New in Nutrition

New In Nutrition | Sept 2020

September 2020

I’m so excited to share a brand-new feature with you, New in Nutrition. It is going to be coming to you on a regular basis from now on, as a way to showcase the new products, books, podcasts, people, places or initiatives that my team and I feel are doing interesting or exciting things in nutrition and wellness. I hope it will soon become the go-to place to hear about nutrition news.

If you ever stumble across something new that you think we would all enjoy (that’s related to nutrition), please do drop us a tip-off email hello@ameliafreer.com and we will take a look. Thank you!

1. Product | Eaten Alive Raw Fermented Foods

An exquisite range of fermented sauces and pickles, all made in London. Developed by two chefs and travel enthusiasts with a keen interest in the art of fermentation, these products taste incredible. All raw, unpasteurised (thus retaining their probiotic bacteria) and vegan, Eaten Alive have recently added a new range of hot sauces and a variety of fresh kimchi to their offering. A great way to pep up simple dishes with a big burst of flavour, I have absolutely loved having these to hand in the fridge.

You can order online for delivery across the UK through eatenalive.co.uk. They have very generously offered my followers 15% off purchases valid from 1st September to 10th October with the code AFXEA20

2. Podcast | Healthily, by Nicola Moore

Championing positive health messages and relationships with food, my associate, Registered Nutritional Therapist Nicola Moore, has spent the past 20 years having healthy conversations with people.

In her new podcast Healthily, Nicola shares fascinating discussions with friends and colleagues from her years in the nutrition industry, as she finds out what it means to them to live healthily. Topics in the first series range from digestive wellness and mindful eating through to weight gain in the menopause and combating unrelenting low energy. Through the power of conversation, Nicola and her guests are able to tackle complicated subjects including genetics, the microbiome, and the hormonal interplay with our cells, in a way that’s easy to understand, and importantly, take simple action from. Highly recommended! Listen here.

3. Publication | Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives

The UK government recently published its obesity strategy policy paper, causing much interest to those of us in nutrition. While many people feel it hasn’t gone far enough, and others who believe it to be excessive political involvement in our personal and home lives, my personal opinion is that it outlines some beneficial steps to help support us all to live healthy lives. I’d highly recommend reading it if you’re interested, as I feel that the press reporting has not always been representative of the policies and tone that the paper itself uses. Of course, it’s far from a simple issue, and compassion and kindness must be at the heart of all discussions on food and weight, but I welcome the engagement, attention and funding it promises to bring to the role of prevention in health and medicine.

4. Product | Plenish fortified M*lks

Many of us are choosing to consume more plant-based drinks and m*lks. However, these may not necessarily match the nutrient profiles of dairy milk, so fortification can be a useful way to support us in getting a nutritionally balanced diet overall. Plenish has developed a new recipe for its fortified Almond, Oat & Cashew m*lks, using 100% vegan ingredients, no oils, gums or added sugar, and using only sustainably-sourced nuts and oats grown without pesticides. They are enriched with calcium, iodine and vitamins D, B12 and B2 and they taste great too!

For a 15% discount use the code AF15 at checkout.

5. Book | Ottolenghi Flavour

In this stunning new cookbook, Ottolenghi and co-writer Ixta Belfrage break down the three factors that create flavour and offer over 100 brand-new inspirational vegetable recipes. The book is divided down into 3 clever sections to help us seriously elevate our vegetable game: Process explains cooking methods that elevate veg to great heights; Pairing identifies four basic pairings that are fundamental to great flavour; Produce offers impactful vegetables that do the work for you.

Out 3rd September. Order now through Amazon or buy a signed edition with Waterstones

6. Shop | Good Club

An online shop selling sustainable staples, that works on a membership model. They sell much-loved products at up to 30% lower than the RRP (think Clipper teas, nut butters, eco cleaning products, pastas, store cupboard staples and much more). You get one free delivery per month (helping to reduce the environmental impact of multiple deliveries), and they are working on supplying zero waste products in returnable containers – coming soon.

Membership costs £30 per year, paid annually, but if you don’t save more than this over the course of the year, Good Club will refund the difference, no questions asked. I’m a convert!

Click here to learn more.

7. Product | Eight Food (nourishing freezer meals)

The brainchild of three busy mums, Eight Food delivers delicious, healthy freezer meals to your door for those moments when you’re too busy or exhausted to cook yourself. They’ve just launched a new set of 3 sauces, including a delicious Ultimate Tomato Sauce (containing 7 different veggies) and a Boosted Bolognese (with lots of extra veg and chicken livers).

Every meal contains a minimum of 5 fruit or veg (although often many more), uses only ingredients you’d have at home, are as sustainable and ethical as they can possibly be, and are gluten free. They’re also a brilliantly useful and thoughtful gift for new parents, or people recovering from a tough time.

Take a look at their website here, and enter code AMELIA15 at checkout for a 15% discount off your order (minimum spend £30).

8. Book | How to Build a Healthy Brain, by Kimberley Wilson

This groundbreaking, science-based book is the ultimate, holistic guide to protecting our brain health for the long term. We may already know a fair amount about how to care for our physical health, but we often feel powerless when it comes to brain and mental health. How to Build a Healthy Brain is, thankfully, here to help. Written by psychologist Kimberley Wilson, it clearly and practically sets out how we can care for our brain with simple lifestyle choices. I absolutely loved this book and would highly recommend it to everyone.

Amazon.co.uk

Waterstones

9. Initiative | The Great Oven

This inspirational charitable initiative, set up by James Thompson (creative partner and long-standing producer of Nigel Slater’s TV shows and books) builds great, beautiful, ornate ovens in places where people need them most, including conflict zones and refugee camps. A nourishing focus for communities and the centre of shared kitchens. Follow their journey @thegreatoven.

10. Publication | The National Food Strategy: Part One

The National Food Strategy is the first major review of the UK’s food systems in 75 years. Commissioned by the Environment Secretary and headed by Henry Dimbleby (founder of Leon and The School Food Plan), the review will ultimately set out recommendations to guide a government white paper. It is a hugely wide-reaching analysis, from the resilience of our supply chains to the environmental consequences of food production, the impact of COVID-19 to the role of nutrition in healthcare. Part One has recently been published, containing urgent recommendations to support the country through the turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic and to prepare for the end of the EU exit period on 31st December. You can read the executive summary here.

New in nutrition

11. Product | Brindisa

Brindisa is a wonderful company that celebrates the best of Spanish foods and culture whilst remaining committed to sustainability. I have long been a fan of their delicious and beautifully packaged products and I am delighted that they have recently expanded their range. Some of my favourite new additions include Catrineta sardines, all hand prepared and packed in the traditional Galician way, spicy Perelló olives, sold in glass jars and tins and crunchy Torres Beans and Peas snacks which are vegan and gluten free and make a tasty treat to enjoy with an aperitif.

Check them and their full range out at www.brindisa.com and here’s a 10% discount for you all, AMELIA10 valid until 31st October. (Not valid on gift cards.)

Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.


healthy breakfast ideas

80+ Healthy Breakfast Ideas

September 2020

A nutritious breakfast can be a very positive way to start the day. Ensuring our bodies and brains are well nourished helps to provide us with energy and focus right through until the evening.

I know, however, that many people get stuck in a breakfast rut and while I don’t think it matters if we eat the same few things for breakfast day-in, day-out (we have to be realistic), I do know that it is easy to get bored and want to find new and tasty things to eat.

So I have put together a selection of healthy breakfast ideas and recipes, to help you add some variety to your mornings. Whether you have just enough time for a quick breakfast squeezed before work or a leisurely morning to create an elaborate brunch, there’s ideas for everything. Sweet, savoury, make-ahead, kid-friendly, speedy and a few more unusual options – there’s something for everyone!

I’ve split them up in to 7 sections. Perhaps one for every day of the week?! Those are; healthy smoothies, eggs, fruit, toast, vegetables, pancakes and oats. Click on the links below to expand each section. You’ll find links to lots of free recipes available online, as well as references to relevant recipes in my books (with handy page numbers so no need to go searching).

A note on breakfast being the ‘most important meal of the day’:

Nutritional thinking has changed over the last few years around the importance of breakfast. I certainly agree that for some people, having just two nutritious, balanced meals a day (lunch and dinner) works perfectly and the prolonged overnight fast has benefits for them as individuals. It does mean, however, that those two meals need to pack in all the nutrition that would previously have been spread out over three meals, so should be undertaken mindfully.

For many of us, however, breakfast is here to stay. The key from a nutritional perspective is therefore to make it as nutritious and balanced as our remaining meals. ‘Breakfast foods’ like processed cereals, white toast, jams, pastries and such are fine for occasional enjoyment and delight, but don’t have the same nutritional density, protein, healthy fats or essential vitamins and minerals that whole foods provide. If breakfast offers about 30% of our energy intake in a day, then it also needs to provide about 30% of all our other important essential nutrition requirements too. Of course, not exactly, but I hope you get the gist! These recipes will help to do just that, so keep reading for lots of practical examples.

Deliciously healthy breakfast recipes

Photo by Jen Rich

Healthy Breakfast Smoothies

Smoothies are a great option if you are in rush.  Prepare the ingredients in the evening and leave them in the blender jug in the fridge overnight, so you’re ready to swiftly blitz in the morning and be on your way. Don’t blend the night before though, as the smoothie will discolour. It’s safe to drink, but it doesn’t look very appetising.

The key to a healthy and balanced smoothie is to ensure that you include a source of protein (such as seeds, nuts, nut butter, dairy or soya yoghurt, protein powder or milk), ideally a portion of vegetables (I find mild-flavoured baby leaf spinach blends well) and stick to a single portion of fruit (to help balance blood sugar levels). This should help a smoothie to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

Busy day smoothie

Turmeric pineapple smoothie

Beetroot ginger smoothie

Summertime smootie

in my books
4 wholefood smoothies (Golden, Green, Berry & Chocolate) on pages 33-35 of Simply Good For You

Banana, mint & lime smoothie – pg. 182 of Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan

Favourite products for smoothies:

This is the blender I swear by. Hugely powerful, but with noise suppression technology and capable not only of blending, but stirring, mixing and chopping too.

A more affordable option, the Nutribullet blender is a best-seller for a reason. Well-priced, powerful, quick and easy to clean and small enough to fit on top of your worksurfaces.

This unflavoured, unsweetened, plant-based protein powder from Form is my go-to and the one I most often recommend to clients if they’d like to use one.

This wide-mouthed travel smoothie bottle is made from borosilicate glass and comes with a non-slip neoprene sleeve. The steel cap fits tightly enough to ensure a leak-proof seal, too.

Almonds are my go-to smoothie nut, adding some necessary protein, nutrients and healthy fats. They blend really well if you soak them in water for a few hours first (ideally overnight). I buy them from here in bulk.

High in protein, hulled hemp seed blends well into smoothies (especially if soaked for a little while first). I tend to buy them in bulk to make it a much more cost-effective addition.

Photo by Susan Bell

Healthy Breakfast Eggs

Eggs are a fantastic way to start the day. A quick and simple source of protein and many essential nutrients, they help us to feel full and balance our blood sugar levels, keeping cravings and snacking at bay even late into the afternoon.

If I’m in a rush, I’ll quickly boil an egg using this fantastic electric egg boiler (trust me, I was sceptical too, but it’s a brilliant piece of kit for busy mornings). If I have more time, I’ll make a frittata or egg muffins, which are a great way to include more vegetables at breakfast time (and they freeze well too, so perfect for batch cooking).

Egg muffins

Summer vegetable frittata

Vegetable souffle with parsely, sage & rosemary

Green shakshuka

Shakshuka using leftover vegetables

Egg on toast, broad beans with herbs & feta

Kale & mushroom muffins

Breakfast pizza

Herby green omelette

Egg breakfast salad

Amelia’s Favourite Breakfast

Warm Breakfast Salad

in my books

Egg and vegetable tray bake – pg. 62 of Simply Good For You

Mini frittatas – pg. 76 of Simply Good For You

Breakfast pizza (complete with a grilled egg on top) – pg. 64 of Simply Good For You. This one is a real hit with Willow.

Hard-boiled eggs with watercress pesto (worth making extra pesto as it goes brilliantly with lots of ingredients) – pg. 128 of Cook. Nourish. Glow.

Scrambled eggs with roasted tomatoes and dulse – pg. 222 of Cook. Nourish. Glow

For a special weekend brunch, these beautifully Colourful Layered Eggs from pg. 113 of Cook. Nourish. Glow are a bit of a show-stopper.

Favourite products for eggs:

I was hugely sceptical about how useful this little gadget would be when my partner bought it. But I was wrong. It’s like having a toaster for eggs!

These beautifully simple, porcelain egg cups from Broste Copenhagen are the chicest way to start your day.

This is the perfect shallow pan with fitted lid, made to last in white enamelled cast iron. The heavy bottom means food cooks beautifully evenly and can be used on the hob, in the oven, or under the grill.

Ideal for beating eggs and making the fluffiest omelettes, this brilliant whisk has a comfy handle, sturdy wires and is easy to clean.

A silicon muffin tray is a really useful tool if you are batch-cooking egg muffins for the week ahead or to freeze.

I like the old-fashioned satisfaction of setting off my egg-timer and waiting for it to ring. A simple pleasure, but a useful one nonetheless.

Photo by Jen Rich

Healthy Fruit Breakfasts

If you prefer a sweeter breakfast, fruit is a great way to go and tends to also be a good option for anyone cooking with little ones. The key in terms of nutritional balance is to also include some protein. That might be unsweetened natural yoghurt, chopped nuts or seeds or nut butters, all of which work well alongside fruit.

I like to use berries at breakfast (frozen when out of season, fresh in the summer). They are a source of anthocyanins, a type of dietary antioxidant, and tend to be relatively lower in sugar and higher in fibre than some other fruits. There’s not much simpler than a bowl of natural yoghurt, a pile of strawberries or raspberries and a small handful of chopped almonds, for example. But here are a few more recipe options for your inspiration. You can of course switch around the fruit you use in them according to what’s in season or what your taste preferences might be.

Fruity breakfast crumble bars

Rhubarb orange fool

Spiced apple sauce

Blackberry and lemon chia pudding

Cherry compote

in my books

There are 4 lovely yoghurt bowl recipes (Apricot & pistachio, Gut-friendly, Berry jam and Fig & hazelnut) on pg. 52-59 of Simply Good For You.

Fruit at breakfast doesn’t always have to be completely sweet. I love the chicken & mango breakfast salad on pg. 71 of Simply Good For You.

Baked orange & almond pears – pg. 266 of Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan.

Turmeric & mango spiced chia pot – pg. 148 of Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan.

Favourite products for fruit:

Convenient sized clip-top glass storage jars and so useful to have in the kitchen. I have dozens of these and use them for everything from making overnight oats and yoghurt breakfasts to storing portions of fruit compotes or sauces.

These are the sweetest heart shaped ramekins. Pretty and perfectly sized for mini crumbles, yoghurt bowls and fruit breakfasts.

If you love apples and like to bake with them then I cannot recommend investing in one of these brilliant gadgets.

A sharp peeler makes light work of fruit & vegetable preparation, which is exactly what we need on rushed mornings.

I use these super sharp paring knives from Victorinox every single day. They just make fruit & vegetable prep much simpler and faster.

A wooden chopping board makes a huge difference to how quickly you can do your meal preparation. I find that wood absorbs the shock of the knife better than plastic and stops the food slipping around, helping to make chopping faster and safer.

Photo by Jen Rich

Healthy Bread & Toast Breakfasts

The key to a healthy toast-based breakfast is to start with a nutritious and minimally refined bread, ideally one that includes whole grains and/or seeds. I really like this rye bread from Biona.

Finding a properly fermented sourdough (which also gives it that wonderful tang) is another nutritional trick, as the fermentation process can help to reduce the impact that the flour may have on blood sugar levels, as well as increase the bioavailability of nutrients, such as zinc, to make them more readily available. I love this one from Riverford, which takes 48 hours to prepare and bake.

If you are gluten free, then these are the best GF breads that I have found, both in terms of taste and texture, and nutrition:

Next, we need to think about making the toppings nutrient dense too. The possibilities are enormous, but again, the key is to think about adding some sort of protein, vegetables (or fruit) and healthy fats.

12 favourite things on toast

Herby green bread

Carrot & caraway gluten free bread

Beetroot, rosemary & walnut soda bread

The hangover sandwich

Avocado & broad beans on toast

Sweet potato toasts with scrambled tofu

in my books

There is a whole chapter of healthy and nutritious toppings for toast in Simply Good For You. I called them my ‘hero toppings’ as they really help to pack in nutrition and taste for anyone feeling exhausted and time-poor. You can definitely still have your toast and eat it with these ideas!

Favourite products for bread and toast:

A sharp, effective bread knife is a necessity if you’re baking-your-own.

A good loaf tin can make all the difference to how your bread bakes, and how easily you can remove it.

This beautifully simple bread bin, with ventilation holes for air circulation and optimal freshness, a lovely integrated bamboo chopping board and linen storage bag for extra fresh bread.

Handmade in the UK, simply wrap this around your bread and store it away in a cool, dry place to keep it fresher for longer.

If you’re on the lookout for a beautiful, handmade breadboard that will very much stand the test of time, take a look at these stunning boards from Temper Studio, handmade in English Beech, Oak or Sycamore.

This is the toaster I have had for years. I love how it looks and how simple it is to operate.

Photo by Jen Rich

Healthy Vegetable Breakfasts

Savoury breakfasts are my absolute favourite and I encourage you to challenge your comfort zone if vegetables at breakfast feels weird to you. Familiarity often leads to enjoyment, so keep at it and your tastebuds will adapt.

One of the easiest ways to add vegetables to breakfast is to add a few cherry tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms or wilted spinach to your eggs, toast or other savoury breakfast. Or blend a portion of veg into a smoothie (spinach, kale, cucumber, courgettes and even cauliflower can work well). But it’s also fun to think outside the breakfast box and try a few less-typical vegetable-packed breakfast dishes. There’s a good few ideas below.

Some of these dishes take a little extra preparation so I’d opt to make them for a leisurely weekend brunch rather than a hectic morning.

Sweetcorn fritters with a yoghurt herb dip

Warm breakfast salad

Avocado and broad beans on toast

Smörgåsbord platter

Green ‘wake me up’ broth

Brunch vegetable fritters

Grilled sardines & tomatoes with crunchy herb dressing

Beetroot parsnip fritters

Celeriac rosti

Amelia’s Favourite Breakfast

in my books

Butternut baked beans (vegan) – pg. 61 of Simply Good For You. Perfect for batch cooking, and just as lovely at lunch or supper too.

Favourite products for vegetables:

I use these super sharp paring knives from Victorinox every single day. They just make vegetable prep much simpler and faster.

A wooden chopping board makes a huge difference to how quickly you can do your meal preparation.

I use my microplane grater for everything from garlic and ginger to adding a little lemon zest flavour boost. When you’re done give it a quick rinse or put it in the top rack of the dishwasher for easy cleaning.

This mandolin slicer is the quickest way to prepare vegetables, I use mine daily.

A sharp peeler makes light work of vegetable preparation, which is exactly what we need on rushed mornings.

For the most beautiful sharing platters at breakfast, you need a good-sized plate. This beautiful oval platter is made from Portugese clay, with a classic white glaze. It’s a classic.

Amelia Freeer's Buckwheat Breakfast Pancakes with Stewed Blackberries
Photo by Emma Goodwin

Healthy Pancake Breakfasts

There is something pretty wonderful about pottering about the kitchen, radio on, mixing and frying pancakes. Perhaps it’s because they are a breakfast dish I only make when there is a gentle start to the day and enough time free to do them justice. So, in my mind, they’re associated with all sorts of happy memories. Birthday mornings, celebratory weekends, breakfast-in-bed. It’s why I love them so much.

But pancakes don’t have to only be saved for special occasions. The mix can be whipped up quickly in the morning or made in advance and kept in the fridge overnight, and if you do a big batch, they tend to keep well for a few days (perhaps just warming them through gently before serving).

I often use buckwheat flour in my pancakes for the wonderful nutty taste, and top with unsweetened yoghurt (protein), fruit and nuts, seeds or a dollop of nut butter (healthy fat and added protein) to provide all of the nutrients I need for a healthy balanced breakfast.

Here are a couple of gluten free pancake options, but you can use regular wholewheat flour if you wish.

Buckwheat breakfast pancakes

Coconut flour pancakes

in my books

The easy Protein Pancakes on pg. 51 of Simply Good For You have been so popular with readers and they really are super quick to make.

Favourite products for pancakes:

If there is one thing that makes successful pancakes a whole lot easier, it’s a good pan. Big enough to accommodate a few mini pancakes at a time, but not so big that you can’t make a single crepe without it breaking apart.

I try to mix up my nut butters to help broaden the variety of healthy fats in my diet. I love this delicious cashew nut option.

I’m a huge fan of these lightweight, set of 5 nesting stainless steel mixing bowls. They are virtually indestructible, you can choose the exact size you need according to the recipe you’re making.

To make good pancakes, you need a good whisk to get rid of lumps and make a beautifully smooth batter.

Could there be a more divine way to wake up, than taking this beautiful tray back to bed, complete with steaming mug of tea (or coffee), stack of pancakes and the weekend newspapers? The best of simple pleasures.

This delicious organic maple syrup is the perfect addition to a stack of scrumptious pancakes.

Healthy Breakfast Oats

A comforting bowl of hot steaming porridge is a wonderful staple breakfast, particularly during the colder autumnal and winter months. I love it topped with a little yoghurt (dairy free is fine if you prefer), some diced apple or pear, a sprinkle of these and a drizzle of honey or scattering of chopped dates.

I also love oats in the warmer months too – they are a nutritious and simple whole grain to incorporate into our diets at any time of the year. Overnight oats, or Bircher muesli are easy summer options. They are a useful recipes to have to hand if you’re often busy in the mornings, as you can mix together one big batch that will do you for 2-3 days.

As always, remember to add some protein (milk, yoghurt, nuts, seeds, nut / seed butter, protein powder) to help you feel full and keep blood sugar levels stable. It is often this food group that is missing if you find that you’re ravenous just a couple of hours after breakfast.

Crunchy nut & seed granola

Quinoa porridge

Crunchy amaranth granola

Creamy coconut strawberry chia breakfast porridge

Apple crumble oats

Overnight almond oats with poached pears

Chocolate Orange Porridge

Raspberry and Lemon Porridge

Tropical Mango Porridge

Cherry Bakewell Porridge

Apple and Cinnamon Porridge

in my books

The Bircher Muesli on pg. 36 of Simply Good For You is my go to breakfast for busy days and can be infinitely varied according to the toppings.

Coconut Muesli, pg. 39 of Simply Good For You.

As for granola, my favourite one to make from scratch is on page 141 of Nourish & Glow: The 10 Day Plan

Favourite products for oats:

I have a stack of these robust bowls, which to me are the perfect size and shape to wrap your hands around on a frosty morning, especially when filled with enticing and steamy porridge.

I was sent this Apple & Cinnamon granola, from Bio & Me, which contains added prebiotic fibre alongside wholegrain oats, a mixture of seeds and some dates for sweetness. This is a great option if you don’t have the time to DIY.

Convenient sized clip-top glass storage jars and so useful to have in the kitchen. I have dozens of these and use them for everything from making overnight oats to storing portions of fruit compotes or sauces.

If you eat gluten-free oats, I’ve found that buying online (especially in bulk, if you eat a lot) can be a cheaper option.

An ancient grain that I love to use in my granola, this makes a welcome change from oats.

The prettiest little scalloped bowls made from Portuguese clay in a classic white glaze. I use these almost every day and always get lots of questions about where they come from.

Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.


9 tips for a great night’s sleep

9 tips for a great night’s sleep

July 2020

Photo by Samuel Myles on Unsplash

Sleep, or the lack of it, can influence so many different aspects of our health and wellbeing. Many of us know the joy that comes from waking up after a wholly uninterrupted and blissfully restorative night, but also how profoundly a bad night can affect the following days.

I admit that I fall in to the latter camp lately, mostly due to the needs of my little one. And that is a key point I really want to make here.  Good quality sleep is not always in our personal control – from frequent trips to the bathroom to caring responsibilities, longstanding health problems or medication side effects – we can’t solve all sleep issues with a more comfortable bed and technological ‘sun-down’.

BUT, I often work with clients who have more general sleep troubles, yet don’t do these basic things consistently. ‘Sleep hygiene’ is a great first step to help improve the amount and quality of sleep you get.

I thought it might therefore be helpful to share my 9 most frequently recommended sleep tips, in case it helps any of you get an extra hour or two of restorative shut-eye. For more significant concerns, or if there are medical issues affecting your sleep, please do speak to your healthcare provider. There is often support available.

1. set realistic expectations.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults aim for 7-9 hours sleep a night, although anywhere between 6-10 may be appropriate, depending on your personal requirements and circumstances. Generally speaking, sleeping for <6 hours, or >10 is not recommend.

It’s therefore sensible to set realistic expectations. Some people do need less sleep, but if you’re someone who needs a little more, allow for this in your schedule and don’t try to burn the candle at both ends every night.

2.  minimise the 5 key sleep disruptions.

These are light, noise, heat, alcohol and caffeine. Minimise as necessary, according to your personal tolerance for each. Some people are more sensitive than others, either to individual factors, or a combination of them.

Light
Most of us sleep best in a very dark room. That might require installing black-out blinds or hook-on curtain liners , particularly in the summer months, and making sure that ambient light (from alarm clocks, chargers, hallways etc.) is also reduced. Recent research has found that light receptors are not only found in our eyes, but in our skin too . These may also influence our sleep-wake cycles, so aiming for a dark room, rather than just an eye mask, may be beneficial for some people.

Noise
Background noise can be a real sleep disruptor. Sometimes, this can’t be helped (such as hearing your baby crying), but when it is safe to do so, ear plugs or a white noise machine can be really helpful. If it is external or traffic noise that is most problematic, then investing in some sound-insulating windows, shutters or extra-heavy curtains may also be worthwhile.

Heat
A hot bedroom can reduce your ability to get off to sleep, and causes frequent night waking. Aim for a comfortably cool bedroom and breathable layers of clothing / bedding. I have this fan, which has been a real lifesaver on super hot summer nights.

Alcohol
Alcohol might feel like a sleep aid, in that it can help us to relax and perhaps temporarily quiet racing thoughts, but actually, it impairs the quality of our sleep later in the night, so that overall, we get less rest and restoration. Stick to a sensible alcohol intake and try not to consume it after your evening meal has finished. For more info, check out my longer article on alcohol here.

Caffeine
Many of us are cautious about the amount of caffeine we consume in the late afternoon and evening, but for some people, caffeine consumed much earlier in the day may still be affecting sleep. If sleep is a challenge for you, try gradually reducing your caffeine intake over a couple of weeks (I don’t recommend going ‘cold-turkey’), to see if it has a positive impact. Also, don’t forget to check the ingredients on some medications (particularly for colds), which may also contain caffeine.

3. include magnesium containing foods in your diet.

Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral that is thought to play an important role in sleep regulation. Magnesium-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, legumes and pulses, nuts (especially almonds, cashews, peanuts), seeds, whole grains and yoghurt. Getting magnesium from whole foods is always my initial recommendation. Supplements of any kind should be discussed first with a qualified nutrition or health professional.

4. stick to a consistent sleep schedule.

You’ll probably have read this one many times before, but it is still a good tip. Try (although I know this is impossible if you are working shifts) sticking to a consistent bed time and waking-up time, even at weekends, as it helps our bodies to get into a good rhythm of knowing when to be wakeful, and when to start getting sleepy.

5. sleep books.

The Sleep Book by Dr Guy Meadows is my top self-help recommendation for anyone suffering from chronic sleep troubles. I’ve suggested it to many clients, as I often find that sleep difficulties make new habits (especially dietary ones) much harder to stick to. It suggests a different way of looking at insomnia, using the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which might offer a new approach to those you’ve read of in the past.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker is also an excellent book, although I would suggest being cautious about reading it if you are already struggling with insomnia, as it might potentially increase anxiety around sleep – which is inevitably unhelpful and may exacerbate the problem.

6. observe a technological sun-down.

This tip is most often suggested due to the potentially stimulatory effects of artificial light in the evenings. When technology use is essential in the evenings, the effects may be reduced through warm tint settings or blue-light blocking glasses. If technology use is not essential, however, then switching to other forms of unwinding (such as a creative activity, warm bath, relaxing music, journaling or reading) might be an alternative strategy. I generally recommend doing this for somewhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours before you want to fall asleep. See what works best for you.

I think, however, that there is another aspect to this tip that is not so often discussed. It is recommended that we go to bed when we feel tired, but certainly in my own experience, it can be really hard to recognise this cue if we are engrossed in those magical shiny light boxes we are now so familiar with (phones, TV, computers, tablets etc.).  The automatic play function of online streaming services is, I think, a real culprit for our collective lack of sleep. Pushing through (or not observing) the cues to sleep can sometimes result in a ‘second wind’, where wakefulness returns and the ability to drift off to sleep is harder again. Furthermore, the content of the media we consume before bed can potentially trigger anxiety or wakefulness – I don’t recommend regularly watching late-night news programmes, for example – they are often full of anxiety-provoking stories that we might be better able to process in the morning.

Again though, as always, it is very much down to our individual experience. None of this affects us all in the same way. We need to work out what does matter for us and act accordingly.

Photo: Amelia Freer

7. avoid large meals just before bedtime.

Where possible, I generally suggest my clients aim to have their main evening meal at least 2-3 hours before going to bed, which allows our stomach time to start digesting and processing the meal before we lie flat. This can also sometimes help reflux-type symptoms, too.

You may find, however, that eating your meal many hours before bed leaves you a little hungry. That can also negatively impact sleep. A small snack, such as a handful or almonds and an apple, or a slice of rye toast with a dollop of nut butter and some squished blueberries, might be beneficial.

8. get some early morning sunlight.

Our natural wake-sleep cycle (called the Circadian Rhythm) is basically an internal body clock and influences all sorts of biological functions. One of the ways to help regulate this clock is to get some bright light, ideally sunlight in the morning. Even better if you can combine it with a little exercise, such as a quick walk. Even a minute or two is better than nothing.

Photo: Susan Bell

9. leave your phone out of the bedroom.

Last, but by no means least, this is my little plea. If you always go to sleep with your phone by your head, please consider either turning it off, or leaving it in another room.

I often wonder if never turning our phones off means that we don’t get a chance to switch off either – there’s always that possibility that it might ring or beep at any moment and demand our attention. Perhaps that keeps us engaged, and on edge, more than we are quite aware of? Or try using the sleep cycle which means you won’t get any distractions between set hours.

NB., If you’re used to using your phone to wake you up, consider buying a standalone alarm. This sunrise alarm clock is what I now have by my bedside and am a big fan.

Wishing you all a very good nights sleep.

 

Amelia x

Please note: If you buy something through these links, I might earn an affiliate commission – at no cost to you. I only recommend products my team and I genuinely use or like, but it all helps to keep my website running and advert free for all to access. Thank you so much.

SHOP THE EDIT

Wild Nutrition Magnesium

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Sunday Of London Sleepy Mist

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Woron Sleep Mask

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Sunrise Alarm Clock

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The Sleep Book

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Why We Sleep

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Is Joy a missing piece of the healthy puzzle?

Is Joy a missing piece of the healthy puzzle?

June 2020

Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash

Practicing good nutrition, healthy living, regular exercise or frankly, any aspect of wellness can, at least to some people, be deeply associated with joylessness and parsimony.

It seems, on occasion to have become equal to holding back, setting rules and abstaining from the pleasures of life for the sake of discipline. ‘Living the good life’, on the other hand, is hedonistic, freeing and allows us to do as we please as we throw caution to the wind.

Thankfully, however, this constructed dichotomy of healthy vs. joyful is simply untrue.

For healthy so often is joyful. Not in a superficial or aesthetic sense. That, I fear, is transitory at most and relies too heavily on comparison with others. No, I am much more interested in the very immediate and sensory joys that can be found in great food, enjoyable exercise and the sense of mental peace that comes from embracing self-compassionate practices.

The joyfulness to be found in healthy practices is an essential but missing piece of the puzzle and despite it’s crucial role, is one that is mostly disregarded. I think this oversight is often where the mocking, scoffing and even, sometimes, anger leveled against this industry comes from too. It is all part of the same misconception – in our own minds as much as anyone else’s – that we can either choose to enjoy ourselves (and be fun to be around) or we can choose to be ‘good’ and boring. What rubbish!

For how could it ever be possible to eat well for life, if that way of eating is not utterly filled with joyful moments? Even fear can’t keep us on the path of a bland and unpalatable diet for long. Food is, afterall, one if the most important simple pleasures in life. Take that away, and what are we left with?

But finding the joy in eating well, now that is where the magic happens.

It becomes effortlessly easy to sustain, as the reward is adequate for the effort we are putting in. What, specifically, is joyful about our food will be as varied as we are, but I’m not sure there are many dishes that can beat an incredible bowl of sun-ripened cherries, of beautifully slow-cooked ratatouille drizzled in tangy olive oil, of incredibly fresh fish straight off the grill, or greens lightly sautéed in garlic and ginger. It’s far from abstemious or boring. It’s a delight and one that is amplified if enjoyed in the company of loved ones.

But good food is rarely just about eating. It needs to be sourced and cooked first. Again, this can so often conjur up negativity and images of being enslaved to the kitchen. Of hours spent chopping, washing, stirring and working. There is little fun in that, particularly if the whole thing is done anxiously or grudgingly.

Finding the pleasure in these necessary culinary activities comes from reframing our approach. The joy of cooking is found in the creation of something from seemingly disparate ingredients. The alchemy is intriguing and blending flavours is like mixing colours. More brightness, more depth, more tang or more body. You’re an artist of the saucepan, mixing and tweaking until you’re happy with the end result. It does take a modest amount of kitchen confidence, but with the immense volume of free resources now available online, is thankfully an almost universally accessible skill to learn.

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

The same idea applies to all aspects of wellness. Take regular exercise, for example. If you want to participate consistently, surely either the exercise itself needs to be enjoyable, social or at the very least satisfying, or so-called ‘Type 2 fun’ – when you get to bask in the benefits after completing the activity. The ‘runners high” for example. You might not love the feeling of the run, but the euphoria that comes afterwards makes it all worthwhile. These are the reasons we keep at it. Ask a keen runner why they run and inevitably the answer is ‘because I love it’. Not ‘because I should do it or because it burns xxx calories’. Ask an enthusiastic dancer, or swimmer, or yogi, or someone who loves to walk, or gym goer the same question and you’ll often hear the same response. They have found the joy and that is why they continue. They no longer do it from a sense of duty or requirement, but an intrinsic motivation for pleasure is what drives them out of the door.

I always find it fascinating to watch young children move just for the joy of moving. They can’t help it – the happiness simply has to burst out of them. I guess we have learnt to inhibit ourselves from doing the same as we have grown up. But it was clearly an innate need inside of us. We just need to find what lights that spark again.

Ultimately, I believe that we are all motivated more deeply by our drive to find joy than we ever could be from logical reasoning. Of behaving in a certain way because we have been told to, or because we think we should. So perhaps that should be the ultimate aim of us all wellness professionals – to help people find their joy. When this overlaps with healthy living, that is the sweet spot of life where taking care of ourselves and enjoying ourselves, becomes easy.

 

Written by my colleague Rosamund Yoxall BMBS BSc


My 8 most-used pieces of kitchen kit

My 8 most-used pieces of kitchen kit

With so many of us now cooking all our meals at home and perhaps taking lockdown as an opportunity to finally clear out the back of our kitchen cupboards and have a bit of a spring clean, I thought I’d share my all-time favourite kitchen kit with you.

Photo Susan Bell

These are the items that I use day-in, day-out in my kitchen. The old friends that are reliable, useful and most importantly, highly effective. I totally understand our desires for the latest gadgets and fancy culinary toys, but I can’t overstate the importance of having really good basics, that actually do what they are supposed to do (I’m looking at you, rusty, broken peelers and blunt knives).

There is a real pleasure that comes from something practical that is perfect for its job. Particularly if it also makes our lives that bit easier and more enjoyable. All of the following meet those criteria for me.

 

Happy cooking!

1. Wooden chopping board

A good, wooden chopping board makes a huge difference to how quickly you can do your preparation. Wood absorbs the shock of the knife and stops the food slipping around, helping to make chopping faster and safer. Place a damp dishcloth underneath the board for more stability. Simply wash it in hot, soapy water and allow to air dry (which is also very hygienic), and your board will last for years. Mine is like an old friend now, with the marks of many thousands of meals prepared etched into its surface.

2. Sharp, dishwasher-safe knives

These cheap, brilliant knives are my secret kitchen weapon. They make light work of all vegetable prep and are completely dishwasher safe. Beware though – they are extremely sharp – so be careful of your fingers and definitely keep out of reach of little ones.

3. Stacking steamer saucepan

Invest in a steamer saucepan and you’ll wonder how you ever did without one. Steaming is a great way of preserving the nutritional value of foods and is an incredibly quick and easy way of adding a couple of vegetable sides to a main meal. Plus, all it really needs is a quick swill out afterwards, so barely any washing up either.

4. Lemon squeezer

For the quickest of dressings over steamed vegetables, to an extra zing in a G & T, this lemon squeezer is the simplest way to juice a lemon – with minimal washing up and no annoying pips. I love it.

5. Microplane fine grater

By far the fastest way to zest a lemon, grate ginger, or sprinkle some fresh parmesan, one of these sharp, hand-held graters is a real kitchen bonus. It’s one of those things you think you’ll never use, that is, until you have one. Then you’ll find you use it all the time.

6. Speed peeler

Peelers need to do one thing: peel. If yours doesn’t, or is a pain to use, or the handle is falling off, do yourself a favour and throw under £5 at a new one. It’s a game changer.

7. Stainless steel tray

I use this for everything – roasting, baking, heating, grilling – basically, for anything that needs to go in the oven. It can be properly scrubbed clean (as no non-stick coating), and is fantastically versatile.

8. Kitchen tongs

Simply an extension of your hands for hot things. Brilliant, and essential.

Psst! Here’s a little tip-off…

If you are after some new cast iron pans or dishes, Procook does them for a steal. Not an ad, I was just really impressed with their value for money.

 

*Please note, this article contains affiliate links, so while the cost to you is the same, we may earn a small commission if you buy through these links, which helps to cover our costs to provide ongoing free content to you.


How to enjoy cooking for one

How to enjoy cooking for one

A theme that has popped up a number of times from this lovely community is the challenge (and possibly also the opportunity) of shopping, cooking and eating for one.

First, I want to extend a validating hug to anyone struggling with the potential loneliness of cooking and eating alone, especially if this is a new experience, or you are finding it hard to adjust to a quiet house when in the past it has been a bubbling, chaotic and chatty time of your day. The connection that comes from sharing a meal is something that can be sorely missed when mealtimes become a more silent affair.

So please know that it’s OK to find this a rocky transition to make. Just like it is OK if finding the motivation to shop and nourish yourself properly is sometimes difficult. You are absolutely NOT alone. I get many messages from people struggling with these exact worries every week.

But, bear with me here. It is not all doom-and-gloom, I promise! I cooked and ate alone for many years. I think we might therefore have an opportunity here, to re-frame the challenge into a chance to practice mindful self-compassion and self-care. Cooking and eating alone could even be seen as a blessing.

Why? Because you don’t need to cater for other people’s moods, whims, tastes or meal timings. You can eat what you love, when you want, and do so whilst dancing madly around the kitchen listening to slightly-too-loud jazz, if you so wish. There is a freedom in cooking for one that can be something to relish. A chance to practice being your own best friend. To make mealtimes a moment of joy in your day.

This starts by accepting that you, alone, are absolutely worthy of the time and (often minimal) effort it takes to eat proper meals. Even if that is just a couple of times a week to begin with. And then perhaps try to get into the habit of properly laying the table for yourself. Complete with your best china, candles and a sneaky glass of wine if you wish. You’re having dinner with the most important person in your world, afterall.

And if you’d like a little more inspiration or ideas, do take a look at the tips below. I’ve also included an example shopping list and a handful of meal ideas (there are hundreds of recipes available online for each of these meals, if a recipe is needed at all) using the ingredients. It’s not a meal plan to follow, but rather a selection of ways to make simple meals for one, without endless leftovers, and a few ideas that flowed from my imagination to hopefully inspire yours.

Here are a few extra suggestions

1. Don’t cook in silence, if you don’t like it.

Find an engaging podcast series, put the radio on, play some great music or download some cheery audiobooks. You could even use hands-free or video calling to chat to a loved one while you potter about the kitchen. You don’t have to be having a constant conversation, but it means you can cook ‘together’, apart if you’d like.

2. Similarly, don’t always eat alone, if you don’t like it.

Start a supper club (I love the idea of a soup club – you simply take it in turns to provide soup, bread and cheese, so the cost and preparation is minimal, leaving everyone free to focus on the conversation), eat with your friends once a week, eat lunch with your co-workers, find local meet-ups, or simply eat in a café or restaurant occasionally (there is something rather romantic about a table for one, I’ve always felt). If you have housemates, arrange to take it in turns to cook once a week for everyone. If this is tricky for any reason, then perhaps arrange a group video call, so you can enjoy a virtual dinner party once in a while.

3. Meal planning

I’m a big fan of meal planning. It helps reduce food waste (as your plan can also include leftovers), makes shopping easier (you know exactly what you need, buying ingredients for actual meals, rather than a motley collection of ‘things that were on offer / looked nice’) and reduces the mental dialogue of ‘should I bother to cook tonight, or just have cheese on toast again?’, because there is a clear plan to follow. Try it for a week with this free printable planner.

4. Get a small freezer, if at all possible

Minimising food waste and making speedy meals is much easier with a small freezer and some nifty containers. Frozen fruit and veg is no less nutritious than fresh, and means you can use exactly the right amount for one portion at a time. It’s also a good idea to keep an odds-and-ends tub of leftover vegetables. Once your tub gets filled, defrost it, add some decent stock and make it into a thick soup. You can then use this as a base for stews, sauces and casseroles as well as a hearty soup. You could do the same with fruit, and turn it into a delicious mixed-fruit compote.

5. Buy meat, fish or cheese from independent shops, or the counter

That way, you can get single portions (as packaged produce always seem to come in multiple quantities), saving both money and potential waste.

6. Don’t worry about eating simply

Good, nutritious food doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple omelette with some mushrooms, tomatoes and a side salad is wonderfully filling and nutrient dense. Steamed fish, grains and greens is both delicious and speedy. Also try my ‘Hero Toppings’ section in Simply Good For You for a whole load of ideas on ways to transform basic toast into a more nourishing meal.

7. Set goals

Have a think about what you feel your ‘baseline’ nutrition or self-care goals might be each day. Perhaps that might be cooking one proper meal a day from scratch, having three portions of vegetables, or always having a portion of protein with breakfast. It could also be non-foodie, such as getting outside for 10 minutes, having a conversation with a friend, or doing 5 press-ups.

It doesn’t really matter exactly what these goals are, so long as they are sensible and achievable, but they offer us a framework to ensure we are taking proper care of ourselves, without worrying about being ‘perfect’.

Illustrations by Ryn Frank

EXAMPLE WEEKLY SHOPPING LIST FOR 1:
  • 6 eggs
  • Milk of choice
  • Yoghurt of choice
  • 1 fillet salmon (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 chicken thighs / chicken breasts
  • 1 – 2 bags washed salad / spinach
  • 1 small head broccoli
  • 1 punnet tomatoes
  • 2 courgettes
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 punnet mushrooms
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bunch bananas (peel & freeze any ripe leftovers for smoothies / banana ice cream)
  • 1 bag apples
  • 1 bag new potatoes
  • 1 bag carrots
  • Onions / garlic
  • Great quality bread – sliced, and frozen (toasting straight from frozen as required)
  • Oats
  • Mixed seeds
  • Almonds
  • Red lentil / chickpea pasta
  • 2 tins chickpeas / cannellini beans
  • 2 jars chopped tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Tahini
  • Frozen peas or beans

*This total basket cost (calculated using an online supermarket delivery), came to approximately £45, with some leftover dried goods for another week.


Illustrations by Ryn Frank

A FEW MEAL IDEAS TO USE UP THESE INGREDIENTS:

Breakfast ideas

  • Porridge with seeds
  • Yoghurt with fruit & almonds
  • Bircher muesli (oats, yoghurt, seeds & grated apple mixed and left to soak overnight in fridge)
  • Fritatta with mushrooms & spinach / tomatoes & grated courgettes (good for lunch and/or supper too).
  • Mashed banana and tahini on toast (nicer than it sounds!)
  • Poached / scrambled / boiled egg on toast with spinach
  • Smoothie of banana, soaked almonds, spinach and milk.

Lunch ideas

  • Vegetable soup with roasted chickpea croutons and/or toast
  • Simple salad with chickpea croutons, olive oil and seeds
  • Salad with leftover cold chicken / salmon and new potatoes
  • Pea & chickpea hummus, toast, cherry tomatoes & salad
  • Leftover pasta in tomato sauce with extra salad and olive oil
  • Tomato & cannellini bean soup (there’s a great ‘instant’ recipe for this in Simply Good For You)

Supper ideas

  • Salmon, new potatoes, broccoli & peas / beans, tahini dressing
  • Chicken with sautéed courgettes, onion & garlic, and new potatoes.
  • Lentil pasta with homemade tomato sauce
  • Lentil pasta with mushrooms, peas, onions and wilted spinach
  • Chicken with leftover tomato sauce, broccoli & new potatoes
  • Simple ratatouille with peppers, courgettes, onions, garlic and chopped tomatoes, served with chicken, or made into an omelette, or spooned over pasta.
  • Chickpea & vegetable stew, served with a dollop of yoghurt
  • Chicken, tomato & pepper stew with new potatoes


Plant-based Diet: 9 Key Nutrients

9 Key nutrients for a plant based diet

9 key nutrients to be aware of in a plant-based diet

This article gives a broad overview of 9 important nutrients to be aware of if you choose to consume a plant-based diet. They are not the only nutrients that need consideration, nor is this a completely comprehensive run-down (it’s a BIG topic!), but these 9 are the ones that I tend to get asked the most questions about. I’ve written more about my general thoughts on adopting a plant-based diet, in case you’re interested.

It’s also worth mentioning at the start that there is no one-size-fits-all rule for supplementation, not least because I generally support a ‘food first’ approach to nutrients (where possible – B12 is harder to come by in plant-based food alone, for example). I therefore cannot tell you which supplements to take, as this will depend on so many different factors. So please do seek appropriate nutritional support (see my FAQs for helpful info) as necessary – an investment in yourself I wholeheartedly recommend if you want to ensure you’re consuming a well-balanced and nourishing plant-based diet in the long term.

Lentil and Mushroom Ragu by Amelia Freer

Proteins

Proteins are important for growth & repair in our bodies and are made of amino acid ‘building blocks’. 9 of these amino acids are classed as ‘essential’ – which means we must get them from our diet as our bodies cannot make them. Foods that contain all 9 essential amino acids are classed as ‘complete’ proteins – and include meat, eggs and seafood.  Plants also contain proteins, but few of them contain all 9 essential amino acids and therefore, eating a widely varied and abundant plant-based diet is important to ensure we get the correct combination of essential amino acids overall.

SUGGESTIONS: Try to have a portion of plant-based protein at every meal (such as pulses, lentils, beans, hummus, nuts, seeds, nut butters, tahini, tempeh, tofu, edamame beans, broad beans, peas). Switch these protein sources up over the course of the day / week.

RECIPE IDEAS

+ Lentil & Mushroom Ragu
+ Nut Roast served with a Rich Tomato Sauce
+ Warming chickpea & pumpkin curry
+ Soup for the soul

Calcium

Calcium is important for healthy bone and teeth formation, but also for various other biological functions, such as muscle contraction. It’s particularly important for children & adolescents (although as an essential mineral – is still important for all of us). Absorption of calcium from plant foods can be inhibited by other compounds, such as oxalates or phytates, which are naturally also found within plants. These compounds may reduce the efficiency of mineral absorption.

SUGGESTIONS: Try using a calcium calculator to work out your rough weekly intake of calcium. This helps build awareness of your personal intake, and also shows you the types of foods that are good plant-based calcium sources. Look for calcium-fortified nut or non-dairy milk alternatives (check the label if you’re not sure). Tofu is often set with calcium, too (this should be identified on the label). Also include plenty of green leafy vegetables, tahini, nuts & seeds into your diet.

 RECIPE IDEAS

+ Roasted cauliflower with tahini & miso dipping sauce
+ Kale & Bean Soup with Pistachio Lemon Pistou
+ Try the Sweet Potato toasts with Scrambled Tofu on page 267 of Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan, of the stir-fried veggies & tofu on page 224 of Simply Good For You.

 

Kale & Bean Soup with Pistachio & Lemon Pisto by Amelia Freer

Vitamin D

We get vitamin D mostly from the sun, but it can also be found in some animal products (such as egg yolks and oily fish), as well as fortified foods or supplements. Vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency can be problematic in the UK, especially when sun exposure is limited.

SUGGESTIONS: Safe sunlight exposure during the spring /summer months in the UK where possible. The Department of Health now recommends that all adults consider supplementing with 4ooIU / 10 micrograms Vitamin D between October – March in the UK. Some people with limited sunlight exposure may benefit from year-round supplementation. Please speak with your local pharmacist if you’re not sure which supplement to take. Be aware that many D3 supplements come from animal sources, such as lanolin. There are, however, vegan versions available. See the label for details.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for brain, nerve and blood health and is a factor in a key metabolic process called methylation (important in DNA regulation). B12 is mostly found in animal products (although some plant-based foods are fortified with B12).  Our own microbiome is not thought to make a lot of absorbable vitamin B12.

SUGGESTIONS: Most people following a completely plant-based diet in the longer term will need to supplement with vitamin B12. Speak to your GP, pharmacist or a qualified nutrition professional for advice on the right level of supplementation for you.

Amelia Freer's Grain Free Crunchy Amaranth Granola

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that is important in supporting healthy immune function, skin barrier and wound healing, fertility and lots of other metabolic processes. However, zinc absorption may be lower in a plant-based diet because the most zinc-rich foods tend to be seafood & meat and zinc absorption may again be lower due to naturally occurring plant compounds like phytates. Soaking, sprouting or fermenting foods may help to reduce phytate levels and thus boost mineral absorption.

SUGGESTIONS: Plant-based sources of zinc include tempeh and miso, soaked or sprouted and cooked beans, soaked or fermented wholegrains (i.e., well fermented sourdough bread has greater zinc bio-availability than unleven bread), soaked nuts & seeds and fortified breads or cereals.

RECIPE IDEAS

+ Crunchy Amaranth Granola
+ Blend soaked nuts and seeds into your smoothies
+ Sprinkle pumpkin or sunflower seeds onto soups & salads
+ Long-fermented sourdough bread

Omega -3 Fatty Acids

ALA (alpha linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexanoic acid) & EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) are all important types of Omega-3 fatty acids. Deficiencies or imbalances are common, regardless of diet. DHA & EPA are found in oily fish, or fish oil supplements. ALA is found in plant foods, including certain nuts and seeds, and is the precursor to DHA & EPA. However, conversion of ALA to DHA / EPA is often inefficient, so some people choose to supplement with microalgae oils, for example, which directly provide EPA & DHA. Confused? It’s a big topic!  Take a look at this useful PDF from the Vegan Society for more info.

SUGGESTIONS: Include nuts and seeds, like walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, chia seeds (soaked first), pumpkin seeds, linseeds (ideally ground or soaked first) into your diet and choose rapeseed / linseed oil to make dressings and for cooking. These are all sources of ALA. Eat plenty of leafy greens too. To help balance the proportion of Omega-3: Omega-6 fats in your diet, aim to minimise, where possible, your consumption of vegetable oil, sunflower oils / margarines / processed or fried foods. You may wish to consider a microalgae oil supplement for DHA / EPA. Speak with a professional if you are not sure about supplementation.

RECIPE IDEAS

+ Creamy coconut strawberry chia breakfast 
+
Baked apples with almond cream
+ Try the nut granola recipe on page 141 of Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan.

Creamy Coconut Strawberry Chia Breakfast Porridge

Iodine

Much of the iodine intake in the UK comes from dairy milk or fish/seafood. Iodine is essential for normal thyroid hormone function and is particularly important for women of childbearing age. Iodine, unlike calcium, is not routinely fortified in non-dairy milk alternatives, nor is our salt iodised here in the UK.

SUGGESTIONS: If you are considering a long-term plant based diet, you may wish to supplement – particularly if you are planning pregnancy or breastfeeding. Again, do speak to your GP, pharmacist or a qualified nutrition professional for advice. Take a look at this useful factsheet for more information on iodine.

Please note: The iodine content of seaweed varies a lot, and some types (including brown seaweeds like kelp and kombu) may have excessively high concentrations of iodine that can potentially cause harm. It’s therefore recommended that you avoid sea vegetable / seaweed supplements as these may have widely variable amounts of iodine in them, and do not eat seaweed more than once a week. Please take a look at the factsheet mentioned above for more information.

Selenium

Selenium is an essential mineral that is involved in many important enzyme reactions in our body and plays a vital role in all sorts of different metabolic functions. The selenium content of food can vary significantly according to the content of the soil where the animal was raised or plant was grown.

SUGGESTIONS: 1 Brazil nut can provide you with all the selenium that you need in a day, as they are a very rich source of selenium. In fact, it’s one of the few nutrients I am aware of where you can potentially ‘overdose’ from food alone. It is therefore recommended that we do not consume Brazil nuts every day and do not eat them in large quantities. You may wish to stick to safe supplementation instead (although it’s just as important not to take too much selenium in supplemental form). Please seek personalised professional advice for further information.

One-Tray Winter Roasted Salad

Iron

Haem iron (found in animal products, particularly red meat) is generally more readily absorbed by our bodies than non-haem iron (found in plant foods). While overall iron absorption will vary from person-to-person, depending on factors like our current iron status, pregnancy and presence of vitamin C in the meal, it’s sensible to ensure we’re including a range of relatively iron-rich foods into a plant-based diet, and enjoying them in a way that maximises our chance of absorption.

RECOMMENDED: Try to have a source of vitamin C alongside iron-rich plant foods, as this boosts absorption. Citrus fruits, lemon juice (great in a dressing) and red peppers are all good sources of vitamin C. Iron can be found in pulses, green leafy vegetables, fortified breads and cereals, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. It’s also best to avoid drinking tea or coffee for 30 minutes either side of your meals, as the tannins they contain can potentially reduce the efficiency of iron absorption.

RECIPE IDEAS

+ Try the Stuffed Peppers or the Lentil Cottage Pie (both from Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan).
+ One-tray roasted winter salad on page 228 of Simply Good For You.

Remember to read my article
Thinking About: Eating A Plant Based Diet


Thinking About: Eating a plant-based diet

Thinking About:
Eating a plant-based diet

A plant-based diet consists primarily of vegetables, wholegrains, oils, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit and soy products like tofu and tempeh. There are compelling environmental reasons to cut down on the amount of meat, fish and dairy products we are all consuming, or at least, to make more conscious choices on those occasions where we do choose to eat a modest amount of animal produce.

 

However, with my nutrition ‘hat’ on, I believe it is important to be nutritionally informed when choosing to adopt a completely plant-based diet for the long-term (i.e., beyond Veganuary), to make sure we’re giving our bodies everything we need to function optimally.
It can sometimes be assumed that being plant-based is shorthand for being healthy, but it is a diet that requires thought and careful planning to make sure we’re not missing important nutrients. It is also not an instant weight-loss diet. It is more than possible to eat a highly-processed and refined, sugar-heavy plant-based diet.

See my article: 9 key nutrients to be aware of in a plant-based diet

Therefore, if you are considering making the move to eating plant-based for more than a few weeks or so, I would highly recommend booking an appointment (see my FAQ page for info) even just as a one-off with a nutrition professional. I would particularly advocate this if you are cooking for children or adolescents, considering (or are) pregnant or lactating, are a performance athlete or have a pre-existing medical condition – although it’s a useful investment in yourself and your health for anyone thinking about going plant-based for good.

Alongside potentially seeking some professional support, it’s a sensible idea to learn a bit of nutritional science and to be conscious about food combinations, nutrient bioavailability and safe supplementation.

I think it takes commitment to eat a balanced and nutritionally complete plant-based diet that supports long-term health. Of course, that’s not to say that it isn’t possible and indeed joyful to eat a plant-based and balanced diet – it absolutely is. But my experience of working alongside clients making this shift has taught me that it can take more effort and thought to do so than if you are eating an omnivorous one. See my article on 9 key nutrients to be aware of in a plant-based diet if you’d like to dive into more detail on the nutritional aspects of this.

Therefore, while I wholeheartedly support and defend our individual right to choose a diet that aligns with our personal thoughts, feelings and needs, I want to suggest that sometimes, the most compassionate option is to avoid making completely hard-and-fast rules around food. While we may well choose to eat a mainly plant-based diet, perhaps we might allow ourselves to occasionally include some carefully-sourced oily fish or eggs, for example. Or be more relaxed at special occasions or when dining with friends and family. One idea may be to focus on other aspects of our lifestyle (such as our choice of transport or holidays, use of plastics, fashion choices or energy provider) to reduce our environmental impact ‘in exchange’ for this dietary flexibility.

It’s also worth mentioning that, for some people, eating a plant-based diet might not be the best option from a symptom or health perspective (perhaps if you struggle with a higher-fibre diet, for example).  As always, we are all unique, and therefore need different things from our diets at different points in our lives. So You do You. It’s OK to be a considered omnivore!

A note on TV shows…

There have recently been a number of influential and powerful ‘documentaries’ made about vegan or plant-based lifestyles. While these have opened the conversation around environmentally conscious food options, I would always urge caution when basing your personal nutrition or health decisions on such television shows alone. They are not generally considered to be the best places to find perfectly balanced and rational arguments (as this would make for rather dry viewing!) and may therefore not recommend the best choice for you as an individual.

For an evidence-based response to Game Changers, please see this article.

A FEW HELPFUL RESOURCES

For lots of delicious recipe inspiration, check out my Plant Based Bookshelf or there is a 10-day vegan meal plan in Nourish & Glow: The 10 Day Plan. There are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan ideas in my latest cookbook, Simply Good For You.

The Vegan Society has created an App to help you assess the quality of your plant-based diet: click here for info.

Vegan & Vegetarian Q & A: View here


How to build a healthy plate

How to 'Build' a Healthy Plate

how to build a
healthy plate

If you, like many of us (myself included!), struggle for inspiration on how to plan or put together a healthly, nutritionally balanced meal from scratch using fresh ingredients, this simple guide will hopefully lend some help.

salmon soba noodles salad used here as an illustration of how to build a nutritionally balanced meal

This guide is not an absolute, rather a little visual tool that I hope some may find helpful. I tend to use this when I am assembly cooking, rather than making a complete recipe. For example, I might bake a chicken breast (protein) steam some broccoli & green beans then drizzle in olive oil (vegetables & healthy fats) and add a few new potatoes in to cook (complex carbohydrates). It’s not a supper than needs a recipe, but this plate-based guideline can help me to ensure I have each category covered.

how to portion the plate

1. Start with VEGETABLES (include a rainbow of colours)
2. Include a portion of PROTEIN
3. Add some HEALTHY FAT (e.g. a good drizzle of oil or a sprinkle of seeds/nuts)
4.
Add COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES or minimally processed wholegrain if you’re feeling hungry or have higher energy demands

Sometimes a single food will cross multiple categories:

i) Nuts, for example, could be both our protein and healthy fats.
ii) Leek & potato soup might contain olive oil (healthy fats), vegetables (leeks) and carbohydrates (potatoes) so would need some protein to be added.

Note: If you aren’t sure what counts as a protein or complex carb etc., see my article on Food Category Reminders.

Here are some simple examples of how to build your plate –
combine ideas from each of the four groups in the proportions laid out above:

Vegetables
(or Fruit)

Rocket leaves & tomatoes
Steamed broccoli & Green beans
Carrot & Turmeric Soup
Baby spinach
Beetroot, cucumber & watercress
Ratatouille
Raspberries & blueberries

Protein

Cooked chicken
Baked Fish
Cashews (in soup)
Poached eggs
Feta
Cannelini beans
Natural yoghurt
Homemade Hummus
Simple Dahl

Healthy Fat

Tahini dressing
Drizzle of olive oil
Sprinkle of seeds
Avocado
Olive oil dressing
Drizzle of olive oil
Almond butter
Small handful of nuts

Complex carbohydrates (optional)

Rye bread toast
Steamed new potatoes
Oatcakes
Sourdough toast
Rice cakes
Baked potato
Buckwheat pancakes

Salmon Soba Noodle Salad by Amelia Freer

A note on plates….

There are some interesting studies that suggest that the type of plate we choose can impact our eating habits. Choosing a larger plate can lead to us serve bigger portion sizes, whereas choosing a smaller plate inclines us to smaller portions. Also, choosing a plate colour that highly contrasts with the food may be helpful to reduce over-serving and vice versa. 1

Having said this, the effects are quite small. So don’t think you need to rush out and buy a whole new dinner service! I just think it’s an interesting observation.

References:

Van Ittersum, K. and Wansink, B. (2012). Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion’s Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), pp.215-228.


bread

Understanding Food Categories

Understanding:
Food Categories

This list of basic food group categories is something that I have given to all my clients for years and years. I believe it is very helpful to remind ourselves of what is a protein, what is a healthy fat, what is a carbohydrate etc. (especially if you haven’t read Chapter 3 of Nourish & Glow: The 10-day Plan, which covers this in lots of detail). 

I know it all might seem rather simple, but I like to start from the beginning with my clients, as I often find that the sheer amount of noise and confusion ‘out there’ around nutrition and healthy eating means it is a good idea to build sensible, balanced knowledge of nutrition up from scratch.

You’ll note that some foods will span categories (there are carbohydrates in pulses, for example), but I try to keep things as simple as possible whenever I can, so this is the classification that I use. Of course, it is not a comprehensive list – there are thousands of different ingredients, so feel free to tweak things around, add extra items or take away those you don’t personally like. I hope it is a helpful place for some of you to start from.

So, in case it might be helpful to any of you lovely readers, here is my super-simple reminder of various different food categories and what comes within them:

proteins

MEAT

FISH

EGGS

ALL DAIRY goats, sheep’s, cows – yoghurt, cheese, milk, butter

NUTS raw and unsalted

SEEDS pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax, chia, hemp

PULSES lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, butter beans, peas

 

bread

carbohydrates

FRUITS

VEGETABLES especially root vegetables

GRAINS quinoa, whole oats, buckwheat, brown rice, millet, amaranth

BREAD rye, sourdough – only if ok with gluten

PASTA brown rice, or whole-wheat if ok with gluten

POTATOES regular or sweet

(Pastries, Cakes, Biscuits, Sweets)

nuts

healthy fats

OILY FISH wild salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines & herring

NUTS, SEEDS oils, nut or seed “butters”

AVOCADO

OLIVE OIL

colours

GREEN Leafy vegetables, broccoli, courgettes, salad, cucumber etc.

RED Peppers, tomatoes, beetroot, plums, onions, radishes etc.

PURPLE Berries, aubergine, cherries, figs, purple cabbage etc.

YELLOW Corn, lemon, banana, peppers, pineapple etc.

ORANGE Carrots, mango, pumpkin, tangerines, oranges etc.

WIHITE / BROWN Mushrooms, onions, garlic, cauliflower etc.

natural flavours

ACV Apple cider vinegar

LEMON juice or zest

LIME juice or zest

PEPPER Fresh black pepper

FRSH HERBS just tear them up and throw them on – everything tastes better with a few leaves of basil or some torn chives

DRIED HERBS a little sprinkle here and there

FRESH CHILLI remove the seeds and finely chop

FRESH GINGER scrape the skin off with a teaspoon and chop or grate

GARLIC, ONIONS, LEEK

Learn how important food categories are to positive nutrition 

In a nutshell, Positive Nutrition is an approach to eating that focuses on getting the ‘good’ stuff into our bodies, rather than worrying too much about excluding or cutting out the so-called ‘treats’. It ensures that we are optimising our intake of nutrients from all food groups in the right mix. It is a shift in thinking from deprivation to abundance that can be incredibly liberating, particularly if we have been caught up in a cycle of on-off dieting culture for a long time.

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