It’s that time of year again…the ninth month… it’s Sourdough September!
This month-long celebration of all things sourdough is a national event run by the Real Bread Campaign with the aim of encouraging people to enjoy genuine sourdough products and support the independent bakers who produce them.
Now I’m certainly no baker. I can talk about food, write about food, and on the whole, produce tasty nutritious meals – but baking? No. No. And again no. My skills are seriously lacking. But this doesn’t stop me enjoying the occasional slice or two of a good quality sourdough bread. With butter. Natch.
True sourdough bread contains only flour, water, salt, and the starter culture that triggers the fermentation process and natural leavening. Compare this with the litany of ingredients in mass produced breads: emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilisers, improvers, bleaching agents, acidifiers, colourings – the list is looong.
Why are all these ingredients used?
Because of the Chorleywood process. Since its creation in 1961, the vast majority of bread made in the UK is done so by this process. It’s a time-saving method of producing dough with minimal fermentation time, and is needed to meet our (apparently) insatiable demand for processed bread. The process requires all these extra goodies in order to work. Plus preservatives and mould inhibitors to give the loaf a longer shelf-life.
Baking a sourdough loaf requires time and patience and brings with it an understanding of what real food – slow food – truly is. The process cannot be rushed, the end results are different every time, but the flavour and taste are worth the effort!
A potential nutritional advantage of true sourdough is the way the fermentation process reduces gluten levels. The natural bacteria in the starter culture ferment and breakdown a lot of the wheat proteins, including gluten, making them easier to digest.
Italian research from 2007 explored the gluten-degrading powers of fermentation microbes. The study results show how bread made by the sourdough fermentation process had residual gluten levels of 12ppm (parts per million). Anything below 20ppm is classed as ‘gluten-free’. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every sourdough loaf out there contains such tiny amounts of gluten, but it does illustrate the gluten reducing powers of natural sourdough fermentation.
When buying sourdough do watch out for what the Real Bread Campaign call ‘sourfraux’ – fake sourdough bread. Thanks to the rise in popularity of artisan breads like sourdough, many supermarkets and bakers are producing imitation sourdoughs that still include additives and haven’t gone through the full fermentation process. It is worth asking how the bread has been made and whether the proper starter culture has been used, so you can be confident of buying a genuine sourdough loaf.
Care to share any marvellous bread baking tips?
Do you have a sourdough starter you’d like to pass on?
Hop over to the Facebook group to tell us your breadmaking secrets…
(Photo credit: Ben Garratt on Unsplash)
It’s a familiar situation: you’ve been dashing round all day grabbing food on the go when suddenly, heartburn starts. Ouch.
Heartburn (also called acid reflux) is caused by stomach acid escaping up into the oesophagus (the tube that runs from your throat to your stomach). Normally, a ring of muscle called the Lower Oesophageal Sphincter (LOS) tightens up to keep food and acid safely in the stomach. However, certain factors can affect this ring of muscle, stopping it from closing properly and allowing some acid back up into the tube.
The oesophagus isn’t equipped to deal with this acid and it goes into spasms. Sometimes the spasms and pain are so bad they are mistaken for a heart attack. Other symptoms include a sour taste in the mouth, a sickly burning sensation at the back of the throat, bloating, nausea, and a sudden increase in saliva.
Having an occasional bout of reflux ( eg once every few months) isn’t too concerning as the trigger is usually easy to identify and resolve. Eating a large celebratory meal with a few drinks for example, or indulging in some unusual foods on holiday. But if you’re experiencing reflux more than twice a week, it’s possible you could have GORD – GastroOesophageal Reflux Disease.
What causes heartburn & reflux?
Several factors make heartburn and reflux more likely to occur. Pregnancy, for example, and being overweight. Both these conditions increase pressure on the LOS, making it easier for small amounts of acid to escape back into the oesophagus.
Caffeine, chocolate, mint, peppermint, and alcohol can reduce the tone of the LOS, preventing it from closing properly. That’s all kinds of alcohol by the way. I’ve often been asked if there’s a special type of wine or particular beer that doesn’t relax the LOS, but sorry, the answer is no! Other foods can worsen the irritation caused by reflux: this group includes spicy foods and citrus fruits, which is why curries and orange juice are often a problem.
An important thing to note here is that none of these factors causes excessive amounts of stomach acid to be produced. It’s rare to have too much stomach acid. In fact, most people with reflux and heartburn have too little, and that’s another part of the problem…
Stress & Digestion
Aside from foods, the biggest single trigger for heartburn and reflux is stress.
Stress disrupts your entire digestive process from start to finish. Imagine your digestion is like a factory production line. Each part of the line can only do its job if the part before it is working properly. So, if the very first part of digestion isn’t up to scratch, the stomach will suffer.
The very first part of digestion isn’t chewing or swallowing food, it’s SEEING and SMELLING the food. Even HEARING it being cooked (sizzling pancakes anyone?). This stage is called the Cephalic stage after the Greek word ‘kephos’ meaning head. It’s all about the senses of smell, sight, and sound.
When we use these senses, we trigger nerve impulses that go down the vagus nerve into the digestive system. These impulses tell the stomach to get ready for the arrival of food, to get busy producing gastric juices! If we skip this stage as is the case when eating on the go, food arrives in the stomach with no warning and the stomach struggles to deal with it.
Eating on the go usually goes hand-in-hand with feeling busy and stressed. The problem is, our fight-or-flight stress response runs in direct opposition to our rest-digest-heal response. We cannot do both things at the same time: we cannot digest food comfortably whilst being stressed.
This is what happens;
How to manage heartburn & reflux mindfully and naturally
Now you know what might be causing the problem, let’s look at simple ways to deal with it.
1. Make time for eating
As we’ve just discussed, eating on the go is a big trigger for heartburn and reflux so the most important step is to make time to eat. This can be 10 minutes, so long as that’s 10 minutes with no phone, emails, or TV. Just you and your food.
2. Take 3 slow deep breaths before eating
Deep breathing instantly down regulates the stress response and switches your nervous system into rest-and-digest mode. Look at your food whilst taking these deep slow breaths, enjoy the smell and sight of your meal. Engage these important cephalic senses!
It’s amazing how many people simply hoover up food. Like some kind of alien with a suction tube rather than a human with a mouthful of teeth.
Chewing stimulates even more of those important nerve signals, and also helps us to know when we’re full. If you think you’re over-eating, try chewing more to reignite your satiety signals.
4. Avoid foods that relax the LOS
Alcohol, mint, peppermint, caffeine and chocolate. I know there’s a lot of ‘treat’ foods in there, but think about how much better you will feel.
5. Enjoy a small bowl of bitter salad leaves before your main meal
Bitter foods like rocket, watercress, mustard leaves, dandelion leaves, mizuna, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice stimulate the gastric juices. Use the lemon juice and apple cider vinegar in a simple dressing with olive oil and black pepper for a delicious green salad starter.
*Please do not do this if you already have an active stomach ulcer or gastritis or are taking H2 blockers or PPI medications*
6. Eat larger meals earlier in the day
The speed at which your stomach empties is partly controlled by diurnal rhythms. It empties slightly faster in the morning than in the evening. You’re also more likely to be upright and moving round during the day: lying down after an evening meal makes it easier for acid to flow back up into the oesophagus.
Experiment with having a smaller evening meal, and eat more at breakfast and lunch instead to see if this eases your symptoms.
7. Enjoy an overnight fast
Fasting is the only way for your digestive system to have a rest and do some ‘housekeeping’. Does that sound weird? Well, the billions of bacteria in your gut have a lot of maintenance work to do, keeping your gut lining healthy. The easiest way to give them chance to do this, and for your stomach to have a rest, is to fast overnight for 12 hours. So, if you finish your evening meal at 7.30pm, don’t eat again until 7.30am the following morning. Herbal teas and water are okay, just no food.
Which steps can you take?
Have you found your own natural way of managing heartburn & reflux?
Do share in the comments below or pop over and join the Facebook Group!
There’s little doubt that veganism is blooming. Over 250,000 people participated in Veganuary 2019 – a massive increase from the 3,300 who participated in 2014.
Done properly, a plant-based diet can provide nearly all the nutrients we need to thrive (I say “nearly all” because of the vitamin B12 conundrum – more on that later) and can be deliciously interesting and varied. Done badly, a vegan diet is the same as any other poor diet.
As a nutritionist I come across all kinds of diets. Vegan, juice fasts, raw food, keto, Paleo, Hay (eating proteins at a different time to carbs, not chewing on actual hay…though no doubt someone will one day, and probably make a ton of money from the idea) – and people ask my opinion of them.
When it comes to veganism, I’m happy to agree so long as it’s done properly and involves eating real food. I have several vegan friends and colleagues, including the brilliant nutritionist Elena Holmes, who epitomises the healthy vegan lifestyle.
However, a vegan diet is not;
– The answer to our environmental and food sustainability issues
– The cure for every known health issue
– Easy to follow. This is especially true if you dislike vegetables and pulses. And yes, I have met vegans who don’t like vegetables. Good luck with that.
The environmental impact of animal farming is of significant concern to many who switch to veganism. It’s a complex and knotty issue. Yes, certain crops have a much lower water footprint than farmed animals, but this varies between grass-fed and grain-fed livestock.
There’s also a few surprising figures too… For instance, lets look at the different waterfootprints of chicken, beef, and cocoa beans:
(Figures from https://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/product-gallery/)
I have yet to hear anyone say they are giving up meat AND chocolate to help the environment!
The boom in veganism has also brought with it an explosion of plastic wrapped ultra-processed foodstuffs like meat-free burgers and fake mince. Heavily reliant on processed soya or fungus grown in fermentation tanks, these plastic shrouded concoctions undermine the environmentally-friendly-veganism argument.
Of course, meat and dairy products aren’t for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, we each have unique preferences and requirements. But let’s not lose sight of how nutritionally sound ethically reared meat and and dairy can be.
Nutrients from meat & dairy
Earlier this year I was invited to speak to the Future Farmers of Yorkshire about the nutritional properties of meat and dairy as part of a debate covering a range of subjects including the environmental and ethical impacts of farming. There are several key nutrients that can be lacking in a poorly balanced vegan diet, and we started with one of the most common: vitamin B12.
The most bioavailable form of B12 is unique to animal products. It plays an important role in mental wellbeing, heart health, nerve cells, and red blood cell function. A small amount is stored in the body which is why deficiency may not show up for months, even years after switching to a vegan diet.
Top sources include shellfish, lamb, and beef (there’s an interesting list on Nutrition Data: it’s a US site, hence the inclusion of moose meat – not a common source for those of us in the UK!).
Many foods suitable for vegans are fortified with B12; nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals for example. Certain plant foods do naturally contain B12, the most notable being green and purple nori. Studies have shown that eating these forms of nori can improve B12 status, though you would need to eat substantial amounts every day to support levels in the long term! Same goes for shiitake mushrooms. Of all the edible mushrooms, shiitake carries good levels of B12 but you would still need to eat an average of 50g (dried weight) per day to maintain levels.
Spirulina and other edible cyanobacterias (commonly called blue-green algaes) contain pseudovitamin B12 which isn’t bioavailable to us as humans. We can’t absorb it or use it.
Iron – haem and non-haem
Iron deficiency is a particular issue for female vegans due to regular iron loss from periods. Haem iron in animal products is much better absorbed than non-haem iron from plant sources. If you are relying on non-haem iron, be sure to include sources of vitamin C too, as this helps the absorption and usage of plant-sourced iron.
Good combinations include;
– Millet grain (iron) in a salad with vit-C foods watercress, parsley, and peppers
– Blackstrap molasses (iron) in hot water with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice (vit C)
– Pumpkin & sunflower seeds (iron) in a fruit salad with papaya, kiwi, and strawberries (all good sources of vit C)
Many of us, whether vegan or not, are low in vitamin D simply because we don’t get enough regular sunshine here in the UK. Unfortunately for vegans, the optimum dietary sources of vitamin D3 (the most active usable form) are eggs, liver and butter, with plant sources like mushrooms providing a little D2.
It is advisable for everyone to take a supplement during winter months (October to April) and vegans may need to continue all year round. To check your levels, see your GP or try a home test kit from www.vitamindtest.org.uk
Vegetarian and vegan diets tend to have plenty of omega-6, but often struggle with omega-3. Nuts and seeds provide what is known as the ‘parent’ omega 3 fat, Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA). This needs to go through several conversion steps before it becomes EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). These are the omega-3 fats we use for brain and heart health, and which are ready formed in fish oils.
These conversion steps rely on co-factor nutrients like magnesium, B-vitamins, zinc, and vitamin C, and a lot of ALA gets lost during the process. There isn’t an easy answer to this dilemma, other than to ensure vegans include walnuts, flaxseed oil, and/or pumpkinseed oil everyday for their rich ALA content, and to enjoy plenty of food sources of the co-factor nutrients too.
What are your thoughts on meat-eating and veganism?
Have you a delicious vegan recipe to share?
Tell us in the comments below, hop on over to the friendly Facebook Group for more conversations and recipe ideas or tag me on Twitter @nutritioninyork