Yaay! My right hand has just been liberated after five weeks in a plaster cast (and of course I am right handed)- such a relief. I broke my wrist in two places, slipping on mud flats while walking at low tide over the summer. It took a split second to do, and has been surprisingly painful and debilitating. While I’ve been parading around with my bright purple cast – very fetching – several people have said something along the lines of ‘well, as we get older, the bones get weaker…’ which hasn’t exactly cheered me up. According to the National Osteoporosis Society, one in five men over 50, and one in two women, will suffer a fracture – mainly due to poor bone health and, for women, our plummeting oestrogen levels (like so much else *sighs*).
All this made me think ‘what can I do/eat/Kale & Cocoa-ise to protect my ageing bones?’ www.nos.org.uk suggests foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D (our bodies need the vitamin to help us absorb the mineral) – low fat dairy products, sardines (with the bones in – so important) and oily fish in general and lots of vegetables and fruit. There’s research underway into the power of phytoestrogens – plant-based chemicals that mimic the role of the oestrogen we lose as we age – which indicate that they may slow down the breakdown of old bone while enhancing new growth. The best source of phytoestrogens are soya beans, which we love at Kale & Cocoa for their age-enhancing powers (there’s a lovely recipe here).
Getting plenty of calcium and Vitamin D to boost our bones is no surprise. What is surprising is the controversy around how much we should be taking. Government guidelines suggest that women over 50 need around 1200mg and men under 70 1000mg of calcium each day, but it seems not all calcium is created equal. While dairy products, meat and fish provide good levels of calcium, too much can increase the acidity of the blood which actually leaches calcium from our bones. So, potentially, the more we consume, the more we need. There’s a lot of interest in alkaline diets at the moment, with proponents claiming that acid-forming foods are responsible for everything from low energy to serious diseases. The scientific way to work out if a food is acid or alkaline is by looking at its effect on the kidneys and what’s known as a food’s PRAL or Potential Renal Acid Load. The higher the load, the more acidic the food and the harder it is for the body to absorb the calcium in that food. Milk’s PRAL value is very low, making it a good source of calcium, but the PRAL for cheddar cheese is higher so it should be balanced with fruit and vegetables. Some people see this as a reason to actually cut out dairy to strengthen bones, but that is pretty extreme and we are all about moderation here at K & C!
It is perfectly possible to get great levels of calcium completely from plant sources. The calcium we need finds its way into plants from the earth- and ends up in dairy products because cows eat plants! And the calcium in plants is more bio-available than the calcium in milk – (ie it’s easier for our bodies to absorb). Leafy greens like bok choi, kale and broccoli are rich in calcium along with so many other nutrients. Our bodies are very clever – studies show that when people eat a relatively low calcium diet (around 415mg a day) they become more efficient at absorbing and conserving the mineral, but when overfed it, the kidneys eliminate more.
As we age, we lose calcium – *sighs* again. Low levels of Vitamin D can contribute to this so it’s important to keep them topped up – it is recommended that people over 50 have 800-1000iu per day. However, one new study indicates that post-menopausal women don’t seem to benefit from high dose Vitamin D supplements. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found negligible improvement in bone density amongst women who took supplements to keep their Vitamin D level above 30ng/ml (nanogrammes per mililitre) . It was a very small study, and more research is needed, but it’s a reminder that a good balanced diet is the best source of the vitamins and minerals we need as we age. (And a good dose of sunshine too, when it comes to vitamin D!). It also completely contradicts a lot of other research – you can read our post on that here. Both Annabel and I take a Vitamin D supplement and this new research won’t change our minds – for the time being.
This week’s recipe is a super-speedy fish pie – packed with oily fish and eggs for vitamin D and crème fraiche for calcium. Unlike many other fish pies, this one doesn’t require a roux based sauce, so it’s not as thick as some. There’s no mash potato either, so it’s not as stodgy as more traditional recipes. Serve it with some calcium-rich greens for extra nutrients. Annabel photographed my fish pie with a portion of nutrient-rich samphire – a wonderful sea vegetable (imagine asparagus that tastes of the sea, if you haven’t tried it) that contains both calcium and Vitamin D. Rather ironic that I was surrounded by samphire on the salt marshes in Norfolk when I slipped and broke my wrist….
SIMPLEST-EVER FISH PIE (SERVES 6)
- 800g prepared, frozen fish pie mix containing salmon, smoked cod and regular cod (a cheat I’ve discovered recently)
- 1 fish stock cube
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 small glass of white wine
- 4 eggs
- 80g frozen peas
- 200g crème fraiche
- 100g frozen raw prawns
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tbs flat leaf parsley, chopped (not a deal breaker if you don’t have it)
- 60g wholemeal breadcrumbs
- 2 large handfuls of grated cheese (eg cheddar)
- 1 tbs flat leaf parsley, chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Boil the eggs for nine minutes then plunge into cold water to cool. Shell when cold enough to handle.
In a large, wide saucepan, make up the fish stock cube with half a litre of water, then add bay leaves and wine. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and add fish pie mix and peas. Heat gently until cooked through, adding the prawns for the last couple of minutes. Use a fish slice to scoop the fish and peas out of the stock and place into a baking dish. Sprinkle over the parsley. Turn the heat up under the fish stock left in the pan, and let it bubble away until you’re left with just a few tablespoons of liquid. In a small bowl, stir three tablespoons of the reduced fish stock and lemon juice into the creme fraiche. Check the seasoning then drizzle most of the mixture over fish. Mix gently so all the fish is coated. Cut the eggs into quarters and arrange on top of the fish pieces. Drizzle over remaining creme fraiche mixture.
Mix the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the fish. Bake in the oven for 20mins until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Serve with greens, and new potatoes for very hungry people. I sometimes serve this over plain pasta for the children.