I have had a “best baked beans” recipe for a long time now, but every time I make it, I tweak it – anyone else do that? Now that we’ve been a couple of months sans-Heinz over in rural northern Sweden I have had plenty of practice and plenty of tweaks and boy, is this THE recipe I have for you now!!!
If you think you don’t have time to make beans and that they couldn’t possible stand up to the comparison of your favourite can – think again, I promise you will not be disappointed 😉
Little olive oil for frying
½ onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed / finely chopped
2 rashers of streaky bacon (optional, but highly recommended)
Pinch ground cumin
Pinch ground coriander
250 mls tomato passata
1 400g tin cannellini beans (or 100g dried beans soaked overnight then boiled for approx. 90 mins until cooked)
Gently fry the onions and garlic in a little oil
for 2-3 minutes on a medium temperature, stirring so they don’t burn, then add
the bacon (if using) and cook for a further 2-3 minutes until it’s all cooked
Add the passata, coriander and cumin and bring
to the boil before adding the beans.
Cook through for 10 minutes or so until
everything is piping hot.
What are your cupboard staples that could use a tasty and healthy makeover?
For the next instalment of my Good.Mood.Food series, I wanted to share with you the amazing benefits of green tea. Many people that are trying to “be healthier” ditch the caffeinated drinks and green tea tends to fall into this category for them, but the caffeine in green tea is gentler than in coffee – there’s not only a lower quantity of it, but it’s also buffered by the presence of an amino acid called L-theanine. I find L-theanine to be such a powerful nutrient for me personally – it supports neurotransmitters in the body, supporting the brain by producing an anti-anxiety effect. My morning green tea is therefore a non-negotiable for me, and my kids know that so I get my 5 mins peace to help me start my day on an even keel with love and patience.
But once in a while I switch up the tea bag for this lovely treat – a matcha latte. I used to always only have them when I could buy them out, but they’re remarkably easy to make – why not give it a go?
cup (250 mls) dairy-free milk ie, almond, rice or oat
1 tsp matcha green tea powder
1 tsp coconut oil
¼ tsp vanilla bean paste
tsp honey (optional)
Heat all ingredients gently in a pan at a low heat and ensure it does not reach boiling point. Either blitz in a Nutri bullet-style blender to froth, or whisk with a hand whisk for that authentic frothy “latte” feel.
I hope you enjoy that, and that it helps you to feel great. For more feel-good recipes, why not have a look at my Good.Mood.Food post?
Continuing with my Good.Mood.Food series on food to support mental health, I wanted to introduce you to buckwheat – have you tried it? When it comes to supporting mental health, it’s such a lovely source of supportive nutrients and definitely something I love to have in my weekly repertoire.
First of all, it’s high in protein – in fact it is one of only a few plant sources of protein that are considered “complete”, in that they contain some of all the essential amino acids that our bodies need to get from their food. Protein is so important for building neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers that we need for a happy mood). It also stabilises our blood sugar levels, keeping us feeling fuller for longer and also on a more even keel energy and mood wise.
It also contains a good dose of magnesium, manganese and B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin and B6, all of which are important for our brain health amongst other things!
Buckwheat flour is used a lot in Brittany, northern France, for making “galettes” – savoury pancakes like these, and that’s exactly where I discovered it many years ago, long before I had any appreciation for its nutritional benefits. You can fill these pancakes with whatever you fancy, I like a simple ham and cheese which also goes down well with the kids and is a brilliant toddler food when cut into strips like an alternative quesadilla. Here I’ve made a simple ratatouille and topped with a little hard goat’s cheese, and accompanied it with a green side salad to further boost the nutrient density of my meal.
100g buckwheat flour
Pinch of salt
300mls mls water (approx.)
Knob of butter, melted (optional)
Mix the egg into the flour and salt using a whisk, then gradually add the water until it has a smooth and runny but not watery consistency. Add in the melted butter if using and thoroughly mix in. You want to be able to pour pancakes that are as thin as you would expect to make sweet ones.
Heat a little butter in a large frying pan to a medium – high heat, pour the batter and leave to cook for approx 2 mins until it is dry on top and comes away from the sides easily (don’t try to remove it to quickly or it will stick and tear). Once it comes away, flip it over and cook the other side for 30 seconds – 1 minute.
Repeat as necessary add your fillings and then fold or roll
The batter will last in the fridge for a couple of days in an airtight container if you don’t want to eat them all at once. They can also be stored cold in the fridge and used as wraps for lunches / lunchboxes
Do let me know what you think, and I hope you’re enjoying my series on Good.Mood.Food – the full blog post and links to more recipes for your mental health are here.
For those of you who read my previous Good Mood Food post on supporting mental health through the Covid-19 lockdown and looking for inspiring recipes, this is such a lovely simple but wonderfully supportive salad. Eating the right fats is so important for brain health, as it getting sufficient proteins and the variety of different vitamins and minerals we need to keep all the process running effectively to keep us on an even keel and feeling great.
For the salad:
1 chicory (endive) sliced, or other salad leaves
1 small carrot, grated
1 small beetroot, grated
1/2 a large or a whole avocado, sliced
1 pre-cooked salmon fillet (simply bake for 20 minutes or pan fry in advance) This is delicious served warm or cold
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
For the dressing:
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
Method: 1. Mix the salad dressing ingredients together in an empty jam jar, and shake well to mix 2. Assemble the salad ingredients on a plate, then drizzle over the dressing (there will be plenty spare for another day, just use as much as you like for taste)
Just looking at this picture makes me feel better personally, but have you ever thought about the impact of WHAT you eat has on how you FEEL?
I can’t pretend that navigating mental health is one-dimensional, that everyone will respond in the same way, or that what we eat is the only things that can change how we feel, it absolutely isn’t. But I grow increasingly frustrated at the “experts” that reject diet and lifestyle interventions as a way to modulate our brain chemistry and our mood.
As someone who struggles with my own mental health at times, I am particularly concerned at the impact that this extended lockdown is having on others. I am lucky, I am not confined to my home right now and I am free to enjoy nature and all the benefits that offers me, but I know that if I had stayed in London I would be experiencing something entirely different. I have no doubt that I would not have been able to sit here right now and write this blog post which I hope you will find helpful.
Because what we eat really does have an effect on how we feel. I say that from scientific research and I say that from my own personal experience. I was never diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but since having my children there were days when I felt incredibly depressed, anxious or overwhelmed. Through those postpartum days particularly, I never realised what it was that was making me feel that way, but I am so thankful for the calling I felt to study nutrition and the motivations I had to feed myself well. I have no doubt that they (alongside my husband and family) were what carried me through that time and to where I am now.
So how can we eat to support our mental health right now? Here are five tips to start you off – try one, add another, see how you feel…
1Choose real, wholefoods
When we are feeling low, cravings for high-sugar, highly processed foods are quite normal. Our minds set us up to want them, to get the quick hit of dopamine (our “reward” hormone) from a sugar or caffeine rush. But they are not our friends. They are low in nutrients that support our brain health, they spike then crash our blood sugar levels and they contain inflammatory fats.
“Swap the white bread sandwich for a wholegrain option, choose natural fruits and nuts to snack on or make yourself a colourful “rainbow” salad”
Instead, swap the white bread sandwich for a wholegrain option, choose natural fruits and nuts to snack on or make yourself a colourful “rainbow” salad. Foods such as wholegrain rice, quinoa, barley, nuts and seeds are all abundant in B vitamins that support the creation of healthy neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that interact with our brains and stimulate feelings) in the body. Vitamin B9 (folate) which can be found in abundance in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli is also key in this production process, as is vitamin B12 which is found in animal products and supplements.
2 Get plenty of protein
Proteins form the backbone of many of the neurotransmitters
we need for balanced brain chemistry, so ensuring that we get sufficient in our
diet, gives our bodies the building blocks they need to do so.
Including protein in our meals also ensures that they are digested more steadily and release their energy at a speed that is balanced. Our brains use mainly glucose for energy, but we will feel much better if this is delivered at a constant and regular speed, rather than a roller-coaster of highs and lows.
“Include at least one source of protein with every meal or snack you eat”
Protein foods are meat, poultry and fish,
dairy and eggs, pulses like beans, chickpeas and lentils, and nuts and seeds.
Try to include at least one source of protein with every meal or snack you eat.
One amino acid (an essential protein building block) that plays a particular role in our mental health is tryptophan which forms the basis of the hormones serotonin (that makes us feel good) and melatonin (that helps us to sleep well). Tryptophan is particularly rich in red meats and turkey, eggs, soy, beans and cherries.
3Eat healthy fats
Fats play a crucial role in our health, not least in our brains which are made up of about 60% fat. They are also used in the membranes of each and every cell in our bodies, and as such play a crucial role when we want to send signals from one cell to another.
“Eat oily fish such as salmon and mackerel”
Healthy fats are those found in whole foods such as nuts and seeds, avocados, cold pressed oils like olive oil, and oily fish. Omega 3 fats have been shown to be particularly helpful with supporting brain health, so include some regular oily fish such as salmon and mackerel in your diet.
4Swap your coffee for a green tea
Green tea contains another helpful amino acid, theonine. Theonine is linked to another neurotransmitter called GABA, which helps to calm us down. It can be very helpful in reducing feelings of anxiety and helps to buffer the effects the caffeine that is consumed alongside it.
5Consume magnesium-rich foods
Magnesium, in conjunction with calcium and
vitamin B6, is a great nutrient for relaxation and enabling sleep. It is also
important for energy production, and often those with low levels can also
experience fatigue as well as low mood.
The good news is magnesium-rich foods are
plentiful and delicious – dark chocolate (70% or higher), avocados, nuts such
as almonds and peanuts, legumes like chickpeas and lentils, dark green leafy vegetables,
buckwheat and bananas to name a few.
If you are feeling low, please don’t
hesitate to reach out and get some help. These dietary interventions on their
own may not give you everything that you need, but please do give them a try
alongside. As a personalised nutrition expert, I can’t make specific
recommendations without looking at you as a unique individual, but all of the
above, in moderation, are safe food choices to make and at the very least won’t
make you feel any worse. On the contrary, they have the potential to make you
feel so much better.
Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming posts where I will share with you my favourite mood-boosting recipes to help you start feeling better:
There’s something quite cosy going on in my home, sheltered inside amidst the chaos. There’s an attempt at home schooling that has moments of varying success, there’s some cabin fever at having only our immediate family for company and a distinct lack of “me” time despite not being able to go anywhere, and yet I am spending precious time with my kids and teaching them all the things I also love to do… like baking!
These rock cakes are a variation of a recipe that my mum used to bake with me and my sister. Blissfully easy to do with small people, and as the name suggests, the appearance is better when no attention is paid to it at all. And so very comforting for me as a memory of my childhood, albeit I’ve switched out some of the less than healthy ingredients (hello glace cherries!) for some more wholesome alternatives.
200g wholemeal flour (I used spelt)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
150g dried fruit – I used 50g raisins, 50g chopped dates and 50g chopped apricots
30g chopped mixed nuts
80g brown sugar (or coconut sugar)
grated rind of 1 lemon
1 large egg, beaten
2-3 tbsp milk
Prepare a 12-hole muffin tin with cupcake cases and pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan assisted)
Measure out the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl, and stir together
Add the butter to the flour mix, chopped into 1-2cm square cubes
Rub the flour and butter together with your fingers. This was always a step emphasised by my mum as being important not to over-heat the butter and make a doughy consistency, but I don’t find that true in reality (sorry Mum!) so the kids get stuck in
Clean children’s hands thoroughly so that the mix remains mostly in the bowl!
Add the sugar, dried fruit, nuts and lemon rind and mix together
Add the egg and milk and stir to form a thick mixture that can be scooped out – then scoop it out dividing evenly into the cupcake cases
Bake for approx 20 minutes, until golden brown on top, then leave to cool on a wire rack for as long as the small people can wait.
Do please let me know what you think of these! Other great family bakes to try are:
So here’s an aspect of my work that doesn’t necessarily spring to mind when you’re thinking about a nutritionist – bath products. But what we put on our bodies is just as important as what we put in them too, and there’s plenty of reasons to be just as sceptical of a long list of ingredients on the back of your toiletries as you should be of your food products.
Not so long ago I was merrily purchasing bath bombs from a well-known high-street chain that professes to be “natural” and “environmentally friendly” – indeed they are making huge strides in this industry and don’t use lots of plastic packaging etc. But here’s the catch – I didn’t look at the ingredients, I just trusted them! Yep, I’m also a busy mum trying not to neglect my kids as I juggle work and the ever elusive balance so bam, quick bath bomb treats and everyone’s a winner right?
But no… one day they stuck the ingredients label on the package and as I sat on the bus heading home my gaze landed on it… In this instance it was SLS that popped out at me, but there are a number of others that you also want to be mindful of.
SLS – this is what makes products bubbly, something we probably desire in our bathroom products, but actually it is hugely irritating for the skin and can strip it of water, essentially damaging it. If you’re prone to eczema or sensitive skin, this one is a definite no-no.
SLES – this is a bit like SLS, but the additional processing that makes it kinder to the skin than SLS can actually create a toxin (1,4-dioxane) that has been linked to cancer. So I will pass on that too…
Parabens – these are essentially preservatives, anti-bacterial agents that ensure products have a long and stable shelf life. These are what hit the headlines a while ago because research has started to show that they can mimic hormones like oestrogen in the body, essentially interfering with our hormonal balance. In addition, they are playing a role in contaminating water, and spreading these effects further into our planet’s delicate ecosystem and wildlife so another that I avoid.
I won’t make this article too long, but if you’re interested in learning more about the ingredients in your kids toiletries, here’s a great article from Green People For me, it’s a simple answer – as much as I can I am making my own or sharing batches with friends and family; that way I know that only safe natural ingredients are involved, and bonus – we are having an absolute blast doing it too! If you want to get started, I absolutely love this book, Natural Beauty by Karen Gilbert – it’s got “grown-up” recipes, but you can adapt them to make more fun versions for kids which is exactly what I’ve done here!
Recipe: Natural Bath Bombs (Makes 8)
300g bicarbonate of soda
150g citric acid
50g corn flour
natural food colouring liquid or powder – amount varies*
lavender essential oil – approx 50 drops**
biodegradable glitter – as little as small hands will allow!
water in a spray bottle
Silicone cupcake case
Combine the bicarb, citric acid and corn flour in a large mixing bowl, then add the food colouring, essential oil and glitter mix thoroughly with your hands – you may wish to use rubber gloves for this as it’s quite harsh on the skin.
Continue to mix the mixture whilst spraying with water until it forms a consistency that whilst still loose, will pack and stick into the silicone cupcake forms, which is the final step.
Leave the bathbombs in the silicone moulds for 24 hours in a dry warm spot (the airing cupboard is perfect but the counter top also works just fine.
For a fun variation, split the recipe in half and make two separate batches with different colours. You can also substitute the glitter for dried flowers like lavender – once you start, you’ll soon get the hang of these and make infinite numbers of different and fun creations!
* You can use a variety of sources for this, but I have thus far stuck to the good old Waitrose Essential range.
**Lavender essential oil I buy from The Natural Dispensary – do have a look at their essential oils selection, and you can use the code POHL10 alongside my name (Catherine Pohl) to get a 10% discount (full disclosure, I also get a referral bonus when you do).
I have been asked for my opinion countless times now, on the recent Netflix film “The Game Changers”. Close friends have called me excitedly to talk about their new found vegan diet, and clients are increasingly asking me for help with cutting out meat and animal products.
But many seem somewhat confused that I’m not eating a vegan diet myself? The film was indeed very compelling. But I can assure you that I’m not vegan, and as a nutrition professional I have very solid reasons for the choices that I make around my own diet, as well as advising others with theirs and helping people make sense of the overwhelm of “information” that bombards us on a daily basis.
So why am I not vegan?
The first thing missing from the film for me was individuality. Functional medicine – which underpins my nutrition training – recognises is that we are all individuals, no two of us are exactly the same genetically or in terms of our lifestyles and life experiences.
For some, many even, a vegan can be fantastic and perfectly healthy. There is growing pressure on cutting down animal farming from an environmental perspective as well as the ethical factors for which people choose a vegan lifestyle, and all these things should be considered in the bigger picture, but if you’re choosing to eat only plant-based foods, you need to know how to feed yourself well and this is not something I feel the film either conveyed or equipped the viewer to do.
“If you’re choosing to eat only plant-based foods, you need to know how to feed yourself well”
Secondly, I want to take a moment to raise the question around the science of research. My training involved numerous hours learning how to research appraise the whole body of research evidence around a particular issue and review it critically. If that doesn’t make sense I apologise, but it basically means that I have done my time learning how to assess the scientific evidence for any number of dietary and nutrient-based hypotheses, and I do this on an almost daily basis when working with my clients.
The film flashed up and referred to many studies, but on closer inspection, many of them were what is called “cherry-picked” to support an argument, ie. they didn’t also take present the other side of the argument. James Cameron, one of the directors, actually owns a vegan food business – did you know that? He stands to make a direct profit from creating more vegans in the world. In the world of scientific research this would be classed as a “conflict of interest”. It doesn’t mean his motivations are not right, but it adds a aspect of doubt that should be considered.
And lastly, I’m tiring of the “binary choice” that we seem to be getting thrust upon us at every turn. There can be huge benefits in increasing plant-based foods in our diets, but why did the film instead push the extreme outcome of excluding animals completely?
It compared our human digestive tract to that of a lion – completely different, I agree – but not of a cow (you guessed it – also completely different) I couldn’t find a picture of a cow sorry – but here’s another carnivore, a dog, and here’s the cow. Which looks more like the human digestive tract?
Do we really need animal protein?
Ok, so that covers the my main points of complaint for the film, now for why I eat meat… No, we don’t necessarily need animal protein, but there are a few factors to consider if you want to give it up, and certainly if you’re an athlete (as many of those in the film were), serious consideration does need to be given to this aspect.
For an athlete like Patrik Baboumian who was featured in the film, there is a greater requirement for protein than eating a typical vegan diet can easily provide. A simple flick into his YouTube channel will reveal exactly what he does eat, and it consists of a number of daily protein shakes, and many additional supplements. That’s not to say we all need to eat that much protein, or that his diet isn’t healthy, but protein needs to be considered, and skimming over that and implying that a body builder can get enough protein from an average vegan diet is rather misleading. Are you happy to take artificial supplements for your day to day life? I’m not.
How much protein do we need, and how do we get it?
The film also suggested that there is the same amount of protein in a peanut butter sandwich as is found in three eggs. There is approx. 18g protein in three eggs, which would translate to about 80g, or almost ¼ of a regular 400g sized jar peanut butter. I ask you this – how much peanut butter do you put in a sandwich?
“How much peanut butter do you put in a sandwich?”
Additionally, animal sources of protein are what are referred to as “complete proteins”, that is to say that they contain the full set of essential amino acids (protein molecules that our body needs to eat as it cannot break down other molecules and make them itself). Most vegetable sources do not contain all 9 of these amino acids, or if they do, few contain them all in sufficient quantities to be able to only eat that single source for our full protein requirement. For example, diets high in pulses can typically lack the amino acid methionine, but this is more plentiful in rice, hence the traditional “peas and rice” meal combination.
In the peanut butter v egg example, eggs contain all the essential amino acids, peanuts are however lacking in three of them (threonine, lysine and methionine), so they need to be topped up with other forms of protein (and before you ask, wheat isn’t a great source of lysine either so would not make up the shortfall!) You cannot just substitute eggs for peanut butter.
“You cannot just substitute eggs for peanut butter”
What else do I need to think about?
In addition to protein, there are a number of other
nutrients that are more difficult to attain easily on a vegan diet, namely: iron,
vit B12, vit D, omega 3 fats, vit A, iodine, choline, zinc.
With the exception of B12, it is possible to get these
nutrients without eating animal products, but would it not have been more
helpful for viewers to have helped them understand what they need to eat to get
sufficient quantities of them?
For many, calculating amounts of protein, their
corresponding amino acid content and additional nutrients isn’t easy or
practical – hello fussy kids or IBS and IBD sufferers that simply can’t
tolerate large quantities of pulses and legumes. For those, small amounts of animal
products provide an easy solution.
So why did the athletes and firemen do so much better on a vegan diet?
This is what made me feel truly
sad about the film. The exposure that it’s had could have done so much good.
The film picked individuals that consumed a lot of poor-quality food: hamburgers, deep-fried chicken, cheap processed meat and very little in the way of fresh vegetables, and gave them a plentiful supply of fresh vegetables.
“The film picked individuals that consumed a lot of poor-quality food: hamburgers, deep-fried chicken, cheap processed meat and very little in the way of fresh vegetables, and gave them a plentiful supply of fresh vegetables”
It really is that simple – any downside that they might have experienced from reduced proteins and nutrients plentiful in animal products (arguably negligible in the short term) was of course going to be far offset by the inclusion of nutrients that their bodies had previously been lacking – fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants plentiful in fresh vegetables and fruits.
This was not a robust scientific
study. If it had been, it would have taken into account different variables
such as reduced meat consumption with increased vegetables, and I would hypothesise
that this would have been at least as effective in improving health and
What about the environment?
I have tried to cover the fundamentals of why eating meat
may not be a bad thing for health, but in addition to that there is a lot of
attention more recently on the impact of eating meat on the environment. I
won’t go into detail as, in all honesty, I’m not qualified to do so. But it is
an area that interests me, and for which I am personally motivated to do what I
The film showed images of large-scale industrial livestock farming in desolate fields (that may or may not have previously been lush forest) and urged us not to eat meat from them.
The meat I eat does not come from such farms. I am fortunate to be able to source meat from organic, small-scale, high welfare British farms. Not everyone in the world has this option, and the research does suggest that the whole world population cannot now be fed on a diet that includes animal products to the scale at which we consume them, but the meat, dairy and eggs that I personally choose to consume is not from farms such as those depicted.
I also do not eat it in the quantities also depicted in the film. I simply wouldn’t fit it all in, especially around the amount of veggies I eat, and it’s definitely not necessary. I don’t want to provide a precise guide on how much you need as this is so personal at many levels (please get in touch if you would like help working out what is right for you), but for most, 3-5 portions of meat/fish/eggs (always including oily fish) a week alongside careful protein planning should provide enough of the nutrients you might otherwise find lacking.
Please also take a closer look at the farms you buy from,
and ask questions of your butcher, farmers market stall owner about how they
produce the food they are selling. Get comfortable with what you feel is right
for you from a welfare, ethics, environmental and health perspective. With the
changes in food legislation that look likely to happen with Brexit (US imports,
the lifting of EU bans on GMOs and pesticide use etc.) this is all the more
important to do now.
The environmental impact of plant-based foods
“Are your avocados sustainably grown or are they intensively grown on deforested land and shipped all the way from Mexico?”
Please also apply this to the plant-based foods you eat too. Are your avocados sustainably grown or are they intensively grown on deforested land and shipped all the way from Mexico? Is your almond milk made from local organic almonds, or Californian almonds heavily sprayed with pesticides which are decimating bee populations? How much energy did it take to produce, package and transport the foods you’re eating, and are there any additional waste or pesticide issues that accompany them?
“Is your almond milk made from local organic almonds, or Californian almonds heavily sprayed with pesticides which are decimating bee populations?”
This is the bigger issue for me right now, and one I’m keen to share on here and via my social media. Plus it’s a conversation that’s so important – it’s not binary, it needs to be openly discussed if we want to make any real progress.
My personal diet and the message I share around healthy eating has not changed in light of this film or any others that I’ve seen. I continue to preach the message that the majority of people should be eating more plants – 10 portions of veg and fruit per day. Initiatives like “meat-free Monday” are brilliant for helping people to reach that target. But I won’t be eliminating animal foods, (meat, fish, eggs and dairy) from my diet.
I will continue to choose high-quality and responsibly farmed products animal products, and I will continue to eat them in moderation – not every day, never more than ¼ of my plate at a time, and always alongside plenty of fresh vegetables. And I will strive to uphold these standards across all food items I consume, plant- as well as animal-based. For me, this is the right balance between supporting my health and the environment right now, but I remain open to new research and ideas that might change that.
What’s your take? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…
“I eat meat, not every day, never more than ¼ of my plate at a time, and always alongside plenty of fresh vegetables”
To date, I’ve largely shied away from speaking up about my
personal views on the environment and sustainability, but I am starting to
appreciate how my knowledge as a nutritionist, experience as a home cook and
motivations as a mother (and planet citizen) really have put me in a unique
position right now to start to tackle two of the biggest issues facing mankind:
our deteriorating health and planet.
It’s fantastic to see so much awareness of both issues, but
marrying the two in all my actions is really something I want to both do and share
now. I’ve long preached the health benefits of using “real” natural and
unprocessed foods; I’ve tried to inspire with healthy recipes and empower my
clients with the ability to start using them themselves to the great benefit of
their personal health.
I know we have busy lives and cooking everything from scratch
just isn’t always an option, but I really feel that if we all do a little bit
more every day/week/month/year, we really do have the power to influence not
just our own health, but also that of the planet.
How does reducing plastic and packaging improve our
Plastic – I don’t think this needs any clarification
from a sustainability perspective, but what does it have to do with our health?
Well, you may have heard that BPA plastic is not a good thing – it has been
shown to disrupt our endocrine system (hormones) and result in a number of
health conditions such as infertility and cancer1, but there’s far
less information available about other types of plastics. Whilst that means we
can’t prove other plastics are damaging our health, we can’t really prove they
aren’t until someone does that research. We are exposed to plastic in so many
ways, from the water we drink to the air we breathe, but there are many things
within our power to reduce our exposure to plastic, and avoiding them touching
our food is one of them.
Eliminate cling-film if you haven’t already, and treat yourself to some lovely beeswax wraps. When storing things in the fridge, simply use a container instead – IKEA have some very affordable glass containers which can even be purchased with natural bamboo lids
Swap plastic milk cartons for glass bottles – plastic compounds have a particular affinity to fats, so whilst dry goods store quite well in plastic containers, fatty foods are far more likely to get contaminated. Try to prioritise switching these items first to maximise the health benefits of your efforts
Don’t take receipts! Most shops can email you receipts now if you need them and I would really encourage you to ditch them. “Paper” receipts actually contain BPA, so if you’ve handled one, it’s on your skin and could also transfer to any food items you subsequently touch
Chemical toxins – the drive to swap out our shower
gels and shampoo bottles for bars is huge right now for environmental reasons,
but this, and similarly doing away with our cleaning product bottles can also
improve our health. There are so many other toxins lurking in our cleaning
products, skin care and toiletries, and these too can cause disruptions to
hormones, as well as burden our detoxification system which is already working
hard on detoxing natural waste from our bodies as well as unavoidable toxicants
like air pollution.
Make your own:
Multi-surface cleaner – most cleaning jobs can
be undertaken with white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. I’ll be honest, I do
miss my limescale remover, but vinegar does work just as well with patience and
a little elbow grease and I figure I’m getting a workout at the same time so I
am sucking that up!
A great non-toxic multi-surface cleaner can
be made by simply mixing 750mls of white vinegar (2%) with 30 drops of
essential oil (my favourite is lemon) in a reusable spray bottle. Vinegar can
easily be bought in bulk or from your local bulk refill shop and a bottle of
essential oil will last you ages (it’s also great as a scent for the washing
too, avoiding the fragranced conditioners!)
Look at what’s in your deodorant, aluminium is a no-no too in my book, and whilst there are plenty of plastic-packaged aluminium-free options, I make my own using this recipe and it’s probably the best performing one I’ve ever tried too!
Have a go at making your own soaps and other “smellies”. I was given this book and it’s a total gem for getting started, otherwise get on Pinterest and You Tube and there are lots of recipes to get you started
Wholefoods – going plastic-free inevitably means that you’ll be cutting down on the amount of processed foods you buy (goodbye ready meals!) and increasing wholefoods instead. Did you know that ultra-processed foods account for more than 50% of food purchases in the UK2 and that increasing ultra-processed foods by 10% leads to a greater than 10% increased risk in certain cancers3? If reducing your plastic packaging reduces your consumption of ultra-processed foods then this can only be a good thing for your health!
Check the ingredients labels – if there are more than 5 ingredients, it’s classed as ultra-processed4 so even if it is beautifully packaged in paper, you probably want to avoid it anyway for your health and the implications for energy usage in its production
Follow my social media and blog for quick ideas on how to make your own healthy recipes and staples from real foods. It can seem daunting at the start, but bear with me – I am a busy mum, I don’t have time for really complicated recipes, so just start and build on them one by one
If you’ve kids, get them in on the activities as well – this is a big win for me as I can double up time spent with them as well and I find it makes the whole process much more enjoyable (well, usually shall we say…) Not every task is suitable, but picking your own fruits and vegetables in the summer, baking and preparing vegetables for meals and lunchboxes, these are all tasks that with a bit of spin, can be viewed as activities rather than chores
Mindfulness – yep! Contrary to the crippling fear you
might now be experiencing as you contemplate having to cook everything from
scratch so that you can live healthily and save the planet on top of your day
jobs(!), making these changes could actually be quite therapeutic…
Cooking a new recipe requires concentration and switches-off
that “monkey mind” that’s always racing in the background. Switching off is a
Sourcing plastic-free foods can also bring us
closer to nature as we head to farmers markets and farm shops to buy them, and
nature itself is a well-proven stress reliever
By thinking more about the foods we eat, we
connect more with our own bodies, tuning in to what they need, eating less and making
healthier choices as an unintentional but very positive consequence
So there you have it – saving the planet and improving your
health through less plastic exposure, less chemical exposure, increasing
natural whole foods and being more mindful!
Be happy, be healthy and save the world, Catherine x
Rubin, B.S. (2011) Bisphenol A: an endocrine
disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects, The journal of
steroid biochemistry and molecular biology, vol 127, issues 1-2, p. 27-34
Rauber, F. et al. (2019) Ultra-processed
foods and excessive free sugar intake in the UK: a nationally representative
cross-sectional study, British Medical Journal, vol 9
Fiolet, T. et al. (2018) Consumption
of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective
cohort, British Medical Journal
These cheese-less “cheesecakes” are made with high-protein cashew nuts on a base of dates and pecans. There is still a reasonable amount of sugar included, but it’s not refined sugar (meaning it carries lots of great nutrients along with it), and blood sugar spikes should be better counteracted by the protein, fat and fibre content. Plus, if you’re following a gluten and/or dairy free diet or undertaking “veganuary” then these are a show-stopper dessert for which where nobody’s going to feel they’re being deprived of a proper treat!
For the bases:
150g madjool dates, destoned
For the toppings:
125g cashew nuts*, soaked in water for at least an hour, then drained
The juice from one lemon
100mls coconut oil, melted, plus a little extra for greasing
160mls coconut cream
100mls maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla bean extract
100g raspberries, fresh or frozen
Freeze-dried raspberry pieces (optional) *Please buy fair trade – it really does make a difference!
Grease a 12 hole large muffin tin with a little coconut oil, and lay a strip of greaseproof paper across each hole with just a little of each end sticking out above the top (this is to aid in removing the cheesecakes from the tin once frozen, trust me, it’s worth the effort!)
Blitz the dates and pecans in a high-speed food processor until they start to combine and stick together into a sort of dough, then split the mixture out evenly between each of the 12 muffin tin holes and press down with the back of a spoon or the base of a small glass
Next, wash out the food processor and now blitz together the drained cashew nuts with the lemon juice, coconut oil, coconut cream, maple syrup, vanilla bean extract and raspberries until it’s completely smooth
Evenly pour the cashew nut mixture over each of the bases, sprinkle over some freeze-dried raspberry pieces (for aesthetics), and pop the tray into the freezer for at least 2 hours, or until the cheesecakes are frozen solid
To serve, remove from the freezer and allow to stand for about 10 minutes before carefully removing them from the tray using the tip of a knife and the greaseproof “handles”. You may wish to leave them to stand for a little longer so that they are a bit softer and easier to eat, but I usually can’t wait that long! Store the extras back in the freezer or keep them covered in the fridge for a few days.