Spring and Sparkle

Have you noticed the lambs in the fields? I love to see them jump and play in the sunshine, full of the joys of spring. We should feel like this too.

Wikimedia commons

Watch people walking down the street and notice how few of them have a spring in their step or sparkle in their eye. People in the Western world are used to struggling along with low energy, aches, pains, excess weight and minor ailments. They think that not being ill is as good as it gets. Real wellness is rare.

When we think about energy use, we think of exercise. Another big drain is digestion. Yes, we use up energy when we eat! Ever fallen asleep after a meal? When you eat unsuitable food, your body can’t cope and keep you awake, so it shuts down all non-essential systems and you nod off. Inside your body’s working flat out. The fashion for processed food is robbing us of energy. It’s called ‘fast food’ because you buy it instead of making it from ingredients. The preparation part is certainly quick – but once you’ve eaten it, fast food is really, really slow. Your body has to work very hard to digest it. The process takes a long time and uses up lots of vitamins, minerals and enzymes and huge amounts of energy.

Contrast this with fresh, natural food. It takes time to prepare but is quicker and easier for your body to use so more of the energy is available for you to feel great.

Dead, processed food may be convenient but it won’t allow you to live as vibrant, healthy a life as you could be enjoying.

Top tip – have more spring and sparkle with fresh, natural foods!

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Our Hostile Food Environment

What’s the hardest thing about a healthy lifestyle? The exercise? Juicing wheatgrass? Growing sprouts? Actually the hardest thing is constantly resisting temptation in our hostile food environment.

We live in a sugar and oil saturated food world. Last month I found myself in a typical town, past lunchtime, without having brought anything to eat. The mass of non-food for sale was depressing. I felt like a reformed drug addict in an opium den. It’s very, very easy to eat badly but difficult to eat well. Amid the throngs of willing consumers, I stood out from the flock like one of the decorated (model) sheep we had around Cumbria this summer.

To improve our food environment we can support the taxation of sugar in drinks and foods; we can oppose the advertising of sugary products to children; we can stop supporting sellers of junk by refusing to buy what they sell; we can just say, “No”.

As an antidote to mass-produced fodder, we were treated to a wonderful weekend when Taste Cumbria came to Cockermouth. What a great event!

There were artisan producers you could talk to, samples to taste and all sorts of delicious foods to buy. We bought smoked mackerel for tea that evening. The next day I enjoyed scrambled eggs with smoked salmon for breakfast. Monday evening it was smoked sausages for dinner (many thanks to all you lads at Haverigg).

On the Sunday I put the slow cooker on – well it’s not summer any more – and made a casserole with venison from Deer and Dexter which we ate with the last of our home-grown potatoes and lots of veg. Delicious.

Finally we popped into the United Reformed Church to restock my favourite Rhubarb and Ginger from Jill’s Jams. Jam isn’t health food but a teaspoon on a cracker topped with the creamy unpasturised Lancashire from a cheese stall was yummy.

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The Rotary Club’s Human Fruit Machine was an absolute delight and brought smiles all round.

Top tip – Buy real, local food.

Quote of the month

Quote

As sad as it is for me to say, the current food and farming system is creating catastrophic change as it contributes to climate change, global famine and malnourishment, damaging our planet to the brink of disrepair. Parts of our conventional food system harm nature, people, communities and civilisations in the wild and urban world.

Tom Hunt

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DIY Health Booster

Spring is nearly here and doesn’t it lift your spirits to see flowers appear? IMAG0659Some of you will be making preparations to grow this year’s vegetables. It’s wonderful to eat them fresh the same day you picked them when all the vitamins and enzymes are at their maximum. Not everyone has a garden or allotment but something we can all do is sprout seeds and beans on the kitchen worktop.

You’ll need some sprouting trays with slots in (buy from a health food shop or on line), then choose what to grow. Mung beans and green lentils are readily available in most supermarkets, very easy to sprout and only take 3 days to grow. Alfalfa seeds are my favourite but few shops stock them so I buy them on line. Then there are radish seeds which have a real flavour kick, chickpeas, broccoli seeds which are high in sulforaphane (being studied for potential cancer protective effects) and lots more.

S/W Ver: 85.83.E7P

Mung and Alfalfa

Soak your seeds/beans in a glass of water for 4-8h depending on their size. Rinse and put into your trays in an even layer about one seed/bean thick. Each morning and evening, rinse the sprouts thoroughly under running water, then tip the trays to drain away any excess so that the sprouts are not sitting in water. When they’re ready, harvest them with a fork; they’ll keep in the fridge in a container for a few days. Give your trays a thorough clean with a brush and they’re ready to start growing the next batch. (Step-by-step sprouting video under my superfood series.)

Eat sprouts raw so that you keep the goodness. They’re good on salad or with breakfast or as a snack.

Top tip: Grow your own health booster.

Avoid Weight Gain this Christmas

Weight gain seems inevitable at this time of year but if you don’t want to start 2016 fat, tired and ill, how can you minimise the damage?steak salad

Eat as much natural, realS/W Ver: 85.83.E7P food as possible. Buy fresh meat, fish and vegetables and fill yourself with good home cooked meals. Bake your own Christmas cake (nice with a slice of Wensleydale and some almonds) and mince pies using butter and reducing the sugar content.  Make salad dressings, dips and healthy treats (ask me for my no-cook chocolate, seed and nut recipe). Doing a bit of something in the kitchen can be great fun if the family gets stuck in too.

My breakfast green smoothie prior to whizzing

My breakfast green smoothie prior to whizzing

The right breakfast can set you up for the day. Include some protein and fat eg nutty muesli with natural yoghurt, poached egg on toast, home made porridge (not sachets/pots) with flaked almonds and cream or a low-sweetness smoothie (mine is based on avocado and coconut milk).

The worst choices are cereal, toast with jam, fruit juices/smoothies and chocolate which will have you on a blood-sugar roller-coaster for the rest of the day, and craving for more bad things.

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Water

Have a healthy snack before going out and drink plenty of water before and during parties. You’ll be less likely to drink too much alcohol or over-eat. Sugar and vegetable oil are in almost all processed ‘party’ food and will cause weight gain. Soft drinks are sugary and, surprisingly, “diet” drinks also increase weight.

NutsHide biscuits, chocolates, cake, crisps and alcohol in cupboards and leave bowls of nuts, veg sticks and dips in plain sight. Treat treats as treats. Enjoy them but don’t make a meal of them. If you try to abstain and you’re more likely to have a blow-out. Ditch the diet ‘on it, off it’ mentality and allow yourself to have a little. Accept that there will be naughty goodies everywhere you go; you will eat some, and so will I!

Top tip – Eat well and have a Merry Christmas

Vive La France

Did you know that French kids don’t get fat? They have the lowest levels of childhood obesity in the developed world and it’s the only place where it isn’t rising. Children aren’t educated about nutrition and taught to be anxious about food, they are taught the joy of food and learn to love it.

At 2013 July Brendas 6home, the family eats together so children develop a taste for real food, not fake ‘children’s food’. Kids don’t snack randomly but learn to wait. Parents don’t use food as bribes or rewards for good behaviour – it’s for pleasure and nourishment.

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The French rarely buy ready meals or takeaways. Instead, they spend more than we do on real food, revelling in copious amounts of butter, cheese and cream. They consistently have the highest levels of saturated fat intake in Europe and the lowest levels of heart disease. It’s termed the French Paradox; how do they get away with it? But actually there is no paradox. Research, including a review last year by Cambridge University of 72 studies, reveals an “absolute lack of evidence that consuming saturated fat leads to heart disease“. Yet the old school dietitians still cling to the notion and only last month, Nigella Lawson was vilified in the paper for using coconut oil in her new cookery book. But the French aren’t doing something mysterious to cheat the death that their diet deserves; their diet does them good. They look at the British eating processed sugar and oil and think we’re mad.

The French government helps too, with tough policies designed to prevent commercial interests damaging the health of its children. Tax on fizzy drinks (Jamie Oliver is campaigning to introduce the same here), health warnings on TV ads for snack foods, incentives for fruit and vegetable producers, no hormone treatment of animals, no vending machines in schools, water only to drink with the children’s 4-course, freshly-prepared school lunches for which they have a 2 hour break! Sounds good to me.


Top tip: Like the French, learn to love real food.

(I wrote this month’s piece a few weeks ago and decided to post it as intended in spite of the recent terrible events.  It seems appropriate to celebrate the French at this time.)

Quote of the Month

Time is a created thing.

To say, ‘I don’t have time’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.’

Lao Tzu

One of the reasons that people give for eating processed food products instead of making real food from fresh is the time that it takes.  Keep an eye of the adverts you watch and you’ll find that a theme running through many of them is that you don’t have time for anything and the thing they’re selling will solve that problem.  We’ve swallowed the myth that we don’t have time to feed ourselves well.

Set yourself free from that.

You can always make time for what’s important to you.

Holiday Food

I recently went to Norway on holiday, brilliantly arranged by the lovely people at Cockermouth Travel. As well as the breathtaking beauty of the place, I was struck by the slim, healthy build of the population and the fabulous food! Game stew was a highlight plus lots of fresh fish (they love their herrings) and vegetables. (OK there were fast food places for tourists in the town centre; you’ll find that everywhere in the world nowadays.)

Breakfasts were a feast of cold meats, cheeses, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and yoghurt. That’s a high nutrient breakfast to fuel the national pastime of walking up mountains, come rain or shine. Over here continental breakfast has been diminished to coffee and a croissant – not satisfying, not healthy and not continental.

Breakfast

Breakfast

More breakfast

More breakfast

And more breakfast!

And more breakfast!

 

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Going on holiday is a great opportunity to reconnect with real food. You might go to more exotic places that I do. Perhaps you’ve sampled the delights of young coconuts or fresh bananas which I’m told are divine.

It’s a shame we emulate the Americans more than Europeans. We eat more processed food than any other European country. We also have the fattest population plus the resultant deteriorating health. The French and Italians love their food and you can enjoy locally grown produce, artisan breads, grass-fed meat and amazing cheeses. Food is a high priority for them. They spend money on good ingredients and take time cooking and eating. Meals are not rushed or gulped down alone in front of a TV or computer. There’s a strong social element with lots of talk and laughter round the table. Enjoy it while you’re away and keep it up when you come back.

Top tip – make good food culture a holiday souvenir to bring back home.

Cut Price Food

Cut price food

It’s always worth keeping an eye on fresh produce that’s being sold off.  The other day I spotted big lettuces on sale for 25p.  I immediately thought of my Mum’s lettuce soup recipe – here it is:

Pic by Wendy Selina

Ingredients

  • 12oz roughly chopped lettuce
  • 2oz butter
  • 1/4 pint milk
  • 4oz spring onions, chopped
  • 1 tblsp flour
  • 1pt chicken stock
  • salt and pepper

Method

Put the butter in the pan with the lettuce and spring onions.  Cook until soft.  Add the flour, then the stock.  Bring to the boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Cool a bit.  Blend.  Add milk.

I bought one of the lettuces which weighed nearly 2lb, plus a bunch of spring onions, and made a big pan of lovely soup which I froze in portions.   I often eat soup and cheese for my lunch (no bread).  There was still lots of lettuce left for us to have in salads that week so nothing was wasted.

Getting so many meals for so little reminded me of a student I know in Leeds.  He goes to the market, buys whatever they’re selling off and makes soup.  His mates spend a fortune on processed rubbish but he’s getting good, fresh, real food at a monthly price of <£30!

Read more about saving money – this is a joint blog post with my Survival Guide for the Skint blogsite.