Thursday, 29 July 2010

Barca binge

I mentioned in yesterday's blog that it can be easy to gain weight whilst holidaying in France, but I think it's even easier to do so in Spain, particularly in Barcelona.

On my first visit almost ten years ago I gained 6lbs in 10 days which for me is a pretty substantial gain. I achieved this through a combination of Iberico ham, Manchego cheese, alot of tapas (particularly calamari and patatas bravas) and the discovery of a delightful patisserie at the top of Las Ramblas.!

Although it was pretty unhealthy the gain that much weight so quickly I lost the weight without too much difficulty when I got home. However one client who lived in Barcelona had to face this delicious array of unhealthy foods daily. So how do you avoid gaining weight when faced with a menu high in saturated fat and fried potatoes?

The key to this is to not combine high GI carbohydrates (potatoes, white rice, bread, pasta) with saturated fats (ham, cheese, red meat, butter, cream, fried foods) in the same meal. So that means sadly no Spanish tortilla, patatas bravas, fried calamari and white bait. If you're eating tapas you can either avoid the carbs and enjoy the meats, cheese and vegetable dishes OR avoid the fats, so no meat and cheese dishes and go for vegetables, salads, paella rice and non-battered fish or seafood such as gambas.

I asked my Barcelona client for a healthy Catalan recipe and having initially said there weren't any she suggested escalivada which could be served as an appetiser or light snack. I'm guessing this recipe would serve approx 4 (afraid haven't had a chance to try it out):

3 red peppers
3 aubergines
2 small onions
1 jar of anchovies
1 tin or jar of black olives without stones (optional)
Olive oil
A loaf of rustic bread (use a fresh wholemeal unsliced loaf)

1. Clean the peppers and aubergines and peel the onion.
2. Put the vegetables (peppers, aubergines and onions) on a baking tray and put it into a pre-heated oven (the recipe doesn't suggest temperature but I'd guess 150degrees c).
3. When the ingredients are soft and toasted on the outside, take them out (normally after 40-60mins).
4. Put to the side to cool. Peel the vegetables and slice them length ways. Be sure to remove the seeds from the peppers.
5. Toast a few slices of the rustic bread.
6. Put the slices of bread on a dish. Place a couple of slices of each vegetable on the toast and top with some anchovies (and, if you want, black olives).
7. Drizzle some olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt to taste.
8. Eat and enjoy!


Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The French secret

It's really hard not to love the food in france; cheese, beautiful fresh bread and wine aplenty. It's also easy to put on weight in France by gorging on brie and baguettes and yet the French are on average much slimmer than the british and live longer so what's their secret?

The weight question is easy to answer, like the Italians the french love and demand high quality cuisine. This means they indulge in quality rather than quantity - savouring moderate quantities of flavourful foods rather than gorging on huge meals of processed or unhealthy foods. As delicious foods are readily available they also feel less inclined to binge when out to dinner. The French also have a much more balanced approach to exercise being much more physically active in daily life rather than moving very little all week and then going to the gym for two hours on the weekend and thinking that is sufficient.

As for living longer the secret there is down to their high consumption of red wine. Not only does this help the French feel more cheerful and relaxed in their old age but it actually slows down the ageing process in their bodies.

And now for the science (feel free to skip straight to the recipe for chocolate mousse)! The red pigment in the skin of red grapes contains a potent antioxidant called resveratrol. Resveratrol slows the ageing process by lengthening/restoring our telomeres. These are like candle wicks attached to the ends of our chromosomes which are shortened/burn quicker through exposure to toxins, oxidation and stress amongst other things. The shorter our telomeres get the faster our cells age. Antioxidants can slow the shortening of our telomeres and even lengthen them which resveratrol is particularly good at, hence the life extending effects of red wine. If you don't like red wine or like me rarely drink alcohol then fear not, resveratrol is also available as a supplement so it's not an excuse to drink a bottle or red every night!

Another food the french enjoy that has anti-aging benefits is cocoa which also has antioxidant properties. Obviously when mixed with milk, fats and loads of sugar it isn't so good for you but the french tend to enjoy small amounts of low sugar dark chocolate as an occasional treat. Look for chocolate with only cocoa, cocoa butter and sugar as the ingredients and 60 per cent cocoa minimum.

Here's a recipe taken from one of my Montignac Method books for a rich dark chocolate mousse. Using dark chocolate and not adding extra sugar makes it much lower in sugar than a lot of chocolate desserts. Enjoy with a glass of red wine for maximum anti-aging!

Serves 3 to 4
Melt 7oz 60 per cent min. cocoa dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (I like to use lindt dark chocolate for this)
Make a cup of strong coffee (regular or decaf) and stir a quarter of the cup of coffee into the melted chocolate with 1.5 tbsp rum. Stir through with a spatula til smooth.
Remove from the heat and stir in the finely grated peel of half an orange (optional).
Cool the mixture to finger dipping temperature by standing in a tray of water.
Separate 4 eggs and beat the whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks
Lightly whisk the yolks and slowly stir into the warm, but not hot, chocolate until smooth.
Using a spatula carefully fold in the egg whites until sufficiently homogeneous but without removing too much air.
Pour into bowls, ramekins or martini glasses and refrigerate for at least 5 hrs before serving.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Salad days

Much of my recent holiday was spent in Greece enjoying absolutely baking hot pure sunshine!

In 30 degree heat you don't much feel like eating hot food, although I was surprised to find the main snack food was pies, rather like hot cheese pasties! Even sweet pastries
were heated up before being served. They also served up hot mashed fava beans which was like a kidney bean hummous which I became slightly addicted to.

Fortunately for me every restaurant had a good selection of healthy salads to choose from, including of course the original Greek salad with feta. Salads are a great way of getting your veggies and eating raw has particular benefits as raw fruit and vegetables contain more antioxidants and beneficial live enzymes than when cooked. In the summer our bodies and digestive systems are also more receptive to lighter less cooked meals so it's good to up your salad intake whilst the sun is out.

I think the traditional greek salad recipe is pretty well known so not worth repeating here. Instead here's a recipe for the 'Sunset salad' that I thoroughly enjoyed whilst sat precariously close to the sea at the 'Sunset restaurant' in Oia Santorini. If you're ever in Santorini I recommend having a meal there.

Sunset salad
Serves 2 (split ingredients between the two plates)
1 cup finely sliced or grated red cabbage
1 cup finely sliced or grated white cabbage
1 cup grated carrot
2 spring onions finely chopped
8 cherry tomatoes halved
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Half tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp fresh dill chopped
Baby spinach leaves washed and chopped
Olives and parmesan (omit for gluten free) to garnish

This salad was attractively presented in layers but would probably still be nice all mixed together and served immediately. I'll endeavour to upload a picture on the weekend for anyone who wants to see the original.

Start with the red and white cabbage in the centre of the plate - one semi-circle white, one semi-circle red.
Add the grated carrot in a circle around the cabbage.
Mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey thoroughly and pour over the cabbage, then sprinlle the dill over the salad.
Layer the spinach over the top of the cabbage (so the carrot still shows round the edge but the cabbage is hidden).
Add the cherry tomatoes and olives round the edge of the plate (on top of the carrot).
Sprinkle 1 flat tbsp parmesan over the centre of the spinach on each salad and you're ready to serve.


Monday, 26 July 2010

Bella Italia

Italy is such a beautiful country; amazing architecture, beautiful landscapes, packed full of art and culture. The Italian's are also undeniably beautiful people who seem to stay mysteriously slim whilst eating huge quantities of pasta!

This is part myth part truth, firstly there are plenty of Italian mamas with some spare pounds on them, but also the Italians, whilst enjoying their food, don't have the same culture of eating til their fit to burst that us brits tend to do. Instead they indulge with high quality foods rather than high quantities - an approach we'd all do well to adopt.

In addition there is some truth in the notion that you should eat according to your ancestry. Generations of Italian pasta eating seems to make Italians more suited to a high carb, high wheat diet, whereas when brits adopt this diet they may find they gain more weight and have less energy than if they followed the higher protein lower wheat more traditional british diet of meat with vegetables and potatoes.

Even still there are plenty of healthy aspects of the Italian diet we could benefit from:
- It is low in saturated fats and high in healthy polyunsaturated fats from olive oil and fish oils.

- Sauces are more often tomato than cream based, adding moisture and flavour to food without adding lots of extra calories.

- Most dishes are full of vegetables which are often cooked into the sauces. The high tomato content makes the Italian diet particularly rich in lycopene, a cancer protective antioxidant.

- Fresh herbs and garlic are frequently added to dishes, both great sources of flavour as well as powerful antioxidants, antimicrobials and anti-inflammatories. In particular the high use of garlic may explain the relative reduction in the risk of heart disease compared to the UK.

Another great aspect of Italian cuisine is that it is usually very simple so easy to master with tasty results. Here's a great Jamie Oliver recipe that's super quick and full of flavour. I like to stir in cooked prawns or chicken breast for protein, but you could equally serve as a side to some grilled fish or add some kidney beans for a vegetarian option.

Pasta peperonata
Serves 4
In a large bowl use your hands to slightly mush up 500g halved cherry tomatoes. Then add 150g stoned black olives, 1 clove of garlic minced/finely chopped and 1tbsp red wine vinegar. Tear in a handful of fresh basil leaves and fresh marjoram leaves (if you can't get marjoram I just use basil). Pour over 10tbsp olive oil (yes 10! but reduce if you like), mix and leave to sit for 10minutes.
In the meantime cook 400g spaghetti (or gluten-free or wholemeal spaghetti or pasta) til al dente. When ready drain and then stir the pasta into the tomato mix. Serve immediately

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Mediterranean mealtimes

Having just got back from my holidays in Europe I wanted to share with you some insights and recipes from around the continent all this week. This isn't just because I'm a fan of european food but also because our neighbours across the channel have lower rates of heart disease and obesity than in the UK so have some valuable lessons to teach us.

I'm a people watcher, especially when abroad, and love to watch how locals interact with each other and compare with how things are done back home.

Continental meal time rituals contrast markedly with the general trend in the UK. Rather than wolfing down processed meals either on the go, or in front of the tv, meals are a lengthy affair with a strong focus on the social and family aspect rather than just filling a hungry stomach.

Food is usually eaten slowly and at a table with friends or family. Attention is paid to the food and it's enjoyment - all the easier as the high importance placed on fresh quality ingredients leads to more appetising cuisine. Unpleasant/poor quality food is discarded rather than being eaten for the sake of it.

Fresh produce is often bought daily at markets, where customers reject poor quality produce, rather than grabbing whatever they can find at a tesco metro on the way home from work. It helps that non-UK europeans have shorter working days leaving more time for food shopping and preparation.

Through this slower and more thoughtful approach to food a healthier relationship develops with binge/comfort eating and drinking much less common than in the UK. A stressful day is counteracted with a whinge to a friend over a glass of wine rather than home alone with a tub of haagan daas.

Hopefully you'll enjoy this weeks recipes and when serving them up try and bring a flavour of the mediterranean meatime to your home.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Taking a time-out

Anyone reading through my client testimonials on my website may be surprised to read that I recommended a client regularly sat on her sofa and read Grazia - not your typical health advice!

The reason for this was to give her a 'time out' from a usually hectic day. The city can be a very punishing place to work - long hours, heavy socialising and high stress occupations can zap your vitality, and that's why 'me time' is so important.

Some city folk use the gym as a stress-buster but this can be part of the stress mix as well - tiring on the body and sometimes another level of competition - to be more fit, thin or well built than the next person!

Real me time simply involves chilling out and doing something totally relaxing which has no point other than to help you unwind.

This time should involve peace and quiet so if you have kids or live in a full house this may mean escaping to somewhere you won't be disturbed .. in the study, in the bathroom (have a nice long soak in the tub), in the garden or even stroll down to the park and chill out for ten minutes on a bench. Sit or lie down, keep music or the tv off and either let your mind wander or chill with a non-work related magazine or book.

And on that note I should let you know that I'll be taking a two week 'time-out' myself from next week, including from my blog. Nutritionist in the City will be back at the end of July and if any of you are also taking a break this month have a lovely holiday.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Why brown is best

Firstly apologies to anyone on the e-mail subscription receiving two blogs this morning - it appears I missed the cut off for the e-mail last night! For anyone on the blog feed ignore this - you get them as I write them!

I find it quite common for people to associate being slim with being healthy - not a bad assumption. However in naturally slim people who can eat whatever they fancy and never gain weight (sadly I don't fall into this group) they can take this as a license to eat unhealthily, assuming that because they don't gain weight it is not doing them harm. This is a dangerous and incorrect assumption.

As evidence of this a study of 200,000 individuals by the Harvard School of Public Health found that if you eat five or more servings of white rice per week your risk of diabetes is 17 per cent higher than compared to a control diet and if you eat two or more servings of brown rice a week your chances are 11 percent lower when compared to the control. Having read this I went straight to Leon for lunch (all their hot dishes come served with brown rice)!

The reason for this increased risk in diabetes is that refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread, white pasta and foods with added sugar are quickly broken down into simple sugars by the gut and then absorbed quickly into the blood stream. This rapid increase in blood sugar stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin to reduce blood sugar levels to a safe range (storing the excess sugar in the muscles as glycogen or in the tissues as fat). A diet high in refined carbohydrates therefore means a greater production of insulin which over time can lead to the cells in the body becoming desensitized to insulin, causing insulin resistance and putting a strain on the pancreas. All of which can ultimately lead to Type II Diabetes.

Unrefined brown rice contains the fibre, removed in processing, which slows digestion resulting in a slower release of sugars into the blood stream and is also rich in vitamins and mineral. However brown rice is often perceived as a food for dieters or the health obsessed.

Eating low GI (glycemic foods) is not just good for keeping weight off but also important for your health in general. So even if you're super slim always choose wholemeal or unrefined carbohydrates such as wholegrain or rye bread, brown rice and oats over the white refined options.

For a readable explanation on the glycemic index and how to eat low GI I recommend 'the Montignac diet' by Michel Montignac. I don't agree 100 per cent with all the recommendations but it explains this subject very well and is the most social-life friendly 'diet' I've ever come across!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The economist and the salad crisper

I was forwarded this link today by a reader who described the author, Dan Riely as "a really famous economist (and probably the nicest guy in economics)" (cute)!

It's an interesting light-hearted comment on the psychology behind how we choose what to eat and he makes a good point about fruit and veg languishing in the salad drawer at the bottom of the fridge until they go off because you don't see them there to remember to eat them.

Fruit and vegetables perish quite quickly so it can be hard to keep a fresh stock in the house. Dan comments about it being confusing as to the expiry dates of fruit and vegetables - however most packaged fruit and veg will say this on the label - aim to eat them by the 'sell by' rather than the 'use by' date - you'll find this sometimes only gives you a couple of days to eat them, so aim to buy your fruit and veg fresh twice a week rather than leaving it to the big weekly shop for the maximum vitamin content.

Without healthy foods to hand or in sight you're likely to eat the less healthy snack foods you have lying around.  I know that the days I eat unhealthily that it's usually due to me having run out of healthy foods in the house, so keep a supply of fruit and veg in the freezer, tinned pulses and chopped tomatoes in the store cupboard and plenty of nuts, seeds and oat or rice cakes to snack on.

Also try and keep your fridge stocked with healthy but also appealing looking foods on the shelves that you can see.  Making your healthy food look good will not only encourage you to eat healthily but will help you get the most pleasure out of your food.  A simple grated carrot salad with a sprinkling of french vinaigrette and a sprig of parsley on it looks way more appealing that a whole peeled carrot! and is therefore much more enjoyable to eat.  Not everyone has time for Masterchef level presentation, but next time you cook up your dinner spend a couple of minutes on presentation.  

A couple of post-scripts today:
Firstly, for anyone based in Canary Wharf I recently discovered Kruger in the South Collonade as a good place to pick up a healthy and affordable lunch.  I'd been before for their fresh fruit and vegetable juices, but on the weekend picked up a lovely herb chicken breast salad for £3.25, a snip by city standards.

Secondly, for anyone interested in having a consultation I now have a website with details of my services, please forward on to anyone who may be interested: 

Monday, 5 July 2010

Not so special K

With holidays approaching I've noticed a few people who've been using the Special K diet to crash diet with varying success. This involves eating a bowl of Special K for breakfast, one for lunch and a 'nutritionally balanced' dinner for two weeks. Fruit and vegetables are allowed as snacks although I've noticed alot of people on this diet don't snack between the meals.
Of course this diet may help you lose weight in the short-term as a low calorie diet but the results are rarely long-lasting and here's why:

Firstly any very low calorie diets cause a loss of water from the body as the body starts using up the sugar stores in your muscles which are bound with water. This creates an initial weight loss which isn't fat and will therefore be reversed as soon as you up your calorie intake/revert to normal eating.

It encourages an evening binge - there are only 168 calories per bowl of Special K, so unless you snack you'll only have had 336 calories by dinner time which, given I eat at least 1800 calories a day, really is very little. You're therefore likely to be ravenous by dinner time and eat a big meal. This means you'll be eating most of your calories at the end of the day when you're unlikely to burn them off, a sure recipe for weight gain. You should instead be eating most of your calories early in the day to get your metabolism fired up. Infact if you're going to replace any meal with a bowl of cereal as a means to weight loss then it should be your dinner!

If you do eat a nutritionally balanced dinner then you're likely to be eating close to 1000 calories a day on this diet, which is way too little for any adult. Consequently your body will perceive this as starvation to a certain degree and compensate in the long-run by slowing your metabolism and storing an increased percentage of the calories you eat as fat, making it harder and harder to lose weight and keep it off.

Along with 7.5g of sugar per bowl, Special K contains a lot of wheat and dairy, the two most common food allergens. Therefore if you are allergic/intolerant to one of these (something you may not yet realise) you may find it hard to lose weight as your body will respond to the high intake of these foods by retaining more water.
Of course I would always recommend a much more balanced approach to weight loss but there are some positive elements to this approach in that it can help people who graze constantly get back into a routine of regular meals and help them exercise portion control. But if you really want to look and feel special this isn't how I'd go about it!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The zero calorie super-nutrient

Another scorching weekend, plenty of opportunities to catch some sun, enjoy some sport and get a bit dehydrated!  Which brings me onto one of the most important nutrients for the body ... water.  It's free (unless like me you drink bottled), easily available, has zero calories and is beneficial for every system in the body ... what an all round good guy!

Water is essential for energy production in the body and so dehydration can lead to poor energy (and reduced fat burning), impaired concentration and mental focus and poor sports performance.  Water is also used by the liver in detoxification and helps prevent constipation, so being well hydrated helps the body eliminate toxins.  It is also found in every cell in the body including your skin, keeping your skin cells plump and your skin looking healthy. 

I have touched on the importance of water intake in a few of my recent blogs so don't want to labour the point but feel I also need to clear up some confusion as to what counts as water intake!!

Basically it's water, or herbal teas, or water when mixed with fruit juice and that's it ... not water with sugary cordial/squash, water in a fizzy drink or cups of tea or coffee ... yes these all contain water however drinking these is not the same as drinking pure water and here's why:

Caffeine ... is a diuretic, which means it actually encourages your kidneys to excrete more water so drinking tea and coffee actually dehydrates you and mean you have to drink more water to compensate.  The same is true of beer and cider.

Sugary or fizzy drinks ... are not natural to the body and so require some detoxification by the liver.  This process uses up water and therefore, whilst diluted squash will still hydrate you, it will not do so to the same extent as pure water.  This is much more the case for alcohol which places a much bigger burden on the liver.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Making it happen

Most people working in the city will be required to set goals or objectives for the year as part of their appraisal process at work. This can sometimes be a pain but does help provide focus the mind on what you should be working on/towards. However people rarely set such explicit goals outside of their work environment and particularly in relation to their health.

I am often surprised at how many people have health problems or frequently feel 'under the weather' but accept this as their lot. Complacency when it comes to your health is foolish as a slight health problem now could develop into something more serious or debilitating later, and it is also a shame to continue in ill health when full health may be possible.

This is where goal setting comes, focussing the mind and getting you on the road to full health:

Firstly make a list of anything you're not happy with regarding your health be it your weight, fitness, condition of your skin, stress levels, blood pressure etc.

Then write corresponding goals, such as lose 6lbs, be able to run for 40minutes without a break, have a clear complexion etc.

Next write down five things you could do to achieve each of these goals (if you don't know how to tackle them consult a nutritional therapist).

Once a week review your goals and note your successes. Write down a progress report as to how you got on with the five tasks for each issue and plan new tasks for the week ahead.

By consciously focussing on your goals and how to achieve them you may be surprised at how quickly you make progress.