Chocolate Nut Muffins

Chocolate Nut Muffins

Today is snow. Heavy snow. I’m kind of over snow to be honest. It’s very pretty but, you know, COLD. I learned a new word today (thanks Twitter!): the Icelandic term: GLUGGAVEÐUR  or “window weather.” Weather that looks lovely from inside your house but is horrible to be outside in. I think that sums it up quite nicely. Our household is the kind of household that is stocked with good coffee and organic food at all times, but lacks things like a working boiler or any kind of insulation. So I am sitting and shivering here at the laptop wearing an insane amount of clothes, but with a full and warm belly.

I wasn’t planning to blog anything today but I promised Sas from the awesome Courage & Spice podcast (have a listen – it’s just lovely) a recipe for these gluten and dairy free muffins so here we are! If you’ve got the ingredients in stock you could be warming your own belly with these in under forty minutes – are you ready? GO!

Preheat the oven to 180c while you combine 200g cashew butter (you can use peanut butter if that’s what you have in), two eggs, 75g soft dark sugar and 50g chopped dark chocolate. Then stir in 200ml of nut milk (yep – dairy milk works fine here too – I just had some almond milk to use up.)

Combine 280g self-raising gluten-free flour with a teaspoon of baking powder and then lightly stir it into the gloopy cashew nut butter mixture. Don’t over stir or you’ll end up with rubbery muffins. Eew!

Put generous dollops of mixture into 12 muffin cases or silicon moulds and bake for 25 minutes. By the time you’ve washed up, cleaned up and made a pot of coffee they’ll be all steamily warm and delicious. You might even get to remove just one of your jumpers. Maybe…

 

Rethink Breakfast Cereals

Rethink Breakfast Cereals

Flojo’s Easy Detox Tip #8

So you’ve all heard about the origins of Kellogg’s corn flakes right? No? Mwahahaha! You’re in for a treat then. Dr Kellogg was a Seventh Day Adventist who believed that “Neither plague, nor war, nor small-pox have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of onanism. Such a victim dies literally by his own hand.”

Yep, to cut a long story short, Dr Kellogg developed corn flakes to cure the life and soul destroying effects of masturbstion!

Quackery as it sounds though, he had a point. No! Not that having a sex drive is bad! In fact, having a healthy libido is a key sign that your health is generally doing ok. If your health is under par then your body won’t necessarily want to encourage behaviour that might end in pregnancy.  His point that cereals reduce libido though? That one. That’s the point I’d like to expand on. 

Until Kellogg began promoting his anti-libido cereals at the turn of the 20th century, western breakfast eaters were fueling themselves with either meat and eggs or some kind of porridge. Until the misinformed diet police started getting their knickers in a twist over fatty breakfasts we were breakfasting on just the right stuff for good energy and, yes, a healthy libido! Here’s why: cholesterol and saturated fats are vital components of all hormone production! And having a healthy sex drive is reliant on your body being able to synthesise sex hormones, namely testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone, oxytocin and vasopressin. If Dr Kellogg wanted to reduce sex drive then restricting the ingredients of traditional breakfast fare was an effective measure!

And if you aren’t convinced by the whole libido argument. How about breakfast cereals messing up your stress hormone cycles? Starting your day with a carbohydrate based breakfast causes your blood sugar levels to rise, which in turn increases your insulin production. Both of which interfere with your natural daily cortisol cycle. And when your cortisol levels are high then your non-emergency functions such as digestion, reproduction and wound healing are going to get suppressed. 

Those low-fat, added vitamins, superfoods enriched health claims on the side of the box aren’t looking so hot now are they?

What about those lovely, natural, fibre containing, organic and whole grain cereals from the health food shop? Well, it’s also worth noting that whole grains contain both enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion and phytic acid that combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc and blocks absorption of these vital minerals. So sorry, but these aren’t great either. And check the nutrition panel for sugar. Don’t be fooled by the wholesome sounding ingredients like honey, maple syrup or, I don’t know, enchanted fairy nectar. Every 4.2 grams equals one teaspoon of sugar. Add up the weight of your serving (I’m guessing it’s more than the suggested 30g.) Do the maths. 

So, what can you eat for breakfast? 

The first thing to remember is that the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” mantra is misleading. Breakfast literally means to break your fast. There is no rule that says that this has to be as soon as you wake up, or even in the morning. It’s the quality that counts. Not the timing. 

But I’m not about to deprive you of “something in a bowl” of a morning so if that’s your bag you can always try my breakfast porridge, my chia breakfast bowl or my yoghurt breakfast bowl. And, when I get round to it I will blog a lovely sugar free and low carb granola post for you. Because I realise that was a cruel trick to post a picture of some healthy homemade stuff and not actually  give you a recipe. Sorry…

If a hot drink is the most you can face then Bulletproof coffee is great. Or, try my hot coconut and vanilla shake or my breakfast hot chocolate 

A weekend breakfast is the perfect time for a fry up. But if you are missing pastries or bagels then you could try my peanut butter muffins or my breakfast cheesecake. (I’ve also just realised I have omitted to write a recipe post for pancakes! Whaaat? I will rectify this soon. Promise!)

And, of course, there’s always bone broth! (How could I finish a post about breakfast without it?!)

Liver Hash

 I’m always on the lookout for liver recipes. I have a strong tendency to become anaemic, and liver provides a great source of easily absorbed iron, which in turn makes me marginally less inclined to drowsiness at certain times of the month. So this relatively mild tasting lambs offal is in our weekly organic delivery from Riverford and thus features regularly on the weekend menu!

This is a pretty undemanding way to both cook and consume lambs liver. If the taste is still a bit strong for you feel free to stir it into a big bowl of rice.
First you’ll want to trim the liver (organic every time) of any membranes and stringy bits – give them to your meat-eating pets who will noisily knock it back in the manner of the wolves and wild-cats they dream themselves to be while they doze on downy divans. Then chop the liver into bite size pieces and toss in gluten-free flour seasoned with salt, pepper and something spicy like Cajun seasoning. Fry some onions in plenty of butter or coconut oil until soft then add courgette and give it another ten minutes. Next some kale (pictured is Black Russian kale but curly kale or Savoy cabbage would be great too) and then push all the veggies to the outside of the frying pan. Turn your heat up high and pop the liver in the centre of the pan to brown on all sides. You want each cube to be lightly crispy on the outside and only-just-cooked on the inside. Like a Daim bar. But not. All done? Just stir it up, add extra seasoning if you like and serve. Fifteen minutes altogether I reckon, and a darn tasty way to get your inner-wild-animal revved up and ready to go.

Related post

Loving Liver?

Slow Cooked Curry

 I bought a slow cooker on Monday; it was an impulse buy but I mostly wanted something I could do the weekly chicken broth with. Slow cookers are the ultimate paleo/primal/ancestral and yet totally modern convenience right?! Yeah but no but. I quickly felt really bad because I’m trying to not buy, um, stuff at the moment and figured I should try and allay my guilt, assuage my remorse and alleviate my shame. (I love my thesaurus, I’ve had it twenty five years and the spine has long disintegrated. Whenever the pages or a chunk of pages fall out they get shoved back in the wrong place. There is now a minimal adherence to the rules of the alphabet.) I fear I may have digressed… Um, where was I?

Curry! I made a curry. I made a curry in my new crockpot. I ran round to the local shop, horribly aware that this was a slow cooker and it was only four hours until dinner time, and grabbed stewing steak and sweet potatoes. I browned off one and chopped the other. Threw them with reckless abandon into the crockpot with curry powder, chopped onion, chopped courgette, salt, pepper, some water and a big chunk of butter before switching the dial to high and waiting…
After two hours it was barely warm.

After three hours the occasional bubble blipped up to the surface.

My family arrived home with cries of: “What on earth is that?” “Isn’t that what old people have?” and “I thought we weren’t spending any money!

After three and a half hours I started boiling rice and wondering if I’d have to try and prepare something else.

After four hours elapsed I served up a perfect curry. I mean, it was truly sublime. Each morsel a tender, tasty testament to TLC. Everyone had seconds. Simon and I had leftovers for the next day’s lunch. I am, right now, wishing I could quickly cook some more. But it would take too long…

Incidentally, the freebie recipes that came with the slow cooker looked wack so please, please give me your favourite ideas in the comments!

Grain Brain by Dr Perlmutter

  One of the hardest parts of working in a pharmacy is seeing the stark contrast between the cheerful 90+ year olds who waltz in to buy cod liver oil or vitamin D tablets; and the 60 year olds who resignedly hand over their prescriptions for 5+  medications sagely muttering, “when you get to my age…” Statins to swallow alongside fat-free diets, laxatives to knock back after chewing through high-fibre bread; hundreds of capsules of tramadol, thyroxine, and pain killers dispensed every day. And picking up a weekly prescription seems, for many of our customers, to be an inevitable way of life, staving off surgery or death for just a few more years. 

It would be neither ethical nor professional for me to suggest customers ditch their margarines, low-salt condiments and low fat breakfast cereals when they look for over-the-counter relief for joint pain, heartburn and inability to sleep at night. I am unable to offer advice when I take their blood pressure and give them readings of 180/100. I can only apologise when they ask me how I look so well and I have to answer high-fat, low-sugar and no sunscreen. 

But, if I could, I would recommend Dr Perlmutter’s Grain Brain to every customer who walks through our door. Because, while the book focuses on brain function (depression, migraines, bipolar, Alzheimer’s etc) the advice would be equally relevant to anyone looking to relieve digestive issues, inflammatory conditions, circulatory diseases and diabetes, to name but a few. 

Grain Brain is authoritative, comprehensive, well referenced and a surprisingly easy read. Perlmutter’s case studies are presented with compassion, the four week plan is totally do-able and his recipes realistic. (Quick Flat-Roasted Chicken with Roasted Seasonal Vegetables and followed by Chocolate Truffles anyone?)

When I coached nutritional therapy clients one of the major stumbling blocks in avoiding gluten was that breakfast was boring. And this despite an enormous array of options, from Flojo’s SuperSmoothies to full fry-ups to eggs on gluten free toast. And this was from people who had only had toast for breakfast for years! Here is Perlmutter’s excellent explanation for that scenario, “We’ve known since the late 1970s that gluten breaks down in the stomach to become a mix of polypeptides that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Once they gain entry, they can then bind to the brain’s morphine receptor to produce a sensorial high. This is the same receptor to which opiate drugs bind, creating their pleasurable, albeit addicting, effect.” Sound familiar?!

Gluten-Free has become big business in the last decade or so and for every desperate soul who purchases commercially produced gluten free bread and sadly passes on the offer of biscuits in order to alleviate bloating, control their weight or deal with other seemingly inexplicable ailments there is a sceptic who believes that there is no scientific explanation for avoiding the very grains that have apparently sustained the human population for thousands of years. If either of these sounds like you, your friends or your family, please read Grain Brain and then lend your copy out! Your brain and body will thank you tenfold!

Related Post: 

How Flojo Got Her Mojo Back

Some Gluten Free Recipes:

Cheap n Cheerful Chocolate Chilli 

An Easy Curry Recipe

A Curried Chicken and Coconut Soup

Chia Breakfast Bowl 

Peanut Butter Muffins

Chia Breakfast Bowl

 Cheat alert. I forgot to prepare a proper post for you this week. But it’s been so lovely and sunny that eating outside, playing frisbee with the family, attempting my first ever cartwheel (no it wasn’t pretty, and yes I nearly broke a toe) going for lovely walks with my husband, and running through a chest hight river with a crazy friend (yes, really, it’s a long story) kinda took precedence. So, I’ve just scanned through some recent Instagram posts and wondered if you might like a recipe for a chia breakfast bowl. Would that suit? Oh good – do read on…

  1. Stumble down the stairs at 6am and stick the espresso pot on. Or boil water for green tea. Or do your meditation. Whatever works for you while you try to assemble your facial features into something that won’t scare small children.
  2. Pour chia seeds into a jug and add about three times that volume in milk or a milk substitute. Stir like a crazy thing.
  3. Sweep all the seeds that you spilt off the counter. Eat, or tip into the jug and hope nobody noticed; or let them fall to the floor for your hopeful looking dog.
  4. Gently dry fry some walnuts. Do not burn them! I know it’s early but burning them will ruin your entire day. Trust me.
  5. Find someone to set the table. Or  at least wipe it. Or at least get off their phones and try to feign interest in being helpful.
  6. Rinse blueberries. Try not to spill them in the sink.
  7. Share the chia pudding into as many bowls as you have family members. Let them help themselves to walnuts and blueberries.
  8. Sip coffee. Watch everyone’s happy smiling faces. Savour (oops, I just typed saviour) your lovely breakfast. Try to ignore the blueberries rolling all over the table. Congratulate yourself on managing to get yet another weekday breakfast on the table. I’m proud of you. You rock!

Related posts:

Flojo’s SuperSmoothies

Peanut Butter Muffins

Quick Baked Breakfast Cheesecake

Hot Chocolate for Breakfast

An Easy Curry Recipe

 Due to “technical difficulties” I can’t give you an excerpt from the Detox book this week, but I didn’t want to leave you with nothing at all. I’m nice like that. So, here’s what I made earlier – a hodge-podge of stuff I had kicking around in my tiny fridge. I hope you make some too…

I fried off chopped onion, garlic and minced ginger in a nice big wodge of butter. Chopped some courgettes (zucchini) and threw them in with plenty of minced lamb and browned that off. Pondered life for a while. Remembered I was supposed to be cooking dinner. Tipped in a ton of curry powder, a couple of chopped tomatoes and some tomato purée. Stuck a lid on and cooked some rice. Poured in some frozen peas. Tasted it, seasoned it, served it all up and took it all into the garden for my famished family to feast on! Fabulous!

Quick Wheat Free Staples

Wheat and gluten free baking can be a bit hit and miss. And, dare I say it, rarely as good as the real stuff. Unless you are a fabulous baker, which I’m not. I never have the right ingredients or the delicacy of hand required for working without the muscle power of gluten. Sure, anyone can replace white flour with a bit of Dove’s Farm gluten-free to make fabulous, squidgy, melt-in-the-mouth brownies. And muffins work just fine if you don’t mind them a little more crumbly than the regular ones. But biscuits, bread and pastry? They need a far superior cook than me to not leave the consumer feeling a little cheated.

For years I served up freshly made gluten-free muffins for breakfast, proudly sent my family off with gluten-free baps for lunch and hurriedly threw gluten-free pasta in thick meaty sauces for dinner. But it often felt like a bit of a cop-out. And I kept running out of the specialist flour. And it was more expensive to eat this way. So when I cooked up the idea of Flojo’s Easy Detox I wanted to encourage clients to look towards simple meals that didn’t rely on flour at all. Rice, oats and quinoa are useful, and easily available store cupboard basics here.

Rice

Lots of people think that they can’t cook rice… they can, they just don’t know this method! Chuck some white basmati rice in a large saucepan (I use about 200g  for a hungry family of four) and then add lots of water and a big pinch of salt. Stick a lid on and bring to the boil (watching like a hawk because when it boils it erupts like a grumpy geyser and makes a mess of your stove). Turn the heat right down and simmer for about 5 minutes, checking to taste regularly. As soon as it’s done, pour into a colander and let it drain. That’s it! Job done. Perfect rice.

You can use the same method for brown basmati rice but you’ll need to simmer for around 20 minutes longer. Brown rice has more bite and flavour to it; and keeps you going for longer. (Fry up a few seasonal veg, stir in your rice and then serve with a generous sprinkling of toasted nuts.)

However, I generally use white rice both for speed and for relative blandness, thus avoiding competition with stronger flavours, such as this amazing chocolatey Chilli and lots of the recipes in this post (particularly the Chicken and Squash Curry and and Big Pan of Greens).

Quinoa

Stick one cup of quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), a pinch of salt and one and a half cups of water or stock (in which case don’t add salt) in a saucepan. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes and then leave to sit with the lid on for another 5 minutes before you drain any excess liquid and fluff it up with a fork.

Quinoa works well hot or cold (and so is great for packed lunches) and is a great basis for any of the vegetable recipes here, especially the Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables or the winter root vegetables suggestion. Basically, if you’ve ever used couscous as a salad, try this instead. Plus, those little seeds look crazy when cooked!

Breakfast Porridge

Breakfast for those mornings when you creep downstairs in your soft, flannel PJs and fluffy slippers and sit at an old, scrubbed oak table. You smile indulgently at the dog gently snoring in front of the woodburner and listen to the torrent of rain lashing down against the window. The only item on your agenda today is to recline with a book until the sun breaks through the clouds. If this sounds more to you like a staged Instagram post than a realistic practicality then a clean bowl and spoon will suffice!

Soak one cup of oats and a tablespoon of ground almonds in two and a half cups of water overnight. In the morning gently bring to a simmer with a pinch of cinnamon and honey to taste. You can top with a dollop of live yoghurt, a sliced banana, a handful of fresh berries, a grated apple or some toasted seeds. (If you apply these toppings artfully you can Instagram your bowl too – at the time of writing there are well over half a million porridge posts!)

Are you still thinking about those muffins I mentioned earlier? Don’t fret, I still make these and I think you should too!

I often get feedback from friends and family about these blog posts but I’d love to know a bit more about the rest of you! C’mon, don’t be shy – drop me a line in the comments or use the reply function from your email (these are public by the way!). I’d love to hear from you!

A SuperDuper Speedy Guide to the Digestive System

What follows is the first part of week four of Flojo’s Easy Detox course. I was all prepared to edit it down a bit this morning as I wrote it a few years ago and have learnt another ton of stuff since then (I’d not yet heard of the Paleo diet), but on re-reading it I’ve been pretty pleased that the information still holds up. So, in keeping with my lazy nature – here’s my quick (and minimally edited) guide to the digestive system, and a nice quote from one of my book testers! Do scroll back through past blog posts for excerpts from the first few chapters.

“Well after three weeks I’m feeling fab!!! I did find it difficult at first (drinking water mainly) but can happily say that it doesn’t seem an issue anymore; I may even go as far to say I like a glass! (I never thought I’d say that.) My skin is so much clearer, and this has done what no doctor could do and actually lighten my dark circles!! I’m bouncing out of bed in the morning with energy, At first this seemed like a task I was going to fail but now I say bring it on!! If three weeks can make this much difference then I can’t wait for the end result!” Danielle.

Congratulations – you are now half way through the course!! You are now better hydrated, a darn sight cleaner internally than you were a few weeks ago, and, due to that extra veg, better nourished. Your cells will be thanking you from the bottom of their little hearts (not that they have them, but you get the picture!) Have you noticed that your brain is working a bit better as well? Does it feel a little clearer? Even your brain cells will be appreciating the clear out that you are giving them. This is why it’s only fair to make them work a little harder for all that care and attention you have inadvertently lavished on them over the last three weeks. It’s time for a quick science lesson…

Digestion
You may remember simple charts at school outlining the food groups:  maybe a diagram of a plate divided into three to five segments, or a food pyramid designed to show you how much of each type of food to eat. A little bit of meat, eggs and fish for muscle; lots of bread and pasta for plenty of energy; fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals; dairy for strong bones; fats to be avoided and sugar for treats. Well… pah! It’s largely wrong! No wonder people struggle to make healthy food choices. This week you are going to relearn the subject of digestion; I was going to skate around it a little bit and just give you some easy tips to detox, but I think that if you know the real deal you’ll be better equipped to make good long term choices when you’ve finished the six week course.

We refer to the basic food groups of carbohydrates, proteins and fats as macronutrients. (Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals.) Most food sources are actually a combination of these macronutrients but tend to have higher concentrations of one type. Here is a basic outline of what they are and what they do for you.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are chemicals made from lots of glucose (sugar) molecules joined together in a chain. They are found in grains (such as wheat), nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit. When these chains have been broken apart, your small intestine (more on this later) can easily absorb the sugar into the blood stream.  The glucose is then whisked off to each and every one of your cells as a food source to be turned into immediate energy. In a more traditional diet, which relies on vegetables, nuts and seeds for carbohydrate intake, this is a slow and steady process providing a sustained source of energy. However, the typical modern Western diet contains more refined carbs in the form of sugar, white flour and fruit juices than our bodies are designed to cope with. As a result we have to produce excess insulin to deal with the flood of sugar in our blood streams that cause energy peaks. “Syndrome X”, a pre-diabetic state is becoming more widespread in our society as our bodies become exhausted trying to balance out blood sugar. Syndrome X is often responsible for weight gain and frequent or permanent fatigue.

Fibre is another form of carbohydrate, but it is not digested, it just sweeps through our digestive system, taking with it all the waste and toxins that we don’t need. It also provides a food source for our beneficial gut flora which releases nutrients from food, helps to keep our gut walls clean and even keeps bacteria such as E-coli in check. (Dr Permutter’s Grain Brain is my highly recommended recent read and outlines all the new research on bowel flora.)

Proteins

Amino acids are a bit like little bricks which are used by our bodies to consistently rebuild and repair wear and tear to our cellular-homes. Eight of these amino acids are essential to this process; if they are found together in the same food source that food is referred to as a complete protein. Meat, fish and eggs are complete proteins because animals, fish and birds need those same amino acids to rebuild and repair their own cells. And yes, you do need proteins to build and maintain muscle mass, the charts you learnt back in school were right on one thing! But that’s really only part of the story. Read a few good paleo books to get a handle on the importance of quality proteins. Nuts, seeds and pulses (beans, soya, lentils etc.) contain many of the amino acids but are not complete proteins.

Fats

In their natural, undamaged state fats, also known as lipids are highly valuable. Got that? You need fat – hooray! In fact, your cellular membrane, the wall that houses your cellular home, is made up of a double layer of phospholipids – that regulates everything going in and out of each cell. When I say “natural, undamaged fats” I mean untreated seed and nut oils, fish oils, krill oil and, just as importantly, saturated fats from both meat and plant sources.

We’ll talk about fats more in week six, but for now it’s worth bearing in mind that fats that have been either chemically or heat treated to stabilize them and therefore increase shelf life, are not good for you. The very processes that stop fats from going rancid in a bottle also make them unsuitable for human consumption.

The Digestive System

Digestion is, quite simply, breaking food down from that pasty and chips you ate last night (yeah, I’m watching you!) to molecules that are small enough to be absorbed into the blood and then used by your body. Are you feeling ready for a quick tour of the digestive system? It’s not a complete overview, more a quick geography lesson to show you the journey that the last thing you ate has taken. As I actually have no idea what the last thing was that you ate I’m going to have to use my own last snack as an example. I’m now really regretting that I’ve just had a biscuit – it’s kind of embarrassing given what I’m trying to write. By the time I’ve finished writing this chapter I promise to go cold turkey with you for a bit of support.

Digestion starts in the mouth; chewing starts to mechanically break a Hobnob down while the enzymes in saliva start on the chemical breakdown. By the time it hits the stomach there should only be a mass of soggy crumbs; stomachs get pretty annoyed if they get fed half chewed food because they have to produce extra acid to break it down. If you regularly experience heartburn or excessive belching then you may find that this gets easier as you progress through the course and improve your eating habits. I have noticed that many people with heartburn don’t always need to change what they eat – but they do need to look at how they eat. Rather than regularly reach for antacids try the following:

  • Chew your food until it reaches a liquid consistency.
  • Don’t talk or try to breathe through your mouth when you have food in your mouth.
  • Don’t drink too much with a meal, have your water quota away from mealtimes.

My solitary biscuit won’t need to spend that long in the stomach because the acid produced here mainly supports the work of enzymes designed to break down fats and proteins. After a couple of hours the stomach empties out into the duodenum where chemical secretions are provided, courtesy of the liver, gallbladder and pancreas, to neutralise the stomach acid and to further break down any fats, proteins and carbohydrates into microscopic particles. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine, which isn’t in fact small but measures about five metres long! The inside of the small intestine is covered with villi, little finger-like projections that help serve to increase the surface area to about the size of a tennis court. This is really important, because the function of the small intestine is to absorb any available nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, glucose etc.) into the blood stream for transport to the rest of the body. (My own small intestine probably has a metaphorically raised eyebrow right now, Hobnobs not having such an abundance of nutrients.) The process takes around four hours and is vastly helped by any gut flora (popularly known as “good bacteria”) that you own. 

Please note that Hobnobs are not the food that your gut flora thrives on. They like veg and resistant starch. Gut flora is amazing stuff, it keeps “bad bacteria” such as ever present E-coli in check, it actually creates some of your essential vitamins such as vitamin K and, as it is alive, it actually does some of your digesting for you, keeping your intestinal walls clean and healthy in the process. The least we can do is look after them as they look after us! The average adult has around 1.2kg of this fantastic stuff, but unfortunately our stores are wiped out every time we take antibiotics, leaving us at risk of Candida, Leaky Gut Syndrome, fatigue, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and thrush; and with less resistance to bacterial infection. It is worth supplementing with a reputable brand of probiotics if you think this may be an issue.

Anything that the small intestine hasn’t absorbed ends up in the large intestine. We talked a little bit about this in week two. Muscular “ripples” cause the watery waste to move through and out of your body. We reabsorb whatever water we need from here and the shape, consistency and colour of what comes out tells us a lot about our current state of health. I hope that you aren’t too squeamish because I’m going to give you a very basic symptom checker now.

Constipation: Dry pellets or large, painful stools can indicate a lack of fibre and/or dehydration. Try drinking more water and eating more fibre. If these tips don’t make a significant difference please read Brain Maker – despite the title, you’ll understand when you read it!

Diarrhoea: Loose, frequent and/or frothy/watery stools may indicate food intolerance or, surprisingly, a type of constipation that clogs up the walls of your large intestine causing occasional sudden damn-overflowing effects.

Blood in your stools doesn’t give you much information unless you know where the blood is coming from. Best to talk to your health practitioner about this so that they can set your mind at rest. It’s also good to remember that eating beetroot will often stain your stools so that it looks like blood, but isn’t!

Mucus in your stools can indicate food intolerance or may just be a side effect of detoxing, rather like a runny nose.

Frequent occurrences of intestinal worms may not be an issue of hygiene. Worms thrive in a sugary or starchy environment. Like most house guests, if you offer them lots of cake they are more likely to outstay their welcome!

Haemorrhoids may be a sign that your liver is overloaded. Constipation will make them worse though. You are aiming for a large, soft stool that is easy to pass at least once a day. If this isn’t the case yet it should improve over the next few weeks.

Wheat

Bother, I asked you to forget about those food tables, and now I’m going to have to remind you about them in order to tell you another reason why they are wrong! They give you the impression that wheat should be a staple part of our diets and now I really want to debunk that myth for you. In fact most people benefit hugely from cutting down on or cutting out wheat for a period of time. Modern wheat is a newcomer in the world of grains, an agricultural success because it is easy and cheap to grow. But it is not easy to digest, and therefore comes at a cost to our health. Wheat is rich in a protein called gluten and gluten comes from the latin word for glue. (Other grains also contain gluten but wheat contains the highest concentration.)

Mix flour and water into a paste and then leave it for a couple of hours. Is it easy to clean up? No, because it has formed a glue. Do you start to get an idea of what this is doing to your insides? That paste can coat the surface of your villi, making nutrient digestion and absorption very difficult. If your food doesn’t get broken down properly and gets absorbed into your bloodstream in this state it is very difficult for your body to deal with. This means that some of the resources your body uses to detoxify now get spent in dealing with this non-food. In addition gluten is actually an irritant to the delicate villi, frequently causing inflammation and discomfort. Dr Perlmutter has also written a fantastic book called Grain Brain – you might as well read both the books!

OK. I think that’s enough for this week. I hope this brief overview is helpful. I’ll do you some easy gluten free recipes next time. Later ‘gators!

How Flojo got her Mojo back.

I have had an on-off relationship with depression for twenty five years now. It’s clutches have all but consumed me at quite random times; sometimes during periods of great stress, sometimes surprising me like a horror movie just when things have been settled and calm. But this last bout has been my most complicated yet, treading water for over eighteen months, smiling and waving on the surface but often feeling my legs weighted by bricks towards the colder depths. Everything else was fine, a fantastic supportive husband, a loving family, relatively financially secure, good health, ok a fortieth birthday to deal with but no biggies. But social anxiety was taking me over 24/7.

A bit of background. I have struggled with groups of people for most of my life. Never fitted in with my age group at school, never understood the subtle nuances within friendship groups. Arguments, even minor disagreements confused me; if someone didn’t believe the same as me how could I trust that they believe in me? In pubs I’ve never been able to distinguish between a conversation next to me or one at the other end of the table. My concentration flits between the two and I lose both the thread and the flavour. Those pictures of varying facial expressions portraying different emotions used in diagnosis of the autistic spectrum? I tried that and my score was low, very low. Phone calls were almost impossible as a disembodied voice going directly into my ear with no back-up clues of body language teamed with the inability to filter out someone’s words with visual distraction cause me frequent distress. I have also discovered recently that I have various dyslexic issues – words refusing to stay still on a page, an inability to remember sequences of numbers, letters or instructions; left and rights were the least of my problems. Even worse, I never realised that these were not universal problems for everyone. That in itself was pretty isolating.

In my teens I learnt the unparalleled joy of playing in orchestras and this, I feel, was life changing. Planned, organised conversation. Such bliss. Everyone working towards the same end melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. Sat centrally in the viola section all the combined sounds made sense. There were written instructions and time honoured rules (follow the conductor, look to section leaders for clear visual clues, blend your sound with others) to be followed that still allowed for creativity, for interpretation, for intellect and emotional stimulation. Music gave me the confidence to make eye contact, to initiate conversations, to follow a joke through. It also provided an environment in which to meet crazy, creative, clever, witty and passionate people. I was less of a square peg.

Fast forward to a year or so ago and I have an awesome husband who loves me with my freakiness rather than despite of it. In fact, I fell in love with him when I realised he was the only person I had ever allowed myself to “be me” with. I have two loving, talented, creative, beautiful and confident daughters. I have no shared musical experiences any longer for various and complicated reasons but I still have the learned skills to appear confident, sometimes to even be confident in situations that require it. It’s not a matter of no longer being shy, it’s knowing that transactions go better between strangers when I am open and friendly. But, within a group of people that I know, and even like, I still do not fit in. Judging when to speak and when to shut up, who to look at when more than one conversation is happening, when to move around and risk crashing into something like an elephant or just sit tight and risk boring the person I’m sat next to – all of this is stressful.

I cannot even relax with drink (I do not like the feeling of being drunk, I feel too vulnerable). I compensate with stuffing my face with sugar and stodge. I joke about being qualified as a nutritional therapist with no discipline around chocolate. I develop increasing anxiety about social situations as basic as the school run (what to wear, where to stand, how to stand?). I make plans then cry off (instead spending the evening crying bitterly at my failure). If I do go out the pressure of ignoring that urge to bolt, to shut doors behind me and run is exhausting and I cannot focus. Friends are oblivious, how can I explain that I just want to be loved, respected, listened to when I know I will not trust any of their attempts at assurances. Those that do not seem scared off I become overly dependant on. Needy. Clingy. My self respect becomes non-existent. I cannot work out what particular flaw makes me not good enough. Am I too boring? Too intense? Too loud? Do I look so bad people don’t want to even look at me? Am I too embarrassing to be seen out with? Have I made the stupid mistake of not apologising enough or not being grateful enough? Did I say something stupid yet again? Exhausted by the inner dialogue I spend hours daily bawling my eyes out, curled into a ball on the sofa. I make the decision to stop contacting anyone so that I do not have to do with the inevitable paranoia that follows when they do not contact me back. I guess I burned too many bridges because I no longer heard from too many people for it to be a coincidence.

I make a doctors appointment, cry, refuse drugs but accept tissues and a referral for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. But do not take it further. Group therapy? Really? I read up on CBT and laugh bitterly when I catch myself noting that while it might make me worry less it won’t actually make people like me. But it gives me perspective. And I read more.

I note that I do actually have a couple of very good friends that I am always comfortable with. They never judge. Always kind. Accepting of my nervous energy and my humour. They are two of the kindest, most creative and most enthusiastic people I have ever met. I always feel better for having seen them although these occasions are few and far between. They see through my often brutal directness and teasing without taking offence and instead talk art, music, health and personal philosophies with me. There is no competitiveness. No awkwardness. And I never have the sense of not understanding the rules when I talk with them. I never feel like I should constantly apologise for stepping over some invisible line. We just talk, listen, interrupt, laugh. Maybe it’s not just that I am an unworthy friend. Maybe I was just trying to be friends with the wrong people.

I finally realise that I know full well the answer to my anxiety and sleepless nights. Pure laziness has stopped me from sorting it out. I remove sugar from my diet. Then grains. I no longer binge eat. I sleep soundly. I stop crying. I do not have to replace eye make up and drag on a uniform of cheeriness and normality before my family return home each day. If the concept of grain and sugar intake influencing mental health is a new one to you I’d really recommend researching it. I knew it in theory, but had forgotten to apply it to myself.

And, over the following weeks, with the clarity that comes with not living daily with anxiety or brain fog I realise that I no longer crave friendship-at-whatever-cost any more than I still crave a tray of hot brownies. Being part of a close-knit gang that have been together since school; having friends that will show up at your house, stick the kettle on and curl up on the sofa with you; trusting others enough to get drunk with them, get into blazing arguments and then proclaim undying love for each other; clothes shopping together, spending an evening sharing wine and secrets; going on holiday together: all those things that make a sit-com, a movie scene, a paragraph in a rom-com novel – they are someone else’s reality. I cannot keep wishing for what isn’t going to happen. Move on. Wise up. Appreciate the thousands of fabulous moments I already have and will continue to have. As my husband quotes regularly, “take pleasure in the details.” I have, and am, so much more than the things I don’t have.

And, as this realisation begins to hammer home, I notice how my energy levels continue to increase, and I rediscover my love of cooking, and I lose weight, and I remember that I actually like to exercise, and time with my family grows increasingly precious. I get that spring back in my step, I care less about what others think of me because it’s largely irrelevant, and I care more about what I think of me. I recall that I was once taught that, “not being the person you are meant to be is the biggest stress of all,” and make the belated connection that if I was trying to be someone else – no wonder I was stressed!

I’m not sure where I go from here. In the last six weeks I feel like I’ve turned several corners. Insight is a marvellous thing! I’m not totally sure who exactly I am, but maybe not everyone does know that, and I guess experience makes us change anyway. The point is that I know now that I’m good enough and that I’m looking forward to whatever the future brings. And I’m truly grateful to the family, friends and experiences that have got me to that level. And, much though I want to apologise in case you’ve read this and wish you hadn’t bothered because what a drama queen! I’m not going to. But I would like to thank you for reading to the end. Much love to you from me, Flojo xxx