Top 5 Immune Boosting Diet Habits

Nutrition for health | November 8, 2015

As a nutrition expert I feel pressure to look the picture of health at all times. Glossy hair, long nails, glowing skin and a skip in my step are all evidence of the nutritious healthy lifestyle I live. However sometimes the odds are stacked against me and over-training, stress, a change in seasons and lack of sleep lead to a depressed immune system… and a snuffly nose to match. So I have spent the past week counselling junior athletes on how to boost their immunity through diet, whilst trying to disguise my own coughs and sneezes. 

Exercise boosts the immune system, but too much then weakens it, increasing the frequency of coughs and colds in those who undertake intense exercise. Research has also shown that athletes are more susceptible to cough and colds for 1-2 weeks following race events. This is most likely due to adrenaline and cortisol suppressing the immune system. It’s important to avoid over-training – think quality over quantity and make sure you are on a sensible training schedule which includes adequate time for recovery.

“So what supplement should I take?” is what I then hear. Vitamin C? Echinacea? Glutamine? There’s big bucks to be made in this area and so many research studies have been funded to see if these nutrients help reduce the immune-supressing effect on exercise. None of these studies have shown any significant benefit. However there are adjustments you can make to your diet that have a proven benefit towards ensuring your coughs and colds are less frequent and shorter in duration: 

  1. Eat sufficient carbohydrates and protein: If you are well-fuelled with carbohydrates your body produces less stress hormones during exercise. Taking carbohydrates during exercise (such as sports drinks during exercise lasting longer than 60minutes) also reduces these stress hormones further, which protects your immune system. 
  2. Avoid excessive fat intake
  3. Ensure adequate intake of  Iron and Zinc from food in your diet. Think seafood and lean meat. 
  4. Eat plenty of vitamins A, C and E. ‘Eat a rainbow’ to get these anti-oxidant ACE vitamins in.
  5. Eat loads of vitamins B6 and B12. Choose wholegrain bread, pasta and rice to maximise B vitamin intake. 

So back to ‘healthy eating’ and timing your intake around exercise – try not to run on empty and always take your recovery snack immediately after exercise. For more practical tips and links to the primary evidence on this subject check out this Australian Sports Commission article.

Here’s another recipe to try to help you get all the immune boosting nutrients from real food – the only proven way to boost your immunity via nutrition. Have a look at the nutrient breakdown, there are plenty of anti-oxidant vitamins here. For even more zinc choose seafood such as oysters or mussels. For an iron boost how about mackerel – with more iron per 100g than steak plus it’s omega-3 content it makes a perfect dinner choice for athletes.

Tuna, sweet potato wedges and roasted veggies
Serves 2
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
  1. 2 tuna steaks
  2. 1 large sweet potato
  3. 1 red pepper
  4. 1 orange pepper
  5. 1 red onion
  6. 1 portabella mushroom
  1. peel the potato and cut into thick wedges
  2. chop the vegetables
  3. coat the veg and potatoes with 2 tbsp olive oil in a bowl and toss
  4. spread in a thin layer atop greaseproof paper on 1 or 2 large baking sheets
  5. roast in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 40minutes
  6. meanwhile griddle the tuna for 4 minutes each side
Nom Nom Nerd
Nutrition Labelling:
Nutrient per 100g %RI per 602g serving %RI
Energy kJ 390 4% 2345 27%
Energy kcal 92 4% 555 27%
Fat 1.4g 2% 8.6g 12% Low
Saturated Fat 0.3g 1% 1.5g 7% Low
Total Sugars 6.5g 7% 39.0g 43% High
Salt 0.1g 1% 0.4g 6% Low
Protein 9.1g __ 54.5g 109%
Vitamin A 276ug ___ 1661ug 208%
Vitamin C 33mg ___ 200mg 250%
Vitamin E 1.34mg ___ 8.07mg 67%
Iron 0.67mg ___ 4.01mg 29%
Zinc 0.44mg ___ 2.63mg 26%

Protein powders – are they safe? are they necessary?

blueberry protein smoothie

Nutrition for health | October 13, 2015

The biggest guys at the gym all take protein powder, celebrity athletes endorse it, and just look at the photos on the tubs, these powders get you ripped! Or do they? Are protein supplements just burning a hole in your wallet? Are they replacing fibre containing meals and leaving you constipated? Or worse still are they negatively affecting your health from contaminants undeclared on the label?

Some people have higher protein requirements than the general population, and could potentially benefit from a protein supplement:
– endurance athletes in heavy training
– Strength athletes in the initial stages of training
– athletes trying to gain body mass.
Most people will meet their protein needs easily through regular diet, but if you are vegetarian or vegan you may need to consider protein powder. Protein powders could also be more convenient for time-restricted carnivores. The key number to remember is 20g protein. This should be high biological value (i.e. animal or soy protein) to contain all the amino acid building blocks to repair and grow your muscle. Any more protein than this does not stimulate any more muscle growth. Taking 20g protein several times a day can keep muscle protein synthesis maximised during the 24hrs after a workout. To achieve this through normal diet see my blog post on ‘Tone up with your 20g recovery protein’.

The main issue here is that the supplements industry is unregulated. Protein powders are not classed as food or medicine, and so many brands when randomly tested have been found not to match up with the label. There have been several lawsuits over the past year over protein supplements containing half the amount of protein promised on the label, but containing extra carbohydrates. They can also be contaminated with steroids and stimulants, which is a risk you cannot take if you are undergoing doping for elite level sports (visit WADA for more information on this).

If you have made the decision that you would benefit from a protein supplement you will need to consider how to take it effectively and safely.
Effective: – Take the supplement in portion sizes equivalent to no more than 20g protein, any more than this cannot be used by the body.
– Aim to take the supplement within the 30minute ‘recovery window’ after exercise.
– Take alongside carbohydrates in a ratio of 4:1 carbs:protein. The carbohydrates will encourage muscle synthesis by stimulating the release of insulin, a natural anabolic hormone.
– Choose a brand that has been tested so you know the contents match up with the label: look for the Informed Sport logo on the packet.
Safe: – I would not recommend taking any supplement that has not been safety tested in a laboratory. Look for the Informed Sport or NSF mark on the packet. Don’t worry there are absolutely loads who go through this quality assurance process, you will still have a wide choice.

In conclusion I’d say yes, protein powders can be safe, but are they necessary? No. You can get the same protein from REAL FOOD, it’s not that time consuming, and it tastes better.  Seeds whizzed up into smoothies are almost flavourless, and once blitzed give a lovely angel delight texture with no grainy bits. Chia seeds particularly are great for adding extra protein and have the added bonus of omega three oils, perfect for anti-inflammatory effects post exercise. I’ve been making this ‘recovery smoothie’ for years and absolutely love it. Give it a go, its beats anything out of a tin or a packet.


Chia & Blueberry Protein Recovery Shake
Yields 1
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Total Time
5 min
Total Time
5 min
  1. 1 cup frozen blueberries
  2. 1 banana
  3. 1 heaped tsp chia seeds
  4. 4 tbsp low fat natural yoghurt
  5. 300ml semi-skimmed milk
  1. Put all ingredients into a blender.... and blend!
  1. use a frozen banana if you like your smoothies extra thick, or if you fancy a smoothie bowl for the added satisfaction of eating your smoothie with a spoon
  2. Substitute in unsweetened, calcium fortified soya milk and soya yoghurt for a dairy free alternative
  3. A full portion would constitute one of your 5 daily meals/ snacks
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 723g serving %RI
Energy kJ 258 3% 1866 22%
Energy kcal 61 3% 443 22%
Fat 1.4g 2% 10.5g 15% Low
Saturated Fat 0.7g 3% 4.7g 23% Low
Total Sugars 8g 8% 57.9g 64% High
Salt 0.1g 1% 0.6g 10% Low
Protein 21.1g __ 2.9g

Beef Jerky – are you man enough?

beef jerky

Nutrition for health | October 6, 2015

A request for ‘man snacks’ came recently from one of the alpha males in my extended family. I  laughed initially at the thought of snacks being gender aligned, until I took myself and my husband as an example:

Snacks for me: – Fresh fruit, dates, dried apricots, dark chocolate, home made oat cookies, bliss balls.

Snacks for hubby: – Crisps, nuts, meat sandwich. Sometimes all three combined. 

I see a theme here. Unsurprisingly this topic has already been extensively researched. A well referenced article in the Guardian concludes that there is little science to explain why men should eat in a different way to women, but it’s a cultural thing. Men eat steak to show they are men. Women eat chocolate because we have learnt that it’s a forbidden treat just for us. 

Whether it’s culture or innate the fact remains that men generally prefer savoury foods. This clashes with many sports nutrition products. Sports shakes, gels, bars, drinks are all generally sweet. There’s also the problem with healthy snacks, if you’re not after something sweet but you need a snack vegetable crudites may not cut it for you, and will certainly not enhance sports performance.

So I offer you my top 3 savoury man snacks. High in protein, nutrients and healthy fats these snacks will keep you full and help you sidestep the mid-afternoon empty calorie hiccup. If you’re trying to build muscle at the gym a high protein snack will help contribute to your 5-6 /d protein based meals or snacks. Your body cannot utilise more than 20g protein in one sitting so spacing it through the day helps encourage muscle growth during the recovery phase post resistance training (research).  

    1. Jerky: Lean seasoned ready to eat meat. Good for kit bag post workout or briefcase post long day at the office. Pretty much the ideal high protein snack if you’re careful about which you buy if going for shop-bought. Check the labels and choose the ones that have less salt and sugar and are actual meat slices rather than reconstituted meat. Preferably make you own form the recipe below, or if beef’s not your thing substitute in turkey, pork or salmon. One 30g portion provides Calories: 89 kcal Protein: 12 g
    2. Almonds: Almonds are high in fibre, high in satiating healthy mono-unsaturated fats and low in calories relative to other nuts. Studies have shown that eating a handful of almonds daily leads to less calories consumed overall and enhanced weight loss and fat loss when compared to diets higher in carbohydrates without almonds (summary of research on  One handful (22 nuts) provides Calories: 164 kcal Protein: 6g
    3. Vegetable crisps with humous: If you don’t own a mandolin buy one now! Homemade veggie crisps are a healthy & delicious alternative to potato crisps (chips). Eat with humous for the protein and healthy fats to make it a satiating snack. Experiment with different veggies – personal favourites here are beetroot, parsnip and butternut squash. Coat with favourite seasonings – I love smoked paprika or garlic salt. Thinly slice, spritz with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning and pop in the oven for 15min at 180degreesC. Leave in the oven for an extra hour with the heat off checking every now and then to see if crisp. 


Beef Jerky
Yields 10
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Prep Time
24 hr
Prep Time
24 hr
  1. 500g lean beef steak eg sirloin
  2. 70ml sweet cider (or unsweetened apple juice)
  3. 1tbsp balsamic vinegar
  4. 1tbsp fish sauce
  5. 1tsp dijon mustard
  6. 1tbsp honey
  7. 1tsp liquid smoke
  8. a good few grinds of a black pepper mill
  9. 1tsp smoked paprika
  10. 1tbsp garlic powder
  11. 1tsp onion powder
  12. 1tsp salt
  13. 1tbsp sesame oil
  14. 1tsp crushed red chilli
  1. Cut away all visible fat from the steaks
  2. Put in the freezer for 60min to firm up and make slicing thinly easier
  3. Cut into 6mm thick strips. Cut at an angle to the grain of the meat.
  4. Put into a zip lock bag and add all remaining ingredients. Mix well.
  5. Leave in fridge to marinate for 24hrs.
  6. Lay marinated steak slices directly onto your oven rack. If they fall through use a cooling rack on top of the oven racks.
  7. Lay an oven tray or a sheet of foil over the base of your oven to catch drips.
  8. Dry out in oven at 70degreesC with door wedged open with a wooden spoon. Leave in oven for 3hours, then turn over and leave for another 3hrs.
  9. The jerky is ready when you can tear a piece of meat off but it doesn't snap (which means its overdone).
  1. If you don't eat beef try pork, turkey or salmon.
  2. Liquid smoke can be hard to come by in shops but is easy to order online. The recipe works well without it too.
Adapted from the healthy foodie
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 30g serving %RI
Energy kJ 591 7% 378 4%
Energy kcal 141 7% 90 4%
Fat 5.6g 8% 3.6g 5% Med
Saturated Fat 1.8g 9% 1.2g 6% Med
Total Sugars 2.5g 2% 1.6g 1% Low
Salt 1.1g 18% 0.7g 11% Med
Protein 18.8g __ 6g

The French Paradox – a bikini body on cheese, fois gras & red wine

Helen shopping at Nice market

Nutrition for health | September 29, 2015

I spent the weekend just gone slightly in awe of delicately framed French women savouring traditional rich French cuisine. The French Paradox that struck me here was not so much the lack of heart disease in a country consuming foods so loaded with saturated fats, but the lack of pot belly. How do these ladies maintain a bikini body on a diet full of cheese, fois gras and red wine?

As with all dietary studies there are confounding factors. It’s not just diet that plays a role in attainment of a perfect bikini body but also exercise, genes, socio-economic status etc. However my own personal observational study of the plates of these lean women in question drew parallels with existing research and theories already reported:

1. Mindful eating. The French take time out to eat. A 35 hr week allows time for a leisurely lunch break to sit down in a cafe and eat a proper balanced meal with friends. Each mouthful is chewed, savoured and acknowledged and so more satiating than a sandwich eaten whilst answering e-mails at the work computer (more in ‘Todays Dietitian’).

2. More fruit and vegetables. Yes, it will come as no surprise to anyone that has visited France that the French consume more fruit and veg per capita than British or Americans (report). Any serving of cheese, fois gras or steak comes with a mountain of salad and vegetables, and local markets are always full of people shopping for fresh fruit and veg.

3. The 50% rule. The portions are not all huge, and if they are they are not always finished. Leaving yourself just 80% full at the end of a meal, or only asking for a half portion to start with is common in France (there are several books on this point alone).

4. Cook from scratch. Convenience foods are much less common in France. Just Eat Real Food, hashtag JERF is certainly not a new concept but just a way of life to majority of those on the continent.

So there is a way to enjoy rich high calorie foods as part of a diet that will keep you slim and healthy. Eat them mindfully, not too much, and alongside all the other healthy fruits, vegetables, fish and wholegrains we know we should be eating. I’ve incorporated all those principles into my fig, stilton and chicory cheese course ‘recipe’ here. Eating this after exercise will provide you with 17g protein for recovery and the natural sugar from the figs makes up the ideal 4:1 ratio carbs: protein to ensure your glycogen stores are replenished efficiently. Exercise boosts your healthy HDL cholesterol production, and so post exercise is the best time to eat this as the HDL will ferry away the bad LDL to the liver to be metabolised. Bon appetit!

Figs Stilton & Chicory cheese course
Yields 2
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  1. 5 large ripe figs
  2. 2 heads of chicory (endive)
  3. 100g stilton
  1. Eat the fig flesh and cheese with the chicory leaves as if they were crackers
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of pack nutrition labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 228g serving %RI
Energy kJ 974 11% 2216 26%
Energy kcal 232 11% 529 26%
Fat 8.7g 12% 19.8g 28% Med
Saturated Fat 5.1g 25% 11.6g 58% High
Total Sugars 28g 31% 64g 71% High
Salt 0.5g 8% 1.2g 20% Med
Protein 7.3g __ 16.6g

Tone up with your 20 grams of recovery protein, and make it fishy!

salt cured rainbow trout with tomato salad and rye bread

Nutrition for health | September 21, 2015

As a nerd I like to have a set of rules to work to. I like numbers, and I like it when they’re based on research. It also helps when that number answers a question I get asked a lot: how much protein should I eat? For ideal recovery post workout that’ll be 20 grams.

Does protein help you build big muscles? Yes. Does it help repair muscles after a workout reducing risk of injuries and soreness? Yes. Does it help with glycogen replenishment? Yes. So the more protein the better? No! Research has shown that the most protein your body can benefit from in one hit is 20 grams above which you could be doing more damage than good (full study here).

Over the course of the day you need 1.2g/kg -1.7g/kg protein, and so 10-20g protein portions can be spread over 5-6 meals/snacks during the day, making sure there’s always some protein in your diet within the 30minute recovery window after exercise. 20g protein is equivalent to a small chicken breast, a fillet of fish, half a block of tofu, a can of beans, 3 eggs, a handful of prawns or a large pot of yoghurt.

No need to spend all your money on sports supplements, you can get your high quality protein from REAL FOOD. There’s plenty of evidence for chocolate milk in recovery also due to it’s 4:1 carb: protein ratio – just a glass of milk and Nesquick, or a bottle of Yazoo will work. If you’re thinking the same as a previous junior athlete I worked with “but I don’t like the chocolate flavoured ones” then don’t panic, it’s OK – the other flavours work just as well!

The recipe for todays blog could have been a breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack or smoothie. I’ve got loads of 20g 4:1 carbs:protein recipes up my sleeve, but I decided to share this one with you because 1. I think it makes me look quite clever, 2. It’s delicious, 3. I’ve over-dosed on salmon recently and am looking for alternatives sources of omega-3’s. Omega-3 fats are excellent post exercise for their anti-inflammatory properties, and reduce muscle soreness after exercise (Clin J Sport Med 2009).

So get bulked up on your 20 grams, and make it fishy!


Home Salt Cured Rainbow Trout
Yields 2
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  1. 2 rainbow trout fillets
For the cure
  1. 20g sea salt
  2. 40g caster sugar
  3. 1tsp fennel seeds
  4. 1tsp corriander seeds
  5. 1/2tsp black peppercorns
  1. Put all cure ingredients into food processor and blitz till fine
  2. cut a piece of foil 4 times the size of the trout fillet
  3. Use 1/4 of the cure mix to make a bed for the trout in the centre of the foil
  4. place trout on salt mix skin side down
  5. sprinkle 2/3 remaining cure onto fish
  6. place other fillet on top flesh to flesh
  7. sprinkle remaining cure on top
  8. fold up foil into a neat parcel and place on a dish to catch juices
  9. top with a wooden board and leave in the fridge for the cure to work its magic over 6 days
  10. after 6 days rinse the fish and pat dry with kitchen paper
  11. Finely slice off the skin and serve with rye bread and salad
Adapted from The Ethicurean Cookbook
Adapted from The Ethicurean Cookbook
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of pack nutrition labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 553g serving %RI
Energy kJ 787 9% 1086 12%
Energy kcal 187 9% 258 12%
Fat 5g 7% 6.9g 9% Med
Saturated Fat 1.1g 5% 1.5g 7% Low
Total Sugars 2.4g 2% 3.3g 3% Low
Salt 2.9g 48% 4g 66% High
Protein 15.2 __ 21g

Must eat nuts and beans. The vegetarian athletes mantra.

tofu and chickpea red curry

Nutrition for health | September 9, 2015

I’ve become a weekday quasi-vegetarian. It happened by accident really. My husband has been working away from home Monday to Friday and so I’ve been cooking what I crave and what the children like – which is mainly cheese, beans, fish and vegetables. Sometimes chicken – but since our move we no longer have a decent local butcher, and the long aisles packed full of meat from variable backgrounds at the supermarkets have put me off carnivorous activity. 

So I came to question the quality of our fully vegetarian dinners, and whether they could actually be healthier and better for sport than the meat alternative. Look at Martina Navratilova and Dave Scott, if it works for them maybe going veggo is the way forward. Clearly some athletes thrive on a vegetarian diet, and part of the reason is that removing animal protein from our diets often results in reduced fat intake and weight loss. Also protein is replaced with carbohydrate which helps performance particularly for endurance athletes. 

One main issue with a vegetarian diet is to be sure that high quality protein is consumed to allow for muscle growth and repair. Plant proteins often miss one or more essential amino acid, and so different types of plant foods need to be combined to provide the all amino acids e.g beans and grains, or nuts and seeds. The Australian Institute of Sport recommend that vegetarians  consume 10% more protein than general athlete recommendations as plant proteins are less well absorbed. They also suggest experimenting with vegetarian meat alternatives when your training load is high. At other times good sources of vegetarian protein are: lentils, beans and peas, tofu, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein. There’s also a higher requirement for iron and calcium as they are less easily absorbed from a vegetarian diet. See the AIS’s nutrition tips for vegetarian athletes.

So you really can excel in sport on vegetarian diet, you just need to get the balance right. Just think ‘must eat nuts and beans’…. or ‘must eat lentils and tofu’  (but that’s less catchy). Whatever your veggie protein keep it varied and don’t be afraid to experiment with other meat alternatives. And try out my Thai red curry recipe – I’ve made this perfectly balanced for recovery with  4:1 ratio carbs:protein, and hits the recommended 20g protein per portion, so it’s perfect for after a training session. 

Thai red curry with chickpeas & tofu
Yields 4
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
  1. 1tbsp red thai curry paste
  2. 400ml coconut milk
  3. 1/2 butternut squash (0.5kg), peeled and diced into bite sized pieces
  4. 200g green beans
  5. 1 x 400g tin chickpeas
  6. 1tsp rapeseed oil
  7. 300g plain compressed tofu, cut into 1" cubes
  8. 1tbsp fish sauce
  9. juice of 1/2 lime
  10. a handful of fresh coriander
  11. 2 cups Brown rice
  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add brown rice - boil for 25minutes or until cooked
  2. Add the red curry paste and the solid top layer of coconut milk to a large heated saucepan, cook for a minute
  3. add the rest of the coconut milk and the butternut squash, simmer for 7min
  4. add the beans and chickpeas, simmer for 5 minutes
  5. meanwhile in a separate pan heat the rapeseed oil and fry the tofu cubes until brown and crisp on the outside
  6. add the fish sauce and lime juice to the curry
  7. serve on a bed of brown rice topped with the crispy tofu cubes, a sprinkling of fresh coriander, a wedge of lime and a few cashew nuts.
  1. Keep tasting - I love loads of lime juice so keep adding till it tastes right to you. You can also add more fish sauce or soy sauce if it needs more salt, and freshly shopped red chilli if it needs more heat.
  2. Do you eat fish? This curry taste great with salmon and/or prawns instead of the chickpeas and tofu. I also love it with pakchoi and sugarsnap peas.
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of pack nutrition labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 553g serving %RI
Energy kJ 329 3% 1816 21%
Energy kcal 78 3% 431 21%
Fat 1.5g 2% 8.5g 12% Low
Saturated Fat 0.2g 1% 1.2g 6% Low
Total Sugars 1.7g 1% 9.2g 10% Low
Salt 0.2g 3% 0.9g 15% Low
Protein 3.6 __ 20g

It’s dairy free so it’s healthy, right?


Nutrition for health | September 2, 2015

About a year ago my mum commented on how many recipes she was finding containing coconut oil. ‘Is it really that good for you?’ she asked me. My life at that time was a blur of nappies and playgroups, so I really hadn’t taken much notice to the ‘food revolution’ that had been taking place. The revolution which had meant that my own mother who has happily drank milk her whole life with no adverse side-effects and stocks no less than 6 different types of cheese in her fridge had inadvertently started embarking on a dairy free baking spree.

So what was my answer? Well ‘yes’ I said, it’s very healthy for people with a dairy allergy. Why are you using it?! But as I came gradually out of the abyss of nights with 5hrs broken sleep, and Mumsnet being my only reading material, I also found what a massive following the free-from movement had. Then my own friends started cutting out the white stuff for the sake of their own bloated tummies and their poor newborn babies with green frothy poo’s. And so those people with lactose (milk sugar) intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, and breastfeeding mums whose babies have milk protein or lactose allergy or intolerance could now finally feel comfortable speaking openly about the nasty side effects many suffer from ingesting too much dairy. Not just that but they now had a plethora of recipes to choose from to help ease their symptoms. 

However there has also been a huge swathe of young health conscious social media addicts that have been caught up in all this. Those who have never had any negative symptom associated with ingesting dairy going the whole hog & totally cutting it out. Many believe they are helping to prevent disease and that it is just not natural to eat dairy. And others I fear are just following a trend, and trying to mirror the intake of the svelte lifestyle guru’s out there on the net. Even the most educated of my friends are shocked when I tell them almond milk is no more nutritious than cows milk. This is dangerous. Dairy is a major food group and when cut out could lead to inadequate calcium intake leading to brittle bones. If you think you may be intolerant to dairy you should see your GP to obtain a referral to see a dietitian who will help balance your diet. see the advice at Allergy UK 

My personal opinion is to celebrate the dairy free recipes that work. Modify them to suit the contents of your pantry or your tolerance. I will often use recipes including coconut oil and just substitute butter as I luckily have no intolerance to dairy. If you are able to there are advantages to using butter over coconut oil. Butter is 50% saturated fat, the ‘bad fat’ that is thought to increase cholesterol compared to 87% saturated fat in coconut oil. It also has more healthy mono-unsaturated fat at 20%, compared to 6% in coconut oil.

But these free from recipes – thank you Deliciously Ella – are there for when we do need to cater for ourselves or our friends feeding their colicky baby, or with irritable bowel or genuine milk allergy or intolerance. Get baking!

Oat & banana choc chip cookies
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  1. 3 large ripe bananas
  2. 4 tablespoons almond butter or peanut butter
  3. 1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter
  4. 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  5. 1 1/2 mugs oats (180g)
  6. bananas
  7. 100g dark (at least 70% cocoa, the darker the better) chocolate, cut into small chunks
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C, (fan 180)
  2. Mash bananas with a fork until smooth
  3. add nut butter, oil or butter and maple syrup to the bananas and mix
  4. add oats and chocolate chunks
  5. line a baking tray with baking paper, and scoop tablespoons of the mixture onto the tray
  6. Bake for 18-20 minutes
  7. Remove when cookies become brown and leave to cool for 5 minutes
Adapted from Deliciously Ella
Adapted from Deliciously Ella
Nom Nom Nerd
Front of pack nutrition labelling :

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 71g serving %RI
Energy kJ 1247 14% 882 10%
Energy kcal 298 14% 211 10%
Fat 12g 17% 9g 12% Med
Saturated Fat 4.9g 24% 3.5g 17% Med
Total Sugars 18g 20% 13g 14% Med
Salt 0.10g 1% 0.00g 0% Low
Protein 7.7g __ 5.4g

Pecan brownie bliss balls

helen and her daughter reaching for the bliss balls

I LOVE bliss balls. I didn’t know what they were 12 months ago, and now I’m obsessed. My discovery came about when my eldest decided to drop his midday nap. No longer could I put him down for a sleep after his lunch and then munch on chocolate in secrecy. I had to find some sort of filling sweet treat that was clean eating, good for you, and tasted delicious. and then I found bliss balls!

Bliss balls in their purest form are blitzed up dates and nuts rolled into balls. Perfect for dairy free, gluten free, refined sugar free, guilt free snacks. No need to sneak these in while the kids are napping, or while the family sleeps at night Nigella-style. And because they are high in protein and fibre they fill you up so you don’t end up over-indulging. 

This particular bliss ball recipe combines my own passion for chocolate, my husband’s passion for pecan pie, and my children’s passion for dates. or anything sweet for that matter! And then there’s their cheeky outer layer, which adds another level of taste as well as pretty decoration. I make them aaaaall the time:

– I use the coconut coated ones as snacks to keep in a Tupperware pot in my kit bag for post workout alongside a pint of milk – they are delicious washed down with milk, and combined the snack provides the perfect 4:1 ratio for post workout recovery (see the nerdy bit for the science behind this).

– I also used them in little see-through wrappers for my daughter’s birthday piñata – the children loved them and we avoided any psycho sugar highs!

– If you want a pretty looking after dinner treat for guests these work well too – nice and easy to prepare in advance, I like to bring them out with coffee after a BBQ or dinner party.

– They are basically always in our fridge to be taken post exercise, post pre-school, post long day at the office. sports bottle and bliss balls on grass

Pecan brownie bliss balls
Yields 20
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
  1. 20 Medjool dates (400g)
  2. 150g pecans
  3. 3 tbsp cocoa (use 100% cocoa or cacao powder)
  4. 1 tbsp peanut butter
  5. 2 tbsp pure maple syrup (or agave/ rice malt syrup)
  1. Blitz up the pecans in a food processor until they’re crumbs
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until it clumps together
  3. Roll teaspoon sized balls between the palms of your hands
  4. Coat with chosen coating, or leave plain as they are
  5. Pop in the fridge or freezer for an hour to firm up.
Nom Nom Nerd


…and now for the nerdy bit:

4:1 recovery

One of these bliss balls taken with a small 150ml cup of semi-skimmed milk provides you with the ideal 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates: protein needed for optimal recovery post exercise. This is best taken as soon after exercise as possible, preferably within 30 mins during your ‘recovery window’. If your body weight is around 60kg this will provide you with sufficient carbs, but if you are closer to 80kg you should increase to two bliss balls and 300ml milk to reach you recommended target of 1.2-1.5g carbohydrate/kg/hr post exercise.

Carbs taken during this recovery window help you restock your muscle glycogen stores giving you more energy for your next workout, preventing that feeling of heavy legs when you’re doing lots of training. The dates and maple syrup in this recipe contain significant amounts of glucose, an easily digested simple carbohydrate, so will get into the muscles quickly. The carbs will also result in the release of insulin encouraging muscle growth.

Protein from the milk and nuts will then be available for muscle growth and repair, leading to increased muscle bulk and strength, and preventing injuries and over-training. Good quality protein like meat, eggs and dairy contain all essential amino acids. The milk in this recovery snack will therefore lead to more muscle growth than if the protein was coming from just nuts or vegetables.

I personally have a bit of a journey home post workout, so I usually take an insulated drinks bottle with me containing milk to keep in my kit bag & take with the bliss balls asap – I’m always starving and so so thirsty after exercise, so I find this recovery snack really refreshing. But if that doesn’t appeal you can always just grab a pint of milk from a newsagent post workout, or eat your bliss ball with a take-away latte, perfect for after an early morning session – yum!

Check out the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand on Nutrient Timing (2008)

Front of pack nutrition labelling :

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 131g serving %RI
Energy kJ 551 6% 720 8%
Energy kcal 132 6% 172 8%
Fat 5.9g 8% 7.7g 11% Med
Saturated Fat 1.3g 6% 1.7g 8% Low
Total Sugars 15g 16% 19g 21% Med
Salt 0.10g 1% 0.10g 1% Low
Protein 3.6g __ 6.2g

Pick Your Own Broad Bean Perfection

helen and baby eating strawbs in front of 'no eating in field please' sign

oooooo, yeah – it’s Summer in Blighty and I’m reminded of why we moved back here from downunder. Warm sunny looooong days spent in lush green fields eating the freshest tastiest produce our local farms have to offer. Well OK, it’s not like that everyday, but today it totally was!! 

To some people ‘pick your own’ means strawberries. Fair enough, they’re bloomin’ tasty, and the kids love it. But to me I think of the VEGGIES. Long lines of courgettes with their pretty golden flowers, the greenest crunchiest runner beans, and broad beans in their cute fury jackets just waiting to be popped open and devoured. 

kids shelling broad beans

But hold on… am I really getting excited over broad beans?? What to do with the vegetable that as a child was the only thing I would refuse to eat. The rubbery wrinkly grey things that appeared every so often next to the lamb chops at dinner? 

I have a recipe that will turn any broad bean hater. After tasting this you will hunt those poor overlooked beans down and pick sackfulls of them, stocking them up in the freezer for the months to come. There is nothing quite like the taste of a lunch that has been freshly picked that morning. Thank you Ottelenghi for providing the inspiration for this dish. I just never knew you could pop the tasty bits out of their skins. And your secret tip for adding a bit of oomph to any dish – just add lemon juice, feta or coriander? well here we’ve got all three…. OOMPH!! bowl of broad beans, yum

Broad bean & feta summer celebration salad
Yields 4
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Prep Time
20 min
Prep Time
20 min
  1. 300g broad beans
  2. 200g asparagus
  3. 1/2 shallot finely chopped
  4. 1 tbsp lemon juice
  5. 2 tbsp olive oil
  6. 100g feta cheese
  7. small handful coriander
  8. salt & pepper to taste
  1. Blanch asparagus for 3 minutes in a pan of already boiling water, then run cold water over to stop them cooking.
  2. Blanch broad beans for 6 minutes, run cold water over, then press gently to remove skin.
  3. Place greens in bowl, add remaining ingredients, mix and EAT!
  1. If you like strong flavours try adding red chilli and sesame oil.
Nom Nom Nerd

…and now for the nerdy bit!

So I’m feeling all virtuous for eating my vibrant green salad, but what’s actually so good about bread beans?

Broad beans are a great source of folate. Folate is necessary for red blood cell production, tissue repair, and cell division. This is why folate is necessary for women trying to get pregnant (to prevent neural tube defects), for men at this stage also (for spermatogenesis). It also means it’s an important vitamin for athletes due to the high red cell turnover during intense training. Athletes are often conscious to have enough iron in their diets, but Folate sometimes gets left behind. There has also been reported a link between folate intake athletes reducing homocysteine levels, and therefore reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.

One portion of this salad provides 60% of your folate needs. Take a bowl of breakfast cereal in the mornings to meet the remainder, a handful of spinach in your lunchtime sandwich, red lentils, broccoli and avocado are also great sources.

Hot Yoga Thirst Quencher

Helen looking sweaty after a hot yoga class

Who is this lady in the image above? Has she just jumped out of the shower? Has she been caught in a sudden downpour? Nope. She’s just put herself through 90 minutes of 40 degree hot26 yoga. A wonderful child-free, stretch beyond the stretch 90 minutes of unimaginably sweaty yoga. But unfortunately I could not clear my mind and focus fully on aligning my chakras. I’m a nerd and I cannot help it. I had questions swirling around that needed answers – how much body weight will I loose in sweat during the class? What carbohydrate percentage would be appropriate for a hot yoga class? Should I ignore the yoga teacher and down my drink in one or will that really be worse for me and make me dizzy? 

Well, after recapping on the science in this area, and putting this into practise in the kitchen and studio I’ve come up with the ultimate Hot Yoga Thirst Quencher. All the science I quote here is from the American College of Sports Medicine position paper on Nutrition and Athletic Performance, which is still the holy grail of sports nutrition. Have a read!

We need to avoid dehydration. Water deficit in excess of 2-3% body mass decreases exercise performance. But the amount we need to drink to avoid this varies from person to person. I personally have the remarkable ability to sweat from literally every pore in my body. Even my thighs were sweating today, and yet the ladies around me seemed to have had more luck with their genes as only a couple of beads glistened on their brows. It’s important not to drink too much as then it just sits in your stomach making you feel uncomfortable, or even worse making you need the loo mid asana. 

So how to judge your sweat rate and hydration needs? The best ways to self monitor hydration are urine colour and body weight. Pre- and post workout urine should be the colour of straw, any darker pre and you’re not drinking enough in the lead up to your workout. Any darker post, and you haven’t taken enough in during. Weight is a shocker. I lost 1.7kg of pure sweat during my hot yoga. Try to weigh wearing the same thing – preferably just underwear as your clothes will hold onto the sweat. Aim to keep you weigh the same, but if you are losing you need to replace every kilo with 1-1.5L fluids. 

It’s recommended to replace carbs during exercise 30-60g/hr especially if exercise is over 60mins, if not eaten well before, or if exercising in an extreme environment (ie heat!). This should be a 6-8% solution for best absorption. Sodium and potassium will replate sweat electrolyte losses, and sodium stimulates thirst and fluid retention. Caffeine can also help in a sports drink, but more for alertness to enhance performance.

But why am I telling you all of this? The nerd that I am, I have already number crunched and taste tested and come up with the perfect sports drink to be taken alongside your workout. Just follow these golden rules for hydration and glug away:

– Monitor your urine colour during the day regularly. Keep a pee chart stuck to your bathroom door. If your urine is darker than straw…. drink more!

– Weight yourself pre and post workout. Drink 1-1.5L water for every 1kg lost. 

– For exercise in extreme heat or lasting over 60minutes add carbs to your drink in a 6-8% solution. Also add electrolytes. Add caffeine to improve alertness. 

So should you drink during hot yoga? Well yes, but it’s up to you and how you tolerate fluids during exercise – this sort of home-made sports drink is specifically designed to be absorbed quickly by the gut, not sit in your stomach like water can. Try it. You may find you’ll need to drink before and after the class rather than during. But absolutely no need for commercial sports drinks, just make your own. recipe right here.

Hot Yoga Thirst Quencher
Yields 1
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  1. 200ml Green tea - brewed for 10min then cooled
  2. 300ml apple juice, unsweetened
  3. 1tsp honey
  4. a squeeze of lemon
  5. 1 pinch salt
  6. a sprinkle of cinnamon powder
  1. prepare the green tea and add honey to dissolve whilst it's still warm
  2. Once cooled add to drinks bottle with all remaining ingredients and give it a shake
  3. Tastes great chilled from an insulated drinks bottle
Nom Nom Nerd

…. and what would the label say?

I think nutrient labels are brilliant. A child can work them out. A quick scan of the front of pack nutrition labelling and you can see if you’re being healthy – green is for GO!, or if you’re being very naughty – red means STOP. However, things are not always so black and white, or red and green as we have here! After running this recipe through the nutritional analysis software we have green for go for fat and salt, but need to stop at red for the sugar content.

It’s true, if you’re going for a 15min stretch followed by a 10min walk on a treadmill at the gym a sports drink – homemade or commercial – is only going to give you unnecessary calories. But if you’re actually breaking out into a sweat from effort, and the workout lasts longer than an hour the sugar is justified and that red for sugar changes to a green for you! Remember nerds, carbs can be your friend, use them to your advantage.

front of pack nutrition labelling