OOPs you did it again! Christmas is over for another year, and you’ve got that sluggish feeling of overindulgence, guilt and maybe even disappointment in yourself. Any minute now everyone from your friends to the media will be talking about getting back in shape, exercise, dieting, but does taking back control of your weight and your health have to be so daunting – and so hard?
Not according to award winning nutritionist and gut health specialist, Dr Lucy Williamson. She urges us to be more kind to ourselves and show a little compassion; make the start of the year the start of a new health journey and a gift to yourself. You don’t even have to deprive yourself of all the foods you love, just eat them in a different way.
“As a Nutritionist, I know the first question we always need to ask is ‘What’s stopping me from making the changes that deep down I really want to?’”, Lucy says.
“Your answers may include barriers like lack of time and knowledge, confusion, the need for convenience, or ease…. the list can be long in our busy world with information overload. But with a little effort, you can make changes that will have long term positive health effects.”
To get started, Lucy recommends these 3 steps:
- It’s all in the planning! You’re going to need time to plan what foods you can eat and where to find them, sorting your recipes and developing a routine for some batch cooking perhaps. This commitment to yourself may involve taking a day off work – but it’ll be worth it and you deserve it!
- Use your Gut Brain Axis – We know from robust research that this is a super-highway of information, connecting the hidden potential of our gut microbes, (our second brain), with our thoughts. So, draw on that gut feeling, your inner wisdom! It’s very real and it also needs us to de-stress. Plan in a short daily meditation, like a breathing practice. This helps you to mentally get out of your head and into your deeper needs.
- Nurture your Gut Health because this is also a very sustainable way to keep a healthy weight. The good news is that there’s no dieting required, just a change of eating habits. Eat a wide variety of plants, (remembering that this includes, fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, grains, pulses, beans and even herbs and spices) to provide vital dietary fibre, eat fermented foods little and often, and get your gut-loving antioxidants by choosing brightly coloured foods such as tomatoes, red cabbage or watercress.
With this fresh new approach and having made this commitment to yourself, it’s time to follow the Eight for Weight Change Plan; eight ways to achieve lasting positive weight change:
1. Avoid Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) – processing foods involves a total change in its structure and function. This means we absorb its sugar more easily, swapping valuable nutrients for high energy instead. This upsets our appetite control, including our gut health. Check labels on supermarket foods for these two questions:
o Do you recognise the listed ingredients? If not, perhaps you don’t want to eat them.
o What is the figure for ‘carbohydrates of which sugar’? Remember 1 tsp = 5g and we don’t want to eat more than 6 teaspoons daily; less if trying to lose weight. And Artificial sweeteners? Avoid them!
2. Choose Whole foods – if plants, this means you will get more gut healthy fibre and antioxidants (see above); if animal sourced foods such as yoghurt, cheese or milk, choosing whole rather than ‘reduced fat’ will satisfy your appetite better (seek advice if you live with Type 2 Diabetes or you’re trying to balance blood cholesterol). Think about Plant Drinks – it’s important to know that these are not a nutritional alternative to dairy milks. Sustainable soy can provide a good protein source and British oat milk a nice change of flavour, but some plant drinks give us a higher blood sugar response which means we’re more likely to be hungry more quickly. Watch out for additives like seed oils in them too.
3. Food combining embraces the fact that certain foods when eaten together can reduce the energy we get from them. I recommend that youadd in higher protein, fibre and healthy fat foods, when eating carbohydrates. This slows down sugar absorption, regulates the appetite better and nurtures gut health. Even if having a piece of sourdough and cheese – have some nuts on the side too or swap jam for peanut butter. A helpful rule is 2/3rds plants and 1/3 animal foods on your plate. This is what is meant by ‘plant-based eating’.
4. Batch cook – after a tiring day we turn to what’s in the fridge! Having planned some ‘you-time’ into your schedule, however, use this time to work out how to fit batch cooking a couple of meals into your week. It’s also a great opportunity to think about how to add extra plants into your food eg add lentils and other veg into a Bolognese
5. Rest and digest! Preparing our digestive system by taking time to appreciate our food first, helps our appetite control to kick in better. Digestion is complex; you’ll notice the first stage – saliva in your mouth – if you simply think about your food for a few minutes before tucking in! Try to follow your natural diurnal or circadian rhythm too – in the winter, with shorter days, it’s easier to eat dinner earlier and breakfast later, giving a nice 12-14 hour overnight fast. Great for gut health!
6. Portion size – use a smaller bowl or plate, take time eating your food – enjoy this together as a family or with friends – and wait for 20 mins before deciding if you actually need seconds or not!
7. Snacking – all the above should mean you feel the urge to snack less. Are you just thirsty? Have some handy snacks available like whole nuts and dried fruit or some dark chocolate (try sucking it rather than chewing!)
8. Hidden sugar – avoiding UPFs will greatly help this. It’s worth remembering that flavoured coffees, breakfast cereals, granola bars (even some oatcakes) alcohol & bought sauces are just some of the foods where sugar is hidden. This adds up through your day!
To help get your new food regime underway, try these delicious recipe ideas from www.lwnutrition.co.uk:
Hearty Pearl Barley Kedgeree
Using barley is a great way to add fibre to nurture gut health and source British too!
White sea fish like haddock is a great source of high-quality protein for muscle strength and anti-inflammatory, mood boosting Omega 3.
Prep time 10 mins
Cook time 40 mins
- 500g smoked haddock (approximately 1 side)
- 500ml full fat milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 free-range eggs
- 150g pearl barley
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 25g butter
- 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 20g fresh ginger, grated
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- 1 tsp ground turmeric (or fresh, finely grated)
- 150g baby spinach leaves, washed
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 30g fresh coriander, finely chopped
- 150ml water
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 4 spring onions, finely chopped (optional)
- 100g Dairy Greek Yoghurt
- Glug of rapeseed oil
- First poach the smoked haddock in a shallow, non-stick pan (with a lid) and pour over the milk. Add bay leaves. Cover and place on a medium heat, allow the milk to come up to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes until the fish flakes easily.
- Remove the fish from the pan and set to one side to cool. Reserve the milk. Wipe out your pan ready for the next stage.
- Meanwhile boil your eggs for 7 minutes. Remove and place into a bowl of cold water to cool. Peel and quarter the eggs.
- Add the butter and rapeseed oil to your pan (2) and cook the finely chopped onion gently for 5 minutes until translucent. Add garlic, chilli & ginger. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the curry powder and turmeric. Stir frequently to ensure it doesn’t stick. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until nicely aromatic. Add the pearl barley and stir well.
- Slowly start adding the reserved milk in stages, allowing the barley to absorb the liquid in between additions and stirring frequently (as you would with a risotto). Keep going until all the milk is added and then continue with the additional water. The barley will take about 25 minutes to cook through.
- Finally add the diced tomatoes, spinach and half the coriander. Flake in the smoked haddock (discard the skin). Stir well and cover to allow the spinach to wilt down and the fish to heat through. Season with S&P and the lemon juice.
- Turn off the heat, stir through yoghurt and then garnish with the eggs, reserved coriander and chopped spring onions.
Italian-Style Grass Feed Beef Meatballs
High welfare 100% grass fed beef has many more heart-healthy unsaturated fats thanks to a very natural and diverse diet from herbs, grasses and clover. These meatballs provide a tasty way to make sure iron stores are kept up too, iron can be very hard for our body to absorb from plants. A great variety of plants to nurture gut health too!
Prep time 20 mins
Cook time 45 mins
- 500g grass-fed beef mince
- 60g parmesan
- 60g white breadcrumbs
- 2 free-range eggs
- Sea salt and pepper
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tbsps rapeseed oil (cold pressed is best!)
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 560g jar passata
- 150ml red wine
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tin Hodmedods Carlin Peas
- 150g baby spinach and a handful of Basil Leaves
- 2 British buffalo mozzarella balls (optional- leave out for a lighter version)
- Put all the meatball ingredients into a bowl, mix thoroughly using your hands to massage the eggs and seasonings through. Season with S&P
- Shape into walnut size meatballs. Having a bowl of clean water next to you to dip your hands into in between is helpful here. You should make around 25 meatballs. Chill them on a tray for 1 hour.
- For the sauce, heat 2 tbsp rapeseed oil in a heavy based shallow pan which can go in the oven. Add the chopped onion and cook gently for 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic and a teaspoon of salt and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, passata, vinegar, tomato puree, red wine and oregano. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Once the sauce has thickened slightly, taste and season with plenty of salt and pepper. I like to blend the sauce in a food processor for a smooth sauce.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a separate non-stick frying pan and brown the meatballs, turning frequently.
- Return the sauce to the heavy based pan and add in the meatballs. Drain the carlin peas and stir through along with the spinach. Tear over the mozzarella if using.
- Then put the whole pan into an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees and cook uncovered for 20 minutes or until bubbling with the mozzarella melting and starting to colour.
- Finally top with a few torn basil leaves and serve. It is lovely served with some crusty sourdough or creamy polenta.
This is a twist on a traditional tabbouleh made with buckwheat instead of bulgur. There are also two mini recipes within this – slow roasted tomatoes and Dukkah. This recipe works well served with grilled or roasted fish, griddled chicken or falafels
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes for the buckwheat (2 hours roasting of tomatoes can be done in advance)
Slow Roasted Tomatoes:
- 20 cherry tomatoes (halved)
- Sea salt & pepper
For the Dukkah
- 100g peeled hazelnuts
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- ½ tbsp fennel seeds
- 50g sesame seeds
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Ground black pepper
For the Tabbouleh
- 250g Buckwheat
- 1 Lemon zest and juice
- 4tbsp olive oil
- 4 spring onions finely chopped
- ½ a cucumber finely chopped
- When in season, watercress chopped in packs a punch
- Herbs – flat leaf parsley and coriander finely chopped are a nice addition
- Preheat the oven to 110°c (fan) 130°c (non-fan), or gas mark 1
- Lay out the tomato halves cut side up on a baking tray and season generously. Roast in the oven for at least two hours
For the Dukkah:
- In a heated frying pan, toast the nuts (no oil required), moving frequently until golden all over. Tip out into a bowl and return the pan to heat
- Toast the coriander seeds, cumin and sesame seeds until fragrant and then add to the bowl
- Tip everything into a food processor, along with the smoked paprika, salt and pepper, and pulse until there is a chunky mix (don’t overmix or it could turn into nut butter)
- This makes double what you need so store half in a sealed jar and use to top salads, guacamole, falafel etc
To make up the tabbouleh:
- Heat a dry frying pan and toast the buckwheat for a few minutes, moving often, until the groats start going a nice toasted golden colour all over. Add twice the volume of cold water and bring to the boil, simmering for 10 minutes until cooked and all the water has been absorbed.
- While still warm, add in the lemon zest and juice, olive oil and salt and pepper, so all the flavours are absorbed
- Allow to cool to room temperature before mixing in the spring onions, cucumber, herbs, watercress, slow roasted tomatoes and Dukkah
These oatcakes are quick and easy to make so they’re ideal for weekend lunches with soup or evening snacks with cheese. They’re packed with fibre from the quinoa grain, oats and wholemeal flour, and are made with a little less butter by including cold pressed rapeseed oil. The egg white keeps them nice and crispy and adds more protein too. Making your own oatcakes avoids buying the more processed versions often with added sugar and preservatives, so keeps your gut health happy!
Makes approximately 16
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes maximum
- 200g British oats
- 25g British puffed quinoa
- 60g stoneground wholemeal flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 40g butter (cut into small cubes)
- 20g Cold pressed rapeseed oil
- 1 egg white, whisked
- 60-80g warm water
- Pre-heat the oven to 170°c (fan) 190°c (non-fan) gas mark 4
- Mix together the oats, puffed quinoa, flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda
- Add the rapeseed oil and small chunks of butter. Rub together to a crumble consistency, then stir in the raw egg white until mixed through as evenly as possible
- Add the water from a recently boiled kettle until you have a firm but not sticky dough – the amount will vary depending on your flour
- Roll out to ½ cm thickness on a floured surface and use a cookie cutter to make about 16 rounds
- Bake for about 25 mins on a baking tray until lightly browned round the edges – be careful not to overbake as they’re delicious still slightly soft inside
So, as we head into 2024, gift yourself the time you need to support positive changes for your health. It doesn’t necessarily have to entail a dramatic increase in exercise, or a deprivation of certain foods, even chocolate; just an improved attitude towards yourself. After all, you’re worth it!
To find out more about gut health, discover more recipes, or to sign up to Lucy’s Gut Health Course, visit www.lwnutrition.co.uk