Monday, 1 September 2014

Detox diets – fab? Or fiction?

The word ‘detox’ is a popular buzz word used in today’s dieting culture. Detox diets usually last around five days, but can range from one day to a month. Usual promised side effects include; rapid weight loss, improved hair, skin and nails condition, improved energy levels, boosted immune systems and ridding women of the curse of cellulite. These promises are cruel in the way that target our most sensitive and self-aware areas and guarantees to cure them all, so of course we’re going to sign up in our droves. Detox diets usually include:

  • Fasting for short periods of time
  • Only eating certain foods (e.g. only fruits and vegetables)
  • Excluding gluten, eggs, dairy
  • Taking ‘cleansers’ (laxatives) and other pills which can cause irreversible damage

So we’re going to pull them apart and look at why they are so potentially harmful.

1. Fasting – Fasting can severely limit the amount of nutrients and energy required by the body. It may cause rapid weight loss, but the majority of this is water and glycogen (carbohydrate stores in the body) not actual fat loss. In addition it slows your metabolism as your body goes into starvation mode, so when you do start eating again, the weight will pile back on, and frequently more than you initially lost

2. The ‘Juice Cleanse’ – the juice cleanse type of detox can cost around £65-£90 per day, and when you consider that you can buy three litres of juice for a fiver in most supermarkets, the people who came up with this idea and marketed it must be laughing. The idea of only drinking juice means cutting out essential amino acids needed for normal day to day function and fats need for vitamin and mineral absorption. It's high acid intake, means causing irreversible damage to teeth, and it's high sugar intake can be very dangerous for those with diabetes and kidney disease.

3. Excluding gluten, eggs and dairy – these are all rich in amino acids, vitamin D and calcium amongst other things. Excluding these can cause poor bone growth and maintenance, leading to conditions such as osteoporosis, brittle bones and more. Unless instructed to eliminate these from your diet by a qualified health professional, who will recommend other dietary sources to get the nutrition you need, don't exclude these from your diet.

4. Taking unresearched pills and powders - to me, this is the scariest. I have looked at some of these bottles and amongst the terrifying spelling mistakes and recommendations such as 'each pill contains 100% of your vitamin C requirements - dose take five a day'(?!) potentially causing toxifying effects on the body including kidney damage, liver damage and more, and that's if what is in this pill or powder is even in there, in pure uncut form. A recent study showed that less than 30% of supplements bought from major retailers online actually contained any of what is claimed on the label.

Many young men and women have died from taking un-researched diet pills, others have had to have large bowel resections, colostomy bags fitted and nerve damage, so why risk it?

The idea behind a ‘detox diet’ is that from time to time we need to cleanse our bodies of the toxins consumed in daily life, particularly after a splurge or perhaps before a holiday. However as we have multiple chemically controlled organs such as kidneys, a liver, a gut and the biggest organ in the body, skin, that all work together to constantly filter out, break down and excrete toxins such as alcohol, medications, products of digestion, dead cells and chemicals from pollution and bacteria, perhaps we should think before paying for a detox diet that is unnecessary and potentially harmful.

But if weight loss if your goal, here is one of my favourite healthy eating meals that are quick and easy to prepare and good for the whole family:

Lemongrass and lime chicken skewers

2 tbspns of soy sauce
1 lemongrass stem finely chopped
grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 garlic clove crushed
2 tbpns fresh coriander chopped
600g chicken breast chopped into chunks
Three peppers chopped into chunks

To serve:
Wild rice
Lime wedges

Mix together soy sauce, lemon grass, lemon juice and zest, garlic and coriander, and marinade chicken in sauce for twenty minutes. Skewer chicken and pepper chunks onto skewers and grill for 8-10 minutes, turning often to ensure cooking evenly. Meanwhile boil leftover marinade for several minutes to ensure no bacteria left, and use as a sauce or dressing. Serve with cooked wild rice, salad and lime wedges. Easy peasy, and the leftover chicken goes great with salad the next day!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Watermelon - Could it be the next coconut water?

It’s finally the season for watermelon, so instead of three or four pounds for a slice or a small pot every other time of year, you can now pick up a large whole watermelon for one or two pounds, and why wouldn’t you? The health benefits are endless. In our usual format, we’re going to look at the advantages to eating watermelon, and then add in some recipes.

1. Healthy Heart - Watermelon contains citrulline which boosts arginine levels in the blood, aids relaxation of the blood vessels, decreasing blood pressure and reducing the risk of strokes and heart attacks. So if high blood pressure is a problem, try some melon!

2. Helps fight infection and aid eyesight - watermelon is rich in beta-carotene with just two cups of watermelon supplying a quarter of our daily needs. Beta carotene plays a vital role in fighting infection and maintaining good eye health.

3. Accelerating healing process - Citrulline found in watermelon is an amino acid thats promotes cell division and wound healing.

4. Great if you're dieting - In two cups of watermelon there are only 96kcal, it’s high in fibre and with it’s high liquid content, it will curb your cravings for longer.

5. Improves Male Fertility - So citrulline, in addition to being wonderful for everything else, is also converted into arginine in the body which has been shown to boost sperm count and motility

6. Boosts energy levels - Watermelon’s high water, vitamin and mineral content make it great mid afternoon boost to your energy levels.

7. Anti-ageing properties  - Rich in lycopene, vitamin A and vitamin C, watermelon is great for healthy hair, skin and nails, maintaining their strength and integrity helping you to look young.

Recipe Time!

Watermelon Mint Lemonade - a delicious and very cool looking drink to serve in the summer heat. Add a little vodka for a great cocktail! Serve in jars for a country-outdoor style

2 ½ pounds of watermelon flesh, de-seeded, chopped into chunks
¼ cucumber skinned and cut into chunks
1 cup of fresh lemon juice
¼ cup of mint leave
Rum or vodka to serve, optional

1. Put all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth
2. Strain through a sieve to serve, decorate with mint and lemon slices and enjoy!

Watermelon and herb salad with grilled halloumi - absolutely delicious, really healthy and easy to make

2 cups of watermelon flesh, de-seeded and chopped
1 small bunch of coriander
1 small bunch of mint
240g halloumi cut into eight slices
zest and juice of one lemon
4 tbsp olive oil

1. Heat a griddle pan and fry the halloumi slices on each side for 30 seconds. Leave to cool.
2. Pop the melon, coriander and mint in a bowl, adding the halloumi once cooled.

3. Mix together the lemon juice and olive oil, season to taste and add to the salad. Serve with Italian bread such as ciabatta.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Beetroot - could it prove to be the boost to your workout and brain you want?

Beetroot throughout the years has been used to treat ailments and complaints from fevers and constipation, to skin problems and wounds, and sometimes even acting as an aphrodisiac in eastern medicine. It’s leaves have been used in tea and medicine, but traditionally the most delicious part of the plant is the root, which is commonly sold in it’s red version in shops, but can also be yellow, white and striped in appearance. In this article, we are going to look at some of more recent studies that have proved it’s medicinal qualities, teamed up with some easy recipes to get it into your everyday life.

Being August, beetroot is in season, so it’s at it’s most accessible, full of nutrients and cheapest. Beetroot is naturally rich in iron, so can be used to treat anaemia and fatigue; folate, so for any women trying to get pregnant or in their first trimester of pregnancy, it can decrease the risk of serious birth defects; magnesium, vital for healthy bones, muscles and nerves and processing energy from food, and vitamins A, B6 and C. So get munching!

Blood Pressure

Beetroot is rich in nitrates, which when eaten, the body converts into nitric oxide, a chemical thought to lower blood pressure, and a review of all the studies carried out in 2013 of the effect of beetroot juice consumption and blood pressure show a direct link to lowering blood pressure.

Exercise Performance

Another well conducted study carried out in 2013, looked at the effects of beetroot consumption on inactive and moderately active athletes, with marked improvements in performance and stamina, in both cases, however showing little effect on elite athletes. So drop the protein shakes and all hail beetroot smoothies!


Last but certainly not least, this little purpley/red miracle, in a 2010 study, has shown that a diet high in beetroot, can improve blood flow to certain areas of the brain, reducing the risks or further deterioration of dementia in some adults.

So with benefits in there for all age groups, right from before you’re even born to older adults, rich in iron, folate and nitrates, beetroot could be the next superfood. So here are some recipes for you to try at home, all of which have been tested and slightly modified by myself, but originally taken from websites such as ‘BBC Good Food’ and ‘Good Housekeeping’.

Beetroot and Orange Salad

  • 3 large oranges
  • 250g pack cooked beetroot (not in vinegar), cut into slim wedges
  • 100g toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 150g bag baby spinach leaves
  • cooked chicken breast, sliced
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2tbsp clear honey
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  1. Using a sharp knife, remove the peel, then segment the oranges. Squeeze the juice from the pith into a small jam jar
  2. Mix together the orange segments, beetroot, hazelnuts, spinach and cooked chicken breasts in a large bowl
  3. Mix together the remaining ingredients for the dressing with some seasoning. When you're ready to serve, toss the salad and dressing together.
Beetroot and chocolate cake - very easy to make and add to for your own tastes (try an orange cream!)
  • 1 large cooked beetroot, about 175g in weight, roughly chopped
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cocoa powder - good quality
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200ml sunflower oil
  • 100g dark chocolate, not too bitter, about 75% is fine
  • cream to serve

  1. Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Tip the beetroot into a food processor and blitz until chopped. Add a pinch of salt and the rest of the ingredients, except the oil and chocolate. When completely mixed, add the oil in a steady stream, as if you were making mayonnaise.
  2. When all the oil has been added, stir in the chocolate, the tip the mix into a lined 900g loaf tin. Cook for 1 hour until an inserted skewer comes out practically clean. Leave the load to cool on a rack. Serve in slices with cream.
The addition of the beetroot will make the cake moist and incredibly rich.