With National Chocolate Week in October, you might have been expecting a piece on the health benefits of chocolate. Fear not, I am writing one for you for Christmas but I noticed autumn arrive with shorted days and persistent rain so the immediate need is Vitamin D.
The sun is lower in the sky and the slanty light makes the views stunning across the hills early in the morning and the sea at sunset. The depth of the atmosphere are these angles means more absorption of shorter wavelengths including the beneficial UVB we need. Even leaving aside the fact that hardy Cumbrians can be seen out in shorts, T-shirts and sandals at any time of year, there simply isn’t enough UVB from October to March for our skin to make Vitamin D. The UV index has to be a minimum of 3. It’s only 1 as I write this with a forecast of 3 briefly over Wednesday lunchtime.
I’m keen where possible, on getting nutrients the way nature intended, from food. The best sources are fish liver oil, full fat dairy and eggs but you’re unlikely to get enough this way. This is where supplements can be helpful. Look for Vitamin D3; D2 is only half as effective. The strength might be labelled by weight in micrograms µg or by international units IU which relate to biological activity. For Vitamin D3, 1 µg is equivalent to40 IU. So 25 µg capsules are equivalent to1000IU.
Vitamin D is fat soluble so it can build up and we each absorb it differently.The PHE recommend a dose of 10 µg / 400 IU which is modest. Some studies show that this is not enough and I take more. Your doctor can do a blood test to make sure you’re not overdosing. I asked for one in February and my level was fine so I’ll be supplement again each winter.
What about SAD (seasonal affective disorder)? A special lamp will compensate for the lack of light and has a beneficial effect but the wonderful Vitamin D even helpswith SAD.
Spring is nearly here and doesn’t it lift your spirits to see flowers appear? Some 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), thenchoose 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.
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.
Super foods are ‘in’. People are going mad for all sorts of things from gogi berries to maca powder and cacao nibs. However, I was really taken aback when someone said their diet club had told them that pasta is a super food; it is not.
So what makes something a super food? 2 things. Firstly, it will have an unusually high nutrient content; things like vitamins, minerals, enzymes or good fats. Secondly, the nutrients will be in a form that the body can easily absorb and use. This is called bio-availability. I have some videos on different superfoods here (scroll down through top tips and testimonials to get to the superfood series).
Take the avocado, a true super food. This pear-shaped fruit is packed with amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and good fats. I base my breakfast smoothie on avocado. They’re also great as part of a salad. Contrast this with pasta which is just wheat starch. Like bread or Yorkshire pudding, it’s ‘padding’ with only a bit of protein, a few minerals, hardly any vitamins and no good fat. It will cause weight gain without boosting your health.
I’m quarter Italian and enjoy pasta as much as the next person but I eat no more than a handful in a meal. After all, in Italy pasta is not a main dish, it’s a starter. And what is this bizarre Cumbrian custom of serving lasagne with chips? That’s adding padding to more padding. Instead, have it with a large, mixed salad, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The goodness has diminished drastically in our modern diet. Super foods can help to fill the gap and give you a boost but a few gogi berries won’t make up for a poor diet. Build a solid foundation and always aim to eat well.
The Eat Well Gang got together in November for a special Jackie’s Gee Up, led by Paul Heslop, juicing enthusiast. Since doing the Eat for a Better Life course, juicing has been a regular activity in the Heslop household and they’ve reaped the benefits in great health. See Paul’s testimonial video here.
You can juice many fruits and vegetables. For health, it’s best to concentrate on veg with just a little fruit to take away the bitter taste. Wheatgrass featured prominently on our night and was combined with vegetables and fruits giving a range of flavours. See Paul in action on the videos page under superfoods.
In the New Year, I’ll be challenging my readers to make green juices. Christmas is coming soon, so if you don’t have a juicer perhaps some kind person might buy one for you as a present.
The long dark nights, wind and rain confirm that we are heading into winter. All around me, people are coming down with coughs and colds. In spite of their generosity in sharing – I don’t want one! Do you?
Did you know that most of your immune system is in your gut? Your susceptibility to disease can be affected by what you eat and drink. So when my husband came down with a cold, I reached for echinacea, wheatgrass and vegetable juices and coconut oil. Then I cooked up some of James Wong’s special chicken soup for colds including garlic, ginger, chillies. Effective and delicious.
To strengthen your immune system, eat more:
Oily fish and eggs for vitamin D. Among its many health benefits, vitamin D primes our T cells. Your skin makes it for you in the summer sunshine but I live far too far north to make much at this time of year so I take it as a seasonal supplement.
Vegetables – they give you lots of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants plus fibre to feed the good bacteria in your gut.
Coconut oil – has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.
Live natural yoghurt and fermented vegetables repopulate your good bacteria.
Sugar – it feeds bad bacteria, unbalancing your system.
Processed food – you want your body to fight infection, not use all its energy fighting bad food.
Eat right for your metabolic type (I can test if you don’t know)
Get lots of sleep to make the powerful anti-oxidant melatonin.
Exercise, especially out in the fresh air (but not vigorously once you have a cold).
As you know by now, I’m keen for people to eat the way nature intended – of which more next month. But this time I’m going against that philosophy to tell you about something we were definitely not designed to eat. Why? The nutrient levels in our food have reduced and with the way that we live nowadays, it can be good to treat our bodies to a bit of a boost.
There are several ‘Super-foods’ we can eat to fill the nutritional gap and for me the king of them all is wheatgrass juice. I call it liquid gold (actually it isn’t gold, it’s bright green!) Full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids and chlorophyll, each 2oz shot packs a mighty punch. When I drink it regularly, I feel more alive. It’s as if my brightness control has been turned up.
I haven’t come across any juice bars where I live, so how do you get some? I think it’s best fresh so I prefer to grow my own wheatgrass and juice it myself.
If you don’t fancy the faff of the DIY route, there are companies that sell it in different forms. Some supply the juice frozen in little pots, others sell it pressure treated in pouches which don’t need to be kept cold. There are also dried powders and pills but you’re unlikely to get the full enzyme benefit from these.
Is there any downside to this wonder drink? Sadly, it tastes awful! We don’t have the digestive machinery to eat grass so we naturally dislike the taste. Juicing is a cunning way to squeeze out the goodness and leave the cellulose behind in the pulp. I add other vegetables and fruits to the juice to make it more palatable.
If you want to know more, visit the wheatgrass page on this website and watch the video of Paul creating a delicious ‘salad in a glass’.
Top tip: Treat yourself to a super-food boost with wheatgrass juice.