The humble teabag: maybe not so innocent?

I’ve always used teabags. I like their convenience. That’s the thing, though. Convenience is a word that I’ve come to be suspicious of. After all, convenience is what created the plastic pollution problem that we have today. In particular, convenience foods and all its unnecessary plastic packaging. Like pre-peeled bananas on Styrofoam trays and cling wrapped with more plastic to save us all the ‘hassle’ of peeling them. (Think I’m joking?! Check out the Time magazine article about it here.)

I was very pleased when I found out that Twining teabags do not come in a cellophane wrapped box, nor do they come with that plastic-disguised-as-foil inner packaging inside the box. Most other brands have one (or both) of these. Even those ‘silk’ teabags are actually made of plastic. But Twinings offer me plastic-free teabags, hurrah!

I’d been using these plastic free teabags for a while, and I noticed that the thread is held together by a tiny metal staple. Have you ever noticed that? My box of 100 teabags has 100 staples. How are they stapled together? Is there a person sitting in a dark room somewhere stapling teabags together? Has someone invented a machine that can staple the stringy bit to the tea bag with no physical labour required?

Let’s think about this. Metal comes out of the ground. It’s mined. It’s then got to be made into a staple. It’s got to be transported to the teabag factory. Then, somehow, it’s got to be attached to the teabag along with the stringy bit. And all of this occurs to save me the inconvenience of having to remove the teabag from my cup with a spoon. Is that not a tiny bit ridiculous?

Before you point out that other teabag brands do not have staples, or even strings, whilst I know that’s true, I am yet to find any that don’t have plastic cellophane packaging, or plastic ‘foil’ wrapping, or some other unnecessary packaging.

There’s a simple solution of course. Switch to loose leaf tea.

 

teajpgOver the last few months I’ve slowly been using up my teabag stash, and replacing them with loose leaf tea. The other great thing about this is that loose leaf tea tastes far better. There are a number of grades of tea and the lowest is called dust (or fannings) – it’s this stuff that usually ends up in teabags. If you buy loose leaf tea you’re buying a better quality product.

Switching from teabags to loose leaf tea may not save the planet, but it reduces packaging, prevents plastic-rage (when you get home to discover that the item you were so sure was plastic-free was hiding it all along), and makes a far better brew. What’s not to love?

Plastic-Free Sweetcorn (How To Remove The Kernels + Freeze)

Some things seem so glaringly obvious with the benefit of hindsight. I would never have thought of processing my own sweetcorn cobs if it hadn’t been for giving up plastic last year. Until then, I had always purchased bags of sweetcorn from the freezer aisle in the supermarket. I didn’t use it often, but it was one of those staples I liked to have on hand, for when my fridge was empty and the shops were shut.

The freezer equivalent of the tins of tomatoes that I liked to have on hand in the pantry.

So Plastic Free July came along last year, and out went plastic food packaging, and so did frozen sweetcorn. I wasn’t about to buy the tinned stuff, because it’s filled with added sugar and salt, and the tins are lined with BPA plastic. Plus I always think it has a grey tinge that fresh and frozen corn just doesn’t have, which rather puts me off.

I resigned myself to only eating sweetcorn for the month of the year when it comes into season and I could buy fresh corn cobs. Along came the season, and with it more corn than I knew what to do with. And it occurred to me that I could process my own cobs and freeze the sweetcorn, plastic free! Why this epiphany took so long to come to me I have no idea. But at least it did, as I now have a supply of frozen sweetcorn in my freezer that should last me until next season.

It still makes me smile when I think about how obvious it was.

So if you’re like I was, and have no idea how to process corn, read on. If you were on that page years ago, I hope you feel a sense of satisfaction that I have finally caught up!

How to Freeze Sweetcorn

An average cob makes approximately 150g frozen sweetcorn.

corn1jpgRemove the green husks and as much of the silky stuff as you can.

Place the corn in a pan of unsalted boiling water (wait until it is boiling before adding the corn) and allow to boil for 5 minutes. This is called blanching.

Remove the corn with tongs and place immediately into a bowl of icy water. This will stop them from cooking. Let them sit for at least 5 minutes, until cool to touch.

To cut the kernels off, hold the cob upright and using a sharp knife, cut downwards in strips. The corn will fall off in chunks but is easily broken up with your fingers.

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corn10jpgcorn9jpg Break up any clumps with your fingers. Place in a suitable container. Try to pack the containers as tightly as possible to minimise freezer burn.

corn12jpgFreeze until you want to eat!

Raw Chocolate Nut Butter Cups: A Recipe

These are my new favourite thing to make! They’re inspired by Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, except they’re made with real ingredients, not artificial ones, and of course they’re free from preservatives, additives and other nastiness.

I’ve been delaying writing this post whilst I try to perfect them, but I’ve decided I’m gonna share the recipe as it is. They’re pretty damn good as they are, but if I do make them even better I’ll be sure to let you know!

I’ve made my own chocolate from raw ingredients but if you don’t have these ingredients or aren’t fussed about making them raw or vegan you can use melted store-bought chocolate. I reckon you’d need about 1 1/2 cups, which I’d guess would be 250g. (If this number is waaaay out maybe someone could let me know in the comments and I’ll adjust the post!)

I’ve tried making these with brazil nut butter and almond butter, and I loved both, and next on my list is hazelnut butter. You can make your own nut butters for a fraction of the shop price if you have a food processor – find my instructions for making almond butter here.)

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Raw Chocolate Nut Butter Cups

This will make 12 (if using cucpcake-sized paper or silicone cases)

Prep time 20 minutes, chilling time 30 minutes: that means they are ready to eat in under an hour!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup coconut oil (100g)
35g cacao butter (about 3 tbsp when melted)
55g raw cacao powder (3/4 cup)
80ml maple syrup or agave nectar (1/3 cup)
2 tbsp maca powder (if you don’t have this add 2 tbsp extra cacao instead)

For the filling:

1/2 cup nut butter
1 tsp maple syrup or agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Method:

Melt the coconut oil and cacao butter in a bowl over a pan of steaming water.

Add maple syrup/agave and stir until combined.

Add cacao and maca and mix well.

Line a muffin or cucpcake tin with 12 paper cases. Spoon 1 dessertspoon in each of the paper/silicone cases. (This should use 1/3 of the mixture – keep the rest).

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Put the tray into the fridge to set (about 15 minutes).

Whilst the chocolate sets, make the filling. Mix 1/2 cup nut butter with the sweetener to form a dough.

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Divide the dough into 12 balls.

Take the tray out of the fridge. One at a time, roll a ball of dough and place on top of the chocolate in the cases, pressing down so the dough almost (but not quite) covers the chocolate. Repeat for all. (If you find the nut butter is sticky, put in the fridge for a few minutes to chill before pressing down).

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Take the remaining chocolate mix (if it has cooled and hardened, simply warm again as before to soften) and spoon two dessertspoons into each case. This should completely cover the dough centres.

If there is any chocolate left over, share amongst the cases.

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Pop back in the fridge to set. This will take another 15 minutes.

Before serving, top with ground sea salt or cacao nibs, or leave plain if you prefer.

Enjoy!

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These need to be kept in the fridge, in an airtight container so they don’t absorb all the other fridge smells.

Enjoy!

Making Almond Nut Butter (A Recipe)

Almond butter is essentially the same thing as peanut butter (except a lot of peanut butters have extra salt, sugar, oil and goodness-knows-what-else mixed in too), but made from almonds. I love peanut butter, but I prefer almonds to peanuts, and almond butter is definitely more delicious!

However, if you want to buy it from the shops it’s quite a bit more expensive than peanut butter. I guess that’s what comes from not adding all that other rubbish in.

You can buy almond butter from health food shops and actually our local supermarkets stock it too, except the brand they stock has a plastic wrapper over the lid – and I don’t buy plastic. I did find a plastic free version, but it wasn’t great – too many lumps, oily and ridiculously stiff.

So I decided to have a go at making it in my food processor. And…it was a total success! So I won’t be buying it any more, I’ll be making my own. And I might experiment with some other nuts. I think hazelnut butter would be amazing too, and I haven’t seen that in the shops at all.

Recipe: How to Make Almond Butter

I choose to make roasted almond butter, because roasting brings out the flavour.

This recipe makes approx. 1 cup almond butter.

Ingredients:

2 cups raw almonds

Method:

First roast the almonds. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Spread the almonds on a baking tray so they’re not on top of one another and cook for 20-30 minutes. (I cooked mine for 30 minutes and they were very well roasted – possibly a bit too much!)

almond1jpgLeave to cool completely. They will continue to make popping noises even once they feel cool to touch, so wait for this to stop.

Once the almonds are cold, place in the food processor or high powered blender, and turn on.

After a minute, the almonds will have turned into crumbs.

Keep blending, and the crumbs will form a dough.

Continue to blend, and the dough will form a smooth glossy paste, which is almond butter.

Scrape into a jar – I store mine in the cupboard, and a jar lasts 2-3 months. It will keep longer if stored in the fridge.

Recipe! Cacao Banana Smoothie

This smoothie is my current new favourite drink. I guess it’s more of a dessert than a drink, but it’s delicious, takes about 2 minutes to prepare and it is actually full of nutritious goodness!

Here’s just some of the great stuff that it contains. Raw cacao is massively high in antioxidants, and contains calcium, magnesium and iron. Bananas are high in potassium and also contain vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin C. Cashews contain omega-6, iron, phosphorus and calcium. Flaxseeds are really high in omega-3  and also contain calcium, fibre and lignans.

You know those chocolate milkshakes that you buy in the supermarket? Well, rather than all this great stuff, they contain sugar, milk and other powders, modified starch, stabilisers and gums. How un-delicious does that sound?

Here’s a couple of examples. According to the frijj (UK) website, their chocolate milkshake, which they describe as a “chocolate lover’s dream”, consists of: Skimmed Milk (68%), Whole milk (22%), Sugar, Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder, Buttermilk Powder, Modified Maize Starch, Stabilisers (Carrageenan, Guar Gum).

Now I love chocolate, and I definitely don’t dream about those ingredients!

In Australia, the Kick Double Choc milkshake manufactured by Brownes is made up of: Milk, Sugar, Chocolate (1.7%), Flavours, Cocoa, Colours (150c, 155), Emulsifiers (Soy Lecithin, 471, 476), Vegetable Gums (407, 412).

Yuk!

So rather than consume that synthetic, nutritionally-devoid rubbish, try this instead!

Cacao Banana Smoothie Recipe

This is the recipe for one smoothie. But make two and share it with someone – they will appreciate it!

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashew milk (see how to make your own here – it’s dead easy)
1 tbsp raw cacao
1 small banana (or half a large one)
1 tbsp ground flaxseeds

(Optional – 1 dsp maca or mesquite powder)

Recipe:

Put the banana, cashew milk and cacao in a blender. Blend until combined.

Add the flaxseeds (and maca/mesquite powder if using) and whizz briefly to mix.

Top with some cacao nibs for some crunch!

And enjoy!

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Homemade Hummus and Tzatziki (2 Simple DIY Recipes)

Homemade dips are delicious, plastic free, don’t contain a list of additives as long as your arm and are made with real ingredients, not bulked out with cheap ‘fillers’. What’s not to love?!

If you’re reading this and thinking, oh but I don’t have time for all that fiddly stuff, I want to try to convince you otherwise. There’s so many that you can make that are ready in minutes! Sure, if you want to try to recreate anything with the words ‘slow-roasted’ or ‘honey-glazed’ or ‘aged’ it’s probably not going to be a quick process, but there’s so many others that just involve combining a few ingredients and – ta-da!

Two of my favourites to make are hummus and tzatziki, because the recipes are so simple, cost next to nothing to make and taste fantastic. Hummus is a middle-eastern dip made from chickpeas and tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds). It’s dairy free and suitable for vegans, and tahini is a great vegan source of calcium. Tzatziki is a Greek dip made with yoghurt, cucumber and mint.

Hummus

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I only buy dried chickpeas which are much cheaper and save wasteful packaging. I buy 1kg at a time, soak them overnight and boil for 1-1/2 hours. This makes a ridiculous amount of chickpeas but they freeze amazingly well, so I separate into a few containers and freeze what I don’t need.

This makes a shedload – just under 1 litre.

Ingredients:

650g cooked chickpeas (approx 400g dried chickpeas)
200g unhulled tahini paste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
40ml freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 2.5 tbsp)
5 tbsp water

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Method:

Put the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and crushed garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add water until the mixture is a soft paste. You don’t want it to be runny.

Serving suggestions: if you want to be fancy, you can top the hummus with some whole chickpeas, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on some sesame seeds or season with spices (try ground cumin, cumin seeds, paprika or cayenne pepper).

This can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

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Tzatziki

This makes about 500g

275g strained (Greek) yoghurt – if you want to make your own see instructions here)
1 English cucumber or 1 1/2 lebonese cucumbers
1tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
large handful chopped mint (6 – 8 tbsp)
2 tbsp dill (optional)

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Method:

Cut the cucumber into segments and remove the seeds (if your cucumbers don’t have very many seeds you can skip this step but mine had LOADS of seeds).

Grate the cucumber. If you have a food processor it will be superfast but if not then a normal grater is fine.

Put the cucumber in a clean dry tea towel, and squeeze tightly over the sink to drain the excess water.

Stir the cucumber into the yoghurt. Add the lemon juice and zest and chopped herbs and mix to combine.

This will keep in the fridge for at least 2 days.

NB: Don’t let any of the steps be a dealbreaker – if you don’t have Greek yoghurt and don’t want to strain it then you can use normal yoghurt; it will just make the dip much more runny. If you don’t want to strain the cucumber, the extra water will just make the dip a bit more watery. When I’m feeling lazy I just chop some mint, squeeze a bit of lemon juice, grate some cucumber and add to normal yoghurt.

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How to Make Cashew Nut Milk (A Recipe)

Cashew nut milk is a non-dairy alternative to cow’s (or other animal) milks. Of course it’s not a milk as such, but a blend of cashew nuts and water that has a similar consistency to milk and can be used as a dairy milk replacement in some instances.

It’s got a completely different molecular make-up to dairy milk and won’t respond in the same way to heating, but it’s a great replacement for cold milk.  As I’ve said before though, I’m not a vegan, so what am I doing making cashew nut milk anyway?

Well, I’m passionate about real food. And when that comes to dairy milk, this means non-homogenised, full fat milk with A2 proteins that comes from grass-fed cows, preferably organic or biodynamic. (If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you should probably read this post, which explains the terms and also the health implications in a little more detail).

This milk can be hard to find – in Australia you won’t find it in your local supermarket – and is much more expensive than the mass-produced stuff. Consequently, I buy less than I used to.  Coupled with the fact that I’m quite curious about food anyway, this means I have become more open to alternatives.

Before I stopped buying plastic I used to keep a carton of UHT milk in the cupboard for emergencies. However those cartons contain plastic and aren’t recyclable, so I don’t buy them any more. Now I keep a jar of cashew nuts in the cupboard instead.

Raw cashew nuts are minimally processed and highly nutritious. They contain 80% unsaturated fat which is predominantly oleic acid and also linoleic acid, an omega-6. Cashews also contain a number of vitamins and minerals including iron, phosphorus and calcium. (Have a look here for complete nutritional information).

My main uses for cashew milk are as an ingredient in smoothies, a dairy replacement for muesli and in some dessert recipes, and as an emergency in case we ever run out of cow’s milk, or it sneakily goes off. (Because it only ever goes off when ALL the shops are shut.) You can add cashew milk to tea and coffee (and it won’t curdle), but I prefer dairy milk for that.

How to make cashew nut milk

This recipe makes 750ml milk. You will need a jug-style blender for best results.

Ingredients:
1 cup raw cashew nut pieces (125g), soaked in water for a few hours or overnight
3 cups water (750ml)

Method:

Drain and rinse the soaked cashews.

Put cashews in blender with 1 cup water.

Blend until smooth. Add remaining 2 cups water to the jug and blend briefly to combine. And that’s it! No need to strain.

You can use immediately or store in a jar in the fridge, it will keep for up to 5 days.

Tips:

  • The higher the quality of your blender, the better the results.
  • The longer you blend the milk, the smoother it will be, but the heat from the friction of the blades will gradually cause the milk to warm up. If the nuts are heated too much they may go rancid.
  • Use chilled water if possible, and chill the soaking cashews to help prevent the milk warming too much whilst blending.
  • My blender is made of glass and I find it also helps to chill the jug in the fridge before using.
  • I have tried making this is a food processor and it works okay if you have nothing else, but you will get a much smoother result with a jug blender.
  • If you store your milk in the fridge, remember to shake before using.

If you need more convincing, I’ll be posting some recipes that use cashew milk on the blog in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

Modern Milk

I wanted to write this post because I’m passionate about real food. In the last year I’ve been on a mission to cut processed food out of my diet. When I think about what processed food is, images of sugary, salty and nutritionally-devoid ‘junk’ that is overpackaged in bright plastic spring to my mind. But it’s not just the sugary snacks that are over-processed. When you visit the milk aisle in the shop, there’s dozens of different products with a variety of claims, and it’s difficult to know what they all mean and whether they’re actually good for us.

Modern Milk

The majority of dairy milk comes from cows. Records show people in central Europe started dairy farming and developed lactose tolerance 7,500 years ago (see here), so humans have been drinking cow’s milk for a pretty long time. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the milk probably hasn’t changed much since then. I mean, it still looks the same. But actually, modern farming practices have changed the nature of milk significantly, and not for the better.

So what’s changed?

Pasteurization vs Raw

Pasteurization of milk was first demonstrated in 1886 as a way of extending the shelf-life of milk. Milk is an excellent medium for pathogens, meaning they can multiply quickly, and cause spoilage. Pasteurization is a heat treatment: milk is forced through pipes warmed on the outside by hot water so the milk is heated to 72ºC for 15 seconds. This process reduces pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and moulds that may be present in the raw milk.

Before pasteurization, milk was consumed raw. If raw milk is consumed when fresh from healthy cows the health risks are much smaller. Raw milk became a big health issue after industrialisation. Intensive farming conditions mean cows are more likely to contract and harbour disease and also spread it amongst other cattle. Lengthy supply chains mean milk is not consumed soon after milking, giving pathogens a chance to multiply and cause illness when the milk is finally consumed. Pasteurization doesn’t create clean milk, it cleans dirty milk.

The pasteurization of milk means that as well as killing any pathogenic bacteria, the heat treatment also kills beneficial bacteria. Heat also damages vitamins, nutrients and denatures proteins. For example, raw milk contains vitamin C but this is destroyed by pasteurization. Because of its enhanced nutrition raw milk is becoming more popular (although it is illegal to drink it in certain countries including Australia) but there are still risks.

UHT (Long-Life)

UHT means ultra-heat treated, and this means the milk has been heated to 138ºC for at least 2 seconds. This extra treatment means the milk can be stored at room temperature in a sealed container, and will have a shelf-life of 6-9 months. However the higher temperatures mean some of the sugars are burned and UHT milk has a different flavour to regular pasteurized milk. It also means more of the nutrients and vitamins have been destroyed.

Homogenised vs Non-Homogenised

If left to stand, cows’ milk naturally separates. The high-fat cream rises to the top, and the low-fat milk is left underneath, leaving two distinct layers. (If you shake the container, they will mix together again.)

Homogenised milk doesn’t do this; instead the fat molecules are distributed evenly throughout the milk. In order to achieve this, the milk is mechanically forced through a fine filter at high pressure (4000 psi) which destoys the flat globule cell wall and forces the fat into tiny molecules that remain suspended.

Milk is homogenised so that it creates a uniform product, because supermarkets like to stock identical standardised products. It also makes milk look whiter. It saves us the “hassle” of giving it a shake when we take it out the fridge. Oh, and it increases shelf life slightly, so shops can keep it on their shelves for longer – up to 11 days.

So it’s good for the retailers – but what about our health? Well, homogenisation of milk has been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease. Milk contains an enzyme called xanthine oxidase (XO) that can generate free radicals. In non-homogenised milk, XO is mostly free-floating which means it can be digested by gastric acids and enzymes. However, when milk is homogenised the new artificially-created micro fat molecules encapsulate the XO, meaning when it passes through the digestive system it has a protective ‘coating’ and is not broken down.

The health implications and safety of homogenised milk has been a research topic since the 1960s, particularly in relation to XO.  Research suggests that the XO in homogenised milk is absorbed into the bloodstream where it causes damage to arterial cell walls. The body’s response is to ‘repair’ the damage by depositing plaque  – which causes heart disease. Whilst it has been demonstrated that XO is present in diseased arterial tissue, and that XO causes tissue damage, critics argue the evidence that this source of XO is homogenised milk is inconclusive.

A1 and A2 proteins

The protein in milk is made up of casein proteins and whey proteins. One of the major proteins, beta-casein (or β-casein), has two variants which are called A1 and A2. A2 beta-casein is recognised as the original variant, whereas A1 is a mutation that happened later. In dairy milking cows, Guernsey cows have the highest A2 levels with over 90%, Jersey cows also have a higher proportion of A2, and Holstein (the white cows with black spots that are the most common milking variety in Australia, USA and UK) and Friesian have around half A1 and half A2.

There is scientific research that suggests that consumption of beta-casein A1 milk may be a risk factor for a number of diseases including type-1 diabetes, coronary heart disease and arteriosclerosis (here and here).

When milk is digested, a peptide called BCM7 is created. A1 milk generates 4 times the levels of BCM7 than A2 milk. BCM7 affects receptors in the nervous, endocrine and immune systems, and is believed to be an important factor in the build-up of plaque in the arteries (summary here).

Full-fat, semi-skimmed, 1% and skimmed (fat-free)

Milk naturally contains about 4% fat. You can by this natural full fat or ‘whole’ milk in the shops; you can also buy other types with reduced fat content or skimmed/fat free milk which contains less than 0.5% fat.

The fat in milk is called butterfat. The viamins A, D, E and K are all fat-soluble and are found in the buttermilk. To make reduced-fat milk, you need to remove the fat, and this also removes the vitamins. Some companies add synthetic vitamins back in, particularly A and D. Vitamin D2 is a synthetic vitamin added to milk, but it is not as effective as natural vitamin D (this American Journal of Clinical Nutrition paper claims it should not be used as a supplement). And as it’s fat-soluble, it is questionable whether the body can absorb it from fat-free milk.

Full-fat milk moves through the body more slowly, and people with lactose-intolerance are less sensitive to full fat milk than to skimmed milk (here).

To keep the texture of skimmed milk, which does not contain fat, skimmed milk powder is usually added back in. It will not necessarily tell you so on the label either! Skimmed milk powder has its own health concerns – see below.

It’s worth remembering that whole fat milk is not actually that high in fat. It has a 4% fat content, so is 96% fat free.

Powdered Milk

Powdered milk is made by evaporating the water from milk using heat, after homogenisation. The most common method is spray drying, where the milk is sprayed into a chamber with circulating hot air. The water evaporates and the powdered milk is collected.

This heat in this process can cause the cholesterol in milk to oxidise. Oxidised cholesterol triggers the formation of plaque in the arteries and can lead to heart disease.

Grass-fed vs Corn-fed

Cows are designed to eat grass and hay. They have four stomachs to help them digest it! They’re not designed to eat corn and soy-based feeds. Cows have trouble digesting corn, which leads to health problems including bloating, acidosis, diarrhea, ulcers, liver disease, and weakens their immune system.

Grazing cows on grass requires a lot more space and produces less milk than confining them to small spaces and feeding them corn and soy, which is why farmers who put profits above animal welfare choose the latter. But to combat the health problems this creates, cows fed corn are also routinely fed antibiotics.

More milk equals more profits, but the quality is reduced. Grass-fed cows produce milk with higher vitamin, omega-3 and omega-6 content, and don’t need routine antibiotics to stay healthy.

Organic

Organically produced milk means the farmers must adhere to strict guidelines and standards that encourage sustainable practices. There are number of different certification schemes and different schemes will have different standards. Whilst they vary the principles include a focus on good animal husbandry, cattle being allowed to graze on grass for at least some of their diet and the routine use of antibiotics is not permitted. Any feed that is given to the cattle must also be organic. Organic milk is more expensive because of the extra costs involved, and average milk yields are often a third less than in intensive production. However,the mineral and vitamin content is higher, animal welfare is much higher and the quality is considered better.

So what can I do?

milkjpgThe closer that the milk you buy is to its natural state, the better it is for you, and the better it tastes. All of these processes aren’t designed to improve things for us as consumers; they’re designed to make things easier for the supermarkets and to increase their profits.

However it’s really hard to find a product that ticks ALL the boxes! The milk I buy is pasteurised, non-homogenised and full cream. I would prefer to buy organic, but as I can’t buy organic milk locally, I buy from a small local dairy that uses Guernsey cows that are grass-fed. Being classified as organic literally means you’ve got the certificate, but there are plenty of small dairies that farm with the same principles and ideals, but haven’t been certified for reasons of cost (it can be expensive) or time (it is often neccessary to wait several years before land can officially be classed as organic).

As a bonus, the milk I buy comes in glass bottles that can be returned for re-use. Plastic-free!

Choosing to buy from  small-scale (and organic) dairy farmers means you can support a sustainable industry and not line the pockets of a massive supermarket chain. These farmers can charge a premium for their milk, and you get a far better product too. I promise you that if you make the switch you will be able to taste the difference!

Getting sick…and eating myself better

Getting sick is your body’s way of telling you that you’re doing too much and you need to slow down and take it easy. Of course I know this, but every time I feel like a cold/flu virus is coming on, I decide that the best way to deal with it is to ignore it, carry on at full speed with the things I normally do, and hope it goes away.

This never ends well. My body’s response is, well if you’re not going to slow down after I’ve given out the warning signs, then I’m going to force you to stay in bed by making you too sick to get up.

You’d think I’d learn, but oh, no. And so it goes that on Monday I started feeling unwell but decided to push through, and by Tuesday night I was in bed by 7.30m. And so today, when I have a million things I need/want to do, I’m forced to spend the morning in bed. I don’t like sitting around and doing nothing, I like to be going at 100 miles an hour all the time, so if I’m overdoing things I only find out about it when I’m forced to stop. If only I’d heeded the warning signs!

So now I’m accepting defeat and am trying to do my best to make myself better again. It would have been far better if I’d done this at the start, but still.

Echinacea

I don’t take many (actually I don’t take any) supplements but I do take echinacea when I’m sick, having been recommended it by my regular GP over 10 years ago. There are many studies that show it is effective in reducing cold symptoms and I do feel that once I start taking it, the recovery process seems to speed up. And if it seems to work, I’ll continue to take it!

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Fresh fruit juice and smoothies

Having recently had my enthusiasm for juicing and smoothie-making revived, these two gadgets are getting a pretty good workout at the moment. Since I started with the daily green smoothie for breakfast I thought I’d never get ill again. (Although I didn’t have one on Saturday morning – could that be the reason for all this?) The great thing about smoothies and juices is that in addition to the fluids that you’re always told you’re supposed to have when you’re ill, you getting all the nutrients, minerals, vitamins and enzymes from the vegetables and fruit that you’re blending or juicing too. If you’re making juice you really need to use organic where possible, because otherwise you’re just squeezing a load of pesticides in there too.

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Superfood Salads

The other thing I think it’s really important to do is eat loads of nutritious foods. This is difficult when all you can be bothered to do is make toast, but your body will get better faster if it’s getting more vitamins and nutrients. Hot buttered toast may be one of the ultimate comfort foods, but it ain’t exactly packed with nutrition. And just looking at a colourful meal packed full of vegetables makes me feel better!

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Quinoa salad with beetroot, sweet potato, flaxseed oil, broccoli, cucumber, chickpeas and almonds. Yum!

Rest

Okay, okay, so I’m still writing the blog, which isn’t exactly total rest, but I’m sitting in bed, and for me sitting still at all is a pretty big achievement. Resting gives your body the chance to use all those nutrients and boosts your immune system, so it can fight off the infection. Of course the temptation will be, as soon as I start to feel marginally better, to get up again and try to do all those things that are just waiting to be done. Hopefully I can take my own advice and stay still long enough to recover properly. Fingers crossed!

Myths about coconut oil

I love coconut oil and recently published this blog post detailing some of the reasons why. I’ve read so much in the past few months about coconut oil having awesome health benefits, but when I was researching for the blog (and I did a lot of research) I realised that there’s also a lot of information out there that’s misleading, inaccurate, and just plain wrong. I thought it was worth writing a quick post on some of these. Don’t mistake me, coconut oil is great, but let’s keep to the facts when making claims!

Three myths about coconut oil

  1. Coconut oil can withstand high temperatures

I have read a great deal about coconut oil being excellent for cooking, particularly roasting vegetables and frying. Not quite true. Coconut oil might be slow to oxidise, but it has a relatively low smoke point. This is the temperature at which oil produces blue smoke and breaks down into glycerol and free fatty acids. The glycerol can be further broken down to acrolein (which is that ‘burnt’ smell that you get when you overheat oil) and other aldehydes. Aldehydes are irritants, and they’re also toxic.

The smoke point of virgin coconut oil (the type with the health benefits) is 177ºC. By comparison, virgin olive oil is 199°C and rice bran oil is 254ºC (click here for a list of the smoke points of other oils). So this means if you’re heating your coconut oil at low temperatures it’s perfectly safe, but over 177ºC and you’re turning it into toxic chemicals. Not so tasty.

(I found this great paper which looks at the emissions of aldehydes from cooking oils including coconut oil if you’re interested or want some more information.)

  1. Coconut oil is packed with nutrients and vitamins

I’ve read so many articles stating that coconut oil is ‘packed full of vitamins and minerals’, but when I came to look for the evidence, I couldn’t find any. Coconut oil does contain vitamin E (tocopherols) but in relatively low amounts of 50ppm (parts per million), which means 0.005%. By comparison, sunflower oil has 450-1520ppm, and soyabean oil can have up to 3340ppm. (Check the statistics out here.)

In even lower amounts, coconut oil contains vitamin K (phylloquinone) at levels of 0.005ppm. That’s 0.5 micrograms per 100g, or 0.0000005%. And the only mineral present in coconut oil is iron, at levels of 0.4ppm or 0.0004%. (If you’re interested in the nutritional breakdown of coconut oil, read this for more details.)

So there are very small amounts of a couple of vitamins and a mineral in coconut oil, but it’s not exactly packed with them.

  1. Coconut oil and human breast milk are both high in lauric acid

I keep reading articles comparing coconut oil with human breast milk, because they both contain lauric acid. But the quantities they contain are completely different.

Coconut oil contains 92% saturated fat, and lauric acid accounts for around 50% of this total (details here). By comparison, only 4.4% of breast milk is fat. (This makes sense if you think about the full-fat milk you buy from the shop, its fat content is also around 4%.) Of this 4.4%, lauric acid accounts for just 6.2% of this (originally there was a reference link here, but it is broken and has been removed). This means the lauric acid content of breast milk is around 0.27%. (I have seen this misquoted in several places with claims that lauric acid is 6.2% of the total, not 6.2% of the total fat.) Whilst the fat content of breast milk fluctuates, and increases over time, this research demonstrates lauric acid content never exceeding 5%.

One of the reasons that this claim is made could stem from the fact that lauric acid is actually fairly uncommon in nature. In addition to coconut oil, it is only found in palm kernel oil (not the same as palm oil) and some other plants not used for food production as well as milk of lactating mammals. As a food source, breast milk may contain the third-highest source… but that’s only out of three.

Of course there’s a great many claims made about coconut oil that are backed with evidence, and coconut oil is a fantastic ingredient with some amazing properties. Just take some of the claims with a pinch of salt, especially if they don’t contain references that back them up!