Carbohydrates – the good, the bad and the ugly

Fierce controversy rages in the popular press about carbohydrates and their influence on our health.

Thanks to the popularity of the Atkins, South Beach and other low-carbohydrate diets, many believe that all carbohydrates are “bad” and a cause of the obesity epidemic.

Like many issues associated with nutrition, this is a dangerous over-simplification, rather like the “all fat is bad” message.

We now know that carbohydrates, the staple of most diets, are neither all good nor all bad.

Some kinds of carbohydrates promote health whilst others, when eaten often and in large quantities, actually increase the risk for obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers.

Easily digested carbohydrates from white bread, white rice, white pasta, biscuits, cakes, pastries, sugary drinks and other highly processed foods may indeed contribute to weight gain and interfere with weight loss.

Bad carbohydrates

Bad carbohydrates

Whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and other sources of intact carbohydrates do just the opposite – they promote good health.

Good carbohydrates

Good carbohydrates

Blanket dismissal of carbohydrates is thus misleading as they are an important part of a healthy diet.

Carbohydrates provide the body with the fuel it needs for physical activity and for proper organ function.

The brain, for example, is totally reliant on carbohydrates to power its activity – 40 per cent of the carbohydrates we consume are used to provide glucose for the brain.

The best sources of carbohydrates – fruits, vegetables and whole grains – also deliver essential vitamins and minerals, fibre and a rich array of protective phytonutrients.

For optimal health, obtain your grains intact from foods such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and other possibly unfamiliar grains like quinoa, whole oats, millet, buckwheat and bulgur.

Until recently, you could only buy whole-grain products in organic or non-traditional stores. Today they are available in most mainstream supermarkets. Here are some suggestions for adding more good carbohydrates to your diet:

  • Start the day with whole grains. If you like hot cereals, try porridge made from whole oats, quinoa or brown rice. If you are a cold cereal person, look for muesli or one that lists whole wheat, whole oats, or other whole grain first on the ingredient list. Have fresh or dried fruit with your cereal.
  • Use whole grain breads or crackers for lunch or snacks. Check the label to make sure that whole wheat or another whole grain is the first ingredient listed. Oatcakes with hummus (made from chickpeas) are an excellent ‘good carb’ snack.
  • Reduce intake of potatoes. Instead, try brown rice or even “newer” grains like quinoa, millet, buckwheat or barley with your dinner. There is nothing wrong with potatoes per se – my message is about increasing the variety of starches in your diet, as each grain contains a wide array of nutrients and phytonutrients beneficial for health.
  • Exchange ‘white’ foods for ‘brown’ foods. Brown rice usually needs to be cooked for longer than white rice. If the whole grain products are too chewy for you, look for those that are made with half whole-wheat flour and half white flour.
  • Beans, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables. Beans are an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates as well as a great source of protein. Try adding them to casseroles and soups. Aim to eat 5 to 10 portions of vegetables and fruit per day.

For more information about the effect of diet on health, plant-based diets, recipes and tips please sign up for my free newsletter and visit my website.

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Component of vegetable protein may reduce blood pressure

grains and pulsesResearchers examined dietary amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and their effect on blood pressure.

Glutamic acid is the most common amino acid and accounts for almost a quarter (23 percent) of the protein in vegetable protein and almost one fifth (18 percent) of animal protein.

They found that a 4.72 percent higher dietary intake of the amino acid glutamic acid as a percent of total dietary protein correlated with lower group average systolic blood pressure, lower by 1.5 to 3.0 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Group average diastolic blood pressure was lower by 1.0 to 1.6 mm Hg. 

Systolic blood pressure is the force when the heart beats; diastolic pressure is the pressure when the heart rests between beats. 

This average lower blood pressure seems small from an individual perspective. But, on a population scale, it represents a potentially important reduction, said Jeremiah Stamler, M.D., lead author of the study. 

“It is estimated that reducing a population’s average systolic blood pressure by 2 mm Hg could cut stroke death rates by 6 percent and reduce mortality from coronary heart disease by 4 percent,”

said Stamler, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Preventive Medicine in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. 

Based on American Heart Association 2009 statistics, 6 percent of stroke deaths would be more than 8,600 people and four percent of coronary heart deaths represents about 17,800 lives saved per year. 

“High blood pressure is a major cardiovascular disease risk factor, and blood pressure tends to rise with age starting early in life so that the majority of the U.S. population age 35 and older is affected by pre-hypertension or hypertension,” he said. “We have a massive public health problem, and trying to address it by the strategy that has prevailed for years — diagnosis and drug treatment — is inadequate. While clinically useful, it fails as a long-term approach for ending this massive problem.” 

The only long-term approach is to prevent pre-hypertension and hypertension by improved lifestyle behaviours, Stamler said. This includes maintaining a healthy body weight, having a fruit and vegetable-rich eating pattern and participating in regular physical activity.  

Researchers analyzed data from the International Study on Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP), on 4,680 people ages 40-59 in 17 rural and urban populations in China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. INTERMAP is a basic population study aiming to clarify the role of multiple nutrients in the etiology of unfavourable blood pressure patterns prevailing for most middle-aged and older individuals. Stamler and colleagues analyzed data from eight blood pressure tests, four diet recall surveys and two 24-hour urine collections for each participant.

“Although our research group and others earlier reported an association between higher consumption of vegetable protein and lower blood pressure, as far as we know this is the first paper on the relation of glutamic acid intake to blood pressure,”

said Ian J. Brown, Ph.D., co-author of the study and a research associate in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Imperial College London.

Common sources of vegetable protein include beans, whole grains — including whole grain rice, pasta, breads and cereals — and soy products such as tofu. Durum wheat, which is used to make pasta, is also a good source of vegetable protein.

Stamler noted that there are no data on the possible effects of glutamic acid supplements and emphasized the importance of “improved habitual food intake for the prevention and control of hypertension, not popping pills.”

To learn how to cook with vegetable proteins and other whole foods, why not come along to a Cooking for Health course, held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.

Why mothers don’t breastfeed

Breastfeeding rates in the UK are much lower than in many European countries. Less than 1 per cent of mothers in the UK are exclusively breastfeeding at six months. 

breastfeedingpublic

A focus group study in the UK suggested a number of reasons why women may not breastfeed or why they stop breastfeeding early. These were as follows: 

  • The attitude of other people – women felt that breastfeeding in public was unacceptable and embarrassing, while bottle-feeding was accepted by everybody and in all places. A lack of places to breastfeed out of sight restricted women’s ability to get out of the house. This may be a bigger issue for low-income women, who may not have the option of breastfeeding in the car. Some women reported breastfeeding in public toilets as the only option. Women wished that cafés and shops could provide places to breastfeed with some privacy.
  • Attitudes of family and friends – some women said that even family and friends found it ‘repulsive’ to be in the same room when they were breastfeeding. Some grandparents thought it excluded them from having the chance to feed the new baby. It was clear that the opinion of family and friends was a stronger influence than that of health practitioners. 
  • Lack of knowledge – women vaguely knew that breastfeeding was supposed to be beneficial, but they could not name any benefits, and were not convinced about them. In the study only one woman had learnt at school about benefits of breastfeeding; most did not hear about it until they were pregnant. Feeding was not well covered in antenatal classes. 
  • Lack of professional support – women experienced difficulty in trying to establish breastfeeding but were unwilling ‘to bother the midwife’. Bottle feeding seemed easier. 
  • Experience – breastfeeding seemed difficult and painful, and many women experienced problems ranging from getting the baby latched on, sore nipples, and disturbed sleep. Women, especially adolescents, complained of a lack of freedom to travel/socialise/work. 
  • Worry about baby’s weight gain – women said that health visitors were ‘always worried about weight gain’.

Although some women in this study mentioned the benefits of breastfeeding – including feelings of wellbeing and relaxation during feeds, convenience (less washing up), and less expense, it is clear that there are significant barriers for women in the UK which impact on their choice to breastfeed. 

Source: McFadden A & Toole G (2006) Exploring women’s views of breastfeeding: a focus group study within an area with high levels of socio-economic deprivation. Maternal & Child Nutrition 2: 156-68.

For further information about healthy food for babies and children, please come to a Cooking for Health course led by nutrition expert, Dr Jane Philpott.

Alzheimer’s Disease, metabolic disorders and the role of diet

Accumulating evidence for the role of metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity and hypertension in increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, is reviewed in a new paper published this month in the Archives of Neurology.

alzheimersbrain

In the same journal, compelling evidence is presented that higher pre-diagnosis total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and diabetes are associated with faster cognitive decline in patients with incident Alzheimer’s disease.

A cohort of 156 patients with incident Alzheimer’s Disease (mean age 83 years) were followed for up to 10 years.  Changes in a composite score of cognitive ability were monitored from diagnosis onwards.

“These findings indicate that controlling vascular conditions may be one way to delay the course of Alzheimer’s, which would be a major development in the treatment of this devastating disease as currently there are few treatments available to slow its progression,”

said Yaakov Stern, Ph.D., a professor at the Taub Institute for the Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center at Columbia University Medical Center, and senior author of the paper.

“Preventing heart disease, stroke and diabetes – or making sure these conditions are well managed in patients diagnosed with them – can potentially slow the disease progression of Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Stern.

Diets high in fruit, vegetables, fibre and unsaturated fats, and low in sugar, salt and saturated fat are known to reduce the risk of a range of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  This means eating more plant-based foods and less processed and animal-based foods.

wholegrainsandveg

Stabilising blood sugar is crucial.  This may be done by eating a diet with a low glycaemic load, that is, one that includes moderate quantities of complex carbohydrates which release glucose slowly into the bloodstream.  Whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, millet and buckwheat are valuable for helping to ensure smooth regulation of blood sugar.  In contrast, highly refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, white pasta and table sugar, create a roller-coaster of blood sugar highs and lows, which if left unchecked, can ultimately give rise to insulin resistance and eventually to diabetes.  Potatoes release sugar into the bloodstream almost as fast as table sugar and thus should be eaten sparingly, unless you are lean and exercise regularly.  Consuming protein with carbohydrates at every meal has also been found to help regulation of blood sugar.

Increasing the quantity of vegetables and fruit in the diet is also vital.  Blood sugar levels are easier to maintain if vegetables are emphasized more than fruit, as some fruit contains a lot of sugar.  A minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day is recommended.  For easy tips for increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet please click here.

Unsaturated fats found in plant oils, such as olive oil and the oils of nuts and seeds, and in oily fish, are beneficial for preventing heart disease and other vascular health conditions.  For practical suggestions for ways to incorporate more healthy unsaturated fats in your diet please click here.

For information and practical tuition in how to put all these recommendations together to create fabulous food that protects you from diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, please come to a Cooking for Health course, run by nutrition expert, Dr Jane Philpott.

Long term health is affected by maternal nutrition

This month, the British Medical Association (BMA) Board of Science has published a report on Early Life Nutrition and Lifelong Health.  The report reviews the evidence that the diets of women of reproductive age, and those of their foetuses and young children, are significant factors in influencing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, brittle bone disease and even some forms of cancer and mental illness, later in those children’s lives.

Lead author Professor Mark Hanson, director of the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease at the University of Southampton, comments:

“Society and public health organisations need to pay much greater attention to these issues if the rising epidemic of these diseases is to be prevented. Tackling the diseases once children reach adulthood is often too late. By taking steps to improve maternal nutrition we could save many people from a lifetime of ill health.”

obese-kids1

Unbalanced nutrition can result from both inadequate and excessive dietary intakes, and both can exist at the same time in many populations. Moreover diets which lead to over-nutrition (e.g., excess calories) are often micronutrient poor.

There is strong evidence that undernutrition (stunting or wasting) during the first two years of life leads to impaired adult cognitive, physical and economic capacity, which cannot be repaired even if nutrition improves later in childhood.

Improved availability of energy-rich foods has however, enabled large numbers of people to escape from hunger. This has brought considerable benefits, but is already giving rise to obesity and obesity-related disease. Developing countries are reporting high rates of coronary heart disease (CHD) and type 2 diabetes that have appeared in one or two generations to become leading causes of morbidity and mortality. These epidemics are expected to intensify.  By the year 2030, the prevalence of diabetes is predicted to rise by over 100 per cent in India, China, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East; an increase far exceeding that in high-income countries (54%).

There is good evidence that an increased deposition of fat tissue in foetuses and babies is an outcome of both undernutrition and excessive nutrition.  Low birth weight babies born to underweight women in India have proportionately more fat than would be expected for their body weight.  Maternal obesity, another form of maternal malnutrition, also increases the fat tissue of the foetus and newborn baby. This phenomenon is exacerbated further if maternal obesity is complicated by gestational diabetes.

Extremes of maternal body composition, either excessive thinness or obesity, are associated with adverse patterns of foetal and infant development leading to poorer long-term health.

“It’s not only women who need to be careful about the quality of their food intake. Prospective fathers should also eat well and steps need to be taken to ensure that young people understand the importance of good nutrition as part of their lifestyle choices.”

The numbers of women who breastfeed their infants is still too low, with many women starting to breastfeed but then stopping too soon, and many infants being fed inappropriate foods at the weaning stage.  Breastfeeding rates in the UK are much lower than in many European countries. Less than1 per cent of mothers in the UK are exclusively breastfeeding at six months.

breastfeeding1

While there are gaps in the evidence about the long-term consequences of poor maternal and infant nutrition, and we do not as yet understand the mechanisms fully, it is clear that steps need to be taken to promote healthy diets in young women and their families, to encourage breastfeeding and the use of appropriate complementary foods.

More advice could be given to people with young children about the importance of a balanced diet for those children and more support could be given to women to help them start breastfeeding and to continue with it.

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Fruit and vegetable consumption low across the world

eating-burger_280_528732a1A new study to be published in the May edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine paints a depressing picture of the dietary habits of modern man across the globe.

National Diet and Nutrition Surveys in the UK have found that less than 15 per cent of the population eats the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day; a similar situation exists in the USA.  It appears that the same is also true in developing countries, where traditional diets are threatened by the introduction of processed food.

A survey of over 200,000 people in developing countries showed that overall 77.6 per cent of men and 78.4 per cent of women consumed less than the suggested five daily servings of produce. 

“Low fruit and vegetable consumption is a risk factor for overweight and obesity, and adequate consumption decreases risk for developing several chronic diseases,” said lead author Spencer Moore. “The release of the 2002-2003 World Health Survey data provided a unique opportunity to examine global differences in low fruit and vegetable consumption in a way that has until now simply not been possible.”

There were wide variations among nations, ranging from 37 percent of men in Ghana who did not meet that standard – to 99 percent of Pakistani men. The researchers saw similar findings in women with the same two countries at the high and low ends of the spectrum.

The prevalence of low fruit and vegetable intake increased with age and decreased with income. This contrasts with findings from the UK where, on average, older people consume more fruit and vegetables than younger people.

family-eating-banana1

Epidemiological studies show that societies consuming high quantities of fruit, vegetables and whole grains are at lower risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers than those that consume low quantities.  Such societies are often, but not exclusively, in less economically developed parts of the world.  As GDP per capita increases, countries opt for eating more meat, more processed food and less fruit, vegetables and whole grains.  This dietary shift leads to an epidemiological shift – away from infectious diseases and other diseases associated with lack of food, towards chronic noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer. 

The decline in consumption of fruit and vegetables in developing countries is disturbing as it is likely to give rise to an increase in the incidence of chronic diseases, leading to huge burdens on the healthcare systems of those countries, which may be ill-equipped to cope.

For information and practical tuition in how to create mouth-watering dishes with locally produced fruit and vegetables, come along to Cooking for Health courses held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.

If you are a caterer, or a professional responsible for encouraging healthier catering practices in your community, you will benefit from participating in a two-day training course on Healthier Catering.   By the end of the course, participants will: 

  • Understand the basic principles of nutrition
  • Be aware of the importance of food in the maintenance of health and well-being
  • Appreciate the role of lifestyles and culture in influencing diet
  • Recognise the potential benefits for both caterers and customers of providing a choice of healthier options
  • Know more about ingredient selection and methods of food production and processing that can be used to create healthier options, whilst being attractive and convenient to modern tastes and lifestyles
  • Be able to apply appropriate and relevant skills and knowledge when advising catering businesses or when planning, preparing, promoting and serving healthier foods

For further details about the course content and the course tutor, Dr Jane Philpott, please see http://cookingforhealth-uk.com/healthier-catering.php.

Reference

Hall JN, et al. Global variability in fruit and vegetable consumption. Am J Prev Med. 36(5), 2009.

Over-eating when eating out

Recently, I gave the menu of a well-known chain restaurant to a group of students and asked them to select what they would eat if they were dining there. 

 

They selected a starter (garlic bread with cheese), a main course (traditional lasagne with a salad), a dessert (ice cream) and a drink (a can of coke). 

 

Using the restaurant’s own nutritional information, they calculated the nutrient content of what they had chosen (Table 1).  The results left the students open-mouthed.

 

Their menu selection had provided:

 

n 106% of the guideline daily amount of calories (assuming 2000 kcal per day);

n 141-171% of the guideline daily amount of protein (depending on whether they were male or female);

n 61% of the guideline daily carbohydrate;

n 109% of the guideline daily amount of total fat;

n 192% of the guideline daily amount of saturated fat

n 52% of the guideline daily amount of salt. 

 

It is worth noting that the dietary reference value for salt in the UK is 6 g per day, compared with 2.3 g per day in the USA.

 

Thus, one meal out would have provided more than the entire day’s requirement for calories; enough protein to last for one and a half days; and enough saturated fat to last for two days.

 

Most people have no idea of the nutrient content of the food they are eating, nor of the potentially damaging effects on their health of a dietary excess of sugar, saturated fat and salt. 

 

Given that at least one–third of household expenditure on food and drink is spent on food eaten outside the home in the UK, food manufacturers and caterers have a real opportunity to contribute to an improvement in public health whilst also making a profit themselves. 

 

There is now convincing research evidence to suggest that increasing the amount of fruit, vegetables and whole grains in the diet, whilst decreasing the amount of sugar, saturated fat and salt, helps to protect the body from chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and various cancers.

 

A two-day professional training course is offered, tailored to equip caterers, and those involved in encouraging healthier catering practices, with information and practical tools to achieve healthier eating in the population.

 

By the end of the course, participants will:

  • Understand the basic principles of nutrition
  • Be aware of the importance of food in the maintenance of health and well-being
  • Appreciate the role of lifestyles and culture in influencing diet
  • Recognise the potential benefits for both caterers and customers of providing a choice of healthier options
  • Know more about ingredient selection and methods of food production and processing that can be used to create healthier options, whilst being attractive and convenient to modern tastes and lifestyles
  • Be able to apply appropriate and relevant skills and knowledge when advising catering businesses or when planning, preparing, promoting and serving healthier foods

For further information on the course content and the course tutor, Dr Jane Philpott, please click http://cookingforhealth-uk.com/healthier-catering.php.

 

 

Table 1

Menu item

Calories per portion

Protein g per portion

Carbohydrate g per portion

Total fat g per portion

Saturated fat g per portion

Salt g per portion

 

Starter

 

568

 

29.8

 

35.6

 

34

 

16.5

 

1.15

 

Main course

 

934

 

 

42.2

 

74.4

 

33.1

 

14.6

 

1.84

 

Dessert

 

 

475

 

5.5

 

18.8

 

18.1

 

11.1

 

0.15

 

Drink

 

 

139

 

0

 

35

 

0

 

0

 

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

 

 

2116

 

77.5

 

163.8

 

85.2

 

42.2

 

3.14

 

Gov guideline

 

 

2000 kcal

 

45 g/day (women)

55 g/day (men)

 

267 g per day

 

78 g per day

 

22 g per day

 

6 g per day

 

% of guidelines

 

 

106%

 

171% (women)

141% (men)

 

 

61%

 

109%

 

192%

 

52%

 

 

 

Cinnamon – spice up your health

Cinnamon and health benefits

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of evergreen trees (Cinnamomum verum, C. zeylandicum, C. aromaticum), native to Sri Lanka and other Asian countries.  The bark is peeled away from the tree and curls up into tubes, called quills, as it dries.

 

Cutting cinnamon bark

 

In addition to its use as a spice, cinnamon or its oil is used as a flavouring agent in pharmaceutical, personal health and cosmetic products.

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known.  It was imported to Egypt from China as early as 2000 BC, where it was used as a medicinal herb, a flavouring for drinks and as an embalming agent.  At one time it was considered to be even more valuable than gold.  Cinnamon is also mentioned in the Bible.

Moses was commanded:

“Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels” (Exodus 30:23)

Moses and the Red Sea

 

In Proverbs, the lover says:

“I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon” (Proverbs 7:17)

And Solomon describes the beauty of his beloved as

“Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices” (Song of Solomon 4:14)

The Roman Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year’s supply of cinnamon at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina in 65 AD, to express the depth of his loss.

As its popularity grew, cinnamon was one of the first spices to be traded regularly between Europe and the Near East.

Cinnamon spice

 

Cinnamon has many medicinal uses.  It is reported to be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis, asthma, cancer, diarrhoea, fever, heart problems, insomnia, menstrual problems, peptic ulcers, psoriasis, and spastic muscles.  Some of the confirmed effects of cinnamon are as a sedative for smooth muscle, circulatory stimulant, digestive aid, antibiotic, anticonvulsant, diuretic and antiulcerative.

Some studies suggest that cinnamon may be useful for people with diabetes.  In one trial, 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon taken daily for forty days reduced fasting blood glucose by 18 to 29 per cent, triglycerides by 23 to 30 per cent, LDL cholesterol by 7 to 27 per cent, and total cholesterol by 12 to 26 per cent.  In contrast, there were no clear changes for the subjects who did not take cinnamon[1].

Another trial showed that a cinnamon extract had a moderate effect in reducing fasting plasma glucose concentrations in diabetic patients with poor glycaemic control[2].

Other research has shown that a substance in cinnamon called methylhydroxychalcone acts as an insulin mimetic; it stimulated glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis to a similar level as insulin[3].

Cinnamon may thus be useful for helping to treat insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, conditions that are becoming increasingly more common in the UK and elsewhere.

Statistics published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in February 2009 indicate that the incidence of diabetes in the UK climbed 74 per cent between 1997 and 2003.  By 2005, over 4 per cent of the population were classified as having some type of diabetes.  The majority of new cases are type 2 diabetes, linked to diet and growing obesity rates. A research team from Spain and Sweden analysed the results, and made it clear that the trend was not due to more screening tests or an ageing population.

Ideas for incorporating cinnamon into your diet

  • Add 1 tsp ground cinnamon to oat porridge at breakfast
  • Drizzle flaxseed oil over whole-wheat toast and then sprinkle with cinnamon and a little rice malt syrup
  • Simmer a cinnamon stick with 1 cup rice milk  for a delicious warm drink
  • Add a cinnamon stick to home-made squash soup to make a warming lunchtime meal
  • When poaching fish, add cinnamon sticks to the poaching liquid
  • Add ground cinnamon when preparing curries or spicy Middle Eastern dishes using chickpeas
  • Add ground cinnamon to stewed apple and mix with ground almonds for a creamy dessert

 

For recipe ideas, tips and information about following a plant-based diet please sign up for my free newsletter and check out my website.

You can also find me on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

 

References

[1] Khan et al. Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes.  Diabetes Care 26:3215-3218, 2003

[2] Mang et al. Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA1c, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2 European Journal of Clinical Investigation:Volume 36(5)May 2006p 340-344

[3] Jarvill-Taylor et al.  A Hydroxychalcone Derived from Cinnamon Functions as a Mimetic for Insulin in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 20, No. 4, 327-336 (2001)

How to make seitan

SEITAN is the protein extracted from wheat or spelt and is sometimes called “wheat meat”.  In the Far East, seitan has been used as a source of vegetarian protein for centuries.  It is rich, nourishing and creates strength and vitality.  Seitan may be used instead of meat in a wide range of dishes, for example, spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne, cottage pie, stir-fries, spring rolls and casseroles.  It is not recommended for those who are gluten intolerant or who suffer from coeliac disease.

Broccoli with vegan seitan as a meat substitute

Broccoli and seitan stir fry

Seitan can be bought ready-made in jars from health food stores but it is very easy to make at home.

yakso seitan

Here are the instructions for making your own seitan:

1.  Choosing the flour

It is only possible to make seitan from strong wheat or spelt flour typically used to make bread.  Other flours do not have sufficient quantities of protein of the right structure to stay bound together.  Wheat flour makes a harder, more firm seitan than spelt flour.

2.  Ingredients

  • 6 cups whole wheat or spelt bread flour or high-gluten unbleached white flour
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce
  • 12 slices fresh ginger, each 1/8 inch thick,
  • 1 piece of kombu, about 3 inches long.

3.  Method

Mix the flour and slowly add the water to make a medium-stiff but not sticky dough.

Knead the dough by hand on a breadboard or tabletop, until it feels a bit like an earlobe, for about 10-15 minutes.   Add a little more water if needed to get the right consistency.

Allow the dough to rest in a bowl of cold water for about 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare the stock.

In a large pot, bring to boil 2.5 litres of water.  Add the tamari or soy, ginger, and kombu, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.  This stock must be cold before it is used.  The cool liquid causes the gluten to contract and prevents the seitan from acquiring a bread-like texture.  The stock will be used to cook the seitan later.

Meanwhile, it is time to start washing the dough; use warm water to start with. Warm water loosens the dough and makes the task easier. Some people knead the dough while it is immersed in water in a bowl.  Alternatively, it can be rinsed under running water, with the flow stream about as thick as a pencil. The dough can be held in/over a colander to catch any pieces of dough that fall off.

The water will look very milky at first and then gradually becomes more ‘transparent’.  In the final rinses, use cold water to tighten the gluten.  After about 10 to 15 minutes, you will begin to feel the dough become firmer and more elastic.  The water will no longer become cloudy as you knead it.  To make sure you have kneaded and rinsed it enough, lift the dough out of the water and squeeze it.  The liquid oozing out should be clear, not milky.  The size of the ball will be considerably smaller than when you began.

Place the rinsed seitan in an empty bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes until the dough relaxes. After the dough has been rinsed for the last time in cold water, the gluten will have tightened and the dough will be tense, tough, and resistant to taking on any other shape.

Put the seitan in the cold tamari stock.  Bring the stock to a boil, lower the temperature, and simmer in the stock for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (45 minutes if the seitan is cut into small pieces).  This second step may also be done in a pressure cooker, in which case it would take between 30-45 minutes.

To store seitan, keep it refrigerated, immersed in the stock.  Use it within 1 week of preparation.

seitan-sweet-and-sour

For recipe ideas, tips and information about following a plant-based diet please sign up for my free newsletter and check out my website.

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Engineering food for health?

Agricultural economists have suggested that if everyone were to comply with government dietary guidelines, significant changes would be required in the global agricultural system. 

For example, if everyone ate less sugar, there would be serious ramifications for sugar cane plantations and sugar beet growers.  Maize production would also be affected as corn syrups now account for more than half the total energy-containing sweetener consumption.

At present, at least one-third of cereal grain production is fed to animals.  If the demand for lean meat increases, retail prices would rise, and higher fat products would shift to pet food or industrial uses, or be shipped to export markets.  A reduction in total fat consumption would reduce the requirement for soybeans by 36 per cent and countries exporting tropical oils would also be affected.

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If everyone ate more fish, as dietary guidelines suggest, there would be serious implications for fish production.  According to experts, the oceans have already reached their maximum productivity and the quality of available fish has declined markedly.  Fish farming is of concern due to its damaging effects on the environment.

National Diet and Nutrition Surveys in the UK show that the population is consuming much less fish than is necessary to supply the essential omega 3 fatty acids to the diet.  Deficiency of omega 3 oils and the high level of saturated and trans fats in the diet has been linked with many physical health problems, including heart disease and stroke, cancer, inflammatory conditions and auto-immune diseases. Research also shows that a lack of omega-3 may increase the risk of depression and other mental health conditions.

Some scientists and economists believe that the changes to global agriculture necessary to meet dietary requirements would be so expensive or disruptive that they cannot be contemplated.  Instead of trying to encourage healthier eating in the population, they propose improving existing food using biotechnology, nutrient fortification and development of ‘functional’ foods with added nutritional value.

Food scientists at the University of Massachusetts have recently reported investigations into more economical and reliable ways to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into foods.  They are developing new microgel capsules to trap the omega-3 fatty acids, chemically stabilize them to prevent spoilage, and allow them to be easily incorporated in beverages, yogurts, dressings, desserts and ice cream, for example. All this apparently without sacrificing taste, appearance or texture.

Other research is looking into the possibility of time-release nanolaminated coatings around fat droplets for delivery at different levels in the human body. For example, coating droplets with dietary fibres so some will break down in the mouth to deliver flavour immediately, while others break down in the stomach or small intestine to deliver peptides that signal fullness or satiety.

Still others might be designed not to break down until they reach the large intestine, where the laminated droplets would deliver anti-hypertensive or cancer-fighting food compounds that can’t survive digestive acids in the stomach. By manipulating food structure, food scientists are also exploring ways to increase solubility in the small intestine so more of the nutrients are absorbed.

Altering food in this kind of way takes us even further from the natural foods our bodies evolved to depend on and raises a whole new set of ethical questions.  Importantly, will such changes to the structure of food have unintended consequences for human health?  Or is this the only way forward in a world with a burgeoning population facing a burgeoning health crisis?

If you would prefer to eat natural whole foods, why not come along to a Cooking for Health course, held throughout the year in the UK.  Whether you are young or old, male or female, ominivorous, vegetarian or vegan, if you are looking for a natural approach to your health and well-being, you will find this course fascinating and potentially life-changing.