Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Probiotics and health

Creamy and cultured - 

Why yoghurt is still one of the healthiest foods 

you can indulge in...

  • Yoghurt is high in potassium, calcium and B-vitamins.    
  • Some critics feel that the benefits of  yoghurt have a lot to do with hearsay and have not been researched enough to support claims of its benefits.  Still, other researcher maintain that they have found a correlation between a decreased risk of osteoporosis and increased yogurt consumption.  
  • Gut function was noted to improve by many who swear by its probiotic properties and its ability to promote heathy gut flora. 
  • People who are lactose intolerant often find they can consume yoghurt without the usual unpleasant effects such as bloating and gas.  
  • Moreover there are indications that its probiotic content boosts our immunity.  A strong immune system, the argument goes, comes with a healthy gut.  
  • Because of the fermentation process, caused by the lactobacillus bacterium, yoghurt seems easier to digest and absorb thatn most other dairy products.  
  • A further correlation was found between women who consume up to four cups of yoghurt and a decreased incidence of vaginal and bladder infections caused by candida overgrowth.  
  • Yoghurt, like all dairy, is a builder, making it ideal food for athletes thanks to its high protein and vitamin content.

Yoghurt can be prepared in many ways both savoury and sweet.  It can be used in salad dressing, as a dip, as a substitute to milk or cream in sauces and desserts.  Today we propose a simple, yummy and summery way to enjoy your yoghurt - the delightful Mango Lassi.  

Mango lassi with almonds

  • 3 cups yoghurt
  • 1 cup diced mango
  • 1 cup crushed iced
  • Honey to taste (optional, as mango pulp is already sweet).
  • Small pinch of ground cardamon
  • 1 tablespoon slivered  almonds


  • Put all ingredients except almonds in the blender cup.  
  • Ready, steady blend!  Blend till smooth.  Top with slivered almonds and enjoy!

More Lassi recipe ideas:   http://www.buzzfeed.com/melissaharrison/summer-lassi-recipes#.ckby5o4bA

Read more about the health benefits of yoghurt:

Insect repellant resins

A natural alternative to this 'mortal' insect coil

Contrary to popular belief female mosquitoes sting humans, not out of a ravenous apetite for blood, but because they need the blood to develop healthy eggs.  Other than that the experts are have not come up with a definite answer to the question...

'Why do mosquitoes love me?' 

Genetics seems to be a contributing factor.   The individual production of carbon dioxide can notably serve as magnets for mosquitoes. Therefore active people who tend to produce more carbon dioxide are likely to be mozzie targets.  The presence of uric acid or by-products of cholesterol on the skin's surface may also entice the persistent pests. 

Research has shown that toxic carcinogenic compounds such as formaldehyde are present in the commercial insect repellant coils. It is safe to say that these coils are not meant to be used indoors and have been deemed more hazardous to human health than smoking cigarettes. 

In Malaria-prone regions such as Malaysia, use of insect coils has been related to lung diseases and damage to the central nervous system.  It is thought that the chemicals in commercial insect repellant coils generally lower the immune system.

So while they protect us from mosquito stings, they are deleterious to our overall health.  But what is the pinciple behind the use of smoke from incense coils?  

Originally the idea came from a Japanese business man and his wife who used chrysantemum petals and sawdust to keep away mosquitos.  The smoke of the resins masks our smell and thus we escape the attention of blood-thristy mozzies.  It's as simple as that. 

Why then do commercially produced coils contain high percentages of toxic chemicals with accompanying harmful particles?  What is the alternative, if any?  

If you prefer a natural non-toxic option why not try a different type of resin?  Traditionally Frankinscence, Myrrh, bits of barks and seeds from various plants and resin sap have all been used to create a non-toxic smoke screen against insects.   This mixture of resins can be found in Soap Cafe's Camping Resins.  These resins can be used in any outdoor situation whether it is a weekend camping trip, a picnic in the woods, a sunset beach Bbq or simply tea in your back garden.  Simply sprinkle the resin over some hot embers from your Bbq or camp fire to release the protective and pleasantly scented smoke.

So next time you head off to the great outdoors, forget the coils, arm yourself with some Camping Resin and enjoy a safe, sting-free experience.

Soap Cafe offers other natural anti mossie solutions such as lotion, soap and indoor burning oil. Go onto our online shop for details.

Read more about mosquito coils and mozzie stings here:

Animals and our wellbeing

Dr. Pet – at your service!

A friend of mine was recently telling me about why she adopted a small dog.  She is a young, ambitious woman who lives in a busy city away from her family.  ‘It’s just good to know there is someone waiting for you at home’, she explained.  In our fast, one-tracked lives many people view their pets as companions.  

We all think we know the benefits of having a pet.  Companionship, affection, loyalty among others.  But are we aware of the complex and real benefits  of our relationship with our pets?

Animals therapists working with patients who have life-threatening conditions or immobilizing accidents know these benefits well.   Contact with animals encourages recovering patients to become more active and motivate them to make the effort to engage once again with the world around him in positive ways.  

The presence of pets in the home is beneficial for people undergoing stress from illness, disability or other conditions.  They give comfort and contentment.  Therefore they are an antidote to lonelinessPlaying or petting an animal encourages us to relax physically, mentally and emotionally.  Spending time with your fluffy, endearing companion can promote positive affective behaviour thus generating happier feelings.

   Our animal companions encourage calmness in persons undergoing medical or other stress.  For this reason dogs and cats have been used in treatment of Alzhiemer’s and ASD among others.  Even watching some fish in an aquarium can help to temporarily normalize high blood pressure!

Pets teach commitment.  We are responsible for their happiness.  We owe them the best lifestyle we can afford to give them. 

    They also teach us about behaviour - their and ours.  We learn to watch them and discover their preferences, character as well as quirks. Horses, for instance, are used in therapy because they mirror behaviour, responding to us according to the positive or negative attitude we carry with us. This process helps us become more aware of our behaviour towards others.  

Rider, therapist and pony on the same team.

A good study of how animals teach us about our own behaviour can be found in ‘A puppy called Aero’.  It is a book for everyone, written by the protagonist Liam Creed and tells a heartening tale on growing up, ADHD and an encounter with a rollicking puppy.

The benefits of spending time with animals are well known to people working in therapy settings.  Cats, dogs and dolphins among others, have been used in Animal Assisted Therapy.  

One theory (the biophilia hypothesis) explains that we have a primordial tendency to look to animals for signs of unrest or fear, signifying in the primitive world, a sign of danger to ourselves.  Conversely seeing an animal at rest, calms us down and helps us chill out!

A young rider proud of his achievements!

Horses have also found themselves involved in giving therapy.  Hippotherapy is a well established strategy which is beneficial on a number of levels.  It has been used to treat addictions, teach anger management, encourage problem-solving and support assertiveness training.  In riders with autism, hippotherapy has helped to increase their physical mobility, balance and coordination as well as stamina.  It has been known, among others, to increase expressive language in non-verbal riders.  Hippotherapy or equine assisted therapy, has similarly aided the recovery of victims of sexual abuse and emotional trauma. Through contact with the sight, smells, sounds and sensations of horse-riding, the rider’s mind
learns to process and integrate environmental stimuli, leading to better body awareness, improved emotional adaptation and ultimately increased self-esteem.  This in turns kick starts the rider’s ability to integrate better socially.

Over the years we have seen an increase of animal presence in cities.  Cat CafĂ©’s have sprung up in Asia and Europe alike.  Animals are now invited to practise yoga and meditation with fellow human practitioners.  After all much of the inspiration for yoga and martial arts postures and movements come from animals.  You don't believe that?  Just watch this bear practise her morning stretches! J

This rise in pet numbers indicates a significant shift in the way we look at our humble companions - we have started to acknowledge the fact that animals provide us with an important service.  

They are able to support us in creating a loving responsible environment, normalize everyday stresses and overall, boost our sense of happiness and wellbeing.  

Hence they merit our greatest respect.

Share your thoughts with us about how animals support our wellbeing.  Send in photos of your favourite pet/therapist/companion and tell us about how they help you to heal and relax.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Gluten-free alternatives

Quinoa - A grain with a difference

Naturally gluten free, rich in B-vitamins, a good source of fibre and a complete protein -  What more could you want from a grain? 

Quinoa is fast becoming recognized as an nutrient-rich superfood. It is technically a pseudo-cereal which means it shares many of the characteristics of a grain but is botanically slightly different. It is, in fact, actually related to plants such as beets and spinach. 

This Peruvian native is a whole grain which means that it's fibre content, minerals and vitamins make it more nutritious and satisfying than other better known grains like refined wheat or rice. 

Moreover it contains fatty acids such as oleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid both of which are necessary in normal human growth, help to protect the heart, condition the skin and have been used to aid weight loss. Quinoa is a great source of antioxidant phytonutrients such as quercetin, a powerful flavonoid which supports vascular health. 

In the following recipe, which we orignially sourced from pureella.com, Quinoa is combined with chickpeas to produce a healthy yet tasty combo that is easily prepared. We added a Mediterranean touch by including sun dried tomatoes, a dash of cumin as well as a pinch of turmeric to add to it's anti-inflammatory properties. These vegetarian patties are sure to tempt young picky eaters and satisfy discriminating spouses.

Mediterranean quinoa and chickpea Patties


1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup cooked chickpeas
3/4 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 red bell pepper
4 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
small bunch of fresh cilantro and fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chickpea flour (also known as gram flour) + extra 3 tablespoons for coating
1-2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Oil for cooking


  • In a large pan, drizzle in a little oil and sautee the onion and garlic until slightly browned. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • Dice the red pepper and chop the cilantro and parsley.
  • Place the chickpeas in a food processor and process into a textured
  • paste. Transfer into a large bowl.
  • Add all the ingredients to the chickpeas in the bowl and mix to combine. Season to your liking.
  • Sprinkle a few tablespoons of chickpea flour on a large plate. Scoop some of the mixture onto your hands and shape into a ball (no larger than the size of a golf ball) and then press gently to shape into a patty. Drop into the chickpea flour to coat evenly. Dust off excess flour.
  • Reheat pan to medium heat. Drizzle in a little more oil and fry the patties for about 2-3 minutes on each side until nicely browned.
  • Serve hot or cold with a large leafy salad.

You can buy organic Quinoa at Soap Cafe, Sliema. Email Charlene at info@soapcafemalta.com or visit our Facebook page and subscribe to our newsletter for more ideas on healthy eats and info about our range of natural, non-toxic skin care products.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Healthy Hydration- DIY fruit and Veg infusions

Pretty to look at and great tasting, refreshing yet low in calories, highly hydrating but simple to prepare. .. What more could one ask from a summer drink?  If you haven’t already tried fruit and herb infusions this summer may be a good time to start.  

In fact infusions are a great way of encouraging ourselves and our loved ones to drink more water.  It is an excellent low calorie alternative to commercial sodas and packaged juices.    

Making infusions is as easy as it gets.  Fill a clean glass jar with water.  Thinly slice your choice of ingredients and place them in the jar of water.  U can use herbs, fresh fruit, spices, vegetables and even edible flowers.    And wait…. for as little as 30 minutes to as long as a couple of hours depending on how strongly flavoured you like your water.  I would recommend refrigerating the infusion given the seasonal warm weather.  You can refill the jar with water a few times before discarding the ingredients and starting afresh.

Whether you prefer colourful  rose petals and lavender or fragrant basil or rosemary, whether you crave the sweetness of melon and pear, the zing of ginger and cloves or the freshness of cucumber and fennel, infusions will quench your thirst and increase your water intake naturally and pleasantly. 

Remember that infusions will aid detoxification and depending on the ingredients you use can support immunity, aid weight loss or relieve congestion.  The choice of flavours very much depends on your individual preferences and, in practical terms, on what you have available.  We recommend using seasonal produce since fresh is always best.  Where possible include organic produce in your infusions to reduce toxic build up   Other than that use your imagination and let your taste buds be your guide. 

 Soap Cafe also stocks an interesting and delicious blend of berries and spices, originally designed to be infused as teas but which works excellently in cold infusions.  My personal favourite is Berry Wellness, a vibrant blend of organic strawberries, goji berries, cranberries, blueberries, ginger and liquorice root among other luscious ingredients. 

Our teas can be enjoyed hot and cold. Honey, agave syrup

or coconut sugar can be used to sweeten them up naturally. We also usually recommend adding a slice of lemon or lime to prevent oxidation of the tea leaves preserving the detoxification qualities of these infusions.  Find out about more teas and herbs here.

You can find an extensive selection of ideas for your infusions at the links below.  Write in and let us know which you prefer and share your original recipes with us.

Rise & Shine -Love YOUR Body

There is an increasing awareness of the messages projected by commercial advertising and the negative effects they exert on the self-image of viewers.  Body image has become increasingly mixed up with self-esteem and consequently has promoted a range of disorders such as anorexia, low self-esteem and anxiety.  

Commercial images, popularised mainly by the media, have set improbable goals such as everlasting youth and has ended up making a parody of beauty. So should we really care about how we compare to media standards of beauty?

This awareness of the negative impact of certain images has recently led to action by lay persons who felt that a London Underground ad by a company selling sports nutritional products was setting unrealistic goals.  Critics of this ad believe that ads such as the one by Protein World are harmful to the self-image of viewers.  You can read more about this action here.

And why are these images damaging?  Surely, in this computer dominated age, we all know that ads are enhanced images, designed to sell products.  The truth of the matter is that while we know that these pictures offer unrealistic comparisons, we still endorse them – we and sadly, those around us,  accept them as if they were real.

Regrettably this has meant a dramatic increase in eating disorders, anxiety and depression.  Some push themselves into dangerous sexual situations to validate their perception of their own attractiveness.  Others opt out, withdrawing away from society and from activities that require them to ‘expose’ their bodies such as swimming or exercising.  

Hence the negative cycle gradually closes in, locking away the person’s potential to fulfil herself or himself, to show one’s talents. to be acknowledged for one’s uniqueness and accepted with one’s vulnerabilities.   

By the way, this phenomenon is by no means exclusive to females.  KidsMalta.com reports that 1 in 10 young males are now affected by eating disorders and mental illness associated to negative body image. 

But what exactly is it that makes a person 'beautiful'? 

Krista Sullivan, in her blog entry ‘What is Sexy?’ relates being attractive to being humane yet strong with an emphasis on authenticity and self-respect.   Integrity is attractive, Krista maintains, while generosity and having a social conscience is the hallmark of a truly sexy human being.  In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say.  Beauty radiates from our character and behaviour towards ourselves and others and not merely from one’s exterior appearance. 

Surely, you might be thinking, there is nothing wrong with wanting to look pretty or eye-catching.  Not in the least.  Self-care is at the basis of a healthy self-esteem.  But there is quite a difference between treating yourself with respect and, on the other hand, letting your negative feelings about your body determine your thoughts about yourself.  Clearly no body is perfect, unless it is photoshopped.  At some time or other we all need to make adjustments to our life-style in order to become healthier both physically and psychologically.  

In the words of Helen Keller, a beautiful is soul not famous for her looks but for her courage and wisdom, ‘be happy with what you have while working for what you want’.

Self-care and acknowledging our intrinsic worth is the subject tackled by Embodying Selves.  This project is the brain child of Lou Ghirlando, a creative arts therapist in conjunction with the Theatre Studies Department at the University of Malta, as well as the Malta Arts Fund and the School for Performing Arts.  This project highlights the connection between emotional well-being and how we choose to care for ourselves, with special focus on our relationship with food and nutrition.  A dramatic performance will be developed as part of this research project with interventions from a British drama-therapist who works with persons with eating disorders.  You can find more details about this valid project here.

So what to do?   How do we become whole again?  How do we draw away from this fragmented mess of comparisons to unreal images?  How do we escape the realm of delusion and reinstate our authentic selves?

The approach advocated by  Beauty Redefined is a simple three-step process of recognizing harmful images, redefining our body image in positive terms and finally, resisting damaging messages conveyed by commercial images.   They point their fingers at the way these images objectify the human body and mislead viewers into thinking that thin is happy.  Clearly happiness is far more complex than that. 

The following are some pointers towards restoring one’s self-image.  

  • Firstly, find a safe space where you are comfortable to talk about your negative feelings about yourself – be it via counselling or with a trusted friend or relative.  
  • Secondly, find out what you excel at and what you love and admire about yourself.  
  • Express your individual style and carry yourself with confidence and pride.  
  • Be aware that when you compare yourself with others you are encouraging a negative self- image.  
  • If you need to make lifestyle changes make them pleasant – engage in exercise you enjoy, make time to prepare healthy delicious meals.  In other words make the change an agreeable one.  
  • Above all, hang out with people who will nurture and support you.  The company you choose can act as nourishment or as a drain to your energy so choose wisely. 

Be well.  Be whole.  Be real.  Be yourself.

Thanks for the inspiration to these sources: