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 🙂

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.

My cousins and aunt got me the best present ever for my birthday last week. A variety of boxes of tea bags and a bar of Dairy Milk chocolate, thriftily sourced from their kitchen cupboard. We like to think we’re a bit like the Royal Family with our gifting eccentricity.

I’m not one for hyperbole, but the box of Celestial Cinnamon Apple Spice has totally knocked my socks off. In all of my 44 years, it’s the first herbal tea that I’ve tasted that has any sort of intensity to the flavour. If ever there was a “hug in a cup” that smacks you in the taste buds, this is it. It makes a wonderful change from coffee (there’s only so much one can drink before the caffeine has me bouncing off the walls like a loon), peppermint tea (meh), and water (boring, just so boring).

It’s always a bonus when your food/drinks have health benefits. Some studies have suggested that the compounds in cinnamon have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and antimicrobial properties, and that they might offer protection from cancer and cardiovascular disease, among other like type 2 diabetes, PCOS and Parkinson’s Disease.

No matter, I finished a box of 20 in less than a week, so had to source a new supply. Locally, I found some in Sostrene Grene (bizarrely, we have a branch of this adorable Swedish gem of a shop in Bangor), you can also find it in Iona health food shop in Holywood and from amazon.co.uk.

Have a nice Sunday, see ya!!

Katsu Curry

I remember my first visit to Wagamama’s in Soho c. 1994. In the days before the internet with online reviews, its credentials were confirmed by the queue on the wooden stairs that descended in to the bright basement. “Have you been here before”, was our brisk greeting as we were seated at a long bench in the starkly decorated, minimalist restaurant. Dining elbow to elbow with strangers to eat Japanese food was a relatively new concept, and an exciting/eccentric/weird experience for a Belfast teenager.

Fast forward nearly thirty years, and my love for this Japanese fast food restaurant that serves fresh, tasty, decently priced dishes has not wained. There are now 130 Wagamama’s in the UK, with two near me in Belfast. My kids are equally taken by Waga’s – including the fussy eater (halleluja) – whose go to on the menu is the chicken katsu curry. (It could be worth mentioning that the word wagamama (わがまま) is Japanese for “self-indulgent”, “self-centred”, “disobedient”, or “wilful” and is most often translated by the brand as naughty child).

The Kastu Curry is Wagamama’s most popular dish, and was bought 2.5 million times last year. If you ever sit near the service point it is hard not to notice the stream of Katsus being ferried out to diners. There’s even a mini kids version which comes complete with shredded carrot and cucumber, keeping parents happy that they’re getting their veggies.

You’d think that it would be hard to replicate at home. The rice and chicken component can be very simple – use ready cooked packet rice and shop bought breaded chicken fillets. Of course you can prepare these from scratch yourself using basmati or jasmine rice and bread-crumbing/crushed corn-flaking chicken breasts.

It is also possible to buy Katsu curry sauce in a jar, however this homemade adapted from the original Wagamama recipe is far superior.

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
  • 1 inch piece of ginger peeled and finely chopped
  • 100ml coconut milk
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp mild curry powder
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

Soften the garlic, onion and ginger in the oil over a medium heat. Add the turmeric and curry powder, stir for about a minute. Add the flour, mix for another minute. Add the chicken stock a splash at a time, stirring to make the sauce. When all the chicken stock has been added, stir in the coconut milk, soy sauce and sugar. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, then blend with a stick blender (or whizz up in a foddering processor, I use my Nutribullet).

The original recipe says to sieve the sauce rather than blending to make it smooth, but it seems such a shame to remove the awesome goodness and flavour of the onions, ginger and garlic. Sure, it’s a diversion from the original recipe, but very much in keeping with the “naughty child” ethos of the Wagamama name, ha ha!

Also, by keeping the onions and garlic, as well as the turmeric and curry spices you will be making your gut microbiome very happy 🙂 and that’s a very good thing.

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 hour
  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).
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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!!!!!

Flattened Lamb Koftas in Pitta

 

Well it looks like summer may finally be here! After 6 months of grim winter weather, the sun is making an appearance. OK, ‘summer’ may be pushing it………..but when living on the Irish coast, if the thermometer reads anything above 15 degrees C then the summer dresses and flip flops will be out. So quick! Before the sun disappears! I’ll be th.jpegcookin a new suitably sunny Greek inspired wee recipe! (NB the word ‘wee’ in Northern Ireland is an affectionate term used for pretty much anything, for example a shop assistant may say: “Uck that is a lovely wee top, would you like a wee bag for it? Just pop your wee card in the wee machine there. OK you can put your wee PIN number in now. Would you like me to put your wee receipt in your wee bag?”)

Here’s the wee recipe for flatttened lamb koftas……seriously, you’ll be totally scundered at how good these are 🙂

How to make them healthier:

  • Lamb is a high fat red meat, so try to buy the lean mince which has a reduced fat
  • Grill rather than fry
  • Add loads of crunchy salad in a pitta, tomatoes, humous etc

 

Ingredients:

  • 400g lean lamb mince
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed/finely chopped
  • pitta bread
  • lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, greek yogurt or hummus
  1. In a bowl, mix the mince, cinnamon, cumin and garlic. Get stuck in and use your hands!
  2. Grab a handful, and mould in to a patty shape, about the same shape as a pitta bread but a bit smaller
  3. Place on some kitchen foil and grill for a few minutes on each side
  4. Put in a pitta (toast the pitta if you prefer), with some lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and greek yogurt/hummus

 

 

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 – falseChia 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’s 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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