The Cup That Cheers

What do Brits do in a crisis? – put the kettle on! There is no calamity so great that it cannot be eased by a ‘nice cup of tea’.  We’ve even given it a special day of its own.

21st April is National Tea Day.

We started drinking tea in Britain way back in the mid 1600s when it was referred to as ‘China drink. We quickly took it to our hearts even though it was fantastically expensive due to import tax and was often kept in locked chests to prevent pilfering. It’s cheap as chips now and we consume 165 million cups a day!! That’s 60.2 billion cups a year and around double the coffee we drink (UK coffee week was 16-22th April).

You can read about the history of tea and all the different types on the Tea Association website.  (One point for caution: they talk about what’s in tea and consider fluoride to be a nutrient which it is not; it’s a neurotoxin.)

There are so many types to sample and enjoy. There’s black tea, green tea, white tea, tea flavoured with flowers and herbs – even without including the herbal teas (called tisanes). When I was a student, there was a tea stall on Bath indoor market. From the array of exotic leaves, I would make my choice, then watch in wonder as the half pound was weighed and poured onto a single sheet of paper that magically became a parcel tied with string.  (I don’t know whether they still do this wondrous packaging but you can still buy tea in Bath market and I’m thrilled to see that my other favourite stalls are still there – selling cheese and second-hand books.)

Our favourite brew supports our health with anti-oxidant polyphenols and flavonoids. There are detriments too from caffeine and fluoride so it’s best have water sometimes rather than drinking tea (and coffee) all day long. It’s also diuretic and can play havoc with your bladder. If you take sugar, work on giving it up. I had one client who was surprised to discover she was consuming 24 teaspoons of sugar a day just from drinking tea!

My old pint pot now relegated to housing part of my pencil collection.

We don’t treat tea drinking with the elaborate rituals of China or Japan, usually using tea bags and brewing in a mug at home and work but we certainly do all like our tea a certain way – and in our favourite cup/mug. Some like a pint pot brewed so strong the spoon very nearly stands up it in. Others dip the bag in for a microsecond and barely colour the water. And I don’t dare comment on the milk first or tea first debate!

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Afternoon tea, however, has become a special event with delicate china cups and saucers, one pot for the tea, one for hot water, a little jug of milk and a tiered cake stand bearing dainty sandwiches, scones and cake.

Not healthy of course with all that flour and sugar but an inbuilt memory of a more genteel age. At least that’s how it should be; I was horrified on a cream tea spa day at a posh hotel with a friend to have a chunky Starbucks mug plonked down in front of me which completely jarred against the rest of our classy treat.

Do you always snack with your cuppa? It’s another of those marketing-induced habits. Think of Rich Tea – “a drink’s too wet without one” or “Have a break have a ….” you know the rest; that’s how successful they are at fixing their messages in our psyche.

They’ve normalised snacking at every point through the day so now we graze constantly like we never did before. Tea rooms and coffee shops offer enormous portions of cakes and slices as I wrote about muffins vs buns.

So drink tea in moderation, for the pleasure of it and the good things it contains, rather than as your principle hydrator.  Realise that you can have it on its own. If you really want a snack, have a small bun or biscuit you’ve made yourself, or better still a handful of nuts or some fresh coconut. At the bottom of my recipes page are links to lots of websites with great recipes. Let me know of other healthy snacks you like.

Top tip: Enjoy your cuppa and be cheered.

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Mmm – Chocolate

As we approach Christmas, sweet treats are everywhere. The UK chocolate market is worth £4.1 billion and we eat a staggering 437 million kg every year. Most of it is bad for you so you might be glad that a bit of quality, dark chocolate does you good.

The health benefits of dark chocolate are all the rage right now, with some calling it a super food. I‘m not sure I’d go that far but its low sugar content and rich concentrations of beneficial antioxidants and poly-phenols make it a superior snack. It needs to be >70%; the milk and white varieties, although undeniably tasty, don’t cut it and have far too much sugar. And you’ll still need to apply some moderation – a few squares a day, not a few bars. So what’s in it?

  • resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, good for blood pressure, heart health and your brain.
  • flavanols which are anti-inflammatory.

  • cocoa butter, containing approximately 33% oleic acid, the same healthy monounsaturate as olive oil.
  • minerals including potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium.

Companies are springing up making organic, raw chocolate in all sorts of amazing flavours from chilli to gin and tonic. If, like me, you were saddened that the government allowed the Americans to buy Cadbury’s and ruin a great British product, you may be interested to know that James Cadbury (great, great, great grandson of the original John Cadbury) has started a business under the brand Love Cocoa, making high quality, ethical chocolate. I’ve tested it for you (a hard job but someone had to do it).

It’s delicious on its own or use it in my favourite Chocolatey Nut Seed Snack, recipe in my resources section here – keep scrolling down past the soup which you might also enjoy during the current wintry weather!

Top tip: A little dark chocolate does you good

Merry Christmas!

Retire Healthy

If work’s been quiet that’s all about to change as schools start back and holidays finish. But for some of you work might be nearing its end with retirement weeks, months or only a year away. Are you ready for it?

When you’re young, you’re invincible (well that’s how it seems). You can take on the world and withstand any assault. Ambitions run high. You sacrifice your time, relationships and health to your career as you climb up the management ladder. One day you wake up and realise there’s more to life and start counting the cost. All around you middle-aged friends and celebrities are suffering diverse ailments or dying too young.

Reclaiming your health suddenly takes priority as you think of all the things you still want to do with the time you’ll have. Whilst life expectancy has gone up as drugs stop us from dying, I doubt you aspire to eking out your later years battling some chronic condition in a care home. If, however, you’re up to it, the world will soon be your oyster.

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Eating well to avoid cancer, heart disease, diabetes or Alzheimer’s is like wearing a seat belt when you drive. It’s about risk reduction. Chronic health problems have increased as the national diet has deteriorated.

Add exercise, good sleep, happy relationships and time outside in the air and sunshine to lower your risk further. It’s never too late to start. Much of the damage of a miss-spent youth is reversible with some TLC.

The best time for positive action is always today.

Learn to eat well now, live well for longer.

Top tip – eat well and enjoy a healthy retirement.

My next course is at Lorton St Methodists, Cockermouth Wednesdays, 7:30pm, 20th September – 25th October.  Why not join us?  Book your place now and invest in your future.

 

Spend less; still eat well

The school holidays have started and while the kids rejoice, parents may worry how expensive the next six weeks might be. Food need not add to the pressure – you can eat well without spending a fortune.

A while ago, ITV ran a series Save Money Good Food. I’ve included a few of their tips here with some of mine.

Image result for food waste UK

The first way to save money is not to waste any of your food. A scandalous £12.5 billion of edible food is thrown away every year in the UK. Part of this is down to overbuying. Know what’s in your cupboard so you don’t repeat buy what you already have a home. We all love bargains and the BOGOF but when you buy a bargain and don’t eat it, you’re throwing your money straight into the bin. Do a bit of planning, shop with a list, cook in bulk, make good use of your freezer and learn to love leftovers (my favourite lunches).

When you pay for food, you don’t want added charges for labour. The super rich may employ private chefs but many ordinary people do too without realising. I’ve got a big downer on ready meals for lots of reasons and cost is just one. But even if you don’t go that far you might pop the odd packet of ready-chopped something in your trolley. Salad perhaps or some fruit for the kids. Ready chopped produce is 3 to 5 times more expensive. That’s 300 to 500% more. It takes less than a minute to chop an apple / carrot / onion / bit of lettuce. The more prep you do yourself, the lower the cost and the fresher the produce. By using it straight away you keep more precious nutrients and flavour. Plus you avoid eating something that’s been dipped in a chemical solution and packed in a modified atmosphere to stop it giving away its age by turning brown (see Swallow This by Joanna Blythman).

Fresh herbs soon wilt or dry up and die so why not plant them out to increase their yield 100 fold. See my Herb Garden post.

Cereal – a poor choice for breakfast

We only started eating cornflakes in 1922 so we clearly don’t need breakfast cereal from a biological viewpoint. Really it’s highly processed carbohydrate with good PR and marketing. It will put your blood sugar up, damage your health and cause weight gain. People think that the cereals with less added sugar are good for you. They aren’t as damaging as the high sugar types of course but the corn/rice/wheat itself will still be quickly broken down into sugar by your body’s enzymes. Ditch the box cereals and enjoy a good quality muesli or natural porridge oats (beware the sachets – see Oats so Expensive on Survival Guide for the Skint).

Better still go to work on an egg. Have it with own brand smoked salmon and you’ll feel satisfied right through to lunchtime and save more money and health damage by not needing to buy snacks.

Here are some other pieces I’ve written on breakfasts:

The Great English Breakfast

Eat a Good Breakfast

And what about the most nutritious food of all? It’s also one of the cheapest – liver. You can feed a family of four for £3.

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Sardines come second for nutrition. If you don’t like them on their own, here’s my recipe for sardine pate:

  • 1 tin of sardines in brine, drained
  • 2oz butter (that’s ¼ block or 50g)
  • 2oz full-fat cream cheese (¼ small tub or 55g)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper and some fresh parsley
  • Optional ½ teaspoon of French mustard)

Put it all in a bowl and mash with a fork until well mixed.  Serve with a crisp salad.

Enjoy the holidays and I hope you get better weather than the rain that poured as I wrote this!

Top tip – learn to spend less and still eat well.

Foraging

When I’m out in the woods doing field archery, I’m usually picking something to eat, much to the surprise of my companions. If they pluck up courage to accept a taste, they marvel at the citrus freshness of young wood-sorrel leaves and the sweet nectar you can suck from the base of red clover flowers. I can often be seen chewing on the stems of sorrel or wild grasses. Later in the summer, some woods will have wild strawberries and raspberries too.

Bilberry picking, 2016

Come the autumn, it’s time for blackberries and bilberries (which put blue berries in the shade, both as a super food and for intensity of flavour). These deserve a dedicated collecting trip. A couple of bags in the freezer lasts for months as a topping for Greek yoghurt at breakfast or the magic ingredient in a lilac smoothie.

With 75 % of the world’s food provided by just 12 plants and 5 animal species, it’s no wonder that food allergies, intolerances and digestive difficulties are increasing. Your body thrives on variety.

Urban lifestyles and screen addiction mean that few children can name trees and flowers and don’t know what can be eaten and, most importantly, what’s poisonous and shouldn’t be touched. Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) called these kids ‘nature-deficient’ and links this to the worrying trends in childhood obesity, ADHD and depression.

Although I’ve read more about foraging in recent years, I learned most of what I know as a child out with my parents and grandparents.  And we were always picking something for wine making including sticky dandelions, delicate gorse petals (ouch!) and foamy white heads of elderflower.  In the war our grandparents put dandelion leaves in salad – perhaps with the resurgence of stronger tasting leaves like rocket, today’s generation would again find them appealing.

Top tip – teach your children and grandchildren what you know.

CLANGERS for health

I bought his boook Staying Alive

Recently I went to see Dr Phil Hammond at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake. Hilarious as always, Dr Phil brought a serious message. The NHS is in trouble (we’d noticed) and the best way we can help is ….. to use it less. That means looking after ourselves so we need less medical intervention.

“Health care begins with self-care.”

He wants us all to drop CLANGERS. Honestly, I make enough mistakes without encouragement but here’s what he meant:

Connect

Learn

   (be) Active

Notice

Give back

Eat well

Relax

Sleep

Connect doesn’t mean social media. A spreader of love and kindness, Dr Phil’s Connect means face to face conversations, shared joy and hugs. He even got the audience hugging each other.  I’ve seen people gathered round a cafe table, each playing with their own device, isolated whilst in company. We’re losing the ability to connect to the people we’re actually with.

We hear about the troubling rise of depression and anxiety amongst young people and the toxic effect of Facebook. Our ‘always on’ culture make us unhappy and doesn’t allow us to relax.  Even some of the rich and famous are switching to the liberation of dumb ‘phones, choosing when to go on line, and finding a life where you live in the moment somehow less cluttered.

Find out what difference it makes to eat together as a family as a shared pleasure.  The Italians and French love their food and lead the way; meals can last for hours with chat and laughter.  Calm, relaxed eating even aids your absorption of nutrients.

A survey showed that 73% of people felt happier after spending time doing things with others. Science, too backs up the benefits of physical contact. It increases the production of the love hormone oxytocin which reduces cravings for drugs, alcohol and sugar. Very useful if you’re trying to give up highly addictive processed food.

Top tip – drop your CLANGERS daily!

The tour lasts until 8th July – check here to see if Dr Phil is coming to your area.

 

Eat for Better Business coming to Kendal

On 12th April (10am to 4pm), I’m bringing Eat for Better Business to the Mintworks, Kendal for a Cumbria Chamber of Commerce event.

It’s an interactive day focused on busting many currently fashionable food myths to help you feel great and work at the top of your game.
For quality work you need to be at your best without suffering any afternoon slump or fuzzy concentration. That means putting the right things in your body. You wouldn’t try to run your computer on gas or your car on jet fuel, but with confusing messages everywhere it’s hard to know what to eat for the best.
By the end of the workshop, delegates will:

  • recognise the importance of diet
  • have identified the impact on work
  • discover better breakfasts and lunches
  • understand why we eat and what we need
  • explore what’s hidden in food
  • know what to eat for brain power
  • appreciate the importance of meal breaks
  • have defined a personal goal.

The delegate rate for this full day workshop is £65 +VAT Chamber and Made in Cumbria members / £120 +VAT non-members – to book your place(s) please – BOOK HERE

Should you have any questions regarding the above training event, please do not hesitate to contact me or Catherynn Dunstan from Cumbria Chamber catherynn@cumbriachamber.co.uk.