Brain Food – Olympic dining the PJ Taste way!

Did you know humans have two brains?
Scientific advances in the rather unglamorous field of neurogastroenterology (look it up) seem to support the old adage that ‘you are what you eat’. We effectively have an additional brain formed from the sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the long 9m length of our gut.  A brain in our tummies! As Michael Gershon explains in his book, ‘The Second Brain’ the amount of neural firepower is far in excess of what is required simply to manage the daily grind of digestion.  The fact that 95% of the body’s serotonin comes from the bowel points to the health of our gut being hugely influential on our mood and sense of wellbeing.

Looking after our second brain by choosing to eat a variety of wholesome and nutritionally balanced foods would seem to be sensible, but does this mean taking the joy out of eating?  Quite the reverse I would argue.  By finding a way to break away from the monotony of shopping exclusively at the large multiple retailers with their emphasis on more processed foods and discovering local food it’s easy to boost nutrition and eating pleasure simultaneously.  So in this piece I will show how you can balance your energy for peak performance throughout the day – Olympic performance without the training!
Nb I’m also going to unashamedly use some examples from our product range at PJ taste.  The fact that our customers buy many of our healthy and nutritious dishes because they look and taste good – rather than consciously thinking they are good for them – proves these principles work! There’s a great recipe for loin of pork with a cider and apple sauce, sautéed leeks and rice further down too…
Local Sheffield nutritionalist, Claire Gillis, advocates balancing blood sugar levels through the day as a key to promoting good gut health. “Often energy slumps throughout the day can be attributed to blood sugar levels. Over time, imbalanced blood sugar levels can be lead to sleep problems, difficulty losing weight and even affect stress levels due to hormonal imbalance…”
So how do we prevent ‘spiking’ our sugar levels?  Let’s start with breakfast. There is an expression, perhaps originating in Mongolia, which goes “Keep breakfast for yourself, share lunch with your friend and give dinner to your enemy…” and research shows that people who skip breakfast tend to be heavier than people who eat this meal, probably because skippers end up eating more during the day as a result of hunger cravings. 

Steel City Power Food Breakfast – Porridge with Our cow Molly Milk

An excellent breakfast choice would consist of natural porridge oats customised with local milk, some nuts and seeds and perhaps some fresh fruit and local bioactive yoghurt.  Oats have been shown to slow the release of sugar into the blood and actually reduce the effects of harmful cholesterol.  Combining the carbohydrates from the oats with protein in the nuts and dairy further slows the absorption of glucose released as the oats are digested.
For a treat you can grate some good quality dark chocolate over the top or little local Sheffield Honey.  But the changing fruits of the seasons make this a dish with plenty of variation. If you’re up for a bit of foraging, autumn’s a great time to find berries and local apples. In spring, Yorkshire rhubarb starts to appear. It’s delicious cooked down to a lovely pink puree and the forced variety of this vegetable from the famous Yorkshire triangle within Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield won EU protected status in 2010. 
There’s also a surprising ‘taste imposter’ for rhubarb in the unlikely form of Japanese Knotweeed.  The young shoots look a little like asparagus when they sprout up and when up to a foot tall taste amazingly like rhubarb when cooked.  Be careful though as this is extreme foraging!  As well as potential dangers from pesticide treatments that have been unleashed on these unwelcome invaders, it’s an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to plant or otherwise cause the species to grow in the wild.
Lots of us rush out of the house in the morning without a chance to get breakfast on.  The PJ taste ‘ready to grab and go’ Porridge Pots offer a solution.  Full of organic Yorkshire oats, dried fruit, nuts and a little organic Yorkshire hemp, they’re packed with nutrients.  And we use Our Cow Molly milk delivered fresh from a few miles away at Dungworth (supermarket milk is often at least 5 days old before reaching the shelves). I’ve added some more detail on the nutritional benefits of fresh as a daisy milk on the PJ taste blog here.

Don’t fancy porridge? How about toast and jam? It needn’t be unhealthy (or untasty) but the choice of bread is important.  White bread made from refined flours in an industrial process is a much less favourable choice than breads made from wholegrain flours using more natural leavening processes. Pay a visit to the excellent Cat Lane Bakery or the brand new Seven Hills Bakery in Hunters Bar to enjoy a great range of slow fermented breads.  You can find these independent suppliers and more in your area on the easy to use Real Bread Finder on the real bread Campaign’s site here.
And it’s worth having a thought about the jam. Real Seville orange marmalade is a traditional, tasty treat and the bitter sweet oranges from Southern Spain are in season now! There’s nothing wrong with jam once in a while (especially if you use some PJ taste preserves!) but using the principle of combining protein with carbohydrate I mention earlier why not have a fresh poached egg instead?


Steel City Power Food Lunch – Roast Squash and Buckwheat salad with Pomegranite, Olives, Fresh Herbs and Pumpkin Oil Dressing
In many ways the traditional sandwich is not the best choice for lunch, particularly if the bread is of the white variety and the filling a mayonnaise rich affair. It’s a tempting treat when we’re in a hurry but it can reduce our afternoon performance.  With a little planning we can instead ingest more beneficial fats and again apply the slow release energy principle. 

This Roast Squash salad is a good example of how to create a filling, enjoyable and nutritious salad. The ‘local’ box is ticked with the Sheffield-grown squash and buckwheat is a nutritious, tasty and filling base for a salad. Despite the name, you might be surprised to discover that buckwheat isn’t in fact related to wheat. It’s used like it but is actually a flowering plant rather than a grain. In studies, breads made from buckwheat flour offered significantly lowered blood glucose and insulin responses, as well as a lowered risk of developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure. 

Steel City Power Food Dinner – Moss Valley loin of Pork with a Cider and Apple Sauce, Sautéed Leeks and Brown Basmati Rice

Recipe time! This is a dish inspired by the excellent pork produced at Povey Farm in Sheffield’s Moss Valley by Stephen and Karen Thompson.  Last autumn we used wild apples from trees around Sheffield which gave us much scrumping fun as well as being full of goodness.  But it turns out that pork loin is a pretty nutritious meat too!  A 150g portion has just 180 calories with about 5 grams of fat, no carbohydrates and 40g of protein plus loads of vitamins and minerals! Prominent amongst these are iron – which helps keep energy levels high while building red blood cells to stave off illness and boost immunity. Leeks are in season right now and an excellent source of vitamin C, iron and fibre. They also promote the functioning of the blood and the heart.  Brown basmati rice is less processed (and better for you) than white rice and contains manganese – which is essential for the metabolism of protein and carbohydrates and regulating your nervous system.
Recipe – serves 4
For the sauce –
500g cooking or wild apples
30g butter
200ml cider – a dry local or even homemade one is good
seasoning and perhaps a slug of cream
1. Make the sauce by gently stewing down the first 4 ingredients until they can be pureed.
For the tenderloin –
600g pork tenderloin
A pinch of fennel seeds
A little olive oil
1. Cut the pork into 8-12 round slices (2-3 per person) – they will be quite thin approximately 1.5cm-2.5cm thick each and will cook quite quickly, so be careful not to dry them out.  See the note on cooking temperatures below.
2. Add a little olive oil to a frying pan.  Season the loin steaks with salt and pepper or for a variation some ground fennel seeds work well.  Seal the meat for 1 minute on each side in a hot pan then continue to cook on a lower heat for 5 more minutes.  Check the core temperature has reached 145F (62C) for 3 minutes and for the last 2 minutes pour in the cider and apple sauce and heat until bubbling and piping hot.
3. Lastly, sauté the sliced leeks in olive oil and garlic and serve with the boiled brown basmati rice.

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