Vive la Tour, vive la beetroot!

I have am a ferocious follower of the Tour de France and I’m going to tell you about the new secret weapon.

The 98th Tour starts tomorrow. Some say it is the ultimate endurance test and without a doubt, all would agree, one of the most competitive sporting events.

Winning margins are spectacularly close. Last year mere seconds separated the top two riders after more than 90 hours in the saddle.

The nitrate in beetroot improves performance
The nitrate in beetroot improves performance

Every second counts, and everything possible is done to give riders a competitive edge; from the very latest aerodynamic bikes to sports nutrition to digging up dirt on fellow competitors.

But now there could be a new, surprising yet completely legal, weapon in the rider’s armoury: Beetroot Juice

I know it sounds like a huge antithesis, but hang on, let me elaborate.

Research done in Exeter University, and the findings published in Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, states that drinking beetroot juice can give a cyclist an extra 45 seconds over 10 miles. Enough to have changed cycling history last year.

Basically, the nitrate in beetroot allows increased blood flow through the body and also reduces the amount of oxygen required by muscles for a physical task. The combined effect is enhanced physical performance. You’ve heard of nitrate being used to make cars go faster, well now it’s doing the same thing for cyclists – thanks to drinking beetroot.

Vive la Tour, vive la beetroot!!

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Vita Coco – The best thing since sliced coconut

Ever since humans worked out how to crack that thick, fibrous husk, coconut water has been quenching the thirst of the sun-drenched tropics. But with the secret finally out, this looks like being the summer we all go crazy for the stuff.

In the 12 weeks up to April, one brand reported a 600 per cent jump in sales on the previous quarter, a leap that reflects the sudden buzz surrounding a drink that has been around for millennia.

In its native lands, the coconut palm is known as ‘the tree of life’ because it has so many uses, from root to spiky crown.

It’s a low-sugar, fast-hydrating drink
It’s a low-sugar, fast-hydrating drink

Most people are familiar with coconut cream – so delicious, so fatty – but what we don’t often see in Britain is coconut water, which comes from younger, green fruit.

In the past couple of years, however, US and European markets have started to cotton on to the benefits of this new so-called wonder drink.

Several brands have appeared on the shelves but the one that’s making its mark is Vita Coco thanks to its popularity with a plethora of celebrities. Madonna (the material girl indeed) has reportedly ploughed $1.5million into the company, along with fellow investors such as Demi Moore and Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis.

Coconut water is packed with naturally occuring electrolytes with 20 times the potassium of a leading sports drink. Eloctrolytes are minerals that are vital for bodily functions such as muscle movement, nerve transmission and brain operation, and coconut water contains five essential examples: potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and phosphorous.

Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes there is. One of its important is to help maintain water balance – a good level of potassium helps you to maintain water pressure within a cell and water pressure within the blood. So, as it can help draw water into cells and into the blood, it enables the body to rehydrate quickly.’

A 330ml serving of pure coconut water contains more potassium than two bananas. This hydrating aspect explains why coconut water is gaining popularity as an alternative to sports drinks such as Lucozade.

A study of post-exercise rehydration carried out by the Universiti Sains Malaysia compared coconut water, sports drinks and normal water. It found coconut water was ‘significantly sweeter, caused less nausea, fullness and no stomach upset’, concluding that it was the best option for thirsty athletes. Maybe it won’t be too ambitious to picture coconut water being handed out on Olympic racetracks in the very near future!

A cheaper salt therapy for asthma

I have come to accept my asthma as part of my life. It gets better, or worse and in periods, stays dormant waiting to pounce on me like a crafty cat.

I have, over the years, compared notes with other sufferers and have  come to believe that most of us (asthma sufferers) tend to have their hands (erm, I mean their noses) full of a cacophony of colds, sinuses and other breathing issues too. So, we learn to irritatingly negotiate our way through life; wheezing, sniffing, sneezing and semi breathing at turns. Laden with our inhalers, miles of tissues, and staying well away from the pollen, we stumble along with a fatalistic apathy that we came into this planet doomed with a curse from the God of breathing.

Of course we try various cures. It starts with our mum’s desparate remedies and, once diagnosed that our airways basically have a mean attitude of getting inflamed and closing down on us, we learn to live with it.

Fingers crossed and with inhalers at the ready we soldier on.

If I have touched a chord with any of you, let me share my latest efforts  of a therapy for my ongoing burden. Yes, salt inhalation therapy!

It'll cost less than a visit to the seaside
It'll cost less than a visit to the seaside

Salt inhalation has been around since the Greeks, when Hippocrates recommended it for respiratory problems. The only recent evidence, however, comes from the former Soviet Union; a 1999 Lithuanian study of 250 children and 500 adults found that salt therapy for an hour a day for two weeks improved respiratory results in nine out of 10 cases. Hitherto, it still remains fairly unknown in the Western world, though ‘taking in the sea-air’ was always known to be helpful.

Salt inhalation therapy traditionally came through ‘salt caves’, places that can be loosely described as bit like a salty igloos. There are salt drifts everywhere around the world, underfoot and lining the walls. Now, hairnets are donned and shoes covered to keep these caves free of dirt, while the sound of waves and seagulls played inside enhances the weird, seaside effect. But the reality is the salt is purely decorative as the supposed medical benefit comes from breathing in sodium chloride aerosol, which is piped into the therapy rooms by a microclimate generator. This mixes milled salt with a current of air. The theory is that by breathing this in, mucus in the respiratory tract is loosened and coughed up. However The Saltpipe, a handy apparatus manufactured in the UK, has now made it both, more affordable (for the price of a few prescriptions) and accessible whenever one needs it.

Evidence of benefits are pouring in as small, regular usage is creating significant changes in conditions of many, including me!

Licorice – love it or hate it? I’m betting you’ll love this one…

Do you think licorice has a bit of a ‘Marmite factor’ about it? You either like it or you don’t…

Initially I didn’t fancy them at all. But I freely admit I was prejudiced against licorice, I’d never really eaten that many, apart from the odd proverbial encounter with All Sorts being passed around the office. (Ah! I always picked the round one with the pink in the middle bit.)

My love affair with licorice began with my partner. She had a real affection for them – and affection is probably an understatement. I was soon a convert too, munching through licorice in all shapes and forms.

Eating licorice goodies needn’t make one feel guilty, its various beneficial properties place it securely in the bracket of ‘health’ food. However, what has really got me addicted now is the Duello, a delicious licorice new to the UK, coated in mouth watering milk chocolate that hits the spot always!

Duello are manufactured by a Finnish confectionery group Panda, who know a thing or two about licorice.

Panda has been producing fresh licorice since 1927 and boasts 80 years of continued production at their Panda Factory in Finland – not bad for a sweet that has sold as a candy bar since the 1600s. As demand for Panda’s licorice has increased they have grown from their three original licorice sold in health stores  to over ten varieties.

The secret of Panda’s popularity is, of course, in the flavour – created through a careful cooking of only four simple ingredients: molasses syrup, wheat flour, licorice extract and aniseed oil. It’s completely traditional with no artificial ingredients – a standard that has earned Panda the natural health label that licorice-lovers like me can trust.

Tim’s Quick-fire Chicken Garam Masala Curry

Lord, I have a curry craving and there is no stopping me now!

Ever had one of those? I occasionally do. Apparently even Justin Beiber does! So the craving grows and I know I have to give in. Soon…

A korma? Tikka Masala? Kashmir or Malaya? Passanda? Dopiaza? Rogan Josh? Buna or Balti? A Karahi Gosht or a Saag? I will have all of those and more, thanks.

However, it’s late in the evening, I am reluctant to go out, neither am I inclined to phone the take away for a min amount of £15 and apart from odd left overs, some frozen chicken thighs (and the craving) I have little to fall back on. Yes my spices stock looks rather flaccid, but I do have the magic of Garam Masala and plenty of it.

Now, why I say magic is because it contains pretty much most of what would deliver a decent curry pretty quick. A combination of different spices, it probably has as many recipes as there are families in India! Name it and it has got it: coriander, cumin, black peppercorns, black cumins, dry ginger, black cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon and crushed bay leaves. It is packed with everything one needs to deliver a flavour-some curry pronto!

Here’s a quick-fire curry recipe. Note that the winning thing behind a quick-fire one is the confidence to add what you have in hand or not to what is unavailable.

Tim’s Quick-fire Chicken Garam Masala Curry (15 mins if you are nippy)

Ingredients

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup oil, garam masala, ginger, garlic, and salt to taste.
  2. Precook chicken in the Microwave (full heat) for 10 mins, remove and place in a  dish and, using your hands, spread  the mixture thoroughly.
  3. Heat oil in a pan and fry the onions till brown and add the diced potatoes, fry for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken and the left over veggies.
  5. Add the tomatoes, stir for a minute or two and add 1/2 a pint of water. Stir. Reduce water content and add yogurt.

Serve with a portion of  Organic Basmati Rice!