Monday, 24 June 2013

30 rocks

Hurrah it's wimbledon time again!! Sadly the sun isn't out yet in support, but the start of the tournament is making me feel more summary.

I know very little about tennis but that doesn't stop me avidly watching this one tournament every year and getting caught up in the excitement.

Interestingly this year there are more over 30s in the tournament than ever despite the fact that over time the tournament seemed to be dominated by russian teenagers!  When asked why this had happened Federer said that athletes these days took much better care of their bodies these days, specifically eating more carefully, and therefore they were prolonging the amount of time they could keep themselves at this supreme level of fitness.

For those of us who aren't competitive athletes we may not feel like we need to pay so much attention to keeping our bodies in peak condition, but even though we don't face the rigours of lengthy tennis matches, we do all face the regular rigours of life which can be stressful both physically and mentally.  Also if our bodies breakdown or can't cope it can affect our livelihoods just as it can for athletes.

This is why we need to actually consider the importance of keeping ourselves in top physical condition and plan for this so we can go the distance in life, rather than just in a tennis match.

So what does it take to still be playing top level tennis in your thirties?  Well I'm afraid the answer isn't particularly exciting, the answer is a diet rich in whole fibre-rich carbohydrates, lean proteins and loads of veggies combined with an absence of alcohol, confectionary and high-fat foods, although Roger Federer has admitted to enjoying the odd glass of wine and piece of swiss chocolate.

So when you're planning your meals or choosing from a menu, for a second imagine you're an ATP pro and think what they might choose, you might not win wimbledon but you'll still be top of your game in your thirties.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Programming your pancreas

Following a low GI diet has great benefits in terms of weight loss and balanced energy levels but there are also some longer term gains to be made.  If you consistently eat higher GI foods such as sugar, white bread, white pasta, long grained rice including most refined foods (biscuits, cakes, pre-prepared foods) then your pancreas will be continually stimulated to produce insulin, but if you avoid these foods for a good period of time (4-6 weeks) your pancreas will start to rebalance and get used to producing alot less insulin.

This means less fat storage (insulin is the hormone produced to cause sugars in the bloodstream to be stored as fat in your fat cells), but also in the long run it means your pancreas is less likely to over-react to the stimulus of sugary foods and therefore overproduce insulin.  What this means in practice is that if you consistently follow a low GI diet then on the odd occasion when you do have a splurge it will do less damage to your waistline than for someone who is following a low GI diet.

As a very unscientific sample I can say that having followed a reasonably strict low GI diet for the month leading up to my wedding definitely limited the damage from my honeymoon.  Two weeks of delicious three course meals and limitless cocktails would be sure to do alot of damage, but instead I gained a meagre pound for all my indulgences.

This isn't down to some freak genetics, I once quite impressively put on a whole 6 lbs of weight in 10 days on a trip to barcelona in my pre-low GI life! This was clear evidence of the benefit of my month of low GI eating.

This also doesn't mean I'm now free to continue eating the same way now that I'm back home.  It's very easy over-time to undo the good work by regularly eating high GI foods, making your pancreas produce more and more insulin and then gradually finding it easier and easier to gain weight.  The only way to keep reaping the benefits is to consistently eat low GI and keep high GI treats for special occasions.

A four week low GI strict phase is a good idea to get you started, The montignac method is a good place start.

Once you've got your blood sugar balanced you'll know it because your appetite will reduce, you'll be able to go 4-6 hours between meals without feeling grumpy or weak and you won't crave sugary foods as much, you should also have lost a couple of pounds without going hungry.  At this point you can start making high GI exceptions to your diet, but try and limit these to one meal a week (a good allowance for date night or a friends birthday or other special occasion).

So if you have a trip coming up where you plan to indulge for a more than a couple of meals, lay the ground work with a couple of weeks of strict low GI eating, and then you'll be able to enjoy your indulgences without piling on the pounds.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The good, the bad and the barbecue

The sun has finally got his hat on ... hip hip hip hurray!

Not only will this cheer us up and give our vitamin D levels a boost but it also means we have a good excuse for lots of picnics and barbecues.

I love both - there's something wonderful about the combination of informal outdoor eating, finger food and getting friends together.

I'm also a fan of any social gathering where you can choose from a range of foods rather than having to eat whatever you are served. Depending on your choices a picnic or barbecue can be either very healthy or very unhealthy! So here are some pointers to stay on the right side of the tracks!

Bad: mayo and creamy sauces are an easy way to add on the saturated fat and calories so go for mayo free. For sarnies cucumber and smoked salmon is always a good choice and go for mayo-free pasta or potato salads with tomato based sauces. The same applies to dips - thousand island and cheese and chive are best avoided, go for hummous, salsa and guacamole.

Good: salads and crudites usually get served so make sure you have half a plate of veg dishes. Go for easy to eat cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks and veggie crudites. Venture beyond carrot sticks and include strips of peppers and babycorn. Iceberg leaves can also be used as wraps for make on the day sandwich alternatives - take a large lettuce leaf, fill with a few salad bits (grated carrot, pepper strips, potato salad) and some protein: smoked salmon/parma ham/boiled egg/falafel. Rollup like a tortilla wrap and tuck in. New potatoes dressed in olive oil and lemon juice or a dressed couscous salad are best for the carb side options.

Bad: I hate to break it to you but any charred meat is bad for you. Ultimately it's cancerous which is why bbqs aren't for everyday cooking, and bbq cuts are also usually the most laden with unsaturated fats. Pork is unfortunately the least healthy (bye bye sausages), whilst chicken and fish are the better options.
If you really want to go all out on the meat then keep the rest of your meal low carb. This will keep your insulin levels down so you'll store a lot less of the fat you're eating. This does mean no ketchup - it's 60per cent sugar - have some tomato puree instead.

If you want to be really good avoid meat altogether and have a tuna steak or a veggie burger/sausage in a wholemeal roll. I honestly don't miss the meat at a bbq, the bbq taste still comes across with veggie food and I always loved all the salad bits on the side more than a burnt burger!
Just as with picnics you'll usually have a good selection of salads and possibly a table to sit at making them easier to eat. Fill your plate with grilled corn on the cob, salad, vegetable kebab and half a jacket potato - you'll easily get your 5 a day in one meal.

Good: water (yes boring I know) or diluted fruit juice. If champagne's going have a bucks fizz (the vitamin c from the orange juice helps minimize your hangover) or if there are spirits have a gin and slimline or a vodka-cranberry.

Bad: Fizzy drinks (pure chemicals), but especially the full sugar variety. If you really want some fizz have an appletizer or some shloer. Beer and cider are bbq staples but can mean you easily put away an extra 1000 calories. If you do fancy either, match them pint for pint with water, which will significantly slow you down and keep you safe from sun stroke.

Strawberries are the obvious and delicious healthy choice. If they're good they don't need the cream. To be honest any fruit salad is going to. Be the healthiest option. If you need to dress it up add a dollop of greek yoghurt and a drizzle of honey.
For a bbq baked bananas are great - wait til the bbq has cooled a bit, take bananas and slit them down one side. Push a few squares of dark chocolate into them and then put on the bbq til the chocolate has melted. Eat out of their skins with a a spoon - yummo!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Healthy additives

Ever since GOOP pointed me to thug kitchen I've been annoyed with myself for not writing anything as genius!! Who knew that gratuitous swearing was the secret to making nutrition engaging!

The latest entry is the great suggestion to add quinoa to your porridge to crank up the fibre and protein. I actually make gluten free porridge out of quinoa flakes, but they have a fairly distinctive taste so a full bowl of quinoa is not for everyone.  Infact know that my diet can be a bit extreme, but eating well doesn't have to involve totally changing your diet - make little additions like this one as you cook and eat can really ramp up the nutritional content of your diet.

So as well as this great suggestion of adding quinoa to your porridge at home here are a few other little healthy additives to try out.

Add berries to your breakfast - they go with everything and are antioxidant power houses - add them to porridge, cereal, pancakes, smoothies, yoghurt, even slice them and eat them on toast with some natural nut butter.

Sprinkle chopped nuts or seeds over your salad for some crunch and some superfats.

Add cinnamon to your coffee ... it should cut the sugar you need if you like it sweet and reduce the blood sugar impact of the caffeine.

Whatever sandwich you are making always add an extra vegetable when you've finished, whether it's some grated carrot, some spinach leaves or some slice raddish.

Add grated ginger and minced garlic to any stir fry for some blood pressure lowering and antimicrobial power.

Use nut butter on toast instead of regular toast, every time - to keep your fats in check.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Just beet it

Greeting readers! Apologies for the extended absence - I was busy getting married to hot doc!

Anyone's who's organized a wedding will know how crazy it is, but thankfully I'm back in the normal non-wedding world again which has also given me a chance to catch-up on some nutrition reading.

There's always lots of research on individual nutrients, but there is also increasingly research on using whole foods to treat disease.  This is partly in recognition of the fact that whole foods contain a variety of nutrients that work together in synergy.  The great thing about this kind of research is that unlike the usual high science, this research can translate into changes you can make day to day that will have an impact on your health.

So on that theme I want to talk about beetroot, which has been shown in a recent study to lower blood pressure.  The research by the University of Reading showed that drinking a small amount of beetroot juice, equivalent to eating two small beetroots, lowered blood pressure in people with elevated levels.

The problem with alot of widespread conditions such as blood pressure, is that GPs have targets to treat these as quickly as possible so will have you on blood pressure lowering drugs before you even have a chance to ask about any alternatives. But if you can treat yourself with food then this would always be preferable to using synthetic drugs which have numerous side effects and don't address the underlying reason that you got your condition in the first place.

If you or someone you know has high blood pressure, they should start eating some beetroot pronto (or even better if you have a juicer add it raw to your morning fruit juice), but more importantly if you have any health condition you should be finding out what you can do about it with food rather than just relying on medication to get you back to top health.  Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs is a great place to start - Patrick Holford is the authority on this subject and brilliant at making the information accessible to the non-scientist - it might save you a few trips to the GP!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Traffic light salad

What a difference the sun makes - I find myself instantly in a happier mood and with a strong desire to start wearing my more colourful clothes (and buy myself a new spring wardrobe!)

It's not just my clothes that are more colourful - I finally feel like eating salad again. Salad to me means a bowl full of colour - the more the better - no boring Iceberg for me. Making your salad colourful makes it more visually appealing, means it will have more flavour and be more nutritious.

The pigments in fruit and veg are what protect them from damage, including sun damage, so infact the more we're exposed to sunlight the more we benefit from eating colourful fruit and veg.

I always think of a traffic light when building a salad and try and use green, orange and red veg in addition to the leaves.

Here are my favourites:
Spinach, grated carrot, sliced beetroot and green pepper drizzled with sesame seed oil and topped with sesame seeds

Babyleaf salad, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, black olives, orange pepper with olive oil and balsamic dressing and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds

Shredded Iceberg topped with the following mixed with some began mayonnaise: walnuts, chopped celery, sliced pear, grated carrot and tomato


Monday, 22 April 2013

What's your cuppa count?

Despite the marathon runners outside my window displaying amazing energy levels sunday was very much a sofa day for me after a late night out on the town!

The film I was watching was sponsored by Tetley tea and so I ended up seeing a fair few tea adverts. In one of them two girls sit on a sofa and try and work out how many cups of tea they drink in a day. They laugh as one suggests it's more than 10.

To me this isn't funny, it's worrying. Worrying because there are people out there drinking 10 cups of tea a day and not realising how bad this is for them. Worrying because a lot of people aren't alarmed by the fact they can't function without a cup of coffee.

I gave up caffeine 8 years ago and have never looked back. I have a ridiculous amount more energy, my gut is way less sensitive and I don't have a tendancy to glaze over after lunch that is only curable by having a latte.

I'm not totally caffeine free, on the odd day that I really need it I'll have a white or green tea, plus there's caffeine in the dark chocolate I occasionally enjoy, but that's one cup and a couple of squares a week max.

Caffeine, refined sugar and alcohol are all addictive and all things that you should definitely not be consuming on a daily basis. If you are then you need to do something about it - don't necessarily go cold turkey, that can backfire massively, but have some plan to cut down.

If you need some motivation on the caffeine front read this blog which nicely lays out the health implications: