Archives for category: Health boosting foods

It’s that time of year again when temptation is all around – mince pies in the café windows, chocolates at the checkout, selection box biscuits in the office … Now, whilst I am definitely not against having the odd treat at any time of year, especially at Christmas, pigging out on bad food for an entire month is never going to leave you feeling good!

I find that one of the best ways to avoid giving in to all the Christmassy snacks that are being thrust under your nose is to be prepared and have your own snacks with you. That way, if it all gets too much, you know you have something with you that will fill you up, satisfy your cravings and nourish your body.

As my job involves a lot of odd hours, working through lunch and regular ‘jumping around’ sessions throughout the day, I often take snacks out with me to graze on rather than eating a big lunch in one go. I have become a master of healthy snacking, so I’ve drawn up a list of snack ideas that I hope will help and inspire you.

Simple, stress-free snacks

I’m a big fan of simplicity when it comes to eating. Although I do a lot of cooking and preparing of home-made snacks and meals, I tend to choose the quicker, simpler recipes because I’m always so pushed for time. These snacks don’t involve any preparation, are pretty basic, and are not at all ground-breaking, but they are healthy, nutritious and nice to eat:

  • High quality 90% dark chocolate

I find this is a great mood and energy booster, and because the chocolatey taste is so rich and the sugar content so much lower than in other chocolates, you only need a small amount to satisfy your cravings.

  • Fruit

Simple but effective. It’s easy to pop a banana or a satsuma in your bag and then when you want something sweet, it’s there waiting for you.

  • Dried apricots, prunes, dates and other dried fruits

Again, this is great when you want something sweet, but be wary of dried fruit – it is quite sugary and moreish so you don’t want to eat a lot of it in one go.

  • Nuts and seeds

Try to go for raw or (even better) activated nuts rather than roasted.

  • Nut butter (cashew, almond, hazelnut …)

OK, so you’re going to need to remember to take a spoon with you for this one, but when I’m really hungry and just want something to see me through and give me some energy, I always turn to a teaspoon of almond or cashew butter. Mmm!

Check out www.nuts.com for a great range of raw nuts and seeds and for a wonderfully diverse range of dried fruits.

Make your own snacks

If you fancy something a little bit more interesting or filling, you might need to do a bit more preparation, but that still doesn’t mean taking up loads of your time. Put aside an hour or two once a week to prepare some snacks that you can then grab when you are in a rush:

  • Power balls

We always have raw energy balls in the freezer and then we just grab a couple to take out with us when we need them. There are loads of recipes out there, so it’s worth having a look around. Energy balls always taste really indulgent so they’re perfect for taking with you when you know there are going to be lots of chocolates and tasty bakes around.

This is the one I usually make: Raw Chocolate Energy Balls , but I’ll be trying this recipe soon as it sounds delicious: Healthy Vegan Chocolate Truffles.

  • Healthy muffins

Deliciously Ella always has some nice muffin recipes. Or how about trying these recipes from my blog: Healthy Apple FlapjackNaturally Sweet Apple Muffins?

I love this recipe from I Quit Sugar.

  • Crackers

If you would rather have a savoury snack, then these crackers from I Quit Sugar are fantastic.

  • Left overs

This takes even less preparation. Depending on what you have for dinner the night before, you can always take some left overs as a little snack or light lunch. I like to make healthy, gluten-free chicken nuggets for dinner and then take the left over chicken nuggets to munch on the next day. They’re so good.

Above are just a few of my favourite snacks and recipes, but there are loads of amazing ideas on a website I have just discovered called www.nuts.com. Check out their healthy snack page and let me know if you try any of the recipes out. I’m definitely going to try out their Cranberry Almond Flour Cookies this Christmas, and their Granola Bars sound lovely too.

Ready made snacks

OK, so you’ve taken this all on board but you’re still after something that’s just a little bit more exciting to ward off those Christmas cravings, and you don’t have the time to prepare your own. Luckily, there are more and more truly healthy snacks available these days; when I say ‘truly healthy snacks’, I mean made without refined sugar and gluten, and without long lists of unnatural sounding ingredients. So have a shop around and see what you can find.

I hope these ideas will help you get through the next few weeks feeling happy, healthy and good about yourself. Remember, just because something is good for you, it doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious, so get inventive, get researching and treat yourself to some delicious snacks this December.

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This post is a bit unusual for me. A few months ago I bumped into Isabel, a lady who has set up a family business in her home, making and selling chocolate. This isn’t just any old chocolate: this is home-made, nutritious, delicious chocolate and it is made just up the road from me near Bicester in Oxfordshire.

As you will know already if you’ve read some of my previous posts, I have a bit of a sweet tooth but I know what refined, processed sugar can do to the body so I’m always on the lookout for clean eating treats and recipes that use natural, non-processed and health boosting ingredients. I was so excited to meet Isabel and to discover that someone local to me shared the same ideals and values as I did and had turned it into a business. I rushed out to buy a bar of her chocolate and I can confirm it is delicious.

I decided I had to interview Isabel and share her story with you all. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to run out and buy Isabel’s chocolate as soon as you’ve finished reading this…which is quite lucky really because we all know chocolate is good for us. See my previous post here if you don’t believe me!

So here it is, an interview with Isabel, owner and creator of The Chicken Shed.

Tell me a bit about The Chicken Shed. What do you do and what makes your chocolate special?

The Chicken Shed is Enrico (the man who makes the chocolate), me (I look after the website, the look and feel of our products and most of our customer contact), Ella (10 – she’s a great sales lady!), and Maya (7, fellow taster with Ella). We involve the children in most aspects, from testing new flavours to how our packaging looks, and they help us get ready for markets.

We make chocolate bars in 8 flavours at the moment (but more to come!), hot chocolate, and Belgian chocolates exclusively for Deddington Farmers’ Market as well as seasonal chocolate items. Our chocolate is organic, dairy-free and is made with raw forest honey rather than refined sugar. We also work the chocolate at lower temperatures than normal so as to ensure that we don’t “cook away” all the nutrients. Technically you’d class it as raw.

Tell me about the ingredients. What’s healthy and good about them?

All our chocolate is organic. It’s made with raw honey rather than refined sugar, so the GI is much lower, plus it boosts your enzyme and antioxidant levels. We deliberately keep the temperatures low when making our chocolate so that the nutrients stay intact. We’re careful about the ingredients we choose – if it’s over-processed, or has little or no nutritional value, it doesn’t make it in.  For example, we could have made our hot chocolate with conventional cornflour as a thickener, but we opted for purple cornflour instead. Purple cornflour contains an antioxidant called anthocyanin which a study by the State University of Ohio has shown to have amazing cancer busting properties: during the study, researchers found that anthocyanins extracted from purple corn killed 20 percent of in vitro cancer cells, while leaving surrounding tissue relatively unharmed.

One of your major selling points is that your chocolate is sugar-free. Why is this so important to you?

Refined sugar is just full of empty calories. We all know it doesn’t do your body any good, in fact there is research that suggests it feeds cancer cells. Why eat what the media are calling “poison” when there are healthy alternatives out there? We didn’t want our chocolate to taste like an alternative though! We wanted it to taste amazing, so you still feel like you’re treating yourself, but you’re actually doing yourself some good (as part of a balanced diet of course).

Have you always been interested in health and nutrition?

To some extent, yes. I became vegetarian when I was 18 (for ethical rather than health reasons)  – I was still living at home at the time – and my Mum was really against the idea because she was worried I wouldn’t get the right nutrients in my diet. It made me focus more on having a balanced diet. Having children increased that focus. They’re vegetarian too, and I wanted to make sure that, without meat and fish in their diets, they would grow up healthy.

Then, about 3 years ago, I became friends with Ellie Bedford who is now a raw food nutritionist. She introduced us to the concept of baking and cooking without refined sugar and white flour. We did our own research on the health issues linked to those two ingredients, and – now armed with healthy alternatives – decided to ditch sugar and white flour (and co-wrote the healthy desserts book with her).

Aside from avoiding refined sugar, what other healthy foods and habits do you try to incorporate into your life?

We don’t use white flour – we tend to use spelt a lot as an alternative. Our overall philosophy is really a common sense one – there are so many different diets out there and they contradict each other – it’s very confusing!

We just trust that nature has things well designed so we eat seasonal foods when we can, get some variety, and we try to not “mess” with food, because a lot of the time, that means you end up taking away a lot of the nutrients. For example, the process of refining wheat into white flour strips away more than half of wheat’s B vitamins, 90 percent of the vitamin E, and virtually all of the fibre.

What’s your favourite meal?

Enrico’s Italian, so we eat a fair amount of Italian food, so I would go for homemade pizza or pasta (made with spelt flour).

What’s your favourite snack?

Our chocolate! Yogurt with fruit and nuts, spirulina Bounce balls, and raw chocolate brownies.

What’s your favourite Chicken Shed flavour/product?

Personally, I think cardamom, but it really depends on my mood. Obviously I like them all, or they wouldn’t have passed our tasting tests 🙂  The children love vanilla, liquorice, and Serious (73%), and Enrico would say liquorice, but they’re all nice!

Where can people find you and buy your chocolate? 

We’re online on www.thechickenshed.eu, on Etsy and Notonthehighstreet, and are stocked locally at the Organic Deli in Oxford (www.oxfordorganic.co.uk), the Natural Health Store in Banbury, Uhuru in Oxford, the Duck’s Pantry in Hardwick and the Beanbag in Witney. The Varsity Club in Oxford sells our little chocolate eggs. We’re also regulars at Deddington Farmers’ Market and North Parade Market.

What is the future like for The Chicken Shed?

Well, we have a new flavour about to hit the market: Honey and Bee Pollen, which is exciting. We’re looking to expand, so hopefully more stockists. We’ve only been going for about half a year and in that time have changed the look of our packaging and almost doubled our range. Although we’re ambitious to grow, I’m hoping to get more balance in our lives as we do that.  Not quite sure how yet, but I’m working on it!

There is something I’ve been meaning to write about ever since I started Cloves & Ginger but I kept putting it off because I never knew where to start. I still don’t really know where to start, but I’m going to give it a go anyway! I want to talk about FAT. Everyone thinks they know about fat: it is supposed to be bad for us, it’s supposed to cause heart disease and it’s supposed to be the main cause of obesity.

But none of this is true.

There are bad fats that cause all sorts of diseases, but these are bad because they have been processed and altered during food production. These are called trans-fats or hydrogenated fats and are not naturally occurring. They can be found in margarines, vegetable spreads and a lot of packaged foods such as sausage rolls, quiches, biscuits and cakes.

Natural fats found in pure oils, nuts, avocado, meat and even butter are

not the enemy. [They are] a very important path to health and without [them] we would not be able to make hormones, vitamin D, vitamin K, all our cells and brain tissue. Fat not only makes things but has an important part to play in our structure. Structural fat gives us beautiful cheeks, padding under our heels, protection for vital organs and curves of a woman’s body.  Fat is also required for energy, in fact fat is a better quick energy source then sugar.

Know Your Fats – www.changinghabits.com

Cyndi O’Meara explains all of this so much better than I can, so please head over to her blog (once you finished reading this one, of course!) for a more detailed and scientifically accurate explanation of why the low fat, high carbohydrate diet is not the healthy diet we’ve been told it is. Try reading:

Know Your Fats

and

It’s Official Saturated Fats Are Good For You!

The latest evidence about fats tells us we need to stop avoiding natural fats – and that includes saturated fats. Low fat alternatives that are advertised as good for our health and our waist lines are not only lacking in essential nutrients, they are often packed with unhealthy sugars. Trans-fats and unpronounceable chemicals are also common in these supposedly healthy foods. Jessie Reimers has written an excellent blog in which she shows the ingredients in a low fat tub of yoghurt. It’s worth a look.

Based on all of this, if you want to be healthy and slim, I suggest you ditch the diet foods, cut down on your carbohydrate intake and get to know your fats a little bit better. Here are a few suggestions on where to start:

  • Replace sugary snacks with nuts and nut butter.
  • At meal times, pile your plate high with protein, fat and vegetables but go easy on the starchy carbs.
  • Don’t be afraid to use oil in cooking or as a dressing, but make sure you pick the right oil for the job. Oils change structure and become harmful to our health when they are heated past their smoke point. Olive oil, for example, has quite a low smoke point so it is best to use it for cold dressings on salads rather than for cooking. Rapeseed oil and coconut oil have high smoke points so they are brilliant to cook with.
  • If you eat cheese and yogurt or drink milk go full-fat rather than skimmed. It won’t make you fat and you’ll enjoy the taste so much more.

Please do go and research this big FAT issue further. I think you’ll be surprised by some of the information out there.

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Some of you may think this is taking things a bit too far – I know my boyfriend does – but there are only so many healthy living blogs you can read without thinking you should at least try a green smoothie. So, about a week ago I made a pineapple and kale smoothie.

I wouldn’t recommend it. I had to treat myself to a very strong coffee to get over the experience!

You’d have thought that would be enough to put me off trying any more green smoothie recipes, but I don’t give up that easily. On Sunday morning, I made a banana, mango and spinach smoothie. My boyfriend begged me not to waste any more food on this crazy experiment but I did it anyway and luckily it was OK. Actually, it was surprisingly nice, so I thought I’d share the recipe in case anyone else fancies giving this green smoothie thing a try.

How to make it:

Take 1 banana, 1 mango and around 2 handfuls of spinach. Whizz them up with some filtered water (depending on how thick you like your smoothies). And there you go.

I didn’t bother taking a photo because it didn’t look all that appetising, but believe me, it tasted good. I’m going to browse some green smoothie sites to see if I can find some more recipes. Let me know if you have any good green smoothie recipes worth sharing.

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A few days ago I was rustling around in the fridge looking for something quick, easy and healthy for lunch. I was feeling pretty lazy and uninspired and then I stumbled across a bag of watercress at the bag of the fridge. It was half forgotten and wilting a bit – no good for salad, but perfect for soup. I usually make watercress soup with potato but it was nearly the end of my lunch break and I didn’t have time for that, so I did a quick google search and found this recipe.

I didn’t have the time or the ingredients to follow the recipe exactly so I improvised a little bit.

Here’s my 5-minute watercress soup recipe:

Ingredients:

Knob of butter

1 clove of garlic

1/2 an onion

100-150g watercress

Salt

Pepper

Milk

1-2 medium to large tomatoes (optional)

How to make it:

Chop the onion, crush the garlic. Melt the butter in a pan and then add the onion and garlic. Sauté for 3 minutes. Add the watercress to the pan and add a pinch of pepper. Turn up the heat and cover the pan for 30 seconds to allow the watercress to wilt. Take off the lid, add 150ml boiling water, season and allow the soup to simmer for another couple of minutes. Whizz it up; I left mine a little bit lumpy because I like the texture of water cress. Stir in enough milk to make it the correct taste and consistency for you. Chop the tomatoes if you’re using them and mix them into the soup. Done.

Next time, I might try the actual recipe. I love the idea of combining spinach and watercress in a soup, but my version was absolutely delicious and it really didn’t take long.

In case you’re still not convinced, check out this article about the potential cancer fighting properties of watercress.

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Just a few minutes after finishing my post on coconut yesterday and just days after my post on Alzheimer’s, I stumbled across this amazing article on Coconut oil and Alzheimer’s.

It’s well worth a read.

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Last night I cooked this delicious chicken and sweet potato curry:

curry

I enjoyed it so much I had to share it with you, and the best thing about it is it’s made with coconut oil (instead of olive oil) and coconut milk. I just can’t get enough of coconut these days. For one thing, it makes everything taste lovely – it’s especially nice for adding flavour to meals and desserts when I’m trying to avoid sugar – but it’s also really really really good for me. Hurrah! It’s always nice when something you love turns out to be good for you.

So here we go with some of the health benefits. Coconut:

  • is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-parasitic;
  • is packed with fibre, vitamins, minerals and amino acid;
  • is good for bone health;
  • is good for the skin: it helps healing and keeps you looking young;
  • boosts the immune system;
  • helps prevent obesity;
  • improves heart health;
  • has a low glycaemic index;
  • is great for digestion;
  • boosts energy and improves athletic performance.

And that’s just the beginning. For a more exhaustive list of health benefits and for more information on the list above, have a look at one of these sites:

www.care2.com

www.coconutsecret.com

www.coconutresearchcenter.org

Personally, I’m taking all of this to mean we should eat coconut as often as possible so here are a few ideas of how to get your daily dose:

Unsweetened desiccated coconut: bake with it, add it to porridge or muesli, mix it with nuts and seeds, or try it in hot milk with honey (one of my mum’s favourite snacks);

Dried coconut: excellent for snacking;
Coconut milk: Great for making curries and ice-cream, and if you’re a coffee lover, you might want to try this coconut latte. It’s still on my list of things to try very soon;

Coconut sugar: This is better for you than normal, refined sugar because it is rich in nutrients and has a lower glycaemic index. I’m hoping to use it for the first time to make my Dad’s birthday cake this weekend (hopefully…maybe) so watch this space;

Coconut flour: I haven’t tried baking with this yet, but I’m definitely up for trying it.

And now for the best one of all, Coconut oil!

You may have noticed I use it in quite a few of my baking recipes instead of oil or melted butter. I also use it when cooking soups, baby food, curries and all sorts of other dishes because it is wonderfully aromatic and adds real flavour.

According to several sources, Coconut oil is the healthiest oil in the world, helping with a whole range of health issues including lowering the risk of heart disease and diabetes, aiding in skin repair, preventing osteoporosis, helping sufferers of chronic fatigue, improving metabolism, and possibly even helping treat Alzheimer’s. Again, for a more in-depth look at Coconut oil I’ll let more qualified people do the writing for me. Check out this site www.naturalnews.com.

A few other things that might interest you:

I’ve just read this article about oil pulling using coconut oil. I’m not so sure I’m ready for oil pulling yet, but it makes a very interesting read.

Coconut oil can be used to moisturise the skin and condition the hair. Again, not something I’ve tried yet but definitely worth looking in to.

So, to conclude, coconut rocks! Pina colada anyone? 😉

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Added 27/02/13: to find out more about how coconut oil may be used to treat Alzheimer’s, see here.

Last Thursday, I started back at work after 10 months on maternity leave. To say it’s been a shock to the system would be an understatement and it’s meant I haven’t had much time for baking or writing this week. I haven’t even done as much exercise as I normally would, which has left me feeling a bit grumpy and lacking in energy.

I have, however, found a couple of brillaint articles/posts that I want to share with you so over the next few days I’m going to let other people do the writing for me.

Don’t worry, I’ve got loads of new recipes and ingredients I want to experiment with and lots more health and fitness tips to share in the next few weeks.

Today’s post is by Hayley Hobson, one of my favourite bloggers. In this post , Hayley writes about 10 foods that prevent Alzheimer’s. This is a subject very close to my heart as my gran has the disease. It might be too late to help her but it’s good to know that by eating the right foods I might be able to protect myself and my family from the same fate.

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Added 27/02/13: to find out more about how coconut oil may be used to treat Alzheimer’s, see here.

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I have some good news. Chocolate is good for you. Hurrah!

This doesn’t mean you can go to the shop, stock up on all your favourite chocolate bars and munch your way through them. Chocolate itself (cocoa) is good for you, but what’s added to it is generally bad: refined sugar, preservatives, emulsifiers, flavourings, vegetable fat, whey powder…etc. etc. All of these ingredients plus cocoa might make something that tastes nice, but they don’t do you any favours.

How to enjoy chocolate the healthy way:

You can enjoy chocolate and feel good about it if you find the right stuff. The higher the cocoa content the better because cocoa is packed with antioxidants. It is also high in magnesium: headaches, fatigue, low energy, disrupted sleep, PMS and even cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) are all symptoms of magnesium deficiency. These symptoms might be all too familiar, especially if you’re a woman. Hormones have an impact on levels of magnesium in your body so your magnesium levels might drop around the time of your menstruation every month, which is why you start craving chocolate.

So I think we’re all agreed: we want chocolate; we need chocolate; chocolate is good for us. But how can we get our antioxidants and magnesium without loading sugar, additives and unhealthy fats down us? Here are a few ideas:

  • Only eat dark chocolate and look for the stuff that’s 70% cocoa solids or higher;
  • Check the ingredients. There will still sugar added to most chocolate you buy but the less sugar and fewer ingredients, the better;
  • Cook with or flavour your food with pure, unsweetened cocoa powder;
  • Check these cocoa wafers out from one of my favourite websites: www.changinghabits.com.au.

And now for my top tip of the day: buy yourself some cocoa nibs.

If you want to get all the benefits of chocolate without any sugar at all, you need to get cocoa nibs. I’ve recently discovered them and I think I’m addicted.

Cocoa nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks and broken into smaller pieces. For an excellent explanation of all the health benefits of eating cocoa nibs (and there are a lot more than I’ve touched on here), see here.

I’ve only just begun to experiment with cocoa nibs, but here are a few ways to enjoy them:

  • Stir them into your porridge for added crunch;
  • Yogurt, blueberries and cocoa nibs with a bit of organic honey makes an amazing pudding;
  • Bake with them. I haven’t done this yet, but I’ve seen some recipes where you can use cocoa nibs instead of/alongside chocolate chips;
  • Mix cocoa nibs with nuts and sultanas for a healthy snack to pick at throughout the day. The cocoa nibs themselves can be quite bitter when eaten on their own, but as soon as you add the sweetness of a sultana they’re delicious.
  • Add them to ice-cream. OK, so this is a bit of a naughty one but I only did it once and it was a real treat. It inspired me to find some clean eating ice-cream recipes like this one.

Happy chocolate eating, gang. x

Breakfast today was a lovely pear, blueberry, clove and ginger smoothie. Yep, I’m using cloves and ginger again!

Here’s how I made it:

1 pear

Around 125g of blueberries

4 cloves, ground

Root ginger, finely chopped

Put it all in the food processor and whizz it up. I added a handful of porridge oats and flaked almonds after I’d whizzed it up to add some texture and to slow down the absorption of the sugar from the fruit into my bloodstream.

A great start to the day and perfect for a pre-Pilates breakfast.

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