With a few simple swaps, it’s easy to make baking better for you, says healthy’s food expert Rebecca Seal.
‘Like most of us, I find chocolate almost irresistible at this time of year. But rather than gorging on high-fat, high-sugar Easter eggs, I like to make things like this, which is halfway between a brownie and a traditional chocolate cake. It is unashamedly luxurious but, for a cake, it’s relatively low in sugar.
‘Chocolate with a high cocoa content (70 per cent or more) is rich in antioxidants and minerals. Avoid dark chocolate sweetened with xylitol, though, I find it lends a strange texture to baked goods. Using dates, almonds and seeds in the truffle-style mini eggs adds a little more goodness, as does swapping the traditional cream in the ganache for coconut cream.
‘You can tailor this cake to your own needs. For a show-stopper, make the date truffles, cover in melted chocolate and cacao, or gold, silver or white lustre, to pop in the chocolate nests and drench the cake in the ganache, as we have here. Or, for something simpler, leave the cakes un-decorated and cut into small pieces, like a brownie, use the ganache, and leave out the nests.’
1 cake, around 12 slices
450g or 2 medium courgettes, trimmed and finely grated 250g butter, at room temperature 250g soft brown sugar 3 eggs, lightly beaten 2 tsp vanilla extract 100ml milk 50ml vegetable oil 300g plain flour 50g cocoa powder 2 tsp baking powder 40g chopped almonds 40g chopped hazelnuts 40g chopped walnuts 100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped Icing sugar, to serve (optional, if not using frosting)
For the truffle eggs (makes approx 20): 100g dried dates, chopped 20g mixed seeds 75g ground almonds Pinch of fine salt 2 tbsp cocoa or cacao powder, plus more for rolling (optional) 100g 70% dark chocolate (optional, if covering in chocolate) Edible lustre powder in gold, silver or pearly white (optional)
For the nests: 40g shredded wheat, crumbled 75g 70% dark chocolate
For the ganache: 200g 70% dark chocolate, broken up 200g coconut cream
1 Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan/ gas mark 6. Grease and line bases of two shallow
20cm tins, ideally loose bottomed.
2 Put courgette flesh into a sieve over the sink, and
squeeze out as much liquid as possible, using your hands. Set aside. Beat
together the butter and sugar until soft and very creamy in texture. Gradually
add eggs, scraping down sides of bowl or mixer each time you add one, until
combined. Add vanilla, milk and oil, and mix again.
In a separate
bowl, sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder, then mix thoroughly.
Fold the dry
ingredients into the wet, in a swiping motion using a metal spoon or spatula,
along with the courgette, nuts and finely chopped chocolate. As soon as it’s
all combined, stop, as over-mixing can make cakes firm and rubbery.
Divide the mix
between the prepared tins and smooth the tops with a palette knife or spatula.
Bake for 30 mins; they will have risen slightly, and be glossy and cracked on top,
a little like brownies. Cool in the tins for 15 mins or so, then turn out to
cool completely on wire racks.
truffles: soak dates in hot water for 10 mins, to plump up. Drain and put in a
food processor with the seeds, almonds, salt and cocoa powder. Blitz until
smooth. Line a plate with a sheet of baking paper. Shape mix into small eggs,
about 1.5cm long. Use your palms to roll the eggs smooth and place on the
paper. Chill for 20-30 mins to firm up.
To dip some
or all of the eggs in chocolate (optional): melt chocolate in
a heat-proof bowl over a pan of just simmering water, but don’t let it overheat
as it will become grainy. Set aside to cool slightly. Use a cocktail stick to
pick up a truffle egg and dip into the chocolate; use a spoon to pour the
chocolate over the egg rather than turning it in the chocolate, which may spoil
its shape. Use a cocktail stick again to lift it out of the chocolate and allow
all the excess chocolate to drain off. Place on the lined plate to set, and
cover the hole made by the toothpick with a little dab of melted chocolate.
Leave for at least a couple of hours to harden.
To roll eggs in cocoa: put the cocoa in small bowl, gently roll eggs in it;
return to lined plate.
To coat eggs in lustre: using a small, clean paintbrush, thoroughly dust eggs. Do this
over the sink to avoid mess; return to lined plate.
For the nest(s): melt chocolate in a bowl over a pan of just-simmering water; add
shredded wheat. For one big nest, flatten a paper cupcake case slightly around
the edges; arrange ‘twigs’ in a large nest shape. Or, make several smaller nests in
cupcake cases. Chill to set for 30 mins.
For the ganache: heat coconut cream to almost boiling (don’t boil). Take off
heat, add chocolate; stand for 5 mins, to melt chocolate. Then stir until
smooth, silky and thick.
To decorate: cover 1 cake in just under half the cooled ganache; it will have the consistency of soft butter. Put second cake on top and cover with remaining ganache. Top cake with the chocolate nest(s) and fill with the truffle eggs.
With thanks to Rebecca Seal. Photographs Steven Joyce. Food styling Emily Jonzen. Prop styling Joanna Levitas. Hair and make-up Natalie Bennett.
They have access to the fanciest products and latest beauty innovations, but what does a beauty insider actually use herself? To find out, we quizzed Kate Kerr, an acclaimed facialist with years of experience working with the skin, on her routine and the products she rates.
Notepad at the ready? Here we go:
Kate’s morning routine
Step 1: cleanse
In the morning, the first step I recommend is cleansing. Just as cleansing at night removes the oil, dirt and debris from your skin incurred during the day, cleansing in the morning also serves a special function. The goal is to awaken your skin by increasing circulation, clearing away dead skin cells, and preparing the surface of your skin to effectively absorb your targeted daytime products.
Step 2: prevent
The best way to restore skin to total health is to take a one-two punch with your daytime skincare regime, pairing a potent antioxidant serum with a broad-spectrum high SPF sunscreen (see step 4). Even when you are using a SPF as high as 50, the sun’s UV rays still manage to penetrate after time, so an antioxidant serum is an essential step to ensure long-lasting protection and repair as the day goes on.
Step 3: hydrate
This may come as a surprise given everything you’ve been taught about skincare, but moisturiser is a completely optional step. The only reason most of us feel our skin is dry is because we’ve depended on moisturiser for many years, the effect of which compromises our skin’s natural moisturising processes. The key is to reactivate this natural ability in the skin to cause an overall rejuvenating effect and help the skin to function optimally.
My top hydration tips:
If you have a truly dry skin you will have suffered with dry skin your whole life. You won’t have had teenage breakouts and you have probably suffered from dry skin conditions such as dermatitis or eczema. For true dry skin use a lipid rich moisturiser morning and evening to help alleviate the discomfort and dryness that comes with a dry skin.
However, if you don’t have true dry skin you can opt for a hyaluronic acid (HA) based serum to hydrate. Lightweight, yet effective, HA serums contain the same water-binding compounds naturally found in your skin, helping to maintain ideal hydration levels in the most natural way possible, without upsetting your skin’s processes.
Step 4: protect
The sun’s rays have been proven to accelerate the signs of premature skin ageing. Regardless of the weather, the sun’s damaging UV rays will always find you, so it’s important to wear a high SPF broad-spectrum sunscreen every day without fail to keep your skin properly shielded from its number one enemy. I recommend using an SPF of at least 30, though 50 for the best possible protection.
Kate’s night time routine
Step 1: makeup removal
Use a gel-based cleanser to gently remove makeup. I leave my makeup on until bed, but if you prefer to take it off earlier, say when you get in from work, you will need to reapply sunscreen after removal and cleansing – this is to protect against HEV light. This is the blue light emitted from our screens and devices, and it is just as damaging, if not more, then UVA and UVB, but the studies are ongoing. Blue Light infringes on the transportation of minerals in and out of the cells causing irregular cell function, leading to DNA damage and premature ageing.
Step 2: cleanse
This crucial step not only removes every last bit of makeup from your skin, but also ensures the spoils of the day go with it, such as pollution, and the natural oils that build up and oxidise on the skin’s surface. Use a cleanser containing AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) like glycolic or lactic, or BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids) such as salicylic, to help speed up cell renewal and brighten the skin.
Step 3: correct
While you sleep your skin goes into healing mode, so it’s the best time to give it a boost with a variety of active ingredients that help with cell renewal and damage repair. The most popular of the ‘active correctives’ is retinol, due not only to its high efficacy, but also to the wide variety of products and formulations designed for various skin types.
My top correcting tips:
No matter what your skin concerns are, it’s never too late to start correcting past damage and restoring your skin’s beauty, health and radiance. Whether it’s fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, sensitivity, open pores or breakout, there is a multitude of corrective products suitable for your skin concerns.
Most corrective products contain high levels of active ingredients so it’s best to start using them just in the evening. Eventually, you can start gradually introducing corrective products into both your daytime and evening regimes for round-the-clock skin restoration.
Step 4: hydrate
Use a lightweight hydrating serum only on the nights you’re not using retinol to counteract any dryness and irritation, as well as restore your skin’s natural moisture balance. For true dry skin, use an emollient-rich moisturiser ten minutes after the application of your corrective serums.
If the skin feels like it needs added moisture, use a hyaluronic acid-based serum every night – this should be used under your retinol.
Step 5: eyes
Give your eyes the same repair boost as your face with a product formulated to deliver active ingredients specifically to the delicate eye area.
Kate’s beauty heroes
The ingredients we should all be stocking up on:
An absolute must in everyone’s skincare regime. Holding one thousand times its own weight in water, hyaluronic acid is a natural humectant meaning it attracts and binds water to provide a hydrating and plumping effect to the skin. What I love about hyaluronic acid is that it doesn’t upset your skin’s natural moisturising factors and therefore won’t make your skin sluggish and dry like many moisturisers can. It is great for all skin types and won’t cause problems with oily or acne prone skins. It is important for fibroblast proliferation, and fibroblasts produce collagen, so it’s anti-ageing as well as hydrating.
Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and is the most well-known and widely used AHA. It is a favourite of mine as it targets both the skin’s texture and tone. The sugar acids dissolve the bonds that hold the dead skin cells onto the surface of the skin revealing younger, plumper cells. Exposing these healthy cells ensures that light is reflected rather than absorbed, for a brighter complexion. Glycolic acid is also known for helping reverse sun damage and pigmentation and is thought to stimulate the growth of collagen and elastin.
I use antioxidants every day to neutralise free radicals, which helps prevent the breakdown of collagen and premature ageing. A good serum will help counteract oxidation, repair damage and protect the skin against future damage by encouraging a healthy skin barrier function.
A Vitamin A derivative, retinol helps to stimulate a large percentage of the different cells within the skin to behave as fresher, healthier and younger versions of themselves. This not only improves collagen and hyaluronic acid production, but also speeds up cell turnover to improve skin function and hydration, and to smooth and brighten.
When it comes to pigmentation specifically, the melanocyte within our skin is designed to protect it from light. HEV and UV light infringes on the transportation of minerals in and out of the cells, causing irregular cell function and leading to DNA damage and premature ageing. Wearing an SPF every day that contains fractionated melanin will help shield your skin from UV and HEV light.
Many IBS sufferers link their condition to stress and anxiety, not only as the potential cause of their condition in the first place, but also one of the main symptom triggers. So to mark IBS Awareness Month, we spoke to Nutritional Therapist Claire Barnes of Lepicol about how to stress less when it comes to IBS.
First, it’s important to understand the connection:
‘More emphasis concerning the gut-brain axis is now evident. Experts understand that messages are sent via nerves, hormones and immune cells between the gut and the brain. In fact, studies suggest that 80 per cent of the communication in the vagus nerve (the main nerve connecting the gut and the brain) flows from the gut to the brain, and only 20 per cent from the brain to the gut.
‘Evidence now suggests that IBS may have developed from disruption of the gut microbiota, suggesting that the condition may actually begin in the gut before influencing our brain health.’
Here are Claire’s six tips to help you on the road to improving your gut health (and consequently the health of your brain), enabling you to stress less about your IBS:
1 Make some dietary changes
Cut out potential allergens and intolerances to help reduce the level of inflammation within the gut. Eliminate refined processed foods, choose good quality proteins and reduce sugar intake, whilst increasing antioxidants by eating plenty and varied vegetables.
Be gentle on your sensitive digestive system by eating blended soups and slow-cooked stews. As the weather warms up, smoothies are also a great choice – add avocado, kale, spices and nut butters alongside your favourite fruits.
Cook meals from scratch to initiate your body’s natural hunger hormones and digestive enzymes to prepare your gut and brain for the meal ahead.
Clinical studies have shown that many who suffer with IBS appear to have a dysbiosis (imbalanced gut flora). This disruption could have occurred due to a number of reasons, such as antibiotic use, medications such as antacids and laxatives, travel, stress and poor diet.
In the largest trial of its kind on the use of live bacteria supplements in IBS, 400 adult patients with diarrhoea-type IBS were treated with either a multi-strain live bacteria supplement or placebo for 16 weeks. It was found that the live bacteria supplement significantly reduced bowel movements compared to the placebo, and also improved the severity of abdominal pain.
3 Eat mindfully
Ideally we should take time to sit down and relax before eating our food. Turn off all distractions and concentrate on the food you are eating. Keep in mind that digestion starts in the mouth, so ensure that you chewing each mouthful optimally to break down the food and increase digestive enzymes.
Certain foods such as ginger, pineapple and papaya contain their own digestive enzymes, helping you to break down protein and stimulate stomach acid.
Fibre can be split into two categories; soluble and insoluble, each having their own benefits for our health.
Insoluble fibre is present in grains and when bound with water increases stool bulk and improves bowel motility. This is why a low fibre intake often results in constipation.
Soluble fibres, known as prebiotics, are present in vegetables, fruits, nuts and oats, and provide a fuel source for our gut bacteria.
Keep in mind that fibre requires water to be effective, so alongside increasing your fibre intake ensure you are consuming at least two litres of water each day.
Adding a natural high-fibre supplement to your diet, such as Lepicol Plus+ or Regucol, could be a useful natural alternative to help improve the health of the gut and potentially relieve some of the symptoms of IBS. Both contain psyllium husk (gentle fibre), inulin (a prebiotic), and bacterial cultures.
Try to keep your circadian rhythm in check, as this allows your body to naturally produce the right hormones and neurotransmitters when they’re required.
Unfortunately this is not always achievable, especially for shift workers, but it is important to set some routine based around your circumstances.
Aim to get to bed and wake up at the same time each day, eat your main meals at similar times each day, don’t exercise in the couple of hours before you go to bed, and make some time in the evenings for relaxing and stretching the muscles.
Your body should naturally begin to respond to these regular patterns, potentially enabling you to digest your food better, improve your energy levels throughout the day and achieve a better sleep.
6 Make time for relaxation
Stress and IBS often go hand in hand, with many sufferers noticing an exacerbation of symptoms in times of stress, whilst the symptoms of IBS can themselves further trigger anxiety and stress.
When you are particularly feeling stressed or anxious, you may find taking some time out for a mindfulness session could help you to relax and reduce those negative feelings.
Usually the sideshow in fry form, we’re making sweet potato the star in this sweet potato burger recipe. Low in fat, high in fibre and rich in an antioxidant called beta-carotene, sweet potatoes are a great addition to a healthy diet. Plus they’re versatile, filling, and have a delicious sweet taste.
So why not celebrate International Sweet Potato Week with a flavourful, balanced dish that makes the most of this tasty tuber? We’ve got just the thing…
Sweet potato burger with avocado cream
500g sweet potatoes
240g can of black beans
2 tbsp. olive oil
½ red pepper, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
5-6 tbsp. white bread crumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the avo cream:
1-2 tsp. lime juice
1 garlic clove
Salt and pepper, to taste
Handful of coriander
2 beef tomatoes
4 bread rolls
2 tbsp. mayo
4 lettuce leaves
2 tbsp. jalapeños
1 Preheat oven to 200°C. Peel the sweet potatoes, cut into chunks, spread onto a baking tray and bake for around 20 mins, or until tender. Rinse the black beans with cold water and leave to drain, then purée in a food processor along with the cooked sweet potato, then set aside in a large bowl.
2 Next, lightly fry the diced pepper and onion in a pan with 1 tbsp. of the olive oil, adding the cumin and cayenne pepper towards the end. Add to the sweet potato and bean purée, along with the breadcrumbs. Mix well and add salt and pepper to taste, then set aside for at least 30 mins to thicken.
3 Skin and stone the avocado and blend with the lime juice in a food processor. Peel and crush the garlic and stir in, then season with salt and pepper. Pick the coriander leaves from the stems, chop finely and stir in to the avo cream.
4 Heat the remaining oil in a pan. Shape 4 patties from the sweet potato mix and fry on each side for 2 mins until golden brown.
5 To serve, thickly slice the tomatoes. Slice the jalapeños and mix with the mayo. Cut the bread rolls in half, toast, and spread the bottom half with the jalapeño mayo. Garnish with the lettuce and tomatoes, and add a sweet potato patty. Top with a blob of avo cream and place the other half face down on top.
Nutritional value per serving: Energy: 532 kcal / 207.5 kj
Carbohydrates: 79.5 g
Protein: 13.1 g
Fat: 16.3 g
When a Lycra-clad Olivia Newton-John sang Let’s Get Physical, she was tapping into a well-established trend: music and fitness go together like dodgy legwarmers and 1980s aerobics videos. Think about it: when was the last time you went to a gym without upbeat chart-toppers piped throughout the building, or set out for a run without your trusty headphones firmly in place?
Something about pounding beats and swelling tempos gets us pumped, and with more than 25 million workout playlists created on music streaming service Spotify, there’s got to be some science behind it. ‘The power of music is real,’ says Dr Costas Karageorghis, expert in sports psychology at Brunel University, London. ‘It really does enhance our workouts.’
Dr Karageorghis has researched the psychological effects of music on exercise for more than 20 years. With the likes of Nike, Sony, David Lloyd health clubs and even Olympic athletes benefiting from his expertise, plus collaborations with Ministry Of Sound under his belt, it’s fair to say he knows the score. ‘The benefits are of a small to moderate nature, but they are certainly there,’ he says. ‘And for some, music can make a critical difference.’ So how does it work?
‘The most consistent effect of music is that it reduces our sense of how hard we think we’re working,’ says Dr Karageorghis. ‘It makes exercise seem a little bit easier, and well-chosen music reduces your perceived exertion by around 12 per cent.’ And ‘well-chosen’ means any genre of music you like that’s relevant to the intensity of activity you’re doing.
Neurophysiological research shows that music blocks some of the signals from our muscles to our central nervous system – so some of the messages telling us we’re fatigued never enter our awareness. Even if you don’t like the music playing, it can still reduce your perception of effort by around eight per cent, which is good news for anyone who’s been at a spin class where the instructor has a less-than-cool taste in banging Euro-pop.
Go with the flow
Ever realised you’ve matched your walking pace to the beat in your headphones? This is called entrainment, and is a predisposition that sees our bodies synchronising to an external rhythm. ‘There’s a tendency for the heart rate, respiration rate, breathing rate and brainwaves to lock into musical rhythm,’ says Dr Karageorghis. ‘When we move in time with music, that’s a specific type of entrainment – auditory-motor synchronisation.’
Everything from cycling to squatting in time with music demonstrates this synchronisation, which reduces the frequency of certain brainwaves. ‘This is called entering flow, where there’s less conscious processing, lower anxiety and greater enjoyment.’ In short, we can happily exercise away on autopilot if we have the right soundtrack.
Change your tune
Sometimes nothing beats blasting a feel-good ballad for a quick mood boost. It’s been discovered that even at high intensities of exercise, music can have a positive effect on our pleasure centres. ‘Music can’t influence what we feel, but it can influence how we feel,’ says Dr Karageorghis. ‘The good vibes we get from music can colour our interpretations of fatigue, making it a more positive experience.’
And if our experience of exercise is a brighter one, we’re more likely to continue working out. ‘This is why even if you’re sweaty, breathless and coming up towards exhaustion, music can keep you going.’
There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of instrumentals in the charts. ‘Lyrics can provide strong messages to the brain that influence behaviour,’ explains Dr Karageorghis. ‘Whether that’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough or Jump To The Beat, we look for messages to internalise.’
This is called syntactic processing, and can involve individuals picturing themselves within the context of the song. ‘Many men cite Eye Of The Tiger by Survivor as a favourite workout track, as it’s associated with Rocky, and has a motivational lyric. They see themselves as Rocky Balboa, raising their arms aloft, shouting “Yo Adrian, I did it!”.’
Science-backed workout tunes
The pace of songs – measured in beats per minute (bpm) – can be motivating, so match your activity to the right track. Here’s a science- approved selection to try.
‘You don’t want particularly energising tracks, you want those that bridge the gap from a sedate state to an active state.’ Such as:
Roar – Katy Perry: 90bpm
Girl on Fire – Alicia Keys: 93bpm
Work From Home – Fifth Harmony, featuring Ty Dolla $ign: 105bpm
‘These are some of the tracks from a scientifically-selected playlist I prepared for running.’
Low intensity: Run Baby Run – Sheryl Crow: 124bpm
Moderate intensity: Run The World (Girls) – Beyoncé: 127bpm
High intensity: Runnin’(Lose It All) – Naughty Boy featuring Beyoncé and Arrow Benjamin: 140bpm or Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen: 148bpm
‘This is a marriage made in heaven – cycling and music sync perfectly.’
Low intensity: Good Life – Inner City: 121bpm or Can’t Stop The Feeling – Justin Timberlake: 113bpm
Moderate intensity: Work Hard Play Hard – Tiësto: 128bpm, Tour De France – Kraftwerk: 134bpm, or Boom Boom Pow – Black Eyed Peas: 130bpm
High intensity: Rockafeller Skank – Fatboy Slim: 153bpm or Sex on Fire – Kings of Leon: 152bpm.
‘In terms of weight training, the research I’ve done suggests people who are regular gym goers particularly enjoy music from the hard rock and rap idioms.’
Low intensity: Hip Hop Hooray – Naughty By Nature: 100bpm or Mama Said Knock You Out – LL Cool J: 102bpm
Moderate intensity: Fight The Power – Public Enemy: 106bpm
High intensity: Highway To Hell – AC/DC: 116bpm or For Whom The Bell Tolls – Metallica: 118bpm
WHEN YOU’RE FLAGGING
Emotionally: Fancy – Iggy Azalea: 93bpm
Physically: All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor: 134bpm, Pushing On – Oliver $ and Jimi Jules: 125bpm, or Break Free – Ariana Grande featuring Zedd: 130bpm
‘Post-exercise you want a gradual reduction in tempo, and immersive qualities in the music help, too.’ Recuperate with these:
Orinoco Flow – Enya
Lovely Day – Bill Withers
Albatross – Fleetwood Mac
Find out more in Applying Music In Exercise And Sport by Dr Costas Karageorghis (Human Kinetics, £33.99)
It’s all too easy to neglect gut health and ignore niggly digestive issues such as cramps, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. But it’s time to start giving your gut some TLC – science increasingly shows gut health plays a role in our wellbeing, affecting everything from our mood to whether we catch a cold.
Whilst in rare cases these issues may be connected to more serious reasons, if you have ruled these out, it may be time to look at your diet and lifestyle.
Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi, known as the microbiome. An abundance of good bacteria leads to a diverse microbiome, which is associated with the immune system and cognitive function, but stress, poor diet, insomnia, illness or taking antibiotics can all disrupt this balance.
One way to get more ‘friendly’ bacteria is through fibre in your diet. However, research shows only 4% of women and 9% of men reach the recommended daily target of 30g. This should include ‘fermentable’ prebiotic fibre, which feeds friendly bacteria and is found in foods such as legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils), cashews, pistachios and oat milk.
Bimuno is a food supplement designed to contribute towards your fermentable fibre target. Its active ingredient is a unique, patented form of galactooligosaccharides (GOS), a type of prebiotic fibre which helps to stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Each sachet of Bimuno contributes 2g of your 5g recommended daily fermentable fibre intake.
Bimuno is scientifically proven to restore balance in just 7 days*. Those with a sensitive stomach are recommended to take a dose of half a sachet of Bimuno DAILY per day. A recent study found it as effective as a low-FODMAP diet (a diet low in poorly absorbed simple and complex sugars) in some people.**
Independent TrustPilot testimonials show high levels of satisfaction. Simply dissolve the powder in a hot or cold drink, stir or sprinkle over food – the choice is yours. Each pack contains 30 sachets.
*Scientific data shows that daily use of Bimuno increases gut bifidobacteria levels within seven days, results may vary. **Please consult your health care professional if following or if you wish to follow a low-FODMAP diet. If you are pregnant, breast-feeding or under medical supervision, consult your doctor before taking supplements.
From choosing the right sunglasses to make-up hygiene, there’s more to healthy eyes than regular tests (but that’s definitely a good place to start). Here are the ten eye health commandments you should be following, according to optometrist Francesca Marchetti:
1 You gotta wear shades
UV rays are a catalyst for serious eye conditions including cataracts, macular degeneration (the macula is an area of the retina, at the back of the eye) and cancer – so sunglasses are important for your health, as well as preventing wrinkles.
Buy from a reputable retailer to be sure sunglasses give 100 per cent UV protection: look for the CE and British Standard EN 1836:2005 marks. Vintage sunglasses or cheap holiday or market buys may not be UV-inhibiting and this can be worse for eyes than not wearing them, as your pupils will dilate in the darkness and let more UV rays in.
If you have a favourite pair you’re not sure about, an optician may be able to check their UV protection levels and reglaze if necessary. Wear whenever the sun is bright and definitely if it’s a day when you need sun protection on your skin.
2 Start ’em young
Remember, if you feel the need for shades, then your children need them, too. Cataracts, macular degeneration and cancer may seem like age-related conditions but, as with skin cancers, the damage is cumulative and, the more protection you get from a young age, the better.
3 Have regular eye tests
From the age of two upwards, all of us need to have our eyes tested every two years unless otherwise advised – even if you have 20/20 vision. Think of it as like going to the dentist.
As well as checking vision, an optometrist can identify conditions such as glaucoma, often called the ‘secret thief of sight’ because it exhibits no symptoms until the end stages when the damage is done. Glaucoma is caused by a build-up of fluid and pressure inside the eye which, if untreated, will result in tunnel vision and eventual blindness. An eye test can identify pressure changes at an early stage so the condition can be monitored and, if necessary, halted with eye drops.
We can spot early signs of cataracts, macular degeneration, high blood pressure, cancers and diabetes. And we can diagnose easily treatable conditions like dry eye, blepharitis (blocked tear glands that cause inflamed lids) and infections.
Healthy eyes need a good supply of antioxidants, and fruit and vegetables are the best source. Get your fill of dark green, leafy veg, and go for as many bright, colourful pigments as possible. If you have a family history of macular degeneration, it’s important to take a daily supplement that contains the antioxidant carotenoid lutein. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are also important for tear structure.
One in nine women over 50 has dry eye syndrome. The biggest cause? Digital eye strain, closely followed by not wearing the right prescription. A normal blink rate is 18 times per minute. When you look at a screen, that reduces to just four times. Deprived of the tear film they need, eyes dry out, feel gritty and fatigued. This can affect your vision, general wellbeing and stamina for working.
See your optometrist about dry eyes so they can rule out more serious, underlying causes. They can also prescribe the right treatments, which may include drops, creams or gels.
6 Use the right drops
Avoid eye drops that contain preservatives as they’re a common allergen that can interfere with tear production and make dry eye worse. Look for hyaluronic acid, a natural and effective ingredient, or ask your optometrist for recommendations. Never use drops beyond the expiry date (write the date you open them on the box). Don’t wait for discomfort – if you’re prone to sore eyes, start in the morning and keep yourself topped up all day.
7 Do your deskercises
The idea that you can exercise the eye muscles by performing certain movements is rubbish. What you can do is give them a rest. Get into the habit of having 20/20/20 screen breaks. Every 20 minutes, look at a point about 20ft away, then blink 20 times. Don’t forget that if you use a screen for work, EU regulations mean your employer is legally required to pay for your eye tests.
8 Remember what helps your heart, helps your eyes
I always say this when patients ask me what lifestyle changes will preserve their sight. Don’t smoke – macular degeneration is four times more likely in smokers. And take regular exercise, both to keep your circulation healthy and to help you maintain a healthy weight.
Or wearing that cheap, ready-made pair you picked up at the chemist. Yes, they make small print easier to read, but if they’re not your prescription, they won’t be comfortable to use for long. Off-the-peg specs are fine to take a quick look at a label, not for getting stuck into a novel.
10 Buy cheap mascara
That way you won’t mind throwing it away after three months – bacteria can thrive in make-up. Most eye infections are down to poor hygiene. If you’re a lens wearer, never leave them in longer than they’re intended for, clean correctly and wash hands. And remove eye make-up or it’ll clog tear glands, which can result in blepharitis and reflex tears, where eyes water excessively. Massage along the lash line with small, circular motions as you remove your make-up.
Money troubles, trust issues, poor communication, unsatisfying sex life – these have traditionally been the issues that cause conflict within an established relationship, but there’s a new one – ‘phubbing’, or phone snubbing. The term has been coined to represent the ever-increasing problem of feeling ignored or rejected by your partner thanks to smart technology.
‘People have an attachment to their phones as they aren’t just gadgets. They have a relationship-facilitating function – we socialise with them,’ says Martin Graff, reader in psychology at the University of South Wales. ‘That becomes a problem when someone feels face-to-face conversation is deemed less important than the conversation on their smartphone.”
It can kill the mood or irritate in the moment, but when it becomes the rule rather than the exception, it can lead to anger, resentment and disconnection. Research found 46 per cent of us have been phubbed by a partner, and couples now spend just 59 minutes together per day without smartphones, laptops, TVs and tablets. Here’s the expert guide to wrestling back the communication.
‘Phones are going nowhere, so we need to learn to live with them,’ says Graff. ‘Rather than accusing, blaming or arguing, suggest setting ground rules. That might mean that phones are put away whenever you’re eating, or you turn off mobiles an hour before bed. Deciding you’ll both stick to the same rules makes it collaborative, not confrontational.’
You could also suggest that you both download apps to help cut down use or increase awareness about how much time you spend on your phone. Try Space, Menthal Balance, SelfControl or Moment.
Get back in ‘the moment’
Some researchers refer to smartphones as ‘adult pacifiers’, saying that when we get cranky, bored, or distressed, we use them to soothe us. ‘There’s no real harm in that if you’re alone somewhere and you’ve got a 10-minute wait, but if you’re with someone you need to focus on real world communication,’ says Graff. ‘The benefits of face-to-face interaction far outweigh those from technology. If you both agree to check your phones for five minutes that’s fine, but it needs to be a joint decision.’
And because phones can lure us into what’s known as a ‘ludic loop’, where being engaged in an addictive experience lulls us into a state of tranquillity, you need to replace that habit with other ways to manage boredom, soothe stress and calm a buzzing mind. Think reading, podcasts, writing or artistic pursuits.
If you live with a tech zombie, you’ve probably confronted them about it, but that’s the problem – when confronted, people become defensive. Cue ‘I didn’t complain when you were on your phone!’ and ‘Relax, would you?’
Instead, we need to approach these conversations in a constructive, collaborative, non-judgemental way. ‘Blaming someone never helps,’ says Graff. ‘It should never be “you do this” or “you’re selfish” – you need to have an adult conversation where you decide what’s acceptable for you.’ Timing is also key, so wait until you’re both calm, not attack in the moment.
Understand the urge
It’s easy to feel the red mist of rage whenever your partner picks up their phone while you’re talking, but you must recognise that everyone uses their mobiles a bit, all of us at an inappropriate time occasionally.
It’s also helpful to understand why we get sucked in. ‘It’s what behavioural psychologists call “variable ratio reinforcement,”’ says Graff. ‘Occasionally, we get a very meaningful message, but most are mundane. Because we don’t know which it will be we get hooked in and motivated to keep checking.’ Hence why 70 per cent of office emails are read within six seconds.
‘Everyone needs some downtime from their phone and checking their emails, so agree times when you can leave it, and stick to it,’ adds Graff. ‘Ring-fence that time and you’ll overcome the constant habitual checking.’
Set the social agenda
When the whole world has a phone at the fingertips, it’s easy to think everyone expects an instant response. ‘Back in the days of landlines we knew when dinner time was, so we wouldn’t call. We need to apply the same boundaries with smartphones,’ says Graff. ‘Mention to friends – and suggest your partner does the same – that you don’t use your phones at dinner time. Then their expectations will be that if they contact you at that time, you’re unlikely to reply.’
Similarly, with work, it can be hard for people to switch off, so level with your tech zombie in a caring way by saying something like; ‘I know your work is full on, but I get frustrated because I look forward to spending quality time with you. Can we agree some parameters?’
Don’t just agree – act
Once you’ve decided your rules, put them into meaningful action – if your partner’s phone is in their pocket every buzz will distract, every ping will steal their focus. That’s because notifications activate the reward centres in our brains, encouraging the release of dopamine – a chemical that promotes repeat behaviour.
Research has shown that just hearing a text alert can divert our attention as much as reading it, so phones need to be silent and completely out of sight.
Your relationship, your rules
Two-thirds of us admit we’d prefer to spend more time with our partners and less on technology, but half of us check our phones when on the sofa together, one in four check our phones in bed and a fifth look at them mid-conversation.
When researchers asked people to think about how they responded when their partner last phubbed them, 19.4 per cent felt angry, and 11.1 per cent sad. Our partners aren’t there to make us feel sad or angry – certainly not regularly – so a discussion needs to be had.
‘It’s down to what’s acceptable in your relationship. If everyone’s doing it, that’s OK, but if one person is and the other is annoyed, it’s an issue,’ says Graff. ‘Work out what’s OK for you as a couple and agree it, just as you should all aspects of your relationship.’
Find fresh new ways to eat your favourite veggies this spring, says food writer Anya Kassoff.
Kale wraps with chickpea-avocado mash
‘I love the idea of these wraps and will often throw together some version of these with whichever fresh ingredients I have on hand, mostly for a quick solo lunch. This recipe is more sophisticated, with a balanced combination of tasty components. Here, I pair sweet roasted carrots with a hearty chickpea and avocado mash, and round it off with the crunch of tart cranberry relish. The blanched kale leaves should keep well for a few days in the fridge, if you want to wrap as you go.’
Makes 7 to 9 wraps
For the chickpea-avocado mash:
150g dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight
2 bay leaves and/or a 2-inch piece of dried kombu kelp (optional)
A few whole black peppercorns (optional)
1 ripe but not too mushy avocado
Juice of 1 lemon
50g fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1⁄4 small red onion, finely chopped
Handful walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
Freshly ground black pepper
For the roasted carrots:
5-7 small to medium carrots (peeled, if not organic)
1 tsp melted coconut oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the cranberry relish:
150g seedless grapes
100g fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed if frozen
1⁄2 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
Large handful fresh coriander leaves, torn
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
For the wraps:
7 large or 9 medium kale leaves
Cashew cream or tahini sauce, for serving (optional)
1 To make the chickpea-avocado mash, drain and rinse the chickpeas, then place them in a medium saucepan and cover them with plenty of water. Add the bay leaves and/or kombu kelp and peppercorns, if using, then bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat to a strong simmer and cook, partially covered, for around 30 mins or until the chickpeas are soft. Add salt to taste during the last 10 mins of cooking.
Use this time to roast the carrots (see number 3). Once the chickpeas are ready, drain them well, reserving the cooking liquid for a soup or stew, if desired. Let the chickpeas cool, then discard the bay leaves or kombu and black peppercorns.
2 Combine the chickpeas and avocado in a medium bowl and roughly mash them together. Add the lemon juice, coriander leaves, red onion, walnuts, cumin seeds, salt, plus black pepper. Thoroughly stir to combine; season to taste and adjust as needed.
3 To roast the carrots, preheat the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas mark 7. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper, then place the carrots on it. Drizzle them with coconut oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Mix to coat using your hands. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and roast for 20-30 mins, flipping them once halfway through, until they are soft when pricked with a knife. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the carrots to cool. Slice them in half crosswise (if you have thicker carrots, also slice them lengthwise.)
4 To make the cranberry relish, combine the grapes, cranberries, jalapeño, coriander and ginger in a food processor. Pulse to chop and combine all the ingredients into a chunky relish.
5 To make the kale wraps, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over a high heat. Submerge 3-4 kale leaves at a time in the boiling water for 30 secs, holding them by the stems, then immediately remove the leaves from the water and rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking. Repeat with the remaining leaves. Trim the thicker parts of the stems along the length of each leaf.
6 Lay one leaf at a time on a chopping board. Add roughly 2 heaped tbsp of chickpea mash to the centre of the leaf, top with 2-3 carrot pieces, then finish with about 1 tbsp of cranberry relish.
7 Fold the lower end of the leaf over the filling, then fold in the sides and tightly roll it up. Repeat with the remaining blanched kale leaves and fillings and serve them as is, or with the sauce of your choice. These rolls should keep well for up to five days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Spring vegetable black rice pilaf
‘This quick and easy dish showcases vibrant spring greens against the dramatic, dark purple grains of black rice. You can improvise and add or substitute any available spring vegetables you like here – for instance, broad beans, asparagus or sugar snap peas.’
1 1⁄2 tbsp coconut oil or olive oil
1⁄2 green chilli or jalapeño, seeded and sliced
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Zest and juice of 1 large or 2 small limes
500ml vegetable broth or water
200g black rice
Bunch of asparagus, tough ends removed, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces
400g fresh or thawed frozen peas
100g chopped spinach leaves or baby spinach
1 Warm the oil in a large, heavy- bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the chilli or jalapeño and stir it for 30 secs. Add the leeks and sauté for 5 mins, until they start to soften.
2 Add the garlic and salt and black pepper to taste (add more salt here if using water instead of vegetable broth), then sauté for another 2 mins until the garlic is fragrant. Add the lime juice and cook for another min, until most of the liquid is absorbed.
3 Add the broth or water to the pan, increase the heat to high, then bring it to the boil. Add the rice, evenly scattering it over the broth. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 30 mins, or until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.
4 Add the asparagus and stir to incorporate. Cover the pot and let the pilaf cook for 7 mins, until the asparagus is crisp and tender.
5 Toss in the peas, spinach, lime zest, and a pinch of salt. Stir thoroughly until the spinach wilts, then remove the pot from the heat. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, then serve immediately.
Spring vegetable chowder
‘This simple soup gets all of its creaminess from the addition of new potatoes. It is as bright in flavour as it is brilliant in green colour from tender peas, green onions, leafy greens, and herbs.’
1 tbsp coconut oil or olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds, freshly ground
1⁄2 tsp coriander seeds, freshly ground
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 sticks of celery, thinly sliced
2-3 small or medium new potatoes, cut into small cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon
800ml vegetable broth or water
400g fresh or frozen English peas
120g greens, such as spinach, rocket or watercress
2-3 green onions or chives, thinly sliced, for garnish
Handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped (optional)
1 Heat the oil in a medium-sized soup pot over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, onion and a few pinches of salt. Sauté for 5 mins. Add the garlic, celery, potato cubes, a pinch of salt, and black pepper to taste, and cook, stirring, for another 5 mins, until fragrant.
2 Add the lemon juice and let it absorb for 1 min, then pour in the vegetable broth or water. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender, for around 10-15 mins.
3 Add the peas and greens to the soup and stir until the greens wilt. Transfer around a third of the soup to a blender, then blitz until creamy. Return this blended soup back to the saucepan and stir to combine.
4 Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding extra salt and pepper if necessary. Serve the chowder garnished with sliced green onions or chives and fresh mint leaves, if desired.
Recipes from Simply Vibrant by Anya Kassoff (Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc). Photographs
Does the thought of this summer’s slip dresses, shorts and strappy tops make you feel a little, well, anxious? After hiding under layers, showing more of your body can feel like you’re revealing a little too much if you’re not happy with your arms and legs – not to mention back, décolletage and tummy.
‘We tend to not pay as much attention to our body skin in winter as in summer,’ says dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams. ‘So we don’t moisturise our legs as they’re hidden under trousers, or exfoliate our upper arms as frequently.’
While summer may still feel a way off, it’s worth tackling any skin issues now – whether you want them cleared up for summer or taken care of for good. So we’ve addressed three of the most common skin concerns and how best to treat them:
1 Keratosis pilaris
What is it? Not-so-affectionately known as ‘chicken skin,’ keratosis pilaris occurs in a third of people in the UK. ‘The affected skin is covered with lots of tiny rough spots, like goose bumps, which are skin-coloured, red or brown,’ says Williams. It mostly crops up on the outer upper arms, but can appear on the thighs, buttocks or sides of the face.
What are they? AKA spider veins, 80 per cent of 18-64 year olds have them. Red, purple or blue, they are blood vessels that show from under the skin. ‘They’re often on the ankles, thighs and lower legs due to higher pressure and the task of carrying blood from the lower body to the heart,’ Williams says. ‘Women are more likely to get them due to hormonal differences and pregnancy, and oral contraceptive pills can also contribute.’
What are they? According to medical aesthetician Renée Lapino: ‘They’re caused when skin is stretched rapidly, eg during a growth spurt or weight gain, and appear when the dermis tears, so deeper layers of skin and blood vessels show through. As the vessels contract, the marks change from a red or purple shade to pale white.’
How to treat them: To reduce their appearance, Lapino recommends topical oils and creams; try Weleda Stretch Mark Oil. Stubborn marks can be treated with IPL laser treatments, such as Venus Versa, offered by Venus Concept UK clinics.