To eat, or not to eat? That is the question.

There are few subjects that are so simultaneously prosaic and emotive as food.

We photograph it, comfort eat it and watch programmes about it. We spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals, or spend a fortune in restaurants trying out new and delicious dishes. We read about how to eat ourselves healthier; how to make our skin brighter and our hair shinier through our diets. The internet is full of advice on how to treat certain ailments with a variety of ingredients, or how to improve athletic performance through what we eat. So why then, with all of these positive associations, is food also so inextricably linked with guilt, shame, obsession and illness?

While I know that my guilty pleasures aren’t as decadent as they might be, calories are calories whether they come encased in an avocado skin or a chocolate bar wrapper. I can’t be alone in feeling guilty for mindlessly chomping through a bag of cashews to get me through an afternoon of editing, for curling up with a hot chocolate before bed rather than a herbal tea, or for sneaking a wholly unnecessary round of toast with nut butter as I laze around with the weekend papers, only to regret these decisions just moments later. As my brain flits from gratification to guilt in the blink of an eye, it brings to mind a book I read about the psychology of eating and how we completely confuse ourselves with such mixed messages of ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’. How can it be that something which one minute we associate with a pleasurable treat then next fills us with the pain of guilt and anxiety?

More to the point, I worry that it it’s abnormal to get so hung up on food in this way – either as an indulgence or as a deleterious presence – and often wish I could just embrace an indifference to eating: a food equals fuel equation, removing all other associations, pleasurable, painful or otherwise. This, I recently discovered, is exactly what Andrew ‘Spud Fit’ Taylor has done. Andrew has taken dieting to the extreme, removing everything from his plate for an entire year with the exception of one thing: potatoes.

I discovered Andrew’s story in a recent interview on the Rich Roll podcast and it really struck a chord with me. Despite being a vegan, Andrew admitted to spending a lot of his life struggling with his weight and suffering from the all too familiar yo-yoing effect of dieting. He came to realise that all of his attempts to lose weight were actually only touching the surface of a much deeper-rooted issue, a food addiction.

It was only a short while before listening to this episode that I had been discussing a similar topic with a friend and former GP. When we spoke she compared food addiction to drug abuse or alcoholism, but with the added difficulty that with food you can’t go completely cold turkey, or wean yourself off it with the eventual aim of giving it up completely. I remember thinking then how hard it must be to curb an addiction when the source of that addiction is also something that you need to survive.

Andrew’s solution was to research and explore nutritional science more deeply to find the perfect single food source of nutrition that could sustain him for an entire year. The answer? Potatoes. By eating potatoes for every meal he was able to take away all thoughts about food; from the practical thoughts – meal planning, food shopping lists, checking if there is something you can eat at a restaurant before attending etc. – to more detrimental or destructive thoughts – cravings, hankerings, obsessive calorie counting and restrictions.

With food out of the equation his hope was that he could retrain his brain ‘to get comfort, pleasure and emotional support from other areas of life’ and to become ‘less reliant on food and therefore have a better relationship with it’.

While this may sound extreme it was interesting to listen to him talk through this process of unshackling himself from the draw of food. From acting as a crutch when he was down to a source of celebration when he was happy, food had played such a central role in his life and now he had to find something else to fill that space. It certainly made me think about all of those times I turn to a snack because I’m bored, or tired, or over-indulge on treats to celebrate some arbitrary event, or else as a source of comfort if I’m feeling down. While my relationship with food certainly isn’t as extreme as Andrew’s was, there are elements of emotional attachment to what I eat that I would certainly like to sever and Andrew’s story is an inspirational way of showing that this is possible.

I would really recommend listening to the interview and exploring Andrew’s blog.

Until next time, eat mindfully, and perhaps take a moment to reflect on where exactly the void is that you are trying to fill next time you turn to the fridge.

Tuscan adventures and new beginnings

I realise that it has been quite a while since my last post, for which I have the (fairly reasonable?) excuse of a wedding and honeymoon. Twelve months almost to the day that we got engaged, R and I tied the knot in Tuscany last month, surrounded by our closest friends and family, on what was genuinely the happiest and most fantastically fun day of my life.

img_6216From swimming laps with my bridesmaids before breakfast and racing across the pool on inflatable pizza slices with my pals (I had to burn off the nervous energy somehow!), to exchanging our vows in a beautiful hill-top town hall and dancing the night away in a Tuscan castle, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day.

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I can’t tell you how grateful we both felt to have so many of our wonderful friends and family members fly out to Italy to share the day with us. While I have always acknowledged how amazing the people in our lives are, having them all there together – and seeing new friendships form between our respective friends and relatives – filled me with so much happiness and gratitude; I really do feel so amazingly privileged that we are able to share our lives with such incredible people.

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After the wedding – and following a few days de-compressing with our families – R and I spent two weeks travelling around Italy. It’s amazing how taking a step out of your everyday routine really shifts your perception and allows you the time and headspace to reflect on where you are in your life, and to appreciate all that you have. It was so wonderful taking time to talk about everything and nothing – discussing our life plans, politics, art, our future together and our career goals – rather than simply worrying about what meetings or deadlines we had coming up at work or who was cooking dinner that evening (the usual topics of conversation in our everyday lives!).

Our lifestyle took on a whole different pattern too: we were getting plenty of sleep, spending all of our waking hours outside, walking, cycling and swimming – in the sea, in pools and in lakes – dining out on good food and eating when we were hungry, rather than when we were bored or tired. We read book after book, appreciated amazing art works  and architecture and took the time to pause and notice the little things in the world around us.

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And after what felt like a terribly indulgent couple of weeks I returned to the UK feeling healthier and better than I have done for a long while.

As you can imagine, coming back to London has been quite the fall back to earth, and despite an active holiday, rising early for my pre-work yoga and getting back into my running routine has taken a bit of a push. No matter how much you love it, London life is not serene by any stretch of the imagination and it is amazing how exhausting just commuting while surrounded by hundreds of people can be!

While we are falling back into many elements of our pre-wedding day-to-day routine, there are some habits from the holiday that I’m trying to maintain and some feelings that were stirred up from the trip that I don’t want to let go.

Post-wedding I’m taking the time to pay attention to the little things in the world around me – the way the light passes through the clouds, the autumnal freshness to the air, the changing colour of the leaves, the shapes and colours of the city, the little alleyways and interesting architectural features high-up on buildings that are so easily missed.

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I’ve continued to read fervently, burying my head in a book on my commute and in little cafes during those lunch breaks when I don’t go running.

Having allowed myself to eat freely and mindfully during the honeymoon – enjoying good and nutritious food, including a lot of bread and pasta (something I would have considered sacrilege pre-wedding!) and resultantly eating to satiety rather than over-eating – I’ve adjusted my eating habits since I’ve returned home. I’ve taken to eating slightly more at breakfast, as we did on our honeymoon, and to keeping an afternoon snack on hand to stop me from getting over-hungry come 7pm and devouring too much at dinner.

Finally having had the time for my mind to wander and whirr, to be filled with history and art, political ideas and literature, I’m looking at opportunities for further study. Be it via an ever increasing reading list that I’m creating for myself, evenings in the British Library or lengthy conversations with my academic friends, I’m starting, once again, to feed that little intellectual sprite that sits on my shoulder and makes noises about a PhD.

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So as one chapter of my life has come to an end, and as I ride out the inevitable dip that comes post-wedding-and-wonderful-honeymoon, a whole new and exciting chapter is beginning, and I’m embarking on it as a Mrs with the best man in the world at my side.

More soon.

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10 reasons I love London

It’s really easy to take various elements of your life for granted. Whether it’s your home, job, friends or even the city you live in, you can get so bogged down in day-to-day life that you stop seeing the wood for the trees. You may see the beauty in other places but overlook all of the amazing things right on your doorstep. You may praise the art, architecture, cafe culture or music scene in another city but then fail to acknowledge how great all of those things are in the place that you live.

So over  the bank holiday weekend I took some time to slow down and really enjoy my city.

Whether you are a fellow Londoner or just thinking of coming for a visit, I wanted to share some of my favourite elements of London with you (and I’ll admit to cheating and squishing lots in to keep to just ten points!)

1. The art galleries and museums

IMG_4295The National Gallery, the NPG, the Royal Academy, the Courtauld, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, The British Library, The British Museum, the V&A, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Foundlings Museum, the Design Museum, Museum of London…the list goes on, and on.

London has some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries, with blockbuster exhibitions and incredible permanent collections, many of which can be accessed for free.

Being able to mooch around the permanent collections and the National Gallery or NPG, seeing a show with my dad at the RA, or enjoying a Friday late at the V&A with my pals is such bliss and something I feel so lucky to be able to do.

2. The river and the canal

IMG_5574A run or stroll along the Thames is still one of my absolute favourite things and 9 years after moving to London I’m still totally in love with the view of London from the river.

Whether it’s the approach to St Paul’s while crossing Millennium Bridge, the skyline of the city from Tower Bridge, gazing across at Parliament and Big Ben from the South Bank at Westminster, or the bright bridge at Chelsea viewed from Battersea park, there are so many beautiful and ever-changing vista across London from the banks of the Thames. I still love the hectic south bank and packed pavements from the Royal Festival Hall at Waterloo, past the Globe and into Bermondsey. I love St Catherine’s dock and Wapping to the north and the quieter stretches out at and Putney and Richmond to the south; no trip to London is complete without a stroll along the river!

A close second to the Thames is the canal, with beautiful stretches from Regents Park to Camden Town, around lazy Little Venice, and from Angel to the Olympic Park at Stratford, all worth exploring. I’ve spent so many Sundays running along the tow paths, dipping in and out of the parks, admiring the boats and soaking up the blissfully serene canal-life atmosphere.

3.  The transport

airlineThe tube, bus and over ground system in London is so efficient you can easily travel from one end of the city to the other without even thinking about getting into a car (which suits me very well!).

From Brixton to Walthamstow on the Victoria line takes little more than 30 minutes and this stretch can now be navigated 24 hours a day with the new night tube. The over ground means that from Highbury to Peckham is only 35 minutes and from home I can be at the Olympic Pool in Stratford in little over 20 minutes! If you want a more scenic view of the city river buses run from Hampton Court out west to Woolwich Arsenal in the east and the Emirates Airline provides the most stunning views over Greenwich. Who needs a car?!

4. The parks

IMG_5037Whether you are looking for sculpted flower gardens, parks with play areas for children, open heaths, swimming ponds or just a little green space to lounge in the sun with a picnic or barbeque, London is rich in areas of green space. Londoners treat the parks as an extension of their own gardens (normally as so few of us actually have gardens!) and in the summer they are packed with people enjoying the sun in their lunch breaks, out running, cycling or enjoying a glass of Prosecco after work.

I’m so lucky that my office in situated in Green Park, with St James’s Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens only minutes away. A run along the river can quickly see me in Battersea Park, while my running route home allows me to pass through Regent’s Park and onto the tow path past London zoo. From home I can wander down to Clissold Park, where there is a children’s play area, petting zoo, cafe and plenty of green space to lounge and run around, and just beyond is the newly opened Woodberry Wetlands nature reserve. Highbury Fields is only a couple of minutes’ jog away, where there are tennis courts, as well as a weekly Park Run, which R and I attend, and Finsbury Park is not much further away. Perfect park life.

5. The theatres and cinemas

Whether you are looking for a musical or comedy show, a blockbuster-play or small independent production there is no shortage of theatres in London. From the West End to smaller venues in all boroughs of the city, there is so much choice and diversity for live shows and performances.

If it is a movie you are looking for options range from summertime outdoor screenings to secret cinema productions, and from independent cinemas such as the Picture House and Everyman, where you can enjoy a glass of wine in your seat, to the mainstream VUE, Odeon and Cineworld centres.

6. The pools and lidos

olympic poolFrom Hampstead ponds to Brockwell Lido and from the Olympic Pool in Stratford to the Serpentine in Kensington, there are plenty of options available for indoor and outdoor swimming.

The ‘Better’ gym company, who manage many of the council pools in London, make sure that access to most of the pools in the city is affordable on a ‘drop in’ basis, meaning that you don’t have to be a member of an expensive gym to have access to a 50m pool.

7. The architecture

IMG_4294 (1)From the Shard to the Globe and from Tate Modern to the Tower of London, London’s architecture is diverse and beautiful. Combining new buildings such as the Millennium Dome, the ‘Gherkin’ and the ‘Walky-talky’ with historic structures including Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Banqueting House at Whitehall, and rich in palaces from Buckingham Palace and St James’s, to Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, London offers a beautiful and rich array of architectural structures.

This is city with so much history, but also so much innovation and vibrancy, all of which can be read through its architecture.

8. The cafes, restaurants and markets

IMG_1553Once you’ve exhausted yourself running in the parks or along the river, seen every exhibition, been to the theatre, caught a movie and strolled through the streets taking in all of the architecture you might fancy a bite to eat. London is replete with restaurants and cafes, with cuisine from all over the world, serving everything from early morning breakfasts, lazy Sunday brunches, quick working or leisurely lunches and intimate suppers. Whether you want cocktails and small plates, afternoon tea and cake, or just a coffee and a place to sit with the paper or a good book, I honestly think you could eat and drink at a different venue every day and never run out of options.

And if it’s food to go you are looking for, the market culture is also rich and delicious, from the now well-trodden slabs of Borough Market, to the crowded stalls of Camden lock and Covent Garden, and from the real food market at Waterloo to the stands at Old Spitalfields (where you can also pick-up clothes, crafts and antiques) or just off Brick Lane.

9. The diversity of the people

You can go out in London wearing a bin bag and wellies, with bright purple hair and a hundred piercings and no one will bat an eyelid. The city is so diverse that nothing seems to shock, and even the most bizarre ensemble is met with nonchalant acceptance.

This sense of diversity isn’t limited to fashion; every country seems to be represented through the people, shops and cuisine in London. You rarely get on a tube without hearing another language spoken or visit a restaurant without reaping the benefits of the cultural diversity of the city. My friends come from all over the world and I feel that my life, and the life of the city, is richer as a result.

10. My pals

IMG_5023All of these amazing elements are made all the better by having my pals around to share them with me.

Whether we are wandering around an exhibition together, watching a rubbish movie with popcorn, lingering over brunch well into lunchtime, buying over-priced vintage clothes, running along the canal, picnicking in the park with cans of g’n’t from M&S, or watching the sun set over the river from a rooftop bar or balcony, I can’t imagine London without all of my wonderful pals around for fun and nonsense.

5 Veggie restaurants that even meat eaters will love

As a vegan I love having the opportunity to eat at veggie restaurants. It’s so nice to not have to make a fuss when choosing a meal: not having to ask for one thing or another to be removed or added to a generic salad, or being faced by yet another stuffed pepper. It’s also nice to know that the chef empathises with my views and that the food I’m being served is 100% animal product free.

However, with lots of omnivorous friends I’m anxious not to push a veggie-only meal on them unwillingly. What does help to mitigate this is the number of amazing vegetarian restaurants in London, which serve the most delicious meat-free food. So, with the help of my omnivorous pals, I’ve created this shortlist of vegetarian havens in the city. If I go to any of the following restaurants I am pretty confident that whether I’m accompanied by fellow vegans, meat eaters or by a mixture of the two everyone will enjoy their meal.

The Gate

IMG_4296.JPGThe Gate is one of R’s favourite vegetarian restaurants and the place we take our parents when they are in town. With beautifully presented dishes inspired by Italian, French, Indian and South American cuisine, there is always plenty to choose from, plus they have great wines and a good cocktail menu.

This is a restaurant to push the boat out at and on our last visit I went all in with three courses: for starters I had the three lentil pate terrine – red lentil with smoked paprika and sun dried tomato; green lentil with fresh sweet basil; beluga lentil and olive served with our homemade red onion marmalade and crispy bread. For the main glazed and grilled teriyaki aubergine, stuffed with horseradish, coriander pesto, roasted pepper, shiitake and ginger, with crispy noodle salad with peppers, flat beans and carrots, and mango and coriander salsa. And for pudding a vegan coconut ice cream.

Rasa N16

vegan dosa rasaTucked away in beautiful Stoke Newington there are two versions of this restaurant, one of which is totally veggie. Rasa serves the best vegetarian Indian food I’ve ever eaten; the food is mouth-wateringly good and we always over-order! The street snack starters with an array of chutneys are delish, as are the starters, which include plantain with a peanut and ginger sauce and black bean cakes served with a coconut chutney. For the main we usually order two dishes and one rice to share – normally one of the dosas and then a curry. The prices are rock-bottom too, so you can over-indulge without stretching your purse strings too much!

Bonnington Café

bonnington-cafeDon’t be fooled by the website, this super cosy cafe is a veggie collective serving the most delicious dishes.

You need to book in advance by emailing the chef for the relevant night and Thursday is vegan night. The menu is different every time you go, which makes coming to a decision on what to order all the more tricky!  It’s BYO booze, and meals, despite being hearty and really tasty, come in at less than £15 for three courses. A delicious bargain!

The Black Cat Cafe

IMG_4930A new discovery in Hackney following on from a recommendation from the Fat Gay Vegan. Like the Bonnington this is a veggie collective, BYO restaurant with hearty delicious food and next-to-nothing prices. The menu changes daily, depending on what is available and seasonal, but on our trip I had an amazing savoury mixed vegetable pancake, topped with cashew cheese and served with quinoa, beetroot and mixed leaf salads, while R had a smoky vegan burger with chips. It was so tasty that we are definitely planning a return visit.

Ethos Restaurant

IMG_1553A relatively new find, I stumbled upon the Ethos Restaurant when looking for a brunch venue with my pals the Twins in Trainers. We ate from the breakfast/brunch menu – enjoying a delicious kale and sweet potato hash, sautéed in coconut oil with scrambled tofu and turmeric and a superfood smoothie – but we lingered so long that we ran over into lunchtime and discovered an amazing array of hot and cold salads, which you pay for by weight, as well as delicious sounding cakes such as the vegan chocolate peanut butter bomb and the vegan ‘healthy’ black bean brownie.

We didn’t get to sample any of the lunchtime menus so we will be going back!

For more of my favourite vegan-friendly restaurants in and out of London visit the Eat page on my blog and if you have any recommendations to pass on do let me know.

5 Little changes that could just make your life that little bit better

I often find myself naively drawn in by articles promising the secret of an infinitely better life: 5 steps to total mindfulness, 3 intense fat burning workouts, 10 steps to the perfect relationship, that sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, what I regularly find is that these articles just offer a series of commonsensical points, which often align with the things I’m already doing, and I’m left a little disappointed that I’m no closer to secret of perfection in mind, body and spirit.

So rather than promising 5 revolutionary hacks that will give you the ultimate life, I’m offering a series of little adjustments and lifestyle tweaks that I’ve found work for me, and which have made my life just that little bit better everyday.

1. Morning yoga

IMG_3576I’m not really sure how I got into my morning yoga routine, but now I can’t imagine starting my day without it. It’s amazing how getting up and showered and then spending between 15 and 30 minutes on my mat can transform my mood and the way I approach the day. I’m certainly no bona fide yogi, but spending some time stretching out my limbs, syncing my movement and my breath, doing a bit of core and arm work and playing around with headstands, bridges or shoulder stands wakes me up (even if I’ve had a glass of something I shouldn’t the night before) and puts me in the right headspace for the day.

Some days I’ll listen to classical music and follow my own yoga flow routine, other days I’ll watch Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and follow her, but either way, no matter what my day holds, I try to corner off at least 15 minutes of my morning to dedicate to my practice.

2. Lunchtime exercise

IMG_5074The realisation that I could kick the 3:30pm slump by just going out and doing something physical at lunchtime was a revelation. My lunch run often negates my need for that dangerous afternoon coffee, which I know will play havoc with my sleeping patterns, or for the 4pm mindless snacking, often undertaken out of boredom or a need for a distraction rather than real hunger.

I know that I’m really lucky in this regard – that my boss and colleagues are very understanding of my need to get out in the fresh air and run off any stresses – but I also know that getting the oxygen circulating around my system makes me so much more productive in the afternoon and in a better mental place to respond to those emails that require a bit more thought or diplomacy.

Moreover, on the days I get to meet my running pal Lou for a quick dash around Kensington Gardens it’s a great opportunity for a catch-up or a space to vent and, come 6pm I’ve already done 5 miles and I can take the evening off guilt-free if I fancy.

While I know running isn’t for everyone, taking a lunchtime walk, or making the most of the summer sunshine and doing some yoga outside are also great alternatives. If you have a work gym you might even sneak a quick HIIT session between meetings.

3. Walking or running part of my commute

IMG_4349About a year ago I made the decision to add 4,000 steps to my day by walking to and from the tube station, rather than jumping straight on the train that leaves from practically outside my house. A year on and I’m still doing it, now less for the extra steps and more for the pleasure. In the morning getting just ten minutes of fresh(ish) air (this is London after all!), natural light and, in recent weeks, a vitamin D hit in the sunshine, really sets me up for the day. In the evening, having chance to decompress after a day at my desk is invaluable and strolling back the long way through the park rather than cramming myself into a train is definitely the best way to do this.

On the days I want to sneak some extra exercise, especially while the weather is good, I’ll walk the full 4 miles home, or, if I’ve not had chance for a lunch run, I’ll jog home, either directly or via Regent’s Park to add an extra 3 or 4 miles to my route. It’s not just the exercise but the benefit of being outside in the world that never fails to boost my mood and allows me to arrive either at work or at home smiling.

Living in the city where we are set up for walking and cycling a commute I know this is easier, but even elsewhere you could consider parking your car a little further from your house or office, or using public transport for part of the trip and walking or running the rest. Making exercise a functional part of your day – i.e. a means of getting from a to b – makes you more likely to do it on a regular basis and it also means that you have plenty of free time to spend with friends and family rather than squirrelling yourself off to the gym.

4. Tuning into my appetite

IMG_1619Like many people, I’ve been through phases of eating too much, not eating enough, eating through stress, through boredom and through sadness. However, recent GI issues have forced me to take a more careful approach to eating and there have been many benefits to this.

Slowing down my eating, selecting foods mindfully, with an eye to what will nourish me without causing stomach upset, pain or sluggishness, and eating in line with my hunger, rather than unconsciously nibbling throughout the day, has vastly improved my approach to and enjoyment of food. I now focus on three meals a day, or two on a Sunday/my long run day, without snacking in between (if I can help it!). If I’m doing a double workout – a lunchtime run followed by an evening swim for example –  I might add a banana or nectarine in the  late afternoon to keep me going until I get home, but otherwise I hold on until supper.

Following this routine I’ve found that I will naturally feel hungry at around 7:30am once I’ve finished my yoga, and again between 1 and 2pm in the afternoon. Evening hunger usually strikes around 6:30–7pm so I know if I’m going out for supper later than this and don’t want to over-eat because I’m famished I’ll have a more substantial lunch or eat a little later. I also make sure I stay well hydrated throughout the day so I don’t confuse thirst and hunger. I have moments of weakness of course – on weekends I could keep on munching through oats, granola with berries, avo on toast, smoothies and coffee indefinitely if I don’t make a conscious decision to stop and in the evenings if there are nibblies in the house, like grapes or cashews, I am often tempted to them. But knowing when these moments of weakness come I’m learning to avoid, resist or keep them at bay.

5. Accepting I’m not a night owl

IMG_3388I’ve spent years in denial and harboured a lot of guilt around this point, but the fact is, I like my sleep, and I like it at night. I tend to rise early regardless of my time to bed, which means late nights leave me exhausted and grumpy.

Accepting that I’m not going to be the last man standing on a night out, or that I’d rather head home than out to a night club without feeling guilty has been a long time in coming, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly at peace with this fact. I’ve started scheduling breakfast dates and lunches over late-night drinks and I try to arrive early to longer events so that if I duck out before last orders I’ve still had plenty of time to catch up with my pals. Just like not everyone gets up at 6 to fit in a pre-work yoga workout, breakfast and blog writing session, not everyone can keep their eyes open and enthusiasm up past 11pm. And that’s ok.

Accepting yourself doesn’t have to just relate to sleeping habits and I’m sure we all have traits that we try to fight against. Just take a moment to reflect on how good or bad these elements of your personality really are and if they are essentially harmless maybe it’s time to embrace them.

6 Non-dairy milks that will have you leaving the cows behind

You don’t have to be a vegan or sworn-off dairy to enjoy the wide variety of milk alternatives now available in most supermarkets and health food stores. From almond milk to Oatly the range is not inconsiderable, and with each type and brand providing its own unique flavour and nutritional profile you could be forgiven for being overwhelmed by the offering.

Having sampled my fair share of milk alternatives, both good and bad, I wanted to provide a quick rundown of my favourites so you too can be enjoying soya in your coffee, oat milk in your porridge and hazelnut milk in your hot chocolate, while avoiding some of the cardboardy, flavourless or over-sweet options on the market.

1. Oat milk

Best for breakfast

OatlyOatly is my go-to breakfast milk. Rich and creamy it’s perfect in porridge but it’s also tasty in cereal, as well as in tea (although a word of warning , while still delicious, it does tend to separate in tea leaving you with a cloudy brew). Naturally sweet it requires no additional sugary nasties and Oatly have recently brought out a ‘barista’ version, which means you can now enjoy it in you flat white or frothed in your cappuccino.

Nutrition information per 100g:
Energy 45 kcal
Fat 1.5g
of which saturated 0.2g
Carbohydrates 6.5g, of which sugars 4g
Protein 1g
Fibre 0.8g
Salt 0.1g

Added extras:
Vitamin D 1.5 µg (30%*)
Riboflavin 0.21 mg (15%*)
Vitamin B12 0.38 µg (15%*)
Calcium 120 mg (15%*)

As an sneaky treat Oatly also do a chocolate oat milk and this is my absolute favourite chocolate milk alternative. Although there are added sugars in this version (carbohydrates 9.5g, of which sugars 7g), it’s not super-high calorie (55 kcals per 100ml) and still has added vitamin D, riboflavin, B12 and calcium, good for those wintery evenings when you need a hot chocolaty pick-me-up!

2. Coconut milk

Best for smoothies

alpro-coconut-milk.jpgIf you’re looking for something to whizz up with your cucumber and kale, or to set off a pineapple and mango smoothie then look no further than Alpro Coconut Drink. Although quite sweet and ‘thin’ (i.e. it will take half a carton to change the colour of your tea), coconut milk is a delicious addition when whizzed up with a variety of ingredients and served over ice.

Nutrition information per 100ml:
Energy 20 kcal
Fat 0.9g, of which saturates 0.9g
Carbohydrate 2.7g, of which sugars 1.9g
Protein 0.1g
Fibre 0.0g
Salt 0.13g

Added extras:
Vitamin D 0.75µg (15%*)
Vitamin B12 0.38µg (15%*)

3. Soya milk

Best in coffee

bonsoyYou know a coffee shop takes itself seriously when you see Bonsoy behind the counter. It’s not cheap but it’s so creamy and delicious and it doesn’t curdle in coffee or separate like other options. I try to limit my soya intake and this is a bit of an indulgence to buy for home use, but I’d recommend it if you are going out for coffee or brunch or if you have a good coffee machine and want a lazy weekend treat.

Nutrition information per 100ml:
Energy 61 kcal
Fat  2.2g, of which saturates  0.3g
Carbohydrates 5.5g, of which sugars  2.2g
Protein  4.1g
Fibre  1.4g
Salt  0.13g

4. Rice milk

rude health rice (2)Rude Health have transformed rice milk for me. Their brown rice milk is totally tasty and doesn’t have the watery or oily taste of other rice milk alternatives. It is naturally sweet (but not as sickly sweet as other rice milk options) and makes a great addition to a rice pudding or porridge oats.

It is also great if you are on an elimination or low soya or dairy, or a gluten free diet.

Provamel also offer a tasty rice milk option with added calcium and it comes in slightly cheaper than the Rude Health version. It’s not quite as creamy, and you need to add quite a lot to tea and coffee, but it is yummy in porridge and does offer an additional calcium hit.

Nutrition information per 100ml:
Rude Health
Energy 59 kcal
Fat 1.3g, of which saturates 0.4g
Carbohydrates 11g, of which sugars 5g
Protein 0.3g
Fibre 0.7g
Salt 0.1g

Provamel
Energy 54 kcal
Fat 1.1g, of which saturates 0.2 g
Carbohydrates 11g, of which sugars 6.5 g
Protein 0.1g
Fibre 0g
Salt 0.1g

Added extras:
Calcium 120 mg

5. Almond milk

For Almond milk, for me it’s between Rude Health and The Pressery.

I like Rude Health’s Ultimate Almond consists of just natural spring water, organic Italian almonds and that’s it! It actually tastes like almonds and not like sugar, like many other almond alternatives.

Similarly, The Pressery are committed to simple ingredients and a delicate taste. What also wins me over is that for every carton sold they donate 5p to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

the presseryThey also produce almond-based drinks, available in 250ml bottles and including cacao sweetened with maple syrup and vanilla, turmeric with cayenne and honey, strawberry, and matcha.

Nutrition per 100ml:

Rude Health
Energy 38 kcal
Fat 3.2g, of which saturates 0.3g
Carbohydrates 0.8g, of which sugars 0g
Protein 1.5g
Fibre 0.8g
Salt 0g

The Pressery
Energy 42 kcal
Fat 4 g, of which saturates 0g
Carbohydrates 0g, of which sugars 0g
Protein  0g
Fibre 0g
Salt 0mg

6. Hazelnut milk

Best for hot chocolate

alpro hazelnut.jpgAnother nutty option, Alpro hazelnut milk, is almost chocolately in flavour. It can be enjoyed on its own, or, if you are feeling very indulgent, in hot chocolate. Think Nutella and you will have an ideas of how delicious this option is!

While it is quite sweet, Alpro do always throw in additional vitamins and minerals, making sure that you get you calcium and b vitamins in this – great for vegans!

Nutrition per 100ml:
Energy 29 kcal
Fat 1.6 g, of which saturates 0.2 g
Carbohydrate 3.1 g, of which sugars 3.1 g
Fibre 0.3 g
Protein 0.4 g
Salt 0.13 g

Added extras:
Vitamin D 0.75 µg 15%*
Vitamin B2 0.21 mg 15%*
Vitamin B12 0.38 µg 15%*
Vitamin E 1.80 mg 15%*
Calcium 120 mg 15%*

Do you have a favourite non-dairy milk that you would recommend? Or some great dairy-free recipes to try? 
*% of DRI

Gut feeling

If you are very British and prone to squirm at the mention of bodily functions, this post is probably not for you.

And I’ll be honest, this is not something I’ve thought about talking so candidly about previously. Or at least that was the case until I started listening to the Ben Greenfield’s podcast. If there is anything that will kick to the curb your squirmishes surrounding conversations about poo it’s Ben Greenfield explaining, in detail, the ins and outs of a coffee enema, or the efficacious properties of baking soda and water to ‘clear you out’. Add to that a recent reading of Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography, in which she talked pretty frankly about her bouts of explosive diarrhoea in the sea before her ironman races, and any idea about what it’s socially ok to mention broadens somewhat.

And this week, when Tim Dowling discussed his colonoscopy in his column in the Guardian Weekend Magazine (the final bastion of middle-class, left-wing respectability) I felt that a rubicon had been crossed and it was time to talk gut health.

It’s not just toilet talk that’s got me interested (I use interested here in its absolute broadest sense) in digestive issues. A number of the podcasts that I listen to have been discussing digestion lately, from so-called ‘leaky gut’ syndrome, to SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth), with interviewees claiming they had never realised what good digestion was until they undertook an elimination diet and discovered a whole new bout of energy and a reduction in GI discomfort. Moreover, the more you chat to people about tummy troubles (especially runners – although that may be based on my skewed social group), the more you realise how many people are struggling with some kind of digestive disquiet.

The thing is, a disruption in gut health doesn’t just leave you toilet bound or deprived (depending on the nature of your issue) it can leave you grouchy, lethargic, irritable and generally feeling less than ideal.

My stomach has its own idiosyncrasies – I can handle the hottest of the hot foods, but put me within biting distance of some white bread and my stomach will inflate like a balloon and be total agony for hours afterwards. In my pre-vegan days dairy had the same effect, something which I didn’t realise fully until I’d given up cheese and milk completely.

While I’ve generally learned to gravitate towards the foods that serve me well and away from those that leave me bloated and uncomfortable, I do still go through patches of real stomach upset. With a history of ulcerative colitis in the family (a type of Crohn’s disease) I’m hyperaware when I start to feel awry. Which is why, when I found myself in so much discomfort this week that I had to go home and huddle around a hot water bottle for the evening, I took a serious look at the elimination diet.

A week ago the idea of cutting out nuts and seeds, nut butter, tahini (hence hummus), soy products (including tofu), nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, aubergine), cayenne and chilli pepper would have been anathema. These are basically my main food groups. But with that amount of pain still fresh in my mind I felt willing to give anything a shot.

The elimination diet also requires the removal of dairy, eggs, sugar, meat, wheat and gluten products, which I generally avoid anyway, and demands 2-3 weeks sans allergens to allow any ‘inflammation’ and allergenic response in your body to subside. You then reintroduce foods one by one and see how your body responds.

While for socialising, staying with friends and generally eating anything that you’ve not meticulously prepared yourself makes this a tricky diet to follow to the letter, I’m taking a less extreme version of cutting back on potential triggers, diarising what I eat and recording how I feel as a result. I already suspect too many soya products as being the main issue, but as a friend pointed out, too much of anything really isn’t good for your body, and I know I can get hooked on one or two food stuffs and then tend to include them in everything, which is probably also causing some of the problems.

While ‘banned’ and ‘permitted’ foods seem to vary depending on which source you read, commonly accepted low risk foods include oats, rice, quinoa, fruit (except oranges), veggies (except potatoes and nightshades – sweet potatoes are ok), olive and coconut oil, rice milk, pine nuts and flaxseeds, herbs and spices (excluding chilli and paprika). If you are a veggie beans (except soya) and lentils are also allowed in moderation. For a reasonably comprehensive list see: http://global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195371109/pdf/00_Mullin_Appendix_3.pdf.

Day-to-day for me this translates to fruit or oats with apple or blueberries, cinnamon and fresh grated ginger for breakfast made with water and a dash of brown rice milk (I’m taking a break from the green juice powders just in case they are causing some of the problems), a big salad of carrot, cucumber, courgette, avocado, spinach and fresh basil with olive oil, or a homemade squash or parsnip soup for lunch and butternut squash and sage risotto, or courgetti with mushrooms and homemade avocado and basil pesto for dinner. Plus snacks of nectarines, bananas, blueberries and peaches in between. The main thing is trying to keep changing up which fruit, veggies and pulses I eat so I’m not bombarding my gut with one thing.

Although I’m not being as militant as I might, I am being more respectful and wary of what I’m putting into my body, slowing down my eating and taking time to consider how it is impacting on me. A couple of days in and my stomach is starting to settle. There is still a long way to go, but I’ll be interested to see if these changes have a positive impact in the longer term. If nothing else the last few days have proven that I can survive without a jar of nut butter, lashings of humus on everything and a slab of tofu at the ready!

I’d be interested to hear if others have had similar issues and how they have resolved them. In the meantime, some podcasts on this issue if you want to learn more:

https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2016/05/paloe-autoimmune-protocol

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-rich-roll-podcast/id582272991?mt=2&i=362373748

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/ben-greenfield-fitness-diet/id283908977?mt=2&i=369101193