Friday, March 29, 2013

Super-healthy super-food truffles

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm doing this temporary thing where I'm not eating nuts, sugar, most grains or dairy, alcohol or processed or artificial anything. It's not been a big deal, except...well, it is Easter, and you know what that means....


Even when I was prepping for a figure competition, I still worked chocolate into my nutrition plan. It may have been a Tim Tam Cornetto (sadly, no longer being made. Boo!), a small choc cupcake with a molten ganache centre from the bakery near my office, or just a single serve of good-quality dark chocolate, but you can bet I didn't let a week go by without having a little chocolicious treat.

It's not like I'm desperately craving chocolate or anything; I'm actually doing fine with plenty of beautiful seasonal fruit to satisfy my sweet tooth. The thing is though, a few weeks ago I was contacted by the folks at Cheap Superfoods, who asked if I would like some samples of their raw organic cacao powder and organic chia seeds to try. CACAO? Of course, I said "yes".


The goodies arrived very quickly and I've had these packets sitting in my pantry for a couple of weeks now. I was struggling to think of what to do with them while I was following this strict nutrition plan, but today, whilst flicking through a foodie magazine, inspiration struck. Truffles! Perfect for a small treat for Easter without cheating on my commitment to another four days of The Plan.

I actually had no idea if this would work - all the recipes I'd seen for "healthy" or "raw" truffles used nuts or nut butter in large amounts to make up the bulk, add moisture and give the recipe stick-togetherness. I grabbed the cacao and chia, then stood in the pantry pondering. I pulled out coconut oil, vanilla beans (can't use extract or paste - they contain both alcohol and sugar), some spices and shredded coconut. But I needed sweetness and moisture. Hmm..I had a box of medjool dates in the fridge. I didn't want to use too many, because those things are packed full of sugar and consequently, calories. Luckily, just a few should do the job.

So I still needed something to replace the texture and stickiness that nut butter would add. Then I remembered AVOCADO. Would it work? My previous chocolate mousse experiments weren't all that successful...

I chucked everything in the food processor, crossed my fingers, and ended up with these:

They LOOK like real truffles...

And you know what? They're good. I mean, REALLY good. Not just because they're so virtuous that just eating one will guarantee you a sainthood... they taste fabulous.

Judge for yourself. The recipe is over here.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. I received some free product from Cheap Superfoods for the purposes of testing and reviewing, but was not paid for this post. Opinions expressed here (as always) are my own.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Hot bod, healthy heart

HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks. HeartActive is currently available in a 1L carton with an extended shelf life (45 days from production) compared to regular white milks with a shelf life of 14 days.

After a few weeks of focus in both the nutrition and exercise departments, I'm feeling pretty damn awesome. I'm fitter, I'm leaner, I'm less achey, plus in the mental health department... well, let's just say things are about as close to Zen as an obsessive control freak is ever likely to get.

Whilst I can see the obvious changes on the outside, I'm also keen to see what effect my lifestyle overhaul is having on my insides. I was supposed to get a cholesterol test done at the end of January, but do you have any idea how hard it is to fit a fasting blood test into a busy schedule? What with morning training, a long commute to work and some extra family obligations over the past few months, there was barely a spare minute anywhere. Finally though, I squeezed it in a week or so ago and I'll be following up on the results later in the week - which will probably be accompanied by a good telling-off by my doctor for being so late. And then I'll be getting it checked again in three or four months' time to see what progress I've made.

Of course, an ideal cholesterol level is just one indicator of a healthy heart. Things like blood pressure matter too. I have that one nailed because my blood pressure is stupidly low - to the point of passing out if I stand up too quickly. Oops. But apart from having regular medical checks, there are a number of things that we all have direct control over that have a huge impact on heart health. These are just a few, courtesy of the Heart Foundation:

- Maintaining a healthy body weight. Being overweight adds significantly to your risk of heart disease.
- Don't smoke. Just don't.
- Be physically active. The recommendations that get thrown around tend to focus on aerobic exercise, but throw in some resistance training too and your heart will thank you.
- Avoid prolonged stress. Yeah, this one can be trickier than the others, but for me, letting go of the stuff you have no control over is the key to not being a cortisol-fuelled stressed-out wreck. Omm...
- Eat balanced meals with lean protein, plenty of veggies, some fruit and whole grains and some "good" fats.

I can tick all those boxes: Weight is sitting pretty right where it ought to be in the high fifties (yay!); thankfully I've never smoked; I'm getting in an average of an hour of exercise a day including a couple of weights sessions each week; I'm not (very) stressed, mainly thanks to making more effort with organisation; and my nutrition is soundly based around whole foods in the 40/40/20 (protein/carbohydrates/fats) range.

I've also continued to swap Dairy Farmers' Heart Active for my old brand of milk and am adding it to my breakfast porridge and to various recipes, so I'm bombarding my body with a daily dose of plant sterols. Take that, high cholesterol!

Oh, the external result of all this focus and dedication? 5kg gone and enough confidence to tuck my top into my skirt, as seen below. Excuse the rather sober expression; taking selfies isn't really my thing. Also, the fluorescent lighting in the Ladies' room at work is not exactly flattering.

Hot on the outside, healthy on the inside
I shall try to do better in the medical checkups department. Perhaps if I put it in ALL my diaries: my paper one, my phone, home computer and work email, and then write in biro on the back of my hand, I might remember. 

Please tell me it's not just me who gets too busy and/or distracted to follow up on their inner health....

Sponsored Series by Nuffnang Australia
HeartActive is a delicious, 99% fat free milk enriched with plant sterols, which are proven to help reduce cholesterol. Research shows that consuming plant sterols everyday in milk can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10% in three weeks. HeartActive is currently available in a 1L carton with an extended shelf life (45 days from production) compared to regular white milks with a shelf life of 14 days.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Recipe alert! Tomato sauce like Grandma used to make

I'm doing this (very temporary) thing where I'm not eating a whole lot of stuff. The no-no list includes sugar, artificial sweeteners, nuts, most grains, most dairy, soy (unless it's fermented...I think), and basically anything manufactured. The idea is to eat nothing but "real" foods, which is all good in my book.

It's not like I eat frankenfoods anyway. Margarine? Bleurgh. Nasty artificial flavours, preservatives etc? No thanks. But I do relax the rules for a tiny spoonful of various kinds of sauces in my recipes. I was a bit miffed to discover that my fish sauce contains sugar. I mean, really...why? It doesn't taste at all sweet and I can't quite see how a minuscule amount of sugar helps a concoction that's basically fermented anchovies and a LOT of salt. Harrumph!

I've been making lovely salsas - both pineapple and mango featured in my creations this week - and am quite used to making a vinaigrette rather than open a bottle of bought salad dressing anyway. But when I decided to make hamburgers for our dinner on Friday night, I decided that mine could use a little saucing up. And, voila! My no-sugar-nothing-artificial tomato sauce was born.

Home-made burger, mashed kumera, pineapple salsa. And the not-so-secret sauce!
This recipe is vegetarian/vegan, gluten-free and would suit Paleo eating too. Wait - do Paleo folks eat vinegar? Surely they do...


Sunday, March 10, 2013


I wasn't going to attend FitX - trekking to the city is such a huge PITA when you live out in the boonies. Besides, I'd been to a fitness expo in Melbourne once before and was pretty unimpressed, so didn't give it a thought. THEN I got a message from Selina, who was coming down from Mackay for the weekend and wanted to know if I was going...? Well, HELL YEAH!

So I jumped online to find out the details and almost fainted at the $20 price tag for entry. But wait...what's this? Free entry for fitness and health business people? Awesome. I registered and printed my free ticket and I was all set.

Being pretty focused on some fat loss at the moment, I wasn't prepared to take a chance on the catering options at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. There *may* have been something relatively healthy there, but there's no guarantee at those places. So I packed a portable meal:

Very unexciting, but protein, carbs and plenty of fibre. And handbag-portable!
I was hoping to find a salad available that I could add my home-brought goodies to, but when I attempted to check out the cafeteria area, the queue was so long, I couldn't even see the end of it. Bah. The smell of hot chips pervading the entire exhibition space didn't encourage me to spend thirty minutes or more waiting in line in the hope of a bit of lettuce.

I found Selina and Shannon down the front of the main stage area, waiting for the IFBB Pro ladies to come onstage for pre-judging. The show was running horribly late (I think that's just a given with every bodybuilding federation), but it was worth the wait. Top four:

I can dream of having legs like those, right?
While we were waiting for the girls, we got to ogle a bit of beefcake:

I have no idea which division this was - possibly the Pro qualifier?
Overall, I wasn't impressed with FitX. Maybe if I'd got there early.... it was horribly overcrowded and very hard to move along the aisles, let alone get close to the stands to see what was on offer. I've never seen so many "Bros" in one place. It was also noisy and the catering facilities, as mentioned earlier, were inadequate. I wanted a bottle of water but again, wasn't about to join the queue. I did spy a drink vending machine though ...which was out of order.

I was glad that I hadn't paid to get in. I did get to hang out with the Queensland girlies though, so it wasn't a total loss. I may go again next year, but I'll make sure I don't arrange an 11:30am osteopath appointment on the day, which delayed my arrival until almost 2:00pm. Getting there when the doors open probably makes all the difference.

They did have a variety of "entertainment" going on. This made me raise an eyebrow:

I'm a little inspired by the impressive IFBB ladies (no, I am NOT going to compete again) and I really pushed things up a few notches in the gym this morning. I even managed three sets of very light deadlifts with no issues - of course, making sure my legs and butt were doing all the work, not my shoulders. That made me feel so good I went on to spend twenty minutes on the dreaded elliptical when I'd finished my weights workout. Go, me!

It's long weekend here, so I need to urgently get on with doing nothing very much at all. Later...


Monday, March 04, 2013

Is that supposed to do that?

Sometimes life seems to keep giving you more and more lemons, when all you want is a sweet, juicy orange. I'm used to "working with what I have" when it comes to exercising around my physiological quirks, but this past week has tested my patience and good humour severely.

First off, having a significant leg length discrepancy sucks. Just in case you were wondering. It makes my pelvis crooked and also encourages it to do a kind of twisty thing to boot. Not ideal when you're just walking down the street, let alone attempting to squat. The wonky pelvis causes my upper body to shift sideways in the opposite direction to balance me out, giving me a pronounced scoliosis of the thoracic spine and causing all sorts of issues with my shoulders and neck.

With the help of physiotherapists, osteopaths, podiatrists and a certain exercise physiologist, I've managed to correct or improve some of that over the past few years, and just work with the rest.

Then of course, thanks to my main job, which involves hours every day sitting at a desk tapping and clicking away at a computer, I've developed some chronic overuse injuries... I've chronicled some of the battles I've had with my right shoulder, but I also have issue in the left one plus bilateral tennis elbow and neck pain.  More phsyio, special work equipment and corrective exercises are mostly preventing those getting any worse. I'm not sure there's actual improvement, but I live in hope.

All of this has seriously messed with my self-image over the past couple of years. I'm strong and fit and healthy, right? Um... *sigh*

I do have a plan. I've started seeing an osteopath again, and took myself off for a long overdue visit to a podiatrist a few weeks ago. Muscles are loosening up and new orthotics are on their way, and I was feeling pretty confident of making even more progress on the rehab front over the next few months.

So I didn't need something in my chest to go "PING!" whilst I was doing a rehab exercise, of all things, last week. With 2kg dumbbells... how demoralising. My physio has diagnosed an intercostal muscle strain and says it should right itself reasonably quickly. I hope so, because the sensation of someone sticking a skewer between my ribs every time I turn over in bed, click a Tupperware lid in place or do pretty much anything with my left arm is getting very old, very fast.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Don't worry, I'm sucking it up and getting on with training anyway. Some modification is required, of course; I'm not a complete idiot, after all.

On the positive side, this morning I did a couple of sets of lateral raises for the first time in - oh, about a year. Sure, I used weeny 2kg dumbbells, but I did them with good form and with no pain. And since my body fat is at a reasonable level, I could see muscles working; yay! It seems I do have some delts left... they may be a bit smaller than they used to be, but they haven't atrophied to nothing.

I'm finding the positives wherever I can. :o)