S is for Spanish: the Mediterranean Diet Part Three

peppersThere is more good news about the Mediterranean Diet. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer in March, and reported in the Telegraph showed that women who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean style of eating had a 40 per cent reduced risk of oestrogen receptor-negative breast cancer, which is one of the most deadly forms of the disease. The research tracked women aged between 55 and 69 for 20 years, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, 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 this instalment of the Mediterranean diet blog, we visit Spain. Spanish cooking contains three of my favourite healthy food choices – olives, peppers and tomatoes. Olives contain high amounts of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid which lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. They are also packed with a wide range of phytonutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Meanwhile, peppers and tomatoes are both rich in antioxidant carotenoids (the phytochemicals that give them their bright colours).

Gazpacho Smoothie

Make your smoothie into this classic, refreshing Spanish soup.
Serves two
400g cherry tomatoes
One cucumber
One red pepper
100g yoghurt
One tbsp. cider vinegar
One tbsp. flaxseed or olive oil

Whizz the above in a Nutribullet. Put in the fridge overnight. Add an ice cube to each serving and then serve with little bowls of diced cucumber, tomato, red and green pepper, red onion or shallots.

Rainbow Peppers

Padrón peppers are famous in Spain. Here, I combine this classic dish with stewed red, orange and yellow peppers.
Serves two
One red, one yellow and one orange pepper, halved and sliced into strips.
Three garlic cloves, crushed
One red chilli, diced
Jar or tub of sun dried tomatoes
One carton cherry tomatoes
One tub mixed olives
One tbsp. your favourite spice(s) – I use cinnamon and paprika
One tbsp. rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil and cook the peppers, chilli, garlic and spices for one minute so everything is covered in oil. Lower the heat and cook gently with the lid on the pan till the peppers are soft. Now add the tomatoes, turn up the heat and cook with the lid off until most of the liquid has evaporated. Eat hot or cold, alone as part of a Mediterranean buffet or as a topping for pasta (not Spanish, I know, but perhaps with a sprinkling of grated Manchego cheese to add an extra Spanish accent). If serving the peppers cold, try adding a slug of flaxseed oil for an omega-3 boost.

Vegetable Tortilla

A classic tortilla contains potatoes, but if you are looking for a no-carb version, use peppers, shallots/red onions, peas and asparagus with the eggs.
Serves two
Six eggs
One red pepper, diced
Two shallots/one red onion, diced
100g peas
100g asparagus
Olive or rapeseed oil

Fry the onions and peppers in the oil till soft. Cook the peas and asparagus, beat the eggs and mix. Add the egg mixture to the frying pan and, when it just starts to solidify at the edges, take the pan off the heat and place it under a medium grill. Cook until the omelette has solidified.

Coming next: M is for Mint

G is for Greek: the Mediterranean Diet Part Two

Greek saladEating a diet with a higher ‘Mediterranean diet’ score reduces the risk of further heart problems in those with established (but stable) coronary heart disease, according to a new study, writes HS guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

The research covered 15,482 people in 39 countries. In lifestyle questionnaires, they were also scored on their consumption of a ‘Western diet’ (refined grains, deep fried foods, sweets and desserts, sugary drinks). Surprisingly, perhaps, the study showed no link between the Western diet and the risk of further heart problems. This finding led lead researcher Ralph Stewart of the University of Auckland to comment. “The research suggests we should place more emphasis on encouraging people with heart problems to eat more healthy foods, and perhaps focus less on avoiding unhealthy foods.”

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy eating habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – France, Spain, 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.

Greek olives
Restaurant and ready meals from the Mediterranean countries are, of course, readily available in the UK. But how healthy are they? Think greasy kebabs, pizzas with thick crusts stuffed with cheese….

So, I’m going to visit each of the four Mediterranean countries and come up with three new healthy recipes for any of you that want to start (or continue with) the Mediterranean diet. And I’ll include a new piece of research with each one. This week we are in Greece.
Extra protein hummus

Add some texture with the chick peas, and protein with the nut butter.

Serves 4–6 (and keeps for up to a week)

400g tin of chick peas
200g tub of your favourite/high-quality hummus
Two tbsp. nut butter (look out for mixed nut/seed butters and butters with different nuts – I used mixed peanut, almond and cashews but there are lots of other options)
Flaxseed/olive/rapeseed oil – whatever high-quality oil you like
Lemon juice
Garlic cloves, crushed

Mash the drained chick peas and then mix with the hummus and nut butter to make a smooth paste. Add oil, lemon juice and garlic to taste. Serve with crudites, pitta bread and my special Greek salad. Add the falafels (recipe below) for a Greek feast!

Special Greek salad

I’ve added some healthy pomegranate seeds and chunks of watermelon for sweetness and texture to this classic Greek salad.

Serves 4 and keeps well

100g pomegranate seeds
Quarter watermelon, cut into chunks
Half cucumber, chopped
One or two chopped red onions
Bag or bunch of watercress
Handful of pumpkin/sunflower seeds
220g cherry tomatoes, halved
200g mixed olives
200g barrel-aged feta cheese, cut into chunks
Cider vinegar
Lemon juice
Flaxseed or olive oil
Fresh chopped herbs

Mix main ingredients in a big bowl and toss with oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Dress with herbs.

Baked falafels

I like the idea of baking falafels rather than deep or shallow frying them. First, I’ll confess I’m not good at frying stuff – I tend to over or underdo it! Second, baked has fewer calories than fried. This is a good chance to experiment with different herbs and spices in the falafel mix (I noticed the Moroccan spices hadn’t had an outing for a while).

Makes 16

One small onion, finely chopped
One garlic clove, crushed
400g can chickpeas
Two tsp ground cumin
One tsp sumac
One tsp ras el hanout
One tbsp finely chopped mint
One beaten egg, beaten

Fry the onion in the oil till softened and then add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes (watch that the garlic doesn’t go too dark). Remove from heat. Cool and transfer to a mixing bowl. Drain the chickpeas and add to the onions and garlic. Mash up the mixture to a rough paste. Add the herbs and spices (plus salt and pepper to taste, if you like). Now mix in the egg. Take spoonfuls of the mixture and shape into falafel-size balls on a baking tray. At this stage, pop the falafels in the fridge for a bit and heat the oven to 200C. Then bake for 25 minutes, till brown and crisp and golden-brown, turning from time to time.

Coming next: S is for Spanish

I is for Italian: the Mediterranean Diet Part One

mediterranean dietA recent report from the ongoing European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC) Norfolk study has shown that people adhering more closely to a Mediterranean diet were less likely to suffer from heart disease, writes our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,   freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

The effect was small – but significant. Lead author, Dr Nita Forouhi of Cambridge University, said: “We estimate that 3.9% of all new cardiovascular disease cases or 12.5% of cardiovascular deaths in our UK based study population could potentially avoided if this population increased their adherence to the Mediterranean diet.”

[By the way, EPIC Norfolk is not just about cancer – it’s a long-running, highly respected investigation into the impact of diet on health]

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy eating habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – France, Spain, 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.
Restaurant and ready meals from the Mediterranean countries are, of course, readily available in the UK. But how healthy are they? Think greasy kebabs, pizzas with thick crusts stuffed with cheese….

So I’m going to visit each of the four Mediterranean countries and come up with three new healthy recipes for any of you that want to start (or continue with) the Mediterranean diet. And I’ll include a new piece of research with each one.

Healthy Minestrone Soup

At least two servings of vegetables, and protein and carbs from the beans and pasta, makes this a main course soup. It’s also one that you can re-heat or freeze for another day.

Serves two
One onion, chopped
Three sticks of celery, chopped
Three carrots, diced
Half a green cabbage (the greener the better), shredded finely
Handful of frozen peas
One litre vegetable stock or water
400g tin of cannellini beans
80g any kind of fine/small pasta
One tbsp dried mixed herbs
Tomato puree

Fry the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil until soft. Add the stock/water and herbs with the beans. Simmer everything for about 20 mins and then add the pasta and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the cabbage, peas and enough tomato puree to give the soup a nice orangey/red colour. Don’t blend – this is a chunky soup! Add more water/stock if it seems too thick.

Pitta Pizza

This recipe aims to invert the crust/topping ratio of the chain store/restaurant pizza by using pitta bread as a thin base and a thicker than usual vegetable topping. Again, each serving provides at least two helpings of veg – more if you serve with a salad!

Serves two
Two wholemeal pitta breads
Tomato puree
One pack mushrooms, chopped
One red pepper, chopped
One yellow or orange pepper, chopped
One red onion, chopped
One tbsp. mixed herbs
100g black/green olives
One chopped red chilli
Grated mozzarella cheese

Prepare the vegetable topping by frying the peppers and onion in olive oil till soft, then adding the mushrooms for a further 10 minutes. Set aside and warm the pitta breads on one side under the grill. Spread the other side thickly with tomato puree and then layer on the fried vegetables. Top with olives, chilli and cheese. Grill until the cheese has melted and everything has warmed through. (tip – the bread goes hard if you grill for too long!). Serve immediately.

Watercress Pesto

The basic ingredients of a pesto sauce are: something green and leafy (traditionally basil), nuts, oil and hard Italian cheese. Why buy pesto in jars, when it’s so easy to make it fresh in a blender or Nutribullet? This is a particularly nutrient-dense sauce, with omega-3 fatty acids from the oil and walnuts and lovely antioxidants in the watercress!

Serves two
One bag watercress
100ml flaxseed oil
50g walnuts
One finely chopped red chilli (optional)
One tbsp fresh grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
Blend all ingredients. Serve with pasta of your choice.

Coming soon – G is for Greek. The Mediterranean Diet Part Two

W is for Wales

daffodilsThe leek is the national symbol of Wales.  It is also an exceptionally, though sometimes overlooked, vegetable. Leeks belong to the Allium family, along with onions, spring onions, shallots and garlic, writes our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,   freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Like its relatives, the leek contains various sulphur-containing compounds, including allicin.  The allicin molecule not only contributes to the characteristic flavour of the leek, but also has powerful antimicrobial properties and can mop up free radicals, which otherwise attack DNA and other cellular components.

Leeks are also a good source of the anti-cancer phytochemical, kaempferol (as are broccoli, kale and cabbage), as well as being packed with fibre and vitamins. Last, but not least, leeks contain oligosaccharides with probiotic properties, which feed the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut.

So celebrate St David’s Day, on Wednesday 1 March, with these two healthy leek recipes.

Leek, celery and spinach soup

Leek and potato is the classic soup, but I prefer to use the potatoes in a salad (see below) and go for this green soup, where the crème fraiche adds a touch of creaminess.

Serves two

Two leeks, chopped
Three celery stalks, chopped
Stock or water
One bag spinach
One tbsp. tomato puree
One tsp Marmite
Dried mixed herbs
One tbsp. crème fraiche

Soften the leeks and celery in coconut or rapeseed oil and then add the stock (one litre or so), Marmite, herbs and tomato puree. When the vegetables are cooked, add the spinach and cook for about 5 minutes, till wilted. Liquidise and stir in the crème fraiche.

Leek and potato salad

Cold potatoes (like cold pasta) are richer in resistant starch than hot potatoes and this can help lower blood sugar and improve insulin resistance. The celery and peas in this salad make it a healthy high fibre dish.

Serves four

750g salad potatoes
packet of baby leeks, chopped
Three celery stalks, chopped
Tbsp. capers
Small packet of frozen peas

For the dressing: Two tbsp. Greek yoghurt or crème fraiche, two tsp mustard, one tbsp. linseed oil

Cook the potatoes and add the peas for the last five minutes. Drain and cool. Add the other ingredients, mix the dressing and toss. Make a rainbow meal high in healthy fats by serving with a beetroot and tomato salad, smoked mackerel/smoked salmon.

Alternative Welsh rarebit

Welsh rarebit is a classic comfort dish. There are many different recipes, most involving egg, flour, milk and beer, so you’re actually grilling a rich cheese sauce. Given that we’re now being advised to eat 10 portions fruit and vegetables a day, I’ve given the Welsh rarebit a makeover. If you try to add extra fruit and vegetables to all your meals and snacks, like this, you’ll soon get up to 10 servings a day.

Serves one

One thick slice of the most interesting bread you can find (spelt sourdough, walnut, wholemeal pitta etc).

Around 30g crumbled/sliced Caerphilly cheese
Small carton of cherry or baby plum tomatoes
Chopped up red chilli (optional)
Big bunch of watercress

Grill the tomatoes whole, until soft. Toast one side of the bread. Spread the tomatoes on the other side, top with the cheese and chilli and grill until the cheese melts. Serve on a bed of watercress.

Stress is on the up

N2K_Stress_2011_6mmStress has been a hot topic for years, and it’s not getting any better.  People are even more stressed now and technology is making it worse.  How many emails do you have to deal with each day?  Do you get phone calls and emails wherever you are at any time of the day or night?

READ: Heads Together to improve mental health awareness, a campaign spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

When I wrote the book Stress – The Essential Guide, the thing that became most obvious to me was how most people don’t really help themselves.  We have so many habits and idiosyncrasies, beliefs and obsessions that we often do things in a way that make life much more difficult for ourselves.  So I included a paragraph called Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?

This is not meant to be harsh. If you have lost someone close to you, you or someone close to you is seriously ill, you’ve been through divorce, or lost your job you are more than likely to feel very stressed. But you do need to be good to yourself when this is happening. There are so many ways that we aggravate situations.

For example:

• You might be a perfectionist – always wanting everything to be just so.
• You may procrastinate – putting things off until they overwhelm you.
• You may have been brought up with very strong beliefs or prejudices which don’t serve you well and  mean you cannot accept certain situations.
• Perhaps you are in denial and cannot face things, thereby making things worse for yourself.
• Or maybe you are proud and don’t like to tell people when things are going wrong.
• You might find it impossible to say no, even when you really don’t want to do something.
• And similarly you are always doing things for other people, when you have plenty on your plate already.

It’s not easy to change your personality without some serious work on yourself, and that’s where counselling can really help.  Understanding why you do things is a great start to trying to stop them. Do you do things because you’re still trying to please your parents, even if they’re not even here any more?

There’s no doubt that it’s easier to make changes when you’re in the good times, but it’s likely that you are only faced with these problems when things are getting out of control. Stress is a feeling of being unable to cope with the pressure upon you, so it’s a good idea not to put pressure on yourself and stop being so hard on yourself.

Stress – The Essential Guide by Frances Ive

 

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