Experiments with cacao

CacaoIf you love chocolate, it’s worthwhile starting to include cacao powder in your daily diet. Unlike chocolate, raw cacao is naturally fermented, unprocessed and free of sugar, milk and other additives. This concentrates the true chocolate and coffee flavour compounds, allowing for a deeper taste experience, writes Dr Susan Aldridge,  Healthy Soul’s  guest blogger,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Cacao contains over 700 different phytochemicals. Some of these have powerful antioxidant properties; cacao compares favourably with dark chocolate, green tea and blueberries as a source of antioxidants. It is also rich in magnesium. Research suggests that cacao might help prevent blood clots, improve cognitive function and insulin resistance and lower blood pressure.

These recipes use an organic cacao powder that is pressed from raw cacao beans, and has no additives.

Cacao smoothie

A luxurious, tasty and nutritious drink
Serves one
One punnet of strawberries
250mul almond milk
One tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp cacao powder
Blend everything in a Nutribullet or similar device and drink immediately.

Vegetarian chilli

I replaced the mince with a packet of quinoa with seeds (many other varieties of packet quinoa available!)

Serves 2–3 (reheats well and great for a summer party if you scale up)
Two cloves of garlic, chopped finely
Two chopped red chillis
One red onion, chopped
One yellow Romano pepper, chopped
One red Romano pepper, chopped
400g tin tomatoes
400g tin mixed beans
Two tbsp. tomato puree
250g pack quinoa, ready cooked
One tbsp. raw cacao powder
Fry the onion, peppers, garlic, chilli and cacao powder in olive oil till the vegetables are soft. Then add the tomatoes, beans, tomato puree and quinoa. Cook for 15–20 minutes.
Serve with grated cheese/sour cream/finely chopped chillis/sliced avocado. Drizzle with chilli oil if you like it hot.

Cacao peach melba

A healthy take on this classic dessert.
Serves two
250g of the thickest, most luxurious yoghurt you can find
Two tsp raw organic cacao powder
Two peaches, sliced
Handful of raspberries
Stir the cacao powder into the yoghurt and divide between two dessert glasses. Top with the sliced peaches and raspberries and refrigerate, preferably overnight.

Next month. Experiments with fermented foods

Experiments with pineapple

PineappleWhen I heard that sales of pineapple are booming in the UK, with one buyer claiming that it might start to rival avocado in popularity, I just had to put together a pineapple blog to follow on from last month’s avocado blog, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

I’ve got bad memories of pineapple from the 1960s. Tinned pineapple chunks, soggy pineapple rings with evaporated milk and pineapple and cheese cubes on cocktail sticks. Time for a re-think, because pineapples are rich in vitamin C (one serving supplies more than your daily recommended intake), potassium and the enzyme bromelain, which can reduce inflammation. One word of caution though – a serving of pineapple contains 16g sugar (compared with raspberries, which contain 5g sugar per serving). So, rather than eat it on its own, try the three recipes below where the sweetness is balanced by lots of other healthy ingredients.

Green pineapple juice
Serves one

The addition of pineapple lifts this classic green juice.

One cucumber, roughly chopped
Three sticks of celery, halved
Two handfuls of spinach leaves
Half a pineapple, sliced
One inch peeled ginger, chopped
Juice all ingredients and drink immediately.

Crunchy salad
Serves two

Three types of green leaves – I used a bag of pea shoots, two baby gem lettuce and a bag of watercress

50g pomegranate seeds
100g pineapple, cut into small chunks
Handful of mixed seeds (linseed, pumpkin and sunflower)
One sliced avocado
Toss all ingredients in a dressing of flaxseed oil, cider vinegar and lemon. To make more of a main meal of this salad, add an extra avocado and some prawns.

Fruity curry
Serves two to three

Two onions, chopped
One inch grated ginger
Two Tbsp curry paste
100g oily toor dhal (or red lentils or similar pulse)
400g coconut milk
400g tin tomatoes
400g mushrooms, sliced
100g frozen peas
one-quarter pineapple, chopped
half mango, chopped

Fry the onion and ginger in coconut oil till soft and add the curry paste and dhal. Stir and add the coconut milk and tomatoes. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the mushrooms and peas. Stir for a few minutes, then add the pineapple and mango and heat through.
Next month – experiments with cacao

Experiments with avocado

avocadoAvocado is used increasingly to make dishes vegan – instead of butter on toast and in main course salads instead of ham or chicken. But avocado is far more than an animal product substitute, 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 fruit of the Persea Americana tree is rich in vitamins, including vitamin E, and contains more potassium than a banana.  It has a glycaemic index of zero and contains more fat than any other fruit. This is ‘heart healthy’ monounsaturated fat – specifically, oleic acid, which is also found in olive oil. Here are three easy ways to include more avocados in your diet.

Avocado green smoothie

This is a lovely, creamy drink which is rather like a super-healthy chocolate milk shake.

Serves one
50g Spinach
One avocado, peeled, stoned and sliced
Cacao
50g strawberries
50g raspberries
300ml hemp, almond or coconut milk (or a mixture)
Blend all the ingrdients in a Nutribullet or similar device. Drink immediately.
Avocado on toast

This is my version of avocado on toast, where I replace the traditional poached egg with a version of the classic Italian dish insalata tricolore, which combines avocado with tomatoes and mozzarella.

Serves one as a light main, or make double quantities/add salad for a main for two. You could also cut this into smaller pieces for a party canape dish.

Thick slice of interesting bread (I used walnut, but you could use olive or sourdough), toasted
One sliced avocado
Sundried tomatoes
Soft cheese (I used Cornish brie, but mozzarella or feta would also work well)
Chopped mint/basil/microgreens to finish.

Layer the avocado, tomatoes and cheese on the toast and heat under the grill until the cheese has melted. Finish with the herbs/microgreens.

Avocado hummus

This spread is packed with healthy fats from the avocado and the oils.

Makes around four servings

Tub of hummus (suggest going for an ‘artisan’ or home-made version with extra-virgin cold pressed olive oil, rather than standard supermarket product)
One avocado, peeled and sliced
One tbsp. flax seed oil (I used the chilli-steeped version, but the plain version is just as good)
Juice of one lemon

Blitz all ingredients in a Nutribullet or food processor. Serve with crudites and/or pitta bread. Keeps for a day or two in the fridge.
Next month: Experiments with pineapple

All about cholesterol

Prescription of statins for lowering cholesterol has become more and more widespread, but latest recommendations are that healthy people should not routinely be taking them. NICE (The National Institute for Clinical Excellence) recommends them for people who have a 20 per cent greater chance of developing heart disease within 10 years.

The latest study published in The Cochrane Library claims that there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that statins should be taken by those who aren’t at risk.  Statins bring a variety of side-effects with them which have been reported as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, swelling of the ankles,  liver problems, kidney failure and muscle weakness.

 Vinciane Ollington,  one of Healthy Soul’s experts, explains the role of cholesterol in the body:

‘There are many myths that portray fat and cholesterol as one of the worst foods you can consume. These myths are actually harming your health.’

What is cholesterol, and why do you need it?

Cholesterol is a lipoprotein – fats combined with proteins which is found in every cell in your body, where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids. It is also vital for neurological function. Your liver makes about 75 percent of your body’s cholesterol.

According to conventional medicine, there are two types of cholesterol:
1. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol, removes excess cholesterol from your arteries.
2. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, circulates in your blood and may build up in your arteries, forming plaque that makes your arteries narrow and less flexible. If a clot forms in one of these narrowed arteries leading to your heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke may result.

When HDL, the “good” cholesterol, takes cholesterol from your body’s tissues and arteries, it brings it back to your liver. It goes back to your liver because your body is trying to make and conserve the cholesterol for the precise reason that it is so essential to life. If the purpose of this was to eliminate cholesterol from your body, it would make sense that the cholesterol would be shuttled back to your kidneys or intestines so that your body could remove it.

Cholesterol and inflammation – what’s the connection?

If your arteries are damaged, cholesterol is necessary in order to replace your damaged cells. This results in a “scar” forming in your artery which is known as plaque. This plaque, along with the thickening of your blood and constricting of your blood vessels that normally occur during any inflammatory process, can indeed increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks.

It is sadly quite common for damage to occur in your body on a regular basis. In this case, you are in a dangerous state of chronic inflammation. Instead of looking at the cause of chronic inflammation, conventional medicine looks at the effect (the increased cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream to repair your arteries) and conclude that cholesterol is the cause of heart attacks.

Where is the wisdom in lowering cholesterol?

If you have increased levels of cholesterol, it is at least in part because of increased inflammation in your body. The cholesterol is there to do a job: help your body heal and repair. It does not seem very wise to merely lower the cholesterol and forget about why it is there in the first place. It would seem much smarter to reduce the extra need for the cholesterol, the reason for the chronic inflammation.

As cholesterol is essential for the good functioning of your body, all kind of nasty things can happen if your cholesterol is too low. These range from depressive symptoms and violent behaviour to higher risk of various chronic diseases. An optimum level of cholesterol would be around 200 mg/dL (5.12 mmol/L).

The adverse effects of statins
Statin drugs work by inhibiting an enzyme in your liver that is needed to manufacture cholesterol. Side effects of statins include an increased risk of polyneuropathy (nerve damage that causes pain in the hands and feet and trouble walking), dizziness, memory loss, decreased function of the immune system, depression and liver problems, including a potential increase in liver enzymes.

Statins also happen to deplete your body of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), beneficial to heart health and muscle function. This depletion can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, soreness, and eventually heart failure.

It makes more sense to lower inflammation, and thereby the risk of heart disease, naturally by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. Sadly rather than educating their patients, doctors choose the easier option of prescribing a cholesterol lowering drug….. for life.    Vinciane Ollington, MSc, LCH, MARH  www.completehomeopathy.co.uk

Supplements that lower cholesterol

Dr John Briffa in his book, Ultimate Health A-Z, and renowned nutritionist Patrick Holford suggest that  Niacin (a form of Vitamin B3) can be helpful in  lowering cholesterol, but you need the ‘no blush’ niacin or you can get a kind of ‘hot flush’ in your face when taking it.  Eskimos are very healthy despite their high cholesterol diet, so eating fish all the time is obviously good for your health –  Omega 3 fish oils can have the effect of lowering LDL cholesterol. Patrick Holford also claims in his book, New Optimum Nutrition Bible, that statins block the production in the body of COQ10 (Co-enzyme Q10) which is essential for the healthy functioning of the heart.  These books are available at Amazon (see below).

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Antioxidant Plus COQ10 Nature’s Own 30 tablets £11.85
Efamarine Omega 3 fish oils Efamol 90 capsules £9.99
Flaxseed oils Nature’s Own 60 veg caps £9.25
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To get a 5% discount go to www.superfooduk.com and use the Promotion Code: HSoul1

See our article on Soya Good for Cholesterol

Further reading


– Trick and Treat by Barry Groves
– The Great Cholesterol Con: The Truth about what really causes heart disease and how to avoid it
by Malcolm Kendrick
– Put your heart in your mouth by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride

Click on the Amazon carousel on the home page to order these books

Experiments with turmeric

Turmeric rootTurmeric, Curcuma longa, a spice related to ginger, is becoming increasingly popular – with coffee shops offering turmeric latte and turmeric tea, while health foods stores are expanding their ranges of supplements and other turmeric-containing products, 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 the world of medical research, a recent study showed that taking a highly bioavailable turmeric supplement improved memory and attention in a group of older adults. Brain scans done as part of the study suggested that the supplement helped prevent the accumulation of amyloid and tau protein deposits in the parts of the brain linked to mood and memory. The findings led the researchers to speculate that turmeric might prevent Alzheimer’s disease, as well as improving memory in older age.

Turmeric has been used for 4,000 years as a traditional remedy. Research has suggested anti-inflammatory properties can help fight osteoarthritis and prevent cancer – although many of these studies are confined to cells and animal models. It’s long been believed that the active ingredient is curcumin although there are many other compounds in turmeric which may be of equal, if not greater, therapeutic value. The problem is that curcumin is not very easily absorbed by the body so, if you are taking it as a supplement, look for one of the (usually more expensive) ‘bioactive’ brands.

This month, my experiments substitute fresh turmeric root for the usual turmeric powder. Be warned – it really does stain when you grate it. I turned up for a manicure last week, desperate to have the polish cover up my bright yellow nails!

Turmeric Rainbow Juice

I always use ginger in my juices. In this one I add turmeric, rather than substituting it for ginger. I’ve been reading some good things about the therapeutic effects of beetroot recently so I added this as well, along with the usual ‘something green’, carrot and orange.

Serves one
Three oranges, peeled and halved
One lemon
Three carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
One small beetroot, roughly chopped
Handful of kale (or spinach)
Two inches turmeric root, peeled
Two inches root ginger, peeled

Juice everything and drink immediately.

Turmeric lentil soup

I am Up North as I write this and there has been a heavy snowfall. I made this soup last week, but it would be the ideal warm comforter for today.

Makes around three servings
Two onions, chopped
Two inches turmeric root, peeled and grated
Two inches root ginger, peeled and treated
One tsp cinnamon
One tsp cumin
100g red lentils
100g yellow split peas
One 400g tin tomatoes
500ml stock

Fry the turmeric, ginger, onions and spices in coconut oil till soft. Add the lentils and split peas, stir till coated, then add tomatoes and cook gently till the pulses soften. Add the stock and spice up with black pepper and chilli flakes if it needs it. Cook until lentils are done and blend.

Weekend Curry

Experimenting with turmeric root was a good excuse to invent a new curry recipe. This is probably not very original, but it is quick, easy and delicious.

Two to three servings
One red chilli, chopped
Two crushed cloves of garlic
One inch section turmeric root, grated
One inch section of ginger root, grated
One 400g jar curry sauce or, if you’re trying to cut down on processed food, substitute a 400g tin chopped tomatoes
One 400g tin coconut milk
Packet of Quorn mince
200g fresh or frozen peas
200g sliced mushrooms
Two onions, chopped
One tbsp. tomato puree
Squeeze of lemon

Fry the onions, chilli, garlic, turmeric and ginger in coconut oil and add the mince. Cook for about 10 minutes, till mince is brown and then add the coconut milk and curry sauce/tomatoes. Simmer for 30 minutes, then throw in the peas and mushrooms. Finish with the tomato puree and lemon.
Next month – experiments with avocado