Happy Belly Happy Heart

A blog dedicated to nutrition, wellbeing and happiness. I believe the key to a good life begins with what you choose to put into your body. A happy belly = a happy mind = a happy heart.

Pumpkin, Parsnip & Carrot Soup

Pumkpin, parsnip & carrot soupI made this delicious soup a few weeks ago and have been meaning to share it with you ever since. Actually it was probably more like 6 weeks ago as the pumpkin arrived in my organic veg box around Hallowe’en!

As is often the way, I had a few ingredients left from my veg box and was wondering what to do with them. And the old reliable turn-them-into-soup option seemed perfect on this occasion!

The pumpkin creates a rich, creamy texture and a flavour that’s not too overpowering. This allows the sweet, celery-like taste of the parsnip to come shining through, and finally the carrots add a depth of flavour and colour to the soup.

So here’s my recipe; feel free to adapt it as you see fit:

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  • 1 small organic pumpkin
  • 2 large or 3 medium organic parsnips
  • 3 medium or 4 small organic carrots
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Salt & pepper
  • Crème fraîche to serve


  1. De-seed, peel and chop the pumpkin into small chunks; peel and chop the parsnips and carrots into chunks.
  2. Put all the veg into a large saucepan, pour in the stock and bring to the boil.
  3. Peel and crush the garlic and add to the pan.
  4. Cover the pan, reduce the heat and cook for about 20-30 mins or until all the veg is soft enough to purée.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a food processor.
  6. Blend into a soup and add more boiling water if needed for required consistency.
  7. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.


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A drug named sugar

sugar cubes in a bowl I’m constantly amazed at the effect sugar has on the human body.

Last week I made the most powerful pudding ever, which sent my boyfriend and I into what I can only describe as a drug-induced frenzy. Don’t get me wrong, it was a very delicious dessert, but I think we might have overdone the portion sizes. By about 10 times.

I found the recipe on the Ocado website: Sticky Toffee and Banana Pudding. It should come with a health warning! I guess I should have known it would be a pretty decadent dessert, from the lashings of Jamaica Ginger Cake, double cream, butter, maple syrup and, yes, brown sugar, that’s required.

The first mouthful was like heaven, both of us emitting groans of pleasure, and the next few mouthfuls were equally delectable. However, as our internal organs began to wake up and smell the toffee, they started violently protesting, screaming “What the hell are you trying to do to us?” We kept going, determined not to waste any of this delicious concoction. But as we neared the end of the bowl, our movements slowing and our stomachs groaning, we finally had to admit defeat. We practically slumped over the table and immediately had to remove the bowls from sight and smell. We had definitely overdone it.

What happened next can only be described as complete and utter chaos.

Jamaica Ginger Cake

First came the collapse on the sofa, when I was reminded of opiate-fuelled shooting up scenes from Trainspotting and Breaking Bad. Next came the incoherent babble, as neither of us could string a sentence together, making communication increasingly difficult. And then came the spasms.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced “sugar cramps” as I’ve come to know them, but they’re extremely unpleasant. Your arms and legs keep involuntarily tensing in these spasm-like movements which you have absolutely no control over. You can try gritting your teeth and resisting them, or surrendering and relaxing into them. But nothing works. You just have to ride it out.

It wasn’t until I experienced these cramps at full pelt, immediately after eating so much sugar, that I realised this had been the cause of them previously. About 4 years ago, during a period of fairly high caffeine consumption on my part, I assumed the irritability, muscle cramps, energy swings and general burn-out I was experiencing was down to the coffee. But suddenly now it all became blindingly obvious: it was the sugar. Pure and simple.

Brown sugarAfter a while (we lost all sense of time) of babbling, groaning and spasming, amidst cries of “What have I done to us?!” we decided there was only one thing for it: sleep. So we had a nap. A broken, spasming, irritable, uncomfortable nap, but a nap nonetheless. And when we awoke some time later we knew what we needed next: peppermint tea.

But only after I’d had a fit of hysterics. You know the kind of hysterics that are literally uncontrollable? When you’re laughing your tits off to the point you can barely breathe and you have no idea what you’re laughing at? Them.

And breathe.

peppermint teaSo there we were, drinking peppermint tea in the small hours (I’m guessing) in a state of just-woken, hysterics-recovering, speech-impaired, leg-cramping, messed up delirium. And trying desperately to avoid eye or thought contact with the morsels of pudding that remained in the bowls, or the cooking implements still soiled with the remnants of devilish dessert.

And all this from sugar! Now, granted, it was probably more sugar than either of us would normally eat in a week, but it was just incredible. That a foodstuff could have such physical, mental and psychological effects on the body is practically mind-blowing. And I haven’t even got started on the come down the next morning!

With effects like these, is it any wonder that diabetes is the 5th leading cause of death in the US? 8.3% of the US population have some form of diabetes. That’s 25.8 million adults and children. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and blindness; it can lead to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and nervous system damage; and in 2007 it contributed to over 231,400 deaths in the US alone. In the UK 2.9 million people have been diagnosed and this is expected to increase to 5 million by 2025.

And all this is completely avoidable.

The average American consumes around 56.5kg of sugar per year. For a 9-stone person that basically means eating your own body weight in sugar! And consuming an excessive amount of sugar causes massive strain on the liver and pancreas, which causes too much insulin to be produced, which means too much sugar gets broken down, leading to low blood sugar, or hypoglycaemia. This results in erratic mood swings, sugar cravings, energy lows, irritability and depression. It can further lead to hormonal disturbance, ulcers, menstrual problems and even schizophrenic behaviour. These symptoms can then become major contributing factors in alcoholism, juvenile crime, marital break-up and mental disorders.

Yes – all this from sugar!

Sweets and chocolatesAccording to my BSY nutrition course, “Excluding addictions to alcohol and drugs, the next greatest threat to health in Western society today, after stress, is probably sugar consumption. Sugar is added to almost all of the prepared food that we eat. These valueless foods fill you up and provide an instant lift. Lots of people consider [sugary] snacks to be perfectly normal, but in the long term they are extremely damaging. The real tragedy is that our children in particular are eating more and more sweets, cakes and sugary foods. This is destroying their bodies and setting them up for a life of hypoglycaemia and diabetes.”

Many people don’t realise that refined sugar is a powerful stimulant and has a drug-like effect on the body – as I’ve experienced first-hand! Whilst everyone knows that too much alcohol or nicotine can seriously harm your health, the effects of other stimulants like caffeine and particularly sugar are often dumbed down or dismissed.

Maybe it’s time we started printing health warnings on chocolate bars and bags of sweets…?

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Cleansing diet: final day

Fruit SaladWell, here it is – day seven at last! I’m on the home straight.

And the burning questions I hear you ask are “How do you feel?”, “Do you feel detoxed?” and “Have you lost any weight?”

Well, I forgot to weigh myself at the beginning (d’oh!), but I reckon I’ve lost 1 or 2 pounds in a week. I definitely feel trimmer around my waist and haven’t had any kind of bloating or digestive problems whatsoever.

I wouldn’t say I feel particularly energised or refreshed, but I know the diet was good for me and I was amazed at the energy I found during my daily yoga practice. I generally have a pretty healthy diet anyway, but I’m sure cutting out the dairy, the wheat, and especially the sugar, for a week has been beneficial for my body and given some of my organs a bit of a rest.

tomato-and-beetroot soupWhat I ate on day seven:

  • Breakfast: fruit salad (banana, peach, strawberries and blueberries) with chopped almonds.
  • Snack: apple.
  • Lunch: tomato, beetroot and ginger soup (using tinned tomatoes).
  • Snack: carrot sticks; grapes.
  • Dinner: falafel, houmous, coleslaw, cucumber raita, salad, skinny fries & garlic mayo – at GBK!

Yes, I decided to forego the final dinner and indulge in a meal out with a friend after the cinema. I made the decision a couple of days ago and have been looking forward to it ever since!

Eating falafel & chipsMy cravings seem to have subsided a bit, but that might be because I haven’t been around other people eating today, plus I knew I was going to be eating chips before the day was out!

If you’re going to try this yourself, choose a week when you haven’t got much going on and make sure you don’t follow the diet for any longer than 10 days. Be prepared for some detoxing effects in the first few days and if you’re a bit of a caffeine fan, watch out for those headaches! I only had them mildly on the first day, but then I only usually drink one cup of caffeinated tea a day. A friend, who was also following the diet this week, normally drinks 3 or 4 cups of tea a day and had pretty bad headaches plus toothache on one day. So you can never quite tell how those toxins are going to come out.

Good luck and happy cleansing!

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Cleansing diet: day six

Spaghetti Squash DelightNearly there!

I definitely have less energy and less brain power than normal, so I have to remind myself to not overdo it, be kind to myself and take it easy. Hence why I’ve just been pottering about at home and going to the cinema a lot!

My two half hour walks were fine today, so maybe the wind had something to do with my exhaustion yesterday. Or maybe it was just the thought of getting to the cinema that kept me going!

My food diary for day six:

  • Fruit & Veg Snack PotsBreakfast: fruit salad (banana, peach, strawberries and blueberries) with chopped almonds.
  • Snack: apple.
  • Lunch: spaghetti squash with griddled courgettes, steamed leaks, steamed spinach and avocado (one of my stranger concoctions!)
  • Snack: carrot sticks; grapes; strawberries & blueberries (taken to cinema).
  • Dinner: baked sweet potato with leftover stuffed pepper mixture and steamed broccoli (same as day five).

Only 1 day to go and I think I might just do it!


Cleansing diet: day five

fruit-smoothieToday was pretty good! It was the last day of Sharath’s teaching in London but unfortunately I couldn’t go due to personal reasons. The lie-in was heavenly though!

I had a big lunch today which helped me get through the afternoon. However, I decided to walk along the seafront to a friend’s house to watch a film in the evening, which took about 40 minutes, and it totally wiped me out. I was so exhausted when I got there and felt just about ready to collapse. It seemed far more strenuous than my Ashtanga yoga practice, but maybe it was just because it was later in the day and coming up to feed time.

Luckily I’d taken some tasty vegetable provisions with me so I was able to refuel once I got there. But watching my friends tucking into a chunky cheese & veggie omelette was torture!

Here’s what I ate on day five:

  • sweet potato, veg & broccoliBreakfast: banana, mango, peach, blueberry & almond smoothie.
  • Snack: apple.
  • Lunch: baked sweet potato with leftover stuffed pepper mixture (see day three) and steamed broccoli.
  • Snack: half an avocado.
  • Dinner: leftover butternut soup (see day four); leftover stuffed peppers (see day three); leftover rice salad (see day one).

Only 2 days to go!

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Cleansing diet: day four

tomato-avocado-saladFour days in and I think I’m starting to get used to this. I even woke up 5 minutes before my alarm, at 3.55am this morning!

I felt like I had even less energy for yoga this morning and felt even hungrier, but you can never really tell until you get on the mat. As it turns out I was fine, had a good strong practice and barely snoozed in the car on the way there or back.

My food diary for day four:

  • Breakfast: banana, strawberry & peach smoothie; raspberries, blueberries & mango with chopped almonds; peppermint tea.
  • Snack: apple; grapes.
  • Lunch: leftover stuffed peppers (see day three).
  • Snack: chopped tomato, avocado & basil (not as well presented as in this picture though!)
  • Dinner: butternut squash, carrot & garlic soup; rice salad (see day one).

It’s amazing noticing the effects different foods have on the body. I’m used to eating oats in the morning, in the form of homemade toasted muesli which is a lot like granola, and they really keep me going for hours. But when I’m only eating fruit and 20 almonds for breakfast I find I need to eat again after only an hour or so.

I’ve never eaten so much fruit in my life! I do wonder whether it’s good to eat so much. Although fructose is a natural sugar, it’s still sugar so it can’t be good to eat it in excess. Although I do feel I need the energy. And it’s far more tasty than bland vegetables…

butternut-squash-soupI finally felt full today – for at least 2 hours! I ate over half a litre of butternut squash, carrot & garlic soup and it actually felt pretty satisfying – result!


Cleansing diet: day three

cleanse-diet-4So I’m 3 days in and this is definitely harder than I thought it would be. I mean, for a vegetarian who mostly lives on fruit & veg, you wouldn’t think it would be that hard, right? Wrong!

I think the hardest thing is this permanent feeling of hunger. It might be a low level hunger but it’s there constantly and never seems to go away, no matter how much I eat! Luckily I don’t seem to have been hit too bad by the hungry grumps, though, so at least I can still be around other people without biting their heads off!

I definitely had slightly less energy during my yoga practice this morning, but I still managed to get through it and even discovered a bit more energy halfway through, which helped me sustain the more challenging postures for longer. And I didn’t need an afternoon nap today so maybe my body’s getting a bit more used to this new routine.

On day three I ate:

  • Breakfast: banana; grapes; raspberries & blueberries with chopped almonds; peppermint tea.
  • Snack: apple.
  • Lunch: rice salad (see day one).
  • Snack: mini corn on the cob.
  • Dinner: stuffed peppers (leftover tomato mix from day one plus brown rice, griddled courgettes, boiled carrots, steamed mushrooms and steamed leeks in a tomato and garlic sauce).

The lack of oil and butter is certainly opening me up to new culinary techniques – I never knew you could steam mushrooms or leeks and I don’t think I’ve ever griddled courgettes before!

stuffed peppersgriddled courgettes


Cleansing diet: day two

veg-basketI’m still alive!

Ok so I survived the first day and still managed to have a strong yoga practice in the morning too. I wonder if any of the pizza I ate on Sunday was still in my system…

I was less tired than day one and didn’t need an afternoon nap, although I have been snoozing in the car to and from London! I’m still pretty hungry most of the time, but surprised at how much energy I have considering I’m barely eating any carbs or protein.

So this was my food diary for day two:

  • Breakfast: fruit salad (bananas, strawberries, peach and nectarine in lemon juice) with chopped almonds; peppermint tea.
  • Snack: apple.
  • Lunch: rice salad (see day one).
  • Snack: chopped tomato, avocado and basil.
  • Dinner: steamed veg in tomato sauce with rice (see day one).

And these are some of my initial observations:

  • It’s amazing how much fruit & veg you get through when it’s all you’re eating! I’m having to stock up every few days.
  • I need to eat much more frequently: scrap ‘little and often’; it’s more like ‘all day, every day’!
  • I’m developing an obsession with food, constantly thinking about what I’m going to eat next and planning my next meal.
  • But I’m also developing a deeper appreciation for food and even the simplest things seem like complete luxury. Oh to be able to eat an oat cake with peanut butter or a corn thin with Marmite! Or even a morsel of cheese. Or a bowl of cheesy chips with salt, pepper and mayonnaise (ok, now I’m drooling…)
  • I also seem to be craving comfort and I realise I usually get a lot of comfort from food, even when it’s healthy.

I’ll let you know tomorrow if I made it all the way to day three…

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Cleansing diet: day one

Fruits & VeggiesSo I finally got around to trying the cleansing diet I’ve been reading about in my nutrition course.

It’s a very simple alkalising diet, consisting of only fruits and vegetables (raw, cooked or juiced), filtered water and herbal teas, but you can also include the following:

  • Up to 1 cooked cup of brown rice per day
  • 1/2 a small avocado per day
  • Up to 20 almonds per day

As it’s designed to cleanse and detoxify your system, you should avoid all meat, dairy, gluten, carbs (apart from the rice), protein (apart from the almonds), oils, spices, salt, sugar and alcohol.

I decided to follow the diet for 7 days, as 10 days is the recommended maximum, and yesterday was day one. It’s certainly harder than I thought it would be and I have the added challenge of keeping up my daily Ashtanga yoga practice. However, this isn’t just a normal practice week for me. Sharath, the grandson of my guru Sri K Pattabhi Jois, is teaching in London as part of his World Tour. But I live in Brighton! So I’m going to bed at 8pm and getting up at 4am to get a lift up to London (almost 2 hours each way), practising led primary in a huge room of about 150 people (which is pretty intense in itself), then getting a lift home again to collapse. Phew!

On top of all that I’m having to put a lot of thought and energy into planning my meals and have already become a bit obsessed with food – thinking about it when I’m on the mat and even dreaming about it some nights!

It may sound a little mad to be following a cleansing diet in the same week as attending Sharath’s classes, but as I have the week off work, I figured it would be easier this way than trying to plan food to take to work, and more significantly, trying to concentrate at work. And I think I was right – yesterday I could barely think straight! When I got home I felt very tired, very hungry and quite wobbly. I slept for an hour and a half in the afternoon and felt quite headachey when I got up. But this is to be expected: apparently it’s a sign of the toxins being released and your body adjusting to the new regime.


So this is what I ate on day one:

  • Breakfast: banana, apple, 20 almonds (which isn’t as many as you might think).
  • Lunch: rice salad with salad leaves, basil, avocado, tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms, beetroot, carrot, and pure lemon juice as a dressing.
  • Snack: mini corn on the cob.
  • Dinner: steamed squash, carrot and aubergine in a tomato and garlic sauce (no oil) on a bed of rice.

I was feeling pretty hungry for most of the day and nothing could quite satisfy me, so I was a bit worried about not having enough energy to practice the next morning. As it turns out I was fine, but the worst bit of all is going for breakfast after practice and watching others tuck into coffees, croissants and muffins while I try to feel content with my fruit, almonds and peppermint tea!

I’ll update you as the week progresses and let you know how I’m getting on – if I have the brainpower that is!


“Those who can’t find time for exercise will have to make time for illness.”

woman running on sandI remember when I first heard this quote I felt it resonate quite strongly, and that hasn’t changed a bit. In fact it’s probably only got stronger. I simply don’t understand people who don’t exercise. To me it’s up there with eating, sleeping and even breathing. It’s part of normal, everyday life and I know that if I didn’t do it there’d be serious consequences.

I don’t think I’ve always felt this way. I mean I’m not a fitness freak or anything, but I guess when I look back I’ve always been a pretty active person. My Dad was in the bike trade for years which means my sister and I always had decent mountain bikes. I enjoyed cycling and would sometimes go out on bike rides, but ultimately it was just a more interesting way to get around town than walking. I guess I’m lucky to have always lived in a city where you could walk or cycle everywhere.

I used to go swimming a lot when I was younger, but not for exercise. It was just a lot of fun: splashing about, having races, learning to dive and swim underwater. At one point I was a keen trampolinist too, getting my first 3 badges when I was 16 or 17. But mastering the simple somersault seemed enough for me and I was put off by the idea of having to do backwards somersaults, piked somersaults, triple twisted somersaults, etc., etc.

kids runningI also used to play outdoors a lot as a kid. In the playground, in the street, in the parks: Hide and Seek, Squashed Sardines, Kiss Chase, British Bulldogs, 44 Save All – you name it, we played it! So maybe having such an active childhood accounts for some of my attitude towards exercise today. I know that if I didn’t exercise I’d feel tired, sluggish, more hungry, more bloated, I probably wouldn’t sleep as well and my brain probably wouldn’t function as effectively either. Plus I’d just feel downright lazy.

As we develop through life we take on more and more responsibilities. Like work. And chores. And work. And family. Oh and work of course. So being active undoubtedly requires a little more effort and planning. (Unless you’re a PE teacher or a gym instructor or a ball boy.) But only a little. And the best thing is, it can be fun! I think that’s part of the issue nowadays: that many people see exercise as another chore, another task they have to try to fit into their ever-demanding day or week because they feel they “should”. But the key here is finding something you enjoy doing.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of cycling and swimming, not because I felt I “should” but because they’re activities I really enjoy. I love feeling the wind in my face and the sense of freedom as I dart through the traffic or down a country lane on my bike. And I love the sense of achievement I get from cutting through the water, stroke after stroke, and beating my previous lap time. And part of the reason why I continue to enjoy these activities is down to how they make me feel. Which is no coincidence. Exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol, and releases the feel-good chemicals endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. So when we’re already doing something we enjoy it just gets better and better because we produce more and more feel-good hormones which keeps us coming back for more.

Even going to the gym can produce this effect. And I say that from experience. I know many people don’t enjoy pounding away on machines for hours, but if you set yourself personal goals, or go with a friend, it really can be enjoyable. And when you start to see results, even if it’s just that you notice you’re less tired after the same number of reps, or you can run a bit further than the week before, it can be such a good motivator.

ashtangis doing headstandsI’ve been lucky enough to find a form of exercise that not only keeps me fit, strong and flexible, but also has countless other benefits, and even has a spiritual side too. For me, Ashtanga Yoga is the ultimate. It’s become the single most important activity in my life (apart from connecting with friends and family of course). It satisfies my desire to keep active, it works on keeping my mind calm and focused, it gives me an inspiring reason to get out of bed in the (very early) mornings, it helps me sleep, it helps me concentrate, and it’s even helped to sort out my digestion. Because it’s a daily practice and you repeat the same sequence of postures every day, you get to see the results of your progress very quickly, which I find very motivating and inspiring. In fact I couldn’t live without it now.

However, I know it’s not for everyone. So I think the key here is to find something that keeps you active that you really enjoy. We’re so lucky in this day and age to have a gazillion different activities to choose from – and new ones are being discovered all the time. From base jumping to wake boarding; from zorbing to wingsuit flying; from spinning to zumba; and everything in between. Find something you love, go and enjoy it and watch those endorphins fly!


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