Friday, 3 May 2013

Chat/Diary -- 03 May 2013

Diary -- 03 May 2013

I was away from home last week, so haven't been cooking for a while, which is why there haven't been any new posts recently. The 5:2 diet regime as generally understood seems to be that you fast two days and can eat what you like the other five. I wasn't really happy with the thought of that – it seems to me that the benefits of an improved diet require an awareness of what you eat every day. From the outset, I decided to restrict calories on non-fast days to about 1800, which is enough to lose weight slowly and not undo the weight-loss benefits from fasting.


About six weeks into the diet I've lost about a stone in weight, but it is now coming off much more slowly than it was at the beginning. I am aiming to lose another stone before switching to a weight maintenance diet.

More Pudding Recipes Coming Soon

I've been surprised that the most-viewed page so far is my low-cal chocolate pot, which has twice as many hits as the second most-viewed page, which is the rye crackers. I'm going to be thinking about more low calorie desserts because it's pretty clear that's what people like to read about.

Carbohydrates and Processed Food

One of the consequences of dieting is that I have become much more aware about what I eat – I am now especially careful with sugar, carbohydrates and saturated fats. I've re-read Dr John Briffa's book 'Escape Diet Trap', and he is convinced that over-consumption of sugar and processed carbohydrates is at the root of many diet associated illnesses, such as diabetes. His thesis in a nutshell is that we should eat foods that we have evolved to eat/digest; which in simple terms is a mixed diet composed of non-processed food, that avoid starchy carbohydrates and sugar. I don't agree with everything he says, but his approach seems to be heavily based on common sense – and that really appeals to me.   

Quick & Easy Mushroom & Sweetcorn Pancakes

Stuffed pancakes make a quick and easy supper. I make a batch of pancakes and freeze the ones I don't use (I roll them up in pairs separated by a piece of baking parchment and out them in a freezer bag). The stuffing is really quick to make so you can rustle up a supper in about 25 minutes. Using soya milk makes the pancakes less calorific and more nutritious than using milk.

Recipe (Makes 8 Pancakes)
Pancake batter
100g Plain Flour
2 Medium Eggs
1 dsp Olive Oil
200ml Soya milk
Pancake Stuffing
200g Sliced mushrooms
1 med Sliced/diced onion
80g Tinned sweetcorn
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1 dsp Bouillon powder
2 dsp Corn Flour
1 tbspn Parmesan cheese

Beat pancake batter ingredients together in a bowl. Fry each pancake in a dry non-stick pan until just brown on each side. Fry the mushrooms and onions in the remaining olive oil, add the bouillon and enough water to cover the vegetables. Add the sweetcorn and thicken with the cornflour. Put 2 spoonfuls of the stuffing into each pancake and fold into square parcels. Place the parcels folded side down on a non stick baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little parmesan and bake for 15 mins at 150 deg C. Finish under a grill to brown. For more flavour and few extra calories, serve some of the stuffing mix on the side.

Nutritional Information (Per pancake)
Calories 155
Total Fat 10.9g
Sat Fat 1.9g
Poly Fat 0.4g
Mono Fat 2.8g
Total Carbs 15.9g
Fibre 1.1g
Protein 5.9g 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Canned Chickpeas vs Home-Cooked

Using pulses is a good way of getting protein and making a large portion on fast days. I have been wondering how home cooked pulses compare with tinned ones nutritionally, and not surprisingly home cooked ones contain fewer calories, more protein and less salt (apparently much of the high salt content in canned chickpeas is reduced by thoroughly rinsing but I haven't been able to find data on this). I'm not surprised that the commercial/canned chickpeas weigh more, because the convention is that each tin contains 240g drained weight of chickpeas. Heavier chickpeas have a higher water content, which is a common way for food producers to give us consumers less food for more money. (It's also the reason many processed meats and fish have a high salt content, because the higher the salt the more water the product will hold).

Here is the comparison for one cup home-cooked chickpeas vs canned :-                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
Home-Cooked Canned
Total Fat4.0g7.0g
Total Carbs45.0g39.0g
Vitamin A1%0%
Vitamin C4%0%
Sources are amalgamated from: and
Since I'm going to all this trouble to improve my diet and lose weight it would be daft to eat less nutritious food – especially on fast days – so I'm going to cook my own pulses from now on.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Quick Low Cal Chocolate Pots (60 Cals)

I felt like a bit of a treat last night, and thought that a chocolate pudding would fit the bill. These little chocolate pots are pretty good, considering they are only 60 cals each; and they're really quick and easy to make.  I'll put a picture up next time I do them

Recipe (Makes 2 Desserts)
2 dsp Options Chocolate Drink
2 tbsp Instant Coffee
30g Cornflour (about 1-1/2 dsp)

Add the chocolate and coffee to a pan with about 150ml water. How much water you add is a matter of preference, I prefer them smaller and more chocolatey. Gently bring to a simmer then take off the heat. Gradually add the cornflour to thicken and return to a very low heat stirring all the time. Simmer for 30 secs, pour into small mugs or ramekins.
If you have a few cals spare then why not a 1/2 tsp grated 70% chocolate (15 cals) or 1/2 tsp caster sugar and then flash over it with a blow torch to make a brulee topping (10 cals).

Nutritional Information (Per pot)
Calories 60
Total Fat 1.0g
Sat Fat 0.6g
Total Carbs 10.4g
Fibre 2.0g
Protein 1.8g

Home-made Sausages/Burgers (50 cals each)

Sausages & Sprouted Chickpea Salad 

When I make risotto. I often make an extra portion which I can then use to make these delicious sausages or burgers – depending on my preference for shape. 

Recipe (Makes 12 sausages)
1 portion Left-over risotto (Mushroom or other)
1 slice Wholemeal toast
1 Large whole egg
1tsp Grain Mustard
1tbsp Soy Sauce
2tbsp Flour

Break the toast into small pieces and blend in a food processor, add the egg and continue to mix. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the flour) and process until they reach your preferred consistency – I prefer them to keep a bit of texture. Dust your hands with a little flour and form a roll or burger shape. Fry in a little oil turning until all sides are crisp and brown. Put in a pre-heated oven at 200 deg C for 15 mins.

Nutritional Information (Per sausage)
Calories 50
Total Fat 5.6g
Sat Fat 1.8g
Poly Fat 0.4g
Mono Fat 2.5g
Total Carbs 16.9g
Fibre 3.0g
Protein 5.4g

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Sprouted Chickpea Hummus

Hummus, Salad, & Flatbread (about 200 cal)

Home-made hummus is really good – quick to make but heavy on the calories due to it's high oil content. This is a great version using sprouted chickpeas and no oil. It has a pleasant nutty flavour and the lemon is more noticeable than in regular hummus. I took this pic on a non-fast day, and you will see it includes 1/2 an avocado which is about 160 cals on its own. 

Recipe (4 servings)
100g Chickpeas - sprouted
Juice 1-1/2 lemons
4 Cloves Garlic
2 tbsp Tahini
1 tbsp Toasted Sunflower Seeds
0.5 tsp Paprika
0.25 tsp Cumin

Blanch chick peas in boiling water for one minute. Blitz all of the ingredient in a food processor, add small amount of water to bring to preferred consistency; salt & pepper to taste.

Nutritional Information (Per Serving)
Calories 97.0
Total Fat 5.0g
Total Carbs 10.0g
Fibre 29.0g
Protein 9.1g
Vitamin A 2.1%
Calcium 2.6%
Iron 4% 

Home-made flatbreads

These flatbreads are quick and easy to make, and when served immediately are much better than shop bought pittas and flatbreads. They are good with my sprouted chickpea hummus.

Recipe (Makes 6 flatbreads)
100g Spelt flour + 25g for rolling
1 tbsp Olive Oil

Mix the flour and oil in a bowl, add water to make a loose dough. Knead for a couple of minutes to make it stretchy. Spelt flour doesn't require much kneading. Divide into 6 equal balls and roll out as thin as you can. Heat a dry non-stick frying pan, cook each flatbread for a minute or two, when it starts to puff up turn it over and cook for another minute.  As an option use 2/3 spelt flour and 1/3 rye flour. 

Nutritional Information (Per flatbread)
Calories 75
Total Fat 2.0g
Total Carbs 12.0g
Fibre 1.3g
Protein 2.1g 

Fats and Cholesterol

One of my main objectives in following this diet is to improve my cholesterol level and my heart disease risk. I've noticed from my food diary that about 35% of my diet is fat, which is a big surprise to me because I don't seem to add much fat and eat hardly any cheese. It seems that there is nothing intrinsically bad about fats, we need them as part of a balanced diet; but the advice is now clear-cut: saturated and trans fats are not part of a healthy diet.  Whilst reseraching this I found a good source for nutritional advice – The Harvard School of Public Health – this is their page on fats and cholesterol:

There's quite a lot to read through, here's a summary of their recommendations:
  1. Use liquid oils for cooking and baking. I always cook with olive oil but have been baking with butter, so I'm going to try switching to vegetable oil and I'll give olive oil a go in some savoury recipes.
  2. Avoid trans fats completely. Check the labels on shop bought cakes, pastries and biscuits, and avoid deep fried food when eating out unless you know the type of oil used for frying.
  3. Switch from butter to soft tub margarine. This argument seems to have gone on for years. The advice is that hard margarine (in a block) is less healthy than butter because it contains trans fats, soft tub margarines are healthier than butter. I've changed to spreads with plant sterols which claim to lower cholesterol, but I'm going to check out these claims in the near future.
  4. Eat at least one good source of omega-3 fats each day. They recommend fatty fish (tuna and salmon), but for veggies hemp seed oil seems like a good source. See  I'll be adding 3 teaspoons (15ml) to my food each day; and also eating a few walnuts and almonds. The American Heart Association recommends an omega-3 intake of 1000mg (ie 1 gram) per day.
  5. Cut back on red meat, cheese, milk and ice cream. It's easy to substitute cheese for meat as the main source of protein, but with my cholesterol profile I've stopped buying cheese except for a little parmesan to top things like stuffed pancakes, and only use milk for coffee.

In summary – use good oils for cooking and baking (eg olive oil and liquid vegetable oil), stop eating butter and switch to a soft spread, make sure you have a daily intake of omega-3 and 6, cut back on red meat, cheese, milk and ice cream.  

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Vitamins and Iron

One raw carrot per day = 100% RDA vitamin A

I really recommend the calorie counting website/app It is an easy way to keep a track of what I am eating and of planning recipes and meals. I have found this diet to be a really good learning experience -- I have become much more interested in nutrition and what I eat. The core of myfitnesspal is keeping a food diary.

One of the best things that I've learned from keeping a food diary is that I have been short in Vitamin A and Iron.  I googled 'foods rich in Vit A' and now eat at least one raw carrot a day. Being a non meat eater, the iron isn't so easy to fix, because the sources of significant quantities of iron are all meat based -- liver is good if you're interested. (Food trivia  -- apparently before iron was available as a food supplement the only known cure for pernicious anaemia was large daily servings of raw liver -- yuk!).  I've opted for a multivitamin with Iron.  Before keeping the food diary, I was completely unaware that my diet was low in vitamins and iron. Already
I'm feeling brighter and more energetic. Is it the weight loss or did I have an iron deficiency? It really doesn't matter because I'm happy to be feeling better.

Vegetarian Chilli-non-Carne

Here's a quick and easy vegetarian chilli. It makes a huge quantity, so you can freeze the leftovers for another day. It's around 210 cals per serving.

Ingredients (Makes 3 Servings)
150g Quorn Mince (half a bag)
1 Cup Celery sticks chopped
1 Medium Onion chopped
200g Button Mushrooms sliced
1 tin Red Kidney Beans (well rinsed)
1 tin Plum Tomatoes
1 dsp Bouillon Powder
100ml Water
1 tsp Chilli powder/flakes
Dash Mushroom Ketchup

Simmer all the fresh vegetables and the tinned tomatoes and stock until the veg start to soften and the sauce thickens. Add the Quorn mince and kidney beans and cook for a further 5-10 minutes with a lid on the pan.

Nutritional Information (Per Serving)
Calories   212
Total Fat   3.3g
Cholesterol   0.0mg
Total Carbs   29g
Fibre   11g
Sugars   14g
Protein    18g

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

How to Make Tofu Taste Good

Chilli Marinated Tofu with Salad

Fast day today. The two most things for me to achieve on fast day are:-
  1. To feel full and satisfied after a meal – I can't bear eating and then I'm still hungry at the end of it, and
  2. To maintain that feeling of having my appetite satisfied for as long as possible.
The first goal can be achieved through eating a large quantity of food, and I normally manage this by making a large salad with a couple of raw carrots, some celery and other veg to provide lots of slowly digested plant fibre. The second goal requires a good dollop of protein, which is harder when you're not eating animal protein.

I've tried tofu several times, but usually hate it because it is so bland and boring. The best recipes I've tried call for it to be marinated and then fried – which is a problem on fast days because if I use enough oil to fry then I won't have left in my calorie allowance for enough protein to keep my appetite satisfied for very long. So the challenge is, how to make tofu tasty without piling on the calories?

Well, I've found the answer, and it's dead easy. Slice a block of tofu into 2 thick slices – like a sandwich. Marinate the slices in a polythene bag with 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 de-seeded red chilli, and a couple of centimetres of grated ginger. Leave for at least 4 hours. Fry on a dry non-stick (really hot) griddle pan for 2-3 mins each side. Eat with salad. It works out at about 98 calories per slice and it actually tastes good.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Lunchtime Salad

My lunch on fasting days has to fulfil lots of competing needs. It needs to be quick to prepare, and portable in case I need to go out. It must be really tasty and it has to be fulfilling. I need to feel as if I have eaten at the end of the meal, and that sense of satisfaction must last through until dinner time. I'm learning that a salad based around pulses meets these objectives. The pulses provide protein, which means I will feel full for a longer period of time. (I know this because if I skip on protein and have a vegetable soup then I get really hungry later and and I get ratty as well!) As with all dishes, I'm looking for a balance of flavours – sweet/sharp/salt – and of textures – crisp/soft/crunchy. The greater the contrast, the more varied and interesting each mouthful of the salad will taste. A word about salad leaves – I only include leaves if they're worth eating: This recipe uses rocket which is peppery and bitter. Iceburg and round lettuce have no flavour, so for me they don't add anything to a salad.  These quantities make more than I can eat in one sitting, so I can top up later in the day if I need a snack, or finish it with my supper.

Bean & Mangetout Salad (Serves Two)     
240g   Drained and rinsed beans                 
50g   Mangetout, parboiled for 2 mins          
2   Celery sticks chopped                          
12   Cherry tomatoes halved                        
1/2  Cucumber chopped                            
1   Red pepper/capsicum diced                   
1/2  Green pepper/capsicum diced             
50g  Home pickled beetroot                        
1  Apple                                                      
100g  Rocket                                               
Dressing:  Juice of 1 lemon with 1 tbsp soy                

Mix all the ingredients except for the leaves, and dress with the lemon juice and soy sauce. When serving, put a few leaves in the bottom of a bowl and cover with the salad. Beans and pulses differ in their calorific value – as a guide you're looking for about 100 cals per 100g. At 40 cals per serving the apple is a bit of a luxury, but having something sweet really improves the eating.

Nutritional Information (Per Serving)
Calories 240
Total Fat 3.0g
Sat Fat 0.5g
Cholesterol 0.0mg
Total Carbs 44.5g
Fibre 11.2g
Sugars 12.9g
Protein 11.7g

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Low Cal Quorn Cottage Pie

I've replaced the high cal ingredients of a traditional cottage pie to create this low-cal version, which works out at 205 cals per serving.

Ingredients (Serves Two People)
150g Quorn Mince (half a bag)
2 Medium carrots roughly chopped
3 Celery sticks chopped
1 Medium Onion chopped
200g Button Mushrooms sliced
90g Small baking potato sliced wafer thin
1tbsp Bouillon Powder
100ml Water
Dash Soy sauce & Worcestershire sauce

Simmer all the vegetables (except the potato) in the stock until they start to soften. Add the Quorn mince and put into an oven-proof dish, spread to thin discs of potato over the top of the vegetables, and press down with the back of a spoon. Top up with water to cover the potato. Cook for 25-30 mins until the potato layer is cooked and brown under a grill if necessary.

Nutritional Information (Per Serving)
Calories 205
Total Fat 2.1g
Sat Fat 0.5g
Cholesterol 0.0mg
Total Carbs 29.4g
Fibre 9.6g
Sugars 8.8g
Protein 15.2g

Second Two Fast Days

Fast Day 3

I don't fast on consecutive days, I've just grouped them together for convenience.  I've decided that skipping breakfast on a fast day isn't such a good idea, so on the third fast day it was poached egg for breakfast with a couple of my delicious rye crackers; a salad for lunch again, and a Quorn and veg chilli for supper. I'm really pleased with the chilli, because it's a good plateful that looks good and tastes great.  I don't have a problem with Quorn mince, it makes a good low cal Chilli.  I'm finishing my third fast day feeling peckish rather than hungry, and I think I can make a go of this.

Fast Day 4

I'm getting into a routine.  The egg is a good start to the day and leaves me feeling full until lunchtime.  Today's was a cottage cheese with salad of drained haricot beans, celery, home-pickled beetroot (good) and broccoli/calabrese.  Dinner is a lowcal cottage pie with Quorn mince. By the end of the day I've got a few spare calories I have a cup of tea and a half-share of a Lidl's chocolate mousse bar (10+29 cals respectively).  

I'm going to share my recipes for the chilli and mince pie.

Home Made Rye Crackers/Crispbread

I'm not going to make it on this diet if I have to snack on Rice Cakes.  They are basically rubbish commercial food (IMHO), and I must be able to do better.  I want a snack/biscuit/crispbread that is nutritious and that tastes good, so I've been looking around for recipes and I've had a go.  I've got to say this is a big improvement on bought crackers and crispbreads (except maybe for Dr Karg's -- but that costs a fortune).

Home Made Crispbread

This recipe is for 24 crispbreads or 96 crackers, depending what size you cut them into. They are quick and easy to make and totally delicious.  They aren't low-calorie, they're about 64 calories per crispbread -- but that's less than a slice of bread, and the rye flour seems to make them more satisfying.  Perhaps I'll experiment with a lower fat version in the future.

50ml Pumpkin seeds
50ml Sunflower seeds
50ml Golden Linseed
50ml Sunflower Oil
150ml Rye Flour
200ml White Spelt Flour
200ml Water
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt

Preheat oven to 200 deg C. Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, add the oil and most of the water, mix to a loose dough . Continue adding water until it is loose enough to be able to be easy to mould with your hands, but not sticky.  Rest it for 15 mins so that the water gets completely absorbed -- this will allow the dough to become more elastic. 
Line the bottom of a baking sheet with parchment, spread the mixture onto the parchment, cover with a second layer of baking parchment. Press/spread/roll the dough with hands or a small rolling pin to form a thin even layer. Remove the top layer of parchment and tidy up the edges and corners. Score into rectangles with a knife.
Put tray into upper part of oven, after about 10 mins remove the tray and score the crispbreads right through. Place back into oven and keep checking/watching every couple of minutes. After the crackers are cooked, and before they are fully browned I move them onto a rack in the bottom of the oven and leave them there to brown (each cracker will brown at a slightly different time depending its thickness). Remove the browned crackers at set aside to cool. Store in an airtight container.

These quantities are enough to make a tray and a half on my 28x42cm baking tray.

Nutritional Information (Per Crispbread)
Calories 63.1

My First Two Fasting Days

First Fast Day

OK, my partner and I have committed to doing this.  It's all going well -- I've started using a great little app to help me calculate calories.  It works really well on my Iphone and the web site is excellent as well.  So I spent day carefully working out the calories of what we're eating -- skipped breakfast and opted for coffee as it usually suppresses my appetite.  Lunch was Leak and Potato Soup and rice crackers, and then a friend invited us for supper.

Learned Rule 1 Don't go out on a fast day, even if you think you can do it.  I calculated that we could eat a small portion of the Tortellini that posh catering-friend was making, plus some salad.  Oh dear, I didn't reckon on the rich cheese and cream sauce and as a consequence my digestive system went into over-drive and I was soon in the agonies of terrible wind and indigestion. 

Second Fast Day

Still learning how to do this, and once again skipped breakfast.  Two poached eggs some carrots and peas for lunch, and a mixed salad made from tinned beans, cucumber, celery, apple, rocket.  Tasty but I started getting really hungry towards the end of the day, and munched through 4 Marmite rice cakes (which are better than plain ones, but still pretty dull).  There must be a better way to do this.

Why I'm Doing This Blog

What's The Fuss About The 5:2 Diet

A couple of weeks ago a friend told me that she has started the 5:2 diet and after a couple of months had lost weight and was feeling great. It's easy and pretty pain-free, she said. You just restrict yourself to 500 calories on a fast day and the other five days you eat what you want.  I wanted to find out more.

A bit of googling/research led me to Michael Mosely's TV programme, which explored how restricting calories can improve health and be an indicator of increased life-span. At the end of the programme he tested his blood profile for heart risks, and after a couple of months he had more-or-less reduced all the main risk factors from high to normal.  It's really worth watching if you can get hold of a copy.

Health Matters

I've been on a meat-free diet for years now, and thought I was pretty healthy; so it was a big surprise when I had a mini-stroke (TIA) a couple of years ago.  I don't have most of the risks associated with heart disease, but nevertheless had a stroke.  My cholesterol was up above 6.0, and so I was started on statins. This diet offers the possibility that I may be able to get off statins, which is a worthwhile goal for me.

Vegetarian/Meat-Free Meals

I've had a look at the books out there on this diet, and the recipes seem pretty much meat biased.  So it's time to change that ans share my experiences, recipes, ideas highs and lows. This blog will interest anyone wanting to lose weight or improve their health risks.  For me, food has to look good and taste great. So welcome to my blog, I hope you find it informative and fun.