Simple Late Summer Salad

I love a good salad. For some reason, this year hasn’t seen very many of them feature on my dinner plate. I remember it being a lunch time staple in my pre-(ve)gan days, and thought I should give it a go again despite the constant craving for hearty meals. This salad was so simple to throw together, I was done 15 minutes, and had my little girl to “help”.

You could throw in any raw veg you have lying around – not much you can do to mess this up.

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Makes about 10-12 servings

Ingredients

  • Lots of leaves – lamb’s lettuce, romaine lettuce, rocket (feel free to use spinach, kale or anything leafy that’s in season). I used the entire bag of lamb’s lettuce and rocket, and half a head of romaine lettuce
  • 5 small carrots, grated or sliced
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 2 small red bell peppers, chopped
  • 500g pack of cherry tomatoes, diced
  • 4 tbsp sultanas (I’m in love with these lately so was very generous in adding them – you can reduce the amount or sub raisins)
  • 2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds, roasted
  • 2 Tbsp sunflowe, roasted
  •  2 tsp flax or chia seeds
  • Himalayan sea salt (optional – i omitted it)

Prepration

  • Mix the leaves and veggies in a salad bowl
  • Top with raisins and seeds.
  • Serve as is or drizzled with a little olive oil.

Spinach and Black Bean Coconut Curry

For some reason, I find it really hard to source black beans here in Hamburg. I know all the Turkish/Asian stores have them, but I usually have to drive a bit and battle for a parking spot big enough to fit our FRV……for a loooong time, nothing could convince me the effort was worth it. Then, a health store opened up up the road from us! I popped in earlier this week and was thrilled to find a pack of dried black beans!

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So I trolled the Internet to see what I could whip up with these little babies, the pack of frozen spinach and a pack of carrots I had in the fridge. I came across this recipe on Connoiseurus veg (really, how clever is that name?!) and adapted it to make it oil free and used up all the veg I had left.

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Serves: 8-12

 

Ingredients
  • 2 onion, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 3 green (indian) chilis, minced/sliced (deseed for a milder version)
  • 2 cups dried black beans (or 4 cans of cooked black beans if you can find them), soaked and cooked
  • 500 g pack of frozen spinach, thawed
  • 6 small – medium carrots, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes chopped or diced (I was hungry so went for chopped!)
  • 4 tbsp. lime juice (I ran out of lime so used a concentrate instead)
  • 2x 400ml cans coconut milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tbsp. roasted sambar powder (or garam masala)
  • 1 tbsp thai curry paste of your choice (I used green)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • chili powder (optional or to taste)
  • Pepper to taste
  • optional: 1/2 cup fresh coriander (I had none, so left it out)
Instructions

  • In a pot, add the coconut milk with water. Allow it to heat thoroughly but not boil.
  • Add the thai paste and allow the paste to dissolve.
  • Add the carrots, onion, garlic, ginger, chili. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, beans and lime juice and cook for a few minutes.
  • Add the spices (sambar powder/garam masala, coriander, cardamom and chili powder). Bring to a simmer and lower heat. Allow to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
  • Stir in spinach and cook until heated thoroughly.
  • Season with pepper and add the coriander.

Serve with your grain of choice (I went with spelt).

Chris’s “Magic” Roasted Veggies with Quinoa Tabbouleh

My darling Chris loves to cook! And boy can he whip up a good meal when he’s in the mood! This is one of those magic moments…..and voila magic veggies!

The “magic” (have I said Magic enough already?!) is in the marinade and in using tomatoes to keep the veg moist in the oven so they don’t burn.

Now, he just eyeballs the quantities so I suggest you do the same – trust me, unless you have no eyeballs there’s no way you can go wrong with this.

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Magic Veggies

  • Tomatoes
  • Spring onions
  • Any other veg you fancy

Magic Marinade

Fresh (our balcony grown) basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and lemon thyme (very important) chopped finely and mixed with lemon/lime (or a mix) juice.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Adapted from Oh She Glows “Buckwheat Tabbouleh”
For my version, I used more lemon juice,  added all spice and eliminated the olive oil and salt. I also used enough broth to cook the quinoa in, avoiding having to drain the excess liquid later.

In the photo above, the quinoa is separate from the rest of the Tabbouleh mix. The reason being that my girls tend to pick out the quinoa (amazing what you can do with little fingers!) first and overlook everything else. So we’ve resorted to giving them the “everything else” first and then the quinoa.

  • Quinoa (quantity of your choice)
  • Vegetable broth (for 1 cup of Quinoa, you will need about 2 cups of broth)
  • Flat leaf or Curly Parsley, chopped very finely (for 1 cup of Quinoa, you will need about 4 cups of parsley)
  • Tomatoes (1 cup quinoa – 4 tomatoes) chopped finely
  • Cucumber (1 cup quinoa – 1/2 cucumber) chopped finely
  • Carrot (1 cup quinoa – 1 carrot) chopped finely or shredded
  • Spring onions (1 cup quinoa – about 4 to 6 spring onions) chopped finely
  • Garlic cloves (1 cup quinoa – 2 cloves) minced or crushed
  • Fresh lemon juice ( 1 cup quinoa – 1 cup juice)
  • All spice (1 cup quinoa – 1/2 tsp all spice, I’d start with 1/2 tsp and add more to taste)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • optional toppings: chia seeds and mung bean sprouts

Preparation

  • Preheat the grill to 190 celcius (374 fahrenheit). Toss the veg in the marinade and pop under the grill.
  • Keep turning frequently till the veg are just about cooked.
  • Top with chopped spring onions and roast again for a few more minutes.

To make the Tabbouleh

  • Cook the quinoa in the vegetable broth according to instructions on the quinoa pack.
  • Allow the quinoa to cool.
  • Add all the vegetables, herbs, lemon juice and all spice to the quinoa, mix well and allow to stand for about 30 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.
  • Serve topped with chia seeds and sprouts, if using.

 

 

 

“I can’t believe it’s not Heinz” Ketchup

Last year my daughter (who had turned 4) discovered Ketchup! I know that’s pretty late but we’ve never really bought commercial ketchup…why? well, as a kid I LOVED ketchup on brown bread (you laugh, but I know one other person who did the same!) and I remember always feeling a little sick right after. I don’t know if it was the vingear or the gazillion other ingredients that went into that bottle, but I figured if I didn’t have it around, I would eventually grow out of it……..then I had kids.

Anywayyyyy, my girl wanted ketchup served during her birthday bash (she didn’t care if I topped her chocolate cake off with it) and so began my hunt for homemade ketchup.

I’ve made this recipe a couple of times – only once with honey and the other times without any sweetener; not once has anyone spotted the difference to Heinz ketchup.

So without further ado, the “I can’t believe it’s not Heinz” Ketchup recipe:

Ingredients

One 400g can of tomatoes

125ml (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar

63ml (1/4 cup) water

¼ tsp clove powder

1/2 tsp cayenne powder (optional)

Honey  (optional, and to taste)*

salt (optional, or just a pinch)

Preparation

Combine all the ingredients, except the honey (if using). Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes (or longer if you want it thicker) stirring frequently. Remove from heat, leave to cool. Stir in the honey and voila!

This makes a little less than 400ml (roughly 1.5 cups) and freezes well.

*to make this vegan, you could sub 1 Tbsp of sugar and add it along with all the other ingredients at the start. I’ve not tried making this with sugar so unsure about results. Maybe the next time I will experiment with molasses.

Adapted from Top Secret Recipes

Sweet Potato Hummus

Weekends are always the days of the week I have no inspiration to cook or try something new. We decided we were going to make things simple and whip up a salad and maybe a dip.

Rummaging through the produce I had left in the kitchen turned up sweet potato and carrots. The dip was initially meant to be a roasted carrot dip, but hubs decided that using the carrots in the salad (as he always prefers) was a better way to go. So that left a sweet potato and voila…the dip below.

Delicious doesn’t even begin to describe this baby. I kid you not, I could NOT stop myself from eating this….long gone were the veggie sticks to dip in and out came the spoon 🙂

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Ingredients

1 Large sweet potato

1 can of Chickpeas (play around with the quantity here. I had a 400g can which I used, but a smaller amount would also work)

2 onions (quartered)

a few cloves of garlic, leave the skin on (this again is a matter of taste. I love garlic so used about 4-6 small pods)

1 fresh red chilli (optional, but highly reommend it)

dried chilli flakes (optional and according to taste)

1/4 tsp of smoked paprika (optional and according to taste)

1/2 tsp each of ground cumin, coriander powder, caraway seeds (ground or whole)

3 Tbsp tahini

1 Tbsp tomato paste (again, adjust the quantities according to preference)

fresh coriander leaves (optional)

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade (that’s about 400F for the non-celcius folks).

Roast the sweet potato till soft (about 45 minutes, depending on your oven).

Place chickpeas, onions (quarterd) and garlic in a roasting tray. Roast till the onions look cooked.

Sqeeze the flesh out of the garlic coats and add everything to a blender with the chilli, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, tahini, and tomato paste.

Whizz away.

Serve on a bed of lettuce or hide away with a bowl and spoon and enjoy (I won’t judge 🙂 )

Vegan, oil-free Irish Stew

Now this is one dish that hit the dinner jackpot! Kids and hubs LOVED it. The smoky flavour of the porcini mushrooms is the secret to this and boy does it make a heart-warming meal. I realise now as I write this that you could probably get away with whipping this up outside the autumn/winter period.

This is super versatile in that you could use ANY veggies you have lying around (pumpkin in the autumn would work well too….mmmmmmmh….yum!).

Vegan Irish stew – stewing!

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Ready to be demolished!

Ingredients

Serves about 6-8

1 can coconut milk

3 medium onions, sliced

6Tablespoons chickpea flour (to thicken)

5 cups vegetable stock

water (if required)

2 bags of frozen veg (this is what I had lying around, feel free to throw in fresh produce)

Half a pack (or more if you fancy) of porcini mushrooms

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

6 Tbsp fresh parsley chopped

4 tsp maple syrup (or more if required)

3 bay leaves

1 tsp each of dried thyme, rosemary and marjoram

Preparation

Add coconut milk and onions to a big pot. Let the onions cook on medium heat until they soften. Add the chickpea flour and mix thouroughly – cook gently for a minute. Add all the other ingredients. Cook for about 20 mins.

Meanwhile, soak the mushrooms in hot water for 10 mins. Chop them up, add to pot with the water they soaked in. Cook for another 5 mins or so.

Serve the stew on it’s on, or with any grain you fancy (fresh bread will work well too).

Double Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Namaste all you chocolate lovers out there!

My girls have been begging me to make ANYTHING with chocolate….and what does a good mum do? I say “hell yes!”

My oldest asked if we could make it vegan so that I could join them whilst they put the cookie monster to shame…(again, who am I to say no!)..bless her 4 year old heart 🙂

So here we go – vegan double chocolate chocolate-chip cookies adapted from Oh She Glows.

Double chocolate chocolate-chip cookies!

Double chocolate chocolate-chip cookies!

This recipe makes about 12 depending on how big you like your cookies. Prep time is kinda hard to estimate because I had the girls help me out and you know how that usually goes down. If it were just you, I think you’re looking at about 15 minutes prep time and 10-13 minutes baking time (this can vary depending on the oven you’re using. Our’s is very eager to burn things so we usually have to reduce the bake time)

Ingredients:

Wet:

  • 1 tablespoon ground flax mixed with 3 tablespoons water
  • 55 grams or 1/4 cup  virgin coconut oil (do not melt)
  • 65 grams or 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 78 ml or 1/3 cup maple syrup (if you want your cookies sweeter, you could add sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or freshly grated vanilla pod

Dry:

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons dessicated coconut powder
  • 145 grams or 1.5 cups gluten-free rolled oats ground into flour
  • 4-5 teaspoons non-dairy milk (I used oat milk because it’s naturally sweet) to moisten the batter
  • 100 grams finely chopped dark chocolate

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 176C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. In a cup, mix together the flax and water and set aside for a few minutes so it can thicken up. Whisk the mixture again once thickened.
  3. Add all the wet ingredients in a mixing bowl (along with the flax mixture). Beat the ingredients by hand or with an electric mixer until combined and smooth. Check for sweetness here, and add sugar/more syrup accordingly. I prefer my desserts on the less sweeter side so stuck with the amount of maple syrup mentioned above.
  4. Add the dry ingredients one by one. If your dough is a bit dry, add some non-dairy milk and beat the mixture again. The dough should be moist enough to form balls without cracking, but not sticky.
  5. Chop/grate the chocolate (I did a bit of both). Fold the pieces into the batter.
  6. Lick spoon 😉
  7. Shape dough into balls and flatten them between the palms of your hands.
  8. Arrange on the baking sheet and bake for about 12-13 minutes.
  9. Cool cookies on the baking sheet until they harden up a little (if you can wait that long – as you can see, someone (not naming names..ahem) ate half a cookie whilst they were still cooling!)

Dig in!!!

 

Lowering Cholesterol

How many people have we come across (maybe even us) who have been to their regular blood tests only to find that their cholesterol values have a little star beside it denoting “sorry mate….looks like you’ve got a problem there”. In this article I want to touch on what cholesterol actually is and how you can naturally keep it under check.

Short on time? Jump to the Conclusion

Most people tend to associate triglycerides and fats with cholesterol. Apples and oranges really.

Triglycerides are a storage and transport form of fatty acids. The structure is one of 3 (tri meaning three) fatty acids bounds to one glycerol (glyceride part of the name) molecule.

Triglyceride

Triglyceride

The fatty acids here can be saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

The structure of cholesterol looks like this:

Cholesterol

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a lipid/sterol (naturally occurring organic molecules) contained in the body’s cells and fluids that act as a precursor to fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K), hormones and bodily structures. It has several essential roles such as:

  • Cell membrane function
  • Absorption of dietary fat
  • Synthesis of steroid hormones (including vitamin D)
  • Production of sex hormones like androgens and estrogen
  • Production of anabolic hormones responsible for muscle growth and repair
  • Synthesis of bile salts

Nearly all the tissues in the body are able to synthesise cholesterol. The liver makes 20% and other tissues including the small intestine make 80%. This accounts for two-thirds of the total cholesterol entering in our body each day and outweighs the dietary cholesterol intake. Now, the body is smart at regulating this – should our dietary intake of cholesterol increase, the amount synthesised within the body decreases (and vice versa). Cholesterol, being insoluble in blood and hence not easy to transport, is packaged into lipoproteins and transported. These lipoproteins are what we know as HDL (High density lipoprotein), LDL (Low density lipoprotein) and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein). Apart from shuttling cholesterol around the body, the lipoproteins also carry triglycerides and other molecules. The “density” of the lipoproteins is the ratio of these molecules, the highest (HDL) made up of least amount of triglycerides and cholesterol and the lowest (VLDL) made up of the highest amount of triglycerides and cholesterol.

LDL

These cholesterols transport triglycerides ad cholesterol to the cells for various uses (including storage). When LDL deposits cholesterol in the circulatory system (Arteries, veins and capillaries – the blood vessels), there is an increased risk of fatty plaque formation (atherosclerosis) in the inner lining of the blood vessels. Also the size of the LDL particles is an important aspect to consider. They come in small, medium and big. Smaller size LDL particles deposit easily in the tissues lining the heart, blood and lymph vessels (the vessels carrying fluid containing immune building cells called lymphocytes from the blood vessels to the tissues) when compared to their larger counterparts. They then get oxidised releasing inflammatory and adhesive proteins resulting in atherosclerosis. Dietary intake of refines carbohydrates and trans fats tend to decrease the size of the LDL particles.

HDL

What LDL giveth, HDL taketh away! HDL is cardio protective by nature; it carries cholesterol and other fatty acids away from the cells and to the liver for excretion in the bile. With the help of a specific enzyme, HDL can carry cholesterol away from LDL reducing plaque build-up. This is why higher levels of HDL (with lower LDL levels) will get you a big whoop-de-whoop from your doctor.

There is a small catch here though – If you are diabetic/insulin resistant, HDL doesn’t function as it should.

What do I do now?

Whilst everyone would like to place the blame on cholesterol for heart diseases etc., it is not the sole culprit. There are several factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease risk including triglycerides (probably THE most important factor), homocysteine and antioxidant levels. That’s not to say that cholesterol gets away scott free. It still has a role to play.

So what can you do?….

  1. Physical activity everyday – get lean and drop the excess weight. Include strength training, flexibility and cardio workouts.
  2. Eat Fruits and Veggies like there’s no tomorrow (hint: smoothies are THE best way of getting in lots of fruit and veg). Include nuts and seeds (unsweetened) as well (take care that nuts are caloric dense so don’t binge on them).
  3. Whole grains and legumes are fibre rich and hence cholesterol lowering. Soluble dietary fibre binds to a portion of the bile salts in the small intestine during digestion and this combo is eliminated from the body. As new bile synthesis (in the liver) requires cholesterol, more cholesterol is utilised. Thus, fibre can lower blood cholesterol levels.
  4. Up your omega-3 intake by adding flax, chia and hemp seed to your meals. Walnuts are also rich in this essential fatty acids as are marines sources such as algae, salmon and mackerel.
  5. Limit/avoid meats and dairy. If you must eat meat, then make sure it’s organic and grass fed. Anything else is can feed the bad cholesterol.
  6. Apart from teaching my kids to steer clear of drugs and strangers with candy, I tell them to run for the hills when they see processed foods. Trans fats are an absolute no-no and should not feature in your diet if you care for your health. Always check the packaging.
  7. Limit highly caffeinated drinks like coffee (opt for lower caffeinated versions) as these can increase cholesterol by 10%. Instead, increase your tea intake. Tea helps to lower plaque build up.
  8. Limit your alcohol intake.
  9. Include spices like ginger, garlic and turmeric and other herbs. Cocoa in small amounts can also help.

 Note: for those concerned about eggs, the science shows that how your body’s cholesterol regulates itself is dependent on the person. One study showed that 70% of the people showed no response in terms of total or LDL values, the other 30% showed a slight increase. Eggs can change the LDL particles from small to large (a good thing in terms of avoiding deposition and oxidation). Omega-3 rich eggs would be your best option if you choose to keep eggs as part of a healthy, well balanced diet.

Here’s a really cool table I found at Precision Nutrition:

TYPE OF EATING STYLE

% DECREASE IN LDL CHOLESTEROL

American Heart Association Standard Guidelines 6%
Atkins Style (higher protein and fat) No significant changes
Lower fat, plant-based, still including dairy and eggs 16%
Mediterranean No significant changes
Statin drugs 26%
100% plant-based diet, well planned, with nutrient dense foods 33%

Conclusion

Cholesterol plays an essential role in the body’s functioning and whilst higher levels do have a role to play in cardiovascular diseases, it’s not the only factor involved

HDL – “good cholesterol” takes shuttles cholesterol away from the cells and to the liver for elimination.

LDL – “bad cholesterol” takes cholesterol and fats from the liver to the cells.

Higher HDL values (with no insulin resistance) can combat the harmful effects of high LDL levels.

High LDL, and especially the smaller molecules cause plaque build up on the insides of the vessel walls.

Things you can do to tackle cholesterol:

  1. Exercise
  2. Include fruits, veggies, nut, seeds, whole grain and legumes as part of your diet
  3. Increase your omega-3 intake
  4. Drink tea
  5. Include ginger, garlic, turmeric and other herbs and spices in your diet
  6. Avoid trans fats
  7. Limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks
  8. Limit/cut out meat and dairy intake

Lifestyle changes play a vital role in maintaining good health. Proper nutrition and exercise can work wonders and leave you feeling like a new person. …everyone deserves to feel good.

Making lifestyle and diet changes are by no means easy especially if you’ve been doing things a certain way for as long as your can remember, but with guidance and support, and incorporating habits one at a time at your own pace you can make those big changes and be successful at keeping them up. These changes become your new lifestyle – your new way of doing things.

Namaste

 

References

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-cholesterol

http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/nutrition/a-primer-on-dietary-fats-part-1.html/

http://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2006/5/report_heart/page-02

The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, second edition – John Berardi, Ryan Andrews

http://authoritynutrition.com/how-many-eggs-should-you-eat/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904713/

https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/

 

Blood Pressure

I think the majority of us in this day and age can safely say that we’ve found ourselves in quite a few situations that either “stressed us out”, or “made our blood pressure rise”. It’s now such a normal way of life to rush through the day not thinking twice about what it’s doing to our bodies and minds. Then one day your doctor hands you your meds to lower your blood pressure and even this very act has a certain normalcy to it….makes you think about where our society is headed.

Today I’d like to talk about blood pressure and how you can take med-free steps to control it.

Short on time? Read the Conclusion

Blood is pumped by the heart into the blood vessels and as it flows it “pushes” against the vessel walls as it makes its way to the organs and tissues. The strength of this push – the pressure exerted by the flowing blood against the walls – is called blood pressure. High blood pressure is termed “hypertension” and low blood pressure is “hypotension”. I found this chart which I thought was helpful in knowing where you stand (if you’ve ever had your blood pressure measured):

BP chart

The ideal blood pressure for a risk free, healthy life would be 120/80 or lower (generally lower is considered better) where the upper value 120 (systolic) is the highest pressure the blood exerts on the vessel walls while the heart is pumping, and 80 (diastolic) is the lowest pressure exerted while the heart rests between beats.

If your value falls in the 120/80 – 140/90 (pre-high blood pressure) you should take steps to lower it. Anything above the ideal blood pressure range increases the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Values in the “low” range could have one or both of the systolic and diastolic values low. For example, 115/50 would be considered low blood pressure.

Blood pressure varies throughout the day, lowering when you rest and rising when you’re active. The body is very sensitive to changes in BP and works to either raise or lower the pressure to bring it back to normal (homeostasis). When this natural tendency towards homeostasis in terms of blood pressure is affected or does not happen fast enough we end up with either hyper, or hypotension

Hypotension

Some people naturally have low blood pressure and exhibit no signs or symptoms. In this case low BP is not a health risk. If your BP drops to a point where you feel faint or dizzy then it warrants your attention and that of your physician.

Symptoms of low BP:

  1. Fatigue, dizziness/light-headedness, Fainting
  2. Cold, clammy, pale skin
  3. Nausea, blurred vision, lack of concentration
  4. Rapid, shallow breathing

Some causes of hypotension are:

Pregnancy, dehydration, severe allergic reactions, low blood sugar, thyroid disorders, Pulmonary embolism, central nervous system disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Infections, Anemia.

Hypertension

Having your blood vessels try and manage high blood pressure is much like trying to use a garden hose to handle the pressure of a fire hose – you’re bound to run into a bit of trouble there. Here’s what can happen:

  • Damage to eye vessels leads to blindness
  • Damage to kidney vessels could lead to you on dialysis
  • Damage to brain vessels lead to stroke or Alzheimer’s
  • Damage to vessels in the limbs (legs and arms) and internal organs lead to peripheral vascular disease (leading to open sores that do not heal, ulcers, gangrene due to inadequate blood supply to the affected areas, and in some severe cases amputation may be necessary)

For each increment of 20 mm Hg (a blood pressure measurement), your risk of cardiovascular disease doubles!

(Apologies if the images below are unclear – clicking on them will open up a legible copy)

Preventable causes of death in the U.S. (Image source: Danaei G, et al. The preventable causes of death in the United States: comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors. PLoS Med 2009;6:e10000058.)

Preventable causes of death in the U.S. (Image source: Danaei G, et al. The preventable causes of death in the United States: comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors. PLoS Med 2009;6:e10000058.)

BP risk

High blood pressure, a global risk factor

Unfortunately unlike hypotension, hypertension sneaks up on you with no symptoms. The risk of a person developing hypertension is dependent on sex, age and racial-ethnic background:

  • As they age, women are more likely to suffer from hypertension than men
  • People of African origin are genetically more inclined at having higher blood pressure.
  • Even children and adolescents are not exempt from developing hypertension.

But lifestyle can influence those factors to a large extent – for example, though Indians as a population have in the past ranked low in a worldwide survey (World health statistics 2012), a large part (limited data is available) of the population now suffers from high blood pressure according to cardiology outpatient surveys, experts at the Public Health Foundation of India and Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurgaon. This, they say, is attributed to risk factors such as physical inactivity and low levels of awareness in terms of good diet.

Controlling it all

Hypotension

  1. Drinking plenty of fluids
  2. Increasing sodium intake as sea salt (which also contains other minerals – avoid the processed kind) and potassium intake (beans, bananas, avocados, mushrooms, potatoes with skins, dark leafy greens, squash, nectarines). *
  3. Stand up slowly from seated
  4. Learn to recognise the symptoms of a dizzy spell or fainting, sit down with your head between your knees or lie down. This helps to raise your blood pressure again.
  5. Coffee is a temporary treatment
  6. Tulsi/Holy Basil (My personal favourite) tea is a better alternative to coffee. It helps to relieve stress and boost your immune system. It is also rich in Vit A, Vit C , Magnesiun, Potassium, manganese, calcium and iron
  7. Eat small meals frequently – a rainbow diet with plenty of fruit and veggies will give you all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Whole grains help to keep your blood sugar levels steady and keep your blood pressure from falling. Include garlic and beetroot in your diet. Spices such as turmeric, cumin, cayenne pepper are helpful in stimulating circulation. Onion and horseradish root should also do the trick.
  8. Physical activity that stimulates blood flow is good to raise blood pressure.

Hypertension

  1. Stay lean – Fat cells produce substances that produce inflammation in the heart and blood vessels.
  2. Workout – Exercise alone can lower your BP by about 4 mm Hg. It decreases the sympathetic nervous system activity, lowers insulin production and increases elasticity of the blood vessels. Cardio, high intensity, low intensity, resistance training. You name it, if you’re moving your body enough, you’re definitely on the right track to lowering BP. If you suffer from high BP and have been physically inactive for a while, start slow and build up your workout intensities. Again, check with your general practitioner.
  3. Cut down on alcohol and quit the cigs – Smoking has been known to raise BP. Alcohol in small amounts can help in lowering BP but think twice before you think that binge drinking night out with the gals/lads on an empty stomach is going to benefit you. Alcohol activates the sympathetic nervous system, increases the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and decreases the production of nitric oxide which is required to keep your blood vessels elastic.
  4. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition – eliminate processed foods. Add more plant foods to your diet to increase your intake of arginine, lycopene, folate, fibre, magnesium, potassium, sulphur and vits C & E.

Here’s a helpful table the guys at Precision Nutrition put together:

Plant foods rich in vitamins C and E:green leafy vegetables, broccoli, potatoes, peas, oranges, mango, olives, avocado, tomatoes, apples, carrots, nuts, seeds, whole intact grains Plant foods rich in arginine:lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, Brazil nuts, coconut, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds
Plant foods rich in lycopene: tomatoes, grapefruit, salsa, watermelon, guava, baked beans Plant foods rich in folate: leafy greens, lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, lentils
Plant foods rich in fibre: beans, peas, nuts, seeds, whole fruits, whole vegetables, whole grains Plant foods rich in magnesium:black beans, broccoli, peanuts, okra, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, spinach, oats, artichokes, banana, barley, buckwheat, navy beans, corn, raw chocolate (aka cacao)
Plant foods rich in potassium:apricots, avocado, banana, beets, potato, dates, melon, Brussels sprouts, oranges, pears, peanuts, raisins, spinach, squash Plant foods rich in sulfur compounds:garlic, onions, leeks, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), nuts; onions and garlic in particular are high in sulfur compounds that increase nitric oxide production

So basically eating a variety of fruit and veg, nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans and peas should provide you with plenty of dietary ammo to fight hypertension. If you eat dairy, make it a low fat option and for those with a sweet tooth, small amounts (10-30 grams/day) of dark chocolate may help increase blood vessel elasticity.

  1. Get some sunshine – sunshine = vit D = good in helping to lower BP. I was surprised to hear from a paediatrician in India that Indians suffer from vit D deficiency! She explained that it was due to everyone wanting “fair” skin and them shying away from the sun or slathering on layers of sunscreen that’s led to the deficiency.
  2. Get plenty of omega-3 fatty acid through flax, chia and hemp seeds. Walnuts are a good source too. Although I don’t promote eating meat, I do respect everyone’s choices and so will say that oily fish and wild game are non-vegetarian options (be wary though, adding meat to your diet has been shown to raise BP). Omega-3 fatty acid is known to increase blood vessel dilation whilst Omega-6 (already abundant in our diet) causes vessel constriction.
  3. Cut out the sugar and reduce your salt intake *
  4. Destress – yoga, meditation and breathing exercises are a wonderful, enjoyable way to relax and centre ourselves. If these don’t float your boat, then pick an activity you truly enjoy , set sometime for yourself every day/week and make it all about “you”.

* Sodium is naturally present in fresh vegetables albeit in varying quantitites:

High sodium (more than 140 mg/serving): Spinach, swiss chard.

Low sodium (35 – 140 mg/serving): Artichokes, sweet potatoes, radishes, celery, carrots, broccoli and bell peppers.

Very low sodium (less than 35 mg/serving): Brussels sprouts, lettuce, mushrooms, cabbage, cauliflower, green onion and tomatoes.

Sodium free (5 mg/serving or less): Asparagus, cucumber, corn, green beans, avocado, potatoes and summer squash.

Conclusion

Hypo or hypertension isn’t the end of the line for the people diagnosed with it. Good nutrition and plenty of exercise can go a long way to controlling or reversing the problem. Vegetables naturally contain varying levels of sodium. So if you are hypo/hypertensive, you may choose to control your sodium intake by choosing the appropriate veggies.

In a society obsessed with food and treating ailments with medication, taking a step back and observing your life without any judgement (as if you were a 3rd party looking in), might just show you what it is you need to change. That in my opinion is the best diagnosis anyone can give you. Don’t fight your body, accept where it is today and treat it with care. Befriend it again and work with it towards a healthier, happier future.

Making lifestyle and diet changes are by no means easy especially if you’ve been doing things a certain way for as long as your can remember, but with guidance and support, and incorporating habits one at a time at your own pace you can make those big changes and be successful at keeping them up. These changes become your new lifestyle – your new way of doing things.

Namaste

 

References

http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/BloodPressureandyou/Thebasics/Bloodpressure

http://www.betterhealthfacts.com/2014/09/low-bp-symptoms-causes-and-treatment.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/c/pmh_cons/?term=high%20blood%20pressure

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-high-blood-pressure

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20433547

http://www.medicinenet.com/peripheral_vascular_disease/page4.htm#what_are_potential_complications_of_peripheral_artery_disease

http://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/indians-suffering-from-hypertension-set-to-increase/

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/High-BP-driving-heart-diseases-in-India/articleshow/47368318.cms?

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0063034/

https://www.organicfacts.net/nutrition-facts/herb-and-spice/nutritional-value-of-tulsi-and-ginger.html

http://www.healthyeating.sfgate.com/much-salt-naturally-vegetables-8949.html

https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/

Another write up on belly fat!

All of us (and let’s be honest here) have at some point in time obsessed over our abs – mostly our concerns have been (and maybe continue to be) with shrinking it, or getting a 6 pack. Here, I’d like to cover what belly fat is and what you can do to reduce it.

Short on time? Read the Conclusion

What is belly fat?

Belly/abdominal fat is a combo of visceral and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is the fat you can’t see, that which surrounds your organs and acts like a cushion so they don’t get in each other’s way. It can only be measured using a CT/MRI scan.

Subcutaneous fat is the fat under your skin usually hips, thighs, belly and upper back (how many of you are pinching your bums right now?!) and sits on top of your muscles (so there’s where your 6 pack is hidden). For those of you who’ve undergone skin fold measurements, you’d probably know that the value you were given is the percentage of subcutaneous body fat you carry.

Abdominal fat is an important indicator of overall health compared with Butt and Thigh fat. It has been linked with a host of health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease to name a few.

Pre-menopausal women tend to have fewer visceral fat deposits compared to men but once they hit the big M, they accumulate as much visceral fat as men thanks to lowered levels of estrogen (and you were complaining about how your period was a nuisance!).

Age also plays a role in how much visceral fat we store, as does genetics. According to research, families tended to store the same amount visceral fat. Ok so I’ve given you gender, age and genetics as your go-to excuse.

But there are lifestyle related factors we can influence (HA! You had to know this was going somewhere) –

  • Physical activity. Being sedentary – regardless of if you’re lean or on the heavy side – most certainly increases your risk of increased visceral fat. Here’s a fun fact I came across, obese sumo wrestlers actually hold very little visceral fat, owing to all the physical activity they do!
  • Nutrition. High sugar diets have been shown to increase visceral fat deposits in humans and animals.
  • Stress. Under stress the body increases adrenaline production which in turn releases fat from its stores to fuel the body to “escape” from whatever it was that caused the stress. Whilst this “fight and flight” holds good if you were being chased by a rabid dog, it doesn’t really help with mental stressors we experience almost every day. You see, the same sequence of events happens (adrenaline-fat-energy) except that you’re not sprinting for your life. Enter the hormone cortisol, released from the adrenal glands to sweep up all this unused fatty acid and store them away. And much like that one drawer of the house we love to store unwanted items “for now”, cortisol’s drawer is the abdomen! More stress = more belly fat.
  • Sleep. Lack of sleep (less than 6-7 hrs) stimulates the release of the body’s “hunger hormone” (Ghrelin, in case you were interested) increasing your appetite.

So what’s the solution to dropping the fat act? Let’s start by talking about physical activity.
Working the body’s muscles results in improved fat mobilisation i.e. removal of fat from storage and conversion into energy.

  1. High intensity workouts (sprints, jumps etc.) use up your glycogen (stored glucose/carbohydrate) stores first and then draw further energy from fat stores. These forms of activites improve your endurance (by strengthening your heart) and also increase fat mobilisation. They can, however, be tough on your joints and if not careful can cause injury. Once you get the hang of alignment and practise good form, you can include high intensity workouts 3 times a week. These need only be about 20 – 25 minutes a day.
  2. Low intensity workouts (yoga, walking) burn fat to fuel your body. The advantages of these types of activities are that they are sustainable for longer periods and are not demanding on your joints. In addition, you can do them every day.
  3. Weight/resistance training. Functional strength training (using several muscle groups to accomplish a movement) includes working the larger muscles and burns more energy during and after your workout (during which time energy is used to repair the muscle). As we age, our activity levels/intensity decrease causing metabolism to decrease. Increased muscle mass is important to maintain a higher metabolic rate (even while you rest) and decreased fat storage. Older ladies should incorporate strength training into their training plan 3 times a week.
    A study conducted on 34 obese women aged 40 – 60 years, over a period of 16 weeks showed that the group with a calorie deficit of 500 Kcal per day and weight training twice a week lost fat around the lower abdomen, whilst the group with the same calorie deficit but no weight training lost fat from the lower body. This study not only showed how diet + weight training can help with fat loss but where the fat loss may occur.
  4. Stress management – Yoga, meditation, read a book….anything that you enjoy. Take time for yourself. You only have one body – nurture it. Breathe deeply when you feel like things are overwhelming.
  5. Sleep – Start a bedtime routine. Remove gadgets that will distract you from your bedside. I personally love to stretch before bed. It eases all the physical tension I sometimes don’t realise I’m carrying and I sleep better after.

Before we move on, I’d like to point out that regardless of what media and fad diets will have you believe, you cannot spot reduce fat i.e. attempting to reduce subcutaneous fat stores in a certain part of the body by targeting it with specific exercises. A perfect example would be performing sit-ups to shrink your belly. Abdominal work is important to include as part of your workouts to strengthen your core and minimise lower back injuries but that’s all it does really. The washboard ab definition comes when the fat sitting on top of your rectus abdominus muscle melts away exposing the muscle’s definition.

Here’s an interesting point about fat accumulation and distribution. Your genetic make up determines where and in which order fat is stored in your body. For example, some may accumulate fat in the abdomen first, then the upper body, face and neck and the the lower body. Some might start at the hips and thighs and then move on upwards. Others, a whole new sequence. Just as fat is laid down in a certain order, it is removed in the same order. So whilst we might want to work towards losing fat in a particular area, it’s not really in our control. A well rounded, whole body approach is the best way to go.

Moving on to diet. Again diet and exercise are not mutually exclusive. It’s your well known calories in vs. calories out theory.

  1. Whole grains over refined grains. No brainer here really – whole grains stabilise your blood sugar levels, leave you feeling full longer, have that oh-so-good fibre. Examples would be brown rice, quinoa, millet, rye..even popcorn made oil free (couscous, in case you’re wondering, is refined).
  2. Go crazy on fruit and veggies. Nuts, though high in unsaturated fats, are known to lower the bad LDL cholesterol levels when eaten as part as a balanced diet. In addition, they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E (and are awesome when you’re craving “fatty” food).
  3. Don’t go crazy on cheese, butter, fatty meats, fried food etc. Depending on what quantity they’re eaten in (and trust you me, it’s very easy to indulge in fats due to the texture, aroma and mouthfeel of these energy-dense foods), they can spike your energy intake during a meal and are quite rich in saturated fats.
  4. Eliminate transfats and fast food. Transfats are found in margarine, cookies, pastries, fried and convenience foods. If you must pop into your local fast food joint, familiarise yourself with the menu beforehand so you know what’s offered and what your best meal choice would be.
  5. Eliminate/reduce processed foods e.g. Oils, deli meats, cream cheese spreads, even packaged/bottled salad dressings. These foods interfere with the normal signalling within the body leaving you feeling hungrier, which leads to overeating and consequently depression. In addition, they tend to be high in salt causing increased water retention and that bloated feeling.
  6. Indulge in alcohol (a high caloric beverage) once in a while – don’t make 3 beers a routine. One 2013 study review from Denmark suggested that intake of beer is associated with abdominal obesity, while a German study found that lifetime consumption of alcohol is positively related to abdominal fat in 160,000 women.
  7. Read food and drink labels – watch out for added sugars (which equal added calories) such as dextrose, glucose, maltose, high fructose corn syrup. Many low fat commercial foods have a lot of “extras” added to make them palatable. If the ingredients list is longer than your grocery list, chances are you probably aren’t familiar with most of what’s stated and are better off going for the “full fat” option.
  8. Drink unsweetened tea (green tea has been known to aid in fat loss) and water instead of soda. Artificially sweetened soda has been shown to increase waist size, BMI and total fat percentage when compared with normal soda.

CONCLUSION

How much fat you carry is part determined by your genes but is also influenced by lifestyle.
There is no quick fix, magic diet out there to aid you in fat loss. It all comes down to how active you are and what you feed your body. This holds good for all body types. Other factors that play an important role are sleep and how well you manage stress.

As part of your physical activity, include low intensity activities (walking, cycling, swimming, yoga etc) daily, high intensity workouts 3 times a week and weight training 2-3 times a week.

I’d like to mention that this article is not to scare you away from fats nor am I an anti-fat activist, rather it is to bring to your attention how a balanced lifestyle (activity and diet) can leave you feeling like a new person. Once you find this balance, everything else happening under your skin will fall in place (or melt away as in this case).

Making lifestyle and diet changes are by no means easy especially if you’ve been doing things a certain way for as long as your can remember, but with guidance and support, and incorporating habits one at a time at your own pace you can make those big changes and be successful at keeping them up. These changes become your new lifestyle – your new way of doing things.

Namaste

 

References
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/visceral-fat-location
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-abdominal-fat-and-risk
http://breakingmuscle.com/strength-conditioning/spot-reduction-one-final-attempt-to-kill-the-myth
http://www.sportsmd.com/sports-nutrition/weight-loss/fallacies-spot-reducing-truth-fat-loss/#sthash.2ndFxEjX.dpuf
http://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/diet-tips/6-reasons-youre-not-losing-belly-fat/slide/6
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20820174
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53528/
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/art-20046635
https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/