Tuesday, 20 July 2010

No questions asked

As I am currently juggling two growing businesses and spend my days making sure I explain French demonstrative pronouns or hormonal balancing nutritional tips to the right individual, I slumped the other evening in front of the TV with a glass of wine to watch mindlessly anything which they put before me. I was confronted by celebrity doctor Dr Christian Jessen in “The Ugly Face of Beauty” whose aim was to show us how necessary it is to ask the right questions when seeking out a surgeon to redesign our face. Surprisingly, it seems, people ask far fewer questions in this situation than they would if selecting someone to redesign their kitchen, or for that matter, their business leaflet.
It was scary to see how easily some were duped into parting with £1,000 believing it would buy them some cut-price cosmetic surgery plus a night in a top London hotel. A glass of champagne and a sales pitch from someone in a white coat was all it took to get them to sign up – literally no questions asked! That is : no questions on the background of surgeon about to slice into their body and no thought about what could happen if there was a complication shortly after surgery. By this time they would already be ensconced in some undetermined “spa hotel” in Central London as part of the “package” and far away from any medical staff or equipment. Instead there was just delight over the budget price being offered from this pink balloon-festooned mobile set-up over-night in the middle of their High Street. And no notion at all that their lives could have been at risk. Luckily Dr Jessen emerged from behind the screen, looking like he was there for a Mills & Boon cover shoot but nevertheless still able to explain the potential post-operative dangers involved in rhinosurgery. Disappointment tinged with a little relief flooded over their faces as they learned they would not be getting a new nose for £7/week interest-free loan but at least would still have the old one to breathe through after all. None by the way seemed like they needed any cosmetic improvement but that is another discussion....
It is the same in the nutritional field I work in. My own course lasted two full years whereas it is possible to enrol in courses lasting just a week or two via some dodgy internet site. If these teach you anything of any value at all, I estimate there is no time for anatomy, physiology or biochemistry. I studied with Premier International which is very well-known in the world of professional sports and personal trainers but not well-known outside of it. This connection to the sports world was one of the main reasons I selected it as I am very keen on the benefits of exercise alongside nutrition. To date it is one of the few courses to be accredited by the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy. However, very few people have ever asked about my qualification and no-one to date has ever asked to see evidence either of this or of my insurance details.
I see many people happy to accept pills and potions from companies they know nothing about. Indeed they jump at the opportunity to swallow completely unknown substances having been seduced by a glossy leaflet or two. They have a quick chat with the salesperson and hand over the money for the magic pills supposedly able to cure all ills for all people. Do they not once stop to wonder “if they worked for real, wouldn’t I have heard about them already?” They do not ask about or seek to check the ingredients of the potions and whether ingesting them could do them more harm than good. They do not query the pitch administered by salespeople who purport the great success of the product. The salespeople themselves have minimal training other than how to deliver the sales patter and I doubt if they are encouraged to research and query their findings as scientists would do. I myself notice complete non sequiters but usually do not have the heart to bring it to the attention of the sales representatives.
Likewise, as I explained this week to “Ladies who Lunch” at the lovely Manor of Groves Hotel, companies who produce the so-called “healthy pro-biotic” yoghurts are able to get away with never having to explain what pro-biotic strain is included, how many healthy bacteria they actually contain and whether there are any other ingredients helping the bad bacteria to thrive as well. Instead they include a happy, smiling celebrity and sales soar. [The answers: a genetically modified one with a made-up name; I have never been able to find out and, yes they do.]
Does anyone ever check the success rates of the big business slimming clubs before they sign up for yet another course? Doubtful: as the failure rate is just a little lower than 100%! My advice is to ask as many questions as you wish as the true professional will not feel offended and will be pleased to explain.

Monday, 5 July 2010

New Logo for Organic Foods

I hope you find the following useful.

The last two decades have seen a growing interest in organic farming and the impact that agriculture has on the environment in general. The result has been a growth in the organic food industry. However, do you ever wonder what the actual meaning of “organic” is when it comes to food labelling? If so, it seems that you are not alone.

There has been an attempt in many countries in recent years to draw up a definition of the term “organic”. And, here in the UK as a member of the EU we are protected by laws from those who may try to use the term incorrectly.

Organic foods should have been cultivated avoiding the use of synthetic fertilisers or pesticides. However this cannot be 100% guaranteed because there could be possible contamination of the surrounding air, water or land. Nevertheless, every effort is made to ensure this is minimised. This includes the compliance of those handling the food, the processors and the retailers.

Within the European Union organic legislation is the same from country to country. It requires that any ingredient whether produced in the EU or entering it from elsewhere adheres to the same high standard. Other countries may have similar standards to the EU but on the other hand, they may not. There may even be differences within the same country.

There are essentially two different categories:
1) organic products which are those containing 95% or more organic agriculture (the 95% is calculated using product weight). For example organic flax seed oil.
2) Products which contain less than 95%. In which case, whilst individual ingredients can be described as organic, the entire product cannot. Eg it could say “contains organic apple juice”.

In Britain standards are set by DEFRA. All products need to be certified by one of the bodies which is registered with DEFRA. These include groups such as the Soil Association or the Organic Food Federation. DEFRA only lists 8 countries outside of the EU has having equivalent standards to the EU – and perhaps it should be noted that the USA is not one of these. Any country outside of these 8 elite countries needs to obtain the express permission from DEFRA before the product can be imported.

However, with the aim of making things even clearer, from this July, an organic symbol will start to appear on any EU certified organic products.

In addition to this logo, you should see the logo of the certifying body eg the Soil Association and a country identification number. For the UK this will be GB-ORG-04. The source of the ingredients will also be listed on the food label. The sources may be described as “EU-Agriculture”; “Non-EU Agriculture”, or noted by the name of the actual country.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

How best to relax in front of the TV

It has been a busy couple of weeks for me. I’m also expecting the coming weeks to be busy as I try to juggle business with the amount of sport on TV which just has to be watched! I’m not sure how I’m going to fit it all in!

At A-Star Nutrition we ask our clients to remember to relax when they can because this is so beneficial to our overall wellbeing. Continuous rushing and stress can really take its toll on the body and is often behind many health issues. Therefore I hope that your team out in South Africa (whether this is England or one of the others taking part), does not cause too much stress for you! There is nothing like a penalty shoot-out to raise the adrenaline levels! I'm also hoping that our best tennis player in many years manages to keep our Wimbledon fortnight as stress-free as possible without too many cliffhangers!

Whilst you watch, remember to keep your snacks as healthy as possible.
For example, instead of crisps which contain no nutrients, try nut and seed mixes which often come in spicy flavours.

And in readiness for our first match against the USA, a recipe for a burger far better than the ready-made variety is given below.

Suitable for 4 burgers
1kg minced organic beef
2 medium red onions chopped finely
2 eggs
1-2 handfuls of fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon of crushed coriander seeds
1 small pinch of crushed cumin seeds
1 heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard
Salt and ground black pepper.
(Add additional herbs if you are feeling adventurous)

Pre-heat the oven to 230 degrees/gas 8
Mix all the ingredients together
Divide into four and mould into small balls
Roast in oven for 25 minutes
Should be crisp on the outside and softer in the inside.

Serve with wholemeal roll, a large salad and salsa.... and a few beers!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Rosettes and Fizzy Ribena - my election night in Harlow

Running a local business means I feel much more a part of the local community than I ever did as a commuter to the City of London. It also means I get more sleep now that I do not have to commute 1½ hours a day.

However I am suffering from sleep deprivation this morning! Last night I had the opportunity of attending the Harlow election count. This was an interesting experience which I recommend if you ever get the chance - even if, like me, you are not particularly active other than casting your vote when called upon to do so.

At A-Star Nutrition we concentrate on giving dietary advice however other lifestyle choices which can also impact on our health - such as insufficient sleep – are discussed if applicable.

We are not sure why we sleep but here are ten good reasons for making sure we get plenty of it.

1. It may improve our memory. Our dreams seem to be about filing away recent incidents for future use.
2. It seems to help boost our immunity.
3. Sleep also seems to help us maintain calmness of mood.
4. Chronic sleep deprivation may increase the chances of weight gain
5. There is less chance of having an accident if you sleep adequately.
6. The liver seems to do more detoxifying whilst you sleep.
7. Lack of sleep seems bad for the cardiovascular system.
8. Learning is easier with plenty of sleep.
9. Concentration is better after a good night’s sleep.
10. Inflammatory diseases (eg arthritis) are greater in those who do not sleep well.

Many at the count last night had been working exceptionally hard and the only food to sustain them through the long night ahead were chocolate bars and fizzy drinks. Although it was particularly heartening to see rosetted representatives from the two major parties working so well together consolidating their change for snacks at the vending machine! I wished I had been allowed a camera to take a picture!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Convenience food - Marrakech style

Jamie Oliver’s latest venture takes him to cities in Europe and North Africa. In one programme he visits Marrakech. I have never visited Morocco and my only impression of the city came from this programme. It seems a city of narrow alleys and markets with plenty of colour, spice and aromas and the guide books Lonely Planet and Fodor back this up.

In one scene a young boy around 12 years old knocked at the door of Jamie’s small apartment early in the morning. He then hurried off along the road with Jamie hot-footing it behind him – demonstrating he was much less nimble than the youngster! The young lad carried six dough balls on a large tray. Eventually they arrived at a baker’s and the boy left the tray behind and went off to school. Other children had also done the same and each mum had marked her dough balls so that they could be differentiated. The children would collect their breads, now cooked, on return from school for lunch. This was the most efficient way of each family obtaining hot, fresh bread. On top of this the children are given a responsibility not to mention exercise. That’s three things many UK children miss out on chaperoned back and forth in cars and coaches with their Monster Munch and string cheese!

Jamie also demonstrated how young single men sort out their evening meal. The men go with an earthenware pot to purchase meat, spices, fruits and vegs plus some olive oil all from the same vendor. The vendor puts everything in the pot together and the ingredients are then slow cooked. And we marvel how Waitrose and Sainsbury’s now offer some lemon or herb butter and parsley with their fish!

Later the young single males can enjoy this “stew with attitude” as Jamie puts it in his inimitable style. Add some of the wonderful bread and a glass of wine and the Moroccan bachelors’ dinner compares extremely favourable with the supermarket ready made meals or the greasy kebab favoured by many of their counterparts here in the UK.

Jamie’s tagine recipe can be found at http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/beef-recipes/beef-tagine. The special tagine pots are not needed – a casserole dish or even a saucepan is sufficient

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Healthy electioneering

Have you noticed something that David, Nick and Gordon (not to mention Presidents Obama and Sarkozy) have in common? Or at least appear to have. They all apparently do regular exercise and are keen on keeping fit and healthy.

Barack Obama of course makes no secret of the fact that he takes time out of his busy schedule to exercise. David Cameron famously cycles to work, runs in various charity events. Both do so without causing themselves embarrassment.

Nick Clegg’s spokespeople say he doesn’t have time for a fixed regime but he does take exercise when he can and he follows a “healthy diet”. Interestingly I had noticed myself that each time you see Nick eating, albeit staged managed breakfasts with his wife or cosy elevenses in the garden with his deputy, there is no sign of him succumbing to anything which could be delicately described as an “unhealthy option”. And then there he was again taking fruit from the spectacular bowl on his campaign battle bus in full view of the camera and mid-interview. Is that necessary?

Gordon Brown was photographed jogging recently and chatted about his love of exercise on breakfast TV. Not so convincing perhaps - but nevertheless, gone are those openly smoking, drinking, portly men of old. They, like Bill Clinton with his love of hamburgers, are yesterday’s man.

Once you’ve got over the sight of the security guards and other paraphernalia surrounding them, it makes a lot of sense. Certainly the arduous campaign trail is no place for the unfit with long hours of travel and schedules with no let-up. Those embarking on it should physically prepare themselves well with sound nutrition and exercise. This supports mental strength too. It is exactly the same for us lowly constituents. Managing our commutes, relationships, studies – not to mention all that mental anguish as we decide who we can possibly vote for - is sure to be far harder with a lack of nutrients and a clapped out body.

But the question intriguing me is this. Some of these politicians convince me that they would be following the same fitness regime whatever their status – just without the bodyguards in tow - but for the others it’s less believable. Goodness, even Boris Johnson has jumped on the bandwagon huffing and puffing along in Bermuda shorts like he’s just spotted the last free sunlounger! President Sarkozy went so far as to collapse after a run. Don’t do it guys: it’s not worth it – even for a swing seat! So why are they doing it?

Is all this jogging and public shunning of junk food just a PR stunt because somewhere, somehow it’s been shown we want our leaders to be healthier than the population in general? Well, in my case, yes I do. If they do not have the sense to look after themselves, how can they be expected to take care of anything else to a competent standard? But am I typical?

As a nation we are fatter and unfitter than ever so what is it all about? Gordon Brown’s trainers one journalist remarked were suspiciously “unworn” even though Nike had supposedly not sold them for 5 years. In some cases at least perhaps it’s an almost touching attempt to keep up with what’s required, with what others are telling us to do, when in our heart we don’t want to. Even Obama admits to the odd ciggie. How many can relate to that? And then I wonder how subtle the PR has become.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Hello world!

My blogging is about to start! So watch this space!