Sunflower Seeds – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Sunflower seeds – small, tasty and healthy; eaten as a snack or as a part of a proper meal this fruit of the sunflower has a lot to offer us but just like most things in life, even sunflower seeds have to be consumed in moderation as too much simply isn’t good for us…

Some countries are much bigger on sunflower seeds consumption than other. I’ve read that in Russia for example, you can simply ask a friend for a handful of sunflower seeds once you run out, just like you would bump the proverbial cup of sugar from your neighbour in the UK; they are just so common and everyone eats them. I personally love sunflower seeds, to the point that Mark thinks I should look like a parrot by now. Anyways last night whilst multitasking (re-watching season 4 of House MD and playing Jelly Saga bubbles on my phone at the same time), I heard the episode with the diagnosis – B6 toxicity as a direct result of excessive sunflower seed consumption… well, this caused me to stop nibbling and got me thinking, so here I am sharing with you the headlines from what I have been researching for the last few hours 🙂

Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of polyunsaturated oils; they are rich in Vitamin E, copper, Vitamin B, manganese, selenium, magnesium, folate and almost 70 other nutrients.

The main health benefits of eating sunflower seeds:

  • Weight control – due to their high levels of oil they will quickly take care of any hunger pangs, thus making a perfect snack.
  • Some anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits due to their high levels of vitamin E.
  • They help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Anti-depressant – high level of magnesium can help with low moods, as well as help calm muscles and ease blood vessels.
  • Antioxidant – the selenium in sunflower seeds can help with thyroid health and help to repair any damaged cells within our body.

All is good in the world of sunflower seeds that is until we eat too many of them… Well, one might ask how many it too many… apparently, a single 1oz serving per day is the magic number… eating more can lead to several undesirable effects and contribute to:

  • Weight gain! Yes, the same seed which promotes weight loss in moderate amounts when eaten uncontrollably (the habit of nibbling them is very addictive) will inevitably lead to way too many calories and fats and undesirable weight gain.
  • Excess salt, especially if you snack on the salted version of the seeds.
  • General mouth and dental problems due to cracking too many shells.
  • Stomach problems due to high levels of fiber from eating both shelled and unshelled seeds.
  • Vitamin or/and nutrients overdose. All those good nutrients which were highly beneficial in a small amount can lead to problems when over consumed, especially manganese, selenium or B6 (just as House said).

I still love sunflower seeds but I might stick to a serving of roasted seeds as an addition to my salad from now on and lay off snacking my way through a 100g pack of it every other day.

Do you like sunflower seeds?

Have you ever considered that something can be beneficial in a small amount yet can be harmful when over-consumed?

Moving Abroad – Do’s and Don’ts

For some moving abroad might be out of necessity for others a planned choice. For some, it may feel like a nightmare, for others an adventure, a new beginning yet whatever your reasons or feelings there are some basic DO’s and DON’Ts which will apply in any situation.

DO your research

Even if it is only basic research, as some is better than none. Moving abroad on a whim isn’t a good idea, no matter how adventurous you are. A good basic knowledge about your new country, its people, traditions and customs is a must before you pack your bags.

DON’T talk, do

I know quite a few people who talk and talk about making a move but never actually get around to the moving part… Well, we’ve been there… we talked for three years or so before we actually took the plunge but we did do it. If you want something, take a deep breath and act on it. Life is way too short to just talk about the changes you want.

DO invest in a lawyer and /or translator

All countries are different and some can be vastly different to what you are used to. They will have their own laws and procedures and without a person on the “inside”, it can be really easy to get caught out with something you will come to regret in the future. Even if you do extensive research beforehand and you really know all the basics, you will not possess all the knowledge about local unwritten laws, laws which are in use but can’t be found within any written Acts. Getting the proper legal advice is really important, it will give you piece of mind and potentially save you a lot of money. DON’T skip it.

DON’T forget about your income

When moving abroad especially to a cheaper country a lot of people forget that they still need money to live off… yea life may be more affordable but it isn’t free; even if you decide to live off grid you will still need some cash. Depending on your abilities you might move and think about work later but if you don’t have any transferable skills, it might be hard or nearly impossible to find work, so DO remember to find a realistic plan on how you can feed your bank balance.

DO pick the right place to move to

I am not talking about the right house, I am talking about the right part of the country, district or even street. When we were searching for our house, some offers seemed too good to be true… well, once we actually visited the once in a life-time deal we would discover why… the house was just as advertised, borderline perfect but no one mention anything about its neighbourhood, or the giant factory just across the street or the subsidence, the mildew and damp etc.

DON’T remodel your house right away

The chances that your new place will be perfect are slim. Once you move in or even before you move in, most people feel the urge to make it feel like theirs, renovating before actually living in and bonding with the house never works well. All that painting, decorating and putting your own mark on the place hardly ever works in the long run. Move in, live in the house for a few months, get a feel for it and then make more informed decisions about what or how things need to be changed – this approach will save you a lot of nerves as well as money.

DO insure your new house

House insurance is always a controversial topic; if you are buying a house and you have a mortgage you have no say in that matter, insurance is a must but what about buying it out right? A lot of people don’t pay for building insurance thinking that nothing will ever happen to them… well, in 8 years in our old house in the UK, we claimed house insurance twice – a burglary and a leak in the roof… needless to say, our monthly payment for house insurance paid off.

DON’T be a hermit

You moved to a new country so go mix with locals and become a part of your new community. It’s quite scary to see Brits living here for 5+ years with no real abilities to communicate with their neighbours or having any local friends. I know people are different but I personally don’t get it. Why move 1000 miles away and mix only with other expats?

Oh and most importantly DO enjoy yourself!

Have you ever considered moving abroad?

How to Improve Your Food Photography in 9 Easy Steps

“A photographer is like a cod, which produces a million eggs in order that one may reach maturity.”
George Bernard Shaw

One would think that getting a brand new latest model camera like the Lumix DH5 Panasonic Compact System Camera, Nikon D810 or Canon Mark IV for example, would allow you to become a pro photographer… well, one would be wrong! The equipment you are shooting with is important for sure but it isn’t everything. I am not a pro, and I still have a lot to learn but at the same time, I already possess some knowledge which I can share with you, knowledge which hopefully will allow you to shoot more mouth-watering pictures. I focus on food photography because this is what interests me but you can adapt my tips below to any still life subject.

So, let’s get started – how to improve your food photography in 9 easy steps!

Know your camera

Seems like a no-brainer, does it? But be honest with yourself, when was the last time you actually reached for the manual? Do you really know what all the buttons or sliders actually do? It doesn’t matter what camera you have, if you don’t know all its functions, you will never be able to get the most out of it. Most people buy a new DSLR, set it on auto and hope for the best… well, this really isn’t the way to go.

Invest in some photo lighting

You can have the most expensive, top of the range camera but without some good lighting, you still will not be able to take a decent photo. It would be ideal to be able to shoot in all natural light all of the time but this isn’t always a realistic option. And no, you don’t have to sell your car in order to obtain some photo lights. Check eBay or Amazon, you can get a set of continuous softbox lighting for £30 or so… and yes, they do work well…

Understand the light

Once you have the lights in hand, you need to understand how to light your object. Food should never be light from the front. Ideally, you want to backlight your dish or set the light on the side (try an 11 or 1 o’clock lighting position) but never in front. In addition to your new light, play with diffusers or fill cards… it all depends on your needs; they will allow you to mellow the light or reduce harsh shadows especially if you are shooting with one light only.

Take care of your background

The dish is always the hero of your shot but everything else you see around it is equally important. Most people struggle with backgrounds but actually, the lack of a nice background is very easy to fix… look for inspirations all around you – wallpaper, tiles, wooden or vinyl flooring boards, old cupboard doors… Pop to your local DIY shop and ask for some samples of pieces of wallpaper you like, buy a length of clip on flooring and when you get home simply cut it into 3 shorter lengths and connect them as intended and tada… you have a wooden looking board done.

Work on composition

When you are setting your shot, look through your camera, pay attention to all the details you can see. Make sure your background is clear of clutter as well as clear of any dust or stray hairs… Decide on the angle of the shot, prop accordingly and frame. Remember about the rule of thirds, negative space and a colour wheel. Sounds like a lot but practise makes it easy.

Pay attention to props

I know that props can make or break the food shot. I personally lack in this department, I have an entire cupboard full of cooking props but I hardly ever use them… like I said before I am still learning and it looks like I am kind of stuck for the moment on the styling front. Summer is coming and with it car boot or yard sales, which are perfect for stocking up with unusual kitchen utensils like old plates, cups or glasses.

Plate your food right

Your food is your hero so make sure it looks as good as possible. Don’t just flop a spoonful of mashed potatoes on the plate next to your beautiful, juicy steak… place it with purpose, shape it and keep the plate clean. I see so many pictures of food which to all intents and purposes looks like road kill… it might be the best pasta bake ever created but if you present it so it resembles a dog’s dinner no one is going to cook it, trust me. Some dishes are hard to plate nicely, maybe try shooting them as the bubble away in your cooking pot or for baked goods whilst they are still on the baking tray… not everything has to be presented on a plate.

Shoot in RAW

No matter how great a photographer you will become or are now, your pictures will need some editing, even if it is just emphasising a small burst of colour, or the contrast… there is always something which didn’t go according to plan or could be improved. To make editing as easy as possible and to keep as much details as possible you have to shot in the RAW format. There is no compression between RAW and a .jpg file during and after any editing process and once you start shooting in RAW, you will understand why…

Practise, practise, practise

This is the best advice I can give you. Practise makes us better, we learn from our mistakes and next time we will know how to fix what went wrong during the previous shoot. Practise with your camera settings, with different angles, different lighting or colour… there is no better way to learn than practise!

I could write and write and write, as the topic of photography is never ending but as I am not writing a novel I will stop here. I hope that those few tips will help you understand what’s important and allow you to start taking better pictures.

Good luck and if you have any questions you know where to find me.

Would you add anything to my list?

* This is a collaborative post.

What Fruit And Veg Shortage?

According to many market research studies, the general populous requires the following attributes when out shopping for food, especially fresh fruit and veg; a broad selection all year round and at a price that is deemed value for money (aka cheap). Now, as the world has evolved in our post modernisation era and as we creep into the digital age this “want” has become easier to achieve from a retailers perspective.

Gone are the masses of independent growers with their non-standardised shape, colour and prices replaced instead with a nice safe supply of perfectly formed identical looking cheap products, happy times hey. So how did they manage it….

Economy of scale is one factor, after all one mega grower only has one set of overheads whereas 100 little growers have an equal number of cost burdens. Also let’s not forget that our mega grower has huge negotiating power when fixing prices of overheads with other businesses, the more money you bring to the table the more the other party will concede to get a slice of the action. On the other hand, when taken to an extreme as is the case today it can become awe-inspiring just have a look at the greenhouses of Almeria in Spain where the “greenhouse” is the size of the Isle of Wight and can be seen from space.

Quick global transportation is another, you can get anything to any corner of the world in 24hours or less nowadays. Just browse your local veg section and see the huge diversity of originating countries involved in helping create that awesome display of colour and freshness. So those items grown in Almeria can be on your local supermarket shelves in a matter of hours.

The cost of the produce being the other pillar of support for this global mega-industry has its consequences too. Sticking with our example of Almeria you will find that no longer does the nostalgic memory of our veggies being nurtured by a friendly, wise old man from the soil as the adverts would have you believe. No, it is more cost effective and indeed essential (if you want fresh tomatoes in winter) to do away with the soil part completely, oh and ditch the old man as he is not efficient enough. Now we need miles and miles of identical rows of plants grown from fertiliser bags and drip fed the exact volume of nutrients at the right time to promote growth. Lob in a computerised system to monitor it and an automated picker and you can ditch the staff, more cost savings.

Finally, you are there with a mountain of produce that has cost the absolute minimum to produce and is due in the UK this afternoon, no problem, just need to do one more thing…

Ditch the “ugly” ones, after all no one wants to eat an ugly lettuce, it must look like the ones on TV or in our cook books, perfect, green, round and the correct size. So the ugly ones don’t get to go to the UK, only the beautiful ones. It has been calculated by many sources that around 1/3rd of all fruit and veg grown gets disposed of because it is not deemed beautiful, think on that for a moment.

So there is a lot a play when you go to your local supermarket and browse the fruit and veg section and it is awesome you can have a green salad in the depths of winter… that is until Mother Nature has a strop as she is oft prone to do. Back to Almeria and we are looking at over a billion pounds worth of produce heading to the skip and a void in your local shelf space.

So members of the UK populous think on these issues when you look at your reduced or even empty veg sections over the coming weeks and wonder if a partial return to the classic scene of our wise old man in the garden growing your seasonal produce wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all…

Is Anxiety Ruling Your Life?

It seems that in more recent years, there has become a greater awareness of mental health. Mental health disorders are considered common throughout the United States and research shows that millions of people are affected each year. Mental health disorders range from milder issues like anxiety and panic attacks to more extreme disorders of depression, borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia.

The common condition of Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects 3.1% of the U.S. adult population over a 12-month period and 32% of these cases are considered as a severe condition. This disorder creates excessive worrying about issues such as employment, finances, family, relationship and health. Sadly, it seems that only half of the sufferers look for help to aid anxiety, while the other half may not be aware that they could be actively getting professional advice or seeking out alternative therapies to improve their wellbeing.

Don’t Let Anxiety Stop You from Focusing on The Future…

Many people find that when they are anxious or depressed, they find it difficult to not only focus on living in the now, but also being able to focus on a positive future ahead. Anxieties and loss in confidence can hinder you from making plans and having inspiration on what you want to do in your life. Often, having goals for the future can especially help someone to look at making positive changes, even if it’s just one step at a time. Some people have also found that having something to look forward to and getting positive insight for the future from a tarot reading, empowers them to focus ahead and to feel more confident about life. Anxiety and stress can easily feel like it is taking over your life, but learning how to manage it by taking small steps, can make you feel more in control, making a huge difference.

Why Do We Get Anxious?

Anxiety and stress disorders are one of the most common issues in mental health, but they can also be one of the easiest to recover from. Most stress and anxiety is caused by feeling vulnerable, weak or out of control of your life. Often it may be because you are feeling unhappy about certain circumstances that you believe are beyond your control. Perhaps you are in a difficult relationship, or maybe you are miserable at work? Also, family issues and disagreements can cause anxious feelings and may be causing a stressful living environment. Professional counsellors have helped many people with these problems by educating them on how to take more control of their life, how to safeguard themselves and how to avoid or remove themselves from situations that may not be good for them. Mindfulness has also proved to be a useful therapy that enables people to focus on the here and now.

Alternative & Complementary Therapies

Treating mental health disorders with complementary therapies and alternative health is often successful but it very much depends on the person. These therapies are believed to increase wellbeing, promote better mental health and help a person to learn how to relax. Some therapies are not regulated, so it is important to work with someone who is fully trained with a professional qualification. Therapies range from aromatherapy, reflexology, Indian head massage, shiatsu, reiki, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy and hypnotherapy. There is not yet enough research being done to prove that these therapies truly help mental health disorders, but many people have found that they certainly lessen anxiety and stress levels, helping them to feel more relaxed.

Many mental health disorders need professional treatment, whether it’s medication, early intervention teams, professional talking therapies (counselling, CBT etc) or in extreme cases, electroconvulsive therapy. While every mental health disorder should be diagnosed and professionally recognised for appropriate treatments, we should also consider that perhaps some conditions like anxiety, could be alleviated by other treatments. However, anyone suffering from these conditions should always seek professional diagnosis and advice before looking to alternatives.

* This is a collaborative post.