Musing on vending machines and kid’s snacks

When I was a kid, the vending machines at the leisure centre were my saviour. But I have to admit that while walking through my local leisure centre the other day I was a bit shocked at the foods offered at their ‘greasy spoon’ canteen bar.

I’m not sure though how much I agree with the Heart Foundation’s call to ban snacks from every children’s leisure venue, in addition to the ban in schools (which started this September).

I suppose I was given healthy food at home by my parents and reasonably healthy food at school in the canteen every day. We just didn’t have loads of crisps or sweets or cakes in the house. Cooked meals were always nutritious and appetizing, with a good ol’ serving of carrots and peas, so a little treat now and again didn’t matter. How many times a week will children visit sports venues anyway?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I never ate junk food because I did, I just couldn’t find it in the kitchen cupboard. I had to hunt for it! Five or six years worth of pocket money was spent on crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks, but I’ve never been overweight. Yet today there is a worrying obesity epidemic among children.

I think the saving grace for me was that healthy home-cooked meal. We didn’t get takeaways. That was a luxury! (I think I experienced a Chinese takeaway three times before I turned 18 and I didn’t know KFC existed! McDonald’s however… did get a fair chunk of my pocket money.)

At home dinner and pudding was at about 5.30pm and then that was it… no nibbleys later on. The next meal was breakfast time. During the day, I did plenty of sports at school and lots of running around in the summer holidays or just after school before tea, so I was getting good exercise too.

I feel that while we have a responsibility to guide children to eat good food we can’t live in a nanny-state. It’s how you are trained to live that’s important, not what you buy out of a vending machine now and again. If vending machines do have to stock wholesome snacks then maybe it should be half healthy, half sweet shelf confectionery. There are plenty of handy fruit or nut bars out there with healthier bites and crisps aimed at kids. But do we really need to take away the chocolate treat altogether?

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The best in handmade jams – win a hamper

It’s been a great year for the fruit harvest. Farmers have been reporting bumper crops, following a perfect mix of rain and sunshine during the summer and ideal conditions earlier in the year. Plums, apples and pears have all had high yields and it’s expected to be a good year for the vineyards too.

One company that will be cherishing the increase is Thursday Cottage, a real cottage industry who make handmade jams, marmalades and curds, which they hope will be the best in the world. They’re not doing too badly either with prestigious awards just recently for their Organic Damson Jam and Lime Curd, and they have a range of their goods displayed at Selfridges.

Nor do they mind the odd experiment, developing mouthwatering preserves like blood orange and pink grapefruit marmalade, nurturing tayberries for a very fine fruit jam or getting into the Christmas spirit with curiosities like tangerine marmalade with cointreau. GoodnessDirect stock their organic range and you may be attracted to their ‘special diet’ spreads too. You can visit their website to see their full range of preserves.

With Christmas approaching the humble jam makers would like you to sample their Thursday Cottage wares, so I’ve been sent a fine hamper of preserves, marmalades, curds, and various Christmas titbits including puddings, mincemeat and brandy butter. I’m offering it as a prize draw so send me an email if you want to enter (closing date 6 Novemeber 2009).

Green tea heals body and soul

My friend recently got into green tea. He was reading a self-help book on how to reduce stress, took the hint and is now practically addicted to the stuff. (It makes for neat little gifts to him: green tea and nettle, green tea with orange and lotus flower, green tea with interesting red bits…)

Because green tea is steamed rather than fermented, like the more familiar black tea, that is what holds its antioxidant and anticancer properties. The latest report out this month is that drinking five cups a day would reduce your risk of getting blood and lymph cancers by over 40%. In fact so well documented is the healing effect of green tea that 1000s of studies now exist into its benefits. My friend thinks he’s drinking something to help him de-stress but he could be helping to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, osteoporosis and weight-gain. Not bad for a cup of green stuff.

Incidentally, green tea contains half the caffeine of coffee and slightly less than black tea, so you can drink it before bedtime. Since it aids digestion and cleanses the pallet it is also good to drink after a meal or in the afternoon as a pick me up. It is best made with spring or filtered water and usually brewed for only a short time. Personally, I like to drink it before the evening begins as it really does help clear away the day’s stress. If you’re anything like me (or my friend) you’ll find it will help relax you, giving you composure for the twilight hours.

Can pomegranate juice help to fend off the flu?

pomegranate-130Pomegranate juice has been hailed to help heart disease and strokes as it has excellent antioxidant properties (around three times more antioxidants gram per gram than does red wine or green tea) and it tastes great. But now Pomegranate juice is being tested in new clinical trials to see it’s effect on flu. In the shadow of fear of an impending swine flu epidemic no trials could be more pertinent.

In the trials patients are being given two glasses of juice every day for four or five days. The scientists are hopeful for a positive result as in previous laboratory tests revealed that compounds in the pomegranates effectively stopped the flu virus from replicating and spreading.

The tests are taking place at the Hillel Yaffe Medical Centre in Israel. The conclusions should tell us if the benefits so far discovered will be effective in humans and usable against the flu virus.

As well as heart disease, pomegranate juice is thought to help combat oxidative stress which happens as a result of chemical reactions in our bodies, oxidation. As already mentioned Pomegranate is a powerful antioxidant and can be a key factor in combating oxidation and it’s resultant damage to our system.

Pomegranate juice is available as a juice to drink or as a concentrate to take as a food supplement.

Over the years there has been much fuss about pomegranate juice, and with good reason as, for starters pomegranate juice is packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, E and folic acid.  I have already mentioned about its considered benefits to those with heart weaknesses and the juice has been to also work well as a blood thinner and research has been carried out to see if it aids flow of blood to the heart.  Some results show that it actually reduces the plaque in the arteries and raises our ‘good’ cholesterol while reducing the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. All things in moderation though hey? Pomegranate is definitely worth including in anyone’s health regime but of course it is only part of the picture of healthy diet and exercise.

Pomegranate juice, a healthy and delicious drink and a fun fruit  – how do you eat yours?

Go continental – win a hamper

Have you noticed the media frenzy about how the Mediterranean diet can make you feel less blue? That’s probably because the kind of foods they use everyday are believed to boost the brain’s use of serotonin, a hormone which helps regulate our mood.

It’s not only depression that a red wine risotto might lift. The benefits are already known to include a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and allergies so it’s not surprising there are advantages for the brain as well. Combined with regular exercise, eating these foods is also thought to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Overall, someone who lives on a Mediterranean diet is expected to live 10-20% longer, when other factors are taken into consideration.

Clearspring are a company who find artisan producers from all over Europe who can deliver oils, vinegars, pastas and grains to your table in a way that is ethical and sustainable. So they are a great way to source some of the basic Mediterranean food.

They are committed to organic and vegan sourced produce (and promise that none of their food has artificial additives, MSG, colourings, preservatives or added refined sugar) so you can tell that they have a passion for quality.

Balsamic and wine vinegars, olive and walnut oil, wholegrain pasta, Sicilian almonds, apple and blueberry puree (is your mouth watering yet?) – these are just some of the continental foods featured by Clearspring and all of them are part of the Mediterranean diet. They also source food from Japan (who also tend to live a long time – notice a theme here?)

In order for you to sample some of their treats I’ve arranged for one lucky winner to receive a hamper of Clearspring foods. All you have to do is send me an email to enter the draw – the offer closes on 23rd October 2009.

Autumn care

Autumn is my favourite season. Red leaves to kick about, eerie misty mornings, trees laden with apples, walking out in the fine crisp air, warm fires – it’s not difficult to see why.

It’s a great time for warming foods like apple crumble and pumpkin pie. And there’s a lot of goodness in the seasonal foods. Apples keep you full and lower your cholesterol. Beetroot helps reduce blood pressure, and it’s full of folate (crucial for cell growth), as are brussels sprouts and parsnips. Brussels have Omega 3 and lots of vitamin C and parsnips bring potassium and fibre (good for the heart). Cranberries also come packed with vitamin C and are a renowned antioxidant. Chestnuts are low fat, high in vitamin C and folate. And as for the infamous pumpkins, they do have lots of beta-carotine (vitamin A) which is thought to boost the immune system.

Immunity is certainly needed when autumn comes on. My asthma gets worse at this time of year, and my friend says her dad’s psoriasis is always more difficult in autumn too. What’s the reason?

In autumn the air dries out and dust and spores are blown about, I know this affects asthma and it seems the dry air affects psoriasis too. Both the skin and lungs are affected by dryness, so drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated (ginger tea is supposed to be very healing). Other illnesses like arthritis and eczema, not to mention the common cold and swine flu will get worse too.

Whatever ailment you live with the pestilent seasons are always more likely to cause trouble. But all those seasonal foods are going to be a great start in the fight against autumnal change, and make sure you still exercise and sleep well too – a brisk walk in the autumn air is great for both. Gain some contingency by investing in the health benefits of cider vinegar and echinacea; and selinium, vitamin C supplements, multivitamins or other immunity boosters, no doubt, will be useful too.

Some people might dread autumn as a sign that everything is dying, but for others it is a clarion call to the fight for life. Trees draw back in their sap and squirrels horde for the winter months – it’s a final chance to witness nature in all its glory before we too must wait through winter for new things to come. Everything is thrilling but the inner inclination is to withdraw and be close to those you love.

However you come through this autumn, make sure you wrap up warm, keep well and enjoy yourself!

The wonders of hemp

In its heyday hemp had over 25,000 uses from food to clothing to shock resistant cars. It’s sustainable too: like bamboo it grows at an amazingly rapid rate, requiring very little attention and yet producing a massive yield. Hemp is so versatile that you won’t be surprised to learn that it is used in body products too.

Hemp has what is known as ‘complete proteins’ which means it can supply all the proteins the body requires for healthy growth and it is high in the essential fatty acids which are so vital to maintaining youthful vigour. It is also an excellent anti-inflammatory.

Yaoh pioneered the way in delivering hemp seed oil cosmetics to the UK and have developed a big range of bodycare products from soap to cream to hair conditioner. Because hemp has a full spectrum of essential fatty acids which are easily absorbed into the skin and hair, all that goodness goes to work straight away. And it is particularly beneficial to anyone with sensitive or challenging skin. Hemp seed oil can be used to treat eczema, mastalgia and psoriasis and it also protects from UV radiation and pollution.

By comparison, many moisturisers are made from saturated oils, which only coat the surface of the skin but cannot be absorbed by skin cells, the result being they don’t prevent your skin from losing moisture. However, the healing properties in hemp seed oil help restore dry and damaged skin, increasing moisture retention and slowing skin ageing.

But, if hemp is so good why don’t other companies use it more? It may have something to do with the fact that hemp was banned in the mid 20th century, particularly in the USA,  for its association with marijuana (though there are other conspiracy theories) – what many don’t understand is that industrial hemp and the plant used to create are two different species. Still, hemp itself is making a comeback as it is proving to be a very useful plant in medical, culinary and industrial terms.

Purists at heart, Yaoh have come up with something that is organic, suitable for vegans, free from harmful substances and unnecessary chemical additives; and their products aren’t tested on animals either. The hope is to bring you something which will not only take care of your appearance, but also your ethics too, and in doing so, might help the world remember that there really is something rather wonderful about hemp.