Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Michael Pollan - In Defense of Food

A little while ago I read Michael Pollans book "In Defense Of Food"

It is a easy to read book and if ever you wanted some no nonsense advice about good eating then this is the book for you.

Image from here

These are my favourite statements from the book:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  Sound advice indeed, can you imagine how many peoples lives and health would be improved if they followed this simple statement.

“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.”  Going back to the way your nanna cooked is one of the best things you can do for your future health.  Sticking to meat and three veg, using real butter, eating whole foods like egg yolks and chicken skin, and even making your own bone broth like granddad did. 

“Real food tends to be on the perimeters of the supermarket…”  Yep unlike the middle aisles – stocked with mostly packaged food – the outer edges focus on fresh meat, fish, dairy and produce.  When you build your diet this way, you automatically reduce sugars and unfamiliar, unpronounceable ingredients that can derail your plans for health.
“We are what we eat eats too.” Yep just read that again.  If the animals you eat were not cared for and respected and fed a diet suited to their digestion (eg grass fed not grain fed beef, free range pigs and pasture raised chickens) then how can you expect their flesh to bring maximum nutrition to you. Plants are also affected by the environments in which they are grown.  How can we expect them to provide us with macro and micro nutrients if they are grow in dead herbicide laden soils.

“Shake the hand that feeds you.” Eating locally and knowing the person growing your food means you can ask questions and feel informed  about your food choices and can be a fool-proof way to eat for wellness.  You are also doing the environment a favour by reducing the food miles.

“Most of what we’re consuming today is no longer, strictly speaking, food at all, and how we’re consuming it – in the car, in front of the TV, and, increasingly, alone – is not really eating, at least not in the sense that civilisation has long understood the term.”   Hello mindful eating, just changing your behaviours to ensure self-awareness before you eat, can improve your emotional state and we need to get back to eating at home and treating the food with some love and respect and treating every mealtime as a chance to celebrate good food.  Now this might be going a bit far for some people but lets get away from eating on the run and shoving faux foods in our mouths.

Do you have any other great rules about eating?

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Burmese Spicy Chicken Noodles

This is a very tasty dish and not difficult at all as long as you prep all your ingredients before you start cooking which is always the way to go when stir frying.  It has a bit of spice but the heat does not linger, cut the chilli back if you want but you will need at least 1/2  Teaspoon unless you are sharing this with young children.

Burmese Spicy Chicken Noodles

2/3 Cup Vegetable Oil
10 Cm Piece of Ginger
1 Brown Onion
4 Garlic Cloves
3 Tomatoes
2 Tbs Tomato Paste
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 1/2 tsp Chilli Powder
600 gm Chicken Mince
2 Tbs Fish Sauce
1 Tbs Soy Sauce
2 Tbs Castor Sugar or Rice Malt Syrup
3 Spring onions
3 Tbs Chopped Peanuts
Rice Vermicelli Noodles for 4 people

Shred 1/2 the ginger into very thin strips and set aside to be fried off at the start to be used for garnish.  Dice the other half of the ginger super fine and place on a small plate along with the 4 cloves of garlic that have been crushed.
Slice the brown onion into thin strips, dice the tomato and slice the spring onions and set all aside.

Pour boiling water over your rice noodles and set aside.

Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a wok and fry the ginger strips until brown and crispy and set aside as a garnish. 
Brown the chicken off in batches setting aside after each batch.  Once all the chicken is cooked remove it all from the pan and add the rest of the oil to the pan.
Cook the brown onion until it is soft then add the finely diced ginger and garlic and fry for 2 minutes stirring all the time.
Add the chilli powder and turmeric and cook for 30 seconds before adding the tomato paste and diced tomatoes.  Stir well to combine and then add the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar and half your spring onions.

Drain your rice noodles and divide between your bowls.  Spoon over you spicy chicken mix and garnish with your peanuts fried ginger and the remaining spring onions.

I think this dish would also work well with pork mince and would stand up to having additional veggies such as eggplant or broccoli added to increase the veggie content and will give that a go next time.

Monday, 22 February 2016

What Is Wrong With Sugar (Fructose) and What About Other Sweeteners?

Since we have stopped eating sugar we have been asked by a few people "why what's wrong with sugar and what about other sweeteners and sugar substitutes?"

The "why" part we explain like this. Sugar is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Glucose is used by every cell in your body as energy while fructose is primarily processed by the liver. High levels of consumption can also lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (one of the fastest growing diseases in western society) and fructose is highly addictive so the more you eat the more you want to eat and the less sensitive to sweetness.

The "What about other sweeteners" we stick to a couple of basic rules: 

  • We use dextrose for baking
  • We use Rice Malt Syrup (a complex carbohydrate that is fructose free) instead of golden syrup, maple syrup and honey
  • We use stevia sometimes too
  • We eat whole pieces of fresh fruit but no more than 1 piece per day - and while yes fruit contains fructose you can never really eat that much because of all the fiber (think of eating 7 whole oranges instead drinking 500ml of orange juice)
Image result for rice malt syrup
As far as other sweeteners goes:

  • Brown sugar contains molasses which means it has a tiny fraction more mineral, but it’s still 50 per cent fructose like white sugar. 
  • Honey and maple syrup are about 40% fructose and contain vitamins and minerals. 
  • Dates contain about 30 per cent fructose and some vitamins and minerals, but some recipes use cups and cups of blended dates and at 1 teaspoon of sugar per date that is a lot of sugar.
  • Agave syrup is up to 90% fructose and expensive so not something I would buy.

We also assure people we are not militant about it.  Our aim is to reduce the sugar in our diets as much as possible not to be poster children for the sugar free movement.  Overall we like to keep our sugar intake from all sources to less than 5 teaspoons per day.
The World Health Organization recommends that we limit our intake of added sugars to no more than 10% of total calories. That comes to about 50 grams of sugar, or the equivalent of 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar for a person eating 2000 calories a day. One tablespoon of granulated sugar is equal to about 12 grams so we are aiming for less than that.

When it comes down to it, if we really want to treat ourselves to an ice-cream at the beach we will, which probably happens about twice a year for us.
If a recipe for 8 serves includes 1 table spoon of sugar at this stage I would probably just use it as I still have sugar in the pantry to use up and on hand in case other want it in their tea or coffee.  We still eat chocolate (75% cocoa and above only) on occasion.  If I wanted to have honey on toast once a month I would.  If we were at a dinner party (not that we go to many of these) and the host had made dessert I would just ask for a small portion so as not to offend and to acknowledge the effort they put in.

For us this is about our health and by avoiding sugar we all of a sudden avoid a lot of overly processed foods and beverages that are not good for us either so it seems like a win win situation.

Do you avoid sugar?
Do you have rules about what sugars you will and will not use?

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Sugar Free Cinnamon Tea Cake

This was a really easy cake to make and it was very buttery so lovely and moist. I am not a huge fan of cinnamon and I think if I made this cake again I would use cardamon instead but if you like cinnamon then this is for you.

Sugar Free Cinnamon Tea Cake

200 g Unsalted Butter - chopped and softened
1 1/2 c Dextrose
2 tsp Vanilla Essence
3 Eggs
1 1/2 c Plain Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 c Sour Cream

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (160 fan forced) then grease and line a 22 cm spring-form cake tin.
In an electric mixer beat the butter, dextrose and vanilla until pale and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time mixing well between each one. 
Fold in the dry ingredients and sour cream then spoon into the lined cake tin.
Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool in the tin for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Growing Basil From Cuttings

Do you grow basil from cuttings?

To be honest I never knew you could.  I picked some basil from the garden the other day and did not use it all so it sat on the bench in a glass of water for a few days waiting for another dish that needed it.  
But then it got forgotten and next thing you know it is sending out roots.  Well I'll be...

Why I have been growing it from seed and waiting so long for it to grow I don't know.  Now that I know this work I will be getting some other cuttings going as well so that I have a constant supply of basil without it going to flower.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sugar Free Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Brownies

This was such an easy recipe and just as tasty as other brownies I have made in the past although no where near as sweet.  It is something I think you could serve to sugar lovers and they would never know the difference unless you told them.  This brownie is more cakey than gooey but still hits the spot.

Sugar Free Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Brownies

2 c Dextrose
4 Eggs
250 g Unsalted butter - Melted and cooled
1 1/4 c Flour
1/2 c Cocoa
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
100 g Macadamia - Chopped and toasted

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (160 fan forced), grease and line a 22 cm square cake tin.
Beat the eggs and dextrose together until light and fluffy.  Gently mix in your melted butter then sift in your flour, cocoa and baking powder and stir to combine.  Finally fold in your macadamias and pout the batter into the prepared tin.
Bake for 35 - 40 minutes or until cooked in the middle.  Cool completly in the tin before removing and cutting into squares.

Serve with another dusting of cocoa and whipped cream.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Kefta - Lamb Meatballs And Fresh Tomato Sauce

This is a great dish for this time of year when tomatoes are plentiful and full of flavour.
Traditionally in Morocco Lamb is used but you could use any other type of mince.


1 Bunch of Coriander
1/2 Bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley
1 kg Lamb Mince
1 Tbs Ground Cumin
1 Tbs Sweet Paprika
80 ml Olive Oil
1 Large Onion
3 Cloves of Garlic
1 kg Ripe Tomatoes
2 Tsp Salt 

Chop half of the coriander and all of the parsley finely and place in a large bowl with the mince, half of cumin, half of the paprika, 1 tsp of salt and a good grind of black pepper.  Mix well with your hands and then roll into 4 cm meatballs.  Place on a tray, cover and place in the fridge for 1 hour.

Meanwhile peel your tomatoes by cutting a shallow cross in the base of each and submerging them one at a time in a bowl of boiling water for 1 minute.  Left them out with a slotted spoon and peel away the skin, dice and set aside. Finely dice your onion and finely slice your garlic and set aside.

Fry your meatballs in batches in a little of the oil until they are browned all over and set aside.  Then reduce the heat to medium, add the rest of the oil and cook the onion and garlic until the onions are translucent.  Add the remaining paprika and cumin and stir for 1 minute before adding the diced tomatoes and the second teaspoon of salt.  Cook for 10 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken and some of the liquid to evaporate then add the meatballs and remaining chopped coriander and stir together cooking for a final 5 minutes.
Serve with couscous.

I served ours up with couscous that had fresh mint, feta and 2 tbs of currants re hydrated which although not sugar free was still very low sugar once soaked in boiling water that is discarded.

Do you have a favourite meatballs recipe?  What part of the world does it originate from?

Monday, 8 February 2016

Sugar Free Nutty Chocolate Granola

This is a recipe I have adapted from one of Sarah Wilson's.  I have added rolled oats, poppy seeds and sesame seeds.  Sometimes I use different nuts but mostly I use almonds as they are the cheapest.

Nutty Chocolate Granola

3 Cups Coconut Flakes
2 Cups Activated Nuts (I like to use 1 1/2 cups almonds and the rest any other nut I have on hand)
1/2 Cup Pepitas
1/2 Cup Sunflower Seed
2 Tbs Chia Seeds
2 Tbs Poppy Seeds
2 Tbs Sesame Seeds
1 1/2 Cups Rolled Oats
1/2 Cup Raw Cacao Powder
1/4 Cup Rice Malt Syrup
80 gm Butter or Coconut Oil

Preheat your oven to 120 degrees Celsius.  Melt your butter and add the rice malt syrup to it and mix together.  In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients then pour over the butter and malt syrup. Mix well until the entire mix is looking evenly coated and chocolaty.
Spread evenly on a roasting tray and bake in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes giving the mix a good stir half way through.  Remove from the oven give another good stir and allow to cool.

Serve with unsweetened plain yogurt or soak in milk for 5 minutes before eating.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Should I Activate My Nuts

Have you heard about activated nuts?  It seems to be a bit of a divisive issue, something that some people scoff at and others swear by.  And if you are a fan then buying them can be rather pricey but they are really easy to make at home.

In its most basic sense activating nuts is essentially soaking and re-drying nuts and seeds to make them more easily digestible and make more of their nutrients available.

It is not a new idea and many traditional cultures either soak or sprout their nuts and seeds before eating them.  The idea is that the soaking or germinating neutralizes that natural enzyme inhibitors that occur in nuts.  During the soaking process the nut converts some of the starch to simple sugars, and some of the protein as the emerging sprout breaks it down as a fuel for growth.

Many foods are recommended to be soaked prior to cooking or consumption to reduce the level of phytic acid or other anti-nutrients .  Some examples are: 
  • pytates – found in grains, nuts, seeds, legumes
  • oxalates – found in beans, rhubarb, spinach
  • saponins (punch holes in your microvilli contributing to leaky gut) – found in quinoa, chickpeas, alfalfa, oats
  • lectins – found in soy, kidney beans, nuts and grains
  • enzyme inhibitors – like protease inhibitors found in soy, grains, nuts, Nightshade vegetables
So why is phytic acid bad?  Well it is believed that phytic acid (which is not easily digested by humans) can inhibit the absorption of minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc.  It can also cause digestive upsets and discomfort.

Different nuts and seeds require different soaking times and you can find a good guide here.

Now that we have cut sugar out of our diets we have been eating more nuts and seeds in a variety of forms including granola (recipe tomorrow), bread and pestos.  For me activating nuts and seeds is a bit like fermenting vegetables, it is a way of ensuring we are getting the most goodness from our foods.  It is something that I try to do in big batches so that my dehydrator is on for the least amount of time and then I store the activated nuts in the freezer as it is very warm here in Queensland and nuts can go rancid or at least start to taste a bit stale.

Do you activate your nuts and/or seeds?

Monday, 1 February 2016

Goodbye Sugar - Might See You Again, Probably Not

We have never been big sugar consumers and in the past I went sugar free for a period of time as part of a low carb diet, lost a lot of weight and felt great as a result.
However slowly but surely sugar crept back into our lives.  There was more baking of sweet treats, more pudding and more treats.
Then there was Christmas.  We ate more chocolate in a week than we would normally eat in about 3 months.  On top of the chocolate there were rich indulgent puddings and sweet treats on hand and by the time we got back to Australia I was feeling a bit icky.
For me the biggest thing I noticed is that over time as I consumed more sugar I had less appetite control and was feeling like I was often hungry.  If I ate anything that was really sweet afterwards my tongue would feel like it was a bit swollen.  On top of that and I started to crave sweet things as snacks and after meals.

Over the past 12 months or more we have been educating ourselves about the negative impacts of sugar to our health but for some reason it was only this year that we really committed ourselves to ditching sugar for good.
I have read Sally Fallons Nourishing TraditionsDavid Gillespies book Sweet Poison, read "That Sugar Film" the book and seen the movie and read all of Sarah Wilsons "I Quit Sugar For Life" books.  And the thing that I have taken away from all of this reading is that sugar in 99% of its forms is bad for our health and we are jut not designed to deal with the quantity that most of us consume on a daily basis.

Now when I say we have quit sugar this does not mean we are now living a life devoid of sweetness or that sugar will not pop up in recipes now and then (think 1 TBS sugar in a curry that makes 6 serves), but we are opting for a savoury diet with the occasional sweet treat rather that having sweetness in our every day life.
We are adopting a fructose free life  in line with what both David Gillespie and Sarah Wilson recommend.  This means that lactose in dairy products, rice malt syrup (made from fermented cooked rice and is a complex carbohydrate that releases energy slowly), dextrose (powdered glucose available from some supermarkets and all home brew shops) and stevia will become our acceptable sweeteners. Whole pieces of fruit in their fresh state with all of their fiber are in (no juices or dried fruit) within moderation (up to two serves per day with a focus on those fruits that have the highest ratio of fiber to fructose (see the table below with raspberries and blackberries coming out most favourable)

The World Health Organisation recommends that we aim to consume only between 6 - 9 teaspoons (24-36 gm) per day.  Until I started reading up I had no idea how deceptive companies had gotten at hiding sugar in our foods. Foods that are marketed as being healthy alternatives are not always what they claim to be.

Do you like a smoothie? How much sugar do you think is in one?

According to Live Lighter Gloria Jeans’ 98 per cent fat-free Mango Fruit Fruzie, topped the sugar list with a whopping 31 teaspoons. The strawberry version came in at second place with 25 teaspoons in a large cup.

And Pure Power Fitness provide quick run down of the top 5 650ml sellers at Boost Juice and their sugar content.

All Berry Bang: 65g of Sugar (13 teaspoons)
Strawberry Squeeze: 69.55g of Sugar (14 teaspoons)
Gym Junkie: 66.95g of Sugar
Berry Crush: 68.25g of Sugar
Energiser Juice: 51.35g of Sugar. (10 teaspoons)

If that doesn't astonish you then let me compare it to some foods that are considered unhealthy.

Kit Kat 60g Crunchy: 31g of Sugar
Coca Cola 600ml bottle: 58g of Sugar
Magnum Sandwich 98g: 25g of Sugar
Big Mac: 8g of Sugar
Me Goreng packet Noodles: 7.6g of Sugar

Once you start cutting it out you will find it hidden everywhere.  Did you know there are at least 56 names for sugar?

One group of products most often changed to be "Low Fat" are dairy products. But when the fat (between 3 and 4% for full fat milk so not much really) is removed the flavour is maintained by the addition of sugar.  Dairy products will almost always have sugar listed on the nutritional table on the packaging as lactose is a form of sugar that occurs naturally in milk.  A really easy way to work out how much of the sugar is added sugar is to look at the grams of sugar per 100 grams.  Anything up to 4.7 grams is naturally occurring lactose, anything over that is added sugar of some variety be it fruit juice, honey or good old fashioned sugar.

Since we have been cutting out sugar we have been trying out new recipes and introducing some food into our diet in much greater quantities.
As I try recipes I will share them here if they are things we would be happy to eat again and again or make it into our regular diet.

I have a few recipe books to test recipes from and so far have found a couple that we liked straight away and even passed the taste test of other people who are not sugar free.

If you want to watch a great documentary about Sugar and how it came to be perceived as better than fat check this out.

How do you feel about sugar?
Have you ever tried to give it up completely?