Paying full whack for a new pair of trainers

This weekend was a weekend of firsts. I bought my first pair of running trainers since I was at school – and that was a good while ago now. I also paid full price. That’s something I hardly ever (never?) do. What’s going on? Read more

Roasting, soaking, sprouting, activating, or eating raw – a guide to eating nuts

Nuts are super nutritious, and packed full of vitamins and minerals. Not only that, they are darn delicious. They’re surprisingly versatile ingredients too – they work equally well in sweet and savoury dishes, and you can even use them to make non-dairy milk, butter, and cheese. Plus they are used to make the most amazing raw desserts.

There’s a few different ways to buy nuts, but the two most common options are raw and roasted. As I’ve become more interested in learning about whole foods I’ve come across a lot of recipes that talked about soaking nuts, which seemed to add a lot of time to the recipes. When I started investigating raw food, and I found that the term “activated” also came up a lot, and recipes advised using activated nuts. How on earth do you activate a nut, I wondered? And more precisely, why would I bother when (most) nuts are perfectly tasty in their raw state?

The scientist in me wanted to know more. I like to understand things rather than following mindlessly just because I vaguely remember reading somewhere that something was better for me. I wanted to know what all these methods actually mean, what the point of them was, and whether there’s anything behind it.

Or is it just another fad?

Nuts in their natural state

Nuts grow on trees, and have a hard shell that takes a good set of nut crackers plus some considerable hand strength to prise open. Commercial farmers can use machinery to crack them open. The resulting nut once the case is removed is the raw nut.

It’s worth clarifying that raw in this instance means uncooked. Raw in the raw food sense means not heated above 46ºC. This can be a little confusing, for example with cashew nuts, which are often steamed open. These nuts are still referred to as “raw”, since they are uncooked, but they are not strictly speaking raw in the raw food sense as the steaming would have involved heating them above 46ºC. (You can buy cashews that have been cracked open by hand and are truly raw, but they are considerably more expensive.)

Nuts and phytic acid

As well as all their nutritional goodness, raw nuts also contain phytic acid, or phytate. Phytate is the molecule that plants use to store phosphorus, and it is particularly high in bran, seeds and nuts.  Once digested, the phytate in raw nuts, which cannot be digested by humans as we do not have the phytase enzyme, binds to minerals, particularly calcium, iron, and zinc, but also magnesium and manganese, preventing us from absorbing them in the gastrointestinal tract. Phytate has been described as an anti-nutrient for this reason. (If you want to read more about phytate read here and here). Diets high in phytate are thought to cause iron deficiency (see here).

As well as binding to minerals, phytate is also thought to inhibit digestive enzymes such as pepsin (here), trypsin (here) and amylase (here). This is why large quantities of raw nuts can be hard to digest.

Whether you should worry about phytic acid depends on how much you intake. If you just eat a small handful of raw nuts a day, it’s probably no big deal. But if you’re vegan and eating huge quantities of almond butter, cashew cheese and raw (nut-based) cheesecake, you eat a vegetarian diet packed with lentils and wholegrains, or you’re anaemic or suffering from calcium or iron deficiency, then you may want to consider reducing your phytate intake. That doesn’t mean cutting back, it just means preparing your nuts (and also pulses and other wholegrains) a little differently.

All of the ways described below are ways of preparing nuts so as to reduce the phytate levels and make the nuts easier to digest, and allow us to absorb more nutrients.

Roasting Nuts

Roasted nuts are probably the most readily available nuts after raw nuts. Roasting reduces the phytate content of nuts, although there’s not much research available regarding specifics of how the nutritional content of nuts changes when you roast them. It is also thought to improve their digest-ability.

If you do want to eat roasted nuts, you’re far better off roasting your own. That way they’ll be fresher (and tastier), and you can control the oven temperature. Because nuts contain polyunsaturated fats it’s thought that roasting at lower temperatures are better. Also, nuts which contain asparagine, such as almonds, need to be kept below 130°C to avoid producing acrylamide, which is a neurotoxin and carcinogen. (For more information see here and here).

Roasted nuts that you buy from the supermarkets are often not roasted but deep fried. (If they don’t say dry roasted, then they’re not!) There ain’t nothing healthy about that!

Soaking nuts (or “activating” them)

Another option for reducing the phytate content of raw nuts is to soak them. Soaking is a precursor for germination, and the seed uses enzymes to break down the phytate. Soaking time can vary depending on which nut you’re soaking, but overnight is a general guideline.

If you soak the nuts for long enough, they should begin to sprout (germinate). I have never tried this but expect it would take several days. The water should be changed every 12 hours or so (more if it is a very hot day) to help prevent them rotting.

You can eat nuts that have been soaked. They are still crunchy but have a more “crisp” bite than a crunch. They are great for adding to salads or snacking on, but will only keep for a couple of days. They won’t work in recipes that call for raw or roasted nuts though because they are too wet. To enable them to be suitable for baking, they need to be dried out.

Dehydrating nuts

Dehydrating is a method of drying soaked nuts out without cooking them, and uses low temperatures for long periods of time to achieve this. There is a specialist piece of equipment called a dehydrator that can be used, or a fan oven at a low temperature (lower than 50ºC) with the door ajar to allow the moisture to escape, or even leaving them in the sun. Dehydrating nuts takes upwards of 12 hours. Once dried out the nuts resemble raw nuts in flavour and appearance but have more crunch and are slightly drier.

If nuts aren’t dehydrated for long enough then they can go mouldy inside because of the moisture that remains.

Activated nuts

In some health food shops you can buy activated raw nuts. These are nuts that have been soaked (activated) then dehydrated and packaged for sale. They are considerably more expensive than ordinary raw nuts because of the extra time and effort that has gone into preparing them.

The Conclusion?

All this preparation is taking place to make nuts easier to digest, and that can’t be a bad thing. That said, it does require a bit of effort, and if you don’t notice any problems eating raw nuts you’ll probably think it’s not worth the trouble. However, consider this. Whilst you may think it sounds like a modern fad, most traditional cultures soak, sprout and ferment nuts and grains and have done for centuries. It’s not that it’s been invented, more re-discovered. Also, nuts don’t come ready shelled in convenient packs at the supermarket. Back in the old days, if we wanted 500g of nuts for a recipe, we’d have to find a nut tree and then sit and crack them all open by hand ourselves. No doubt this helped limit how many we actually consumed. Nowadays we can consume kilos of them without a second thought. This makes it more important to prepare them properly than if we were just having a small handful now and then.

I try to soak my nuts if I’m adding them to a salad and planned far enough in advance! Soaking is a requirement for making nut milk anyway. As for raw desserts, because of the huge quantities of nuts required, I’ve started using activated walnuts and almonds because I can buy these in bulk. If I just want a quick snack though, I’ll often eat raw nuts straight out of the jar. Perfection is just too hard!

My take on supplementing your diet

For a long time I’ve thought that vitamins and supplements were a complete waste of money. When I was a student, I remember going for several days without consuming a single fruit or vegetable (I shudder at the very idea now). Once I remember deciding I should supplement my diet with a multivitamin. (I want to shout at myself WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST GO AND BUY SOME VEGETABLES?!!!, but fresh produce can seem expensive when you’re on a student budget, and in those days it wasn’t a priority.) So I went to the chemist and bought the multivitamin that had the most amount of things in it for the least amount of money. At the time, I felt no different, and concluded I should have saved my pennies. Read more

What ‘raw food’ actually is (it’s not just about salad!)

Yesterday was July 11th, and also (you probably didn’t know) International Raw Food Day (I didn’t know either, until Google told me). When I first heard about raw food I have to admit I was seriously uninspired. I imagined cold unappetising plates of salad for meal after meal, and never bothered to look any further into it.

I’d probably never have changed my mind if I hadn’t stumbled across a cafe in Fremantle called the Raw Kitchen about 9 months ago. The food at this cafe is truly delicious, and the continuous queues outside and the difficulty in finding a table at the weekends is testament to how good everyone else thinks it is too. As soon as I ate there, I was hooked. It really opened my eyes to just how tasty raw food can be.

What does ‘Raw Food’ mean?

Put simply, raw food is food that has not been heated above 46°C (115°F). As heat destroys nutrients and enzymes, keeping food below this temperature is thought to keep the food at its optimal nutritional levels, and preserve its life-force. Raw food is sometimes referred to as living food. If you’ve ever seen a plate of over-boiled, grey, lifeless and limp vegetables, you should be able to understand this premise.

Often raw food is also free from dairy, eggs, wheat and gluten. Ingredients used are unrefined and as close to their natural state as possible. To get a variety of textures, forms and flavours, techniques such as dehydrating, blending, soaking and freezing are used.

There can be lot of effort required in preparing raw food. Cooking often makes food easier to digest, so if it’s going to be eaten raw then often it needs to be prepared in some other way to make it more digestible. Raw nuts, legumes and wholegrains contain high levels of phytic acid (phytate), which is the molecule plants use to store phosphorus. Humans cannot digest phytic acid, and it binds to minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium, preventing us from absorbing them. To make them easier to digest, there’s a lot of soaking involved (sprouting reduces phytic acid without reducing the nutritional content), and this takes time (often upwards of a few hours). Then, to dry the food again, it needs to be dehydrated, which means using a dehydrator, which run at 46°C and have a fan for air movement, for 8 hours or longer in order to remove moisture. Dehydrators are also used to create the texture of oven-baked food.

My take on Raw Food

I would never eat an entirely raw diet because I love cooked food: I love the comfort of a bowl of piping hot soup on a chilly day, there is a huge space in my life for oven-roasted vegetables and eggs for breakfast on Sunday mornings has to be one of my all-time favourites. Plus, from a sustainability point-of-view, I believe we need to eat according to the seasons, and that means we need to freeze, pickle and preserve. I don’t think it’s possible to eat fresh food every day of the year without importing some of it, and it’s not sustainable to fly fresh produce around the globe.

An entirely or high raw food diet would also put a bit of a strain on the financial budgets of most people, me included. When you try to buy organic, local, free-range and fairtrade it already adds a lot to your weekly shopping basket. To me these are non-negotiable, because the cost of not doing them is far worse. So being able to supplement these with grains helps keep the overall cost of my weekly shop down. Pasta, bread and rice may not have much nutritional value but they’re cheap, filling, and help offset the price of expensive vegetables and other ingredients.

Whilst I understand the principles of dehydrating food, for me, cooking something in the oven at 200ºC for 2 hours makes far more sense. We don’t have solar panels and I don’t think I could justify running a dehydrator for lengthy periods on fossil fuels.

However, there’s definitely a space in my diet for raw food. Particularly raw dessert. There’s no doubt that refined foods have little (or no) nutrition. White flour and white sugar offer nothing but empty calories. So what could be better than a dessert that removes the nutritionally devoid parts and replaces them with ingredients that are super nutritious and tasty?! Yes, raw desserts cost considerably more to make, but our bodies weren’t designed to eat sugary, fatty, carbohydrate-loaded desserts every day (or multiple times a day).

What does raw food look like?

I want to share with you some of the photos I’ve taken from my many visits to the Raw Kitchen. It inspired me to investigate raw food, so maybe it will convince some of you doubter out there that it’s not all lettuce and carrot sticks!

rawmacaroonsjpg falafels cherrycheesecake rawsoupjpg rawcheesecakejpg rawpizzajpg caramelslicejpg

Even the doubters must have thought some of this looks pretty tasty!

A month without.

Today is the 1st July. I quite like that it also happens to be a Monday. It feels like an even better day for the start of new things. Plastic Free July has started, so it’s a month without plastic. As we don’t buy anything much in plastic these days, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but it’ll be good to keep us on our toes and keep track of anything that does come our way, which we will put in the dilemma bag. The dilemma bag is for all the plastic we just can’t do without, or the sneaky plastic that thwarts our attempts to buy plastic-free. When we first gave up plastic, we kept everything in a dilemma bag but we had nowhere to keep it so after a few months we decided to stop. But we’ll resume it for the month and see how much (hopefully none!) we accumulate. Read more

My struggle with goal-setting

I like the idea of achieving goals. I like the idea that if I want something to happen, then it will happen. So if I decide that I’ll be more organised/learn a new skill/make some other life changes, then, miraculously, it will happen. Except, quite often, it doesn’t. It turns out that deciding that I want something to change, but doing nothing else to achieve the change, isn’t really a recipe for success. Deciding that I want something to happen might be the first step, but there’s a lot of other steps out there on the path to achieving that goal. Read more

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.)

buttercups2jpg buttercups3bjpg buttercups5jpg buttercups56jpg buttercups7jpg buttercups1jpg

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).

butterbups9jpgbuttercups11jpg

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.

buttercups16jpg

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).

buttercups12jpg

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.

buttercups10jpg buttercups14jpg

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!

buttercupsbmpjpg

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

Enjoy!

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!

echinaceajpgLARGE

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.

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!

quinoasalad1jpg

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!