September 19, 2011

could gluten-free be the answer?

A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes foods containing gluten, a protein found in wheat (including kamut and spelt), barley, rye, malts and triticale. It is used as a food additive in the form of a flavoring, stabilizing or thickening agent, often as "dextrin". While a gluten-free diet is the only medically accepted treatment for celiac disease, the diet is also helpful for those with a sensitive stomach.

If you frequently fall victim to stomach cramps or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, it can be helpful to eliminate gluten from your diet. Even if you do not have celiac disease (which means your body is intolerant to gluten), your body may still be unable to digest gluten. In fact, all bodies find it difficult to digest gluten.

The presence of gluten is what allows bread to expand and become bread; this is due to its very high content of the sulphur containing amino acid cystine, which gives gluten its elastic and expandable qualities. It is, however, this exact trait that also makes gluten very difficult to digest. If a person's digestive system is the least bit compromised, it is very likely that the gluten will not be fully digested and be allowed to pass through to the intestines, where undigested proteins are the perfect nourishment for bad, putrefying bacteria.

Because of the physical nature of gluten, it is an especially unfavorable substance to have in the intestines. It has a tendency to stick to the walls and combine with another hard to digest protein, casein. The two proteins can form an adherent mass on the intestinal walls that makes absorption of essential nutrients problematic, if not impossible. It can also make the passage of waste material extremely difficult (constipation) contributing to overall body and bowel toxicity. This intestinal build-up can put an enormous toxic burden on the body, making it vulnerable to an infinite amount of chronic conditions.

While the jury is still out on the villainous characteristics of gluten, if you suffer from stomach pain, an elimination diet can be worth a try. Take out gluten from your diet for two weeks and see if your condition improves. Remember gluten is not just in bread, but in pastas, sauces, candies and baked goods. Read the label to make sure you are not accidentally consuming any gluten.

I've tried many different gluten-free products and I must admit that some of them really are compromised in flavour. Melinda's brownies are definitely not lacking in taste and I would go as far as to say, they are better than the original version. I improvised on the ingredients to add (as I so often do) by using half the amount of butter (organic always) and substituting the other half with quarter of a cup of low-fat soy milk. I also added 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter for added punch. I didn't melt the chocolate included as directed but instead folded through half of the chocolate before pouring into the tin. I prefer bits of chocolate rather than it get lost in the cake, however, if you like your brownies very fudgy, I would melt the chocolate first.

September 15, 2011

Skinny muesli muffins

The perfect mix of protein and carbs, these muffins pack a punch of vitamins and minerals. They are very versatile and feel free to come up with your own combinations, whether it be adding fruit (dried or fresh), spices and different cereals.


1.5 cups of muesli (I use one with bran flakes, rice flakes, seeds and dried fruit)
1 cup of self raising flour (wholemeal or unbleached white)
2 tablespoons of honey
1 tablespoon of organic peanut butter
0.5 cup of low-fat soy milk
1 egg
Extra muesli for topping


Mix the muesli and flour together, and make a well in the centre. Add the peanut butter, honey, egg and milk and mix until combined. Oil the muffin cups and put two spoonfuls of mixture in each. Sprinkle each finished muffin with muesli. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for 20 minutes, or until browned on top and cooked through. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Serve with honey.

September 11, 2011

Low-fat bread and butter pudding

Use a loaf of french or italian bread for this recipe, and it is ideal if this is stale! I actually ended up making this last night after forgetting about a loaf of bread I bought for the weekend. It's easy to whip up with staples in the kitchen and makes a really comforting dessert (or breakfast!).


1 loaf stale sourdough bread, sliced. (Choose one with a nice thick crust)
2 small or one large apple. (Cut into quarters, then thinly slice the quarters)
2.5 cups of low-fat soy or dairy milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
2 tablespoons sultanas or raisins
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of organic butter
low-fat vanilla ice cream


Preheat oven to 180 °C. Lay the bread slices in a greased baking dish (like a casserole dish) in whatever arrangement you like. I like to leave some of the crusts on the top as these go crunchy when baked.
Sprinkle with the cinnamon, layers of the apples and sultanas/raisins. This can be on top of the bread or down the sides of the dish, depending how you arranged the bread slices.

Mix the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla essence together in a jug for ease of pouring, with a whisk till well combined. Pour the milk mixture over the bread. The milk mixture should soak all the bread well, and fill the gaps between the bread. You can add a little more milk through one of the gaps if there seems to be lots of empty space between the bread. Dollop a little butter on any edges of the bread that are exposed from the milk.

Place in the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 45 - 60 minutes, until the custard is firm and set, and the bread is crispy and golden on top.

Serve drizzled with honey and accompanied by low-fat vanilla ice cream (soy or dairy). You can freeze left over in small containers and defrost in the microwave, then place on an oven tray and reheat at 180 °C for 15 minutes and enjoy the left overs whenever the craving hits!

September 08, 2011

the truth about agave nectar - it's all HYPE

The Truth About Agave Nectar: It’s All Hype
Taken from:’s-all-hype

Agave nectar/ syrup is basically high-fructose corn syrup masquerading as a health food.

It’s easy to understand how agave syrup got its great reputation. Even the word “Agave” has a fine pedigree, coming from the Greek word for noble. The blue agave species- considered the best for the making agave nectar- flourishes in rich volcanic soil— (it’s also the only variety permitted to be used for the making of tequila). And extracts from the agave plant have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. (Unfortunately there’s zero evidence that any of those compounds are present in the commercially made syrup.)

Agave nectar is an amber-colored liquid that pours more easily than honey and is considerably sweeter than sugar. The health-food crowd loves it because it is gluten-free and suitable for vegan diets- and, most especially, because it’s low glycemic (we’ll get to that in a moment). Largely because of its very low glycemic impact, Agave nectar is marketed as “diabetic friendly”. What’s not to like?

As it turns out, quite a lot.

Agave nectar has a low-glycemic index for one reason only: it’s largely made of fructose, which although it has a low-glycemic index, is now known to be a very damaging form of sugar when used as a sweetener. Agave nectar has the highest fructose content of any commercial sweetener (with the exception of pure liquid fructose).

All sugar- from table sugar to HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup) to honey- contains some mixture of fructose and glucose. Table sugar is 50/50, HFCS is 55/45. Agave nectar is a whopping 90% fructose, almost- but not quite- twice as high as HFCS.

Fructose- the sugar found naturally in fruit- is perfectly fine when you get it from whole foods like apples (about 7% fructose)—it comes with a host of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. But when it’s commercially extracted from fruit, concentrated and made into a sweetner, it exacts a considerable metabolic price.

Research shows that it’s the fructose part of sweeteners that’s the most dangerous. Fructose causes insulin resisitance and significantly raises triglycerides (a risk factor for heart disease). It also increases fat around the middle which in turn puts you at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and Metabolic Syndrome (a kind of pre-diabetes) .

And fructose has been linked to non-alcoholic fatty-liver disease. Rats given high fructose diets develop a number of undesirable metabolic abnormalities including elevated triglycerides, weight gain and extra abdominal fat.

In the agave plant, most of the sweetness comes from a particular kind of fructose called inulin that actually has some health benefits- it’s considered a fiber. But there’s not much inulin left in the actual syrup. In the manufacturing process, enzymes are added to the inulin to break it down into digestible sugar (fructose), resulting in a syrup that has a fructose content that is at best 57% and- much more commonly- as high as 90%.

“”It’s almost all fructose, highly processed sugar with great marketing,” said Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition and an associate faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “Fructose interferes with healthy metabolism when (consumed) at higher doses”, she told me. “Many people have fructose intolerance like lactose intolerance. They get acne or worse diabetes symptoms even though their blood [sugar] is OK”.

Agave nectar syrup is a triumph of marketing over science. True, it has a low-glycemic index, but so does gasoline- that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

If you simply must have some sweets once in a while, a small amount of agave nectar every once in a while isn’t going to kill you. Just don’t buy into the idea that it’s any better for you than plain old sugar or HFCS.

In some ways, it may even be slightly worse.

your tv is your new fitness friend: a review of fitness DVDs

I am a big fan of exercise tv shows. If you have cable, Discovery Health channel has some great exercise programs in the morning that I record in advance and do when I have a free 30 minute block in my day. There is also some really fun and effective DVDs on the market, which can be just as good as a trip to the gym.

These programs are so easy to do at home and to modify to your fitness level. My tip is to invest in a set of light hand weights (2 - 4 kilos, depending on your strength level) as these are really useful to combine into your workout. If you don't have these at home, you could use tins of tomatoes as a faux weight. If the program requires a step or another small piece of equipment, see what you have around the house to mimick the action. Otherwise, just do the exercise without it.

I have paid for expensive personal trainers for a number of years, and while they no doubt will help you work out effectively, I honestly think that my tv workouts are just as efficient in shaping your body.

As you won't use heavy weights or equipment while you are following a tv program, there is less chance you can injure yourself. However, make sure you listen to the tv trainer's advice when following the program, for example: keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Also make sure you warm up before (these programs will most likely have a warm up section, otherwise jog up and down for a few minutes and do a few star jumps).

Over the years I have tried lots of tv programs, and I have a few favourites. I do have a warning; don't be scared by the 'look' or age of some of these programs. Yes, the fashions are a little comical if it was taped in the 90's but the principals are the same. I enjoy doing these no less than the modern versions, and you get a bit of laugh as well, which tends to distract you from the task on hand!

Some of my favourites are Body Sculpt with Gilad (my husband has a giggle at this one), it's very effective and challenging but easy to modify. Aerobic conditioning is a great program that combines strength training and aerobic exercise; it's easy to follow and definately works! A good cool down to do after these programs is Namaste Yoga. Yoga is excellent to help with flexibility, relaxation and stretching. If you haven't tried it, I recommend giving it a go. All these programs are on Discovery Health (at around 6am). If you don't have Discovery Health, hunt around on the free-to-air channels for similar programs to record. Otherwise hop on Amazon or have a look around your local DVD store for exercise programs.

For exercise DVDs, my all-time-favourite is Carmen Electra's 'fit to strip' DVD. Volume 2 is the best one of the series; it takes you through Carmen's 60 minute workout with her personal trainer. It is broken up into sections, which means you can do individual portions of the DVD or choose to work your way through the 60 minute session. It is equally as good as working with a trainer in the flesh.

Another fun DVD to do is the Pussycat Dolls workout. This DVD teaches you a typical Pussycat Dolls dance; it's really fun and makes you feel quite accomplished when you perform your finished dance. It also definately builds up a sweat. Kendra also has an exercise DVD on the market which creates a circuit training session based on Kendra's favourite sports.

The only obvious difference in using a fitness tv or DVD program is that there isn't a big tough trainer next to you to guilt you into (or force you into) doing that next rep. Doing it alone requires self motivation; but you can do it! Turn up the program nice and loud and get yourself set up with some space, a towel and a glass of water. Make sure you wear workout clothes and trainers, with your hair tied back. Don't be embarrassed about working out in front of others either. Just go ahead and do your thing; the results will not be embarrassing!

September 06, 2011

eat yourself to sexy or psychotic?

The other night, I watched an episode of 'eat yourself sexy', which is a new biggest loser type show on Lifestyle YOU. At first I thought the series looked quite motivational, but my hopefulness was met with disappointment. I understand what it feels like to get stuck in a rut and it can be like climbing out of quick sand to restart a healthy schedule. I also didn't realise how little some women know about cooking or food in general; some have never eaten a vegetable before and think that fried potatoes constitute a real lunch.

Obviously women who need a real diet shake-up do need to have a loud wake up call. However, I didn't really agree with the strictness in which the dietician remodeled some of their diets. In last week's episode, a young woman struggling with extra weight she had gained in the last few years, appeared to have a genuine clueless perception of food. Of course, I believe that all educated people must know that sugary, deep-fried foods will make you gain weight, and that grilled chicken and fish with salad will help you maintain a healthy weight.

This woman's lack of knowledge of any fruit or vegetable was quite extreme and her cooking prowess was equally as dismal. Taking this into account, the dietician put her on an incredibly strict diet, which involved steamed chicken breast with boy choy for lunch, with no added flavours. I thought that the swing in this woman's diet was too extreme, and that employing my 'skinny sweets and treats' philosophy would be a much better starting point in transforming her diet. I don't know about you, but a boiled chicken breast with boy choy doesn't sound that appetising. I love healthy food - including all fruits and vegetables - but you need to be able to cook them in a way that enhanced their flavours and taste.

Why not poached chicken in organic stock with carrots, onions and celery, served on brown rice and stir-fried broccoli?

The diet created for this woman to lose weight worked; she lost 8 kilos in 8 weeks. But could you really maintain that type of diet? I felt it gave healthy eating a bad name, and made it look so ridged and tasteless. Healthy food can be just as fun as the 'bad foods' we allow ourselves to have in moderation. What is even better, is finding ways to transform all your foods into healthier options.

My rules are to cut down or oil and butter where you can, try to use wholegrain options for your carbs and use high-fat items, such as cheese, in moderation. You can definitely still lose weight and eat carbs, butter and cheese. You just have to remember to lower the quantity to a small amount each day. Steamed chicken and boy choy is not the only way.

don't worry, be happy

We all lack motivation from time to time, especially when you have to get out of bed early to do a workout or you are having a bad day at work.

Try these tips to get yourself smiling again and feeling happy. I always find that when I am happy and confident feeling, my eating habits are more consistent than when I am feeling down in the dumps. And no, one of these suggestions does not involve reaching for the chocolate biscuits jar!

Get Moving: Research shows that just a few minutes of exercise boosts self-esteem and confidence, even if no physical changes are seen.

Show those Pearly Whites: Look at yourself in the mirror and smile. Research shows that when babies see smiling faces, they become happier. Try it.

Phone a Friend: Sharing a quick story with someone you care about boosts your mood instantly.

Pamper Yourself: Do something to make yourself feel beautiful. A lunchtime mani, eyebrow wax, or half-hour massage will leave you feeling pretty and taken care of.

Play DJ: Turn up your favorite tunes and start dancing. The movement will increase endorphins and the happy memories related to your favorite song will instantly boost your mood.

Keep a Success Journal: Whenever you succeed at something (especially the small things, like ordering a salad instead of a hamburger, pushing yourself for a minute longer during your workout, or holding the door for someone) write it down! By positively reinforcing your good attributes, you'll like yourself more and improve your outlook.

September 04, 2011

real housewife of the OC Gretchen Rossie shares her 'real' secrets to getting skinny

I eat all day long, literally almost every 2-3 hours! Not a full meal but little bits of everything, mostly healthy, but I don't deprive myself of Anything! I just have learned how to control my portions and how to eat till I am full…. not stuffed! Now like I said this has taken a lot of trial and error and some years to retrain my body and my mind to recognize when I am satisfied. So don't beat yourself up if you screw up (by the way I still screw up days) don't worry, you have the next day to make it right! The stress alone we put on ourselves is very detrimental to our overall health goal.

I will have some turkey slices, or apples and peanut butter, raw vegetables with some dressing, nuts, baked chips, fruit, cheese, and little bit of sweets too all day long! I have sandwiches or salads for lunch most of time and fish, chicken or lean meat for dinner with some side portions of half a potato, small amount of rice, salad, or vegetables. I have a couple bites of deserts always! If I feel like pizza or ice cream I have some, but I just have a piece or a couple of scoops, not sit down and eat the whole carton! I have learned that when I deprive myself of things my body just wants it even more! Listen to your body, but control in your mind how much you eat of something. Don't look at a day of overeating as a failure, look at it as an opportunity to do better the next day!

nuts for nutella - and all things French!

I first fell in love with Nutella when I went to Paris at the age of fifteen. It has a chocolate taste so unique to Europe that every time I taste the rich hazelnut spread, I am transported back to the kitchen where I ate foie gras and brie cheese every day. While that diet is certainly not that of a skinny chef, there is merit to 'French women don't get fat.' French women don't get fat, but they do eat bread and pastry, drink wine, and regularly enjoy three-course meals. What really is the merit to this diet is the concept of eating and drinking in moderation.

One tablespoon of Nutella has 100 calories and when savoured, is a delicious treat. It is also great when added to a few tablespoons of low-fat cream cheese and whizzed up to make a chocolate icing.

I like to make chocolate biscuits by spreading Nutella over milk arrowroot bicuits and sprinkling with dessicated coconut. It is very French tasting, but not as guilt ridden as a pain au chocolat! As for the brie and the pâté, I haven't yet devised skinny versions of those tempting treats! Although I think we can apply the 'french women don't get fat' rules to those - moderation is key.

For a special treat, try Nigella's divine Nutella Cake!