Saturday, 21 May 2011

Aloe Vera - What a fascinating plant!

It must be over ten years ago that a friend gave me an aloe vera plant. It was a sapling from her aloe vera which was a sapling from her mum's aloe vera which was a sapling from her sister's aloe vera! I didn't know much about aloe vera then. Obviously, I'd noticed it was an ingredient in face creams and body lotions, so knew it must be good for the skin. But that was the extent of my knowledge. My friend showed me how breaking off a piece of leaf revealed the sap and told me that putting the sap on burns helped them to heal quickly. So that's what I started doing whenever I got a small burn while cooking - and found it to be very soothing.

Aloe vera is a succulent plant, native to arid climates and thrives in the Middle East and Africa. Not only does it contain properties to aid in the healing of burns and other skin surface wounds, dry skin, etc. but the sap can also be made into a juice which apparently contains around 200 health promoting compounds, including 20 minerals, 18 amino acids and 12 vitamins. I have only recently heard about aloe vera juice and it is something which I am going to look into, with the possibility of making my own - or at least adding a small amount of aloe vera sap to fresh fruit juices and smoothies.

I have a small aloe vera "farm". It varies in size, dependent on how actively I am selling them at any given time. There is definitely a market for them as they sell very easily with very little effort on my part. But I like to keep my more established plants and sell their saplings once they reach a few inches tall. They produce saplings quickly. Once an older plant is repotted and there is space available for the off-shoots to grow, they sprout up into tiny new plants within weeks. They are incredibly easy to keep. I kill plants, but I don't have any problems with aloe veras!

Since reading about how the sap can actually be of benefit to consume and not only for applying to the skin, I have a renewed enthusiasm for it. Every so often, I find out about something and I get the urge to do more research on the subject and this is one of those times. Will keep you posted!...


Sunday, 8 May 2011

Baby Led Weaning

I was introduced to Baby Led Weaning through my health visitor. She played the DVD at breastfeeding group when Lucinda was about four months old. I just thought "Wow!". I had to do Baby Led Weaning with Lucinda, I was convinced it was the only way to go. I immediately bought the book and read it cover to cover. I don't think I've ever read a book so quickly. It made so much sense.

A basic description of Baby Led Weaning is that a baby is ready for solid food when s/he can sit upright (with a little support if necessary), pick up food and put it in their mouth and chew. If the only way a baby can eat is for it to be spoon fed a purée by somebody else then s/he is not ready. You can not start BLW too early. It's impossible as the baby isn't physically capable of feeding himself until he's developmentally ready. The baby's digestive system develops at the same rate as his motor skills and facial muscular development so when he's able to put food into his mouth, chew it and swallow it, his stomach will be ready to digest it.

There are countless advantages to chewing solid food over swallowing purées. One of these is that while you are chewing food it is mixing with saliva and the digestion process is starting while the food is still in the mouth. This means it is already partially digested when it reaches the stomach, making digestion easier - contrary to popular belief where people wrongly assume that purées are easier on a baby's stomach.

Many people also worry about the BLW baby choking. A BLW baby is far less likely to choke than a purée fed baby. A BLW baby is in full control over everything that goes in it's mouth. It is much safer to introduce lumps of food to a young baby than an older baby. This is because of the tongue thrust reflex. In a six month old baby the tongue thrust reflex is situated towards the front of the tongue. It gradually moves back towards the back of the tongue, nearer the throat. When babies are allowed to experience and learn to deal with lumps straight away, they learn how big a lump they can handle while the tongue thrust reflex is at the front. If they get a large lump they can't handle the tongue pushes it out. If a baby is fed purées initially and then introduced to finger foods when s\he is even just a few months older, the tongue thrust reflex has moved back - perilously near the throat. The baby that is used to swallowing smooth purées and then has to deal with a large lump when the tongue thrust reflex has moved back is much more likely to choke as the lump falls back into the throat instead of being pushed out by the tongue. Had the baby experienced the lump when younger he would've learnt it was too big to swallow and chewed it before swallowing it.

Baby Led Weaning is so easy. There's no preparing separate meals or putting your food in a blender and freezing into little blocks. There's no feeding the baby and then having to find a way to entertain him while you eat your dinner. The baby eats the same meals as you, at the same time as you, in exactly the same form as you. There's no introducing one food at a time. Infact babies like a choice - A full Sunday dinner on their tray is likely to receive a lot more interest than one carrot. You may need to make minor adjustments to your usual style of cooking, if you would normally add salt for instance. But as long as you eat a sensible balanced diet, so can your baby. Baby Led Weaning is actually a great reason for improving your own diet if you normally eat more processed foods, it can encourage the whole family to eat healthier!

Because the baby is enjoying "adult" foods right from the start there are no "stages". BLW babies are generally much less fussy and develop a more sophisticated palate. Some purée fed babies are hard to transition to lumpy food. With BLW you don't have to worry about this. A BLW baby is happy to eat a chicken leg or a salmon fillet. It doesn't need it to be aeroplane shaped. A BLW baby is happy to eat canneloni, tagliatelle carbonara and spaghetti bolognese. It doesn't need Bob the Builder pasta shapes. Remember, however, that everyone, young and old, like different types of food. A baby that is adamant that they do not like a particular food is not being fussy, he is just showing his preferences. Just because I don't like sprouts, it doesn't make me fussy. It's the same for a baby.

Baby Led Weaning is not "finger foods". Yes, it incorporates what many people would call finger foods - toast, breadsticks, carrot sticks, etc, but not exclusively. BLW babies can eat exactly the same as you, in the same form as you. There is no need to cut everything into finger shaped pieces. If you offer your baby pasta, curry, casserole, soup or a stir-fry, they will find a way to eat it. That's what makes BLW so enjoyable. It's so much fun watching your 6 or 7 month old baby working out how to get odd shaped or sloppy food into their mouth! It also helps develop their hand/eye co-ordination and their pincer grip. The manual dexterity of a BLW baby generally develops sooner than that of a purée fed baby as the BLW baby learns to pick up peas, etc, from a young age.

Lucinda is nearly two and a half now and has been fully Baby Led Weaned (unfortunately, except for when my mum has insisted she helps her with soup and puddings so she doesn't get messy!). When she was really young, I used to love it when we were eating out and people would watch her in amazement as she got stuck into the olives. She's always been small for her age so appears quite young. At six months old she only weighed about 12lbs so I'm sure people must have thought she was a three month old baby sitting and eating a sandwich. But they couldn't say she was too young when she was feeding herself!

I am so enthusiastic about it that I recommend it to everyone. My health visitor has even sent other mums to talk to me when their babies have been coming up to weaning age. I co-admin the Facebook page "Baby Led Weaning - Let your babies feed themselves" which currently has almost 2,000 members. If you are interested in Baby Led Weaning for your baby, I thoroughly recommend the Baby Led Weaning book by Gill Rapley and Tracy Murkett.

There's so much more I could say but I'll leave it there for now...
Happy Eating!