2018/01/28 13:48:55
James Leave a comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2011 edition
Apples have been around a long time and were possibly the first tree to be cultivated. Apples were an important winter foodstuff in Asia and Europe where they could be stored just above freezing. As Food of the Month has consistently discovered, you don't get to be a foodstuff that is cultivated for thousands of years without delivering some worthwhile nutrition.

With 1.8g fibre per 100g and 6mg of vitamin C and only 47 kcals, the apple makes a good case for its inclusion in the cutting season. However, when we look at the micronutrient content of apples a bit more closely, we see how it could live up to its reputation of keeping the doctor away. Apples punch well above their weight in terms of polyphenol content. We know that polyphenols have a role in preventing cellular damage, and that diets which are rich in polyphenols are associated with positive health outcomes such as lower risk of heart disease and cancer, and we also know there is a lot of research yet to be done on polyphenols. Significantly research is finding that extracting single compounds is not yielding much, and that the active ingredient in food is 'food' rather than a particular compound found in that food. If you want the health benefits of an apple, eat an apple. Notably, the concentration of polyphenols is highest in the apple skin.

The most prominent flavonol in apples is quercetin, followed by kaempferol and myrucetin. Chlorogenic acid is the primary phenolic acid and if you much a red apple you get anthocyanins. Analyse your apple some more and you find phlordzin and epicatechin. It appears that apples use their polyphenols to protect themselves from UV-B radiation.

If you wondered why apples go brown, this too is related to their high polyphenol content. When the apple is sliced or bruised enzymes called polyphenol oxidases (PPOs) are released and these cause the apple to quickly turn brown. When damaged apples also release large amounts of ethylene gas that increases the rate at which fruit and vegetables spoil - so one bad apple really can spoil the whole bunch!

Now apples are back in your basket, it's time to pick a good one. This is easy: bruised ones are off the menu, and any apple close to a bruised one can stay on the shelf too. Apples should have rich colours, green and yellow apples with a slight blush of colour have the richest tastes, while pale fruits tend to be rather bland. Look for firm fruits and treat them with care, beyond this choice is determined by personal taste and intended use. Red and Gold Delicious apples should be the sweetest, Braeburn and Fuji slightly tart, while Pippin and Granny Smith are the tartest but retain their texture best when cooked.
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2017/12/29 19:05:00
James 14 comments

Olive Oil

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker May 2011 edition
Olive oil extraction goes back over 5000 years to 2600-2240 BC, which is a long time, as with pretty much every food that has enjoyed centuries of consumption, olives and olive oil is a food packed with nutritional goodness.

Consumption of olive oil has spread massively from the Mediterranean, which still leads the world in consumption per head, to be a worldwide habit, and with increasing interest in health and longevity olive oil consumption has continued to rise.

Olive oil has a reputation as a good health oil, so let's look a little more closely. Chemically speaking olive oil is triacylglycerols, free fatty acids, glycerol, phosphatides, pigments, sterols and bits of olive (and sometimes olive leaf). The main triacyglycerol is oleic acid, a monosaturated omega-9 fatty acid, 55-83% of the total, linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, which is 3.5-21%, palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid, 7.5-20%, stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid, 0.5-5%, alpha-linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid for 0-1.5% of the olive oil. Olive oil has no trans fatty acids present, and to be classified as olive oil by the International Olive Oil Council, the linolenic acid content has to be lower than 0.9% of the total.

When talking about the health benefits of olive oil a lot of focus has been on the presence of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. However, the benefits of olive oil run deeper than just its favorable fatty acid profile. Olive oil is also a rich source of polyphenols: up to 5mg per 10g grams, where many other nut and seed oils contain no polyphenols. Our understanding of the health benefits of polyphenols is still in its infancy, but we know these compounds when consumed as food bring many health benefits, from lowering the risk of heart disease cancers to healthy skin and eyes. The main phenol compounds in olive oil are hydroxytyrosol and tryrosol.

The colour of olive oil comes from pigments such as chlorophyll, pheophytin and various carotenoids. And we know that carotenoids act as antioxidants, an arsenal that is added to by vitamin E. Olive oil is also a rich source of vitamin K, found in green leafy veggies and essential for healthy blood coagulation.

Convinced that olive oil is more than just health fats in a tasty liquid, here's more about the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) based in Madrid. The IOOC regulates around 95% of the world's production via its 23 member states, although the USA is not a member, and it is their classification of olive oils that is used in the UK.

Extra-virgin olive oil is produced only from virgin oil production and refers to oil that has both less than 0.8% acidity and is judged to have a superior taste. Virgin olive oil is from virgin oil production where the oil is produced via only physical production methods and has an acidity of less than 2%; it is judged to have good taste. Pure olive oil is usually a blend of refined and virgin oil production.

Refined olive oil is obtained from virgin oils where refining does not alter the chemical structure of the fatty acids and has a free acidity of not more than 0.3%, and has characteristics fixed by the IOOC. Much of the olive oil produced in the Mediterranean is too highly acidic or other wise poor in quality that it needs to be refined to produce an edible product.

Olive oil is great for you but you need to treat it carefully, especially it needs to be kept in a dark and preferably cool place. Strong light, artificial or natural causes photo-oxidation which makes for rancid olive oil. Olive oil will slowly oxidise over time naturally. However, photo-oxidation can occur at up to 30,000 times that which occurs naturally in the oil itself. When oxidized fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acid are destroyed, the oil itself will have an unpleasant flavour and odour - often bitter due to the presence of peroxides.

Extra virgin oil and even virgin olive oils are best used cold because heating burns the unrefined particles, while cheaper refined olive oils are better for cooking because they retain their characteristics. Also the strong taste of extra virgin oils can easily overpower a dish while the more subtle taste of refined oil complements it.
2017/12/22 14:38:25
James Leave a comment

Nutrition of Christmas Dinner

This article was written by Beau Radclyffe-Thomas & was originally published in The MuscleTalker December 2012 edition
Usually when talking about eating over the Christmas holidays, the common themes are 'unhealthy' and 'fattening', however there are some surprising health benefits to your Christmas dinner, which become a great way to justify indulging yourself over the festive period.

First up is turkey, a very lean white meat which is naturally low in fat, especially when the skin is removed. A great source of high quality protein, it's a typical part of a bodybuilders diet whether its Christmas time or not so feel free to indulge. Not only is turkey a high protein, lean meat, but is rich in vitamins B3 and B6, vital for brain health and energy production as well as zinc and selenium, which benefit the skin and immune system.

Cranberry sauce is packed full of antioxidants and nutrients that are essential for good health such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and potassium as well as vitamins A, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and vitamin K. Cranberry sauce is also low in calories and high in fibre.

Although most people dislike them, brussel sprouts come with a range of health benefits. This traditional Christmas vegetable is high in fibre, which aids in digestion and can help lower your cholesterol, sprouts are also packed with antioxidants and contain vitamins A, C and E and contain especially high levels of vitamin K, which promotes bone health and is essential for brain and nerve function. Another Christmas vegetable, carrots are packed with carotenoids including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lutein, these antioxidants protect the eyes and vision as well as helping protect against cancer.

Roast potatoes are a complex carbohydrate that provide lasting energy and are a much better choice than more sugary options. They contain a surprising amount of vitamin C; one medium potato contains almost half the recommended daily intake. Roast potatoes are also rich in B vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium and iron as well as being a source of dietary fibre, which promotes gut health and aids digestion. They are rich in vitamin B6, which benefits brain and nervous system health as well as benefiting energy production.
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2017/12/20 20:46:42
James 3 comments

Christmas Pudding Nutrition

This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker December 2011 edition
The now traditional Christmas, or plum, pudding is widely regarded to have its origins as a soupy porridge known as frumenty, although you can see it's a forerunner in the very earliest of mince pies. Being a dish which could keep for a long time, along with another Christmas tradition, mulled wine, plum pudding was developed as a way of keeping food from spoiling over the winter.

Early frumenty could contain beef fat (suet), prunes, currants, raisins, spices and sometimes even meats were added. This dish was definitely runny with a more soup like consistency. By the 17th Century, frumenty was more pudding than soup with eggs, breadcrumbs and even beer being added and we recognize the dish as the plum pudding we see today. It is commonly said when talking of Christmas pudding that it was banned by Oliver Cromwell, sadly. Although Oliver and his friends were kill-joys, they did not actually ban Christmas pudding; instead it was decreed that Christmas day be a fasting not feasting day. They also tried to make a lot of other fun things illegal, and when ousted their laws were simply ignored or reversed. So with Oliver gone, the path was clear for the Christmas pudding to once again become England's favorite pudding.

Traditionally Christmas pudding is made on the first Sunday before Advent, which in some parts is known as 'stir it up Sunday'. In 1714, George the First gave plum pudding his seal of approval, and the Quakers' called it the "invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon"; two things which, no doubt, served to enhance its appeal. It was also in the 1700s that meat disappeared from the dish as storage and preservation techniques improved.

In 1830 Eliza Action published the first recipe for Christmas pudding, and it was under Queen Victoria that it became a firm Christmas tradition, although that had started with George the century before. It's also said that the ingredients, making and garnish of pudding are symbolic of Jesus, the apostles, the Magi, and Jesus crown of thorns, while others see them as rather tasty.

All of this history brings us to the nutritional value of a Christmas pudding which, I hope you can see, is at best somewhat dubious. Although it should have a good amount of fibre! However, with estimates that average Christmas day calorie consumption is 7000 calories, a serious Christmas day cheat would be well advised to hit the calorie dense and immensely unhealthy Christmas Pudding as a way to push to the top of any Christmas day calorie challenge.
2017/12/17 09:55:11
James Leave a comment


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker December 2010 edition
Last year it was stuffing, so for this year's Christmas newsletter it is another traditional Christmas food: cranberry. Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs, they are found in acidic bogs throughout the cooler parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The flowers are dark pink, with distinctive petals and the fruit is a berry which is initially white, turning red when ripe.

Cranberries are available fresh or as processed products, such as juice, sauce and for a snack, dried. Cranberry sauce is the traditional condiment choice for Christmas and the American Thanksgiving meals.

The majority of health professionals believe there is a clear association between a diet which is high in fruit and vegetables and a low risk of chronic disease. Cranberry is a healthy fruit that is often over looked; they contain the most antioxidant phenols compared to 19 commonly eaten fruits. Recent research shows that these significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

Cranberry juice is more commonly used for urinary infections; they contain proanthocyanidins (PACs) that can prevent the adhesion of certain types of bacteria, including E. coli, associated with urinary tract infections, to the urinary tract wall. The anti-adhesion properties of cranberry may also inhibit the bacteria associated with stomach ulcers and gum disease.

If you have a relaxed approach to your diet over the festive period then pile on the cranberry sauce, it will make you feel better about the rest of the meal!
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2017/11/11 06:58:08
James 1 comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2011 edition
Agave nectar is touted as an alternative to both sugar and honey, presented as 100% natural, often organic and even raw, on the face of it agave nectar looks like the perfect solution. With a lower glycaemic index and glycaemic load than other non-artificial sweeteners it is an attractive product.

Made from the same plant as tequila, agave nectar appears to have impressive credentials. From manufacturers' websites you are presented with the impression that agave nectar dates back to the Aztecs and is a traditional product, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Agave nectar dates back to approximately 1990. It is made in both Mexico and South Africa; its production varies slightly depending on the variety used. In South Africa only blue agave is used, and in Mexico blue agave is also often the dominant crop. To manufacture agave from the blue agave the pineapple like core is used, while for the agave salimiana the stalk is cut before it fully grows and the liquid that collects in the core is collected daily.

Once juice has been obtained, the juice is then either heated to hydrolyse the polysaccharides into simple sugars, or treated with enzymes to hydrolyse the polysaccharides into simple sugars or more commonly heated and treated with enzymes to hydrolyse the polysaccharides that occur in the plant into the simple sugars of the final syrup. The syrup is then filtered and clarified to produce the nectar on the shelves. In pure chemistry and food production terms the processes used to produce agave nectar are the same as used to produce high fructose corn syrup from corn starch, deploying the same genetically modified enzymes and chemical agents to convert the indigestible polysaccharides (mostly insulin) of the agave plant into fructose and dextrose units. Raw nectar products do not use heat in the production process.

Agave nectar, depending on how it is processed can be up to 70% fructose, which is a very high concentration indeed; higher than is found in fruit and without the fiber, vitamins, and other goodies a whole food product brings. Agave nectar is also higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup.

Is it something for a bodybuilder? Personally, I don't think so at all. Fruit is something for a bodybuilder certainly, but adding a concentrated supplemental fructose with its specific metabolism that first replenishes liver glycogen and then gets stored as fat without any impact on circulating or muscle glycogen levels, is not a way to be lean in my book. This would be enough, but it appears that fructose in higher amounts causes appetite and hunger to be stimulated via the inhibition of leptin. For me the case against agave nectar is pretty well stacked when you consider that there are alternatives sweeteners and ingredients available, such as honey, maple syrup and even table sugar.
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2017/10/29 12:39:38
James Leave a comment


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker October 2011 edition
Pumpkins are members of the vine crops family called cucurbits and originated in Central America. However, the name pumpkin comes from the Greek word for 'large melon': pepon. At this time of year there will be plenty in the shops!

Pumpkins grow all around the world and are produced for animal feed, ornamental sales and consumption. The biggest produces are the Untied States, India, Mexico and China. The US produces around 1.5 billion pounds (680,000,000 kilograms) of pumpkins each year!

The colour of this fruit derives from the orange pigments in them; the main nutrients are potassium, alpha and beta carotene and lutein, a naturally occurring cartenoid. Pumpkins are 90% water and are high in fibre.

Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)
These are green, small and flat; most are covered by a white husk. Pumpkin seeds are a great snack either hulled or semi-hulled or you can roast them (see recipe). Pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and phytosterols and are said to lower cholesterol. 1g of pumpkin seed protein contains as much of the amino acid tryptophan as a full glass of milk!

Pumpkin Seed Oil
The oil is produced from roasted pumpkin seeds. It can be mixed with other oils as it has a strong flavour and can be used for cooking or dressings. It contains essential fatty acids that help maintain healthy blood vessels and nerves.

So at Halloween, if you partake in the tradition of carving the pumpkins to make lanterns, think about what do to with the pumpkin flesh and seeds. Too much goodness to be thrown in the bin, make soups, vegetable juice and use the seeds too!
Oven-Toasted Pumpkin Seed Recipe
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2017/10/12 17:51:19
James Leave a comment


This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2011 edition

Spinacia Oleracea or Spinach is an edible plant from the Amaranthaceae family. Spinach is one of the more popular of the green leafy vegetables and used in many cuisines worldwide. This delicate green leaf is related to other popular foods like chard, quinoa and beet. Spinach is usually found in dishes that include 'Florentine' in the title. The term apparently came from Catherine de' Medici (born in Florence) and her love of the food after she had become Queen of France.

Spinach can vary in texture from flat-leafed to a more springy ruffled leaf and vary from a light bright green to a deep dark one. It can be prepared in a variety of ways and also be eaten raw when it's young and tender. Baby spinach is often added raw in salads and readily found in most food shops, often bagged and already washed, though it is a good idea to still give it a quick rinse before consuming. Don't wash spinach before refrigerating as it will go soggy. Leaving it to soak might also leach the water-soluble nutrients into the water and out of the leaf. With the slightly older and tougher spinach leaf, its taste will be bitterer and stems will be tougher. The stems can be trimmed before or after rinsing and the cooking will make it more palatable. Especially with the more ruffled leaves, be sure to repeat the rinse until the water in the bowl is clear as the leaves can be very dirty!

Spinach doesn't need much time to cook; feel free to steam, boil, sauté or chop up and add to soup or sauce. As spinach cooks it vastly reduces in volume due to the high water content, so you can really pack a punch with a relatively small portion of the cooked leaf! A touch of soya sauce and garlic can help taste-wise if you're not as keen with the natural bittersweet (and slightly metallic) flavour. Avoid over-cooking as it turns to mush and not as pleasant to eat, unless you prefer it that way of course...

When choosing spinach try to avoid any that is dull in colour, yellowing, wilting or looks wet (has slimy texture), it is also worth smelling as it should be nice and fresh-scented. Spinach is available throughout the year but it's in season throughout the spring months.

Spinach is nutrient-dense, rich in antioxidants and packed with fibre. The cartoon figure, Popeye, was given immense strength after eating spinach from a tin, possibly based on the belief that spinach had a relatively high iron content. Which it does, along with calcium; however, a lot of it is poorly absorbed by the body. Regarding iron and to quote the article here:

'There are two types of iron in the diet: haem and non haem, each with a different mode of absorption from the intestine. Haem iron is present in meat and meat products, non-haem iron is found in plant based products such as dark green vegetables, dried fruit, etc. Haem iron is more easily absorbed whereas the amount of non-haem iron absorbed is more influenced by the iron status of the individual.'

But there's no need to stop eating tasty spinach as it is still an easy way to pack in those nutrients and fibre! It's particularly rich in Vitamins A, C and folic acid. What you can do if concerned with the above is eat it alongside foods that enhance iron absorption.
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