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!

Asian marinated chicken with Egg fried rice

img_7329Ready in under 30 minutes, this meal is full of flavour whilst being low in fat and 1 of your 5 a day. This recipe also includes ginger and garlic which both boast potent immune powers. Ginger has proven anti inflammatory effects, and garlic has been used across the world to help fight infection for hundreds of years.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 chicken breasts, diced
  • 1tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 1tbsp fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 200g dried brown rice and quinoa blend (Quinoa is optional, but I buy a mixed bad of rice and quinoa from Tesco)
  • 1tsp rapeseed oil
  • 2 red peppers, sliced
  • 1 bunch spring onions, sliced
  • 300g fresh or frozen edamame (soya) beans, outer pods removed.
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into thin batons
  • 2 eggs
  • 1tsp toasted sesame oil
  • black pepper
  • 2tsp sesame seeds

Method:

Put the chicken in a bowl with the soy sauce, honey, ginger, chilli and garlic. Mix and leave to marinate whilst you chop the other vegetables.

Add the sesame seeds to a dry frying pan and leave to toast until fragrant and golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Cook the rice as per packet instructions. ( I chose to cook mine in a microwave steamer for 23 minute).

Fry the peppers, onions and carrots in the rapeseed oil for 3 minutes until they have softened slightly, add the edamame beans and cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the chicken to the pan along with the marinade and cook for 5-8 minutes stirring regularly, until the chicken is cooked through.

By this point the rice should be cooked. Mix the two eggs in a bowl with the black pepper and add to a separate frying pan until its starts to cook. Add the rice and sesame oil, stirring to combine the egg with the rice. Remove from the heat when the egg is cooked.

Add the vegetables back into the pan with the chicken and stir to mix.

Serve the rice into pasta bowls and top with the chicken, veg, and toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!

TIP: If you want a vegan alternative, swap the chicken for tofu (and reduce cooking time to 3-4 minutes) and serve with plain rice instead of egg fried!

Orange & Mustard salmon with beetroot and lentils

orange and mustard salmon.JPGSalmon is a versatile and easy to cook fish. This simple dish provides a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamins A and C and zinc. Making this a perfect dish to give a boost to the immune system.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red onion sliced into wedges
  • 1tsp rapeseed oil
  • 2tbsp marmalade
  • 2tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 200g cooked beetroot
  • 1 x 250g pack ready-to-eat puy lentils ( I like Merchant Gourmet)
  • 1tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180°c/gas mark 4.

In a small roasting tin, toss the onion wedges with oil and roast for 15 minutes until tender and softened.

Whilst the onions are cooking mix 1tbsp of the marmalade and 1tsp of the mustard and brush over the salmon.

Mix the remaining marmalade and mustard with the orange juice, red wine vinegar, and some black pepper. Add the puy lentils and beetroot, then stir to combine.

Add the lentil mix to the roasting tin, stirring in the onions. Then place the salmon on top.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, until the salmon is cooked through.

Plate up and sprinkle over the fresh parsley. Enjoy!

Tarka Dahl

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Inspired by an Indian family than I had the pleasure of working with, this recipe is my take on the popular vegetarian lentil curry that is low fat, 1 of your 5 a day and packed with fibre and meat free protein.

Serves 4 as a main

Ingredients

200g red lentils

1 tsp turmeric

1 knob butter

2 tsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 small onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed or sliced (your choice!)

1-2 fresh green chilli, finely sliced (removed the seeds if you want to keep the heat down)

1/2 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1cm cube fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2-3 tomatoes, chopped small

Fresh coriander, to serve

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Method

  • Place the lentils in a pan and cover with enough cold water to come to around one 3cm above their surface. Bring to the boil (skim off any scum that rises to the top), then reduce to a simmer and stir in the turmeric and the butter. Then cover and leave to cook gently for approximately 30-40 minutes.
  • Dry fry the cumin seeds for about a minute until toasted and fragrant. Set aside to use later.
  • Heat the rapeseed oil in a frying pan and gently fry the garlic, onion, chilli, ginger and tomatoes.
  • When the garlic is starting to colour, mix in the cumin seeds, garam masala and ground coriander. Remove from the heat until the lentils are completely softened.
  • Give the lentils a good stir. You will know they are cooked when they are a similar consistency to porridge. (when it is first cooked it may still look a bit runny but as it cools slightly and is dished up it will thicken).
  • Once you are happy wit the consistency of the lentils, stir through the onion and spice mix from the frying pan.
  • Season to taste, then serve topped with the fresh coriander and brown rice or a naan bread (slightly less healthy option). Enjoy!!

Why are pulses so good for you?

img_7310

With 2016 being named International year of the pulse (1). I thought I would make my first post about this wonderful food group…

What is a pulse?

A pulse is an edible seed that grows in a pod,this includes beans, lentils and peas. Some examples:

  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Garden peas
  • Cannellini beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Butter beans
  • Broad beans
  • Baked Beans

Why they’re so good?

Weight loss

With a protein content ranging between 17-30%, pulses make a brilliantly low fat alternative to meat in the diet (2). Pulses are also high in fibre which is consistently linked with satiety and keeping us full for longer, therefore the combination of low energy densiry, high fibre and moderate protein is thought to be a winning combination for weight control (4).

Fatigue prevention

Pulses have a low glycaemic Index (GI) meaning that when eaten; beans, peas and lentils release energy to the body at a slow and steady rate. This prevents the energy surge and slump associated with simple carbohydrates such as white bread and sugary treats, thus keeping you fuller for longer and less tempted to reach for a high fat or sugar snack. Due to the low GI of this food group, it makes them a brilliant carbohydrate source for those with type 2 Diabetes, as they don’t cause sharp rises to blood glucose levels. Some studies have also found that pulses could reduce risk of developing type 2 Diabetes (3).

5 a day

Three tablespoons or 80g of pulses counts as one of your 5 a day. Having said that; no matter how much you eat, they can only ever count as one portion. This is because despite their health credentials, they don’t provide as big a variety of nutrients and minerals that fruit and vegetables do.

Vegetarian alternative

For some vegetarians it can be difficult to ensure that they are getting enough of the nutrients that are associated with eating meat. However, pulses are a great meat-free source of iron and B vitamins, which are vital for sustaining energy, kidney function and healthy hair and nails.

Cheap

In addition to all of the above nutritional benefits, pulses are cheap to buy and a lot cheaper than meat. This makes them great as meat-free alternatives in dishes such as chilli or spaghetti Bolognese, but if you’re not ready to go full veggie then they also work perfectly along side meat as a side dish or an additional ingredient to make meals go further.

For a delicious meat-free and pulse packed dish, try out my recipe for tarka dahl.

References

(1) International Year of the Pulse http://iyp2016.org/

(2) J, Curran. (2012) The nutritional value and health benefits of pulses in relation to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. British Journal of Nutrition. 108, S1, S1-S2.

(3) N, Kalogeropoulos, et al. (2010) Nutritional evaluation and bioactive microconstituents (phytosterols, tocopherols, polyphenols, triterpenic acids) in cooked dry legumes usually consumed in Mediterranean countries. Food Chemistry 121, 682690.

(4) I Albete , et al. (2010) Obesity and the metabolic syndrome: role of different dietary macronutrient distribution patterns and specific nutritional components on weight loss and maintenance. Nutrition Reviews 68, 214231.