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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!

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

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.

Plastic Free July is almost upon us!

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This year’s Plastic Free July challenge is almost upon us, with just a little over two weeks to go. Plastic Free July, in case you don’t know what it is, is a challenge that runs every year which encourages people to give up disposable plastic for the month of July. (If you think that sounds too hard, you can also commit to a week or even one shopping trip instead.)

What do I mean by disposable plastic mean anyway?

This is the stuff you use just once, or a couple of times, and then throw away. Obvious items include plastic shopping bags, plastic bottles, plastic food packaging in general (cellophane wrapping, polystyrene trays, plastic tubs, bottles and yoghurt pots, even tetra-packs) and a lot of cosmetics and toiletries packaging. But there’s loads of less obvious stuff out there too. Like, for example, when you buy a new pair of socks and they are hanging on the rack with a little plastic hook? That little hook is gonna go straight in the bin.

What’s the purpose of Plastic Free July?

Well, there’s actually a few. On an individual level, it makes participants vastly more aware of how much disposable plastic is in our lives. It also encourages people to look at what plastic they use and see if they can find alternatives to any of it, so maybe after July, some new habits are formed.

But also, by bringing your own bags to the shops, or taking your own containers to the fishmonger, or refusing a straw, people can also send messages to retailers and businesses, and also their staff and other customers. This sends the message to the wider community that there is another way, and create awareness at this level too. The more people that demand change, the more businesses will listen.

Of course, it also means vastly less plastic is consumed in the month of July, which means less plastic going to landfill and less plastic ending up in our rivers and oceans where it harms wildlife. And less fossil fuels are wasted making new disposable plastic that is destined for the same journey.

Plus it’s a great way to find out about businesses that are already doing great things to help the environment – either cafes with zero waste policies, or companies that make stainless steel water bottles or reusable cloth vegetable bags – and also charities, community groups and other organisations that are campaigning for change.

So Plastic Free July is about creating awareness, reducing waste and inspiring change.

Why am I so passionate about Plastic Free July?

I took part in Plastic Free July last year for the first time, and it was a life-changing experience. Seriously. I always thought of myself as pretty green and sustainable, but once I started looking at how much plastic I was consuming, I realised there was so much more I could do. So after July I committed to permanently avoiding buying disposable plastic packaging.

But it wasn’t just that. Once I started looking at all that plastic-wrapped food, I realised that it’s all processed, and mostly junk. The more processed the ‘food’, the more plastic packaging. Once I stopped buying that stuff, I instantly felt better and healthier, and it made me start to look at what I was eating to make the connections between food and health. We all know that you need to eat well, but often we choose to ignore it when we’re busy, for the sake of convenience. Taking part in Plastic Free July made me reconnect with the issue. I also learned to cook new things so I could make fresh, wholesome versions of the things I could no longer buy, so I didn’t have to go completely without.

The same goes for skincare. I used to buy products that were readily available in the supermarkets, and never really considered that they contained preservatives, irritants and carcinogens. Yep, carcinogens. (If you wanna see what’s in the products you’re using, check out the Skin Deep database here which contains 64,000 products. It’s an eye-opener.) Once I started looking for cosmetic products in glass I began to find natural products that didn’t contain any of that nasty stuff. Now I know the alternatives I wouldn’t dream of buying those mass-produced synthetic chemical cocktails to put on my skin. (I’ve also started learning how to make my own.)

The Plastic Free July challenge also led me to small, independent businesses and local producers, and changed the whole way I shopped. Which is great because I’d much rather be supporting these types of businesses rather than the big multinational companies with their inferior products and questionable ethics. I just needed that extra push, I suppose.

What else? Well I learned a great deal about waste and pollution, and found out about a number of charities and individuals doing amazing work, including 5 Gyres, who campaign against plastic pollution, and the fantastic Beth Terry, who gave up plastic completely in 2007, and whose blog contains a wealth of information regarding plastic-free living.

Through Plastic Free July I was also able to really connect with my local community, and meet so many people who live just down the road and have the same concerns as me. It’s great to know I’m not the only one that cares – and sometimes it can feel a bit like that!

So there’s a lot more to Plastic Free July than giving up a few plastic carrier bags!

Want to get on board?

Sign up! You’ve still got two weeks to prepare for it, and if you want to know more have a look at the Plastic Free July website which has loads of information, links and suggestions for dilemnas you may have. You can choose which challenge you want to sign up to, and if there’s something that you absolutely cannot avoid that comes in plastic (like medication!) just keep the packaging in a ‘dilemna bag’ for the end of the month.

And if you’re still not sure, have a look at the website anyway… you’ve still got a couple of weeks to change your mind!

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!

How to… Make Your Own Natural Yoghurt

This is a recipe for dairy yoghurt. You’ll find my recipe for dairy-free coconut yoghurt here.

Ever since I went to a workshop, I have been meaning to make my own yoghurt. The workshop was in February. We’re creeping towards May. I needed to stop thinking about it and talking about it, and actually do it!

The delay was predominantly the result of my not having the right equipment, namely a thermos flask and a thermometer. Strictly speaking you don’t need either of these things, but it makes it easier. Plus they are both useful tools to have in the kitchen anyway, and I know I will use them.

After scouring Gumtree and eBay for two months I decided to bite the bullet and buy a new flask. A wide-neck one is more practical and there didn’t seem to be any available second-hand. I also bought a new thermometer. Both came with a few pieces of unnecessary plastic packaging (do I really need a carry strap for the flask, and even so, does the carry strap really need to be ‘protected’ by a plastic bag?!).

I don’t buy brand new things very often (see why here) but sometimes I have to admit defeat. At least now I can get on with my yoghurt-making!

(I have to confess I was slightly nervous about the end result of my first batch. I remember at school in biology class having to do an experiment where we filled test tubes with milk and a dollop of yoghurt and then incubated them at different temperatures for a few days. After waiting the few days, we ended up with…test tubes of milk and a dollop of yoghurt. Even the teacher was confused. But I needn’t have worried…)

Making yoghurt is simple. You will need: fresh whole fat milk and live yoghurt (it will say ‘live’, ‘probiotic’ or ‘cultures’ on the label). 1 litre of milk requires 1 tablespoon of yoghurt, and should make 700ml yoghurt. As well as a flask and a thermometer, you will require a saucepan and a wooden spoon.

Pour the milk into a saucepan. Warm over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer reaches 82oC. This heat treatment kills any bacteria that may be present in the milk. Turn off the heat and allow the milk temperate to drop to 45oC.

The milk needs to drop to 45oC so that when the yoghurt cultures are added they are not killed by the high temperature. Once the milk has cooled enough spoon the yoghurt culture into the flask (make sure the flask has been thoroughly cleaned with hot water beforehand) and add a small amount of the milk from the saucepan. Stir thoroughly before adding the rest of the milk into the flask.

Screw on the flask lid. Now you need to leave the flask for 8 hours to allow the yoghurt culture to do it’s thing – namely converting lactose (the natural sugar in milk) into lactic acid, which then causes the milk proteins to coagulate, which results in the thicker, creamier texture of yoghurt.

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Ta-da! Fresh homemade probiotic natural yoghurt.

On opening up the flask, you should be looking at a container full of delicious probiotic yoghurt! It will need stirring to make sure there’s no lumps. (This is why a wide-necked flask is useful.) The yoghurt can then be poured into a glass jar and stored in the fridge. It should last several days.