What counts as 5-a-day?

Eating a balanced diet, full of a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures that we get the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to stay fighting fit. The vitamins we get from fruits and veggies play an important role in every function of the body, from maintaining a healthy immune system and a strong heart, to clear skin, strong hair and nails, good eyesight and a healthy brain.

Despite the importance of including this food group in our diets, less than 10% of children aged between 11 and 18 years old achieve 5 portions a day (1). However, with a bit of savvy meal planning it is easy to hit that 5 a day without breaking the bank.

How much is a portion?

The government recommendation is that adults should eat 400g of fruit and vegetables as a minimum every day (2). This works out to be 80g per portion, however there are some exceptions.

For Fresh, frozen or tinned (try and avoid those in syrup) fruit, 80g is roughly equivalent to…

  • 1 medium apple
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1 medium tomato or 7 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 orange
  • 2 Satsumas
  • 2 plums
  • 2 pineapple rings
  • 2 handfuls of raspberries/blueberries/strawberries

150ml fruit juice = 1 portion – BUT no matter how much you drink this will only ever provide 1 portion because when fruit is blended it releases the natural sugars which are bad for our teeth,  and blending also breaks down some of the fibre in fruit meaning some of the nutritional value is lost.

30g of Dried fruit (roughly the equivalent to 80g of fresh) also contributes 1 portion of your 5 a day. For example:

  • 1 heaped tbsp. raisins/cranberries
  • 2 dried figs
  • 3 dried dates

For fresh, tinned and frozen vegetables, 80g looks something like…

  •  7 asparagus spears
  • 3 heaped tbsp. peas/sweetcorn
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 8 florets of broccoli
  • 3 heaped tbsp. carrot slices/butternut squash chunks
  • 1 breakfast bowl full of fresh spinach
  • Half an avocado

3 tbsp of beans (tinned & drained, or cooked from dry) will also provide 1 portion of your 5 a day. However, beans can only contribute 1 portion because although they are high in fibre, they don’t contain as many vitamins as fruits and vegetables.

For more examples of what a portion looks like visit: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/5ADAY/Documents/Downloads/5ADAY_portion_guide.pdf

In practical terms, how do we fit this into our daily diets?

Below is just one example of a million ways that we can incorporate fruits and veg into our diets everyday…

Breakfast – A small glass of orange juice (1 portion), scrambled egg on brown toast with a handful of cherry tomatoes (1 portion)

Morning Snack – A banana (1 portion), small handful of nuts and a cup of tea

Lunch – Greek style chicken salad with feta cheese, olives, cucumber, tomatoes (1-2 portions) and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Dinner – Spicy Mexican Bean Burgers with avocado salsa (2 portions). Check this out in the recipes section!

For more advice, have a look on the links below, and check out the recipe section on this blog, where all recipes provide at least one of your 5 a day – without a single sad looking piece of lettuce in sight!

(1) http://www.foodafactoflife.co.uk

(2) http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/5ADAY/Pages/5ADAYhome.aspx

Healthy Eating Week 2017

BNF healthy eating week logo

Today sees the start of the British Nutrition Foundation Healthy Eating Week 2017. The aim of this week is to get schools, Universities and Businesses really thinking about healthy eating and physical activity, and the benefits that this has for our physical and mental wellbeing.

For each day this week, the BNF has set a different challenge to get the nation on their feet and chowing down on healthy food.

BNF 5 challenge logos

Don’t worry if you missed today’s challenge to “Eat a Healthy Breakfast”, why not give it a go for the rest of the week, and for a bigger challenge aim for a different healthy choice each day.

Tomorrow’s challenge is to eat the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables. Why not get some inspiration from the recipes section of this blog; each recipe provides one or two portions. With two sorted for your evening meal why not add a piece of fruit to your breakfast, have a salad with your lunch and a healthy afternoon snack… that’s your 5 portions done!

If you are unsure as to what makes “A portion” Keep an eye out for my next blog post where I will be giving a bit more advice on how to get the most out of your fruits and veggies.

For more information on Health Eating Week, the 5 challenges or for school resources, check out: http://www.foodafactoflife.org.uk/site.aspx?siteId=20&t=5

 

Huevos Rancheros

This recipe is my version of a traditional Mexican breakfast. With beans, chorizo, avocado, tomatoes and topped with a fried egg, this breakfast is hearty, tasty and full of goodness!

This meal provides you with 2 of your 5 a day whilst being low in fat and high in protein AND its also a great source of folate, B vitamins and fibre.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 wholegrain tortilla wraps
  • 75g chorizo, diced
  • 1 avocado, peeled and diced
  • 150g cooked Borlotti beans (Kidney beans or black beans would work just as well. I buy dried and cook them, but you can buy tinned that just need draining and rinsing)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp jalapeños, roughly chopped
  • 20g Low fat mature cheddar, grated
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Handful of tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • Small handful of coriander, roughly chopped
  • Sriracha to serve

Method:

Add the chorizo, onion and garlic powder to a frying pan and cook on a medium heat until the onions have softened and the chorizo is releasing its oil. Then add the coriander and beans to the pan for a few minutes.

Leave the mix to heat through in the pan and put the tortilla wraps under the grill to lightly toast.

Once toasted, put the tortillas on a plate and top with the bean and chorizo mix and the jalapeños, avocado and tomatoes.

Fry two eggs in the pan that you cooked the bean mix in, and once cooked to your preference place these on top of everything else on the plate.

Serve with a sprinkling of cheese and the sriracha sauce.

Enjoy!

Healthier choice: Ingredient swaps

All too often healthy eating is associated with boring salads and plain grilled chicken, but life is far to short to compromise on the eating experience for the sake of a “healthy” meal. In this post I have written about the food swaps I make when cooking to allow me to indulge in the food, I love whilst ensuring the meals are nutritionally balanced and full of flavour.

Dairy

It is important to include dairy in our diets (especially for children) because it provides a brilliant source of calcium; vital for healthy bones and supple joints, and B vitamins which are important for keeping eyes, skin and the nervous system healthy.

Cream  →→→  Reduced fat crème fraiche, quark or plain natural yoghurt Where a savoury recipe calls for cream, making a simple swap to any of the above will keep the creaminess of the recipe much with a much lower fat content. Note: I wouldn’t recommend swapping to a fat free crème fraiche or yoghurt as this is more likely to split when heated. Go for reduced fat crème fraiche or plain natural yoghurt.   

Fruit yoghurts  →→→ Plain yoghurt and add your own fruit  Fruit flavoured yoghurts tend to have added sugar as well as the natural sugars from the fruit flavouring. By swapping to plain natural or Greek yoghurt and adding your own fruit you’ll be eating no artificial sugar and be closer to getting your 5 a day.

Full fat cheese →→→ Reduced fat mature cheddar or hard cheese (eg. parmesan) The stronger the cheese the less you need, so by using less, you will automatically be adding less fat to your meal. Following the same principle, grating the cheese often means you will use less than if it is sliced.

Starchy carbohydrates

Starchy carbohydrates get a bit of a bad rap, however they can contribute valuable fibre to the diet as well as helping to keep hunger at bay…when the right type of carbohydrate is included.

White bread →→→ wholegrain, rye or sourdough Wholegrain alternatives have a lower Glycaemic Index (GI) than their white counterparts, meaning that they offer a slow release source of energy, keeping you fuller. For those who aren’t coeliac but struggle with eating bread, sourdough can be easier to digest because the natural acids produced in the long fermentation process help to make the gluten more digestible.

White pasta →→→ wholegrain pasta, spelt pasta  Making the change from refined white to wholegrain or spelt offers the same benefits as mentioned with above with bread. Spelt pasta is also a good high fibre and gluten free alternative to traditional pasta, making it a great alternative for those seeking a gluten free diet.

White rice →→→  Wholegrain brown rice, Quinoa, wholegrain cous cous Alternative grains to the highly processed white rice can offer a greater range of vitamins and nutrients. For example quinoa contains all 9 essential amino acids and provides the protein content of white rice.

Meat

This food group offers a huge variety of nutritional benefits including; protein, vitamin B12, but can also be high in saturated fat depending on what you choose.

Chicken – Avoid the skin. Although the crispy skin of a roast chicken is delicious and helps to keep the meat juicy, it is very high in fat. In contrast, the white and dark meat of a chicken is a lean source of protein, iron and low in fat.

Mince – Choose 5% fat mince, or as low a fat content as possible. Yes, it does cost a little bit more, but from a health perspective it is definitely a worthy swap that means you can continue to enjoy spag bol and chilli, but this one small change immediately reduces fat content of the meal.

Mince – Substitute some or all of the meat for lentils or beans. This again, reduces the fat content of the meal whilst offering a wider variety of vitamins and fibre. Lentils and beans are considerably cheaper than meat, so replacing the meat or adding lentils alongside is a cost effective way to make a meal go further!  Asda sell “Lean and bean” mince which is a blend of haricot beans and low fat beef mince, give it a try.

Look out for my healthier spaghetti carbonara recipe that uses some of these swaps!

For more advice on food to include in a healthy diet, have a look at the Eat Well guide – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/551502/Eatwell_Guide_booklet.pdf

 

 

Mexican bean burgers

2 of your 5 a day, high in fibre and a great source of protein… and vegetarian!

Makes approx 6 burgers

Ingredients for the burgers:

  • 2x 400g tins of kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 red chilli, diced
  • 3 spring onions, sliced
  • 2tsp garlic powder
  • 100g natural breadcrumbs (not golden or panko)
  • Black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1tsp rapeseed oil

For the avocado salsa:

  • 1 avocado, peeled and diced
  • 200g tomatoes, diced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Black pepper

For the yoghurt dressing:

  • 150g plain natural yoghurt
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Small handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Method:

Throw all of the burger ingredients into a food processor and blend until all ingredients are mixed together. Alternatively you can mix using your hands. If you do it this way, mash down the kidney beans a bit first.

Tip: The recipe makes about 6 burgers but any you don’t want to use can be put in the freezer for another day!

Add the oil to a pan and fry the burgers over a medium heat for approximately 10 minutes; flipping them midway through.

While the burgers are cooking you can make the salsa and dressing. Chop everything as per the recommendations in the ingredients list, mix them together and the accompaniments are ready!

Serve the burgers on their own or in wholemeal Pitta breads stuffed full of the salsa, lettuce (optional) and the dressing.

Enjoy!

Prawn, Beetroot & Quinoa salad

prawn-and-quinoa

Serves 2

Dressing:

  • Juice 1/2 lemon
  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh dill
  • 1tbsp Dijon mustard

Salad:

  • 90g White/red quinoa (cooked as per packet instructions)
  • 165g raw king prawns
  • 1 shallot, finely sliced
  • Handful baby plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 70g olives, roughly chopped
  • 100g cooked beetroot (not pickled)
  • small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

prawn-and-quinoa-ingredients

Method:

Put all of the dressing ingredients into an old jar and shake to mix. This can keep in the fridge for 3 days.

In a large bowl mix together the cooked quinoa, tomatoes, olives, beetroot and parsley.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic.

When the shallots and garlic have softened, add the prawns and cook for 3-5 minutes until pink and just cooked through.

Plate up the quinoa mix and top with the prawns and a drizzle of the dressing. Enjoy!

Foods to beat the winter blues

winter v2.jpgAs anyone who knows me will tell you, I hate winter! The mix of cold winds, rain and central heating dries out you skin and hair, and the dark, dreary mornings making you want to stay curled up in bed eating comfort food instead of reaching for a salad and hitting the gym.

To combat this there are numerous vitamins and food groups that help to boost happiness hormones and get skin and hair back to healthy…

Vitamin D

Sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D, and as this is scarce in the UK during winter months, it is a nutrient in which much of the British population is deficient throughout this time of year. Vitamin D plays a vital role in the protection against Dopamine and Serotonin depletion (1). Consequently, a deficiency in Vitamin D can result in decreased production of these two hormones which regulate emotional responses, and mood balance ensuring that you’re happy, motivated and less at risk of suffering from the winter blues and depression.

There are plenty of foods rich in vitamin D that can be included in the diet including; oily fish (such as mackerel, sardines and salmon), eggs, meat and fortified dairy products.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Not only are Omega 3 fatty acids important for brain function and helping the brain to fight depression, but they are also involved in hair and skin health. Some of the Omega 3 that we eat can be found in the scalp, and provides the natural oils to keep our hair and scalp hydrated. It has also been identified that Omega 3 reduces the presence of some inflammatory compounds that are involved in the skins ageing process (2). S0 as well as keeping our locks shiny and full of bounce, it also helps to keep our skin supple and looking young.

The best foods to eat for an Omega 3 boost are oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin Cimg_7331

One of the best understood vitamins, it has long been proven that vitamin C is important for a fully functioning immune system, and assisting the body in the anti-ageing fight against stress (3).

Some of the best sources of vitamin C are green leafy vegetables (such as kale, spinach, cabbage and sprouts), citrus fruits, mango and strawberries.

Vitamin A

I would highly recommend loading your diet with vitamin A rich foods as the two main functions of this vitamin are to keep your immune system fighting infection, and to keep your skin and eyes healthy. Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include dry skin and hair, brittle nails, dry eyes and frequent suffering from colds.

Butternut squash, sweet potato, spinach, mango, fish and eggs are all brilliant sources of vitamin A.

Selenium and Zinc 

Whilst high selenium status is associated with antiviral effects (4) and the prevention of dry and flaky scalps (5), Zinc is one of the ingredients required for keratin production and healthy immune function (6). With Keratin being the main component of hair, skin and nails along with the anti-dandruff properties of selenium, these two nutrients are a must for keeping hair strong, shiny and flake free.

Just 4 brazil nuts can provide a whole day’s selenium requirements, but eggs, beef and wholegrains are also great. Zinc can also be found in wholegrains and lean red meat, along with fish, shellfish, nuts and seeds.

Look out for my recipe for orange & mustard glazed salmon, which is packed with ingredients to boost immune function and keep our skin and hair on top form!

References

  1. http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/4/1501/htm

  2. http://www.jlr.org/content/47/5/921.short

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19263912

  4. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673611614529

  5. http://ijtrichology.com/article.asp?issn=0974-7753;year=2010;volume=2;issue=1;spage=24;epage=29;aulast=Draelos

  6.  (http://www.aminoacid-studies.com/areas-of-use/hair.html)

Good fats, bad fats & the truth about Coconut oil

In the past couple of years, the fat debate has been very present in the media, and more recently sparked by the research findings of Dr David Unwin. A Diabetes doctor from the North of England, he was finding that putting his patients on low carbohydrate diets was proving beneficial in the fight against diabetes. In the place of high carbohydrate foods, patients were instructed to eat more vegetables, low GI fruits and more fat (1). Despite Public Health England sticking by their advice of limiting fat intake, the media and many food and fitness bloggers took the idea of a high fat diet and ran with it.

There is however, one key feature of the diet plans that Dr Unwin prescribed, that is often  overlooked…and that is the type of fats that he encourages people to eat. Alongside lean protein and lots of vegetables, the patients were encouraged to eat “Good fats” and I have written a brief overview below of what fat to eat and what to avoid…

Good fats

Your body needs some fat to carry out essential functions such as muscle movement, nerve protection and the absorption of some dietary vitamins.

Monounsaturated fat

Found in foods such as olive oil, nut & seed oils, and avocado

These are important for our heart health. They support levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, whilst reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated fats

These are essential fats, meaning that your body cannot create them so they must be included in the diet. Examples of polyunsaturated fats include Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids.

Good sources of these fats include: nuts, flax seed & flax oil, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and soy beans.

Also important for heart health, Polyunsaturated fats have proven to reduce the risk of heart disease as omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce blood pressure and improve blood vessel function (2).

Bad fats

Trans fat

Linked with heart disease, diabetes and stroke, trans fats are a by product of hydrogenation, which turns healthy oils into solids at room temperature (3). Although they were commonly used in margarine & processed high calorie foods, there are no known health benefits to this type of fat, therefore they are rapidly falling out of use in the food industry.

Saturated fat

Found in animal fats in meat, butter and whole dairy, processed meat (eg sausages & bacon), and coconut oil.

A study published in the British Medical Journal at the end of 2013 suggested that there isn’t enough evidence to support the statement that saturated fat increases risk of a heart attack. Despite this, the NHS, British Heart Foundation and American Heart Association stand by their recommendations to limit saturated fat in the diet (4). Whilst new research is being carried out, it has been proven that saturated fat does increase cholesterol, and  high cholesterol has in turn been associated with cardiovascular disease.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is another trendy ingredient that is a favourite of many bloggers, however the evidence supporting the supposed health claims is limited. Coconut oil is rich in Medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs); and it has been suggested that this form of fat is metabolised differently to other fats. Consequently having a positive effect on the body’s metabolism and resulting in weight loss… However, coconut oil is around 90% saturated fat (compared with butter at 50%), and as mentioned above, this has consistently been linked with high cholesterol and heart disease.

A review of the scientific research about coconut oil was conducted in 2016, and it identified that from 21 research papers, no links were identified between coconut oil intake and blood lipid levels or participants weight. However, a link was identified between coconut oil intake and higher LDL & total cholesterol levels, more so than with plant oils (5).

It is therefore recommended that we use cold pressed rapeseed oil or olive oil. There is much more scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of these oils, which are lower in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat, omega 3 and omega 6.

References

(1) http://www.diabesityinpractice.co.uk/media/content/_master/4311/files/pdf/dip4-3-102-8.pdf

(2)https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3-fats/

(3) http://www.drsarma.in/files/medicine/Lipids%20Metabolic%20syndrome/Trans%20fats.pdf

(4) https://www.bhf.org.uk/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2014/march/saturated-fats-explained

(5) https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/74/4/267/1807413/Coconut-oil-consumption-and-cardiovascular-risk

Chicken, Chorizo & Butterbean Casserole

butterbean-stewThis recipe came about by accident one evening after a long day in work when I just fancied a bowl of something hot and cosy. Providing you with 1 of your 5 a day, and a healthy source of fibre and lean protein its also great the next day for lunch!

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 300g skinless, boneless chicken thigh, diced
  • 100g spicy cooking chorizo, chopped
  • 400g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 vegetable stock pot – made up into 400ml stock
  • 100ml red wine
  • 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 orange pepper, sliced
  • 2tsp smoked paprika
  • 400g tinned butterbeans, drained and rinsed
  • handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 loaf of sourdough bread

Method:

Fry the chorizo in a casserole dish for 4-5 minutes until it has started to crisp and some oils have been released. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the chicken, onions, pepper and garlic to the pan. After a couple of minutes add the paprika. Fry until the chicken is golden on all sides and the onion and pepper softened.

Add the chorizo back into the pan along with the wine, tinned tomatoes and stock. Cover and leave to cook on a medium heat.

After 10 minutes remove the lid, add the butterbeans and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes or until the sauce has reduced to a soup-like consistency.

Stir through the fresh parsley and serve with the sourdough. Enjoy!