Chocolate Cheer!


Chocolate coated cookies
Chocolate coated Spanish cookie treats from San Sebastian

What makes us so attracted to chocolate?

The sweet taste.
The coating of our taste buds as it dissolves in our mouth.
The rich and delicious flavour that can also be a complex bitter/sweet mixture.
And for those with a chocolate habit, the feeling can seem addictive.

Only in moderation?

The health enhancing Mediterranean diet includes a few squares of dark chocolate daily!
However, caution is advised. Milk chocolate contains around 30% fat and 52% sugar so this is definitely a treat food. But, it does have some nutritionally redeeming features. A 50g serve of milk choc provides around 10% of our daily iron and calcium needs, some choline and useful amounts of riboflavin and B12.

It also contains variable amounts of the flavanol theobromine, the concentration increasing with the quantity of cocoa solids.  This unusual substance acts on the nervous system to reduce the inactivation of some processes controlled by neurotransmitters and hormones. The effects can be to stimulate the heart, cause vaso dilation, reduce blood pressure plus have diuretic properties. These effects can be beneficial but not for people with heart burn where the relaxation of sphincters can cause reflux. The oxalate in chocolate may also increase the risk of kidney stones in those whose intake is high. The theobromine in 50g can be enough to poison a small dog.  

The best pleasure comes from the best quality and the range is enormous, but moderation is still the recommendation. Also, be aware that cocoa farming has been linked to the use of child labour, the situation is complex but finding a product we trust is a good start. Some ethical chocolate brands are found here.


Walnuts – the crunch!


Walnuts – the edible options are endless.

Eaten Spanish style with cheese and honey is divine, in homemade cake or banana loaf is scrumptious, tossed in a salad or over breakfast cereal is a treat. The flavour is fabulous and the soft crunch under the teeth gives a brilliant texture.

Healthy Walnut Research

The University of Barcelona has been working on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for years. The inclusion of a 30g daily serve of tree nuts, – mostly walnuts, with almonds and hazelnuts too, produced a massive 30% reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke.


What’s good in Walnuts?

Lots of poly and mono unsaturated fats – and to stop these fats going rancid, there are lots of antioxidants – all wrapped up in a crunchy fibrous structure.

Fats come with calories, it’s not surprising that 100g walnuts have 654 kcal – our Spanish friends recommend a modest 30g per day. Walnuts are 15% protein, 7% dietary fibre – a smattering of iron, calcium and selenium with bits of the antioxidant vitamins E and A, and some B vitamins folate and niacin. The high protein value means that a small serve of walnuts provides a big feeling of satiety.   This comes with very little sodium and low carbohydrate.

The fancy chemicals are the flavanols, the anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins. These guys are the antioxidants associated with protecting us from heart disease and stroke.

Walnuts also contain a little choline which is showing promise in research on the prevention of cognitive decline in old age.

Storage – keep cool. All nuts are high in fats, to avoid them getting bitter and rancid we need to eat them promptly or keep them cool – and check the ‘eat-by’ dates when we buy them.

There’s lots more interesting info on walnuts, here’s a taster !

Guacamole – our favourite avocado recipe



1 medium sized ripe avocado

6 cherry tomatoes, chopped

½ small red onion, finely chopped

½ lime, juice

1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce

1 small bunch fresh coriander


Mash avocado in a small bowl with chopped tomato, onion, lime juice and chili sauce.

Save a few coriander leaves for garnish. Chop remaining leaves and mix in.

Add extra chili if required.

Delicious served with corn chips, tacos and wraps. In the Mexican style of refried beans, rice and cheese or with barbeque meats or veggie kababs.



AVOCADO – Our top five AVOCADO attributes:


We love the tastiness and effortless preparation. Here are five extra nutritious reasons to eat avocados.

  1. Alpha-linolenic acid – an essential fatty acid that we use to synthesize omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It is plant based, can’t be synthesized by humans and is thought to have a role in reducing inflammation.

  2. Oleic acid – a mono unsaturated fatty acid and like alpha-linolenic, a key component of the Mediterranean Diet. These fatty acids are associated the prevention and treatment of heart disease and a reduced risk of breast cancer.

  3. Dietary Fibre – 100g of avocado has 7g dietary fibre which is close to 30% of our recommended daily intake. There is a mixture of soluble and tougher fibre types, all good for feeding bugs in our digestion and keeping bowl contents happily moving along.

  4. Beta-sitosterol – one of the phytosterols similar to cholesterol which help reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the gut.

  5. The cardiovascular/blood sugar dream – no sodium, very low carbohydrate and cholesterol free. We all need healthy levels of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.


A regular portion of avocado also contains a smattering of B vitamins, a little vitamin E and protein. Unlike most vegetables it is fairly high in calories, around 170Kcal per 100g (1 avocado, no skin or stone = about 135g).

A Mediterranean type diet gives us the best chance of keeping healthy throughout our lives. We need very little meat and processed foods, some oily fish, lots of vegetables, whole grains and nuts, fruit and olive oil. Avocados are a perfect fit.

Read more about the health benefits of avocado here.


What We Like About Quinoa…



Check out our recipe for Quinoa porridge with mango and berries.

A slow release carbohydrate at breakfast helps maintain a steady blood glucose level over the morning.  Adding protein keeps us satiated.

Quinoa boiled in water contains about:

21% carbohydrate

4.4% protein

2% fat, most of which is mono or poly unsaturated

2.8% dietary fibre.

It has a little iron and vitamin E


This is fairly similar to other staple cereals (although strictly speaking it’s a grass seed).

Boiled quinoa has a little less protein than cooked pasta but a little more than oats.  Generally speaking, these staples need extra ingredients to up their nutritional value.

Quinoa is special because it is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all the amino acids humans can’t synthesise and must obtain through the food we eat.  This is great for vegetarians.

Our breakfast recipe combines Quinoa with ground flax seeds and a little milk.  This seriously increases the quantity and quality of protein – and essential fatty acids.


Quinoa porridge with flaxseed, mango and blueberries

 Try this quick, tasty breakfast for a healthy start to the day.




Half a cup/90g quinoa flakes

One and a half cups/360ml  water

1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed

A few chunks of mango (fresh or frozen)

Two tablespoons of blueberries

One quarter cup/60ml milk

Honey or maple syrup to taste


Place water in pot and bring to the boil.  Add quinoa flakes and cook for 90 seconds stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Pour in milk. Sprinkle flaxseed, mango and blueberries on top. Drizzle honey or maple syrup to taste. Delicious!





Smoked salmon and pasta salad

Try this delicious and nutritious mediterranean pasta dish. The bright colours indicate a myriad of phytochemicals, while the cooked and cooled pasta gives us our low GI carbs.  The inclusion of raw olive oil and salmon provides valuable omega 3 fatty acids.

Pasta with smoked salmon




100g smoked salmon slices, cut into strips

2 cups (180g) bowtie (farfalle) pasta

2 zucchini/courgettes sliced

1 red capsicum cut in thin strips

1/2 red onion sliced

Ground black pepper

50ml extra virgin olive oil

Small bunch fresh dill leaves, washed and chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon capers, washed and chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Small handful of continental parsley



Cook pasta according to instructions on the packet, and let cool. Gentry fry zucchini and capsicum in a little olive oil until soft.  Make a dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper and dill leaves.  Combine pasta with smoked salmon, red onion, cooked vegetables, capers and dressing. Sprinkle with pine nuts and continental parsley to garnish.