Fake News

Did you see the news last month?  The media were full of dramatic sound bites. “Low Carb Diets Could Shorten Your Life” (eg BBC, The Independent) Actually, they don’t.

The media have taken the findings of a poor study (ARIC) and turned it into sensational headlines that have confused and alarmed people. That’s what I call Fake News. Only a few months earlier, the papers were proclaiming that our high carb dietary guidelines have had disastrous consequences for the nation’s health. Yes, they have.

Always remember, the media’s business is not good science but selling stories.

So what was wrong with this new study?

Firstly the data were collected by self-reported questionnaires a notoriously inaccurate method.

Secondly, the amount of carbs eaten by what they called a ‘low-carb’ group was actually quite high so they never looked at low-carb at all.

Thirdly there were many ‘confounding factors’. The people eating the lower carbohydrate diet in the late 80s, early 90s were those people who ignored the official advice. They tended to be male, diabetic, smokers who took little exercise. ie they had many poor health habits.

Fourthly, the researchers split people into uneven bands some very big, some very small, to artificially inflate the low-carb risk. Zoe Harcombe brilliantly explains the small comparator group statistical shenanigans: “20 children go skiing, 2 are autistic. 2 die in an avalanche, one with autism, one without. The death rate for the non-autistic children is 1 in 18 (5.5%) and the death rate for the autistic children is 1 in 2 (50%)”.  This makes it look as if autistic children are 10 times more likely to die in an avalanche which of course is nonsense.

By manipulating the data, they got the conclusion they wanted.

I’ll also say that quality is more important than quantity. There are carbs and carbs. Eating fresh vegetables is good, and some fruit (eaten whole, not drunk as juice). With plenty of variety and different colours you’ll get nutrients, energy and fibre. But eating loads of processed carbs like cereal and things made of flour like bread, cake, biscuits, pastry and pasta is only going to put weight on you and damage your health.  That’s why I recommend that people eat real home-cooked fresh food.  Check out the series of costed recipes I posted throughout August.  7 main meals – a whole week – at £10.50 per person!


Top tip: Take the news with a pinch of salt.

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Shopping List for Recipes

People have been snapping up my recipes like hot cakes when I’ve had a stand at events. And with a whole week of delicious main meals for £10.50 a head it’s no wonder.  Here’s a list of what I’ve posted:

1. Pasta with salmon sauce £1.60

2. One pot chicken £1.84

3. Spag bol £1.46

4. Liver and onion £0.81

5. Pork Stroganoff £1.87

6. Pork in mushroom and cream sauce £1.65

7. Leek and mushroom tagliatelle £1.27

Plus a bit of luxury

8. Pea and Chorizo risotto with Sea Bass £2.37

I was asked to put together a shopping list for the week and here it is!

I’ve used a limited palate of flavours to make your shopping complement more than one meal. Start by checking what you already have in your house. You can use things you’ve got instead of the ingredients listed so nothing is wasted. Add things to your shopping list that you need to buy.

If you’re new to cooking, break yourself in gently rather than stocking your cupboards with staple ingredients all in one go. Many of these ingredients keep for ages and will be enough for lots of meals once you have them.

Things to keep stock in your:

Cupboards

Brown Rice

Pasta

Stock cubes or bouillon powder

Tinned tomatoes (1 tin does recipes 1, 2 and 7, plus 3 for bolognaise if you make the big batch)

Tomato puree

Cornflour

Dried herbs – parsley, oregano or whatever you prefer

Olive oil

Coconut oil

Vinegar – white wine, balsamic or apple cider

Wholegrain mustard

Pantry

Sadly we tend not to have pantries now but garage or shed works well for long-lasting fresh ingredients.

Onions – why not buy a bag of small wonky ones?

Potatoes – these last for months if kept in paper rather than plastic, in a cool, dark place. We have a farm nearby that sells a big sack for £6 which we eat from October until March. Find out if you have one near you; it’s much cheaper than the supermarket.

Tip – Onions and potatoes last longer if not kept close together.

Fridge

Butter

Milk

Natural yoghurt

Lemon juice

Shopping list for the week

– for the week’s recipes for 2 people:

Fresh produce – the part of the supermarket to spend most time in

1 x lettuce or a cabbage

(Ready chopped salad leaves are very expensive and have been washed in chemicals and packed in an artificial atmosphere. They start to wilt as soon as you open the bag and a couple of days later, whatever is left is getting mushy and smells bad. Whole lettuces last much better. Keep them in the veg drawer at the bottom of the fridge so they don’t get too cold. Cabbage is very versatile. You can shred it finely for salad or steam it for veg. It lasts longer than lettuce, has more nutrients and is cheaper.)

1 x bag of spinach

(Best to buy this later on for recipe 6 then use it for salad or steam briefly for veg on other days.)

4 x carrots

8 x radishes

12 cherry or baby plum tomatoes

1 x bulb of garlic

(Try growing your own. Plant a clove or two from the bulb you buy, between September and December. Harvest in July.)

New potatoes for 2 people

1 x lemon or a bottle of juice

500g mushrooms

1 x large or 2 x small leeks

Cold Section

1 x tub double cream

Parmesan (buy it fresh, grate and freeze in containers)

4 x chicken thighs

2 x pork steaks

1 x pork tenderloin

1500g of beef mince to make the whole 16 portion batch or 200g to make just for 2 people.

300 g of liver

1 pack salami milano

Fresh herbs – parsley, dill (buy them fresh and freeze in bags or containers)

Frozen peas

Dry / tinned

1 x 213g tin of pink salmon (healthiest with bones – buy in brine, not oil)

To add the luxury recipe of the pea and chorizo risotto with sea bass:

2 x very small sea bass fillets

2 x blobs of chorizo

Risotto rice

You don’t need to go down the ready meal aisles at all so you save time as well as money when you shop.

Enjoy your cooking, enjoy your food, enjoy better health when you give up processed food!

 

Bonus Recipe

 

Leek and Mushroom Tagliatelle

Different shapes of pasta interact with different types of sauces. This seems to go well with flat ribbons, hence tagliatelle. I made the one in the picture with pizzoccheri or you can use something else if you prefer. Spiralized courgette (courgetti) makes a good substitute for pasta if you’re avoiding wheat or watching your weight.

(Incidentally, the g in tagliatelle is silent so it should sound like tal  iatelle, not tag.)

Chop a large leek or two small ones 50p

into coins about ½” (1cm) wide. Lay these flat and cut in half.

Wash the pieces well under running water in a colander and shake to drain.

Fry for 3 mins in a knob of butter or tbsp olive oil 8p

in a large frying pan.

Chop two handfuls of mushrooms and add to the pan 45p

Turn down the heat

Add: – 1/3 tin chopped tomatoes 12p

– squirt of tomato puree (~8 or 10”) 5p

– a chopped up stock cube 7p

– (or a desert spoon of bouillon powder 15p)

– good pinch of dried oregano 4p

– good pinch of dried parsley 4p

Season with salt and pepper

Cover with a lid, simmer gently for 10 mins, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta in fast-boiling, salted water 25p

At the end add 10 slices of salami Milano 59p to the sauce

Mix 2 tsp cornflour with a little cold water 2p, add, and heat to thicken

Drain the pasta, stir some butter or olive oil 8p

Top with the sauce and a good sprinkle of Parmesan 25p

Total for this taste of Italy £2.54. That’s £1.27 per person.

For a vegetarian meal, add double the mushrooms at the start instead of the salami at the end, £2.48 or £1.24 per person.

 

Next –  I’ve been asked for a shopping list for the full set – coming soon!

 

Real Food is Cheaper than Junk Food

After the holidays money might be tight. Whereas we spent a quarter of our income (25%) on food 40 years ago, it’s now only about 10% and price is one of the most important factors when people choose what to buy.

A common reason people give me for not eating real food, is that it’s too expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’ve ever watched Eat Well for Less, every family ends up saving £1000s by doing their own cooking. Why do we think real food is more expensive than fake food? Perhaps because the manufacturers are so adept at presenting their wares as cheap.

Ready meals are £2.50 a pop, (should that be a ping?) and most people recognise they often aren’t great (read the reviews eg not the mouth wateringly delicious dish you see on the ads and the picture on the packet but “90% salty, watery mash, 9% chicken, 1% mushroom & didn’t even see any leek – rubbish ). Many are not even complete meals but parts of meals to which you have to add your own veg or salad – that pushes up the cost still further. Takeaways are very expensive costing anything from £3 or £4 upwards for the basic meal, plus sides and other unhealthy extras like fizzy drinks which can push the meal up to a fiver.

Other people might be willing to sacrifice their money and food quality to avoid a few minutes of cooking but you want good food, good value and good health so I’ve had a go at costing some recipes. They all come out under £2 per person, from the most decadent pork stroganoff and salad at £1.87, through pasta with salmon sauce and salad at £1.62 (below), to liver and onions with cabbage and mash at 81p for the most nutritious food on the planet (NB liver is high in vitamin K so not good with warfarin).

If you have a take-away twice a week and eat ready-meals the rest of the time, you could save at least £500 a year per person, probably far more, by cooking your own food. Adding up seven of these meals comes to £9.73 for a week. Does that sound worth a little time in the kitchen?

Recipes serve 2 adults, final price per person shown in bold.

Pasta and salmon sauce

In a pan of fast boiling water, cook pasta 25p

In a small saucepan melt a knob of butter 10p

Add a 213g tin of pink salmon £1.84

Add 1/3 tin tomatoes (freeze the rest in two containers) 12p

Add a big pinch of fresh dill (freeze the rest for other meals) 6p

Make a salad while everything cooks – see below 52p

When the pasta is almost ready, add 1/3 tub double cream 25p

to the sauce – warm it but don’t let it boil.

Drain the pasta, stir in some butter 6p

Pour the sauce over and serve with the salad

Total cost £3.20 that’s £1.60 per person.

So easy, so quick, so tasty!

Salad

Some meals seem to go with salad, others with veg. There are so many ways to make salads and wonderful varied ingredients you can use. Here’s an easy one that I’ve used in this recipe series.

Wash and chop a few lettuce leaves 5p

(buy a whole lettuces, not expensive, chemical-soaked pre-prepped bags)

Slice a carrot very thinly or grate it 8p

Slice some radish 9p

Add some baby plum tomatoes 20p

Drizzle with dressing 10p

Total for salad 52p for 2 or 26p per person

For the sake of your health, make your own dressing with olive oil and some sort of vinegar. Bought dressings usually contain vegetable oil which you need to avoid – here’s why.

You can make salad that costs even less by slicing savoy, white or red cabbage very finely and adding grated carrots, tomatoes, chives, celery etc.

Savoy cabbage tastes good with olive oil and white wine vinegar.

White cabbage is better with mayonnaise. Here’s an easy way to make your own.

Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to use loads of equipment and make lots of pans dirty. Here’s one you can make for one in a little pan or for 20 if you have a huge cauldron – but there’s only the one pan to clean. Hurray!

One-pot chicken

In a medium pan, melt a knob of butter 10p

Chop one medium onion and cook for 3 mins 20p

Add a teaspoon of coconut oil 5p

Fry 4 chicken thighs until browned all over £2.64

For the best flavour, use thighs with skin on and bone in.

Turn down the heat

Add:

– 1/3 tin chopped tomatoes 12p

– 125ml brown rice 15p

– a dash of lemon juice 12p

– ½ pt stock 7p

– good pinch of dried oregano 4p

Stir, cover with a lid, simmer gently for 20 mins, turning the chicken pieces over and stirring the mixture 4 or 5 times.

5 minutes before the end, add two good handfuls of peas 12p

Towards the end, add a good pinch of fresh chopped parsley 7p

Total cost £3.78, that’s £1.84 per person and the chicken price is for free-range. You can cut it to £1.07 if you use frozen thighs.

Delicious, satisfying and only one pan to clean.

Here’s a link to two recipes (pork stroganoff and pork in a mushroom cream sauce) and a note about low-cost weight loss.

Top Tip – Get Cooking –  it could save you a packet!

 

Ultimate Budget Meal 81p

You’ve nearly made it through the school holidays and so here is the ultimate in high-nutrition, budget food.

Some people don’t like liver but it’s worth persevering as it contains so many vitamins and minerals. I didn’t like it until a few years ago but occasionally I’d order it if it was on a pub menu – my body must have told my subconscious that I needed a boost. In France they get kids to eat almost anything by tasting repeatedly – they don’t have to eat the food but must taste it. After a few times, usually they like it.  Take a look at this article by the Sustainable Food Trust.

Liver and Onions to serve 2

Slice one medium onion 20p

Fry in a knob of butter for 3 mins 10p

Put the onion in a bowl

Add a teaspoon of coconut oil 5p

Fry 400g sliced liver until browned all over 80p

Turn down the heat and leave to cook slowly

Boil 500g potatoes for 15 mins 25p

(I don’t know why you need more when you’re going to mash them than just eating them boiled but you do!)

For the last 2 minutes, chop and steam a heap of kale 30p

or cabbage 10p

over your potatoes

Put the onions back in the pan with the liver

Drain the potatoes and mash with butter and milk 12p

Total for the most nutritious food on the planet £1.82.

That’s 91p per person with kale or 81p with cabbage.

NB If you take warfarin, you’ll need to choose a different dinner as liver and kale are both high in vitamin K.

Feed the Family – Spag Bol

As I say in my book Survival Guide for the Skint, children are expensive! This puts extra pressure on finances during school holidays so I’ve been doing a series of great value, fully costed meals on my Survival Guide for the Skint blog.  All of them cost less than £2 per person.  Here’s one for you now – a firm favourite across the country – Spaghetti Bolognaise.

I’ll publish the rest here soon or follow the links:

Pea and Chorizo Risotto with Sea Bass

One-Pot Chicken

Pasta with Salmon Sauce

This is my Italian grandmother’s recipe so you’re very privileged to see it. Well almost – she never bought mince but I doubt you’d want to spend time cutting best steak into tiny cubes. Kidney beans are an unconventional ingredient but she put them in and for me the sauce would be lacking without them.

Melt a big knob of butter 20p

and a good slug of olive oil in a very big pan 20p

Chop 2 x large onions and cook gently until transparent 40p

Add 3 crushed cloves of garlic 6p

Add 3lb mince and cook until no pink bits remain £11.50

Can add a few rashers of chopped bacon as well 25p

Add 3 x tins chopped tinned tomatoes £1.05

¾ tube tomato puree 35p

300g chopped mushrooms 85p

You may need a bit of water.

Season with salt and pepper

Desert spoon of dried oregano 10p

Desert spoon of dried parsley 10p

Simmer, stirring occasionally until it’s 3h since you started which allows the flavours to develop.

At the end, stir in 2 x drained and rinsed tins of kidney beans £1.10

Total £16.16 or 95p per portion (makes 17 portions.)

For 2 people, cook some pasta 25p

Top with grated parmesan cheese 25p

(For the best taste, buy a whole piece and grate it fresh. If any is left, freeze it to use straight from the freezer next time.)

Serve with salad and home-made dressing 52p

Total for the meal £1.46 per person.

You could also add some porcini, soaked in a bowl of boiled water before adding. That’s another £1 or 6p per serving. You can miss them out but they do add depth to the flavour – £1.52 per person with porcini.

 

Picnics

One of the joys of summer is eating al fresco. A picnic is an essential part of a summer outing.

Have you noticed that food tastes better when we eat it outside? Psychologists have found that our physical sensations and emotional responses are greatly improved by the power of our perception of our environment. Restaurants have applied this science to their décor, choosing colour, patterns and music to set the mood. The same food actually tastes different depending on the wallpaper!

We also connect enjoyment of food with family memories: a favourite outdoor spot, the smell of grass and wild flowers, the sound of trees rustling in the breeze, the feel of warm sand on bare feet. Taking Jack LaLanne’s idea from July’s quote of the month, we need to be nearer to nature to be happy.    And when our brains are stimulated, our taste buds step up a notch.

So, what food to take on your picnic? On TV you’ll see images of unhealthy fizzy drinks, crisps, cheese processed almost to the point of being plastic and all manner of factory-made nibbles. When you’re getting back to the great outdoors, nature and all things real I’m sure you’ll want better than fake food.

Sandwiches are common but often dry, dull and too heavy on bread to be a good choice for lunch. Instead try boiled eggs, cheeses, salami, lettuce, tomatoes, sticks of crunchy carrot and celery, cooling cucumber, creamy avocado, peppery radishes, spicy spring onions, ham rolled round cream cheese, small bread rolls with butter. My grandmother’s special was fried chicken in herby breadcrumbs – so tasty!

Fruit is nice and juicy although it can attract wasps and invite the biting midge to suck your sweet blood. Use it to make a refreshing infusion by adding a few slices of apple, lemon and strawberry to a big bottle of water. Chill it well before you set off.

June’s post had ideas for drinks.

Share the pleasure by eating all together sitting at a picnic table or on a rug. Here’s how they do it in France where people are still healthy and slim.

Top tip – enjoy a real food picnic.

If you’d like to get my full Eat Well News, sign up here. It’s so much more than the things I post on my blog. I’ll be in touch with you about nutrition and health, and to provide articles, and updates (eg research and campaigns relating to nutrition and health), and marketing (eg events, products, services, talks and courses), and recipes, and things to bring a smile. Please let me know all the ways you would like to hear from me either by using this form or sending me an email.

 

Quote of the Month

He noticed walking down the street that people weren’t smiling.  You’ll see the same thing here, even though we have everything – a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes, technology.

During the holidays this year, smile and make a note every day of something you are thankful for – or better still, three things.

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And get outside – even if you just sit in your own garden or visit the local park; anywhere with trees and plants to cheer you.

Drink to Your Health

With the all warm weather, you might fancy a cold drink. They say that in America, over half the calories consumed come from sugar in soft drinks. Terrifying! Outrageously, 12% of the Coca-cola is drunk at breakfast. In Britain we’re not that bad (yet) but we certainly do have a drink problem. So what’s what?

Starting with the worst things to drink:

– Fizzy drinks – very sugary leading to weight gain, blood sugar imbalances and diabetes. They’re very acidic leading to tooth decay and bone density loss.

– Low-cal fizzy drinks – the use of sweeteners has increased since the sugar tax came in. Weight loss clubs often recommend low-cal fizzy drinks but these have been proven not to help with weight loss. The sweet taste of the chemical sweeteners confuses your body’s control systems (not a good idea). Your brain thinks that sugar is coming; then it doesn’t so you go looking for food.

If you’ve been wondering how effective the sugar tax on drinks is likely to be, here are some results from those who’ve already tried it.

– Fruit Juice – seen as healthy and natural but still a sugary drink. Fruit juice can be up to a year old and have lost a lot of its nutrients. Fructose is processed via your liver to create fat. Too much fruit can cause problems with weight gain, tooth decay and in extremes, even non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (first found in 1980). You wouldn’t eat 4 apples/oranges at once but they’re easy to drink. Stick to eating whole fruit.

– Smoothies – most bought ones and internet recipes are too heavy on fruit or other sweet ingredients. Here’s the Wikipedia definition of a smoothie which illustrates the problem:

A smoothie is a thick beverage made from blended raw fruit, vegetables or ice cream and cookies with other ingredients such as water, ice, or sweeteners.”

Definitely not recommended!

– Squash – depends how strong you mix it. Contains sugar or sweeteners.

– Sports / Energy drinks – heavily marketed, unhealthy and unnecessary. High in caffeine and sugar they’re very bad, especially for children.  This piece talks about them causing sudden cardiac deaths in young people.  So, quite rightly, there’s been a fuss about children and energy drinks.  See #notforchildren The majority of kids drink them, often having a litre at a time which is very dangerous. It’s like taking a chainsaw to their adrenal glands. Supermarkets have taken steps eg reducing promotion to kids and trying to prevent sales to children.

Here’s what Jamie Oliver’s site says about them.

On to Something Better

Well that was all a bit dismal, so what’s the solution? It’s surprisingly easy to wean yourself off sweet drinks; your palate can change in as little as two weeks. Here are some healthy alternatives:

Tastes much nicer than it looks – a refreshing salad in a glass!

– Vegetable juices – juice your own for a brilliant way to get lots of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients. Use 80% vegetables (eg celery, cucumber, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower stems, leafy greens, sprig of parsley, some ginger). Add small amounts of fruit to improve flavour (½ a lime, some lemon, a bit of pear, few cranberries, bit of tomato). Drink within an hour or freeze.

– Smoothies – use avocados and green leaves with almond / coconut milk or plain live yoghurt. Add a few berries or an inch of banana.

– Milk – shown to be even more hydrating than water when exercising. The sugar in milk (lactose) can cause weight gain if you have a lot, the fat doesn’t.

The Moody Cow at Allonby sells the real thing – unpasturised. It tastes delicious.

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– Coconut water – a great isotonic refresher. Best if you buy a coconut, pierce the top and pour it out. Bought coconut milk will be older and may have additives so read the label.

– Iced tea. Not the syrupy type in a can or bottle. Make some delicate green tea, add a slice of lime and some ice.

– Water – fruit infused. Put a strawberry or a couple of raspberries / blackberries or a slice of lemon / lime in a mug and pour an inch of boiling water over. Let it sit for 10 minutes then top up with cold.

– Water – re-hydration solution. Make your own if it’s very hot and you’re doing a lot of exercise. Add a little salt and sugar to your water.

– Water – great choice – would be even better if they stopped fluoridation!

Top tip – switch to healthier drinks.

Eat Well News

To get my full Eat Well News, sign up here. It’s so much more than the blog posts I write. I’ll be in touch with you about nutrition and health, and to provide articles, and updates (eg research and campaigns relating to nutrition and health), and marketing (eg events, products, services, talks and courses), and recipes, and things to bring a smile. Please let me know all the ways you would like to hear from me either by using this form or sending me an email.