Thursday, 31 March 2011

Time for a tweak

NITC will be on holiday next week with my good friend Ms Haribo and I'm afraid our plans won't leave any time for blogging so they'll be a break in service!

However that doesn't mean you need to take a break from giving your health the focus it deserves ... and to keep you on track I'm going to set some homework for whilst I'm away!

As Jack Lalanne expressed so well in the clip I posted on last week - if you give your body the best fuel it will run and run and repair itself when it gets damaged. Feed yourself rubbish and your health could quickly enter a downward spiral, but treat yourself like you'd treat your porsche (if you're lucky enough to have one) - by giving yourself only the best fuel, rather than the regular unleaded, and you'll keep yourself in tip top condition.

Not only does eating unhealthy food lead to poor health, but every time you eat low nutrient content food you are missing an opportunity to give yourself a nutrient injection.

So if you want to take part - homework for next week is to consciously make the effort to include a nutrient rich food with every meal and snack you eat. This means including wholegrains, fruit and veg, nuts and seeds.

I've set out an example below so you can see how straight forward this is, but by making simple tweaks you can make a big impact on your nutrient intake.

For example:

Before: cereal with milk and americano
After: cereal with added blueberries (antioxidants and fibre) and a green tea (antioxidants).

Salted crisps
Salted nuts (essential fats) and an apple (fibre and antioxidants)

Before: Tuna salad baguette
After: Tuna salad sandwich on brown or rye bread (B vitamins and fibre) with an extra side salad (leafy greens are rich in a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) or small vegetable soup

Before: chocolate bar
After: two squares dark chocolate (antioxidant rich) and a palmful of almonds (essential fats)

Before: Steak and chips (restaurant)
Afterwards: Steak with side salad and cooked seasonal veg

Even if you don't manage this for every meal, if you make a concerted effort to try and do this as often as possible it will quickly become second nature.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A dummy's guide to antioxidants

You've got to be careful if you ask me a question about nutrition as you may end up on the receiving end of a mini lecture! That's what happened to a friend this evening when they asked me what antioxidants actually did!

Anyway having debriefed them fully on the subject I figure it is info worth sharing so here it is.

Every time your cells generate energy they burn oxygen and this creates unstable oxygen molecules call 'free radicals'. This is happening constantly in the body as we breathe.

You can also expose yourself to free radicals from your environment through exposure to anything associated with burning/combustion ... petrol fumes, smoking, fried and burnt food (think overcooked barbecue and breakfast fry ups).

These free radicals cause oxidative damage to your cells leading to inflammation, cell ageing, poor cell function and disease such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Antioxidants are chemicals that are capable of neutralising these free radicals preventing this damage. Antioxidant vitamins are also an essential input for proper immune function, so if you are not taking in enough antioxidants for your level of oxidation then you're likely to start catching more coughs and colds.

What isn't commonly known is that you also speed up oxidative damage by exercising as this speeds up the rate at which you have to generate energy, and therefore burn oxygen in the cells. This increased oxidative damage from exercise contributes to muscle fatigue and muscle soreness and so if you exercise regularly or intensively you need more antioxidants in your diet.

Infact this is a common mistake amateur athletes make - as they up their training they increase their calorie and protein intake but don't increase their antioxidant intake in the same proportion. This can lead to increased free radical damage to muscle tissue, poor injury recovery and accelerated ageing as well as reduced resistance to infection.

For example if you're training for a marathon your standard 'five a day" just won't cut it - you should be aiming for at least 8 portions of fresh fruit and veg PLUS extra antioxidant supplements: vitamin C, selenium, zinc, CoQ10 and plant flavonoids such as my beloved Cherry Active.

Antioxidants all work together so it's important to have a range of sources, this means eating a range of different coloured fruit and veg (the different colours represent different plant flavonoids), eating fresh nuts (particularly walnuts as per yesterday's blog) and supplementing with a multivitamin as well as specific antioxidants.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Walnut wonders

According to a recent study it turns out that walnuts are the healthiest nuts based on their antioxidant content - almost twice as high as found in other nuts ... so it turns out that my least favourite nut is actually the most protective against cancer, cardiovascular disease and other oxidative damage ... great!!

I don't particularly dislike walnuts but I much prefer other types - I think mainly because the walnut has quite a particular strong flavour and I like snacking on nuts on their own. However I do like walnuts when added to other food - they can actually add a complimentary flavour to a dish in the same way as other strong flavoured ingredients such as anchovies and capers, which you wouldn't necessarily enjoy eating on their own either.

So I'm going to make more of an effort to incorporate walnuts in my diet - the obvious place to start being salads, which I'll be having more of as the weather warms up. I'm also thinking they'd add a bit of crunch to my favourite healthy chocolate brownie recipe (just stir in some chopped walnuts before pouring the mix into the tin):

And they also feature in last weeks squash risotto recipe:

For something new I also found this tasty looking recipe for Lentil, walnut and goats cheese salad. I haven't had a chance to make this yet but it's got a super healthy list of ingredients and being a Delia recipe should taste good too -- just leave the goats cheese out if you're dairy free and substitute for marinated tofu if you want some extra protein.

Serves 4
1 x 410 g tin cooked green lentils
11/2 oz (40 g) walnuts
4 oz (110 g) firm goats' cheese
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion
1 fat clove garlic
1 heaped teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 x 50 g pack rocket leaves
salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the dressing:

1 fat clove garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon salt

1 rounded teaspoon powdered mustard

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons walnut oil

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

freshly milled black pepper

This recipe is taken from Delia Smith’s Winter Collection


Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and when it's hot, lightly fry the chopped walnuts for about 1 minute. Then remove them with a draining spoon to a plate and keep them aside for later.

Now to the oil left in the pan, add the onion and crushed garlic and let these cook and soften for about 5 minutes. After that, stir in the lentils, bay leaf and thyme and make sure they all get a good coating with oil. Next add 10 fl oz (275 ml) of boiling water, but don't add any salt - just put a lid on, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and let the lentils cook for 30-40 minutes or until they're tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. You really need to bite one to test if they're done.

While the lentils are cooking you can prepare the dressing. Use a pestle and mortar and crush the garlic with the salt until it's creamy, then add the mustard and work that into the garlic paste. After that, whisk in the balsamic vinegar, followed by the oils. Then season well with freshly milled black pepper.

As soon as the lentils are cooked, add salt to taste. Empty them into a warm serving bowl and while they're still hot, pour the dressing over. Give everything a good toss and stir, then crumble the goats' cheese all over and add the rocket leaves, torn in half. Give everything one more toss and stir, and serve straight away with the walnuts scattered over.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The zen palate

I love yoga and in my dream life, where I have enough free time to work out for two hours a day, sleep nine hours a night and make all my meals from scratch, I would also do an hour of yoga every day.

Yoga isn't just a great way to de stress, stretch muscles, give your organs a massage, improve circulation, lymph flow and energy levels and clear your mind - it is also a whole philosophy on life encompassing how you should think and behave. This includes following a healthy vegetarian diet to improve your health and reduce impact on the environment and strain on the worlds food resources.

Whilst I don't recommend a strict vegetarian diet to my clients, the emphasis of the yogic diet in eating a pure and healthful diet is something I am in total agreement with. This includes avoiding foods that are stressful on the body - know as Rajasic foods, and foods that are energy draining - known as Tamasic foods.

So if you want to reduce your stress levels then as well as minimising the stress from your environment, as per yesterdays blog, you should also avoid eating stressful and energy depleting food:

Rajasic foods:
- refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta, sugar, chocolate, cake and biscuits
- processed foods such as crisps, biscuits, cakes, popcorn, soft drinks, chips - anything with artificial additives, cooked at a high temperature, or over salted.
- coffee
- chocolate
- tobacco
- onions, garlic and chillies (I actually don't avoid these but do generally eat them cooked which makes them easier to digest)

Tamasic foods:
- meat, especially processed meats such as hams
- fish (I don't avoid)
- eggs
- alcohol and drugs
- fungus (mushrooms)
- anything that isn't fresh
- vinegar and pickles (I think these are fine in moderation)

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Stressful surroundings

Something I’m always on about … and you may be bored of hearing … is how bad stress is for your health. But every time we perceive something as stressful our adrenal glands will produce adrenalin. This hormone is designed to protect us from a physical threat by raising blood pressure, dilating pupils and releasing glucose stores into our blood preparing us to fight or run away. However in the modern world most stressful situations are not best dealt with by fighting or fleeing. Consequently regular stress can lead to health problems such as elevated blood pressure, weight gain and fluctuating blood sugar levels.

A lot of people wouldn’t think of themselves as stressed people however most people in the city usually have a few sources of stress in their life. This is why I often get clients to make a list of everything that has caused them stress in the last week, whether it is a difficult situation at work, being stuck in traffic, or being kept awake at night by a noisy neighbour. I then get them to go through the list and note down one practical step they can take for each item to avoid that situation or minimize it’s impact the next time it arises.

Something that becomes apparent from this is often how much stress someone’s surroundings can cause them – living somewhere noisy, too hot or cold, cramped or a long commute from work can lead to constant daily stress. This is why living somewhere you like and feel comfortable and relaxed is so important as you will spend so much time at home and it should be somewhere you can wind down from a stressful day at work.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to move, just have a think about your home and your immediate surroundings – is there anything you could do to make it more comfortable, a new mattress to help you sleep better, some extra cupboards so you can keep the area clutter free, an extra heater to keep your home warm enough over winter, could you rearrange the furniture or cupboards to help you find things more easily and better use your space? It’s also worth considering more serious factors – are the people you live with a source of stress? Do you feel safe in your neighbourhood? – not just for where you live now but for anywhere you might move to.

This might seem all very un-nutrition related, but creating a calm living environment can help calm your nervous system and reduce stress on the body which can have a profound effect on your health.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Top tips

I love it when I get feedback on the NITC blog as it means I can make it more helpful for all of you. So in response to your feedback I'm going to start including some more tips and tricks - little changes to your diet and lifestyle that can make a big difference.

The first one is something I suggest a lot to my clients who need to give up coffee. They often visibly wince at my suggestion that they should cut down, let alone give up, their coffee habit. So instead of getting them to cut down I give them this rule to follow - every time you feel like a cup of tea or coffee, drink a full mug of water first and wait 15 minutes. If you still feel like a tea or coffee after this time then you can have it.

Nine times out of ten the client comes back having dramatically cut down on their caffeine intake and expressing surprise at how easy it was.

For anyone interested in the science behind this, a lot of fatigue, particularly mental, is due to dehydration. So by drinking water you may simply alleviate fatigue by rehydrating yourself.

How about if you're feeling all virtuous having already become caffeine free .. Well this trick is also very useful in counteracting unnecessary snacking or grazing. I'm certainly guilty of snacking when I'm bored, or not recognising when my feeling peckish is actually my body wanting water. Thirst can often manifest as hunger as most healthy food has a high water content (up to 60 per cent in fruit and veg), so eating healthy foods can help alleviate dehydration. This can make it hard to tell if you're hungry or thirsy.

So if you feel a bit peckish, rather than having a proper stomach hunger, drink a cup of water and wait 15 minutes - if it's genuine hunger you'll still feel hungry, and if you don't then you just needed water - you may be surprised how often it's the latter.

This trick also works to stop over-eating - we've all been there - you're at a bbq or buffet and the food is so scrummy you end up having seconds and thirds. Once you start eating past your appetite you won't have any signals to stop (well until you feel sick and bloated but by then you've eaten way too much). If you realise you're over-eating, have a large glass of water and wait 15 minutes, after which point you're very unlikely to feel like eating more.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Who wants a new body?

'The food you eat today is the body you wear tomorrow'

This was a quote I heard today from Jack LaLanne that I really liked as a way of emphasizing how important proper nutrition is.

This isn't just a catchy quote, it's also true - your body's cells are constantly being broken down and replaced - over 3 months you will fully replace a muscle and over a year you will replace all the cells in your body, so you really can rebuild your body, and if you choose to change your diet you can rebuild your body to be a healthier body that the one you have right now.

Jack, who lived to 97 from 1914 to January of this year, was a health expert before his time. A bodybuilder and fitness and nutrition expert from the US, Jack was a very early proponent for the importance of regular exercise and healthy eating, opening one of the earliest gyms in the US in 1936. He was also particularly vocal in the importance of regular exercise in the elderly to maintain strength and muscle mass.  Arnold Schwarzenegger called him an inspiration and appointed him to his Governor's Council on Physical Fitness.

What was so great about Jack was his sheer enthusiasm and belief that he could make America a better place by getting its citizens to take care of their bodies through proper nutrition and exercise.  

If you've got 3 minutes to spare watch this clip from The Jack LaLanne show which ran from 1951 to 1985 and which I think captures perfectly why eating well and exercising regularly is so important, regardless of whether or not you need to lose weight.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Snow snacking

Last week, whilst Miss Haribo was blogging for me, I was in Tignes falling over in the snow (I'm a fairly novice snowboarder) with a group of friends. I obviously have particular dietary requirements and our chalet host did a great job of providing tasty gluten and dairy free food for me. However my eating habits aren't typical for the group I was in, and it was interesting to observe the different approaches to eating on the slopes.

My ideal days snowboarding involves getting up not too early, having a decent low-fat breakfast and then snowboarding from mid morning through to the late afternoon without a long lunch break, this means a packed lunch and snacks pretty much eaten on the lifts and then a big afternoon snack when I get home. However most of my friends had other ideas preferring to stop for a substantial lunch of beer and pizza with regular stops for vin chaud between runs!!

Taking a long lunch means your leg muscles go cold, and eating a large meal diverts blood flow from your leg muscles to your digestive system - so not conducive for a good afternoons skiing. This is why I prefer regular small snacks that keep my energy levels up without sending me to sleep, and it also maximizes my time on the slopes.

I took gluten free bread with me, although it is now readily available in most French supermarkets, which I used to make smoked salmon sandwiches for my lunch. I also carried with me a good supply of snacks - mini packs of nuts or dried fruit and nut mixes, plus Nak'd bars and some Pulsin protein bars - and snacked on these whenever I felt hungry. If you don't have to eat gluten and diary free then Fruitus bars, Trek bars and Bounce balls are all great snacks to have with you on the slopes. It's also good to have something sugary with you for emergencies - if you suddenly have a blood sugar low skiing will become alot harder and a sugary snack can provide you with the necessary boost to let you ski home safely. I have Okri coconut bars for this purpose, but regular sweets will do the job perfectly.

Along with preferring longer lunches, alot of my friends also seemed to think their skiing improved after having an alcoholic drink! I think this has alot to do with the fear factor Miss Haribo talking about in her blog on Parkour - and everyone skis better when they're relaxed - although towards the end of the week one member of the group was even having a gin and Orangina for breakfast which I think is starting a bit early!

Along with keeping my energy levels topped up with regular snacks I kept my legs fresh each day with my favourite post-exercise recovery shake of cherry active for antioxidant repair, Nutri Ultra Muscleze
for Magnesium (muscle relaxant) and B vitamins (energy boost) with Lamberts Glutamine powder for muscle fuel and cell rebuilding combined with a scoop of protein powder - it worked like a treat and my muscles felt good enough for the gym on Monday having arrived home on Sunday.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Another birthday

Someone asked me the other day how I come up with something to blog on every day, but infact I have more subjects to blog on than days in the week! Nutrition and health are my favourite topics of conversation so it's just nice to have an outlet for my passion.

Still, when I started the blog I didn't imagine I'd find it so easy to write, and yet one year and over 200 posts later I still have a list of topics I want to email you about!

I also didn't imagine that so many of you would be reading NITC, so thank you for your support.

My objective has always been to get the word out on how important food is in looking after your health and to help as many people as possible to live healthy, happy lives. So if you know anyone you think might benefit from reading NITC please spread the word and send them a link!

In the meantime I realise I haven't shared a healthy recipe for some time - mainly because all the birthday celebrations haven't left much time for proper cooking! Here's a super comforting one for these still chilly evenings whilst butternut squash is readily available.

Oven baked butternut squash risotto:
I've adapted this recipe to make it vegan, gluten and dairy free, but if you are a die hard carnivore or you like a bit more protein then leave out the beans and add some grilled thyme chicken instead (see below).

Serves 4
Preheat the oven to 170C

In a flameproof casserole dish heat 2tbsp olive oil and fry 1 diced onion and 2 minced garlic cloves for 5mins over a medium heat.

Add 300g risotto rice (I used brown rice to make this healthier) stir well and add 100ml white wine and simmer til reduced (the wine can be omitted if desired).

Add 350g flesh of butternut squash chopped into one inch cubes, a pinch of salt and pepper and 800ml of vegetable stock (I use Kalo stock cubes). Bring to a simmer then put the casserole, uncovered, in the oven for 25minutes/until the stock is absorbed. Then take out the oven and stir in one can of black beans (drained) and leave the risotto to stand for 5mins.

In the meantime heat 50g coconut fat (or butter if none vegan), add 2tbsp chopped fresh sage and 25g chopped walnuts, and cook over a gentle heat for 2 to 3minutes. Serve the risotto in bowls topped with the sage/walnut butter (and a sprinkle of parmesan if non-vegan).

Thyme chicken:

Serves 2

Mix 1/2 tsp olive oil with 2 tsp dried thyme, a small pinch of salt and a large pinch of freshly ground pepper.

Take two chicken breasts and wrap in plastic bags or clingfilm and then pound with a rolling pin to a quarter inch thickness. Coat the chicken with the thyme/oil mixture and then grill on a george foreman style grill for 3-4minutes until cooked through. Cut into strips length ways and serve over the risotto.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


A big thank you to Miss Haribo for last weeks fab blogs, I hope you all enjoyed them as much as I did. If anyone was in any doubt as to Miss Haribos geek status, I think those doubts can be laid to rest by her comprehensive referencing!! I had a marvelous week falling over in the snow ... but more about that later in the week.

It's always good to look at the latest research on nutrition and I thought the study on how calorie restriction induces bingeing in mice is particularly interesting. Whilst everything that applies to mice and rats in a lab isn't necessarily true for us humans, the results of alot of rodent studies have been found to be true for us also and anything that supports my ethos of not using calories to make your food decisions is always a good thing.

It often shocks people when I suggest that calories are redundant in weight control, but the type of food you eat has a huge impact on how much of it you store as fat. If I ate only 1000 calories of day, versus my usual 1800, but ate only Ben and Jerry's ice cream rather than my usual diet then I'm sure I would gain weight (although I'm not prepared to put myself through that diet to prove it!). Equally restricting calories to the point where you don't eat every time you are hungry invokes the bodies survival instinct and slows your metabolism reducing the rate at which you burn fat ... in essence your body is smarter than you are so listen to it and eat when it tells you to and not when it doesn't!

I also loved Miss Haribo's suggestion of using rewards to start good habits ... although be wary of rewarding yourself with food. Alot of people use food as a reward or a pick me up and this develops an altered relationship with food, that will leave you reaching for the cookie jar whenever you feel down and want a lift or feel you've worked particularly hard (either at the gym or at work!). I get my clients to treat themselves with relaxing treatments such as a massage or facial, or even with Grazia magazine in the case of Miss H!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

parkour pleasures

Today I had a class in one of my more dangerous activities: parkour. Actually it isn't that dangerous: I've only fallen off a wall once, and I am not yet good enough to run up anything really high.

Parkour is absolutely not competitive, which makes a change. (ok I might have felt a bit smug when a kid in the playground said my cartwheels were the best). We spend so much of our day competing against colleagues, competing against rival businesses etc that sometimes it is nice to do something which is all about challenging yourself. Plus it gives you a whole new appreciation for London's architecture when you see it s something to jump over or run up.

But I love parkour for several reasons: first it is awesome fun but it also challenges you in many ways. You have to be good at balancing (i am terrible) but also strong. An important element of parkour is making controlled movements as the aim is to leave as little trace on your environment as you move through it.

But more importantly a lot of the challenge is mental: until I did parkour I never realised how important fear is and how much it hinders what we can do. I've lost count of the number of times I've stared at a jump thinking there is no way I can do it, made the leap, often with someone there to catch me and then the next time it is easy. Someone from the group I train with posted an interesting blog post today about fear, which I've linked too below; however you don't want the syndrome mentioned in the blog: it's associated with nymphomania!

On a general note: it's amazing what you can achieve if you just let go of your fear and have friends to catch you. In the words of the very talented En Vouge (and Glee) : free your mind and the rest will follow.

This is my last guest column. Emilie will be back next week to undo all the damage and bad advice I have given.

Miss Haribo

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


One of my favourite blogs in Felix Salmon (and not just because I have a slight, ok massive, nerd crush). I generally find him pretty insightful so imagine my delight today when I opened my google reader and found that he has started a monthly column blogging about 'gastronomics'. My two favourite topics: food and economics in one go!

In his first column he talks about why people flock to restaurants with terrible service. In my opinion he pretty much nails the answer: a part of it is about signalling. If people can see how popular you are, then they will reason that you must be good: "other people are flocking to get a table here, the food must be great". I'm sure we've all turned down restaurants because they are empty or chosen to eat in the more crowded one.

Another is a behavioural explanation: we are terrible about judging how much something is worth. The more you pay for/invest in something something the more likely you are to enjoy it . Your mind basically goes: I waited one hour, had rubbish service and paid £30 for that burger, therefore it must have been an amazing burger.

I think this is pretty true. I went to a restaurant that was pretty terrible on Saturday night. The vegetarian menu was from the dark ages, the service was awful as they repeatedly messed up the orders. There were crashes every few minutes as plates were dropped. And they gave me some lamb that was totally overcooked. I was pretty appalled that they tried to pass it off on me, and those people who know me well will not be surprised that I sent it back to the kitchen in disgust.

I had a good time because of the good company I was with but I was pretty amazed that people would ever return; but I also found myself reasoning "well it's really popular, and it was hard to get a reservation. Maybe it is because the atmosphere was nice, and those desserts were not just average but maybe they were really good" in other words trying to justify any reason why it may have been a good restaurant (it was fairly expensive although not outrageously so).

I've linked to a bonus short story on ways restaurants might exploit some of our behavioural biases to make us spend more too.

Miss Haribo

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

ode to the humble potato

Today as I was heavily negotiating with my mother what she is going to cook me over the weekend I was reminded about how much I love potatoes.

I'm a keen runner, last year I ran three half marathons in the space of a month, and although I will not do that again any time soon, I still really love to run. However, I avoid the runner staples of bread and pasta as I try and avoid wheat. Which is where potatoes really come into their own: they are a great source of carbohydrates, but mean I can still run/recover without having massive stomach cramps. As a bonus potatoes have enough flavour on their own without having to drench them in a calories/fat dense sauce, unlike pasta and rice.

Having said that this weekend's roast potatoes are clearly not the healthiest choice (this was definitely one of the 20% splurge time), and a far better option are new potatoes.

And yet another link to an article: there has been a lot of work recently suggesting that although medicine undoubtedly played an important role in population development, nutrition played an important role too. (As an aside note: many 'ancient history' measures of GDP come from nutritional measures). These guys find that the availability of potatoes potentially explains 20% of population growth in the 18th and 19th century.

Who knew that my favourite running food was such an amazing thing!

Miss Haribo

Monday, 14 March 2011

from good intentions to good habits

Despite the neuroscience article yesterday my scientific interests and abilities mainly lie in the dismal sciences. Yes, Dr Haribo is an economist. That should put the Kate Middleton rumours to rest.

It's not my field in economics, but there are a lot of great economists out there doing research on obesity and its causes and treatments. However, today I'm going to refer you to some work on on exercise and habit formation. Mainly because I've been trying so hard to force myself to keep the habit of going to the gym going, despite my injury, even when I can't do my favourite classes.

Although the VoxEu website mainly focuses on areas more traditionally associated with economics, occasionally they have articles such as the one below which talks about the beneficial effect that making contracts has on altering our behaviour.  
I think we can all relate to difficulty in turning our good intentions into actual long term behaviour.  

The article by Charness and Gneezi is a great paper and has been very influential. What they show is that by giving people, who would not have exercised otherwise, financial incentives to exercise for a short period of time this can be nudge they need to start a good habit: these people continued to exercise even when they were no longer receiving the financial incentives to do so. (Robust controls are in the paper).

Habits are very powerful. For various reasons we don't like too much change in our life, so once we've made something into a habit we really don't like to give it up.

So what does this tell us? Sometimes, even though it may seem stupid, it's a good idea to write a contract to commit yourself or give yourself a financial incentive to start a new good habit. I used to make contracts with myself long before they came into the mainstream; and I bribe myself with Grazia to go to boxing class at 7am on a Friday.

However, keep the reward small, because you don't want to bankrupt yourself, but also because large rewards are counterproductive. (Gneezy also has a lot of research on this: the basic idea is that your brain thinks you are doing the activity to  get the reward not because you like it, but for a small reward your brain will reason that you must be enjoying it.)  

Emilie told you I was a massive geek!

Miss Haribo

Charness G, Gneezi U (2009), "Incentives to exercise", Econometrica, 77(3):909-931

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Miss Haribo takes over (temporarily)

Hello NITC readers. It's Miss Haribo here, guest blogging for the week. I'm not sure what to add to last week's stunning introduction. As Emilie said: I am very interested in sports and nutrition. I am a bit exercise mad, although I've been injured for the last month following an accident.

I am also an enthusiastic follower of her advice, although I freely admit to picking and choosing; despite rumours to the contrary I am not superhuman.

As Emilie pointed out I am a bit of a geek and come across interesting articles so I thought I would refer you to this one I found in Nature Neuroscience. Basically some mice were fed a calorie restrictive diet for three weeks. After the diet was finished the 'restricted mice' consumed more high-fat food and more calories when exposed to stress than non restricted mice and this increased amount of binged eating increased over time. 

I thought this was pretty interesting as it chimed with all of Emilie's advice to relax and take it easy and avoid stress. It also speaks to yet another counter-productive effect of dieting: increased binge eating afterwards, unless we can avoid any stressful situations after the diet is over, which is simply not feasible for most of us.  

Miss Haribo

Thursday, 10 March 2011

How to holiday

We all need a break, and as per yesterday's blog I think it's great if you can have one day a week where you don't schedule anything in the diary and let yourself do whatever you feel like rather than trying to keep to your usual schedule.

This gives your brain and body time to unwind and recharge and gives your adrenal glands a chance to restore. Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and produce stress hormones in response to stress. Way back when, this would have been in response to a tiger attack or some other infrequent but serious threat, with plenty of downtime inbetween. Unfortunately with our go go go modern lifestyles our poor adrenals never get a break leading to fatigue, poor immunity and poor resistance to stress which is why downtime is so important.

What's even better for the adrenals than a day off is a week off, taking a proper holiday where you ignore your to do list, turn off the blackberry and go to bed and wake up whenever you feel like - something that is particularly difficult for my self-employed clients.

And so NITC is going to take her own advice and will be taking next week off from blogging and is going en vacances!

In my absence I've invited 'Haribo girl' to guest edit the NITC blog. Now whilst you might not think that adding Haribo to your breakfast qualifies you to contribute to a blog on nutrition don't be fooled, Haribo girl is very up on health and nutrition and super sporty (my usual exercise regime would count as a 'day off' for her!). She's also a bit of a geek, often forwarding me interesting studies on nutrition and food, so expect some interesting mails on the latest research on food and exercise. Enjoy!


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Food philosophy

Today I received an e-mail from regular NITC reader Ms Haribo in which she referred to following my 'food philosophy'. I've never thought of myself as having a food philosophy but as soon as I read it I realised that I do.

This is to say that rather than prescribing diets where there are strict rules and restrictions I instead like to give guidance and guidelines which people can use and incorporate to whatever degree they like.

Over-arching all this is that I want people to love what they eat and how they live and to show love to their bodies through nutrition and nurture.

So for anyone who's interested here are the fundamentals of my food philosophy:

Listen to your body - when you're hungry eat if you're tired have a rest or go to bed, if you feel ill stop and take care of yourself and if you feel full of beans go for a run. Ignoring our bodies messages is a highway to ill health.

Food should bring pleasure - in eating, cooking and sharing. Spend some time working out which healthy foods you enjoy and you'll never need to diet.

Show your body love by making sure your body has a plentiful supply of the good stuff - wholegrains, pulses, fruit and veg, lean proteins, essential fats (nuts, seeds and oily fish) and water. These will keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel, avoiding weight gain and reducing your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Keep out the junk - processed, flavoured, sweetened, 'plastic' foods are alien to your body and of no nutritional value so show them the 'keep out' sign - if you want a treat make sure it's homemade or that you at least recognise the ingredients!

Never cut out a food group entirely or eat any food to excess - carbs, proteins, essential fats, water and fibre are all needed by your body - provide all of them in balance and you'll be repaid with bountiful energy and good health.

Even with healthy foods you can have too much of a good thing - so if you're eating any one food to excess whether it's 10 carrots a day or five chicken breasts, it's time to cut back.

Never ban yourself from eating something entirely - you will only want it more. If you only eat healthy nurturing foods you should feel great but we all have those days where all you really want is a chocolate brownie and a cup of tea. When that happens don't give yourself a hard time, enjoy your treat, get give yourself a hug and write it off. if you eat healthily 80 percent of the time then you're doing a great job.

Everyone needs to start somewhere - going from a super unhealthy diet to a vegan RAW regime overnight isn't a good idea! If you want to become healthier take baby steps - it will be easier and better for your body. If you don't know where to start try cutting down on sugar - it's added in most processed foods and has a much more negative health impact than you realise.

We are physical beings and need to use our bodies physically - at the same time exercise should be something you enjoy that leaves you feeling good. Not some form of torture that leaves you wiped out. Find a form of exercise that you love and you'll be fit forever.

Everyone needs a day off - a break from work, chores, the to do list and the gym! Enjoy the free time to do whatever you feel like doing and eat whatever your body is asking for.


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Saving cash and the planet

In the special report on feeding the global population in last weeks Economist I read the surprising fact that we waste the same percentage of our food in the developed world as in the developing world despite having infinitely better food storage (refrigeration and freezers versus a hole in the ground or a tarpaulin) and instant access to food (24 hour supermarkets and cornershops versus annual harvests).

The explanation given by the Economist for this is that food is relatively cheap and easily accessible so not as higly valued and we therefore don't think twice about throwing food away. Certainly food has been relatively cheap, although with rising oil prices the cost of food is on the increase, and it's true that alot of people (myself included) are guilty of overstocking our fridge and find ourselves having to throw out out of date food. However any food that you throw away has used up some of the earths resources in it's production - water and nutrients from the soil - and has had an environmental impact in it's production - use of fertilizers, fuel used up by farming equipment, carbon emissions in transport etc. so food waste is something we should all work to minimize.

As regular readers will know, however, I'm not a fan of the clean plate syndrome us brits suffer from having been brought up to never let any food served go to waste. But eating more than we need is not a logical solution to food waste and the strains on the globe to feed it's population! Infact we should start by not eating more than we need and thereby buying less food in the first place which would also save us all some money!

What makes a big difference in reducing food waste is a bit of forward planning combined with actively reading use by dates when you're shopping. Alot of people don't do the latter, but if you start you'll realise you don't have alot of time to eat most perishable food before it goes off. So with fresh food you either need to shop a couple of times a week or put a few things in the freezer as soon as you buy them. It also helps to put foods closer to their use by date at the front of the shelf in the fridge to remind you to use them first before they have to be thrown away. Planning a menu and then writing a shopping list from it will also help stop you from overbuying - the Spoonfed Suppers blog is great for this as it actually provides you with a shopping list for the week ahead's menu so you can buy it all in one go.

What I tend to do is plan a couple of meals, buy the ingredients for those, and then improvise with what's left for the subsequent meals. I add salad and seed garnishes to liven up leftover dinners and take them to work for lunch and if I overcook a stew or chilli I freeze what's left as a handy dinner for a night when I don't have time or really don't have the energy to cook.

At the end of the week it's time to get creative and see what you can make out of the random odds and ends in the fridge. One of my favourite recipes for using up leftover salad bits is for Nori Borritos from The Kind Diet a great book on going vegan given to me by a wonderful client and NITC reader. Unfortunately the website that goes with the book was down tonight but I believe this link will give you the recipe when it's back up.

However it's very simple - you basically buy toasted Nori sheets (I use Clearspring), and then roll these into cones filled with whatever leftovers are in your fridge. Combos I've enjoyed included:
grated carrot, avocado, salad and hummous
brown rice, smoked salmon and cucumber
brown rice with a light sprinkling of soy sauce, sesame seeds, sliced apple and tomato

yum! Who said leftovers had to be boring!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Farewell Doritos!

Whilst not actually being a Christian, like many others I'll happily enjoy all the goodies of Christmas, Easter and Shrove Tuesday. And whilst I don't really have a problem with this it does seem somewhat hypocritical to enjoy all the benefits of these Christian traditions without giving something up for Lent, especially if you're going all out on the pancakes and Easter eggs!!

Besides I think that, in its own right as a period of self-denial, Lent is a very worthwhile experience. Alot of us don't credit ourselves with as much will power as we really have, so proving to yourself that you can give up something up for a meaningful period of time is very worthwhile. Once you realise that you have the necessary will power to give up one unhealthy habit you'll find it easy to ditch lots of other unhealthy habits that you'd resigned yourself to.

It takes 30 days to make a habit so giving anything up for 40 days should break any naughty habitual eating habits you have for good. In the past I've given up all of the following (not at the same time!), all of which are foods that I never went back to eating remotely as much:
Chocolate biscuits
TV (ok so it's not a food, but it's not a healthy habit and is a tough one to give up)

So if there's any naughty foods in your diet that have ended up being a regular habit rather than an occasional treat then these are great candidates for Lent. And if you're stuck for ideas Lent traditionally involves giving up all animal products which is a very healthy exercise in itself.

I've actually pretty much run out of unhealthy foods to give up (apologies if that sounds smug, it isn't meant to be!!) but I still have a few unhealthy habits so here's what I'm giving up for lent:

- tortilla chips (my favourite gluten-free slob out in front of the TV snack food!)
- eating in front of the TV (pretty much goes hand in hand with eating Tortilla chips - I can easily graze through a whole bag during a film without realising)
- snacking when I'm bored but not hungry (not something I do too much, but I do like to eat and find myself picking at food if I'm having a slow day).

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Sweet Suzette

This Tuesday is one of my favourite days of the year ... Shrove Tuesday! Favourite not because it marks the start of lent (I still need to work out what to give up ... any suggestions?!) but because pancakes with sugar and lemon are one of my all-time favourite foods.

As a result all the supermarkets are stocked up with flour, eggs, sugar and lemons ... but they're also full of ready made pancakes or pancakes mixes which I think is a travesty ... firstly pancakes are so cheap and easy to make from scratch that you'd have to be super lazy to buy ready prepared ones and secondly alot of the fun comes in making them, particularly the first few that always fail to flip, come out like scrambled eggs and go straight in the bin (if they don't land on the floor first)!!!

Sadly for me eating gluten-free rules out regular pancakes, but fortunately gluten-free are easy to make - see below for a super-easy recipe from my beloved Leon (and for those who can eat wheat a 'proper' recipe from Delia).

Even if you're not gluten free but are trying to keep on the straight and narrow food wise, you might want to skip the lemon, sugar and Haagan Daas for these lower GI but still super yum toppings, that won't send your blood sugar into orbit!

- Fresh lemon juice with granulated fructose. Granulated fructose is still a refined sugar, but it's lower GI than regular sugar and you need less of it, so sprinkle with caution and enjoy the beautiful flavour of Crepes Suzette.

- Agave syrup. Makes a great alternative to golden or maple syrup poured over American style pancakes (great served with a side of fresh fruit salad). Again still a refined sugar but much less disruptive on blood sugar levels.

- Booja Booja icecream - dairy free and made with low GI agave syrup rather than sugar, their Vanilla M'Gorilla ice cream (details below) is infact delicious and great with pancakes, especially when topped with a drizzle of melted 70% dark chocolate - yum

- Fresh berries are also delicious with pancakes - try strawberries topped with melted dark chocolate or frozen berries lightly stewed and blended to make a delicious coulis. For a total cheat warm some St Dalfour strawberry jam in a pan and serve with pancakes either on it's own or over some booja booja ice cream.

But don't forget, all this pleasure comes at a price ... Lent starts on Wednesday so get thinking about what you're going to give up in return for your pancake indulgence!
Leon gluten-free pancake recipe:
serves 4
3 eggs
125g buckwheat flour
1 large teaspoon honey or agave syrup
big pinch baking powder
140ml organic milk
sea salt
Separate the eggs, in a large bowl add flour to eggs. Add honey, baking powder and pinch of salt and mix thoroughly. Slowly add milk to make a smooth batter (use rice milk if dairy intolerant)
In a separate bowl whisk whites to firm peaks and fold gently into yolk mix
Heat a non-stick pan with a little butter (or coconut fat for dairy free) and pour in batter cook 2-3 mins each side
Delia pancake recipe:
Booja Booja icecream:

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The energy thieves

Look around any office at around 4pm and it won't take long to spot people glazed over, slumped in their chairs. This zombie state is induced by the energy thieves that crop up in most peoples diets. Ironically a lot of these foods are foods people think will perk them up, but infact they're secretly stealing your energy!

So if something is stealing your energy here are the usual suspects you should round-up:

Caffeine: the queue at the coffee bar after lunch makes it clear this is the first thing city folk reach for to get them through the slump. However after the initial buzz caffeine actually induces a blood sugar low making you feel more tired later in the day. It also depletes the body of B vitamins which are essential for energy production, so over time drinking coffee or tea will make you increasingly tired. Some people are so immune to coffee that it just makes then feel slightly less tired - this is a bad sign and means you really should give it up. Although as caffeine is a drug going cold turkey isn't advised - gradually cut the volume and switch to less draining green and white teas and every time you get a craving drink a large glass of water - it can take at least two weeks to start to feel better so perseverance is key, but in the long run you'll feel so much better for not having a daily slump.

Sugar - after coffee this is the second most common thing people reach for when tiredness hits, especially if there are biscuits or chocolate lying around the office. However just like caffeine the energy boost will be temporary and in the long run eating sugar can leave you feeling more fatigued and lethargic. It's also highly addictive so it's easy to get into a sugar cycle where you need a daily hit. You might not think you're in this cycle, but if you read the ingredients list on most foods you'll spot sugar in there, especially most snacks available in the office vending machine/coffee bar. This is why having healthy snacks in your desk drawer is essential and where Graze boxes come into their own! Having oat or rice cakes to hand is also a good idea if you need some carbs - dip in hummous or spread with non-sugar nut butter.

Wheat/gluten - if you have a gluten intolerance, like I do, then eating some regular bread or pasta can have you dozing off in minutes. But wheat can have a soporific effect even on those who aren't intolerant so if you can avoid bread at lunchtime you should - EAT sells wheat-free sandwiches and wheat-free bread to dip in your soup and Leon and pod have plenty of wheat-free options. Sushi is also readily available, but can be laced with sugar and is best balanced with some extra sashimi and edamame.

Refined carbs - even if you choose carbs that are gluten free a big plate of white rice or potatoes can easily send you to snoozy town. If you're guilty of carb overloading then limit yourself to eating the same volume of carbs as of proteins to keep you on an even keel.

Meat - meat takes a lot of energy to digest and a lot of people eat their lunch hunched over at the desks or whilst multitasking inhibitting their digestion. Stress in general suppresses the production of stomach acid and proper digestion of proteins, so hard to digest proteins like meat can divert energy from brain function to digestive function - leaving you glassy eyed. Choose easier to digest options such as eggs, pulses and fish, and keep portions of meat small at lunchtime.

Over-eating - however healthily you eat if you eat a massive portion of food your digestive tract is going to struggle to digest it diverting blood flow to your gut. It's much better to have a lighter lunch with a morning and afternoon snack if you feel peckish to keep up your energy.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Investing in your health pension

Something you often hear from younger people who choose to live unhealthily, is the argument that they'll deal with ill health if and when it happens. This 'head in the sand' approach to future health problems is much the same as a lot of young peoples approach to pensions with more than 70 per cent of those under thirty not having started a pension.

Just like a regular pension, if you invest in your health pension it will look after you in your old age. You might feel like cutting back on the takeaways, booze and sweet treats is a sacrifice without any immediate payback, but when you get to your pensionable age in good health whilst others are suffering you'll be glad you invested.

Just as for pensions there is a range of ways to invest in your health pension and I'd recommend a diversified portfolio!

Here are my top health investments:

- eating your five a day: really for maximum returns I recommend eight portions of fruit and veg daily - the fibre can help support bowel health and balance hormone and cholesterol levels whilst the antioxidants can help slow the ageing of cells and support immunity.

- keep off the sugar and white carbohydrates: sugar is so ageing on the body, hardening arteries and taxing the pancreas. To limit the risk of type II diabetes also avoid white bread, white rice, white pasta and potatoes (other than sweet and new) as much as possible.

- cut down on meat: particularly red meat, pork and processed meat such as ham and sausages. Not only are these high in saturated fats and hormones (if non-organic) but eating 100 to 120g of red and processed meat a day increases the risk of developing bowel cancer by 20 to 30%.

- eat fat but make sure it's the right kind: Essential fats found in nuts, seeds and oily fish are so important for maintaining brain function as you age as well as skin quality. Eat these regularly and/or take a supplement. Essential fats compete in the body for use with unhealthy saturated fats so at the same time limit your intake of meat and dairy products.

- cut down on alcohol: If alcohol were invented today it wouldn't be sanctioned by the FDA on the basis that it is so bad for you. Yes red wine contains antioxidants but you can get these elsewhere - so enjoy the odd glass of wine or champagne but don't kid yourself that it's for your health - just enjoy it as a treat as you'd enjoy the occasional slice of cake.

- practice stress management: don't just accept stress as part of your life, it is way more manageable than you realise. Spend time identifying all the sources of stress in your life and then eliminate/minimise them. Also dedicate some time each week for active relaxation, such as yoga, meditation or even just chilling our on the sofa.

- exercise regularly: this keeps your bones and muscles strong reducing the risk of breaks and injuries later on in life as well as improving circulation and boosting the immune system.

For any NITC readers who haven't started on their regular pension my friend Desiree is organising excellent seminars on financial planning specifically for women, in conjunction with St James Place wealth management, details below.

7th March, 6;30pm
Achieving Financial Freedom, presented by Reinaldo Soto-Rosa of St James's Place Wealth Management.

If you wish to attend please rsvp to Desiree Roldan, email, mobile 07825 909766

Advice is of course available for guys too - you can contact Reinaldo direct at

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Pick and mix

I'm a big snacker and keep assorted munchies in my desk for when hunger strikes. However my rotation of nuts and seeds can get a little dull and it's never good when food becomes boring.

Fortunately snack service Graze have come to the rescue sending me weekly boxes of goodies to my office with four different snack packs containing different mixes of nuts, seeds and dried fruit. For anyone who likes a sweet treat they also include flapjacks and yoghurt or chocolate covered nibbles, but if you want to stay healthy you can log on to their site and choose which options you do or don't want to receive.

All ingredients are listed on he site so I've ruled out anything containing sugar, dairy or gluten, but that still leaves me with plenty of appealing options.

The packs are £3.49 each for four perfect munchy sized packs. You could make up your own equivalents for less, but I find these packs help me to not oversnack, as I can easily absent mindedly munch my way through 250g of brazil nuts in one go!

The lovely people at Graze are so convinced you'll like their service they're offering the first box free and the second box half price if you enter the following code on their site. If you don't like the service you can just logon and cancel online ... simples!

Graze discount code: K8TM8JDM