Toasting

It wasn’t until I started making granola a few years ago that I started liking pumpkin and sunflower seeds. To me, in their raw form ie. straight from the packet, they had an unpleasant texture and taste. However, when roasted in the oven with the other granola ingredients, they take on an entirely different personality – crunchier, earthy sweet, nuttier.

Interestingly, by roasting in the oven, grilling, or toasting in a frying pan the health benefits of the seeds are increased. Heating causes a process within the seeds called the Maillard Reaction, which changes the protein structure and nutrition profile for the better. So not only do they taste fab, their antioxidant capacity also increases ūüôā

Abundant evidence suggests that antioxidants from foods e.g. fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds are needed to counteract the harmful free radicals which the body naturally produces during all of the millions of metabolic reactions and processes that occur in every cell of our bodies. Excessive free radicals contribute to chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, cognitive decline, and vision loss.

So I use the toasted seeds everyday in a variety of ways, not just because they’re healthy, but because they taste really good and add interesting textures too. Try them in granola, sprinkled on salads, in yogurt, in my superfood salad and happy carrot recipes or just as a handy snack mixed with some raisins or dark chocolate chips.

Homemade muesli

This recipe came from a¬†horse racing journalist, Dominic Prince, who embarked on a mission to loose 5 stone to see if he could pull on a pair of jodpers to become a jockey himself. It is high in fibre, so filling you up, good for protein also helping you to feel full up and to aid muscle repair and growth, and it’s choc a block full of nutrients – vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Nag's muesli

4 servings

100g oats

50g flaxseeds

4 tbsp sunflower seeds and/or pumpkin seeds

4 tbsp raisins

4 dried figs/dates/apricots, chopped

200ml milk (or apple juice)

100ml yoghurt

1 tbsp runny honey

2 apples, grated

Milk or yogurt to serve

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5. Spread the oats out on a baking tray, place in the oven and toast for 20 minutes. Leave to cool. (The oatmeal can be toasted well in advance and stored in an airtight jar).

Combine all the dry ingredients with the milk or apple juice, yoghurt and honey, eat immediately, or leave to soak for an hour/overnight if you prefer the oats a bit softer. Stir in the grated  apple; it will be quite thick at this stage. Serve with extra milk or yogurt.

8 reasons why you should drink coffee (and when you shouldn’t)

When I’m asking my patients about what they eat and drink through the day, they often shamefully ‘confess’ that they are coffee drinkers. The good news is that coffee in reasonable amounts might be one of the healthiest things you can do.

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Scientific research shows that in the short term, caffeine increases alertness, concentration, vigilance, improves mood, reduces perception of pain and increases time to fatigue when exercising.

For long term health benefits, coffee has anti-cancer, anti-obesity, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory properties.

New research shines some light on the mechanisms behind these health benefits – it seems that there are links between coffee and the health of the gut microbiota. Higher coffee consumption is associated with increased richness and evenness of the gut microbiota in the lining of the digestive system, and higher relative abundance of anti-inflammatory bacteria.

8 fascinating coffee and caffeine facts: 

  1. Caffeine is absorbed rapidly and totally in the small intestine in less than 1‚ÄČhour
  2. Caffeine is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called cytochrome P450 oxidase. Depending on your genetics, some people have more of this enzyme than others, therefore this affects sensitivity.
  3. It can help the bowel to contract – helpful for constipation, not so helpful if you are prone to diarrhoea!
  4. In women, the metabolism of caffeine is slower during pregnancy, as well as when taking oral contraceptives. This means that the effects of caffeine isn’t broken down by the liver as quickly, so the effects are felt for longer.
  5. Cigarette smoking doubles the rate of caffeine clearance by increasing the liver enzyme activity. This means that the effects of caffeine wear off more quickly. This may be one of the explanations for the higher rate of caffeine consumption among smokers.
  6. Coffee reduces the absorption of Levothyroxine – this is a common medication for hypothyroidism which should ideally be taken on an empty stomach
  7. Excessive caffeine intake may increase ‘unstable’ bladder in women i.e. suddenly being desperate for a wee
  8. The belief that coffee is dehydrating is not true for habitual coffee drinkers. If your body is used to drinking coffee the effect on urine output should be minimal (unless your bladder is sensitive to caffeine – see previous point). Obviously if you drink a lot of any fluid you are going to wee more).
cup-latte-coffee

Any negatives of caffeine to be aware of?

  • Increased anxiety – many people with depression/anxiety/stress find that coffee can make it much worse
  • Insomnia – if you are sensitive to caffeine, you may need to to keep coffee for the morning
  • Abdominal cramping and diarrhoea – common in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome

So, it’s best to know your own body and how much caffeine you can tolerate. If you have a good tolerance, limit yourself to 4-6 cups per day (maximum of 2 cups if pregnant). If you suffer with diarrhoea, anxiety or insomnia, then try cutting coffee out for a few days to see if this helps!

Right, time for a cuppa!!!!!

Chia Seeds – too good to be true?

I’m a bit slow to join the Chia Seed Party. Any health foodie worth their Instagram followings is raving about virtues of this little seed, with beautifully styled photos to match. Food bloggers and writers are telling us that they are “the most nutrient dense food in the natural world”, “high in protein”, “an omega-3 superfood”, “high fibre”. Are these claims too good to be true?

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There will always be little alarm bells ringing in my head with the claim of a particular food being ‘super’. All health professionals, including dietitians, need to be cynical about sensationalist headlines for any food. It is our job to question everything we read – from published scientific research to online food blogger articles.

There are hundreds of potential ‘super foods’ – mostly fruit, vegetables, whlolegrains, fish, nuts, seeds…….and the more variety of these you can get, the better. Focusing on any one food as having specific effects on long term health is usually not supported by good enough scientific evidence. I’m thinking chia seeds, goji berries, acai, wheatgrass etc. As well as some outlandish health claims, there is often the price tag to match.¬†Their popularity is usually more to do with great marketing & PR, magazine and newspaper editors looking for ‘the next big thing’ to grab readers’ interest, and of course, celebrity endorsements.

Chia Seeds – worth the hype?

Here are some of the health claims:

Gluten free – true, so good for people with Coeliac Disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.

High in Omega-3 fats¬†– true, but not the ‘best’ kind.¬†Chia seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, the omega-3 fatty acid found primarily in plants. This is not the same as the very beneficial omega-3 fats that are found in oily fish. Our bodies cannot use the chia seed version of the omega-3 very well, so won’t have the same health benefits.

High in Protein –¬†false.¬†Chia seeds are 16% protein and do have¬†a good range of essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein). However, they are not high in protein per se. To obtain a decent amount of protein from chia seeds, you would need to eat a lot of them. One portion of chia, about 30g dry weight, only has about 5g of protein. To get a decent 20g of protein, you would need to eat 4 portions which would give you over 500kcal.

High in Fibre¬†– true, there’s no disputing the excellent fibre content. A whopping 13g per portion. The seeds absorb a high volume of liquid, and become quite gelatinous (just like flaxseeds), so fabulous for helping with constipation, and they are low FODMAP so shouldn’t cause bloating.

High in calcium¬†– true, however.…………the vitamin and mineral content of chia seeds may be misleading, because of the seed‚Äôs indigestible hull that likely prevents the absorption of many of these micronutrients. Ground chia seeds may overcome this limitation, but no studies have investigated the bioavailability of chia seed nutrients.

So although many of the health claims are sensationalised, chia seeds can benefit health and are great to be included in a healthy diet.

So what do they taste like? I tried them out for the first time in a popular recipe which has nine thousand likes on social media (see below). I asked my friend Aileen what she thought: “Chia seeds? Never heard of them” she said. “They look like frog spawn”. To me, they tasted like it too. But loads of people seem to love them!!!!

You can also use them like flaxseeds: sprinkle them over muesli, add in to porridge, or blend in to smoothies, yogurt or soup.

Chia Seed Banana Breakfast

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Ingredients
  1. 300ml vanilla soya milk
  2. 1 banana, ripe
  3. 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  4. 1/4 cup Chia Seeds
Instructions
  1. In a medium size bowl mash or slice the banana.
  2. Add the remainder of the ingredients and stir until combined.
  3. Cover and put in the fridge overnight – or at least 2 hours
  4. (Try to) enjoy!

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Smoothie Bowl

6216be92664c268834e07ac1a29edd4aThis is something I make in seconds for my kids as a very healthy pudding. They love it. It’s somewhere between ice-cream and a smoothie.¬†For me, I sometimes have it as a breakfast. I add a handful of oats, and if I’ve just had a bike or run, a scoop of protein powder.

Why it’s great:

Yogurt: calcium, protein, good bacteria for the digestion Berries: antioxidants,
phytonutrients and fibre. Oats: for slow release energy, soluble fibre, B-glucan cholesterol lowering, carbs for replacing muscle glycogen stores post workout. Protein powder: 20g extra protein post workout for muscle recovery and maintenance, also keeps you feeling full up for longer. 

Ingredients:

  • frozen berries: 1 big handful per person
  • Oats: 1 small handful per person (about 30g)
  • Natural yogurt: 3 tablespoons per person
  • Honey: 1/2-1 teaspoon per person

Method: whizz up in a blender, in my blender I’ve to give it a shake every few seconds to get all the ingredients down to the bottom.

Eat with a spoon!img_1066.jpg

If you use a flavoured yogurt, there’s no need to add honey as it should be sweet enough already.

 

Here’s what I used this evening……

Idiot Proof Poached Eggs

Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods that you can eat: high in protein, omega 3 fats, lutein, choline, all the B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, and iron.

Poached eggs should be one of the easiest, cheapest and healthiest meals. But it can be hard to not end up with a watery pile of mush. There is a lot of advice out there on how to achieve the perfectly poached egg: the freshest eggs possible, adding vinegar to the water (am I the only one to end up with vinegary eggs?!) or the ‚Äėswirling the water‚Äô method.

For the first time in my 39 years, I came across this genius method for the perfect poached egg. Or for 10 poached eggs if you need that many!! It’s idiot proof, which is a stroke of luck for me.

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Location: a¬†big family brunch at my cousin Wendy‚Äôs house in Holywood – that‚Äôs Holywood in N. Ireland; rather than Hollywood, California :). There were 13 of us so that‚Äôs a lot of eggs to poach! I was a bit skeptical as this clingfilm¬†escapade unfolded in the kitchen, but trust me…..

 

Here’s what you need:
egg(s)

cling film

any cooking oil4820A52D-F11E-49D0-B839-BDF5C02AA2B7

Ramekin, or small bowl

  1. Boil some water in a small sauce pan. Once boiling reduce to a simmer

 

  1. Tear some cling film, about double the width of the ramekin

 

  1. Oil the cling film by dribbling in a few drops of the oil. Spread around with your fingers or a pastry brush

 

  1. Break the egg in to the cling film

 

  1. Gather up the edges of the cling wrap and twist, making sure that you have the egg enclosed well. You can secure it with a little elastic band or something similar.F593DFC8-DBA5-40ED-ACE0-CAEF8944851B

 

  1. Place in the simmering water until the egg white has set. Put as many of these little parcels in the water as needed (use an appropriately sized saucepan to fit them in obvs)

 

  1. Lift the egg out of the water using a spoon and cut away the cling film

TA DA!!!!

Flaxseed Bread

MIMG_0498.JPGy middle daughter, Evie (7), has serious issues with gluten (and oats!). She’s tested¬†negative for coeliac disease, but if she has even a small amount food of bread, cake or pasta she will be doubled up in pain a few hours later. As for many people with gut issues, stress and worry are also a major factor in making the problem worse. She desperately misses London since we had to move to N. Ireland 8 months ago: our
house, her school, her friends, and most of all her Dad who still lives there.

It’s lucky that I’m a dietitian, as I’m well used to managing patients with coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, but practically it can be tough to avoid gluten. Birthday parties are notoriously difficult to negotiate (what kid can’t resist a tiny bit of cake!). The availability of gluten free foods is a million times better than 10 years ago, but they can be expensive and often loaded with sugar. I like making as much of my family’s food as possible, and this¬†bread is fab for her……….the flaxseed is brilliant for gut health and constipation, and the eggs and almonds provide terrific sources of protein. And very importantly, it’s so easy.

If you are watching your carbohydrate intake, needing gluten free, or simply want a highly nutritious healthy bread, then I highly recommend this very easy ecipe. For anyone who has tried Irish wheaten bread, this has a very similar texture.IMG_0861.JPG

Flaxseeds for dietary fiber, manganese, vitamin B1, and omega-3 healthy fats. Almonds are a source of vitamin E, copper, magnesium, and high quality protein, fiber, and phytosterols. Eggs are a very good source of high quality protein, vitamin B2, selenium, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

There is about 1000 kcal, 54g protein, 5g carbs in the whole loaf. So if you cut 6 slices, that’s about 170kcal per slice.

Ingredients: 

Ground flaxseed – 1 cup

Ground almonds – 1/2 cup

Eggs – 4

Baking powder – 1 teaspoon

Method:

1) Beat together eggs & 3 tablespoons of water

2) Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl: 1 cup ground flaxseedUnknown copy 9, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 cup ground almonds

3) Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mix well. Put in a loaf tin, cook for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C.