Porridge Passion

Last week I wrote about eating healthily.  For me, that definitely includes breakfast as the most important meal of the day, and one where you can eat something sweet without paying a heavy price 😉

And, as the weather turns colder, porridge is a great option.

Oats are a fabulous source of heart-healthy fibre, as well as a host of vitamins and anti-oxidants.  They are slow release, leaving you feeling fuller longer.  In fact, studies show that people who eat porridge for breakfast, compared to sugared corn flakes, go on to eat between 31% and 50% less at lunch!

As a busy and sometimes stressed and forgetful mother-of-two, though, I’ve had some trouble with porridge.  Preparing it, putting it on the stove, then getting distracted by the kids fighting, or by a smelly nappy, or whatever, only to come back to a burnt pan and porridge that is good only for the bin.

Raising this dilemma, friends came up with a number of solutions.

Preparing the porridge the night before and just reheating it was one.  However, I’m tired at night and don’t really feel like making porridge, whereas I’m always fairly fresh in the morning (well, for a couple of hours, depending on how much sleep the little ones let me get).

Plus, I like to cook fruit into my porridge.  Firstly, because I don’t use milk, sugar, cream or honey, so the fruit gives it an extra sweet creaminess that is delicious.  Secondly, as it’s a way to get a good start on my “five a day“.  I’m a little uncertain, though, about leaving cooked fruit standing overnight. 

Another suggestion was to cook it in the microwave.  I’ve long been wary of using the microwave for anything much, however, this article changed my mind, looking at scientific studies on microwave use.  Of course, they might have been paid for by microwave companies, but I don’t think so 🙂

As you can see here, my first attempt at adapting my favourite porridge recipe to the microwave did not go well…

Undaunted, I took some more advice and tried again 🙂  Here is a photo recipe for my new favourite winter breakfast:

I add in pineapple and pear (about 300g total, and you can use any fruit that cooks well – apple, plum, apricot etc), pour on 55g of oats (I like doing 35g of jumbo rolled oats with 20g of the more milled oats, for a slightly textured but still creamy porridge), add boiling water to just slightly more than cover the lot.  Stick it in the microwave at 850 watts for two and a half minutes, stir, then another two and a half minutes.  Add fresh grapes and a seed mix (or walnuts or other nuts).  Yum!

So, I’ve shown you mine… What’s your favourite winter breakfast?

How Healthily Do You Eat?

Talking with someone last week, they asked: how can we know whether we are eating healthily?  This person’s point was about our perception of what we eat compared to those around us: that if we are surrounded by fitness professionals, we may judge ourselves more harshly than if we are surrounded by people less focused on healthy eating.

The question goes far deeper, though.

Firstly, there is the fact that our own perceptions are skewed by the situations we find ourselves in.  If we have done exercise, for example, we are more likely to allow ourselves “a little treat” and not consider it “bad”.  Or if we see a healthy item on a menu next to an unhealthy item, we actually misjudge the healthiness, or calorie load, of the “bad” item by up to 20%!

Secondly, it’s true that what is considered healthy is constantly changing.  When it first came out, margarine was touted as the healthier option for your heart.  Then, with studies on hydrogenated fats, many nutritionists advised eating butter instead.  However, the debate is not yet over, as there are (as so often) more factors involved: the specific type of fat, even within a broader category such as omega-6 fats, or what the fat is being replaced by in your diet.

Likewise, some might argue that chocolate has gone from being “bad”, to being a superfood so long as you eat it either “dark” or, preferably, “raw”.  The same has happened with alcohol.  While it may not be good for your liver if overimbibed, it has been shown that alcohol can have positive health benefits in small measures, and is “healthier” than being teetotal!

And of course, there’s the fact that fat was long demonized for weight gain and health risks, yet there is now evidence that sugar may be a far larger culprit on both counts.

Thirdly, there is the evidence that different diets suit different people.  Some people say you should eat differently depending on your body type, others say you should base your diet on your blood type.  While arguments against rigidly applying such diets are also strong, the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of factors to take into consideration when deciding what is a healthy diet for you.

If you are diabetic, or have a family history of cancer or heart disease, the recommendations for what you eat will be different.  And many people try particular diets and, despite perhaps believing in them ethically, find they don’t work for them health-wise in the long term.  For instance, a huge number of people embrace vegetarianism, often for years or decades, before deciding it really isn’t for them.

There are also cultural and religious factors to take into account.  Eating against your beliefs is likely to stress you out, and stress affects how well you digest food, so this is a real health concern.

Amongst all this information, personal bias and different needs, how can you know how healthily you are eating?

The answer is that it’s impossible to have a truly objective and definitive answer to how healthily you are eating.  The good news, though, is that eating with awareness will help in all of these situations.  If you are concerned about your diet, keeping a journal can be really helpful.  You might want to track more than just what you eat and when: note down things like how you were feeling before you ate, what exercise you did, how satisfying you found the food, and whether you were eating alone, in company, and how you feel about the people you were eating with.  And these days there are also food journal apps.

If you want to take things to another level, then wellness coaching can be incredibly powerful.  With its focus on exploring what works best for you, and having someone to help you stay accountable, as well as supporting you over any obstacles that come up, it combines lots of different tools for increasing your awareness and honouring your own needs and preferences.

Gut Reaction

Image courtesy of www.innerchange.com.au

Recently, I did some training during which we were asked to complete a questionnaire to figure out how we see the world.  It separated people into realists, thinkers, philosophers, and doers.

I had a big problem with the results, which didn’t match my self-understanding at all.  After thinking it through (which it said wasn’t even my second strongest approach), I realised that the issue was that the questionnaire didn’t take into account the gut and heart brains, for which there is more and more evidence.  I am a thinker, but I also honour the messages of my gut and my heart!

Science shows that we have a relatively huge number of neurons in both our heart and our gut, leading to talk of our having three brains.  There are still some naysayers, who argue that neurons and neural pathways are not the same as a brain, and that only our head-brain can philosophise.  Which, of course, is totally missing the point!  No one is claiming that the gut or the heart process things in the same way as the head.  The whole point is that they do process, and that these are messages we must equally pay attention to, rather than focusing exclusively on what our head says.

It is relevant to note that 90% of the communication between gut and head goes from the former to the latter.  The gut sends messages to the brain for processing, rather than being simply ruled and commanded from the head.

A recent study showed the effect of this communication.  For instance, people who eat more fermented foods and other probiotics are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, typically seen as “mental” problems.  Exercise, of course, is another great mood lifter, expanding the body-mind connection beyond just the gut.

Listening to our “other” brains is important to live a balanced life, and to honour the messages we are getting from different areas.  Coaching can be great for this, giving you tools to tune into those messages, and the time and space to explore them, and to see how to put them into practice in your life.