Saturday, May 23, 2015

Nut Cheese

Nutty? Yes
Cheesy? Well, it depends on your definition..

I'm definitely more of a plant-based eater these days. That's simply because, as my nutrition studies progress, I learn more about the amazing things that sprout from the earth. I'm increasingly impressed by the good that phytochemicals do inside the human body.

All things plant-ish are taking over my kitchen and I've re-opened my fermentation bay, a.k.a sunny corner of the bench.  I'm actually getting a whole new kitchen soon, which is something to look forward to, even if the in-between phase is messy as all hell .. quite disorganised.

Last week I rustled up some nut cheese. This one is mostly blanched almonds with some soaked cashews. It's still not quite there, texture-wise, but the taste is great. I used my juicer to mush the nuts, but it's still got a few nut chunks. I need a method of getting the nuts reaaaaally smooth. Does anyone have any ideas about that?

Click here for the method.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Leek Soup with Navy Beans / Tuscan White Beans

Soup is the perfect busy day food. It's easy, you can use whatever happens to be available after a week of uni-brain, and it's possible to stretch it out for days just by adding more 'stuff from the fridge'.

I'm not sure if this has 'magical' properties, as trumpeted in 'French Women don't get Fat', but it got a round of 'mmmm's', and that's accomplishment enough for me.

Leek Soup

Navy beans do require a little pre-prep. Livestrong have some nicely illustrated instructionals here. My navy beans were cooked to semi-softness before I added them to the soup.

How I made this soup..

In a saucepan, I sauteed two large sliced onions and two shallots in olive oil until they were softened and a bit more transparent.

Then I added two litres of water, a vege stock cube, a handful of fresh thyme and 2 tbsp of cider vinegar and let that all come to a boil.

Then I turned the heat down so it was slow simmering, and added two chopped leeks, two chopped carrots and two cups of navy beans.

That was allowed to simmer uncovered for about two hours, but it doesn't need to take that long. Anything over 30 mins is fine, but the flavours get stronger with time (and with reheating the next day).

So good. ;)

I had quite a few navy beans left over, so last night, inspired by the white bean dishes we ate in Tuscany, I made this delicious and fragrant creation.  It has similar ingredients to the soup, with far less water. After it was off the heat, I stirred through some coconut yogurt, then served it over a baked sweet potato for the vegans (good source of calcium and iron, vegans) and under white fish for the meat eaters.

Everyone happy, well-fed and feeling half-Italian. Ciao!

Thursday, May 14, 2015


The witchery by which an entire cabbage fits into a small jar.

Click here for my sauerkraut method
(this one has carraway seeds added)

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Overnight Oats

Hello Blog Readers!  Well, I knew that this semester was going to be a challenge, and it is! I'm ok... I'm ok.... O_O

At the moment I'm working on: a literature review for osteoarthritis as a metabolic disease (interesting!), a couple of fact sheets on IBD (very interesting!), and an essay regarding bioactive compounds in milk that make you sleepy (well, that's .. something I've not thought about before).

And then.. exams!

But, rather than not blog at all, I thought I'd do a few short foodie posts for meal inspirations.

Here is today's breakfast.  It's carby! Also plant-based and not very paleo.  I eat grains a couple of times a week these days, and so far, so good.

Overnight Oats with Berries and Banana

Soak oats overnight (I used about 1/3 cup)

In the morning, heat the oats in a saucepan. You might need to add some more water, and some people like to discard the water and replace it. That's optional.

Add berries, a sliced banana, handful of almonds (yes, these are blanched activated almonds)

Add sweetener if you like (I poured a little maple syrup on there)

Lastly, a blob of some sort of yogurt. This is coconut yogurt.

You may be interested to know that the reason for soaking oats is simply to speed up the cook time and make them easier to eat. With most grains, soaking them reduces the phytic acid by activating the enzyme phytase.  Phytates inhibit the absorption of minerals, including iron. Oats are neither high in phytates nor phytase, however if you want to reduce the phytase further, you can soak them with another grain (say, buckwheat or rye) that does contain phytase.

What's your favourite breakfast these days?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Kale - how to eat it before it turns yellow in your fridge + ITP

Before saying anything of use, I'll explain why I'm a half-asleep zombie person today.

This... little....

What you see above is the naughtiest feline in the world.  He's completely nocturnal, and absolutely fascinated with making noise. 

Last night he had a particular fascination with the cat inside the bedroom mirror. Our mirror is large and hangs from a picture rail. When he attacks the mirror cat, the mirror collides with the wall, waking all humans. Jase then throws a pillow, Mog zooms away and starts.. oh, I don't know, tearing up the garbage bag, or jumping around in the recycling until an irate human gets up to play. 

Then morning comes, the humans stagger along to their jobs and Mog settles down to replenish his energy. 

Having explained the baggy eyes, which you'll have to just imagine, I'll get on with explaining how I fulfill my weekly kale eating quota. I eat a lot of kale. Or, I try to, because I notice a firm difference in my ITP bruising symptoms depending on how much of it I manage to get inside me, vs. how much slowly wilts and bleaches in the fridge. 

A couple of weeks without slamming the greens and I begin to look bruisy, especially if I've had a few glasses of wine. I don't want to gross you out, but for your education, here is what I mean. These are ITP bruises. They just happen. No impact, no pain, just random bleeding under the skin for no good reason. When I eat enough kale, spinach or broccoli, I just do not get these large bruises, although I might get little ones that nobody notices. Here are an arm and a leg. Don't panic, these are gone  now. This happened after I'd been away at uni and missed my big weekend shops.

It seems reasonable to assume the bruise fluctuations are related to vitamin K intake, although I may well be changing something else when I eat more kale. Vitamin K, which is abundant in kale and other greens, does not seem to increase platelet numbers (although some on the ITP Facebook page say that it does for them), but it does increase blood clotting effectiveness through its pro-coagulant activity. The anti-coagulant Warfarin works by lowering the levels of active vitamin K, and this is why people taking it have to keep their vit K intake consistent. 

Vit K also has a number of other beneficial effects on bone, vascular health and brain health. As the vitamin K in veges is primarily K1, I also take a K2 liquid supplement.

I eat two or three large bunches of kale a week. Here's how I do it.

Get kale at the market. It's also very hardy and easy to grow but my garden is currently 'going wild'. I devote about 1 hour on a Sunday to kale prep. I wash it. remove the tough stalky bit, chop it and boil it until soft.

Then I pack it into the cups of a silcone muffin tin, water and all. To about half the cups I add some olive oil. Fats increase the absorption of vitamin K because it's a fat soluble vitamin.

Then I freeze it.

Once frozen, the kale pucks are easily popped out of the tray for storage in the freezer.

Then, before use, they can be defrosted just by leaving on the bench.

Edit... I have recently found that this is not always safe for the kale.

Do cats eat kale?  It must have been a cat....

The defrosted kale pucks are good for omelettes, added to patties, or anything where you'd use cooked kale or spinach, for example.. a pasta. Sometimes I just heat and eat.  The pucks without olive oil can be thrown in a smoothie.

Even if you don't have medical motivation to eat all your kale, I think this is a handy way to cut back on spoilage and fridge space. Easy peasy.

I hope that's a helpful tip for you. I'm also very interested to hear from any ITP'ers that have discovered any nutrition changes that affect either your platelet count or your symptoms.

And, with that, I'm off to bed. I'm going to try locking Mog in the lounge.  It's tough because he's a master of persistence and I fear he may spend all night tearing up the carpet trying to get under the door.

... earplugs.  ;)

Monday, April 06, 2015

Eating Disorders: Replacing Myths with Realities

Last week I attended a lecture at the local medical school by eating disorder expert, figure skater, mother, traveller and general overachiever, Dr Cynthia Bulik. The title of the evening was "Eating Disorders: Replacing Myths with Realities".

The structure of the evening was a systematic debunking of nine common myths surrounding eating disorders. 

What are the nine myths?

1. You can tell by looking at someone that they have an eating disorder
2. Families are to blame
3. Mothers are to blame
4. Eating disorders are a choice
5. Eating disorders are a disease of white, upper-middle class teenage girls
6. Eating disorders are benign
7. Society alone is to blame
8. Genes are destiny
9. Eating disorders are for life

If you have an hour to spare, the entire lecture content is on the NIH website here, in handy sections. In this post, I'm going to organise my own lecture notes. Obviously, these are the parts that were particularly fascinating to me. I only ever jot down things that really matter, and every time I do, I wish I'd learned shorthand in school. :-/

The first thing that got me thinking was the absolute falsity of what we might say is the sterotypical eating disordered person.  Think 'eating disorder'. What comes to mind?  A businessman? (no?), A grandmother? (no?), a mature single lady artist? (no?), a happily married woman with grown children? (no?). What about a thin white female from a dysfunctional family? (yes, that's more like it).

Dr. Bulik pointed out that the way we think about, diagnose, assess and treat eating disorders has helped perpetuate this prototype, which in fact does not exist. For a start, not all eating disordered (ED) people are thin, however it is difficult to get diagnosed with an ED if you look normal, or are overweight. A GP may miss critical signs, no matter how many hints a patient drops. She emphasised the seriousness of this impression that being too thin is the main risk of ED's. I didn't realise it, but in terms of psychiatric and medical comorbidities, binge-eating disorder (the most missed disorder) is just as serious as anorexia nervosa.

Further, despite the 'anorexic overachiever with alcoholic mother' image, many people with ED's have normal families. However, it is common for the ED to 'take over' and trigger problems and family friction that may not have been there before. An inexperienced therapist may only see that family once the ED is running the household. ED's are also not a purely female thing, but men are far less likely to seek treatment early in the disease process. Dr. Bulik noted that the stigma of an ED can be greater for a man, due to the 'feminisation' of the illusory prototype and because a major DSM criteria of bulimia and binge-eating disorder is feeling 'a loss of control' over ones eating behaviour. What man wants to tick that box on a questionnaire? There is also some perception that a man with an ED may be effeminate or assumed gay.

The lecture segment which I found particularly interesting was the discussion around prevalence of ED's in mature women. In her years as a Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Bulik has seen the average age of ED patients creep upward, with more than half now being over 35 years old. That blew my mind, particularly once the medical seriousness of a long term ED was clarified. ED's are not benign. As well as the psychological strain, there are increased risks of cardiovascular disease, gastro-intestinal problems, musculoskeletal disorders, dental issues, and suicide. Statistics taken from the 'Gender and Body Image' GABI study were particularly sobering, and some drew gasps from the audience. I also noticed a few whispered conversations as people recognised their own behaviour. In the GABI study (n=1800 women over 50 years of age):

41% of participants 'body checked' daily. That is, they did things like pinch their waist, critically examine themselves in the mirror, weigh, measure or some other form of body self-analysis.

62% felt that their weight or shape negatively impacted their life (!!)

and this is the most important part:

64% thought about their weight every single day.

The room went silent, and Dr. Bulik exclaimed 'isn't that a waste . of . life?!'  Yes, actually, it is. The worst thing was, I'd just whispered to my friend Bee 'I do that'. Then, along with many others in the room, I sat pondering if what I have embraced as normal is actually some form of subclinical eating disorder. Going a day without thinking about my weight or feeling my flab? Strange concept.

We then discussed the many ways that it has become oh-so-normal to spend considerable time and energy thinking about our bodies, food and exercise. Even when we are relaxing, say on Facebook (or, ahem, blogging...), we are still talking about bodies, food and exercise in various groups and forums. We dissect diet plans, are invited to join this group, buy this e-book, try this plan and we are bombarded with videos showing us what aging can look like if we just work hard enough. We are never told 'enough, think about something else, now go play the piano'.  The constant barrage makes us critical, not just of ourselves, but of each other. 

Does your Grandma look like this?  OMG, she should try harder....

There was a good amount of discussion about what must be done to stem the tide of eating disorders and create a society that truly is body positive (without this becoming an obsession to equal the current 'body negative' theme). Dr. Bulik emphasised that ED's are treatable and that most people fully recover, just as from any other illness. If you think you have an ED, you probably do. Seek treatment. In terms of stopping an ED from developing, she talked about developing an understanding of the interaction between genes and environment. It seems that with a genetic predisposition to an ED, a trigger (for example teasing, or starting one's first diet) may trigger the disorder. The direction that the disorder then takes may also have a genetic influence, for example, the brain of an anorexic reacts euphorically to calorie deprivation, whereas in a binge eater the reaction may be so negative as to drive a reactive eating binge.

The counterpoint to triggers are protective factors. Here, Dr. Bulik mentioned such things as positive role models and making eating a positive experience (family meals). She mentioned the particular 'role-modelling' input of sports coaches and PE teachers, whom should be taught to focus on performance, not aesthetics. This bought to mind a particular riding coach I once had that used to mention my 'meaty thighs' and how I had to arrange them properly in order to look elegant. Thanks for the body image issues, pony club. 

Of course, that 'health affirming' role also extents to doctors, PT's, Nutritionists, Dietitians and any other professional that offers health advice. As a Nutritionist, I've learned that ED's are something we must be very aware of. Not only is there the possibility that the client in front of you already has one (and may need help outside of our scope), but there is the scary possibility that the wrong advice may trigger one. Lectures like this remind me not to get complacent.

Lastly, Dr. Bulik also spoke a little more about her genomics project, ANGI - the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative. The mission of that is to identify the genetic markers which predispose an individual toward developing anorexia. This project is a grand step toward destigmatising eating disorders by proving they are not purely psychological/behavioural in origin. Dr. Bulik expressed the hope that one day it may be as socially acceptable to say you once had binge-eating disorder as to say you once had pneumonia. It was nice to hear a few individuals either in treatment or recovered piping up during the q&a without embarrassment.  I've been to many ED lectures and it's the first time I've experienced that type of openness. Perhaps a sign that the times are changing? Here's hoping.

I hope this has been as interesting to read as it was to write. I'd love to hear your thoughts and if anyone has attended this lecture and has something to add, please comment. 

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