To be honest, I’ve been eating a largely plant based diet for the past few months but I hadn’t committed to it 100%. I had already been eating vegan for the week prior to taking the vegan pledge. I decided against backdating the start of my pledge and didn’t include the previous week as part of the 30 days. That means that when I finish the 30 day pledge I will actually have completed 37 days vegan ???? This is far more than the seven or eight consecutive days I would’ve ever managed before!
Day one of my vegan pledge officially started on 6/7/17 ????
Week One: Vegan Food Diary
Vegan Food Diary: Breakfast
Porridge was an easy go to breakfast. I soaked my Merry Mill oats the night before in dairy free milk. I topped my oats with fruit – banana and frozen berry as well as adding flax and goji berry mix (from Aldi) and chia seeds. This is a great filling breakfast.
Pancakes were another breakfast option this week! These ones were made with quinoa and flax and smothered in coconut yoghurt, maple syrup and berries!
Smoothies were also on the menu. Filled with fruit, nut milk, veggies, linseed and chia with a scoop of plant based protein powder.
Vegan Food Diary: Midweek Dinners
The first dinner I made was a coconut chana masala. I love this meal! Served with brown basmati.
I also made two sweet potato and puy lentil bakes. One went to the freezer!
I made a vegan cider and samphire chowder as shown below.
Below you can see my pesto pasta with olive and sun-dried tomato and sprinkled with nutritional yeast flakes. This was a quick and easy dinner to throw together and exceptionally tasty!
Another super easy dinner was this loaded baked sweet potato filled with black bean chilli, guacamole, chillies and vegan cheese.
Vegan Food Diary: Weekend Food
This pasta dish is similar to the previous one but with the addition of plenty of fresh basil. Such a yummy comfort food! I used Dove’s Farm brown rice pasta.
I marinated some tempeh as shown above (uncooked). Tempeh is one of my new favourite foods and this was my first time having it! I fried it and served it with some black bean burger bites, avocado salsa and home made potato wedges. One of my favourite meals this week!
I also ate out three times this week and I’m going to add those to a separate post on eating out as a vegan!
I definitely ate abundantly this week and enjoyed a balanced diet which included various sources of carbohydrate, protein and fat. There were so many varieties of flavour to enjoy in each dish.
I definitely feel like I bought far too much food in my first vegan shop! I didn’t realise how full I would feel eating this way, that has probably been the biggest surprise. The good thing is that a lot of what I purchased are pantry staples that I thought would last me the thirty days – they’ll actually more likely last me two or three months!
Hope you enjoyed this vegan food diary! Lots more to come as I continue on the 30 day vegan pledge ????
Over the last few months I have spent some time learning more about the values of veganism. It is something I want to explore again, having already completed a vegan challenge back in August 2015. In fact, that initial vegan series was the very first I published when I started The Clean Coconut!
Back then, despite how much I wanted to be, I wasn’t completely sold on veganism. I didn’t feel entirely sustained on the diet and whilst I certainly reduced my consumption of animal products from then on, I didn’t completely eliminate them.
Over the last few months I have been eating a more plant based diet than ever. I have found that eating this way really suits me and fits well with my values. I have also realised that when I initially undertook the vegan challenge I probably wasn’t eating enough calories. I was following the Beyoncé diet and even though I never felt hungry during that initial vegan week, I don’t think my body was getting the energy I needed on what was an 80% carbohydrate, 10% protein and 10% fat calorie split. The plan was quite low calorie, and even though I often doubled portion sizes and added in extra snacks, I still lost weight over the course of the week. Clearly I can afford to fill up even more on a plant based diet in order to feel truly energised and sustained!
At the time I blamed a lack of supplementation for the weakness I felt by the end of that initial vegan week, however I now realise it was also due to the low calorie diet. I have completed many more vegan weeks since then, particularly in recent months, and I have not experienced those same feelings. I have eaten abundantly, without following any particular “plan”. I have learned that veganism can make for a nourishing and satisfying diet.
When I look back on what I dubbed the “improvable” aspects of the vegan diet I followed in 2015, I can see how many of them have in fact now been improved upon. When I first took on that week long vegan challenge I was living in Belfast. There were absolutely no vegan restaurants there at the time. Now, in 2017, I can name at least four restaurants which cater specifically (and three exclusively) for a vegan diet. I can also name countless other restaurants which have extensive vegan menus available. Thankfully there has been a huge upsurge in people seeking to follow a plant-based diet and the market has finally begun to cater for them.
In 2015 I also felt that there weren’t many vegan alternatives to convenience foods but this is certainly not the case now. I can think of plenty of brands offering vegan alternatives! There are also tonnes of “accidentally” vegan foods ranging from the clean eating variety to the not-so-clean-eating types (hello Oreos, Skittles and Jelly Tots!) . When I first tried a vegan diet I had to go to specialised health food shops to get alternatives like vegan cheese but these are now readily available in the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s. I can even think of three local Belfast pizzerias that offer a vegan cheese alternative on their restaurant and take away menus. These vegan options are only going to continue to grow as demand increases.
Until now, I don’t think I’ve ever spent longer than seven consecutive days on a vegan diet at any one time. Currently I’ve been eating a vegan diet for 14 days and have committed to sticking to it throughout the thirty day pledge I’ve made with the Vegan Society (and hopefully beyond that!). I took the pledge seven days ago. I hope to share my experience with you through various blogs, reviews, and food diaries over the next thirty days.
Of course veganism is about much more than just a plant-based diet. It is about living a life that does not contribute to animal cruelty or exploitation in any way – including via the products we use, the entertainment we choose and the clothes we wear. It can seem overwhelming but even small changes can help to create a more sustainable planet and healthier environment for ourselves and for future generations. Revisiting veganism for the next thirty days certainly can’t do any harm!
Its been a while and its safe to say that for me, the last few months have been quite a whirlwind! If you follow my social media accounts you will know that at the end of March I was involved in a car crash which essentially stopped me in my tracks and left me with injuries that I am still dealing with. While I focused on recovery, my blog and my training definitely took a back seat! Now that summer is in full swing, I am hoping to have time to write and share new blog posts with you more frequently ?
But it certainly hasn’t all been bad news! Many of you will also know that in June 2017 myself and my now fiancé Ciarán got engaged ?? So it has been an exciting month of catching up with friends and family and enjoying this very special time in our lives ?
Finally, I have spent a lot of time over the past few months taking the time to reevaluate my priorities. When life suddenly stops you in your tracks and turns your plans upside down it gives you reason to think twice about what is truly important, and that has been a blessing. I am so grateful for the wonderful friends and family, near and far, who have shared in our joyous times and been so supportive in the more difficult times over the last few months.
Here’s to a deeper layer of understanding being unveiled in this journey called life.
Low FODMAP eating takes a bit of getting used to. It can be easy to make mistakes on the diet, especially in the initial stages. Not being able to reach for a convenient snack or treat can create a feeling of deprivation and frustration. It took me a while to figure out some go-to treats or convenience foods that I could rely on while still strictly following a FODMAP safe diet.
Of course it goes without saying that some of these options are just treats and shouldn’t make up the bulk of your eating. After all, if you are living on pizza and chocolate your digestions probably isn’t likely to improve drastically!
Remember that fructose needs to be limited on the low FODMAP diet. Sucrose (table sugar) is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose. Whilst glucose helps the absorption of fructose in the small intestine, thus making sucrose FODMAP safe, excess amounts of sucrose may still be malabsorbed. Therefore, it is important not to binge on sugary FODMAP safe foods as you may inadvertently be eating too much fructose for your intestine to cope with absorbing. That said, not everyone who follows the low FODMAP diet will be a fructose malabsorber.
It is important to regularly check the ingredients of anything you intend to eat on the low FODMAP diet. Product ingredients can change and while these options were perfectly safe when I was following the diet, they may not always be in the future.
Finally, remember that more and more foods are being tested for their FODMAP load, so going forward, there may be additional options that become FODMAP safe. (Yay!)
A Dozen FODMAP Safe Options:
Pizza Express Gluten Free Margarita
I was very excited when I realised I could still enjoy pizza on the low FODMAP diet. Pizza Express’ gluten free margarita is available to buy in the supermarket to cook at home too! I picked mine up in Sainsbury’s. I also dined at the Pizza Express restaurant on one occasion and chose this low FODMAP option. When I make the margarita at home I often add my own toppings so that I can vary the pizza’s flavour. I add the likes of olives, spinach, rocket, parma ham and other low FODMAP options.
2. Mark’s and Spencer’s Made Without Wheat Chocolate Chip Shortbread Rounds
These biscuits made for a really nice treat with a cup of tea and were also a good option for taking along when visiting friends or family.
3. Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate
I am a huge fan of Green & Black’s and their dark chocolate is perfect for the low FODMAP diet. Again be mindful of sugar intake. I especially like to go for the 85% cocoa bar.
4. Emily Fruit Crisps:
Whilst dried fruit is not FODMAP safe, these banana chips are safe once portion controlled. Try sprinkling on oats or pancakes for some sweet crunch.
5. Montezuma’s Sea Dog Dark Chocolate with Lime and Sea Salt
I wasn’t sure that this flavour combination would work but actually it was delicious and something different. You can get sick of the same flavours when on a restrictive diet so I found this a nice alternative for a new burst of flavour.
6. Booja-Booja Chocolate Truffles
Booja-Booja chocolate truffles are hands down my favourites! Bare in mind that the various flavours will contain different FODMAP loads. These hazelnut truffles would have to be limited in portion (due to the hazelnuts), other flavours would have a lower FODMAP load. These are delicious!
7. Mini Moos Bunnycomb Bar
This vegan and gluten free chocolate is so nice! The crunchy “bunnycomb” flavour is so tasty.
8. Doves Farm Cookies
These Doves Farm cookies are organic and free from gluten, milk, peanut, egg and soya. They are FODMAP safe and come in a number of flavours including stem ginger (as above), a chocolate chip variation and an extra indulgent double chocolate flavour. Warning: these are addictive!
9. Artisan Bread Organic
I can’t say enough about how great these Artisan Bread Organic options are. Check out their website to see their range. I ordered the pizza bases, quinoa and buckwheat breads, gluten free sourdough, oaties and gluten free scones. All of these options were low FODMAP, gluten free and most of them (minus the sourdough) were also free of added yeast. They are traditionally made using leaven making them easier to digest. Check out the pizza (below) that I made using one of their bases. It was incredibly good!
10. Mothergrain Express Quinoa
Not a typical ‘treat’ but these express quinoa packs are so handy for filling out a meal. A perfect low FODMAP convenience and a great way to add fibre to the diet.
11. Big Oz Quinoa Flakes
I used these quinoa flakes to switch up my usual bowl of oats. Another great low FODMAP option and again a brilliant way to add more whole grains and fibre to the diet. A very wholesome option!
There you have it. A dozen low FODMAP options that I relied on when following the diet! I hope it is helpful. Let me know what options you like best. I would love to know what other treats and convenience foods you tend to rely on when on the low FODMAP diet too!
As you may know, I recently spent six weeks following a strict low FODMAP diet. One of my main concerns upon beginning the diet was how I would flavour my meals. The low FODMAP diet cuts out garlic and onion, both of which form the base of many soups, sauces, casseroles and stocks. Because I love to cook, I knew I would have to get my thinking cap on and find a way to add flavour to my meals whilst still keeping them strictly low FODMAP. Below I have listed the main ingredients I relied on for adding low FODMAP flavour to my meals!
Low FODMAP Flavour
Garlic Infused Olive Oil
The holy grail of low FODMAP flavour is garlic infused olive oil. Garlic is most certainly out, but FODMAPs cannot leach into oil in the same way they can leach into water. This effectively means that infusing oil with garlic and then removing all of the actual garlic pieces will render the remaining oil low FODMAP. I didn’t make my own garlic infused olive oil but I did find bottles of it in Tesco. I love garlic so for me it was a great find!
Spring Onion & Chives
For onions I substituted spring onion (green part only!) and chives. I was really surprised at how great they were for flavouring my meals in place of onions. I tended to use the chives in salads and the spring onion in cooked meals.
I had never heard of this spice until I started the low FODMAP diet. It is a pungent spice that is said to mimic the flavour of onion. It should be used sparingly as it can overpower a meal. I typically used a half teaspoon or so when I was making the likes of a curry or bolognese.
I love capers and they are a great flavourful addition, particularly to fish and pasta dishes. I often added a few drained capers to my dishes.
Olives seem to be something one either loves or hates – I love them! They add great flavour to dishes. For a hotter flavour variation try pimento stuffed olives too.
Tabasco is a FODMAP safe hot sauce that can be used to add flavour to dishes. I’m a big fan of hot sauce so I was glad to find one I could use while on the diet!
Thankfully most spices are FODMAP safe. I used plenty of turmeric, paprika (smoked and sweet!), chilli flakes and cayenne pepper while on the low FODMAP diet.
Most herbs are FODMAP safe too! I stocked up on lots of fresh and dry herbs to use in my cooking. I mainly relied on basil, oregano, parsley, coriander, rosemary, thyme and sage.
Salt and Pepper
Plain and simple and FODMAP safe!
Tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
I used these to make sauces for stir fries and they gave great flavour. Try a FODMAP safe soy sauce for the same effect.
Lea & Perin’s Worcestershire Sauce
This is FODMAP safe in small amounts – up to 2 tablespoons.
Another great FODMAP safe condiment – make sure the brand you choose contains no added high FODMAP foods in the ingredients.
Tomato Ketchup and/or Purée
I sometimes mixed ketchup and mayo to make a mary-rose sauce for another low FODMAP flavour. I found tomato puree fantastic in bolognese and lasagne recipes. Be sure the ketchup you choose has no high FODMAP ingredients.
I usually peel my ginger root and freeze the thumbs to grate into dishes as needed.
This also freezes well and can be added to curries and other dishes for low FODMAP flavour.
Get the real thing from an Asian supermarket and use sparingly! I often add fish sauce to stir fries along with my tamari.
Lemon and Lime
Lemon and lime are great for salsas and salad dressings. They give a great kick and are FODMAP safe!
Vinegar is a great way to add low FODMAP flavour to salads. I often used apple cider vinegar. Be careful with balsamic vinegar as it has a FODMAP limit.
Low FODMAP Stock
I still made my homemade chicken stock while on the low FODMAP diet, but I had to make some changes to my recipe. I didn’t include any celery or onion but I did use green spring onion and carrot along with my chicken carcass and some other low FODMAP veggie scraps and herbs! Having lots of this stock in the freezer made flavouring my one-pot dinners very easy! I was pleasantly surprised that the low FODMAP version of my stock was just as flavourful as my normal recipe.
Fermented Vegetables and Pickled Foods:
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you will know that I love fermented foods. I had to be careful about which ones I included in my low FODMAP diet. I mainly stuck to fermented ginger carrots and sauerkraut. You can pretty much ferment any low FODMAP vegetable you like to make it burst with flavour! Pickles are also great, I used gherkins in some meals while I was eating low FODMAP.
There are plenty of cheeses that are FODMAP safe. Great low FODMAP flavour options are parmesan, mature cheddar, feta and blue cheese. Arla also do a great lactose free range.
I often used anchovies to make the base of sauces for pasta dishes. They add amazing low FODMAP flavour.
Red and white wine can be added to plenty of recipes to add a depth of low FODMAP flavour. Of course the alcohol evaporates when cooked but the flavour remains!
These have a FODMAP limit but can be used in small amounts for added flavour.
…And for Something a little Sweeter!
A great low FODMAP sweetener. Ration sensibly ???
Delicious in sweet recipes. Peanut butter can also be a lovely ingredient to add to a bowl of oats or to spread on low FODMAP toast.
Cacao and Dark Chocolate
A perfectly indulgent low FODMAP flavour to use in the creation of lots of decadent desserts.
Try using vanilla extract or vanilla pods when creating sweet options for another flavour option.
And there you have it; twenty eight low FODMAP flavourful additions to include in your diet. Of course I use most of the above whether I’m eating low FODMAP or not! Once you get the hang of eating low FODMAP you will start to feel less deprived and realise that there is a wealth of flavourful foods to choose from. Eating out still poses a challenge when eating low FODMAP but if you can get into the habit of cooking at home, you can be sure there are plenty of ways to create a variety of meals that are full of flavour.
Please remember that the low FODMAP diet is a medically recommended short-term elimination diet and should only be followed under the guidance of a registered, FODMAP trained dietician. Please also be aware that research into FODMAPs is ongoing and FODMAP safe foods and limits may change. Always consult the latest research and check the ingredients as these may change too. I found the King’s College London FODMAP iphone app invaluable while on the diet, as was the Monash low FODMAP app.
Don’t forget to share your low FODMAP flavour inspirations with me too!
In my last blog post I talked about having to eat lots of gluten-filled foods for two months before being tested for Coeliac Disease. It wasn’t particularly pleasant but thankfully it turned out I didn’t have Coeliac Disease. Woohoo!
Upon this lack of diagnosis, I was advised to follow the Low FODMAP diet. FODMAP is an acronym standing for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. These are the fermentable carbohydrates that must be removed or reduced in the diet when following the low FODMAP plan. Essentially, low FODMAP is a type of elimination diet. It is only temporary and is designed to allow one to pinpoint the trigger foods for their digestive discomfort. The low FODMAP diet is not meant to be followed long term without reintroducing foods.
The Low FODMAP diet was developed by researchers at Monash University Australia. It has been used to treat IBS with a success rate of about 70%, when followed correctly under the direction of a trained dietician. A quick google search and I was able to book in with a local dietician who was fully FODMAP trained by Kings College London. Great!
I must confess I had heard of FODMAPs long before commencing the diet myself, and I always thought the idea of following such a strict elimination diet seemed pretty bleak. I knew of a few people using the probiotic Symprove alongside their low FODMAP diet and I really felt for them and thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have to follow such a strict diet! The irony! At that time, the main thing I knew about the low FODMAP diet was that it was very complicated and garlic and onion were on the restricted list! (Even now I think those are the two most difficult things to cut out, simply because they are in everything, especially when eating out! But I found a way around it…)
Low FODMAP: What’s Out?
Let me explain a little more about what foods are restricted. Please do not take this to be an exhaustive list at all. As I said, the diet is very complicated and there are numerous foods that have to either be cut out completely or restricted to a specific small portion.
Fructans: These are poorly absorbed in all people, but may only cause symptoms in some. They include the likes of wheat and rye.
Galacto-oligosaccharides: Also poorly absorbed in all people. They include pulses and legumes.
Polyols: Poorly absorbed in many people. These are sugar alcohols and can be found in sweet potato and avocado.
Fructose: Malabsorbed only in some people. Glucose helps the absorption of fructose so it is mainly foods with fructose levels in excess of glucose that are restricted. However, overall fructose intake has to be limited regardless as glucose only helps absorption of fructose to a point. Foods that have to be avoided include honey, agave, mango and some other fruits.
Lactose: Again this may only be malabsorbed in some people. Includes yogurt and milk, though lactose free versions are allowed. Mature cheddar and other low lactose dairy is FODMAP safe also.
Many of the foods that are restricted in the low FODMAP diet have been shown to contribute to symptoms of IBS in susceptible individuals. These symptoms include bloating, cramping, gas, constipation and diarrhoea. Whilst both the doctor and dietician agreed that I don’t have IBS (thankfully!) I have suffered with bloating and because I completely got rid of this issue before when I followed my original elimination diet and took Symprove, I figured that there might also be some trigger foods that I haven’t realised aren’t suiting me.
When I started to become bloated again I realised I had been eating a lot of sourdough bread – this connection to symptoms and bread was one of the reasons I was sent for Coeliac testing. In fact, it is not recommended by medical professionals that one commence a low FODMAP diet until Coeliac Disease has been completely ruled out.
It turns out that whilst gluten is not a FODMAP (it is a protein not a carbohydrate) wheat, barley and rye are high in FODMAPs. Therefore, it makes sense to me to try low FODMAP and see if I can work out exactly what my triggers are. Perhaps unbeknownst to me I had eliminated or reduced my intake of some high FODMAP trigger foods when I was symptom free? No doubt taking Symprove helped me immensely and I have to say I’ve never been as bad as I was before I found it – except perhaps when I did the pre-endoscopy gluten challenge and ate copious amounts of wheat/rye/barley and other high FODMAP foods daily for two months straight!
I hope I have given you a bit of an insight into the low FODMAP diet. If you have been advised by your doctor to trial this diet is important to follow the most up to date guidelines. Go straight to the source of the research. To help me out with the elimination phase I downloaded both the Monash Low FODMAP diet app and the Kings College London FODMAP app onto my phone. I found them absolutely fantastic. I also had the help and guidance of a fantastic dietician. I wouldn’t advise anyone to begin the low FODMAP diet without being under the care of a registered dietician. It is important to note that this diet eliminates many healthy foods and thus it should only be undertaken in the short term until FODMAP challenges can begin and trigger foods can be identified.
In my next post I will take you through the six weeks I spent strictly following the low FODMAP diet and let you know how I got on. See you then!
The Clean Coconut x
P.S. Have you done the low FODMAP diet before? I’d love to hear about your experience and whether or not you found it helpful! Connect with me via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat! Let’s share the journey.
Welcome back to My Fitness Diary series. Click to catch up on My Fitness Diary #1, #2 and #3. This Fitness Diary entry details the third and fourth week of my training programme. Having spent the latter half of the fourth week on holiday in Kerry, I decided to join week three and four together into one comprehensive entry.
My Fitness Diary: Week Three
Thankfully week three saw another good week of training. I did my weights programme Monday, Thursday and Friday with two additional HIIT sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. I continued to see improvements in strength throughout week three.
This week I swapped my usual black coffee for some fresh warm lemon and ginger tea in the morning. Staying hydrated has been important for sticking to my macros.
Saturday of week three was a rest day for me but it involved a little too much indulgence to be honest! I went to the Belfast Pride festival and although I only had one glass of red wine while everyone else enjoyed a few more, I ended up getting a tub of Nobó salted caramel ice-cream (Oops!). Probably not the best thing to buy while trying to cut a few pounds so I’ll try not to let that happen again. I did do a lot of walking around the city during the festival so I suppose that might have counteracted some of the excess calories I consumed on Saturday.
My Fitness Diary: Week four
Instead of having my usual rest day on Sunday I was straight back to day one of my training programme. I knew I would be leaving for Kerry on Wednesday and wanted to make sure I had the three days of my training programme complete before then. So I headed straight into week four of the programme on Sunday and reached a new personal best on my squat! I’m delighted to be edging closer to body weight with my squats so fingers crossed the strength gains keep coming! (Maybe all that Nobó ice-cream made for some good pre-workout fuel?)
I also weight-trained on Monday, completing day two of my programme. I was a little bit bold again on Monday and had some gluten free Lemon polenta cake with my post-workout lunch, although according to my estimates I was still within calories for the day overall. It was so good! Holiday mode was definitely beginning to creep in early this week as you can see!
I have been doing my weigh-ins on a Tuesday as part of this programme so my weight for the end of week three/start of week four was 63.4kg. Again not a huge difference on the scales yet. However, I am really happy that I’m still getting stronger and I am definitely a lot more toned than I was when I started!
On Tuesday I travelled home for a special family lunch. I didn’t make it to the gym for my usual HIIT session as I didn’t have time. I wasn’t counting any macros that day. I enjoyed a slice of my flourless chocolate cake and a glass of red wine as part of the celebrations. I should have stopped at that but there may have also been some more chocolate and sweets later in the evening…
Wednesday morning I trained again – finishing out day three of my programme before heading to Limerick. I kept my diet much cleaner on Wednesday, although I wasn’t tracking macros. We stayed in Limerick overnight and got up early Thursday to train in the University of Limerick sports facility. This was an adhoc training session and I decided to use the opportunity to try out a leg press for the very first time and to do some hip thrusts (the benches in my Belfast gym make them really hard to do safely and I miss them!). I also did a superset of an incline bench press and a seated row. It was a quick and fun session full of exercises that aren’t on my current programme. So, whilst I didn’t do any HIIT for week four, I did squeeze in that extra weight-training session.
After training in UL Sport we went for a lovely healthy brunch in Delish across the road. I had eggs florentine on a flat cap mushroom and an almond milk matcha latte.
We hit the road for Kerry and arrived there on Thursday afternoon. It is safe to say that macros and calorie counting went completely out the window at that point! I wanted to relax and really enjoy the few days away and certainly wasn’t going to be worrying about calories while on holidays. One might say I jumped straight off the wagon!
On the plus side we did do lots of walking on our first day in Killarney. We went to see the beautiful Killarney National Park, including Muckross Abbey, Muckross House and Torc Waterfall and took in the views of the stunning lakes, gardens and surrounding scenery. We were so lucky to have had great weather for our trip.
On Friday we attended a fabulous wedding – what a day we had! On Saturday we visited the gorgeous Muckross Park Hotel Spa and enjoyed the outdoor hot tub and all the lovely spa facilities. Another late night followed on Saturday as the wedding celebrations continued! We had so much fun in Killarney, it is such a beautiful place. We will most certainly be back!
We got home late on Sunday and I began easing myself back onto my plan on Monday. After four days of pure indulgence my Tuesday morning weigh-in (today) was bang-on 65kg. Of course I expected my weight to go up, to be honest I thought I would have done more damage! I will be getting straight back on track now with my programme. I begin week five today and I am once again tracking macros.
Balance is so important and depriving oneself 365 days a year isn’t realistic. There are definitely times when training and macros can take a backseat in my opinion. This weekend was one of those times for me and I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of it! That said, I am more than ready to get back on track now with my motivation fully restored.
Info: Great restaurant for lean meals, clean treats and protein shakes or juices! Lots of gluten-free options too. There are a wide range of options on their menu and they list the calories and macros for most of the items on their online menu! Calories and macros for a lot of their meals can also be found pre-entered on the My Fitness Pal app. Take-away option too.
Info: This little cafe/restaurant serves amazing food and absolutely everything on the menu is vegan, gluten-free and refined sugar free! They have a few breakfast and lunch options, and you can sit-in or take-away. The have amazing peanut butter cups and a range of different cakes including the gorgeous snickers cake, ferrero rocher cake and blueberry “cheese” cake!
Info: Great café serving some juice options such as carrot and ginger juice and beet juice. Great Spanish omelette and a yummy goats cheese salad are some of the best healthy lunch options available! Caters to gluten-free diet.
General Merchants Cafe
Location: Belfast;Upper Newtownsards Road and Ormeau Road.
Info: You can choose to eat-clean or not here but they have some great healthy salads and superfood treats if you choose wisely! I particularly love their broccoli salad and their raw caramel slices. The shop downstairs also stocks lots of healthy treats like The Happy Pear bars and Natasha’s range of raw super foods.
St. George’s Market
Location: Belfast;St. George’s Market
Info: Lots of great food stalls here on a Saturday! Look out for the Check Out My Buns stall – an amazing coeliac and vegan bakery. You can also find some of this lady’s treats in some other venues across the city – such as the aforementioned 5a Coffee and General Merchants! Finn McVeg is another great vegan and pescitarian stall at St. George’s market. I’ll do a full post dedicated to the best stalls to check out at St. George’s market soon!
Locations: Belfast; Botanic Avenue and Chichester Street. New store opening on Great Victoria Street.
Info: Some lovely salad options on the menu – it is definitely possible to eat clean in Nandos if you make the right choices! All of the calories are on their website which makes it really easy to make informed decisions. Sit-in or take-away.
For this lasagne recipe I have exchanged the pasta for courgette slices and the typical calorie-laden white sauce for a high-protein, lower fat, creamy mix. This lasagne is also gluten-free. In fact, I actually much prefer this to standard lasagne!
This recipe will make about 6 slices of lasagne depending on the dish you use. Approximate macros per slice are; 339cals, 34g protein, 11g carbs, 15g fat.
500g Steak Mince (preferably organic/grass fed – I used Mullan’s Organic Farm steak mince which I got from St. George’s Market in Belfast)
*I use this particular cheese because it allows me to make my lasagne extra-cheesey without adding excess fats and calories to the recipe. However, feel free to substitute with your cheese of choice e.g. additional parmesan.
Fry the mince off in your pot – you will use the fat from the mince to cook the veg rather than using additional oils.
Chop the carrot, celery and onion very finely and add to the pot along with the 6 minced garlic cloves. Add the oregano, stir and allow to cook on a medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.
Whilst the mince and veg are cooking, slice your courgette length-ways into long strips using a potato peeler.
Mix two tablespoons parmesan with the quark to make the “white sauce”. Set aside for later.
Once your veg have begun to soften, add 3 tablespoons of tomato puree and stir. Next add the pasata. Turn up the heat to boil and reduce to a simmer.
Tear up the basil leaves and stir into the mix. Add some pink Himalayan salt and ground black pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
At this stage, I blend the whole tomato-mix with a hand blender so that the veg etc are smooth.
Slice and add the mushrooms, stir together and allow to cook for another 5-10 minutes on a medium-low heat.
Begin to layer the base of your lasagne dish with the sliced courgette, followed by the tomato-mix. Next add a layer of the “white sauce”. Continue layering in this manner until you have used up all of your courgette/tomato sauce/white sauce.
Top your lasagne with the remaining parmesan and, if using, grated Myprotein cheese. Pop into your preheated oven and turn heat down to 180 degrees. Cook for 30 minutes.
Kefir is a probiotic, fermented milk drink which is made by fermenting milk with kefir ‘grains’. The ‘grains’ are not actually grains, rather they are a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). For the purposes of this article I will be referring to them as kefir grains. Also, this article deals with milk-kefir rather than water-kefir.
I’ve mentioned kefir a couple of times before. Probiotic foods like kefir have been a central part of my diet ever since I experienced amazing benefits from using the probiotic Symprove when I was experimenting with food intolerance testing. It turned out, for me, that the digestive issues I was experiencing were immeasurably improved by the use of probiotics.
After realising these benefits, I delved into lots of the research around probiotic foods. I read books such as The Good Gut by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg; who work at the Stanford University Department of Microbiology and Immunology and share much of their amazing research on the microbiome. As well as looking at the scientific research, I also came across countless anecdotal accounts from a whole host of people who had used probiotics to heal a number of ailments. I attended a course with The Cultured Club in Belfast to learn the basics of how to make kefir, kombucha and fermented vegetables and from there I taught myself how to make a plethora of fermented foods.
Probiotics supplements are expensive. I love including homemade fermented and cultured foods in my diet that are loaded with probiotics for a fraction of the cost. Kefir is probably the easiest of all the fermented foods to make and I have supplied the instructions within this post!
What does it Taste Like?
Kefir grains essentially live-off and eat the sugar (lactose) in the milk you pour on top of them. Whilst a cup of milk (250ml) will contain just over 13g of sugar, a cup of kefir will usually contain less than 1g sugar (the longer you ferment, the less sugar will be left). This of course changes the calories in the milk after it has become kefir – reducing them by about 50 calories per cup. It also means that kefir tastes different than milk. It is like a more tangy or sour tasting version of natural yogurt. Sometimes, it can even be a little effervescent.
Kefir is thicker than milk, but not as thick as yogurt – it could be described as a more pourable yogurt. Some people I have given it to have said it reminded them of the butter-milk they used to drink as a child. (I’ve never drank butter milk straight so I can’t comment!) Personally, I love the sourness of kefir – and often drink it on its own, but likewise I also add it to smoothies, salad dressings, make cream-cheese and dips with it – there are endless possibilities even if you don’t like the taste of it on its own!
Kefir also contains far more probiotic strains than yogurt, which you will see on the label typically contains between 2 and 7 strains of bacteria. Homemade kefir has been found to contain between 30 and 56 strains of bacteria and yeast when tested (Schwenk, 2015, p.10). Commercial kefir can often contain much less than this – always read the label!
Preliminary results from a University of Florida microbiology class showed kefir to have 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) per millilitre – yes millilitre! Thats a lot of probiotic bang for your buck. Namely 150 billion CFUs per tablespoon! This study is still underway as they are now researching particular microbial strains present in the kefir so the final paper has not been published yet, but when it is I will link it here!
I have begun to see ready-made Kefir drinks pop up in the fridges of health food shops, but it is often very highly priced – remember, once you have your own grains it will really only cost you the price of the milk you use to make kefir at home. When fed regularly with milk, your grains will last and continue to grow and multiply so you can share them with your friends and family!
How I discovered Kefir:
The first time I tried kefir, back in 2014, it was a jar of ready-made kefir that I picked up in a health food shop. I used it to make a smoothie – in fact the photo of my very first kefir-smoothie was The Clean Coconut’s first profile picture for quite a while!
It wasn’t until 2015 that I learned far more about kefir and decided to go looking for some grains. I went to various health-food shops asking where I could source the actual grains for making my own kefir, but to no avail. Little did I know the kefir grains were going to find me first!
Back at home I was tidying the kitchen when I found a bowl sitting on the table covered by a plate. I lifted the plate and saw some milky porridge which I assumed somebody must have been saving for later? Odd! I almost threw it out, but then I figured someone obviously left it there, covered up, on purpose.
A couple of days later and I saw that same bowl on the table, covered by the plate. God, I thought, that milk will be so sour by now! Yuck! When I lifted it to clear it though, it smelled fine. Must be a fresh bowl of porridge I thought. Why has somebody left a bowl of uneaten, cold porridge out on the table again?
Another couple of days passed and I had been talking to my mum about kefir and how I was dying to find some grains of my own – after everything I’d been telling her about it, she really wanted to try it too! In fact, she had just signed up to a series of podcasts from the Hay House World Summitand a couple of them were solely dedicated to probiotics, gut health and; kefir! What a coincidence! We listened to the amazing stories of Donna Schwenk and Chuckling Goat amongst others and were excited to locate some grains to start making our own kefir ASAP.
Back in the kitchen, my dad is at the sink with a sieve and that bowl of porridge. “Ew Dad! why have you left that porridge there all day – what are you doing with it – WAIT?? Is that… KEFIR??”
“Its a mushroom.” he replied.
“Its great stuff. I got it from someone at work, very good for your stomach” he added.
“Oh my God Dad – that is kefir! YOU have got kefir grains – how long have you had these?? This is exactly what we’ve been looking for!”
Turned out my Dad had been making kefir for about three weeks right under our noses! Its not exactly the most common thing to find so you can imagine how shocked I was to discover that, my Dad had some all along! I ran out of the kitchen to tell my mum and it was as if it dawned on both of us at the exact same time! Because Dad had been calling the kefir grains a “mushroom” she hadn’t clicked it until that moment either!
Following on from that my mother got to speak to Louise Hay on Hay House Radio after we had listened to all the wonderful podcasts from the World Summit. She told her how much we had learned from the wonderful probiotic podcasts and shared our little story about how those kefir grains were simply determined to find us 🙂
Where to find the Grains
To get your hands on some kefir grains of your own, you will need to find somebody who makes their own kefir. Every time I make a batch of kefir my grains grow and multiply so I have been able to grow enough to give some to family and friends. If you really want your own kefir grains but don’t know of anywhere to source them, get in touch with me via my contact page.
Ingredients and Tools:
Kefir “Grains” or SCOBY
A glass jar or ceramic bowl (not plastic or metal)
A plastic sieve
Wooden spoon or spatula
Funnel (If storing your kefir in a glass bottle)
Place your kefir grains into a clean ceramic dish or glass jar. I love the Kilner or Ikea storage jars for making kefir. You will need to make sure that the glass/dish is not hot – remember your grains are living, so both hot and cold extremes can kill them.
Over the grains, pour some milk. I choose organic milk to make my kefir. Don’t worry too much about the ratio of milk-to-grains, the only time a problem will arise is if you don’t give them enough milk and they starve. A good rule of thumb is to use at least 250ml milk per tablespoon of grains, however you can use more milk than this if you wish to make more kefir!
If using a jar, leave the lid open. Once the grains and milk are inside, cover the jar or bowl with a tea-towel or muslin cloth and secure the edges with an elastic band so that the opening is sealed. (Beware that, especially in the summer, fruit flies may be attracted to kefir that is not properly covered and this could destroy your batch – so be vigilant about keeping it tightly covered!).
After 24 hours, your kefir will be ready. You will need to use a plastic sieve (grains do not like metal – never use a metal spoon to handle them either) to separate the grains from the kefir-drink. Put the kefir drink in a glass bottle using your funnel, or into jug, and store it in the fridge. It will last for a very long time int the fridge – it won’t spoil like milk would. However, the longer you leave the kefir in the fridge the more tart it will become.
Return your kefir grains to the original dish or jar you used to make your kefir. Pour more milk over them and leave for a further 24 hours before repeating the process.
If you leave your grains fermenting for longer than 24 hours, the sourness of your kefir will increase significantly. Any longer than 48-72 hours and you risk killing or starving your kefir grains. You will know they have died because, whilst they might look okay, they will no longer ferment the milk for you. To prevent this, ensure that you feed the grains with fresh milk every 24 hours.
Never rinse or wash your grains with water (especially chlorinated tap water!). This can kill strains of bacteria and reduce the potency of your kefir. If you feel you need to rinse them between batches (you don’t!) then only use milk to rinse them.
If you don’t want to continue making kefir, or are going away on holidays, you can store the grains in the fridge, covered in milk. The coldness of the fridge will slow down the fermentation so that the grains will not eat through the lactose in the milk as quickly. You can store your grains in the fridge for up to a week on about 500ml of milk (Or at least a cup of milk per tablespoon of grains). The more milk you give them, the more food they will have so I tend to give them a bit extra when they are in the fridge. After a week has passed, you can change the milk and continue storing them in the fridge for a further week. If you are going to be away for more than a week you will need to add significantly more milk to ensure the grains will have enough to feed on.
When you decide to begin using your grains again they may likely take a little bit longer to ferment as they have been ‘sleeping’ in the fridge. The first time you try to make kefir with them after waking them up you may need to leave them for 48 hours rather than 24.
There is SO much more that you can do with homemade kefir and I hope to share this with you in some upcoming posts. For example, you can flavour your kefir by doing a second ferment and you can separate the whey from your kefir and use it to ferment vegetables and make probiotic lemonade with it too!
You may well have heard about some of the health claims associated with fermented foods like kefir. I haven’t gone in to all the research around probiotics in this post as there just isn’t enough room! However I will discuss this in an upcoming post. Whenever I see some promising research I will be sure to share it on my Facebook and Twitter accounts!
I hope this post has made it a little bit clearer what I’m talking about when I mention kefir in my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts and pictures!
If you have any questions or if you’ve tried kefir before I’d love to hear from you! 🙂
The Clean Coconut x
Schwenk, Donna. Cultured Food For Health. USA: Hay House, 2015.