Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Pumpkins - Don't waste the flesh when you're carving this year!

The Halloween season is upon us, and to all those getting out the fake spiders and cobwebs, and donning their scary outfits, when it comes to pumpkin carving, don’t throw away the flesh or seeds, and here are a few reasons why…

Pumpkins are the most popular of the winter squash family, and like many of their cousins, they have many health benefits:

1.       Good for the peepers – according to the National Institute of Health, a cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains more than 200% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which aids vision, particularly in dim light. Pumpkins, similarly to carrots, are also rich in beta carotene, which give them their rich orange colour, and are good for night vision.

2.       Great source of fibre – at 3 grams of fibre per cup it is rich in fibre, and can aid in prevention of certain cancers, and help with healthy digestion and regular bowel movements

3.       Low calorie – at only 49 calories per cup, it can be a great low calorie and sweet alternative to mashed potato for those watching their weight. It is also great for bulking up stews and casseroles, without totting up the calories, keeping you fuller for longer!

4.       Pumpkin seeds for a healthy heart – Pumpkin seeds are naturally rich in phytosterols that have been shown to reduce levels of the harmful cholesterol (LDL) in the blood. (Read blog http://pollytaylor2.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/cholesterol-good-and-bad.html)

5.       May reduce cancer risk – Like their fellow orange veggies, they are rich in beta-carotene, which studies have shown to play a role in cancer prevention according to the National Cancer Institute. In addition, food sources of beta-carotene prove to be more effective than a pill-form supplement

6.       Protects your skin – the same free-radical neutralising powers of the carotenoids in pumpkins that prevent cancer cell growth can also keep skin looking healthy

7.       Mood boosting properties – pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which has been show in some studies to boost the production of serotonin in the brain, a chemical associated with good moods

8.       Pumpkin can boost immune system – pumpkin is rich in Vitamin C, which when consumed in large amounts has been shown to ‘ward off colds’

9.       Pumpkin can help after a hard workout – bananas tend to be known as ‘nature’s energy bar’ being rich in natural sugars, water and potassium. However a cup of cooked pumpkin has more of the refuelling nutrient potassium at 564 milligrams per cup, compared to a banana’s 422 milligrams per cup.

So what to do with the insides from your pumpkins? Well here are a few tasty recipes to try, ranging from a little bit of effort, to those feeling a little lazy, but don’t like to waste food.

Pumpkin Pie – a little bit of effort but worth the reward!
750g chopped pumpkin, de seeded and skinned
350g shortcrust sweet pastry
Plain flour for dusting
140g caster sugar
½ tspn of salt
½ tspn of nutmeg freshly grated
1 tsp. of cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
25g butter, melted
175ml milk
1 tbsp. icing sugar

1.       Place the pumpkin in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer for fifteen minutes until soft. Drain water and allow to cool

2.       Heat oven to 180 degrees, roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured surface and use it line a 22cm loose bottomed pastry tin, chill for fifteen minutes. Line the pastry with baking parchment and fill with baking beans, and then bake for fifteen minutes. Remove the beans and parchment and bake for a further 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

3.       Increase oven to 220 degrees. Push the cooked pumpkin through a sieve into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, salt, nutmeg and half the cinnamon. Mix in the beaten eggs, melted butter and milk, then add the pumpkin puree and stir to combine.

4.       Pour into the tart shell and cook for ten minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180 degrees and continue to bake for 35-40 minutes or until filling has just set.

5.       Leave to cool and then take out of tin. Mix the remaining cinnamon and icing sugar together and dust the top of the pie with it. Serve chilled.

Pumpkin Risotto – very easy!
400g of cubed pumpkin flesh
1tbp. of olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
8 spring onions, chopped
25g butter
200g risotto rice
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 litre of hot vegetable stock
50g parmesan cheese
Small handful of chopped coriander

1.       Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Pop the pumpkin on a roasting tray, drizzle with oil and roast for about 30 minutes.

2.       While the pumpkin is roasting, make the risotto. Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat, add the garlic and spring onions. Cook for a few minutes, then add the rice and cumin and stir well to coat with the buttery mix.

3.       Add the stock in gradually, allowing the rice to soak up the stock. This should take around 20 minutes

4.       Once the rice is soft enough to eat, add in the coriander, parmesan and roasted pumpkin. And you’re done!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Protein – how much you should be having and what are the best sources

Watching ‘nutrition experts’ in the gym drinking pints of protein shakes, and recommending them to others to ‘bulk up, I really don’t see the point. The daily requirement of protein for high strength athletes is 1.2g-1.7g of protein per kilo body weight, and for endurance athletes is 1.2g-1.4g of protein per kilo body weight. These limits are put there to prevent kidney damage. With an increased protein intake, the kidneys have to work harder to clean the blood; this can lead to hyper filtration which is linked to kidney disease.

So why then, when these limits are recommended for world athletes, do I see men and women in the gym and out spending a fortune on these pointless protein shakes and protein bars? Honestly, because it’s what is in trend at the moment, it is a con. In average western diets, we reach our recommended intake anyway. It is a myth that vast amounts of protein will build muscle quicker. For good sports performance and recovery you need carbohydrates, the muscles primary source of fuel. Yes, you need protein for muscle growth and repair, but there is no direct correlation between eating vast amounts of protein and increased muscle growth. In addition to that, check what it is in those protein powders and pills. As I once pointed out to a friend, he was taking protein pills with testosterone in, which when not used in the body is converted into oestrogen. Excess oestrogen in men? Man boobs.

Here is a great guide taken from the British Dietetic Association website for carbohydrate intake, based on activity levels, a great reference:

Activity or timing
Recommended daily intake of carbohydrate per Kg body weight
3-5 hours per week
4 - 5g
5-7 hours per week
5 - 6g
1-2 hours per day
6 - 8g
2 hours + per day
8 - 10g

*Although general requirements can be provided, carbohydrate intakes should be fine-tuned with individual consideration of total energy needs, specific training needs and feedback from training performance. http://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/sportsfoodfacts.pdf
So to save some money for all those people who are putting in the hours of effort down the gym, or wherever you work out, here is a list of excellent dietary protein intake. Bear in mind, for best performance to mix these up with a wide variety of mixed fruits and vegetables and always ensure adequate fluid intake prior to, during and after training.

Protein Source
Total protein per serving
Beef – Steak  6oz
Beef – most cuts
7g of protein per ounce
Chicken – breast
Chicken – thigh
Chicken – drumstick
Chicken – wing
Fish – fillet
Fish – tin of tuna
Pork – chop
Pork – loin
Ham serving
Bacon rasher
Eggs – large
Cottage cheese ½ cup
Soft cheese (brie, philly, etc.)
6g per ounce
Medium cheese (cheddar)
7-8g per ounce
Hard cheese (Parmesan)
10g per ounce
Tofu ½ cup
Soya Milk 1 cup
Most beans (lentils, pinto, etc.)
7-10g per half cup
Almonds ¼ cup
Peanuts ¼ cup
Cashews ¼ cup
Pecans ¼ cup
Sunflower seeds ¼ cup
Pumpkin seeds ¼ cup

So work out your rough requirements and see what you’re currently meeting through diet alone, you might be surprised!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Wild Mushrooms – the super food that’s also a fungi!

Wild mushrooms are in season this October; this means they are at their most abundant and flavourful this time of year. In 2008, the Daily Mail hailed them as being the next super food, this being backed by dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker, after handfuls of studies carried out showed mushrooms contained cancer reducing properties.

So to convince you all to start adding them to your weekly shopping list, I will be giving you some top reasons why to pop them in your basket, and some great easy recipes for you to try at home. They are both very basic, but delicious, so interpret and tweak them to your own tastes. I have added some serving suggestions, but any feedback on your creations, please comment below and pass on your expertise!
  • The humble button mushroom – Studies carried out at Pennsylvania State University showed that a handful of white button mushroom contain 12 times more of the antioxidant L-Ergothioneine than wheat germ, previously presumed to be the best source, thus lowering risk of some cancers, by protecting DNA from free radical damage in the body
  • The shitake – the active antiviral compound lentinan is present in these fancier mushrooms which boost the immune system. They also add great flavours to dishes too!
  • The maitake – this mushroom has shown in some studies to have tumour reducing affects
  • The tree ear mushroom – also known as the wood ear mushroom, even in small amounts has been shown to have blood thinning effects, lowering the risk of heart disease and strokes.
  • Mushrooms are also excellent sources of fibre, needed for healthy and regular bowel movements. Ample daily intake of fibre can reduce risks of bowel cancer
  • Rich in a variety of B vitamins – these are involved in cell production, nerve function, and the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, amino acids and alcohol
  • Significant selenium content – selenium is essential in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis and protection from oxidative damage and infection
  • High water content, low calorie content making mushrooms a great veggie for bulking up stews and casseroles, plus they count towards as one of your five a day!

Recipe time!

Funghi Trifolati – Don’t be put off by the name, this is just like the mushroom topped bruschetta you’d find in Pizza Express or any Italian restaurant, and is a great way to use up left over bread that you don’t want to throw away. It is also great served with poached eggs and a fresh tomato salsa if you want to serve it as a meal.

450g chestnut mushrooms
55g dried porcini mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
75ml olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley
1 day old French baguette, toasted
  1. Soak the dried porcini mushrooms for an hour, in a large frying pan sauté the garlic in the olive oil for two minutes.
  2. Slice the chestnut mushrooms and add to pan and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Add in the dried mushrooms with some of the water they were soaked in, poured through kitchen towel.
  3. Cover and simmer for about ten minutes until reduced, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve on the toasted bread. Add in cream or parmesan for a richer flavour, and season to taste. Delicious!

Creamy Mushroom Stroganoff – this recipe is really easy, make sure to read it through first before starting. It’s a real crowd pleaser and a great comfort food dish on a cold evening. This is the vegetarian option, but you can add in sliced beef if you like.

15g butter
2tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
1tsp paprika
500g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
150g baby button mushrooms
150ml white wine or cider
200g tub crème fraîche
2tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1tbsp chopped fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan, and cook the onion, garlic and celery for two to three minutes until soft. Add in the paprika and cook for 1 minute
  2. Add in the mushrooms and white wine or cider, and bring to boil, then reduce the heat slightly and cook for four to five minutes.
  3. Stir in the crème fraiche and half of the herbs and season to taste. Serve with rice, pasta or veggies with the rest of the herbs sprinkled on top.
I have to warn, after undertaking a foraging course last weekend that inspired this blog post, and learning more about edible mushrooms and fungi, do please check with a professional before eating anything you do find in the garden, as some can be quite toxic and even fatal. So check first!

Please follow my blog, and comment below, perhaps with recipes you love, or links to ones online you’ve tried before and had success with. Thanks!


Friday, 4 October 2013

The 5:2 diet – what’s it all about?

The 5:2 diet or fast diet is one of the latest diet fads currently being promoted. Many people have tried it and had success with it, but what does it involve? It is all about intermittent fasting two days out of the week. Many health benefits are claimed with this diet, however none as yet, are clinically proven.
Many people find this diet easier to stick to than continuously limiting certain food groups and fasting as is done in traditional dieting, due to only having to comply with limiting food two days per week. This blog will explain how the 5:2 diet works, with some low calorie meals at the end, suitable for those low calorie days. However I would like to be clear that I do not advocate this diet, as a dietitian, I still behold the belief that you can’t beat healthy eating with ample exercise for weight loss. All these fad diets that include eliminating and limiting food groups, help you lose weight temporarily, however unless you make healthy permanent changes to your lifestyle, the weight will be put back on.

The 5:2 diet suggests eating normally five days per week, and for the other two days, if you are a woman, eating 500kcal, or a man; 600kcal. This can either be consumed in one regular sized meal, or spread out throughout the day in smaller snacks/meals. It claims by doing this, you should lose around 1lb per week or a little more if you are a man, and you should see improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.

So here are a few meal options for breakfast, lunch and dinner that can help you stick to your fasting days.


Bran flakes (30g) with skimmed milk – approximately 166kcal
Fat free yoghurt (150g) with blueberries (handful) – 177kcal


Salad, no dressing with grilled chicken – 197kcal
Skinny soup with two Ryvita – 127kcal


Grilled chicken breast with steamed cauliflower, carrots and broccoli – 203kcal
Grilled half salmon fillet with steamed spinach and peas – 199kcal

The best way to keep the hunger away on those fasting days is to snack on low calorie foods such as carrots, celery and broccoli, so chop some up in the morning before heading off for the day, to stave off the hunger cramps and keep your energy up.