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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2017/09/13 17:02:52
James 16 comments


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker February 2011 edition
Although pork is the most commonly consumed meat in the world, forming the staple in many countries, it is not a meat that is commonly thought of as a bodybuilding staple food, and it is a good question to ask why. If we discount any conspiracy theories involving Joe Weider and the US Beef industry then we have to look at its nutritional content.

Of course pork is not just one meat, it is a variety of different cuts, and the nutritional content varies significantly by cut. For example 100g of belly pork contains 258kcal, 19g protein and 20g of fat, while a pork chop weighs in with 227kcal, 15g protein, and 18g fat. However, this is not the whole pork story. Pork fillet is lean; containing 147kcal, 22g protein and 6.5g fat, whereas chicken comes in with 148kcal, 32g protein and 2.2g of fat.

With 10g of protein less than chicken and a similar price it becomes easy to see why pork fails to make a regular appearance on the bodybuilders table. When choosing meat both chicken and lean beef (steak) are simply better, and if you want to increase your fat intake, fish trumps pork due to the high saturated fat content of pork compared to the more desirable fats found in oily fish. In bodybuilding terms, pork is the guy that doesn't train legs, looks good for a while, but ultimately isn't complete.

Of course, variety is a good thing too, and pork can find it way onto your plate now and again, not only in the off season bacon sandwich.
2017/09/05 16:31:20
James Leave a comment

Are you Eating Enough Fruit and Veg?

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker February 2011 edition
It's all too common to see people who are into bodybuilding shoving vitamin and mineral supplements down their neck thinking that, because they do this, they don't need to eat much fruit and veg. This is a major mistake; fruit and veg provide a whole load more than vitamins and minerals: they provide different types of fibre and numerous other antioxidants. Also, the vitamins and minerals they contain are often more bioavailable - i.e. we absorb them more efficiently - than those in pills.

You'll have no doubt come across the Government campaign of '5 a day' encouraging us to have at least five servings of fruit and veg per day. However, note the 'at least'; in reality five is the absolute minimum we should be consuming; studies have shown that for optimal health we should be having at least seven or eight servings per day. And, seeing as bodybuilders feel that we need higher amounts then everyone else shouldn't we really be aiming for a minimum of eight per day?

Hang on a minute: that does sound a lot, especially when most of us aren't even making the five. Home-made smoothies are really useful. Most of us consume a few protein drinks everyday anyway, so why not add protein powders to fruit smoothies? Make up a smoothie with three servings of fruit and divide this into two drinks to consume in a day.

Include two portions of different vegetables with your main meal and also one or two salads with your smaller meals each day. Then, with a couple of items of fruit eaten with your snacks, you've easily made the eight servings required, and it wasn't that hard.
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2017/07/24 17:04:17
James Leave a comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker August 2010 edition
Cherries have been in the news this month because a US study reported that cherry juice could improve sleep for insomniacs. The study, funded by a cherry juice manufacturer is, of course, complete rubbish.

The cherry, is often called a super fruit - we all know that 'super fruit' is shorthand for 'I am about to charge a stupid amount of money for a product that does not work', and we might be inclined to overlook the cherry, leaving it lost and alone on the supermarket shelf. The cherry is a fleshy stone fruit from the genus Prunus, a family that includes the plum, peach and apricot. There are a lot of species of cherry but the two most commonly commercially cultivated are either Prunus avium, the wild cherry (sometimes called the sweet cherry), or the Prunus cerasus, the sour cherry.

The cherry has only 48 calories per 100g; and being mainly from fructose the cherry provokes very little by way of insulin response making it a handy choice for those cutting. Like any fruit, the cherry is more than a little ball of water and sugars. The cherry's party piece is its exceptional beta-carotene content, which it brings along with it a healthy dose of vitamin C, iron, folate, potassium and magnesium. It is then worthy of the title of 'healthy snack', with a delivery of nutrients demanded by any hard training athlete.

Tasting great, the cherry has a rightful place in your fruit bowl, low fat yoghurt, bowl of oats or even protein shake; just remember to take out the stones before you blend! This is how to find the choicest cherry: Avoid cherries with dark coloured stems; they should be firm to the touch but not hard. Look for shiny, firm, plump fruit with fresh stems and unbroken skin. Avoid cherries with wrinkled skin or white spots that indicate mould as well as mushy or ones that have gone mouldy. Remember having mouldy fruit makes other fruit go mouldy quicker!
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2017/07/10 16:32:38
James Leave a comment


This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2010 edition
The word biltong derives from Dutch, with bil meaning bottom, and tong meaning strips - literally speaking strips of meat cut from the animals back end; if it were a cow this would mean silverside or rump. However, biltong as we know it today comes from the meat preserved by the Voortrekkers who migrated from Cape Town to the interior of what we know as South Africa today. For those who like history, this is known as the Great Trek. Traditionally biltong was made from meat available, and likely to be game or wild caught meat as opposed to beef. In the hot conditions of the South African interior the travellers needed to preserve a large quantity of meat quickly - biltong is how they did it.

First off, although biltong looks a lot like jerky, it isn't. When you make biltong you use vinegar, when you make jerky you don't. In addition biltong and jerky are spiced differently. These days biltong is made from beef because of its low relative cost, but any meat, even fish, can be made into biltong, so if you are travelling in South Africa watch out for the different varieties.

Because biltong is made from raw meat it will have the same nutritional value as that meat. This means high in protein and virtually no carbohydrates, with very little else except fat. And fat is what you have to watch, cheap ingredients will be higher in fat than the quality ones, so watch your packet. That said biltong is not high in fat either. Mainstream advice will warn you that biltong is high in salt, and it is. However, many health conscious types have very low salt intakes, and high salt losses - meaning that salty foods, far from being a no go are actually a good idea: know your diet and stay healthy on this one.

Biltong is great for the pre-contest bodybuilder; if you are low carbing it is ideal. High in protein, low in carbs, it's chewy and salty, so it will help kill the cravings and if you are trying a sodium load the salt won't go amiss either. In addition to that, salty foods make you thirsty so biltong will help you get the fluid in too.

Overall, biltong is a snack, calorie dense because it is dried and high in salt. For your average Joe who barely knows a dumbbell from a barbell, it's a definite non-starter; send them to the carrot sticks. However, for those doing it right and packing the muscle, biltong is an outstanding snack and worthy of a place in your cupboard.
For those who feel adventurous you can even make biltong at home!
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