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 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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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.

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.

Dear meat eaters…

I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly eight years now and I’ve never been one to preach about it, but if you eat meat I beg you to watch the second of two Horizon programmes called Should I Eat Meat?, aired last week.

The first programme was about the health implications of eating too much meat. Did you know that by eating one portion of processed red meat a day – that’s just two rashers of bacon – you’re decreasing your life expectancy by two years? That might not sound like a lot, but over 40 years that’s equivalent to losing one hour from every single day.

But it’s the second episode, which focuses on the environmental impact of rearing enough animals to meet demand, that had me close to tears.

I’m going to keep this short as I’d much rather you watch the documentary, but if you don’t have the time here are some statistics to think about:

* We currently eat 65 billion animals a year. This is double what we ate 50 years ago and looks likely to double again. This is not sustainable.

* One third of the planet’s total land mass is already given over to rearing animals that we eat or milk.

* It requires 50kg of grass per day to produce 1kg of beef. That grassland could be used to grow crops to feed humans directly which would be far more efficient.

* The average cow has the same effect on the environment as a family car. Think about how many cows you’ve eaten compared to how many cars you’ve had.

* If you’ve eaten beef in the US it is likely to have come from an enormous CAFU (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), where animals arrive at one year old and are fed an intensive diet of growth hormones and antibiotics for six months before being killed. Do you really want those hormones and antibiotics in your system, developing immunity so that they won’t work when you’re sick and genuinely need them?

* In the UK, a single chicken farm can produce 6 million chickens a year. We eat 19 million a week. Yes, they create far fewer kilograms of CO2 per kilo of meat than beef, pork and lamb, but do you think that makes a difference on this scale?

I know that it’s unrealistic to imagine a world where everyone is vegetarian, but if you eat meat I hope that this programme will make you think about choosing ethically-reared and locally-sourced produce rather than the cheapest deal. There’s been a lot of coverage in the news lately about how many Brits are relying on food banks, and rightly so because that is a truly awful situation to be in, but I don’t think it’s much to ask that if you must eat meat you spend a little more on it and have it less frequently. We don’t need to eat meat – there are so many other protein-rich alternatives – so cutting down your intake is a small sacrifice for the sake of a healthy planet.

(If you want to know more about ethical meat eating, HungryCityHippy is a fantastic place to start.)

Cool & creamy breakfast bircher

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My first overnight oats experience came in the form of Starbucks’ Berry Good Bircher, and it was truly delicious. Scrambled eggs is my ‘go to’ brekkie but I do love oats so will usually have porridge at least once over the weekend. I’ve just finished three days of gruelling Green Face diet so I felt I deserved a special treat and decided to make my own bircher to look forward to.

I used 1/3 cup of oats, 1/3 cup of natural yoghurt, 1/3 cup of soya milk and half a grated apple. All you need to do is mix the ingredients together and leave them in the fridge overnight. The oats absorb the milk and yoghurt to become creamy and delicious. The following morning, just top with some pure honey and a sprinkle of something with a crunch – I used sunflower seeds because it was last minute and that was all I had in the cupboard, but I think pumpkin would be better.

This cool, creamy mix would be perfect for summery days – it keeps you full up without sitting heavy in your stomach – and you can experiment with all sorts of fruits and seeds.

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I was curious about where the name ‘bircher’ came from so I did a bit of research (thank you, Google), and found out that this dish is actually named after a Swiss physician called Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner who basically invented muesli! His ideas included swapping a diet heavy on meat and bread for fruit, vegetables and nuts combined with plenty of exercise and his theories were based on achieving harmony between people and nature. Nice one, Max!

A breakfast bircher is the ideal meal to have after coming off Green Face, because it’s sweet without an overwhelming sugary hit. I found Green Face much tougher this time than before – perhaps because it was only me and my PT doing it so there wasn’t the same sense of community as there usually is with my challenge group – but I’ve literally no idea how I managed seven days last time!

It definitely works though, so unfortunately the monotony is worth it. I’m not remotely interested in chocolate but I CANNOT WAIT to have a banana. I feel like my diet is back on track now, for the time being at least!