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.
Mother always said, “Go out with wet hair and you’ll catch a cold”. Well I came back from the swimming pool without drying it and, sure enough, a few days later, I succumbed.
More recently, research has found that breathing cold air affects how well your defence mechanisms deal with invading viruses, making it more likely you’ll catch something. The Common Cold Centre in Cardiff has experimented on some poor volunteers. The evidence is equivocal but it seems that blood vessels in the nose and throat contract when you are cold and wet which reduces the number of white blood cells available to protect you. That short period of time when your defences are lowered can be enough for the viruses around us to take hold.
I saw it off fairly fast with a combination of rest, bouncing and this concoction:
- Lemon juice – source of vitamin C and antioxidants
- Honey (½ tsp) – complex and mysterious with anti-bacterial healing properties, honey is still sugar so use in moderation.
- ½” chopped fresh ginger root – it’s anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral.
- 3 cloves – anaesthetic properties (ever popped one by your gum for toothache?) They’re also anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and expectorant.
- 1 tsp coconut oil – it’s anti-bacteria, anti-fungal, anti-viral and soothing.
Pour on boiling water and let it steep for a minute or two to make a tasty, soothing drink.
And the bouncing? It speeds up the flow of lymph around your body. Use an old-fashioned skipping rope or go gentle on your knees with a trampoline.
Top tip – Mum was right; it’s worth spending time drying your hair and getting bundled up with a hat and scarf before going out in the cold.
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.
Don’t damn saturated fat because of the fake food it is in and don’t damn highly nutritious foods (meat, eggs and dairy) in the name of saturated fat.
Here’s her piece on the highly flawed SACN report that recommends we keep our saturated fat intake lower than 10%
The days are shorter, the sun slants at a shallower angle and we won’t be able to make vitamin D until next March/April. At this time of year I usually remind you that a vitamin D supplement is a good idea. And since with all micronutrients they work together, something you’ll need for your Vitamin D to work is magnesium (plus vitamins K2 and B6).
Magnesium is important for your heart, for your brain, for energy production, for insulin sensitivity and so much more. It’s essential if you take calcium. Deficiency is linked to: acid reflux, anxiety, panic attacks, ADHD and depression, constipation, fatigue and insomnia, muscle problems like cramp, fibromyalgia and post exercise soreness (the dreaded DOMS). I heard in July from Dr David Unwin about how it helped a patient whose fitting had not responded to medication and turned out to be magnesium deficiency caused by other medication.
Having suffered with for years, I was thrilled that it also helps with Raynaud’s. As soon as there was a cool, damp day (even in summer), I’d touch something cold and the circulation in my fingers would just switch off. I’ve even had to warm up cutlery before eating and have occasionally been in so much pain with it that I cried. But since I started taking magnesium a year ago, my fingers have stayed pink.
Most people are deficient but it doesn’t show up with a simple blood test because your body will keep levels constant, even scavenging from your bones and muscles for the sake of your heart.
The main food sources are kelp, wheat (only wholegrain), nuts, soya (best only eaten fermented) and coconut. You could also take tablets, soak in an Epsom salts bath or spray an oil mixture on your skin. There are different compounds of magnesium available as supplements. Dr Mercola discusses their merits here.
Top tip – Boost your health with magnesium
NB There are a few reasons why you shouldn’t take magnesium
- if you have kidney failure,
- very slow heart rate,
- bowel obstruction
- Myasthenia gravis
- and check with your doctor about any medication.
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!
Here he writes about suncream.https://www.outsideonline.com/2380751/sunscreen-sun-exposure-skin-cancer-science
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!
Energy bars have acquired an air of healthiness which makes them very popular – but are they actually good for you? I’ve been having a look at some of what’s available and this month I share my thoughts with you.
I should first say that the general rule for a healthy life is to eat great meals so you don’t need to snack. If you do want a snack, it’s better to make something yourself and avoid all the sugar and weird stuff manufacturers use.
If you decide to buy snacks and energy bars, be aware that the downsides to factory made food are 1) the aggressive processing and 2) the weird ingredients needed to make a presentable product after it’s been through aggressive processing.
Some of the bars listed here have 20 or 30 odd ingredients, few of which are recognisable foods. I was interested to notice how many of the cereal companies make them, presenting the same cheery image they use to entice us to eat recreational, ultra-processed food first thing in the morning.
The unhealthy bunch – eat at your peril
Too much sugar and weird.
Alpen Light, Double Chocolate
Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain, Strawberry
Jordans Frusli – Juicy Blueberries. Only 2.2% blueberries
Nestle Lion Breakfast Cereal Bar – Chocolate
Kellogg’s Coco Pops – Chocolate.
Maxi Muscle – Chocolate Brownie
Kellogg’s Nuts and More – Dark choc and almonds
Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Bar – Choc and peanut
Tracker – Chocolate chip
Cadbury Brunch Bar
Go ahead Yogurt Breaks – Red Cherry. Over 30 ingredients, vast amounts of sugar and only 1% cherry!
Possibly the worst I’ve seen.
So-so in a pinch
Nature Valley Protein Bar – Peanut and Chocolate
Eat Natural – Dark choc, cranberries, macadamias. I used to love these. They’re made with real ingredients but they’re sugary ingredients and I can’t cope with the extreme sweetness now. They also do a protein one which I haven’t tried but might be better.
Eat Grub – Cacoa and coconut. Made of good stuff (including crickets, hence the name) but at almost 40% dried fruit that’s a hit to your liver.
Nestle Yes – Coffee, Dark choc and cherry. Reasonable ingredients and nutritional profile.
Nutramino Protein Bar – Peanut and caramel
Atkins Bars – Chocolate fudge caramel. Low in sugar but I’m not sure I’d want to pay money for a product whose main ingredient is “bulking agent”.
The best of the bunch
These have the fewest, most natural ingredients.
Raw Chocolate – Nut pie. All natural.
Naked Bar – Pecan pie. Just 3 ingredients! Don’t eat too many though due to the high percentage of dates.
Nature’s Energy Meridian – Peanut and cocoa. My winner. All 9 ingredients are recognisable foods, the nutritional profile is balanced and they taste nice!
Better Still – Make Your Own
The simplest product is the Naked bar which is only dates, almonds and pecans.
Of course the thought that springs to mind is that you could just buy dates, ground almonds and pecans and squish them together to make your own. Get used to adapting the recipes you already have. I noticed recently that modern versions of old classics have double the sugar. That means you can halve what most recipes say. Lots of websites have recipes but a word of warning; some of them list vegetable oil as an ingredient. Seed oils like sunflower are not heat stable and should never be used in cooking. Use some butter or coconut oil instead.
Snacks like power balls are usually made with dates as a base or nut butter as in this example:
In a bowl, thoroughly mix :
- 2 heaped tbsp of nut butter
- a drizzle of maple syrup (about a teaspoon)
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp desiccated coconut.
Take out a teaspoon at a time and roll into little balls. They can be a bit sticky so you could roll them in sesame seeds or more coconut to form a dry coating. Keep them in the fridge.
As an alternative try quick and simple, low-carb, microwave –
Cake in a cup
Put into a large mug:
- 1 egg
- a drizzle of maple syrup
- 3 tbsp Ground Almonds
- 1 tbsp Coconut Flour
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 1 dsp raisins
Mix with a fork then microwave on high for 1½ minutes. There’s your cake!
Top tip – If you want an energy booster, make your own.