Friday, 18 July 2014

Seeing a nutritional therapist

Recently I've felt really run down, tired, bloated, my digestive system has been all to pot and latterly over the last two to three weeks my has eczema broke out. This is on top of over the last year my periods being over the place.

As you can imagine it has all left me pretty bummed.

As well as leaving me feeling unhappy, it left me feeling that there was an imbalance in my body.

I went to the doctors when my eczema broke out a few weeks back and they just offered me steroid cream. I took the prescription but didn't use any of the cream because while I've used in the past to clear up my eczema it doesn't get to the root of the cause and can be addictive.

My eczema isn't something I haven't spoken about too much on the blog, mainly because most of the time while I have been blogging my skin has been good. Eating wholefoods, ditching the low fat diet and eating healthy fats and drinking more water have all helped. But like I was honest with why I quit dieting and when I put on a few pounds, I need to the same about my skin.

The fact is....I have eczema. And it SUCKS! I know its not cancer or a life-threatening disease but it destroys all my confidence, it is uncomfortable when it is itchy and it can get really sore. I hate it. I was born with it on my eyelids and have lived with it for 25 years up and I'm pretty extremely fed up of it.

Recently it has broke out on my face (BIG BUMMER) and on my arms. If one thing is a sure fire way to get me down it is if my eczema flares up. I've been wearing very little make-up and when it initially broke out I went make-up free for a few days, which was really hard as I had to go to work.

You know if I could have one wish it wouldn't be to have rock hard abs and stay skinny forever or to be rich it would be to be eczema free.

My healthy living journey didn't start with weight loss or even healthy eating, it started with my skin after the last major break out of eczema when I was around 19, which is when I was given oral steroids and put on all the weight. After that break out I changed all my cosmetics and beauty products going for natural, organic and mineral varieties. Although this recent flare up is nowhere near as bad as that or other ones I have had like when I was 15-16 and doing my GCSEs or when I hit puberty, it still gets me down.

After being given a prescription for the steroid creams my the doctor I decided to seek advice from somewhere else and remembered being told about a nutritional therapist in the area, so I made an appointment.

I was nervous but excited about going to see her. She made me feel very at ease and it was easy to talk to her and tell her everything that I have been through with my skin, migraines, hypermobility and getting glandular fever (mono) at 17-18.

The truth is, which I have only alluded to here on the blog, is that for the most of my teenager years and early 20s before I started exploring wholesome, clean foods and got rid of glandular fever, my eczema calming down and starting this blog, I was pretty sick. I was tired, had no energy, not get up and go and caught every little cold, virus or bug going. And I still pick things easier than the average person.

During my session, the therapist used this amazing machine called the Asyra to scan my body to see what was lurking in it and causing me problems. The Asyra screening is a non-invasive way to get information from the body about any areas of imbalance. Readings are taken by holding two bras hand-masses. The energetic, vibrational characteristics of substances have been electronically stored on a computer database. These vibration characteristics are known as ‘signatures’, the Asyra compares readings from your body with it's database of 40,000 signatures which include bacteria, fungus, virus, nutritional deficiencies, emotions, food sensitivities, hormone imbalances, toxic elements and many more.

Using the Asya screening, the nutritionist game to the conclusion that my digestive system has shut down, my adrenal glands are burnt out, my eczema is caused by a leaky gut and is controlled by my emotions (especially stress), I have a hormonal imbalance and I'm deficient in magnesium and B vitamins.

So yeah, lots of stuff to work on.

I was always told when I was younger that "you'll grow out of it, most children grow out of eczema". Well, I haven't. I always thought I had eczema because I was born with it and that it was something I would just have to deal with, but now I've realised there is something probably in my gut causing it.

So, what is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

70% of our immune system is located around the digestive system. In a normal healthy person the small intestine behaves like a selective sieve allowing only the breakdown products of digestion into the bloodstream. Nutrients and well digested fats, proteins and starches are readily able to enter into the bloodstream whilst large molecules, microbes and toxins are kept out. In the intestinal tract, villi (finger like projections off the lining the intestinal tract with hair like cell membrane extensions called microvilli), serve as a point of absorption of nutrients. Nutrients such as glucose, amino acids or electrolytes are carried through the microvilli into the cells of the villus via active transport (carrier molecules take the nutrients across the cell membrane). Leaky Gut Syndrome causes the intestinal lining to become inflamed and the microvilli become damaged or altered. The damaged microvilli cannot then produce the necessary enzymes and secretions that are essential for a healthy digestion and the absorption of nutrients. 

Leaky Gut Syndrome has many symptoms. Some of the ones I have experienced are bloating, migraines, Muscle pain, myofascial pain. mood swings, poor memory, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue and sluggishness.

So, what does it have to do with eczema?

The underlying causes of psoriasis and eczema have common denominators. In working with hundreds of clients with skin disorders, I find these two skin disorders, and many others, are strictly a degree of toxicity; toxic colon, candida, leaky gut syndrome and parasites.

The nutritionist has given me some homeopathic remedies to use, as well as some B vitamin supplements and has told me to continue taking some supplements I was already using - maca powder, chlorella, fermented cod liver oil and vitamin D.

She has also put me on ant-inflammatory diet to turn my body's own inflammation switch back on - inflammation is essential in the body in order to alert you that there is a problem and you need to take action. For example if you're a klutz like me and sprain you ankle regularly there will be pain, swelling and redness, aka inflammation, your inflammation switch will tell you not to walk on it until the ankle is better. The body actively tries to restore health by sending nutrients via an increased blood flow, chemicals and heat to kill any invaders. Once the threat is over over and the condition/ailment/injury has healed the body will turn the mechanism off to protect healthy tissue from damage by the chemicals. In a healthy body works in balance with an on and off switch, but many of us have too many on switches and not enough off switches and many people have a poor diet these days.

Having not enough off switches means not enough off switches can lead to chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis, diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis, IBS and just being generally under par. Some common conditions associated with chronic pain are back pain (which I have), osteoarthritis, headaches and migraines (which I have since I was 16-17), inflammatory bowel disorders, musculoskeletal injury and trauma, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome and autoimmune disease.

The nutritional therapist also explained that too much arachidonic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid, can cause issues as well.

What is arachidonic acid (AA)? 

Arachidonic acid is a kind of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid that can be naturally found in some foods or synthesized. Some of this kind of element is necessary for nutrition in the body, but too much can be extremely harmful. Arachidonic acid is helpful for facilitating the growth of muscle tissues around the skeleton. Humans get arachidonic acid through their diets. It is primarily found in a variety of red meats, as well as egg yolks and organ meats. It can also be put into processed foods as a supplement for vegans or vegetarians.
Ideally, the body produces a delicate balance of hormones (pro and anti inflammatory) for optimal health. These small yet powerful hormones are called eicosanoids. AA is the precursor of the pro inflammatory eicosanoids. When your AA levels are too high pro inflammatory hormones are produced in greater numbers. They overpower the anti inflammatory hormones which keep them in check.This triggers a constant cascade of inflammatory factors. The immune system is kept on in a low level state. It continually damages the healthy tissues of your body. If you ever feel achy upon waking or when you get up from sitting you are experiencing the effects of low level inflammation. This is aggravating but it is also a sign of far worse things going on inside of you. It's the effects you don't feel which are the real dangers of excess AA.You don't "feel" your arteries clogging, your brain degenerating towards Alzheimer's, or your cell's preparing to turn cancerous.

Going on an anti-inflammatory diet means cutting out:

Diary - Dairy and cheese are sources of arachidonic acid and feed the inflammation cascade. I always have almond milk in the house for baking and in smoothies, so I have switched to that completely. I didn't drink that much cow's milk, just a little in tea and coffee. When my eczema broke out I cut back on the diary because I know it is a known trigger for eczema, but one day at work I was offered a couple of mugs of coffee made with cow's milk, so I said yes, but when I got home my eczema on my face, which had started to calm down a little, was red and inflamed. So I am staying firmly away from dairy right now. I sure am missing thick and creamy Greek yoghurt though. She nutritional therapist did say I could have goat's cheese, milk and yoghurt in moderation. I love goat's cheese but am a bit skeptical about the yoghurt and milk.

Wheat - Gluten is a large protein that my digestive system may not be able to cope with at the moment and
this mayy be contributing to my inflammation via a leaky gut, causing an immune response. I'd cut down on a lot of wheat, cutting out white bread and pasta, so this shouldn't be too hard and the therapist said I can still eat oats (thank goodness), quinoa, spelt and buckwheat.

Coffee - Coffee raises levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and insulin, hormones that accelerate aging and store body fat. I miss coffee but I am drinking green tea, peppermint tea and on the therapist's recommendation ginger tea.

Red meat - It contains saturated fats and arachidonic acid which increases the formation of inflammatory compounds. I don't eat lamb, steak or beef, so that will be relatively easy, but it also includes pork, so that means no more bacon frittatas or salads for a while.

Alcohol - Alcohol causes inflammatory problems in the body. I'm not a big drinker, the last time I had a drink was my birthday last month, so this is easy to cut out.

Processed Food/Sunflower oil/Vegetable oil - Processed food (anything that is the colour beige like crisps/chips, cookies, pastry and pies) are made processed using cheap and rancid fats like sunflower or vegetable. Any oils that are heated during the processing will have turned into bad fats and will fuel the inflammation cascade and provide a source of free radicals, which damage DNA and your cells batteries turning them leaky. I make all my meals from scratch and don't eat crisps, pastries, cookies and pies that are store-bought and I cook with olive and coconut oil, so this is an easy one.

Fizzy pop/soda and sugary treats - Sugar depletes magnesium very quickly, which is the body’s main alkaline and anti-stress mineral. I cut out white sugar about two years ago and feel much better for it, I eat much more natural sugars now from fruit and have a little bit of honey, coconut sugar and pure maple syrup in my baked goods.

Diet drinks with no added sugar -  The main ingredient in diet drinks is aspartame, which has linked to many inflammatory conditions. I cute out diet drinks a while back now after realising what was actually in them. I only ever have them now on a rare occasion.

Nightshades - They contain a chemical substance than can activate pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Nightshades include tomatoes, peppers, chilies, paprika, aubergine (eggplant) and potatoes (but not sweet potatoes). This has been the hardest one for me to give up as I love peppers and tomatoes are often the base of a lot of my dishes.

On top of this the nutritional therapist said the Asyra machine found my body does not like seafood or spinach at the moment, so I am also cutting them out for the time being. For my green smoothies I'm using watercress, romaine kale and broccoli instead, and I may even try some chard.

Since going on the anti-inflammatory diet I have felt less bloated and my digestive system is much better. My eczema has not gone down, but the redness in my face has calmed down, thought it is still a little dry. But I didn't expect it to go over night, although I wish it would, I think it is on the right track. I don't just want this flare up to go away, I want to go away for good. As this post is long enough already I will check in again soon with how I am doing on the anti-inflammatory diet and what I have been eating.

The reason why I  haven't posted on the blog in over a week but I just needed some time to get my head around things, and I know this has been a pretty long post and I've thrown loads of information at you, and a lot of it is what I got from the nutritional therapist, but I also wanted to give you some proper definitions (the sources for which I have linked to) of the things that I have been talking about.

It may have taken me a few days but I wanted I wanted to share my story and what is going on with me with you because I know there are many people living with similar (as well as many different) conditions to me. And you don't have to suffer in silence. There is help out there.

Have you seen a nutritional therapist?

Do you have eczema or another skin condition?

Have you suffered from migraines?

Have you ever gone on an ant-inflammatory diet?

Monday, 7 July 2014

Cashew butter and honey muffins

Cashew butter was the last nut butter I tried and I really don't know why. I've been adding cashews to my stir-fries for years and eating them as a snack. When I started venturing further than peanut butter, I kind of got stuck on the almond and hazelnut varieties, and almost forgot about cashew.

What I love about cashew butter is its creaminess and its more subtle delicate flavour than its peanut, almond and hazelnut counterparts.

Cashew butter and honey muffin

Not long after I bought some cashew butter on a whim at Holland and Barretts I spied this recipe on the Women's Health Twitter feed and I just knew it was a great excuse to break open the jar.

I adapted the recipe a little to make it my own and also to use ingredients I had in the house. I used wholegrain spelt flour instead of self raising and coconut oil instead of butter.

Muffin pealed away from muffin case

I love tulip muffin cases. After months of getting annoyed with regular muffin cases breaking every time I pealed them away from my home-baked muffin or worse, when they stuck to them, I finally gave up with them and bought some tulip muffin cases from Amazon. I went with chocolate coloured cases as I figured they would look good with most recipes.

The other great thing about tulip cases is they make your muffins look like make you feel like you're in a coffee shop. And these babies go great with a cup of Joe.

Muffin pealed away from muffin case

Sometimes I run out of words to describe my kitchen creations. Any other bloggers have that? Or is it just me?

There's only so many times I can say delicious, tasty, yummy, flavoursome and aromatic to describe food. Then there's the dreaded 'M' word. I could say these muffins are moist, which they are, but I know that will send shiver down some people's spines.

I blame my lack of words on using up all my words at work when writing stories for the newspaper I work for. Lame excuse for a journalist, I know.

I have a confession to make. I am a thesaurus whore. But have you ever tried to thesaurus delicious? Some of the options like delectable, appetising and tempting work, but titillating, toothsome and nectarous not so much.

Cashew and honey muffin pealed from case

Nectarous means something that resembles the flavour of nectar or that is sweet and delicious. These muffins don't taste like pollen, but they are sweet and delish. But if I said (in a posh British accent - I know I'm British, but I'm so not posh, I'll prove it in a blog one day) "Guys, these muffins are so nectarous" you'd think I was a pompous idiot.

But seriously, the cashew butter really makes these muffins soft and luscious.

You know when you make something and you just go "Oh my gosh, that's good!"

The recipe for these muffins may be simple but the flavour is big.

Muffin cut in half

This recipe is perfect for breakfast, as a snack or post workout. I totally demolished one after getting back from a kettlebell workout at the gym.

James loves them for breakfast when he's commuting to work (for more on-the-go recipes check out my oatmeal, raisin and hazelnut breakfast cookies and my superfood protein banana bread).

Muffin cut in half and smothered with cashew butter

They're made even more amazing with a good dollop of more cashew butter on top.

So creamy and smooth....#omnomnom!

Half a muffin held in hand and smothered with nut butter

Cashew butter and honey muffins

by Nikki Mitchell
adapted from Women's Health
Prep Time: 10 - 15 mins
Cook Time: 20-25 mins
Keywords: bake breakfast snack dessert sugar-free vegetarian soy-free coconut oil honey oats cashews muffin muffins
Ingredients (9 muffins)
  • 2 cups (240g) wholegrain spelt flour (or flour of choice)
  • 1/2 cup (60g) rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup (100g) smooth natural cashew butter
  • 1/3 cup (110g) organic/local/raw honey
  • 2 medium eggs, preferably organic or free-range
  • 1/2 cup (100g) sultanas/raisins
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) coconut oil, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) unsweetened almond milk (or milk of choice)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Preheat the oven to 180c/350F.
  • Mix together flour, oats, sultanas and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the cashew butter, honey, milk and coconut oil to the dry ingredients and mix together.
  • Line a muffin tin with 9 muffin cases.
  • Spoon the mixture evenly into the muffin cases.
  • Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
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Bitten muffin

I'm officially a cashew butter convert and I'll definitely be experimenting with it in recipes in the future.

What's your favourite nut butter?

What's your favourite recipe using cashew butter?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Slow cooker turkey spaghetti bolognese (paleo friendly)

Working full time means I love my freezer meals, and by that I don't mean a ready meal that I grab out of the freezer, I mean something that I've cooked in bulk and frozen that I take out to defrost in the morning and reheat when I get home.

When I've had a hard day at work, usually when I'm working on the deadline, nothing beats coming home from to a meal that takes practically no effort to make, yet tastes great.

My slow cooker has become my best friend since starting my first permanent job in journalism almost a year ago. I can't believe I've been living in Scotland for almost a year, that seems crazy, it has gone so fast.

On a weekend I love putting my slow cooker on while I potter around the house, usually photographing recipes or cleaning.

The enticing smells wafting through the house when this Bolognese was cooking was enough to make my mouth water. Once cooked it was hard to resist not grabbing a bowl and ladling myself out a portion right there and then. After a cheeky spoonful (or two) to taste I divided the spag bol into four Tupperware boxes and usually either shove them all in the freezer or pop a couple in the fridge for when I get in late on a Monday, which is always my late day as I'm on deadline.

This is one of James' favourite dishes that I make even though it is chock full of veggies that he usually wouldn't eat like mushroom and celery. I've mentioned before that he isn't the biggest veg fan, but in the slow cooker the turkey and vegetables cook down into a flavoursome Bolognese.

I don't eat beef so I make my spag bols using turkey mince, which is a little lighter than minced beef, lamb or pork, but with the right flavours it is delicious.

Garlic is one of those go to ingredients to add flavour, and while I often add garlic to my pasta dishes, it works beautifully with turkey. I've made turkey mince dishes without garlic just to see what it would be like and it doesn't taste half as good. Turkey with garlic and with rosemary, thyme or parsley it is perfect.

There is secret ingredient to this spaghetti Bolognese that gives it a little extra oomph and pizzazz.

The secret ingredient is...a splash of red wine vinegar.

It adds depth and richness to the dish.

I paired the spag bol with zucchini noodles for the photographs, which it works really well. But if you don't have a spiralizer I've also eaten the it with wholewheat pasta, quinoa spaghetti and a baked sweet potato (not all in one go, I'm not that much of a greedy guts, but at different times) and all of them are tasty.

When I first tried zoodles after I splurged on a spiralizer (actually it wasn't a big splurge as it only cost me £30 from Amazon) I didn't think it would be enough nor that it would be filling. I was wrong. From a medium zucchini you get a load of spaghetti that is surprisingly satisfying.

I didn't actually know what zucchini was for ages. I'd heard it mentioned on US dramas and sit-coms, but just figured it was a veg that wasn't eaten in the UK. But after I had some gorgeous zucchini soup when J and I were in Egypt I researched (Googled) what zucchini was and found out that is what we Brits call courgettes.

But I think I shall stick to calling zucchini noodles zoodles instead of coodles because that sounds like some slushy form of cuddle or something that children another says another child has when their in the playground.

Slow-cooker turkey spaghetti bolognese

by Nikki Mitchell
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 4-8 hours
Keywords: slow-cooker dinner oil-free paleo gluten-free turkey zucchini courgette Italian
Ingredients (Serves 4)
  • 500g (17.6 oz) turkey breast mince
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 3 sticks of celery
  • 3 large (or six medium) chestnut mushrooms
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced/crushed
  • 3 tbsp freshly chopped or dried rosemary
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped or dried oregano
  • Peel and chop finely the chop the vegetables.
  • Put the turkey mince in the slow cooker and break up a bit with a fork.
  • Add the vegetables, chopped tomatoes, herbs, garlic, tomato puree and red wine vinegar to the slow cooker and mix everything together with a spoon.
  • Cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low in the slow cooker.
  • If you can, every couple of hours give the Bolognese to stir so that the juices don't all float to the top and soak into the meat.
  • You will know when it is cooked when the carrot and celery are soft.
  • Serve with zucchini/courgette noodles/spaghetti, pasta or a baked sweet potato.
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What's your favourite slow cooker dish?

Have you tried zucchini/courgette pasta?

What other veg was works as a great pasta substitute? 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Kale, bacon and lentil salad

The downside of living in a flat is not having a garden. Sure, our flat is pretty cute and it suits us just fine for our first home while we're just renting, but I do miss having a garden. I know that when we buy a place of our own I want an outside space.

I was spoiled while living at my parents as they have a gorgeous garden and my mum regularly grows fruit and veg. When I was home for my birthday my mama packed me off before I headed back up to Scotland with some of her homegrown goodies, and one of them was some beautiful kale, which she grew especially for me. Thanks mama.

I'm officially on board the massaging kale train. I'm a regular kale green smoothie drinker and I love it steamed, but I'd always found it a little too strong in a salad, but with my mum's kale being the freshest I've ever tasted I wanted to make the most of its its wonderful flavour.

I see a lot of foodie fads, tips and tricks out there on blogs, Pinterest and Instagram and I haven't got around to trying all of them that I want to. It took me a while to jump on the green smoothie wagon after everyone else and it has been the same with massaging kale. But I am so on board the train now and I'm not getting off on the next stop.

Not massaged your kale yet? It's super easy and it really does change the flavor of the green leaves.

Wash you kale and pat dry with some kitchen roll/towelling, place the leaves in a bowl and scrunch/massage them for a couple of minutes, the leaves will reduce in size and the massaging softens the sharpness of the kale.

I like to drizzle on some fresh lemon juice and massage the greens for another minute or so, but you can keep it completely raw or you could even drizzle on some oil on to it and rub for another couple of minutes.

Salads needn't be boring. There's way more to them than limp lettuce, slimy tomatoes and soggy cucumber. The peppery kale in this salad compliments the soft puy lentils and crispiness of the bacon. Seriously, you guys, it is so good. I didn't want the bowl to end. I was a little bit gutted when it did.

I'm a no muss, no fuss kinda gal, I love my health eats but unless I have time on a weekend I don't want to slave over my oven for hours. This salad is super simple and quick to make. Grilling the bacon is what takes the longest, but while it is cooking you can get on with preparing the kale and salad dressing. 

And to make it even easier I used canned puy lentils in water rather than having to boil dried ones. If I'm making curry or soup I will use the dried variety to soak up all the flavour but for a quick salad it is canned lentils and beans all the way.

I keep a stash of canned lentils, beans and pulses in my cupboards for a simple store cupboard dinner when I've forgotten to defrost something.

I don't remember the last time I bought a pre-made salad dressing after I found out about all the nasty chemicals they put in dressings. I always make my own now, even if it is a just a drizzle of oil and vinegar, besides them being healthier and less harmful to the body, they always taste better when they're homemade.

I often make a salad dressing using honey, wholegrain mustard, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic, but for this salad I swapped out the honey for maple syrup, which works fantastically well with bacon, it's one of those strange but good things.

 hemp and banana protein bread

Have you massaged kale before?

How do you like to eat your kale? In a salad, smoothie, steamed or another way?

Kale, lentil and bacon salad

by Nikki Mitchell
Prep Time: 5 - 10 mins
Cook Time: 10 - 15 mins
Keywords: grill salad lunch dinner diary-free gluten-free kale bacon lentils summer
Ingredients (Serves 1)
    For the salad
    • 2 rashers of smoky bacon, preferably organic and nitrate free
    • 2 cups of kale
    • 1/2 cup cooked and canned puy lentils in water, drained
    For the maple mustard dressing
    • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
    • 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
    • 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
    • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
    • Preheat your grill to a medium heat.
    • Grill the bacon for 10 to 15 minutes until crispy.
    • While the bacon is cooking, wash the kale and dry with some kitchen roll/toweling and the place it in a bowl and massage/scrunch it with your hands for two to three minutes.
    • Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the kale and massage again for another minute or two.
    • Add the kale to a serving bowl.
    • Drain the water from the lentils and scatter over the kale.
    • Mix all the ingredients for the dressing a small bowl.
    • When the bacon is crispy and cooked, slice or chop with some scissors into little bacon bits and top the salad with them.
    • Drizzle with the dressing.
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