Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New Newsletter, Erythritol request, the Fearless February Challenge


I finally got around to creating the next Sana Direct newsletter! Yes, they do exist.  Click on the link below to read the summer version. It contains the results of our first survey - 'Ascorbic Acid - tell us what you do with it'.
The next newsletter will be out in Autumn and for that one I'm looking for erythritol recipes.  Please either link it up in the comments, or email me using the link on the left (in my 'About Me') or through the Sana site.

Fearless Feb

Fearless Feb is a 28 day alcohol-free challenge.  I don't know about you, but now and then, I like to take a decent break from my buddy CabSav, and spend time re-evaluating the place of alcohol in my life.  That's what Fearless Feb is about.  It's just a group of friends getting together for some mutual support toward our shared goal of getting healthier and happier. No judgement, just good times. 

If it sounds like your kind of fun, and you're on Facebook, click on the link and request to join the group.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Crunchy, Munchy Roasted Chickpeas (Gluten-free, Vegan)

It's a whole new year! 

Let's eat!  How about something tasty and easy to start 2015?

I realise roasted chickpeas have had blog-time in the past, but it's time to remind you about them. Not only are they fibre-rich and a good source of copper, folate and manganese, but on these Southern Hemispheric sunny days, they add a perfect crunch to salads.  A gluten free crouton replacement.

You can use canned or boiled chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans) to make roasted ones. Having tried both, I'm convinced that starting 'from scratch' with dried chickpeas results in a superior flavour and texture. It's worth the effort.

To cook chickpeas from scratch, just soak them overnight, rinse them and then boil until tender. 

Whether using canned or home-processed chickpeas, be sure to drain them well before roasting. This speeds things up considerably.

To Roast Chickpeas:

Stir a little olive oil or coconut oil through your chickpeas (I use 1 tsp per 100g of chickpeas - cooked, drained weight). I find that coconut oil creates a crunchier result.

I like to season the chickpeas with a sprinkle of salt and something spicy (like chili powder - just a little please! You are not aiming to roast your tongue!). You can experiment.

Spread the chickpeas on a metal dish and bake them in the oven for 'as long as it takes' - sometimes up to an hour. Keep taste testing them and take them out when they are at your desired level of crispiness and have turned a darker brown.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The A-Z Weight Loss Study - Atkins Wins?

Lately, a 2007 study has been circulating Facebook and the blogosphere, mostly being cited as support for a low-carb diet.  Brainy Kris Gunnars reviewed it on his blog as a high-quality study showing that high-fat diets outperform vegetarian/vegan ones in terms of weight loss and cardiovascular risk markers. 

After reading that, something twigged in my brain. I realised that we are talking about this study:

Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women.

I read it a while back and put it on my pile of studies that don't say much. I'm going to quickly critique the study now, as an example of how sometimes, what we think we see, is not what is there. You have to look beyond what you read on the internet or on Facebook. Don't trust anyone, especially bloggers ;).

The first, and most important issue, is compliance.

Leaving aside the fact that dietary compliance was assessed by telephone food recall, the A-Z study appears to have a serious problem with compliance to the diets, except Atkins. There are a couple of things that stand out to me.

The Zone Diet is supposed to be 40:30:30 (percentage of carbs, protein, fat) and yet, by the end of the study, the Zone dieters were achieving just 20%, and their protein intake had been dropping at each recall.  

The Ornish diet is supposed to be very low fat (less than 10% of calories from fat) and yet by at the 12 month recall, the Ornish dieters were eating approximately 29.8% of their calories as fat. Surprisingly, these low-fat, vegetarian dieters somehow managed less than 20g of fibre a day. That's not even the RDI, which in NZ is 25g a day. This suggests to me that they were perhaps eating a few too many processed carbs instead of veges.  Just a guess there. Therefore, although the Atkins group were Atkins-ing, the Ornish group weren't Ornish-ing and the Zoners were not in the Zone. The LEARN group didn't meet their dietary targets (55-60% calories from carbs, less than 10% calories from saturated fat) either.

So really, we are not comparing the results of the Atkins, LEARN, Zone and Ornish diets at all. This is major. Other studies like the POUNDSLOST trial have shown that dietary compliance matters more than nutritional breakdown when it comes to weight loss.  I think the A-Z authors knew they had a problem there. A year later, some members of the original study group re-analysed the data for compliance and found this: 

Twelve-month weight change in the most vs least adherent tertiles, respectively, was −8.3±5.6 vs −1.9±5.8 kg, P=0.0006 (Atkins); −3.7±6.3 vs −0.4±6.8 kg, P=0.12 (Zone) and −6.5±6.8 vs −1.7±7.9 kg, P=0.06 (Ornish).

That messes with the notion that only the Atkins group lost lots of weight, although the most compliant of them did lose the most. It seems that the most compliant lost more than twice the previously reported amount on the Zone and nearly three times the previously reported amount on the Ornish diet. The LEARN diet was not included in the adherence analysis. The authors of the review concluded this (bolding is mine):

Regardless of assigned diet groups, 12-month weight change was greater in the most adherent compared to the least adherent tertiles. These results suggest that strategies to increase adherence may deserve more emphasis than the specific macronutrient composition of the weight loss diet itself in supporting successful weight loss.

Oh dear. That's interesting. I wonder why that follow up study isn't bounding around the interwebs? Probably because it's a predictable and boring finding.  Nobody likes to cheer for the mainstream.

Let's have a closer look at the actual results from the original study.

Firstly, there is something important to realise from the get-go.  Apart from the difference between Atkins and Zone Diet (which as mentioned above, was not really), the weight lost between groups was not statistically significant at 12 months. That means that given the group sizes, we can't be sure that the apparent difference in weights is not just chance.

There is also something weird going on with bodyfat levels. It's a bit of an elephant in the room, if you ask me.  Have a look at this:

The readers of Fit to Blog are pretty smart and I'm sure you can see what's going on.  In the last six months of the study, all groups except Ornish are regaining fat and increasing their BMI. The LEARN group regained the most bodyfat, with Atkins second.

I would dearly love to see a follow up study to see where these individuals (all women) are now. That would be truly interesting, yes? I wonder how they are doing seven years later? 

Just a little note about the other significant findings, which were blood pressure, triglycerides and HDL. At 12 months, the Atkins group did show significant lowering of triglycerides compared to the Zone group, significant lowering of blood pressure compared to all groups and significant increases in HDL ('good' cholesterol) compared to Ornish. You can see this in the table above. The results with little a's and b's beside them are significant results, but numbers that share a superscript are not significantly different to each other (making sense??). I was a little 'meh' about these findings though, because the group as a whole had pretty good levels of these things at baseline, and of course, we still have the compliance issue.

In summary, it is really difficult to see how the Atkins foundation (it's even on their Wiki page), and other low-carb fans, can take this study and use it to smack the internet with the healthfulness of their diet. I'll need to see something a whole lot more convincing than this before erecting an altar to Atkins in my office.  


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Vegan, Low-Fat, Black Bean Brownies (Sugar-Free Version)

Beans, eh?  Such a controversial little foodstuff. If it's not one side taking a swipe at their dreaded antinutrients, it's the other declaring them to be non-delicious hippie food. I'm rebelling.  I'm making some bean brownies.  Because they are chocolatey and chewy. Shuddup. 

Unless you have a compromised gut, FODMAPs issues* or otherwise can't handle starches, beans are great. I wouldn't recommend cooking the black ones from scratch if you're easily distracted though. I did that three years ago and permanently stained the ceiling. Bean pigment carries very well in steam. Therefore, we'll be using canned beans today. Canning greatly reduces the fart-inducing oligosaccharides too, in case this is of personal concern to you. 

These brownies are vegan and low fat.  That's because I have low-fat vegan friends to feed. I also have HCLF and paleo friends. They keep me versatile. I made these brownies sugar-free as well, but that's not compulsory.


1 can (425g net) of Black Beans (I used these ones)

Either: 3/4 cup erythritol and 1 flat tsp stevia
3/4 cup sugar
Note: if you use erythritol, you don't get the crust on top. For that, you definitely need sugar.

1/2 cup packed medjool dates
1 smallish banana
3/4 cup cocoa (or raw cacao powder)
2 tbsp of psyllium husks (or husk powder)
1 tbsp arrowroot powder
Handful of cacao nibs and raisins

1 tsp vanilla essence
1.5 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cardamom or other warming spice
1 shot of espresso (or tsp instant coffee)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks (vegan, if you're aiming for that)


If you are using the erythritol+stevia blend (or just erythritol for less sweet brownies), it is best to give it a whizz in the blender first. This mixes the sweetener properly and minimises the chance of erythritol grainy-ness.

Remove the erythritol from the processor.

Chop the dates and add to the processor slowly. Blend to smoothness.

Add the beans, vanilla and salt and blend until there are no visible bean chunks and you're pretty sure there are no invisible ones either.  Go hard on this phase, give it a few minutes.

Add the erythritol mix (or sugar), banana, cacao, espresso and spices. Process.

Taste test. Add more sweetener if it's not to your liking.

Lastly add the psyllium, arrowroot and baking soda. Process those in quickly (but thoroughly) then add your extras and either quickly process or stir through.  In the picture above, I used figs, but since then, I've preferred cacao nibs and raisins. This adds texture to what would otherwise be just a delicious, chewy experience.

The mix should be nice and thick.

Spoon it into a silicone (or baking paper lined) tray, smooth it and bake at a moderate heat (180C) for 25 minutes, or until a probe comes out relatively clean.

It will still be quite soft, but firms up as it cools.

These freeze very well, and can easily do time as a work snack or, with some creative pimping (think: chocolate sauce), a fancy dessert.

* I'm not 100% sure that black beans would create problems for those on a low FODMAPs diet. I can't find them specifically mentioned in any of my reference materials. Can anyone enlighten me?


My earlier brownie recipe (similar but different, still good)
Black beans on World's Healthiest Foods
Another great black bean brownie recipe (higher fat version, I've also made this and it was ultra yummy, probably a better version if you've got small people to feed).
And another one

Vegans: This is a great resource for how to do veganism healthfully

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Last month I had a terrible experience. I became abandoned and alone, in a foreign country, without my phone.

In Harrods.

Harrods is freaking enormous. I was terrified.  Jason and I became separated when the toy department lift doors closed, with me on the inside, and him.. I dunno, checking out the lego.

I went up a floor, came back down, and he was not there!  I thought the best idea was to stay where I'd last seen him. That got boring after 10 minutes, so I did something I haven't done in years: got a green juice at the nearby stand.  It cost a lot, but was delicious, and so, through my trials and tribulations, I rediscovered juice.  Then I wandered down the stairs and rediscovered Jase, he was kinda pacing around the building, rightly assuming that eventually I had to emerge from one of the (many) doors.  

Him: "what took you so long?"
Me: "I was getting a green juice"
Him: "....."

By a quirk of kismet, on our return to NZ, a friend mentioned he planned to offload a very nice, once-used slow press juicer (this one).  Now it is mine.

I've been making green juices (that one's got orange and dandelion inside, looks aliiiive doesn't it?):

I'm so enraptured with this thing. It can munch a whole unpeeled orange, accessing all the inflammation-bashing, cholesterol-balancing flavonoids that hang out in the skin. That's brilliant.

It can even get the juice out of ginger or turmeric.

and this stuff
adds a healthy citrus-y punch to black bean brownies. Here's the vegan version:

and non-vegan
Both are delicious and don't look so different in real life as they do in the pics. The next post (realistically, that's about 10 days away) will be a vegan black bean brownie recipe. It's been extensively tested and is nearly ready for release.

Juicing. Are you into it?  Scared of all that fructose?  Got any favourite juice recipes?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Spring Broccoli and Pomegranate Salad - Vegan, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Paleo, SCD, Pegan

Just want the recipe?  Click here for the printable version.

Non-organic broccoli is a personal compromise that I live with, quite happily.  My lame excuse is not the price difference of $1.45 vs. $4.99 or that broccoli is particularly low in pesticide residues (it's average) but because bug patrol does my head in.

By the time I've extracted any carefully hidden, sleepy caterpillars from my pricey head of organic greens, I've lost half the florets, 20 minutes of my life and any appetite for broccoli. Oh, and the will to live.

Anyway, whether you sympathise with my plight or not, please absorb the most important fact about broccoli: it's very good for you. It's full of folate, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, choline, vitamin C and even has a tiny bit of Omega 3. It will make you gorgeous (disclaimer: results may vary).  It's also packed with vitamin yum when properly prepared, and not boiled to the traumatising mush that may have wrecked your childhood. 

Omigosh. I just realised something.....

Buzzword alert~!  this recipe is pegan = paleo / vegan. Yes, it is a thing.

get it?
Spring Broccoli and Pomegranate Salad

For the Salad

1 Pomegranate
3 heads of broccoli (or thereabouts)
Almonds - raw, roasted, salted, activated, lazy, your call. The amount is also up to you.
Strawberries (optional)

For the avocado dressing

1 avocado
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra light olive oil (approximately)
1/2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt


Cut up the broccoli into large florets and blanch them.
"How to Blanch Broccoli" from the Food Network .
Blanch the broccoli by throwing florets into boiling water for 30 seconds, then draining and pouring into ice water. When cool, drain and set aside. Keep in the fridge to keep cool.
I don't use 'ice water', just cold water.

Assemble everything in a salad bowl. If you have issues getting the seeds out of the pomegranate, lifehacker has you sorted with a pomegranate seed extraction video.  He does rant on a bit at the start, so I'd recommend skipping to 1.32 for the actual instructions.


Put the avocado flesh, cider vinegar, honey, salt and a little olive oil into the food processor.

Blend until smooth, then add more oil until the dressing is your desired consistency. Check the taste and adjust levels of vinegar, salt and honey until you really like it.

Stir the dressing through the salad. It is done.

This salad keeps for a few hours in the fridge, but is best when fresh.  Before adding the dressing to this one, I packed out some of the salad and sprinkled with lemon juice. That became part of the next day's lunch.

Any FODMAPs people out there that want to come up with a compliant dressing?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I'm Back!

The jetlag is gone, I've cleared my inbox of 20 bazillion invitations to become 'the man of her dreams' (really? do people fall for this?), submitted a bunch of uni stuff, shipped off a pile of orders to my oh-so-patient Sana customers, and now lunch is in hand and I have a little blogging time before settling down to a couple of hours thesis research.

Today I thought I'd just show you my lunch and then a few travel pics that haven't already made it to Facebook:

So, we were away five weeks. It was wild.  The schedule was:


and just to prove it wasn't all pizza...


That's me in the middle


This is where we stayed. It's an old monastery: Fattoria Bassetto

Having issues with the self-timer

Lots of time with our crazy family
France (Colmar)
Gorgeous little town, with some quirks

Germany (Rust - Europa Park)

We stayed in the park in a theme hotel (back in Italy? not quite)

That's me screaming my face off. Miss J is beside me with the face paint on.

Switzerland (Dornach)

The Goetheanum. A cool building designed by Rudolf Steiner. It was completed after his death.

Then back to Liechtenstein for a few days before jumping on a plane to England


Where there are, indeed, ancient Roman baths.

We did tea in Bath

And Cornish mead in Cornwall, cheers.

Lunch at the cutest little pub near Cothele House

Tintagel castle ruins (legendary birthplace of King Arthur)


Very nice digs in Callington (Cadson Manor). This is a family home and the hosts were the nicest people in the world, also very good cooks.  You know it's greatness when the little tray of freebies in your room includes a pretty glass bottle of sherry, and two fancy glasses.

That's our hire car. I didn't want to give it back.

and back to London

I think everyone's seen London pics... here's something different: 
the smoothie stand at Camden Lock.

Any questions, comments, funny stories about what happens when you drink real Cornish mead? :-/

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hello from Europe 2

Well, the android blogger app, on which I just painstakingly tippy tapped the first version of this post, decided to discard the words and post only the pic...

So, as I was saying, Jason and I are currently wafting around Europe, seeing things and eating lots ;) I had planned to blog while travelling but my laptop did not survive the trip :( and blogging on the tablet is more than I, or anyone sane, can take.

Therefore, just like me, Fit to Blog is on hiatus until 25 October. If you'd like to follow along, please find me on Facebook (email sara.lake AT gmail if you can't find me).


Hello from Europe

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No-Bake, Vegan Chocolate Marble Cheesecake

Click Here for Printable Recipe

I really shouldn't use the 't' word, should I?  If I slip up again, it's best to remember that, in my world, 'tomorrow' might mean 'the next day' or it could be interpreted as 'sometime soonish'. Sometimes the requirement to make money just cuts into my blogging time (I know! So unfair...). 

I also took a night off to see The 100 Foot Journey, which is definitely worth a look.  A reviewer described it as 'feel-good food porn', and that's pretty accurate. The food shots fired me with a passion for French cooking, and Indian. Why did they have to ruin it with  *spoilers!* a depressingly predictable bit where the oppressed Indian boy gets propelled to greatness by a rich, white French woman (of course he did)?

Without further waffling on, below is the recipe for my Vegan Chocolate Marble Cheesecake. The next post is going to address how to fit such treat foods into a healthy eating plan. There is so much crazy around this issue right now, that it deserves a blog work up before my brain seizes from trying to process an unprecendented influx of irrationality.

For now, just let me confess that I do eat treats like this, about twice a week, smallish serving.  I love vegan desserts, but it's not for moral reasons. I personally think that vegan desserts are just the best. They deliver on taste, keep very well in the fridge or freezer, are often no-bake and easy to make, present few worries about food poisoning, and as a welcome side-effect, are often (but not necessarily) more healthful. Here ya go.


For the Base: 
1.5 cups almond flour
1 cup of pitted, chopped medjool dates
¼ tsp salt
¾ tsp cardamom

For the Topping: 

3 cups of cashew nuts (soaked for 3 to 5 hours)
½ cup coconut oil (melted)
½ cup coconut milk or coconut cream
½ cup maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
 2 Tbsp Raw cacao powder
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt

For the Optional Ganache:

4 tablespoons of coconut oil
2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
1 Tbsp honey, maple syrup or other preferred sweetener
1 tsp vanilla essence pinch of salt


For the Base: 

Mix the almond flour, coconut flour, salt and cardmom in a food processor. While it is running add the dates slowly, allowing each handful to be fully processed before adding another.

The base is ready when you squeeze it and it sticks together. Add more dates or a few teaspoons of water if not sticky enough.

Press the base firmly into the bottom of a springiform or silicone baking pan and set aside.

For the Topping:

Drain the cashews and blend them in the processor at a high speed until they are relatively smooth.

Add the coconut milk, vanilla and salt and continue to blend until the consistency is very smooth – like cream cheese.

While the processor is running, add the liquid sweetener and coconut oil. Blend until any and all nutty lumps are gone.

Drop large dollops of the mix randomly on the base Use half the mix.

Add the cacao to the remaining mix and blend. Drop the chocolate topping into the gaps left between the vanilla dollops, then swirl the topping exactly once with a knife.

For the ganache:

Melt all incredients on low heat in a saucepan then pour over the cake Freeze for at least two hours until solid, remove from the pan and let sit in the fridge for about half an hour before eating.

Nom, nom, nom.


And here's a 'Berry Chocolate' version (just added berry powder and some fresh berries to the 'vanilla' part of the above recipe).

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Example Day - July (Weekend Day)

Middle of winter, glorious sunny day!  I just got back from a short walk up a slippy, muddy hill and couldn't feel better.  I hope the trees don't get confused and start to blossom.  Are they smart enough to realise this is an abnormally warm coupla days?  Nature can be whacky sometimes.

It's time for another example day.  The next one will be a working day, so you can see how it all rolls when I have to navigate the office.

Breakfast - Pancake with Berries

Pancake made with 2 eggs, a tbsp almond meal and dash of salt.

That's green tea in the cup. 

In order to get to the eating part more expeditiously, 
I tend to cook the pancake and defrost the berries simultaneously.  
Like so:

I sprinkled erythritol through the berries, but have in the past stirred some honey in.

Lunch - Carrot and Cauliflower Soup

This one came out of the freezer. Leftovers from a dinner last week.

The mysterious lump in the middle is a piece of poached white fish (terakihi).

As it didn't feel quite substantial enough, I added a tbsp of white rice left over from 
last night's Thai takeaways (it was a lazy Friday around here)


Green Smoothie.

Kale and WPC. Nothing else.
I'm not usually so virtuous on a Saturday, but, I felt the need for a little penance from last night. 
The reasons for this shall become clear momentarily.

Dinner - Apricot Chicken

The one hasn't actually happened yet (it's 4.30pm), so here's a pic taken previously 
and a link to the recipe.

And here's why I was slurping green goop, instead of munching my usual 85% Green & Blacks mid-afternoon pick-me-up.  

I've been working on a recipe for a vegan no-bake cheesecake and it worked out nicely, very nicely. It seduced me with promises of healthy MUFA's, cacao polyphenols and paleo-ness and then delivered with an explosion of flavour.

erm... did I just take 'food porn' to a whole new level? *blush*  

I'll share the recipe for this feisty beasty tomorrow.  You have been warned.  ;)