Does it benefit our health to eat seasonably?

We now live in a time where we can walk into a supermarket at any time of year and expect to see a huge variety of food available. Whilst this means that we can make any recipe that we want all year, it can sometimes feel as though we’ve become removed from the growth and production of our food. Eating more seasonably could reconnect us with the origins of our food and reminds us that most foods are not meant to be available all year round.

Although many definitions of ‘seasonality’ exist, most people think of it when food is grown outdoors in its natural season, without using extra energy (for heat, light etc.), therefore not producing extra greenhouse gas emissions. (Did you know that 15-20% of all greenhouse gases in the UK are produced from the food system?! [1]) Strawberries grown in the UK in June are seasonal, as are apples grown during the autumn in New Zealand but then eaten in the spring/summer in the UK.

Apart from the obvious environmental benefit (a strawberry grown in England in the usual spring/summertime growing season uses far less energy than those grown in heated greenhouses all year round, for example), eating more seasonably can introduce more variety into our diets. By eating lots of different foods, we increase our chances of consuming all of our essential nutrients.

Some nutrients become more available once the food has been processed. Lycopene and beta-carotene (the inactive form of vitamin A) are higher in tinned tomatoes than fresh ones [2]. Therefore, you can eat tinned tomatoes all year round knowing that they were probably produced in season and can contain lots of nutrients.

Frozen fruit and veg are also a good idea as they are often picked and frozen in season so can have a higher nutrient content than some ‘fresh’ fruit and veg that’s been sitting on the supermarket shelf for a few days. They are also a really cost-effective way of increasing your fruit and veg intake! It can also be cheaper to buy fresh foods when they are in season as it has often cost less money to produce them in the first place.

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Eating seasonal foods has some environmental, and potentially nutritional, benefits, but it is a small piece in the puzzle of having a sustainable diet. Eating only seasonal foods in the winter in the UK can also look a bit dull, so why not take inspiration from the Eat Seasonably Calendar and use it to remind you of which seasons your foods would traditionally have been grown and encourage you to try out different food each month?

 

Find some tips and seasonal recipes on these websites:

http://eatseasonably.co.uk/

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/seasonal-calendar/all

 

Beautiful photographs courtesy of @lauraheck 

 

Sources

  1. Garnett T (2008). Cooking Up a Storm: Food, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Our Changing Climate. Surrey: University of Surrey, Food Climate Research Network, Centre for Environmental Strategy.
  2. Hwang E-S, Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis M, Bowen PE (2012). Effects of heat treatment on the carotenoid and tocopherol composition of tomato. J Food Sci. 77; 1109-1114.
  3. Macdiarmid JI (2014). Seasonality and dietary requirements: will eating seasonal food contribute to health and environmental sustainability? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 73; 368-375.

Tips for meal planning

I start my placement as a student dietitian today, working at lots of different health care sites all over South East London. In preparation I spent yesterday planning some of my meals for this week.  It can be a great way to stick to a weekly food budget, reduce food waste, and maintain a healthy diet when you’re busy, but it can sometimes be tricky to know where to start.

I often eat similar things for breakfast and lunch each day (fruit, yoghurt and muesli and various salads), especially during the week. However, I really enjoy trying out a new recipe from one of my many recipe books once a week if I have time. It’s a really nice way to increase the variety of meals that I eat.

Another good way to plan your meals is to think about each meal as a sequence;

  1. Choose the meat or protein source: beef mince
  2. Decide on a main meal: chilli con carne
  3. Think about accompaniments: wholegrain rice
  4. Remember fruit and veg: Broccoli and kidney beans in the chilli

It’s a good idea to try and include at least 2 portions of fruit and veg with your main meal to contribute towards your 5-a-day.

I also find it really helpful to cook double quantities and have it reheated the next day for lunch or dinner, or freeze it for another time. If you’re doing this remember to make sure that reheated food is piping hot before serving and always follow the instructions with your microwave for reheating.

You can get some very quirky stationary to help you meal plan which can be fun to use, but I just use a blank notebook or cheap diary. If you have a favourite meal planner or some go to mid-week meals feel free to share them here in the comments section or on my Instagram post – find me @jess_rann.

Happy meal planning!

Acai Bowl Recipe

I discovered the delight of acai bowls (delicious smoothies thick enough to spoon, covered in a multitude of toppings) when I was in Australia during my gap year – the cafés on the Gold Coast were ace at serving up the most delicious (and most faddy, trendy) dishes. Since then, I’ve only found it at rather pricey London cafés so I decided to take the plunge and buy some acai powder from Amazon and experiment myself. You do need a food processor which is a bit of a faff but if you have one, acai bowls are really fun to make (although they do create rather a lot of washing up!). You can put on some summery music and kid yourself that you’re eating breakfast on a tropical beach!

A little note on the nutrition of acai…

Acai (pronounced ahh-sah-ee) is a berry from Brazil which has been credited as being packed full of antioxidants, substances that have been found to be protective against vascular disease, diabetes and cancer (1)(2). However, many of these studies have only been done in vitro (in a lab) and haven’t been replicated in human studies yet, or are pilot studies (have only used a small number of people so do not provide strong evidence).

The most important thing to remember, though, is that there isn’t a magic bullet to health – a well-balanced diet including a variety of fruit and vegetables of all colours, lean protein, complex carbohydrates and unsaturated fats is recommended for optimal health.

 

Acai Bowl Recipe

Serves 1

100g frozen sliced banana

80g frozen mixed berries

1 tbsp acai powder

150ml milk (whichever type you prefer)

2 handfuls of spinach

Optional toppings: almonds, chopped fruit, mixed seeds, granola, chopped coconut, shavings of dark chocolate, cacao nibs – the list is endless!

 

Add all the ingredients to the food processor or smoothie-maker (like Vitamix) and blend at high speed until a thick and creamy consistency. You may need to stop blending a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the food processor. If the consistency isn’t creamy enough add more milk or water. Once completely smooth, serve immediately topped with your favourite fruits etc.

 

Beachy tunes whilst eating aren’t compulsory but highly recommended! (My personal choice at the moment: Summertime Music – Shwayze & Cisco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UsPxcFcu8Q)

 

Sources

  1. Schauss, A.G., Wu, X., Prior, R.L., et al. Antioxidant Capacity and Other Bioactivites of the Freeze-Dried Amazonian Palm Berry, Euterpe oleraceae (Acai). J Agric Food Chem. 2006; 54:8604-8610. [Online]. Available at: http://www.vinosalacarta.com/monavie/estudios/2_antioxidant_capacity_and_other_bioactivities.pdf
  2. Udani, J.K., Singh, B.B., Singh, V.J., & Barrett, M.L. Effects of Acai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) berry preparation on metabolic parameters in a healthy overweight population: A pilot study. Nutrition Journal. 2011; 10:45. [Online]. Available at: https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-45

Mental Health Awareness Week

“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see differences of the colours, but where exactly does one first blindingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.”

This quote from Billy Bud, Sailor by Herman Melville beautifully illustrates the idea that mental illness may exist as a continuum of varying severity among many of us.

Good mental health allows us to feel, think and behave in a way that enables us to thrive – enjoying our lives, but many of us will be affected by poor mental health in some way at some point in our lives. It can be debilitating to a point of not being able to leave the house, and can steal all enjoyment from our activities.

It is a topic that is being more widely spoken about, and the Royals only made the conversation louder by leading the Heads Together campaign. Mental health is a tricky topic to discuss for lots of us, with a huge stigma still attached to it, but it is something that gets better when spoken about.

With only a small minority of people reporting good mental health (Mental Health Foundation), it is important that we speak about it more and also engage in positive steps to improve our mental wellbeing. After reading various mental health charity websites and documents I thought I’d make a list of a few things that we can do regularly (if not every day) to improve our general mental wellbeing. I have also included a list of the resources I used for information on mental health.

  • Spend time with friends and family – this increases our sense of belonging and can improve mental wellbeing
  • Going for a walk (or being physically active in any way)
  • Spending time on your interests (maybe this is gardening, painting, cooking etc.) – as well as giving us relaxation time this can also become an opportunity to join groups and meet people with shared interests
  • Getting enough sleep – poor mental health can cause poor sleep, and poor sleep can influence mental health
  • Eating healthily – this can improve mood and energy levels, increase positive feelings and enable clearer thinking (my post ‘Improving mood through diet’ can be found here)
  • Learning new things – this can help us appreciate the ‘small wins’ such as trying out a new recipe, or reading about a new subject, making us feel proud of ourselves and increasing our self-esteem

 

If you are struggling with mental health problems please seek help from friends and family, your GP (or other health professional) and or by visiting some of the following websites for more information. You don’t need to suffer in silence.

 

BDA Food Facts – https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/foodmood.pdf

CALM – https://www.thecalmzone.net/

Heads Together – https://www.headstogether.org.uk/

Mental Health Foundation – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Mind – https://www.mind.org.uk/

Young Minds – https://youngminds.org.uk/

 

Laura Thomas also recently focused on mental health on her podcast, Don’t Salt My Game. You can find the episode here.

Flapjack recipe

I thought I’d give you guys an easy recipe this week. Flapjack is quite high in sugar so do be careful of the portion size, but it’s a cheap and quick bake (the whole thing took me only 30 minutes) – perfect if you’re a student or short on time!

 

The following recipe would make enough to fill a 20x20cm tin, which I then cut into roughly 16 squares.

 

4oz margarine, plus extra for greasing tin.

4oz brown sugar

3tbps golden syrup

8oz oats

Optional: mixed nuts, seeds, dried fruit

 

Preheat the oven to 180̊C/350̊F/Gas Mark 4.

Grease the tin.

Heat the margarine, brown sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring until they form a smooth mixture.

Remove from the heat and add the oats stirring thoroughly. If you’re adding nuts, seeds of dried fruit, stir them in now.

Spread the mixture into the tin evenly and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Once done, allow to cool in the tin before cutting into squares.

Keeping my head during revision

This one’s coming from my dining table as I look out at the beautiful weather wishing I could be outside instead of revising. In the past, I’ve tended to be a bit all or nothing with my revision – either go crazy and work myself into the ground, or do nothing at all and pretend I don’t have any to do. I’m trying to keep more of a routine with my work this time, but sometimes we need a little help to get through it!

Here is a list of my favourite things that are helping me stay on more of an even keel.

 

Breakfast

I make sure I have breakfast every morning as it fuels me up for the day. Some breakfast inspiration from an earlier blog post can be found here.

Herbal tea

I love coffee and breakfast tea but the thing I seem to drink excessively during revision and exam time is green tea and herbal teas. I have a plethora of different flavours in my cupboard – mainly to alleviate the boredom and monotony of revision, rather than anything else. I also take a few into uni with me if I’m studying in the library as hot water is free.

The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

Having a novel to read before bed that is completely unrelated to uni work helps me switch off in the evening. I don’t get through books very quickly, probably only reading a few pages each evening, but I find it helps. This book is such a favourite – this is the second time I’ve read it. It’s like holidaying in the south of France so provides some lovely bedtime escapism.

Running (aka jogging)

I can’t say that I’m a very fast runner or that I run very far – I think I actually go at more of a jogging pace, but it’s the getting out there and doing it that counts. Listening to music is a must for me and at the moment I love Say It Again by KINGDM. I’ve got it on repeat so I’ll probably be sick of it by the end of next week!

Snacks

Another good idea to keep you fuelled up whilst revising, another post from the archives!

Enough sleep

I now know that I function best when I have 7-8 hours’ sleep each night. How much you need will be personal to you but getting enough makes it much easier to function during exam time.

Colouring book

I guess this trend is a little bit old but I haven’t given up on my colouring book just yet!

Treating myself to flowers

My local Lidl have tulips for £1.50 a bunch at the moment so I’m treating myself. They brighten up my flat and cost less than a coffee at uni!

 

Good luck to everyone revising, taking exams and getting coursework done. It’ll be over soon!

 

The Nutrient Series – VITAMIN C

I hope you’ve all been enjoying the sunny weather recently! I’m sorry for the silence – I’ve been rushing to get coursework in and have now dived headfirst into revision period so I apologise if the posts are a bit few and far between.

This one’s a short post about vitamin C, sometimes called ascorbic acid.

We can’t make vitamin C in our bodies so it must come from our diet, making it an essential nutrient. It is well known as the vitamin lacking in sailors’ diets causing them to develop scurvy.

 

Why do we need vitamin C? (1)

Vitamin C is used by various enzymes in our bodies to help carry out day to day functions, such as the production of energy from fats and the synthesis of bone tissue.

It also helps with the absorption of iron from our food. This is why it is sometimes recommended to drink a glass of orange juice with your breakfast.

You may have also heard of vitamin C being referred to as an antioxidant, but there is currently not enough evidence done in humans to support this idea.

 

How much should we be consuming?

According to the UK Dietary Reference Values, adults should be consuming at least 40mg vitamin C per day (2).

To put this into context, one orange tends to contain about 50mg of vitamin C. If you are meeting the ‘5 fruit and veg a day’ target you will definitely be getting enough vitamin C.

Another tip for cooking vegetables – if you steam them instead of boiling them you lose less vitamins during the cooking process.

 

Sources

  1. Essentials of Human Nutrition, Jim Mann & A. Stewart Truswell, 2012.
  2. Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom, DoH, 1991