Anti-inflammatory dinners

A photograph of a collection of home-grown squash.

Most people who know me suffer my obsession with pumpkins! It starts about now when the beauties are brought in from the garden, through Winter as I cook them, save the seeds then agonise over which to keep for growing the following Spring, Spring of course when the seeds are sown, and Summer when they are coaxed along with numerous  cunning tricks and treats!

It’s not actually just pumpkins. It’s courgettes, gourds, squash of all types (and marrows when the courgettes get away unnoticed and reappear a foot long!) I have to confess that marrows are my least favourite – but even they have some uses. Winter squash are my true obsession amongst which various types of pumpkin all rate highly!

Pumpkins are truly important in Chinese Medicine, and Autumn is their particularly useful time of year. In Autumn, Chinese Medicine predicts that people are especially vulnerable to lung and skin problems. It’s the season of coughs and colds; the start or worsening of phlegm related problems – sinusitis, asthma, rhinitis, vertigo and sickness. It’s also the season of eczema, psoriasis and all sorts of odd rashes and sores.

Pumpkins to the rescue! (or at least part of the rescue!). Pumpkins are sweet, round and (often) orange, which are all Spleen related attributes. In Chinese Medicine theory nourishing the spleen helps the Lungs et voila!
Plus, of course, they are packed full of an amazing quantity of vitamins and minerals and taste delicious. if this doesn’t sway you then their seeds also have a track history of curing worms, especially tape and round worm – see?!

I tested the anti fungal, viral, bacterial  and worm (slug actually in this instance) properties of pumpkins this Summer when I tragically caught a growing squash with the lawn mower.

After I had calmed down I brought out some pumpkin seed oil and swabbed my pumpkin’s wounds. I braced myself for disaster over the coming days –  but no! the squash grew on undeterred. The scars never regained the right colour but seemed to resist infection perfectly. The survivor is the beautiful green lobular pumpkin in the front row of the photo above.

At last! On to something useful! Here comes a recipe containing foods and herbs and spices which are medicinally therapeutic  from a Chinese Medicine perspective, and also makes a perfect anti – inflammatory dinner.

Heat up some oil –  Coconut oil is a good one to heat up and contains Lauric acid – good for infections.

cook some chopped onion in the hot oil until soft and a bit brown then add lots of chopped up veg and herbs and spices. You really don’t have to be too careful which, but if they’re denser like butternut squash, cook for a bit longer than leafy veg like broccoli or spinach. Here’s how;

Start with lots of chopped garlic, root ginger, fresh turmeric if you have it,
then add ground cumin, a few squashed green cardamom pods, ground coriander, crushed, chopped or dried chillies, depending on how hot you like things.
Add some marigold bouillon powder

next the veg;
I like to use winter squash (of course) cut into chunks, sweet potato, carrots
then add some or all of;
french beans, celery, broccoli, or cauliflower
then spinach, chard or pak choi
I like to add loads of chopped parsley

Add a little water and cook until the veg are nearly cooked through (this won’t take long)

Add a tin of coconut if you like it.

Bring back to a simmer

slide in some big chunks of fish. I like naturally smoked haddock – just boned.

cook until the fish is cooked through (about five to ten mins depending how big your chunks are)
Try not to break up the chunks of fish too much if you stir.

Delicious, easy, uses up all your veg left overs, and perfectly anti – inflammatory.

Don’t forget to keep your pumpkin or squash seeds for growing next year!

Ps I know its not right to have favourites, but the tastiest pumpkins are the grey lobular French ones if you can find one!

Anti-inflammatory lunches

A photo of a homemade anti-inflammatory lunch.

A few people have been asking for ideas for anti-inflammatory lunches, so here we are – this is for you!

It’s still amazingly warm here so I’m still having a version of coleslaw for lunch. More on this in a minute, but a quick Chinese Medicine note of caution; this is all raw which has some issues in Chinese medicine. It’s shredded very finely which makes it easier to digest, and I’m adding ginger and fresh turmeric root to increase its ant-inflammatory effect but stop it being too cold (the issue here is its rawness in Chinese Medicine rather than its actual temperature.)

As the weather gets colder and perhaps the rain finally comes back, I’ll swap to stir-fries and soups. A good plan if time is really limited is to cook extra amounts for the evening meal that you can take a portion in for lunch the following day.

In the meantime here’s how I’m making anti-inflammatory coleslaw;

As always I’m using things from my garden – the advantage being that then things are in season, and I’m working my way through those huge harvest gluts! If you don’t grow your own veg. then try to chose things that are in season as much as possible.

Im using courgettes, not too old or huge! perhaps one medium sized one,
4 carrots
4 medium sized beetroots
one eighth to a quarter of a whole cabbage depending on the size, with the tough centre cut out
1 thumb sized piece of ginger
same amount of fresh turmeric root

I’m finely peeling the roots or giving them a good wash and scrub, cutting them into chunks and feeding them into a food processor with the grater attachment fitted. This is a real discovery for me! It’s huge fun to use and grates things in seconds. You could do it by hand if you’re more patient than me or don’t have a food processor. If you put your turmeric in to grate this way then everything you use will turn yellow and stay that way for a very long time. I don’t mind, but you might!

Once I’ve grated everything I tip it into my biggest bowl.

Then I make a dressing from
hemp oil
pumpkin oil
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
I use about the same amount of each and the mix fills a mug.
I tip it onto my grated veg and mix it really well.

I keep this in a tupperware (a big one) in the fridge and it makes about 5 lunches or more.

When I’m ready to use it I mix it up again, put a big portion in a bowl and put a small handful oftoasted mixed seeds and nuts and a handful of chopped mixed dried fruit on it.

For the mixed nuts and seeds i use about equal amounts of;
almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds

I put them in a big baking tray and bake them until they just start turning brown (watch this – it can be quite quick and you definitely don’t want to burn them!)
After they’re cooked I add a smaller amount of linseed and keep the cooled mix in a tupperware for adding to things.

For the mixed dried fruit I use;
figs, dates, prunes, unsulphured apricots, mango, peach, and raisins

I cut up the bigger pieces with kitchen scissors, mix everything together, and that gets stored too for adding to my coleslaw and also to porridge.

Mixing these ready prepared things together is really easy for making lunch. I like to have a fewoatcakes with nut butter or avocado or tinned fish with it.

Get grating!

ps. the picture is of my latest batch of coleslaw. I didn’t realise that the beetroot was stripy white and pink inside until I’d grated it! Actually I think the usual red beetroot is nicer.

Anti-inflammatory muesli.

A photograph of a chicken on a table eating muesli.
A photo of muesli ingredientsA photograph of home made muesli

Photos of before, half way through and just in time afterwards when the hens spotted what I was doing!

Yesterday I was in Manchester so I dropped in on one of my favourite places – Unicorn, an amazing and fantastic whole food grocery which is run as a workers’ co-operative. Everything they sell is as local, ethical, organic and generally as saintly as  anything could ever be – and isn’t expensive.

Unicorn is a truly inspiring place and I came home laden with goodies. The first thing I’ve done this morning has been to put together a muesli which fits with the anti-inflammatory diet that I’m trying out. It took me a while to make but I’ve made loads and it really does taste delicious ‘though I say so myself! It doesn’t contain any added sugar or syrups and none of the flakes are malted, but the dried fruit keeps it tasting sweet The different grains give it a real creaminess too.

Here’s what I used – I’ll give the proportions in mug-fulls;

1 mug of porridge oats
1 mug of jumbo oats
Half a mug of rye flakes
Half a mug of puffed millet
Half a mug of millet flakes
Half a mug of puffed rice
Half a mug of rice flakes
Half a mug of barley flakes

Half a mug of toasted hazel nuts
Half a mug of pumpkin seeds
Half a mug of linseed
Half a mug of toasted almond flakes
1 mug of toasted coconut chips
Half a mug of whole almonds
Half a mug of whole sesame seeds
Half a mug of sunflower seeds

Half a mug of chopped prunes
Half a mug of chopped dried mango
Half a mug of chopped dried dates
Half a mug of chopped dried figs
Half a mug of chopped dried apricots
Half a mug of raisins

I bought the dried fruit whole and cut it into biggish pieces with kitchen scissors.

I mixed it all together, and that’s it! Yum!

If you’re thinking “surely that just looks like she put everything she liked the look of in her basket?”
You’d be completely right! I’m sure this would be fine with only half the ingredients but the important thing for me is that it really didn’t need sweetening. I was prepared to put some honey from my bees in with it, but it really doesn’t need it.

According to Chinese medicine principals it might be good to make this a bit easier to digest. To do this you could turn this into a Bircher style muesli by adding some fluid like soya milk, almond milk or just water the night before and leaving it to soften up before eating it for breakfast. Even better you could warm it up too  before eating it or cook it up like a porridge.

I like to add some fresh or stewed fruit and soya milk to mine. I’m making a stewed apple and blackberry compote at the moment. Again this doesn’t need any sugar adding.

You could also add some cinnamon especially as the weather turns colder. This is used as a Chinese herb for keeping the cold and damp out.

Anti-inflammatory breakfasts!

A photograph of porridge with dried fruit and nuts.

Anti-inflammatory breakfasts! Sounds very unappetising but actually they are one of the easiest to make and the ingredients which are best to aim towards suit breakfasts really well!

Perhaps the first thing to say is: “Have some breakfast!”

And that would almost do, except that it would be great not to just reach for toast and jam or most packet cereals!

I’ve made some kedgerees at weekends, (I’ve always loved kedgeree!), but most weekdays I wouldn’t have enough time so I opt for porridge, muesli or granola.

I’ve really struggled finding commercial muesli or granola which hasn’t got a depressing amount of added sugar hidden in it. Look out for malted flakes, puffed sweetened rice, crystallised of syrup enhanced dried fruit. These add up to a really high percentage of the overall carbohydrate content in many cereals.

Rude Health do a granola which is better on this front than most if you want a back up in the cupboard. The Dorset Cereal Company looked so good, but really let me down when I looked at the ingredients!

So I’m making my own or opting for home made porridge which is much more straight forward.

I’ll post a muesli and granola recipe next time but for now here’s my morning porridge recipe:

For just me I use half a mug of oats with a mug of water and a tiny bit of salt.

In the same saucepan and at the same time i put a handful of a dried fruit mix that I make myself.

This dried fruit mix lasts me for a week or so after I’ve made it. I chop up into largish bits, dried apricots (unsulphured), dried dates, figs, mango, peach, coconut, prunes and a few raisins, and anything else that hasn’t been treated with sulphur, syrup or glycerine and still looks nice!

I chop a fresh apple into the porridge mix (I’ve got a fantastic apple tree called Irish peach which produces perfect apples for this!) and cook everything until it starts bubbling and thickens up.

Admittedly this makes a huge portion but I almost always manage it, and if I don’t then the saucepan scrapings go to my hens who turn it into eggs – fantastic!

Which brings me to another perfect breakfast food of course – eggs!

Have lots of them, they’re lovely!

For my clients who might be pregnant, go carefully with eggs – just make sure they’re cooked through.

Happy breakfasting!

ps. Don’t drink a litre of water after this or you’ll explode, all you 2 litre water-drinkers!

Anti-inflammatory diet – to have and have not!

A photograph of a pumpkin growing

In Chinese Medicine there are lots of different underlying causes for inflammation. These would all require a different slant with any dietary recommendations.

What I’ve tried to do here is to identify a diet that would help reduce inflammation across the board.

Later on I’ll give some tips to customise things for different situations

So, here’s the list of things to avoid!

A photograph of a burger with onion rings.
Processed foods – the more processed a food is the more you’d want to avoid it. Most processed food uses the worst of available ingredients then disguises it with lots of fat, salt and sugar. Try to buy single ingredients. You can then chose yourself how to combine them,what to add and how much of it.

Sugar – you need to really look out for where this has been added, it’s often where you’d least expect it! I’ve been trying to find a muesli or granola which doesn’t contain added sugar in some form and it’s really difficult. Look out for dried fruit that’s been crystallised or soaked in syrup or sugar and flakes that have been malted. I’m making my own now or having porridge with added dried and fresh fruit.

Wheat – Hmm, I know it’s really difficult to avoid this with a Western diet, but once you’ve got the hang of doing things differently its really not so bad!

High gluten wheat is the worst-the sort of bread that stays in a lump if you squeeze it! Spelt is the best. I’m avoiding it altogether but having a bit of something I love at the weekends and this is often a croissant or pain au chocolate with a large cappuccino! Oh or a thick slice of buttered toast with honey because I‘ve collected my first ever honey from my bees this year!

Steer away from other wheat containing things like cous-cous and pasta. Look out for wheat being added as a thickener to things.

As always, you don’t have to be too austere!If you’re dying for some pasta or can only find a sandwich when you’re out, then have it! skipping a meal would be worse!

Chinese medicine is very clear on this point-going hungry is never a good thing if you can avoid it. Try to see it as, as unhelpful as overeating.

Dairy products – especially cow’s milk and cow’s milk products. Eggs are fine

What, no cheese?! ‘Fraid not!

Stimulants – like caffein, and alcohol. I’ve stopped tea and wine (except for some red wine at the weekend), but good coffee is my one big struggle! But I’m having some days without it and I’m never having more than one, and its mostly decaff!) I feel I could do better with this one!

Swap stimulants, screens (like computers, tablets and phones) and wine with nibbles for earlier nights most days (unless something exciting is calling you out of course!)

Bear in mind that you can have loads of:

Avocados, nut butters (crunchy almond and hazelnut are really nice), hummus, pulses, fish, lots of types of oat cakes and black bread, oats, quinoa, rice, all veg (I’m limiting potato and concentrated tomato), and all fruit, nuts and seeds, eggs, oils especially hemp, olive and pumpkin, sleep!

Good luck!

I’ll post some meal examples and other lifestyle changes that you could make to help things along next week!

Oh and for my clients who are struggling with fertility issues or going through IVF for whatever reason – this is all for you too! Especially keep up a higher than usual amount of good quality protein and aim to keep your blood sugar on a level.

Anti-inflammatory Diet

A photograph of turmeric root.

Here it is at last!

An anti inflammatory diet that anyone can do with a bit of planning ahead!

I’ve seen an increasing number of clients recently who would love to try to make some changes to help themselves, but are out-faced by the mountain of conflicting dietary advice there is out there.

Chinese Medicine has a fantastic approach to how and what we eat.

As always with Chinese Medicine, it’s very individually tailored; taking into account the time of year, climate, constitution and individual health needs of each person. But at its core it has the same basic principals for making food as easy to digest as possible, so that we can extract the energy that we need and love to make our lives as fulfilling as possible.

So I’ve taken Chinese Medicine principals and merged them with the best researched and recommended dietary advice for helping reduce inflammation in the body.

Just to prove how determined I’ve been to make sure this is achievable while keeping up a busy lifestyle and a love of good food, I’ve been eating this way for two months now and its just felt easier and easier!

So…here we go…..

First of all who would this be good for?

Well anyone with any level of inflammation!

That would include sports injuries, arthritis and general aches and pains, autoimmune problems for example rheumatoid arthritis and MS, hay fever and other conditions causing sinus inflammation, menopause or other problems relating to a drop in hormone levels for example PMT, and anything else where inflammation is causing problems.

Inflammation often causes pain and a need for our bodies to try and repair things and that can be a cause of tiredness, low energy and not recovering or feeling as well as we feel we should, so I’d give this a try if any of that fits the bill too!

What to have lots of:

– Vegetables. You can limit tomatoes if you like. I’m eating tomatoes because they have so many health benefits, but I’m limiting concentrated tomato paste.

– Fish. Especially fish that live in cold water. I’m avoiding farmed fish and most tinned fish, although I’m having Fish 4 ever sustainably caught, tinned fish.

– Fruit. Lots of delicious in-season fruit around at the moment. I’m avoiding unripe fruit including fruit that’s imported and will probably never properly ripen. This isn’t such a problem at the moment but for example, in Winter I’d avoid strawberries.

– Nuts and seeds. I’m making a big mix of hazelnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, linseed, poppy seeds, un-hulled sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds. Lightly toast them and keep them to add to things in handfuls, or just snack on when you’re hungry.

– Healthy oils (pumpkin oil, hemp oil, olive oil).

– Pulses (I love adding cannellini beans, butter beans, chick peas and lentils to vegetable casseroles and tagines.

But don’t panic!

I think it’s important not to get too focussed on the things that are best limited. I’m relaxing things at weekends and having a big cappuccino and croissant for breakfast for example!

An excellent Chinese Medicine principal is that whatever we do shouldn’t feel too forced, unnatural or stressful. In dietary terms this includes fasting, drinking lots of cold water at meal times, only having juices or smoothies as our nutrition and on and on.

I see so many people who have ended up restricting their diets so severely and fearfully that food becomes primarily stressful.

Not what we’re after with this at all!

Bearing this in mind I think I’ll launch this just in its present format!

Anyone who wants to have a go or join me on this dietary adventure, start off working on the list of things to have lots of!

Keep that up for a week and then get going on the things to limit; I’ll write about these on Friday!

Good luck!

Digger’s Back and Runner’s Knees

A photograph of a bee near a flower with pollen on its legs.

Well this is more like it; or at least Saturday was!

Sunshine, no arctic wind and everything buzzing with Spring. Literally buzzing; my bees are out and about at last! They’re returning to the hive laden with pollen, probably collected from all the daffodils that have suddenly sprung up, and my beautiful soft pussy willows are humming with bees too.

My clinic has been just as busy! Still lots of painful necks and shoulders, and still lots of signs of being run down after a long Winter; lingering coughs, recurrent colds, eczema, labyrinthitis, shingles and fatigue.

A couple of new conditions cropped up last week, and both of them do tend to be about at this time of year.

The first is low back pain from enthusiastic digging in the garden, and the second is last minuteknee and calf pain in people lining up to do the London marathon!

I’m a great fan of preventative medicine where possible.
Chinese Medicine has a strong tradition of preventing problems before they start, and it’s one of the many things that I really like about it’s sensible approach to health.

So… digging and what to do before a marathon….

Generally it’s a good plan to try to remember to treat gardening like any other form of strenuous exercise, particularly at this time of year when the sun shines and we suddenly see everything that needs sorting out from the Winter plus everything that needs getting going for the Spring.

I’m the worst culprit for this, but try to pace yourself. Take lots of breaks to stretch and rest and top up on food and drink. Start gently and well wrapped up and don’t try to dig over every bed in one morning!

With the marathon it’s different with every runner, but there does seem to be a bit of a theme in the last week or two of muscles tightening up as they receive endless anxious focus. It’s a good idea to try to relax and unwind a bit. Gently stretch, gently walk, find a swimming pool or Jacuzzi or both! Be a bit careful with deep massage at this stage, If all the trainings gone well then you can be reasonably sure that you can get round as long as you don’t do anything unusual in the last few days that might cause injury.

The first nettles are showing up in my garden and I’ve made my first batch of nettle soup packed full of iron! It’s a perfect anti viral and most of the ingredients should be around; the last leeks, garlic and onions from last year, a potato or two (I cheated and bought some, I’ve only just planted my potatoes out!) and fist-fulls (gloved fist-fulls?!) of new nettle tips.

Spring winds and Frozen Shoulders!

A photograph of snow covered daffodils

Early March and it’s freezing! Quite literally! There’s been an arctic wind from the North East and the soil that I dug over in last weeks sunshine, is completely solid again.

The combination of earlier Spring weather tempting people out to do more than they planned, tiredness and lack of fitness from a long Winter, and icy winds, have combined to fill my clinic with sore necks, shoulders and backs.

One person, rather ruefully told me that they had just gone out to clear some leaves from around the daffodils and crawled into the house seven hours later after a day of non stop digging!

Sometimes the pain can start without such a clear cause; frozen shoulders just seem to appear and old injuries begin to ache again.

In Chinese Medicine it’s thought that the cause of so much discomfort is the combination of people being run down after a long Winter and the particularly penetrating Winds at this time of year.

Early Spring is one of the most powerful times of year in Chinese Medicine. It was believed that the wind helped things like cold and damp to penetrate and lodge in joints and old points of weakness.

Modern research has shown that our immune systems function very poorly when we are exposed to the wind, and we would be expected to be more vulnerable to picking up infection.

The way to navigate our way safely through these next few weeks and stay fit and well, is to aim to be preventative as much as possible! Wrap up well just like in the old wives tales!   Get to bed a little bit earlier if we’ve been doing more than usual; make sure our diet contains lots of fresh fruit and vegetables; warm up before doing lots of vigorous activity; keep a vitamin D supplement going until the sunshine really starts to feel warm.

If it’s too late and you’re sitting reading this with something painful somewhere, then don’t panic! try to keep the area warm unless its clearly inflamed, use a heat pack or wrapped hot water bottle. If the warmth feels helpful then you could try a deep heat cream (no need to have one that includes anti-inflamatories in my experience). Try to keep gently moving unless the pain is too severe, but don’t do any extreme movements or stretches for a while . Careful with yoga but gentle pilates (or gentle yoga if you’ve done lots before) could be helpful. In Chinese Medicine warming, expelling flavours are helpful; think of warm casseroles and soups with coriander, chilli, cumin, ginger, pepper, onions, garlic, rather than cold salad from the fridge with under ripe tomatoes.

For anyone who might have read my last post and be worrying about Toby the horse, his leg is healing well. No swelling now and the hair is starting to grow back, hurrah! Now he just needs some warmdry sunshine just like the rest of us in the UK!

Tennis elbow

One of the MSc dissertations that I supervised a few years ago reviewed the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating tennis elbow.

By looking at numerous well conducted clinical trials it showed that there is good evidence that acupuncture is, indeed, effective in treating  tennis elbow.

I was chatting to a friend about this, this week, and my friend wondered how many people I saw with tennis elbow where the problem was actually a result of playing tennis.

The answer is ‘not very many’ out of hundreds of tennis elbow referrals!

Here’s a list of a few causes that I have come across;

  1. Poor posture whilst typing and using a computer mouse,
  2. Riding quad bikes,
  3. Riding mountain bikes,
  4.  Playing the guitar,
  5. Carrying coal scuttles,
  6. Carrying pails of water (not a Jack or a Jill),
  7. Rock climbing,
  8. Playing tennis,
  9. Using secateurs all day,
  10. Using chain saws,
  11. Starting two stroke engines too often in a hire shop,
  12. Carrying a huge, lovely, new handbag all day shopping!

Almost always tennis elbow is associated with too much tension in the forearm muscles. Acupuncture is useful both to reduce this chronic over tightening and also to reduce inflammation and speed up healing time at the tendon insertion into the lateral epicondyle of the elbow joint.