nutrition, Recipes, well-being

Vegan ‘Beef’ Rendang

This was a big hit with my family, so thought I’d share this! It may look a bit boring, but everyone who’s tried this says it’s very flavoursome😊 Some foods like stews are just not as photogenic as salads for instance. Our family is on a journey of increasing plant based foods in our diet for both health and environmental reasons. There are, however, a few foods that I miss, like Rendang which is an Indonesian spicy meat curry dish really popular here in the Netherlands! Now to my joy, I’ve discovered they sell pulled oats locally, which is a plant protein I used to only be able to find on visits to Finland. It’s finally available at my local supermarket here in the Netherlands! I was VERY excited to try to cook one of my favourite Indonesian dishes using pulled oats instead of beef. The consistency is fantastic, as it’s ‘shreddy’ like meat that has been stewed tender just like you’d have in Rendang.

The nutritional profile for pulled oats is very good and it suits my digestion much better than for instance Seitan which has gluten based protein, or Valess which has dairy in it. I unfortunately tend to have trouble with both gluten AND lactose, so this is partly why I was so pleased that pulled oats from Finland arrived in Holland. I do of course use a lot of pulses and various other veggies for protein in curries and chilis, but sometimes it’s nice to have the familiar ‘mouth feel’ of meat like we are used to in dishes like Rendang in which meat is the ‘star of the show’ 😊 Oh, and actually the pulled oats product I use is from nordic non-gmo oats and legumes. It has high levels of plant based protein, fibre and minerals and no additives or preservatives! In case you are curious the brand of pulled oats I found in my local grocery store is called ‘Gold & Green’. I should probably also mention that there are other health benefits in this recipe as well, the turmeric with black pepper helps reduce inflammation as do the ginger and garlic. I hope to write further about anti-inflammatory foods at some point, but today my focus is on this healthy plant-based recipe. Please remember to always add a large helping of vegetables to your plate even if you are cooking with plant based protein.

This is a quick and easy dish to make so if you give this recipe a go, please get back to me and let me know what you think! I’d love to see pics too ❤️

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 4 -6 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder/flakes (add according to the spiciness level desired)
  • 2 inches of a thick piece of fresh ginger grated or minced tiny
  • The grated zest of 1 organic lime
  • 1-2 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 400-600 ml of tinned coconut milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 packets of pulled oats (175 grams in a packet)
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar or coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (add less or more depending on the saltiness of your soy sauce, so be sure to TASTE!)

Method

  1. Sautée chopped onions in the coconut oil until quite tender, then add minced garlic and minced/grated ginger and sautée for another 30 seconds or or so. BE CAREFUL not to burn the garlic or it gets bitter!
  2. Then add all other seasoning into the onion, garlic & ginger mixture
  3. Now add the soy sauce and the pulled oats – sautée another 1-2 mins
  4. Add the sugar and grated lime zest and just mix through briefly on the heat
  5. Finally add the tinned coconut milk
  6. Simmer gently under a lid for about 15-20 mins, remember to add water if the Rendang starts to dry out.

Serve with:

  • Brown rice
  • Oven roasted cauliflower and broccoli seasoned with ground coriander, garlic, turmeric, salt & pepper
  • Top with a generous squeeze of lime just before eating the Rendang
  • Sprinkle with chopped coriander (optional if you don’t like coriander/cilantro)

ENJOY! ❤️

ecotherapy, nature, psychology, self-help, well-being

Ecotherapy — Forest Bathing

I’ve just returned from another stroll through the woods!! I really felt like I needed to get a bit of fresh air and a good dose of green. It’s such a warm and sunny day, but the forest is wonderfully cooling and refreshing. We’ve recently bought an old house here in Holland, so there’s a lot of renovating to do, like painting walls and installing new floors etc. However, it’s a bit dusty and it’s good to have breaks. Do you ever feel like you need to plunge yourself into nature?

Now-a-days many of us spend much of our time in environments void of natural elements. This has a negative impact on our psychological and physical well-being. There is a continuously growing body of evidence demonstrating that being in nature is very beneficial to our health in various ways. Many of us enjoy nature walks and strolling through woods; we seem to know instinctively that it’s the right thing to do when we get home from a long day at work. When I worked in Cornwall I was lucky in that I usually offered therapy based in Medical Clinics surrounded by countryside. This gave me the option of even having lunch outdoors when the weather was nice and sometimes, if I wasn’t too busy, I even had a short walk in the fields after lunch. When I lived and worked in a city, I did my best to have a walk in the nearby parks before or after my therapy clinics.

Sometimes, however, this instinctive urge to go outdoors may not be as clear to us especially if we are suffering from depression or anxiety. Often this is when we would most benefit from nature, so at these times the best thing to do is just to go out, even if we don’t really feel like it. We need to trust that we will start feeling better gradually by going outdoors regularly. In fact, we now know through scientific research that nature has some well evidenced therapeutic effects on all of us. I certainly feel this personally when I’m going through a stressful period of life and at these times I might even need to almost drag myself outdoors despite all the excuses my mind is making not to go (bad weather, too busy, too tired etc.). The reason I manage to get myself out at times like these, is simply because I know from experience I’ll feel better afterwards. A walk through the woods can allow us to distance ourselves from problems and even gain a different perspective or solution to something that might have been troubling our minds. The woods are soothing in general; I remember during my worst years of teenage angst stomping into my grandparents’ forest and after a while I’d return home much calmer and with less turmoil in my heart. Back then I had no idea I was engaging in Ecotherapy or Shinrin yoku, but I’m so grateful I did have these positive experiences of respite in nature, as I’m sure it made things easier to process back then and also set a good precedent for adulthood.

Ecotherapy is a term used for the psychologically beneficial effects of nature. We also know of it as Nature Therapy & Green therapy. There are many types of ‘being with nature’ that have been found to be supportive of our well-being. Today I’ll talk a little about ‘Forest bathing’, also known as ‘Shinrin-Yoku’, which is one form of ecotherapy. The term Shinrin-Yoku was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, and can be defined as ‘making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest’. As I mentioned above, there is increasing scientific evidence for the positive impact of nature on our wellbeing. For instance, one Japanese study (1) produced results showing that forest environments promote significantly lower concentrations of cortisol (a stress hormone), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nervous system activity (responsible for “rest and digest”), and lower sympathetic nervous system activity (responsible for our “fight or flight” reaction)  than do city environments. This type of effect on our nervous system promotes a general sense of psychological wellness and calm. Another study involving several research institutes in Japan (2) found that hostility and depression decreased significantly when people spent the day in the forest. In fact they found that stress levels were related to the magnitude of the Shinrin-Yoku effect. The more stressed people were, the greater the soothing effect of the forest was!

It’s also clear from numerous studies that not only does the forest have a positive impact on us psychologically, it is also physically healing. For instance, walking in a forest, but not an urban area, increases serum levels of didehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) (3). DHEA is said to have cardio-protective, anti-obesity, and anti-diabetic properties (4). Ming Kuo (5) states that regular forest walks could potentially protect against obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease. Kuo also suggests that the forest has a hugely beneficial impact on our immune systems and reviews several studies identifying that walks in forested, but not urban, areas enhance immune functioning. Forest walks appear to boost the number and activity of anti-cancer (so-called “natural killer”) cells and the expression of anti-cancer proteins (6, 7, 8, 9). Another study found that two 2-hour forest walks on consecutive days increased the number and activity of natural killer cells by 50% and 56%, respectively, and activity remained boosted at a significant level (23% higher) even a month after returning to urban life (10). Furthermore, another study indicates that walking in a forest, but not in urban areas, reduces inflammatory cytokines (11).

The above research I’ve briefly mentioned is only a tiny ‘taster’ of all the studies and investigations carried out by numerous scientists across the world about the positive impacts of Forest Bathing on our psychological and physical health. In fact, I could have gotten seriously ‘lost down the rabbit hole’ of this area of research, as it’s truly fascinating! This blog, however, is not the place for a full academic research review 😉 However, I hope this glimpse of all the the health benefits provided to us by woods and forests has motivated you to do a little of your own reading on the subject. Better yet, I hope to have inspired you to get out there and enjoy your local woods or a leafy park. However, please don’t despair if you haven’t got easy access to trees, as it appears that the positive impact of Shinrin-Yoku lasts for a whole month. Maybe you could even plan a weekend nature get-away with your friends or a loved one!!

Finally, I would just like to add that being in nature allows us to practice Mindfulness with more ease. It may require less effort to stay in the present moment when we are surrounded by the natural environment, as it anchors us into the ‘now’ through all of our senses. For the purposes of this article I won’t discuss mindfulness further, instead I’ll leave that for another time hopefully in the near future!

Maybe you already practice Forest Bathing or some other type of Ecotherapy? I’d love to hear about what you find helpful!

Works cited:

  1. Park BJ, Tsunetsugu Y., Kasetani T., Kagawa T., Miyazaki Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ. Health Prev. Med. 15(1),18-26.
  2. Morita E., Fukuda S., Nagano J., Hamajima N., Yamamoto H., Iwai Y., Nakashima T., Ohira H., Shirakawa T. (2007). Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Public Health. 121 (1), 54-63.
  3. Li Q., Otsuka T., Kobayashi M., Wakayama Y., Inagaki H., Katsumata M., et al. (2011). Acute effects of walking in forest environments on cardiovascular and metabolic parameters. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 111, 2845–2853.
  4. Bjørnerem A., Straume B., Midtby M., Fønnebø V., Sundsfjord J., Svartberg J., et al. (2004). Endogenous sex hormones in relation to age, sex, lifestyle factors, and chronic diseases in a general population: the Tromso Study. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 89, 6039–6047.
  5. Kuo, M. (2015). How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Frontiers in Psychology. 6, 1093.
  6. Li, Q., Morimoto, K., Nakadai, A., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., Shimizu, T., … & Kawada, T. (2007). Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. 20 (Suppl 2), 3-8.
  7. Li, Q., Morimoto, K., Kobayashi, M., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., Hirata, Y., … & Krensky, A. M. (2008a). Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. 21, 117-127.
  8. Li, Q., Morimoto, K., Kobayashi, M., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., Hirata, Y., … & Miyazaki, Y. (2008b). A forest bathing trip increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects. Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents. 22, 45-55.
  9. Li Q., Kobayashi M., Inagaki H., Hirata Y., Hirata K., Li Y. J., et al. (2010). A day trip to a forest park increases human natural killer activity and the expression of anti-cancer proteins in male subjects. J. Biol. Regul. Homeost. Agents. 24, 157–165. 
  10. Li, Q. 2010. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. 15(1): 9–17.
  11. Mao G., Cao Y., Lan X., He Z., Chen Z., Wang Y., et al. (2012). Therapeutic effect of forest bathing on human hypertension in the elderly. J. Cardiol. 60, 495–502.
nutrition, Recipes, well-being

Salmon on rye with avocado smash

Salmon on rye with avocado smash

This is not so much a recipe as it is inspiration for a simple meal that can be thrown together in minutes for breakfast or lunch, which is great when we have busy lives! It is also a quick way to get some healthy fats including omega 3 into your diet. This is all good for a healthy brain & healthy body. And, yes, the right types of fats are actually good for us even though many of us have learnt to avoid ALL fats!!

In fact our bodies need some dietary fat, but replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats may help lower your blood pressure, according to the February 2006 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” Although avocados have fat, the great thing is that it is mainly monounsaturated fat. Furthermore, avocados are a good source of potassium and most of us could do with boosting this in our diets. Getting enough potassium helps regulate our heart beat, keeps muscles and nerves working, and helps lower blood pressure. So in a way potassium counterbalances sodium’s tendency to increase blood pressure. Also, we get a good amount of fibre from avocados, which is boosted even further by the fibre from the rye in the crisp breads that are part of this simple lunch!

Salmon provides us with a high quantity of polyunsaturated fats of which Omega-3s are the main players. Oily fish supply the body with components that form the structures of cell membranes. DHA and EPA are present in fish & supplements with fish and krill oil (also in vegan marine algae based supplements). Unfortunately our bodies are only able to make very limited amounts of essential EPA and DHA. DHA, in particular, is especially high in the retina, brain, and sperm. Therefore, consuming EPA and DHA directly from foods and/or dietary supplements is the easiest way to increase levels of these essential fatty acids in the body. The ALA type of Omega-3 can be found in i.e. flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts, but this type of Omega-3 is not utilised quite as efficiently by the body, but of course they are still very good for us. By the way, avocados also contain a little ALA!!

All you need is:

  • fresh wild or organic (if possible) cold smoked salmon
  • rye crisp breads like Ryvita or Finn Crisps (Finnish – näkkileipä or hapankorppu)
  • ripe avocado
  • lemon/lime
  • dill and salt & pepper

I roughly smash the avocado with a fork, squeeze in lemon and add a couple of twists from the pepper & salt mills. Then just top the crisp bread with the avocado smash, slivers of salmon and sprinkle with chopped dill. Enjoy immediately or the bread will lose its crispiness – simple and satisfying!!

You can read more about Omega-3s on the National Institute of Health (USA) website.