Collecting chestnuts

Chestnuts aren’t just for conkers, says keen gardener and our founder, Jennifer Irvine.

There are two types of chestnut in the UK-the spiky, sweet chestnut that’s edible, and its smoother cousin the horse chestnut, which is toxic to eat, and the one we use for conkers. Leave these for the children to play with and explore woodland areas for the hedgehog-like cases of the sweet chestnut this month.

 

How to identify them

Sweet chestnuts are easy to forage, as they only fall from trees when they’re ripe and ready to eat, usually from mid-September until November. I’m lucky to have a tree on my driveway, so as soon as we see them raining down, my daughters and I race out to gather wheelbarrows full of them. Identify them by their fine, sharp spikes (the horse chestnut has coarser, spikes) – see below. Inside, you’ll see two to three shiny, triangular-shaped nuts with a pointed end (conkers are smooth, with no point). I like to roll them under my foot to open them – an easier and much less painful way of getting to the goods inside. No one wants to take a spike to the hand!

 

How to enjoy them

You’ll probably end up with a whole pile of sweet chestnuts, so planning ways to use them up is a good idea. By the time November comes around, I make sure I’ve picked my fair share for Christmas. You can use them in both savoury and sweet dishes or eat them whole as a savoury snack. We love to toss chopped chestnuts into stuffing, rice and grain mixes, and sprinkle them over salads or roasted meat. Chestnuts are also delicious added to a crumble topping for an extra nutty texture or stirred into a warming winter porridge.

 

How to roast them

Follow these simple steps:

  1. Using a sharp knife, make a cut across the middle of each chestnut.
  2. Heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/ gas 6. Arrange the nuts on a tray and roast for 30 min or until the cut widens and the flesh is visible.
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Shell the chestnuts while still warm, then serve whole or chopped.

 

Chestnut flour

If you’re after a more unusual way to use your haul, try making chestnut flour:

  1. Use a serrated knife to make an X on the flat side of each nut before arranging them on a baking tray (scoring them first allows steam to escape from the flesh and prevents nuts exploding in the oven).
  2. Heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/ gas 6, then roast the nuts on a tray for around 25 min. Remove from the oven and cool just enough to handle and peel. The shells and inner skin will come away easily when the nuts are still warm.
  3. Slice the nuts in half, then return them to the baking tray. Turn down the oven to its lowest temperature and leave them for 12-24 hours to dehydrate. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they’re so hard you can’t break them with your fingers. Finally, use a food processor or blender to grind your dried chestnuts until the flour reaches the degree of fineness for your chosen recipe. The flour can then be kept frozen or refrigerated up to six months. Use it to make sweeter, more filling pancakes, cakes or non-yeasted breads.

Foraging blackberries

What a wonderful concept foraging is – all the benefits of fresh produce but with minimal input. Foraging is therefore ideal for readers who are busy gardeners or juggling life in general. It also gives you a lovely connection with the land and creates wonderful memories with the family and friends you go with.

 

With their easily recognisable brambles and plump, black fruit, blackberries provide a great introduction to foraging. When I was younger, I used to go blackberry picking every year. Looking back, it was probably a great way for our mother to get us out the house as the summer holidays were coming to an end. I can just imagine her saying “Take a bucket and don’t come back until its filled with blackberries!” as we headed off into the fields across our farm. Now I have children of my own, I think it’s a great experience for them. We wear long welly boots and old clothes to protect ourselves from the thorns, juice and inevitable nettles.

 

At the right time of year, blackberries can be found in abundance on the hedgerows which skirt fields and public commons. So, whether you’re in your own garden or exploring common land, as long as you know where to look, your efforts will be rewarded. It’s worth noting however, that when it comes to public space, you need to be a little careful of the law. But don’t less this deter you — the general rule is, as long as the blackberry bush is growing wild and you are using the fruit for personal use, then fill your boots. If you can, avoid picking on busy roads as the pollution and noise make the whole experience unpleasant.

 

Summer stretching into autumn provides the perfect time to go looking for blackberries, and the warmer the day, the sweeter tasting the berry. One question I always get asked a lot is, how do you know when they’re ready to eat? The clue is in the name — once the berry has turned black and soft to touch. Before that, blackberries are green then red, so leave those ones alone to ripen up for the next forager.

 

So, what do you do with your harvest of blackberries?

One way I love to use the berries is to put them in ice cube trays with water, freeze, then add to drinks. If you don’t have an ice cube tray then you can always put fresh blackberries straight into a nice cold drink – pretty and delicious!

Making a blackberry jelly or jam are probably the most common ways to use blackberries — it’s fresh and you always get the sense of achievement at the end. They work well as chia jam too.

A classic apple and blackberry crumble full of flavour is always a winner in my house but if you fancy something fresh, then try blitzing up a pineapple and blackberry smoothie. My girls are a huge fan!

 

Jennifer Irvine

Ultimate BBQ Guide

 

Barbecue season is in full flow, and here at Balance Box we know that preparation is the key to a successful, stress-free day. We’ve put together some of our favourite summer recipes from our Founder, Jennifer Irvine, in a handy barbecue guide. With a shopping list and a guide to timings on the day included, we’re sure our guide to the perfect barbecue will be a go-to for all of your al fresco events this summer.

 

Click on the images below to download our BBQ plan pdfs.

PRE DAY PLAN

The Joys of Cold Water Swimming

Silhouette of WOW members standing on the sea front in Hastings

‘Own your mind, master your biology and activate your full human potential’ (Wim Hof)

Our guest blog today comes from Michelle McKenzie (BSc, ANutr). Michelle’s  journey into the world of nutrition began in 2009 when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease. After 10 years of working in the music industry, she went back to university to learn everything she could about nutrition, metabolism and diabetes. In 2016, an abstract of her research on low carbohydrate diets and diabetes was published by Cambridge Journals  and she was invited to present her findings in the Royal Society of Medicine as part of the Nutrition Society’s Annual Winter Conference. 

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, Michelle discovered, and fell in love with, cold water swimming and we’re thrilled that she’s written this wonderful blog about the positive impact this has had on her life.

I did something this year that I never thought I would do, ever. Swimming in the sea over winter. To say that I’m not a fan of the cold is an understatement, I would rarely swim in the sea during the summer, never mind winter. For some reason, I had an irrational fear of feeling cold. In 1998 I spent two weeks in Hawaii and didn’t go in the sea because, it was a bit cold. #regrets.

I have been following the work of Wim Hof, the iceman, for a number of years. I have tried and love his breathing exercises. I have listened to him talking about the long list of benefits of cold water therapy but despite all his wonderful research into these benefits and his unwavering spirituality surrounding it, I thought he was nuts. Why would you want to inflict that on yourself? I also have a friend who took part in one of his day events in London a few years back and at the end of the day she got into an ice bath – I thought she was nuts too.

2020 was an extra-ordinary year, a time when our self-care rituals needed dialled up to the maximum. As there was no chance of a holiday abroad and the weather was fantastic here in Hastings, I took to the sea to escape. I felt very grateful to have it on my doorstep and I thankfully dived in.

WOW member and dog standing in front of sea in Hastings

Fast forward to an afternoon in October. I hadn’t been in that regularly since the weather had cooled but one Saturday afternoon, after a bout of hot flushes, I couldn’t get in quick enough. I enjoyed it so much I went down again the next morning and bumped into a couple of friends who were doing it regularly and they asked if I would like to get involved. I joined what has now become the legendary WOWs, a fantastic group of happy, kind, smiley, strong, open-hearted, brave women (and a couple of men, one of them my husband Christian). I started to go most days. I was hooked.

Facing the cold meant that I needed to let go of my own preconceived ideas of what I thought was difficult to do – to adjust my mindset, realise my inner strength, commit, breathe and surrender to it (with some high pitched noises required on the really cold days). As the weather got colder, so did the sea. One morning while breaking ice in the carpark on the beach I realised – I’m now one of the nutty ones.

It was an exciting way to start the day. The walk to the beach was filled with anticipation about how the sea would look and feel. It was an adventure during lockdown life, an accomplishment and a chance to say hello and receive big smiles from all the glorious WOWs. My body and mind felt good. The menopausal aches, pains and hot flushes eased and I got a huge endorphin hit every morning. I’d found a way to support my lockdown emotions and my body all at once while staring into the horizon and watching the sun rise on another day. If I could handle both the physical and mental stressors of getting into the sea over the winter months, anything felt possible.

Wim Hof suggests that as we have evolved to wear clothes and live inside our heated houses that ‘the natural stimulation that our bodies were used to has reduced and that these deep physiological layers are no longer triggered’. This new way of living has created a disconnection with nature and we may have lost connection with ourselves – our essence. We are part of nature and we need to be connected to it and immersed in it to truly feel grounded and at peace. Now I finally understand what he was talking about.

Studies report that cold water swimming has a wide variety of health benefits. Such as improvements to the immune system (increase of white blood cells & antioxidants, more resistant to illness and infections), nervous system, endocrine system (hormones, insulin), cardiovascular system (lipid metabolism, lowering blood pressure), improved circulation, thermoregulation, sleep, release of endorphins (I always felt very giggly when emerging from the sea) and mood (antidepressant effect). It’s reported to lower anti-inflammatory markers and activate areas of the brain associated with pain suppression, self-reflection and wellbeing. A study carried out on swimmers (50% of which experienced dis-ease in their bodies) versus controls looked at the effects of regular winter swimming on mood. The study reported that mood, tension and fatigue all significantly decreased with duration of swimming. After four months, the swimmers reported more energy compared to the controls and the swimmers who were suffering from fibromyalgia, rheumatism and asthma reported that the winter swimming had relieved their pain. Could cold water therapy be considered a magic pill?

WOW members in the sea, with sun shinning through clouds

Cold water swimming and full body immersion are physiologically stressful. When we expose ourselves to cold water, especially when the temperatures have reached single figures, it literally takes your breath away as you experience cold water shock. The body starts to close down the blood supply to less vital parts of the body such as the arms, feet, hands and legs in order to direct warm blood to your core and protect the organs such as the heart, kidneys and lungs. During the first minute, your skin starts to tingle and burn and you enter into a state of being. You lose yourself in the moment. Your mind forgets all your little niggles and you become peaceful, connected with nature and the cold. You feel alive.

I was always an ‘in and out’ kind of girl with my son timing only three minutes on the stop watch one morning. Sometimes when it was really cold, three minutes felt like a long time! Other members of the WOWs could stay in for longer and actually swim rather than just immerse themselves like I was doing. I did what felt right for me as only three minutes in the water could take me about three hours to warm up – but perhaps staying in longer is another barrier I need to break through.

After a cold water swim it’s important to warm the body up slowly and gradually. When you get out of the water, the cooling process doesn’t stop there as the cold layer of muscle and skin can continue to chill your core. This is known as the afterdrop. Try to get dressed quickly, layer up, have a warm drink and generate some body heat – walking home helped with this. It’s also recommended that you don’t have a hot shower or bath for an hour after the swim as this may affect blood pressure and cause fainting. Something sweet to eat when you get home while you wait for the shower will also help to raise body temperature. My favourite go to was my warming ‘Nut and Seed Porridge’.

I have to admit, there were some days when I walked about carrying a hot water bottle all day but it was always worth it.

Before you go and jump into your closest lake, river or sea, especially mid-winter, it may be good idea to acclimatise over summer and autumn as physiological changes are acute during the winter months and adapting to the lowering temperatures also has its benefits. It’s also a good idea to always swim with a friend, only swim when it’s safe and know your limits.

As a nutritionist who believes in the power of food as medicine, adding some cold water therapy to your day seems like an no brainer and should be taken into consideration as part of your daily wellbeing routine. For those who haven’t got access to cold water swimming – it’s time to turn your shower onto cold – just before you get out. Wim Hof has a 20 day cold shower challenge. Week 1: take a cold shower for 15 seconds (5 days), week 2: 30 seconds (5 days), week 3: 45 seconds (5 days) and week 4 (60 seconds). Give it a whirl, it’s free and you’re probably going to love it!

Michelle McKenzie (BSc, ANutr)
www.michellemckenzie.co.uk

 

Photos by Daniela Exley.

Re-cropping lettuce

This month’s star vegetable is lettuce: humble, often underestimated, yet incredibly versatile. When it comes to growing your own champion of summer salads, not much can go wrong. Follow a few simple steps and you’ll be rewarded with a harvest of lush-coloured leaves within weeks.

Finding the perfect spot to start your crop is super easy, as lettuce can be grown either on a sunny indoor window ledge or sit happily outside in the garden. If growing outside, it’s best to plant the seeds in the spring to get the perfect growth. But as it’s a speedy grower, you can still plant now and continue to re-crop over the summer and into autumn.

Re-cropping lettuce means you can keep a steady supply. It’s a job that many prefer to apply a clockwork approach to. People often replant it monthly, so they always have something coming through. I usually have three rows on the go, with each row about a metre long. I go longer if I’m going to need more.

My favourite method of timing is to plant my first row and, when I see the little leaves coming up, plant my next row about 30cm further along. When I start to harvest the first leaves, I plant my third line a further 30cm along. I find by the time I’ve finished eating the first row the second row is ready for its first pick. I then remove what remains of the first line and plant it again.

I continue in this way, rotating the three lines throughout the summer and autumn. Each year I choose a different spot in the garden for my three rows and I try not to go back to the same place for a few years.

How to get started

Sowing

Make a furrow in the ground (or in the soil in your container) about 1 in/2.5cm deep. Add a small amount of water to ensure its moist, then sow your seeds. Seedlings grow quickly, so make sure you give the leaves enough space to develop. Cover the seeds with soil and water gently. In a couple of weeks, you’ll see them peeking through the soil.

Harvesting

I like to pick a few leaves here and there and allow the other leaves to become larger. This way I can crop from one planting for many weeks.

How to use it

  • In a smoothie Lettuce works well with virtually anything, but I love to combine it with pineapple, blueberry and coconut water.
  • Fresh salads Show off the bright green of your leaves with clashing beetroot or pomegranate seeds.
  • Griddled as a side Little Gem varieties are especially good – griddle the leaves until just charred and serve with a low-fat creamy dressing.

Grow your own tomatoes

As a keen cook, gardener and advocate of fresh produce and ingredients, our founder Jennifer gives advice and insider tips for growing your own tomatoes, right in time for those colourful summer salads and tasty homemade sauces.

When and where to grow

Jennifer Irvine in her greenhouse showing off home grown tomatoes

Good news for those of you who blinked in Winter only to find it’s June already – it’s not too late to grow,  mature and feast on your very own tomatoes.  

Experienced gardeners reading this are probably rolling their eyes, thinking that if you wanted to plant tomatoes you should have done it months ago. If you’re growing from seed, well yes. But there is no shame in leapfrogging straight to a young tomato plant this time of year.

Even a seemingly sparse packet of seeds will yield far more fruit than a home-gardener needs, so ask your green-fingered friends if they have a surplus of plants they’d like to gift or swap. I love the variety you get when you share.

Failing that, nip to your local garden centre where you can pick a few up cheaply. You can assuage any feelings of cheating you may have by lovingly nurturing your young plant until its bursting with plump, juicy tomatoes.

Positioning

Tomatoes can be grown in a bright spot in your house.  I have friends who grow them on windowsills close to the table so they can reach over and nibble a few. Bear in mind that some varieties can grow as tall as 6 ft!

I’m lucky enough to have a greenhouse which gives them a longer growing season. But as I live in the south, I often grow them outside and they are delicious. I’ve found that growing tomato plants in pots, rather than directly into the ground, is better for the prevention of disease.

Re-Planting

In order to grow a big plant, you need a big pot. Transfer your young plant as soon as possible so it can spread its roots and make itself at home. Some people love to replant and replant from pot to pot as the plant grows, but I prefer to go big immediately. For large varieties, I select a round pot approximately a foot in diameter.

Fill the bottom with a layer of little stones for drainage before chucking in some enriched soil. Make a hole equal to the size of the plant’s original pot, water well and then carefully transfer the young tomato plant. It’s important to minimise disturbance of the plant as you transfer it and the key here is to be very delicate with the exposed roots.

Your gentle approach to repotting will be rewarded with some serious growth. Keep this going by regularly watering your plant and feeding it. If you are new to growing, you should probably pick up some food at the garden centre. The experienced gardeners among you may have their own recipes for food. I’ve heard some that are hilarious (but work) and include things like the hair from their pets or even droppings from rabbits!

I will put one or two plants into each pot. At first, they look lost, but within a month you will understand why big is best. Grow bags are also an excellent alternative.

Pinching out

Ideally, you want one main stalk with lots of nice strong arms. In order to achieve this, you need to control the plant. I really enjoy my weekly pinch out and I love the way my fingers smell after it!

Many people are nervous about this part but have no fear. To get the best crop of tomatoes you want the plant to put lots of effort into the fruit and not so much into its arms, so you’ll have to pinch out the laterals or side-shoots. When my father was teaching me how to do this, I imagined that the plant had armpits and so allow the plant to grow but keep an eye on the armpits of the plant, this encourages the plant to grow upwards. Each lateral should be singular but if you see another little sprout coming from just above, then be ruthless and pinch it out! (If growing bush tomatoes you won’t need to remove the laterals from the plants).

Harvesting

You’ll know when the tomatoes are ripe as they change colour and feel slightly soft to the touch. Pick and enjoy.

Types of Tomato

Tomatoes are just like people in that they come in all shapes and sizes – from the huge beefsteak to the petite cherry tomato, there’s plenty of choice. A few of my favourite tomatoes to grow are Sweet Aperitif, Indigo Rose, Tutti Frutti and San Marzano, all of which are bursting with flavour and produce the most wonderfully vibrant salad. Colours range from deep crimson to orange, yellow, green, purple and even chocolate.

How to use Tomatoes

Tomatoes make a fantastic base to create classic Italian dishes such as pasta sauces and salads. To make the pasta sauce simply add garlic and onion to a pan, shallow fry and then add peeled ripe tomatoes.

If you do have a glut of tomatoes, then you may want to cut them into segments and slowly roast them with herbs and garlic and preserve them by covering them in oil and storing them in the fridge.

A great Spanish recipe from my cookbook The Balance Diet is Gazpacho. It is made using plum tomatoes and served cold and is the perfect recipe for a hot summer’s day.

One of our favourite tomato recipes on the Balance Box menus is our Italian inspired Tomato, Borlotti Bean and Basil Soup, or Peri Peri Chicken or Mushroom with Tomato Rice. Order your Balance Box to enjoy tomato-based dishes like these and more.

How to grow your own sprouting seeds

Hands holds bowl with homegrown organic sprouts, micro greens.

Hands holds bowl with homegrown organic sprouts, micro greens.

To sprout seeds you don’t really need specialised equipment – all that’s required is a jar, a muslin cloth to cover it, a plastic band to secure it and a handful of seeds. I use an old transparent plastic pot and a clean piece of old tea towel (both spotlessly clean, obviously) for this exciting little project! This is an excellent way to achieve optimal results in minimal time. I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of watching your sprouting seeds (and your confidence) grow. Best of all, you’ll get to grow and eat within a week.  

When deciding between seeds, we’re spoilt for choice. I usually opt for wheat grass, beans, dried peas or fenugreek for nutritionally dense options that are a source of protein, vitamins and minerals. I always use seeds that were intended for sprouting and I favour the pretty ones as I like food that has colour. Sprouting seeds pack a real punch nutritionally, particularly as the vitamin content is known to increase 20-fold during the sprouting process – according to the back of many of the packets, you’ll be getting 40 times the nutritional value of fully-grown vegetables. 

 

How to get started

  1. Simply put the seeds in the pot and rinse in cold water. After draining, remove any debris or broken seeds and soak by filling two-thirds of the jar with water.   
  2. Cover with a mesh lining (I just use a scrap of an old clean tea towel and secure with an elastic band). Leave the jar, somewhere away from direct sunlight, for around eight hours and watch the seeds almost double in size. Larger seeds such as chickpeas may require up to 24 hours for this. 
  3. Carefully invert the jar so that it sits at an angle, allowing the seeds to drain for about seven hours. 
  4. For the following two to three days, repeat this process, gently rinsing and draining the seeds about three times a day. Once they’ve produced a sprout tail, finish with one final rinse and they’ll be ready to eat. 

 

  • There’s really no need to make this a chore or an exact science (sometimes I only remember to do the drain once a day). The NHS does, however, have this safety advice: make sure your equipment is cleaned thoroughly using hot soapy water before and after use, stick to seeds suitable for home sprouting and follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely. 

How to use them

Many seeds begin to lose their flavour over time, so be sure not to leave them too long before you eat them. I love to sprinkle my sprouting seeds on top of different dishes to add the wow factor. They look and taste incredible. But don’t save them for the salad – I serve them on poached eggs for breakfast or even pop them on top of a stir-fry, stew or soup as I serve. I recommend sprouting in staggered batches and experimenting with different seed types to maintain variety and a constant harvest. Get yourself a jar and see what you can create! 

Spring clean your eating habits

Beautiful happy young woman smiling in a flowering spring garden

Beautiful happy young woman smiling in a flowering spring gardenThe Great British winter is, at best, a long and bleak endurance exercise. But this winter, due to the lengthy restrictions we’ve lived under, most of us will be feeling especially demotivated, heavy and lethargic.

Lockdown fatigue combined with the winter blues is a challenging combination and it’s understandable to feel a bit low. But fear not – mother nature is here to give us a much-needed boost. Snowdrops and crocuses are already peeking through muddy lawns, and the days are getting longer and warmer.

Now’s a great time to harness the positivity of spring and clean-up your eating habits. Throw in a little outdoor exercise too and you’ll be rewarded with more energy, better sleep and a lighter mood.

 

Things to cut back on

Added sugar. Be ruthless – scour the kitchen for ingredients laced with added sweeteners and bin them. Too much sugar can lead to weight gain, irritability and type 2 diabetes. Breakfast time is a good place to start – so, replace sugary breakfast cereals and flavoured yoghurts with oats, plain yoghurt, fresh fruit and toasted rye bread.

Salt. Unless you follow a radical, sodium-free diet (which would be extremely difficult to do), think ‘low’ not ‘no’. Government guidelines recommend no more than 6g (or a teaspoon) of salt a day, and less for younger children.  Boost flavour with herbs and spices rather than an extra pinch of salt.

Refined grains and carbs. These are grains that have had the fibrous and nutritious part removed such as white flour and white rice. They’re converted into glucose and released into the bloodstream quickly – too quickly. This causes a problem as our bodies are unable to accurately control the flow of sugar in our blood. A flood of sugar causes a flood of insulin, which then leads to a sugar-crash and tiredness. What do we do when we’re tired? We reach for foods that are high in sugar so we can get an instant hit of energy and so we become trapped in a vicious cycle of craving, sugar-highs, sugar-lows and tiredness. This will ultimately lead to weight gain and potentially type 2 diabetes.

Processed foods. A lack of time can often cause us to reach for unhealthy takeaways and processed ready meals which are full of salt, sugar and bad fats. This can cause us to consume way over the daily recommended amounts which in turn can contribute to all sorts of health problems. Instead, look for quick and healthy recipes which use wholefoods, or check out our range of healthy, nutritiously balanced meals which can be delivered to your door.

 

Things to eat more of

Fruit and veg. Think about fruit and vegetables in terms of their colour. How much variety is there in your fruit and veg drawer? Ideally, you should aim to eat all the colours – reds, greens, yellows, blues and purples. Look for produce that is bright and shiny. Eating a colourful variety will help support gut health, ward off illness and prevent premature ageing. Each colour has its own superpower. In season now is radishes, carrots, bananas, asparagus, and purple sprouting broccoli.

Whole grains and complex carbs. Complex carbohydrates release their energy slowly which maintains energy levels, keeps you feeling fuller for longer and reduces the desire for snacking. Complex carbohydrates are found in wholegrains, vegetables and legumes, so consider swapping simple carbohydrates for complex ones such as white rice for quinoa, white potatoes for sweet potatoes and white pasta for wholegrain pasta.

Healthy fats. We need fat in our diet but the good kind. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats contain Omega-6 and Omega-3 which can help lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. Good sources include olive oil, organic eggs, avocados, nuts, good quality meat, oily fish, soya beans and seeds. Cut back on the “bad” saturated and trans fats found in cakes, cookies, margarine, fast-food and milk chocolate.

 

Pre-pro biotics and fibre

To maintain optimal health, it’s essential to incorporate both probiotics and prebiotics into your diet to keep your gut – and consequently the rest of your body – in balance.

Most of us know that we should aim to include plenty of fibre in our diets because it lowers the risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends we eat 30g of fibre a day, but the average person eats just 18g. Eat plenty of wholewheat bread, rice and pasta, load up with nuts, seeds and wholegrain cereals and bag yourself a rainbow of fresh and ideally organic fruits and vegetables. Chickpeas, pulses and beans are a fabulous source of fibre too.

Watch your portion size. Remember, if you consume more calories than you need, your body will store these extra calories as fat, and you will gain weight. Even if you’re eating the ‘right’ foods, if you eat too much of them, and you’re not active, you’ll be disappointed if your goal is to maintain or lose weight. Stick to the Rule of Palm:

    • 1 palm-size portion of protein
    • 1 palm-size portion of complex carbohydrates
    • 2 palm-sized portions of fruit or vegetables

 

Eat mindfully

A simple but effective tip to remember is to eat slowly. By taking your time to chew, you’ll eat less, feel full and enjoy the flavours and textures of your meal more.
 

Stay Hydrated

Around 60% of the body and 90% of blood is made up of water. It’s no surprise, therefore, that when dehydration kicks in, our body’s ability to function at its best declines. Dehydration can often lead to headaches because a lack of water can affect brain structure and function. How much water should you drink then? Nutritionist, Rita Arora, says: “Most people go with the 2 litres of water a day rule. But actually, we should be more specific and aim to drink a minimum of 35ml of water per kilo of body weight. So, a person weighing 100kg would need around 3.5 litres of water a day.”
 

Plan more plant-based meals

Forgoing meat just once a week can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. What’s more, studies show that people who eat a plant-based diet tend to weigh less than meat-eaters. But don’t replace meat with a processed alternative because these often contain added salt, sugars and fats. Instead, opt for tofu, eggs, pulses and lentils.
 

Grow your own

Not only will you gain nutritious and inexpensive fresh ingredients, you’ll get plenty of exercise. Research shows tending your own vegetable patch is a great way to destress and even help to ward of depression and anxiety. Don’t have a garden? Try planting in a window box or container garden instead. You can even grow some herbs in pots on your windowsill.

 

Why not give your digestion a spring clean with a Balance Box menu plan delivered straight to your door?

How to beat sugar cravings

Various sugar in cubes and granulated

Various sugar in cubes and granulated

Have you felt yourself reaching for the biscuit tin lately? Is that chocolate cheesecake whispering to you from the fridge? If so, you’re not alone. Finding solace in sweet treats is actually a natural instinct – sugar gives us a welcome ping of pleasure and energy boost. But beware – it comes at a price.

 

The sugar trap

When we’re feeling stressed out, the hormone cortisol floods our body. It releases glucose from our liver which in turn raises blood sugar levels. This puts us in a ‘fight or flight’ state, so we’re ready to deal with whatever is stressing us out.

In evolutionary terms, this stressor would have been an infrequent predator or a marauding rival. But in the modern world, cortisol floods our systems dozens of times a day when we’re running late, or our car breaks down, or our baby cries, or we’ve missed a work deadline. We’re not designed to experience almost permanent stress, and the events of the last year have only made this worse.

So what happens when we’re feeling stressed? Our bodies crave something that will make us feel happy, to balance us out. And sugar, with its dopamine releasing powers, can improve our mood in a flash. However, the surge in sugar creates a rush of insulin – the hormone that manages blood sugar levels – and we’ll soon find ourselves crashing and feeling sluggish. The sugar trap is set which is why sugar consumption can sometimes feel like an addition.

 

How much sugar should I be eating?

Large amounts of sugar can be really bad for your health and are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and weight gain, not to mention tooth decay and for some, congested skin.

The NHS states that adults should have no more than 30g of ‘free sugars’ a day, which is equivalent to seven sugar cubes or six teaspoons. Free sugar is the term given to sugar that is added to our diet such as sugar in your coffee, or the sugar that food manufacturers add to their products such as ready meals, cakes and syrups.

The Institute of Optimum Nutrition says: “These guidelines should be viewed as a maximum rather than a target to be met. A healthy individual does not need sugar – and the less we eat the better.”

 

A little bit of something sweet is okay

At Balance Box, we’re advocates of a balanced diet and that includes treating yourself once in a while. Life is too short to avoid chocolate bars or birthday cakes. But it’s important to be mindful and take action if you’re starting to feel like your sugar consumption is creeping up.

 

Hide and seek

Opt for naturally sweet sources of sugar where you can. Fruit, honey and maple syrup have additional nutritional benefits too. It’s refined sugar that you want to avoid consuming regularly. Donuts, shop-bought biscuits, cakes and sweets are not going to make you feel good. Look out for hidden sugars in processed foods. You’ll be amazed at how many teaspoons of sugar lurk in breakfast cereals, sauces and low-fat yoghurts. Read labels and look out for dextrose, glucose, fructose and sucrose, corn syrup, molasses syrup and fruit juice concentrates.

 

So how can I beat my sugar cravings?

Understand why you’re craving. Are you craving food? Or comfort? Are you eating for energy? Or because you’re bored? Take a moment to pause before you eat, and really get to the bottom of how you’re feeling. Can you keep a journal to track your emotions and triggers? Simply pausing for a few minutes before you eat can be enough of a deterrent.

 

Eat a balanced diet

The last thing you want to do is create a high-low sugar cycle, where you’re stuck in a loop of sweet treats and energy crashes. Instead, choose a diet that is high in protein, whole foods, healthy fats, slow-release carbohydrates and fibre helps maintain your blood sugar levels.

 

Choose a low sugar breakfast

Swerve that sugar trap! Start the day with a low sugar breakfast which is rich in slow-release carbs, protein and fats. Our favourite breakfasts include fig and nut butter on rye bread or eggs and avocado on sourdough toast – delicious and will keep you fuller for longer.

 

Snack well

If you’re a regular customer at Balance Box, you’ll now that we consider healthy snacking helpful to maintaining energy levels. But choose carefully. Biscuits and cakes will leave you feeling low and wanting more in the long run. Opt for fresh fruit or a handful of nuts and seeds instead.

 

Let us help you

If you’re finding it difficult to control your sugar intake, why now let us help you? At Balance Box, we create delicious and nutritious meals with minimal free sugar. And with our healthy snacks, you can top up your energy levels the right way. Goodbye biscuit tin, hello healthy bod.

How to lose weight well

Waist measurement close up.

Waist measurement close up.What does it mean to lose weight well?

For us at Balance Box HQ, losing weight well means a healthy, sustained and effective decrease in stored fat that doesn’t leave you feeling deprived, lethargic or frustrated. Your diet should be balanced and nutrient rich – full of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and lean protein.

Here’s our top ten tips for losing weight well:

 

1. Lose weight at a safe rate

Crash dieting simply doesn’t work in the long term. Not only is starving your body potentially dangerous, but it can also leave you miserable, tired and fed-up. Most weight lost in this way is actually the result of fluid loss, which will come straight back once you start eating carbohydrates again. And if you deprive yourself for too long, the chances are your cravings for sugary, carbohydrate rich foods will win out as your body desperately tries to refuel. Instead, think of healthy weight loss as a marathon, not a sprint.

The NHS advises losing 0.5kg – 1kg (1lb – 2lbs) of weight per week which roughly equates to an intake of 1900 calories for men and 1400 calories for women a day. However, at Balance Box, our nutritionists have devised delicious menu plans that can help you lost up to 2kg a week safely by creating balanced meals that are rich in nutrients but low in calories.

 

2. Eat regular meals

While there is evidence to suggest that controlled intermittent fasting can aid weight loss, unless your will power is rock solid, it’s better to eat healthy, regular meals throughout the day. This reduces hanger pangs which can result in cravings and giving in to tempting snacks. Eating regularly will help keep your digestive system ticking over and raise your basal metabolic rate (BMR) as it burns more calories to function.

 

3. Choose a balanced diet full of whole foods

A balanced diet is key to helping you lose weight well. This means choosing foods that cover the three main macronutrients – complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and good fats, as well plenty of fresh, colourful fruit and vegetables to ensure your micronutrient needs are covered too. Look for wholefoods – foods that are not processed – so you’re eating as naturally as you can. Not only should you start seeing the pounds drop off, but your skin will glow and you’ll be full of energy.

 

4. Eat high fibre foods

Fibre is your friend. Big time. It helps your digestive system function optimally, it maintains good gut health, it reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes and helps you lose weight well by filling you up and stabilising your blood sugar levels. Load your shopping basket with fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils and whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa.

 

5. Control your portion size

Weight loss is theoretically a simple equation – if you burn more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight. But beware – if you only focus on improving what you eat, but not how much you eat, you might not see the weight loss results you’re hoping for.

Fortunately, there are some simple hacks to make portion control easier. Try using a small plate to get used to eating smaller portions. And the rule of palm is a nifty way to ensure you only eat what you need. Aim to fill your plate with:

    • 1 palm-size portion of protein
    • 1 palm-size portion of complex carbohydrates
    • 2 palm-size portions of fruit or vegetables

 

6. Slow it down

Ever wondered how speed eaters can wolf down eye-watering amounts of food so quickly? It’s because their brains haven’t caught up with their stomachs.

It takes around twenty minutes for your brain to register that you’re full and put the brakes on. So if you take your time to eat, chew your food well and pause between mouthfuls, you’ll not only help your gut (guts love well chewed food), but you’ll also help your stomach recognise that it’s full, minimise over-eating and hit those weight loss goals quicker.

 

7. Choose healthy snacks

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t snack. We’d stick to three healthy meals a day, and not have a single hunger pang or desire to eat between meals. However, we know that snacking is tempting. Especially in the current climate where we’re mainly working from home, in or near a kitchen.

At Balance Box, we say if you’re going to snack, snack well. Often, boredom can drive us to snack so make sure you get fresh flavours and crunchy textures involved to keep your taste buds tickled. Try raw carrot batons, celery with humous and fresh fruit. We’ve created a range of healthy snacks which complement our meal plans, all of which are calorie counted, heathy and delicious.

 

8. Exercise for better results

Done correctly, changing your diet will have a major impact on your weight. But it’s important to make sure you’re exercising too. Are you getting enough cardio as well as strength training? If not, it’s time to mix things up. Cardio is great for keeping your heart and lungs healthy as well burning fat, and strength training will improve your muscle tone and ensure your BMR is increased (muscle burns more calories than fat).

There’s a wealth of affordable online fitness platforms offering excellent at home workouts. But they’re not essential. A brisk walk or jog a few times a week for 30 minutes, combined with squats, press ups and abdominal crunches in your living room will work wonders and help get your body spring and summer ready. Not only will regular exercise help keep your waist trim, but it’ll also do wonders for your mental health by releasing endorphins – one of the feel good hormones and a natural pain reliever. The so called ‘runners’ high’ is not a myth – it’s real and it’s yours for the taking.

 

9. Sleep

The benefits of a decent night’s sleep are plenty. Not only will it leave you bright eyed and bushy tailed, it will directly support weight loss. Matthew Walker, author of Why we Sleep says: “The less you sleep, the more you are likely to eat. Sleeping less than seven hours a night increases your probability of gaining weight, being overweight or obese, and significantly increases your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.”

This is because sleep plays a vital role in the regulation of the hunger and appetite hormones – leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells you when you’re satiated or full, and ghrelin drives feelings of hunger. A lack of sleep has been found to decrease levels of leptin and increase levels of ghrelin meaning you spend the day feeling hungry and prone to overeating.

Prioritise good sleep by creating a nightly ritual. Perhaps a long soak with Epsom bath salts will relax you, or try a few calming stretches or deep breath work. There are plenty of free tutorials online. Dim the lights and light some candles which will send a signal to your brain that it’s nearly slumber time and help produce melatonin – the sleep hormone.

Stay away from alcohol as it really is a sleep saboteur and make sure your bedroom is cool, but not cold. Lastly, a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow and a silk eye mask should help you drift off into a dreamy bliss and wake feeling restored and balanced.

 

10. Plan your meals

It’s all very well having the knowledge but in reality life is busy. Work, children, chores and to-do lists can get in the way of meal planning, shopping and cooking. You might have all the ingredients you need for a healthy family meal, but when you’re backed into a time-squeezed corner, it’s easy to reach for the take-away menu. We all do it.

However, with a little time and preparation, you can make life easier. Can you sit down for twenty minutes once a week with pen and paper and make a list? Find some healthy recipes on- line and print out the ingredient list or save it to your phone so you have it to hand when you’re shopping. Rope in your partner and children, don’t let them leave it all to you.

Alternatively, why not let Balance Box do the hard work? We’re constantly creating and improving delicious, balanced meals which can be delivered straight to your door. Our team of experienced chefs and expert nutritionists have devised an array of menus to suit different needs. If weight loss is your target, our calorie counted meal plans are just the ticket to reach your goals.