How to keep in shape (kind of) during Christmas time

Christmas has arrived with it’s joy, gifts, invitations, dinner and food! During December we usually go out with friends, colleagues or family for a few drinks or dinner to celebrate and have a fun time. Most of us have been waiting anxiously for this jolly time, but im sure most of you are thinking: “How am I going to keep in shape with all these binging??”

To mantain a healthy weight during christmas there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  1. Don’t eat simple carbohydrates with an empty stomach: Bread, pastry, alcohol, cakes are all simple carbohydrates. This kind of foods usually contain very little fiber, making our blood sugar levels raise, turning all we eat into fat. A way to avoid a surge on our sugar levels is to eat some protein before having these kinds of foods. By following this advice your blood sugar levels will keep a little more steady and help your body out during Christmas.
  2. Eat foods with a Low Glycemic Load: The glycemic index is basically just a way to know how a particular food raises blood sugar level. Fruits such as berries, nuts, seeds and yogurt are all low GL foods that might help you during the holidays.
  3. Have a cheat meal only once a day: Just because it’s Christmas it does not mean you have to over indulge all day. Try to eat two balanced meals made up of one quarter proteins, one quarter complex carbohydrates and one half vegetables. Save yourself for that indulgent meal that you will be enjoying with your friends and family.
  4. Drink apple cider vinegar in the mornings: 20 minutes before having your breakfast take 1 spoonful of apple cider vinegar diluted in 1/2 a cup of warm water. Taking this as a habit may help you aid with digestion, control blood sugar levels, make you feel full for longer and improve your gut bacteria.
  5. Add foods that help stabilise your blood sugar levels: Elevated blood sugar levels can have an impact on your weight and your health, this is why it is important to keep in under control. There are certain foods such as spices (cinnamon), healthy fats (avocado, nuts, seeds), protein (tempeh, poultry, nuts) and high fiber foods (grains, seeds, green vegetables) that should be included in your meals in order to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

Enjoy your holidays, your family, friends and take a good rest. But do remember to take care of yourself, and most of all, relish every single thing you do and eat!


Organic VS Non organic

The term organic has become more popular by the day. People are now  wondering if there is a difference between organic and non organic food and what the health benefits may be.

The first thing I want to share with you is that even though a product may be organic, it does not mean it is the healthiest you can buy. Eating organic does not mean you can eat a certain food without any restriction. Depending on your health and fitness goals, each type of food may have a positive or negative impact on your journey. Furthermore,  many packaged foods that come from organic ingredients may be filled with sugar, high salt and fat. Just so you know, the term organic refers to how the vegetables, fruits and meat are produced. “Organic produce and meats do not use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds, or prevent disease among livestock. For example, conventional farmers apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth; organic farmers apply natural fertilizers to feed soil and plants, such as manure or compost.” 

Having gotten that confusion out of the way, I want to explain why organic produce can be better than non organic on your health and on the preservation of the environment.

  1. Organic farming is designed to improve soil and water quality, reduce pollution and promote self-sustaining cycle resources on a farm. 
  2. What do the terms Organic and Grass Fed mean when referring to meat, eggs and poultry? When a meat product is organic, animals cannot be confined for an extended period of time, be overcrowded or kept in unsanitary conditions. Additionally, animals cannot be directly or indirectly exposed to artificial pesticides, fertilisers, antibiotics, hormones, GMO’s or other contaminants. When a product is grass fed, it means animals were allowed to forage and graze for their own fresh food.
  3. Growing non organic foods usually means that the soil becomes depleted of a lot of nutrients and minerals because of the heavy use of fertilisers, pesticides and other commercial contaminants. This is why when we eat non organic food we may not be receiving all the nutritional benefits we should from our food.
  4. Pesticides and antibiotics from non organic produce and meat may impact our health negatively if our bodies cannot manage to get rid of all the substances that they fill up our body with. Toxins are eliminated through the liver, kidneys, lymph, lung and skin. The more the body receives, the harder it will be it to get rid of all the excess waste. In the long run this may cause hormonal imbalances because the endocrine system has to secrete hormones to stimulate detoxification. Overtime,  glands may become inefficient and alter our natural balance.

In all, it is a healthier choice to eat as much organic produce as you can, but let’s face it, not everybody can afford to buy all organic ingredients. This is why every year a report called The Dirty Dozen is shared to make people aware of which are the fruits and vegetables that are the most and the least contaminated by chemicals. If you cannot buy much organic produce, this is a great way to avoid heavy contaminated foods, and instead go with those that are cleaner and safer to eat.

TIP: To wash your fruits and vegetables, leave them soaking in water mixed with a part of vinegar for 15-20 minutes and then wash. This will partly eliminate all the toxins contained in the produce and allow you to have cleaner food.


What can happen if we abuse the use of antibiotics?

Antibiotics are fundamental to maintain certain infections under control and to avoid serious illnesses in humans and animals. Before the 1920’s people would die from diseases that nowadays can be controlled and prevented by the use of antibiotics. 

The word antibiotic means “against life’, which means that it will kill any germs that are attacking the body by causing infections. This is done by killing the bacteria or by restraining it from further reproducing in the body.

These all sounds marvellous, the problem is that nowadays there is an existent abuse of antibiotics that has created new problems for people and animals that has not yet been controlled.

For example, the animals we eat are given lots of antibiotics because they are maintained in conditions that are optimal for disease to rapidly spread. Those same animals then go into the food chain and end up in our plates. This translates into the fact that we are eating these antibiotic filled meat (fish, poultry, pork…) and it all adds up to the amount of antibiotics that we are already taking in our daily lives. Fast food companies actually have a very high amount of antibiotics in their food, which is something to be very alarmed about.  If you are eating meat, it is important to buy it from good sources that are certified to be grass fed and the animals are raised and treated in a humanitarian way.

Why am I telling you all this? Abusing antibiotic consumption can be harmful and can create future problems including:

1. Your micro biome becomes weak: Since we are babies, our body is in the constant search of microbes to populate the gut to help us strengthen our immune system, improve our digestive system and even help us with our hormonal system. Our micro biome is made up of an assemblage of microbes that compete and cooperate with each other to create that healthy gut bacteria that we desperately need to keep healthy. When it is destroyed we are more prone to disease and digestive issues.

2. Overuse of antibiotics can create resistance to some strains of bacteria: When we take too many antibiotics our bodies might not respond to treatment as efficiently when we really need to be cured from a serious infection. This happens because our bodies become resistant to some strains of bugs because they have already adapted to the antibiotics our bodies receive constantly. This is why abusing antibiotics on a daily basis, and eating food filled with antibiotics can be very harmful.

3. Antibiotics have been linked to weight gain: Taking too much antibiotics has been linked to weight gain and obesity in animals and humans. This does not mean should never take antibiotics. This means that you should only take antibiotics when you need them to combat an infection. Furthermore, having animal produce that has been raised with fewer or none antibiotics can be a great way to avoid this from happening. In all, antibiotics are not to be taken lightly.

There are many ways in which you can help your body to become healthier and stronger so you can avoid serious infections. For example, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir help to strengthen the bacteria in the gut, thus boosting your immune system. Furthermore, including a regular workout will also help you to become stronger and feel more energised to combat any possible diseases that might come your way.

Note: This article does not intend for people to not use antibiotics. Its purpose is to inform about the overuse of antibiotics, and the fact that they should only be taken when necessary.

 

 


Healthy meals, easy meals

Nowadays time to cook has really become scarce because of a demanding work schedule, commuting, taking care of the children, studying, etc. So many events and responsibilities are getting in the way of improving eating habits and all these factors are affecting people’s long term goals and are not allowing space for real change to happen. This is why it is so important to know how to make easy recipes that are both nutritious and fast to make.

For every meal to be really nourishing you need to include protein, vegetables, healthy fats and a complex carbohydrate. There are many options for you to improve your eating habits and make cooking easier, faster and enjoyable.

I will give you a few tips on how to maximise your time, so you can make the best out of every meal without spending hours chopping, cooking and cleaning. A few of the things you should start doing are:

  1. Batch cook: Take one day of the week to cook a large portion of lentils, rice, chicken and/or soup. Then separate into containers, either to be frozen or just refrigerated. For example, if you make lentils you can then use them for a cold lentil salad, lentil soup or lentil burgers. This will save you lots of time during the week and will allow you to make different recipes every day that will satisfy you.
  2. Use a slow cooker: This has been an absolutely favourite of mine for the past year. A slow cooker just makes life easier. In the morning you could throw in chicken, meat or previously soaked legumes or beans with some water and vegetables. Leave it to cook for a few hours and when you arrive at night, the meal will be made. And what’s best, there will not be that much to wash!
  3. Buy frozen vegetables: Before you say anything, yes, fresh vegetables are always better, but there is not always time to shop, chop and wash. Having good quality frozen vegetables can really get you out of a pickle when you don’t have enough time to cook and want to get the best nutrients out of your food. This will also add variety to your vegetable intake.
  4. The power of soup: Soups can be nourishing and very filling. They can also be a great and light meal for dinnertime. Just make a big batch of your favourite vegetable soup and use it during the week. You could have it as small entree, or as your main meal. You could add chicken, lentils, quinoa or chickpeas and you’ll have a very filling plate.
  5. Use leftovers: Food from the night before should never be frowned upon, it can be so helpful. If you have some vegetables from earlier in the week, just mix them up with some quinoa and tofu. This will be a 10 minute meal that will be very tasty and filling.
  6. Use the oven: This is a great appliance that can come very handy when time is tight since it allows you to multitask while at home. Put in some meat, chicken, fish or tempeh with vegetables in a skillet. Add olive oil, spices and into the oven it goes. Leave it at high heat for 30 minutes and you’ll have a delicious dinner that will be tasty and filling.

Cooking does not have to be a time consuming task. It can actually be very pleasant and you can make it easy by organising your meals previously, using different utensils and being smart about leftovers.

Recipe:

When I am tired and need a quick fix for dinner, some portobello mushrooms filled with feta cheese & dijon mustard can really do the trick. If you don’t want any dairy, you could fill them with vegan pesto and it is absolutely delicious. To accompany, just toss a salad with a few vegetables and you’ll have a great, simple dinner.

  1. Preheat the oven to 250°C
  2. Fill the mushrooms with some dijon mustard and then put the crumbled feta cheese. If you are using pesto, just fill it with the paste.
  3. Put into the oven for about 15 minutes. Don’t leave them too long because they will shrink too much.
  4. For the salad: Toss baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and some garden peas. Add balsamic vinegar, lemon and pepper.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Benefits of fermented foods

Fermented foods have been part of the human diet for thousands of years, there have even been findings that date this process back to 9,000 years ago in China and Georgia. In ancient times it was used to preserve food during the long seasons and between harvests. This would allow for people to have access to different foods all year round, without really knowing why. It wasn’t until the 1850’s that Louis Pasteur discovered that fermentation was caused by living organisms, causing food to change taste and appearance. 

In more strict terms, fermentation is the chemical transformation of organic substances into simpler compounds by the action of enzymes, complex organic catalysts, which are produced by microorganisms such as molds, yeasts, or bacteria. The process is made by breaking down sugar to alcohol, gases and acids with the help yeast or bacteria.

Fermentation is a practice that is still popular in many cultures around the world. These include countries in Asia, North, Central and South America and Europe. It can be made with dairy, vegetables, fruits, wheat and even meat produce. For example, real chocolate is made by fermenting the cocoa beans under certain atmospheric conditions that will help the process.

Even though fermentation has been present throughout time and in various cultures, people were not aware of the great benefits it can have in the human body. until fairly recent. Among the main benefits of fermented foods I can include:

  • Improved digestion: Since the fermentation process acts as a predigestion to food, it makes it more bioavailable and your body will have an easier time digesting.
  • Increased nutrients of food: Since fermentation makes food more bioavailable, you will get more nutrients from your food, comparing to when you eat certain foods raw or cooked. This includes dairy, fruits, vegetables, beans and grains.
  • Reduced anti nutrients: Fermentation will break down anti nutrients such as phytic acid, oxalates, phenols and tannins. This will help increase the amount of nutrients you get from your food and will help the process of digestion.
  • Great source of probiotic: Fermented foods contain many strains of probiotics that rebalance the bacteria in the gut.
  • Supports immune system: Your gut needs to be strong in order to support your immune and digestive system, this is why including them in your diet is so important. Since probiotics help to feed the gut, this will in return reduce any negative reactions to foods and gastrointestinal discomforts.
  • Save a buck: If you are in a tight budget, it can be a much cheaper alternative to supplements if they are consumed regularly.

In all, fermented foods are very important to include in your diet. Foods such as kefir, natural yogurt, kimchee, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso paste and kombucha are great alternatives and are easy to find in stores. Most of them you could even make them at home.

Now, it’s recipe time!

GLUTEN FREE KEFIR MUFFINS from Cultures for Health 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1 To 1 Baking flour (or gluten-free flour of choice)
  • 2 cups milk kefir
  • 2/3 cups honey or maple syrup
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 Tbsp. melted butter or melted coconut oil
  • 1 handful of add-ins of your choice (diced apple, chocolate chips, raisins, orange zest, etc.)

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Mix together gluten-free baking flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add milk kefir, lightly beaten eggs, honey and melted butter or oil and mix.
  4. Add any additional desired ingredients such as raisins, chocolate chips, diced apples, etc.
  5. Spoon batter into a muffin tray that has been buttered or lined with paper liners. (Silicone muffin trays are especially handy!)
  6. Place in preheated oven and bake 15 to 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of a muffin.
  7. Enjoy your delicious, gluten-free kefir muffins!

Anti Nutrients in food

There are certain kinds of food, either natural or synthetic, that can interfere with the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Furthermore, they can even get in the way of digestive enzymes (they help the body absorb more nutrients and improve the gut). This evil compounds are called anti nutrients. 

Anti nutrients are present in more kinds of foods that you would ever imagine. Synthetic ones include sugar, carbonated beverages and trans fats. Then, there are natural versions that include certain vegetables, roots and beans that make it hard for the body to digest them without leaching certain nutrients out of the body.

The theme today is going to focus on the natural anti nutrients which include vegetables, roots, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Sugar and trans fats will not be mentioned further because these are foods that give no nutrients to the body and should be highly reduced, if not banned from your diet.

Anti nutrients

Oxalates and Phytates

These compounds adhere to minerals such as calcium and iron, leeching them out of our bodies. If our diet is not balanced we might become mineral deficient. But we must keep in mind that these kinds of foods are usually the highest in calcium and iron, so some of it does get absorbed by our bodies.

Main foods containing oxalates: Spinach, beets, rhubarb, wheat bran, cashews, pecan, almonds and berries.

Main foods containing phytates: Whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.

What to do: The best way to increase the bioavailability of these foods, especially beans, is by soaking and sprouting them.

Goitrogens

This compounds interfere with the iodine uptake by the thyroid gland, meaning that they ‘reduce the thyroid’s ability to produce the hormones your body uses to function normally’  If you have thyroid issued, you might be advised to limit the uptake of this foods.

Main foods containing goitrogens: Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard, kale and turnips.

What to do: Cooking inactivates goitrogens, so the solution is fairly easy.

Lectins

Lectins are a type of protein that can bind to cell membranes. They are a defence against pests and insects and are resistant to human digestion. This is why some foods create intolerances in our bodies. 

This is why we usually soak beans for a few hours and even overnight. It is often done so they are cooked faster and for them to become easier to digest (Who hasn’t been gassy at times from beans!). Well, this is a half truth, the subject gets a bit more complex because what happens with beans is that they are filled with lectins when they have not been well managed before eating. This is the reason why they might bloat us and make us gassy.

Main foods containing lectins: Grains, legumes, nuts, dairy, soy, nuts and nightshade vegetables. (Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers) 

What to do: Sprouting might work for some legumes, the more you sprout the less it will be present. But watch out because for example red kidney beans must be soaked and cooked! Soaking and cooking also deactivates lectins and makes it easier for us to digest it.

RECIPE TIME!

A recipe that I like and is very simple to make is Aubergine Lasagna. In this case I don’t use pasta to cut back on the carbohydrate in this meal. But if you want to, you can add it, just add a layer of the lasagna sheets.

Ingredients: Aubergine, tomato sauce (freshly made or canned), vegan cheese or cheese (I usually use goat’s cheese), mushroom, olives, parmesan cheese or vegan parm,salt and pepper. Optional: Minced meat, minced chicken or shredded tempeh.

  1. Cut the aubergine into thin slices. Soak them in a bowl with water and salt for at least 30 minutes. This will reduce lectins.
  2. Pre heat oven to 200C.
  3. Take the aubergine out of the water, you might want to wash and dry it before using.
  4. Mix the tomato sauce with the olives and mushroom. If you are using meat, chicken or tempeh, mix it in too.
  5. Take your tray and begin making layers with the sauce, aubergine and cheese, in that order.
  6. Repeat step 5 a few times until you have nearly reached the top of the tray.
  7. Top the lasagna with parmesan cheese or vegan parm.
  8. Put into the oven for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Note: I do not give you amount of ingredients because it all depends on how big or small you want your lasagna to be. It can be used as a side plate, or as a main meal. It is up to you. And it also depends on how cheese you want it to be.


How to balance your hormones naturally

The endocrine system is made up of glands that are responsible of regulating metabolism, growth, development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep & mood, among others.  For example, people who have hypothyroidism, diabetes and adrenal fatigue are all considered to have adrenal disorders because their bodies are not functioning well.

Often, when we have a hormonal disorder the first thing that is given to us is medicine. I’m not saying this is a must in some cases, but there are other ways in which you could help your body restore its balance. Not all answers relating hormonal disorders lay in a set of pills or medicine, nutrition & lifestyle play a huge role. Stress, contamination, bad habits and nutrition can all affect the equilibrium your body needs to function properly.

I will give you a few tips for you to start introducing into your daily life:
1. Breath deeply and relax: When we are under stress our bodies start to produce adrenaline to help us cope with situations. This is a mechanism of defence our ancestors used in order scape from predators and dangerous situations. We no longer face those threats, and instead we have a very sedentary life. And still, we are constantly tense which gets our adrenaline pumping. Furthermore, stress is constant the body will also begin to produce cortisol. This bodily functions contribute largely to adding fat into your body, especially your belly area. Deep breathing exercises will help the body and the adrenal glands relax. 

2. Eat foods with a low Glycemic Load: GL refers to how foods affect your blood sugar and insulin levels. The lower the number, the less it affects your sugar levels.

When we feel tired and hungry it usually relates to a blood sugar imbalance, which in response triggers cortisol to be released. Maintaining it under control helps to stabilise hormones, helping with weight loss. The most common foods to avoid are simple carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, pastries, pasta and sweets.  Fruits such as blueberries and strawberries are great choices because they have a very low GL, and they are filled with atioxidants!

3. Eat protein dense foods: Protein will help to balance your blood sugar levels and your hormonal system. Furthermore, protein gives the body the amino acids that are used to produce certain hormones. Eggs, peas, seeds (sunflower, sesame & pumpkin) and beans can all be good choices to include in your diet.

4. Eat foods with zinc: This mineral can help with hormonal issues, specially regulating women’s cycles, blocking excess of testosterone, clearing skin, maintaining collagen, supporting thyroid, and much more.  Foods such as lean beef, pork, venison, tofu, oatmeal and sea vegetables are all great sources.

5. Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, watercress, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are all great ways of getting zinc, vitamins A, B, C, D and E into your diet to help with hormonal disorders. Steam them lightly so you ensure you are getting the most of its nutrients. Remember: Overcooking vegetables leads to a great loss of vitamins and minerals.

Food is a powerful way of supporting your hormones, and in fact your whole body. We are under constant stress, exposed to pollution and probably eating foods that deplete us from essential vitamins and minerals. This is why integrating this few ideas into your diet and lifestyle might benefit you and give you a real boost for a healthier life.