Friday, 28 June 2013

Eating out the Paleo way - or trying to...

In this week's tip I'm focusing on the difficulties that low-carb and Paleo eaters have finding food while out and about with friends and family. Once you're on the road to learning how to eat in a way that suits you this will become the biggest challenge to your eating habits. Living in a multi-cultural society has given us a much wider selection of foods, and in large cities you should be able to find somewhere that you can eat without much hassle. But, it does take time to learn where to eat, and how to cope with your nutritional needs, without feeding your family and friend's views that you are eating a 'faddy' or 'freaky' diet!

But there's more to eating out than finding a restaurant that will provide for your needs. Most of us buy food out regularly without even thinking about it - lunch from the local sandwich bar, takeaway food at the weekend with family, a quick bite at the pub with friends, grabbing something on the go when travelling, breakfast at a hotel or B&B while on holiday. These are some of the most challenging times for the low-carb and Paleo eater - they can also be equally challenging for those on a gluten free diet.

Living in a small town I've been learning how to deal with this, and have found a number of strategies that work for me. I hope that sharing my experiences can help you to realise that this way of eating does not have to be as restrictive as people believe, and will help you to work out how to eat well while still enjoying time out with friends and family.

I've decided to write this today because it's a topic that's been on my mind recently. I'm travelling with friends to London on the 5th July to see Robbie Williams at Wembley Stadium. We're a group of four girls making a four hour drive down and staying in a B&B overnight. One of our group is vegetarian, and I'm low-carb, Paleo style, eater. My vegetarian friend and I both say the same thing, we can find something on most menus that we can eat, but there are times when the menu provided is surprisingly limited in choice.

The thing that I've learnt is how important it is to plan ahead and check out the website of the restaurant/hotel/B&B to see if you can get a feel for their menu. If you can't then it's time to phone or email them. As I have wheat intolerance as well as being low-carb, I find it easier to simply start by explaining that I eat a gluten free diet which excludes not only gluten but the gluten free replacement foods. The people you are speaking to should be able to advise on the types of food they offer, and what would be suitable for you.

Many people are low-carb these days and food allergies are commonplace, in my experience this means that most places are quite accommodating if you explain that you don’t eat certain foods. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask! Hotels, restaurants, and takeaways are part of our service industries and are there to serve you. They should be able to meet your needs - or provide you with information on where you can eat if they can't accommodate you themselves. If they can't meet your needs or be helpful, then vote with your wallet and feet and go elsewhere.

As this article is quite long, I've broken it into the following sections:
Hotels and B&Bs
Restaurants and Pubs
Takeaway Food
Eating on the road

If you have any other suggestions on how to eat out while avoiding carbs, I'd love to hear them in the comments!

Hotels and B&Bs

If I'm contacting a hotel or B&B regarding breakfast I then proceed to ask what options they have for a cooked breakfast - you may be as shocked as I was to learn that even in London B&Bs may well offer a very limited line of cooked breakfasts, in fact the only food that the one I shall be staying at can offer me is scrambled eggs, baked beans and chips - only the eggs are suitable for me as the others are high-carb foods. But, with their local knowledge they have informed me that there is a cafe close by that does a wide range of breakfasts, and have even informed me of the starting cost of a Full English Breakfast. So with that knowledge I can plan ahead, I know I can either just have the eggs or I can go for a cooked breakfast at the cafe - or I can take some fruit and nuts with me and buy a pot of yogurt at the Co-Op store over the road. Don't forget that Google Streetview can help you find out what sort of food shopping you can do near your hotel! Remember, when you're ordering a Full English Breakfast you simply need to avoid baked beans, hash browns, fried bread and toast. Also, if you can opt for grilled tomato instead of canned ones do so - or maybe avoid the tomatoes all together.

Restaurants and pubs

When it comes to dining out for lunch or dinner, there are a surprisingly large number of options available without having to necessarily request gluten free food. There are a number of pub chains offering food these days, such as Sizzling Pubs, Ember Inns, and the Wetherspoons group. Personally I swear by Wetherspoons & Lloyds No 1 Bars, whether it's having lunch with my gym buddies at my local or getting a post-ski meal at Xscape, I have always been able to find good food and good service which caters to my nutritional needs. For lunch I almost always have the Club Salad - Chicken, Bacon and Cheese with lettuce and tomato topped with a Balsamic Vinagerette  - high protein, medium fat, very low in carbs and incredibly filling and tasty. They also offer a Classic Caesar which would be perfect, but remember to ask them to serve without the croutons. When it comes to a more substantial meal the steak is fantastic and I've always found that if you explain that you don't eat potatoes of any type they simply double up on the salad. A wonderful, healthy, meal that provides more nutrients than the steak your friends and family are tucking into with their chips, breaded onion rings and peas! Clearly other pub chains are bound to offer the same sorts of food, and this is the kind of thing you're looking for. Something that's served with a variety of options so you can change out the items that you can't eat.

The other great restaurant option, which is really popular with everyone and allows you to pick and choose what you want without looking faddy, is the good old Carvery! If you think about it there's everything you could want on offer, lots of different meats, lots of vegetables, some dairy in the cauliflower cheese - and you don't have to have the Yorkshire pudding or any of the potatoes. Some Carvery restaurants also offer an alternative menu, so if you don't fancy the roast dinner you can always have a look for something like a Salmon fillet, or a salad - always remembering to ask for it without croutons. The only thing to watch for with salads is any glaze on the meats as these can be quite sugary.

There are, however, some chains and restaurant types that are more problematic for low-carb eaters. These are pretty obvious really. Pizza and Pasta restaurants are a big problem. You should usually find that they offer a salad, but there is usually quite a limited selection and you need to be careful with salad buffets in some Pizza restaurants - avoid the cous-cous, pasta salads, croutons and watch out for bacon bites and crispy onions as they tend to have hidden wheat content.

I've found the following guide serves me well:

Seafood Cocktail from Tempus at The St David's Hotel & Spa, Cardiff Bay
  • Caesar Salad without croutons
  • Prawn Cocktail without bread
  • Anything that isn't breaded - so no breaded mushrooms, but if they do garlic mushrooms without the breading then those are fine
  • Avoid nachos and garlic bread
Main course
  • Steak is usually one of the best options, but remember to ask for it to be served without chips and onion rings, preferably request salad instead of cooked veg
  • Chargrilled fish and Chargrilled chicken are good options - again ask for it to be served with a salad, or at least without potatoes
  • Salads are usually a really good bet, but if they state on the menu that it comes with croutons or bread and butter ask for those to be left off the order
  • Grilled chicken and gammon are also great options - the same rules apply about the side dishes, opt for a salad if you can, definitely ask for them not to be served with chips and onion rings
  • All Day Breakfasts are another good option, but again no chips or baked beans
  • Avoid things like curry & chili as they are only served with rice or chips
  • Avoid pies and anything served in batter or breadcrumbs
  • Avoid burgers - not just for the obvious reason of them being served in a bun and with chips, unless you are 100% sure that the burger is made with 100% meat you will find that it contains rusk and other fillers
This is where things get difficult, and you are likely to find that you have to consume something high-carb. You may think that eating Ice Cream or Sorbet is your best bet, but - unless you're wheat or gluten intolerant - this is not the best option on the menu for the low-carb and Paleo eater. Look for a baked cheesecake as the cheese in it will give you a protein boost and the carbs will be lower than the Ice Cream. Ideally you want to be looking for something like fruit, or cheese. If there is a cheeseboard on offer then this is ideal, just ask for it to be served without the biscuits - I did this at home over Christmas and enjoyed the cheese so much more! If there is no fruit, cheese or cheesecake option then the best bet will be Ice Cream rather than cake.

Takeaway food 

I was quite surprised to discover that eating low-carb takeaway food can be quite easy. Again, there are things that clearly need to be avoided, such as pizza and pasta. But there is a lot out there that does fit the bill for the low-carb eater. 

Starting with the fast-food takeaways, most places now offer a salad option, make sure that you order the grilled chicken and do check the food before you leave the premises. I ordered the grilled chicken and bacon salad from one of my local McDonald's drive-thrus and discovered, when I was already on the road, that they had served me with the crispy chicken. As I was hungry, and had paid quite a bit of money for it, I ate it anyway and I ended up with a terrible upset stomach and wheat pain. From that day forwards I always insist on checking the salad as soon as it's handed to me.

If your friends are getting an Indian don't panic. Curries are quite primal anyway, lots of meat and spices and vegetables. Curries also tend to be gluten-free naturally, but you need to avoid anything with potatoes in, unless they use sweet potatoes. Opt for a lean meat and check the ingredients. Anything that the local Indian takeaway serves with salad should also be fine, for example Tandoori dishes are served with salad so they are a great option. Just remember to avoid anything served with rice, avoid the naan bread and anything that is served in pastry.

Personally I would advise against eating Chinese, having helped out at a Chinese takeaway I can tell you that every single dish is loaded with MSG, salt and sugar. If you do have a Chinese then again avoid anything that is served in pastry or batter, avoid prawn crackers, avoid noodles (so no Chow Mein dishes) and avoid rice, and sadly I have to say avoid the Sesame Prawn Toast as tasty as it may be. On the very rare occasions that I eat Chinese I have the meat dishes only. I may have a single meat dish, like Chicken with Cashew, or I may share a number of meats with friends.

A Chicken Breast Kebab, with salad - served without the pitta & chips - is a perfect low-carb, Paleo, takeaway meal
Having said to avoid pizza you should still be able to order something if your friends are getting a meal from the local pizza shop as most pizza shops also serve kebabs. Clearly you need to avoid a doner kebab as these are made from some mystery sourced lamb (no doubt mechanically reclaimed meat), and if you ever saw the fat catcher from under the kebab spit at the end of the night in a pizza shop you would never touch doner meat again! Also avoid chicken doner as just one look at the way the little pieces of meat are compressed into a doner spit makes me dubious of it's quality and what kind of meat it is. A good pizza/kebab should should offer a chicken kebab that is cooked on the griddle. These are usually made of chicken breast, marinated in spices, and served with salad - totally Paleo and low carb. And they tend to be generous on the meat too, the place I use serves 250g of chicken breast, that's an awful lot of good quality protein! Just remember to ask them to serve it without the pitta and without chips - but help yourself to garlic and/or chili sauce.

Eating on the road

Unless you can stop at one of the fast-food places that offers salads, eating on the road is the single biggest challenge facing a low-carb, Paleo, or gluten-free eater. Corner shops and petrol stations are pure hell. There is, quite literally, nothing that we can eat from there unless they sell blocks of cheese and slices of ham - or if you get very lucky they might have a salad that's not got pasta in it. Virtually everything you see on sale in these places that is ready to eat, or heat on premises, is crisps, chocolate, sandwiches, wraps, sweets, burgers, fizzy drinks. It's a minefield and a nightmare. I've now learnt to take a packed lunch with me when I know I'm going to be on the road. A small salad, some pistachio nuts and some mixed nuts will usually do for me.

Under this category I'd place sandwich shops, many of these offer salad trays or boxes and this is where you can get a really nice, and filling, meal. You should be able to pick which meat or fish you want and which salad items you want. I would recommend avoiding sweetcorn, partly because it's off limits for the Paleo diet anyway but also because it's a high-carb veg with quite a lot of sugar in it. If you happen to be near a Pret a Manger store, pop in and see what they have to offer in their No Bread range - they use lettuce to create a wrap, an idea I've taken on board when I fancy something different to a plate full of salad!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Cheesy Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast

Inside the cooked stuffed chicken breast, served here with a tuna, courgette, aubergine, mushroom & pumpkin seed mix
This recipe is a firm favourite that is suitable for all the family, and there are lots of variants you can make. I first had stuffed chicken breasts nearly 20 years ago. On that occasion they were made with a prawn loaded filling, held together with cocktail sticks, but I like to use mushrooms and use a slice of bacon to wrap around the chicken breast holding the filling in place.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 2 Chicken Breasts
  • 1 large closed cap mushroom (diced)
  • 2 tbsp low-fat cream cheese
  • 2 slices of back bacon

For this recipe you can use fresh or frozen chicken breasts - make sure frozen ones are thoroughly defrosted first! Use either smoked or unsmoked bacon, according to taste.


Remove the stalk from the mushroom and slice and dice the mushroom into small pieces. Put the cream cheese in a bowl and add the mushroom. Mix together well, the mushroom pieces may break down as you mix. Place the mixture to one side.

Chicken breasts stuffed, wrapped, garnished and ready to cookTake each chicken breast and slice through the thickest part creating a pocket. Take roughly half the cream cheese mixture and fill the pocket in the chicken breast. Repeat for the other chicken breast. Make sure there is a small amount of cheese mixture left for later. Wrap the bacon slice around the chicken breast, using the thickest part of the bacon to fully cover the pocket opening, and pull the thin part around so that it overlaps and forms a seal. Repeat for the other chicken breast. If the chicken breast is particularly large, or the bacon small, you may need to use an extra slice of bacon.

Place the wrapped chicken breast on a baking tray and garnish the stuffed breasts with the small amount of cream cheese that you left when stuffing them. Put the stuffed breasts in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 6-7 for roughly 40 minutes. Check that the chicken is thoroughly cooked by using a skewer or thin, sharp, knife to pierce the thickest part of the stuffed chicken breast. They are ready once the juices run clear and there is a deep colouring to the garnish and bacon.

You can serve this with anything, so even your carb-loving friends and family can enjoy it - serve with a jacket potato, chips and vegetables, or rice, for them and with a healthy salad or vegetable mix for yourself.

Nutritional Information - per serving based on medium (125g) chicken breast

Fat: 11.95g
Carbs: 1.8g (Fibre: 0.2g; Net Carbs: 1.6g)
Protein: 45.37g

Calories: 306

The cooked chicken breast, the garnish & bacon should be deep colour and the juices running clear

The first time I made these I didn't have any cream cheese, so I used grated low-fat mature cheddar. Whilst this had a nice taste most of the cheese simply melted away.

For variations on this you can use any flavoured cream cheese - I like a herb and garlic one when I fancy a change - or add your own herbs to the cream cheese and mushroom mix. You can add to the mushrooms, or replace them, with prawns, leek, tomato, chilli, pesto, or anything else you fancy as long as it will mix with the cream cheese.

Try this tasty recipe out & let me know what variations you think taste great...

Friday, 21 June 2013

Start the day right with a grain-free Paleo breakfast

When it comes to breakfast the modern tradition is to eat wheat and grain based foods, as we're told that these will provide a slow release of sugars into the body as the morning goes by. If your body doesn’t process carbohydrates normally and you have a ‘Protein’ type metabolism this really couldn’t be further from the truth. These foods will cause a blood sugar spike as your body quickly turns these supposedly slow releasing carbohydrates into sugar and fat, and soon after you’ll experience a sugar crash, food cravings and a desperate hunger. If that sounds like you a couple of hours after breakfast then reduce, or remove, the grains and eat proteins for breakfast.

One of the first questions I asked when I made the switch to a Paleo style, low-carb, way of eating was "What on earth am I going to have for breakfast?" I'm not the only one to ask that question, and friends and family often ask me this when I explain that I don't eat grains of any sort - and that I'm wheat intolerant. "So you can't have toast or cereal?" is often the follow-up.

When I asked Stuart his advice on a high-protein breakfast his reply was simple: "Eggs"

Karen's Bacon and Mushroom Scrambled Eggs
From there the seeds of an idea were sown. I decided to have scrambled eggs, but without toast I wondered how I could make the eggs seem more satisfying and make it feel like I was eating a substantial breakfast. The initial idea was scrambled eggs with bacon, but after a couple of days a friend on Twitter suggested that I add mushrooms as they would add a bit more moisture back to the meal - just scrambled eggs with bacon can become a bit dry - and although the mushrooms add a few carbs they're a wonderful protein-filled vegetable. From those two suggestions my daily breakfast was born: Karen's Bacon and Mushroom Scrambled Eggs.

Other breakfast ideas

One alternative to scrambled eggs would be an omelette with cheese and bacon or ham, you could even – on an occasional basis – have a traditional full English. Or how about a gammon steak with scrambled eggs and mushrooms? Maybe even some chicken breast or steak if you have some left over from the previous evening’s dinner… the important thing to remember is to avoid all cereals, breads and pastries and eat something full of protein. That means eggs, fish or meat. If, unlike me, you're a fish lover then a traditional breakfast of kippers would be a good option. One smoked kipper would give a similar nutritional balance as my scrambled eggs but with 0g of carbs. Remember not to be scared of eggs, they're full of vitamins and goodness and it has now been recognised that the cholesterol in eggs does not increase our cholesterol. Just remember to cook them in a healthy way and eggs are a great food.

For a full English breakfast, make sure you take the rind off the bacon, use sausages with a high meat content, forgo the hash browns, toast and fried slice, go easy on the oil (use a small amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Flaxseed Oil if you fry) and ditch the baked beans –  sorry, but they are loaded with starchy carbs and sugare – avoid canned tomatoes and instead have a tomato grilled or cooked in the pan with your eggs. Swap the fried eggs for scrambled and you don’t need the oil. 

Karen's Bacon and Mushroom Scrambled Eggs

This breakfast leaves me feeling full for many hours, I've been known to eat it at 5am and not be hungry until 12pm or even 1pm. So it's great for people like me who get up early and struggle to get through the morning without snacking if they eat a high-carb, grain-based, breakfast.

Ingredients - per serving

For this filling low-carb, high protein, Paleo breakfast you will need the following per serving:
  • 2 medium eggs (preferably free range as they have a better flavour, are richer in nutrients, and are more likely to be from pasture-fed chickens)
  • 2 medium closed cap mushrooms
  • 1 rasher of back bacon (smoked or unsmoked)

Chopped and diced mushrooms and bacon
Take the stem out of the mushrooms, slice into 2 or 3. Slice the rest of the mushrooms and chop the slices in half so you end up with almost diced mushrooms. Place the mushroom pieces in an omelette/pancake pan.

Trim the excess fat off the bacon, and cut it in half longways. Now cut the two strips of bacon into small pieces and place in the pan with the mushrooms.

Place the pan over the smallest burner on your hob and turn to the heat up to full. Make sure that you don’t overcook or burn the bacon. Cook until all the bacon is turning to a pale colour – you won’t need any additional fat in the pan as the bacon will provide sufficient fat to cook all the ingredients.

Adding the eggs to the almost cooked mushrooms and bacon
Turn the heat down low and crack both eggs into the pan. Using a spatula or wooden spoon break the yolks and stir all the ingredients together well. Leave to heat through for a few moments and then begin to stir the ingredients while they cook to stop the eggs from sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can turn the heat up a little, but don’t go above a medium heat or the eggs will burn.

Keep stirring to create fluffy scrambled eggs
Keep stirring until the eggs are fully cooked and fluffy. Serve with your favourite morning drink – but avoid fruit juices as these are high in sugars. If you’re drinking coffee, try substituting a dash of cinnamon in place of your sugar, or going without sugar and milk completely!

View the full step-by-step "Karen's Bacon and Mushroom Scrambled Eggs" photo gallery.

Nutritional information

Fat: 13.67g
Carbs: 1.86g (Fibre: 0.4g; Net Carbs: 1.46g)
Protein: 16.8g
Calories: 198


To have a Sunday morning treat, you can add a couple of sausages – but be careful which ones you get as most of the cheaper ones are filled out with carbs in the shape of rusk, which is loaded with wheat! The ‘healthy’ options sausages are some of the worst for this… worse still are Richmond sausages and the value range sausages as these are less than 50% meat, and consequently contain more carbs than protein… shocking that they can even call them sausages! You really need to be looking for sausages with a very high pork content, the best supermarket option is Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range which have 97% pork, other supermarkets premium ranges only go up to 90% pork.

Adding a couple of Taste the Difference Lincolnshire sausages gives the following nutritional information:

Fat: 30.87g
Carbs: 5.26g (Fibre: 1.2g; Net Carbs: 4.06g)
Protein: 35.8
Calories: 440

Step-by-step: Karen's Bacon & Mushroom Scrambled Eggs

Ingredients per serving: 1 rasher of bacon, 2 medium mushrooms, 2 medium eggs

Ingredients per serving: 1 rasher of bacon, 2 medium mushrooms, 2 medium eggs
Destalk the mushrooms

Destalk the mushrooms
Slice and halve the stalks and caps

Slice and halve the stalks and caps
Cut the rind off the bacon & cut into small strips, add to mushrooms

Cut the rind off the bacon & cut into small strips, add to mushrooms
Gently dry fry the bacon and mushrooms

Gently dry fry the bacon and mushrooms
Once the bacon is nearly cooked through add the eggs

Once the bacon is nearly cooked through add the eggs
Reduce the heat and gently cook through, stirring from time to time

Reduce the heat and gently cook through, stirring from time to time
Don't worry if the egg sticks to the pan, sometimes it does. Keep stirring to avoid burning until the eggs are fluffy and fully cooked.

Don't worry if the egg sticks to the pan, sometimes it does. Keep stirring to avoid burning until the eggs are fluffy and fully cooked.
Serve and enjoy!

Serve and enjoy!
Cooked right your eggs should be nicely combined with the mushroom & bacon, yet fluffy in texture.

Cooked right your eggs should be nicely combined with the mushroom & bacon, yet fluffy in texture.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Fighting against a migraine

I've been a migraine sufferer for many years, since before knowing that I had a thyroid condition. For me migraines can be debilitating, and over the years they have got worse and worse - more recent ones have become two-day migraines with the following one to two days suffering with a 'migraine hangover'. That's the days after when you feel like one side of your face is slightly numb and still a little sore though there's no full blown migraine or headache, just a dull throb and general feeling of nausea and feeling out of sorts.

Over the years my GP and I have tried to identify the cause of my migraines by filling out a food and mood diary. No food triggers ever appeared. The usual suspects of Chocolate and Cheese didn't seem to be trigger foods for me. Stress was pretty much the only thing that we could think might be the root cause. But even then we were dubious. I was prescribed Pizotifen to take nightly to try and stop the migraines from even starting, and after a couple of months was advised to drop this down to just taking it when I felt the warning signs starting. I'd also had Maxalt Melts from time to time to attempt to stop the migraine as it started. They were pretty effective, but the last time I had any - a couple of years ago - I was in such pain that I had to take one before I'd even left the pharmacy at my local supermarket and still ended up with a full blown migraine.

The kind of food I used to use to treat a migraine
Over the years I'd developed a coping strategy, putting it down to low blood sugar. I'd tried eating a full meal, but could never finish it and would end up eating my evening meal at whatever time I awoke - even at 2am. Because eating a full meal didn't work, and believing that I needed to raise my blood sugar, I then resorted to eating a packet of crisps, a chocolate bar and high sugar content sweets such as Strawberry Pencils and Strawberry Laces - we're talking 98% sugar! But although this would sometimes lessen the visual side of the migraine allowing me to get to the bedroom where I could then fall into a deep sleep in a cool, dark, quiet, room, it was becoming less and less effective as a 'cure'.

How I treated my last migraine in February 2013
Last week, after discovering that I'm have a fast oxidiser protein metabolic type, I began to think about this issue. I hadn't had a migraine since February, but the last one had been treated with two large packets of crisps and a snickers duo - though once again that had only got me up to bed, not cleared it. Thinking of the food I'd been eating I realised that, although I'd know I was carb loading to treat the migraine, I hadn't been aware that carbs like this were unacceptable for my body type. With my new knowledge that this sort of food gives me a massive sugar rush followed by a very fast crash I started to think that maybe this was the wrong approach for me, and resolved to treat my next one with food more friendly to my body - protein and fat.

Last night, seemingly out of nowhere, I started to get the initial warning signs that a migraine was on it's way. Sticking to my resolution I decided to have a small portion of mixed nuts and a portion of low-fat Brie. Within an hour I was feeling normal, the migraine had been staved off and I there was no hint of a headache. I was thrilled with this, but slightly cautious that perhaps I had just postponed it.

This morning, when I awoke, I had a completely clear head. Not a sign of the headache or migraine that had been threatening the previous night. No sign of a 'migraine hangover'.

This is great news because, although I still can't identify the trigger, I now have an effective and non-chemical/non-medical way of fending off a migraine. It seems that adding more sugar to my system may well have just given a temporary relief in terms of the sugar rush but ultimately exacerbated the situation by providing me with a huge crash so soon after. From now on I'll be eating high-protein, high-fat, foods when I get that first tingle of migraine.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Results speak volumes

Today I had my monthly weigh in and measurements with Stuart in my PT session. Having been back to sticking strictly to my ratios, and staying off the starchy carbs and grains, for the last 7 or 8 weeks I felt that I was back on form. But even I was surprised with the results.

I've mentioned before that my optimum body fat is 14%, but looking back through my measurements the lowest I reached as 12.5%. This week I measured in at 13%, down from 15% four weeks ago. We had to double check a couple of measurements because I'd lost quite a lot off my problem areas of my triceps and thighs, and with the circumferences we've seen me shift the extra 4cm I'd put on my hips measurement which was all round my backside. We also had to double check my weight, because that has dropped by 3kg!

It's no wonder I've been feeling so good, clearly I've really hit the perfect ratios for my protein, carbohydrate and fat consumption. Now that I understand why my body responds this way, and why I need to stick to a high-protein, low-carb, way of eating it's going to be so much easier for me to maintain this and steer clear of the foods that make me fat and ill. That knowledge and understanding has now made me realise that there are ways I can join friends and family in enjoying a meal out or a takeaway without making myself ill or undoing all the hard work, and without making everyone feel uncomfortable or that I'm starving myself.

Add to this the fact that my new workout programme revisits some exercises I've done in the past, but my initial weights have now increased, I know that I'm in a good place physically and mentally. I just have to remember the mantra: Eat Clean, Lift Weights. Because, for me, it works. My one regret is not knowing about this way of life when I was first diagnosed with a thyroid condition, but thankfully I got there.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Cinnamon: The Wonder Spice

Cinnamon Sticks and powder - both have their uses
There's quite a buzz around Cinnamon at the moment. It's the current 'must-use' spice and has been identified as having a number of qualities that make it great for weight loss and improving your health as well as for spicing up your food. We've been used to using Cinnamon in baking for a long time, but there are a number of other ways you can use it.

Why use Cinnamon?

Studies have shown that Cinnamon can lower LDL cholesterol, and you don't need large quantities of it to achieve this. Just 1/2 a teaspoon a day can have this effect and that can be an easy amount to add into your daily diet.

From a weight loss point of view Cinnamon is the wonder spice because of it's effect on Insulin resistance. A number of studies have now shown that Cinnamon can improve Insulin sensitivity and help regulate blood sugar levels. Again, just 1/2 a teaspoon a day can achieve this. Improved Insulin resistance and regulated blood sugar levels can help with weight loss, and can help people like me to process carbohydrates better. This means that the carbs will be used as energy instead of stored, and by regulating your blood sugar levels you will be less prone to 'between meal' hunger and snacking. For the last 8 months I've been using Cinnamon in my workout drink 4 days a week, and it does seem to help me resist snacking after exercise and may have played a part in the loss of my love handles - and keeping the fat off.

Amongst it's other health benefits Cinnamon has anti-bacterial qualities which means that it can be used as a natural preservative and can help fight some bacteria such as H. Pylori, which is the most common cause of Duodenitis and Duodenal ulcers.

And on top of this, Cinnamon is very low in carbohydrates. You need to use such a small amount of it that if you are using it as a sweetener it's a much better option than sugar or other sweeteners. This means that Cinnamon is what I would consider to be the Paleo sweetener.

How can I use Cinnamon?

Cinnamon can be used in a number of ways, in sweet and savoury dishes and in drinks. Both Cinnamon powder and Cinnamon sticks are handy to keep in your store cupboard. I use Cinnamon solely in sweet dishes and cold drinks, but I enjoy the occasional Spiced Chai Latte, a traditional Indian tea spiced with Cinnamon. If you look at Moroccan recipes, many of these use Cinnamon to spice them and it also acts as a preservative.

Cinnamon sprinkled over a pudding of fruit, nuts & natural yogurt
My first use of Cinnamon was in making Cinnamon Water, which I add to Orange squash for my workout drinks. I tried Cinnamon Water on its own, but it has quite a kick to it and can have a strong aftertaste which I found unpleasant. Cinnamon can be an acquired taste, and I know more people who dislike Cinnamon than those who like it. More recently I've been using Cinnamon as a sweetener. I sprinkle it on natural or Greek style yogurt which is a little bitter for my tastes. This gives me a delicately spiced and sweetened yogurt without adding huge amounts of carbs and sugar. I've been known to add it to cheap coffee, rather than sugar, to take the edge off the flavour. In these instances I just use a dash of Cinnamon powder. Even using it daily for the last 4 weeks my bottle of Cinnamon powder has barely been touched.

Further Reading

There is a lot of information online about the health benefits of Cinnamon, here are a selection of articles if you want to know more:

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Eliminating refined sugar from your diet...

Refined sugar is so hard to give up, but so bad for us
One of the most crucial steps in converting to a Paleo style diet is to eliminate refined sugar from your daily diet. We all know that sugar is bad for us. It rots our teeth, it makes us fat, it creates an addiction leading to sugar rush and the dread sugar crash, it makes our blood sugar levels fluctuate and too much of it can make us ill in so many ways. Sugar stresses the adrenal glands and if you suffer from an auto-immune disease, such as thyroid disorders and diabetes it can exacerbate the symptoms of you disorder. And if you're like me, it turns almost instantly into fat - in my case giving me love handles.

So there are very good reasons for eliminating refined sugar from your diet. Removing it from your diet will reduce your carbohydrate consumption and avoid the previously mentioned problems. But it's not easy to do. We've been brought up with refined sugar in our diets from an early age. Remember the sweets we used to eat as kids? Our morning cereal as kids was probably something like Rice Krispies or Frosties, or maybe porridge with a dash of sugar sprinkled over it. Then we start drinking coffee and what do we do? We add sugar to take the edge off the bitterness of it.

So how do we start reducing our consumption of refined sugar? The simple answer is to stop eating foods and drinking drinks that contain refined sugar. But as I've highlighted, that's not so easy. By the time we reach our 20s we're probably addicted to sugar. I started to reduce my sugar consumption many years ago, moving from 2 tsp of sugar in my tea and coffee to 1 tsp, eventually reaching half. It was only in the last 6 weeks that I finally stopped putting sugar in these drinks, and that was purely because I had run out and at 4am I wasn't popping to the shop just to buy some more! But I quickly got used to the taste of coffee and tea without sugar. Try reducing your sugar consumption by using a 50-50 sugar/stevia mix, or try stevia only. Be careful with sweeteners though, as they don't produce the same effect in the body as sugar but their sweetness triggers the brain to expect that physical effect and can lead to greater consumption of sweet things.

When it comes to chocolate, move on from milk chocolate to dark chocolate. It may take a while, if you're used to the sweetness of milk chocolate you may find a strong dark chocolate (75% cocoa or more) to be too bitter, but over time you can work up to this. Stop buying standard chocolate bars, the ones that are readily available in newsagents, near the tills in the petrol station etc, and opt instead for bars of chocolate. Check the cocoa content of your chocolate and start with a 30% - 50% chocolate, most supermarket's own brand dark chocolate and Cadbury's Bournville is within this range. You'll find that the strength of the cocoa will actually mean that you don't need to eat as much chocolate - so not only have you cut back on the refined sugar, you've also cut back on the saturated fats. Once you're used to a 50% chocolate, seek out the more 'special' chocolates - Lindt, Willie's Cacao, and the supermarket premium ranges - and try a 60% or 70% chocolate. You'll start to find that the cocoa in these chocolates comes from different regions and has different tones - some are slightly fruity, some slightly nutty. These darker chocolates don't have to cost a fortune, you can get a perfectly tasty 74% dark from Lidl for just 79p, although the more expensive chocolates like Willie's Cacao have a much fuller flavour and are a lovely treat. From there you may be able to move up to an 80% or 90% chocolate - and if you're hardcore (like me) you might even be able to eat a 100% bar, these I've only seen available from Willie's Cacao and Hotel Chocolat. Remember, the higher the cocoa content, the less chocolate you will need to eat!

Strawberries make a great alternative to fruit flavoured sweets
Fancy some fruity sweets? Love gummy bears, fruit pencils, strawberry laces? These were my biggest sugar problem. And cutting them out has been hard - particularly as I used to think that my migraines were due to low blood sugar so would instantly reach for these high sugar sweets. The problem with this, for me, was that  I didn't realise that this was just giving me a massive sugar rush followed by a quick crash. This crash explains why I can't, even now, just have a handful of these types of sweets. Once I start I just eat and eat until they're all gone. Even buying small bags doesn't help, because the bags are 39p each or 3 for £1 - so I still end up buying 3 bags and eating them all in one go. So to deal with this I now grab some fruit. Even a small handful of dried fruit - which is still sugary, but doesn't give the same rush and crash as sweets do. Remembering that Paleo is all about eating how our ancestors did, this is an obvious substitution. Paleolithic man didn't have refined sugar, so when they wanted something sweet they would eat whatever fruit was in season. Think strawberries, blueberries, kiwi fruit, apple, orange. Be careful with grapes and bananas as they have a very high sugar content and may still promote the same rush and crash.

Another major source of sugar in most people's daily diet is fizzy soft drinks. All those colas, lemonades, orangeades etc that we drink are loaded with sugars. And it's hard to give them up. Moving to the diet versions doesn't really help as they're loaded with sweeteners that make us want to drink more and more as the brain seeks the physical effect of sugar that the sweetness it's experiencing expects. My personal trick for dealing with this is to drink fruit flavoured sparkling waters. Make sure that the one you are buying only has a trace of sugar and no sweeteners. One particular supermarket brand has a very chemical taste to me. I recommend the sparkling waters as the carbonate provides the same fizz sensation as drinking a fizzy pop, and the fruit flavours make the water more interesting and provide a sensation of sweetness.

Eating a high-fat, high-protein, breakfast in an effort to avoid grains and cereals will automatically eliminate that source of refined sugars, but there are other things you can do to ditch the sugar. Try natural, or Greek style, yogurts with a small serving of fruit and/or nuts instead of a flavoured yogurt, or instead of the fruit and nuts sprinkle a bit of cinnamon over the yogurt. My latest trick for avoiding refined sugar when I just need the edge taking off my coffee is to add a dash of cinnamon to it. Cinnamon is a fantastic spice, it gives a sweetness to foods but is much lower in carbs than sugar and you only need a very small amount to give your food and drink a kick. Watch out for my next post about Cinnamon!

Cinnamon Water

To make Cinnamon Water you'll need Cinnamon sticks instead of powder.

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • 1 cup of water per Cinnamon stick

Put the Cinnamon sticks in a milk pan, or similar small pan. Add 1 cup of water to the pan for each Cinnamon stick. Bring the water to the boil. Once the water is boiling reduce to a low heat and gently simmer. The longer you simmer the more spice and flavour you will draw out from the Cinnamon sticks. I usually leave the pan simmering for anywhere from 15-30 minutes.

Once the beautiful aroma of Cinnamon is filling your kitchen it's time to check on the pan. Make sure that the sticks have been completely immersed in the water so that you are getting the most out of them. Once the water is a dark red-brown, and the scent is strong, it's time to take the pan off the heat and leave it to cool. I used to remove the Cinnamon sticks before cooling, but I've since found that if you leave them in while the water cools you get a stronger flavour as the sticks continue to infuse the water whilst cooling.

Once cool use a sieve to strain out the bits of Cinnamon stick, they should have at least partially broken down, as you pour into a jug or bottle.You should have a deep brown-red liquid now, and this can be kept in the fridge to keep it fresh.

Add 1 cup of water to the pan for each stick of cinnamon used

Bring to the boil

After about 5-10 minutes the colour should be deepening

Simmer for 15-30 minutes until a deep red/brown

Once cool pass through a sieve to remove all the cinnamon, which will have started to break down

Pour into a bottle and chill
Serving suggestions

Use the Cinnamon Water like a squash or cordial and mix with cold water to taste - even adding ice to the jug to make a cool summer drink. You could try it with hot water, or with something like a green tea to make your own Spiced tea. If the flavour of the Cinnamon is too strong for you, or the aftertaste too much, then I recommend using it in a glass of Orange squash. How much you need to use will depend on the quality of the Cinnamon and how strong your Cinnamon Water is. If you workout then try adding the Cinnamon Water to your usual workout drink, it's a good way of making sure that you get a few regular doses of Cinnamon during the week. I find that 4 Cinnamon sticks make sufficient Cinnamon Water for 4 workout bottles of Cinnamon laced squash for 3-4 weeks.