Archives for posts with tag: healthy

Hello. How has 2015 been treating you so far?

It’s been a busy few months for me: I got married in November and then there was Christmas and New Year, and then a couple of weeks ago we moved house. All of these are very happy events, but also immensely draining and I’m afraid to say they’ve left me a bit exhausted and lacking in ‘get up and go’! I know I’m not alone in this: a lot of people I’ve talked to recently have said they feel the same. We all started the year with such enthusiasm and with so many promises to be the fittest and healthiest we’ve ever been but I think the reality is that with dark mornings and evenings, cold weather, having to go back to work, and the after-effects of Christmas, many of us feel the strain in January.

That’s why I’m setting up a February ‘Love Yourself’ club. OK, I know this sounds a bit cheesy but it’s really not. This is a chance for you to spend a little bit more time focussing on yourself and what you really want to achieve. If you keep on promising to do something but never quite get around to it, now is your chance. Or if you think you’ve been too hard on yourself recently and fancy a break from all the negative, self-sabotaging thoughts, February is the month for you.

I don’t know about you, but I can be pretty nasty to myself sometimes. I boss myself about and deprive myself and judge myself in ways I would never judge anyone else, especially someone I love. I’m always telling my personal training clients to be kinder to themselves and forgive themselves when they ‘slip up’ by having a bit of chocolate or a couple of drinks, and yet I’m not always so nice to myself about these things. January can be an especially difficult month because so many of us start the year by setting ourselves harsh and overambitious resolutions; we then get down and disappointed when we don’t stick to these resolutions. Of course, it’s good to have goals and to challenge ourselves but it is also important to allow ourselves a little bit of down time to do what we want to do rather than what we think we should be doing.

This is where the ‘Love Yourself’ club comes in. It’s a chance to spend a whole month focussing on just one or two personal goals and learning how to be a bit kinder to yourself. Perhaps your goal is health and fitness related like trying out a gluten-free diet or working on a specific aspect of your fitness; perhaps you want to spend more time cooking healthy home-made meals or meditating or learning a new skill; perhaps you just want to find time each week to read a book. It can be anything really: for example, this February I want to curb my sweet tooth once and for all and I also want to find more time to write each week.

You can join in by following this blog and you can also join the private ‘Love Yourself’ Facebook group by finding me on Facebook (here) and sending me a message, asking to be added to the group. Anyone is welcome. Whatever it is you think you want to do, even if it’s as vague as being healthier in general, the ‘Love Yourself’ club is a chance for you to spend a whole month focussing on you and getting support and inspiration from others who are doing the same thing. 

Whether you’re joining me on Facebook or just joining me in spirit, here’s to a wonderful February!

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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!

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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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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Do you ever have those days (or weeks) when the most you can be bothered to cook is pasta?!  Maybe it’s just me but sometimes even chopping up a salad or making scrambled egg seems like a mission and when I want a quick meal that I know my 1 year old will eat too, pasta seems like an easy option. The problem is, pasta doesn’t really agree with me and the more I read about gluten – and wheat in particular – I don’t think it does anyone good to eat it on a regular basis. If you want to read up about gluten and wheat and the problems it can cause, this Changing Habits blog is a really good place to start.

So I decided to look around for a gluten-free gnocchi recipe and found this one. I tried it tonight and I’m so pleased with it, I just have to share it. If you’re looking for a quick, easy, gluten-free meal, this is brilliant. It took a bit of time to roll each individual gnocchi but once they’re done, you can bung them in the freezer and cook them from frozen in just 5 minutes.

As it says in the recipe, you can serve the gnocchi with your normal pasta sauce or do something a bit more adventurous if you want to.

Let me know how you get on and please share any good sauce recipes you have.

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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.

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This one’s for my little sister, Ruth. For weeks we’ve been trying to come up with a sugar-free, syrup-free flapjack recipe that actually holds together and doesn’t just crumble the minute you pick it up.

We’ve tried out a few recipes using honey and whilst some of them have been very successful – like this delicious version by my friend, Sarah – I’ve wanted to go that little bit further and find a recipe that’s honey-free as well. Honey can be really good for you in so many ways, but it’s still a form of sugar and once I get a taste of it I want more and more and more….

So, I’ve come up with a very simple flapjack recipe that is lovely as a snack or as a quick breakfast when you’re pushed for time and, like many of my recipes, it makes a perfect snack for baby Freya too.

You may remember the cheesy flapjack recipe I posted a week or so ago. This recipe is a sweet version of that.

Ingredients:

100g (4 oz) oats

2 large cooking apple, grated

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tbsp melted butter or coconut oil

About 10 prunes, chopped (the softer the prunes, the better)

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).

You could also experiment by adding other dried fruit and nuts of your choice. It doesn’t matter how much you add as long as you make sure the mixture is moist and sticky when it goes into the oven. I’d suggest adding more apple if you’re using loads of nuts because you don’t want the flapjack becoming too dry once baked.

Let me know how you get on.

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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