7 fruits and veg a day.. But how!

Eating more fruits and veg. It’s a funny concept that most of us have perhaps become a little too familiar with. An instruction that started with mother and ever since just seems to have got louder and louder.

And yet for some reason we ignore it. It’s funny because unlike the world of fats and sugars, which seems to be an increasingly grey area, the fruit and vegetable picture is uncharacteristically black and white.

In fact recently the case has got even stronger in the wake of new evidence from UCL that the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die, at any age.

This particular study further rocked the healthy eating boat by showing that eating 7 portions of F+V reduced the risk of cancer by 25% (that's a quarter!) and the risk of heart disease by 31% (a third!). Sticking with the numbers for a minute longer – eating 1-3 portions of fruit or veg a day reduced your overall risk of dying by 14% but eating more than 7 portions, reduces the risk by 42%.

That's 560g though - over a half a kilo of fruity veggie goodness each and every day.

Great to have some more concrete evidence about what we should be doing and music to the ears of plant-based diet enthusiasts. However, those seemingly safe in the knowledge that they were meeting their 5-a-day target were left feeling a little disheartened. And those shying away from the fact that they might not be, inclined to give up.

So it seems absolutely right that the government has stuck by 5-a-day, as arguably the strongest and farthest reaching message of its kind. And it needs to be,  F+V in their broadest sense provide us with most things good and holy within the food world. In fact, provided you don’t drink a gallon that you've pulped to bits, it seems they can do little or no harm. So here are seven sneaky suggestions to help you out.

1. Bump up with beans. But remember to also include other veggies too as one 80g portion of pulses only counts once.

2. Dish out the dried fruit. A 30g portion roughly counts as one.

3. Turn up the base veg. You can easily squeeze ot three or four potions out of most one-pot-cooking dishes.
4. Overlook neither the onion nor the tomato. Separately or together, the perfect base for sauces that all count towards the subtotal.

5. Freshen up puddings. Treat your treats to a little something – yoghurt and mango, chocolate mousse and cherries, cheese and grapes. Hours of fun.

6. Swop the pots. Celeriac, sweet potato, butternut squash, swede, pumpkin?

7. Fruit = snacks, fruit = snacks. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

*** 80g of fresh fruit or vegetable counts as one portion

Mango, avocado & mint ice pops

Smoothies are well-known for being super delicious, super nutritious and super simple. However, I've found in the summer months it's often tricky to serve them cold enough - adding ice always seems to run the risk of losing that lovely texture. So I thought I'd take one of my favourite recipes that I came up with a few years ago and have a pop at making ice pops.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any ice lolly moulds (apparently I wasn't the only one with this idea over the weekend) so I improvised with straws, empty passion fruit skins and fun-shaped ice trays. I love this smoothie recipe - the avocado provides a perfect yoghurt substitute as well as extra nutrients, the passion fruit seeds add a bit of crunch and provided you go easy on the mint, you can really taste all four flavours.

Nutritional lowdown

mangoes - vitamins a, b6, c and e, carotenoids, polyphenols, folate and fibre

avocados - vitamins b5, c and k monounsaturated fats, magnesium, zinc and fibre

mint - vitamins a and c, calcium, iron, magnesium and fibre

passion fruit - vitamins a and c, potassium, iron and fibre

So the main benefits will be for your eyes, skin, heart, gut health and immune system.

  • 1 mango
  • 1.5 avocados
  • 1 sprig of mint
  • 2 passion fruits
  • 100ml water
(no slicing and dicing whatsoever)

Place the mango, avocados, mint and water in a food processor or blender and blitz until smooth. Add more water and/or mint depending on preference. Once happy with the consistency, stir in the passion fruits last so that the seeds remain whole. Serve as a smoothie or ice pops using lolly moulds if you have them, or straws and empty passion fruit skins / ice trays if you don't (run under warm water to loosen once frozen).

*** a smoothie can count as two your five-a-day provided it contains 2 x 80g portions of two different whole fruits

Long(er) distance running

So 8 weeks ago I ran my first road race. And 8 weeks later I can say with full confidence that long distance running - you have converted me.

After a short break, I'm already completely back into it and the Great North Run has been set as the next big target. All of a sudden asking friends whether they're keen to run it has taken seat alongside other questions about summer plans.

And of course one day, it would be great to join the big kids in the big schmoke. Hats off to all of them, running another 13 miles after those 13 miles?!! But I guess walk before you can run, and run before you can run-run?

I'm not sure I expected to enjoy my half marathon as much as I did. So why did I? Well they say punchy-points make for better persuasion than stringy-sentences, so here goes.
  • Training becomes enjoyable. Getting out there to keep healthy or in shape, previously always carried more the obligatory than the fun factor.
  • Fundraising. Double-handedly, Lu and I were able raise far and beyond what we had hoped for a charity close to our hearts, Rethink Mental Illness.
  • A weekend away. Cutest Saturday night spent on the sofa with friends, a bowl of pasta and glass of orange squash, into bed by 10pm!
  • Surprising yourself. Mile 11 was grim and I owe a lot to whoever came up with glucose sweets. But you can't knock new experiences, and demanding that much of my body was previously unchartered territory.
  • The medal, the goody bag and the sponsored gear. Free stuff!
  • Sky's the limit. Marathons, triathlons, or even iron man's if you're a glutton for really strong poison. All much more achievable. 
  • Opportunity. Having the privilege to cross a finish line on the track of a world class stadium, cheered by thousands of crowds.

So to all those London loveys out there tonight, feeling the tube strike anger? Well, why not turn it in for a tube-sock canter?

Carb loading

Any day that you cross something off the bucket list is a big day. And tomorrow, is a big day. Lucy-Lu and I will be coming to the end of our very own personal challenge and running the Mizuno Reading half marathon.

I'm planning to pop a separate post up about the day itself (I'd love to blame the lack of blog posts lately on the amount of training that's been going on, I can't). But the run-up does also deserve a mention, purely because of the amount of nutritional fore-thought that has gone into it.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I had a go at carb-depleting. Probably not something that's necessary for a 13 mile race, however, I took it on mainly for experimental purposes. The aim of the game is to eat as little carbohydrate as possible to try and get rid of as much of the body's glycogen (carb stores) as possible, particularly the glycogen in muscle. This meant sticking to a hunger-driving, headache-causing, snappy-female-making eating plan that contained 50-100g carbs.

(B) 1 x toast. (L + D) chicken / fish +/- eggs with a mountain of veg or salad. 
(Snacks) raw veg, 1 x low-sugar yog.

I had hoped that the subsequent carb-loading phase from Thursday through to Saturday would be much, much, more enjoyable. However, it hasn't been quite such a pleasant surprise. Carb-loading, by contrast with carb-depleting, requires loading up your carb intake to a whopping 9-11g carbs per kg so that you pack your now empty muscles with fresh glycogen over the course of the last few days. 

This means that when you're standard body carb stores run out (after around 90 minutes), you have plenty more ready-to-use glucose packed away; thereby reducing your risk of hitting the infamous wall.

Seems best to opt for slow-releasing and high fibre sources of carbohydrate, and whilst it's important to continue a good intake of protein, you don't really need to increase your caloric intake alongside it. 

(B) 3 x toast / 200g cereal, (L + D) 100g meat / fish, 80g veg, 600g rice or pasta / 1 x baguette, pudding.
(Snacks) 2 x toast with honey, yoghurts, crackers, fruit, sports drinks.

It's been tough! I feel like a very over-puffed cotton wool ball (gained 1.5kg!). Not least because of all the water that the body stores alongside with glycogen. Fortunately, dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow are set to be far more moderate starchy portions, to avoid feeling like a sack of flour when it comes to race day. 

Twas the Holiday season

Driving home for Christmas. A little different when it's a whip down the Euston Road, over the West London flyovers and through Kensington and Chelsea. But wonderful all the same when Santa's sleigh arrives at your door on Christmas Eve, a little brother at the reigns, so that all the goodies can be delivered without a single venture below ground.

Without question my favourite Eve of the year - roast number one was at the cousins with lots of family and distinguished friends. Us kids on christmas eve then asked Pops for a lift to Wimble Village for a festive tipple, tied up with an obligatory chorus of birthday greetings for the one who made it all possible.

Christmas morning, bright and early - no lie ins for this lot. First stop, a Gini walk - another of my festive highlights. Wellies on to wish passers by a Merry Christmas (worrying inwardly that you have suddenly adopted the behaviours of Marianne Dashwood)

High time for stockings, nibbles and a few presents. Followed by the arrival of all three grandparents. Then moving on to the moment everyone spends 52 weeks waiting for - perfectly situated right in the middle of the three-day holiday season. State of postprandial somlonence achieved, all individuals retreat to the safety of sofas to stare vacuously at any images put before them. Intermittently contemplating whether to flick through new books, but aware that being full up to the top as you are, your bread-sauce brain may not play ball.

More presents, and I'm ashamed slash proud to say more food - lobsters on a bed of salad - super festive. And of course more telly. Before all booze-fed Christmas-pudding bellies are dragged upstairs for the best night's sleep they'll have all year.

Merry (belated) Christmas x

Make your own - Nut Butter

Until recently, my taste buds had always been limited to the butter of one kind of nut. But there are actually, so many other nuts out there that can be buttered - pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, even seeds! 

And what's surprising is that it's really, ridiculously, easy to make nut butter. You just pour the nuts into a food processor, blend and keep going. No added oil, water, butter or cream - nothing! 

It's just nuts and their oils, without any added rubbish, but with all the super nutritious value - plant-based proteins, magnesium, b vitamins, insoluble fibres, antioxidants including vitamin e and selenium, cholesterol-busting unsaturated fats and soluble fibres and etc! In fact, there's really good evidence that eating some nuts every day reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer.

And nut butter makes fantastic Christmas presents - so much better than chaotic Christmas shopping. It takes 10-15 minutes to whip up; almost a stretch to to refer to it as a recipe. A couple of years ago, I made chutney from leftover green tomatoes for Christmas presents, but that was a complete faff compared with this! 

To fill 2 x 600g jars - 1kg of your chosen nut

I tried out pecan and almond nut butter - both were delicious. Whilst making the pecan butter, I roasted the almonds as it took a bit longer than expected to blend the pecans with my teeny tiny food processor. Once you start blending, let them go past being roughly chopped, finely chopped and powdered. Wait until the oils start to bring them to a bit of a paste. You can add a little oil if you want, to get it going, but you honestly don't need to, and definitely avoid water or it'll split. 

Once liquid, you can start to improvise.

  • savoury roasted almond nut butter - add ground cinnamon and a tiny bit of honey and salt 
  • sweet pecan nut butter - add 2tbsp of 100% maple syrup

You can also set aside some of the roughly chopped bits to add in later to create a chunky texture.

Once it's ready, spoon into a jar and seal. It should keep for 3-4 weeks in the fridge, and indefinitely in the freezer. It tastes great spread over toast or biscuits, or incorporated into other recipes like banoffee pie. Yum!

Tall - pecan and maple syrup nut butter
Short - roasted almond and cinnamon nut butter
*** eating a small portion of nuts (30g) carries heaps of key nutritional benefits. The fat content of nuts only becomes a problem with larger amounts or if lots of other not-so-good foods have been added in

Polpo, Covent Garden

Set slightly aside from the hustle and bustle of the Covent Garden piazza, sits Polpo. Proudly understated from the outside in, the brains behind Polpo would like us to know that this type of eatery is a Venetian bĂ caro -"a humble restaurant serving simple food and good, young local wines". 

And all at a happy snip of a price. You could be forgiven for likening the principles behind the menu to tapas, but I'd keep that particular word under your breath if you're not looking for scowls from the slightly distinguĂ© waitresses and neighbouring clientelle.

chickpea spinach and ricotta meatballs & cod cheeks lentils and salsa verde

There is certainly plenty going on in each little plate, but still with a clever fuss-free feel. The cod cheeks lentils and salsa verde stood out in particular for me, and I couldn't resist stretching to a nutella pizzetta pudding (it came with some form of crunchy, sweet, heavenly wondrousness crumbled all over the top, I still haven't worked out what it was!)

duck and green peppercorn ragu, pappardelle
pear, gorgonzola and chicory salad
nutella pizzetta

And anywhere that makes it possible to finish your meal with a proper pot of fresh mint tea is fairly sure to be a winner with me!

*** Lentils are a great source of soluble fibre, which can help to lower blood cholesterol levels

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