R is for red

R is for redWith Christmas approaching, now is the time to think about including some extra healthy recipes in your holiday meal planning. Red is the colour this month and my juice, pasta sauce and deli salad are all rich in the red pigment lycopene, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant which prevents DNA damage. Studies suggest that a lycopene-rich diet could protect against cancer, heart disease and age-related macular degeneration. Tomatoes are the main source of lycopene for most people, but guavas and watermelon actually contain higher levels. Other good sources of lycopene are papaya, red and pink grapefruit and red peppers. Lycopene is better absorbed by the body from cooked fruit and vegetables, particularly in the presence of oil, which is why I have included a red sauce involving long slow cooking with plenty of olive oil!

These red recipes are somewhat connected – add the juice from the sauce tomatoes to the juice recipe, and stir leftover red deli salad into the pasta sauce.

Sweet red juice
Serves one

400g watermelon
4 carrots, roughly chopped
Juice from tinned tomatoes
One inch peeled ginger

Juice all ingredients and drink immediately. More fresh (vegetable-based) juice during the party season is a good way to offset the impact of any over-indulgence.

Red pasta sauce
Serves 1-2

400g tin plum tomatoes, drained
Three cloves of garlic
One whole red chilli (optional)
Two romano peppers, chopped
One tsp sumac
One tsp mixed herbs

Cook the garlic and chilli till the garlic is browned in good-quality olive oil. Add tomatoes, peppers, herbs and spice and simmer, very slowly, for up to two hours till you have a very thick sauce. If it shows signs of drying up, then add more olive oil. By the way, I picked up the tip about using a whole chilli from The Guardian cookery section – it infuses the sauce with heat and, if feeling brave, you can eat it with the sauce, otherwise discard. This saves chopping the chilli (and, for me, a painful experience when next putting in my contact lenses!).

Serve with pasta and something green (maybe a handful of spinach thrown in towards the end of the cooking). If you make double quantities, eating it cold, or re-heated, will increase the soluble fibre content of the pasta and help stabilise blood glucose levels.

Red deli salad
Serves 1-2

One tub of sun-dried tomatoes
One tub of grilled red peppers
One tub of your favourite olives
Pack of good quality tomatoes, halved/chopped

Mix all ingredients and serve with a splash of cold-pressed flaxseed or olive oil. This salad works very well with cooked salmon or smoked mackerel for a simple healthy meal or as part of a festive buffet.

Avoid bloating this Christmas

Christmas puddingBy Melanie Simcock, Nutritional Therapist

We’ve all been there; feeling bloated on January the 1st with a strong desire to hibernate for the rest of the winter.  The party season is drawing to a close and the only thing we’ve exercised over the past fortnight is a little plastic card!  But it doesn’t have to be like that.  With a little forethought and planning we can have a great time and still greet the New Year with vigour.  How?  Well it may seem strange but…..

Decide when Christmas is going to begin

Each year the festive season gets earlier.  Our summer tans haven’t even begun to fade before the Christmas goodies are appearing on the supermarket shelves.  So make a conscious decision not to slip any mince pies and the like into the trolley before say 20th December (you decide the date).  The same goes for Christmas confectionery.

Last year I found empty chocolate tree decorations in the cupboard – they hadn’t even made it to the tree!  So this year they won’t make it to my trolley until a few days before Christmas; saving me pounds in more ways than one.  Ok some may feel that this is a little harsh, but if we have these goodies for weeks before Christmas we pile on the pounds and they stop being special to the festive season.

So how do we take the sting out of the party season whilst still having fun?

Try some of my Party Tips:

  • Eat a little before going to the party; couple of pieces of fruit or small bowl of cereal.  Then you won’t go mad over the calorie laden canapés when you arrive.
  • Drink a good tumbler of water before going out.  This will stop you using alcoholic drinks as thirst quenchers.
  • Match every alcoholic drink with either a glass of water or fruit juice.  This will keep down the calories as well as keeping you hydrated and reducing the hangover.
  • Enjoy the party food but handle with care calorie laden foods such as full fat cheeses, crisps, salted peanuts.  Listen to your body and know when you’ve had enough.
  • Before retiring to bed drink a tumbler of water to rehydrate the body.

Delicious and nutritious are not mutually exclusive.  We can have festive fayre which is light on the hips and arteries but still tastes great.

My cooking tips:

1. Cook your turkey on a rack allowing the fat to run free.  Avoid eating the highly calorific skin.
Dry roast potatoes and parsnips – boil for 5 mins, drain and shake vigorously in the pan.  Place in ready heated roasting tin with a little olive oil and fresh herbs and pop into hot oven for 40 mins – delicious!
2. Don’t skip breakfast.  Make it a special ‘Christmas fruit platter’ with fruits you consider a treat.  This will provide essential nutrients and keep you from diving into the chocs before lunch.

3. Soups are very welcoming and nutritious, especially after returning from a winter walk.  Try pumpkin soup: place chunks of pumpkin, onion and garlic in roasting tin and drizzle over little olive oil.  When roasted whiz up in a liquidiser with some vegetable stock until smooth.  Serve warm with a little plain yogurt and crusty bread.  This soup is always popular with children.

Roast a batch of colourful vegetables; fennel, all colours of peppers, courgettes, red onions, garlic etc., with a little olive oil and few sprigs of rosemary.  This makes a delicious and colourful main course when mixed with a little cooked pasta and olives or a great accompaniment to left over meats.  The rosemary emits a wonderful aroma as it cooks.

4. Place healthy treats around the home to encourage festive nibblers; bowls of plump satsumas, nuts in their shells, crudités with variety of houmous dips etc.

And so to the thorny question of exercise

We do not have to resort to pumping iron at the gym to stave off that January feeling but being a couch potato for the festive season isn’t going to have us zinging into the New Year either.   Just half an hour each day walking in the fresh air is an excellent tonic for festive tensions and may even get you out of the washing up!

So enjoy the festive season whatever it holds for you and if all else fails then give me a call in the New Year and I will help to get you back in shape.  Melanie Simcock,  www.mjsnutrition.co.uk, melanie.simcock@btinternet.com, 01483 300368.

Y is for yellow (and O is for orange)

fruit and vegetablesThe autumn colours we’re currently enjoying are the ‘big reveal’ of the yellow, orange and red pigments that are normally masked, in summer, by the green of chlorophyll, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

In autumn, chlorophyll molecules break down. So, for the next two months, let’s look at the health benefits of the yellows, oranges and reds in fruits and vegetables and make the most of them in my new juice, main and salad recipes.

The yellow, orange and red pigments belong to a family phytochemicals called the carotenoids. They all have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer protective properties. The best-known carotenoids are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene, but there are over 600 different pigments in the family, so lots more research to do!

Within the carotenoid family there are two broad groups – the xanthophylls (the yellows) and the carotenes (the oranges). Lutein and zeaxanthin are xanthophylls and are both important for eye health, with research suggesting that a high intake may help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Yellow fruits are a particularly good source of these phytochemicals. Another of the xanthophylls is beta-cryptoxanthin, which is found in yellow peppers and sweetcorn. Some studies have suggested that beta-cryptoxanthin may be effective in preventing lung cancer.

Carrots are rich in beta-carotene as are mangoes and sweet potatoes. One study suggests that beta-carotene may help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Meanwhile, alpha-carotene has been linked to a reduced risk of death from cancer, heart disease and diabetes, with carrots and tangerines being good sources. We’ll take a closer look at lycopene, a red pigment, in next month’s post.

Super Orange Juice
Serves One

Two oranges
Three carrots
One yellow (or orange) pepper
One inch peeled ginger

Yellow split pea dahl
Serves four

100g red lentils
100g yellow split peas
two onions
three cloves garlic
Spices include a mixture of black mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, all blasted in a Nutribullet miller or ground in a mortar and pestle, one tsp each of ground turmeric and ground cinnamon
Tbsp chilli jam
Two tbsp. tomato puree
Bag frozen peas or mixed veg

Fry onion and garlic in coconut oil, add spices, tomato puree and chilli jam. Cook for around 10 minutes, until soft. Then stir in the lentils and split peas and add the water. Cook until soft and then add the mixed vegetables, cooking for a few more minutes.
This is a good dish to serve over two days. Day one, add a baked sweet potato and the next day, re-heat and serve with a packet of microwaveable basmati microwave rice (or similar) with some interesting additions (I used one with pinto beans, chilli and lime – there are lots of options). A dollop of mint and cucumber raita and some mango chutney wouldn’t go amiss either.
Sunny salad

Serves two

This is an (almost) all-yellow salad, packed with nutrients and a sweet addition to grilled salmon, smoked salmon or halloumi.

Grated carrot
Yellow pepper
Yellow and orange tomatoes
Nasturtium flower

Mix all ingredients with flaxseed oil and cider vinegar, and decorate with the nasturtium flower.

G is for Green

GreensEat your greens – it’s one of the simplest ways of improving your health! Forget boiled cabbage and tired lettuce – green vegetables (and fruits) can be tasty and satisfying (as I’ve tried to show in the recipes below), according to Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives green plants their colour and it is the most abundant pigment in nature. Research has shown that chlorophyll can prevent the absorption of carcinogens in the diet and is capable of killing cancer cells. Chlorophyll’s intense colour masks the presence of other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory pigments, like carotenoids, in green fruits and vegetables.

Greens are also high in potassium, vitamin C and magnesium and leafy greens are rich in folic acid (the word ‘folic’ means ‘leafy’ in Latin). Finally, greens also low in calories, high in fibre and have a low glycaemic index. So why not challenge yourself to eat something green every day, if you feel your diet could do with a nutrient boost?

CKC juice

Couldn’t be easier and the kiwi adds a touch of sweetness.
Serves one

Two big handfuls of kale
One inch piece of peeled ginger
Two peeled kiwi fruits
One cucumber, chopped into big chunks
Juice everything and drink immediately.

Green Curry
Serves two

Jar of green curry sauce
One tbsp grated ginger
One chopped green chilli
Two cloves crushed garlic
Two heads of pak choi, chopped
Two leeks, finely chopped
One pack tenderstem broccoli, chopped
One green pepper, finely chopped

Stir fry everything for five minutes in coconut oil, add curry sauce, turn down the heat and simmer till tender (about 15 mins). Serve with a ‘healthy’ grain, like red rice, freekeh, amaranth, quinoa…

Super Green Salad
Serves two to four

Assemble as many green ingredients as you can – e.g.

Cooked French beans
Cooked runner beans
Cooked/raw peas
Chopped cucumber
Kiwi fruit, sliced
Diced celery
Baby kale….
Serve with avocado dressing

For the avocado dressing

One avocado
Two tbsp flax seed oil
Two cloves garlic
One red chilli
Handful of mint leaves
Juice of one lime

Blast the above in a Nutribullet to make a dressing of mayonnaise like consistency. Add more oil or lime juice if it comes out too thick. Scale up as needed to dress the amount of salad greens you have.

F is for French: the Mediterranean Diet Part Four

Lavender SusanA report at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggested that following a Mediterranean diet can help preserve cognitive function in later life and thereby reduce the risk of dementia. The research is part of the US Health and Retirement Study which involves nearly 6,000 adults. Those who stuck most closely to the Mediterranean diet had a 30 to 35 per cent lower risk of cognitive impairment, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy eating habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – Spain, France, Italy and Greece. It is typically high in cereals, fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, low in red meat and moderate in dairy products, fish, poultry and wine. For more details, see the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.

For the final (for now) instalment of the Mediterranean diet blogs, we visit France. I’ll admit that, although I’ve travelled a lot in France, the prospect of writing about French food is a little intimidating! So I thought about my ideal, simple, French meal and have applied the Eatwell plate/food pyramid principles to it. This is for a French style dinner party, where you make the starter the largest course, the main the simplest and the dessert the smallest.

Rainbow Crudites
Serves two

Two cooked beetroot, chopped
One pack cherry tomatoes, halved
One tub of your favourite olives
100g grated carrot
100g fine French beans, cooked and cooled
50g sweetcorn
Arrange all the ingredients like an artist’s palette and dress with raspberry vinegar and extra-virgin cold pressed olive oil.
Omelette aux fines herbes

2/3 eggs per person
Chopped herbs
Beat the eggs, add the herbs. Heat olive oil in a pan till it begins to smoke and add the egg mixture. When it begins to go frilly round the edges, tip the pan and let the liquid mixture run into the base and continue like this till set. Serve immediately, with a green vegetable (asparagus, tender stem broccoli or runner beans (in season now) on the side.

Lavender chocolate pot
Serves four

Provence is famous for lavender and it’s often included in cooking in that regions. You could also make this dessert with rose or violet flavoured chocolate. I buy rose-flavoured and lavender and lime-flavoured milk chocolate from the shop at Kew Gardens and it provides all the sweetness you need in this recipe – no need for added sugar.

100g bar of lavender (rose or violet) flavoured chocolate, finely chopped
200ml double cream
75ml whole milk
One egg yolk
Berries to serve

Put chocolate in a bowl. Warm cream to boiling point, pour over chocolate and stir till chocolate melts. Mix egg and milk in separate bowl. Pour into chocolate mix, stir and strain, put into pretty teacups or glasses (the smallest you can find) and refrigerate overnight. Top with an edible flower before serving with berries.

Coming next: G is for Green