Family granola recipe

Our breakfast habits have changed lately: we have porridge more often (after 6 years living in England, this seems a natural evolution, does it not?) with tea or herbal tea instead of the traditional hot chocolate and buttered toasted baguette.
The lockdown is the opportunity to try different things, and perhaps give in to some of the latest trends. So this week, my daughter and I prepared a granola, which turned out so much better that what we had ever eaten. Actually, I had it for dinner after we made it!

It is very easy to do and a chance to practice measurements and calculations, if you work out your nutrition facts.

Ingredients

  • 250-300g oats
  • 150-200g roughly chopped nuts and seeds: we used pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecan nuts, sunflower seeds…
  • 20g coconut flakes or shavings
  • 2 tablespoons unrefined oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 50ml apple juice
  • a pinch of salt (though I think we forgot)

    You can also add:
  • « warm » spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, all spices, ground ginger etc. We didn’t use any and it was delicious
  • vanilla extract
  • citrus zest
  • oat or wheat bran
  • chocolate chips
  • dried fruits: sultanas, cranberries, prunes, dates, blueberries, mango….

Method

Cover a large roasting tray with parchment paper, start the oven gas mark 5-6 (150 degrees).
Combine well all ingredients except dried fruits and chocolate. Spread on the tray, bake until golden, stirring every 10 minutes. It took us slightly more than 20 minutes. 
Let cool, add the dried fruits and/or chocolate.

Your granola can be stored a couple of weeks in an airtight container.

We made the most simple version, which we really enjoy with different fresh fruits and kefir or yogurt.

ENJOY!

What exactly is the Mediterranean diet?

Perhaps you are reading this while in lockdown, and perhaps, just like me, you sometimes dream of holidays by the Mediterranean Sea… In my dreams, there are not only the blissful beaches bathed with crystal clear water, there is also the Mediterranean food: juicy tomatoes, plump aubergines, oriental meze, pasta of all shapes, a board of cheese and cured meat, and a glass of red wine. So much goodness!

And so many health benefits! The Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, improved cognitive health, positively impacts the immune function and inflammatory responses. What’s not to like?

Many studies have investigated the eating habits of populations living around the “Grande bleue” (Big blue sea) as we call her in France. Other studies have examined the effects of “Mediterranean diets” on health, in other populations. Truth is there are as many diets around the Mediterranean as there are countries, and the concept of « Mediterranean Diet » was invented in the 80’s in the US. Can we nevertheless draw a definition, or a description, of the celebrated Mediterranean diet?

Olive oil, a piacere!

One characteristic of the Mediterranean Diet resides in the extensive use of locally produced extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Olive oil is very rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA, 73%), contains anti-inflammatory antioxidants and vitamin E (alpha tocopherol). Because it is the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet and presents such a beneficial profile, olive oil is a key contributor to the healthy aspects of the Mediterranean diet.

Plenty of fruit and vegetables, nuts and pulses/legumes, a moderate protein intake

Traditional cuisine from countries around the Mediterranean include a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, from breakfast to dinner. Traditionally, cereals were often consumed wholegrain, therefore with an increased nutrient density. This allows a high content in fibre: on average, studies found that the Mediterranean Diet provides 30 to 35g of fibre per day.

Plant foods are also rich sources of folate, calcium, glutathione, antioxidants, vitamins E and C and minerals. Tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs (oregano, mint, rosemary, parsley and dill) contain bio-protective nutrients such as carotenoids, flavonoids and polyphenols (antioxidants) and are widely used for cooking.

Nuts, consumed as a snack of incorporated in dishes bring additional healthy fats, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium and polyphenols. They contribute to maintain a healthy lipid profile.

Roughly 15% of the total energy intake comes from proteins. Red meat and eggs are consumed in small amounts and with low frequency; seafood intake varies, with moderate amounts of fish. Dairy foods are often in the form of cheese.

All minimally processed

Whatever the macronutrient balance, the “Mediterranean diet” is characterised by minimal processing of food items. This allows a maximum nutrient density.

Prebiotic, probiotic and synbiotic: who’s who?

A few definitions

Probiotics are « live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host », according to the FAO.
Probiotics supplements and additives contain a single or a mix of strains, the most commonly used being lactobacilles.

Prebiotics are nutrients that are degraded by gut microbiota. They feed the intestinal microbiota, and their degradation products are short-chain fatty acids that are released into blood circulation, consequently, affecting not only the gastrointestinal tracts but also distant organs.
Prebiotics are mostly fibers (for example inulin, pectin), which stimulate the growth and/or activity of gut bacteria. Prebiotics are present in natural products, but they may also be added to food.

Put simply, probiotics are live bacteria, and prebiotics are their preferred food.

Synbiotics are synergistic combinations of pro- and prebiotics.

What is the mechanism of action of probiotics and probiotics ?

Firstly, by promoting the growth of gut bacteria, probiotics contribute to the normal function of the organism. This effect is interesting to restore the microbiote after an antibiotic therapy. Secondly, probiotics could inhibit the development of pathogenic bacteria responsible for food poisoning.
Probiotics microorganisms not only naturally produce B group vitamins, they improve the absorption of other vitamin and mineral compounds and contribute to proper immune function.
Eventually, probiotics may be able to produce enzymes and show antibiotic, anti-cancerogenic, and immunosuppressive properties.

Prebiotics affect the composition of the intestinal microbiota and its metabolic activity. By doing so, they modulate lipid metabolism and the immune system, increase calcium absorption, and impact the bowel function, which confers a health benefit on the host.

Probiotics are essentially active in the small and large intestine, while the effect of prebiotics is observed mainly in the large intestine. Associating selected probiotics and prebiotics in the form of synbiotics may therefore enhance these effects.

Health benefits

Probiotics, probiotics and synbiotics have systemic effects on the host’s health metabolism and immune system. A recent review presents some of these benefits, which I list here.

  • increased satiety, which could help weight loss
  • anti-inflammatory and modulation of the immune system
  • increased absorption of minerals (bioavailability)
  • regulation of transit
  • improved gut health
  • prevention of cardio-vascular diseases

Food products rich in prebiotics and probiotics

Prebiotics are naturally occurring in fibre-rich foods such as: artichoke, asparagus, jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onion, leek, oats, kiwis, citrus fruits.

Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as: yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread and blue cheeses.

In season: April

Spring is finally here! A weird Spring for sure, for many of us are quarantined because of coronavirus. While we are social distancing, nature is bursting and brings delicious fruit and vegetables to our table.

Sourcing fresh fruit and vegetables can be tricky these days. Remember that tinned and frozen are valid alternatives. Frozen and tinned fruit and veg can be cheaper than fresh, they are usually picked at when they are full-grown and mature meaning a higher content in micronutrients.

To finish, please shop sensibly: do not stockpile yet do not go out too often, and rinse your fresh fruit and veg carefully.

Fruits

Apples and pears are still in season in April, so are kiwis, oranges, pomelo, lemons and limes. You may find the first local varieties of strawberries in your shop as well as rhubarb. Ideal to bake a pie or crumble!

Vegetables

As you can see above, caulis and cabbage, beetroots are still in season. Versatile cucumber and carrots too, and you may find the first asparagus. Leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach are a good means to add vitamins and minerals to your plate.

Whether you have them fresh, tinned or frozen, enjoy your fruit and veg!

Coffee: friend or enemy?

There is more to coffee than just a drink: having a coffee is a social activity. You share it with your family, friends or colleagues, it can even be a way to start a conversation with a random fellow drinker. Coffee can also be a solitary pleasure, as a matter of fact, I am enjoying a little black drink while writing this post, and it feels both energising and comforting.

Widely consumed across the globe, coffee has been examined in all its aspects by thousands of researchers. This is a fascinating topic, with publications spanning from the biochemistry of coffee compounds to its socio-cultural influence and potential incorporation in public health policies.  This is also a controversial topic: some people believe it is dangerously addictive, some that it is a magic cure. Let’s have a closer look at the latest evidence about its possible health benefits and harms.

A coffee with my best self at the legendary Café Tortoni in Buenos Aires.

Health benefits of coffee consumption

Amazingly, a very recent meta-analysis showed that coffee, included decaf, is consistently associated with lower mortality! Mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD), and stroke was lower in coffee drinkers, with the greatest association at 3 cups a day.

Cohort studies show a lower incidence of cancer in coffee drinkers vs non-drinkers. A beneficial effect is indicated by a linear dose-response in prostate, endometrial, melanoma, and liver cancers. Generally, coffee is associated with lower risk of liver diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, liver fibrosis and cirrhosis, gallstones.

At all levels of consumption, coffee and decaf coffee are both consistently with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, depression and cognitive disorders including Alzheimer’s.

Detrimental effects of coffee

Paradoxically to its beneficial effects on CVD, CHD and stroke, the little black drink is associated with an unfavourable lipid profile, with lower HDL and higher LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
In smokers, coffee intake is associated with higher incidence of lung cancer.

High coffee consumption is associated with lower birthweight and pregnancy loss, so pregnant women may want to decrease their intake.

Coffee and me… as a person and a nutritionist

I am not a born coffee lover and started to drink it only in my late thirties: I was back to study full time, my brain was not as efficient as when I was young, and coffee proved helpful in stimulating my neurons. Before that, I « socialised » at the coffee machine with water or tea, only ingesting coffee in the form of a tiramisu!

However – nutritionist cap on – the amount of scientific evidence of its health benefits convinced me that, as a little black dress, the little black drink was doing me good. Yes, I have it black: no milk, no sugar. Obviously a « I-don’t-know-what’s-in-it » super sugary 2-pint coffee served by a mermaid (is it still coffee?) will not do you as good, but that’s another story…

So, if you are a heavy coffee drinker, pregnant, or have a health condition, you may want to reduce your consumption (the golden rule always prevails: everything in moderation!), otherwise, enjoy your cuppa, and the blackest, the best!

Ready to ski? What to eat for winter sports.

It’s peak winter season and some of us are heading towards the mountains for a good dose of winter sports. An adequate « mountain diet » depends on the intensity of physical activity you plan to have and the altitude of the place you go to. For good and safe fun, ensure sufficient energy intake: you may need to increase your consumption of quality carbohydrates to compensate for the increased energy expenditure and slightly increased metabolism in altitude.

Also, it is always better to have regular physical activity to hit the slopes in good shape, or to prepare the month before with specific exercise (you can find ideas on YouTube). It significantly reduces the risk of injuries.

Start your day with a nutritious breakfast

Unless you are very fit, trained and habituated, don’t engage in intense physical activity on an empty stomach. After a good night’s sleep, help yourself to a warm drink to hydrate, accompany with porridge or bread (better if sourdough and wholemeal for the fibre content, slower release of energy and satiety). Try to vary the grains: wheat, rice, rye, oats… Have some jam, marmalade, honey or butter. You may want to add a dairy or non dairy product such as milk, yogurt, cheese.
A piece of fruit will reduce the oxidative stress, provide vitamins and minerals helping you fight the cold and the risk of muscle cramps.

Morning snack?

If you have been on the slope since 8 or 9am, you may want a morning break. It will be important to hydrate: in altitude, we feel thirst less, yet we lose significant amount of water through perspiration and breathe because of the exercise and altitude. Have a hot drink like tea or herbal tea to keep you hydrated and warm, maybe with a piece of dark chocolate, dry fruit or nuts.
Avoid alcohol which dehydrates, it increases the risk of chill burns, decreases attention, reflexes and coordination.

A light lunch to recharge your batteries

If you plan to continue skiing, snowshoeing or any other physical activity in the afternoon, avoid meals that are too heavy and rich in fats. Choose food that are easy to digest and good quality carbohydrates such as polenta, pasta or rice with a light sauce, vegetables, maybe lean proteins. A bowl of soup with a good piece of bread will provide energy and liquid, you also can make your own sandwich of lean meat, cheese and veg.
You may treat yourself to a glass of wine, but leave the raclette and fondue for the evenings or snowy days, otherwise you will feel lethargic on the slopes!

What to pack?

Hydration is essential, take a bottle with you, filled with water, hot tea or herbal tea, fruit juice diluted in water etc. Interesting snacks include dry fruits, nuts, (wholemeal) bread, dark chocolate. A piece of fruit will provide water and nutrients.
If you feel tired, have a warm drink with sugar, but don’t take risks and stop if you feel it is too much.

Protein and ageing

The world’s population is ageing, particularly in Western countries. It is estimated that by 2035, the majority of the UK population will be over 40 (ONS), which calls for specific dietary approaches to promote health and independence later in life. Physical well-being partly relies on muscle and bone mass. Many of the diseases suffered by older persons are a result of lasting dietary imbalances and lack of physical activity.
Yet, it is never too late to change your habits and prepare for a long and healthy life.

Healthy Ageing is « the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age” WHO.

The role of proteins

Proteins are essential from conception, as they allow the growth and maintenance of tissues. They contribute to the structure of our bodies, from muscle to skin, facilitate chemical reactions (enzymes), participate to the immune (antibodies) and endocrine systems (hormones), help maintain pH, balance fluids, and act as carriers (haemoglobin for oxygen).
There is a physiological mechanism of recycling of amino acids, which means that we only need to compensate for the proteins/amino acids that are excreted, especially since adults are mostly in a maintenance phase…

Protein and muscle

Muscles are made up by proteins. When we exercise we « use » the proteins in our muscles, which must then be « rebuild ». Significant decline in muscle mass and strength is observed from the age of 40 but nutrition guidelines only recommend to increase the intake of protein from the age of 65, from 0.8g per kilo per day (WHO, roughly 55g for a 70kg adult) to 1-1,2g per kilo per day for healthy individuals. Should these be reviewed?

It is important to remember that we do not store proteins, extra protein is not used efficiently by the body and may result in a metabolic burden on the bones, kidneys, and liver. In Western countries, where access to a variety food is very easy, lacking protein in is almost impossible, whatever your diet: indeed proteins are found in carbohydrates, legumes, dairy, fish, meat…

Exercise!

A recent study confirmed that the protein requirements were indeed higher in older adults, but that 1g per kilo per day is enough. There is no need to stress about your protein intake or worth, spend your money in useless protein bars/shakes/powders etc.

The crucial aspect of healthy ageing is maintaining a good level of physical activity to keep your muscle mass and strength and promote mobility. Exercise helps fight muscle loss, bone loss, and is beneficial for mental health.

Engaging in regular moderate and high intensity strength training and exercise is crucial to prepare your body for healthy ageing. It is useful to combine endurance training with weight training to strengthen bones, muscles and the cardiovascular system more effectively.

Some ideas: brisk walking, cycling, climbing the stairs, gardening, dancing, swimming… The NHS website provides additional resources here.

In season: February

Some of us may start to feel bored with winter food (me!), but look, the days are getting longer and here and there hide the first signs of Spring.
Plus, February is the peak season for delicious fruits and vegetables!

seasonal fruit veg february
http://angelgreens.co.uk/

Vegetables

Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, celeriac, kale, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, swedes, turnips, wild mushrooms, cabbage, winter squash…

End of season: beetroot and celery

Beginning of season: rhubarb

Fruits

Apples, pears, clementines, lemon, oranges, kiwis, passion fruit, pomegranate

Fish and seafood

Haddock, mussels, oysters, salmon

Find out more

Angel Green is a not-for-profit social enterprise, providing organic vegetables directly from local farms to Islington and King’s Cross residents and those working in the area.

Portion sizes and food groups – adults

Most of us don’t measure portion sizes when we eat, we serve ourselves according to our appetite, liking or disliking of available food, time, servings of ready made meals etc. That’s absolutely fine, and I certainly don’t support weighing food or counting calories, however I believe that a refresh of portion sizes of each food group could be a helpful reminder for all of us.

Remember that having a healthy diet is a matter of balance over a week, not a meal.

Vegetables and Fruits

Yes, I put vegetables first because they are packed with so many nutrients and are so versatile, I am a big fan. Anyway, both vegetables and fruits are amazing sources of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibres, which I will detail in another article. Meanwhile this paper gives you a precise idea of the health benefits.

The common recommendation is to have at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, preferably at least 3 veg and 2 fruits. However a recent study by Imperial College concluded that the more of you have, the better: the health effects of fruit and veg were greater with an intake of at least 10 portions per day!

Aim at a third to half of your meal/diet made up by fruit and vegetables.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are found in starchy foods like potatoes (which don’t count as veg), cereals (wheat, oats, buckwheat, tapioca…), rice. It is important to vary the sources of carbohydrates as they don’t provide the same amino acids: try wheat, corn or buckwheat pasta, rice in various forms and varieties, rye bread etc.

Carbohydrates should account for roughly a third of your diet. They provide energy, proteins, fibres when you choose them wholegrain.

A typical serving of raw/uncooked as a main is a handful to a palm of pasta (80-100g), a handful of rice (50-60g), 3 tablespoons of breakfast cereals (30-40g).

Tip: weigh your breakfast cereal serving once for all in your breakfast bowl, make a mental note of it and never think about it again. Likewise you can weigh your or your family’s serving of raw pasta/rice/quinoa, visualise it in a plate/serving dish/your hand.

Free-sugar are carbohydrates, they provide energy and no other nutrients. Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day (roughly 7 sugar cubes)

Proteins

Proteins come from animal or plant food. We only need 0.5 to 0.8g of protein per kilo each day, for a 70g adult this is 35 to 56g per day. Actually, with our Western diets, it is almost impossible not to meet our daily requirements for proteins, even if you are vegetarian or vegan.

For example, a 100g serving of raw pasta will provide you with 5g of proteins, 2 eggs with 12g, a serving of lentils (50g raw) is 5g etc. Over a day, it quickly adds up to 40-50g of proteins!

Portion sizes can be estimated as follows:
animal proteins: meat: one portion of meat = a deck of cards, fish = palm of hand, 2 eggs
plant proteins: 4 tablespoons of lentils/beans/meat alternative

Dairy and dairy alternatives

There is a growing (and interesting) controversy on dairy products, which I will not tackle here. Dairy and dairy alternative provide fats, proteins, minerals such as calcium, phosphorus and iodine and vitamins such as A, D, B2, B12.

A typical portion of dairy drink is a glass (200ml), a pot for yogurt (125g), and for cheese a matchbox (30g).

Fats

Fats are essential in a balanced diet, our cells membrane is made of fat and cholesterol, so are some hormones, our brain etc. They are vectors for fat soluble vitamins A, D, E.

Fats are found in most protein foods and added when cooking or serving. The NHS recommends to keep the total daily fat intake under 70g for adults.

Oily fish (trout, salmon, mackerel, sardines ) provide essential fatty acids, the omega-3. It is recommended to have at least 1 portion = palm of hand of oily fish per week.
Likewise, nuts provide mono-unsaturated fats food for your heart, and omega-6. One portion = half a handful per day is advisable.

Generally speaking, one portion of fat (oil, butter, spread) is a fingertip = a teaspoon = 5g.

Avoid trans-fat, prefer healthier and stable fats for cooking such as olive oil and butter.

Nutrition and fertility

When it takes longer than expected, trying to conceive can be overwhelming and emotionally challenging making women more vulnerable to fake science and bad advice. Like many issues regarding women’s health, research on the relationship between mental health, nutrition and fertility has long been neglected. Fortunately, there are a few things we know from the female side, and I will share them here.

Folic acid (vitamin B9)

Folic acid is crucial before conception and during the first trimester for the development of a healthy foetus and to reduce the chance of neural tube defects. It is associated with lower frequency of infertility, lower risk of pregnancy loss and greater success in infertility treatment.
Further study is needed to assess the higher benefits of combining folic acid and B12.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

There is a strong association between BMI and infertility: a very low or high BMI have adverse effects on fertility, probably because of endocrine disruptions and lifestyle factors (stress, lack of physical activity, smoking etc).
If you are overweight, a nutritionist can help you manage your weight and increase your chance to conceive.

Depression, infertility and diet

Women who have difficulties conceiving have an increased risk of depression, which impacts hormone production and ovulation. There is evidence that dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet and nuts have a protective effect against depression. We are just beginning to investigate and understand how dietary interventions can reduce the symptoms of depression, but a team of researchers established a list of « antidepressant foods and nutrients« . Unsurprisingly, vegetables top this list: watercress, spinach, beet greens, herbs, caulis… followed by oysters, offal, seafood. This is another illustration of the close link between gut health and brain health.

« Healthy » and « unhealthy » diets

There is no consensus about what a « healthy » or « unhealthy » diets is, however, diets rich in vegetables, wholegrain, monounsaturated fats are associated with a lower risk of infertility, while diets rich in saturated fats, processed foods, snacks show the opposite.

A varied, simple, plant-based diet contributes to decrease depressive symptoms and is associated with lower risk of infertility.