Chilled Asparagus and Almond Soup

The combined goodness of antioxidant-rich asparagus and protein-packed almonds makes this a superfood soup. Enjoy hot or chilled, just don’t skimp on the lemon zest – it really lifts the creaminess and richness.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

100g flaked almonds   

1 small onion, roughly diced

1 large leek, roughly diced

1 tsp olive oil

1 large garlic clove, roughly diced

2½ tsp fresh tarragon, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)

600g asparagus, trimmed

1¼ litres vegetable stock

2½ tsp fresh lemon juice

Salt and black pepper

For the topping

½ tsp lemon zest

½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil

METHOD

1 Toast 25g of the almonds in a dry, large saucepan and set aside for garnishing later.

2 In the same pan gently fry the onion and leek in ghee for 5 mins until softened, but not browned. Add the garlic and tarragon to the pan and fry for another minute.

3 Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the woody ends. Add the spears and remaining 75g almonds to the pan. Stir, add a pinch of salt and black pepper, then add the stock.

4 Simmer gently for 5 mins, with the lid on, until the asparagus is tender.

5 Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Blend carefully, in batches if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

 

Courtesy of Hemsley + Hemsley

Sugar Substitutes

One of the things I am asked about most as a Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach is sugar substitutes. “What can I use instead of sugar ?” I am asked, so here’s the here’s the good, the bad and the ugly low down on some of  those sugar replacements you might think are healthy (and some that definitely aren’t).

Honey

Honey has a lot going for it in some regards. It contains amino acids, electrolytes and antioxidants, and antimicrobial compounds that can support your health. To get these extra benefits, you’ll want to choose a raw (unprocessed) local honey. It may also help relieve allergy symptoms, specifically hay fever, because the bees feast on the local pollen, and taking raw local honey can help you develop natural immunity over time. But, whichever way you cut it, honey is sugar. It may be natural, but sugar it is, and it behaves that way in your body, spiking blood sugar exactly as actual sugar would.

Medjool Dates

Dates are a popular feature of many paleo or natural sugar-free bars, because they are naturally very sweet. They have the highest nutritional benefit of all-natural sweeteners because they also contain minerals like selenium, copper, potassium and magnesium, as well as providing fibre to slow the speed at which the sugars hit your bloodstream. Studies show that they don’t spike your blood sugar levels that much and they’ve been proven to decrease cholesterol and boost bone health, and can help relieve constipation. Stick to 1 or 2 a day so there is no guilt associated with these caramel-like gems.

Maple syrup

It contains antioxidants (24 in fact), which are helpful in the fight against cell-damaging free radicals and inflammation. While studies show maple syrup does not spike your blood sugar levels as much, it is still wise to use sparingly. You’ll want grade A (lighter in flavour) or B (nutritionally better as it’s richer in antioxidants than grade A and with a more intense flavour). Avoid maple flavoured syrups as these are not the same.

Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar has become very trendy of late and brings a lovely caramel flavour to your food. It contains small amounts of iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants, and a fibre known as inulin which  may help reduce the absorption of glucose. It is perfect for baking with and has a lesser impact on your blood sugar levels than regular sugar, but it is still sugar, so use sparingly.

Palmyra Jaggery

You may not even have heard of this, but it’s the crystalized nectar collected from the flower of the Palmyra palm and has a deep, warm caramel flavour. You use it exactly as you would sugar, and often you can reduce the amount needed by up to a half. It’s packed with B vitamins and has a much lower GL than table sugar.

Brown Rice Syrup

This has found its way into ‘healthy’ recipes. It’s made from fermented, cooked rice. It’s not a particularly good option as a sweetener as it’s highly processed, contains very little in the way of nutrition benefits and the effect on blood sugar is almost identical to standard sugar.

Agave Syrup

Agave syrup comes from a cactus, and the syrup is made from the pulp of the leaf. It’s very highly processed and is mainly fructose, which needs to be processed by the liver, causing more stress for an already over-worked organ. Fructose is actually worse for you than glucose. Agave syrup (or nectar) is very similar to the (deservedly) much-demonised high fructose corn syrup, that has contributed greatly to the obesity epidemic in the US. My advice? Do not use it!

Stevia

This is another natural sweetener. There a number of different types of stevia, and ideally you want full, green leaf stevia that is unadulterated with other sweeteners. There are many brands out there that you should avoid because they’re so highly processed, and they also add in other chemicals. Pure stevia will not unbalance your blood sugar levels, thus avoiding an energy rollercoaster. But, a little bit goes a long way, so use sparingly.

Xylitol

Often found in the UK under the brand names Total Sweet or Xyla, xylitol is a sugar alcohol. It’s a little sweeter than sugar, has fewer calories and (the important part) 75% less carbohydrate, so the impact of blood sugar levels is lower than it would be if you were to eat the same amount compared to real sugar. It’s the same stuff used in sugar free chewing gum, thanks to its antibacterial properties. The downside is it is very highly processed, and some people can be sensitive to large amounts and may find their stools a little loose, or they get bloated, if they eat too much. Note as well that it is toxic for dogs.

Artificial sweeteners (like aspartame and saccharin)

People usually resort to artificial sweeteners in a bid to cut calories. This is bad news for a number of reasons, but I’ll mention the two biggies here: Research into some of them shows a correlation with cancer (weak, perhaps, and refuted by the food industry, but personally I’m not taking any chances). Secondly, nutrition science conclusively proves that weight gain/loss has little to do with calories in and out but what happens hormonally inside the body – how much insulin your body makes (insulin being the fat storage hormone that also sabotages fat burning). Recent research shows that these artificial sweeteners can increase blood sugar (and consequently insulin) levels more than normal sugar. So really, what is the point? Thirdly, research shows that ironically, they actually increase hunger. My advice is to stop now.

BUT…

The very best scenario of all is that you wean yourself off sweeteners of any kind as this helps you appreciate and embrace natural sweetness from real food. If you continue to eat sweet things, your taste buds will always want sweet things. That’s because sugar has been shown to have an effect on the brain similar to that of addictive drugs like nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. In fact, quickly removing it from your diet can cause withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue, depression, headaches and muscle aches. No wonder it isn’t easy to quit.

If your diet has traditionally been quite high in the white stuff, the first few weeks can be a little tricky as your body (and brain and taste buds) starts to adjust – but bear with it.

 

 

 

Food Reactions Demystified

Is the food you’re eating sabotaging your health? You might not even be aware of it because sometimes it’s hard to directly connect a reaction to a food. What are food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities, and what are the differences between them?

FOOD ALLERGIES

Many people are clear that a nut allergy is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition. But apart from this, food allergy isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be. As it’s Food Allergy Awareness Week this week, I want to give you the lowdown on food allergy and intolerance, and what to do if you suspect there are foods that don’t agree with you.

What Is a Food Allergy?

To start, let’s get clear what a FOOD ALLERGY is …

The job of the body’s immune system is to identify and destroy germs (such as bacteria or viruses) that make you sick. A true food allergy happens when your immune system overreacts to a harmless food protein—an allergen. The body mounts an immune response by releasing IgE antibodies which stimulate the release of certain chemicals such as histamines which cause physical symptoms.

The symptoms can be restricted to one area (your digestive system, skin and so on) or the whole body, where the immune system triggers widespread inflammation and swelling – which can result in anaphylaxis and can be deadly. Symptoms usually show up immediately or within the first two hours after eating the problematic food.

The most common food allergens are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.

Mild food allergy reactions may involve only a few hives or minor abdominal pain. The most common food allergy signs and symptoms include:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Hives, itching or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting

Severe food allergy reactions can lead to anaphylaxis which can cause life-threatening signs and symptoms, including:

  • Constriction and tightening of the airways
  • A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
  • Shock with a severe drop in blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or loss of consciousness

If you think you have a food allergy, you can often get tested free of charge via your GP, but private tests are also available.

Clinical Pearl

One clinical pearl I’m going to share with you is that, if you’re struggling with the symptoms of a true allergy (itchy eyes, swelling and the like), yet testing reveals no problem foods, or the test shows you have low grade reactions to a number of foods, the answer might be in the gut. For example, parasites also cause the body to produce high levels of IgE antibodies, yet these are not often considered by conventional medicine as a potential cause of allergy-like symptoms.

FOOD INTOLERANCES

With food intolerances your immune system isn’t involved and symptoms may not appear until hours or days later.

When a food intolerance exists, the problem is at the level of the digestive system –it can’t digest the food which causes uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. In contrast to a food allergy, a person with a food intolerance can typically eat small amounts of the identified food without experiencing symptoms.

Food intolerances are most commonly due to lactose, gluten, preservatives, additives, histamines in foods, salicylates, fructose, impaired complex carbohydrate digestion (the body’s enzymes simply can’t handle the volume of carbohydrates in the digestive system) and tyramine (common in cured meats, aged cheeses and smoked fish).

They can produce low grade inflammation throughout the body and symptoms that are far ranging, but altogether less dramatic. These can include the following:

  • Weight that won’t shift
  • Bloating
  • Migraines
  • Headaches
  • Coughs (frequent)
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy or overly waxy ears
  • Stomach ache
  • Irritable bowel
  • Hives
  • Fatigue
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Blocked nose
  • Ear Infections
  • Eczema
  • Sinusitis
  • Urticaria
  • Colitis

Why it’s important to deal with Food Intolerances

Although the symptoms might seem less dramatic, it really is worth dealing with food intolerances, especially if you’ve had niggly issues for years. This is because the low-grade inflammation created throughout the body when you’re repeatedly eating foods the body doesn’t like, frequently progress to more problematic issues. ALL chronic disease is caused by low- or high-grade inflammation of one sort or another.

Although you can do your own elimination diet, cutting out foods you suspect you might have a problem with for a period of time, then reintroducing them and seeing what happens, this can be time consuming if you are not entirely sure which foods might be problematic. Testing can help you pinpoint which foods might be problematic for you- this can save a lot of time, remove the stressful guesswork and help prevent the unnecessary exclusion of too many foods.

Intestinal inflammation caused by a food intolerance may also impair your body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. This can lead to serious nutrient deficiencies down the road.

FOOD SENSITIVITIES

Researchers are finally validating what many of us have known for years: Certain foods just don’t agree with some people. Although food allergies are well-recognized because firm diagnoses can be made through the use of blood tests for the presence of IgE antibodies, food sensitivities fall into a grey area. Experiencing unwanted symptoms after eating certain foods are not as easy to diagnose, but it doesn’t mean that they’re any less real.

Some people can eat tiny amounts of these foods and not always have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are a lot less severe than allergies but can be just as debilitating and include migraines, brain fog, inflammation, digestive problems, and bloating.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP WITH FOOD ALLERGIES, INTOLERANCES, AND SENSITIVITIES?

The Gut Connection

Studies have increasingly found that food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies are associated with arthritis, autoimmune disease and a leaky gut (or increased intestinal permeability). So it’s important to not just avoid the food in question but to address potential underlying root contributing factors such as leaky gut and inflammation.

It’s not enough to just take the food out and not do anything about it. Because symptoms are another way of your body telling you that your gut needs some TLC to heal, restore and rebalance itself. Without this vital step, no matter how many elimination diets you do, if you don’t work on healing your gut you’ll likely end up fighting symptoms all over again. And also likely to eventually end up with more intolerances and symptoms.

Once you have really healed your gut, you may find that foods that once gave you problems are tolerable again. But it’s important to remember that many of the foods that we become reactive to are inflammatory in nature, so while you may be able to tolerate them, it’s good to eat them in moderation.

Food Allergies

Currently, there is no cure for food allergies themselves. The only way to prevent food allergies reactions is to completely avoid the food you are allergic to. So if you have a food allergy, you will need to avoid the food forever. That’s because part of the immune system works on the basis of memory. In exactly the same way your body remembers its response to, say, the polio vaccination you were given as a child (and can prepare its attack should it come into contact with polio again), it remembers its response to nuts, dairy, or whatever food you’re allergic to. However, making sure the integrity of the gut lining is intact is important to help reduce inflammation associated with food allergies and help prevent further potential complications developing in the long-term.

Food Intolerances

If you have a food intolerance, you don’t necessarily have to remove the food forever, it depends on the underlying cause of the reaction. Digestive support can often help alleviate many symptoms.

Food Sensitivities

Since 80 percent of your immune system is found in your gut, it makes sense that by healing your gut you could reverse sensitivities. Now, that doesn’t mean that every person and every single food sensitivity will be able to be completely eliminated forever—but you don’t have to think of it as a life sentence!

MOVING FORWARD

If you are wondering whether you have a food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity, please do get in touch. I can help by offering a variety of testing options where necessary to help get to the bottom of the problem, and my gut restoring programmes can help bring your body back into balance. Book your free call here: https://app.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.php?owner=14670092