Friday, 4 July 2014

Friday Focus: Lettuce

In honour of my most successful crop this year, this week’s blog will focus on the humble lettuce.
 
 
I am very fortunate to have an allotment and to be able to grow my own vegetables – not always successfully, I must admit, but I am learning all the time J
Before the allotment, I even used to grow “cut-and-come-again” lettuce in big pots in my backyard so I’d have a supply throughout the summer. This year, for a change, I planted little gems and I was rewarded by a plentiful crop. As I am harvesting it, I am re-planting some mixed leaves seeds to carry on getting lettuce for the rest of the summer. If you are new to gardening, lettuce is a very good vegetable to start with: it grows easily, with very little care but you must make sure to keep the slugs away from it!
 


 
Lettuce has a high potassium content, which makes it a mild diuretic, while its chlorophyll helps detoxify the blood and liver. Other nutrients in lettuce include folic acid (important to prevent birth defects) and beta carotene and vitamin C, two antioxidants which help boost the immune system.
Studies have also shown that, thanks to its vitamin K content, older women who eat lettuce every day have half as many hip fractures as those who eat it less than once a week.
The lettuce contains many minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc, which all help generate energy. It also contains a natural sedative that relaxes the nervous system and induces sleep, so a big mixed salad with plenty of lettuce is a perfect choice for your supper.
 
 
This week, I am not sharing a recipe but I am hoping to inspire you with several ideas for delicious and colourful mixed salads. All these are salads I prepared and ate last week, following a huge harvest of my little gems. I hope the warmer weather will entice you to try those combinations… After all, salads do not have to be boring J
(For salad dressing recipes, please follow this link:
 
 
1-      Mixed salad with lettuce, peas, green beans, pancetta cubes and grated parmesan (served with French dressing)
 
 
 
2-      Mixed salad with roasted carrots, walnuts and feta cheese (served with a balsamic vinegar dressing) – this recipe was inspired by the Warm Salad of Roasted Carrots in Harry Eastwood’s A Salad for All Seasons.
 
 
3-      Mixed salad with lettuce, avocado and roasted sweet potato “croutons” (served with a French dressing)
 
 
4-      Mixed salad with lettuce, cucumber and feta cheese (served with a French dressing)
 
 
5-      Chicken Cesar salad with sweet potato “croutons”
 
 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Friday Focus: Eggs


Another one of my “can’t-be-without” ingredients, I call eggs “the ultimate fast food.”
 
 

They are an excellent source of B vitamins, zinc, iron and phospholipids (fats required for cell membrane and a healthy brain.) They are one of the few non-meat sources of vitamin A, which supports vision; vitamin D needed for strong and healthy bones, and B12, which supports many of the body’s processes.

The vitamin E in eggs is a powerful antioxidant, which thins the blood, benefits the heart and fight harmful free radicals. They also contain Omega-3 fats and a B vitamin called choline, which are both required for normal brain function, and lutein, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Eggs are rich in vitamin K, which helps to heal bruises and minor sport injuries by ensuring that blood is able to clot normally, so it could also reduce the risk of blood clots in the arteries. Eggs are also a rich source of selenium, which rejuvenates the immune system and protects the heart.
 
 

Low in saturated fat and high in protein, eggs have been shown to improve brain function. It is thought their high lecithin content enhances memory, improves the ability to concentrate and promotes a healthy emotional state.

Egg yolks are the richest known source of choline, the B vitamin that makes up cell membranes, helping the body to convert fats to acetylcholine, an important memory molecule needed in the brain. They are also a concentrated source of muscle-building amino acids and nutrients. Their high zinc content boosts immunity and is beneficial for liver function as well as tissue repair and healing. It is also vital for the production of collagen, which is needed for healthy, useful skin.

Because eggs contain 8 of the 10 essential amino acids, they benefit everything in our body, from hair to bones and muscles.

Many may worry about the cholesterol content of eggs but research has shown that the cholesterol present in eggs does not circulate in the blood. In fact, of the 5g of fat contained in an egg, most is monounsaturated, which is the type that helps lower the risks of heart disease.
 
 

Basic Egg Omelette


The following recipe isn’t complicated or fancy, but it is one I use every week, several times a week sometimes. Eggs, for me, are the ultimate fast food. There is nothing easier or quicker to prepare than an omelette or scrambled eggs.

This recipe is a base; you can then add a variety of ingredients to “dress-up” your omelette: grated mature cheddar, chopped parsley, chopped spinach, cubes of ham, roasted red pepper, sliced cooked potatoes, cubes of chorizo… Your imagination is the limit! J


Serves 1

Ingredients:

1.5tsp olive oil
2 large eggs
3tbsp milk of choice
1/8 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Method:

Heat the olive oil, in a frying pan, over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper.

Once the pan and oil are hot, pour the eggs in the pan and swirl them around the pan to set the base. Cook for 3 minutes.

(At this point, you may wish to sprinkle your extra ingredients on top of your omelette.)

When the base of the omelette is set, you can either put your omelette under a hot grill for a couple of minutes to set the top, or if you do not have a grill, use a palette knife and run it around the edge of the omelette, lifting it up gently and letting the uncooked egg run to the bottom of the pan. Cook for a further 3 minutes until your omelette is golden and has puffed-up.

Using the palette knife, gently fold the omelette in two and serve immediately with a side of green salad.
 
 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Friday Focus: The Paleo Diet

As a Holistic Nutritionist, I believe in encouraging people to follow a balanced diet, with no ready-made meals but instead, food cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients. I use an “all the time – sometime – rarely” scale of food, as I believe no food should be forbidden.

The “all the time” foods should be making up the majority of your nutrition, whilst the “rarely” foods are just a treat, such as baked goods.

However, someone may choose or may need to eliminate a certain food group from their diet, whether for medical or ethical reasons.

One of those diets, which has been gathering momentum lately, is the Paleo Diet. Favoured by strength trainers, but also by people suffering from autoimmune deficiency diseases, what is the Paleo Diet and could it benefit you?
 
 

 
What is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet is a dietary lifestyle that encourages its followers to eat what our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten before the advent of agriculture: wholesome, nutritious foods as close to their natural state as possible.

The arrival and development of agriculture signalled a major shift in how people fed themselves, going from meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts to a grain-based diet.

The proponents of the Paleo Diet state that our bodies have not had enough time, in evolutionary terms,  to adapt to this mainly grain-based diet and that this is causing many of the nutritional problems we see in our society today such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, amongst other things.
 
 

Why is the Paleo Diet good for you?

The nutritional benefits of a Paleo diet are: higher protein and fibre intake, a complete elimination of processed and fast food as well as refined sugar, foods free from artificial additives, preservatives and chemical ingredients.

The Paleo Diet is said to reduce weight gain, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and gastro-intestinal diseases. It is also said to increase energy and lower cholesterol levels.

What can I eat and what is not allowed on the Paleo Diet?

The foundation foods of the Paleo Diet are: lean meats (from grass-fed animals), fish and seafood, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, eggs and heart-healthy oils, such as olive oil and coconut oil.

The foods that are not allowed on the Paleo Diet are: grains of any kind (wheat, oat, rice, etc.), legumes (including peanuts), beans, dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, refined vegetable oils, processed foods.
 
 


What do I personally think about the Paleo Diet?

About a year ago, a few friends (from a health and wellness forum I am part of) and I decided to go Paleo for a full month to see how our bodies would react to it and whether it would suit us. I have actually found the blog I typed after completing my Paleo month and here are a few of the things I had to say about living Paleo for a month:

 

The cons of the Paleo Diet:

-          It is quite a restrictive diet: no matter which way you twist it, you lose variety by eliminating beans, grains and pulses.

-          It is meat/fish heavy: despite the fact that every Paleo website will say that the emphasis should be on plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits (which I do completely agree with), vegetables will only keep you full for a short amount of time. If you want to feel satiated, and you cannot use pulses, grains and legumes, then you have to rely quite heavily on meat or fish.

-          It is expensive: Paleo emphasises the use of pasture-raised meat or wild-caught fish. I applaud the theory of it: high-quality food raised and caught/slaughtered in more humane conditions. Great! But, this is not easy to find, depending on where you live. There may not be many farmers markets around. Plus, meat and especially fish (fresh fish is almost a luxury nowadays!) are very expensive, even frozen stuff. A tin of chickpeas is not so expensive.

 

HOWEVER

The pros of the Paleo Diet:

-          I lost weight

-          I got rid of digestive issues, such as bloating and heartburn

-          It did not affect my energy levels, which I thought might happen from losing grains, which are my biggest source of carbohydrates. I do a lot of heavy weight-lifting and my body seems to be very good at converting the healthy fats I eat into energy.
- I love the fact that it totally eliminates processed foods.

I am not telling you whether or not you should adopt the Paleo diet, but I believe in finding out what works best for you so I am trying to give you as much information as I can to help you make an informed decision. Personally, I do not follow the Paleo diet all the time, but I will revert to it if I feel I have overindulged a little. So if you fancy giving it a go here are a few of the meals I ate during this Paleo week.

 

Breakfast:


Smoothies:
 
 
 
For smoothie recipe, follow this link:


Scrambled eggs:
 
 

Snack:


Avocados (with French dressing):
 
 

Apple and Almond Butter:
 
 
For the almond butter recipe, follow this link:

 

Main meal:


Turkey meatballs (with salad – not photographed):
 
 
For Turkey Meatballs recipe, please follow this link:
(to make this recipe Paleo friendly, replace the bread crumbs with 3tbsp ground almonds)

Thai-flavoured Salad with Tuna:
 
 
Ingredients (serves 1)
1 medium carrot, cut in thin strips
1/2 medium courgette, cut in thin strips
1 red pepper, cut in small cubes
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced finely
1/2 red chilli, minced finely
1tsp fresh ginger, grated
Juice of 1 lime
1.5tsp mirin (sweet rice wine)
1tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/2tsp fish sauce
1/4tsp black pepper

Method:
Slice the carrot, courgette, red pepper and spring onions thinly (for the carrot and courgette, you can use a mandoline) and put them in a mixing bowl.
In a separate small bowl, mix together the garlic, red chilli, ginger, lime juice, mirin, sesame oil, fish sauce and black pepper. Mix thoroughly. If you can, let the dressing rest for 5-10 minutes to let the flavours mingle.
Pour the dressing over the vegetables, mix gently and enjoy!
(I served my salad with some tuna chunks, which I topped with a little more dressing.)
 

Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup:
 
 
For the soup recipe, please follow this link:


Tahini-dressed Green Beans and Courgette Salad:
 
 
 

Fish and Chips (grilled salmon, sweet potato wedges and rocket):
 
 

 

Dessert:


Balsamic strawberries:
 
 
For the recipe, please follow this link:
https://www.facebook.com/sandrasholistic?ref_type=bookmark#!/sandrasholistic/photos/a.417640155037893.1073741828.390964457705463/488917474576827/?type=1&theater

 
Lemon and Blueberry Squares:


 

Lemon and Blueberry Squares


Ingredients:

4 medium eggs
80ml coconut milk
60ml honey
2tsp vanilla extract
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
45g coconut flour
40g ground almond
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
125g fresh blueberries


Method:

Preheat your oven at 170C/150C fan. Lightly grease the sides of a square tin with coconut oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: coconut flour (you may need to sift it first), the ground almond, the bicarbonate of soda, the baking powder and salt.

In a separate larger bowl, using a hand or electric whisk, whisk together the wet ingredients (eggs, coconut milk, honey, vanilla extract, lemon zest and juice), trying to incorporate as much air in as possible.

Using a spatula, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients (the mixture will look very liquid at first but coconut flour is very absorbent, so after a few seconds of mixing, the batter will thicken.)

Still using the spatula, gently fold the blueberries in the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in its tin for 10 minutes before turning out on a cooling rack. Ensure the cake is completely cold before slicing into squares, otherwise it will crumble.
 
If you would like to find out more about the Paleo Diet, please leave your question in the comments or get in touch through Facebook or Twitter :)

Friday, 13 June 2014

Friday Focus: Chickpea

Another one of my “can’t-be-without” ingredients, one or two tins of chickpeas always end up in my trolley when I do my weekly food shopping.
They are wonderful to bulk up a salad or can satisfyingly take the place of meat in a vegetarian curry.
 

Packed with health-enhancing nutrients chickpeas are a good source of isoflavones – plant chemicals that are converted into a substance that mimics oestrogen. They can therefore help to prevent hormone-related conditions including PMS and breast cancer.
Chickpeas have antiseptic properties and are a diuretic, making them useful to combat cystitis. They also aid the absorption of nutrients and are good for digestive health. They support the functions of nerves and muscles in the body as well as stabilise blood sugar.
 
 
Chickpeas are loaded with protein, which is vital for the healthy repair of cells. They also contain protease inhibitors, which stop the DNA-destroying action of cancer cells.
They are rich in antioxidant vitamin E, which promotes the ability of white blood cells to fight infection, protects the heart and promotes healthy skin and hair.
They contain zinc, which enhances immunity, and plenty of iron, a mineral that women in particular, tend to be deficient in until after the menopause.
It is thought that chickpeas also help the body deal with preservatives, found in some fast foods, that can cause headaches.
Tinned chickpeas (tinned without added sugar or salt) are just as nutritious as dried.
 

 

Hummus:

It couldn’t be easier to make your own hummus: throw all your ingredients in a food processor and blend; blending for a shorter time will give you a hummus with plenty of texture.
I normally find tahini (sesame seeds paste) at my local health food store.
Ingredients:
 
1 tin chickpeas, drained
 
80ml tahini
 
60ml fresh lemon juice (juice from 1 big lemon)
 
½ tsp ground cumin
 
3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
 
2tbsp olive oil
 
 
 
 
Method:
 
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until the right consistency is reached (you may need to add a little water.)
 
You can add roasted pepper to your hummus, finely chopped chilli or a pinch of chilli flakes, smoked paprika, toasted pine nuts… The possibilities are endless!
 
 
This was my lunch today: veggie burgers served with sliced red pepper and home-made hummus.