Papaya Park

Pommes Boulangere from France

The French term, “pommes boulangere” simply means “potatoes from the baker”. It is a lovely baked potato-based dish with a little story behind it. Centuries ago, when homes in rural France were not equipped with ovens, women still wanted to present baked dishes to their families. For Sunday lunches, they prepared potato-based casseroles in their homes. On their way to church, along with a piece of lamb they took their casseroles to the local baker’s. While they attended the service, the meal was baking in the shop’s oven. When the service was over, they just picked up their dishes and soon enough, they could serve roast lamb surrounded with pommes boulangere” to their families for a Sunday treat.

It is important that “pommes boulangere” is made of very thinly sliced potatoes and onions. If it is prepared this way, the top layer of the potatoes will be crisp and slightly brown, while the lower layers will become thick and moist.

Non-vegetarians can enjoy this dish in the traditional way, served with roast meat. For vegetarians, it can be served with steamed or stir-fried French beans or mixed vegetables. Alternatively, it can be offered with a lovely salad. In my view, fresh spinach works particularly well with this dish.

I found the following recipe for 6 portions on the website of Forks over Knives. It was designed by an American chef, Ramses Bravo. In my opinion, it is lovely when it is freshly-baked, but perhaps the next day it is even better as the flavours get absorbed into the potatoes and the tastes mature a bit. Now, let’s see the recipe!


  • 1 leek (thinly sliced)
  • 1 yellow onion (thinly sliced)
  • 1 stalk celery (thinly sliced)
  • 2 shallots (thinly sliced)
  • 2 tablespoons garlic (minced)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon granulated onion
  • 5 litre low-sodium vegetable broth (preferably home-made or if you used packaged, use organic vegetable stock)
  • 9 medium potatoes (peeled and very thinly sliced)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

Preparation method: 

  • Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius. Place the leek, onion, celery, shallots, and garlic in a large dry saucepan over low to medium heat and cook until the onion starts to brown (approximately 5 minutes). Stir occasionally to avoid the ingredients sticking to the pan.
  • Stir in the granulated garlic and granulated onion and cook for further 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer. Cook until the liquid reduces to half.
  • Add the potatoes and stir the ingredients until well combined. Decrease the heat to low and cook until the potatoes are translucent, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid the potatoes sticking together.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley and thyme. Transfer to large baking dish (approximately 33 cm x 22 cm) and bake uncovered for about 25 minutes. The potatoes should turn tender in the dish and the top layer of them should brown slightly.

Bon appetite!

How to Have Healthy Hair?

We all love to have beautiful, strong and shiny hair. However, sometimes our hair starts to show signs of weakness. It becomes dull, dry and lifeless and sometimes it even starts to shred excessively. When the hair loss starts to be visible, we all start to worry.

Hair problems are often down to nutritional deficiencies. This is especially true in the case of people who follow vegetarian and vegan diets. They do need to pay special attention to create a balanced diet for themselves. Otherwise, they may become deficient in certain important nutrients, primarily vitamins, proteins, minerals and fats. The nutritional deficiencies can rapidly start to show and the first signs concern the health of the all so precious hair.

Hair Health from BBC Good Food
BBC Good Food
Let’s take a look at these important nutrients that we absolutely must consume in other to preserve or restore our hair health.

  1. Protein: Protein deficiency is very common among vegetarians and even more among vegans. It is challenging to consume enough protein from plant-based sources as mostly protein is found in meat and fish. However, we must find appropriate, plant-based protein sources, as it is the building block of our hair as well as of our essential organs. If we are protein deficient, our bodies utilize whatever protein we consume to tissue growth in essential organs. The body will always prioritize these organs, therefore our hair will suffer first. Therefore, consuming some protein is not enough. We have to consume enough for our hair to glow. The best plant-based protein sources include quinoa, seitan, tofu, soy, tempeh beans, lentils, nuts, chick peas and white beans. Milk, cheese, dairy products and eggs also contain plenty of protein.
  2. Iron: Iron is a very important mineral and deficiency leads to anemia, which can cause hair loss by disrupting the nutrient supply to hair follicles and the hair growth cycle. Unfortunately, iron is found mostly in animal products, especially in red meat. Nevertheless, there are plant-based sources, including lentils, spinach, broccoli, okra, kale, salad greens, watercress, beets, dried apricots, figs, prunes, soy beans, pulses and almonds. However, the iron from plants is not as easily absorbed by the body as iron from meat, therefore these foods need to be consumed in large quantities to avoid iron deficiency. In case you have very low levels of iron, a good quality supplement may help to overcome your deficiency.
  3. Vitamin C: While Vitamin C is generally important for the human body, it has a particular role to help our hair glow. It helps the absorption of iron and boosts the production of collagen, a protein made up of amino-acids, which is the major component of hair. Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, broccoli, kiwi, oranges, strawberries, guava, red pepper, grapefruit, Brussels sprouts and cantaloupe.
  4. Omega-3: Omega-3 fatty acids are very important for our scalp and hair, because they keep them hydrated. Unfortunately, omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fish including salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel, the consumption of which is not in line with most vegetarian diets. In case you want to avoid eating fish, you need to consume flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, avocados, walnuts, soybeans and leafy greens to maintain your strong and lustrous hair.
  5. Vitamin A: Vitamin A is necessary for our bodies to make sebum, an oily and waxy substance that lubricates and waterproofs our skin and hair. If our bodies do not produce enough sebum, we might find our scalp itchy. Also, our hair may become dry. In order to help our bodies produce sufficient amount of sebum, we should eat liver. However, that is not an option for vegetarians and vegans. Vitamin A from plant-based sources can be found in sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy vegetables, squash, dried apricots, cantaloupe, red peppers and mango.
  6. Zinc and Selenium: The consumption of zinc and selenium is important for maintaining a healthy scalp and preventing hair loss. Seafood and eggs generally contain ample amount of these minerals. Plant-based sources include spinach, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, beans, mushrooms, Brazil nuts, whole-wheat bread, sunflower seeds and whole grains.
  7. Vitamin E: Sufficient intake of Vitamin E can help us avoid sun damage to our hair and skin. Nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, tomatoes, Swiss chard, avocado, asparagus, mustard greens, kale, papaya and kiwi are all excellent plant-based sources of Vitamin E.
  8. Biotin: Biotin is a B complex vitamin, which can help grow healthier and stronger hair, skin and nails by improving the keratin infrastructure, which is a basic protein that makes up hair, skin and nails. Biotin deficiency is fortunately very rare, but when it occurs it may show signs of brittle hair and nails. If you eat eggs, milk, Swiss chard, carrot, nuts, strawberries, raspberries, onion, avocado, cauliflower and cucumber you probably don’t need to fear biotin deficiency.
  9. Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is a complex vitamin that our bodies need for healthy hair growth by supporting the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to hair strands. If hair strands do not receive sufficient amount of oxygen, the hair cannot grow in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, B12 vitamin is only found in meat, seafood, eggs and dairy. Vegetarians may consider eating eggs and dairy to consume sufficient amount of Vitamin B12. Vegans may consume soy milk and cereals fortified with B12. Also, they may benefit from taking a supplement to maintain healthy hair.

hair health, pinterest, Pinterest
Let’s include these foods in our diets and maintain our shiny, beautiful and strong hair!

Oui Ratatouille!

Ratatouille is a great vegetarian stew with full of summery flavours and nutrients. It is quite easy to make and it is also very versatile. It can be served as a main or as a side, or even as filling for sandwiches or savory crepes. Also, the base recipe can be easily adjusted according to different personal preferences. It may even be served hot or cold, according to individual taste.

Ratatouille inspired sandwich - from via Pinterest, Pinterest
Ratatouille originates in Nice, in Provence. It is known to be a country dish, created by farmers during the summer season, when fresh vegetables were abundant in this region of France. The name of the dish comes from the French world “touiller”, which means “to stir” or “to toss” in English. The first part of the world “rata” is a French slang word that means something like “chunky stew” in English.

Typically, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and garlic are included in the traditional recipes of Ratatouille and the dish is spiced with fine herbs. If you like other vegetables like mushrooms, squash and potatoes, you may add them to your own preferred version of Ratatouille. Spicing is also a matter of personal preference. For true French flavours, use “Herbes de Provence”. You may also consider trying marjoram, thyme, basil and parsley.

Some recipes suggest that for the best result, Ratatouille’s ingredients should be cooked separately before combining them. This method is known to preserve the flavours of the individual ingredients better and it avoids a soggy and mushy texture in the stew. This tip is definitely worth trying!

Ratatouille’s taste, versatility and the simplicity of its preparation definitely contributed the global success of this quintessential French dish. Now, let’s try making it based on the below recipe of BBC Food (serves two people as a main course):

Ratatouille from BBC Food
BBC Food

  • 2 aubergines
  • 4 small courgettes
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • “Herbes de Provence” spice mixture
  • small bunch basil, roughly torn

Preparation method:

  • Cut the aubergines into 2.5cm/1in slices. Cut the courgettes into 2.5cm/1in slices. De-seed the peppers and cut them into bite-sized pieces.
  • Score a cross in the base of each tomato and place them in a pot. Pour over boiling water to cover and set aside for one minute. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel away the skins. Cut them into quarters, then scoop out and discard the seeds. Chop them up into small pieces. Alternatively, use good quality canned plum tomatoes.
  • Place the aubergines and courgettes in a pan and drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper.Fry the aubergine slices in batches for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to drain on kitchen towels.
  • Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onions. Cook over a gentle heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown and very tender. Stir in the peppers, garlic, sugar, some salt and pepper. Add the “Herbes of Provence” spice mixture and half of the basil. Mix the ingredients, cover and cook over a very gentle heat for 20 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 10 minutes. Add the aubergines and the courgettes, mix the ingredients and cook for a further few minutes. Scatter with the remaining basil and serve.

Bon Appetite!

Superb Singapore-Style Noodles

Singapore-Style Noodle is probably the most famous dish that people recongise as originating from Singapore. The name of the dish is misleading though – the dish has nothing to do with Singapore. It was invented in Hong Kong and is hugely popular both in Hong Kong and in the Western world. However, if you travel to Singapore to taste Singapore-Style Noodles you may be disappointed to find that the dish is very uncommon in the city-state.

Singapore-Style Noodle is a Cantonese dish. It is made with thin rice noodles called Vermicelli and is stir-fried with curry powder, bean sprouts and other vegetables. Vegetarian versions exist that use a variation of vegetables and possibly tofu. Also, sometimes prawns, pork, beef and chicken are used in the dish to create a meaty version.

The closest approximation that can frequently be found in Singapore is called Sin Chew Bee Hoon. It is a thin braised rice vermicelli dish, to which vegetables and or beancurd-based delicacies may be added. Consequently, it is slightly different to the well-known Singapore-Style Noodles, but definitely worth a try if you are a fan of Asian stir-fried noodles.

Singapore Noodles Pinterest Pinch of Yum
Pinch of Yum, Pinterest

My favourite home-made, vegetarian recipe for Singapore-Style Noodles is adapted from the Hairy Bikers, originally published on BBC Food, to suit my preference for vegetarian food.


  • 300g/10oz tofu
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry (optional)
  • 2 tsp soft light brown sugar
  • ½ tsp Chinese five spice powder (optional)
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 100g/3½oz vermicelli egg noodles
  • 1 red onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 100g/3½oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 20g/¾oz fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 2 tsp medium Madras curry powder
  • 10 spring onions, trimmed and sliced diagonally
  • Handful of bean sprouts
  • Lime wedges to serve

Preparation method:

  1. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions and put aside.
  2. Rinse the tofu in cold water, then cut into small chunks. Pat it dry with kitchen paper. Heat 1 tbsp. of the sunflower oil in a wok or large frying pan, add the tofu, then stir-fry for a few minutes, stirring until lightly browned. Drain on kitchen paper and put aside.
  3. Place the frying pan or wok back on the stove, over a medium heat. Add two tablespoons of the oil and stir-fry the onion, red pepper and mushrooms for 5-6 minutes or until beginning to soften and lightly colour. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for one minute. Sprinkle the curry powder into the pan and cook for two further minutes. Add the brown sugar and the optional Chinese five-spice powder and pour over the soy sauce. If you wish to include the optional rice wine or dry sherry, add it to the pan.
  4. Add the tofu, the spring onions and the handful of bean sprouts to the pan. Stir-fry for one minute then add the drained noodles. Stir and mix together for 2-3 minutes until piping hot. Serve immediately with lime wedges for squeezing over the dish.
Vegetarian Singapore Noodles Pinterest Beth Gentry
Beth Gentry, Pinterest

Enjoy your home-made Singapore-Style Noodles and if you wish to try the traditional Singaporean version, go for the Sin Chew Bee Hoon when you visit Singapore. Also, explore the diversity of dishes you can find in Singapore, where Chinese, Indian and Malay influences shaped the flavours, creating a unique, cross-cultural and truly delicious cuisine.

Magical Massage

Indulging in a massage is most of the best ways to experience a pampering treat. It helps you to unwind and relax, and it also contributes to the easing of tensions in your body.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is more to massage than a simple treat though. It may have numerous health benefits if undertaken by well-trained massage therapists.

Diversity of Massages & Techniques

Massage can be applied to the full body, or targeted to areas such as the back, neck & shoulders or feet. The techniques are really diverse. Sometimes the techniques follow a traditional method and sometimes therapists offer their own signature treatments to their patients. Different massages have different focus areas and strength levels. They target different health concerns and have varied health benefits.

As far as technique is concerned, it may include light stroking movements all over the body or it may include the application of deep pressure. Massages tend to include pressing and rubbing of skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. In order to undertake massage, therapists may use their hands, fingers, forearms, elbows and sometimes even their feet.

Well-known massages include traditional ones with thousands of years of history, including Ayurvedic Massage, Traditional Chinese Massage and Thai Massage. Other famous ones are recognised for their methods or benefits, including Shiatsu, Hot Stone Massage, Swedish Massage, Aromatherapy and Balinese Massage.

Balinese Massage O2 Spa Pinterest
O2 Spa, Pinterest

Benefits & Risks

For a range of medical conditions, massage is perceived as a complementary treatment. It may contribute to pain relief and reducing muscle tension in the body. The Mayo Clinic suggests that studies about massage found that they may be helpful to treat anxiety, digestive disorders, headaches, insomnia related stress, soft tissue strains, injuries, knots, joint pain and stiffness, amongst others.

Also, massages may have numerous benefits that you may want to take advantage of. These include:

  • enhancing the state of well-being
  • stimulating the immune system
  • increasing flexibility
  • improving muscle tone
  • stimulating blood flow
  • increasing dopamine levels (responsible for muscle movement, motivation and sensation of pleasure)
  • increasing serotonin levels (responsible for mood)
  • decreasing cortisol levels (aka “stress hormone”, which is responsible for physical, emotional and mental stress)

It may not be a good idea to have a massage if you suffer from bleeding disorders or if you take blood-thinning medication. If you have burns or wounds on your skin or bone fractures, massage is not appropriate for you, either.

If you have ever had deep vein thrombosis or suffered from severe osteoporosis, cancer or pain you need to consult a doctor before having a massage.

If you are pregnant, you may need to seek medical advice with regards to having a massage. It’s most likely that you need to go for a massage designed specifically for pregnant women. Such massages avoid certain types of essential oils (including nutmeg, rosemary, basil, jasmine, sage, rose, juniper berry) that may be harmful during pregnancy.

If during a massage you start to feel uncomfortable, always let your therapist know about the source of that discomfort. You may have sensitive areas that need to be avoided during the massage. Just let the therapist know, as a well-trained masseuse or masseur will know what to do.

In extreme circumstances massage can cause trouble, including nerve damage or internal bleeding. However, it is a very remote possibility. More likely perhaps is to have an allergic reaction to the essential oils that may be used during the massage. In any case, if you are in doubt or fearful, choose a gentle massage based on advice of your therapist or perhaps even consult your doctor before you have the massage.

The most important thing is to relax, enjoy the experience and savour its health benefits!

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

The Glycemic Index (GI) and the Glycemic Load (GL) of carbohydrates can often be heard about in the context of diet & nutrition. Diets use the GI and GL values too to determine meal plans for healthy diets and for weight loss purposes. Let’s see what is the difference between GI and GL and how to use these values to define which foods are healthier for us to consume. GI vs GL

Starting Point: Simple and Complex Carbs

Carbohydrates can be classified as either simple or complex. Carbohydrates are simple if they are composed of one or two simple sugars in the molecule and they are complex if they are composed of long chains of the simple sugar, glucose. Based on a simplistic categorization, sugars are simple carbs while starches are complex carbs.

In the past, medical practitioners assumed that eating more complex and less simple carbohydrates was beneficial for humans. It was assumed that the consumption of starchy food (complex carbs) would lead to smaller increases in blood glucose levels than foods containing simple carbs.

The Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index is the cornerstone of a concept developed by Dr Thomas Wolever and Dr David Jenkins at the University of Toronto in 1981. The concept was developed within a research project that aimed to find out which carbohydrate is best to consume by diabetics.

According to the outcome of the Toronto research, carbohydrates that break down quickly during the digestion process and release glucose into the bloodstream with a fast pace have a high GI. Those foods that break down slowly and release glucose with a slower, more gradual pace into the bloodstream have a lower GI.

Rapid increases in blood glucose levels by the consumption of high GI foods are potent signals to the pancreas to increase insulin secretion. A few hours after eating such carbohydrates, the high insulin levels induced by consumption of high-glycemic index foods may cause a sharp decrease in blood glucose levels. In contrast, the consumption of low GI foods results in lower but more sustained increases in blood glucose levels and lower insulin demands on the pancreas.

The definition of the GI of food happens according to an elaborate and refined methodology used by Dr Wolever and Dr Jenkins. It measures how quickly a food containing 25 or 50 grams of carbohydrate raises blood-glucose levels. GI

Based on the concept of the GI, a research team at the Harvard University developed the concept of the Glycemic Load.

The Glycemic Load

Glycemic Load is a similar concept to the GI. The idea behind GL is to simultaneously describe the quality and quantity of carbohydrate in a meal, or in an entire diet.

The GL takes into account the amount of carbohydrates in a typical serving of the food. In practice, the GL of a food is more specific as it tells us how much the given food portion raises blood glucose. It multiplies the GI of the food with the actual amount of carbohydrate that is consumed in the serving, in grams, and then divides this by 100.

According to this concept, if a food has a GL of one point, it raises the blood sugar by one gram of glucose. If a specific food serving has low GL, it implies that its GI is low too. However, if a food has a low GI, it may have higher GL, depending the amount consumed.

A full diet can be evaluated from the viewpoint of its GL, which is called “dietary GL”. The dietary GL is the sum of the GL-s for all foods consumed in the analysed diet. A low GL diet typically has less than 80 points per day. A medium GL diet is between 80 to 120 points per day while a diet is high in terms of GL if it is over 120 points per day.

Harvard University has an excellent table that contains GI and GL data for more than 100 commonly consumed food items. If you wish to analyse your diet, take a look at this useful resource:

Gruesome Gluten?

The gluten-free diet seems to be the new health & nutrition trend. Celebrities claim to have achieved perfect figures thanks to following a gluten-free diet and weight loss programmes that are designed around the elimination of gluten. A number of sources suggest that the gluten-free diet boosts energy levels, improves digestion and enhances attention span. It is applied to manage conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.

As demand grows for gluten-free food, more and more packaged food is labelled as such. Restaurants also offer gluten-free items on their menus to satisfy growing demand.  Gluten-free cookbooks are published in an ever-growing number and thousands of gluten-free recipes can be found online.

The gluten-free diet is advertised as the new magic in the world of health and nutrition. Nonetheless, it is worth looking at gluten a bit more closely before jumping on the bandwagon.

What is gluten exactly?

Gluten is a type of nutritional composite which is composed of two different proteins, i.e. gliadin and glutenin. Gluten is found in the wheat endosperm, which is a type of tissue in seeds. It nourishes plant embryos in the course of germination. When food is prepared, gluten affects the elasticity of dough, thereby having an impact on the consistency of baked wheat products. It often gives a chewy texture to baked goods.

Gluten can be found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye) and in other grains. Wheat products that contain gluten include bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt. Gluten-like proteins can also be found in maize and rice, which are also sometimes referred to as gluten.


Gluten can be found primarily in breads, cakes, pies, cookies, cereals and pastas. Beer, candies, ice-cream, French fries, packaged gravies, sauces, salad dressings, snack foods, packaged soups may also contain gluten. Sometimes gluten is used as a stabilising, thickening and binding agent and as an additive in packaged foods.

When is it justified to go gluten-free?

There is no scientific research that would support the widespread claims about the benefits of a gluten-free diet for those who do not have medical conditions that demand the elimination of gluten from their diet.

With regards to weight loss, a gluten-free diet can be misleading. If weight loss is achieved due to following a strict, gluten-free diet, it is probably due to the elimination of carbohydrates like bread and pasta. The weight loss in these cases tends not to be down to the elimination of gluten itself but to the lowering of carb intake related to the foodstuff that contains the gluten.

It is worth noting that sometimes a gluten-free diet may be even more calorific than a normal diet, as many gluten-free food items, primarily bakery products, are loaded with fat and sugar to impersonate the original qualities that gluten creates in baked goods.

Strict elimination of gluten is nonetheless crucial for those who suffer from gluten intolerance, aka coeliac disease. It is a condition that affects 0.5 to 1% of the population of the United States and the United Kingdom. Prevalence of this disease is assumed to be similar in other wheat-consuming countries globally. Gluten sensitivity is another condition that requires one to follow a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-related conditions

Coeliac disease is a chronic digestive disorder. The condition creates an immune response to gluten. This reaction is such that it damages the small intestine of sufferers, creating gastrointestinal distress (stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and bloating) and nutritional deficiencies, weight loss and fatigue. In untreated cases it can lead to intestinal cancer, infertility and osteoporosis.

Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is even more common. It creates similar symptoms to those of coeliac disease, without damage to the intestine.

It is difficult to recognise both gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity as symptoms can be different from one individual to the next. Gastrointestinal pain, fatigue, anemia, abdominal discomfort, bloating, excess gas or joint pain are amongst the many symptoms that can suggest gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

If you suspect that you may suffer from gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, consult your GP. Specialised blood tests examining antigliadin antibodies, endomysial antibodies, and anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies are available to screen for these conditions. Sometimes a small intestinal biopsy is required for accurate testing for coeliac disease.

At the present time, the only available treatment to coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity is a gluten-free diet. Following a gluten-free diet requires careful meal planning and thorough nutritional understanding, as gluten-free foods are often nutrient-deficient.

Unless you are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive, you’d be wise to not buy into hype surrounding the gluten-free diet. You may be far better off following a balanced diet consisting of fruit, vegetables, lean protein (preferably from vegan and vegetarian sources) and pulses, nuts and grains.

Pilates for Posture

Pilates, originally named “Contrology”, was devised by Joseph Pilates, in the early 20th Century. Its inventor believed that physical and mental health are interrelated and his method aimed to strengthen both the human body and the mind.

Soon after the elaboration of the method, it became popular in New York. Over time, the method spread across the world and became well-known as “Pilates”. It is recognised to be beneficial and effective in increasing the health and fitness levels of anyone, even those who have special conditions.

There are a few basic things to know about this method before hitting the mat or jumping on the specially-designed Pilates apparatus. Let’s see what are the things to know about Pilates to help you start.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a comprehensive non-aerobic workout system. The focus of the Pilates body system is the core of the body, which is regarded as the powerhouse. This means that the Pilates method is devised to strengthen the centre of the body, to build endurance of the hips, back, abdominals, legs and arms and to improve flexibility, in particular of the spine and pelvis. Additionally, Pilates aims to improve the posture, balance and coordination of the body. The correct breathing technique is key in Pilates, too.

The Pilates method promotes perfect execution of the exercises. It does not demand a high number of repetitions, though. The method believes that less is more in case execution – with focus on each and every movement being done perfectly, with full concentration. Consequently, this method is known to improve concentration skills in addition to providing full physical conditioning.

Pilates can be used at all fitness levels. For beginners and for the unfit, it can be very gentle on the body. Its level of difficulty can be raised though, to intermediate and advanced levels. Once the higher intensity levels are reached, Pilates even challenges generally fit practitioners.

The Six Principles of Pilates 

Pilates has six important principles that every practitioner, beginner to advanced alike, should keep in mind. These are as follows:

  1. Concentration: Concentration and focus are required to achieve precise and smooth movements. The way the exercise is done is more important than the exercise itself.
  2. Control: Muscle control is key in the Pilates method, which must be retained throughout the exercise.
  3. Centre: The centre of the body, (i.e. the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks and inner thighs) is always in focus for the method. All movement starts in the centre and flows toward the limbs.
  4. Flow: Pilates aims for perfect execution of each exercise, transitioning smoothly into the next. The aim is to achieve an elegant sequence of movements.
  5. Precision: Pilates promotes correct execution of each and every movement.
  6. Breathing: Proper and full inhalation and exhalation is necessary to cleanse and invigorate the body. The Pilates method promotes breathing to be directed laterally, into the lower rib cage. The deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles need to be engaged for both inhaling and exhaling. Furthermore, the proper breathing practice must coordinate with each and every movement that is executed.

What are the Benefits of Pilates? 

  • Pilates has a number of health benefits. Let’s see how you can benefit from practicing Pilates.
  • Pilates promotes whole-body fitness. While Pilates focuses on strengthening the core of the body, it also perceives it as a whole, promoting full-body strength, muscle development and flexibility. While Pilates pays attention to the harmony of body and mind, it promotes total wellness.
  • Pilates is suitable to all fitness levels, ages and various conditions. Pilates can be effectively used by starters, professional athletes, dancers and the elderly, too. It is a highly flexible fitness regime, which can be tailored to individual needs.
  • Pilates strengthens without bulking up muscle. Pilates strengthens deep muscles of the core and tones the body by creating long and lean muscles.
  • Pilates increases flexibility. Gentle stretching and bending is used to improve flexibility and joint movements.
  • Pilates creates a strong, supple back. It supports the frame of the body and promotes good posture. It also improves movement patterns and balance. It helps you move gracefully and with ease.
  • Pilates boosts energy levels by improving circulation, stimulating the muscles and contributing to better breathing practices.
Pilates -

All of these benefits will contribute to you feeling better and fitter. You will be able to control your body better. So, don’t hesitate to hit the mat or visit the nearest Pilates studio to try the apparatus under the supervision of a well-trained, specialised instructor.

Noodles in Coconut Sauce from Magnificent Malaysia

The cuisine of Malaysia is more than exciting. As the country is a home to people from India and China, Malay dishes are heavily influenced by these cooking traditions, in particular by the Cantonese and South-Indian cooking styles. Also, for historical & geographical reasons, the Arab, Thai and Indonesian cuisines left their mark on the cooking styles in Malaysia. The dishes are typically very flavourful and exotic.

Malaysian cuisine uses lots of rice, noodles, chilies and curries and plenty of coconut milk for sauces, which makes many of its dishes smooth and tender. You will encounter tropical fruits, lots of vegetables and seafood & poultry, too.

Famous dishes include “nasi kandar”, i.e. fish curry served in chill sauce with meat and boiled eggs; “nasi dagang”, i.e. glutinous rice in coconut milk with fish curry and “nasi lemak”, a rice dish cooked in coconut milk served with anchovies, boiled egg, cucumber and peanuts. “Roti canai” is a favourite breakfast item in Malaysia, which is a savoury type of exotic pancake. “Satay” is very popular too if you are a meat-eater. Bite size beef, mutton or chicken marinated in spicy sauce and barbecued over charcoal fire is served on a bamboo stick. It is served with “ketupat”, i.e. rice cake and salad and is accompanied with a sweet & spicy sauce. “Nasi goreng” is the local fried rice, mixed up  with meat, prawns, egg and vegetables. “Char kway teow” is a noodle dish in a soy sauce & chill paste, served with garlic, prawns, bean sprouts and eggs. And there are many-many more dishes in Malaysia that are worth trying if you are in Malaysia, or if you encounter a Malaysian restaurant elsewhere.

In Malaysia, you will find that the dishes vary from region to region. Each area of the county has its own cooking tradition, therefore cooking methods, side dishes and even ingredients may vary. Be prepared for regional variations and explore regional gastronomic traditions with an open mind.

Food tends to be delicious and cheap in Malaysia. You may dine in a restaurant or just grab a plate at a food stall. You will probably find something mouth-watering.

Today, I bring you a vegetarian recipe which is inspired by Malaysian cuisine, by Simon Rimmer, from BBC Food. Nonetheless, I modified it slightly to make it healthier, without loosing the wonderful symphony of flavours of the original recipe.

BBC Food


For the spice paste:

  • 10-25g/1oz fresh ginger, peeled, according to taste
  • 2 lemongrass stalks
  • Half to 2 red chillies according to taste
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil

For the sauce:

  • 400ml/14fl oz can coconut milk
  • 250ml/9fl oz vegetable stock

For the noodles:

  • 150g/5oz fresh tofu, cut into small squares, dried on kitchen paper
  • 20 oyster mushrooms, finely sliced (other mushroom types can be used if you can’t get hold of oyster mushrooms)
  • 8-15 sugar snap peas or mange tout, blanched, cut in half lengthways
  • 400g/14oz udon noodles, cooked according to packet instructions

To serve:

  • fresh coriander leaves
  • lime wedges
  • crushed peanuts

Preparation method:

  • For the spice paste, place all of the spice paste ingredients, except the vegetable oil, into a food processor and blend to a pulp (add a bit of water if it does not mix easily).
  • With the motor still running, gradually add the oil and continue to blend until you get a loose paste (you may not need to use all the oil).
  • In the meantime, cook the udon noodles according to packet instructions.
  • For the sauce, place a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the spice paste and fry gently for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the mushrooms to the paste and fry it gently for a a few minutes to release some of its juices.
  • Add the coconut milk and vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for a further five minutes.
  • Add the cooked udon noodles to the coconut sauce.
  • Add the tofu cubes to the coconut sauce.
  • Add the sugar snap peas (or mange tout) to the sauce and stir well to combine.
  • To serve, spoon to the curry into serving bowls and garnish each with fresh coriander leaves, lime wedges and crushed peanuts, to taste.

Enjoy this flavourful, summery Malaysian style dish, as a gentle introduction to the Malaysian cuisine and let us know what you think! 

You Are What You Eat

We are constantly bombarded with health tips, new practices and diets that promise excellent results within a short time span. As the average person tends to lack in expertise in the fields of medicine, biology, biochemistry and nutrition, it is difficult to decide what is credible and what is totally unfounded mumbo-jumbo.

A good example of a controversial weight loss regime is associated with a TV show  aired on the UK’s Channel 4 between 2004 and 2007 and with the associated book, both entitled “You Are What You Eat”.  The programme was hosted, and the book written, by (Dr.) Gillian McKeith, a holistic nutritionist. She came to attention as she delivered excellent results in her above mentioned TV show. She quickly became a celebrity and a best-selling author, whose dietary programme was subsequently scrutinised by medical practitioners and nutritionists. That scrutiny revealed substantial controversies with regard to the science behind her dietary programme and her academic credentials, including her MA and PhD degrees from the already closed down, unaccredited Clayton College in the United States.

You-Are-What-You-Eat_big (1)

For example, Ben Goldacre, a doctor and Guardian columnist extensively criticised McKeith’s regime on the pages of the Guardian and on his web site He even called her “The Awful Poo Lady” referring to her diagnosing methods, (namely analysing stool samples) and referred to her dietary programme as “cargo cult science”. Professor John Garrow, the emeritus professor of human nutrition at the University of London also questioned the scientific claims of McKeith. So did Amanda Wynne, senior dietician with the British Dietetic Association, who suggested that if McKeith’s regime was to be “followed to the limit, her advice could be dangerous” (Daily Mail:

Being only a nutrition enthusiast, not a medical professional or qualified nutritionist, I am not in a position to judge her regime, question her methods or evaluate her credentials. Nonetheless, I have read her book and reviewed some of the criticism against her regime. While I concluded that the science behind her regime may not be well-founded and may be questionable, I do believe in some of her tips and I find some of her advice actually very much helpful for those who wish to lead a healthier lifestyle and wish to lose weight or shape up.

In my opinion, the book is very readable and its presentation style is good, catchy and attractive. It is not too text-heavy, it is illustrated with beautiful photography and is right in its tone to address a general audience.

I like the fact that McKeith gives a review of her personal story which led her from being a junk food eater to being passionate about food and health. In the foreword of the book, she suggests that “it’s simply going to be about changing a few habits and recognising the harm that certain foods are inflicting on you”. As long as one takes this as the core message of the book, uses it as a general guidance and does not get overly concerned about the science behind it, then it is a good and helpful book.

Kristin Hahn, Pinterest

In Chapter 1, we get a review of negative nutrition-related health facts and a calorific overview of the most commonly consumed foods in the United Kingdom. She tells us about the benefits of eating good food and the negative impacts of consuming junk food on our health. In Chapter 2, we are presented with stories of overweight and obese people; and a list of common symptoms of bad eating habits, in a generic sense. This overview, I believe, is intended to provide a tool for a self-assessment and is based on some diagnostic principles from Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, it does not elaborate on the source and principles of the diagnostic tools, so perhaps we should not take these too seriously.

In Chapter 3, we get insights about good and bad foods. We get an overview about the benefits of grains, healthy protein sources, good sweets and the reasons why “the nasties” are bad for us. We also get tips for food combination principles, which may or may not be scientifically founded. Nonetheless, “The Abundant Food List” does contain foods that are definitely from the healthy group, based on general, common knowledge.

Chapter 4 goes through the “Top 5 Bummers”, i.e. conditions that can be improved with healthy eating habits. Nutritional tips are offered for all and a self-help questionnaire is provided too.  This aiming to help the reader find out whether they suffer from any of these “bummers”. Chapter 5 elaborates on the importance of detoxifying the body, offers ideas and recipes and useful tips that help the reader to go through a detox day. Also, it elaborates on the importance of exercise.

Chapter 6 offers specific advice for certain conditions, including acne, stretch-marks, eczema, varicose veins, dull hair, unhealthy teeth & gums and a dull sex life. Again, I am not in a position to evaluate the advice here, but if anyone suffers from these conditions, perhaps the tips are worth giving a go and see whether they deliver any positive change. Chapter 7 offers a 7-day plan to boost the reader into a healthier eating regime. It offers recipes and shopping tips, including how to read labels and what to avoid in packaged food. (If you are interested in knowing more about food labels, check out my previous blog post in this topic: “Understanding What Is In Your Food”).

Chapter 8 offers “20 Super Quick Tips” that are quick fixes for dietary & other habits, while Chapter 9 give an overview on some “superfoods”, including greens, grasses, herbs, sea vegetables, leafy vegetables and sprouts. It also gives a few reasons for eating raw food. (On the topic of superfoods, perhaps you might be interested in checking out my previous blog post: “Superfoods in Action”).

I think the message of the book about healthy eating habits is definitely welcome. It emphasises the importance of eating a balanced diet that consists of lots of fresh and organic produce and fibre. Fresh fruit & veg, complex carbs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, seaweeds and healthy fats are recommended to be consumed in abundance. McKeith’s regime does not exclude the occasional egg, fish and chicken from a healthy diet, either. The book also draws advocates for variety and moderation. Some supplements are also recommended, in certain cases. It is mentioned that a healthy diet must be supplemented with mild exercise that the reader finds enjoyable. I also like the “holistic” approach of the book toward overall health and wellbeing, happiness and fitness.

J Hansen Pinterest
J Hansen, Pinterest

Having read this book, I don’t think it is a hardcore or fanatical health programme. I cannot judge the science behind it, but common sense suggest that its nutritional tips are largely beneficial to the health-conscious reader, who is interested in dropping a few pounds, or managing their weight more effectively. I would recommend trying a few recipes from its jumpstart or from its detox programme and seeing how they work for you. Giving it a go may help you decide for yourself, whether it is something for you to pursue. In order to achieve balanced health and wellbeing by way of choosing to eat healthy food, one may not need to go very deep into the science of nutrition anyway.