Dark chocolate, date & hazelnut mini cookies

I always find baking to be therapeutic, and in need of something to cheer me up on the dawn of another lockdown I made these easy to bake mini cookies.. High in fibre, a good source of protein & mono-unsaturated fats and low in added sugar, the combination of dark chocolate, dates and hazelnuts is delicious, but pecans or walnuts would also work very well.. Enjoy!

Ingredients (you will need U.S style baking cups for this recipe)

  • ¾ cup of ground almonds
  • ¾ cup of jumbo oats
  • ¼ cup of oat granola, OR just use more oats or ground almonds
  • ¼ cup of date sugar (or other unrefined sugar)
  • 10 chopped dates
  • 4-6 squares of chopped dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa content (or an equivalent amount of dark choc chips)
  • 1 handful of chopped hazelnuts (or pecans or walnuts)
  • ¾ tsp of baking powder
  • ½ tsp rock salt
  • ¼ cup of canned chickpea water (aquafaba), OR 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp of nut butter (e.g. almond, hazelnut or peanut)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dairy free milk e.g. soya or oat
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Method

  • Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees (fan) or 200 (standard).
  • Mix the ground almonds, oats, granola, chopped dates, chocolate chunks/ chips, chopped hazelnuts, baking powder, sugar & salt in a large bowl.
  • Next, in another bowl whisk the aquafaba (or the egg) for 1 minute, then whisk in the nut butter, oil, dairy free milk and vanilla until smooth and well blended.
  • Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until completely mixed; you should have a firm slightly sticky dough which holds together well. 
  • Place small walnut sized balls of the dough onto a lined baking tray and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand into mini cookies. There should be enough dough to make around 16 mini cookies. You can of course make fewer bigger cookies if you prefer!
  • Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool before eating. Store in a sealed container in a cool place for around 7 days. The cookies also freeze well. Enjoy!

Zinc; why we need it and where to find it

ZINC AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

The trace mineral zinc is essential for immune system function and also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Zinc deficiency may lead to an increased risk of infections, including respiratory infections, and may also increase the risk of developing allergy and auto-immune disease. Ensuring we get enough zinc in our diet is therefore an essential way to protect both our short- and longer-term immune function and health.  

ZINC SOURCES & ABSORPTION

The best dietary sources of zinc are meat and seafood, especially red meat and oysters. However, many plant foods also provide a reasonable amount of zinc, nevertheless those following plant-based diets need to take extra care to ensure their diet meets their zinc needs. The chart below lists some of the best plant-based sources of zinc;

FoodPreparationServingmg
Oatscooked1 cup2.3
Tofufirm, raw1/2 cup2.0
Cashewsdry roasted1/4 cup1.9
Sunflower seedsroasted1/4 cup1.7
Chickpeasboiled1/2 cup1.3
Lentilsboiled1/2 cup1.3
Peanutsraw1/4 cup1.2
Almondswhole1/4 cup1.1
Pecanshalves1/4 cup1.1
Tempehraw1/2 cup1.0
Kidney beansboiled1/2 cup1.0
Peasboiled1/2 cup1.0
Chia seedsdried1 oz1.0
Walnutschopped1/4 cup0.9
Peanut butterroasted2 tbsp0.9
Cornyellow, boiled1 cup0.9
Pinto beansboiled1/2 cup0.8
Pistachiosroasted1/4 cup0.7
Misopaste1 tbsp0.4
Broccoliboiled, chopped1/2 cup0.4

Some components of plant foods, such as the phytates found in grains and cereals and lectins found in legumes, bind very effectively to zinc and impair absorption. The ratio of zinc to copper in the body is also very important.  Zinc competes for absorption with copper, and as copper tends to be abundant in many plant foods it is relatively easy to consume too much copper in relation to zinc. This in turn can lead to an imbalance between these two trace minerals. Therefore, it is especially important for those following plant based diets to monitor their zinc intake, especially over the winter months when the immune system comes under more pressure.

If you are following a largely plant based diet, there are a few key things you can do to increase the absorption of dietary zinc;

  • Pre-soak grains for at least 2 hours or overnight before cooking e.g. oats, rice etc. and dispose of the soaking water before using the grains.
  • If you eat tinned beans, dispose of the canning water and rinse your beans well before consuming. 
  • Choose sourdough, long fermentation or sprouted bread. All of these processes help to reduce the phytate content of the grains and can therefore improve zinc absorption rates.  
  • Don’t eat lots of grains at every meal; fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds all provide fibre and therefore most people do not need to eat whole-grains at every meal as long as they are eating plenty of other whole plant foods. 
  • Eat protein rich foods with every meal; protein has a positive influence on zinc absorption. However, if you eat dairy, don’t have it at every meal as the protein in dairy (casein) may moderately reduce zinc absorption.

ZINC DEFICIENCY & SUPPLEMENTATION

If you have any symptoms of zinc deficiency which could include catching colds or infections regularly or finding it difficult to fight off mild infections, poor wound healing, dry, scaling or flaky skin, seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, appetite loss, hair loss, diarrhoea, decreased taste & smell, or acne (which in some cases can relate to zinc deficiency) then you may also need to take a zinc supplement. Zinc citrate is one of the most effective forms of zinc supplementation, with zinc oxide (often found in cheaper supplements) being more poorly absorbed. It is not advisable to supplement with more than around 30mg of zinc per day for more than 3 – 6 months without seeking medical advice. 

Iron requirements on a plant based diet

People often wonder if iron requirements can be met on a plant based diet, and with careful dietary planning the answer for most people is ‘Yes’. However, women in particular may need to take extra care to ensure their iron needs are met, and many pre-menopausal women will need to supplement their diet with extra iron.

Iron is required to oxygenate red blood cells, convert food into energy, for normal immune function and for normal cognitive (brain) function. A lack of iron can therefore lead to fatigue, breathlessness, fainting, reduced immunity and poor concentration along with other symptoms such as a pale complexion, pale nail beds or even thinning hair (especially in women).

 There are two types of iron in the diet; haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in meat and non-haem iron is found in foods of vegetable origin. Although non-haem iron is the main form of dietary iron in most people’s diets, it is not as well absorbed as haem iron. Therefore, vegans and vegetarians may have a higher need for iron than meat eaters. Men eating a largely plant based diet may need approximately 14 mg of iron per day, women may need around 33mg per day. If you are eating a largely plant-based diet you may need to supplement your diet with iron, however it is advisable to have your iron level checked by your GP before doing so. Men in particular should not take iron supplements unless their blood iron level is low, as excess iron can build up in the body and be harmful. Women have a greater risk of iron deficiency than men and need to take greater care to ensure requirements are met.

Although the body responds to low availability of iron by increasing absorption, iron is not as readily absorbed as some other nutrients. The absorption of iron is affected by the presence of other foods in the gut. For instance, tannins & phenols (found in chocolate, tea and coffee) and certain proteins, for example those found in cow’s milk and egg, all tend to hinder the absorption of iron. It is therefore advisable not to drink tea or coffee with meals. Phytates (phytic acid) found in grains, bread and pasta can also hinder iron absorption. Also, some vegetables contain substances known as oxalates e.g. spinach, beetroot, broccoli and swiss chard, which can interfere with iron absorption. However, the oxalate content can be much reduced by cooking these vegetables, and as they also provide other important nutrients these foods should certainly still be included in the diet.

Vitamin C helps to increase the absorption of iron and, in particular, the non-haem form of iron found in plant foods. Therefore, combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods can significantly increase iron absorption. Vitamin C is present in many fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, blackcurrants, guava, kiwis, strawberries, cantaloupe melon, mango, papaya, sweet peppers, lamb’s lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and leafy greens; try to eat some of these foods every day to optimise iron absorption.

Whole-wheat bread provides a source of iron but owing to its wheat content it also contains phytates. The normal bread fermentation process reduces the phytate levels in the finished loaf, however sourdough bread-making is more beneficial for iron absorption as the extra-long fermentation time produces bread which is much more digestible and has much reduced phytate levels.

Good plant-based sources of iron include:

  • Pulses including chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, soya beans and tofu
  • Sprouted beans and seeds such as aduki beans, alfalfa, sesame and sunflower seeds
  • Cereals & grains and iron fortified products such as breakfast cereals, bread and quinoa
  • Green leafy vegetables including kale, cabbage and broccoli (but make sure to cook those with high oxalate levels)
  • Nuts, e.g. almonds and cashews
  • Seeds, e.g. hempseed’s and pumpkin seeds
  • Dried fruit especially apricots, dates and raisins
  • Date syrup and molasses

 

 

Nutrition for Healthy Hair

Many of my clients, especially women, ask me how they can support healthy hair growth and condition. Whilst there are many factors which can influence hair health that do not relate to diet (such as hair dyes, heat application, over-brushing, sports such as swimming, sea-water and sunlight), there is no denying that what we eat can have a real impact on the condition of our hair. The following guide outlines the most important nutrients needed for healthy hair..

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Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

A number of nutrients are required for strong, healthy hair and hair growth. Overall the key to healthy hair is to have a balanced, nutrient rich whole foods diet, but some of the most important nutrients for hair health include:

PROTEIN:

As hair is made of protein, ensuring you have enough protein in your diet is crucial for keeping hair strong and healthy. If you are not consuming enough protein your hair may become dry, brittle and weak, and a very low protein diet may result in hair loss. Eat a source of protein rich food at every meal; choose from good quality plant proteins such as beans (including soya), peas, lentils, quinoa, seeds and nuts. If you eat animal products excellent protein sources include fish, eggs, meat and dairy products.

IRON:

Iron is an especially important mineral for hair and too little iron (even in the absence of anaemia) is a major cause of hair loss in women. The hair follicle and root are fed by a nutrient rich blood supply. When iron levels (serum ferritin) fall below a certain point this disrupts the nutrient supply to the follicle, affecting the hair growth cycle and may result in shedding. Animal products such as red meat, chicken and fish provide iron with a high bioavailability, meaning the iron is readily available to the body. Vegetarians and vegans can obtain iron from lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, leafy green vegetables (such as broccoli, kale and salad greens), molasses, fortified cereals and breads and dried apricots. Vegetarian and vegan women may also need to supplement with iron to meet their needs, but this may be best confirmed with a blood test. Men should generally not take iron supplements unless iron deficiency has been confirmed by a medical professional.

L-LYSINE:

This amino acid is found in protein rich foods and works alongside iron to boost health growth. A lack of L-Lysine can therefore affect health hair and may contribute to hair thinning. L-Lysine can be found in all high-quality proteins such as meat, fish, eggs & dairy. However, it is in shorter supply in plant foods which emphasises the importance of vegetarians and vegans including a wide variety of plant-based proteins in their daily diet. Vegetarians and vegans, particularly women who are concerned about hair thinning, may need a supplement.

VITAMIN C:

Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron from food, so foods high in vitamin C are good to eat in conjunction with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant so is used readily by the body. The best sources are blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, guava, kiwi fruits, oranges, papaya, strawberries and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C helps in the production of collagen that strengthens the capillaries that supply the hair shafts.

OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS:

Omega-3 fatty acids are important fats our body cannot make itself, and therefore must be obtained through our diet. Omega-3 fats are found in the cells that line the scalp and also provide the oils that keep your scalp and hair hydrated. The best sources of omega 3 are oily fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, trout and mackerel and plant sources including flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, rapeseed oil and dark green leafy vegetables. Vegetarians and vegans can also increase their omega 3 levels with micro-algae (available in supplement form).

VITAMIN A:

Vitamin A is needed by the body to make sebum. Sebum is an oily substance created by the hairs sebaceous glands and provides a natural conditioner for a healthy scalp. Without sebum we may experience an itchy scalp and dry hair. Animal products (such as oily fish, dairy and eggs) are good sources of vitamin A, and orange and yellow coloured vegetables such as carrots, pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene (which is converted into vitamin A). Green leafy vegetables are also a good source of beta carotene.

ZINC & SELENIUM:

Scalp protection also involves other important minerals, notably zinc and selenium. A lack of zinc can lead to hair loss and a dry, flaky scalp. Fortified cereals, whole grains, nuts, seeds and quinoa are all good plant-based source of zinc along with seafood, beef and eggs.

VITAMIN E:

The sun can damage our hair just like it can damage our skin, so ensure you eat foods rich in vitamin E to provide protection for your hair. Nuts are nutritional powerhouses, providing zinc and selenium as well as vitamin E so try to include them as part of a balanced diet. Seeds (such as sunflower seeds) are also a good source of vitamin E.

BIOTIN:

Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin. Too little biotin can cause brittle hair and may lead to hair loss. Biotin rich foods include whole-grains and egg yolks.

 

Persistent hair loss that does not respond to a healthy diet (or that doesn’t appear to be related to normal life changes such as menopause or the post-natal period) should be investigated by a medical practitioner, as it could indicate an underlying medical condition and / or nutrient deficiencies.

Overnights chia oats, Danish style!

Inspired by a recent trip to Copenhagen where we enjoyed one of the best breakfast’s we’ve ever eaten at ‘Grod’; a small food company found in the indoor market near Norreport metro station. ‘Grod’ translates as ‘porridge’ and the company has become renowned for their innovative and delicious take on breakfast.

This overnight oat and chia bowl is hearty, nutritious and rich in protein and can be prepared in 5 minutes before bedtime. In the morning you can choose any toppings you like to make it delicious e.g. fresh or dried fruits, nuts or seeds, nut butter, yoghurt, coconut flakes, spices etc.. It can be eaten hot or cold; to enjoy warm in the morning just place the oat & chia mixture in a pan with a little extra milk, stir and heat gently for 3 – 5 minutes. Place in a bowl and add your toppings.

Ingredients (serves 1)

60g jumbo oats

1 tbsp chia seeds

handful of almonds

200ml dairy free milk

1 tsp cinnamon (or mixed spice, as you like)

TOPPINGS:

2 handfuls of blueberries

1 small apple, grated 

1 tsp of nut butter

1 tbsp dairy free yoghurt

more cinnamon

Method:

1. Place oats, chia seeds, almonds, milk and cinnamon in a bowl. Whisk or stir well, cover and place in the fridge overnight or for at least 2 hours.

2. When ready to eat, remove from the fridge, stir and add more milk if its’s too thick. Then add your toppings in any order you like. Enjoy! 😊

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Apricot, oat and almond balls

C85E4C94-81EB-487D-B915-9F7095635536.jpegDelicious, crunchy balls perfect for an on-the-go snack, or quick breakfast. High in protein, fibre and the minerals iron and calcium.

Keep these in a sealed jar, or pot in the fridge and eat within 7 days. Also suitable for freezing.

Ingredients:

  • 135g porridge oats
  • 160g dried apricots (or use 80g dried apricots & 80g sultanas or dates)
  •  20g maple syrup, or honey
  •  120g almond butter
  •  1 tsp cinnamon
  • 10g – 15g chia seeds
  • 1/2 – 1 tbsp water

Instructions:

Put all the ingredients, except the water, into a food processor and process until coming together.  Add up to 1 tbsp of water if the mixture is too dry. It should come together easily, but not be wet or sticky. If the mixture is too wet, add a few more oats.

Empty the mixture onto a baking mat, or parchment, and roll into small bite size balls. Then roll each ball in desiccated coconut, or ground almonds as you prefer. Keep in a sealed container in the fridge.

Vibrant super green soup!

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Batch cooking at the weekend, or whenever you have a spare couple of hours to spend in the kitchen, is a brilliant way of getting healthy meals lined up for the week ahead. I often batch cook soup, stews and curries on a Sunday afternoon so I have meals on hand for busy week-days.

This soup is really quick & easy to prepare and cook. It’s also a delicious way to eat your daily greens! Leafy green veg,  such as kale, are packed with minerals including iron, calcium and magnesium. They have numerous health benefits; not least evidence shows that people who eat leafy greens every day have younger brains than those who eat them less often!

You will need:

Ingredients: (makes 3 generous bowls)

  • 1 leek, finely sliced
  • 1 courgette, diced
  • 2 handfuls of broccoli florets
  • 50g of kale
  • 50g of spinach
  • 300g frozen peas or petit pois
  • 1.5 pints of vegetable stock
  • a pinch of salt & pepper, to taste
  • a drizzle of cold pressed rapeseed, or light olive oil

Instructions:

  • Drizzle a little oil into a large pan and heat gently, then add the leek. Stir and cook very gently on a low heat until softened.
  • Add the courgette and broccoli, cook for a couple of minutes with the leek and then pour in around 1 litre of the stock.
  • Bring to the boil, add the kale, spinach and peas and turn down to a simmer for around 8 minutes. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover all the vegetables in the pan, add more stock. However this soup tastes best when it is thick and creamy, so don’t overdo the stock!
  • Add a little seasoning to taste and remove from the heat.
  • blend until smooth, serve with a little cracked black pepper on top.

 

 

 

 

Spicy red lentil, butternut & spinach stew – perfect for a chilly day!

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This cosy stew packs in plenty of colourful veggies and is full of fibre. The red lentils provide protein and iron, and buttternut & spinach are a great source of beta carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A). You can adjust the spice to taste..

You will need:

Ingredients: (makes 2 generous servings)

  • A little cold pressed rapeseed oil, or light olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • One 3 inch slice of butternut squash, peeled and diced into bite size chunks
  • 1/2 a red pepper, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 2 handfuls of fine green green beans, topped, tailed and cut in half
  • 50g of baby spinach
  • 1/2 a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 60g of uncooked red lentils
  • 1/2 – 3/4 pint of vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli garlic sauce, or other chilli sauce
  • 1- 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 teaspoon mixed herbs
  • pinch of salt & pepper

Instructions

  • Drizzle a little oil into a large pan, heat gently and add the onion, garlic and paprika. Cook on a low heat, stirring all the time until onion is becoming translucent. Add a little water if becoming dry.
  • Next add the butternut, pepper, green beans, red lentils and tinned tomatoes. Stir for a minute to combine and then pour over 1/2 a pint of the vegetable stock. Add the chilli sauce and the herbs and stir well.
  • Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for around 20 minutes until the squash is softened.
  • Finally add the spinach, and cook for a further 5 minutes until the spinach has wilted down. If at any time the stew becomes too thick add a little more stock, or hot water.
  • Season as you like, taste and add more chilli sauce if you want it spicier!

Serve with bread on the side, or in a bowl with quinoa or brown rice. Enjoy!

New Recipe; Grain free, plant based blondies!

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These delicious little blondies are packed with fibre and protein, free of oil & butter and low in added sugar! They make a great after dinner treat, or a healthy snack to keep your energy levels topped up during the day. Using chickpeas instead of flour gives these blondies a denser texture and a lovely nutty flavour.

This recipe will make approximately 9 – 12 blondies.

The recipe has been lightly adapted from an original by Chocolate Covered Katie.

You will need:

Ingredients

  • 1 can of drained and rinsed chickpeas
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Pinch of rock salt
  • 1 tbsp xylitol, or coconut sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 20g of ground flaxseed or rolled oats
  • 60g of crunchy almond, peanut or other nut butter
  • 20-30g of dark chocolate chunks or chips

Method:

Simply put all the ingredients, except the chocolate chunks, into a food processor. Blend until thick and smooth. Add a little drizzle of water if the batter seems too thick to blend easily, but don’t overdo it as the batter should not be wet or runny. When smooth, add the chocolate chunks and stir to combine.

Place batter into a brownie tin, smooth out the top.

Bake at 180 degrees for 25 – 30 mins until lightly browned.

Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares, otherwise they may crumble.

Eat within 5 days, or freeze to enjoy for longer!

VARIATIONS:

Try adding some walnut, hazelnut or Brazil nut pieces to make these even nuttier, or try adding a little cocoa powder to make chocolate brownies!