sugar blues (i)

sugar honey and fruit bowlNot that I am turning into a nutrition junkie or anything but I am reading a fascinating book by Dr Robert Lustig called Fat Chance. He is a paediatric endocrinologist which means he has spent many years trying to understand the reasons for infant and childhood obesity, and while he is supportive of the theory ‘eat less, exercise more’ he is on a mission to tell the world there is much more to learn from the biochemistry of fuelling up with food.

Hormones control our eating behaviour. Most digested nutrients from the small intestine go straight to the liver for processing but what the liver can’t immediately take up circulates in the blood. The pancreas is then deployed to secrete insulin which directs excess glucose to be stored by the liver, amino acids by the muscles and lipids by the fat cells. The more insulin activity, the more fat is being stored. Of course when the process is reversed and insulin levels drop then fat cells shrink as their energy supply is used. This whole energy balance is managed by the brain when it receives signals from another hormone secreted by the fat cells called leptin which tells it there is enough in the energy reserves.

Cutting a long and interesting story short, the villain of the modern diet is sugar in its multiple forms, not the glucose part which is an essential nutrient but the fructose part which you find in all sources of sweetness: honey, agave nectar, dried fruits and fresh. Too much of it interferes with the leptin signalling so that misinformation is transmitted through the body leading to all sorts of short and long term health issues.

I am only halfway through the book but it reaffirms my instinct to be working with a wide variety of fresh and unprocessed ingredients since most processed foods are riddled with sugars, especially the low fat kinds (thankfully we are not a soda household because they are absolutely toxic). Where there needs to be caution in my diet is not so much the odd craving for milky chocolate but regular fruit intake (fresh and dried) especially when it is stripped of its natural fibre. Dare I say it, but the whole smoothie/juicing trend is not as healthy as it sounds. Based on Lustig’s presentation of the sugar facts, if you’re thirsty drink water, if you’re hungry and thinking of your “5 a day” then chew the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit. Make that fruit smoothie or juice a treat and not a daily fix.


naan better than homemade

naan breadThe sneaky milk powder ingredient has caught me out again. I put together a delicious, if I do say so myself, potato and spinach curry tonight with a fresh undercurrent of ginger. Not wanting to cook rice again this week, I decided to buy some naan bread on the way home to tear and share. They’re so soft and light I should have guessed there would be some milk in the mix.

This has highlighted two issues for me. Firstly, when buying processed or pre-prepared foods I have to think of them as a collection of ingredients and as such make sure I read labels before I buy, not as I am disposing of the packaging. Secondly, to think more in advance about what we are going to eat so that there is an opportunity for homemade options. I found some simple and varied vegan naan recipes on the internet that have far fewer ingredients than the shop bought ones, so I will give one of these a try on our next curry night.




the hunt for B12

bowl of cornflakesI am realising that I need to be more aware of the vitamin B12 content of my foods. This vitamin is not produced by animals (or plants) even though it is a crucial requirement for cellular metabolism, in particular neural health and red blood cell production. Deficiency or inability to absorb B12 can have both physical and mental health symptoms, including fatigue and breathlessness, depression and memory loss. Non-human animals ingest B12 from bacterially contaminated foodstuffs and cecotrope products (Google that, but be warned it’s a poop thing), they then by proxy become a source of B12 for humans. I find this essential co-dependency of humans and bacteria like an unwritten love story.

Anyway, as far as I can work out the recommended amount of B12 for an adult is 1.5 micrograms per day, more for pregnant women, and older folk. For anyone on a plant-based diet the scientific jury is out on whether it is present in fermented products like miso, seaweeds like nori and teas like kombucha, so fortified foods are key. Foods that are fortified include alternative milks, tofu, and cereals (check labels), so the humble bowl of cornflakes with a good lashing of chilled almond milk can help. The other option is to take a supplement that contains synthetic B12 and it seems that 2mcg a day is about right. The sledgehammer dosage of 1000mcg in many off the shelf products I am assuming is for anyone with a known deficiency and not for general use – after all it is comparable to about 200 glasses of milk or 23kg of cow and that has to be too much of anything in one day.


thursday update (iii)

post it note remember1. New word: carnism, and how eating animals is a social conditioning.

2. You can very easily get caught out when you are rushing around town, with no time for lunch and need a quick bite. A healthy looking fruit and nut bar and a green juice? Sounds good, until half way through the bar you turn over the packaging and discover skimmed milk powder in the list of ingredients. Why? What does milk powder have to do with dried fruits and nuts?

3.Ginger Nut biscuits are vegan – hurrah. They were my late mum’s favourite, so I think about mum now when I rip open the orange wrapping (her favourite colour) and tip them in the biscuit tin. I like to dip them in Red Bush tea at various times of the day. They do contain palm oil, though – that’s a nasty I would like to be avoiding.

4. I am not very good at making hummus. I thought it would be easy but I didn’t get the texture right nor the balance of lemon and garlic. Better luck next week.

5. Best soup of the week: Roasted carrots from the veg box, with cumin seeds and lemon. Blitz with stock. Delicious.

thursday update (i)

0108 Post it note Reminder

1. Olive oil solidifies enough in the fridge to be spreadable on toast or fresh bread. Pure and tastes fantastic.

2. Avocado also spreads well and with a few drops of balsamic vinegar* has revived occasional breakfasts from the usual go-to winter porridge sweetness.

3. Shock, horror, I don’t need digestive biscuits with tea. If I need a snack at eleven, I take one of the homemade “energy” balls from the fridge. I make them from whatever nuts and fruits are in the cupboard. Bind the mixture with coconut oil and nut butter. Then roll in desiccated coconut. It does the trick beautifully.

4. Check labels on what seem to be obvious veggie/vegan products and don’t assume a vegetable soup is veggie let alone vegan!  The take-home? Make more soup and store in trendy kilner jars in the fridge and/or freeze.

5. Miso is back on the menu, not quite daily. Best combo this week: leftover sweet potato blitzed with veggie stock and chopped fresh ginger. Add miso (made into paste first). Garnish with chopped spring onions. Quick and yummy

*balsamic vinegar is a fermented grape product, is it vegan? I do hope so.

rethinking elevenses

cup of tea and biscuitFor as long as I can remember there has been a packet of digestive biscuits in my supermarket sweep. It’s the only biscuit I can control myself around. One is just right, and never tempts for another, so they accompany me through the day from my early morning licorice tea to a final warming brew of red bush in the evening. I am already pretty good at checking food labels for nasties (by the way what is a Partially Inverted Sugar Syrup?  – sounds like a failed attempt at something that should be pleasant), but imagine my dismay when inspecting the scarlet wrapper of the said baked good for its vegan credentials to discover they contain dried skimmed milk powder. Why? On another tack, I also discover from reading a fellow vegan blogger, that a well-known and well-painted Tomato Soup is not even vegetarian (“natural flavourings” = animal flavoured stock).

So, along with butter, my tea-time staple will need a rethink. Other digestive biscuits in my opinion have never stacked up to the original, so either I switch to a different off-the-shelf biscuit (I hear ginger biscuits fare better in the vegan enquiry), bake something myself, or change the habit of a lifetime and drink the tea for tea’s sake only.