Are you on the “Quitting Sugar Train”? There’s so much hype and information around about the dangers of sugar these days. It feels a little overwhelming at times. Not to mention confusing! The science of nutrition seems to be forever evolving and changing. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Sometimes (even as a trained professional!) I feel confused and overwhelmed about what or what not to eat. I can only guess how you might be feeling…
The thing is though, the downside of eating too much sugar (just to be very clear I am talking about refined sugars here), are not new and is backed up by a lot of research. I picked up some of my mum’s books about healthy eating from the 70s and guess what? They where highlighting it back then too. Sad thing is, it seems like our sugar consumption hasn’t really reduced since then either… Obesity and obesity related diseases are a massive problem today and it seems like it’s spreading downwards with younger and younger people being overweight too. I find this so incredibly sad as it’s not just the excess weight on its own that’s a problem.
It affects our hormones and our mood. Excess weight, particularly around the middle has also been linked to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Not to mention how your self-esteem is affected by those extra pounds, when we live in a society so fixated with body image. On top of that carrying excess weight makes it harder and more uncomfortable to move and exercise.
I believe that our “Western Diet” is not weight friendly at all. Eating that way will always bring you an uphill struggle with excess weight. You might be really lucky and put it on really gradually. But the weight will be going on non the less. To keep your figure, and your health there is really only one way to go, unprocessed and quitting sugar. And when I say quitting sugar, I mean the white refined stuff and even mores so the awful High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). It can seem like sugar is in everything when you start reading the labels and it kind of is. Just be clear on avoiding the ADDED sugar and try to reduce or avoid adding it yourself to drinks and food. But please don’t vilify your best friends; fresh vegetables and fruit (in moderation). They are the foods we where originally made to eat.
If you have decided that now is the right time to wave goodbye to refined sugar, make it as easy on yourself as you can. Start with the obvious. Like quitting liquid calories in the form of sodas / soft drinks / energy drinks. No one needs them, unless perhaps you are an endurance athlete, in the middle of a 3h+ race. Switching to naturally flavoured water, herbal teas and/or cutting out your added sugar in teas and coffees will make a major difference to your energy levels, your weight, your health and believe it or not, your taste! It is so easy to over-consume liquid energy as it has no fibre that needs processing and which is an important component to help us stay full for longer.
The next step would be to swap your usually processed, sugar laden treats / snacks for something more wholesome and that’s where these little bites come in! I heard someone saying recently that they have a rule in their house which says only homemade treats are allowed. Sounds good to me. That way you are in full control of what is going into your treat and subsequently into your body. Yes, dates contain sugar.
But they are also a source of fibre, iron, magnesium and potassium. Peanuts will give you some good fats and protein. Good quality dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants. I believe when we eat nourishing, good quality wholefood, less becomes more so even though they are still to be considered a treat, this kind of treat will serve not just as a short term treat for your taste buds, but will do some good for your body good longterm too. Because I am of the opinion that life is for living, personally I prefer to keep the natural goodness in my life and enjoy raw treats like these.
Better For You Peanut Butter Bites
Makes about 15 bites
2 cups of pitted dates
1 heaped tbsp of crunchy peanut butter – 100 % nuts
1 tbsp coconut oil
a pinch of sea salt
80g of 70-80% good quality dark chocolate
In a small sauce pan, gently melt the coconut oil and then mix in the peanut butter. Mix until well combined.
Add the dates to the bowl of your food processor. (I seriously have no idea what I did before mine entered my life…) Add in the peanut butter-coconut oil mix and a pinch of sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. Blend until you have a ball of sticky date-goodness. Proceed to making small little balls.
In a bowl over some boiling water, melt the chocolate. When fully melted, remove from stove top. Dip each date ball into the melted chocolate and fish it back out with the help of two forks. Place each peanut butter chocolate bite on a tray lined with parchment paper. Let the bites cool and the chocolate coating set in the fridge before you treat yourself to one of these better-for-you peanut butter chocolate bites. Your little delicious treats will store in an airtight container in the fridge for a couple of days. These guys are perfect as a little side for your perfect cup of coffee or your favourite cup of tea.
Note* If you are familiar with making raw chocolate, then do use that as a coating instead of the dark chocolate. For simplicity I have gone with regular dark chocolate. For a higher nutrient profile and even less processed goodness I would use raw chocolate, if that appeals to you.
It looks like Spring has finally arrived. Yay! And I have a confession to make… I’ve just ordered my very first gardening book. Oh my, I wonder where this is all heading? Those green fingers seem to have skipped a generation and I doubt I’ll ever be an avid and as an accomplished gardener like my grand-mother, who at 94 is still out in the garden keeping it weed-free and flourishing. Perhaps it’s the fact that the sun has finally come out to play and the rise in temperature that has brought on the temptation of having a crack at growing (well at least trying) something edible? I’m not sure really.
The more you delve into eating REAL food, packaged as nature intended, the more it make sense to take care where that food comes from. So having a go at trying to grow at least a few of the vegetables you eat makes sense. Well worth a go anyway. Since I’ve always maintained that I would starve to death if I had to rely on my own home grown stuff, I’m grateful if I manage to grow enough for a meal or two. Time will tell.
Since the temperatures has finally risen into double figures, smoothies are back in! I eat them all the time, but even more so in the Spring and Summer months. Especially as a quick meal when I’m pressed for time. Or as a quick breakfast. Or sometimes as a recovery snack after a heavy work out or training session.
Then I usually add some extra protein to it. I have found it to be the breakfast which will keep me full the longest. If heading out for a couple of hours on the bike or a hike in the mountain, this is what I start off my day with. Everyone is different though, so test out a few different options to find out what works for you. Is it the old reliable bowl of porridge? A power smoothie? Or perhaps an egg based breakfast?
My smoothies almost always contain two base ingredients. Banana and avocado. The banana serves as a great natural sweetener and the avocado gives it a creamy texture. Avocados also offers amazing health benefits being a great source of monounsaturated fat, potassium, B-vitamin and fibre. In the previous fat phobic era, avocados would have been considering a no-no. However we now know that the type of fat in avocados are easily used as energy, can actually lower cholesterol and are also important for both good skin health and proper brain function. Healthy fats also keeps us full for longer.
I first started adding avocados to my smoothies a few years ago after reading a book about raw food for children. Before that it had never really occurred to me. This was obviously before the constant influence and inspiration of Instagram! Since then they are my constant smoothie companion. It makes so much sense to use them as apart from the lovely texture you get, they will also balance the naturally occurring sugar from the fruit, and make it a more slow release form of energy. Hence it will keep you full for longer.
Having smoothies are an excellent way of increasing your intake of raw food. Something a lot of people could do with. Including at least some raw food in your daily food intake will maximise your intake of live enzymes and nutrients in an unadulterated way. Raw food is literally alive and hence makes us feel more vibrant! An added bonus to making smoothies are you don’t need any fancy gadgets to make them either. A simple hand blender (immersion blender) will do the job perfectly. Simple to clean too.
This smoothie is super decadent and would also work as a healthy dessert. Or a fancy pants lunch, eaten outside while enjoying the beautiful Spring weather. Bound to lift the spirits every time! Naturally dairy, gluten and refined sugar free.
Peanut Butter & Raspberry Smoothie
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries, thaw if using frozen
1/2 ripe avocado
1 medium sized banana, roughly chopped
1 tbsp raw cacao powder – raw will give you the highest nutritional value, but for flavour you can use a god quality cocoa powder instead
1 tbsp pure peanut butter
250 ml milk of choice
Bee pollen, fresh raspberries or cacao nibs to top – Optional
Place banana, avocado, peanut butter and cacao powder in the blender container. Add the milk of your choice. Blend everything until smooth and creamy. In a glass, mash your fresh raspberries then add your peanut butter smoothie mix on top. Garnish with a few raspberries, some cacao nibs or bee pollen. Eat outside in sunshine with a spoon. Enjoy feeding all your senses for immediate pleasure and satisfaction 🙂
What about a quick nourishing meal that doesn’t take time or effort to make? Or cost the earth? This dish is one of my all time favourites. If it wasn’t for the simple fact that my body seem to crave the odd bit of meat, I could easily and happily eat this kind of food everyday. One of the main challenges when you switch from a diet heavily influenced by convenience food to natural wholesome goodness, is that it actually has to be prepared and cooked… In the beginning this seems like such hard work.
You come home from work after a long day at work. Bloodsugar levels are at an all time low, your mood and energy levels likewise, and you are ready to eat anything that is remotely edible. Or if you’re like me, eat the head of someone else!
Being prepared is key. There is no getting away from this simple fact. You also need to arm yourself with some basic kitchen gadgets and cooking skills. But basic really is all you need. Think; a good sharp knife, a couple of good sauce pans, a frying pan and a hand blender. I’m a lazy cook. I always tell my clients this fact. If I can do it. You can too. Cook, well more like assembly, tasty nourishing meals.
I always loved vegetables and fruit. Due to my inherent sweet tooth, the fruit consumption can often surpass the veggie one though. So it can be tough to get all the recommended amount of portions in. The other day my friend told me that WHO is now recommending 17 (!) portions of vegetables incl. some fruit for our diets to be disease preventable. Wow. That’s a lot of eating… To get to that level, juicing will have to be part of it. Impossible otherwise I would think.
Believe it or not, there was a time when I use to come home from work, open the fridge or the pantry and stare at all the lovely stuff, ravenous, just to state the fact that I had plenty of food. But it had to be cooked into something! These days through perseverance, I have learnt some simple ways around this frustrating situation. No, the answer it is not having a frozen pizza in the freezer. Even though it was one of mine in the past… It’s all about being prepared. And having a little knowledge. Batch cooking is key. For cheap, wholesome meals, legumes are your friend. Keep a few tins in your store cupboards at all times and you are ready to go in minutes. If you cook them from dry, you can cook larger batches and freeze some. The same with wholegrain rice or wholegrain spelt which I have used here. Your cooked grains and legumes will keep for a few days in the fridge too, so no panic if your freezer is very small, or non existent.
I prefer warm food when the weather is cold. So if I have a raw salad I need to combine it with something warm. Sometimes that could be roasted veg with some green leafy lettuce leaves. Or it could be a mixed salad with an omelette. Equally simple. If you have some pre-cooked grains in your fridge or freezer, coupled with some legumes all you need to do is to toss them in a hot pan with some of your favourite vegetables. Simple as, and you have a wholesome meal in minutes! If you make enough, you can even enjoy the leftovers for lunch the following day.
Whole grains are a great source of stress-busting B-Vitamins. When the grain is consumed whole and totally unrefined as with these spelt grains, they are actually fairly high in protein too. Sometimes even as high as 16%. Chickpeas are an excellent source of plant based protein too. The classic vegetarian way of combining grains with pulses, ensure that all 20 amino acids are covered. The few which are missing in the grain is in abundance in your pulses, so cleverly you will get a complete source of protein.
You can use any grains with any pulses really. Once you have upped your kitchen confidence, then stretch your imagination and use a different kind of grain with a different kind of bean or lentil. And then simply toss in any veg, which is lurking in your fridge! Heat in pan, season & tuck in!
Weekday Chickpea Salad
1 cup of chickpeas, cooked
1 cup of spelt grains, cooked
3 cups of kale, washed, chopped with stems removed
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small red chilli, chopped – remove seeds if you want it less hot or use a pinch of dry chilli flakes
7-8 cherry tomatoes, washed & halved – Optional but delicious **I forgot to add mine this time when making it for the photographs!**
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper, to season
Parmesan, Pecorino or Machego, grated on top before serving
Heat your pan, then add the a good splash of olive oil. Quickly add your chopped garlic and chilli. Stir until soften but not burnt. Add in the kale and sauté until it start looking slightly wilted. Add your chickpeas and spelt grains. Keep stirring until heated through.
Serve in two bowls with some grated cheese on top. If you intend to have some cold the following day, leave the cheese out and add just before eating. The cheese isn’t integral to the dish but do give a different flavour dimension. I don’t tend to feel well with dairy but can tolerate sheep’s cheese so hence the Pecorino or Manchego.