Tag Archive for: health

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!

Ingredients I love…Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a relatively new addition to my grocery cupboard. When I was growing up coconut oil (and coconut products in general) were considered unhealthy because of their high fat content, in particular their saturated fat content. (Avocados and coconuts are unique among fruit and vegetables for containing saturated fat.) Saturated fat has been linked to heat disease. However coconut oil is now becoming popular again as its properties and their benefits are more widely understood.

It’s worth noting that the coconut oil I’m talking about here is virgin cold-pressed. Virgin cold-pressed coconut oil is produced from fresh coconut meat, which is dried and then pressed to extract the oil, usually within hours of harvesting.

Oh, and one more thing before I begin my list. All things in moderation. Coconut oil might have some amazing properties and health benefits, but eating an entire jar in one sitting isn’t going to do you any favours! Limiting consumption to only a few tablespoons a day is recommended.

Six reasons why I love coconut oil

  1. It’s tasty…and better for you!

Let’s face it, things full of fat always taste much better, and coconut oil is composed of 92% saturated fat. But don’t panic! Not all saturated fats are equal. There are 34 different saturated fatty acids, and of the four found in coconut oil, lauric acid accounts for almost 50%. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid, and medium-chain fatty acids are metabolised differently to other saturated fats.

Medium chain fatty acids tend to be used by the body to provide energy soon after they are consumed, rather than being stored as fat. If fatty acids are used this way they cannot contribute to weight gain. Lauric acid has a particularly high rate of oxidation compared to other fats, meaning it is burned off, making it a valuable source of energy.

  1. It has anti-microbial properties

Lauric acid has antibacterial properties, but can also be converted in the body into monolaurin (glycerol monolaurate), which has even greater anti-microbial properties. In lab tests both lauric acid and monolaurin have been demonstrated to be effective against viruses and pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and Salmonella (research here, here, here and here).

  1. It’s good for the heart

There are two types of cholesterol, LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) and HDL (‘good’ cholesterol). High levels of HDL are thought to protect against heart attacks and strokes (see reports here, here, here and here). The lauric acid in coconut oil greatly increases HDL cholesterol in the blood (analysis here) and decreases the total cholesterol to HDL ratio.

  1. It has a long shelf life

Because it is high in saturated fat, coconut oil is resistant to oxidation. (Oxidation is what makes oils rancid, breaking fatty acids down into aldehydes, ketones and alcohol.) Oils high in unsaturated fat are much less stable and prone to going rancid. Some particularly susceptible oils (such as flaxseed oil) will go rancid within weeks; coconut oil can last years. This is great if you’ve bought a jar because you needed 2 teaspoons for a recipe, as it will sit happily in the cupboard until you’re ready to use it again.

  1. It’s not just for eating

Coconut oil is also a great base for beauty products because it is solid at room temperature, has a long shelf life and is easily absorbed by the skin. If you want to make your own beauty products then coconut oil is an essential; I use coconut oil for making my own deodorant and toothpaste. It’s a key oil for making soap and also has great moisturising properties. The anti-bacterial properties of lauric acid have been shown to be effective in treating acne.

  1. It’s a great natural alternative to butter

Because it’s solid at room temperature (it melts at 25ºC) it’s great as a butter replacement in recipes for people who can’t/won’t eat dairy products, or want to cut down. Now I’m not a vegan but I am a fan of the raw vegan treat. Coconut oil is often found in such delights as a substitute for dairy products. What could be better than snacking on food that tastes delicious and is packed full of goodness? What, you don’t believe me that raw vegan treats taste delicious?! Try this recipe and see for yourself!

Raw chocolate

(This recipe is adapted from another recipe I found online – I used to link back to it bu as the link no longer works so it’s been removed.)

Ingredients:
170g coconut oil
110g raw almonds
60ml maple syrup (1/4 cup)
10 – 12 medjool dates
4 tbsp cacao powder

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Method:

Line a 20cm by 25cm tray with greaseproof paper.

Chop the dates finely using a knife. (Don’t attempt to do this in a food processor or you will end up with a big sticky lump attached to the blades)

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Chop the almonds in a food processor until they resemble small nibs, but not so fine that you get a powder. (If you don’t have a food processor then you could use a coffee grinder of chop by hand using a sharp knife)

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Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan on an extremely low heat until it is liquid (it will melt at 25ºC). Add the maple syrup and cacao to the pan and stir.

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Add the chopped dates and nuts and mix well.

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Pour into the lined tin, using a fork to make sure the fruit and nuts are distributed evenly.

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Place in the freezer (make sure the tray is flat) and leave for at least 30 mins until solid. Chop into squares and store in a container in the freezer. (You eat it straight from frozen.) If it doesn’t get eaten immediately, it will last for a month.

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Notes:

Maple syrup is not raw, as it is made from the heated and reduced sap of the maple tree. If you want a raw sweetener then replace the maple syrup with raw honey (which is not suitable for vegans) or raw agave nectar.

Raw cacao is preferable as it is higher in nutrients. If you cannot find it, then I recommend an organic product such as Green & Blacks cocoa powder. Don’t use Cadbury’s as it contains extra ‘flavours’!

Green smoothies

Until about two weeks ago, I had no idea what a green smoothie was. I had on occasion seen other people drinking murky green drinks and turned my nose up, but nothing more. And I was sure it was going to stay that way, but somehow it didn’t. You know how you hear about something for the first time, and then all of a sudden it’s everywhere you go, everyone seems to be talking about it, it’s in the newspapers, on the internet… Well that’s how it was for me. Everyone seemed to be drinking green smoothies, or writing about it, or talking about it, or maybe even all three. And I’m a curious kinda girl, and I was intrigued.

This intrigue coincided with a few other things. Firstly, my boyfriend owns both a juicer and a blender from a previous life, and in the 15 months we’ve lived in our little flat they have been stored out of sight in the cupboard. We neither have the space nor inclination to keep things that could be put to much better use by someone else, and we’d already decided that we should dig them out, dust them off, give ’em a go and figure if they were worth keeping or whether they were going on Gumtree. So we were already set up for the green smoothie experiment.

Secondly, my boyfriend has been ill with a cold/flu virus for what has now been three weeks. He took the first few days off work as he couldn’t get out of bed, but as he started getting better he went back to work, and two weeks later he still can’t shake it off. Increasing our fruit and vegetable intake seemed sensible.

Thirdly, I make my own sourdough, which is absolutely delicious. The downside of this is that I have a tendency to have toast for both breakfast and lunch. Tasty, but not very nutritious.

So I decided that this week was going to be a week of green smoothies for breakfast. My boyfriend, as you can probably imagine, was underwhelmed, but duly trudged along with me to the Farmers Market on Saturday to stock up on kale and bananas. The challenge was on.

We tried our first one on Saturday afternoon. 3 kale leaves, 1 banana, 1 cup of water and juice of 1/2 lemon per person. Surprisingly, it was quite pleasant (drinkable at least!), although the green colour takes a bit of getting used to. (My brain kept trying to persuade me it was full so it didn’t have to drink any more, but my tastebuds were fine with it.) On Monday morning I used lime instead of lemon. Couldn’t really notice the difference. This morning I juiced an apple to replace some of the water, and the extra sweetness was much appreciated. The extra washing up was not. (I had to use the juicer as well as the blender.) Not only that, but I didn’t secure the lid properly so coated myself and the kitchen in finely ground apple.

So…do I feel any different? Well it’s only been three days. But there’s a definite smugness to knowing that you’ve drank four portions of fruit and vegetables before you’ve even gone out of the door in the morning!

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Ingredients for one green smoothie: three kale leaves, one banana, juice of half a lemon or lime, and 1 cup of water (or apple juice)