Tag Archives: food

The Lowdown on Goji Berry Juice

Goji berries.  Those little shrivelled orangey red berries you bought at the health food store that were disappointingly bland.  Remember them?  You bought them because of something about them being a superfood…but then they languished in the cupboard and they were thrown out after the expiration date.

Yes.  That was my experience anyway.

I really didn’t like them and proceeded to forget about them for the next six or seven years.

The Facts

Goji berries are also known as wolf berries and they originate in Tibet and China.  The best wolf berries come from the Ningxia Province of China.  They’re a member of the nightshade family, like tomatoes and aubergines, and they are considered a superfood because they are rich in antioxidants, as most berries are, and because of the generations-old traditional Chinese belief that eating them can lead to a long and healthy life.  As with most natural products, the big pharmaceutical companies don’t want to invest their money in researching inexpensive and easily available food products, and so the research which has been done on the health benefits of goji has been sparse and of poor quality so far.

However…here are some nutritional facts about the fruit and you can make your own conclusions about whether it is likely to offer some health benefits:

  • contains all the essential amino acids, which makes it unique amongst fruits
  • highest concentration of protein of any fruit
  • high in vitamin C
  • contains more carotenoids than any other food
  • contains 21 trace minerals
  • high in fibre
  • has 15 times more iron than spinach

In my internet travels, I found an online lecture which I took with a pinch of salt, as it was promoted by a particular brand of goji berry juice supplement, but unless they were out and out lying, the results were impressive.  The lecturer shared sample blood work results for their producBaseline Blood Samplet had done for an individual’s red blood cells.  First they showed the baseline blood sample of the individual.  The red blood cells were stacked and unhealthy with very little surface area.  The video doesn’t go into it, but I should explain that in cytology, stacked red blood cells are called ‘rouleau’ and this happens as a result of various types of physical and/or mental stress which sends electrical currents through the body, forcing the cells to change their charge and stick together.  In practical terms, this is what high blood pressure looks like.

The lecturer then showed the second blood sample taken from the same individual, only 15 Second Blood Sampleminutes after they had consumed 1oz their brand of goji berry juice supplement.  These red blood cells now appeared much healthier.  Again, the lecturer didn’t cover this, but in cytology these would be called ‘normocytes’ which are the red blood cells of a healthy person.  They have a dip in the middle, with lots of surface space to detox and they flow freely in the plasma because they are all negatively charged.

I then went to the NHS website to see what they said and they pretty well pooh pooh’d the benefits of the goji berry.  Not because they had any evidence that the goji berries did not do what the anecdotal evidence suggested, but because of the lack of solid scientific evidence in favour of them.   Unfortunately, without serious financial investment, such evidence is unlikely to be researched and conventional medical websites like the NHS will continue to sing the same tune.

However…when generations of a traditional culture have relied on a food for its health benefits…its usually for a good reason.  And there is an awful lot of anecdotal evidence as well as the evidence from the small number of studies mentioned above which suggest that regular consumption of goji berries can improve diabetes*, high blood pressure* and age related macular degeneration.    In particular, preliminary studies involving consumption of goji berry juice resulted in a feeling of well being and calmness, improved athletic performance and quality of sleep as well as weight loss.  So, I guess I’m willing to play that gamble for the small expense of a few goji berries every day.

The Problem

The problem is that goji berries and goji juice…well, they don’t taste very nice.

My Experience

I had heard so many positive things about a particular brand of goji berry juice, that I ordered a couple of bottles and about a month ago I started taking a 50ml shot of it daily first thing after waking in the morning.  At first it just tasted good and I didn’t notice anything special in how I felt.  But after about a week of taking it daily, I found my energy levels significantly improved.  I mean really really improved.  I went from a constant state of lethargy and “I can’t keep up with this toddler” to feeling absolutely rested during the day, perfectly able to keep up with whatever is new in the world of my toddler, and I never have that ‘shattered’ feeling I had all the time before.  I have so much energy.  And I’m not sure why, but also an uncharacteristically optimistic and positive outlook on life…which I guess I can just describe as an overall sensation of ‘wellness’.  Another result, which I was not at all expecting, but am nonetheless delighted by, is that I have lost about 10 pounds, despite no change in exercise or diet (aside from the addition of the goji juice).  And the product I purchased** tasted delicious as it was blended with other antioxidant juices and had a tad of stevia added for sweetness.

I suppose that after spending so many years being disappointed by so many supplements, vitamins, superfoods, eating trends and so on, in battling my general state of poor energy and fatigue, I’m a little surprised that I feel as good as I do just from one tiny glass of juice each morning.  But I do.  So I guess I should just be happy about that!

In Summary

I am seriously impressed by my experience with this goji berry juice and will continue taking it long term.

I did have some slight concerns about the fact that goji berries are grown in China, but the company that made the supplement I have been taking is very aware of issues of toxicity with foods coming from China and their berries come strictly from the Ningxia Province which is very remote and is separated from the rest of China by a desert.  In addition to this, they perform a metals test on every new batch of berries they receive. Goji berries from ANY other part of China are loaded with heavy metals, including mercury.

And, I’ll add that I also gave the dried berries themselves a second chance and made some goji berry muffins.  I’ve include a link to the video and recipe!  They were delicious!  (I don’t recommend making the sugar glaze as directed in the muffin recipe – they don’t need it.  You can also use regular flour in place of the einkorn flour, although Dove’s Farm does make an einkorn flour here in the UK, and the ‘Blue Agave’ just means agave syrup.  You could use honey instead.)

*If you are taking drugs for either of these conditions, or if you are taking a blood thinning medication such as warfarin, please discuss taking any goji berry supplement with your doctor first, as it could interact with these prescriptions.

**I bought this product at full price with my own money and have not been paid or otherwise compensated to review it.  The results I describe are honest and based on my own experiences using this product.  There are many goji berry products on the market, however, I cannot guarantee that they come from the Ningxia Province in China and are free of heavy metals.  If you are interested in knowing the product I used, please follow this link.  You can order it retail or set up your own wholesale account, in which case you may be asked for a ‘Sponsor or Enroller ID’.  I’d be very grateful if you used mine, which is #3514264 and they’ll send me some sort of referral thank you.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.  I bought the product referred to with my own money and my comments are based on my own research and experience.  The information presented on this website is for informational purposes only.  The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals.  Consult your physician, nutritionally oriented doctor, and/or chemist regarding any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.

Photo Credit: Healthyfig.com

How to Fail at Weaning Your Baby

Eating.  We all do it eventually.  Its like rolling over, sitting up, or walking.  But when you have a baby, all these things feel like they will never happen and you’re constantly on the watch for signs of them.  You see your baby slightly flail about a bit and spend the next two hours making phone calls to family and friends proclaiming that “he almost turned over”.

We have a wide group of mummy and baby friends, so have a pretty balanced perspective on what’s ‘normal’ for my baby’s age group.  I try not to focus too much, however, on the one friend’s baby which has been able to hold on to the edge of the furniture and walk around the room since he was 6 months old.  Mine is 8 months and, well, she can sit.  No, wait, last night she pushed herself up to standing in the bathtub.

However, as I’m a foodie and a former professional pastry chef in the fine dining industry and my husband is a great…shall we say patron of the fine dining industry…I thought that weaning our baby would be a non-issue.

We decided to wait to wean our baby until she was at least 6 months old.  There is a lot of pressure to start introducing foods earlier than this.  (Ladies of…ahem…a certain generation, will say that your baby is hungry and needs baby rice (a nutritionally empty food) at…oh, around 17 weeks.  Ignore them.  They’re the same ladies who were telling you to stop breastfeeding and give baby formula so they could ‘sleep through the night’.)  We had a number of reasons which we based our decision upon.  There were the physical factors, such as whether the baby was able to sit up on their own and able to shove items into their mouth.  (She was).  And also that solid foods just aren’t as nutritious as breastmilk or formula.  You need the certainty in the early days that 100% of what is going into your baby’s tummy is doing them good and helping them to grow.  But mainly, we were concerned that the human gut is not ready to deal with solid foods until at least 6 months of age and while your baby may happily take solid foods earlier than that, giving them any earlier can increase the risk of health problems such as atopic conditions (eczema, asthma), autoimmune conditions (coeliac disease) and other chronic conditions (diabetes).  Essentially these are all inflammatory conditions and not something we wished to put our baby at risk for by giving in to our excitement about moving on to the next stage.

I sought my mother’s advice fairly early on.  Apparently I threw my bottle of formula on the floor at 3 months old and she decided that meant I was ready to move on to food.  As I have suffered with numerous atopic and digestive inflammatory conditions for most of my life, I decided that I would not be repeating that route.

But both my husband and I were incredibly excited about introducing foods to our little girl and in anticipation, I attended the weaning session at my local Children’s Centre.  Firstly, I was the only person who turned up.  Obviously all the other mothers of 4 month olds in Peckham were at home shoving baby rice down their children’s gullets and marvelling about how they slept through the night now.  (BTW, sleeping through the night is an abnormal baby behaviour.  Tiny little tummies aren’t designed to go for 8-12 hours without food.)  Once the dietician started her session, with just me and my baby in attendance, I realised that I was probably not the target audience for this kind of session. And the dietician realised that I wasn’t, either, quickly glossing over the display of packaged baby cookies and baby rice she’d painstakingly set up to demonstrate to mothers which kinds of sugary foods to avoid feeding their babies.  (“I can see I won’t need to show these to you.”)  We had a useful conversation on baby led weaning and how to prepare the fruits and vegetables for a baby to eat and a quick demonstration on how to assist a choking baby, but other than that, I came away fairly uninspired and unenlightened.

Finally 6 months of age arrived.  First we decided to go the Baby Led Weaning route.   I cooked some sweet potato and…my baby very politely tasted it and declined seconds.  The same thing happened with broccoli, spinach, peas, red lentils, greek yogurt and applesauce.  I do try to avoid giving her too many fruits, as I’d like her to avoid developing the dreaded sweet tooth which my mother and I both have.  I’m not sure if this is a futile attempt on my part, but I’m sticking with this approach.  She loved over-ripe bananas and she did enjoy gnawing on a piece of pear once and some peach puree, but other than that, I felt I was wasting both my time and some rather expensive organic foods.

And it was just so messy.  I mean really really messy.

Sometime just before 7 months of age, I gave up on full-time Baby Led Weaning and got out my little mouli which I then used to prepare most of the above vegetables.  I had no better success.

And my red lentil dish, though very well cooked, gave her terrible stomach cramps throughout the night.

So around a month or so ago we decided to go the Ella’s Kitchen route.  If only for the sake of convenience.  I was tired of cooking nice foods and watching them get gummed around and smeared on the Bumbo tray for a while before being put in the compost bin.  And it was around this point that we discovered something.  It wasn’t the food that was the problem.  It was the person giving the food.  Daddy could open up packets of Ella’s Kitchen lentils with cumin, vegetable moussaka and squishy salmon fish cakes and they’d all be gobbled up with relish.  I would try to give her the same food and be met with disdain.

At this point, I’m sorry, I don’t have the answer for you.  If you’re struggling with weaning your baby onto foods, I don’t have a solution.  Each morning I make porridge which I try to share with my baby and am met with a mouth shut tight as a Cabbage Patch Doll’s.  My health visitor says this is a phase and she’ll probably grow out of it after she’s two.  Great.

As for the other babies we know, well, they’re all eating platefuls of food.  Some do baby led weaning and others have been conventionally weaned.  But somehow their parents are getting the stuff into them.

I got the The Ella’s Kitchen Cookbook from the library yesterday and intend to copy all my baby’s favourites from the book.  My first attempt, a rich and creamy macaroni cheese made with Boots baby pasta stars was rejected last night with a look of utter disgust.  So I ate it.  It was delicious.

But apparently not as delicious as the manky, half eaten carrot I found the baby about to tuck into from the dog’s bowl…

Alternative Natural Sodas

The other day after coming out of the mum & baby cinema around lunchtime, I was absolutely famished, and headed into the Gourmet Burger Kitchen across the street for a veggie burger.  It was a hot day and before I knew it I had seen the chilly, frosted iconic glass bottle and had ordered myself a coke.

For me that coke was a very rare ‘treat’.  But like our American and Canadian friends, many Brits continue to drink their calories in the form of beer, wine, juice and soda.  I don’t need to shock you with the risks associated with soda consumption, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and obesity…because these aren’t shocking facts anymore.  They’ve been around for a long time now so its so easy to glaze over when you read them and just not take them seriously.

The high fructose corn syrup which sweetens soda comes from genetically modified corn that contains pesticides which – in only seconds – destroys your good gut flora, ruining immunity and contributing to an overall immune-compromised body that constantly struggles to find nutrients for survival and systematically loses the ability to fight off pathogens, parasites and antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

You’ll probably also know that diet sodas are just as bad, with research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showing that diet soda intake is directly related to abdominal obesity in adults over the age of 65 and the waist circumference amongst diet soda drinkers being three times that of non-diet soda drinkers.  Oh poo.  Well, there goes that plan.

Overall, surprise surprise, its just better to drink water.  The University of Bristol and Bangor University found that drinking sweet tasting drinks, regardless of their sugar content or lack thereof, dulls your sensitivity to sweet tastes in general and the sweet treat you once enjoyed becomes less of a special reward.  This establishes a vicious cycle eating sweet foods and drinks on a regular basis.

Okay, so water’s great as a daily thirst quencher, but what about on those special occasions like a BBQ or family movie night in front of the TV where you really do want a treat.  I’ve tracked down the…not ‘best’, but ‘least detrimental’ options for you which are available here in the UK:

Zevia

cola-flavorZevia do every flavour of soda you could want, from cola to grape soda to cream soda and root beer, all packaged in aluminium cans (although they do a glass bottle range now as well).  They do a tonic water for those of you who miss the occasional G&T and – get this – they even make a ‘Dr Zevia’.  Its sweetened with stevia, monk fruit and erythritol – all plant-based with no caloric value or effect on blood glucose levels – and they are Non-GMO Project Verified.

The good news is that in the US and Canada it’s available nearly everywhere.   EDIT 2018: The bad news is that here in the UK it seems to have been halfheartedly launched a couple of times, but never really took off, which is a shame.

Whole Earth

range-refreshingWhole Earth are a London-based company here in the UK which grew from a small macrobiotic restaurant back in the 60’s.  They make a range of organic sodas packaged in aluminium cans.  They make a cola as well as cranberry, lemon and elderflower sodas.  You can see their macrobiotic roots reflected in their cola which is flavoured with barley rather than the weird and wonderful botanicals you seem in some natural colas. They’re sweetened with organic agave nectar which has a lower GI than cane sugar.

Fever-Tree

2663-200ml-white-indian-tonic-low-res-rgbFever-Tree are a UK luxury botanical drinks company.  They primarily make mixers, such as tonic water, ginger beer, ginger ale and lemonade.  Their drinks are beautifully packaged in glass bottles so you do feel you are drinking something special with their products.  As a result, they have rather a lot of rewards to show for their efforts.  Their drinks are all sweetened using natural cane sugar and natural fruit sugar.

But, remember, its still sugar.  Its still going to spike your insulin levels.  Its still high GI.  It still has calories.  But its ‘real’ sugar, so it will be less damaging to your gut than the sugar you’ll find in a can of Coke.

Fentimans

fm_colaFentimans market their sodas as “botanically brewed beverages”.

But at 50 calories per 100 ml, their Curiosity Cola comes in at 8 calories per 100 ml higher than a can of Coke and it contains glucose syrup, yeast, sugar, unspecified flavourings, and a variety of e-numbers such as caramel colour (E150d) and phosphoric acid (E338).  Oh, and it is caffeinated as well.  It has been labelled by The Guardian as “The World’s Best Cola” however, so its up to you if that’s how you choose to spend your daily caloric intake.

They do a number of other flavoured sodas and cocktail mixers as well,  including a delicious Rose Lemonade (coming in at a whopping 52 calories per 100 ml).

They’re not organic and they only will confirm that their Victorian Lemonade and Ginger Beer are GMO free.  (Find out more about why you’d want to avoid GMO’s here.)  As such, I opted not to do a ‘taste test’ of their cola for this article and would NOT consider Fentimans to be a healthy alternative to conventional soda.

Roots

Because this article is about soft drinks available in the UK, we now come to Roots, a small, small, independently owned soda works in Granton, Edinburgh.  They make their soda by hand hoodoo-sodaand claim that their beverages are all natural fizzy drinks comprising of carbonated water, freshly squeezed whole fruit juice, raw cane sugar with infused flavour from herbs, spices, and petals.  Their sodas contain no artificial sweeteners, colourings, flavourings, preservatives or caffeine.

They’re not organic, but I like that they market their sodas as a special treat, only to be consumed once in a while, because “sugar is still sugar, and both fructose and sugar are *not cool* for us.”  At the moment there are only a couple of places in London carrying Roots sodas (BrewDog in Camden and Shoreditch).  I’m a mother of a 4 month old baby, so heading off the Shoreditch with the pram to taste a soda for my blog article wasn’t going to happen.  And as the company couldn’t provide me with a sample of their product for this article, I have to say I haven’t tried it yet.  I’ll update this article when I’ve done so.

Coca-Cola Life

Sigh.

1673295-slide-coca-cola-lifeOkay, I’m including this product in this article in no way because I think you should drink it.  I’m including it because some people will want to know:  “Is this a healthier alternative?”  Yes, its a healthier alternative to Coke Classic, in the way that cigars are a healthier alternative to cigarettes.

To start with, the green label is an absurdly obvious bit of greenwashing, as is the 30% of the bottle being made from unspecified plant-based resources (which I seriously suspect is GMO corn).  The product was launched in Argentina a couple of years ago and has now made its way to the UK.  (Pepsi have a similar product called Pepsi True, but as it doesn’t appear to be available in the UK, I’m not including it here.) EDIT 2018: This product was phased out of the UK market in June 2017, but it’s still available in around 30 other markets, including the US.

Coca-Cola Life contains 1/3 less sugar than regular Coke, but still contains 2/3 of whatever awful sugar it is that Coke uses in their normal soft drinks, along with a bit of stevia for “Natural Sweetness”.

And it tastes awful to boot.

 

Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) for Dummies

A lot of my friends seem to be not that bothered about GMOs.  I mean, they’ll agree they’re not good and will tsk vaguely about bees dying or something, but for the most part, they seem to confuse genetic modification with cross-breeding (i.e. modern cross-bred grains) and they don’t go to any particular lengths to make sure the food they’re buying doesn’t contain GMOs.  Mostly they’ll just look at me like I’m a lovable hippy, a luddite or I’m about to author a book on how GMOs are linked to the FBI, JFK and the moon landings or something.  But gradually people are starting to realise that concern about GMOs is not about rejecting science and the modern world and its not about conspiracy theories.  Many modern scientific discoveries have turned out to be wonderful (IVF, insulin and the mapping of the human genome and epigenome)…so it was bound that some discoveries would go equally wrong. I am not a scientist, but I thought it might be helpful to share a quick rundown on the basics of what I know about genetically modified foods and why I choose to exclude them from my family’s diet.

What are GMOs?  

Well, to start with, GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms.  They are created in a laboratory by the artificial manipulation (gene splicing) of the genetic material of living organisms to create unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes. Sometimes they’re marketed to the public as being a ‘good thing’ for the world and the beginning of the end of world hunger because they promise drought resistant crops and increased nutritional values.  However, in reality, GMOs are both anecdotally and evidentially responsible for health problems, environmental damage and violations of the rights of both farmers and consumers.

But they’re safe, right?  I heard there were studies that proved they were safe.

Well, there have been studies conducted in the US testing the safety of GMOs…oddly enough, conducted by the same biotech corporations that originally developed the research and continue to profit from the sales of the same products. It speaks strongly that more than 60 countries around the world, including all the countries in the EU, have significantly restricted or banned the production and/or sales of GMOs.  In contrast to that, in the US, GMOs are in around 80% of conventional processed foods…but considering American foods are shipped all around the globe, that means you really have to think about the foods you’re buying. If you’re just starting out, the foods which are most likely to be genetically modified are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soya, sugar beets and zucchini.  These are the foods which are between 88-99% GMO in the US and are therefore are easy ones to try to avoid when you’re out shopping.  Not easy when you have to remember to check for soy lecithin, a common emulsifier (think nearly every chocolate on the market), cornstarch, corn oil and high fructose corn syrup (again, its in so many processed foods) and canola and cottonseed oils (sometimes labelled very vaguely and they can be sneakily added in very small quantities into healthy foods like dried fruits which are packed with a little bit of oil).

Are you crazy?  Are you saying I can never eat corn or soya again?

You can, of course, eat what you want.  But if you choose not to consume or support genetically modified foods, just make sure that when you’re buying foods that contain the main offenders listed above, that you buy the organic versions.  Certified organic foods cannot be genetically modified.  Some US and Canadian certification labels allow for a very small margin of cross contamination these days.  For that reason, some organic food companies have chosen to boycott the organic certification labels and can no longer label their foods organic.  So if there’s a food you like and its not labelled organic – go to the producer’s website and check out their ethos or call up the company.  Very often you will find out about the company’s stance on GMOs in their FAQs and I have been surprised at some of the brands I like (Genius – in the UK – and Linda McCartney to name a couple) which are GMO free.

OK, but if these foods have been designed to be more resilient, then at least there will be less need for pesticides, right?

Again…no.  The toxicity of herbicides such as Roundup has been increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced.  The companies developing the GMOs are also the ones who are developing and selling agricultural chemicals.  I’ll leave it to you to do the math. In fact, one of the reasons that organic plants are better for you is because they are forced to be ‘tougher’ and not mollycoddled with pesticides.  Studies have consistently shown that while organic plants are not necessarily better than non-organic plants in terms of their micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), there is a significant increase in the amount of phytochemicals in organic plants.  Phytochemicals are the compounds that give vegetables and fruits their natural properties which we benefit from when we eat the plants – such as being anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer.

Why do you eat GMO-free?

Well, I hope I eat GMO free anyway.  There is always the risk of some cross-contamination in some crop which becomes an ingredient in a food I eat and glyphosates (the key ingredient of Roundup) have made their way into the water supplies of many areas.  And when you eat in restaurants, there’s no way of knowing unless they promote that they are GMO-free (like Chipotle).  But I’m pretty darn vigilant for the sake of me and my family because: 1 – I don’t want my baby girl consuming the ever-toxic pesticides which cover both these and non-GMO conventional crops. 2 – I don’t like the dirty behaviour of those who hold the patents on GMO crops.  Through the use of their vast budgets and political influence, they are allowed to sue farmers whose fields have become contaminated with GMO crops when drifting from neighbouring fields. 3 – And ultimately the long term health and environmental impact of GMOs are an unknown factor.  But if the short term impacts are anything to go by (a sharp increase of inflammatory gut conditions and autoimmune disorders of near pandemic proportions), I’ll pass on finding out the long term impacts, thank you. Maybe this will be helpful to some of you who have seen the anti-GMO bandwagon passing by and have had no clue why to jump on it.  Maybe you’re already on the bandwagon but have no clue why.  Or maybe this is all new to you.  I’ve now shared what I know…let’s just hope ‘the man’ doesn’t come and get me now! 🙂

The Aldi Baby Event

Sometimes a girl just has to accept she’s living on statutory maternity pay…and even that won’t last forever.  So today when the Aldi supermarket one day baby event was launched, the baby and I were out of the house by 7.30 and battling the South London traffic to Old Kent Road.  You can tell I’m not an experienced Mum, because in my head, I envisioned queues of Mums, waiting for the doors to open, all rushing in to get the £19 Hauck travel cot I wanted.  (That’s how things used to be in the pre-baby days when I would go to fashion sales, etc, so surely that’s how things would be at the baby sale.)

As it happened, I was the first one in the parking lot (managed to get the parent/child parking spot right outside the front door) and there was just me and one other woman, at 7.45 in the morning, waiting for the doors of Aldi to open.  Like bums, waiting to get in to buy the cheap off-brand booze, but instead we were after baby-grows and nappies.

What a geek.

And why was I the first one there?  Because I’m still a newbie at this Mum thing.  Because most normal, sensible Mums with little babies barely think about getting out of the house (or pyjamas) before noontime, and those that do – its only because they’re taking their older children to school.  But I still hold the belief that I will not be defeated by Mum-dom.  I will live life on a normal(ish) schedule…even if it means standing on the Old Kent Road at 7.45am with my baby still in her pyjamas, tucked into her BabyBjorn, and me, looking pretty ok-ish in a white shirt and skinny jeans, but secretly I hadn’t even taken a shower yet.

So, moving on, as I pushed my trolley through the non-existant crowds of fellow shoppers, I got the first of the Hauck travel cots, three packs of giant muslins, a hooded towel and a Tommy Tippee sippy cup.  I mean, there was actually plenty of great stuff there – and all quite cheap…but then, that’s the problem with Aldi.  You go in to buy your polish jam and battery hen eggs and come out with a discount chainsaw instead.

However, for the budget minded organic shopper, there are a few good buys at Aldi.  You can get a few organic veg basics: potatoes, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and onions, a few seasonal organic fruits, organic milk, as well as a few random dry goods throughout the store.  Today, for instance, there were Kallo puffed buckwheat and quinoa cakes (like rice cakes).  You kind of have to go in with an open mind about what you want to buy, but you can come out with your shopping bag full of 100% British organic foods at around 25% less than you would pay at Sainsburys or Tesco.

All good news for a Mum who is about to start baby led weaning and isn’t too keen on the Annabel Karmel ‘all sugar, all the time’ approach to feeding baby.  (I may feel differently after steamed broccoli has been rejected for the 50th time, and I promise, I’ll admit it if that’s the case.)

I should also say that I was really pleased to see packs of Bambino Mio cloth nappies for sale there today.  At our house we use cloth nappies (resorting to biodegradable disposables for outings, travel and nighttime only) and although we don’t use Bambino Mio, I’m pleased that they’re becoming more mainstream and accessible to people on a budget.  (Lets face it, the Old Kent Road isn’t the cheapest property on the Monopoly board for no reason).

So, overall, it was a good shopping trip.  We have a travel cot, so we won’t have to make our baby sleep in a milk crate or dog pen when we go on holiday to Cornwall, later this summer.  We’ve got some adorable elephant themed giant muslins, at 1/5th of the price of the ones at Jojo Maman Bebe.  And best of all, the baby fell asleep in the car on the way home, so after transferring her to the nursery when we got home, I’ve had the whole morning to myself!

Paleo Diet Review

At first glance, my friend Sarah and I couldn’t have more different diets to each other.  So when we found out that the the other had decided to try the high protein, high fat Paleo diet earlier this year for the month of January, we were equally surprised.  Sarah was surprised because she secretly wondered how the heck was I – a vegetarian – going to eat Paleo…and just what would I be eating?  And I was surprised because after 18 years of friendship, I’ve never seen Sarah go a day without eating sugar and dairy.  So, with some delay (I like to think as a period of reflection) we would like to share our stories and thoughts on the experience.

Sarah’s Story

At the beginning of January I sat down with my computer and a hand-drawn calendar and mapped out Paleo meals. And then my family of 5 followed the Paleo diet for one month. It was ambitious. I was hard. It was sometimes complicated. But was it worth it in the end?

Maybe?

As a stay-at-home mother of three boys (with ages ranging from “will eat anything that’s put in front of him” to “won’t eat it if it’s not peanut butter”), I struggle every day to ensure my kids are eating healthy food.  Mostly my approach is pretty basic.  I buy organic, local produce (when I can).  I use whole grains.  And I cook, every day.  But kids are kids.  And although some people have those children who will eat anything, I don’t.  So the idea to cut out whole food groups that my children will eat (pasta, bread, cheese) was something that I didn’t take on lightly.  Would my children starve?

They didn’t of course.  And neither did I.  Because by week three, I was cheating.  Well, I wasn’t cheating.  But the kids were.  Because you can’t tell a five year old that spaghetti squash is pasta (because it’s not).  And the baby, it turns out, really missed yoghurt.

It turns out that there are a lot of good things about the Paleo diet.  We ate a lot of vegetables.  We avoided refined sugars.  I tried baking with alternative flours, and have added some really good new recipes to my files.  We eat locally, sustainably raised meat anyway, so that wasn’t different.  But our meals did become more…protein focused.

But we did miss the foods that we love.  And that was sometimes hard (hence my caving and cooking the boys pasta because they really wanted it).  Like any diet that is quite restrictive, there were times when the diet wasn’t any fun. And at the end of the day, I’m not sure, for example, that legumes or dairy are really all that bad for you.

The intriguing thing about the Paleo Diet is that it seems logical. As humans, we evolved a certain way, to eat certain foods. So it makes sense that these are the foods we should be eating to be healthy.

But healthy eating, for me at least, isn’t about restriction.  It’s about ensuring that I and my family are eating the largest variety of foods possible – including carbs and glutens and legumes when appropriate.  The Paleo diet turned out not to be for me, but the discipline of really being conscious of my food choices was useful in “resetting” my meal planning, and getting me out of the post-holiday sugar-pasta-junk food rut.  Will I try it again?

Maybe?

But with so many food trends out there, maybe next January I’ll try “Vegan before Six.”

Kelly’s Story

Student Nutritionists go through something similar to first year med students – the med students tend to get a bit hypochondriac and nutrition students love to try out all the hype diets.  As a responsible nutritionist, I will someday know that everybody and their body is different and will suit a different diet.  Some people do better with high fat, high protein diets, others favour raw vegan lifestyles.  Others, like macrobiotics, and followers of Weston A Price favour a pretty balanced whole foods diet.  (No one flourishes on a standard diet of processed foods, though.  No one.)  However, until that responsible future nutritionist (me!) is qualified, I’m enjoying trying out all kinds of different diets and ways of eating; partly so I can see what suits me and partly so I can understand the challenges that my future clients might face when moving onto specialist diets for one reason or another.

Its pretty easy for me to try these things out, as my lifestyle is pretty flexible and I don’t have children.  However, I do have a husband.  But he’s easy, you know.  He’ll pretty much eat whatever I’m eating…

…but with a steak thrown on top.

So, back to Paleo.  I already knew that I had an intolerance to modern hybridised wheat (while seeming to do just fine on heritage wheats like emmer, kamut and spelt), so I wondered if taking all grains out of the equation might make me feel even better.  (I’m slightly extremist at times.)

I was pretty dubious about taking my beloved pulses out of my diet, but in the interests of the experiment, I did.  I was okay about eliminating sugar and terrified about eliminating most dairy.  As I don’t eat meat, but do eat fish, I substituted organic or wild fish for the pasture-fed organic meats.  Otherwise, it was pretty much the same.  I actually emailed the founder of the Paleo movement, Dr Loren Cordain, to ask about this and received a pretty frank reply that a life without meat was an unhealthy one.  Uh huh….so that was a nice start.

But I was assured by all the fancy-looking blogs I had read and high energy Bulletproof Diet TED talks I’d seen, that once on a high fat, high protein, low carb diet, I would immediately drop a ton of weight and become the happiest, healthiest and most energetic I had ever been.

As it happened, I had low energy all the time because my brain wasn’t getting the glucose it needed for me to get on with my very busy life, my mouth eternally tasted of grease from all the coconut oil, fish oils, avocados and grassfed butter I was eating and no to put too fine a point on it, I may as well have piped polyfilla into my digestive tract.

Oh, and I gained about 8 pounds.

So Paleo wasn’t for me.   (I mean, have you TRIED Bulletproof coffee???)

But it wasn’t all bad.  It gave me an opportunity to try out lots of recipes using different wholefood ingredients which was fun and educational.  A few (Paleo pancakes) have even continued on as firm household favourites.  It made me reconsider a lot of the health food store processed foods I still somewhat relied on and it weaned me away from dairy, to which I was completely addicted.  It was really nice in mid-winter to come home from the shops with nearly nothing packaged in a box or bottle – just fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs (oh God, so many eggs) and organic fish and meats.  And that’s what I’ve kept from the experience.

So a few months down the line, my food intake is a much more satisfying and balanced high complex carb, low fat, low-med protein diet and it suits me so much better.  I can eat all the fruits and veg I want, along with some legumes (I really missed those in January) and a bit of brown rice or wholegrain pasta.

Oh and yeah, I kept the coconut oil.  Just, um, its not in my coffee this time…

Brasserie Max at the Covent Garden Hotel

 

Girls. Girls work together. They play together. They get their nails done together. They share a glass of wine together. They say terrible things about work colleagues together. And then they go to dinner together.

Which is funny, because I would have thought that in going to dinner together, they would have been able to eat together. I guess Brasserie Max – up until now a particular favourite of mine – has opted to take the Wagamama approach to food, however. (Meh, whenever its ready.)

One of my work colleagues – a dear friend – recently recieved the annual staff award at our office and to celebrate we treated her to an evening out at Brasserie Max, the chic & snug restaurant on the ground floor of the Covent Garden Hotel on Monmouth Street.

The atmosphere of the hotel is everything I love about Covent Garden. In fact, I love all the Firmdale Hotel chain restaurants. They have comfy chairs, grand zinc bars, perfectly cooked yumlicious food (yes, I said yumlicious) and they can happily accommodate any dietary requirement. If you are a lover of cocktails, they all look amazing – and if the never ending stream of waiters carrying trays of martini glasses is anything to go by, they taste delicious as well.

So where did it all go wrong?

We all ordered from the set menu. (The set menu we had to ask for because it wasn’t offered to us when we sat down.) Two of us ordered the salmon and two the shepherd’s pie. The food arrived and the salmons were superb. The shepherd’s pies, however, were tepid. Both of them. So they were both sent back to be heated through. I’m a slow eater at the best of times. I ate especially slowly on this occasion. But bar the last bite of salmon and a stem of broccoli I left on the plate (to seem slightly less rude and like I’d eaten my entire meal while two of the other diners sat waiting for their meals to return  for over TWENTY MINUTES), the other salmon diner and I had both eaten our meals when the two hot shepherd’s pies arrived back at the table. I will give Brasserie Max this – they could have heated the pies through in a microwave, but they did not. They in fact prepared two new shepherd’s pies from scratch. A testimony purely to the integrity of the back of house – that’s not lost on me. However, we did not get to eat our meal together and that felt uncomfortable and quite frankly it was the front of house’s problem to sort out.

But hey, the company was good and it was a celebratory evening, so I tried not to behave as incredibly annoyed as I felt. I assured myself Brasserie Max would do what decent fine dining restaurants do and would comp us some desserts or knock a percentage off the bill. But the bill came and no discounts were given and no comps offered. We were treating our friend and there was no way I was kicking up a fuss at the table, given the circumstances.

I guess what Brasserie Max doesn’t know about me is that I have worked back of house in fine dining restauranst – far finer than Brasserie Max. And when a restaurant does something this appalling and doesn’t try to make it up to you – no matter how friendly the staff and no matter how good the food, they are basically telling you that you don’t really matter as a customer. I don’t mean in some deep and subconscious way – this basic hotel/restaurant management 101 stuff.

And to top it all off, because the message just wasn’t quite clear enough, they had the sheer cojones at the end of it all to tell us that they needed the table back (“Oh, do you mean the table that we’ve had for this long because we ate our main courses in two separate sittings?” I’ll point out there were other tables free at this point and no one queuing to get into the restaurant at 9pm on this fairly quiet weekday evening).

I do a lot of professional restaurant reviewing these days and don’t often have the opportunity to write reviews on my own blog anymore. I was looking forward to writing up a really glowing review of this evening’s experience, but sadly, Brasserie Max, I have got your message loud and clear.