Healthy Living

A Dietitian’s Kitchen – August

A few months ago my fellow dietitian, Gemma, from Dietitianwithoutborders, came up with an idea to give dietitians the opportunity to share what goes on in their kitchen. Like Gemma, I also get asked a lot about things I cook with so, naturally, I thought it was a great idea.

Here’s what’s going on in my kitchen for August:

20140730_082855 (2)Quinoa. I’ve been wanting to try this for ages, and on a recent visit back to the UK, I stocked up. I’m glad I did. For one, it’s much cheaper there and also, I’ve since discovered it’s versatility. I really like the taste of it, it tastes nice sweetened with fruits but also compliments savoury flavours. Quinoa contains higher levels of some amino acids than other grains, it’s a great source of fibre and makes a nice change to rice or cous-cous. I’m still finalising some more recipes to blog about, but I have (in my humble opinion) perfected my quinoa porridge recipe. Now I just need to find somewhere in Brussels that doesn’t charge 10€ a bag!!

chicoryChicory. I’ll be honest…sometimes I manage to get myself into a bit of a vegetable rut. I end up buying the same veggies week in, week out, which is silly really as I love most of them! I’ve now vowed to add a different vegetable to the shopping trolley every week! Chicory was something I’d never tried, let alone cooked! I picked up a big bag at the weekend, added it to a stir fry and made a sort of soup/casserole with leek and potato. Both were nice but the flavour of the chicory got a bit lost so I’m still experimenting. So far my favourite is oven baked chicory with bacon and stilton, the blue cheese really compliments the bitter chicory.

20140812_165735Plantain Bananas. One of the things I love about Brussels is the food markets. These plantains are something I’ve seen a lot of, there’s a great stall at our local market that cooks fresh, authentic curries and serves these as a side dish. We’ve had them a couple of times, and this week I decided to give them a go myself. Raw, they look, smell and appear to have a similar texture to bananas. However, it’s best to cook them – they don’t taste half as good raw! As the plantain becomes more ripe, the skin goes black, resembling a very over-ripe banana, but the inside will still be orangeish, or even tinged pink. The more black the skin becomes, the sweeter the plantain is. The beauty of this is that the plantain tastes different at each stage of ripeness.


That’s what’s been going on in my kitchen so far in August..!


Dietary Conditions, Healthy Living

How to be a healthy veggie

I’m not vegetarian, but I do enjoy vegetarian food. Every Monday, I experiment with a recipe that typically contains meat and try to make it with lentils, beans or another legume. I support ‘Meat Free Mondays’ for a couple of reasons; I like the taste of legumes and pulses, they’re lower in saturated fats than red meat PLUS I like the challenge of trying to make something where my boyfriend doesn’t notice the meat is ‘missing’!

If you’re thinking about becoming vegetarian or vegan though, it’s more complicated than just cutting meat and animal products from your diet.

First things first, a lot will depend to what degree you cut out meat. Is it just red meat (demi-vegetarian)? No red meat or poultry but you’ll eat fish (pescatarian)? No animals but still eat eggs and dairy (lacto-ovo-vegetarian)? Or no animals or animal products at all (vegan)?
All of these animal products contain nutrients that your body needs, so naturally, if you’re cutting them out then you need to find an alternative source.

Proteins are made up of tiny pieces called amino acids. Amino acids are required by the body to make hormones, enzymes and replace muscle tissue. Some amino acids are essential; the body cannot make them, so they need to be ingested through our diet. Most meats and animal products are called complete proteins, which means that they provide all of the 9 essential amino acids. If still consuming dairy products and eggs, these are valuable sources of protein too – with eggs being a complete protein.

Quinoa and soya beans are also technically complete proteins, although they do not contain as higher levels of these amino acids as animal products do. Therefore, it’s best to mix things up a bit! Quinoa, despite it being a complete protein, is not a rich source, so it should not be the only protein containing food vegetarians eat. Your diet should also contain rich sources, ie; eggs, chic peas, beans and lentils. However, most vegan sources of protein are not complete, meaning that in order to obtain all of the essential amino acids, a couple of protein sources need to be mixed. Legumes (lentils, chic peas, beans etc) are typically low in the essential amino acid called methionine. Grains (rice, cous-cous, brown bread etc), while containing methionine, are insufficient in lysine. By combining legume + grain, vegetarians or vegans can obtain a complete protein. For example; beans on toast, rice and black bean curry, lentil soup and bread or pita bread and hummus. Meat eaters and vegetarians should aim to have 2-3 servings of complete proteins per day.


Another nutrient to be aware of is iron. Women have a higher requirement of iron than men (due to menstruation) and intakes are typically below what is recommended, especially in adolescent girls. Iron found in meat is called haem-iron, and is more readily absorbed than non-haem iron. For this reason, female vegetarians especially, need to ensure that they’re having a couple of sources of non-haem iron daily. Iron can be found in beans and pulses, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables (like spinach, broccoli and swiss chard), wholemeal flour, dried apricots and seeds. As I said, these non-haem sources of iron aren’t so easily absorbed by the body, however, there are a few tips than can help enhance absorption. Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, peppers and sweet potato) helps improve the amount of iron we can obtain from food. So having a glass of orange juice with cereal or some sweet potato in your lentil soup will help up your iron intake. Also, avoid having tea and coffee alongside a meal as they contain tannins and phytates that bind with iron and make it more difficult for the body to absorb.

If vegan, good sources of calcium will be required to replace calcium obtained from dairy (see my nutrient nugget for more info on calcium). Calcium is found in green leafy veg like; kale, broccoli, rocket and watercress, beans, pulses, fish where you eat the bones (tinned mackerel/sardines), almonds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds and dried apricots. Some soya milks and tofu are also fortified with calcium. Vitamin D (obtained from sunlight) enhances calcium absorption, so those at risk of poor vitamin D status should eat a variety of the above foods daily and you should consider a vitamin D supplement. See my vitamin D post.

Vitamin B12 is found in animals and animal products. The requirement for this nutrient is small so deficiency is rare but strict vegans should consume a fortified food or take a supplement. For example; yeast extract (marmite), fortified soya products, breakfast cereals and vegetable stocks.

Finally, as milk is an important source of iodine, vegans are at risk of low intakes. If this is the case it’s recommended to use iodized salt or take a nutritional supplement.

In order to get all the vitamins and minerals we need, a large variety of fruits and vegetables should be eaten. Think about eating as many different colours as possible! This, alongside beans, lentils, grains and nuts will help ensure your vegetarian or vegan diet is adequate in all nutrients.


Quinoa Porridge

20140730_082855 (2)As you’ll see in my post all about Quinoa, I’m a newbie. But, one of the first things I had to try was getting a good recipe for quinoa porridge. I have tweaked and mixed the method round a bit and I’ve finally found one that works for me. Quinoa has a subtle nutty flavour which makes it taste comforting and indulgent – but you’ll be pleased to hear it’s healthy too!

This recipe is really simple, easily adapted and can be eaten hot or cold. So, if you’re in a hurry in the mornings just make it the night before and leave it in the fridge overnight!


50g uncooked quinoa
100ml of milk (I used cow’s milk but try almond/soya milk for a vegan alternative)
Topping of choice

1. Place the quinoa in a sieve and rinse under a cold, running tap for 5 minutes. You need to make sure the quinoa is well rinsed otherwise it has a bitter taste.

2. Put rinsed quinoa into a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil, once boiling, reduce heat.

3. Let quinoa simmer in saucepan until quinoa is cooked* (look out for the grains splitting open slightly).

4. Drain the water from the saucepan, and mix together the cooked quinoa and the milk.

5. Now you have two options:
a) To make your quinoa porridge hot, continue to heat the quinoa and milk until the milk is       absorbed and all of the quinoa is cooked.
b) For cold, ‘overnight oat’ style just cover and place in the fridge overnight.

6. Add desired toppings and enjoy!

*If you want your porridge warm, drain off the water just before all the grains are thoroughly cooked – they should absorb the warm milk better!

20140730_083037 (2)CALORIES: 170kcal
FAT: 4g

(Values are for a 50g (raw weight) serving of quinoa with semi-skimmed milk. Nutritional values will vary depending on ingredients used)

TOP TIP: Quinoa can be quite plain tasting so it definitely needs something to compliment the subtle nutty flavour; fresh orange and seeds, ginger, honey and raisins or apple and cinnamon are all yummy!



quinoaI’m pretty late to jump on the quinoa bandwagon, but now I keep finding new uses for it. So watch out for recipes using this baby!

As quinoa is something that’s increased in popularity only recently, I didn’t know that much about it nutritionally either. So I thought I’d share my research with you.

What is quinoa?
Hailing from South America, and a staple of the Inca people for hundreds of years, quinoa is a wheat free alternative to starchy grains. It has a lot of the properties of typical grains (like rice and pasta) but isn’t from the same family, it’s actually the same family as chard, beets and spinach. However, as it is a cereal product, it’s considered a carbohydrate on the Eatwell Plate.

What about nutritionally?
Like other grains, quinoa is packed with fibre which helps keep your bowels healthy. It’s also a handy source of protein, especially for vegetarians or vegans; providing 9 essential amino acids in higher concentrations than found in other grains.
Having fibre and protein together helps keep you full, so the mixture of these two found in quinoa also means that it is fabulous for those trying to lose weight. Quinoa is also gluten free, making it an excellent addition to the pantry of any coeliac.
Finally, quinoa contains lots of micronutrients including; magnesium, iron, B-vitamins and calcium.

Per 100g serving
(approx. 50g raw)
CALORIES 120kcal

What can it be used for?
Quinoa is incredibly versatile. On its own it has a subtle nutty taste which makes it a useful addition for soups, stews and curries as it won’t change the flavour too much. I would say it has a similar light texture to couscous, but has a slight crunch. I’ve eaten it hot and cold and both ways it tastes fantastic! I’ve used it as a replacement to rice, oats and even trialled some recipes that traditionally use pasta. I’ve also made quinoa porridge, see my recipe here.

How do I cook it?
It’s really important to rinse your quinoa before cooking it, as otherwise the coating on the grain leaves a bitter taste. Once you’ve rinsed it well, you can cook it as you would rice. It takes about 15 minutes on the hob and you can tell when it’s done by watching out for the seeds splitting open slightly.

Quinoa features regularly in our diet, and I’m enjoying experimenting with what else I can do with it. It’s a great alternative to traditional grains and has added nutritional benefits too. Variety is the spice of life so as far as I’m concerned it’s a fab addition to a healthy balanced diet.

There are quite a few quinoa recipes online, but keep an eye out for the ones I post too. I’d also love to hear your suggestions!