Archive | January 2013

Age gracefully with soup!


Old people should eat more soup!

It’s obvious, when you think about it. As the body ages, the ability to digest food diminishes. Older people often complain about dyspepsia and are – not surprisingly – the major consumers of anti-indigestion medicines. In an age where most people, except those who live in dire poverty, eat too much and too often, digestion problems are the price we pay for affluence. So we need to satisfy our appetites with food that is easier for our bodies to process. Soup, in which solid food is reduced by thorough cooking to an easily digestible form, is thus the ideal meal.

For a start, even a thick soup is mostly liquid and the human digestive track has no problem processing water. But there is a lot more to it than that.

1. Only the very young and those doing hard physical labour can eat large quantities of food without ill effect. The older you get, and the more sedentary your habits, the less you need to eat. What’s more, you need to reduce the amount of food you eat at any one meal because the digestive system just can’t process it effectively. Though our appetites DO tend to diminish with age most of us still tend to eat too much. Yet if you are, say, 65 years old and you set out on a plate the ideal amount of food your body requires for dinner, it would look very meager indeed. Unless this meal consisted, of, say, a small piece of grilled chicken and salad, even a modest meal involving a portion of meat, vegetables and carbohydrates such as rice and pasta, would be more calories than your body can use and in a form that you can’t easily digest. One big advantage of soup is that it turns a small amount of solid matter (meat, vegetables, grains) into a meal that gives you all the nutrition you need and still satisfies the stomach. A bowl of hearty soup makes you feel full at once. Two bowls is more than most of us can handle. But the amount of food we’ve actually eaten is small in comparison with any other meal. That piece of grilled chicken and salad will probably give you about the same number of calories/kilojoules. But except in hot weather you won’t find it very satisfying. And who wants to eat chicken and salad every day?

2. Salad, in any case, is not always easily digestible for older people, especially those with health problems. Contrary to some fashionable opinion, raw food is NOT always good for you and can be downright harmful. A lot of the vegetables that we commonly eat today would not have been eaten by our distant ancestors because without cooking such foodstuffs would not have been considered either palatable or digestible. Even Australian Aborigines, whose hunting and gathering food habits endured into the beginning of the last century, had developed highly complex ways of preparing foods that would otherwise have been difficult – even dangerous -to digest. We all know that fiber is good for us but it can also be very difficult for our digestive systems to process. Therefore most vegetables need to be well-cooked, especially for older people. This includes all the brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, as well as celery, beans and root vegetables. The skin of vegetables such as pumpkin, squash and eggplant/aubergine are also hard to digest and even tomato skins can cause inflammation of vulnerable parts of the digestive track. The fibers in red meat – beef and lamb – are also harder for the digestive system to break down and absorb as we age. Other difficult-to-digest foods include bread (especially very new bread), nuts and raw cereals. Cooked oatmeal is a good food for older people. Uncooked muesli is not. Soup involves long and thorough cooking which breaks down fibrous foods while still retaining nutrition, so it’s very gentle on the system.
3. Elimination of body wastes is something else that begins to falter with age. Again, the reducing of solid food to a soft consistency that doesn’t take a lot of work by your digestive processes means the bowels can function more easily. This is of course aided by the amount of water in soup, which helps (in very simple terms) to flush out your system. Plenty of fluid – not too much indigestible matter – that’s one of the secrets for healthy bowels.
4. Older people, as already stated, tend to eat too much; consuming more energy than the body can readily process without turning it into excess fat. VERY old people, by contrast, tend to lose their appetites. There is no arbitrary cut-off line here because some of us age faster than others. However for the purposes of this article, 75-80 is probably a good age line to draw between “older” and “very old” when it comes to human appetite and digestion. People in the latter group will often tell you that they have lost all interest in food because they don’t seem to be able to taste it with the same pleasure and intensity. And, let’s face it, much of our eating is done not for the necessary nutrition but because it gives us such sensual pleasure – that’s why we have taste buds! Thus soup is the ideal food for the very old because it’s easy for fading appetites to manage, and easy to eat, too. And a bowl of steaming, aromatic soup tempts the taste buds like nothing else can. All the necessary nutrition in the world can be packed into it.
5. Finally, soup is very easy to make. And economical. It can be made in a large amount, if necessary, then divided into portions and frozen . For elderly people, living along, or those who care for them, this is a big bonus.

You can’t age gracefully if you are overweight and your digestion is playing up – so more soup in the diet is a good bet for becoming the fittest and feistiest 90 year old around.

If all this interests you then you might like to read my book Slim with Soup which has a lot more information on the virtues of soup for older people, plus a few handy recipes. Details are on this website and you can buy the book at It’s only $3.99, downloaded to your Kindle or to your PC.

Soup, glorious soup!

Hot soup

Why have I written a book about soup?

After all, I’m a gardening writer and also write on camping and fiction.

I am also, however, a keen cook and grower of fruit, vegetables and herbs, with a lifelong interest in good nutrition.

And on top of all that, in recent years I have had an ongoing battle with weight. Certainly I am genetically disposed to weight gain – but the main reason I whack it on is because I eat too much and am very fond of wine!

Every so often I have to pull myself together and go on a diet to get back into some sort of shape. I’ve found that by far the most effective way of doing this is eating soup at least once, twice or even three times a day.
Which is fine with me because I love soup and have always enjoyed making it – creating new recipes as I go. It’s easy, it’s fun to make, its economical and it’s a great way of using up left food and vegetables that are past their first freshness.

Others, too, have found that substituting soup for solid meals leads to a fast but sustainable weight loss.


Think of this:

If you took the solid matter in a bowl of soup – the meat, the veg, the other ingredients – and put it on a dinner plate, it would look pretty meager. You’d swallow it down in a gulp or two and still feel hungry. This is what happens when we “go on a diet” – we reduce the amount of food we eat, and the type of food we enjoy, so that we don’t take on board so many calories/kilojoules.

Now put that same quantity of food into a bowl of soup. Because the main single ingredient of soup is water, it stretches the overall food content much further yet fills the stomach in the most satisfying way. You feel “full up” immediately and that feeling lasts quite a long time.

This is the secret of a good soup: It fills you up, satisfies your taste buds, gives you all the nutrition you need – yet is light on calories in comparison with a “solid” meal.

We all eat too much today – and anyone who isn’t in that fortunate position is not likely to be reading this blog – or my book. Unless we are in training for some sport, or have a job that requires long hours of hard, physical labor, we ingest far more energy (in the form of calories and kilojoules) than we can use. A large bowl of soup that contains meat, fresh and dried vegetables, pulses, grains, herbs and other edibles will give us as much nutrition as we need in any one meal, bearing in mind we will eat and drink other things during the day. Even a hearty vegetable soup, perhaps with cheese or tofu added, will be full of nutrition.

Of course I’m not advocating we live on soup. But for those wishing to lose weight, a soup diet is the most effective diet there is to balance weight loss with good nutrition – until the desired weight is achieved. And even after that I’d advocate a “soup day” once or twice a week to help you stay slim.

I’ll be posting other articles on this blog about the virtues of soup – not just for slimmers but for oldies and tots and invalids too. Meanwhile, you can buy Slim with Soup at for only $3.99 at

At least check out the link and see what you think. And you can find more information about the book by clicking on the My Books tab above.

Herbs, health and hot tips

A fine pot of mint

A fine pot of mint

A collection of newly-potted herbs on a sunny patio

A collection of newly-potted herbs on a sunny patio

There was a girl once who put her faithless lover’s head in a pot and grew basil from it. That’s according to Keats, anyway. Obviously she had relationship problems and no gardening writer of good repute would recommend so drastic a horticultural practice!.
All the same, growing herbs does make even the saddest and dreariest life better
You don’t have to be a New Age back-to-the-earth type to benefit from this life enhancing experience and you don’t need a lot of land either. If you live in an apartment in New York, or Sydney, or London, or Hong Kong, you can still put a bigger buzz into your life by growing at least one herb in a pot. Pot plants are good therapy and a lot less messy and troublesome than pets. Think a pot of thyme can’t love you back? You’ll never know unless you try it.
As a gardening writer who has been growing herbs for decades I actually recommend using pots and containers because this way you can better control them. Most common culinary herbs (the only type I bother to grow) are very easy to cultivate but they do have their funny little ways. Pot culture means you can give them just the right amount of sun and shade, food and water, protection from bad weather and badder insect pests.
So here are my Ten Top Tips for growing herbs in pots – trust me, you’ll find this a very life-enhancing experience.
1. Grow only those herbs you actually enjoy using to flavor your food. Otherwise it’s a waste of time and effort.
2. Choose those that suit your climate. There are few places on earth where ALL the common culinary herbs can be grown year round (unless you have a heated greenhouse). Most herbs can be grown in summer wherever you live; only in warm temperate to tropical climates can you grow most herbs in winter, though it’s possible to cultivate thyme and rosemary in a sunny spot in a heated apartment as long as the heating is never switched off!
3. Pick a sunny spot. Most herbs thrive only in full sun for at least six hours a day. A windowsill facing the sunniest aspect will do fine.
4. Plant in a good potting mix – this will nourish your herb nicely for most of its life whereas a cheap mix will become hard and claggy and either not drain well or become water-repellent.
5. Water regularly but not too much – herbs don’t like to be permanently drenched. If your plant starts dropping leaves or looking sick it needs better drainage so try re-potting. “Crocking” – using broken up pots or large pebbles or small bits of wood at the bottom of your part will improve drainage.
6. Fertilize lightly every couple of weeks with a weak solution of liquid fertilizer. Even if your potting mix already contains (according to the packet) slow-release pellets. I find this latter type of plant food is not really appropriate for herbs grown in pots, but nowadays it’s generally included in the better quality potting mixes anyway.
7. Protect potted herbs from extreme weather such as frost, hot and drying wind, hail or very heavy rain. The beauty of cultivating pot herbs is that they can be moved about to optimize growing conditions.
8. When buying, and unless growing from seed, choose plants that look fresh and healthy in the pot; avoid anything that looks too straggling and has obviously been there so long it’s starting to outgrow its container. I grow my herbs from seed but if you are buying seedlings you get better value from those in punnets of (say) four to six little plants, to be potted on, than larger single specimens in one pot.
9. If you are harvesting your herbs regularly you won’t need to cut them back – just make sure they don’t get too tall or straggly as they will lose vigour and flavor. Trim regularly for longer and better growth.
10. Don’t try hanging on to a herb past its use-by date – unlike diamonds, herbs are NOT forever! Annuals need to be replaced once they have flowered and begun to “bolt”. Perennials become straggly – repot them once a year and give them a good trim back but when they are obviously past their best, chuck ‘em out. After all, herbs are cheap!

And if there’s anything else you want to know about growing herbs, look for updates on this website or buy my lovely, cheap and very informative book on the subject at


Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

Well, he’s not Richard Armitage but my Bob is still my favourite gardener!







It’s that time of year again, when wise gardeners review all the mistakes they’ve made in the past year and make strong resolutions for what they’ll do better next year.  Here are my ten resolutions for 2013 and I advise fellow-gardeners to take heed of them.

  1.  I will make a monthly budget for buying plants and garden tools and STICK TO IT.
  2. I will send in my catalogue bulb orders in time for the planting season and not frantically shove them into the ground long after the due date and then wonder why half of them don’t come up.
  3. I will buy only those plants that suit my climate, my garden and my lifestyle.  This means not being seduced by the latest award-winning rose that flaunts a demonic rash of black spot at the least hint of humidity and needs two full-time gardeners to minister to its finicky needs. (Though if Santa had granted my Christmas wish and brought me a gardener who looks like Richard Armitage I’d cheerfully suffer the black spot and a lot else besides!)
  4.  I will (cheerfully) do my exercise routine every morning so my ageing body doesn’ t succumb to gardener’s lumbago.  Exercise is a lot cheaper than a hip replacement.
  5. I will wear my knee-pads when weeding and planting.  Knee pads are a lot cheaper than a knee replacement.
  6. I will make my own compost and it will be perfect – crumbly in texture and sweet to smell, rather than a sloppy, stinking sludge.
  7. I will re-design all the areas of the garden that don’t work well.  I will put this down on paper and not just keep it in my head.  I will also ruthlessly chop out and throw out all those plants that are old and tatty and beyond rejuvenation, or just in the wrong place, but  for which I have developed a ridiculously sentimental attachment.
  8. All my new plantings will be in perfect taste and harmony, with careful selection as to colour, texture, height and width.  I will NOT buy plants just because I fall in love with them, or because my friend Maureen has one in her garden, or because they are cheap.
  9. I will not use any pesticides or weedicides, however tempting it is to kill things by squirting them with stuff out of cans and bottles.  I will instead use tried and true natural methods (even though they take hours and hours and don’t work anyway and I say this every year but run out of time and patience and all my plants get eaten and rampant giant man-eating weed aliens from distant planets invade the garden and…)
  10. By this time next year I will have the best garden in the street.  If not in the neighbourhood.  Possibly in the whole suburb.  Or even the town. Or the state….or the country…or the universe…of course I’m dreaming!

But that’s what New Year’s Resolutions are all about.  Dreams that just MAY come true.

So Happy New Year to you all.