Archives for posts with tag: health benefit

I can hardly believe it’s been a year since I launched Sarah Thorp Fitness, and what a year it’s been. It’s been incredibly busy (as you may have gathered from my lack of blog posts) and fantastically rewarding at times. But this doesn’t mean it has all been great fun – far from it: there have been quite a few times over the past year when I have felt over-worked, stressed, exhausted and generally down. It’s upsetting to feel like that when you think you have finally found your dream job but, at the risk of sounding cheesy, it has forced me to rediscover myself; to think about what really makes me tick and what is important to me, and to make changes to my work and life to fit in with this.

I don’t regret setting up Sarah Thorp Fitness and I’m very lucky to be able to go around dancing and exercising for a living, but I don’t want that to be all I do. I’ve discovered I need variety in my life:

I love to teach dance and fitness classes…but not too many.

I love being left alone to do editing work or to write stories…but not for too long.

I love doing hardcore HIIT workouts, going to exercise classes, dancing and I love love love stretching…but I also love lying on a sofa for hours on end and engrossing myself in a good book.

Most of all I love spending time with my family and watching my little girl grow up and being around for her as much as possible.

I guess I knew all of this before, but somehow in my endless quest to find the perfect job and have the perfect body and be the best and healthiest person I could possibly be, I’d managed to forget that being healthy and happy is all about balance and not about any one thing.

There are so many healthy living blogs out there written by amazing people who seem to have discovered the best and only way to live and eat and who (if what they write on Facebook or Twitter or on their blogs is anything to go by) never, ever slip up. Paleos, vegans, raw foodists, vegetarians: they all think their way of eating is the only way to be truly healthy. Then there are those who swear by daily yoga, daily meditation, daily runs, daily juicing, daily green smoothies, daily supplements, daily oil pulling or tongue scraping (yes, these last 2 are real things – google them if you don’t believe me). Many of these blogs are truly inspiring and educational and I still read them from time to time, but I’ve had to ration myself because I got to the point a few months ago where I was becoming obsessed. I was reading healthy eating blogs and articles constantly and was becoming increasingly stressed and confused, and I felt like a complete failure because I didn’t have the time (or the inclination) to do all of the things I should be doing every day. Even worse, I was beginning to stress my family out with all my ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ when it came to food. And the funny things is, the harder I tried to be healthy, the worse my digestion seemed to get and the more down on myself I became.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Because I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this and I want to remind you that being healthy is not just about doing the hardest workouts you can do and having the healthiest diet in the world. In order to be healthy we need to be kind to ourselves from time to time: we need to know how to listen to our bodies and know when to give in to laziness or when to have something nice to eat just because it makes us happy in that moment. Of course, I am not saying we should all start eating rubbish, give into every single craving and slob out all the time but we need to find a balance that works for us as individuals. I know that drinking too much cow’s milk or eating too many tomatoes makes me feel sick and that too much sugar and too many grains makes me anxious and agitated, but equally if I cut grains out of my diet completely I feel low, angry and lacking in energy. Other people won’t eat meat or fish because it doesn’t feel right for them but as long as I don’t eat meat too late at night, I don’t have any problems with it.

Everybody is different and needs different things in life, so rather than beating ourselves up and setting rigid rules about what is good and bad for us, shouldn’t we start listening to our bodies a little bit more and find out what works for each of us as unique individuals? Read these blogs, feel inspired and take on board the advice given but don’t get carried away with it all. Experiment with your food and fitness and mental well-being and see what makes you feel the healthiest, happiest and most alive you can feel…and don’t be afraid to change your mind if what you thought was right to start with doesn’t seem to work anymore.

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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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You can hardly have failed to notice the organic industry exploding over the past few years. I used to have to go out of my way to find organic produce but now the supermarket shelves are packed with it.  The problem is, it’s all so expensive. I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to become sceptical about the health food industry. Sometimes it seems as though food companies are using the word ‘Organic’ just so they can charge more for their products.

Well, I’ve looked into this and

“unlike most food assurance schemes, organic food production is subject to […] an EU Regulation, which has been incorporated into the laws of the United Kingdom.” (www.organicfarmers.org.uk)

This means that, in general, organic food cannot be grown with artificial fertilisers, herbicides or growth regulators, and livestock feed additives are also prohibited.

Interestingly, there is very little data supporting the health benefits of eating organic food. According to a study reported on the BBC News website last year, organic food is no healthier than conventionally farmed food:

“Overall, there was no discernible difference between the nutritional content, although the organic food was 30% less likely to contain pesticides.” (www.bbc.co.uk/news)

In the future, I would hope to see that figure of 30% rise to nearer 100% (wishful thinking?!) but even consuming 30% fewer pesticides seems a good reason to eat organic.  If the alternative is packing my body full of chemicals, hormones and even sewage, I’m going to try to eat organic whenever I can.

The BBC article goes on to point out that the data is inconclusive and that the study was only run over 2 years. We simply do not know the long-term effects of regularly consuming these chemicals and I’d rather not be a human guinea pig! So, whilst I do have a problem with a lot of foods labelled as ‘healthy’* (see my previous blogs on ‘free-from’ products and soya), I strongly believe that organic food is good for us.

However, as much as I would love to buy organic everything, I just can’t afford to. Luckily, I stumbled across this helpful guide to organic food  and The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen™ and Clean Fifteen™ lists  that show which foods contain the most pesticide residues and which are relatively safe to eat even when non-organic.

Based on what I’ve read so far, I’ll definitely be going organic for

  • Milk
  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Hot peppers
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Bell peppers
  • Blueberries
  • Leafy Greens
  • Courgettes
  • Summer squash

I don’t have all the information, facts and figures, and I suspect there is a long way to go before organic food is truly free from all the horrible pollutants we pump into the earth, but even if turns out that organic food really isn’t any better for our health in the short- or long-term (which I doubt), we know it is better for the environment and sustainable farming. Isn’t the future health of our planet – the world our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will live in – even more important than our own individual health?

I’d like to know your thoughts on this subject, so please get in touch.

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* I especially have a problem with margarines, low-fat spreads and other foods labelled as ‘low-fat’. These are generally not good for you and are misleading: low-fat, high-carb diets are detrimental to our health and are now known to cause all sorts of health problems. More on this in a future blog.

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

If anyone out there is doing The Sugar-Free Challenge with me, how have days 1 and 2 been? Have you craved anything in particular, have you broken any of the rules you set down for yourself?

If you’re anything like me, this isn’t the first time you’ve tried to change your diet for the better. I’m constantly striving to be healthier and fitter. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes my willpower buckles and I let myself down, which is never a nice feeling. However, recently I’ve come to realise that if I monitor myself as I go along, understand where I might be going wrong and then adapt the diet slightly, I won’t end up going crazy and eating everything in sight. This isn’t cheating; it’s just identifying what works for me.

On this latest sugar-free challenge I had promised myself a slice of soda bread with honey every other day. Today, day 2, was ‘soda bread and honey day’, but guess what? I didn’t just stop at one slice: I had a few slices and then I started getting cravings for all sorts of other sugary carbs. You’ll be glad to hear I didn’t give in to these cravings, but it made me realise that if I’m going to succeed on this 14 day plan (and beyond) I’ll have to completely cut out the soda bread and honey. If I don’t start it, I’m fine but once I start there’s no way I can just stop at one slice.

I guess what I’m trying to say is be kind to yourself. Don’t instantly think you’ve failed just because you slipped up once. Learn from it, adapt and keep on going until you get the results you want.

I’d love to hear from anyone who’s taken up the challenge so please get in touch.

Oh, and Happy Pancake Day! I hope you’re all enjoying your sugar-free pancakes. 😉

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I started my day off today with a lovely, cleansing ginger and clove drink. My mum swears by it and it’s actually this drink that inspired the title of my blog.

How to make it:

Boil the kettle. Chop up some ginger and pop it into a mug. Add 6-8 cloves. Pour in the boiled water. Top it up with boiled water throughout the day. Easy!

I added a squeeze of fresh lime this morning. Lemon works well too, and if you add a spoonful of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon you’ve got yourself a delicious ‘hot toddy’, as my mum likes to call it.

Why it’s good for you?

Aside from tasting good, there are many health benefits to eating ginger and cloves regularly.

You only have to google ‘health benefits’ of either of these amazing spices and you’ll find loads of blogs and websites explaining just how healthy they are, so I won’t go into too many details here. But briefly:

Ginger is great for minor ailments like sickness and heartburn, and coughs and colds. It is also known to be an anti-inflammatory so it could help people with osteoarthritis, and it is even thought to provide protection against cancer. The article here on www.naturalsociety.com is very informative and interesting, especially the bit about ginger’s cancer fighting abilities:

“The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center found out through their research that ginger can also destroy ovarian cancer cells. What’s more, they found that ginger triggered two types of cell death – apoptosis and autophagy. “Apoptosis…results from cancer cells essentially committing suicide.”

Read more: http://naturalsociety.com/benefits-of-ginger/#ixzz2JfUZe53J

Cloves are rich in antioxidants and like ginger they help fight infections, and relieve digestive problems and arthritis pain. They also have antiseptic qualities that are great for the immune system and for maintaining dental health. Have a look at this article on www.antioxidants-for-health-and-longevity.com for more information.

I’ll be testing out some recipes using these ‘super spices’ and sharing them if they’re good. If you have any good recipes, please share. x