Archives for posts with tag: health

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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

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Here’s a delicious recipe to brighten your weekend, courtesy of my friend Jemma Parker. Be warned, it’s a bit too nice!

Ingredients:

100g (4 oz) oats
100g (4 oz) cheese, grated
1 carrot, grated
1 apple, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp melted butter or coconut oil
Pinch of black pepper

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl until well mixed. Press into a greased tin so the mixture is about 1″ thick. Bake for around 20 mins until golden on top, remove from oven. Cool slightly before cutting into pieces (makes 14-16 fingers).

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Good morning. Happy Valentine’s Day for yesterday!

How did it go? If you were lucky enough to be taken out for dinner last night, did you manage to resist pudding? Don’t worry if not; just count that as your cheat day and treat yourself to a lovely, sugar-free weekend.

We’re nearly at the half way mark and you might be starting to struggle without your normal quick energy fix: you might be feeling tired and grumpy after a long week of work; you might also be suffering from headaches or feel ill and as if you’re going down with something. I know it’s not very pleasant but it’s normal to get withdrawal symptoms like this: sugar is a drug after all. Just remind yourself why you’re doing this and think how good you’ll feel if you manage to resist those sugar-monster urges.

Now that’s enough about sugar! It’s time to stop focussing on what we’re ‘not allowed’ and start looking forward to some really delicious meals for the weekend. If you’re missing pasta, why not try cooking a dish with Spaghetti squash (Cucurbita squash). Bake it in the oven and then scoop the spaghetti-like flesh out and cook with it. I found a fantastic recipe idea here on one of my favourite new blogs, www.ourlifeinfood.com. Check it out for inspiration.

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what we’re not allwingIf you are feeling a bit down in the dumps and need a treat, here’s a delicious snack recipe courtesy of my frined Jemma Parker:

Very moreish cheesy flapjack
I’ve found a delicious meal idea that might just cheer you up, especially if you’re missing your pasta. This recipe uses Spaghetti squash (Cucurbita squash) as a replacement for pasta

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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In some of my recipes, I have been using alternatives to refined sugar such as fruit and dates. I have a very sweet tooth and I love to bake but I am also aware of what refined sugar can do to the body, so I’m determined to find healthier alternatives that still taste good. I ordered some coconut sugar last week, which has just arrived and I’m excited about trying it out. I’m going to have to wait a while to use it though because I’m on day 1 of my 2-week sugar-free challenge. You can join me and do the challenge yourself: for more information, see The Sugar-Free Challenge page.

If you have any of the following symptoms, it could be that sugar is the culprit:

  • Aching joints
  • Permanently blocked sinuses (you know that feeling when you think you’re going down with a cold, but it never quite happens?)
  • Always tired
  • Lethargic
  • Headaches
  • Itchy skin
  • Dry skin
  • Thrush
  • Bad digestion
  • Fuzzy head
  • Forgetful
  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Irritable
  • Prone to mood swings

So, why is refined sugar so bad for us?

There is so much information out there about how sugar damages your health, so I’m going to stick to the basics and leave it you to find out the specifics if you want to. Let’s start off with the obvious.

Sugar is quite bad for you because

  • It leads to tooth decay;
  • It is high in calories and completely lacking in nutrients, which leads to weight gain and malnutrition.

Ok, you probably already knew those 2, but that’s just the start.

Sugar is terrible for you because

  • It supresses the immune system;
  • It promotes inflammation;
  • It speeds up the ageing process;
  • It raises insulin levels. In the short term, this means sudden energy slumps and food cravings. In the long term, this can lead to diabetes;
  • It robs the body of B vitamins, which are basically needed to keep your nervous system, muscles and tissues healthy and functioning. See here for more information.

For more information on the list above, there’s a great article here at www.nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com.

For a truly terrifying list of how sugar damages your health, see 141 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health at www.nancyappleton.com.

Now for the worst part:

The problem with sugar is that it’s just too tasty. No matter how much we want to hate the stuff, it’s very difficult to give up and that’s because sugar is a drug; it is addictive. There is an amazing lecture about this on YouTube called Sugar: The Bitter Truth by Prof. Robert Lustig, which I really recommend you watch if you are at all interested in the subject. Be warned, it’s over an hour long though!

What are the alternatives?

It’s important to remember that alternatives to refined sugar are still high in calories and will still raise insulin levels, so we shouldn’t go crazy and eat loads of them. However, it’s nice to have a sweet treat here and there and the alternatives in the list below contain more vitamins and minerals than refined sugar, meaning they nourish our bodies when we eat them rather than stripping the nutrients from us.

  • Fruit
  • Dates
  • Rapadura sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup

Alternatives to avoid:

In my opinion, sweeteners are even worse than refined sugar and should be avoided at all costs. But that’s a huge subject in itself, so I won’t go into it now.

By now you’re probably beginning to hate me a little for making you feel bad about eating sugar, but please don’t!  I wish I could eat lots of sugar too. As I said in my very first post, “I love food…especially cake. It makes me happy”  and I like nothing more than enjoying yummy food with family and friends. Emotional health is just as important as physical health so I’ve had to find a balance that is reasonable and sustainable: I try to eat healthily most of the time, if I have treats at home I try to use the healthier alternatives, but I’m not going to beat myself up about the odd indulgent meal at a friend’s house or a delicious, sugar-laden pudding at a restaurant. Life is for living and enjoying after all!

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This is the easiest recipe ever. It took me 5 minutes to make and then 30 minutes in the oven. There are other more exciting versions of this recipe all over the internet so if you fancy being a bit adventurous, have a look around, but this is a good one to make when you have nothing but the basics in the house.

Ingredients:

350g (12 oz) organic wholemeal spelt flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp salt

½ pint milk (either fresh or slightly gone off)

Juice of ½ a lemon

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

If you’re using gone off milk, you don’t need the lemon. If you’re using fresh milk, add the lemon juice to make it curdle. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl, add the salt and mix it all together. Make a well in the middle and add the milk. Quickly mix it all together and knead it briefly. Place it on a greased and floured baking tray and cook for 30 minutes.

To test whether or not it’s cooked, turn the loaf upside down and tap it on the bottom. If it makes a hollow sound, it’s done. Cool it on a wire rack.

Why I love it:

I love making my own soda bread because it’s quick and easy, because I know exactly what’s in it and because, unlike normal bread, it isn’t made with yeast.

So what’s the problem with yeast?

We all have a certain amount of yeast in our digestive systems but when we eat too much processed food, refined sugar and bread this yeast (Candida albicans) can get out of control and cause us all sorts of health problems such as digestive problems, bloating, aching joints, fatigue, headaches and thrush to name just a few. Taking a course of antibiotics can also cause an overgrowth of Candida albicans.

Doctors will often deny any link between yeast overgrowth and health problems but interestingly, patients with certain chronic ailments such as chronic fatigue syndrome are often successfully treated by cutting yeast out of their diet. It’s worth doing your own research into this but I certainly find I feel better if I cut yeast and sugar out of my diet: I feel less lethargic and sluggish and my digestive system feels a lot healthier.

If you want to find out more, here are some interesting articles to start you off:

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It was my Mum’s birthday last week and she came to stay yesterday so I took the opportunity to try out a new birthday cake recipe. It’s a sugar-free carrot cake with mascarpone icing and it’s amazing.

I wasn’t sure how it would turn out or whether Mum would be happy with a sugar-free cake but I have to say it was a hit. Phew!

The cake is sweetened using dates rather than refined sugar. This means that whilst you should still eat it in moderation if you’re trying to watch your weight, it is a lot healthier and richer in nutrients than normal cake. Dates are packed with vitamins and minerals and are high in fibre so help with digestion. For more information on the health benefits of dates, have a look here.

Ingredients:

For the cake:

200g (7 oz) organic wholemeal spelt flour

3 tsp baking powder

110g (4 oz) finely chopped dates

75g (3 oz) unsweetened, desiccated coconut

50g (2 oz) finely chopped walnuts

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp mixed spice

110g (4 oz) melted coconut oil or sunflower oil

140g (5 oz) sultanas

2–3 large grated carrots

Zest of 1 orange and 2 tbsp orange juice

2 eggs, beaten

For the mascarpone icing:

225g (8oz) mascarpone

Zest and juice of 1 orange

Honey to drizzle

Walnuts to decorate

 

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add the coconut, dates, nuts and spices to the flour and mix them all together. In another bowl, mix the oil, sultanas, grated carrot, orange juice and zest. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Then add the eggs and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture into a greased cake tin and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Check to see if it is cooked by inserting a knife into the middle. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. Allow the cake to rest in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it onto a wire rack to cool.

Whilst the cake is cooling, make the icing by mixing together the mascarpone, orange juice and zest. Spread over the cake and then drizzle honey over the top and decorate with walnuts if you wish.

We treated ourselves to a slice of this with a freshly ground coffee and it was delicious. A real treat without eating loads of refined sugar and white flour…although, we did devour over half the cake between 2 of us. Ah well, it was a birthday celebration after all.

Happy Birthday, Mum!

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Here’s my confession: I love food…especially cake. It makes me happy!

Perhaps you’re thinking that’s not much of a confession but as a dancer and fitness fanatic, it’s sometimes difficult to admit something like that. Well, I’m not going to deny it any longer. I love sweet treats and cakes and breads and yummy, comforting fatty foods. I love to bake; I love to eat; I love reading recipe books and watching The Great British Bake Off and overindulging when I meet up with my friends. I also love being fit and healthy and being in control of my body; I love knowing that what goes into my body is natural and nutritious.

This blog is about all of these things. I will be discovering and sharing healthy but indulgent recipes, talking about my favourite foods, and trying out new ways of exercising and staying healthy.

Please get in touch with your own recipes, healthy eating tips and fitness news. x