Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Leafy Green Salad with Greek Yoghurt & Moringa

   With the weather warming up at a surprising rate, hot food isn't quite as desirable as it could be. You can't beat a good roast regardless of the time of year, but I, like many others, find myself turning towards salads.
   I love greenery - there are flowers in my garden, but it's the different shapes and shades of the leaves that interest me, especially in the early morning or evening when the clouds are thick with rain and the sun gives them a grey-gold cast, it really makes the green pop! So I can't help making salads that are green, green and green. It makes me seem unimaginative, I know, but it's the colour I love. But that's not much of a varied, nutritious meal, so it doesn't do much good in the end.


   This simple green salad is perfect for spring, with carrots adding a pop of colour and chicken and walnuts for a different texture - not to mention a delicious helping of protein and healthy fats that will keep you feeling fuller for longer! But to make it extra special (and extra green) and bring the different flavours together, greek yoghurt and moringa dressing! The greek yoghurt is low in fat so it doesn't overpower the walnuts, and it adds a good dose of calcium, and the moringa, nature's multivitamin, boosts the salad's nutritional benefits through the roof!
   Plus, it's just 250 calories!

Ingredients:
A handful of mixed salad leaves and different lettuces
100g chicken pieces
2 walnuts
a handful of carrot batons
50g greek yoghurt
5g powdered moringa (I used Aduna's moringa powder)

Method:
Crack open the walnuts and, leaving their waxy skin on, break each half into half again.
Throw together the lettuce and leaves, the pieces of cold chicken, broken walnuts and carrot batons.
Mix together the greek yoghurt and moringa powder and spoon over the top, or mix it all into the salad for a thin coating.






Saturday, 25 April 2015

Earrings for Book Worms

   My book flower necklaces and rings are extremely popular this spring, and I finally realised what was missing: earrings. So I've just added book flower earrings to my shop! Just as my rings and necklaces, these earrings are made from pre-loved books that have reached the point of falling apart.
   There's a number of books available, all listed on the product page, including Jane Eyre, The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Light Fantastic, Pride and Prejudice and more, but if there is a particular book you'd love to wear, I can track down a well-worn copy for an additional £2.50 (approximately $4.50) and make it specially for you!
   The earrings cost £20 as an introductory rate until May the 1st, when they'll rise to their retail price of £26 a pair  - that's only £6 more than the necklace, but it consists of two flowers each an inch in size, rather than just one - and £2 UK shipping, $5 for the rest of the world.



Thursday, 23 April 2015

Cassey Ho's 'Hot Body Year Round' Review

Price: £14/ $13
Length: 250
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★★


   I love my workout DVDs. I have 18 of them. Some are various forms of dance, some are yoga, some are kickboxing, others are a combination of all the most effective kinds of exercises squashed together in an insane 30-minute workout. And they're all effective. Having an instructor in front of you performing the moves is extremely helpful as you can see what's expected of you and (usually) knock out the kinks quite quickly. The music is also brilliant and chosen because it boosts your energy in the tough combi-DVDs, or it's calming for yoga, or it's simply the music the choreography was created for. The instructors usually give you tips all the while - "belly button into the spine", "shoulders packed into the spine", "knees behind your toes" and so on - and will usually give you warnings of what not to do and what to look out for on individual moves, as well as just what muscles you're working - and the ever-true fact that too few women are aware of: weights won't build bulk. And then there are the personalities of the different instructors that shine through immediately. Some you love right from the start, and others you have to learn to.
   So it's not surprising that I've never been too inclined to pick up exercise books. Where's the music? The personality? The visual demonstrations? I've bought a few in the past, usually based on reviews from Women's Fitness Magazine, fitness websites or simply Amazon reviews, and not once have I ever been pleasantly surprised. They're just gathering dust at the foot of my bed, if I'm completely honest, and that's why I've never mentioned them on the blog or ever bothered to write a review. Because they're just disappointments. True, I could write a negative review, but the thing is that the books I've bought have been so blah that there's not really been anything of note to say, good or bad.
   And it's for that reason that I am reviewing this book.

   I've been a fan of Cassey Ho for a couple of months now, finding Blogilates and being drawn in by its success and, to be honest, the colourful personality of the blog itself. Since then I've fallen in love with her own personality - perfectly reflected by the look of the blog itself - and bought her Pop Pilates DVD. And, as much as a risk as I knew it was with my past experience with fitness books, I decided to pre-order hers. I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover, I'll admit that, too.

Overview
   I. Love. It.
   Cassey Ho's 'Hot Body Year Round' is an exercise book filled with her unique style of pilates - over 120 moves, in fact, and 20 different routines - amazing and clean recipes - not all of which are too complex (I hate complex recipes, especially recipes with half an ingredients list comprised of things I've never heard of, if I can even pronounce) - and tips for keeping motivated and staying on track to achieve your dream body. Her personality shines through in it, too, and the graphics in the book - watercolour washes are my crush right now - reflect it just as well as her blog does. It's a genuinely cheerful go-get-'em book.

Workouts
   'Year round' isn't just a part of the title. She's tailored the workouts in the book to correspond with our most likely goals for that season - the most obvious of which being summer's bikini body - and broken them into target areas so you know exactly what you're working, and which moves are best if a certain area of your body needs a little extra attention. There's a convenient chart at the front of the book before stepping into Spring that suggests how beginners and intermediate/advanced can pair their workouts with rest days and cardio for optimal results, she also explains vitamins and why we must drink enough water (it might sound obvious, but odds are that none of us are drinking enough, especially as the seasons change and begin to heat up as they are now). But one gorgeous touch she's added to the book's seasonal workouts are the pictures. She's demonstrating the moves in perfect locations - I think she was particularly tactful with winter's choice of location.
   Each season contains five workouts, each focusing on a certain part of the body, and are made up of six moves. They're clearly explained and demonstrated in pictures - yes, even I think so, despite my hate for photographical examples (though I obviously understand the need for them in books) - and certainly more challenging than they look, making them most definitely effective. None of the moves are duplicated in any of the workouts, making each of the 120+ moves unique in the book and subsequently allowing for easier personalisation of the routines should you wish to combine them from different workouts or different seasons.

Food
   Each of the season sections also contain 9-10 seasonal recipes complete with nutritional information including calories, grams of sugar, protein etc, a list of the fruits and veg that are in season and subsequently easier to find in farmers' markets and fresh fruit aisles, and a seasonal 7-day meal plan for breakfast to dinner with snacks in between. Most health websites and magazines - even healthy cookbooks - have a tendancy to leave out nutritional information. Of course, if you're eating clean, watching portion sizes, pairing your food together appropriately and keeping active, such things aren't necessarily required, but it definitely, definitely helps. Calorie-counting is a weakness of mine in particular, but I'm gradually learning that it's also what you eat that counts. A 200 calorie chicken sandwich and a 200 calorie slice of cake aren't the same thing, and making the right choice counts (though that's not to say that cake should be left out in the cold - something Cassey also seems to agree with).

Help & Understanding
   One of my biggest problems with fitness books is the lack of demonstration of the moves - all you have are pictures, so you have to consult Youtube. I'm in the minority - I don't have any kind of smartphone (in truth, I can't tell you where my mobile phone is because I put it somewhere 'safe' a while ago), I don't have a tablet, in fact we only just got wifi. Being a full-time carer, I'm at home all the time. If anyone needs me, the house phone will do, or more likely an email or FB message, if not coming right to my front door. My point is that to access the internet I need to go to the computer, and if I'm exercising I don't want to have to stop and hurry away to another room to google something. However, unlike any other book I've tried to use, Hot Body Year Round doesn't need this! The moves are explained perfectly, and any pilates terminology she uses was explained at the beginning of the book. The pictures are clear and beautiful, and I've had no trouble with the workouts I've tried on an evening so far.
   There are also tips interspersed throughout, and little nuggets of valuable motivational points - such as remembering that you're worth more than the number on a scale. Yes, it's cliché, but I've always said that things become clichés for a reason, and in this case that reason is because it's true. People may be cruel to you because they're unhappy in their own skin - either call you 'fat' because you're overweight, or, alternatively, call you 'fat' because you're clearly not but they want to upset you and make you think that the hard work you've done that they don't believe they're strong enough to do was for nothing.
   She knows just what to say and how to word it. She empowers you by simply reminding you that you're capable of completing these workouts, and when you do complete them, that empowerment comes rushing back. She talks about posture and how large a role that has in looking slimmer - if you hunch over, you don't look confident, but your body also scrunches up. And how important it is to have faith and belief in yourself and to love yourself however you might look. And that everyone has bad days, even people with bodies you may think are flawless. Sometimes your mind is your own worst enemy and will only pick out your flaws. On those days you have to push past it and focus more intensely on your assets - and everyone has assets.


Summary
   Cassey's book is genuinely worth writing home about. And blogging about. It's a beautiful-looking book inside and out, it's extremely well-written, the workouts are actually easy to follow (if challenging to perform, but that's personal skill rather than a lack of understanding), the recipes are gorgeous and the personality and motivational properties of the book makes it a winner. I'd never considered the changing seasons to be a new opportunity to "prepare myself for fresh beginnings four times a year", but do you know what? I really, really like that idea. I romanticise the changing seasons and this has fueled that. I love my new year's resolution, and I have no trouble sticking to it, and that brings me closer to my goal, but having new seasons resolutions can help to make more nitty gritty details come to light. The overall goal may not change, but changing seasons offer new opportunities - be that to cook with different seasonal ingredients or the opportunity to try new physical activity like skiing or rock-climbing - that should be embraced. I feel more cheerful and more motivated by that idea alone.

   In short? Buy it. You won't see me give 5 stars to a book again.



Friday, 17 April 2015

Crunchy Quinoa & Baobab Bars

   I love a good granola bar, but recently I've rather fallen for quinoa. It's a great source of soluable fibre and protein, both of which contribute to keeping you feeling full, which, when you're trying to lose weight, is invaluable since you're less likely to snack on bad things, and it also contains a lot more minerals and antioxidants than other grains or similar foods, making it a brilliant superfood.
   I've also fallen in love with Baobab which I've talked about before, and even baked with already, and I wanted to take it a little further.
   I love granola bars and flapjacks, and since I already had quinoa, I decided I would make some quinoa bars in the same kind of style. Baobab was quickly the second ingredient, and the chia seeds found themselves in the mix, then raspberries and dark chocolate, ultimately creating an amazingly nutritious superfood snack bar that will keep you feeling full even on a single piece. Think of it as lembas bread.
   I only encountered a problem when considering a binder. I didn't really feel the need to add anything sweet because the baobab would do that job well enough, but I couldn't really find an alternative. Fortunately, the baobab wasn't masked very much by it, so that was a great relief!
   They came out crunchy, sweet and fruity, and they didn't fall apart! I'm also going to admit that this was also my very first attempt at anything like this, so I'm so surprised it worked out! Most people encounter trouble with binders but I got on just fine!


Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups quinoa
10g baobab (I used Aduna's)
4 teaspoons chia seeds
1/2 cup raspberry crumbs
1/8 cups brown sugar
1/8 butter
3 teaspoons honey
dark chocolate

Method:

1. Line/lightly grease a 20cm tin to set the bars in.

2. Toast the quinoa for 10 minutes at gas mark 4/180 C/350 F.

3. Melt the butter, brown sugar and honey until sugar has dissolved to create the binder.

4. Combine the toasted quinoa, raspberries, chia seeds and baobab pulp in a bowl, then mix in the hot honey mixture and stir together until well combined.


5. Transfer the mixture to the lined/greased tin and press the mixture in firmly. I found it best to use a silicone spatula that had been dipped in water - the flat spatula gives good coverage and the water kept the mixture from sticking to the spatula and pulling back out.


6. Set in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes, letting the binder harden.

7. Remove the slab from the tin and cut them carefully into your preferred sizes. They're likely to be quite hard so take care.


8. Set a heat-proof bowl over a pot of water boiling on the stove. Break up the dark chocolate and melt it in the bowl, stirring the whole time. Take your bars one at a time and dip them in the chocolate. You could coat the bottom, coat a full half the bar or coat the whole thing, it's entirely up to you. Some of the chocolate ended up in my mouth so I could only coat the bottoms.






Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Fox Necklace Giveaway

   SPRING!! It's gorgeous. It's warm, but not too warm, and the sun light is so, so pretty. I always get seriously motivated around this time of year because the light fills me with energy and makes me just want to DO THINGS. I really wanted to celebrate spring somehow, but beyond taking complete advantage of the motivation it brings me, I'm not really sure how.
   Then I decided that, for lack of any better ideas, a little giveaway would do! The prize is simple but appropriate: my super popular fox jar necklace! I'm also offering 15% off across the shop with the code SPRINGBIRD until May 10th, so if you don't win you can always buy the necklace at a lower price!

   The giveaway is open worldwide from today until April 30th. The winner will be picked at random and contacted directly, given 72 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen. All entries are collected via Rafflecopter, as usual, but all entries are, of course, optional. The cost of shipping comes out of my own pocket, all you need to do is enter!

EDIT: I'm really glad I added 'fox trivia' to the entry form. You guys have given such great responses! I knew a fair bit about foxes to begin with, but I quickly learned more! Keep it up, it's awesome!




The giveaway is now closed and the winner has been contacted directly via the email address assigned to their rafflecopter account or facebook account, so please check your spam folders!

 


a Rafflecopter giveaway



Charlotte's 3 Minute Belly Blitz Review

   I was lucky enough to be asked by Women's Fitness magazine to be their reader reviewer this month, which was awesome since I love the magazine to bits, and for my little part, I reviewed Charlotte's 3 Minute Belly Blitz. It came out late last December and quite suddenly became the best selling fitness DVD in the UK in 15 years, smashing Zumba right out of the window. It's a celebrity fitness DVD, however. You might have noticed I never use celebrity fitness DVDs unless they're specifically celebrities in the fitness field - Jillian Michaels and Jean Butler, for example, people who know what they're doing - and the reason for this is that I've always considered celebrity fitness DVDs to be more of a gimmick and generally ineffective, like the celebrity is the selling point rather than the content. Though I will concede to the fact that celebrity fitness DVDs do encourage normal people to try to get fit if their favourite celebrity can lead them through it.
   Anyway, as I said, I'm always sceptical of them and never view the content as worthwhile, so I went into this dubiously. It was only the fact that it was such a massive hit that had piqued my interest. Otherwise I expected it to be mostly just cardio, low-intensity compared to what I'm used to, and fairly obnoxious.
   I'm not sure I've ever been more wrong.
   The DVD is incredible, and I'm not surprised she got the body she did. That's another reason I'm sceptical of celebrity fitness DVDs: you can't always tell what's natural and what's not, if you know what I mean, but after having given this DVD even just one run-through I could see her body was real. If it had been surgery or if it had been crash-dieting (DON'T do that) she'd have been sharp in the shoulders and hips and would look scary-thin. She would not be as contoured as she is, because it's toned muscle that does that to your body, and only toned muscle.

Resistance and Cardio
   I've said a thousand times that the most effective method of losing weight is to mix cardio and resistance in a circuit and to try to keep moving, never stopping, just taking active recoveries. And that's what this DVD did!
   The 3-minute part is a bit misleading. The workout is actually made up of 12 3-minute sections or 'rounds' and they follow one after the other, but they alternate between kickboxing-style cardio and body weight resistance training every 3 minutes. The moves were effective and fast-paced and really targeted the whole body, building lean muscle and melting off fat, but what surprised me more was the fact that some of the moves were completely alien to me.

Difficulty
   I mentioned at the start that celebrity fitness DVDs would be a great way for normal people to start working out if their favourite celebrity is doing it, too, but that's where this DVD kind of falls apart. Charlotte had trainers and people who weren't going to let her give up, so she was able to push through the movements and achieve results. The trouble is that ordinary people with only a DVD rather than a trainer would be more inclined to give up if it didn't go well right away, and with moves that get as tough as they do, that's more likely to happen with this DVD than with others. It really is a tough workout - and I do HIIT training 3 times a week!
   In a sense, I think they marketed the DVD poorly. The whole 'celebrity' and '3 minute' aspects of it will draw in fitness newbies, and that's great, but the trouble is that this workout is too hard for most newbies. It's not a good starting point. Instead it would be better used by more advanced people, people who are more familiar with exercises and know the basic form for a lot of body weight movements to be able to perform them safely and effectively, but the trouble there is that those people could well be put off because of the same 'celebrity' and '3 minute' aspects. And I think that that was a mistake - though I also think it's probably how it sold so well. People heard this person was bringing out a fitness DVD, so they lined up to get it. Others disregarded that fact but heard it was effective, so they lined up to get it.

Verdict
   At the end of the day, I have absolutely no doubt at all that this workout will achieve results, because it does everything right. It mixes 3 minutes of cardio and then 3 minutes of resistance 6 times through the 12 sequences, and you might remember, if you've done Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred, that even Jillian suggests 3 minutes of cardio and 3 minutes of strength (or 2 strength and 1 abs). It isn't as intense as the 30 Day Shred, of course, but it has that element down.
   There's also a 10 minute bonus routine of ab work that targets the upper abs, lower abs and the obliques, which is also really valuable.
   In truth, I'm considering taking this workout up for a month like I usually do...but that 'celebrity' aspect still puts me off, though I'll admit that I'm being unfair to myself and the DVD in that sense, because there's nothing wrong with it at all.

   So take it from someone who never buys into celebrity workout DVDs, someone who views them with suspicion, in fact, and someone who would usually run the other way when faced with a reality TV star, of all things: this DVD works. Buy it, stick with it, and you'll succeed.
   I know I've only given the DVD 4 stars, and that's for two reasons: 1, because it's been poorly marketed. If a newbie picks it up, they'll probably be frigtened away, and that's a real shame. 2, because at the start of each 3 minute round there's an additional minute of them talking you through the next routine so that you can go non-stop for those 3 minutes. This is fine initially, but you'll quickly outgrow the need for it, but you'll still have to sit through it. A second option to run through the workout without the talking, like in Jean Butler's Irish Dance Masterclass, would have been great. But I can advise a simple fix: while they're talking, cycle through 10 jumping jacks, 10 high knees and 10 butt-kicks. That way at least you can keep moving if you feel the need to, keeping the intensity up and compensating for the talking before jumping back into the workout.


As for my review for the magazine itself:






Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A Long-Needed Redesign

   Hey guys! Notice anything different? I really hope you do because I spent the whole day ripping my hair out over HTML.
   I just gave the blog an overhaul. Yes, I stuck with the same kind of set-up as before because I prefer the right-hand sidebar - for now, at least - but I revisited my colour scheme, fonts, header and background.

   My blog has remained unchanged for a couple of years now, and I've really grown tired of seeing the navigation buttons on the sidebar, the brown branch in my header, the pink/grey combo, the Syncopate font and so on. Finally I decided it was time for a change and actually managed to come up with something.
   The concern in the forefront of my mind lately has been that my blog has lost its identity. I blog about fitness because I love it, but I feel like the rest of me - not the crafting, but the writing, fantasy and other passions I have - has gotten lost. It's become entirely fitness-focused, and while I certainly don't intend to force those horses back into the stables, I wanted to try to bring a bit more of my passion and personality through in other ways.

   So I changed the colours to my current favourite combo, I went for an Aztec-style background which I actually drew from some of my favourite fitness capris, I combined tribal, fantasy and fitness into a new illustration for my header along with watercolour splashes, and - something you probably haven't seen yet - drew a handful of fantasy illustrations for my archive pages. They're not brilliant, not at all, I make no claim that they are, but for my personal skill I'm dead proud of them. I just wish I knew how to scan them to give them a soft pencil look; they just scanned in really sharp, and that, to be honest, is my only real complaint - skill improves with practise, but a bad scanner is a bad scanner.
   My favourite illustration is on the contact page, and my least favourite, funnily enough, is on the 'about me' page, but I can always replace it if I manage to draw something better.
   I also, with lots of trouble, made a sticky navigation bar. I combined a selection of tutorials from Xomisse's navigation tutorial archive and managed to make it. It looks like nothing, I know, really simple, but it took me 3 hours and lots of frustration.

   I'm really happy with it. I'll get tired again, in time, but I'm still happy to stick with the clean look. My last design was simple and so is this, but I love that. I can't stand cluttered blogs! Sometimes there are too many ads - never buy an ad on a blog if there are more than 10 because it all becomes visual white noise - sometimes it's too much colour or too many graphics. I think I'm pushing it with all the vines and ivy I've added as dividers, and while I only have 3 ads displayed I think they're at the limit, too. But I'm happy with it!
   My product review page has been updated, too, and now lists not only product reviews, but fitness DVD reviews too, which can still be found on the fitness page. I've also made an alternative page for requesting product reviews so that the archive is tidier and more reader-friendly, but I feel the whole blog's navigation just got so much simpler.




Sunday, 12 April 2015

Shred It With Weights + Buti Yoga - 2 Weeks Later

   This month's workout has been going well enough so far. I've been using level 1 of Jillian Michaels' Shred It With Weights and I've been finding it a little too easy. I've been working up a mild sweat and I increased the weight of my kettlebell from 4kg to 6kg, but it never felt like enough. I've ended up going through the 25-minute workout twice on each kettlebell day to try to get more out of it, and I think that that has been working.
   I can say, however, that this DVD is a great introduction to kettlebells. You learn some great moves and with Jillian's usual style there are beginner modifications, and I do believe that it's within most people's abilities. Kettlebells have been my favourite piece of kit for well over a year now, and the reason for that is because they're so versatile. Kettlebells are explosive, and while they're heavy and give you great resistance training, you get a lot of cardio in it, too. There are no cardio intervals in this DVD because the moves themselves combine strength and cardio perfectly. Your heart will be thumping and your muscles will be aching. It's perfect - I've even learned a few things about moves I was already familiar with, and I've gotten a little more out of them because of it. So, as far as level 1 of Shred It With Weights goes, it's suitable for beginners. You can do it with a dumbbell as long as you hold it by one end, but kettlebells are different and I do recommend buying even just a 2kg one to use with it. The shape and weight distribution of a kettlebell is massively different from a dumbbell, and if a dumbbell worked the same way, they wouldn't be using kettlebells at all in this DVD.

   As for Buti Yoga...I'm having trouble. The concept of yoga mixed with tribal dance is just wonderful, but I'm struggling with Bizzie. She is, of course, well within her rights to be the instructor - Buti Yoga is her creation and who knows it better than she? - but I don't feel she has what it takes to be an instructor. At least, perhaps not on a DVD. In person it could well be different because you can ask her or another licensed instructor for help, but on DVDs the instructors really have to give you almost constant verbal walk-throughs while performing each move, which she doesn't do. There is a section called 'Buti Basics' on the Transformation series DVD/digital download, and it's in this 9-minute section that she breaks down the Buti-specific moves unique to her workouts. I watched them, but I found she gave you next to no new information from the 25-minute workout, Feel, and I'm struggling massively with some of the moves because of it.
   But I'm sticking with it in the hopes that it might just click in the next 3 weeks, and I'm also going to have to use the other two workouts on the DVD in order to give a decent review at the end, so I'm hoping there might be a nugget of new information further in there, but I'm not holding out for much.
   It is fun, but it's frustrating when you're not given the instruction you need. Yes, this is doubtlessly one of the biggest issues with all workout DVDs - having no instructor means having no direct and personal help - and yet this isn't something that I've come across in many DVDs at all. In fact I've only found it once, and that was in the Tracey Anderson Method because I didn't feel the moves were broken down enough, and I'm usually quite patient with dance in particular.
   Based on this experience, if you're considering trying Buti Yoga yourself, I really do recommend signing up to the Buti newsletter and getting access to the free 50-minute workout video. It's slower and simpler, but it contains most of the Buti-specific moves that make up Transformation's 'Feel' workout, including the ones I'm having most trouble with. If you get on well with that then you may well have little problem with the series.

   Still, it's been a good two weeks. As previously decided, I'm moving on to level 2 of Shred It With Weights on the 13th, and I'm hoping it will be more challenging, and I'll be sticking with 'Feel' from Buti Yoga in the hopes that I can get to grips with it a little better.
   And yes, Easter was a bit bad - how could it not be? Its chocolate Christmas. But I've been working out hard enough and eating well enough otherwise that one day of scoffing chocolate has hopefully been corrected over the course of this past week. I still have several eggs left, and it's really hard to open one and not eat it in one go - they seem like so little because they're so thin! - but I'm trying to consider it as something to be proud of, personally, if I can manage to spread a single egg over several days. I am a chocolate monster, make no mistake. It's my Achilles' heel. In fact, my weight loss progress would be a lot further along if I'd give up on chocolate when I'd started getting so serious about fitness, but I also know that I would be quite miserable, too. And so would Seeg. Eating chocolate and biscuits together is a hobby neither of us wish to lose, and I am making progress at the same time, it's just a bit slower than it could be.

   I'll update again in three weeks!



Saturday, 11 April 2015

Baobab Cupcakes

   I talked recently about superfoods and what they really are, and more recently about one such superfood, baobab. It's amazing because of its high nutrient content, but also because it's the only fruit in the world that dries on the branch rather than ripening, dropping and spoiling, which means that it's the only 100% natural fruit powder available, needing just a good sieve rather than added chemicals or processes. This makes it perfect for adding to...well...anything! But I wondered how the amazing African fruit would go in a cake - you know me, I love my cake!


   Well, if I do say so myself, baobab goes very well in cake! But I will mention right off the bat that just because this batch of cakes contains 10g of this super fruit doesn't suddenly make it healthy. Playing diet amnesia with these still won't work as cake is still cake, but at least these have more nutritional value than typical cakes, and making tiny ones like I did helps control portion sizes - and when you eat these tasty things in moderation, neither your health 'nor your waistline will be affected in a negative way.
   That's not to say that these are as bad as other cakes, though. Replacing butter with coconut oil will give it more nutritional value again as coconut oil is one of the healthiest dietary oils there is, packed with good fats (yes, there is such a thing) and perfect for people who can't consume dairy, while the baobab adds its own benefits which I've mentioned before, as well as decreasing the need for sugar in the recipe and eliminating the need for any vanilla extract or other flavourings, natural or not. The fruit contributes massively, adding vitamins, sweetness and flavour, while keeping the calories down at the same time.


Ingredients:
1 cup/100g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 stick/100g butter or coconut oil
1/2 cup/50g sugar
2 medium eggs
10g Baobab fruit pulp (I used 2 sachets of Aduna's Baobab powder)


Method:
1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180 C/350 F and fill a cupcake tray with paper cases. I used a petit four/mini muffin pan for more bite-sized cakes.

2. Combine the flour and baking powder (alternatively use self-raising flour)

3. Mix together the flour/baking powder with the butter, eggs and sugar in a bowl and mix until smooth.

4. Add the baobab fruit pulp powder to the mixture and combine. Using this in place of vanilla extract brings out the fruit's flavour, and using only 50g of sugar means that the sweetness will come more from the fruit. Baobab dries on the branch and goes through nothing more than grinding to become a powder. Nothing is added to it, therefore it's the same as mixing in actual strawberries or vanilla beans.

5. Mix until the powder has been combined into the mixture and then spoon into the cake liners.

6. Transfer the tray into the oven for 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Too long in the oven will compromise the fruity taste.






Friday, 10 April 2015

Jillian Michaels Yoga Inferno DVD Review

Price: £9/ $15
Length: 2x 30 minute sections
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Intermediate
Rating:   ★★★★★
Based on 4 weeks of use.


   Yoga Inferno is a really fabulous DVD. It consists of two 30-minute workouts which teach strong yoga poses, but by repping in and out of them you get a greater range of movement and calorie burn, and with 30-second cardio intervals sprinkled throughout, you keep your heartrate up, too.

   If you're new to yoga it may not be the best starting point, as both workouts consist of moves that aren't explained well or at all, however Jillian Michaels' Yoga Meltdown, which preceeded this DVD, is a better option as the moves there are explained, and several moves in Yoga Inferno are developed from the moves learned in Yoga Meltdown.

   It's a really energetic take on yoga, and while you wouldn't think you could work up a sweat or lose weight from yoga, both of Jillian's yoga DVDs will change your mind.


Overview
   Both workouts are 30-minutes long, and while they're both different, they don't work on a level-by-level system. You use whichever workout you fancy, or both.
   There are two other women with her that flow through the whole workout with you, but they're both performing different variations of each move. Jillian demonstrates the move in its unaltered form, while one of them will perform the move with an easier modification, and the other will show a harder modification. There is a lot of room to grow in this DVD, though the most basic beginner's modification for any yoga move is to simply not move as low/far as you're told to. You simply do what you can.
   Balance and flexibility will probably hold you back, but with frequent use, you will see improvements in both body and skill, and your balance and flexibility will become stronger. For example, the Tree pose is demonstrated for beginners with the foot on the opposite ankle, and for advanced the foot is pressed against the top of the inner thigh. It's simply a case of practise. Tapping your foot on the ground to prevent yourself from falling over is, of course, allowed. Far better that you tap and stay on your feet than fall and injure yourself.

Workout Differences
   There is a big difference between the two workouts. The poses themselves are, of course, a difference, but the use of weights is another. Workout 1 focuses only on body weight and movement, but workout 2 uses light hand weights - about 1.5kg (3lbs) - with most of the moves to make them more challenging. The basic beginner's modification on workout 2 is to simply not use weights, as well as not dropping as low into movements. Get to grips with the poses before trying to do them with weights. They may only be small, but they will start to feel heavy by the end of each sequence.

Summary
   Yoga is a really wonderful form of exercise as it can really help to improve your focus as you're forced to concentrate on the moves, and it can help to tone your body and build lean muscle. I never thought yoga was something that could lead to weight-loss, I assumed it was something that was done after the fat had been shed, but I was quite wrong. The exercise looks calming but it's really quite a challenge and pushes your muscles quite far. You can build up a good sweat with yoga, and with Jillian Michaels' Yoga Inferno, that sweat and calorie burn is made greater simply because her method, as always, works.
   I still recommend using Yoga Meltdown before trying Yoga Inferno, as it's more friendly to yoga newbies, but that's not to say that that one isn't hard, too. You can read my full review of Yoga Meltdown from last year's experience if you need help making your mind up.



Jillian Michaels Hard Body DVD Review

Price: £9/ $15
Length: 2x 45 minute workouts
Workouts: Full body
Suitable for: Intermediate-Advanced
Rating:   ★★★★★
Based on 4 weeks of use.


   Hard Body is one of Jillian Michaels' much tougher DVDs. Made up of two 45-minute workouts that grow progressively more difficult, it's a truly effective DVD. The DVD uses her usual method of combining strength, body weight and cardio into short circuits, with little to no rest in between. There are four women with her who perform the exercises for the full workout as you are expected to, while Jillian explains the moves and talks you through the beginner and advanced modifications, as demonstrated by two pre-appointed individuals.

   If you're new to exercise in general, I can't recommend this DVD. All of Jillian Michaels' DVDs are tough but this one takes the biscuit, so if you're new to it all but want to try one of Jillian Michaels' amazing DVDs, trust me when I say that they're all incredibly effective. Choosing a DVD with three 20-minute workouts is still going to get results. The reason I say this is because I've become quite familiar with lots of different movements both in and outside of her DVDs, and while my stamina has also improved massively, I still struggled with this DVD.

Overview
   As mentioned before, the DVD has two 45-minute workouts: level 1 and level 2. They're both made up of a dynamic warm-up, 6 circuits made up of strength, cardio and body weight which you then repeat from the beginning after completing all six, and a nice, calming cool-down. This isn't a 30-day commitment, so you need only move on to level 2 when you're ready.
   All you'll need are dumbbells/hand weights in a number of sizes, ideally 1.5kg, 2.5kg and 4kg (3lb, 5lb, 8lb), however you can use whatever you have. If you're not that good with weights then you can use lighter. The key is to use a weight that is light enough for you to control (not wobble with, not drop, and you can complete a rep with), but heavy enough to challenge you (for example you can't manage more than 10 reps). Jillian reminds you that big and heavy weights won't make you bulky. Men and women respond to weight-training in very different ways; it's testosterone that is responsible for bulk, and as women produce only 10% of the testosterone that men do, bulk isn't a worry. An exercise mat is also recommended if you're working out on, say, hard wood floors, but it's not a requirement.

Level Differences
   The two levels are different. Both consist of compound moves to challenge your whole body all the time, but the second level does consist of more advanced moves. Even the easier modifications are tough. You should always try to push yourself, but if you can't complete the workout using just the beginner modifications, either move back to level 1 or try another DVD until your stamina, flexibility and strength has increased enough to endure it.
   I can't really say in any certain terms what the difference is beyond difficulty, but that difference in itself is obvious. Realise, however, that you're supposed to struggle - if you're not struggling, your body isn't being challenged enough, and if your body isn't challenged, the results will be minimal. It's when you get out of your comfort zone that you start to achieve things - and that goes for everything in life, not just weight-loss.

Suggestions
   The DVD is, at the end of the day, very straight forward, but with Jillian's method of targeting all muscles, keeping your heart rate up and building lean muscle at the same time, following the DVD will yield results. She recommends using the DVD 5-6 days a week, but it's important you realise that those 1-2 remaining days are not for other exercise. These days should be used to recover as, though it certainly feels counter-productive, your body needs that rest to rebuild itself. I have always found that I weigh and measure more right after several days of solid exercise, but after a single day off both measurements drop massively. It also doesn't take your body long to recharge, so one day is enough. I would say it was best to workout 2 days and 3 days, taking Wednesday and Sunday off, for example. This way you don't go 5 or 6 days straight, gradually growing more exhausted and your body more and more worn down to the point that you can't complete the last workout of the week, instead you go 2/3 or 3/3, giving your body a chance to recharge half way through the week so you can go back in the next day like it was Monday all over again.
   Also be sure to use weights heavy enough to challenge you, but not so heavy that you can't get half way through a set. You should be struggling towards the end of each set, and you'll be grateful when you move on to the next move as they rarely target the same areas consecutively.
   Listen to your body. If you find this DVD too hard, try another. There's no shame in that. But also remember, as I mentioned above, that you're supposed to struggle. It's when you struggle that you're forced to adapt, and that's when change happens.

Summary
   It's not easy, not at all. If you're new to Jillian Michaels, I wouldn't try this DVD just yet; it's not for the faint-hearted, and I've marked it as intermediate to advanced for that reason. I'm all for pushing yourself, but if you can't complete the workout or if you even begin to stop half way through sets then you're just not going to reap the benefits. Far better to choose an easier DVD that you can complete with a struggle than to choose one you won't be able to reach the half-way point in.
   But for those who do use it, you'll feel incredible when you complete it because it's so hard. I got great results from this DVD, and while I can't say I'm in a hurry to use it again, I do highly, highly recommend it.



Thursday, 9 April 2015

Baobab - Aduna and Africa's Gem

   I recently blogged about superfoods, explaining what they truly are and why people misunderstand them. I then got thinking about superfoods in general, which are proven to be superfoods and why. These days I pay little to no attention to the claims of superfoods - cancer-fighting properties, anti-aging and so on - because the trials the foods are put through to find these things are usually done on animals or cells, not on people. The experiments are also very long-term and so it takes a very long time for results to come from it, if any at all, and of course media in particular likes to hype up the smallest points and take all kinds of statements out of context - Cassey Ho of Bloglilates wrote a particularly perfect post about the new idea of slashing rice calories in half, complete with maths.
   Instead I prefer to focus only on the facts of the food: what nutrients it contains and how they match up to more common, garden-variety fruits.

   Baobab is one such fruit that has recently slipped into the limelight. The giant, thick-trunked African trees produce the only fruit in the world that dries on the branch, ripening like any normal fruit, but rather than dropping from the branch and spoiling, it stays up there and dries in the heat of the sun for 6 months. The skin goes hard and tough like a coconut and the inside has completely dried, so it needs only a good sieve. It requires no preservatives, no additives and isn't sprayed or freeze-dried like other fruit powders. The African sun keeps it entirely 100% natural.
   While this admittedly means that you can't exactly eat it like an apple, it does make it far easier to consume in other ways, and it's super easy to add to pretty much everything. What you lose in being able to just eat it, you gain with the ease of adding to smoothies, porridge, and most recipes.
   And what makes it a superfood? Baobab has 6 times the vitamin C of the equivalent weight of oranges, 6 times the potassium of bananas, twice the calcium of a glass of milk, is 50% fibre and a good source of vitamin B6, too! The fact that the fruit pulp - the main source of fibre in all fruit - dries and is turned into a powder means that the goodness of the whole fruit remains in tact, and that in turn is a valuable trait for both the fruit and the tree - if the tree dropped bitter or non-nutritional fruit, it would have a harder time dispersing its seeds because nothing would eat it.

   But what does it taste like? It's typically described as "a combination of pear, grapefruit, caramel and vanilla" according to Aduna, and I personally found it to be quite mild with a following sweeter tang. It's quite funny when you try a new fruit or food from another part of the world, you expect it to taste like something familiar, but each fruit has its own individual taste, and baobab is no different to that rule. It's actually quite delicious.

   Aduna is a wonderful and ethical source of baobab fruit. Baobab plantations don't exist, instead the trees are owned by communities across the 32 African countries where the trees grow, storing water in their bloated trunks to protect them against the long, dry season.
   Aduna source their baobab from Senegal and Ghana, the fruit harvested and collected by women's cooperatives in remote rural communities, and Aduna ensures income for these women even in the hottest and driest months when income is low. Aduna want to make baobab famous, both because the fruit is worth it and because so are the people who gather it. Not only that, but an estimated 8-10 million households can supply this fruit from a crop that already exists. No trees need be planted or moved, and the prehistoric trees have an average lifespan of around 5000 years and are perfectly adapted to their environment.
   Their baobab is available in tubs and sachets, as well as moringa, another African plant which is nature's multivitamin and good source of protein. They also have a wonderful raw energy bar which is similar to nakd bars, but, of course, contains baobab powder. All of this you can find in their own super simple online shop.

Eating baobab and supporting Aduna will leave you...





Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Happy World Health Day!

It's World Health Day today, so I thought I'd make a quick compilation of lots of simple tips to keep you healthy!

• Never skip meals. Skipping meals isn't an effective way to lose weight - in fact, it often yields the opposite effect. Always get three good meals every day, especially a breakfast, and remember that protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer as it digests slowly, carbohydrates are your body's preferred source of energy because it digests the quickest (and so is no good to snack on if you're hungry), and fats are the middle ground. Be sure to get them all.

• Not all dietary fats are bad. Only saturated fat is listed on food packages because it's the 'bad' one and you need to watch it closely. The fats not listed are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, and these are the ones you need.

• Exercise releases endorphins quicker and far more effectively than chocolate. Eating might be fun at the time, but chocolate - store-bought, regular, tasty chocolate - doesn't make you as happy as you think, and you're likely to just feel guilty afterwards. Chocolate's happy-factor has been overhyped by the media and chocolate companies. The cacao bean itself contains the good stuff, and the darker the chocolate the more of that goodness the chocolate bar contains, but as more ingredients are added and the cacao is put through the process of making actual chocolate (as cacao is bitter), a lot of the goodness is lost. As a result, readily-available milk chocolate contains more other ingredients and less cacao, making it about as effective at boosting happiness as uncooked sprouts.

• On average, the first 15-20 minutes of exercise uses the carbs you ate before hand. After those 15-20 minutes your body starts using its fat stores instead. Carbs are essential for energy, so you need carbs in your breakfast, alongside protein so that you don't get hungry too soon. If you don't have any carbs at all before working out your workout will most likely suffer as you won't have the energy to begin, either physically or mentally, which will lead to a less intense workout, continuous stopping in the middle of sets, and ultimately poor results.

• 'Super Foods' don't make you lose weight. A 'superfood' is just a food - usually a fruit, seed or nut - that contains a surprising amount of nutrients for so small and simple a thing. Sometimes a superfood may be the equivalent of a multi-vitamin, providing lots of different things your body needs to work properly, and sometimes it might simply be a great source of a single nutrient - baobab, for example, contains 6 times the amount of vitamin C as oranges. That doesn't mean you should binge, it simply means that you need consume a lot less to get the same benefits. In this manner it can lead to weightloss, but excessive consumption of 'superfoods' can be just as damaging as binging on sandwiches. Fruits are carbs and loaded with sugar, and nuts are loaded with fats, meaning they're both heavy with calories.

• Always listen to your body. If it aches too much to workout, don't. If something hurts while performing an exercise, stop. "Push through the pain" simply refers to pushing through the ache at the end of a set, or breaking through the wall where you want to quit the most. It doesn't mean "workout even though your leg is in a splint."

• Results take time. Don't expect quick changes to your body. It takes 4 weeks for you to notice a difference, 8 weeks for friends and family, and 12 weeks for everyone else - the post man or the woman who runs the local corner shop. Don't obsess over where you aren't yet, focus on where you aren't anymore. Don't push yourself into injury to achieve results, as that will only delay them.

• Don't deny yourself things you love. If you do, you're likely to break and binge, and that will lead to you eating more in one sitting than is good. Practise moderation, and practise saying 'no' - consciously deciding on the spot not to have something tasty on offer will empower you and make you feel good, and should something better come along later that day or the next, you can say 'yes' without guilt. If you're going to have something 'naughty' don't have much of it, but make sure it's worth it.
   • On a similar point, having something large over several days rather than in one day isn't something to feel guilty over. Having a 1000 calorie easter egg over 3 days, for example, is totally fine as your body has the chance to work it off gradually. Having a 1000 calorie easter egg in one day is certainly not. And yes, I speak from personal mistakes. Recent personal mistakes.

• Exercise doesn't have to be a chore, but set time aside from it in advance around your schedule. This will help keep it consistant. And choose things you love. It's true I love strength training, but I have a passion for yoga, kick boxing and dance, so I do a lot of those to keep my spirits up and stop it from feeling like work. This will keep you going longer and give you a good chance to find a passion in it.

• You can't count calories or guarantee what every single ingredient of a meal is if you eat out. So don't. If you go out once a week or fortnight with friends for a meal, like a lot of people do, let yourself enjoy it. Don't ask the waiter what's in something unless you're allergic. Don't ask about calories. Order what seems to be the healthiest if you're that health-conscious, but having one 'free' meal a week off-diet to better socialise is totally acceptable. Maybe forgo a starter if you plan on having dessert. Alternatively, find another venue to meet with friends where you can relax and keep their attention and give them all of yours.
   • Restaurants provide seats, a close atmosphere, food and toilets, and so does your house, so alternatively you could put together a friendly get together at home. Make sure to buy snacks and drinks that your friends will like, but this also means you're able to satisfy your own health needs at the same time, be it an awareness of allergies, or simply staying on-diet.


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Monday, 6 April 2015

Hard Body & Yoga Inferno: 4 Weeks Later

   March's workout was really tough, but I think it went really well - much better than most. Hard Body was much more difficult than expected - seriously not recommended if you're new to exercise, as many of the moves she used in both level 1 and 2 were moves I learned from other difficult workouts, but with variations that made them even harder. I managed them, I'm really proud to say, but I think Hard Body by itself would have been a tough enough workout for the month.
   Yoga Inferno added on top of that made the month kind of insane, but following the tough strength/body weight/cardio circuits of Hard Body with yoga made for a really good wind-down. I did enjoy Yoga Inferno, but I actually preferred workout 2 of the DVD. It used weights, but that's not the reason I enjoyed it, it was because I enjoyed the actual poses more, and most of my favourites - like Dragon with Eagle arms - weren't weighted. Workout 1 was less enjoyable, felt more like hard work and I already knew a few of the moves, and I feel I learned more from workout 2. I would definitely use the DVD again, but if I did I think I would opt to focus on that workout rather than the first. However, as with Hard Body, Yoga Inferno isn't recommended if you're new to yoga. I'd recommend starting with Yoga Meltdown, as a lot of the poses in Inferno are modified from Meltdown to make them harder, or simply are harder.


   As I mentioned in my 2-week update, I spent two weeks on each level of each DVD, but rather than starting on workout 1 of Yoga Inferno and moving on to workout 2 after 2 weeks like a normal person, I swapped them around, starting on 2 and moving on to 1. The reason for this was because I didn't want to do the two easier workouts of both DVDs together and then the two harder, I wanted to try to balance the month by doing the easier HB/harder YI and then harder HB/easier YI, and it did work out that way...but not as I expected. It went the other way around.
   I found Hard Body level 1 more difficult than level 2, because, once again, I was familiar with many of the movements from other workouts (DVDs and magazines), though they were modified to make them harder and utilise more of your body to get more out of them. I also felt that there was a greater difference between each circuit and the whole workout moved quite quickly. Level 1 felt kind of like it dragged on and more of the moves were alien to me - though that made them effective, of course. I managed to complete both levels and was working on the advanced variations of most moves by the end, though there were still a couple I just couldn't.
   Equally, I found Yoga Inferno workout 1 to be harder than workout 2, so I'm really pleased I swapped them over, otherwise I think the first two weeks of the month would have been harder than the second two weeks. As I laid them out, the whole month was intense.

   As hoped, by doing both workouts every day, when rest days rolled around I didn't resent them. At least not as much. I definitely needed them to recharge, but I couldn't fight the feeling that it was counter-productive. It isn't and I'm well aware of that which is why I surrendered to them, but I did still hate them.
   Unlike most other months, this time I actually didn't have a single day where I questioned whether the workout was effective. Usually I get quite down in the dumps because after about three weeks I start feeling exhausted and like my body isn't changing, usually because I've not weighed/measured in those three weeks and because it's almost that 'time of the month', but this time I didn't feel like that even once, even at the end of the fourth week. I came out of it knowing I'd worked really, really hard, that there was nothing more I could have done, and knowing that I had grown. I struggled with donkey kicks in particular when I started HB 2, and on the final day I managed a completely perfect full set of them, kicking up to the ceiling. I was so freaking proud of myself.

   As for my results from March's workout, I lost half an inch from around my waist, no problem, and a third of a kilo. Combined, that's easily more than I've lost in any month this year so far. I've also mentioned in the past how weight-loss starts to slow down once you've shed the majority of it, and also that you don't lose fat uniformly. However, I saw a reduction in fat everywhere towards the end of March, so while I only measure my waist, everything else has gotten smaller, too - except my bum. The scales didn't drop by much as the month involved a lot of body-weight and strength training so I doubtlessly built up some more lean muscle, and I'm not sure my waist has much fat left to yield. I think I might be able to drop down two more inches at most before I finally see the muscle underneath it - but like I said, you don't lose it uniformly, so I may now suddenly stop losing fat from my middle and drop it off of my chest or upper arms instead with no explanation before it targets my waist again. Either way, this month has been amazing - and given how insane I took it all, with 45 minutes of high intensity exercise followed by 30 minutes of high-intensity yoga with and without weights every day, it's not really all that surprising. But that doesn't make it any less awesome.

   And, as I mentioned them at the beginning of the month, I loved my USN Whey & Oats. They were strange to begin with - they had a strange taste - but after a week I loved them. It's a funny thing, I usually find that the flavour I look forward to most when trying new things isn't as good as the others I bought alongside it. For example I bought Twinings' Salted Caramel green tea at Christmas, but I also bought Caramel Apple and Gingerbread because it was 3 for 2. I thought salted caramel would be amazing and caramel apple would be the worst, but it turned out the other way around. Initially, I found this to be the case with the Marshmallow Cookie oats and Apple & Cinnamon, preferring the latter over the former, but actually, after a week, Marshmallow Cookie took over as my favourite just as I'd initially expected. It smelled like cake, tasted like marshmallow. Freaking yum. However, it's too expensive to keep buying. Even on sale it's £20 for 16 servings, so I can say that I while enjoyed them through the month and I will buy a new tub every now and then as a treat, I'm going back to regular oats now, and something more protein-rich on rest days since the carbs in the oats won't be used right away.

A review for each DVD will follow soon, so watch this space if you want more in-depth and focused info on each workout, as well as whether or not it's for you.



Saturday, 4 April 2015

'Superfood' - What Does It Really Mean?

   I hear the term 'superfood' a lot - I'm sure you do too, even if you're not looking for it. It's not just a term used in the health and fitness world anymore as it's started to bleed out to everything around it. I used to be sceptical of the term - as I so often am - and then I took the time to find out just what superfoods are. I then made the common error of assuming that 'more is better' and assumed that by binging on superfoods would help me lose weight. I can hear some of you already shouting at me. Fortunately, that lasted no longer than a week, when I realised all on my own that more is rarely better, unless you're talking about hugs or puppies.



   Superfoods are defined by Oxford 'a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being'. This means that, to qualify as a superfood, the piece in question must naturally contain either a high quantity or high density of nutrients when compared to other similar foods. This can mean that it's high in a range of different vitamins, or it can mean that it's particularly high in just one or two, but so much so that it blows the rest out of the water. So super-healthy food. However, because people have misunderstood the above term so severely along with other half-researched claims, taking it to mean that superfoods can help you lose weight just like I believed or, to a more extreme scale, cure disease or outright prevent it, the use of the term 'superfood' in marketing has been prohibited in the European Union unless credible scientific research can be provided to support the claim.

   Superfoods will not cause you to lose weight, and they also don't cure or prevent diseases. The best you'll get from them is a good source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidents, but it's these that contribute to a healthy body, and a healthy body is key for maintaining a strong immune system and keeping in healthy shape, which keeps weight off and makes it easier for your body to fight off disease. But of course binging on these superfoods even with that clear meaning lodged in your mind is still no good.
   Superfoods are most usually fruits, nuts and seeds, whole foods that are healthy from the off as they contain no additives or anything like that, purely because they're already whole and ready to eat. But, fruits are carbohydrates and filled with natural sugars, and nuts are filled with fats - the good fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) but fats nevertheless, and fats and sugar are both very high in calories.
   Fruits and nuts should not be avoided unless you have allergies, but the additional problem with 'superfood' claims on fruits and nuts is that people are more inclined to eat more of them because they're good for you. This, in fact, will lead to weight gain unless those calories are spent, and what's more is that because they're healthy foods, people have a tendancy to add these onto their diets without taking other things off. You need only eat about 25g of nuts a day to reap their benefits, and as fats digest slowly - not as slowly as protein, but slower than carbs - they're perfect for topping you up if you're hungry. You'd be surprised how far 3 walnuts will go. But in this case you should replace a snack with them, rather than eat them when you're not hungry just to get them into your diet.

   At the end of the day, superfoods have great and terrible reputations depending entirely upon who you talk to. Some people will blindly tell you that superfoods will make you live longer, prevent diseases and fight breast cancer, while others will adamantly tell you that it's all a load of rubbish and you should just stick to the fruit in the supermarket. The first has told you this with blueberries popping out of their mouth, having read articles without doing their own research to find out more about it before buying five punnets of blueberries a week, and the second has read a lot of sceptical articles and has noted the use of the phrase 'may help' in almost all of them, but has forgotten that fruit and nuts are still good for you, and some of the more unusual (read: not what grows in your back garden) do have benefits that we're not getting elsewhere.
   When it comes to superfoods, the science matters, but try not to focus on what it can supposedly do, and concentrate instead on what it actually has. Look only at the vitamins, minerals and other nutritional values like fibre, because these are real and take little scientific work to discover. The rest, such as its claims, take a lot more work, a lot more time, and sometimes aren't tried on people but animals and cells instead.



Friday, 3 April 2015

Easter Frozen Yoghurt

   I don't believe you should ever deny yourself nice things. If you do, you're more likely to break and binge, which is far worse. It's much better to have the occasional naughty thing than it is to go entirely without, and Easter, like Christmas, is one such time when it's almost impossible to say 'no'. So don't! This frozen yoghurt recipe is good for you, but the added Easter ingredient - a Creme Egg, or something similar - makes it more delicious and more seasonal!



You will need:
1 peeled, frozen banana
150g low-fat cottage cheese 
150g low-fat Greek yogurt
25g cocoa powder
2 Cadbury's creme egg or similar


Method:
1. Setting one creme egg aside, mix all other ingredients together using a food processor, handheld blender or mixer.

2. Empty mixture into a freezer-safe container and freeze for 1 hour.

3. Remove the container and stir the mixture before putting immediately back in the freezer.

4. Remove and mix the mixture every hour until the frozen yoghurt is set

5. Scoop out into bowls or glasses, and, using a hot, sharp knife, slice a and you're free to serve!



Wednesday, 1 April 2015

April Fool's Day with Boomf

That post title really makes this sound endorsed, doesn't it? It wasn't!

   This is sort of an on-going joke between Seeg and I. My nephew likes to call people silly monkeys and he says it in the cutest way, like 5 year olds do. Seeg and I sort of picked it up and it became habit, and then 'silly' was dropped and we just call eachother 'monkey'. That's fairly normal. It escalated a little, however, and when he left his PC alone I'd google 'monkey', found this image and I'd leave it open on that page. He did the same to me, so I started leaving it hidden amongst his browser tabs, then I eventually set up a load of files on his desktop to lead him to it. I didn't change his wallpaper, as obvious as that was, because he searches far too long and far too hard to find a wallpaper that will serve him for months.
   It was always the same monkey picture because it was cute and funny at the same time, and he quickly started doing the same thing to me.

   I saw an ad for Boomf on the TV a few months ago, a company that prints images onto marshmallows from files on your computer, but they can also do Instagram for you 'grammers out there. Anyway, I thought it would be hilarious to get the monkey printed for April Fool's Day, so I did! £15 is steep for a box of 9 marshmallows, but shipping is included in that price, with free worldwide delivery, too. However, as a novelty, Boomf is pretty cool. The marshmallows are about 1.5 inches in size and one would be enough for a hot chocolate, and it's just over 90 calories for 4. The colours are artificial, however, but the marshmallows can be made halal by ticking the little box in your basket.

   I got the monkey printed as a 'jigsaw' rather than having him printed 9 times. To jigsaw an image you upload just one, click it, click 'preview and edit your Boomf', click the image again and press 'jigsaw'. If you want to reposition the image you'll have to do that first. Click 'crop' and you'll be able to reposition the image. Only when you're happy with the positioning should you click 'jigsaw' otherwise the whole thing gets confused and you can only select individual marshmallows, but those marshmallows only have a piece of the picture.


   I think they came out better than expected. A lot of the Boomf I saw elsewhere seemed poorly printed - their colours were too light and the pictures were far from clear, but that could have been because they were 9 individual images and subsequently quite small. Having a single picture jigsawed instead seems to look clearer. Funnily enough, the picture that wasn't printed very well was the one that accompanied the marshmallows as a reminder of what you had printed once they're all gone. There was a big blue line down the centre of the money's face. It did bother me a little, but I'd rather a misprint there than on the marshmallows, and since it's the marshmallows that count, I can overlook it.
   You'll also notice that the marshmallows, while nicely presented, look a bit strange as a jigsaw because of the gaps between them, but once you take them out and push them all together, the image would align perfectly. I've not opened them yet - I'm giving them to Seeg later - but I don't think I'm going to be left with the chance to photograph them once open. The marshmallows keep for about 6 months (there is an expiry date on the back) while they're still sealed in their plastic, but 3-5 days once you open them. But if there are only 9 in a box, they wouldn't last for that long anyway!

   I may buy more in the future, but I thought it was perfect for April Fool's Day!