Are any breakfast cereals really healthy?

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I get Which? magazine – the consumer magazine that reviews all sorts of products independently – from electrical items to financial products to food. A while ago a little card came with the magazine to put in your handbag which has a summary of the levels of sugars, fat, saturates and salt which are the considered high, medium and low per 100g, i.e the government recommendations.

The idea is that you can use it to check against food labels when you go shopping.  It was this little card that first made me aware of what is considered to be a high sugar content in food.

The figures are, per 100g, less than 5g is low, between 5-15g is medium, and above 15g is high.

I picked up my husband’s favourite breakfast cereals and pointed out that despite the green tick for wholegrain on the front and the multitude of vitamins, the cereals were high in sugar.

shreddies

nesquik cereal

Shreddies have 14.9g of sugar per 100g (borderline high) and Nesquik has 35g of sugar per 100g (very high!) 

fruit n fibre

I then picked up my own favourite cereals which nominally looked a lot healthier –  bran, oats and muesli and the like – and was a little surprised to find that they were nearly as bad, and still classed as high in sugar.

Fruit n Fibre, probably the cereal I’ve eaten the most over the last few years has 24g of sugar per 100g (also rather high.) Some of this is from the dried fruit content but even so it’s still a lot of sugar.

Only the plainest of plain cereals seem to fall below this marker. Very boring cereals like Shredded Wheat (who’s for cardboard?) and porridge which is more palatable with the addition of…sugar!

It worries me firstly that these products are marketed as being the healthy way to start the day despite having as much sugar as half a chocolate bar, and secondly that a large proportion of this marketing is aimed at children.

Having consumed vast amount of Coco Pops and other similar cereals as a child I know for a fact that cereal choice for children is based on the cereal packaging and closest possible taste to confectionery that you can persuade your parents to buy. Oh,  and the free gift in the packet in my day – I don’t think they do those as much any more.

So half the nation goes to work or school and does a morning’s work on a bowl of sugary vitamins.

It may be quick and easy, it may contain some wholegrains and vitamins – but are we doing ourselves more harm than good? Bring back bacon and eggs…

 

 

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Making the most of lighter evenings

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Where I live in the UK, its now just light when I get home from work at 6pm. At the end of the month the clocks will be going forward and so by then I should get an hour and a half of daylight when I get home. I don’t know about you but somehow just the fact its lighter makes me more inclined to get up and do something. If its dark when I get home I have to fight the urge to curl up in the lounge with a cup of tea and the telly for the whole evening.

I only realised quite recently that the clock change in the UK is not for 6 months. I’d always assumed it was half and half but never double checked – and actually we have seven months of British Summertime with lighter evenings, and then five months of GMT.

Anyway, if its the same where you are, I hope you are looking forward to being more active in the lighter evenings too. Here are some suggestions as to how to use that extra hour or two of light in the early evening and get a bit of activity in at the same time:

  • Get out and do some gardening. If your garden is anything like mine is at the moment, it probably needs it!
  • Go for a walk somewhere scenic
  • Hang some washing outside or shake some rugs outside
  • Clean the windows 
  • Scrub the front door
  • Clean out the garden shed (or in my case, have a look to ascertain the damage from the shed roof leaking all winter!)
  • Take up gentle jogging
  • Go geocaching
  • Go shopping
  • Take your kids/dog to the park and play frisbee or catch
  • Clean off the barbecue ready for summer (I’m being hopeful here that the UK wont yet again have a wash out summer)
  • Wash the car

What’s your favourite active way to enjoy the lighter evenings?

 

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Gressingham Duck Breast with Mint, Lemon and Red Chilli

The last time I tried a whole duck breast was at a work dinner, probably 10 years ago. What I received appeared to be a piece of rubber with a layer of fat on top. Needless to say it put me off duck, apart from the crispy kind you get from the chinese takeaway.

However I finally decided to give it another go, and followed a recipe off the website of the particular brand of duck breasts that I bought, so I would know I was cooking it properly.

duck breast

Ingredients:

2 Gressingham Duck® Breasts
1 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dried or fresh thyme
2 tbsp fresh mint
Juice of half a lemon
1 red chilli
Salt and pepper

Method:

1) Preheat oven 220°C, fan 200°C, Gas Mark 7. Mix 3 tablespoons of the oil with the five-spice and thyme and set aside. Then finely chop the mint and chilli and mix with remaining oil and lemon juice, and set aside. Score each duck breast 6-8 times across the skin and season.

2) Place the duck breasts skin-side down in a pan on a low to medium heat (no oil) and cook for about 6 minutes or until the skin is golden and crisp. Turn the breasts over and quickly seal. After pouring off any excess fat put the duck in a roasting tray skin-side down and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 10-20 minutes depending on how you like your duck, from rare to well done. 5 minutes before the end of cooking time, turn the breasts over and lacquer with the 5 spice mix.

Duck breast cooking times:
10 minutes Rare
15 minutes Medium
20 minutes Well done
All ovens vary in performance, this is a guide only.

3) Once cooked, place the duck breast on a chopping board and rest for 5-10 minutes (this is really important and makes the duck even more succulent). Then slice the breasts and pour over the mint, lemon and chilli mix. Serve with crusty bread and salad. Enjoy!

Comments:

I followed this recipe pretty much to the letter. I only had a bottle of lemon juice in so I did use that instead of the fresh lemon juice. I cooked my duck for between 15 and 20 minutes. Having not done it before I didn’t want to end up with it too pink – and also one of my duck breasts was larger than the other so I thought I should err on the side of well done to make sure both of them cooked.

Anyway, they turned out perfectly. The duck was really tender and juicy, the fat was crispy and tasty, and the two sauces used complemented each other very well. I wouldn’t have thought of having mint with duck, but it worked.

I will definitely be getting duck again, but the downside is that it is quite pricey – its like buying steak – so it will be a once in a while thing rather than a staple.

 

 

15 minutes Medium

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Why is dark chocolate better than milk chocolate?

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If you go on almost any kind of diet, a recommended treat will be a square of dark chocolate. But what is the difference between a dark chocolate and milk chocolate – is it just milk, or is there something more to it? And why is dark chocolate said to be good for you, but you don’t ever hear anyone recommending a bar of plain Dairy Milk on a diet? What about white chocolate – is it even chocolate?

What is chocolate 

Chocolate is made from the cocoa bean, which comes from the cacao tree. The bean goes through processes to produce what is called chocolate liquor.

The chocolate liquor consists of cocoa solids (which can be used to make cocoa powder) and cocoa butter. Dried chocolate liquor is called cocoa mass. Chocolate liquor or cocoa mass is blended with more cocoa butter and other ingredients to make chocolate.

Dark chocolate has considerably more cocoa solids than milk chocolate.  A good dark chocolate should have at least 70% cocoa solids. A good milk chocolate also contains milk powder and should have 30% cocoa solids. White chocolate only contains cocoa butter and no cocoa mass. Sugar is also added to sweeten the products.

In lower quality chocolate vegetable fats and oils will be used instead of cocoa butter. Vegetable fats are often chemically processed fats rather than natural fats like the cocoa butter.

I have two bars of chocolate here at home and am going to compare the ingredients. Remember that ingredients are listed in the order of largest proportion first:

This Green & Blacks bar contains the following:

green and blacks

Organic Cocoa Mass
Organic Raw Cane Sugar
Organic Cocoa Butter
Soya Lecithin – Emulsifier
Organic Vanilla Extract

Includes 70% cocoa solids

The chocolate in this Cadbury’s Caramel bar contains the following:

caramelMilk
Sugar
Cocoa Butter
Cocoa Mass
Vegetable Fat
Emulsifiers (E442, E476)
Flavourings

Includes 23% cocoa solids

Already I’m think I’m beginning to see which is the better product.

How is the nutritional value of chocolate determined?

All that information you see in the media about how chocolate is good for you – what basically underlies it is the nutritional value of the cocoa bean.

The cocoa bean is a high quality source of bioflavonoids, which provide strong antioxidant benefits, and may be good for cardiovascular health.

Antioxidants counter some of the harmful processes in the body caused by free radicals and oxidation. I won’t pretend to understand the detail of this, as I am not a biologist, but I understand free radicals = bad, antioxidants = good.

So to see how good for you chocolate is, the higher the cocoa content the better basically – hence dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate.

It is also better to eat a good quality chocolate than a mass produced bar, as you can see above, the general quality of ingredients is also a factor, particularly the fats.

None of these good factors in respect of chocolate have been quantified however, and as chocolate also contains sugar and other ingredients, it is generally advised to keep portion sizes small – a square or two after dinner two or three times a week in an ideal world.

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Funny Fruit: Lychees

I saw fresh lychees in the supermarket this week for the first time in a while, and remembered how nice they are, if a little on the odd side. I had a phase where I bought all the various unusual types of fruit and gave them a go, and lychees are probably one of the most interesting.

The lychee looks like this:

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It’s got a nobbly skin that’s fairly hard. You have to peel the lychee to get to the fruit inside. The skin peels off very easily once you have got into it, and the fruit itself has a shiny white flesh which surrounds a brown pit, which is a bit like a date pit but shinier.

932732_lychee_step_by_step_1Aleksandra P.

I tried these fruit initially as someone suggested they were a good fruit for eating as a snack if you are trying to be healthy because it takes a bit of time to peel and get at the fruit.

Lychees somewhat bizarrely taste like rose flavoured grapes. That sounds weird, but if you try one you will know exactly what I mean. I suppose they are an acquired taste, and not something I would eat every day, but they make a nice change.

To keep the cost down you can also buy tinned lychees from the big supermarkets. Obviously all the hard work of peeling has been done here for you! They don’t taste quite the same tinned, but then nothing tinned is quite the same as fresh anyway.

Lychees are native to China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, although many other countries grow them now.

In terms of nutrition, if you eat 9 lychees you will get your vitamin C requirement for the day. Lychees also provide the body with the minerals copper, potassium and phosphorus.

So if you fancy trying something new why not give the lychee a go.

 

 

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