Super easy slow cooker ham

THIS is a speedy one. I’ve had more requests for easy, nutritious recipes. And I know a few of you (like me) love dinners you can just leave to do their thing in the slow cooker.

I made this on a Thursday, significant because we have an often stressful turnaround from getting Isaac back from my mum’s, dinner on the table and eaten, and me out of the house by 6.30 to go and teach Pilates. This meal was stress free and Isaac’s first ever ham eating experience (he’s never touched it before).

METHOD:

Get a piece of gammon (I used free-range smoked from the butcher but unsmoked is probably less salty). A £5 piece is enough for a good dinner and plenty for sandwiches and snacks the next day too.

Turn on the slow cooker and pop in an onion, quartered (no need to peel the sticky layers off), a cup of water, a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme (optional) and your gammon. Pop a couple of teaspoons of honey on the ham. Put the lid on and leave it for at least  5 hours or until it’s very soft when you press the meat.

Take out the meat and leave it to rest on a plate under some foil until you’re ready to eat.

I served it with sweet potato wedges (scrubbed, cut into wedges, drizzled with olive oil and cooked at 200/GM6 for 45 minutes), french beans and nanny’s apricot and tamarind chutney.

The great thing about the slow cooked ham is that it shreds rather than slices, which makes it easy for toddlers to eat.

(Sorry no pictures but we ate it all)!

Everyday chemicals that could be putting your health and your unborn baby’s health at risk.

LAST week the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the ‘gold standard’ of ante natal advice, published a scientific paper advising pregnant women to choose safety first when it comes to the use of toiletries, cleaning products and even pre-packed fresh foods. The report came under fire for being alarmist and misleading but scientists have known for a long time about the health risks of so called ‘everyday chemicals’. Anti-persperant deodorants, plastic bottles, packaged meat, cling-film, even baby bath often contain chemicals which have been shown to be toxic to the human body.

It’s not just unborn babies who are at risk, it’s humans in general but the developing baby is obviously much more vulnerable to toxicity.

So what’s underneath the study, what are the chemicals to look out for.

PARABENS

Parabens are a preservative found in many cosmetic products. Research has found that parabens are absorbed through the skin and their chemical structure is unchanged by the human metabolic system. A 2004 UK study detected traces of five parabens in the breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied, there is no direct link but the results were significant because of the fact that the parabens had not been metabolised and remained intact in human tissue. Parabens are also known to disrupt hormone balance. They mimic the female hormone oestrogen. High levels of oestrogen have been linked to some cancers, including breast cancer.

How to avoid: Look for organic or ‘pure’ products. Many high street chains do own brand cosmetics and skin care which are paraben free. For more information check out this article: http://safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=291

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SODIUM LAURYL SULPHATE

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulphate is a foaming agent commonly found in soaps, shampoos and washing detergents. Research has found that SLS can react with other chemicals in household products to product potentially carcinogenic compounds (cancer causing). Aside from this, SLS has been shown to cause common skin complaints such as itching, redness and inflammation and younger individuals tend to react stronger to these chemicals, so definitely one to watch if you or your little ones suffer with any skin complaints like eczema or itchy skin.

How to avoid: As with parabens, check out the labels on products. Compounds such as ammonium lauryl and laureth sulphates have larger molecules which can’t be absorbed by the skin and so are considered safer options. For more information check out this article: http://www.greenpeople.co.uk/info_features_sls.aspx

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BISPHENOL A (BPA) and PHTHALATES

BPA and phthalates are the chemicals which have headed up the plastic food storage controversy in recent years. It’s well known that the body absorbs small amounts of plastics when we consume food which has been in contact with plastic (worse in salty or fatty foods or foods which have been heated in plastic containers – microwave anyone?). Many studies have shown the main culprit for BPA is plastic lined cans.

BPA gets into our bloodstream. Regular monitoring by the CDC shows that more than 90% of us have detectable levels of BPA in our bodies. BPA disrupts hormones, again it’s oestrogen which comes out on top and one large, well-conducted study in humans showed that people who had high levels of BPA in the urine had a higher rate of diabetes, heart disease, and liver toxicity.

Phthalates are plasticisers used in everything from pipes to perfume. They have been banned in the EU since 2005 however we are still exposed to phthalates, pesticides (crop spraying) and plastic packaging are thought to be the main culprits. Phthalates disrupt hormones but mainly the male hormone testosterone and some studies have shown minor genital birth defects in baby  boys due to exposure to phthalates.

How to avoid: 

  • Eat less canned foods.
  • Use cookware made of cast-iron rather than teflon coated pans.
  • Reduce your consumption of fast foods and microwave meals.
  • Don’t use plastic bottles with a number 3 or 7 on them. Number 1 on plastic is single use only.
  • Avoid heating food in plastic containers or with cling-film.
  • Opt for pyrex or glass food containers.
  • Hand wash plastics to avoid wear and tear.
  • Discard damaged containers.
  • Do not heat plastic bottles.

To find out more read this thorough article at Web MD: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/cookware-plastics-shoppers-guide-to-food-safety?page=2

You can view the original RCOG report here: http://www.rcog.org.uk/news/rcog-release-mothers-be-should-be-aware-unintentional-chemical-exposures-say-experts

10 golden rules for a flat, holiday ready, tummy

It’s holiday time and the sun is out, suddenly thoughts turn to belly rolls and how to get rid of them before you hit the beach.

I am no advocate of extreme dieting or starvation BUT there are a few tweaks you can make in the last few weeks before your holidays to really see and feel the difference. So if you have four, two or even one week to go, it’s not too late to feel a little more comfortable in your skin (not to mention have glowing skin to boot).

Great digestion, hydration and avoiding foods that tend to bloat or trigger fat storage around the tummy are the golden rules of tummy taming. Here are my 10 golden rules:

1. Drink at least two litres of water a day. Grab some two litre bottles of Evian to make it easy to count. Hydration prevents water retention and promotes good digestion.

2. Cut out all refined sugars, alcohol, fizzy drinks, fruit juice and dried fruit. Consuming these creates an insulin response in your body which will encourage fat stores around your tummy.

3. Leave at least four hours between meals and 12 overnight. Time your meals to ensure your body gets a break from digesting, this will also prevent you picking between meals. Time out between meals gives your hormones time to re-set so you’ll avoid the ups and downs associated with snacking. If you’re desperate for flavour have a herb tea.

4. Consume plenty of oily fish and oil rich foods like avocados. Do have nuts but with your meal. You might also consider a supplement. Oils are great for keeping your digestive system healthy and for making your skin, hair and nails glow.

5. Stick to lean meats and protein sources. Fatty meats can be harder to digest and in a short time frame, the excess calories from fats aren’t your friend.

6. Avoid known bloating foods. Fizzy drinks, beans, cabbage, leeks and pulses are fairly common ones but if you know others that affect you, then find alternatives.

7. Cut out wheat completely, especially bread. Pasta, crackers, weetabix etc are all big belly culprits.

8. Cut down on grains like rice and oats. Stick to a two dessert spoon serving (uncooked quantity) and find alternatives to conventional cereals.

9. Keep coffee and caffeine to the morning to ensure you avoid excess bloating and sleep well at night.

10. Fill up on colourful vegetables and fruits. Sweet potatoes, broccoli, swede, yams, strawberries, avocados and raspberries are all packed with nutrients and will give you a sweet hit when you need it.

And finally … remember no matter what shape or size you are, you are beautiful. Stand tall and wear your body with pride.

Sit ups … the fastest way to a flat tummy after having a baby (I lied)

I’m starting with a little rant. Sit ups, crunches and ab curls, call them what you will, are possibly the worst exercise choice you could make after having a baby. Unfortunately, large organisations like Bounty are still recommending sit ups as a tried and tested way of getting a flat and toned tummy.  This is not only incorrect but (in my opinion) shows a failure to care for the needs of a new mum. Show me the folk that this has been tested on and I might change my mind but until then, let me share with you some information based on fact and science which I hope will empower you to make an informed choice about your tummy muscles.

No amount of sit ups will give you a flat tummy. It is scientifically impossible. Your post baby tummy is not flat for the following reasons:

  1. It has spent the last nine months learning how to stretch (muscles have long memories). Your six pack actually grows extra cells, causing the muscles to lengthen in order to accommodate your baby bump. According to scientists this takes two years to return to it’s pre-pregnancy state.
  2. It takes time for your uterus to shrink back to its regular size and go back to it’s pre-pregnancy place.
  3. The most common reason for a fat tummy is FAT – and the only places you’ll lose fat are in the kitchen (nutrition is 80% of fat loss) and in the gym/park/church hall, wherever you choose to workout.

The humble sit up is literally a contraction of your rectus abdominus or six-pack muscles. If these are distended (as they commonly are post baby), performing sit ups could make the distention worse. If there’s fat on these muscles then all a sit up does is squidge the fat into big rolls and makes you feel rubbish about yourself.

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Sit ups could make common post natal conditions like diastasis recti or pelvic floor dysfunction worse.

Pelvic floor dysfunction is the broad term used for any pelvic floor issues, ranging from accidental pees when you sneeze (stress incontinence) to pelvic organ prolapse. These issues are most common in post natal women and post menopausal women. When you perform a sit up, you increase the pressure inside your torso (you are literally squeezing it). Any weakness in the pelvic floor area could be worsened by repeated pressure on the area. There are worse things you can do for a weakened pelvic floor (running, jumping or high impact exercise being the top three) but ask any Pilates teacher which exercise is most likely to produce accidental farts from participants, and generally it involves loaded forward bending, like a crunch or roll-up.

Diastasis recti is the term used when the sheath that connects both sides of the six pack (which commonly stretches during pregnancy) does not return back to its pre-pregnancy state after birth. This means some women are left with a gap between the left and right sides of the six-pack. It won’t kill you but it is really important to focus on the deeper abdominal muscles, like the transversus abdominis (the big corset like muscles) and the pelvic floor before considering any loaded forward flexion or sit ups. Both my experience and the experience of the physiotherapists I work with has shown that focusing on the pelvic floor can really help ‘flatten’ any abdominal doming caused my diastasis recti.

But my doctor said …

I fully respect medical doctors but they are doctors of medicine and illness. There is a reason doctors refer their patients out to exercise specialists – because a doctor or GP is not an exercise specialist. I am! I would never prescribe you with drugs I know only through personal experience or try to diagnose your illness based on a few symptoms but I can explain a great deal about the post natal body and the associated exercise implications, which is why I work with, and educate medical professionals in my field of expertise.

What’s the difference between Pilates and sit ups?

Pilates is a whole body form of exercise. If you come away thinking, ‘ooh what a great ab workout’ you’ve possibly missed the point. It’s so much more than that. Too much for one rather longer than usual post about flat tummies (for more information check this post out: https://alittlefitter.com/2012/08/30/pilates-whats-all-the-fuss-about-why-bother/). In my post natal classes we start slowly, focusing acutely on the deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor, really making sure that they are working effectively before sending you out to ‘melt fat’ (love that term – means nothing but wanted to get it into a post one day). No you won’t feel ‘the burn’ like you might in a gym abs blast class but you will be taking care of your still very delicate and very wonderful body.

For more information on nutrition for flat tummies check my post: 10 ways to lose fat and get more energy.

And for more about post natal recover check out this popular post: https://alittlefitter.com/2013/08/02/the-princess-the-bump-your-body-how-long-does-it-really-take-to-recover-after-pregnancy-and-birth/

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
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