The Prarie Oyster 

This is not for the faint hearted and its recipe goes back to the early 1920’s (think Sally Bowls in the movie, Caberet).  Combine tomato juice, raw egg, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper then enjoy?

  1. Pickled plums (Umeboshi)

 These taste both salty and sour.  Umeboshi are traditionally viewed as a hangover remedy in Japan given their supposed ability to help relieve nausea, dizziness and fatigue. These are definitely an acquired taste and not sure they’re really what you would want to be eating with a sensitive stomach and nausea but feel free to try!

 

Hangover tonic

Try this Hangover Tonic the next morning to get your blood sugar levels back up and replace the vitamin and minerals depleted by alcohol.

Green vegetables like kale help increase bile flow through the liver to remove toxins effectively.  Cucumbers and lettuce are great foods to help hydrate the body after a boozy night and the fruit sugars in pears can help to raise low blood sugar to help you feel yourself again. 

Serves 2

 1/2 cucumber

3 kale leaves (take soft leaves off the stem)

1 small handful coriander

1 lime (juice only)

1 head Romaine lettuce

2 pears

Method

  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

There’s no reason to be a fun sponge during the seasonal festivities and often a hangover is just the price you pay.  It’s important to make sure that you drink sensibly and within the recommended number of units.  For more information go to www.drinkaware.co.uk 

Download as a PDF how-to-cure-a-hangover_website

 

 References 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22010973
  2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/3/539.full#sec-4

 

 

 

 

 

Glorious greens!

Glorious greens!

Eat your greens

Most of us are more than familiar with the term, “eat your greens”, as a well-used mantra for good nutrition and it seems we can’t get enough of them.  Green is a colour most commonly associated with all things healthy and their position in the current wellness landscape is clear from the popularity of juices, powders and self-proclaimed ‘superfoods’ derived from this group of vegetables.  The social media site, Instagram has become one of the main platforms for people to share their love of food with hashtags for kale revealing over 2 million posts and avocado exceeding 4 million.

 

The green revolution

Foods such as kale, avocado and courgette have become the heroes of the ‘green revolution’ as influential food bloggers showcase innovative ways to serve these vegetables such as spiralised courgette, kale chips or avocado on toast.  The positive press about green vegetables has also resonated with shoppers as market research shows how they choose kale for health in 9 out of 10 occasions.  Other green vegetables also carry a similar message with three quarters of consumers actively thinking about health when eating spinach and broccoli.

 

Popularity of green vegetables

Last year’s sales figures from Waitrose showed that courgette sales were up 13% from the previous year and that spring greens were up 23%.  The popularity of kale, the ambassador for healthy greens, is also continuing to rise with Marks and Spencer reporting that they have sold twice as much as the previous year.  Market research from Kantar Worldpanel echoes these figures by reporting that overall sales of kale in the UK were up by 54% on the previous year.  However, despite their popularity and sales figures, the NDNS survey shows that greens are still not our preferred choice as intake of vegetables such as kale, broccoli, sprouts and cabbages are low compared with more popular choices such as tomatoes.

 

Nutritious greens

So are green vegetables any more nutritious?  Well if you compare vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli with other coloured vegetables then they do contain a richer source of minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium but this doesn’t mean you should be skimping on reds, yellows, oranges and purples.  All vegetables are highly beneficial to health and contain their own unique blend of nutrients and no single variety should be viewed as superior.

Aside from vitamins and minerals that are essential to life, vegetables also contain Phytonutrients.  These compounds are pigments that give plants their vivid array of colours and originally evolved to help protect against diseases and insects.  Research has shown how these plant compounds help to protect our health and reduce the risk of disease.  There are many thousands of phytonutrients and research has only just started to unveil their identity and very complex action in the body. 

Phytonutrients also act as antioxidants that help to prevent against the damage caused by the oxidation of molecules, which is a process that creates free radicals.  Free radicals are a natural byproduct of metabolism but an excess can build up in the body when we are exposed to environmental factors such as too much sun, pollution or smoking.

 

Eye health

Two such phytonutrients found in green vegetables are lutein and zeaxanthin that have been shown to help maintain good eye health.  Both are found in high concentration in the macula, which is an area within the retina of the eye.  One purpose of these phytonutrients is to help filter our harmful light that can potentially damage the eye.  Large studies have shown that these nutrients help to lower the risk and slow down the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is a leading cause of blindness in older people.  Further studies have also shown that people with the greatest intakes of foods rich in lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene, in particular kale, spinach and broccoli, are less likely to develop cataracts.

 

Still not eating enough vegetables

Although green vegetables receive a lot of attention, regardless of colour, the reality is that as a nation we still don’t eat enough of any vegetable.  The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) has shown that on average we are only eating four daily servings of fruits and vegetables and that only 30% of us are eating more than the recommended 5-a-day.

 Research by University College London has suggested that there is a greater benefit to be had by eating more than seven servings daily and that this should include more vegetables as these hold greater health benefits.  They found that those who ate at least seven serving daily were 42% less likely to die from any cause over the course of their study.

 

Include a rainbow of colours!

Green vegetables are undeniably very nutritious and have been widely studied for their health benefits including those related to eye health.  Whilst it’s a good idea to included them in your daily diet you should avoid the hype and eat a rainbow of foods to maximise your nutrient intake. These foods in particular are often labelled with the term ‘superfood’ but this holds little nutritional significance and no single vegetable or any food for that matter can be viewed as a panacea.  The focus should start with increasing overall intake of vegetables as their benefit to health is well proven.

Sesame crusted tuna with Asian salad and soy/mirin dressing

Sesame crusted tuna with Asian salad and soy/mirin dressing

Japanese-style lunch bursting with omega 3 (download as a PDF japanese-style-tuna-with-asian-salad)

Don’t be scared off by the long list of ingredients as this dish is simple to prepare and is beyond tasty and fresh. Tuna is a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids that have are thought to benefit the heart by increasing HDL cholesterol and reducing inflammation in the body.

These fatty acids are also good for the skin by supporting cell membranes that act as a passageway to nutrients in and waste out of cells as well as retaining water that moisturises and plumps the skin. This dish is also a good option for those trying to cut down the carbs in their diet, but you can serve with brown rice or quinoa as an option.

 

Serves 2

480 calories per serving (using 1 tbsp of chive oil)

 

Ingredients

250g fresh tuna (the best quality you can find)

25g sesame seeds

 

Salad

1 medium avocado

½ cucumber

1 head of pak choy

1 tbsp chives, chopped

Small handful of coriander, finely chopped

A few mint leaves, finely chopped

2 tsp sesame oil

½ lime, juiced

 

Dressing

 

30ml reduced sodium, light soy sauce

30ml mirin

2 tsp rice wine vinegar
Chive oil
120ml light olive oil

Large handful of chives, finely chopped

 

Method

 

  1. Place the sesame seeds on a small plate.
  2. Brush the tuna with a little light olive oil and roll in the sesame seeds until all the sides are covered then set aside.
  3. Prepare the salad. Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone then peel off the skin. Cut each half into thin slices. Half the cucumber and remove the seeds then cut each half into thin slices diagonally. Trim the bottom off the pak choy and wash the leaves then dry and slice each leaf into thin strips. Add the avocado, cucumber and pak choy to a medium-sized bowl and gently combine. Add the chives, coriander and mint along with the sesame oil and lime juice then continue to combine.
  4. Prepare the dressing by adding the ingredients to a small bowl and whisking with a fork.
  5. For the chive oil, place the oil and chives in a small blender and whizz for 30 seconds. This will make a larger quantity of oil than required but you can keep it in a container in the fridge.
  6. Heat a little oil in a large, non-stick frying pan or griddle until smoking hot. Place the tuna on the pan and cook for one and a half minutes on each side (medium-rare).
  7. To serve the dish, cut the tuna into thin slices and place on a long, rectangular, shallow-sided dish. Mound the salad at one end of the dish. Pour the soy dressing over the tuna and salad the drizzle a little of the chive oil over the tuna (to taste).

 

Download as a PDF (japanese-style-tuna-with-asian-salad)