The Magic of Macadamia Nuts

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The mild buttery flavour and a soft crunch gives Macadamia nuts a top spot in cookies, cakes and salads. Paired with white chocolate and raspberries they add a super indulgent deliciousness to sweet treats.

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These native Australian nuts have an unusual and unique nutritional profile. A 30g serve, provides our total daily requirement for vitamin B1 (Thiamine), a fair amount of B6 (pyridoxine), and about 20% of our daily requirement for iron and fibre.

The unusual feature of the Macadamia nut is the quantity of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) that form a key part of the heart healthy Mediterranean diet. Like olive oil and avocados, Macadamia nuts are particularly rich in the MUFAs palmitoleic and oleic acids. These fatty acids are thought to promote a healthy lipid profile by reducing levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol whilst maintaining levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. They may also improve blood vessel function and insulin sensitivity.

Macadamia nuts are best stored in the fridge or freezer, these precious fatty acids are prone to oxidation (going rancid).

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Plenty of MUFAs means plenty of calories. The Mayo Clinic advises that we should eat MUFA rich foods instead of other fatty foods, not in addition to them.   They are excellent for people with low appetite who need energy dense snacks, but for most of us, it’s Macadamia nuts in our salad or avocado, but not both! Here’s a link to the delicious salad pictured below Baby spinach, orange and macadamia salad

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Salad image: Steve Brown

The Many Benefits in A Cup of Tea

Reading ‘a cup of tea’ is enough to induce feelings on contentment.  Just the thought of it is calming.

We’re mostly concerned with Camellia sinensis – your regular tea bush that has numerous varieties.  It can produce small leaf green teas, large leaf fermented black teas like Assam and hybrids like Darjeeling.

You can add milk, lemon or sugar to taste and the benefits stay the same.

    

But what is so great about a cup of tea?

Polyphenols – they give tea the astringent taste. They include antioxidant catechins, the one most prevalent in tea is epigallocatechin gallate shortened to EGCG and regularly mentioned as a strong antioxidant.

Stimulants  – such as xanthenes and theobromines.

And caffeine: 1g black tea has around 25mg caffeine and 1g green tea has around 15mg – a longer brew gives a higher caffeine content.

Antioxidants act as free radical scavengers and help to reduce the oxidative stress from pathogens and pollution.  They are thought to be protective against the inflammatory response that causes damage in heart disease and possibly neurodegenerative disorders.

But there is more to a cup of tea than chemicals.

Research looking at the role of tea in the reduction of stress found that drinking a cup of tea can:

  • Signal the end of or a break from a stressful episode
  • Gives a feeling of being cared for when someone makes it for us
  • Makes us stop and rest, we can’t drink it if we are active
  • Being hot, it takes time to drink – unlike a drink of water, there is time to rest and contemplate
  • It can be social, which is good for our soul.

B12 – How Did I Go So Low?

We’ve been a bit lethargic in our blogging lately, lost the pep from our step, fuggy headed and generally laid low.

Nutritionists don’t generally believe that a vitamin deficiency is something that can ever happen to them – but it did to me!  With hindsight, it isn’t so surprising that I’m deficient in B12, it isn’t particularly uncommon, I just didn’t see it coming.

How do people get to be deficient in B12? 

It happens gradually.

You can be vegan and get none from your diet – it’s only present in foods of animal origin.

You can have coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease and not absorb nutrients from part of the intestine

You can be on medication like Metformin for diabetes or antacids which reduce stomach acidity and these can limit your absorption of B12

Or, like me, your stomach acid is lacking.

B12 naturally occurring in food, exists bound to protein, which the acid in the stomach should release allowing the free cobalamin or vitamin B12, to be absorbed in the small intestine.

Poor Absorption can be exacerbated by a diet low in B12

I never thought that this was me – but I was probably wrong.

How much B12 do we need?

Recommendations vary but around 2.4micrograms/day

Where do we find it?

Shell fish is massive –  a portion of clams or oysters comes top with a huge 84mcg, salmon per portion is 4.8mcg, canned tuna 2.5mcg.

Meat is pretty good at 1.4mcg for a portion of beef, paler meats do less well with chicken at 0.3mcg.

Dairy is great, a cup of milk has 1.2mcg and an egg  0.6mcg

Food supplemented with B12

Many foods are supplemented with B12 and this is an interesting proposition.  The synthetic B12 isn’t bound to a protein and is more easily absorbed.

It’s not naturally present in Vegemite but is added to the low salt version and also added to Marmite.  Packaged breakfast cereals have it added.

I thought that the soya milk I use for porridge was fortified, but found that I’d switched brands and the new one isn’t – I’ve gone back to the old brand and get 1mcg B12 per cup.

 

 

Guts and Bugs

B12 is intricately involved with our microbiome. Our gut bacteria can be helping themselves to our slim intake of B12 and leave little for us, or make plenty themselves, or in susceptible individuals taking supplements, allowing acne producing bacteria to flourish.

If you are concerned about your B12 status, your GP can check it with a simple blood test. Like most deficient people, I’ve had the intramuscular B12 injection and take a supplement sprayed under the tongue to avoid digestion and happily have the pep back in my step!

 

Probiotics – what are the best bugs for our guts?

Probiotics are live microorganisms.  Consumed in suitable quantities, they are beneficial to our health.

It’s an exciting area of research.  Food and beverage manufacturers are competing to impress us with the health enhancing qualities of their products.  Possible health benefits from the consumption of probiotics include:

  • Restored microbiotica.
  • Metabolism of fatty acids.
  • Modulation of the immune system through peptides produced by bacteria.
  • Improvement of symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, in some studies, but not all.
  • Relief from constipation, in some studies, but not all.

The lack of a specific nutritional advice on the use of probiotics is due to:

  • The massive complexity of bacteria, differing strains of a single species don’t produce the same effects.
  • Our own microbiotica is unique, a probiotic which is beneficial to one person may be useless to another.
  • Our microbiotica is a dynamic system, its state will alter with multiple factors such as our diet, travel, stress or antibiotics. A probiotic which works wonders at one time might have little or no effect at another.
  • Research from different populations, with different lifestyles, on different diets, consuming different probiotics, doesn’t produce a clear picture. The EU so far has rejected all health claims by food manufacturers for probiotics due to the questionable quality of the research.

 

What to do!?!

Cover our bases by choosing a quality product with at least three or four bacteria strains.  For instance, one well known range of ‘bio live yoghurts’ contains Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactococcus lactis and Bifidobacterium lactis.  Quite a cocktail, they might not all do great things, but they might and they’ll certainly do no harm.

Be our own expert.  If we take an expensive probiotic and don’t see any benefit, then it isn’t the one for us.  However if we do find a product that maybe in certain circumstances feels beneficial to our health, well maybe it is.

With time, more quality research is bound to immerge. This is a vibrant area of nutrition and it will be great to have more knowledge on which probiotics are most useful for which situations. Watch this space.

 

Prebiotics: Feeding Our Gut Bugs

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Our gut microbiome can be ‘poetry in motion’ or a horror story. It needs to be fed with care.

The system is dynamic.  Residues of our digestion, including complex carbohydrates, soluble fibres and cell walls arrive in the large intestine to be fermented by a host of bacteria.  This active environment of anaerobic fermentation exists in a fine balance. When all goes well, the right mix of bacteria receiving the right prebiotics, will produce a benevolent microbiome.

The Poetry

A happy microbiome will:

  • Hundreds of species of bacteria continue the process of digestion, both of food products and cells rubbed off from the gut wall.
  • Feed on excess mucous to keep the gut epithelial wall peachy. This icky sounding feature is the key to enabling the gut lining to transport nutrients into the blood stream, while blocking access to anything harmful.
  • Synthesize vitamins, particularly the B vitamin Biotin and two thirds of our intake of vitamin K.
  • Short chain fatty acid synthesis. Omega-6 fatty acids are converted to omega-3 fatty acids which are associated with a reduced vulnerability to inflammatory bowel disease.

The Motion

Extremely important for a healthy biome is keeping the system moving. Our gut needs lots fibrous food and fluid to produce the malleable substrate that can be happily moved along.

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The Horror Story

We can feed our gut bugs a junk food diet and expect a refuse pit microbiome.  We can also be unlucky and have a system that doesn’t easily tolerate some fairly common foods.  Many of us know that if we eat certain foods, maybe gluten, or complex sugars in raw onions, or inulin, the commonly added pre-biotic in ‘health’ foods and drinks, certain bacteria over-react.  Bloating or excess gas production is uncomfortable, but worse is possible.  It’s unlikely that bacteria cause irritable bowel syndrome but they can certainly exacerbate it.  A reduction in the diversity of bacteria in the microbiome is associated with a diseased colon.

The problem with solving horrors is that our bacteria population is unique to ourselves and even within ourselves, is constantly changing. Added to this, bacteria are extremely complex, a variety of bacteria will have many strains.  A quality probiotic supplement, with zillions of bacteria of a few varieties, can have a beneficial effect if our biome has been compromised, but there is no guarantee.

Eat Fibre, Drink Fluid, Keep Active

The best we can do is encourage a microbiome of pure poetry.

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Linseeds

Eat whole foods, grains, fruit and veg, oats and linseeds are brilliant prebiotics.  A low to moderate intake of caffeine and alcohol helps, plus avoiding foods high in salt, fat and sugar.

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The pectin in apples is an excellent prebiotic

Prevent dehydration by including water in our choice of beverages.

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Encourage gut motility (the ability of an organism to move independently, using metabolic energy) by being active.

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Happy gut, happy mood!

 

 

 

The Fuss About Fermentation

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Pickles stall at the Krabi Markets, from Carol’s recent visit to Thailand

Is it a load of rot?!?  

Well to some extent it is.

Food spoilage can be the first stage of fermentation, for example, bacteria causing milk to sour. However, there is nothing haphazard about the many fermentation processes used in our food.

We often don’t even notice how the foods we eat have been altered by fermentation.

Obvious fermented foods are pickles, beer and bread, but cocoa beans for chocolate, leaves for tea, olives too, wouldn’t be the food we know without fermentation.

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Fermentation can:

Preserve foods – in acid or alcohol as in pickles and beverages

Develop flavours – in coffee beans and tea

Improve the digestibility – in sough dough fermentation alters the carbohydrate and protein, in yoghurt lactose has been converted to lactic acid

Reduce cooking time – fermented rice batters used for idli and dosa cook very quickly

Often the fermentation is over when we consume the food. The bread is baked and the yeast with it, or yeast in wine has turned the sugars in grape juice to alcohol, or the tea leaves are heated and dried or the sauerkraut is too acidic for the bacteria to thrive. Some fizzing drinks like beer are still active, some yoghurt has a live culture and there is a new zest for ancient fermented drinks like Kombucha. A great commercial opportunity has been sparked by this fermentation craze.

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Beyond this is our own gut flora and the balance of getting foods in our diet that encourage a healthy bacteria population to flourish and avoiding the foods that in sensitive people cause bloating and discomfort.

At Moodilicious, we’re going to report on the fact and have a go at some fermentation recipes of our own.

Stick with us if you want to see some fermentation fun!!!

 

The Tastiest Pumpkins

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Tastiness isn’t always our first concern with pumpkins.

Ornamental appearance such as quirky shapes, nobbliness or shear size are often the feature most apparent in a pumpkin.

As we approach Halloween, ease of carving scary faces is vital. Howden pumpkins are the best for carving and were developed by John Howden in his backyard garden in Massachusetts in the 1960s. They have become the classic jack-o’-lantern pumpkin. These are the pumpkins that you most often see offered for sale in stores. The fruit is deep orange and ribbed and can weigh up to 30 pounds.

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Bland flavour, fibrous flesh and tough outer skins are off-putting and the requirement for sweetness has dominated mass pumpkin production. However cooks and vegetable growers have long enjoyed the huge range of flavoursome pumpkin varieties.

 

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There are so many varieties as seen by the images above including the brilliant orange Uchiki kuri, the green Buttercup and the sweet and nutty Butternut pumpkin. All delicious and versatile in soups, scones or roasted.

 

Nutrition Knowledge:

Being 92% water, pumpkins will never get labelled as super foods, but they do have a few useful qualities. That bright orange flesh is a clue to the carotenoids present, a 100g portion of pumpkin provides almost twice our daily requirement for vitamin A. They have a little vitamin C and folate, but not much protein, so we need to add other ingredients with extra nourishment to our pumpkin recipes.

 

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However – the seeds are a different story. A rounded tablespoon of whole roasted pumpkin seeds has about 5g protein, 5g dietary fibre and a little iron. A generous sprinkling of the seeds over our pumpkin salad or scones will make a big impact on the nutritional quality.