What Is A Healthy Diet?

Posted on: December 27th, 2010 Posted by

With so much conflicting advice about diets, it can be hard to figure out exactly what we should and shouldn’t be eating. We look at some simple suggestions for a healthy, balanced diet which is easy to follow and will provide everything your body needs to function correctly.

Over the years diet fads have suggested cutting certain foods out out your diet while eating large amounts of other ingredients. The Atkin’s Diet, for example, encouraged slimmers to fill up on protein rich meats and cheeses, and cut out carbohydrate rich foods like pasta, bread and potatoes.

The problem with any fad diet is that restricting your diet to a particular food stuff or cutting out a specific food component, like carbs or fats, can have negative health effects. Those who try following a Low Carbohydrate Diet for example may experience lethargy and nausea, as well as  the desired weight-loss.

The other significant problem is that if you do not commit to sticking to the diet forever, as soon as you slip into your usual eating patterns, any weight you have lost is likely to pile back on. Returning to the diet or trying another one may work at helping you get that weight off again but this pattern of “yo-yo dieting” has long term negative effects and can actually make it harder to achieve a healthy weight.

Many nutrition experts now agree that the healthiest diet of all is a diet which is balanced in carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals, as well as a small amount of fat. That’s right, fat is not all bad- in fact we need a certain amount to keep our bodies warm and protect our bones. Carbohydrates are a good source of energy, and in their complex form, dietary fibre, while proteins are used for growth, and as a secondary source of energy.  Some health experts use a “food pyramid” to show how much of each food type you should be eating: fats are at the top of the pyramid, whereas carbohydrates are at the bottom because they can be eaten in abundance. You can also buy plates which indicate how much of each food type should fill your plate :

Unlike restrictive diets, a healthy balanced diet is fun to follow because you can eat a bit of everything, providing you do it in proportion.

A healthy diet should include at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day, as well as proteins like eggs, fish and dairy products, and two to three portions of carbohydrates like pasta or rice, wholegrain where possible. To get the best from your diet make healthy choices rather than denying yourself things : if you fancy something like red meat or chocolate, have some, but go for quality not quantity and eat a smaller portion. Replace your normal snacks with fresh fruit and vegetables or nuts, which contain beneficial fatty acids. Remember there is an abundance of great food out there from countries, so experiment and tantalise your taste buds- a varied diet is never boring.

The benefits of following a nutritious balanced diet are many. Not only should you be able to achieve and maintain a healthy body-weight, simply by eating a wide variety of foods, but you should find yourself feeling more energetic too. Getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals from your diet will make your skin clearer, your hair shiny and your nails stronger. Additionally, those who follow a healthy diet are likely to have a stronger immune system and become ill with colds and flu bugs less frequently. And the medical experts agree : those who follow a diet low in fats, but high in fruits, vegetables, fish and starchy carbohydrates are less susceptible to heart disease, cancer and stress!

Toast – The Easy & Satisfying Snack Food

Posted on: December 20th, 2010 Posted by

For the majority of people the smell of warm bread evokes pleasant memories- and toast has recently been voted one of Britain’s favourite comfort foods.

It is difficult to say when the toast was “invented”. The human race have been making bread since the Neolithic Period, although the first forms of bread were very different to the soft, fluffy bread we know and love. Until around 6,000 years ago, bread was unleavened, as no one had discovered that yeast and kneading would make a lighter bread. Legend has it that the ancient Egyptians somehow discovered that kneading the dough with their feet made it rise and have a fluffier texture, probably due to presence of yeasts on their skin. From Egypt, bread travelled to Rome, where some clever soul had the idea of toasting it on a fork over an open fire, and so as the Romans conquered Europe, so did toast.

Pre sliced bread was first developed in the 1930s and according to the Flour Advisory Bureau, UK residents now consume around 43 loaves of bread each per year. American Charles Strite had invented the first pop up toaster in 1919 and the easy method of crisping bread on both sides became popular, bringing toast to the masses. According to home electrics manufacturer Russell Hobbs, 9 out of 10 homes in the UK own an electric toaster, so clearly we all have a lot to thank Mr Strite for!

Despite the fact that most of us now buy ready made pre-sliced loaves for convenience, making home-made bread is not difficult and with practice, gives a better result than store bought products. Over recent years bread-making machines for domestic use have become widely available, so people are becoming more creative and trying new recipes from around the world to add some pizazz to their bread.

So now you know a little more about the history of that homely but delicious snack, toast, lets look at some ideas for toast toppings and fillings to whet your appetite.

•Perhaps the most popular topping for toast is butter, although people are generally choosing more health conscious low fat alternatives such as margarine. In Mediterranean countries, it is common to accompany most meals with bread drizzled with or dipped in quality olive oil. Most doctors have now come to the conclusion that this is a particularly beneficial aspect of the so-called “Mediterranean Diet” and that consuming Extra Virgin Olive Oil can be good for the heart.

•Another classic toast topping ingredient is sardines – as served up by Mr Tumnus the Faun to Lucy in CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. These little fish are full of flavour, and high in calcium and Omega 3 Fatty Acids. However, some people don’t like the small bones found in sardines- for a similar flavour, which is perhaps more child friendly, look out for little pots of fish paste in the supermarket.

•A substantial toast topping which serves well as a supper or brunch dishes is creamed mushrooms on toast. Finely sliced mushrooms are sautéed(with a little garlic if desired) and added to a rich creamy sauce. This dish is basic but flavoursome and loved by all ages – however if you can get your hands on some wild mushroom varieties, it will take your recipe to a gourmet level!

•To cure a sweet tooth craving try spreading cool cream-cheese on your toast and adding finely sliced bananas or your favourite jam- strawberry is especially good.

• If you have left-over curry or chili con carne in your fridge- don’t be afraid to use it to top your toast- both are great on toast, with some cheese grilled on top.

• Finally, how about changing the bread to ring the changes. Most large supermarkets now sell an abundance of bread types- look out for multi grain and seed loaves for extra health benefits, or bread that has sundried tomatoes and herbs for rich flavour.

Delicious Things to Do With Your Christmas Leftovers

Posted on: December 14th, 2010 Posted by

Inevitably we all buy too much food for Christmas time: dining tables groan under a banquet of seasonal delights and belts are loosened to make room for expanded girths, but still we all wake up on Boxing Day morning to a fridge full of leftovers. Eating turkey sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the foreseeable future may not be an attractive option, so shake things up with the ten ideas below:

· Leftover turkey can be made into the Spanish Tapas favourite “croquettes”. These small snacks can also be made with leftover ham and cheese for an alternative flavour. The meat should be sliced into very small pieces and mixed with a thick bechamel sauce. When the Bechamel sauce mixture is cooled, coat spoonfuls of the mixture with breadcrumbs. Fry or bake these until crispy and golden, and serve as a teatime snack or light supper with a selection of dips.

· Turn leftover vegetables and mash into a satisfying Bubble & Squeak, which is delicious served for breakfast with sausages and bacon. This simple dish is made by mixing the vegetables and mash, along with salt and pepper to season. Heat some oil in a frying pan and cook the mixture until it is golden on one side, before flipping over the cook the top.

· If you have spare Yorkshire Puddings leftover, ring the changes by turning them into a fun and tasty dessert. Warm individual Yorkshire Puddings up for a few minutes in a hot oven, then fill with a scoop of your favourite ice-cream, plus fruit or chocolate sauce. Kids love these desserts and you are not limited as to what you put in them- Golden Syrup is a particularly popular topping.

· Try making a delicious Roast Dinner Soup to use up a variety of ingredients: cooked meats, vegetables and potatoes can all be added. If you have a blender handy, this warming soup couldn’t be easier or quicker to make. Simply add you chosen ingredients to a large pan of hot, richly flavoured stock and blend, then heat through. The result is satisfying and warming dish, perfect on the coldest days.

· If you make too much stuffing, don’t cook it all at once. Save some of the raw mixture and shape into burger patties. These can be frozen, and then cooked as required, to be served in a burger bun with salad and sauces. Another idea is to fry stuffing balls and serve with a tomato based pasta sauce and spaghetti.

· Make leftover Melon and Champagne into a light and refreshing sorbet, a perfect palate cleanser after the excesses of Christmas. Liquidise the melon(any variety will do, but Cantaloupe is particularly good) and add a small glass of Champagne, one teaspoon of lemon juice and sugar, to taste. Place the mixture in a large bowl and freeze, whisking it every hour or so to break up ice crystals and ensure a smooth, thick blend.

· An indulgent treat which makes a quick and festive supper is the Pan-fried Cheese Sandwich with Cranberry Sauce. Any cheese which melts well could be used, but it works particularly well with Brie and Camembert, which many of us find lurking in the fridge after Christmas Day is past. For each serving, butter two slices of bread and prepare the sandwich with the buttered sides facing out, to stop it sticking to the pan. Fill with sliced cheese and a dollop of cranberry sauce and fry until golden brown.

· Candy canes and chocolate bars can be combined to make minty sweet Candy Cane Treats. Gently melt plain, milk and white chocolate bars over a bowl of hot water, and add crushed candy canes. Drop spoonfuls of this mixture onto greaseproof paper and allow to cool before eating. Kids can get involved with this recipe with an adult supervising, and can sprinkle the warm chocolate with extra ingredients- try desiccated coconut or chopped dried fruit.

How To Avoid Food Poisoning This Christmas

Posted on: December 6th, 2010 Posted by

Christmas should be a time of merriment and spending happy times with family and friends but all too often, someone ends up falling ill due to consuming bacteria or virus contaminated food.

Bacteria need warmth, moisture and food to multiply, and often we create this environment without even realising it. Invisible to the human eye, bacteria numbers can increase by thousands in just a few hours, rendering food unfit to eat. If you do happen to consume food containing large numbers of bacteria- Salmonella or E-coli for example, you will be at risk of becoming very ill,  experiencing sickness, an upset stomach and fever, with serious cases developing serious health problems and in some cases, death.

Since the presence of bacteria is  impossible to track, high standards of food hygiene are vital when you are buying, storing, preparing and cooking food. By following some simple rules you can prevent yourself and your family from having to experience the horrors of food poisoning.

Your Christmas food safety plan starts when you are shopping. Plan your shopping trip so that you can take your purchases home immediately after shopping to avoid chilled and frozen goods from temperature changes. If you are making several trips over a period of months or weeks, buy non perishable items earliest, and  leave meats, fish and fresh fruit and vegetables until last.

A particular note for those shopping for shell fish: choose a shop which has a high turnover and sells good, fresh shellfish which is kept on ice. When preparing your shellfish discard any with cracked or broken shells, and those which are open and do not close when tapped.

When you have got your food home, unpack in immediately. Correct storage primarily means storing foods at low temperatures, which slows bacterial growth. Perishable goods like meat, fish and dairy products should be refrigerated between 0-5ºC, while frozen goods should be kept at around -18ºC. Your fridge should be arranged so that raw meats are below meats to help prevent cross contamination. Make use of food wrap and storage boxes to keep different types of foods separate.  Anything that you cook to be chilled and eaten later should be cooled as quickly as possible(within two hours) and then refrigerated, however, putting warm food in the fridge should be avoided as it will increase the fridge temperature potentially allowing bacterial growth.

If , after taking all this care, you do happen to discover something in your fridge that looks or smells off, discard it immediately and do not risk eating it.

Anyone who is cooking food or helping with its preparation should wash their hands regularly, after using the bathroom or touching pets. Remember that bacteria can be carried not only on the hands, but on chopping boards, cloths and sponges and utensils. Clean down preparation areas with hot, soapy water or an antibacterial spray to help avoid the spread of bacteria from one area to another.

If you are cooking a turkey which has been frozen, allow sufficient thawing time before you start to cook. Defrosting in a fridge will take 10-12 hours per kg, while defrosting at room temperature takes considerably less time, around 2 hours per kg.

As for cooking times, is well worth investing in a meat thermometer, as you can use it to gauge the inner temperature of the meat accurately, avoiding serving undercooked meat. As a guideline,  the Food Standards Agency recommend that  a stuffed bird should reach 165ºC in the centre to ensure that it is fully cooked.  You can also insert a sharp knife in to the middle of the roast meat- it should be be piping hot and the juices should run clear when the meat is ready.

Leftovers should only be reheated once and they too should be heated to at least 165ºC.

Finally, if you do suspect that someone is suffering from food poisoning contact a doctor for advice- this is very important for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children and the elderly.