Combining scrambled eggs, avocado and pancetta is a really easy way to come up with a breakfast dish that will set your morning alight.
If you’re thinking “pancetta – the fatty Italian bacon?” and looking bemused think again.
On the one hand, the biggest health and fitness myth of the last 40 years is that eating fat makes you fat. Yes, we have an obesity crisis but that owes much more to people super sizing drinks and eating foods crammed with added sugar.
Most of our cells are made up of fat, dietary fat is packed with energy, and you need fat to help transport the essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K around the body.
This is not a licence to chow down on lard, but the right fats in the right quantities are vital to our health. If you want to read more on the science, I can recommend these two books Eat Fat Get Thin and The Real Meal Revolution.
But enough of me banging on … back to the pancetta. Crisp it and drain the excess fat off and it adds a nice salty flavour, without it being too excessive. At the end of the day, if you don’t like it or remain unconvinced, just leave it out!
The recipe is adapted from Joe Wicks’ excellent Lean in 15.
Ingredients (serves three)
1 pack of pancetta cubes (I prefer the unsmoked ones)
1 ripe avocado
10-12 cherry tomatoes
1 spoonful of coconut oil
squeeze of lemon
sprinkle of chia seeds
6 wholemeal rye crispbreads (such as Ryvita)
Peel the avocado and mash with the lemon juice
Fry the pancetta until crispy, drain the oil and place on a plate with kitchen roll to soak up excess fat
Put the pan back on the hot hob with the temperature off, halve the cherry tomatoes and place cut sized down in the pan
Whisk the eggs and add coconut oil to another pan on a high heat
Once the heat is smoking, turn it down to three quarters and add the whisked eggs. Scrambled eggs is again a preference, I don’t like them too dry, but I don’t like them runny either. Once the eggs start to solidify in the pan, start to scramble them and stop cooking when done as you like
Pile the eggs on top of the crackers, add the mashed avo, and top with the pancetta. Decorate with the tomatoes and sprinkle with chia seeds.
Try this boiled eggs and avocado dish that’s perfect for an early morning start to keep you fuelled and full.
Using spinach as a base, avocado packed with good fats, and boiled eggs bursting with protein and more good fat, it’s perfect for keeping you topped up for the morning.
The killer is it’s really simple to make too – if I can do it, anyone can.
Key to the dish is getting the eggs just right. I like the yolks of mine to still be soft, with a runny bit in the middle, but for the white to be solid – I’m not one for snotty eggs (or for snot of any kind in fact)
However you like them, it’s imperative you stop them cooking more from radiant heat when you take them off the boil. When you reach that magic time that suits you, whack them straight out of the boiling water and into a pan of cold.
After about a minute you should be able to peel them easily under a luke warm running tap.
Everything else in this dish is just chopping and drizzling. What could be easier?
1 handful of spinach
1/2 a ripe avocado
2 fresh eggs (at room temperature)
drizzle of olive oil
squeeze of pepper
dash of lemon juice
Boil the kettle
Take two room temperature eggs and place them in a saucepan on a hot ring on the hob and immediately cover with boiling water.
Time your eggs. For me 5.5 minutes is bang on. For runnier eggs, try around four minutes, for hard boiled push up to seven or eight.
When the time is up. Stand the eggs in cold water for a minute and peel under luke warm water.
Put a handful of spinach in a bowl. Half the avocado and twist to separate. If you use a desert spoon and the avo is ripe enough, you should be able to scoop one half off the peel in one move. Slice and arrange on top of the spinach.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
Half the eggs, place on top and add some cracked pepper.
You’ve probably seen in the news over the past week that vitamin D has been hitting the headlines.
Scientists, it seems, have worked out that we aren’t getting enough of this super-essential vitamin that is needed by the body to help build and maintain healthy bones and teeth. It’s a special concern for growing children and ladies as they get older as they have an increase risk of osteoporosis – brittle bone disease.
Vitamin D deficiency is now also being tied to a number of other conditions, with research showing potential links with many different cancers, autoimmune diseases and cardiovascular conditions.
Vitamin D is created naturally by the body in sunlight – and here in the UK, we just aren’t getting enough of it, particularly as we tend to cover up with suncream at the first rays of light – and many of them block out the vitamin D-forming rays.
Healthy people in the UK, should produce just enough over the summer to get them through the winter months. But the effect of sun block and the fact we tend to spend a lot of time indoors working, means we probably aren’t producing enough at all. It’s also a particular concern for people with dark skin (the melanin pigment will block out the sun’s rays) and anyone who covers up for cultural reasons.
Eating some foods can help boost stores: look for oily fish, cheese, liver and egg yolks, as well as fortified cereals – but it’s still likely you’re not getting enough, in which case supplementing is likely to be essential.
While the weather is good, it obviously makes sense to get as much as possible. Get in the sun for 15 minutes or so three times a week (between 11am and 3pm is best) and make sure you have some bare skin showing: face, arms, legs, hands.
A few minutes without sunscreen is fine, but also remember if you’re in the sun for a prolonged period of time, it’s time to slap on some factor 50.
If you’re especially concerned about your levels, you can ask your doctor for a vitamin D test to check your levels.
Here’s a recipe you don’t have to be a good cook to prepare, simply because it needs no cooking: Raw-food steak and mash….
We’ve been doing some experimenting over the last few months in our house – largely as a result of my MSc course in Nutrition Therapy.
One of the recipes we’ve tried that stood out more than any other was this for raw food steak and mash – where the steak is actually from mushrooms and the mash from cauliflower… and not one bit of it is actually cooked!
It’s borrowed and adapated from the website rawmazing.comthat is dedicated to the growing movement for eating food in as raw a state as possible. Try it, it just might change your mind on eating uncooked food!
For the ‘steak’:
2 portobello mushroom cups
1 pack oyster mushrooms
1/3 cup Shoyu sauce
1/3 cup Shoyu ginger sauce
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp agave nectar
For the mash:
1 head cauliflower
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp filtered water
1 tsp chopped rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
Sprouted seed mix
Thinly slice the mushrooms and create two marinades, each with 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 tbsp agave and 1/3 cup of either the shoyu or shoyu ginger sauces.
Place the mushrooms into two sealable bags and cover the Portobello slices with the shoyu recipe, the oysters with the ginger shoyu. Leave to marinade for at least four hours, preferably overnight.
Thinly slice the cauliflower head and place in a dehydrator or oven for two hours at 70C.
Add the cauliflower and other mash ingredients to a blender or Nutribullet and blast until smooth.
Divide the mash on to two plates and place the mushrooms on top. Use a teaspoon of marinade as ‘gravy’. Top with sprouted seeds for decoration.
There are many secrets surrounding the monks of Mount Athos – one of them seems to be longevity thanks to a macrobiotic diet and a life without stress.
Monk Epihanios strokes his beard and takes a sip of Greek coffee, strong and black as molasses. We’re sitting on the terrace of his Mylopotamos monastery – a small two-man ‘cell’ on the Mount Athos peninsula in Halkidiki.
But if this is a cell, the surroundings might want you to serve a long stretch. Epiphanios and his co-habitee, Monk Joachim, have a boutique winery, and long rows of vines stretch ahead of us planted in rows to take advantage of sea breezes channeled by a small bay. In the distance is 2,000m Athos, its peak kissed by light clouds.
“How can we not live a long life?” he says eventually. “We eat well and don’t have the same stresses as normal people.”
Mount Athos is one of the most revered sites in the Orthodox religion. A semi-autonomous state, it’s been shut off to the world for more than 1,000 years and is home to some 2,000 monks living in 20 monasteries and 200 hermitages like Mylopotamos. The odd mobile phone and car aside, a visit here is like taking a trip back in time.
The church – and the monks – like to keep Athos pure. No women are allowed and access, by boat only despite there being a land border, is granted only to 100 pilgrims a day; just 10 of them non-Orthodox.
A 10-year study of their life and eating habits astonished researchers looking into why many of the monks live beyond 100 years old. It revealed they had some of the lowest incidences of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer in Europe.
Some of the success of that diet is down to Epiphanios – the Marco Pierre White of monks. Like all the monks, he was assigned a job when he first arrived here to take the cloth in 1973 and ended up working in the kitchens before moving up the ranks of monastic cuisine.
“My father had a farm and I was always interested in food,” he says. “So I gladly worked in the kitchens as a help, picking up the secrets along the way.”
Those secrets include a diet where no meat is allowed. The monks live on fish, seasonal vegetables, home-grown olive oil and the odd glass of home-produced wine; meals are simple yet tasty. They eat twice a day – at around 11am and 7pm and both meals are sit-down affairs. On some days they fast, eating on others – if you’re looking for the origins of the purest Mediterranean and the 5:2 diets, they are both here on these holy lands.
One of the things they do have on Mount Athos is time… lots of it. That can be used for meditation, study or prayer. Epiphanios used some of his to learn, finding ancient recipes from monastic texts, preparing meals from antiquity and testing them on his brothers at the Megali Lavra monastery, the oldest on Athos and which is responsible for overseeing Mylopotamos.
Around five years ago, those recipes were compiled into a book, The Cuisine of the Holy Mountain Athos. To promote the monastic culture, Epiphanios gives the odd cooking demonstration for free to guests at Eagles Palace, a luxury hotel in Ouranouolis (the “city of heaven”), the last town before the Athos border and where visiting permits are issued.
Those lessons offer a unique insight into how the monks live for people without the time, inclination or bodily appendages to visit Athos, but nothing comes close to staying in the monasteries themselves.
Access is granted by a church office in Ouranopolis. Permits can take weeks to come through and, once issued, are for very specific days. ‘Pilgrims’ (for you’re never a ‘tourist’ when visiting) then ring around the monasteries to ask for spare beds. As long as one is available, it has to be offered – the monks have a long tradition of hospitality, and there’s no charge for a stay.
It can be a complicated process and there are no agencies that help cut through the red tape for non-Greek speakers – although the concierge staff at Eagles Palace will take over and smooth the process for their guests.
We spend our day on Athos, hiking its undulating lands. Rolling hills covered with cypress, olives and grape vines, using the mountain as an anchor point to visit other monasteries such as the impressive Iviron, a huge castle-like structure by the shore where the Virgin Mary is said to have landed and blessed Mount Athos.
Its churches are full of incredible 15th-century icons surrounded by carved gold leaf, the air is redolent with livani – the evocative Greek church incense – and we hear familiar accents from British and Australian monks who have chosen to live here.
In the evening back at Mylopotamos, Ephiphanios opens up his small kitchen and his extensive winery to us. He cooks over an open fire, a huge pan bubbling away with massive grouper fillets, baby courgettes and fresh celery.
It’s on the fire for about an hour as we chat and sip the wine. You’d think the dish would have boiled into a mush – but the fish stays together, tender as you like and infused with the flavours of the broth. With a plate of olives, some salty feta cheese and homemade bread, it’s delicious.
“Someone once asked me what I’d be if I were not a chef, I said thin,” he tells us rubbing his not inconsiderable belly and chuckling away. Super model skinny, he may never be… but I wouldn’t bet against him outliving all of us.
Monk Epiphanios’ book is available on Amazon. Details of the excellent Eagles Palace hotel can be found here
Grouper with baby courgettes
1.5 kg of fillet grouper (skin on) or other white fish
4 large onions
5 cloves of garlic
350g of olive oil
one bunch of parsley
700g baby courgettes
Prepare an onion paste by boiling the onions for an hour, pureeing and then cooling.
Wash the grouper fillets, salt and leave in a colander to drain.
Place the fish skin up in a wide, deep frying pan and just cover with the onion puree and cold water.
Bring to the boil, skimming off any foam.
Add the courgettes topped and tailed, the oil, garlic and pepper corns. Reduce the heat and cook for around 45 minutes.
Do not stir but gently shake the pan to avoid the fish sticking.
Once the broth starts to thicken and the courgettes are tender, remove the pan from the heat, add the juice of the lemons and leave to infuse for five minutes before serving.
It’s the Queen’s 90th birthday this week… so let’s celebrate another kind of royalty, the walnut – the King of Nuts.
The humble walnut gets its fancy moniker from its latin name juglans regia, but also because they are packed with health-giving properties – clinical tests have shown they can help alleviate symptoms of or protect against a number of illnesses, including Parkinson’s Disease, cardiovascular problems and cancer.
The reason walnuts can do this is because they are packed with antioxidants that can help prevent disease and slow down aging – some studies show that a handful of walnuts can have more antioxidant power than your five a day.
That same handful is high in good fats, with up to 60 per cent of an adult’s consumption of mono and polyunsaturated fats coming in that same handful.
Recent studies into walnut consumption show the benefits of eating them, with one in Spain even demonstrating that those who eat a diet rich in a-linolenic acid (a constituent of walnuts) had a reduced risk of death from any cause by a huge 28 per cent.
All those food fats mean walnuts are energy dense – that handful also contains around 230 calories but studies have also shown that as part of a controlled diets, people have not only lost weight but also have better levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels.
Walnuts are also contain high levels of vitamin E which is great for healthy skin, eyes and strengthening the immune system – this is great for most of us, but vitamin E acts a blood thinner and anyone taking warfarin should seek medical advice before eating too many.
I’m not a fan of the term superfood, but if one food deserves it, it’s the walnut.
If you’re tempted to stray from good eating habits this coming Easter weekend… fear not, chocolate isn’t necessarily all that bad for you, as long as you opt for something with a high cocoa content.
A 100-gram bar with 70-85 per cent cocoa for instance comes with 11 grams of fibre and high levels of iron, magnesium, copper and manganese, and is said to be packed with antioxidants.
A recent Swedish study published in the British Medical Journal even showed it can help lower the risks of heart attacks and heart disease. It looked at the diets of some 67,000 people too – so that’s a decent sample size.
Another looked at chocolate and brain capacity and found it can be a smart choice: habitual chocolate intake was linked with increased cognitive function over a wide range of tests.
As ever there are some downsides: that 100g bar can pack in around 600 calories, so if you’re watching your weight, cocoa is a no-no.
There are also suggested links between eating chocolate and acne, while a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found links between chocolate and reduced bone density in older women, a portion of the population already with increased osteoporosis risk.
My take: enjoy some as a treat this weekend and on occasion, but don’t make a habit of it and stick to dark chocolate, high in levels of organic cocoa.
If you care about your diet, you should start to sprout your own seeds.
Go back to primary school where you’d get a saucer, some wet blotting paper and cress or mustard seeds and watch them grow, but substitute them for some more ‘exotic’ seeds and you’ll get the idea.
Back then – at my school at least – we used to put the results of our kitchen garden between a couple of pieces of white bread, lathered in marge (hello 1970s)… but these days seed sprouts are causing quite a stir in nutrition circles.
They add a flavour and crunch to salads but studies suggest sprouts contain anti-cancer substances such as sulforaphane, beta- carotene and vitamin C. They’re also packed with chromium which helps regulate blood sugar levels.
The best thing is, you don’t even need a garden to harvest your own crop.
The easiest way is buy a sprouter from the internet – a three-tier one costs around £15. Sprinkle a layer of seeds on each, water and wait for the results. They’re ready in less than a week.
I tend to do a different set of seeds per layer – but if you’re feeling more adventurous and find some sprouts you really like, you could stagger the crops, starting different layers on different days to give you a constant supply.
You can pretty much sprout any kind of edible seed, from broccoli to alfalfa – and even quinoa, but buy the best quality organic seeds you can. They might seem expensive at around £8 for a 500g bag, but you only need a tablespoon for each crop, so they’ll last for ages.
If you’ve got kids, they’ll love seeing them grow… our two can’t wait to help water or try them when done.
I bought my sprouter and seeds from the people at Sky Sprouts and can recommend their service.
Most of us will have seen the research this week that store-bought coffees can contain a whopping 25 spoonfuls of sugar. Obviously that amount of sugar is not going to boost your but if you take the syrup out, is coffee good for you?
For those who missed the report, it was done by Action on Sugar, the pressure group trying to get the government to reduce the amount of sugar in our food.
It’s easy to say they have a vested interest in showing the drinks to have a lot of sugar, but it’s still obviously shocking to find that some coffee shop coffees have more sugar than three cans of Coke – and I’ve discussed the dangers of too much sugar in the past.
It wasn’t a week full of bad news for coffee drinkers though. Although it gained fewer headlines, another coffee-related report made the papers on Friday. It showed drinking two cups of coffee a day can help reduce the health risks associated with drinking too much alcohol (1)
It looked at nine previous studies with more than 430,000 participants and revealed that risk was reduced by 22 per cent with one cup of coffee and 43 per cent with two cups, compared to drinking no coffee at all.
Obviously drinking coffee to alleviate the symptoms of a bad lifestyle seems rather counterproductive, not going in for the alcohol abuse in the first place would seem a better option.
The benefits of moderate coffee consumption stretch further than helping those with alcohol-induced liver disease though. Coffee is now recognised as a good source of antioxidants (2,3) – the chemicals that can help slow down ageing and prevent certain diseases.
Recent studies have shown that it can help with conditions such as skin cancer, cataracts and bone health (4–6). One even suggests moderate consumption is not a risk factor for high blood pressure (7), while another showed it can be beneficial for those involved in resistance (weight) training (8).
If you’re rushing to the Nespresso machine as you read, you might want to hold on. Coffee remains a diuretic, meaning it makes you go to the toilet more affecting your hydration levels.
Another study has linked high levels of consumption with gastric cancer (9) while it can be a predictor of future cardiovascular events (read strokes and heart attacks) in younger people who are already suffering from high blood pressure (10).
It also stimulates the adrenal glands and is thought to increase the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body (11) which can link to increased agitation.
If you’re thinking by now that even the scientists can’t agree whether it is good for you or not, you’re probably right.
If you do drink coffee, follow these tips
Drink in moderation, no more than three cups per day,
Drink the best quality of coffee you can afford,
Avoid over-processed coffees such as instant where possible,
Drink the freshest ground coffee you can with beans from a sustainable, free-trade source,
Increase your water consumption with coffee. In the Mediterranean, it is almost exclusively served with a glass of water on the side, you should follow suit,
Reduce your coffee intake if you suffer from high blood pressure.
Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Buchanan R, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Systematic review with meta-analysis: coffee consumption and the risk of cirrhosis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2016 Jan 25;43(5):562–74.
Troup GJ, Navarini L, Suggi Liverani F, Drew SC. Stable radical content and anti-radical activity of roasted Arabica coffee: from in-tact bean to coffee brew. PLoS One. Public Library of Science; 2015 Jan 9;10(4):e0122834.
Agudelo-Ochoa GM, Pulgarín-Zapata IC, Velásquez-Rodriguez CM, Duque-Ramírez M, Naranjo-Cano M, Quintero-Ortiz MM, et al. Coffee Consumption Increases the Antioxidant Capacity of Plasma and Has No Effect on the Lipid Profile or Vascular Function in Healthy Adults in a Randomized Controlled Trial. J Nutr. 2016 Feb 3;
Liu J, Shen B, Shi M, Cai J. Higher Caffeinated Coffee Intake Is Associated with Reduced Malignant Melanoma Risk: A Meta-Analysis Study. PLoS One. 2016 Jan;11(1):e0147056.
Varma SD. Effect of coffee (caffeine) against human cataract blindness. Clin Ophthalmol. 2016 Jan;10:213–20.
Choi E, Choi K-H, Park SM, Shin D, Joh H-K, Cho E. The Benefit of Bone Health by Drinking Coffee among Korean Postmenopausal Women: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Fourth & Fifth Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. PLoS One. 2016 Jan;11(1):e0147762.
Rhee JJ, Qin F, Hedlin HK, Chang TI, Bird CE, Zaslavsky O, et al. Coffee and caffeine consumption and the risk of hypertension in postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec 9;103(1):210–7.
Richardson DL, Clarke ND. Effect Of Coffee And Caffeine Ingestion On Resistance Exercise Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Feb 12;
Deng W, Yang H, Wang J, Cai J, Bai Z, Song J, et al. Coffee consumption and the risk of incident gastric cancer-A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Nutr Cancer. 2016 Jan;68(1):40–7.
Mos L, Fania C, Benetti E, Bratti P, Maraglino G, Mazzer A, et al. 1C.04: COFFEE CONSUMPTION IS A PREDICTOR OF CARDIOVASCULAR EVENTS IN YOUNG AND MIDDLE AGED HYPERTENSIVE SUBJECTS. J Hypertens. 2015 Jun;33 Suppl 1:e10.
Gavrieli A, Yannakoulia M, Fragopoulou E, Margaritopoulos D, Chamberland JP, Kaisari P, et al. Caffeinated coffee does not acutely affect energy intake, appetite, or inflammation but prevents serum cortisol concentrations from falling in healthy men. J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1;141(4):703–7.
There’s much evidence that many of our ills come from what we eat, how we digest our food, and how well we absorb nutrients from our food – which is why you should take a good probiotic.
“All disease begins in the gut – Hipocrates”
Some 2,500 years ago, the father of modern medicine knew what he was talking about. Our digestive tract is where we get the fuel our bodies need to work properly, but so many of us neglect to take good care of it.
Think of our digestive system as a car’s engine – just as you wouldn’t put diesel into a petrol car and expect it to work, you can’t put rubbish into your body and expect it to function in an optimal way.
And in those terms, probiotics can act a little like engine oil. Oil keeps the engine parts working and a good probiotic can help keep your gut working.
There are something like three to five pounds of bacteria in your tummy – they outnumber human cells by around 10 to one. Yes, getting rid of them at that upper figure might be a good way to lose almost half a stone. But if you did that, you wouldn’t be around much longer – for one, you wouldn’t be able to digest your food, for another, you’d pretty soon fall foul of some evil bug meaning you wouldn’t be around much longer.
The bacteria that occur in our tummies are the good guys. They help us digest our food – hence giving us the right nutrients – and they protect us from the baddies who want to make us sick.
Given their vital role, doesn’t it make sense to look after them? But few of us do – and that’s where probiotics come in.
We’re finally out of the ‘take an antibiotic for everything’ type of medicine in the UK, but one of the things antibiotics do is kill all bacteria – whether good or bad. And there’s good evidence that taking a probiotic when on antibiotics will help keep the balance right and prevent you from getting diarrhea.
There’s also evidence that if you have none-antibiotic diarrhoea, you can shorten its duration by more than a day.
They can also help with problems such as IBS and lactose intolerance, while there’s ongoing research into whether they can be beneficial for eczema sufferers or help boost the immune system.
While you’ve probably seen probiotics on the supermarket shelves in the form of yoghurts etc, I’d recommend taking a good probiotic from one of the specialist manufacturers who sell their professional-grade products online such as Nutriadvanced or the Natural Dispensary who are an online store for high-end supplements.
Probiotics are classed as food and so they are not subject to the stringent regulations that medicines are – with off-the-shelf products, it may be hard to know what you’re getting. The good probiotics I recommend are subject to stringent research to improve their quality and efficacy.
Drop me a line if you want to know more… I get a practitioner discount with some supplement companies and can pass that on to you.