Gluten free is a no-go for me

Gluten free. Saying “bye bye” to bread and cakes and everything in between – been there, done that, bought the Tshirt, ripped it up and now it is in the bin.

Nothing as drastic as that in reality, but in my mind that’s the relief I now feel.

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Being ‘gluten free’ in the UK is a common phrase. You could say, ‘it’s having a moment’. We overhear conversations in the street, see it on menus in restaurants, aisles dedicated to products of the kind are growing bigger and bigger in the supermarkets, and companies are using it on their packaging as a marketing ploy for people to buy it, as gluten free means it’s healthier….

HOWEVER if you are coeliac or have Crohn’s Disease, gluten most definitely should be steered well clear of. Thankfully for those of you unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with coeliacs diease the quality of gluten free products has improved drastically over the past few years, people are more aware of what it entails and being actually able to eat something other than lettuce leaves is proving easier than ever.

Back to the gluten free tribe. We seem to have had this idea hammered into our minds that a food with the gluten removed is virtuous. Gluten is the devil that is causing all of our ailments in this modern day. Bloating, constipation, leaky gut, headaches, weight gain, depression, you name it gluten will the reason and once removed you will be healthy and this aura of wellness will surround you forevermore. Scrolling through Instagram you see bloggers saying how they’re gluten, dairy and wheat free excluding it completely from their diets and vowing to never eat some sliced white again. In the news, guaranteed there is a headline at least once a week stating that cutting gluten from your diet will be the magic cure supposedly to cancer and Alzheimer’s (?!?!?). I used to believe, wandering down the free from aisle in Tesco, that I was doing myself some good. Picking up that gluten free bread, perhaps some bakewell tarts and a box of gluten free granola (all gluten and dairy free of course), that I was being healthy. Still eating toast with jam (more, jam with toast in my case), snacking on sweet pastries and cakes and baking with gluten free flours convinced that what I was doing was the right thing. As I’m sure many still do.

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In cafes we see cakes, cookies and brownies – without the gluten – appearing more and more frequently. I’d assume the thought passes through most peoples’ minds, that they wouldn’t dream of having a piece of normal cake, but that gluten free brownie is a no brainier. Compare the ingredients of your usual bread and its gluten free counterpart. First thing you will surely notice is the huge markup in price for something which is at least half the size, it feels like a dense rock and there will be so many unknown ingredients and added things you wouldn’t expect to see in bread to just keep it all stuck together. Next try the gluten free brownie, I’m reckoning the sugar content will be much higher as when you remove one thing it has to be replaced with something else to keep the flavour. And what’s cheaper than white sugar and vegetable fats?

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So what even is gluten? Well, it’s a protein. Gluten is not bread. Found naturally in wheat, spelt, rye and barley and added to convenience foods and sauces where it is used as a thickener. It’s what gives bread that good bounce and chew, and ensures your cake isn’t a pile of crumbs. So it is not the maker of all evil or spawn of the devil it is in fact protein. Perhaps by removing gluten from our diets we are missing out on a source of protein, which is something we all seem to be striving for more of nowadays?

If you’ve ever tried excluding something from your diet you will know how much of a shadow it casts over your life. You see the evictee everywhere you look, bread rolls shopping for milk, toast running for the bus, and croissants playing football in the street. You want it more and more, crave bread at every meal, spend hours in your day searching for where to eat with gluten free options, worrying about that pizza night your friends are planning and what you are going to eat and in the end probably end up crying into half a loaf of bread and butter.

Sucks to be gluten free.

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So, yes, of course if you feel like you have some digestive issues go and see your doctor or a nutritionist or dietitian to get that thing checked out. Don’t cut things out of your diet ‘cos your best friend told you to’, or you want to be as skinny as that blogger on Instagram and she doesn’t eat gluten. Think about the poor people who are coeliac and have to avoid gluten for the rest of their lives. It isn’t a choice for them. Don’t go on a ‘gluten free diet’ to lose weight, if the bread basket is placed in front of you and you fancy some, have some bread, it’s NOT going to kill you!

I have most definitely stopped that gluten free escapade well in its tracks. I now struggle to get through a weekend without a visit to our local baker for a loaf of sourdough, and if that’s not accessible there’s always a stash of rye bread in my freezer. At work if there’s some Danish pastry going free, no way on earth am I going to pass that up, and I am never going to a pay a premium for gluten free oats when oats naturally are gluten free in the first place!! On the sourdough note, due to the grains being fermented it is far more digestible than breads using commercial yeast, never mind tasting better due to a longer prove, so sourdough sure is the way to go.

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When you switch to a wholefoods based diet, or even increase the amount of fruits, veggies, wholegrains and legumes on your plate, you will notice that as a result you are eating less gluten. I’m not preaching here, if you want to go by that label then please do, but for me I find it better to not put up any fences between me and bread. No I don’t eat it everyday, I don’t eat white pasta, or pizza on a regular basis, not for the reason that they contain gluten, more for the fact that I base my diet on lovely veggies, beans, nuts and wholegrains. When I have pasta it’s either wholemeal or spelt and if I go out for a pizza it will be a bloody good one (not one rummaed from the freezer).

This is one of the latest trendy diets, but just don’t fall for it. Save your money for an occasional treat, that coffee from your favourite café, a massage, a dinner out with a loved one, or visit your local shops to buy some local produce and cook up a mega meal. Lots of plants is where it seems to be at, and I reckon it will be sticking around for a long time. And this diet sure ain’t a fad, this one’s a keeper!

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March moments

It’s here again, another month has passed by and March is coming to its end. This past week it has turned from Winter to Springtime, when on Saturday the clocks here in the UK SPRANG forward one hour. Waking to bright gleaming mornings with the birds cheeping is my favourite thing about this time of year. I always like to leave my curtains slightly open to let the sunlight beam through the gap and wake me up gradually. There seems to be an aura around this season, once the dreary weight of winter has lifted we all wander round with the sun on our faces (if we’re lucky) and a rosiness to our cheeks. Walks outdoors without the numerous layers, the arrival of gloriously pink rhubarb, knobbly asparagus and those grubby Jersey Royal potatoes and daffodils and crocuses peeping out from the soil. Not to forget the baby lambs that will soon be dotting the fields, spring is the moment for new life and beginnings in nature and in our lives too. Perhaps adding a new thing into your daily routine like a morning stretch, having a good ‘spring clean’ of your wardrobe or kitchen cupboards or starting that creative project you have always had on the backburner, it is the perfect time for that. These brighter longer days leave us brimming with boundless energy as we come out of hibernation and back into the world outside our front doors.

Not that this months’ musings have been getting me outside, the majority of March has been cold and very very rainy. Cherishing these last winter moments has been my port of call, wrapped in a blanket in my pyjamas. That’s the one thing that is so great about winter, but so long for now and we shall see you in 6 months time.

 

#1 Blogilates

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I’m not a runner. How I wish I was. Neither am I the sort to go to the gym or do a HIIT workout being shouted at to go faster, faster. FASTER!

no thank you very much.

Now exercise is vital for me, but I have learnt over the past year or so that heart racing and sweat inducing activities aren’t what my body responds to well. I find my long limbs cumbersome, and the words BABY GIRAFFE spring to mind. I like to exercise to improve my muscle tone, remain flexible and most importantly keep my mind in check. The only way I find this possible is by doing activities that I enjoy and mixing it up a little to not get bored. For those of you as lazy as me, and don’t want to make yourself look half decent before getting hot and flustered again, the stay at home workout will be just for you. I like to do workout videos on YouTube and Blogilates has been my go to this month. Cassey makes exercising fun. TRULY! Each video is only around 10 or 15 minutes long so it doesn’t need to take hours out of your already busy schedules, but I can guarantee you will finish with quaking abs, breath deepened and a slight sweat on your brow. Give Blogiates a go, and trust me you will get addicted!

 

#2 A Man Called Ove

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After going through all my books to read on my kindle I was rather stuck. I tend to go to my mum for recommendations but considering I’d read them all it was up to me to find the next good read. We do have a very similar taste, my mum and I. Post-apocalyptic Earth or sci fi always tend to feature, but sometimes you just don’t want to be reading about one of the many possibilities that our lives on this planet will come to an end or about being probed by aliens. Sometimes you just need a good giggle and maybe a little cry too. that’s all that I’m asking for. I came across this book, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, a New York Times bestseller which tends to mean its a good’un. Dark humour, heart-warming merged with sadness, a book about life (I’m sure the main characters many of you will find quite relatable). If you’re stuck for what to read next, I really do recommend this, and if you’ve already read it please do give me your recommendations. I’m open to anything, the only thing it has to be is GOOD!!

 

#3 Beauty and the Beast

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It has always been my favourite of the Disney films. For my 6th birthday I got the Christmas Belle outfit so of course wore it to my party, and consequently it still fitted me when I was 16 so wore it to a Halloween party, albeit it was very short. I always wanted to be Belle when I was younger, and when I think back now its not the best goal in life to want to achieve – pretty much unattainable – thank god since then I have formed some other aspirations. The classic Disney film has now been made remade into a new film for 2017 but this time it isn’t animated. It came out the other week so me and my mum had a lovely lunch out together followed by Beauty and the Beast. We did both come out of it crying and singing ‘Be Our Guest’ for the rest of the day. Full of all the same songs as the original, sometimes a bit of showy flamboyancy (that’s for the 3D) but apart from that it really is such a good film and one that I’m glad I didn’t wait for to come on the telly. If this sunny weather doesn’t persist go and watch it in the cinema, you will want to clap at the end, we did!

 

#4 Burford Brown Eggs

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Eggs. Whether they’re poached, scrambled or fried whichever way you take yours the yolk has to be golden and oozy right? RIGHT. When buying eggs I feel you have to buy the best you can afford, always free range and preferably organic. I try to buy local when I can too, but sometimes that’s just not practical and a trip to the supermarket has to suffice. I’ve recently been buying the Burford Brown Eggs, they have a speckley brown shell with promise of a deep orange yolk. The rare breed hens are fed a vegetarian diet rich in corn ensuring that deeply coloured yolk. Yes you do have to pay a little more for them but this ensures the birds have a nice life and have the option to roam, also not forgetting the flavour surely that’s the most important thing of all. You can find them in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Co-op and many health food shops across the country.

 

#5 Kefir

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One of my favourite programs was back this month on the BBC, Trust Me I’m a Doctor. A show debunking the myths and giving us the facts backed up by scientific proof. It’s ever so interesting and obviously with the rise of healthier lifestyles there is a lot of episodes featuring the latest trends and whether or not they work. Think turmeric, nitrates for improved exercise performance, and most recently probiotics. In this episode they were researching wheather probiotics (in the form of a supermarket yogurt drink), prebiotics (the foods that feed your gut bacteria like bananas, onions and artichokes-things high in inulin) or fermented foods (in this case kefir) was the most beneficial for our gut health. After a few weeks of testing they came to the conclusion that fermented foods are the things that will actually increase the number of good bacteria in our guts. So on the back of this of course I had to have a go myself.

I’ve had many attempts in the past – majority failed – of DIY fermented foods, sauerkraut, a killed sourdough starter, abandoned kombucha (to name a few). Kefir is made simply from some grains that you leave to ferment in whole organic milk for 24 hours, after this it thickens and turns slightly sour (think pouring yogurt) with a fizzy effervescence. Lovely on muesli instead of milk, as a substitute for buttermilk or yogurt in baking, blended into a smoothie or just drank straight up! Now though I do have a glut in my fridge at home, so I’m on the search for recipes to get it used up.

 

I can’t  wait until next month to share all my new discoveries and findings, but until then.

Love and sunny wishes for April and beyond

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Stumped about sugar?

Sugar. White and ‘processed’, dark brown, golden syrup, maple syrup, sweets, honey, toffee, caramel, fruit, dried fruit, coconut sugar, Stevia, molasses. Whatever your mind conjures up when I mention this buzzword, we have all been paying particular attention the past year or two to this meddling carbohydrate.

The word refined-sugar has been thrown around by health bloggers, newspapers and the media, a term supposedly describing types of sugar that have gone through a form of processing and had all ‘goodness’ removed. Countless recipes stream down your Pinterest feed that are labelled refined sugar free. Millionaire shortbread bars, brownies, cakes, cookies, all our favourite sweet treats made allegedly healthier. So eating the whole batch in one go is fine, because its not made with sugar right??

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Along with clean eating, gluten free, dairy free, low carb, all these diets which are becoming the norm, refined sugar free is another which has been added to the extensively long list. We are told day after day that sugar is the devil, no longer fat as we used to believe. That it causes cancer, diabetes, obesity, the main ailments that are  putting such a strain on our NHS and healthcare services. Of course sugar is a main ingredient in things such as fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biscuits, but does everyone think to look on the back of packets of sauces, ready meals, condiments, flavoured nuts and crisps? Take a flick through your cupboards and I’m sure you will be surprised at how thinly sugar manages to spread itself.

First things first, sugar isn’t all too great for us, just to put it straight. It’s found naturally in most foods like fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, its very high in energy which in turn gives us energy to move, breathe and basically live. The thing we need to watch out for is added sugars or free sugars as you may often see it written. This term defines products where sugar has been added and isn’t found there naturally. Think of syrups, fizzy drinks, the sugar in your tea or coffee and even in fruit juices. When it comes to free sugars we have the choice of whether to add them or not, unlike total sugars such as lactose in milk and ones found in fruits and vegetables. For adults it’s recommended in the UK that we consume no more than 30g of added sugar every day. That 30g is quite difficult to picture in your head, so think about it like this, 7 tsp/sugar cubes MAX, and for children this number is obviously lower.

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In 2016, Jamie Oliver started the Childhood Obesity Strategy, in a ploy to crack down on increasing obesity rates in the UK. Some of many things he was campaigning for, a sugar tax, a ban on junk food advertising pre-watershed, clearer labelling including a visual sugar content, and reduction in manufacture for excessive sugar. If you watched Jamie’s Sugar Rush you will have seen the impacts that it is having on us all across the world, especially those consuming a typically ‘western diet’. After his petition going to debate in the commons, the government failed to accept the majority of his pleas, only compromising with the sugar tax with no given amount as of yet.

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We are all more aware now of the sugar content in things. I think we’re heading in a good direction, eating more consciously and lower sugar the majority of the time and eating the odd brownie if you fancy it, HELL why not! Of course it’s not going to do you any damage. That REAL brownie is surely going to satisfy that craving more than a sweet potato one full of maple syrup or agave syrup. My main issue is the group of people calling a sin on refined sugar-white caster sugar or soft brown sugar-meanwhile pouring bottles of maple syrup on their 2 ingredient pancakes or baking cakes with coconut sugar as it contains lots of minerals so its better for us.

I’m not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but I know well enough that sugar is sugar. No matter what you want to call it, our body sees all types of sugar in the same way. Whether it’s raw honey, agave syrup or caster sugar, it gives us energy, any extra is stored as fat and doesn’t give us any health benefits. It is true that maple syrup contains potassium, magnesium, zinc and calcium. It’s also true that coconut sugar contains electrolytes and vitamin C along with loads of other minerals, and yes raw honey is antibacterial (perfect if you have a sore throat) however you would have to eat a ton of any of these to reap any benefits. The amount of sugar consumed would obviously then outweigh the ‘good for you’ label.

Another group of people are the sugar free crusaders, shoving all types of sugar containing foods aside, including fresh fruit. That means no syrups, no apples, bananas, possibly the odd portion of berries because they’re ‘lower in sugar’, no dried fruit, juice only if its green made completely from vegetables. You see, I went through this phase, thinking I was doing the right thing. In the sugar free phase, I found I was opting for lots of nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt, avocados, things quite high in fat to fill in that sugar free hole. It wasn’t a great time, and seriously what is wrong with fruit?!? NOTHING, EXACTLY. Fruit contains fibre and lots of it, and if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know all too well that we need a lot of roughage in our diets. Dried fruit too contains lots of fibre, prunes have a reputation for a reason, so sprinkle them on your breakfasts and include them in your diets.

Happily now, I’ve managed to bring myself to a middle ground, keeping my overall added sugar levels to a minimum, but not putting a big red cross over it for the rest of eternity. There is nothing wrong with a little of the sweet stuff. No matter the source of origin your body will recognise it as glucose or fructose-just organic molecules-they aren’t separated into groups whether they came from a medjool date or a sugar cube. Remember those 7 tsp of added sugar to keep an eye on daily, and if you’re a lover of a sweet cuppa perhaps its a good time to start reigning it in. Take it slowly, stretched out over a few weeks and your taste buds will soon adjust.

Changing the odd daily habit will make a huge benefit to your diet in the long run:

  • When baking reduce the quantity of sugar by a third in recipes. It’s the maximum amount of sugar to remove without it affecting the structure and texture of the bake, but the flavour is still just as good.
  • Buy natural yogurt instead of sweetened and add your toppings and mix-ins to your own taste.
  • Instead of having jam or marmalade with butter on toast every morning for breakfast, try a spread of peanut, almond or even cashew butter with some sliced banana. The combination of high protein nut butter with the sugar from the fruit and carbohydrates from the bread will keep you going until lunchtime.
  • If you’re a big fan of fizzy and soft drinks, and water just is tasteless and boring, try infusing jugs of water with fresh fruits, citrus, herbs or vegetables. Things like mint, lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, berries, melon, as good as it sounds!
  • That chocolate bar is the only thing which gets you past 4pm? Banning it is not necessary, if you can learn to love dark chocolate. Preferably 70% or above, the higher the better, as it is lower in sugar and due to the deep intensity a few squares is usually enough.
  • If dairy free milks are your jam, check on the ingredients list. On many of them, sugar will be the second or third on the list. Opt for the unsweetened varieties, or ones made with rice for some natural sweetness.

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Let’s put a stop to this term refined sugar free. It’s defunct. Its all the same stuff. Sprinkling coconut sugar on your Rice Krispies sure ain’t no better than sprinkling white sugar on. So save those extra £££s (that stuff is expensive) and stick to a bowl of porridge!

Thanks for reading my little rant, if you have anything else to add or want to join in the conversation please do comment below.

Until next time, love and sweet blessings

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