Be here, be now, love and enjoy.
Put down your ‘phone, see what’s actually around you, engage with the people you’re with, be absorbed in the task you’re doing, revel in the aroma, texture and taste of your food.
This year experience the richness of each present moment and live your real life.
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.
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.
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:
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 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 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 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!
Happy Hens, Great Eggs
Eggs nutritional gold in their own little packages. They're good value, easy to prepare, versatile, satisfying and delicious. We certainly eat a lot of them 36 million a day! Does anyone remember the slogan 'Go to Work on an Egg'? The original Tony Hancock adverts are on YouTube. It's much sounder advice than breakfast cereal ads today. There was a time when we were advised to eat fewer eggs; now the Food Standards Agency says they're good for everyone, even raw. The British Lion mark was launched in 1998 and shows when hens have been vaccinated against salmonella. So what’s in them?
Protein - including all the essential amino acids and against which all other protein sources are measured.
Fats – including mono-unsaturated and essential long-chain omega 3 fatty acids. They famously contain cholesterol but this will not affect your blood levels.
Vitamins - A, B2 (riboflavin), B5, B9 (folate), B12 and D.
Minerals - rich in selenium, phosphorous and iron.
Other - choline (the only other food rich in this essential nutrient is liver) - lutein and zeaxanthin (needed by your eyes).
How good your eggs are depends on how the hens have lived. Could you keep your own hens? If that’s not an option and you haven’t any hen-keeping friends, buy the best of what’s available Organic eggs are the most expensive at ~30p each. They have the best animal welfare standards and are always free-range. Hens are naturally inquisitive creatures, happier when free to forage outside. Free-range eggs have better animal welfare than hens kept inside and a superior nutritional profile with double the amount of vitamins and omega 3 fats. Sainsbury’s sells woodland eggs from hens free to forage among trees as wild ones would. Barn eggs come from hens kept inside, up to a maximum of 6000, with space to move around. They eat only the food provided. Omega 3 eggs have feed supplemented by flaxseed oil and/or fish oil. The cheapest eggs come from hens in cages. Beware marketing tricks – is the idyllic farm in the picture a real farm? Each egg has a number stamped on it where it came from. When factory hens are crammed together there’s a greater likelihood of disease so they get daily antibiotics. This adds to the danger we’ll lose the use of these life-saving drugs one day. 14 year old Lucy Gavaghan's petition resulted in a huge, national shift away from hens in cages. Barren, battery cages are now banned under EU law, so all Lion Marked eggs come from enriched cages. Caged hens are fed just on grains without all the good plants and little critters they would grub up if they were outside. Having said that, even cheap eggs (~12p each) are good for you and far better than many of the processed foods for sale. Local farm eggs are often for sale in your local butcher's or supermarkets and could come under any of these categories. You might see signs on country lanes too. Some of these eggs are superb but if they do not bear the Lion Mark there are no guarantees of quality. Find out more at egginfo.co.uk
Top Tip – Eat eggs laid by happy hens!
Did you give up smoking last week (no smoking day 13th March)? If you did and you’re finding it tough – stay strong. If not, the best day to do it is today.
I lost my wonderful Mum and my fabulous Nana to lung cancer.
For the sake of your loved ones who will miss you, and your own health, please stop smoking.
Helen Gerson said “There are only 2 sources of non-communicable disease – deficiency and toxicity”.
So don’t think vaping is much better; you’d still be taking chemical fumes into your lungs. Read this sobering article from Dr Mercola.
You might have gone shopping this weekend. How did you decide what to eat? When you’re walking round the supermarket, what factors determine what ends up in your trolley? Here are some common ones:
Cost – including what’s on offer, BOGOF
Cravings / addiction
Smell – especially round the bread!
What you like
Hunger while shopping
Choosing food is clearly a complex operation.
So why do we eat?
We’ve come to think of food mainly as a source of energy, like petrol for the car. The simplicity of the idea is appealing but it’s only part of the story.
Nevertheless, since the introduction of calories as a measure, we’ve become obsessed with them. The calorie value of food has been elevated in importance beyond what it deserves. In spite of its popularity, calorific content is a poor basis for making food choices. In fact, it often drives us away from good foods and towards bad foods. You might have been led to believe that a calorie is a calorie regardless of source but I hope you’ll agree that whatever the calories say, a doughnut is not the same thing as a steak (Dr Andreas Eenfeldt).
Why else do we eat?
Our bodies need building material. Your cells and tissues are renewed all the time and the only things you body has to use for making new ones are the things you provide by eating. Substance and quality matter. You need protein – not just in total but including all the essential amino acids – to make muscles and chemical messengers. You need fats of the right shapes to make your cell membranes and hormones. You need vitamins and minerals and enzymes to support the zillions of chemical reactions going on inside. Not all the food you eat will contain these good things.
Are you getting enough goodness?
Recommended daily intakes are set at levels to avoid illness not at levels for optimum health or to cover increased demand eg if you are ill or under stress. Modern farming methods are degrading the soil so vegetables have lower levels of minerals (eg since 1940 carrots have lost 75% of their magnesium, 48% of their calcium, 46% of their iron and 75% of their copper.) Unripe foods are picked before their full nutrient potential has been reached so they can be transported long distances without spoilage. Processing of foods can damage or remove micronutrients. Good omega 3 fats might be taken out to increase shelf life while bad fats (eg damaged omega 6 fats like sunflower oil) are common ingredients. The trend is to eat grains such as wheat with every meal and these contain anti-nutrients (eg phytic acid) which block the absorption of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
The result of all this is that much of our population today is over-fed but under-nourished. Deficiencies may not be so drastic as to show up as beriberi, scurvy or rickets (although that happens too) but may be revealed as tiredness, low mood, aches and pains, poor skin, hair and nails.
The impact of poor diet on your mental and physical abilities affects your whole life, including your work performance, fitness for sport and the fun you have with your family. That’s why I ask people to think first about nutrition.
Good food gives you essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Major on fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, veg and natural fats. Do your own cooking. Put calories in the back seat, steer clear of processed foods and make your choices based primarily on the goodness real food contains.
Top tip: Choose your food for maximum nutrition
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”
I usually write about what to eat, but timing is important too.
Your body doesn’t just gear up to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light; every part of it has control clocks.
Artificial light means we can eat from pre-dawn until midnight nowadays. Unfortunately, this disrupts our circadian rhythm and is bad for our health.
It’s best to eat during the day when levels of digestive enzymes are high and your liver and gut are ready to deal with food. In the evening, saliva production slows down. Also, if anything enters the stomach, there’s more acid produced. Your gut slows down for nightly repairs – but repair is difficult if food is still passing through – it’s like trying to re-tarmac a road with traffic still flowing. It’s better to stop eating 2 or 3 hours before bed.
I’m in favour of working with your body, so Prof Satchin Panda’s research on Time Restricted Eating struck a chord. (Listen to Dr Rangan Chatterjee interviewing Prof Panda here.) An 8-10 hour window has been found in the lab to protect against (and to improve existing) obesity, heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, cholesterol and high blood sugar. Prof Panda recognises that we don’t have a choice when we get up; we have jobs to go to and children to take to school. But we can choose when we eat.
I like to try things out. Initially it felt weird starting work early then having breakfast at 9:30am but months into my self-experiment, I feel great. After 7:30pm I don’t eat – that’s a 10h window. Even a 12h window gives benefits, say 7am to 7pm. Give it a try and find out how you feel working with your body’s rhythms. (Check with your doctor about effects on medication.) There’s also a global study you can take part in via an app (mycircadianclock.org).
Top tip – Give Time Restricted Eating a try
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:
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)
Dried herbs – parsley, oregano or whatever you prefer
Vinegar – white wine, balsamic or apple cider
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.
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
1 x large or 2 x small leeks
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)
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
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!