Seasonal superfoods

If you’re reading this in the UK, you might have spotted a new title on the shelves of your local supermarket or newsagent lately – Superfood, a magazine dedicated to eating well using ingredients that are naturally nutritious.

We hear a lot about superfoods, and sometimes information on the topic can be confusing or contradictory. Even the term itself is much debated and hard to define, so I really hope that this magazine helps clear things up!

The first issue is a Christmas special, so I thought I’d share five wintery fruits and veggies that I’ll definitely be incorporating into my seasonal celebrations.

  1. Cranberries. A rich source of vitamin C and greatly valued for their anti-inflammatory properties, cranberries were even used by Native Americans to treat arrow wounds!
  2. Sprouts. I LOVE sprouts, and have done since I was a baby. Maybe it’s because they’re low in carbohydrates and a 20g serving contains more vitamin C than an orange?
  3. Sweet potatoes. One of the most versatile superfoods around, sweet potatoes are also one of the best sources of vitamin A. Plus, they’re linked to cancer prevention and the maintenance of good eyesight.
  4. Beetroot. Research suggests beetroot can help lower blood pressure, boost performance when exercising and prevent dementia. Even better, it’s a hangover cure! The beta cyanin that gives beetroot its colour is an antioxidant which helps your liver flush alcohol out of your body.
  5. Onions. Do not underestimate the humble onion! It provides many vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, beta carotene and folate, but almost no fat – no wonder we use it in everything!

Thanks to Superfood magazine for the facts. If you’re keen to incorporate more of these natural goodies into your Christmas feast, check out the first issue which has plenty of recipes to inspire you – from a traditional cranberry sauce to a colourful winter slaw. 

  

Vegan peanut butter muffins

I’ve tried out a LOT of different vegan bakes in my time, and I have to say that they can often be disappointing. It’s easy to find delicious sounding recipes online, but sadly the end result doesn’t usually taste as good as it looks in the pictures. Which is why I wanted to share these yummy peanut butter and honey muffins from Nutritionist In The Kitch – a rare exception to the rule!

They’re super easy to make, don’t require any exotic (and therefore extremely hard to track down) ingredients, and they certainly won’t disappoint! The texture is somewhere between a cupcake and a muffin… I like to call it a ‘cuffin’…

So, start by heating the oven to 180, then whisk together a cup of flour (preferably whole wheat), a teaspoon and a half of baking soda and a pinch of salt. Next, add three tablespoons of peanut butter and two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and mix everything together until crumbs form. You should probably use a fork, but I used my hands because it’s more fun!

To this, add 3/4 of a cup of almond milk and three tablespoons of honey. You’re supposed to have little clumps of PB in there, but make sure they’re not too big as you don’t want mouthfuls of powdery flour left in the mix. Spoon into paper cases and bake for about 15 mins.

When you’re serving them (or just eating them yourself!), drizzle some honey over the top. I also added some chopped Brazil nuts, because I think the crunch brings out the PB flavour in the muffins.

Here’s the original recipe – hope you agree that it’s one worth making!

Health hacks: the holiday edition


When I’m on holiday there’s no way I’m going to deny myself something I fancy, like a giant pistachio ice cream or a buttery pastry… yum! But equally I don’t want to come back from my break feeling worse than before, so here are my top five tips for staying (moderately) healthy on your hols.

1. Get off to a good start

I know how tricky it is to resist the temptations of a breakfast buffet, but think of it this way – choosing a healthy start to the day will mean one extra treat later on! Admittedly I’ve frequently caved in and gone for a full (veggie) English myself, but I usually end up feeling pretty terrible (as in ill, not guilty) afterwards, and no one needs that with a full day of sightseeing planned! Greek yoghurt and fruit (preferably fresh berries) is a good option.

2. Use your pins

Can’t work out the local transport system? Who cares! Walking is not only the best way to explore somewhere new, it’s also a great way to burn fat – more so than running, in fact. So make sure you pack a comfy pair of shoes and get your hands on a map as soon as you arrive.

3. Don’t forget the H2O

Always carry a bottle of water with you. It’s easy to get dehydrated while you’re on holiday, especially if you’re like me and you decide to just go for a quick wander to get your bearings and don’t come back for five hours… Carrying a bottle with you will mean you won’t have to halt your adventure mid way to hunt for the nearest corner shop or supermarket.

4. Avoid the crowds

A packed gym is never ideal, and it’s particularly hard to avoid on holiday as hotel facilities are often rather ’boutique’ (i.e. tiny). If you can, steer clear of the morning rush and try going at a quieter time of day. Early evening is usually pretty good – when most other guests are having their pre-dinner nap! (Although I do also love a pre-dinner nap.)

5. Travel with Yoogaia 

Pack your tablet and you can take hundreds of different guided yoga classes on holiday with you. Even if you can’t join a live session because of the time zone you’re in, you can choose from the many recordings available on the site. All you need is an internet connection!

Now if all of this has got you in the holiday mood, enter the #travelwithyoogaia competition for the chance to win a weekend break in a Nordic city – just like the one I’m enjoying now*. All you need to do is start your free seven day trial, take a photo of your practice and upload it to Instagram along with the competition hashtag. Good luck!

*This was an all expenses paid trip to Helsinki courtesy of the lovely people at Yoogaia.

Butternut squash tagine

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any recipes (I’m finding it true that Londoners don’t cook all that much – there’s no time!), but last week I made a butternut squash tagine that I thought delicious enough to be worthy of sharing. This was first made for me by my lovely friend Charlotte, who I think got it from a Jamie Oliver recipe book. I imagine Jamie’s original is fancier, but the way I like to make it is nice and simple.

1. De-seed a medium sized butternut squash, chop into chunks (I leave the skin on because of all the GOODNESS) and roast in the oven for about 30 mins.

2. While the squash is roasting, dice two onions and soften in some olive oil in a large saucepan over a low heat.

3. Add raisins and cinnamon to the onions. Really helpfully, I don’t measure amounts of either… I just bear in mind that this recipe makes four portions, and I keep tasting as I go along and adding more cinnamon if I think it needs it.

4. Next, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a tin of chickpeas, including the water. Cover and leave to reduce on a medium/low heat.

5. When your squash is done, chuck that into the pot too, mix well and leave for a little longer so that it soaks up some of the cinnamon flavour.

6. Serve with couscous and a dollop of Greek yoghurt on the top. Delish!

Veganuary – the verdict!

For me the first of February brought eggs, white chocolate and Nutella – all the things I’d been craving through Veganuary. Now that it’s over I wanted to reflect on what I’ve learned over the past month. And I decided to do it in Q & A format, because why the hell not interview yourself…

Was it difficult?

Absolutely not, and hell yes! Cooking for myself at home was dead easy. Being a vegetarian already it didn’t make that big of a difference – I already usually choose coconut or soy milk over dairy so the only thing I properly had to cut out was eggs. Eating out was a lot harder, and frustrating because I couldn’t have my usual favourites, but it wasn’t impossible. Places that I’d recommend in Cardiff include Wagamamas, Wahaca and Cosy Club. It also helped me discover the delights of Riverside Market‘s vegan stalls including Mr Nice Pie, Naturally Kind Food and (my favourite) The Parsnipship.

Did you ever cheat?

Once, sort of accidentally, to my knowledge. It was at the airport and I’d asked for no mayonnaise on my burger but the kitchen hadn’t got the message. I ate it anyway because I was starving and if I didn’t eat then I’d have had to wait another three hours…

Did you feel like you were lacking energy?

Yes, but that was nothing to do with the veganism! January was absolutely mental in work, so it was actually a pretty good test of my energy levels. I felt tired but I think that would have been the case anyway – my meals definitely kept me fuelled.

Did you lose weight?

Yes, I lost three pounds as well as a centimetre off my waist and hips and two off my thighs. It’s not a lot, but I’m happy with that – I think it proves that following a vegan diet doesn’t make you deficient in anything, and I wouldn’t want my baby muscles to waste away! It helped me get back to my pre-Christmas weight, though, which is great. I think this is mainly down to the fact that vegan snacking is difficult – most cake and biscuits are off the menu. I did give the dark chocolate a good go though (Hotel Chocolat’s Gianduja Bombe‘s are the one) and my lovely colleagues made sure I was supplied with ‘accidentally vegan’ Oreos.

Has it changed the way you’ll eat?

I’ve decided not to stay vegan, because I think these days it is possible to get dairy and eggs from suppliers that you trust. As a bonus, buying direct is often cheaper too. Nantgwared Farm, another Riverside Market gem, does six large eggs for £1.50 whereas you’d normally pay around £2 in the supermarket – and you’re buying from the farmer that looks after the chickens so you know that they really are free range.

However, it will make me a lot more careful about processed products with egg or dairy in them. Most brands of eggs or milk are now labelled as organic or free range (if they qualify) but where the egg/dairy is just an ingredient the producer can be sneakier about it and can get away with a lower quality. So that’s something I’ll avoid in the future.

Have you bored the pants off everyone you know in the past month?

No doubt about it. Massive apologies to everyone I know, especially anyone who’s been out for food with me in January, and huge thanks to Cookie for enduring it with me!

Vegan pizza

2015/01/img_0163.jpgI kid you not, this vegan pizza is so delicious that you won’t even notice the cheese is missing.

Start by lightly toasting some pine nuts before setting them aside. Next, chop up half a yellow bell pepper, half a red onion and a few mushrooms and fry them in some coconut oil. (This recipe uses a tortilla as the base and that takes just minutes in the oven so we need to cook our veggies beforehand.)

Spread two tablespoons of tomato purée on a soft tortilla wrap, leaving just a small border around the edge. Once the veggies are done, layer these on top. Add 5/6 halved black olives, a generous sprinkling of sweetcorn and top with the pine nuts, which give it a satisfying crunch.

Put your pizza straight onto the oven shelf and cook for 5 -10 minutes, depending on how crispy you want the edges. Et voila!

This genuinely tastes like pizza, but better because it’s a super virtuous, clean and wholesome version. Veganism = easy and pizza = delicious, therefore veganism + pizza = winning. It’s just maths.

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Veganuary

The more you research the food industry the more you realise that there are very few products out there that you can buy and be ethically okay with. It’s a case of the more you know the more horrified you feel about it.

I’m currently reading Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat on the recommendation of my lovely friend Jane and it’s made me realise that – although the treatment of animals reared for food is a MAJOR concern – the supervillain behind it all is monocultures, both of animals AND plants. A monoculture is when, instead of having several different types of crops and different animals being reared on one farm (i.e. the traditional type of farm we all think of when we hear that word), a cultivator grows or raises just one type of crop or animal on a huge scale.

The problem with monocultures is that they either oversaturate the land or deprive it of something it needs in the long term. Take as examples:

  • The giant pig farms in North Carolina, where at any one time 10 million pigs are being raised on factory farms. The animals produce so much manure that it is spread on the land in hugely excessive quantities, leaking into the rivers and sapping the oxygen levels. This kills the fish, creates a ‘dead zone’ and destroys the area’s fishing industry.
  • The vast orchards in California. Cultivators choose species that are particularly robust against pesticides so that they survive when the fields are blasted with it. Unfortunately everything else either becomes toxic to insects or just dies, leaving no habitat for small animals to survive, hence the bees dying out. Bees are, of course, essential to pollinate the crop so now every year around 40 billion bees are TRUCKED across the States to California’s Central Valley to pollinate the almond groves.

These are just two examples from Farmageddon but there are plenty of others I could have given. It’s madness when you look at the harm monocultures do to wildlife, surrounding communities, our health (because after those crops are sprayed with toxic chemicals we put them in our mouths) and the planet as a whole.

Unfortunately it’s not practical for me to stop eating altogether so I’m doing what I can to remind myself to make better choices. As a vegetarian I’ve always thought that I’m doing a pretty good job of this already – I tend to only buy free range eggs and organic milk. But I forget about all of the other products I buy which contain milk and eggs of which I can’t be sure of the origins.

I found out recently that cows can live for more than 15 years naturally, but dairy cows are usually killed at the age of five because they’ve been so intensively milked that they’re exhausted and can’t produce any more. Useless to the dairy farmer, they are killed for low grade meat.

This is why I’m taking part in Veganuary – a global initiative aiming to reduce the suffering of animals by inspiring and supporting people across the globe to go vegan for the month of January. It will have to do until I live in a cute little cottage out in the countryside and grow all of my own vegetables with a cow for milk and chickens for eggs!

I’ll be posting some recipes here and sharing lots of pictures of vegan foods over on my Instagram, so follow me there if you’d like to know more (@caitlinla89). As this is primarily a fitness blog I will be interested to see the impact this has on my body too, so for the record here are my measurements on December 31st… weight: 9st 3lb (eek), waist: 65cm, hips: 93cm, thigh: 57cm