Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Still in silly season

I have to say I've gotten quite bored with the news over the summer, obviously not the dramatic events in the middle east or the london rioting, but for the rest of it I find most news these days is pretty dumbed down and repetitive. It's not surprising then that one of the most shared stories on the bbc news website today was that eating chocolate may reduce your chance of getting cardiovascular disease and having a stroke.

This might seem very interesting at first glance, but infact even in nutrition and health news the same stories can repeated over and over in different guises. The fact that cocoa has beneficial antioxidant properties is not new news at all and has been known for several decades. I guess what made this particular research newsworthy is that the individuals in the studies got a health benefit from eating chocolate bars, which are traditionally seen as an unhealthy food.

To be fair the article does point out that there are other negative healthy consequences from eating chocolate and suggests that chocolate could be used in future to help prevent cardiovascular disease if the bars could be made with less sugar and fat - this seems a strange remark given that reasonably low sugar dark chocolate is now readily available (Lindt even does a 90% cocoa bar) and that cocoa powder and cocoa nibs are also readily available for baking and using in cooking, making it totally possible to make low-sugar, low-fat, cocoa rich recipes (see links at the end of this mail).

These attention grabbing headlines on health stories can unfortunately trigger food fads where people then start eating the latest 'superfood' in vast quantities. However, as with all foods, it's important to eat them in moderation and it's worth pointing out that cocoa isn't 100% good for you. Alot of people have cocoa allergies or intolerances causing symptoms such as migraines and acne. In addition they affect neurotransmitters in the brain and as a stimulant can disrupt sleep and up heart rate - I certainly feel this when I've eaten too much cocoa and can go a bit manic!

But if you're going to have a sweet treat or a indulgent pudding, going for a dark cocoa option may be a slightly more beneficial option, and for a healthy cocoa hit try this low-fat chocolate mousse or my favourite low-fat bean brownies

Monday, 29 August 2011

Barbecued bananas

Despite it being pretty nippy I was delighted that we still managed a couple of bbqs over the bank holiday weekend. I love bbqs as an occasion for getting friends together, enjoying good food and eating al fresco, but if you're trying not to eat meat and bread then being presented with a burger or a hot dog is not ideal. It's also not the healthiest of meals, given that most meats prepared for bbqing (burgers, hot dogs, chicken joints) are high in saturated fats.

Not that I'm saying you should have to have your bbq without any meat ... sacrilegious I know! But balancing it out by serving some healthy vegetarian side dishes will do everyone a favour, not just those trying to eat healthily.

Corn on the cobs, jackets potatoes, sweet potato wedges and salads all make great bbq sides. This tasty lemony Ottolenghi rice salad, that I made with half wild, half basmati rice, also went down well with guests at our bbq as a nice alternative to the less healthy potato salad.

Puddings also tend to be sugar/cream laden affairs, but some strawberries and greek yoghurt always make for a luxurious tasting yet healthy pud. I was also delighted with the barbecued banana I was served, as a super sweet and yummy pudding without any of sugar or fat. Just put them on the bbq, with skins on, once you've finished cooking the meat and leave for 10 - 20 minutes whilst you eat your main course, until the skin goes black. Then just slice the skin lengthwise and serve with a spoon OR for a slightly more decadent treat, slit the skin and add a square of plain chocolate to each and allow to melt before serving ... yum!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Rocket fuel

This morning, feeling tired from a hectic week, I needed a kickstart to my day. But rather than having a coffee to gee me up for my morning meetings I instead stopped in at Crrush on the way into work for a Super juice vegetable juice.

Juicing recommended in the Dr Joshi detox I blogged on yesterday, but is beneficial even if you're not on a detox programme. Juices deliver a highly concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and live enzymes, all in an easily digestible liquid. Through this 'nutrient shot' they can help improve energy, skin and hair condition, immunity and help the liver to flush out toxins.

Combining vegetable juices with fruit juices can make them alot more palatable (like the Crrush Green Goddess) but also can make them harder to digest so I stick to pure vegetable juices and use fruit on it's own in smoothies.

To be fair I have served up a few particularly noxious juices, closely resembling pond water and these are possibly the only exception I make to the rule of not eating foods I don't think taste nice. But this has been purely on the basis of needing the nutrient boost that a potent veg juice can provide.

However they don't all taste bad, I regularly enjoy a carrot, lime, spinach and ginger juice and one of my favourites is Kale Lemonade made by juicing kale leaves, a lemon (without the rind) and adding a little agave to sweeten.

Buying fresh juices at a juice bar is sadly an expensive affair and they are rarely organic, so the more economical option is to buy yourself a juicer, and juice at home. Don't worry if you can't be bothered with this first thing in the morning, although juices are best on an empty stomach, just make a juice when you get home and drink it slowly whilst you prepare your dinner.


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A gadget too far?

I do like my kitchen gadgets and anything I can get that makes healthy cooking easy is hard to resist. So I was very interested when I spotted this new plate on the web recently:

It basically demarks on the plate what portion of which type of food you should eat, with one half being vegetables, one quarter carbohydrates and one quarter protein.

This is actually an excellent ratio for your meals to keep the nutrient content up and the calorie content down (although I usually end up eating all three in equal amounts) and I think the idea behind it is a great one, however I won't be purchasing one myself. I think that eating should be a pleasurable experience and that includes presentation - to me there's just something a bit school/prison catering trayesque about this plate that puts me off - and I certainly wouldn't want to use it in the presence of company!

That said, when you're putting your meals together, keep the ratio of macronutrients in mind. Always try and match the volume of protein with the volume of carbs (most people eat too many carbs relative to proteins) and also eat at least as much veggies as carbs. And for you veggies out there remember that pulses, soya products, tofu and nuts and seeds all count in the protein portion.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Back on Track

As per yesterday's blog, even the super healthy can have their diets go a bit astray and I'm no exception. Usually it's either around holidays when it's hard to stick to my usual diet or when I'm tired and stressed and don't have time to cook properly. So when my diet starts to get more naughty than nutritious I turn to Dr Joshi's Holistic Detox
to get me back on track.

I don't usually follow Joshi's regime for a full 21 days, as per the book. But I find a week of his low-sugar, low-toxin diet gets my diet back in balance and my energy and health back on track.

The book itself is definitely worth reading cover to cover if you're looking to kick start a healthy regime, but the essentials are as following. Depending on how healthy your diet is already this list may look a bit daunting, but there are plenty of great, tasty foods that you can eat that don't fall under this list so it's not as difficult to stick to as you may thing.

Dr Joshi fundamentals:
- avoid all red meat
- avoid all sugar
- avoid all dairy (with the exception of natural yoghurt or sheeps/goats yoghurt)
- avoid all wheat
- avoid all caffeine
- avoid all shellfish
- avoid all processed foods (with the exception of gluten or wheat free bread)
- avoid foods containing yeast and vinegar including Marmite, soya sauce and salad vinaigrette as well as peanuts and pistachios which can encourage yeast overgrowth
- eat plenty of vegetables and have vegetable juices (but avoid all deadly nightshade vegetables)
- avoid all fruit other than ripe bananas (inline with my blog on fruit fermentation last week)
- drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated herbal teas (green tea is also allowed)
- eating slowly and chewing each mouthful at least 8 times
- eat smaller main meals and have snacks inbetween to maintain energy

Monday, 22 August 2011

Only human

Celebrity magazines regularly publish impossible sounding diets that hollywood starlets are following to keep there size zero figures. These diets are ridiculously low in calories and totally impossible to follow if you have a normal life, or hold down a job and are sometimes outright unhealthy. Unfortunately I think this leads to alot of dieters feeling disappointed and annoyed at themselves for not being to stick religiously to these impossible regimes.

The truth is that we are all only human, including A list stars, and need to be more forgiving if we have the occasional slip up or splurge when we're trying to be healthy. So it's comforting to hear when a celebrity openly admits their food slip ups, as did Alicia Silverstone on her blog. Alicia is infact particularly brave to admit this, given she's authored a diet book called the Kind Diet which is a wonderful book on the health benefits of the vegan diet and includes a chapter on avoiding sucrose and other refined white sugars! It shows us that even the most virtuous of eaters can have their slip-ups, and it's not the end of the world.

Like me, Alicia's weakness is sugar, and she finds that when she allows herself to have some she then can't stop eating it. I have an all or nothing relationship with sugar too, which is why I basically try and avoid it as much as possible. Infact, as I've blogged before, sugar has been found in studies to be addictive and have drug like qualities, so this isn't actually that surprising. Personally I suspect that most people have a sugar addiction, but don't realise it. Even if you're not the kind of person who eats a whole packet of biscuits in one go it's worth remembering that sugar is infact added to most processed ore pre-prepared foods, including savoury ones, so in all likelihood you're eating some at almost every meal and if you actually tried to cut it out entirely you may find it pretty challenging.

For me, the best approach is to avoid it altogether and instead have fruit or agave sweetened treats when I fancy something sweet, like the crumble recipe I blogged about yesterday. The Kind Diet book has plenty of great non-sugar dessert recipes and there are also a few recipes for sweet treats posted on her website www.kindlife.com

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Easy entertaining

I love hosting and entertaining at home, although I find the cooking part a bit stressful. Partly because I'm not a great cook, and partly because I want to serve food I know my friends will enjoy and I appreciate not all of like as simple food!!

So the challenge is always to find food that is tasty, healthy, contains no dairy, sugar or gluten and, above all, is appealing to my friends. Last Friday I served up this three course dinner that was super easy to make, very healthy, and went down a treat.

Starter: Avocado and mint salad
Cut a ripe avocado in half, scoop out each section whole with a spoon and slice into thin slices. Arrange half an avocados worth of slices fanned out on a small plate.
Pour over one tbsp of vinegraitte dressing onto each avocado half - either home made or be lazy like me and use Newman's own Italian dressing. Squeeze over 1tsp of fresh lime juice.
Sprinkle over some chopped mint leaves and garnish with a slice of lime.
NB prepare this just before serving so the avocado doesn't go brown

Main: Pesto salmon with garlic sweet potatoes
The salmon recipe is adapted from this great Delia Smith recipe. Very easy and tasty, but I leave out the cheese, use 3 tbsps Meridian dairy free pesto mixed with 2 tbsp breadcrumbs, made from Warburtons gluten free bread. Even if you're not dairy free, making this version makes the recipe alot healthier.

I love sweet potatoes and I love garlic so the Kind diet recipe for cuban sweet potatoes is one of my fave ways to serve them - however I don't like the garlic raw so I add it before I cook the potatoes. If you don't like garlic at all just roast them with salt and pepper.

I served this with a side of steamed fine green beans, but some wilted spinach or baby leaf salad would work equally well.

Dessert Individual raspberry crumbles
Share out 170g pack of rinsed fresh raspberries (I used M&S as they're reliably sweet) between two ramekins.
Pour 1 tsp agave syrup over each, and then sprinkle with a little cinnamon.
In a bowl mix 1/2 a cup of ground almonds with a small pinch of salt.
Separately combine 20ml grapeseed oil with 15ml agave syrup and then pour over the ground almonds. Mix together til it forms a crumble mix. If you prefer more topping just make up double.
Share the crumble mix out between the two ramekins, push down slightly and cook in a preheated oven at 180C for 25 minutes until the top is garden. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Pleasure pots

I'm a sensitive soul ... Well at least when it comes to food ;-) and so not the ideal dinner party guest. I'm intolerant/allergic to gluten but also most grains, apart from rice, dairy, oranges, chillies and anything from the mustard or onion family if it isn't cooked!

Out of all of these one of the foods I miss most is cheese (hence my cheese binge in France earlier this summer), but it's not something I ever ate everyday. In that sense it's natural yoghurt that I miss the most, partly for it's wonderful bitter sweet taste and partly because it makes a very convenient and healthy snack. This is because it's low in fat and has a ratio of protein to carbs of almost one to one making it more filling and less calorific than most snacks.

Fortunately you can now get some pretty good natural soya yoghurts now with a similar composition (they used to be laden with sugar). Sojade has the cleanest ingredients list and is almost 2:1 protein to carbs, whilst Provamol natural is the best tasting with a 3:2 ratio. Unfortunately my super sensitive digestive system can't handle too much soya so I still can't eat it regularly.

Still in Holland and Barrett this morning I found a soya free alternative called 'wot no dairy' made with pea protein. It's no yoghurt substitute and has some added sugar so just over 3:1 carbs to protein, but it's still surprisingly tasty and made a nice snack with some chopped banana.

For those with a sweet tooth who don't like their yoghurt plain, they can easily be sweetened up with a teaspoon of St dalfour jam, made only with fruit - giving you a whole range of fruit flavour options without all the sugar,

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Snack in the city

If you have a long day at work, like most city folk, you're likely to have long gaps between your breakfast, lunch and dinner. Combine that with a high stress/fast paced schedule and you're likely to experience some blood sugar lows in between that have you heading to the vending machine.

My observations are that a lot of city folk actually make pretty healthy meal choices but then succumb to salt, sugar and saturated fat laden snacks, such as crisps, chocolate and cakes when they get peckish in between meals.

But there are plenty of very healthy snack foods available in the city and if it's hard to get off the desk during the day just pick a couple up on your way into work so you've no excuse.

Here are my favourite, healthy snacks that you can easily buy in the city, but there's nothing to stop you bringing these in from home:

Edamame beans - a vegetable, a pulse and a source of protein - possibly the most virtuous of snacks. Available in small pots in most sushi places including Itsu and Moshi Moshi.

Fruit - available pretty much everywhere in handy snack sizes! If a piece of fruit doesn't fill you up on it's own have it with a few raw unsalted nuts to keep you going til lunchtime.

Fruit smoothies or vegetable juices - easy to digest and packed with nutrients. Crrush, Pod, and Leon all sell them freshly made and M+S and Pret berry smoothies are also good.

Toasted nut, seed or bean mixes - If you fancy something salty/crunchy avoid the crisps and get some soya toasted seeds or beans - The Food Doctor have brought out a new range available in supermarkets, M+S also do salted soya beans, but they're a bit too salty for my tastes.

Hummous - a good mix of protein and carbs so will keep you fuller for longer, dip in raw carrot, mangetout, babycorn, rice cakes, gluten free crackers or oatcakes. M+S and Pod do handy pre-prepared hummous pots with crudites.

Natural yoghurt or goats/sheeps or sojade soya yoghurt. Stir in a seed, nut and dried fruit mix as available in most supermarkets or a chopped banana. Pod also does healthy yoghurt, fruit, quinoa pots all ready for you to eat.

If it's more boredom than full on hunger that's making you want to snack have a herbal tea, or for something a bit more filling/comforting a rooibos tea with soya milk or decaf soya latte.

If you need something a bit more substantial, a lot of places now do mini portions of their full size meals:
- mini sushi packs (Itsu, Pret, M+S)
- mini salads (Pod, M+S - especially like their rice and aubergine salad or three bean salad)
- mini hot meals - Pod do minis of all their mains

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Fruity fermentation

During my Italian singing exercises (yes NITC is attempting to learn to sing!) my wonderful teacher Karen, from city music services, suggested that I'd like fruit salad as a pudding. Rather than agreeing and carrying on with the exercises I couldn't help but point out that at the end of a meal is exactly when you shouldn't be eating fruit.

Fruit digests very quickly when eaten alone, however if you eat it at the end of a meal it won't be able to be broken down quickly as it will be stuck above the slower digesting proteins, fats and other carbohydrates from your meal. If it remains partially digested for too long, fruit can then start fermenting creating gas. This can lead to bloating, wind, irritable bowel symptoms as well as incomplete digestion of your meal and also overtime aggravate the gut.

Fruit is best eaten on an empty stomach and is a great way to break the overnight fast - have a piece before you leave the house in the morning to get your metabolism going and then eat your breakfast when you get to work or have some fruit 3 to 4 hours after your lunch as a mid afternoon snack rather than eating it immediately after your lunch.

If you fancy a fruit dessert after supper stick to berries, which ferment less than other fruit (as do ripe bananas), or have your fruit cooked which partially breaks it down, dramatically reducing the fermentation. Fruit tarts and crumbles fit the bill, although can be sugar and fat laden. Baked apples and poached pears make a healthy alternative, and as usual Elena's Pantry has some great healthy recipes:


Sunday, 14 August 2011

The age of austerity

With the economy in the doldrums it's not just the government who are tightening their belts and watching their budgets, city folk are no longer splashing out on flashy cars and thousand pound meals and opportunistic rioters have been clearing the shelves of any shops they can get into, even Holland & Barrett was raided!

If times are tough it is important to save money and make sure you have a comfortable cushion incase your circumstance change. However saving money really isn't any fun, and in the same way as I apply the 80/20 rule to my diet I like to apply it to my finances - being pretty careful with my money most of the time but allowing occasional splurges!!

The key is to budget and give yourself a designated amount of money you can spend on frivolous treats each month. This way you don't feel too deprived and can enjoy an occasional indulgence without worrying about your finances. It doesn't need to be a big amount - I'm not so sure on how boys like to treat themselves (although I do know quite a few secret male shopoholics) but girls are easily pleased with some new makeup, new accessories or a beauty treatment.

I also think it's important not to economize too much when it comes to our health - eating healthily can be more expensive than eating cheaply as can taking care of yourself - gym memberships, supplements and alternative therapies all add up. That's why I think it's important to also designate a small sum each month that you will put towards investing in your health ... be it buying a juicer or smoothie maker, going for a massage as per my blog last Friday, having some accupuncture, booking a personal training session or seeing a nutritional therapist. Even if you can't afford to do all of these every month (pretty much the reserve of the hedge fund house wife) just doing one of these each month will keep you on the straight and narrow and be an investment in your long-term health.

The easiest healthiest ice cream recipe ever

I'm always looking out for healthy treat recipes, so you can feel like you're indulging without actually eating into your 20% treat allowance. One such recipe was brought to my attention by Ms Haribo as a wonderful alternative to ice cream.

Being dairy free means ice cream is off the menu entirely for me (my digestive system really doesn't like it) so I occasionally treat myself to Booja Booja dairy free ice cream as a treat. However this recipe, made purely with frozen bananas, is totally delicious and sin free so is my new ice cream replacement. It would also make a great healthy summer dessert for kids.

Peel a couple of bananas, cut into small pieces and freeze for 1-2 hours on a plate (separated from each other). Take them out the freezer and with a hand or jug blender blend them until they turn into ice cream texture. If it gets a big mushy while you blend, just pop back in the freezer for another 10 minutes.

I got the recipe from this site, where readers have added their own suggestions for tasty additions such as adding some maple syrup and chopped pecans. Infact the plain banana ice cream tastes pretty sweet so doesn't really need any extra sweetener, however I added some chopped hazelnuts for added crunch.


If you've got a vitamix you may want to try this delicious sounding banana and coconut ice cream recipe from Elena's Pantry:


What's on your mind?

The aim of NITC is to help city folk and other readers improve their diet, health and overall well-being. So to keep it relevant I'm always keen to receive any questions to address in the blog. If you're struggling to give up caffeine, need some menu inspiration, are confused about which foods are healthy or which aren't, want some tips on stopping head-aches or any other health or nutrition related questions just reply to the blog email or email me at emilie@nutritioninthecity.com and I'll do my best to answer them.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Magical massage

Last night I treated myself to a massage with the wonderful Asra at Beauty First. If I could afford to I'd have a massage with her every week, but not just as an indulgent treat. Massage is extremely good for you from a health perspective.

Firstly it helps mobilise your lymph fluid, which drains toxins and dead cells from your body. The lymph system has no pump, in the way that the heart pumps blood around the body, so it relies on muscle contractions to clear it. However manual massage can do the same work and be extremely effective in clearing toxins. This is why you can feel rather groggy after a massage, particularly the next day, and that's a good sign you need to detox. If you have regular massage this should lessen with time and in the meantime schedule your massage for a weekend so you can have a good sleep without having to get up early for work.

Secondly a deep massage, of the kind that Asra does, can help manually break down fat cells, in the same way that endermology works. So if you're dieting then massage is a great complimentary therapy to use with your diet and exercise programme.

Finally it's worth emphasising the importance of human touch - babies often fail to thrive if they don't have any human physical contact, and human touch can be a very powerful emotional therapy in terms of calming the nervous system. This is why a hug can be so therapeutic and why it's great if you can enrol your partner or friend to give you a quick shoulder massage when you're tired or tense.

To make the most of your massage clear your diary afterwards and go home and relax, preferably lying down. If you're hungry eat fruit or vegetable soup or have a detoxifying vegetable juice. Make sure you also drink plenty of water.

Asra's massages are pretty deep, though not as intense as a sports massage, so you're unlikely to fall asleep during them, but you'll walk away feeling totally relaxed and confident that any toxin or fat cell that could have been dislodged will have been!

She periodically threatens to retire, god forbid, but in the meantime she's available for massage (£65 for 60mins) or fabulous facials from £55 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Beauty First in Fitness First gym, 15 Thomas More Square, E1W 1YW (5mins walk from Tower Hill). Tel 02074811016

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

How big is your lunchbox?

... not that lunchbox ... NITC isn't that inappropriate ;-)

Something I totally forgot to include in my gadget blog earlier this week was my collection of plastic Lock & Lock
boxes. I use these for storing food at home, but mainly for taking my lunch, breakfast and snacks to work whenever I've had time to prepare them at home.

I've blogged before on the British 'clean plate' culture and am always encouraging clients to learn to leave food on the plate, but when that proves to difficult the alternative approach is to serve yourself on smaller plates. The plate then looks full and you can enjoy the pleasure of finishing everything on it, without eating an olympic swimmer size portion. In the same way, if you're eating out of a big tupperware pot at lunchtime and finishing everything in it, you may be eating more than you really need.

I used to take in a 1 litre lunchbox to work but since acquiring my new 870ml lunchbox I find that the contents satisfies me perfectly and I'm consequently eating a smaller lunch. It's also small enough to fit in a handbag, although I only do that with my lock & lock which I know is 100% leak free
- you do not want salad vinegraitte leaking into your handbag .. believe me!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A good day for a night in

I had a light-hearted blog planned to write today on tupperware, but it just doesn't seem appropriate given the civil violence kicking off in central London at the moment.

I'm sure any non-city readers will have seen the news on this and I hope all London based readers have not been affected.

The city was noticeably quiet this morning with alot of buses not running from affected areas. I actually love London but there are some clear downsides from living in such a large capital city including being a target for terrorist threats and that, due to the extremes of wealth/poverty in the city, civil unrest is more likely.

Numerous businesses will be closing early today and tomorrow including some gyms keeping a lot of city folk from their evening gym session. Personally I think an enforced curfew would be a good way to get the situation under control, but even if that doesn't happen it's probably a good idea to head straight home for a quiet night in.

I usually try and have one night in every week just to chill out, watch a dvd and have some sofa time. But having a night in doesn't have to mean turning into a couch potato, there are plenty of healthwise ways to spend an evening in:

Do a yoga dvd - personally I much prefer doing yoga in the peace and quiet of my home than in a gym class and there are plenty of good dvds out there as well as loads of downloadable lessons online. I like the Yoga Zone dvds in particular.

Do a fitness dvd - anyone who thinks you can't do a decent cardio workout in your living room should try out a Tae-Bo Advanced dvd or the Tracy Anderson Dance Cardio Workout
- you'll have a sweat on in no time!

Learn to cook - I love cooking but have so little time at home that I rarely get to cook 'properly' let alone try out any new recipes. When I do have some spare time I love to paw over my cookery books and try new dishes which is what I'll be doing tonight. They don't all turn out so well, but due to popular demand I'm going be adding a recipe page to my website to pull together all my tasty tried and tasted healthy dishes together in one place, so watch this space for some fool proof recipes.

Do some chores - ok so housework is tedious, unless you are a bit OCD and enjoy it, but it's a pretty physical endeavour and it can be very cathartic. Put on some tunes and turn your hoovering and scrubbing into a cardio workout.

Re-connect - even if your friends are spread out all over the world, through the powers of facebook, skype, mobile and email, there is no excuse not to stay in touch with friends and family. Our relationships are very important to our mental health and mood and it is important to invest time into your friendships and relationships. A quiet evening in is a perfect opportunity to catch up with a friend, and if they live nearby invite them round for a cup of tea or spot of dinner. And if anyone you know is affected by the London riots maybe even offer them somewhere to stay, I'm sure they'd appreciate it.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Respecting the cycles

I'm not referring to bicycles or moon cycles but sleep cycles.

As I blogged last week, sleep is very important for your health. It's also easily disrupted and it's not hard to fall into short or light sleeping patterns which can in the long run really affect your health.

Something I read a couple of years ago in a health book was that sleep cycles are usually 1.5 hours and so to get the most restful and restorative sleep you must sleep for a multiple of this eg sleeping for 7.5 or 9 hours is better than sleeping for 8.

Whilst I have often observed that I wake up roughly within this pattern, I don't think it's necessarily a good idea to start setting an alarm clock so I don't sleep for longer than 7.5 hours (9hours sleep is wonderful but something that only happens occasionally)!

Instead I think it's important to respect your bodies natural sleep cycles. This means going to sleep when you feel tired, rather than powering through til late in the evening. It also means that if you wake naturally less than 45 minutes before you have to wake up then it's best to get up rather than going back to sleep.

If you go back to sleep you alarm is likely to wake you half way through a sleep cycle leaving you feeling groggy and tired for much of the morning. Dozing in bed may be appealing but if you get up when you wake you may find you have more energy than if you'd slept another half an hour - more isn't always better!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Practical presents

Following my blog on growing your own fruit and veg Ms Haribo sent me a link to this great site where she'd bought a veg growing kit for a friend http://www.allotinabox.com/grow-your-own/ a great practical present and one that's healthy to boot.

It got me thinking of all the kitchen gadgets that I've been given over the years and particular the ones that I have found useful in cooking healthy food. To be fair I've also acquired alot of fairly useless gadgets in my time too and discarded them with periodic clear outs, but these ones have stayed and been used regularly:

Good chopping knives - until you've tried chopping fruit and veg with a good set of knives you might not realise what a difference it makes to the speed and pleasure in preparing your food - but believe me it does! I got my Sabatier Knife Set
on sale, thank god as they're pretty pricey, but even if you just buy one good sized knife
you'll find yourself using it over and over again.

Egg poacher - thanks for Julia Childs, or rather her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Vol 1
I've actually learnt to poach an egg properly - but it is a bit of a fiddle. However a proper egg poaching pan makes it super easy and is the healthiest (and in my opinion tastiest) way to serve eggs - serve on toast for breakfast or on top of some steamed white fish on a bed of crushed new potatoes for a yummy lunch.

Basic juicer - I love my Philips Juicer
for making all sorts of random veggie juices, but when it comes to the basic requirements of juicing lemons or limes for cooking or making a fresh OJ for breakfast a basic metal juicer is perfect for the job.

Garlic press - a very basic piece of equipment but probably the one I use most in my kitchen. Garlic has many healthy benefits including anti-bacterial and blood thinning properties, and it tastes great to boot. But no one wants to eat a big slice of garlic in one go so use a press to mince it before you add it to your dishes.

Grater - I like this box grater
because you don't end up with bits of grated food all over the place. I like to grate carrot and add to sandwiches for lunch, make up my favourite celariac coleslaw (http://nutritionistinthecity.blogspot.com/2011/06/summertime-slaw.html) and add grated apple to muesli and porridge.

Hand blender - I have a braun blender
that's so old I may have even had it at Uni!! But it's still working and I use it every couple of days - it makes light work of blending fruit smoothies, soups, sauces and I even use it in baking - making a batch of gluten dairy free brownies this weekend (http://nutritionistinthecity.blogspot.com/2010/11/when-its-got-to-be-chocolate.html). If you haven't got one yet, get one that comes with the chopper attachment which makes light work of chopping up onions finely, or other veg for making salsa or garnishes such as peanuts with coriander to top asian stir fries. Best thing is most of it goes in the dishwasher!!

Steamer - I did have an electronic three level steamer before that was meant to do all sorts of fancy things, but it was a nightmare to clean and took up loads of room in my cupboard. So I replaced it for a small metal fan steamer
that fits all my saucepans, does the job just as well and fits in the dishwasher. I use it to steam asparagus, broccoli, pak choi and fine green beans to perfection, preserving much more of the nutrients than boiling or microwaving.

Measuring spoons - over the years I've worked out that the key to executing a recipe properly is to be exact with your measurements. As a consequence I'm reliant on my Salter scales
(which fit nicely out of site in a draw) and my measuring spoons
- as 1/2 a teaspoon of salt can vary significantly depending on which cutlery set you have!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Homegrown goodies

I visited my folks last weekend and as soon as I got to their house made a bee line for the vegetable patch. No I hadn't buried any treasure down the end of the garden ... but there were spoils to be had!

My mum's artfully constructed vegetable patch, which doesn't look anything like your regular alotment, is brimming with home grown goodies - courgettes, beetroot, sweetcorn, beans, plums, apples, pears and more and I was delighted to come back to London with a hoard of courgettes and fruit!

Sadly I haven't inherited my mums green fingers but I do wish I didn't have the most inhospitable windy balcony where only the hardiest of plants survive, as I'd love to grow my own fruit and veg. The great thing about growing your own is that it's cheap, it's fresher than from the supermarket so more nutritious and you know what's been on it (my mum grows organically). Plus it's pretty satisfying and therapeutic to grow and cook your own produce.

Even for us city folk crammed into tiny terraces and flats you don't necessarily need a big garden to enjoy some home grown goodies and it doesn't need to be a lot of work either. My wonderful friend Sylvia is growing tomatoes in pots on her patio and strawberries in hanging baskets (the slugs can't reach them there - genius) with little effort.

Jamie Oliver, the king of all things tasty and easy, recommends starting by growing salad leaves in a tomato bag, or growing the more reliable herbs thyme, rosemary and sage, in a window box.

For some beginners advice and usual JO enthusiasm read the article below.


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Fresh summer supper

Finally we have some sunshine to enjoy here in London and the city folk were out in force this lunchtime soaking up some rays.

I love the heat, probably more than most, but I still find it can get unpleasantly muggy and I look forward to changing out of my suit to some shorts and a vest top when I get home. I also find that hot food doesn't appeal at all and neither does spending any length of time cooking over a hot stove.

What's called for is light tasty cuisine that's quick to prepare. Luckily for me hot Doc has introduced me to the delights of Vietnamese cooking - fresh, very low fat and delicious - I'm totally sold on it, especially when he's doing the cooking!

Here's a great recipe he found for fresh tasting Vietnamese summer rolls with chilli lime dipping sauce - delish!

Taken from:
Give yourself plenty of time (and counter space) to make these. And be sure to have a few extra rice paper wrappers on hand—it may take a few tries before you're rolling like a pro.

What to buy: Look for medium-size shrimp. Rice sticks and rice paper wrappers can be found in most Asian grocery stores. For the wrappers, we like the Red Rose brand.

Game plan: Be sure to have all your ingredients ready and easily accessible when you start to roll. Store the summer rolls in a dish or plastic container that's roomy enough to hold them without their touching. Place a damp paper towel in the bottom of the container to keep the rolls moist. Cover tightly with plastic wrap.

* 12 medium shrimp in their shells
* 2 ounces dried "rice sticks or rice vermicelli"
* 8 (8-1/4-inch) round "rice paper pancakes"
* 1/2 cup mung bean sprouts, rinsed (we left these out)
* 24 small mint leaves (from 1 small bunch)
* 16 basil or Thai basil leaves
* 8 small parslay sprigs
* 1 Thai hot pepper, serrano pepper, or other small hot chile pepper, seeds removed and sliced into matchsticks
* 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-by-1/4-by-2-inch sticks
* 2 large onions, trimmed, halved, and sliced into 3-inch lengths
* 4 lettuce leaves, cut in half


1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add shrimp and cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, or until they are bright orange and just cooked. Drain shrimp in a colander and run under cold water until they are cool. Peel and halve shrimp lengthwise down the center. Cover and refrigerate.

2. Cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

3. Clear a work surface such as a large wooden cutting board for rolling the summer rolls, and prepare a pan that is roomy enough to hold the finished rolls in a single layer. Place all filling ingredients in separate containers and arrange them in the following order around the work surface: rice paper wrappers, shrimp, rice noodles, bean sprouts, mint, basil, parslay, hot pepper, cucumber, scallions, and lettuce.

4. Fill a wide, shallow dish large enough to hold the rice paper wrappers with hot water. Evenly submerge one wrapper for about 30 seconds, or until it is soft and pliable. Remove from the water and place on the work surface.

5. Working quickly, lay 3 shrimp halves in a row, cut side up, just above the center of the wrapper. Layer a scant 1/4 cup of the rice noodles over the shrimp, followed by a few bean sprouts, 3 mint leaves, 2 basil leaves, 1 sprig of cilantro, and 2 pieces of hot pepper. Place 3 to 4 cucumber sticks and 3 to 4 scallion pieces on either side of the noodle pile. Roll one piece of lettuce into a cigar shape and place it on top of the noodle pile.

6. Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding it firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire pile up to close the top. (Don't despair, this takes some practice - the trick is not to overfill the rolls!)

7. Turn each roll so that the rice paper seam faces downward and the row of shrimp faces up. Place in the prepared container.

Nuoc Cham dipping sauce, adapted from

1 tbsp fructose (replacing 2 tbsp brown sugar) 
2 tbsp fish sauce
1/3 cup (80ml) lime juice
1 long red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

For the nuoc cham, stir the sugar, fish sauce and lime juice in a bowl to dissolve the sugar, then stir in chilli and garlic. Set aside until the rolls are ready to serve.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Stocking up

I usually buy and recommend supplements from professional grade supplement companies such as Biocare and Nutri. The reason for this is that these supplements usually contain nutrients at a higher dosage than you'd find in a supplement from Boots, but also use more digestible forms of micronutrients so your body can make better use of them.

However one supplement that I do stock up with from Boots when they have their 3 for 2 supplement offers on (as they do now) is Spatone
iron supplement.

Iron is an important mineral for the production of haemoglobin which carries oxygen around in the blood. If your iron levels are low you're likely to feel tired, apathetic, dizzy and may experience hair loss and pale skin.

The main food source for most individuals is meat so if you follow the traditional British 'meat and two veg' diet you'll likely be getting enough. However if you don't eat meat regularly or suffer from heavy periods then you may run low. Dried fruit, dark green leafy vegetables (such as pop eyes favourite; spinach) and molasses are all good healthy sources of iron, but if you have low stomach acid levels or impaired digestion you may still need a supplement.

Unfortunately traditional Iron supplements can be particularly hard to digest and cause constipation or other digestive discomfort. The reason I like Spatone is that it comes in the form of totally natural highly mineralized water sourced from Snowdonia in Wales, making it easy to take, digest and absorb without the associated digestive problems.

Whatever type of iron supplement you take it's important to take iron supplements with Vitamin C to allow proper absorption. Spatone have infact starting selling a new combined supplement including added Vitamin C however having the regular spatone at the same time as some fresh fruit or freshly squeezed juice works just as well.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Having eaten too many chips during a glorious pub lunch on Sunday I found myself discussing 'weekend weakness' with a good friend of mine. This is the common phenomenon of maintaining healthy habits all week and then fall off the wagon entirely on the weekend!

Now I don't fall off the wagon when it comes to booze which massively limits the damage, but even if you're only eating with abandon you can undo a lot of good work in a weekend.

I'm actually in favour of having split personalities when it comes to healthy eating. It's great to be all virtuous and keep your diet nice and clean, but every now and then it's good to just eat whatever you'd most enjoy, and worrying about the sugar or fat content will dramatically diminish the pleasure you get from this. This is why I recommend clients stick to their healthy eating programmes 80% of the time and then 20% of the time eat whatever they feel like.

The problem of taking a whole weekend off from being healthy is that the percentages shift to 70% healthy, 30% unhealthy and even less if you start with dinner on Friday, or even earlier with the Friday fry up. Before you know it you're having unhealthy foods half the week.

The easiest way to deal with this is through containment - have a clear start and end time for your 'time off'. If it starts with Friday dinner then make sure it ends with Saturday dinner and eat healthily on Sunday. If a Sunday roast is part of your schedule then pick 3 meals over the weekend to have what you want and keep the rest healthy. So perhaps dinner on Friday, brunch on Saturday and Sunday lunch.

Also for your 'time off' to be worthwhile make sure you eat foods you really enjoy and don't give yourself a hard time afterwards. 20% of treats won't do you much harm and research suggests that calorie controlled weight loss diets are infact more effective if they include one treat meal a week where calories aren't restricted.

This is partly due to preventing an adaptive slow down in your metabolism to the restricted intake of calories and partly psychological - if you crave a treat food in the week but tell yourself you can have it on the weekend then your craving will likely disipate, whereas if something is permanently banned from your diet you're likely to crave it more. Either way it's important not to try and entirely suppress your Mr Hyde!