How Reconnecting With Nature Can Improve Your Health

The antidote to stressful, sedentary lives might be as simple as getting outside and into nature — even if it’s for as little as twenty minutes!

Originally posted at Lilydale Free Range.

 

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            There’s a new movement stirring in Australia, and it’s got a pretty cute nickname: forest bathing. It goes by a few other names too — biophilia and shinrin-yoku, for example — but the core philosophy is the same: that getting outdoors and surrounded by mother nature can work wonders for your physical and mental health.

This long-held wisdom may not seem revolutionary, but research has now surfaced that lends scientific support to what many of us already know instinctively: that time in nature is good for both our bodies and our minds.

            And with up to 93% of our lives spent indoors, there has never been a better time to change up bad habits and enjoy the many health benefits of living free range.

            But that doesn’t have to mean packing up, moving to the bush, and living off grid. In fact, research shows that even short bursts outdoors are enough to start reaping the rewards.

 

The Health Benefit: Better Concentration

 

            A twenty minute ‘dose of nature’ may be enough to create a shift in your brain, and see improved concentration. You don’t even need to stray far from home; local parks do the trick too. Just trade concrete and glass for couch grass and gumtrees, and enjoy the renewed clarity that comes from it.

 

Why not try

 

It could be as simple as taking your lunch break and going for a walk in a park near the office. Switch off, enjoy your surrounds, and wave goodbye to brain fog.

 

The Health Benefit: Better Mood

 

            Some clever scientists had the idea to use mobile EEG recorder to measure people’s brain activity as they moved between urban environments and green spaces. The verdict? That people had lower frustration in green spaces.

            Another study went further, and showed that people felt “comfortable, soothed, and refreshed” when viewing a forest landscape. Tests were performed that showed lower levels of stress hormones were released when people were taking in the forest views, and it was suggested that it may be part of the reason nature had this calming effect on people.

 

Why not try…

 

We all know that exercise is good for us, so why not take our thirty minutes of daily exercise out of the gym and into the wild? If you live near bushland, maybe go for a jog and enjoy the added mood-boosting benefits that come with all those post-exercise endorphins. Or if running’s not your style, you could practice meditation in nature to enjoy a heightened self of calm and relaxation.

 

The Health Benefit: Boosted Immunity

 

            This one is seriously impressive. The scent of plants is usually down to a family of natural compounds called phytoncides that the plant releases into the air. These phytoncides have been shown to increase the number and function of immune cells in the body after only three days immersion in the wilderness. And the effects last for up to a week afterwards!

 

Why not try…

 

This is the best excuse for a camping trip I’ve heard of in a long time. Give your immune system a boost by taking a long weekend and heading to your favourite nature spot.

 

The Health Benefit: Lower Blood Pressure

 

            If you’ve got a little more time on your hands, take seven days and a few friends for a holiday that will be as good for you as any health retreat. Both blood pressure and heart rate have been shown to improve with a little forest bathing.

 

Why not try…cabin/shared holiday (7 days+)

 

            Get out there and go bushwalking, eating, laughing, and having a good time with loved ones, in the knowledge that your heart might thank you too.

This article was originally written for Lilydale Free Range as part of their #jointhefreerange campaign. Visit their website for more ideas and inspiration to get outdoors, live well, and eat healthily!


Lilydale Free Range Chicken Burrito Bowls

It's been a little while between recipe posts (sorry!) but I can't think of a better one to return with than this. It's one of my go-to food prep recipes. I whip it up on a Sunday, and then I've got my lunches from Monday to Friday ready to go!

I make my own pico de Gallo (that's the tomato, onion, and jalapeño salsa) so there's a bit of preparation involved. But once you've got all the pieces, it's just a matter of assembling in a bowl and enjoying all those delicious Mexican flavours without the refined flour, cheese, or sour cream that you'll get with take away. Just good quality lean protein, low GI carbs, and a whole rainbow of vegetables to fill you up and deliver vital nutrition. 

Enjoy, and be sure to check out the Lilydale Free Range website for more recipe ideas, as well as a glimpse into their #jointhefreerange campaign, where we're working to get people active and enjoying the outdoors.

Makes five serves, with each one delivering 37g of protein and 627 kcal.

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Ingredients

For the chicken

500g (approximately two breasts) Lilydale Free Range skinless chicken breasts 

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp chilli powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

 

For the rice

1 cup brown rice

1 cup (250ml) chicken stock (gold star if you made it yourself!)

2 cups water

juice of 1/2 lime

 

For the pico de Gallo

4 tomatoes 

1 red onion, peeled

1 jalapeno

juice of 1/2 lime

large handful fresh coriander

pinch sea salt

 

And the rest...

2 corn cobs, peeled, washed, and dried

1 avocado, cut into cubes

1 tin (approx. 400g) black beans, drained and rinsed

Greek yoghurt, to serve

 

Method

1. Start by slicing your chicken breast into strips, then place in a bowl.

2. Add the olive oil, paprika, cumin, garlic, and chilli powders. Stir to ensure the chicken is coated evenly. Cover, and then leave to marinate for at least two hours, or overnight.

3. Meanwhile, slice the tomatoes in half and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. These can be discarded, as we just want to use the flesh so that our pico de Gallo isn't too wet.

4. Slice the jalapeño in half down the centre, then scoop out and discard the seeds and membrane.

5. Finely dice the tomatoes, red onion, and jalapeño. Mix them together in a bowl.

6. Roughly chop the coriander and add to the bowl. Season with salt, add the juice of 1/2 a lime, and then stir to combine.

7. Wrap your corn cobs in aluminium foil, then place directly on a gas stove using a low-medium flame. Cook them for 8-10 minutes, using tongs to turn them every two minutes so that they are evenly charred. Remove from heat and then leave to cool before unwrapping.

8. On a plate (or in a shallow bowl) stand the corn cobs upright and use a sharp knife to run down alongside the core to remove the kernels. Place to one side and discard the cores.

9. Rinse your brown rice in cool water before transferring to a pot. Pour in the chicken stock and two cups of water. Bring to a boil over a high flame, then reduce to a simmer and leave to cook (covered) for 45 minutes. If the pot dries out, add a little more water.

10. Once cooked, remove from the stove and leave to sit for 10-15 minutes. Drain off any excess water, and then use a fork to fluff the rice. Squeeze over the remaining lime juice.

11. Now it's time to cook your chicken. Place a fry pan over a medium-high heat and add the chicken strips. You shouldn't need to add any oil, because they're already coated. Cook for two minutes, then flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes or until cooked through.

12. To serve, start with a bed of brown rice, then arrange the chicken, pico de Gallo, black beans, charred corn, and avocado on top. Finish with a big dollop of Greek yoghurt, then dig in!



Green Shakshuka

This yummy shakshuka recipe is a delicious way to get a big hit of greens in first thing. It's perfect for those on a lower carbohydrate eating plan, and is packed with protein and healthy fat (in the form of olive oil) to keep you fuller for longer.

Serves two. One serve delivers 450kcal, and 19g protein.

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Ingredients

2 tb extra virgin olive oil

1 small brown onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

300g baby spinach leaves

4 eggs

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 avocado, peeled and sliced

1 tsp mint leaves, finely chopped

1 tsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

pinch red chilli flakes

sea salt and pepper, to taste

 

Method

1) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

2) Boil some water in a saucepan. Blanch the spinach for 20-30 seconds, then refresh in iced water. Remove from water, and then set aside on absorbent kitchen paper until excess moisture is removed.

3) Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft. Lower the heat to its lowest setting, then add the garlic and continue to cook for at least five minutes, or until caramelised. Add the remaining oil, paprika, and cumin and stir for 20-30 seconds, until fragrant.

4) Add the wilted spinach to the frying pan with the onion, garlic, and spice mix. Add the lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper. Stir well until all is combined, then remove from heat.

5) Make two indents in the mix, and carefully crack the eggs into them. Place the frying pan in the oven and bake until the whites are set but the yolks still runny. This should take five minutes or so.

6) Top with chilli flakes, chopped parsley and mint, the avocado. Yum!



Easy Cannellini Bean and Tuna Salad

Let's face it: it's not always reasonable to expect we'll have the time to make an organic, home grown, slow cooked meal. Sometimes, healthy means putting together the healthiest, whole food ingredients that we can get our hands on in a pinch. And I encourage that. Rather than throw your hands in the air and grab some unhealthy takeaway because you're busy, having a go-to healthy recipe or two that you can whip up guilt free while on-the-go can make all the difference.

This is one of mine. It's so easy and absolutely delicious. I like to use sustainable, line-caught tuna. The capsicum can be cooked and sliced in advance, and stored under olive oil in the fridge until ready for use. 

Serves four, with each serve delivering 29.5g protein, 28.2g carbohydrate, 15g fibre, 21g fat (16.25g of which is unsaturated) and a total of 457 kcal. It also packs a punch in terms of vitamin C, at 120mg per serve (more than your entire daily requirement).

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Ingredients

250g tinned tuna in olive oil, drained

800g canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 medium red capsicum

1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped

1 shallot, finely sliced

large handful flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

2 tb extra virgin olive oil

1 tb balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper, to taste

 

Method

1) Start by preheating your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place your whole capsicum on a roasting tray and cook for 30-40 minutes until the skin is black and blistered, and the flesh is soft. You may need to rotate it every 10-15 minutes to ensure it cooks evenly. Leave to one side to cool.

2) Combine your beans, tuna, olives, parsley, and shallot in a bowl.

3) Once cool, remove the skin, seeds, and membrane from the capsicum and discard. Slice the flesh intro strips and add to the salad. 

4) Pour over the dressing ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.



Calendula Ointment

For scratches, better skin healing, and eczema and dermatitis.

he resins from calendula are a common addition to many high-end beauty products. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's one of the most frequently use botanicals in skincare. And for good reason. Calendula is a wonderful traditional skin healer, and possibly my all-time favourite herb for the job. And as an added bonus, sweet almond oil is full of antioxidant vitamin E, which your skin will just love!

This simply ointment is perfect for small patches; for larger areas I recommend making a cream (recipe in my book) or a light lotion. While the method for this is super simple, you'll need a couple of weeks to infuse the oil. 

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Ingredients

30g dried Calendula flowers

1/2 cup sweet almond oil

12g unrefined beeswax

 

Method

1. Grind you calendula in a coffee/spice grinder until fine, then pour into a sterile glass jar (plenty of tips on how to sterilise your own jars in my book).

2. Pour over the sweet almond oil, replace the lid, and shake until well combined.

3. Leave to infuse for 2-3 weeks in a warm, dark place. 

4. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth. You'll need to have clean hands to start with and do plenty of squeezing to make sure you get as much oil out as you can. The solid herbal material can be discarded, or added to your compost.

5. Measure out 60ml (1/4 cup) of the infused oil into a small pyrex bowl. The rest can be stored in a clean glass jar or bottle in the fridge, for later use.

6. If you're using a block of beeswax, finely chop it; if you're using pellets there is no need to do this step.

7. Add the beeswax to the infused oil and place over a small saucepan with a little water in it. The water should not reach the base of the bowl. This 'water bath' method ensures that the mixture is heated gently. Heat over a medium flame.

8. Stir gently over the heat until the beeswax is completely melted and combined with the oil. Carefully pour into a sterile glass jar and leave to cool.

9. The ointment will solidify over 15-30 minutes. You can then replace the lid and store in the fridge for up to three months.

10. To use, apply a generous amount to skin as needed.



Warm Roast Chicken, Avocado, and Grapefruit Salad

Salads make up a pretty huge part of my diet, due to the fact they are light, healthy, and super quick and easy to make. This is one I made on a whim recently, and I certainly didn't regret it.

Serves four. Each serving contains 573 kcal, 50g protein, 38g fat, and 5g carbohydrate.

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Ingredients

1 whole chicken

1 brown onion, peeled and quartered

2 tb organic butter, softened

2 cloves garlic, crushed

salt and pepper, to taste

100g baby rocket

1 large pink grapefruit

1 ripe Hass avocado, peeled and sliced

2 tb pine nuts

 

For dressing

1 tb balsamic vinegar

2 tb extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

 

Method

1) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, combine the garlic and butter. Rub over the chicken's skin. Place the onion quarters in the cavity and tie legs together with kitchen twine.

2) Roast the chicken for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 180 degrees Celsius for one hour. To check whether it's cooked through, pierce the thickest part of the thigh and ensure that the juices run clear. If they don't you'll need to return to the oven to roast, and continue to check every 10-15 minutes until done.

3) Leave the chicken to sit for 20 minutes while you prepare the grapefruit.

4) Peel the grapefruit and then break into its segments. Carefully remove the membrane so you're left with chunks of jewel-like flesh.

5) Remove the meat, without skin, from the chicken, and roughly shred. 

6) Combine the chicken, rocket, grapefruit, and avocado in a salad bowl.

7) Mix your dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and pour over the salad. Toss well to combine.

8) Top with pine nuts prior to serving.



Strawberry Almond Milk

This recipe is so simple, that I shouldn't really call it a recipe. I actually made this so that I'd have something to wash my Choc-blueberry muffins (see below) down with, and it didn't disappoint. Making your own almond milk is so easy, and I used the leftover strawberry milk (which is sweetened with nothing except the wonderfully ripe strawberries themselves) for an after-gym protein shake by adding some vanilla whey protein powder. Easy...

Makes 1.5L (or six 250ml serves, at 124 kcal. each.)

Ingredients

250g raw almonds

3L filtered water 

pinch sea salt

1 1/2 cups ripe strawberries, greens removed

Method

1) In a large container, soak the almonds in 1.5L of water with the sea salt. Leave overnight.

2) In the morning, strain off the water and rinse the almonds 2-3 times until the water runs off clear.

3) Transfer the almonds to a blender, and pour over the remaining water (hint: you may need to of this in batches!). Blitz for 2-3 minutes.

4) Strain the mixture through cheesecloth, collecting the almond milk in a bowl below. You'll be left with homemade almond meal that you can either discard or incorporate into a recipe (like the one below!)

5) Store the almond milk in the fridge in a clean glass jar until ready to serve. To serve, return the almond milk to the blender, add the strawberries, and process until smooth.



Dark Choc-Blueberry "Muffins"

High protein (7.8g) and lower in carbohydrates (9.2g), these dark chocolate and blueberry muffins are actually more like a friand, making them dense and deliciously satisfying. It's worth keeping in mind that although these are a healthier option, all sweet treats are a 'sometimes' food, to be enjoyed alongside a balanced, whole foods diet rich in colourful veggies and lean protein sources!

This blog has been a long time coming, after a lot of encouragement (and some gentle nagging) from friends and family to share recipes other than those in my books and in my web series. Eventually though, it was all my wonderful new mates on Instagram who encouraged me to start sharing these weekly recipes online. So here goes!

Makes eight muffins, 270kcal. each.

Dark choc and blueberry muffins with homemade strawberry almond milk.

Dark choc and blueberry muffins with homemade strawberry almond milk.

Ingredients

2 cups almond meal

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk

2 tb melted coconut oil

2 tb rice malt syrup

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (not essence)

pinch sea salt

1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

zest of 1/2 lemon, finely grated

Method

1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, and grease a muffin tray with a little coconut oil.

2) Combine your dry ingredients — almond meal, baking powder, and sea salt — and mix thoroughly.

3) In a separate bowl, gently whisk your eggs and almond milk together, then pour over the dry ingredients.

4) Add the rice malt syrup, melted coconut oil, and vanilla extract and combine well.

5) Stir through the blueberries, chocolate pieces, and lemon zest.

6) Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown, then remove from oven.

7) After 5-10 minutes, gently remove from the moulds and cool on a wire rack.

8) Enjoy!