Happy new year HealthGhosters!

Hopefully you've made some achievable health goals for the next year, best of luck in achieving them!

This healthy recipe from Gousto has a variety of intriguing favours, as well as being relatively simple to cook (even I could do it!). It serves 2, but doubling the ingredient amounts means the recipe can be used for a whole family. It also includes a few ingredients new to myself, such as the small, slimy, vinegary flower pods capers.

The original recipe recommended 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, but we left it out as the flavour would have been rather overpowering.

1 chicken breast fillet
400g small potatoes (e.g new potatoes)
80g green beans
30g pistachios
10g tarragon
1 garlic clove
15g capers
Olive oil

  1. Boil a kettle full of water (for the potatoes later).
  2. Cut the potatoes into 3cm wide chunks, no peeling required.
  3. Add the potatoes to a saucepan, and cover with the boiled water from Step 1 along with a pinch of salt. Put the saucepan lid on, and bring the boil to a high heat. These should be cooked for 10-15 mins, or until they can be pierced easily with a fork.
  4. Whilst the potatoes are boiling, trim the ends off the green beans, and cut them in half.
  5. Chop the tarragon finely, including the stalks.
  6. Peel and finely chop the garlic.
  7. Add the pistachio nuts to a non-stick pan for a few minutes at a low heat. Once they are toasted, transfer them to a pestle and mortar and grind into rubble. Alternatively, a rolling pin and a bowl can be used.
  8. Return the pistachio pan onto the heat, along with a tablespoon of oil and a little salt.
  9. Cut the chicken into strips 2cm across, and cook in the pan until fully cooked.
  10. Add the green beans to the potatoes, and cook for 1 minute.
  11. Drain the green beans and potatoes, and add into the chicken pan along with a small knob of butter and the sliced garlic.
  12. Cook for 3-5 more minutes until the potatoes are starting to turn golden, then add the capers, tarragon, and crushed pistachios.
  13. Mix all the ingredients well and add some salt and pepper, as well as any additional seasoning desired.
  14. Serve!
When working towards a healthier diet, cutting vices like alcohol is often one of the first steps. We've all heard of a "beer belly", and none of us want one.

Whilst excessive binge drinking is obviously extremely harmful to both yourself, those around you, and society as a whole, the occasional drink isn't as clear cut. In fact, drinking a little alcohol in moderation has many health benefits. In general, the weight gain associated with those who regularly consume alcohol is actually caused by associated factors, not the alcohol itself. For example, an increased likelihood to consume takeaways, pub food, and other high calorie foods. Additionally, the weight gain from alcohol isn't confirmed yet, despite many large studies on the subject.

So, don't worry about the occasional beer at the weekend, it's probably doing you good!

This pie is really delicious and seasonal. By using filo pastry instead of a thicker pie filling it is a lot lighter and less 'stogey' in comparison. The selection of vegetables used makes this Tesco recipe a really nice dish which is simple to make.

3 red peppers, deseeded and diced
1 red onion, diced
1 courgette, diced
3 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
1 tbsp capers
handful frozen prawns
4 sheets filo pastry
knob of butter, melted

1.)Preheat the oven to gas 4, 180°C, fan 160°C. Heat the oil in a pan and add the peppers, onion, courgette and tomatoes. Cook until they start to soften, then stir in the garlic and capers. Fry for a few minutes more, then stir in the prawns.
2.) Place the cooked vegetable mixture into a colander briefly to get rid of excess liquid, then transfer straight into an ovenproof dish and season.
3.) Cut the pastry sheets into 4 even squares, then scrunch each one into a very loose ball. Scatter the scrunched up balls over the top of the vegetable mixture.
4.) Brush lightly with the melted butter and place in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the prawns are cooked through and the pastry is golden and crisp. You could serve it with freshly steamed vegetables.

We all want to eat healthily, but it can often be hard to determine the healthiness of a food item at a glance. For example, Diet Coke has 0 calories and 0 fat, and yet we all know more than the occasional can is a fast track to obesity.

Whilst Reference Intake (RI) bars don't fully alleviate the issue, they do provide an easy way of assessing the health values of a product at a glance. With an intuitive red / yellow / green system along with percentages, finding out the health value of most foods is far easier. Lest ye forget, the body needs small amounts of sugar and fat, so aiming for all green bars all the time isn't necessarily the best option.

However, the system relies on predetermined portion sizes, which are often not realistic. For example, a loaf of bread will use a single slice to calculate the RIs, whereas almost every use of bread will require at least twice this portion. Unhealthy products are often not represented fairly, with RIs calculated off small slices of the product instead of the larger portion size most will have. This inconsistency, if spotted, further illustrates how absurdly high in fat and sugar cakes and chocolate can be. If 1/5th of a small cake contains 50% the daily allowance of saturated fat, imagine what half the cake would contain!

Additionally, the reference intakes don't distinguish between different types of sugar and fat. So whilst a banana contains a high amount of sugar, it is still an extremely healthy food, and far better than any crisps / chocolate. Nuts also suffer from high amounts of fat (and saturated fat), but in small amounts are very good for the body.

In summary, RIs should be used wherever possible to assess the benefits of a product, but may not tell the full story. Instead, they should be used to begin assessing the health benefits of a product, along with the ingredients list.
With the seemingly endless todo lists most of us have, getting enough sleep can end up being pushed all the way to the bottom. Whilst staying up late and working provides a bit more time, it's rarely worth it in the long run. The potential risks of reduced sleep are numerous, including:
  • Impaired judgement.
  • Increased weight gain.
  • Higher risk of depression.
  • Worse skin.
  • Decrease in memory capability.
  • Reduced cognitive processes. 
  • Increase risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and more.
  • Reduced sex drive.
As should be clear from the above list, staying up late simply isn't worth it in terms of long term health, both physically and mentally. In fact, a Whitehall II study found that decreasing hours slept per night from seven to five (or less) almost doubled the overall risk of death

Of course, we all need different amounts of sleep, and are more productive at different times of the day. For example, I tend to go to bed early and wake up early, as I am more productive before work than after. My partner sleeps longer, so goes to bed at the same time and wakes up later. Finding the optimal amount required is easy, just spend a week or two going to bed early, and seeing when your body wakes you up in the morning. This will let you discover how long your body actually wants to sleep for, and the results may be surprising!

I personally found the affect of increased sleep on my mental state to be the most startling. My happiness improved, as did my productivity and motivation. The cause behind this is not waking up to a loud, abrasive alarm, and instead waking up when my body was ready. Whilst it's easy to claim to be too busy to live without an alarm, the increased motivation and work capability will more than make up for any lost time.

Happy sleeping!
We all make mistakes. Unfortunately most of us don't have infallible willpower, so we occasionally slip on our diet or exercise goals. Whilst these mistakes aren't the end of the world, avoiding their impact is still an achievable goal.

One of the most destructive mindsets is the idea of a "cheat day", a day where your usual positive lifestyle improvements can be ignored. These days consist of pizza, alcohol, sitting around all day, and generally ignoring any diet or exercise commitments. The dangerous part of these days is the "I've already had 3 slices of pizza, 1 more won't make any difference" mentality.

That 4th slice is just as unhealthy as the 1st slice on a normal day! It's important to keep this in mind, so that mistakes can be treated more as "cheat incidents" instead of developing into "cheat days".

For example, today I had a small packet of sweets. This then snowballed into thinking I should have pizza for dinner, maybe some ice cream, etc. Realising that this was the cheat day mindset in full effect let me get rid of these urges, and continue with my planned healthy meal.

Good luck sticking to your plans!
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