Broccoli and Avocado Salad with Pomegranate and Pumpkin Seeds

Broccoli and avocado salad

This salad is bursting with vitamins, healthy fats and superfoods. Just perfect for winter when we need to find appetising ways of eating salads despite the cold weather.

I like to add seeds to all manner of dishes as they are filled with minerals – zinc in pumpkin seeds. I almost always have a pomegranate in my vegetable bowl as it not only tastes wonderful and looks pretty, but is high in vitamins and antioxidants. I have yet to find a dish that is not transformed by the addition of a scattering of pomegranate seeds.

Have the salad ready while the broccoli is steaming gently. Once it is cooked – bright green and retaining some crunch – tip it onto the salad and eat it warm. Dressed simply with a glug of good quality extra virgin olive oil and you have another healthy fat added into your meal.

For four people:

100g mixed salad leaves
1 large head broccoli, broken into florets
1 large avocado – ripe but still firm is best
½ pomegranate, seeds removed
A handful of pumpkin seeds
A glug of good quality extra-virgin olive oil
A glug of good quality Balsamic vinegar – I use my most expensive one for dressing salads
Black pepper

Place the salad leaves on a large platter – I think serving salads in large serving dishes makes them so much more appetising than a bowl as all the ingredients can be seen clearly.

Dry toast the pumpkin seeds in a pan on a medium heat until they begin to pop.

Steam the broccoli florets until they turn emerald green and are tender enough to eat while retaining some bite. Keep an eye while steaming as broccoli quickly overcooks, becomes a dull green and loses its vibrant taste.
In the meantime remove the seeds from the pomegranate by cutting it in half and bending the peel back to loosen the seeds. Remove any of the membrane that may cling to the seeds as you remove them.

Cut the avocado into pieces.

Add the avocado, pumpkin and pomegranate seeds to the leaves on the platter. When the broccoli is ready, add it to the salad.

A glug of extra virgin olive oil and one of balsamic vinegar is next. Finish with a grinding of black pepper.

Healthy living is not just for January – 3 February 2016

January is behind us and with it the endless stream of articles on self- improvement, healthy lifestyle and refusing alcohol for the month. I don’t know where the fashion for ‘Dry January’ came from but I can only imagine that the pubs are fuller than ever this week with some very thirsty customers. With Valentine’s Day in February there is a lovely romantic excuse to start popping the champagne corks again. So much for the liver detox.

The problem I have with Dry January is the way an alcohol– free lifestyle is touted for a month a year and then it is back to normal for most. So much of our health improving behaviour suffers the same fate. Gym memberships bought and not used much beyond the first few months, diets begun on Mondays and abandoned by Fridays; I am guilty of these and many more discarded attempts to be healthier.

The biggest challenge I have encountered over the past three years of cholesterol lowering has been the sheer endlessness of it. Not the short number of months it took to get my cholesterol down initially – that only took 90 days. No, the problem set in when I had to maintain what I had achieved. I succeeded in my initial goal to reduce my cholesterol level through sheer willpower and refusal to be tempted off my path by foods that were off-limits. A bit like Dry January, really, except that there were many more foods and it lasted three months.

Similarly to people who try to reduce alcohol intake on a long term basis, I have to make decisions on a daily basis, hourly even, to keep my cholesterol in check. Some days I am better at it than others. Every meal there are choices to be made – do I eat steak with the family or pop yet another salmon fillet in the oven? Do I eat ice cream with the stewed apples or help myself to a bowl of yoghurt? Do I go for my brisk walk or curl up with a box of chocolates and a book? Especially when it is raining.

Some militants might be able to make the right decisions every day, year in and year out. In the early days of my campaign to keep my cholesterol in check I thought I was one such person. Three years on I know I am not. It is a struggle. It is boring. I want to rebel. I do rebel.

I enjoy reading articles that say that the food advice we have been fed over the past decades has been wrong, that fat is not the enemy. But not all fats were created equal and some fats are better than others. Olive oil, nuts, avocado, oily fish – these are all high in healthy fats. Problem is that they also make you fat if you eat too much of them. As a woman of a certain age, that extra weight seems to be settling in for good around my belly which is known to be the worst area to be carrying fat. It increases one’s risk of cardiovascular problems. Even in the past three years I have noticed how much more difficult it is becoming to keep my weight in check. Is it because I am eating too many slices of cake or could it just be that I am eating too many healthy fats? Perhaps next time I will say no to salmon and just get stuck in to a juicy piece of steak with ice cream to follow!

Festive Fruit Platter

Festive Fruit Platter From The Healthy Heart

To celebrate the third birthday of From The Healthy Heart it feels appropriate to feast on fruit rather than on cake.

Any fruit will do of course, but I do think that choosing a colour theme looks special. For this winter fruit platter I chose clementines, papaya (my all-time favourite fruit), physalis (Cape gooseberries) for a bit of pizzazz and raspberries for extra, contrasting colour.

Simply peel and cut the fruit into similar sized pieces. I like to leave the physalis attached to their papery skins as they look so elegant. They are divine dipped in dark chocolate, by the way, but that is a story for another day.

Now all you need to do is to put on the kettle for a pot of herbal tea.

From The Healthy Heart is 3 Years Old – 20 January 2016

Two weeks ago I overlooked a rather significant birthday – From The Healthy Heart turned three. I was too busy celebrating a family birthday with cheesecake (several slices since you are wondering) to notice. It has naturally set me to wondering what has changed – if anything – over the past three years.

I had a good think about this while I walked yesterday. It was one of those fabulous winter days when the sky is bright blue and the sun is blazing coldly. There were patches of ice on the ground but I was warm in my coat and rather pleased to be on foot. Then it struck me that one aspect of my life that has definitely shifted in the right direction is my attitude to exercise. No, I have not yet come to love it exactly but I do now walk 3-4 times a week. Previously I rarely walked. Ever. Hard to believe now. Although I tumbled off the exercise wagon for quite a few months over last summer, I have picked it up again. I also have spent the past year attending a weekly Pilates class so hopefully my core is in better shape although you wouldn’t know it to look at me.

Over the past three years I have read countless articles and research studies about the importance of regular exercise for our general health and life expectancy. Most recently I discovered that whereas previously, people with serious illness or recovering from surgery were encouraged to rest, now the thinking is that they should exercise as much as they can manage. The reason for this is that exercise has anti-inflammatory effects on the body. That is probably also why it helps to mitigate the effects of stress which causes inflammation.

On the food front I am much more aware of what not to eat and, as importantly, what to include in the diet – oats, almonds, pulses, oily fish, good fats (avocado for example). In truth, I am far better at adding in than in taking out. So I find it easy to include the above items, some daily and others weekly. However, it is turning down the homemade cake, the scoops of ice cream, the roast potatoes, the winter puddings and the summer ones come to think of it – all this I find difficult and waver in my ability to stand firm.

Hence, my weight – which dropped rather pleasingly along with a dress size – hovers now somewhere between what I was three years ago and where I got down to at my best behaved. Not that I embarked on this programme specifically to lose weight, but getting to your normal size is all part and parcel of lowering cholesterol.

As for that actual cholesterol result – or more importantly the ratio between HDL (the good stuff) and LDL (the baddie) – that hovers too. It is coming up to that time of year called the annual test. If you have not had your cholesterol tested in the past year, please be encouraged to do so. Everyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol tested.

To celebrate the blog’s birthday I will not be treating myself to cake. No, I will start the year as I mean to go on with a healthy and colourful platter of fruit.

Thanks for reading From The Healthy Heart – let’s all enjoy a healthy year together.

Crunchy Beetroot and Carrot Noodles with Avocado Dip

Crunchy Beetroot and Carrot Noodles

This recipe is from a new cookbook called Spiralize! 40 nutritious recipes to transform the way you eat, written by Stephanie Jeffs and published by Pavilion Books. I don’t usually blog about other people’s recipes, but am making an exception today as I have written about the book in today’s blog post.

The dish is easy to make, gorgeous to look at and delicious to eat. So that gets it onto my ‘must repeat’ list. My kids loved it too.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, Jeffs suggests using a vegetable peeler although you will then get ribbons rather than noodles.

The recipe does not state whether or not to peel the vegetables. I did peel although no doubt I reduced the nutrient content by doing so. Next time I will try it unpeeled.

The recipe serves 1 so I used 4 times the beetroot and veg and 2 avocadoes. I did not use the coconut oil but it tasted delicious nonetheless.

For one person:

1 small beetroot
1 medium carrot
1 tsp coconut oil, warmed until liquid
1 pinch Himalayan salt – I don’t have this to hand so I used Maldon sea salt
1 ripe avocado

Preheat the oven to 170 C

Spiralise the beetroot and carrot – using blade 2 if you have a spiralizer. Spread the noodles on a baking sheet and drizzle over the coconut oil. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until crispy and slightly browned. I kept mine in the oven for ½ hour.

In the meantime scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl and mash with a fork. Add a pinch of salt. Some black pepper won’t go amiss either. Nor would a squeeze of lemon, although these last two ingredients are not in the recipe.

Plate the noodles and serve along with the dip.

Spiralising: Foodie Fun for the New Year – 6 January 2016

Happy new year!

This January I am not going to start up on the new year resolutions. I thought instead I would let you know about a new cookbook I have been having a look at over the past few days. It is simply called Spiralize!

During the summer I bought myself a spiralizer. A table top model. I returned home genuinely excited with my new gadget and happily set about making courgette noodles for my dinner. My family, tucking into their pasta, looked at me with raised eyebrows. When they tasted my noodles they agreed that the taste was good but they were hungry soon after. Perhaps spiralising is not for teenage boys. Mind you, they liked the gadget itself and my son made a delicious carrot and apple noodle salad topped with walnuts. Eaten with several slices of bread and cheese.

Spiralising has gained in popularity especially due to the growing interest in clean eating (a term I find confusing), raw food and veganism. While I am no convert to these eating habits, I am always keen to find delicious ways to reduce my cholesterol and keep my weight in check.

Spiralize! – 40 nutritious recipes to transform the way you eat (Pavilion Books) is written by Stephanie Jeffs. The title itself introduces the possibility of transformation, and for those seeking to do just that, this book offers a range of new ways to cook and eat.

I was not looking to become vegan or even to cut gluten out of my diet. But I did want to dust off my spiralizer which was gathering dust at the back of my cupboard as many gadgets do once they have been used a couple of times.
The first thing I learned was that I was not using my spiralizer correctly, so that was helpful information. I had also only used one of the three available blades. The recipes gave me the confidence to extend my blade repertoire. Jeffs warns that caution is needed with the apparatus as the blades are sharp. True. In fact, I ended up coming unstuck with the dangerous skewer with which I punctured my palm while trying to stabilise an apple on the spiralizer. Ouch.

Jeffs divides the recipes into chapters on breakfast, light meals, hearty meals, sides and desserts. Each dish has full nutritional details provided.

While perusing the recipes I found that I did not have many of the ingredients in my cupboard. That was when I realised that this book is not meant for people like me who want to spiralise alongside eating gluten and dairy. The recipes use a lot of coconut oil rather than olive, coconut flour, coconut yoghurt, yeast flakes to get the cheesy taste; 14 recipes contain maple syrup, 15 contain coconut.

Those trying to lower their cholesterol may well have some discomfort using coconut oil. I know I do and that goes beyond not liking the taste. As coconut oil is high in saturated fats it can in fact raise your total cholesterol so your GP may be unhappy with your numbers. However, it also tends to raise HDL cholesterol (the good stuff) which can improve the ratio between the HDL and LDL (the bad stuff). Overall, therefore, coconut oil can have a positive effect on cholesterol as the ratio is considered to be more important than the total cholesterol number. However, many people sitting in front of their GP may not have a chance to get into these details before statins are suggested.

As I don’t like the taste of coconut oil – or the smell – I prefer to use olive oil.

It being winter, I was immediately drawn to the chapter on Hearty Meals and set about making the Tomato Pasta Bake as I was already familiar with courgette noodles. I was wary of adding dried apricots to a tomato sauce as the recipe suggested, but gave it a try. At this point I nearly gave up on the book as I found the sauce to be both watery (all that tomato and courgette give off a lot of water when baked) and unpalatably sweet. I don’t want my tomato pasta bake sweet. An alternative would be to cook down the fresh tomatoes first into a jammy consistency. This provides plenty taste in my book, especially if sautéed slowly along with onion, garlic, celery and carrots. That is perfectly vegan too.

I continued to try out a few more recipes and thought that the Hot Noodle Pudding with Pistachio and Pomegranate looked enticing on a cold night. I was happy with the outcome although the addition of maple syrup and coconut milk made this quite high in sugars. But then it is a dessert after all and not a dish for every day. I liked the texture of the pistachio nuts and the pomegranate seeds and the overall taste was good. I have earmarked this recipe to serve to a vegan guest and will be interested to get the view of someone who prefers custard made with soaked cashew nuts, vanilla extract, maple syrup and coconut milk.

Lastly, I tried the Crunchy Beetroot and Carrot Noodles with Avocado Dip from the chapter on Sides. This the whole family enjoyed. The noodles were attractive to look at and delicious to eat, the flavour of the vegetables enhanced by having been roasted. I served it as a nibble before dinner and my sons licked out the bowl with the avocado, albeit with crackers.

Not being a vegan, I don’t intend making a Noodle Pizza or a Noodle Burrito but I am sure that there are a growing number of people who might wish to use their spiralizer in these ways.

Spiralize! sets out to help readers transform the way they eat and it certainly introduces many creative ways to do so. I am still planning to try the Asian Noodle Soup, the Cucumber Noodle Salad with Fennel, Chard and Quinoa, and the Raw Chinese Stir-Fry with Crunchy Noodles. Wild Mushroom Yakitori has also caught my eye along with a number of other recipes. I may just leave out the maple syrup in the recipes. I never cook with sugar so I don’t want to add an alternative sweetener.

Spiralize! is a good option for vegan cooks and has certainly encouraged me to use my spiralizer more creatively. It has got me thinking that there may be another spiralising book waiting to be written – one for omnivores. I love courgette noodles with chopped tomatoes, a handful of olives, a scattering of feta cheese and a bunch of torn basil leaves. I have enjoyed courgette noodles with my regular turkey bolognaise sauce mixed in. I look forward to trying a wider range of vegetable noodles with baked salmon or a chicken stir fry. All of these options would make for good cholesterol lowering dishes. I am keeping my spiralizer on my worktop from now on. That sounds like a new year resolution to me.

Quince and Apple Fool

Quince and Apple Fool From The Healthy Heart

In this season of overindulgence it is good to have a quick and easy way to eat something nutritious, tasty and sweet. It helps to prevent the temptation to guzzle another mince pie or to keep dipping one’s hand into the box of assorted chocolates while watching holiday television.

A fruit fool is a lovely way to eat some of our 5 a day. The only problem is that cream is definitely not on my table when I am trying to lower my cholesterol. I have therefore made my fool with yoghurt instead and I find it delicious. I always use Total 0% because it is the no fat yoghurt with the least amount of added sugar that I can find. One of these days I must learn to make my own!

Stewed fruit must be one of the easiest dishes to prepare. Stewed apple freezes really well which is just as well as we have a glut of apples each year and the freezer is full. In this recipe I have added quince as I adore its aroma and the taste. I encourage you to give quince a try if you have not yet done so. I get mine at a local fruit and veg shop as I have never come across this fruit in my local supermarket. The flavour of quince intensifies when it is roasted.

This dish is lovely as a healthy dessert or can be added to a bowl of muesli in the morning.

For 4 people (with leftovers):

2 quinces
8 apples – I use a sweet apple for this so that there is no need to add sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 unwaxed lemon
250g Total 0% yoghurt or other low fat yoghurt (check the sugar content)
1 pomegranate

Peel, core and chop the quince and apples. The quantity depends on how much fruit you have and how much you wish to make. I use a ratio of one quince to about 4 -5 apples. Place the quince in an oven proof dish and bake in a medium oven for about 45 minutes. Check it is soft with the point of a knife. Set aside to cool and then peel.

In the meantime place the chopped apples in a pot with two to three strips of lemon peel and a stick of cinnamon. Add a couple of tablespoons of water and cook on a low heat. After about 10 – 15 minutes the apples should be collapsing. Set aside.

Combine the apples and the chunks of quince and refrigerate until ready to use.

When you want to serve, simply add a tablespoon or two of yoghurt to each helping of fruit and mix together into a creamy, fruity yumminess. Add a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds for extra vitamins, a burst of colour and the contrasting texture and juiciness.

Eating Well – 23 December 2015

Christmas is upon us. Again. No doubt you have been tempted over the past weeks, not only by the canapes at drinks parties but also about just how much to eat over the next few days.

I have been to a number of Christmas parties recently and have discovered that it is not so much what you eat as how you eat it. Having dined in the company of many slender women, I have noticed that while they eat most of the food on offer – even cake – they only have one helping. My walking friend and I were chewing this over and reflected on how, when we eat at friends’ houses, we tend to go for a second helping. I know I do so even if I am no longer hungry and refill my plate simply because it tastes so good.

Over the past weeks I have eaten several times at buffet tables filled with delightful platters of healthy foods – grain based salads, vegetables in every form from raw to roasted, bowls of nutritious dips, dinky savoury pastries, delicious breads and, yes, desserts that threaten to undo me. On every occasion I have taken the lead from the other guests and have therefore eaten only one helping. Only once was I actually a little hungry at the end of the evening. The other times I was full after one good plate of food.

I realise how much I eat for the wrong reason and that I really need to put more effort into enjoying my one helping and be satisfied with that. I do think that this approach is possibly more sustainable that constantly trying to cut out certain foods from my diet. Yes, I know that old adage ‘everything in moderation’ but clearly I have been unable to integrate it into my life. Otherwise I would not, every Christmas, find myself engaged in the same tedious attempt to lower my cholesterol and my weight.

I am planning to try out a new approach over Christmas. A low fat Christmas meal is never going to cut the mustard of course, and why should everyone else suffer because my genetic inheritance sends my cholesterol in the wrong direction by just looking at the mince pies?

This year we will be tucking in to a large, slow cooked shoulder of venison – a lot less fatty than our traditional goose. I hope no-one will leave the table feeling deprived. I am also not planning a cheeseboard – which only serves to make me feel ill from overeating. I will make two desserts (one a fruit salad) rather than far too many. All this adds up to less temptation to overeat.

Most important, I am going to attempt one helping – a substantial one as befits the day. I will think about eating the leftovers on Boxing Day, rather than scoffing so much on Christmas that there are no leftovers!

As we move towards the new year I hope to resolve to try to eat more mindfully and increase my exercise regime which has staggered somewhat over the past months and is just stuttering back to life. Keeping cholesterol under control is a lifelong process and has its ups and downs. A bit like the rest of life.

I wish you all a very peaceful festive season and good health and contentment in 2016. Thanks for reading the blog over the past year and do keep in touch.

Guinea Fowl with Bramley Apples

Guinea Fowl wiith Bramley Apple From The Healthy Heart

This has to be the epitome of a glorious autumnal dish. It tastes gorgeous and I urge you to try it. If you have not cooked a guinea fowl before please don’t be put off. It behaves in the pot much like a chicken except that it has a better flavour. The Bramley apples and the onions cook slowly and collapse into a sweet, fruity sauce that will literally have you licking out the pot. That is the effect it has on me at any rate.

One guinea fowl will feed 4 people happily but if you want to you can cook a couple at once in a large casserole pot. Not only is this recipe utterly moreish but it is also low fat as a guinea fowl is not a very fatty creature – must be all that running around.

I usually serve this with a celeriac and potato mash run through with a slick of Dijon mustard. A heap of steamed, wilted greens is all you need on the side.

I usually make this dish a day ahead as I do believe that anything that has been casseroled tastes even better the following day.

For 4 people:
1 guinea fowl
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions, roughly chopped
3 Bramley apples, peeled and roughly chopped
1 cup (250ml) brandy – I don’t use the expensive kind but rather what I call my ‘cooking brandy’
1 cup (250ml) apple juice – I use a refrigerated,fresh apple juice from the supermarket, not a long-life kind
1 cup (250ml) chicken stock

For celeriac mash:

2 celeriac, peeled and roughly chopped
4 large-ish potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups semi skimmed milk
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

Heat the olive oil in a large casserole and brown the guinea fowl on all sides. In the meantime chop the onions and apples. When the guinea fowl has taken on some colour add the onions and the apples to the casserole. You will need to push them to the sides of the guinea fowl so that they can soften a little.

Add the brandy and allow to bubble for a few minutes. I have long given up lighting the brandy with a match and much prefer burning off the alcohol by turning up the heat so that the liquid comes to the boil briefly. I once nearly came to harm when huge flames from brandy, lit with a match, leapt up towards my air extractor above the stove.

After a few minutes add the apple juice and the chicken stock. Stir to combine.

Cover the casserole with its lid and place in the oven for an hour.

To make the celeriac mash, bring two pots of water to the boil and add the celeriac and the potatoes to boil separately. It won’t take long because you will have chopped them into pieces. About 15 minutes should do but test with the point of a knife. Drain and set aside to dry off.

In the meantime put the milk in a small pot along with the garlic clove and bring the milk to the edge of the boil. Set aside.

Place the celeriac in a food processor along with the milk (remove the garlic clove first) and puree.
Mash the potato with a potato masher as it turns gloopy if you put potato in a processor. Add the mustard while you mash.

Mix the potato and the pureed celeriac in a bowl. Add a little more milk if you need to.

One Size Does NOT Fit All – 9 December 2015

Ever envied the fact that your friend can happily eat cake without putting on an ounce, while you seem to gain weight just looking at the blueberry muffins? Me too. Now it turns out that our informal observation is scientifically accurate.

Research published in November by the Weizmann Institute confirms that each of us has a different blood sugar response to foods. This means that the same foods – for example ice cream or sushi – have a different response in different people. I may experience a spike in my blood sugar level after eating a pastry and you may not. This is also true of what we consider to be healthy foods or foods considered low GI. These findings throw into question the whole low Glycemic Index diet plan whereby we are encouraged to stick to complex carbohydrates that convert slowly into glucose.

All carbohydrate turns into glucose in our blood stream. This glucose is either burnt off through exercise or turned into fat. It lies at the heart of the epidemic of obesity and diabetes which is why the problem with sugar in our diet is now replacing fat as the new evil.

However, it turns out that we all respond in individual ways to carbs. Similarly it turns out that we respond differently to meat and to fats. So a one-size-fits-all diet is of limited value as is all the calorie counting that so many diets are based on.

What the researchers at the Weizmann Institute have shown is that what really determines how each of our blood sugar levels responds to food is our genes and our gut microbes, called microbiomes. They have developed an algorithim that can predict how individuals will respond to different foods. This is the first step towards what they call personalised diets. In the future, we may be able to have a tailored diet that is based on our own bodily responses. The idea is that this could help millions of people to lose weight and reduce the worldwide obesity and diabetes rates.

This research helps make sense of why I went wheat free for 3 weeks without losing an inch while people I know have lost loads of weight. If anything I seemed to feel a little heavier. Turns out that some people do actually put on weight going wheat free. All those gluten free products have to have something to hold them together. A bit like all the low fat goodies that are packed with sugars. Of course if one is gluten intolerant then going wheat free is indicated, and I know that many people report feeling better and losing a lot of weight going wheat free. I just don’t think it is for me.

I feel so frustrated by the annual yo-yoing of my weight and cholesterol level. I look forward to the day when a personalised eating plan is available to all and that for once I will know what really works for me. Who knows, I may just be one of the lucky ones whose blood sugar does not spike after eating ice cream! Fat chance.