Pages

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

My last food blog - for now

Given that I have left it rather late in life to show an interest in food I'm still surprising myself that the very subject has got me writing about it. I believe having a husband who has always cooked from first principles - and not from jars, packets and tins - I've probably lived the last 35 years on a reasonably healthy diet. But what I've learned since following Michael Mosley and his team has awakened me to the importance of non-processed, low-carb foods.

I had a friend in France, her English was about as good as my French, who believed in non-industrialised food. The problem was she was so often ill and painfully thin. I always reckoned to eat well before we went for a meal with her. In other words she was no advert for eating non-processed foods. Her healthy diet left her with a contorted gut and constant headaches. 

However I fell into the Michael Mosley 5:2 Mediterranean diet - with good fats, lean meat, fruit and veg - easily and quickly. The advice was also to avoid non-processed foods, especially those over-flavoured with sugars. Eating porridge oats and natural Greek yogurt with blueberries for breakfast was no hardship for me as that was my regular fare. I love home-grown tomatoes and spinach. All I had to do was open a can of tuna in olive oil, plus a few olives themselves, and I had a nourishing lunch. Now, as the seasons have changed, I put about four medium carrots in the food processer and, with a chopped onion and a litre of stock, I make a truly tasty carrot soup for lunch. What's more the claim that the Mediterranean diet wouldn't allow me to feel hungry was spot on. If I felt peckish I gnawed on carrots and dips or a slice of halloumi. Even a glass of wine and 80% cocoa-chocolate pieces was allowed. All the things I liked. 

Now I have to eat like that for life and not return to high glycaemic index carbs. 

What is off the menu includes the humble spud - very GI carbohydrate, but I easily substitute sweet potato for that. Some irony there but the sweet potato has better carbs. In place of refined white rice I eat wild rice which is nutty and easy to cook. I haven't had pasta nor pizza since the start of the summer - about 5 months now - and I don't miss it. Apparently I'm going to enjoy spelt-based pasta with the family this weekend. And in place of white or wholemeal bread I find I like rye bread just as much. 

As I mentioned in an earlier blog the one thing I have missed is a decent slice of cake. Cake is, of course, full of sugar and high GI flour. I have tried baking with coconut flour but that was too sweet for me. I didn't enjoy almond flour either but a great find has been buckwheat flour and the Dove's flour range. I'm not a coeliac but in my quest to get away from high GI carbs, over-processed and high-sugar foods, using buckwheat has been a really good alternative.

Last week's recipe for chocolate cake - made from red kidney beans - just about cracked the moistness problem. Most cakes that are not wheat-based have tended to be dry. Although the red kidney bean cake rose in the oven it deflated quite quickly - as expected - but the texture and moisture earned five stars. Tonight I will defrost it and cover it with a chocolate ganache. If  I have time before our travels I'll make a second one but it's so easy I will have time, on our return, to make another for our last party for this 'season'. 

Essentially I have learned to be more selective when it comes to eating carbs. Many that claim to be wholemeal may be full of sugar. Many low-fat yogurts or cottage cheese may be overloaded with sugar too. Fat is not the enemy. Our bodies can cope with it better than over-refined carbs which upset our insulin levels and actually add to layers of fat - as storage - more dangerously than butter or full-fat yogurt. This was news to me.

I'm off for a swim in about an hour. Keeping active, now my back is restored, makes me feel much better. I'm no longer sluggish. I walk up and down Lansdown hill at least weekly and I rarely feel tired in the swimming pool. I'm not naturally athletic, however. I'm afraid physical activity seems repetitive and boring but I do like to have energy. I read somewhere any adult should easily be able to run a few yards for the bus if required. ( First drop the heavy bags you're carrying I would add to the statement.)

What a pity I don't enjoy sports more. I could become really fit! However a low carb Mediterranean diet based on fresh veg and fish or poultry is something I can enjoy. And - having studied the science of it a little - over the last few blogs - I know that nutritionally I've never been more healthy. I hope you have enjoyed the journey too. 

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Food blog eighteen - Healthy chocolate cake


For those of you who have been following my food blogs you’ll know I’ve been trying gluten-free, sugar-free and low-processed (low GI)carb foods. 
I’ve also been doing a work out - roughly thrice weekly. All this activity is in aid of the restoration of my strength & fitness after suffering a slipped disc at the start of the year. 
When going ‘low-carb’ it’s imperative to cut out bread, pasta, rice, cake and biscuits. I’ve not missed anything in this list apart from cake. And, as dark chocolate is a treat which is a boost for good health, baking a wholesome chocolate cake has become my mission. 

I’ve tried several chocolate cake recipes. The first was a good taste but became desperately dry. I broke it up and used it as the base for a rich amaretto trifle instead. Soaked in booze. Lovely!

The second recipe I tried was moist and had a splendid rich chocolate ganache but even that cake - with olive oil and more added liquid - tasted dry after a day or so.

Discussing recipes with a friend (who me?) we decided we’d try a red kidney bean cake. This is gluten-free and I make it with Truvia so it’s sugar-free too. It’s also one of the better versions of chocolate cake when it comes to moisture.

Red kidney bean choccie cake-
this is v moist & gluten-free

Ingredients
  • 420 g canned kidney beans - drained
  • 1 tbs coffee (liquid)
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract
  • 70 g cocoa powder unsweetened - I use chocolat Menier
  • 1 tsp baking powder - gluten-free
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 125 g butter or  90 g/100 ml olive oil
  •  ( cold pressed)
  • 5 eggs
  • 180 g sugar or 60g Truvia

😉You may want to add a little extra vanilla to the cake mix if you find olive oil has an obvious taste. I don’t but others might want to mask it.

Method
  • 1 In a food processor, puree the beans, coffee, 1 egg and vanilla until smooth. Set aside.
  • 2 Combine butter/olive oil and truvia/sugar in a food processor until pale and fluffy.
  • 3 Add the remaining eggs one at a time, to the butter mix, processing well after each addition.
  • 4 Add bean mixture and process until combined.
  • 5 Add sifted cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix well.
  • 6 Pour batter into a 22 cm greased round pan and bake for approximately 35 minutes at 180C/160C fan.The cake will spring back when touched and a skewer will come out clean when the cake is cooked.


😉 The cake might deflate once out of the oven - this is normal. 

When cool cover the cake with a ganache made from whipping cream and broken, melted 70% cocoa chocolate squares. 

For the ganache
  • 400g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Green & Blacks 70% dark chocolate)
  • 200ml cream

To make the chocolate ganache, place the broken dark chocolate pieces in a mixing bowl, then set aside.
Bring the cream to the boil - just bubbling - and pour over the dark chocolate. Immediately mix well with a hand-held mixer until the chocolate melts and the ganache becomes silky smooth. Set aside to cool

Either

1 Once cooled, beat using an electric mixer until fluffy and smooth if you want a thick, fluffy frosting.
2 Otherwise - let it cool a little then pour on the top of the cake starting at the centre and working outwards. This gives a glossy finish.

Alternatively - if you want to :-
Carefully cut the cake in half. Spread half the ganache onto the bottom half of the cake and spread to the edges. Place the top half back on top and then smooth the remaining ganache over the top of the cake. 



Friday, 26 October 2018

Food blog seventeen - Duck with pomegranate salad

Despite my desire to eat less sugar and wheat-based foods I haven't changed my diet radically. I haven't become vegan as I like fish. And ironically, now, trout-farmed fish and farmed-salmon may well be better for us. Sea-based fish, so full of plastic themselves, are naturally passing micro-plastics on to us. Recent research has proof of this after analysing the digested food contents (to put it politely) from a small sample of willing human subjects.
Farmed fish may make the headlines for the right reasons this time.

I'm enjoying a vegetarian diet for a few weeks, just to keep away from meats and their fat, but now the colder weather is upon us I will be looking forward to poultry or game, perhaps for Sunday lunch.

We have enjoyed vegan meals since Robbie opened a new plant-based restaurant near us. I love his pomegranate salads. So what better for someone like me, with my tastes for chicken, turkey, duck and  pomegranate than 'duck with pomegranate salad'?

It is tasty and full of good lean meats.

Ingredients
5 finely diced sticks of celery
1 finely chopped medium red onion
6 crushed garlic cloves
1 small piece of ginger - peeled and thinly chopped
Juice and grated zest of 1 medium orange
2 tbsp olive oil
4 duck legs
1 large pomegranate
4 tspn sumac 


Dressing
A further 2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon


Method
1 It is much easier to put the celery, onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor as all need to be finely chopped. When done place all in the bottom of a shallow casserole dish. Add the ornge juice and zest plus a tbsp or two of the olive oil. Mix it in the casserole dish. Turn on the oven to 180 C or 160C fan/ gas mark 4.
2 Season the duck legs well with sumac then place on the bed of celery mix.
3 Cook for 11/2 hours or until the skin peels easily from the duck legs.
4 Slice the pomegranate in half and squeeze out the contents into a waiting bowl.
5 When cooked remove the duck legs and shred the meat after it has cooled sufficiently. 
6 Drain the duck fat from the vegetables and add them to the shredded pieces. Stir all the ingredients and serve on a large platter or shallow dish. Make the dressing, drizzle it over the duck on its bed of salad and top it all with pomegranate.
7 Serve and enjoy while the duck is still warm.

I don't always add as much onion, garlic or ginger as suggested here and sumac is a lovely tangy, lemony paste. I buy it dried from a Lebanese restaurant. It is a deep red and adds colour to the salad.






Sunday, 21 October 2018

Food blog sixteen - Fats pII

Do you remember this from my last post?

“It’s better for our bodies if we cut down on saturated fat...
Butter out of the fridge softens but doesn’t become completely runny —that’s because butter is saturated fat. “

And there is the conundrum.
Some scientists believe butter is not the baddy it’s been cut out to be and doesn’t have the terrible effects on our heart - as a saturated fat - that we were led to believe.

Michael Mosley and his team - see The 5:2 Diet, The Blood Sugar Diet & ifast12 - have shown up-to-date research refutes this. I quote:

“We used to think that if you ate saturated fat, it raised your cholesterol levels and increased your risk of heart attack. It turns out that dairy fats don’t work like that in your bloodstream. When you look at all the big studies, the proof that butter is bad for you isn’t there.”

Nutritionists from the Blood Sugar Diet & ifast12 explain the conundrum thus:- 

Butter is rich in a particular type of fatty acid called heptadecanoic acid, also known as margaric acid. (It’s a shame it sounds like margarine, just to confuse matters.) It is a type of saturated fat found in dairy fat, rye, and some fish. Lots of studies have shown that margaric acid reduces your risk of diabetes and heart disease. 

So butter is allowed back in class, but has to sit at the front where teacher can keep a close eye on him...

And we know omega 3 ( found in fish and walnuts for instance) is very good for us but what about the lesser-known omega 6? 
6 is the one to avoid. It is found in corn, safflower and sunflower oils. And we have a tendency to eat too much of it. And eating too much 6 is potentially being linked to cancer, heart disease and arthritis. Improving our health by substituting omega-3 fats for omega-6 fats in our diets is the way forward. Eating fish is the way to go.

When you’re buying canned tuna, which is really good for our health, it’s so important to look at the label to see whether it’s in brine, olive oil or vegetable oil. 
Products sold as healthy often contain vegetable oils that are so altered by processing that their health-giving properties have been stripped away. So go for tuna in olive oil every time! 

Olive oil makes all food taste delicious and it’s a natural product. Furthermore olive oil contains no cholesterol, chemicals nor artificial additives. It’s especially high in monounsaturated fat, which may reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and help maintain healthy HDL cholesterol levels.

Tired of margarine? Still bothered by butter? Try this spread instead:

How to make a healthy yogurt spread

Ingredients
32 oz Fage 5% Greek yogurt 
3 tablespoons olive oil (I use cold-pressed)

Method
1 Line a medium-sized strainer with a paper filter from a cafetière. Hang it over a bowl to catch watery drops.
2 Spoon the yogurt into the prepared strainer and let it stand in the fridge,  covered, for 24 hours.
3 The next day put the drained yogurt in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the yogurt. Stir constantly until all the oil and yogurt are well blended. 
4 You can use it straight away as a truly healthy spread or keep it chilled.
5 Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. 

You can use this healthy spread as an alternative to salad dressing or as a topping or marinade for steamed vegetables, grilled chicken or fish.

1 tablespoon of this spread is 32 cals

With a bit of luck we can now all make informed decisions about which fats are good for us and which are not. 
A good guide for a healthier heart is to have a lower saturated fat intake. Instead ingest more unsaturated fat, especially olive oil, peanut oil, fish, olives, avocados and nuts. Eat two fish meals each week to up the omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. 

And enjoy the lovely rich flavour of olive oil on salads and in cakes. When I'm baking carrot cake I use gluten-free flour to avoid wheat which breaks down to sugar. I use truvia - sweetener - in place of added sugar and olive oil as it's a safe fat and makes the cake extra moist. A perfect treat!










Monday, 15 October 2018

Food blog fifteen - Fats, the good, the bad and the ugly part I

We all need fat to maintain healthy skin and for the metabolism of cholesterol. Although you need a PhD in biochemistry to understand the biological pathways used in its breakdown and synthesis. Fat is also needed to help form prostaglandins, which regulate the body’s response to injury and infection (we see it and feel its effect as inflammation). Prostaglandins also help in blood vessel contractions and nerve impulses. 

The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, stored in our body fat have many vital uses:
Vitamin A, also known as retinol, has several important functions.
These include:
  • helping your body's natural defence against illness and infection (the immune system) work properly
  • helping vision in dim light
  • keeping skin and the lining of some parts of the body, such as the nose, to stay healthy
Vitamin D used to be thought essential, along with calcium, for teeth and bones. However as you may have read in my last post there is some ongoing research which disputes this long-held belief.
Vitamin E helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, and strengthen the immune system.
Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting, which means it helps wounds heal properly.
There's also some evidence vitamin K may help keep bones healthy.
So you see fat is necessary!

And fat is a concentrated source of energy for the body; it provides us with 9 calories of energy per gram (compared with 4 calories per gram from either carbohydrates or protein). Also fat is an important calorie source, especially for infants and young children; 50 percent of the calories in human breast milk come from fat. Babies need the fat to grow but for the rest of us most fat, as we know only too well, is stored in the body’s fat cells, giving us an extra tyre or an unwanted bulge. On the positive side it’s good to know that fat deposits store energy and are also important in insulating the body, ie keeping us warm, and cushioning vital organs.

Fats are divided into 3 categories: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated - depending on the amount of hydrogen they contain. The degree of saturation determines whether the fat is a solid or a liquid at room temperature. The basic unit of a fat is called a fatty acid. Fats with lots of saturated fatty acids (like butter and lard) are more solid at room temperature; oils (like olive oil) contain mostly unsaturated fatty acids and are liquid at room temperature. There is not space to look at all fat types here but see next week for more details and thoughts on the 'Good fat-bad fat' debate.

The fat in food is often referred to as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, but none of the fats that interest us from a nutritional point of view is 100 percent saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Olive oil contains 13 percent saturated fat, 72 percent monounsaturated fat, and 8 percent polyunsaturated fat. Because it contains more monounsaturated fat than anything else, it is classified as a monounsaturated fat.

Saturated fatty acids are usually solid at room temperature, and they’re more stable than other types of fats: they don’t go rancid especially fast. Saturated fatty acids raise blood cholesterol, especially the LDL ( low density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol. Your risk of coronary heart disease rises as your blood cholesterol level increases. The fat in meat is considered mostly saturated. In the brave new world of vegan and vegetarian diets we are being urged to cut down on our consumption of red meat. The world can’t sustain its production.
BBC News this weekend stated ‘Just a week after scientists said huge cuts in carbon emissions were needed to protect the climate, a UK minister has shown just how hard that will be. Scientists say we ought to eat much less meat because the meat industry causes so many carbon emissions.’
It’s better for our bodies if we cut down on saturated fat, too.
Butter out of the fridge softens but doesn’t become completely runny —that’s because butter is saturated fat

Trans fats are a subclass of saturated fat, but they started out as an unsaturated fat like vegetable oil. Food producers and snack makers add hydrogen to vegetable oils. Hence the term hydrogenated. Trans fatty acids also tend to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Saturated fats and trans fatty acids have given fat a bad name and are implicated in: heart disease, arteriosclerosis, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. However, with a few changes to your diet, you can reduce the bad (saturated and trans fat), but still keep the good (and necessary!) mono-and polyunsaturated fats. Limiting saturated fats in your diet basically means avoiding high-fat red meats and whole-fat dairy products. Eliminating all the saturated fat in your diet isn’t necessary. Eating saturated fats in the right proportion with unsaturated fats —at least 2 to 1(unsaturated to saturated) —is good:
  • Try to eat fish two times per week. 
  • Use olive oil.
  • Eat more olives and avocados.

Michael Mosley’s 5:2 diet, coupled with HIIT* (high intensity interval training) is worth following. The science behind his recipes concurs with the low-sugar, low-LDL approach. However he and his team have found people who eat full-fat dairy, such as Fage 5% Greek yogurt, remain leaner and healthier than folk who choose low-fat yogurts and cheeses. The *HIIT helps raise our metabolism which in turn burns off the extra weight we, in the well-fed West, are carrying.

One food stuff all nutritionists appear to agree upon is the olive. Tuna, 
another good food stuff, is even better if you buy it canned in olive oil.

So the bad boys are saturated and trans fats. What of the good guys?

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fatty acid which lowers blood cholesterol. It lowers the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and increases the HDL (“good”) cholesterol (which is a good thing). Monounsaturateds also seem to lower triglycerides in some people when substituted for carbohydrate in the diet, according to doctors. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.

These good fats come from almonds, avocados, cashews, olive oil, olives, peanut butter, peanuts, pecans and sesame seeds.  

Omega-3 fatty acids are special polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are the super-good guys and help our bodies fight some of the worst modern-day killers: heart disease, stroke, and cancer. We know that omega-3 fatty acids lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Omega three is found in fish and fish oils but can also be found in walnuts. 

On triglycerides
In the human body, high levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream have been linked to atherosclerosis and the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, the relative negative impact of raised levels of triglycerides compared to that of LDL:HDL ratios is as yet unknown. The risk can be partly accounted for by a strong inverse relationship between triglyceride level and HDL-cholesterol level. But the risk is also due to high triglyceride levels increasing the quantity of small, dense LDL particles.
Raised triglycerides often go hand in hand with low HDL level. HDL levels are the ones you want to keep high! 


Michael Mosley, he off the tele in 'Trust Me, I'm a Doctor' gives the following advice for a heath-giving weekly diet. It includes the following general (low-refined-carb, higher fat) tips:


  1. Eat 2 – 3 servings of full-fat yogurt a week.
  2. Choose eggs for breakfast at least twice a week.
  3. Embrace a variety of vegetables - see my earlier post on the benefits of phytochemicals and fibre. 
  4. Have at least one serving of salmon per week.
  5. Add at least one other fish or seafood during the week - remembering the super-good guys - omega three!
  6. Avoid consuming grains / legumes consecutively (ie. lunch then dinner).
  7. Have approximately two meals of chicken a week. It’s high in protein. 
  8. Go easy on red meat or cut it out completely.
  9. Enjoy vegetarian foods - which can include fish and eggs. At least two meals is a guide, more if you feel like it.
  10. Aim for approximately 800 calories on your 5:2 or 4:3 fasting days. Mosley’s research shows that if the body thinks it’s going to starve it helps reduce weight. 800 calories doesn’t seem much but see below. 


1. Always take the stairs. Incidental exercise like this helps keep us fit and adds to the advised magic number of 10,000 steps we are meant to take daily.

2. Avoid FIZZY DRINKS and SOFT DRINKS. Stick to WATER or SODA WATER. Soda water is calorie-free.

3. Don't snack between meals - snack bars often contain high levels of added sugar.

4. Don't keep pasta or milk chocolate in the house. Two squares of low-sugar, high-cocoa chocolate are good for an evening treat however. 

5. When you can, walk. 

6. Always chose the full fat option. You won’t get Mosley to agree with nutritionists who claim low-fat butter, yogurt or cheese is the way to go.

7. Avoid breakfast cereals (apart from porridge) as they contain high levels of added sugar. Steel-cut porridge fills you up longer and it's a whole food (see an earlier post of mine re: whole foods v processed.)

8. Occasionally give in to temptation (for example, having dessert if you are dining out for a special occasion) and high-cocoa chocolate is advised. 

9. Practise mindfulness for at least 10 minutes every day. Relaxation has been shown to help reduce extra fat we are carrying. Stress helps us lay down unwanted fats.

10. Stand on the scales everyday. This way you can do a few more steps or do another fasting day to lose those added pounds before they settle around your vital organs as visceral fat.


A typical 800 calorie day for me might be

Breakfast
50g whole porridge oats with blueberries. 

As much water as I like to stop dehydration and headaches. Drinks of Green & Blacks cocoa keep hunger at bay on fasting days.

Lunch
Home-made carrot soup now we are well into autumn. On warm days I prefer salad:

Half a can of tuna in olive oil.
Home-grown baby spinach leaves.
Home-grown cherry tomatoes (about 5).
Grated carrot.
A handful of olives.
Sprinkled nuts, sesame seed or pomegranate on top.

If I feel hungry later I chop a large carrot into sticks and stay satiated that way. But I don’t reach into the cookie jar.

Evening meal. I try to eat before 7:30pm.
A small cut of chicken breast, flavoured with harissa. (See a previous post for full details).
Home-grown French beans.
Six shoots of asparagus.
No potato!!

If I haven’t had tuna for lunch I substitute a salmon fillet for chicken.

For afters
3 tablespoons Fage 5% Greek yogurt favoured with blueberries.

At bedtime, when you might find you feel a gnawing hunger on fasting days, it’s good to have a drink of fruit tea. It contains no calories and helps you feel full and get to sleep - or nibble on a carrot.

The 800 calories above contain phytochemicals in the vegetables and berries, omega three in the fish, good fats in the olive oil and yogurt. Protein is in the chicken. Cheese can be substituted for tuna and, again, it helps you feel full on fasting days. And good carbohydrate, which avoids sugar spikes, is in the porridge oats.

In brief it's best to avoid saturated fats, ie red meat and hydrogenated oils, trans fats. We all need to keep LDL levels low and HDL levels high and cutting down on red meats and hydrogenated oils is a good maxim. 

Next time: Good fat, bad fats - part II.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Food blog fourteen - Dairy, dairy, quite contrary

Cheese is, of course, a dairy product and it contains fat. Some nutritionists say it’s best to choose the low-fat versions to reduce our calorie intake. Others believe it is better to ingest full-fat cheese (or yogurt or milk) as it’s more filling. Plus we are less likely to gorge on the empty calories provided by a sugar-loaded snack bar, a biscuit or a packet of crisps if we’ve eaten full-fat dairy beforehand. 

Of course low-fat cottage cheese is the knight in shining armour here. It has 0 grams of fat per ounce. It’s easy to see that other cheeses have more:

Cheddar, low-fat (5 grams of fat per ounce)
Cheddar, regular (10)
Cottage cheese, low-fat (0)
Cottage cheese, regular (3)
Feta (5)
Mozzarella (5)
Parmesan (3)
Ricotta (5)
Halloumi (7.5)

( taken from Low Carb Dieting for Dummies)

But, on the plus side, whether you opt for low-fat or not, cheeses, especially, are full of protein and excellent for building muscle mass. And cheese has a low GI. 

Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese contain carbohydrate in the form of a low GI milk sugar called lactose. There is every reason to enjoy dairy products (unless you are lactose-intolerant) and we all need calcium for healthy bones and the avoidance of osteoporosis. But do we need vitamin D? That’s the subject of ongoing research which I discuss briefly at the end of this post. 

However a calcium-containing diet is the way to go. A friend’s elderly mother, now in her nineties, rarely has milk in tea or coffee, or with cereals for breakfast, preferring toast. She dislikes yogurts and I know her calcium consumption is low. As the old lady suffers from osteoporosis walking has become a battle for her. Message: drink up your milk!

For those of us who are lactose-intolerant help is at hand: Eating dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale and turnip tops is an alternative source of calcium. Kale is something I don’t let hang around in the fridge for long. It can, like spinach, taste bitter. But good when cooked.

The European Journal of Nutrition found that people who eat full-fat dairy tend to be leaner than those who opt for low-fat versions. And in a 2016-released long-term study of 18,438 middle-aged women, consumption of high-fat dairy, but not low-fat dairy, was associated with reduced likelihood of becoming overweight through the years.
Fat fills you up and slows down the release of sugars into your bloodstream and helps to prevent overeating. As a result, blood sugar rises more slowly over a longer period of time. Insulin levels, therefore, remain more stable. Less circulating insulin means less risk of insulin resistance and pre-diabetes blood sugar levels.

Nutritionists who feel high-fat yogurt will fill us up and stop us diving for the biscuit tin really rate Fage 5% Greek yogurt and I’ve seen this product advertised on TV recently; it’s getting a name for itself. In the news recently low-fat yogurts were once again declared to be overfull of sugar. They aren’t what they seem!

My chosen uses for Fage 5% yogurt include

Yogurt and blueberry snack:

  1. Take a mug or individual trifle dish and layer 1 tablespoon of Fage 5% on the bottom. Sprinkle with 5-6 blueberries and/or raspberries/strawberries.

  1. Layer a second tablespoon of yogurt over the berries. Repeat with a top layer of berries or nuts. 

Breakfast Trifle

  1. Put a layer of Fage 5% in a trifle dish or mug as before. Mix 2 tablespoons of organic porridge oats with hot water until it has been absorbed. Drain off the excess liquid and allow it to cool.

  1. Layer berries of your choice over the yogurt then add half the cooled, softened porridge as a third layer. Repeat the layers and sprinkle with fruits of your choice on the top.

Yogurt and kefir or jam 

  1. As above: layer 1 tablespoon of Fage 5% on the bottom of a mug or trifle dish. Add a layer of kefir with morello cherry or diabetic (no added sugar) raspberry jam.

  1. Repeat the layers and sprinkle ground almonds, cocoa or similar on top.

I don’t resort to using jam much at all. But the diabetic variety is extra jam and only has 2g sugar per 100g of jam. I prefer to get my sweetness from fruits or the 2 squares of Velvet Edition chocolate I mentioned in an earlier post. But, just occasionally, a virtually sugar-free jam adds colour and taste if kefir added to yogurt seems a bit OTT on the dairy front. And anyway I never said I was an angel. Just keen to keep my blood sugar down. Both my nana and mother developed diabetes late in life and that poses a risk factor for me.

Fage 5% yogurt is creamy and doesn’t have a crust like traditional Greek yogurt but it’s almost as good as eating cream. It’s a quick treat and healthier than most commercial ice creams. 

Another advantage dairy products have is as well as being low GI and helping reduce the risk of osteoporosis, dairy helps fight off hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney stones and colon cancer. Some nutritionists in the early noughties said that fat in dairy products is mostly saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease. But they believed that very-low-fat dairy foods and non-fat dairy foods allow you to have all the benefits of cheese and yogurt without the fat. (But do check these low-fat versions, ie yogurts, haven’t added sugar.)I stick to full-fat versions in the main. I have had a recent cardiac function and cholesterol test. The greater risk for me is a rise in blood sugar. But your own GP practice can advise.

One excellent piece of news is that calcium provided by dairy foods such as cheese may help you lose weight. 

This is the theory: As we up our intake of calcium, counterintuitively levels of calcium within fat cells decrease. Lower calcium levels within cells impact the metabolism of fat, which encourages weight loss. Getting enough calcium from dairy foods gets the body to burn more fat and make it harder for new fat cells to form. So that’s ok. And 1000 - 1500* mg of calcium per day from dairy foods is the recommended daily allowance.

Finally dairy products are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals: calcium, phosphorous, riboflavin, protein, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B 6 and vitamin B 12 . This is why such  nutrients are vital for maximum good health: 

Phosphorus - a mineral in bones and teeth and in cells throughout the body.
Riboflavin - a vitamin which supports normal vision and healthy skin. 
Protein - builds and repairs body tissues. 
Magnesium - another mineral important for bones and teeth and in muscle contractions and nerve impulses. 
Vitamin A - for maintaining healthy eyes and skin. 
Vitamin B 6 - helps make red blood cells and build proteins in your body. 
Vitamin B 12 - prevents anaemia and helps maintain healthy nerve cells. 

Vitamin D - Now here’s a conundrum. In last week’s news a Professor of Important Vitamins was starting out on a three-year research project. He believes vitamin D isn’t the cherub of the osteoporosis world we’ve all been led to believe. Traditionally vitamin D was thought to help maintain calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones and teeth. But now the jury’s out. He feels vitamin D has no role to play - especially when it comes to the big ‘O’.

However it seems calcium is still king: it plays important roles in nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and blood clotting as well as being critical for bone health. 

If your calcium levels are low and your blood borrows too much calcium from your bones to compensate for this, you’re at risk of osteoporosis. It’s important to drink milk, have a yogurt and a slice of cheese up to 1500* mg daily, especially for post-menopausal women.


Just be aware of the calories with dairy products!