Keep Calm and Soothe Your Immune System

Christmas is only days away but due to the restrictions it won’t be the merry one we know and love. I’d be grateful for any ideas on how to hold a large family party on Zoom!

We’re coming to the end of the worst year most of us have ever experienced. A world-wide annus horribilis. And it’s taken its toll.

In the summer I spoke to someone who does thermography scans. She has noticed that all the scans this year shown people’s immune systems were over-stimulated. She thinks it’s a result of all the anxiety.

What can we do?

Your nervous system has two parts.

  • One part responds to threats using fight, flight or freeze.

  • The other part deals with rest, repair and digestion.

We need both in balance.

The threat response part is only supposed to work in short bursts -followed by recovery. This hasn’t changed from ancient days when we had to run from danger.

This year our threat response has been in action big-time, for months. We feel that we’ve been under threat this whole year.

Fear of the virus; fear of lockdown consequences like job losses, business closures, home losses, inability to pay bills, uncertainty over the future; stress from being physically cut off from those we love and who support us emotionally; stress from being shut in with those who abuse us; stress from children being out of school and all the exam chaos; stress from losing trust in the government and its actions; grief for the loss of friends, family and the things that enrich our lives like sports clubs, choirs, restaurants and theatres; misery for not having anything to look forward to and no end in sight.

The list is endless and the fall-out is only just beginning to emerge.

It’s no good pretending that everything is fine.

It isn’t.

All is not well.

And it’s right to acknowledge how you feel at each moment in time.

It’s also good to do things, even little things, that help in any way.

Here are some ideas:

When we get stressed, our breathing changes. Fortunately this works both ways so deliberately changing our breathing can make us become calmer. By using the link between your breathing and your nervous system you allow your body to do some resting, digesting, healing.

Here’s a nice breathing exercise (it’s part of a talk on the body-mind connection from the Public Health Collaboration Virtual Conference).  Start at 28minutes 30 seconds to hear the explanation then do it for a few minutes a few times a day, perhaps even more slowly than Joe’s description.  Try it just before you eat so you get maximum nutrition from your food.

Chronic stress increases the hormone cortisol. That makes us hungry so some of us have put on weight. When my Father was dying in the spring, I wanted to eat all the time. I called it my ‘grief gut’. You can get back to proper appetite balance by calming down (as well as ditching junk and eating real food of course).

You will have some personal favourite activities that get you into a relaxed state. You’ll know when you’ve found what’s right for you – time will cease to exist, you’ll feel in the zone, you’ll be so absorbed you won’t notice anything going on around you.

I’m a fan of mindfulness, which is all about noticing how things are, moment by moment, without trying to change them (see this little mindfulness video).

Most people feel good doing yoga or T’ai Chi. It’s necessary to be fully engaged in balance and movement when you stand on one leg – or you fall over!

TV can veg us out but often doesn’t calm us; it’s too passive and lots of programmes feature people being unkind or shouting which will trigger your subconscious defences even more. Try Slow TV, listen to the birds in your garden or mellow out with a nature video – here’s one of a woodland stream (with no birdsong – videos with birds are available!).

The right music works magic too. If you’re up-tight, your brain might reject gentle music, so start with something quite fast, easing it down gradually.

Visually relaxing activities include jigsaws, art and needlework. Stick a bird feeder on your window for delightfully entertaining action to watch.

Getting physical with exercise, gardening, walking the dog or even cleaning the house might work for you. (Take care not to do too much; extreme exercise is like another threat and depresses your immune system.) Gentle stretching helps release muscle tension. Mindful walking in nature gives you physical, mental and visual calming in one.

Waft away and be relaxed by scent – in the bath, as an aromatherapy massage or in a diffuser (always use essential oils, not factory-made perfumes).

Losing yourself in a good book can take you to another place entirely.

Being creative in the kitchen engages all the senses and you get to eat something wonderful at the end!

Top tip: Ramp up whatever calms you.

I wish you a peaceful, if far from normal, Christmas.

Get Cooking For Christmas

If lockdown has left you overweight, tired and fed up, I’ll help you learn to eat well so you can be confident with your food choices, feel fabulous and enjoy your life. Drop me an email  jackie@learntoeatwell.co.uk and lets find a time to talk.

Here’s my latest blog post:

Have fun with home-made this Christmas.

Yes, creating decorations and cards is fun – but I mean food! Are you like me, rather free and easy in the kitchen? I rarely weigh or measure anything and often play fast and loose with recipe ingredients and methods. Or you might be like my friend who puts a recipe book on a stand to follow everything to the letter using measuring jugs and scales for each ingredient. I suspect she has few disasters!

I love Emma Porter’s recipes and she has an ebook just for Christmas.

So leaf through your recipe books or browse the internet.   Here are a few from my own recipe book:  

Apple sauce

Peel, core and chop a cooking apple.

Put in a pan with a drop of water, some lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg or mixed spice.

Cook until the apple is soft.

Beat in a teaspoon of butter.

Put in a hot clean jar, lid and allow to cool.

After the jar is opened, keep in the fridge and use within a week.

Mince pies

For a rich pastry:

8oz flour, ½ tsp salt, 4oz butter – rub together until resembling breadcrumbs.

Lightly beat together an egg and 20ml water. Sprinkle on and mix using a knife. Draw together and knead briefly into a smooth dough then put in the fridge for ½ h (covered).

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and cut your tops and bottoms.

Grease a bun tin (not muffin tin) with butter and assemble your pies, putting a teaspoon of mincemeat in each. You’ll use a small (410g) jar of mincemeat for this much pastry and it makes about 20 pies.

Put two knife cuts in the top of each one and brush with milk.

Bake in a preheated oven at 220 degrees C for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

These will last a couple of weeks in a tin. They freeze well too and are great warmed up with some cream on.

For Gluten free, low-carb, use a mix of 4oz ground almonds, 2oz coconut flour and 2oz tapioca to give some elasticity. 4oz butter, ½ tsp salt and one egg as above.

Sardine pate

The world’s 2nd most nutritious food (after liver) but not everyone is keen on them on their own. This very simple recipe gives a fresh, clean taste and with a bit of salad would make a tasty starter for Christmas dinner. It will keep for a few days in the fridge.

4oz butter

4oz cream cheese

2 tins sardines

Juice and zest of a lemon

1 teaspoon mustard

1 desert spoon fresh chopped parsley

Salt, pepper

If you have a food processor, you can whizz it in that. Other wise, use soft butter, put the all ingredients in a bowl and beat with a wooden spoon.

Rum truffles

220g dark chocolate

100ml single cream

12g butter

Drop of vanilla essence

15ml rum

A saucer of dry coating of your choice – eg cocoa powder, desiccated coconut, sesame seeds, chopped nuts.

Heat the cream and butter to a rolling boil, then allow to cool and add the vanilla essence.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt gently in the microwave.

Mix the chocolate and cream and add the rum.

Pour into a shallow tray or dish lined with greaseproof paper and put it somewhere cool, uncovered for 24 hours.

Take about a teaspoon at a time and form into balls.

Roll the truffles around your saucer until they are coated and not sticky to touch any more. You can pop them into individual sweet papers.

Keep in the fridge. (no pic – I haven’t made any yet for this year!!!)   Top tip – Enjoying cooking up some goodies for Christmas.

Engage You Cumbria

This week I appeared as a guest on the weekly show

Engage You Cumbria

a community support YouTube channel which Kathryn Jackson and Claire Bull started to keep us all positive, healthy and entertained during lockdown.

In this week’s episode, Claire talked about kindness (but check out her exercise tips in earlier episodes too) and Kathryn led us through how we can reflect on the last 10 weeks and where we are in different areas of our lives.

My message was #EatRealFood with some ideas for breakfasts to keep your blood-sugar stable so you improve your health and reduce your risk of a serious outcome should you catch the dreaded virus.

Here’s the video. Enjoy!

Immune System Boost

I hope all of you are OK and managing to stay safe and sane at home in this weird world. Here are some tips to help your immune system:

Most of your immune system is in your gut so it matters what you eat and drink. Eat more:

  • Oily fish and eggs for vitamin Dwhich has many health benefits, including priming our T cells
  • Vegetables which give you lots of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants plus fibre to feed the good bacteria in your gut.

  • Live natural yoghurt, kefir, lassi and fermented vegetables to repopulate your good bacteria.
  • Coconut oil which has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.

Supplement with:

  • Vitamin C (it’s quickly flushed out of your body so take some every day)
  • Magnesium (most people are deficient)
  • Selenium (2 or 3 Brazils nuts a day is plenty)
  • Zinc (good food sources are seafood, lamb, turkey and pumpkin seeds)
  • Vitamin D (most of us are short of this unless we supplement – especially at this time of year when our skin hasn’t seen sunshine for so long)

Avoid:

  • Sugar – it feeds bad bacteria, unbalancing your system.

  • Processed food – you want your body to cope with the virus, not use all its energy fighting bad food.
  • Alcohol.

Other tips:

  • Eat right for your metabolic type (I’m now offering testing by Skype/telephone).
  • Get lots of sleep to make the powerful anti-oxidant melatonin.

  • Exercise, especially out in the fresh air (only with members of your household of course!). It will help you sleep better too.
  • If you smoke, give it up now.
  • Wash with actual bar soap whenever you possibly can. Coronaviruses are in a fatty ‘envelope’ which can be destroyed by soap. Also soap won’t damage your own protective bacterial like antibacterials do. Joanna Blythman retweeted this Tweet thread on why soap is so good.Solutions of ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol at between 60% and 80%, plus 3% hydrogen peroxide are effective for cleaning surfaces
  • Manage stress and prioritise self-care. Your mental health, physical health and immune system are connected so it helps to keep a sense of purpose and optimism. We won’t get back to normal for some time yet so look after yourself and do things that relax you and give you joy.

Puddings – a poem

PUDDINGS

Treacle Pud, that’s really good,

Arctic Roll, says it all.

Raspberry Ripple, goes well with a tipple,

Wobbly Jelly, shakes in the belly.

Currant Cake, with a cup of tea to take,

Black Forest Gateaux, makes you fatto.

Sticky Toffee Pudding, that’s a real good un,

Banoffie Toffee, yummy with coffee.

Sago, Tapioca and Rice, old fashioned but nice.

Treacle Tart and Lemon Meringue,

So many puddings, I could go on and on.

Yum, yum, puddings galore,

Like Oliver Twist, I want more, more, more.

Jennie Doran

From the book of her poetry

Poems on Life, Faith and a Widow’s Love

just published and available here.

Soup to cheer your lunchtime

Salads are out and we want a warming soup to cheer our lunchtime.  Luckily it’s easy to make your own with hundreds of recipes on the internet in every flavour you could wish for.

Home made soup is cheap, delicious, nutritious and fresh. It’s good for your health to eat a wide variety of foods and soup is a good way to ‘hide’ those you’re not so keen on and wouldn’t eat on their own. Use your imagination and be a bit free and easy when creating your soup.

My standard recipe goes something like this:

(All ingredients should be cut small before they go in the pan.)

Cook an onion in butter until transparent.

Add a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, a carrot and couple of sticks of celery and cook for a couple more minutes.

Add 1/3 tin of tomatoes, handful each of cabbage stems and cauliflower leaves (for the waste-not-want-not generation you can save these earlier in the year; just wash, chop and pop in the freezer), stock or bouillon to cover, a squirt of tomato puree, salt, pepper, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried parsley (or fresh if you have it in which case you’ll need about 1 tbsp).

I often add saved ‘juices’ from beef stew for a richer flavour. You could even cut up cooked meats to put in. Deli counters often sell cheap mixed offcuts.

Bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes, add some green beans and peas. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Tip in a small (300g) tin of mixed pulses. Use a stick blender to whizz it smooth. Freeze in portions for use on other days.

Following my principle of plants, protein and fats, to make a more nutritionally rounded meal from this almost all carb soup, skip the bread and serve with a slice of cheese.

This one’s pumpkin.

Pumpkin Soup

Just chop the flesh of a 2-3lb pumpkin into cubes, put in a large saucepan with 3/4 pint stock, salt, pepper, fresh thyme and parsley.  Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add a tin of mixed beans and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Whizz with a stick blender then stir in a 1/2 pint tin of coconut milk.  That’s it!

I’ve also looked at what’s available to buy.

As far as possible, try to avoid unhealthy ingredients like sunflower oil, sugar and MSG that are so often used in manufactured food products. Look out too for misleading labels on products containing only tiny amounts of the most appealing bit yet naming it in big letters splashed across the front. (This applies to food, shampoo, you name it.) Always check the ingredients list on the label, they appear in order from most to least.

‘Fresh’ cartons and pouches – found in the cold aisle. The New Covent Garden veg based soups look pretty good but the Smoked Haddock is mostly potato and with only 5% fish has a disappointing nutritional profile for a fish chowder. Similarly, Naked’s Vietnamese Fiery Beef Pho contains no beef, just beef stock (only 5%) plus loads of spices to give it flavour.

Tins – most supermarkets sell a huge array of tinned soups including own-brand and many manufacturers. Usually these have a dozen ingredients (excluding water and any added vitamins/minerals). The best I found was Crosse and Blackwell’s Roast Chicken and Vegetable which has all real food ingredients in respectable amounts, as has Baxter’s Super Good Pea, Broccoli and Pesto soup.

Free and Easy soups – are useful if you have food allergies/intolerances.

Packet soups – can be useful at the office or if out and about but you don’t want your flask tainted with last week’s lunch.  They usually have about 17 ingredients but this varies widely. Surprisingly, Batchelor’s Minestrone Slim a Soup, at a whopping 27, contains 10 more than their Minestrone Cup a Soup. Batchelor’s Chicken and Leek is another misleading name with only 1% chicken. The Morrisons Golden Vegetable with Croutons is one I used to have sometimes but nowadays, for the sake of my health, I prefer to cook than buy.

Top tip: Get soup making.

Real Food Rocks

Saturday 20th July dawned (just about) dark and wet. It didn’t look good for Real Food Rocks at Brathay, Ambleside. The promise of sessions with some of the country’s leading food and exercise visionaries had more than doubled expected ticket sales and bookings had to close at 700.  David Unwin and his wife Jen organised the event, bringing top quality speakers and vendors (check out the Horned Beef Company and Hunter & Gather avocado oil mayonnaise), music and family fun. Was it a gamble holding a prestigious nutrition event in the lake district in summer?

I arrived early and got a seat in a room already almost full, to which were added a couple of dozen standing, more sitting on the floor and some listening to Dr Michael Moseley from outside through the open window. This set the pattern for the day but I managed to squeeze my way in to hear Ivor Cummins, Jenny Phillips, Dr David Unwin (an award-winning GP from Southport who is putting his diabetic patients into remission with diet) and Emma Porter whose low-carb recipes I am enjoying very much.

Here are just a few of the key messages from the day:

Michael Moseley

The Mediteranean Diet (the real one with lots of fats and oily fish, not the one on the NHS website which looks suspiciously like the standard, bad dietary recommendations) helps with severe depression.

Disappointingly, he told us that when his son did medicine at university recently, in the 5 years there was nothing at all on diet or exercise due to lack of time!!! The students organised their own study group. Change is coming as a grass roots movement but the NHS is as hard to turn round as a tanker.

Michael’s wife Dr Claire Bailey (GP) demonstrated fermented food for good gut health. There are as many brain cells in your gut as the head of a cat. Michael said they have a smart cat.

Commenting on exercise, he revealed that the 10k steps a day is not evidence based but came from Japan and was started by a company that makes pedometers!

Ivor Cummins

Ivor talked about ‘healthspan’ rather than lifespan. Bad lifestyle choices can rob you of your health as many as 10years too early. Good lifestyle choices can increase your healthy time by 10years.

Choosing to address your diet, exercise and stress can give you 20 extra quality years.

David Unwin

David spoke affectionately about the many different animals he has owned from the mallard ducklings he nearly killed with a vitamin deficient diet of porridge to a cow.

He was told he must feed the cow magnesium so that it would not have fits because cows really need to eat wild flowers like buttercups not just nitrogen-rich green grass (see the Horned Beef Company). This turned out to also be the remedy for a patient’s severe fitting which had been not helped by drugs. Modern medicine often fails to consider nutrition even though we know how to look after livestock.

Emma Porter and Dr Ian Lake

Emma and Ian spoke about real food and carbohydrate restricted diets for type 1 diabetics so that less insulin is needed. (This must be done in partnership with your doctor.) Other results are boundless energy, weight loss, mental clarity, better teeth and stable blood sugar. Dr Ian Lake pointed out that although the short term results are fabulous, there are no long-term studies of a low-carb diet. However he said we do know for sure that if your follow the usual high carb guidelines you will come to a sticky end. Emma and Dr David Cavan have written The Low-Carb Diabetes Cookbook – it’s not just for diabetics.

Jenny Philipps

Jenny spoke about metabolic health. Her key messages were quality (real food), intermittent fasting and using David Unwin’s sugar equivalent infographics to choose low impact foods. If you are metabolically healthy, you’ll be fine eating the odd piece of cake. If your health is poor, it’s very important to avoid high sugar foods.

And the dodgy weather?  The sun came out, the scenery glowed and a good day was had by all.

Top tip: Real Food Rocks!

A Little of What You Fancy

The closer we get to Christmas, the more unhealthy stuff is shoved in front of our eyes and under our noses. There are office parties, family gatherings and all sorts of social occasions where people will pressure us to indulge more than we want to (often to make themselves feel better)

 “Go on, have another…”

Thankfully we don’t have to eat and drink everything on offer and suffer for it, or refuse it all and feel left out; we can take a middle road, use the 80/20 rule, join in without excess and enjoy a little of what you fancy.

There’s a saying:

Don’t worry what you eat between Christmas and New Year, it’s what you eat between New Year and Christmas that really matters.

If you’ve been taking care of yourself, your amazing body will cope with a bit of unhealthy stuff especially if you keep putting mostly good things inside you. Great breakfasts, super lunches, healthy snacks, fabulous dinners, all home-made mixtures of plants and proteins and fats. You’ll take it all in your stride.

Here’s a Jon Gabriel breakfast that seems light but is nutritious enough to last for several hours – fruit, full-fat natural yoghurt, ground flax, hemp, chia seeds, protein powder and I like to add some nuts – just stir it all together.

Of course, some people will dive in with gay abandon, intending to fix the damage in the New Year. If that’s you, going on a diet is unlikely to be helpful so resolve to build in some better eating habits or have some nutrition coaching and learn to eat well.

There will be presents as well as food and I leave you a quote I just saw from Bernard Manning:

I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas

with a note on it saying

“Toys not included”

Merry Christmas!

Jackie

Pumpkin Soup

Today (31st October) is Halloween – originally Hallows Even, the evening before All Saints Day – and the shops are overflowing with pumpkins. Most people carve them into lanterns then throw them away. That’s a shame because there’s nothing easier to make than tasty pumpkin soup.  I’ve put this recipe on my Survival Guide for the Skint blog as it’s so cheap – ~20p per bowl.  I topped it with some of the seeds which I roasted and cheese on the side.