Please Say Please to Porridge!

oatmeal porridge in ceramic bowl with fresh ripe berries

Porridge can be a bit like Marmite - you either love it or you completely body swerve it! There are even a few Scots who won't give it the time of day (shock horror!) BUT as the mornings get darker and colder, you might want to give it a go!

There are dear alone knows how many ways to make it (rough oats, fine oats, with salt or without, do you really need a spurtle and should you always stir the porridge clockwise - more on that later - do you serve it thick so you can cut it into slices or should you have a thick soupy-like texture?) There are definitely more questions than answers!

So... let me simply direct you right now to Rude Health's 2017 Porridge Championship results on their website - this is the 5th year they have held this fiercely-fought spurtle battle and I think you will see that there is nothing pedestrian or lacking in flair about the fabulous porridge-style dishes you can create with the cheap and cheerful oat! I think this image says it all - concentration or what, young man!

And continuing down the porridge road, in his usual crazily-enthusiastic but always seriously-doable way, Jamie Oliver devotes one of his Food Tube videos to How to Make Porridge 5 Ways which, if you are a 'porridge virgin', I recommend you have a look at and/or if you just know that there is rarely or never going to be time to get the spurtle out first thing in the morning, try my Overnight Porridge Recipe - all the goodness but it can be heated up super-fast and simply topped with whatever fruit is in the bowl, a drizzle of honey (or double cream), a handful of fresh nuts and seeds and a shake of cinnamon or nutmeg powder. And whether you have a spurtle or not, remember to stir the porridge clockwise - Scots legend has it that anti-clockwise stirs up the devil - not worth the risk, I say!

Fiona Kirk Overnight Porridge Recipe.jpeg

Oh and by the way, on the 'good for you front': Oats contain protein, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, Vitamin E and Vitamin B and have no sodium. In addition, they contain large amounts of soluble fibre including beta-glucans, which can help the stomach feel fuller for longer, help to suppress hunger and prevent snacking and are known to lower cholesterol.

Go on, give it a try, join me for a wonderfully-warming breakfast of porridge and let me know when you find the combination that seriously works for you!

Why Your Brain Loves Avocados!

Sliced avocado

It was some considerable time ago that avocados leapt into the superfoods chart thanks to the impressive levels of a group of monounsaturated fats that have been shown to provide important anti-inflammatory benefits to our body systems - particularly the cardiovascular system. All manner of new and exciting superfoods have hit the charts since then (goji berries, macqui berries, watermelon seeds, chia seeds, chaga mushrooms - the list goes on) but research into the health benefits of the now-perhaps-overly-familiar avocado continues and this is extremely good news!

A recent study conducted at Tufts University found that the consumption of fresh avocado is an effective way to increase lutein levels in the eyes and brain. Lutein is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant chemical which is found in fruits and vegetables and avocados are a rich source. Researchers found that one medium avocado per day increased lutein levels by 25% in the eyes and progressive improvement on tests that evaluated memory, processing speed and attention levels in the control group (40 healthy adults over the age of 50) leading to a meaningful proposal that the consumption of fresh avocado daily may lead to increased macular pigment density and improved cognitive function in healthy older adults. This study also revealed that lutein levels in the eye more than doubled in subjects that consumed fresh avocados compared to those that took a supplement.

I find myself getting somewhat distressed when people shy away from eating avocados on a regular basis believing them to be fattening because they are rich in fats - nothing could be further from the truth! Not only are they an excellent source of health-enhancing monounsaturated fats and anti-inflammatory and protective plant chemicals, they are also rich in soluble fibre which helps stabilise blood sugar levels, facilitate good digestion and bowel regularity and aid weight control, they are a good source of energy-generating B vitamins and immune-boosting vitamin C, they are rich in essential minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron and copper and they offer a worthy supply of folate for pregnant women which is crucial in the prevention of birth defects. They also have the highest protein levels and lowest sugar content of any fruit and the richness of fat makes them a filling, delicious and nutritious part of a meal or simply as a fast and fabulous snack.

Here are the links to a few of my tasty avocado recipes that offer their unique combination of nutrients and a great deal more:

Stuffed Avocado

Lemon Ginger Chicken

Soft Boiled Eggs with Sweet Potato and Avocado

Crab, Salmon, Avocado, Fennel and Apple Salad

Holidays Can Be Hell for the Waistline!

Traumstrand

You have been on a real mission, you have stuck to your weight loss diet for weeks or maybe even months and the day finally arrives when you breeze into the airport with case packed, boarding card in hand and are feeling fairly confident that you are going to hit the beach looking and feeling slim, trim and fit - it’s all good and you can see nothing but fun and sun ahead!

Then… you start to relax and enjoy a few indulgent treats and it all starts to go a bit belly-up and after a great holiday, you end up heading home having gained weight and it’s back to the drawing board! Unfair but irritatingly, all too common. Recent statistics indicate that our somewhat devil-may-care approach to holiday eating and drinking can lead to us piling on anywhere between 4 and 10 pounds - particularly when we head to those spectacularly cost-effective, all-inclusive holiday resorts!

there are traps everywhere!

First there is the breakfast buffet with everything you could possibly desire just sitting there, waiting to be devoured with no cooking or washing up involved, then there are the beach bars groaning with deliciously-refreshing but overly-sugary cocktails and mocktails plus mile-high club sandwiches, super-crisp skinny fries, pizzas just out the oven and ice cream sundaes begging to be bolted down. It’s still only mid-afternoon and already you have possibly consumed as many calories and as much, if not more sugar, salt and starch as you were consuming in a whole day when you were getting your body beach-ready and it’s not looking too good!

did you know?

  • 2 of those ‘hot out of the oven’ delectably-moreish pastries from the breakfast buffet will start your day with around a quarter of your recommended daily fat and added sugars allowance and 500-600kcals! Solution: Go for ham and eggs or an omelette or fresh fruit and yoghurt and stay away from the breads, pastries and cereals.
  • A frothy cappuccino will add around 120kcals, yet more sugar and yet more fat. Solution: Have a small, rich, dark espresso or a pot of tea (green, black, red, fruit, herb) without milk or sugar - very few calories and no sugar or fat.
  • Regular snacking is possibly the most dangerous habit we happily-embrace when on holiday! A bowl of tortilla chips with a creamy dip weighs in at around 350kcals plus a whopping 10g of fat, 2 teaspoons of sugar and a load of salt. Don’t risk it! Solution: Have a generous slice of melon and a couple of handfuls of fresh nuts. 
  • A couple of slices of freshly-baked pizza or a burger, bun and fries at lunchtime can up your daily calorie count by another 300 to 500 and heap more added sugar, salt and fat to your day! Solution: Go for a lightly-dressed salad with lots of colourful vegetables and some protein instead. 
  • One of those enticing ice cream sundaes with toppings that cool you down mid-afternoon can add a whopping 500kcals, 5 teaspoons of added sugar and 20g of fat. Solution: If you must, have a single scoop of ice cream or frozen yoghurt coming in at around a quarter of the above!
  • A steaming bowl of pasta with a meat and tomato sauce and grated cheese topping adds around 350kcals, 3g fat, 4 teaspoons of added sugar and a hefty amount of salt to a day. Solution: Grilled meat or fish with plenty of vegetables or a salad will more than halve that.
  • A few fabulous cocktails in the evening can end your day with anywhere between 300 and 400 additional calories and another 3 or 4 teaspoons of added sugar! Solution: Stick to very dry white wine or prosecco, spirits ‘on the rocks’ or with soda, ensure you match every drink with a large glass of water and know you are keeping the calories and sugar under control!

Here’s a comparison of the likely totals of calories, fats, added sugars and salt involved in the above options to consider when making your daily food and drink decisions:

OPTION 1

Breakfast: pastries and a cappuccino
Snack: tortilla chips and a dip
Lunch: burger, bun and fries
Afternoon: ice cream sundae
Dinner: pasta with sauce
Drinks: cocktails
Calories: between 2500 and 2800
Fat: between 80g and 100g (and most of it is likely to be processed and unhealthy) 
Added sugars: between 10 and 15 teaspoons - more than twice the recommended daily limit
Salt: between 8g and 12g (we should aim for 6g maximum per day)

OPTION 2

Breakfast: omelette and black coffee or milk and sugar-free tea
Snack: melon and nuts
Lunch: protein-rich salad
Afternoon: scoop of ice cream
Dinner: grilled meat or fish with vegetables or salad
Drinks: white wine, prosecco or light spirits with soda
Calories: between 2000 and 2200 (body swerve the ice cream and have no more than 2 alcoholic drinks in the evening and you can reduce this to between 1800 and 2000)
Fat: between 50g and 80g (and most of it will be naturally-occurring and healthy)
Added sugars: between 2 and 5 teaspoons - well below the recommended daily limit
Salt: between 3g and 5g (just under the radar!)

and finally...

The calories in versus calories out theory is misleading as the quality of the calories you consume in a day tend to make a more meaningful difference to whether you gain weight or not than the quantity of calories but it may help to keep in mind that in a bid to burn calories in excess of your recommended daily intake for weight maintenance (1800 to 2000 kcals for women and 2300 to 2500 kcals for men), you should plan to walk briskly for at least 50 minutes or jog, swim or cycle strenuously for at least 30 minutes for every 200kcals of daily excess - otherwise, there is a strong chance they will be stored as fat and you will gain weight!

Are you Getting the Max from your Super-Seeds?

When eaten raw and by the handful, no matter how ‘super-nutritious’ they may be, seeds have a nasty habit (unless your digestive system is in really tip-top condition) of cruising their way through the digestive process without being properly broken down into their relevant parts and releasing their wonderfulness into your bloodstream and delivering the goods to your body cells. Irritating when you are doing your very best to get maximum nourishment from your diet? Yes!

But it’s really not that difficult to redress the situation and here’s how. Soak them, crush them, grind them, roast/toast them or allow them to wallow for a while in soups, stews, smoothies and/or ‘live’ yoghurt so they start to become a little more digestion-friendly and it will all come good! They make great, super-nourishing and fat-busting snacks but if your digestive system is not up to breaking them down into their nutritionally-important, component parts, it can be a bit of a waste of time and money when all they do is ‘come out the other end’ or cause sleepless nights as your digestive system struggles to deal with them.