An award-winning documentary in cinemas shows the day-to-day reality of living with ME – and the shocking lack of research around the condition that affects millions around the world
Around 250,00 people in the UK are believed to suffer from ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It’s an under-researched condition and 80% of sufferers are undiagnosed. The attitude of many people, and doctors, is that’s it’s all in the mind – and psychosomatic, rather than a physiological condition. In the 1980s it was called ‘yuppie flu’ and as far back as the 1950s it was considered a form of hysteria suffered mainly by women.
A new documentary, Unrest, sets out to put all the misconceptions straight. It’s is a remarkable insight into the condition told through the eyes of its young American director, Jennifer Brea, who suffers from the condition.
Brea was a 28-year-old Harvard PhD student about to marry her fiancé Omar Wasow when she suffered a high fever that left her prone to infection after infection, and to eventually becoming bedbound. Facing the possibility of a lifetime’s confinement to bed, Jennifer says she ‘fell down a rabbit hole and discovered a hidden world of thousands of patients around the globe, many of whom had disappeared from their own lives and who were using the internet to connect with each other and the outside world’.
From her bed she started filming her video diaries on her iPhone and later her Skype conversations with other sufferers. Determined to get well, Brea started a crowd-funding campaign to turn her video diaries into a proper film production. It took four years, but has already raised awareness of the condition and, she hopes, more funding for medical research.
‘I want people who watch the film to understand ME is a serious, life-changing illness with a long history, and one that has been seriously neglected because of sexism and because of ignorance and biases within the medical community,’ says Brea. ‘I want everyone to see and experience people living with disabilities as complex and fully human.’
In her Ted talk, Brea explains that, ‘The key symptom we [ME sufferers] share is that whenever we exert ourselves, physically or mentally, we pay – and we pay hard.
‘It’s estimated 15 to 30 million people around the world have this disease… yet doctors do not treat us, and science does not study us.’
Brea’s documentary won an award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s the story of one woman’s determination and is truly inspiring, yet manages to be unsentimental.
Brea has experimented with many diet and lifestyle factors, and one that did make a difference was reducing her exposure to mould. She now lives in LA, the sunshine state of California, while her husband shuttles back and forth from his job at Princeton University on the East Coast.
Unrest is released at selected cinemas from 20 October. See unrest.film
Childhood friends – now time-short, food-loving parents – Philippa Askham and Tanya Mitchell launched nutritious baking brand Sweetpea Pantry last year. They won Richard Branson’s Foodpreneurs Award in 2014, and told us about their mission to make nutritious food for kids easy.
‘We’ve always been passionate about children’s nutrition but we found it hard to find time to feed our kids well. Then we decided to create baking mixes that would save people time and energy but not compromise on great-tasting, healthy ingredients.
Tanya and Philippa, founders of Sweetpea Pantry
‘When developing our recipes, we worked with paediatric nutritionist Belinda Blake. Along the way, we spoke to a lot of people who love baking but don’t know how to make it nutritious. They’d heard of things like quinoa but felt it’s a bit ‘out there’. And they knew they should cut back on sugar and add wholegrains, but didn’t know how. We thought about what kids like to make and eat and added the nutritious angle without making it too complicated.” Result? A range of good-for-you baking kits – everything from pizza dough (flax and chia, anyone) to pancakes – and not forgetting choccie biscuits and flapjacks (with ‘yes, we can use’ quinoa).
‘Our kits are perfect for time-pressed parents who can’t cook from scratch all the time but want to give their children nutritious food.
‘We didn’t realise our gluten-free products would be so big. Our flapjacks were re-launched this year to be gluten free. So many products are sugar-loaded that people were excited to find a health-conscious brand. We want to make our products flexible so they can be made dairy-free, too.
‘We’d like to develop the Free From (gluten-free) and savoury angle, which is where we’ve seen our strengths. Long-term, we want to launch on-the-go snacks, which are natural, contain wholegrains, and have less sugar.’
Who doesn’t love some avocado-drenched guacamole? It’s filled with the deliciously bold flavours of coriander and lime, it’s a creamy dream and it’s easy to make. The one thing that’s not to love? The calories.
Avocados are nutritious but they’re high in calories and when they’re the base of something as delicious as guacamole it’s easy to lose count of how much you’ve had. In this mockamole recipe we swapped out an entire avocado and used peas and Greek yogurt instead. Sound weird? Give it a try, you’ll be surprised just how creamy and flavourful it is.
Per serving (based on serves 6):
Smoked oyster dip with crudites
A 10-minute dip that’s packed with protein-rich oysters.
Roasted carrot and cumin dip
Roasted carrots pair perfectly with the flavours of cumin and coriander in this easy dip recipe.
Avocado and feta dip
Arguably the easiest of the the bunch to make, this dip uses only five ingredients and takes just five minutes to whip up.
Beetroot, walnut and feta dip
This roasted beetroot dip tastes as good as it looks — it’s a real show-stopper on all counts.
Serve these dips with veg sticks – or try Nairn’s gluten-free cracked black pepper crackers if you’re looking for a cracker base, but want to keep the entire snack gluten-free
Struggling to get your five-a-day? Try this nifty way of using cheap, cheerful and seasonal courgettes in place of pasta or noodles…
Shops and allotments are filled with courgettes in July and August. They’re delicious eaten raw, grilled or stuffed – but why not take their versatility to new heights? In round two of my quest for vegetable alternatives to starchy carbs, I’m turning courgettes into ‘spaghetti’ – or as food fashionistas call it, courgetti. Yes, you read that right – this new cool plate filler on the block is delicious served with Italian dishes, or with Asian stir-fries.
Nutrition wise, the figures stack up: a 100g serving of courgetti provides 1.2g fibre, 360mg potassium, 52mcg folate, 100mcg vitamin A and 21mg vitamin C – all for just 18 calories. Courgettes also contain two antioxidants – lutein and zeaxanthin – that help to keep the eyes healthy and protect against age-related macular degeneration, which can cause blindness.
Here’s how I made my courgetti…
The prep bit
One trimmed medium courgette will serve one person. Using a julienne peeler, spiraliser or similar attachment for a mandoline, cut the courgette into strips. (If your knife skills are top-notch, you could cut the courgette into spaghetti style strips by hand.)
The quickest and easiest way to cook courgetti is in a frying pan, over a medium-high heat, with a tiny splash of oil – I used garlic-infused rapeseed oil (courgettes contain a lot of water so you really don’t need to use much oil). At this point you can get creative and add herbs or spices depending on the dish you’re cooking. I tossed some crushed garlic and ground black pepper through my courgetti, to go with the spinach, bacon and reduced-fat crème fraîche sauce I served it with.
How did I rate it?
It’s another delicious veggie alternative to carbs such as pasta or noodles, and is particularly good during the summer as it’s much lighter than pasta.
You need a julienne peeler or spiraliser (available at Amazon, Lakeland and eBay) to get the best courgetti.
Putting ‘activity’ icons on food products is the ‘burning’ issue in the health news. On the surface, it sounds like a plan! Information is power and it could help us walk away from bad food decisions. At Healthy Food Guide magazine, we occasionally run features on this topic, especially around Easter and Christmas, when many of us make unguarded choices (yes, it takes an hour of vigorous dusting to work off that 175 calorie Creme Egg).
But do we really need to clutter labels with even more detail? No! What we need is to regroup around the clear and easy-to-decode traffic lights on packs – that’s the simple red, amber and green system. Not all manufacturers have adopted this yet.
Let’s steer clear of mixed messages. So it’s OK to eat three chocolate bars if we have the time to run off the calories? Or should we be doing without that wholesome bowl of porridge if we don’t? There’s no healthy, well balanced diet message there. Personally, every time I eat a two-finger KitKat, I don’t want to be reminded that I’d need to walk for 30 min. There lies madness. Most of our lives are busy and stressful enough without these guilt ‘trips’.
We need to go back to basics. An active woman needs around 2,000 calories a day (men up to 500 more) to function. To lose 1lb a week, calorie intake needs to be around 1,500. Clearly, the quarter of the UK population who are obese have not grasped even this simple concept.
Ultimately, we know we shouldn’t be eating that giant chocolate muffin mid-morning or that sugar-sweetened cola to beat an afternoon slump. Health bodies need to get the healthy eating message out there, including the daily proportions of the food groups mapped out in the new Eat Well plan. Highlighting activity levels on pack is a fun diversion, but let’s just leave it at that.