Easy ways to eat more vegetables every day

Image: woodleywonderworks via Flickr

We all know that we should be eating our five-a-day of fruit and veg, and in fact, why stop at five portions? Go for ten! If forced to make a choice, I admit I prefer vegetables over fruit. After my first tentative stab at a Brussels sprout eight years ago I stockpile them when they’re in season. Nothing beats a grilled aubergine topped with feta cheese and the crunchy butteriness of kai lan and choi sum are so moreish.

Throw anything at a pasta bake: broccoli, cauliflower, aubergine, onions, leeks, it doesn’t matter, it will be delicious. A simple vegetable stir-fry with mushrooms, greens and eggs is fantastic with some warmed-up tomatoes. Stews are ever so accommodating since you can keep adding to it. I rarely finish my stews in one go, and leftover-reheated stew with new carrots and leeks cannot be beat on a winter’s day. Instead of crusty bread or potatoes, have it with more vegetables: spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, beetroot or cabbage.

A horrible experience with broccoli and a juicer means that I’m not terribly enthusiastic about drinking my vegetables – carrot juice is about as far as it goes, and even then why not just crunch on an actual carrot? Avocadoes and watercress never let you down, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or a midnight snack. Lettuce (gem, romaine or just plain leafy) make for great “bases”. I have it with my smoked salmon and eggs in the morning in lieu of a muffin or toast. Try it as a wrap or with your mince: instead of pasta spoon the cooked mince into little “shells” of lettuce.

There are some lazy nights when we come home late and just want to flop into a chair. That’s when the handful of salad leaves are so handy. Even if it’s an incredibly lazy evening and pizza is on the cards, I still throw on top any leaves we have in the fridge. You can use rocket to make it feel more authentic, but I think mine is just as fanciful with the glorious purple and green and white colours.


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pointspace’s June roundup | How important is sleep?

Image: Jenny Pansing/jjjj56cp via Flickr

June has been quite an exciting month on the weather front. Londoners have experienced rain, sunshine, wind, rain, stronger wind, two hot days and then more rain. It is all very confused.

1.  The wind though has been spectacular. I haven’t actually seen a small child being blown away but I’m sure there were near-misses. Besides playing havoc with perfectly coiffed hair and Marilyn Monroe-esque skirt moments, the windy conditions we’ve been experiencing can have a larger impact on our wellness than you think. Fellow acupuncturist, The Acupunc, takes a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) look at the invasion of wind and offers a soothing tea recipe.

2. The furore of New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban gigantic buckets of fizzy drink continues with cries of nanny-state and loss of liberty. In case you missed it, here’s my blog post about the soda ban.

3.  Do you drink tea? You should, it’s a good way to keep hydrated if water is a bit too plain for you. Everyone touts the benefits of green tea, but I would also recommend seeking out pu-erh tea. The flavour is much stronger but still clean and refreshing. Read more to see why tea is good for you.

4.  Lack of sleep can leave you tired and cranky which doesn’t do well for concentration but new research shows that lack of sleep can also lead to unhealthy food choices.

5.  And now for the catch-22: more studies show that obesity and depression are the root causes of daytime sleepiness. The common denominator seems to be that weight is definitely a factor with sleep issues, but is being overweight causing sleep disorders or does sleepiness and fatigue result in weight gain?

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A soda ban does not remove liberty – it puts power back in your hands

Image: Ben Ostrowsky/sylvar via Flickr

It’s such a simple and common sense idea that it’s amazing it didn’t happen sooner. On 1 June 2012, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plan to ban large servings of sugary and soft drinks (what they call soda in the US which is completely different from soda water). And when they say large servings, they mean large: in his plan, 32-ounce drinks will be banned (that’s just under one litre at 946mL!). You can still drink ridiculous amounts of the sugary drink of your choice, but you’ll have to buy two 16-ounce ones instead.

Why did the Mayor target the portion size of soft drinks instead of the fat and salt content in fried chicken or the portion size of hamburgers or the amount of butter in popcorn? The simplest answer may be that soft drinks (and alchohol) are full of empty calories. Despite “beer belly” being a mainstream phrase, many people are still unaware that the liquids they guzzle down contribute to weight gain and unlike milk or fresh juices, there is no nutritional value whatsoever in a bottle of fizzy pop.

However, rather than applauding this move to curb obesity, many have voiced their opposition against this plan to ban soda.

Unsurprisingly, the main outcry is coming from the drinks manufacturers themselves, like the tobacco companies before them. That’s understandable, it’s their product and hence their revenue that is coming under attack. But who else is complaining? How can people be angry that ridiculous bucket-sized beverages are being banned?

Rather than look at it from a healthcare point of view, many people seem to take offense and are condemning it as another example of a nanny state.

As the mayor says in this interview:

“We’re not banning you from getting the stuff,” he said on TODAY. “It’s just if you want 32 ounces, the restaurant has to serve it in two glasses. That’s not exactly taking away your freedoms. It’s not something the Founding Fathers fought for.”

There is an interesting discussion on the topic over at The New York Times, with some agreeing that it’s a good gesture but doomed for failure, and others thinking that a soda ban is not the right way to attack the obesity problem.

I for one, think this is a great idea. It’s not withholding the beverage from anyone, just making them stop for a second and think whether they really do want that second drink. It’s mindful eating at its simplest.  At the heart of Chinese medicine is one of moderation and balance. You can eat whatever you want but don’t get carried away and be excessive.

For those who actually do think this constitutes “government overreach”, here’s an inspired analysis of Bloomberg’s ban using the work of John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century English philosopher of liberty.

Do you think this plan has potential to improve the health of a city or even curb obesity? Or do you think it’s the government meddling into people’s lives unnecessarily? Share your thoughts below.

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Food for thought | Mindful eating and Chinese medicine

Image: Nina Matthews Photography via Flickr

Patients often ask for nutritional advice using TCM (Chinese medicine) theory that would complement their treatments. I am always glad when a patient embraces the idea of taking their treatment outside of the treatment room, and I do believe it gives it a larger sense of purpose and responsibility.

Often what I see in my practice is yin deficiency and I often suggest they take some honey in warm water every day to help nourish their yin. Goucizi (or goji berries) also make quite a good yin tonic. It should never be taken longterm though, day in day out, as its very yin-tinkering properties also make it very damp-inducing which is a whole other kettle of fish. I recommend taking it for two weeks (steeped in a glass or two, daily) then having a rest.

If you’re kidney deficient (back pain, knee pain, frequent urination, fatigued or just running on low energy) you can try kidney beans or black beans.

Sometimes though, patients nod when I give them recommendations, but seem more interested in a list of what they can’t or shouldn’t eat. This is when I sometimes go blank because it’s not such a straightforward answer.

TCM relies on a constant flow of change, an ebb and tide to maintain homeostasis. If you’ve overindulged in a portion of salty chips, you’ll naturally feel thirsty and drink some water.

The same goes with our bodies. If you have an excess condition we aim to reduce it, if it’s a deficiency syndrome we tonify your system. Once you’ve reached the balance again, continuing the exact same treatment means we’ll tip on the scale again and you may end up with a deficiency after too much reducing method for too long.

The same goes for foodstuff. Unless it’s an acute symptom like a cough (eat less phlegm inducing food like clementines or mandarins) it’s usually best to learn what you should be eating rather than what you should be avoiding.

Avoidance only makes that thing seem more desirable. How many have failed with a fad diet because they had to cut out something? Harvard nutritionist Lilian Cheung discusses what she calls mindful eating. By not making food an adversary that you need to avoid unless you want to feel guilty and fat, you promote awareness to the things you put in your body. It’s not a matter of dieting or about giving anything up – it’s about experiencing food more intensely.

This is something TCM has known all along. Taking time to eat properly is beneficial for your whole system. Eating on the go, or eating while thinking or worrying damages the organs’ functions in TCM. I suggest sitting down to eat at a table (not your work desk), but you could also easily stand against the kitchen counter. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal setting, but the idea is to make your food the main focus of the moment. Munching through a bag of popcorn is a lot harder when you’re not sitting on the sofa watching TV.

On a social level though it helps promote interaction with others or gives yourself some quiet time. You don’t have to practice monastic silence at meal times; turn off the TV and have a conversation. Try it and see the difference.

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Hearty breakfast recipes



It’s such common knowledge that it’s almost a cliché: having a good breakfast really does make a difference to your day.


We’ve all heard the excuses:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I can’t fathom eating that much in the morning.
  • I can’t face cooked food in the morning.
  • I’m not hungry.
  • I feel fine.


The biggest obstacle you need to overcome is that of it being morning. Trust me, if you can have an almond croissant in the morning, which let’s face it is pretty much an almond dessert, then you can have a proper breakfast.


And by proper breakfast I don’t mean the full English, a regular of a hangover. They can be light and delicious, and not take hours to prepare. The fact they’re cooked or warm food that you can’t eat on the go means you’re not damaging the spleen and stomach. Give these ideas a try:


Ham and cheese omelette

Yummy and light (go easy on the oil; it’s a hot frying pan that’s more important). Protein is the perfect start to your day and it’s much better than having sausages. Add a generous sprinkle of oregano just before you take it off the heat.


Smoked salmon and avocado with watercress salad and Greek yogurt

Light and simple, this is hearty and heart-friendly. If you’re feeling fanciful, add in a soft-boiled egg – you’d be amazed at the difference it makes.


Mix it up and experiment with the ingredients, try scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on a toasted muffin, or avocado and boiled egg with ham. Have fun, get into the rhythm and after a few days, I promise you will be hungry in the mornings.


Photo credit: Nina Matthews via flickr

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Wellness Tips for October



In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) autumn signifies the transition from the active and flowering spring and summer to a more passive season. This is the time to harbour your resources while getting rid of any excesses. Imagine it as your body’s way of preparing for hibernation after a season of hunting and gathering.


Last month I advised you to bring forward your health resolutions instead of waiting for deepest, greyest January to implement a new exercise regime. Here in London at least, it seems even the nice sunny weather was trying to encourage a bit of activity.


The Lung needs our attention during the autumn when the conditions are dryer and hence the moistening foods from last month’s wellness tips. In TCM we view the Lung as responsible for typical respiratory functions as well as the skin. As the weather gets colder and wind picks up, you need to defend yourself from respiratory infections and protect from dry skin. I always recommend wearing a scarf at this time as the neck is especially vulnerable to invasions of cold and wind.  


While all the back to school promotions in shops have filtered outside of schools with people getting down to business and the manic chaos of London Fashion Week in the papers, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t be overexerting yourself either. Plan and prioritise if you tend to find yourself swamped or make sure you set some time aside for social activities.


Shops are already selling Halloween decorations (and the treats which we will promptly ignore) and you can look forward to pumpkins and squashes which are in season later on in the month. Soups are probably the easiest way to take advantage of these warming vegetables which help nourish the qi, but you can also try them in stews. Last year, in a moment of madness, I made pumpkin pie fit for an American Thanksgiving meal. I added in nutmeg and cinnamon and it gave off a lovely aroma that was also warm and nourishing. Remember not to over do it with the cream or ice cream.


Photo credit: Erik Solheim via flickr

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Wellness Tips for September


September is like the second wind you may feel after lagging a bit during a (physical or mental) marathon. Traditionally many people start resolutions in January but I don’t find that very conducive to change. The cold grey days are harsh enough, why put more pressure on yourself?

September is a much better time to bring add some health changes if your lifestyle is slightly lacking. There’s still light in the evenings but the crisper weather makes it easier to add some physical activity than in the sluggish mugginess. It’s also quite a while yet till Christmas so you can concentrate on just getting it into your stride before the hectic festivities. Here are some things I do at the start of every autumn

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) autumn is characterized by dryness, much like the crinkling of fallen red and brown leaves under your feet. The Lung is most susceptible to dryness, characterised by dry, sore throats, nosebleeds and the common cold.

This is the time to for moistening foods; plenty of salads (not too cold, remember the Spleen!) and vegetables. Pears, although available year-round nowadays, is in season now and are wonderfully moistening. There’s a variety of pear called li (available in Chinese supermarkets) which are very crunchy. Some people remark how they have less flavour and more water than the normal “green” pears but I love how refreshing they feel around this time of year.

Have your fill of tomatoes before the winter, and include tofu, pine nuts, peanuts and pork. The picture above has pan-fried lemon sole on a bed of stir-fried greens, cabbage and mushrooms with steamed asparagus. Tomatoes were quickly tossed in the pan to warm them up but not over-cooked and all this was served with a nice juicy beetroot salad (which I have prepared and sitting on the counter while the rest of dinner is being made so that it’s not fridge cold). A dollop of Greek yogurt can be added if you want.

Photo credit: K Leoungk

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Turning over a new leaf | Healthier fresher food



Over the past month, I have embarked on a healthier, fresher diet. For moral support (and also because he is more talented in cooking) I have insisted that my boyfriend join me on this journey. I am a firm believer that summer or autumn is the best time to introduce healthy changes. The days are longer and the weather is mild so there is less of an impulse to seek comfort, whether that be a duvet or box of cookies.


Removing pasta, rice, bread, cereal, potatoes and corn from our meals has been surprisingly easy. I had convinced myself that no matter what was being served, I would need a “base” of penne or rice or mash to accompany it. I couldn’t be more wrong. Cooked spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggs or even the lowly greens are all delicious on their own or in a stir-fry upon which you can lay some fish, tofu or meat.


I have rediscovered an addiction to avocado and beetroot, although I couldn’t eat beetroot every morning. Romaine lettuce is my favourite for tuna salad or smoked salmon, it’s crispy and sweet to perfect proportions. I have it chopped into little strips which somehow makes it so much more appetising than leaving it in giant folds and much more manageable.


Unexpectedly, removing the “bad” carbs also makes it much healthier in terms of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the main culprit being potatoes. Before it was a regular in my routine and inevitably it would be baked, roasted or fried which in terms of TCM energetics contributes a lot to give the meal more “heat”. Now our meals tend to be steamed or stir-fried, with some meat cooked in on a really hot pan or wok with little or no oil.


The time it takes to plan the meals has probably been the hardest thing to work into our lives. Preparing the food required an almost military strategy when before I used to just stroll into the kitchen and pour muesli and milk into a bowl. We have had to not just ensure we have breakfast ready in the early morning rush, but also so that we minimize waste. When you rely on vegetables so much more (now that there is no more macaroni and cheese nights) means that I’m at the shops more often during the week than I would like. Surprisingly, we have not had to throw anything out since our month-long experiment began, whereas before there was the occasional bag of moldy something that had lost its enticement contest to the lovely slice of cheesecake.


This was meant to be just a month of sensible detox after my slight splurge on cake products (I blame it on my birthday) and yesterday I survived my first outing to a restaurant where I hadn’t pre-checked the menu. Besides the small scoops of mash with my scallops it wasn’t that hard to negotiate the menu. I am ready to continue on so that when January rolls around, I am well and ahead of the typical “New Year Resolutions” pitfalls.


Have you tried an change to your diet and how did it go for you?


Photo credit: Ben Ostrowsky via flickr

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