Author Archives: jessicakateferrari

H’av-ocado

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For those of you that know me you will know I am never far from an avocado… I often have them on my desk, in my handbag or rolling around the kitchen counter. I am currently working on a post about the health benefits of avocado so watch out for that but in the mean time I wanted to share some of my favourite ways of eating avocado.

Firstly, it makes a brilliant breakfast! I love it on toast since the texture of a ripe avocado is buttery and this is why avocado makes an excellent replacement for butter in healthy baking (perfect for dairy-free or vegan cooking). Seasoned with freshly ground salt and pepper, a sprig of basel and a few roasted cherry tomatoes makes a divine and filling breakfast. Another breakfast idea is using a firm avocado slice as a replacement for bread in eggs Benedict which is perfect for those following a gluten-free or Paleo diet. Eggs and avocado is a delicious and nutritious combination!

One of my favourite avocado recipes is avocado stuffed with prawns and this makes a brilliant dinner party starter. I like to add finely chopped tomato and red onion and drizzle with lime juice. Beetroot, salads or rice dishes also make good a stuffing. Another good starter or a light refreshing dinner on a hot summer evening is avocado and cucumber gazpacho – simply blend avocado, cucumber, vegetable stock, onion, garlic, coriander, lemon juice and seasoning and refrigerate for an hour before serving. Cherry tomato or sun-dried tomato and avocado kebabs make a great side dish at a BBQ. If you are not dairy-free, adding feta or mozzarella to these kebabs is a yummy addition.

My inner food obsessed Italian is a lover of pasta and pasta dishes are another great way to use avocados. The softness of ripe avocados is a wonderful alternative to more traditional sauces made with cream and the characteristic soft flavour of avocado goes brilliantly with a wide range of ingredients. One delicious pasta dish combines prawns, pine nuts, lime zest, chilli, and chopped coriander with a creamy avocado sauce. Pancetta, peas and parmesan shavings is another yummy option. If you are gluten free you can use brown rice or quinoa pasta.

Avocados are also a brilliant ingredient in healthy yet deliciously satisfying desserts. I’ve mentioned using avocado in baking but avocados can also be used to make a divine chocolate mousse which combines the creamy rich texture of ripe avocado with the intensely chocolately taste of cacao. Adding coconut oil adds an extra punch of fantastic nutrition. Raw honey, maple syrup or agave can be used to sweeten the mousse. Another good dessert recipe is frozen lime and avocado tartlets which are made by blending ripe avocado, ripe banana and lime juice in a blender until smooth creamy, adding this mixture to pre-baked tartlet cases and freezing for a few hours before serving. These can be served garnished with berries and a sprig of mint. Avocado can also be used to make a healthy and divinely creamy dairy-free ice-cream.

Avocados are also fantastic in smoothies – try blending ripe avocado with coconut milk and adding either cashew or a nut butter for a nutty avocado smoothie, frozen berries or tropical fruits like pineapple and mango for a deliciously sweet and fruity smoothie or cacao for a silky chocolate avocado smoothie.  For more vegetable based smoothies (so lower in sugar) try blending with spinach, cucumber and mint leaves.

Breakfasts, starters, soups, sides, main dishes and desserts. When it comes to the avocado the options are endless… Oh and did I mention that the avocado is one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet…? So maybe chuck one in your handbag too…

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Is bee pollen all it is cracked up to bee?

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You may have heard that the latest “buzz” is bee pollen. Up there with the odder health foods I have come across, bee pollen consists of pollen that the bees have collected on their bodies mixed with, rather delightfully, bee saliva and enzymes. Intrigued by the countless and quite frankly too-good-to-be-true health claims relating to bee pollen I decided to do a little digging on the topic.

Bee pollen is not a natural component of any foods commonly consumed, including honey but it may be taken as a supplement in capsules or tablets or added to food in powder or granular form. On average, pollen contains 60% carbohydrates, 20% protein, 7% fat, 7% moisture (water) and 6% minerals. A 22.6% protein pollen has been shown to be a superior source of amino acids (when measured by dry weight percentage of crude protein) compared to a whole egg or to cow’s milk. As well as being rich in proteins and free amino acids, bee pollen is rich in B vitamins, flavonoids, carotenoids, and the trace minerals potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium, selenium, sodium, magnesium, zinc, iodine, manganese. Many of its diverse health benefits are thought to due to its antioxidant, antifungal and antimicrobial compounds and flavonoids.

So far preliminary research has shown bee pollen may help to decrease PMS symptoms and improve symptoms of prostatitis in men. However, research is in its very early days and both these studies are small and not yet well replicated. Other potential uses identified so far include stimulating ovarian function, being used as a remedy for hay fever and allergies, weight-control, lowering high blood pressure, diabetes, endurance and energy, libido, mental function and health and beauty and many more, although at this point it is difficult to separate the hype from the scientific fact.

Another point of concern is that the exact component varies from batch to batch and by location since the pollen is unique to the plants the bee has visited and if pollen is collected from plants where pesticides and other chemicals are used then these will remain in the bee pollen that is consumed. Also, people with severe pollen or bee allergies, and pregnant or breast-feeding women should not use bee pollen under any circumstances

Overall, bee pollen is certainly a “superfood”, but as are most foods produced by Mother Earth before processing robs them of their super powers!  I would certainly think about supplementing with bee pollen if I had particular deficiencies. However, as with most supplements it would seem that quality is key and don’t believe every health claim you read…

Toxic cocktails cannot be the answer to our mental health crisis

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The recent tragic news of Robin Williams’ death has reminded us of the too frequent tragic consequences of depression. A recent survey of 2,000 people showed 44% experience anxiety and 39% experience depressed mood and diagnoses of depression is increasing every year. There is absolutely no way that it can be natural that this many people live with these feelings on a daily base. Clearly we are getting something very wrong and, like many things, a good place to start looking is nutrition. Too often these individuals are let down by doctors and placed on a cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs which do nothing to tackle the root of the problem. In 2010, a staggering 1 in 5 Americans were taking prescription medication for mental health disorders and new research suggests that GPs are nearly 50 times more likely to prescribe drugs for depression and other mental illnesses instead of other far safer medically proven alternatives. Concern over pharmaceutical antidepressants is continuing to rise, especially SSRIs, which are known to increase the risks of suicide in those taking them. How it can be considered okay to treat depression with a drug known to increase the risk of suicide just baffles me. There is so much I have to learn on this fascinating area but below are seven simple and, most importantly, safe ways to help overcome depression.

  • Remove allergens – we all know the importance of detoxification and an important part of this detoxification process, particularly for depression and mental health, is the elimination of allergen causing foods. The late Dr Abram Hoffer had an extraordinarily high success rate with curing mental illness, in particular schizophrenia, by first and foremost eliminating common allergens such as gluten and dairy. I have recently read “Grain Brain” which makes some very interesting connections between gluten and mental health and I will write a post on this separately soon.

  •  Feed your cells what they are crying out for – many symptoms of poor mental health including depression and anxiety are linked to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and such deficiencies are hardly surprising given the poor nutrient content of food in today’s society. Ditching the processed fake foods for actual real nutrient dense food will flood your cells with the vitamins and minerals they need to function correctly. Try to increase the amount of raw and organic food for the greatest nutrient punch. Juicing or blending a smoothie is a fantastic way to get raw living foods into our bodies.

  • High dose nutrient therapy – Linus Pauling (winner of two Nobel prizes) first suggested the power of high dose nutrient therapy for mental health and his work has been advanced by many great minds since. In particular, high doses of fish oils (containing omega-3 fatty acids essential for brain health), vitamin C, vitamin B3, 5HTP and a good multi-vitamin may be a far better cocktail than the cocktail of toxic pharmaceutical drugs so often prescribed for mental health.

  • Cashews – cashews are a perfect example of a natural food providing exactly what a pharmaceutical drug does but without any of the harmful side effects. A handful of cashew nuts provide 1,000-2,000 milligrams of tryptophan (boosts brain serotonin which is our feel-good mood elevator) which works as well as prescription antidepressants. Nuts are also high in magnesium and vitamin B6 which help keep us feeling good.

  • Vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) has an incredible ability to reduce anxiety and depression and can easily be taken as a supplement. It can also really help symptoms of insomnia.

  • Turmeric – a 2011 study found that turmeric was more successful at reducing depressive behaviour in animals than Prozac/Fluoxetine.

  • St John’s Wort – this is the ultimate herb for mental health. This herb has been consistently shown to be more effective at treating symptoms of depression and insomnia than any antidepressant drug, and with far fewer side effects.

 

None of the above recommendations will do any harm, (although check for interactions with other medications – particularly for St John’s Wort) so what have you got to lose from the trying these first…?

Breakfast like a Queen…

There is something wonderful about a breakfast – perhaps it is to do with the fact the whole day is stretching ahead of you (although that hopeful joyous feeling really only applies to weekend breakfasts)! In celebration of what a brilliant meal breakfast is I thought I would share my favourite breakfasts with you…

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1) Coconut porridge

The absolute winter warmer – porridge is a wonderful way to stir in and sprinkle on a whole range of wonderful nutrient dense superfoods. I see it as a yummy base for more yumminess! My yummy base is organic oats and coconut milk. Oats are one of the things I choose to buy organic because a packet lasts a fairly long time so even if it is a pound more that is only a pound every couple of months. I add a teaspoon of maca powder for its hormone balancing benefits. I also stir in a teaspoon of coconut oil just before I serve it as this is a brilliant way to get a daily dose of this superfood. Then for the toppings…varying the toppings is a great way to vary your breakfast day to day and toppings are also an excellent way of packing even more of a goodness punch into breakfast. My favourite toppings are nuts and seeds because I love the texture combination. I used flaked toasted almonds, pecan nuts and sunflower seeds. Sometimes I add a squirt of honey (usually if it’s a miserable Monday!). Fresh berries when they are in season and cacao nibs also make a great topping. A sprinkling of cinnamon is lovely too and is a fantastic spice for blood sugar balancing.

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2) Avocado on toast

My deep passionate love affair with avocado blazes on and if I can incorporate it into my breakfast it is always a happy start to the day. Avocado is wonderfully filling so makes a great breakfast to keep you going until lunch. It is also packed full of goodness so perfect for delivering a punch of nutrition to your body first thing in the day. It is the best fruit source for vitamin E and is fantastic for our heart health. I love it mashed on rye toast with a couple of roasted cherry tomatoes, lots of black pepper and a sprig of basil.

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3) The fabulous-for-you full English

I love eggs. I love them poached, scrambled, boiled or fried. They also happen to be brilliant for us and a perfect punch of brilliant quality protein in the morning. Nothing quite screams the weekend like a brunch… I love cooking up a feast on a Sunday morning and my absolute favourite is scrambled egg with roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and avocado. If you are really going for it, try adding a couple of cinnamon dusted sweet potato wedges on the side. Another yummy tip is to stir some fresh pesto into the scrambled egg (pesto is also extremely easy to make if you have a blender and a good can be made without the parmesan if you are avoiding dairy).

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4) Bircher museli

This is a brilliant alternative to porridge in the summer months and a perfect fibre packed breakfast. If you are rushed for time in the morning too or prefer to take your breakfast in to work it is best made the night before ready to be eaten the following day and can easily be transported in to work. The base for bircher museli is a handful of oats but then you can add all sorts and mix things up for variety. Starting with a handful or organic oats I like to grate an apple (keeping the skin on for its fibre and goodness). I then use almond or coconut milk to soak the oats and apple. It is also delicious to stir in a spoonful of coconut yoghurt to make it divinely creamy (and if you’re anything like me, I can’t get enough of coconut flavour) You can then chuck anything you fancy in, berries, nuts, seeds, cacoa nibs, honey… So simple, so full of flavour and so good for you!

Happy breakfasting!!

Co Nutty for Coconut Oil

 

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Coconut oil and I have lately been indulging in a serious love affair… I just can’t get enough of its delicious nutritious goodness – in my sweet dishes, in my savoury dishes, on my skin, in my hair and less intentionally on pretty much every surface and wall in my kitchen and bathroom. Not only is it an absolute “super food” with the most amazing health-boosting benefits you could ever hope to imagine, it also makes everything taste so damn good! I particularly love stirring it into my creamy porridge or using it in stir-fries or on roasted vegetables (especially on my favourite – sweet potato) and it has the advantage over olive oil that it is more stable at higher temperatures so releases less free radicals. It really is the superhero of the food world!

So the health benefits..oh gosh where to start! Yes coconut oil is a saturated fat but that absolutely does not mean it is bad for us. Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids, rather than the long chain ones associated with the negative effects of saturated fat. These medium chain fatty acids are metabolised in a different way and actually prevent high cholesterol and high blood pressure making coconut oil fantastic for heart health.

Coconut oil also boosts our metabolism meaning we increase the amount of energy our bodies’ burn, aiding weight loss. Coconut oil has also been shown to reduce sugar cravings and hunger. Several studies published in Obesity Research have reported its weight loss effects, in particular a reduction in stomach fat. Coconut oil also protects against insulin resistance, reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes and having great potential to help with PCOS which is often related to insulin resistance.

Coconut oil also has a high content of antimicrobial lipids which have fantastic antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial benefits to help boost the immune system and can be applied to wounds to help prevent infection and promote healing.

One of coconut oil’s more exciting health benefits (because I do love the brain…!) is it provides an incredible fuel for our brain and has drastic positive effects on our cognitive performance and focus. Recent evidence even suggests that coconut oil can be used to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s.

To avoid this post becoming a coconut oil worshipping essay I will list the other health benefits: it is fantastic for energy levels, it boosts digestion and our ability to absorb key nutrients, it is a great anti-inflammatory, it can help balance hormone levels so can be used to boost ovulation and conception, it prevent fat build up in our liver…I really could go on but I must move on to its beauty uses.

Coconut oil is just as happy living in the bathroom as it is in the kitchen and before long you will have a pot in both rooms just as I do! Coconut oil is hands down the most awesome moisturiser I have used and makes a fantastic all natural (and purse-friendly) night cream. You also smell exotically divine! It can be used to treat acne and conditions such as eczema and psoriasis – both conditions which can be made worse by the excessive chemicals we load on to our skin using conventional skin care products! I suffered with those little red bumps on the backs of my arms and it cleared that up within days. I have recently started using coconut oil to remove make-up and I love the fact it is so gentle and totally natural. It also makes a great after-sun or massage oil, an brilliantly conditioning hair-mask and can be used to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.

Coconut oil is easy to find, and unlike most health foods there isn’t a huge range between the quality of different brands – they’re almost all awesome! Do try to find one which is raw, unrefined ‘virgin’ oil in order to get all these awesome health benefits – this can be more expensive, but each jar lasts a few months and it’s really worth every penny! Some of my favourite brands in the UK are Neal’s Yard, Lucy Bee, Biona and Tiana. So get a pot and co nutty for coconut oil!

Blemish battles

 

food-beautiful-skin-198x300We have all been there… desperately staring at our reflection longing the latest unwelcome intruder on our face to dive back beneath our skin. Despite conventional wisdom that surface bacteria causes acne it is really the internal conditions which lead to acne in the first place and the primary culprit is our hormones. This is illustrated clearly in my recent experience of stopping the contraceptive pill: I stopped taking the pills, my levels of oestrogen subsequently dropped and, as if by clockwork, my skin took a steep downwards nose dive. Fascinated by this direct physiological consequence of adjusting hormone levels I started doing a bit of digging on this topic…

Acne is all about hormonal imbalance and inflammation. It all begins with the up-regulation of oil production in the oil glands beneath the skin. The primary drivers of this oil production are androgens, specifically when elevated relative to oestrogen – it is therefore the balance between androgens and oestrogen which matters rather than the absolute amounts of each. Therefore, oil production will increase if either androgen levels increase or oestrogen levels fall and keeing oestrogen levels elevated offsets the negative effects of elevates androgens. This is why the contraceptive pill (containing oestrogen) is able to improve acne. This is also why anything which causes oestrogen to decrease, such as hypothalamic amenorrhea or the menopause can trigger a re-emergence of acne. So the hormone imbalance drives the oil production and the oil production clogs the pores. It is then inflammation which leads these clogged pores to present as acne.

Diet can play a key role in both the hormonal imbalance and the inflammation which leads to acne and I have set out 4 key rules below to help balance our hormones reduce inflammation…

1) Avoid blood sugar spikes since blood sugar spikes elicit an insulin response which spikes androgen production. Sugar is also highly inflammatory.

2) Avoid dairy since dairy is the most androgenic of foods and is highly insulinogenic.

3) Avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar, dairy, grains and omega 6 vegetable oils.

4) Avoid excessive protein intake since protein is a key player in oil production.

 

 

Getting delicious with Deliciously Ella

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Today I met food blogger and nutrition enthusiast Ella Woodward of Deliciously Ella. Ella started her food blog as a way of healing her rare illness, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, which left her bed-bound with stomach problems, heart issues, pain and relentless fatigue. Through eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar and meat Ella overcame her illness and now quite literally glows with good health! Ella is now turning her mind to helping others take control of their health and is blogging her inspiring recipes and running cookery classes and supper clubs.

I spent the morning with Ella blending berries with homemade oat milk, spiralizing courgettes, creating a divine avocado and rocket pesto, stuffing mushrooms and whipping up banana ice-cream with a creamy coconut and cacao sauce. I saw the most vibrant greens and purples that only nature can offer and enjoyed every last drop of the delicious goodness.

What I love about Ella’s cooking is that it is such a celebration of food and flavours. Healthy eating is not about deprivation and going without – in fact, it couldn’t be further from that. It is about appreciating the incredibly varied and delicious foods that nature has given us to both enjoy and heal us. Through changing our mindset we can adore food, adore snacking and adore our bodies all at the same time.

You can find Ella’s blog at http://deliciouslyella.com