The diet battlefield

What are the different diets?

There is endless debate about diet. We divide ourselves into our separate groups, rarely seeing eye to eye. The debate is multi layered and warrants open debate. If we shared information, pooled the best of our knowledge and acted as a common group we would all be much better off.  That is the approach of the Ethical omnivore. Let’s talk about health issues, sourcing good produce, the dark side of the industry, how to soak beans to avoid flatulence, where protein really comes from and that we can live without dairy if we so choose.

Common diets overview:

Vegan – a diet and lifestyle that excludes consumption and using of all animal products (meat, diary, fish, eggs, honey, wool, leather etc). Focused on animal welfare issues.

Plant based – similar to Veganism but focused on health and inclusion of whole plant based foods.

Ethical omnivore – A plant based diet, focused on nutrition with the additional of quality animal products as you choose. (i.e. excludes all factory farmed produce).

Flexitarian – Also know as a flexible vegetarian. Adding occasional animal products.

Vegetarian – a diet that excludes meat and fish but does include diary and eggs.

Pescatarian – a diet that excludes meat but does include fish, dairy and eggs.

Reducetarian – a diet that aims to reduce the consumption of animal products.

Omnivore – a diet where anything goes, meat, fish, veg, dairy, eggs.

Carnivore – reserved for wolves, none of us are carnivores, we are herbivores and omnivores but never carnivores however much you think you like steak!






Creamy buckwheat curry

If you like creamy mild curry and want to try something a bit different this dish is absolutely delicious and easy to do. Quantity serves 2 people as a main course with veg.

You can make a plant based (vegan) or fish version.

  1. Toast approx 100g raw buckwheat groats and 50g raw cashew nuts. Spread on flat a baking tray in a 180C oven for around 8 mins, check and toss, until lightly tossed and golden. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a pan, add 1 finely chopped onion and 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger. Cover and cook for approx 6 mins, add 2 cloves chopped garlic cover and cook until the onions become soft.
  3. Add a splash of water to avoid it sticking or burning, add the buckwheat and cashew nuts to the pan.
  4. Add 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp smoked paprika and 1 tsp coconut or palm sugar stir well.
  5. Add a 400ml can of coconut milk* and 2 tbsp of soy sauce.
  6. Stir until combined, bring to simmer point, reduce heat, cover and cook for 20 mins. You can add water during cooking if you think it is too thick or it you want a soupy curry. If there is too much water, leave the lid off towards the end until it reduces.
  7. Veg version – chop and separately fry or bake 100g mushroom and a medium aubergine until cooked. Add at the very end to avoid them getting mushy.
  8. Fish version – separately cook prawns, a piece of white fish or salmon per person. I recommend wild alaskan salmon. Add on top or smash up and stir into the dish at the end.
  9. Serve with leafy green veg, kale, savoy cabbage, broccoli. I use around 150 g organic chopped kale. Add to a baking tray, toss in a small amount of oil and roast in a 180C oven for 6 mins, toss and cook for another 4 mins or until as crispy as you like it. Be careful it doesn’t burn.

* you could use cashew cream instead of coconut milk if you prefer. See recipe post.

Add the kale to the bowl and serve the curry over the top. Yummy-tastic.



Buckwheat delights

In my quest to find healthy and tasty, whole foods, to understand more about plant power and widen my range of ingredients. Buckwheat was high on the list of foods to investigate.

Discovering buckwheat

Often mistakenly thought of as a grain, buckwheat is in fact a plant, related to sorrel and rhubarb. We eat the seed, in the whole form as groats or milled as flour. It is gluten free so a good replacement for flour in any wheat based recipes. As such it is considered a pseudocereal (like a cereal or grain).

Russia is the biggest producer and consumer closely followed by China and other Asian nations, growing in popularity in UK, USA, Canada and the rest of the world. It is an ancient food that we are rediscovering. As well for food it was grown as a nitrogen rich fertilising crop, before chemical fertilisers came into use.

It is amazingly versatile and a great way to increase nutritional intake. It is a nutrient rich food. Containing many trace minerals, including manganese, magnesium and copper. A good source of the B vitamins: B6, pantothenic acid, niacin, folate, thiamin and choline. Revered as one of the best plant sources of protein, it contains eight essential amino acids. Also high in complex carbohydrates and fibre. Whilst very low in fat and low on the GI index.

How to buy

You can buy buckwheat in larger supermarkets, health food stores or online. As raw buckwheat, (slightly greenish in colour) or toasted buckwheat, called ‘Kasha’ which is brown (pictured above). On the basis it is often double the price and you can easily toast it as home, go with the raw version, then you have the ingredient for all dishes.

To get a good value organic version for more speciality products I tend to shop online for more choice. See it is cheaper per kg (£3.67) than the standard version sold at Tesco. It is also from Austria rather than China as the majority are.

You can also buy buckwheat flour, pasta, noodles (tradition Japanese soba), cereal bars, you name it!

How to cook

You can toast, steam, boil or soak buckwheat. It can be used in savoury or sweet dishes. Experiment with a few recipes until you get to grips with it. Google ‘buckwheat recipe’ and you’ll find 100’s.

  • Toasted (Kasha). Using raw buckwheat. Spread it out on a flat baking tray. Add to 180c oven for 10-20 mins, keep an eye on it, so that is doesn’t burn. It is done when it is brown and a bit crunchy. You can add this to salads, in breakfast etc, it gives a lovely nutty crunch to a dish
  • Boiled raw. Wash it well in a bowl of cold water, drain and rinse. Add to a pan with double the amount of boiling liquid as buckwheat. Return it to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cover for approx 20mins. It is done when it has swelled and softened. You can serve or leave it covered off the heat to further absorb and swell, this makes for a softer fluffier version.
  • Boiled Kasha. If you have already roasted the buckwheat, follow the same process for boiling but reduce the cooking time to approximately 10 mins.

You can cook it in a stock to give more flavour if you intend to serve it a straight side dish. Or add flavours once it is a cooked, e.g. herbs and spices or cook it in a dish such a soup, broth, curry. We made buckwheat and cashew curry last night and it was amazing. For recipe see

Don’t be too hard on it, if you just boil it in water and serve it as you would rice I doubt you’ll be that impressed, you never know, but I suggest doing something more interesting, especially if you are trying to convince the rest of the family!

Understanding health benefits

As with all nutrient rice whole food there is a long list of health benefits. The nutritional profile makes is a good source of easily digestible protein and with resistance fibre is means slow release energy which is key in maintaining a healthy weight as well as aiding weight loss.

Buckwheat has several novel nutraceuticals, (basically good stuff)Rutin, quercetin and other bioflavonoids: These compounds have been shown to strengthen small blood vessels, which can prevent easy bruising, hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Rutin can also help prevent blood clots, lower LDL cholesterol and the production of histamine, which can improve airborne allergies and food intolerances.

Tannins: Tannins are astringent phenolic compounds most commonly found in tea. They are also present in significant amounts in buckwheat. Tannins have been shown to reduce bacterial and viral infections and improve diabetes. Along with the mix of insoluble and resistant fiber, the tannins in buckwheat can improve important strains of bowel flora, such as lactobacillus and bacteroidetes, while reducing yeast and harmful bacteria.

D-chiro inositol: D-chiro inositol is an exciting compound that may improve many important elements of blood sugar metabolism (such as production of glycogen and insulin sensitivity). Data suggests it may improve polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and type 2 diabetes.

Bound antioxidants: Recent data from cancer researchers has shown we may have been ignoring an important type of antioxidants. We have mostly considered the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables since most of these are readily available and easy to test in lab studies. Now, it is becoming clear a new category of antioxidants, called bound antioxidants, may be even more important. These are found in buckwheat and some grains and are activated by the bowel flora. Buckwheat is rich in bound antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase. These compounds are also heat stable and survive the cooking process with buckwheat.

Nutritional breakdown. Remember when reviewing nutrition check if it is the uncooked (dry)weight or the prepared weight. A lot of foods absorb water in cooking so the cooked weight is different from the dry weight. You will see on labels it will say ‘As sold’ or ‘as prepared’. The purpose of checking NV is not to count specifics but as a guide to the ratios a food has. This breakdown is the dry weight before it is cooked. So this is intake from 100g, that might end up as a 200g serving.

Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 343 Kcal 17%
Carbohydrates 71.50 g 55%
Protein 13.25 g 24%
Total Fat 3.40 g 17%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 10 g 26%
Folates (B9) 30 µg 7.5%
Niacin (B3) 7.020 mg 44%
Pantothenic acid 1.233 mg 25%
Riboflavin (B2) 0.425 mg 33%
Thiamin (B1) 0.101 mg 8.5%
Vitamin A 0 IU 0%
Sodium 1 mg <1%
Potassium 460 mg 10%
Calcium 18 mg 2%
Copper 1.100 mg 122%
Iron 2.20 mg 27.5%
Magnesium 231 mg 58%
Manganese 1.300 mg 56.5%
Phosphorus 347 mg 50%
Selenium 8.3 µg 15%
Zinc 2.40 mg 22%
Amino acids
Lysine 672 mg 32%
Methionine 172 mg 24%
Tryptophan 192 mg 69%

Parting thoughts,  The majority of us need to increase our nutritional intake, whilst decreasing sugar, fat, animal based proteins and processed foods.

With space to grow food being an ongoing issue buckwheat serves both purposes. It is an efficient crop that produces a nutrient rich food for humans whilst generating animal feed and a natural (green) fertiliser. It is tasty and easy to cook with. A firm favourite in our house.

Buckwheaty marvellous – The ethical omnivore.



Happy cows – spring is coming

The best and healthiest milk comes from traditionally farmed cows that live in fields, eating grass. Watch this clip of cows being turned out onto the pasture after spending winter indoors. It says it all.

Sadly not all cows enjoy the sun on their backs or lush grass under their hooves. US style mega ‘zero grazing’ dairies have been introduced into the UK. Behind the innocent looking white stuff that ends up on the supermarket shelves, there is a mega industry under huge pressure to produce more for less. Zero grazing dairies means that cows are kept indoor for the whole of their adult lives in concrete and steel pens. It is all about production, 24/7. In the UK approximately 20% of milk production is now from mega dairies and that is on the increase.

Cows are ruminants, they are designed to graze pasture, kept as part of a rotational, traditional farming system, dairy is healthier, sustainable and has low environmental impact. A diet based on grass results in cow’s milk that’s higher in an essential fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that reduces inflammation in the body and has been tied to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Grass-fed milk has double the omega-3 fat content as conventional milk. Changing that to keep cows indoors creates huge welfare and environmental issues. All for the sake of making more profit and saving you a few pence.

Milk is cheap, even the highest quality milk is affordable, it is not a luxury item or an item we should be undermining to save pennies. It is estimated that moving to organic milk would cost the average family of four just £1 per week.

It is clear that we should buy milk with caution but it is wise to know the facts. It is very easy to a condemn a whole industry whenever there is bad press and the dairy industry has had it’s fair share. 66% of dairy farmers have gone out of business over the last 20 years and we are loosing around 1 traditional farm per week. Dairy farmers are under huge pressures and we need to support those that are fighting to maintain high standards at affordable prices. Not all milk and dairy is the same, there are vast differences in production yet small difference is price for the superior version so it is well worth investing in quality dairy.

How can you compare and buy ‘free range’ milk

Buying organic milk and dairy is the easiest way to ensure grass fed, free range milk. There are various organic standards in the UK but all of them include grazing access. e.g. Duchy, supermarket own brands, Yeo Valley, Moo and smaller independent organic farmers, sold directly or via retailers.

Free range milk is also now widely available, looks out for this Free range dairy logo at Asda, Morrisons, Booths and some Co-op stores. As consumer awareness increases, the industry responds with labelling to help you differentiate between products. The concept of labelling ‘free range’ milk has now been introduced. Free range dairy used to be normal, so it is not a new product, but the need to label it as such is. See for more information.

Waitrose has a ‘grass promise’ on their own brand essential milk but it is the same price per litre as Tesco and Sainsbury own brand, so a great choice if you are budget conscious.

There are also high end milk producers that make the cream of the crop, literally! Worth a look even just for interest to compare against the industry. A raw milk microdairy Unhomogenised guernsey milk from Able and Cole

We are lucky in the UK compared with other EU nations and countries worldwide that we still have a large amount of traditional dairies, where cows get access to grazing, but this is rapidly declining. Unless the label states organic, free range, grass promise or you can trace the milk to a specific dairy or corporative that has a policy to give cows access to pasture there is a real possibility your milk or diary has come from an intensive dairy system.

Cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter

Labelling on dairy other than milk has not caught up in terms of free range or grass promise. The industry focus in on milk. For example I contacted Waitrose to ask if they grass promise extended to cheese and butter and their response was no. They did not have a direct relationship with the farmers so where unable to guarantee it was produced from pasture feed dairy cows.

Buying organic cheese, yogurt and butter is a guaranteed way to ensure the diary is free range. Some producers will label the product as such but you’ll need to read the label carefully.

Imported cheese from outside the UK is likely to come from zero grazing dairies. Italy, Spain, France, Germany etc. all have a very high ratio of non grazing dairies. Even high end, luxury cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano = no grass. So read the labels and ask questions.

Parting thoughts, dairy and specifically milk is considered an essential item, but it is not a necessary part of our diet for calcium, that is a myth, see Consume dairy because you really enjoy it, look for organic, free range, traditional, high quality milk, ice cream, cheese, butter and yogurt and thus enjoy it even more!

Alternative plant based milk, yogurt, ice-cream and cream (I am not convinced about cheese) are readily available and on the increase see this post for ideas

Moo to you too, the Ethical omnivore.














Buy British

If it can be grown or produced in the UK we should avoid buying imported versions. For example banana’s aren’t grown here, but apples are so look for UK origin apples. All animal products that we typically eat are farmed in the UK, however we import vast quantities.

Free markets and free trade have positive benefits, but where food production is concerns the negatives outweigh the benefits.

Food security – this is our ability to be self sufficient. Do you really want your pork to come from China, or your dairy to come from a 46,000 cow indoor farm in Saudi Arabia? The production costs might be cheaper, but that benefits the businesses in the food chain, not the consumer. The more imported food we buy the more risk we are stuck with it with little or no control over production standards, quality or price. Creating a threat to our national food security.

Level playing field – We are lucky in the UK as a lot of our agricultural policies, mean safer and better produce, but it often means we ask more of our farmers in the UK, through welfare acts, non GMO crops, reduced use of chemicals etc. they face tough challenges competing with producers from other countries. We can’t have it both ways and need to support our UK farmers.

Misleading labelling – watch out for products that appear to be British. It is used as a marketing technique. For example a ready meal sold as ‘British hotpot’, that is made using no ingredients from the UK. Or Strawberries advertised an ‘perfect British summer’ that are from Spain.

Lamb and mutton – Sheep are part of our farming heritage. Sheep suit our climate and landscape. UK lamb and mutton is available all year round, so buying it from the other side of the world, New Zealand is unnecessary. The same with beef from other continents, such as USA and South America.

Country of origin – Read the labels, the country of origin is listed. Be aware that ‘packed in’ doesn’t mean where a product originated. Some labels are misleading as it might be sold as British if it was finished or packed in UK. Apply common sense.

Source directly – supermarkets and will source produce from the cheapest, most available source. That doesn’t mean they pass the saving onto you, it means they can’t often can’t tell you which country they sourced the product from. For example it will have a list of countries or simply say ‘the EU’. Try to find direct sources of produce and independent retailers that are committed to local produce.

Support UK farming –  We need to support our farming industry to ensure it’s future.

Grass fed dairy – The UK still has a high level of outdoor grazing dairy, around 80%. Compare this with a lot of other European countries where intensive dairy, with zero grazing is in the majority. For example in Italy where approx 90% of all dairy is intensive. We have an amazing cheese industry but buy a lot of imported cheese. Over all we import dairy products worth £1.3bn more than we exported.

Miles travelled – obvious one, less carbon footprint.

Pork – our welfare standards for pork production are better than a lot of other countries. The use of farrowing crates, sow stalls, male castration, tail docking, straw bedding systems etc. This puts a strain on our UK pork farmers to compete on price, but the product is better and worth the difference.

Provenance – Know where it has came from. The UK has a reputation for higher standards, including review and audit of these standards.

Chemicals and preservation processes – To be able to move your food around the world it undergoes chemical and preservation processes to retain freshness, control ripening etc..

Seasonal – It is always said it far better to eat in season, buying British means you are leaning to a seasonal diet. Enjoy ‘out of season’ produce as a treat but think about what you are buying when.

Buy locally – Go one step further and buy as much local produce as you can.

Parting thoughts – Buying British (or your local country) represents the overall concept of Ethical omnivore. Whole food, grown and supplied to benefits us all, keeping control of our food supply and quality. It makes sense for so many reasons. Sadly it doesn’t mean that all UK produce is ethical, as we also have intensive farming in the UK. So buy British and buy ethical British.

The Ethical omnivore.