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. 

  

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!

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

Four reasons it was easy to be veggie this week

I don’t often talk about why I’m a vegetarian, usually because it makes people who aren’t vegetarian uncomfortable and that’s never my intention – I don’t enjoy making people feel that way. But here are four things from this week alone that reminded my why I made that choice, and that I felt motivated to share:

1. This heartbreaking video of Lolita, the world’s loneliest orca whale. Lolita has been in captivity since 1970 and has lived alone in an illegally small tank since 1980, when her companion, Hugo, killed himself by repeatedly slamming his head into the tank wall. Of course, I’m not saying that eating meat is in any way comparable to torturing a beautiful, intelligent animal for nearly 45 years. It’s not comparable AT ALL. It’s just that this reminded me of what it looks like when using animals for human gratification is taken to an extreme and it is HIDEOUS.

2. This ridiculous documentary from the Discovery Channel, in which an alleged wildlife expert attempts to survive being eaten by an 18ft anaconda. Of course, the poor snake wasn’t remotely interested in eating a bloke dressed up in a metallic suit so had to be antagonised into it, only for the ‘scientist’ to freak out once his head was inside and have a team of people pull the snake off and rescue him. Can you imagine how stressful that was for the animal? Although it was the animal who was eating the human in this case, it’s another example of us inflicting unnecessary suffering on them.

3. Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. SPOILER ALERT: this is a novel about the tragic consequences of psychological experiments where chimps were brought up as humans – for both the chimps and their human ‘siblings’. Although the story is a work of fiction, the experiments and the animals (Gua, Viki Hayes, Maybelle, Salome, Ally, Lucy Temerlin, Nim Chimpsky and Washoe) who had to endure them before being abandoned to sickness and science labs were real.

4. And finally, a positive reason. I’ve just joined the team on the wonderful Folly Farm account at work. Zoos have an extremely important role to play in the conservation and protection of endangered species (often made endangered in the first place through human greed) and Folly Farm is widely recognised for how well its animals are cared for. Its staff are knowledgeable and skilled and its enclosures are very carefully designed to be accurate replicas of the conditions the animals would experience in the wild. A shining example of humans looking after animals.

Before I wrap this up and resume the normal fitness-related talk, I want to reiterate that I’m not trying to make out that eating animals is as bad as torturing them. Of course it’s not.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s not difficult to be a vegetarian. What is difficult is ignoring animal cruelty when the evidence is all around us.

So if you are going to eat meat, please please do your research and make sure that the animal you’re eating had a good life. Don’t play any part in causing suffering to animals, because there’s far too much of that in the world already.

(R)awesome recipes

IMG_0079.JPGI’ve long been intrigued by the raw food diet, so jumped at the chance to receive a review copy of The Raw Food Beginner’s Deck by French chef Emilie McBride.

The idea behind the raw food diet is that heating food kills the nutrients and enzymes naturally occurring in it, so when we eat cooked food we’re only getting a small fraction of the potential goodness. I know that I couldn’t do this type of diet full time (I live in WALES – the prospect of a winter without hearty, warming meals is terrifying to me), but I’m interested in the benefits that introducing more raw meals to my diet could bring.

Unlike a traditional cookery book, and as hinted at in the title, The Raw Food Beginner’s Deck is actually a deck of cards, each of which explains a different technique or recipe. I was put off the diet when I first heard about it because of the various kitchen paraphernalia needed for sprouting, dehydrating, juicing etc., but McBride very helpfully provides easy alternatives – for example explaining that you can usually do the same job as a dehydrator with your oven on a low temperature.

As well as tips on techniques, information on potential health benefits and the philosophy behind the diet, the deck contains 31 simple recipes to get you started on the path to raw.

I decided to begin with the tabouleh recipe, as it’s a twist on something I’m already familiar with. Traditionally tabouleh contains bulgar or couscous, which I love, so I was a bit sceptical about whether cauliflower would be an adequate replacement. However this version was so good that I don’t think I’ll ever revert back to grains! Here’s the original recipe (makes two servings):

IMG_0062.PNGAnd here are the tweaks I made:

* I used more than a cup of cauliflower – I used about half a head. I wasn’t sure whether the one cup meant before or after it had been blended, but this seemed about right.

* I used dried parsley so went with one tablespoon. Didn’t have any coriander either – oops!

* Two lemons seemed like an awful lot to me so I used half and that was enough. I’m having the second portion for lunch tomorrow so have put in an additional wedge in case it needs an extra squeeze!

Having really enjoyed this, I’m definitely going to give more of McBride’s raw recipes a go. If you’d like to do the same, The Raw Food Beginner’s Deck is available from Deckopedia.

Pomegranate power

IMG_0061.JPGOne of my funny food quirks is that I prefer my salads without dressing (which is helpful for cutting out unnecessary calories), but I was keen to try this pure pomegranate essence from Secret Gardens.

Although there’s not enough evidence to place pomegranate firmly in the superfood category, it’s proven to do wonders for heart health. As well as reducing the damage caused by cholesterol, pomegranate has been shown to improve blood flood and reduce the risk of heart attack. It’s a good source of vitamin E, calcium, iron and potassium and is packed full of those precious antioxidants. Plus, it’s delicious!

The Secret Gardens pomegranate dressing and marinade, which I was sent a review sample of, contains six fruits per 340g bottle – and nothing else. The pomegranates are simmered for hours following a traditional Turkish recipe known as Nar Eksisi, which translates as ‘pomegranate sour’. It is quite acidic so you only need a small amount, but it adds a powerful punch to any salad.

I’m devouring my warm salads at the moment, and this evening I had:

Iceberg lettuce
One salad tomato
Olives
One carrot, grated
Half a red pepper
Half a courgette
Butternut squash
Broccoli florets
Two Quorn sausages

It was delicious and super easy as everything that needs to be cooked can just be chopped up, chucked in a baking tray with some olive oil and bunged straight into the oven. Crispy baked broccoli is my absolute favourite at the moment – top tip!

Sweet potato hash with fried eggs

IMG_0020.JPGWhen I was younger and ate meat, corned beef hash was one of my favourite meals. Here’s how to make a high protein and equally delicious veggie alternative:

1. Peel and dice one sweet potato, then boil for about 8 minutes or until tender.

2. While the potato is boiling, dice half a red onion and fry in coconut oil. Once the onion has softened, add in the chick peas.

3. Drain the sweet potato then add it to the frying pan, combine with the red onion and chick peas and season with salt, pepper and paprika.

4. Flatten down the mix and when the potato starts to go crispy, break it up again.

5. Create two dips in the mixture and crack an egg into each. Once the eggs have fried, it’s ready to serve!

The measurements for this aren’t precise – you’ll need one sweet potato for each person but the rest is up to individual taste.