I made my own haggis last night for the first time ever and it was delicious, better than the supermarket version.
I got the recipe from the Scottish Vegan Cookbook by Jackie Jones. It’s a wonderful book and I do recommend it. Scottish food is renowned for being fatty, meaty, and generally unhealthy but Jackie Jones puts a vegan twist on old favourites like haggis, stovies, and cullen skink, making them healthier, and in my humble opinion, tastier too.
I was motivated to try the haggis because after a routine visit to the nurse about a month ago I discovered I have high blood pressure. It was around 140+/90+. The top number (systolic) should be under 120 and the bottom number (diastolic) under 80. They told me to come back again in two weeks to have a repeat test but in the meantime I bought my own blood pressure cuff to measure myself at home.
My blood pressure was consistently high. The recommendations to lower blood pressure are lots of exercise, lose weight, don’t drink, don’t smoke, eat less salt, eat less meat …. I was flummoxed because I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I run every day, I’m vegan, and I don’t put any additional salt in cooking – I only use stock – but there is a family history of high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is the leading cause of death worldwide, killing 7.6 million people per year. It is also completely preventable. I immediately read the chapter on “How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure” in Dr Greger’s How Not to Die book (it’s very good) and it became clear to me that I was in control of my blood pressure. I’ll copy and paste this excerpt below:
In the 1920, researchers measured the blood pressure of a thousand native Kenyans who ate a low-sodium diet centered around whole plant foods — whole grains, beans, fruits, and dark, leafy greens, and other vegetables. Up until age forty, the blood pressure of the rural Africans was similar to that of Europeans and Americans, about 125/80. However, as Westerners ages, their blood pressure began to surge past the Kenyans. By age sixty, the average Westerner was hypertensive, with blood pressure exceeding 140/90. What about the Kenyans? By age sixty, their average blood pressure had actually improved to an average of about 110/70.Chapter 7 page 123
Armed with the knowledge that it was within my power to change my blood pressure for the better I read more and discovered beetroots and hibiscus tea can both help. I began consuming both things and got my diastolic blood pressure down to around 80 but the systolic remained stubbonly in the 130+ range. This was still lower but it wasn’t below my target of 120.
There was only one thing (two I later discovered) left to do. I completely eliminated all salt. This meant no veggie stock, no eating out, no jars of pesto or anything else and I began reading labels, paying close attention to the salt content of food. This moved the systolic to mostly 120+ (sometimes it was still 130+) but not below so I tried one more thing and completely eliminated sugar which I have since discovered also affects blood pressure. This was a sad discovery for me as I’m very fond of chocolate.
When I started reading labels I was surprised by how much salt there is in the food we buy. When we were in Ballater we went to the local supermarket to get something easy for dinner. Often when we’re away we’ll buy pre-made soups and frozen meals to make it easier since we don’t have all our kitchen supplies at hand. I found there was nothing I could eat other than whole fruit and vegetables so I bought some vegetables and roasted them.
After a couple of weeks of almost zero salt (and I say almost because I still eat bread and that has a tiny bit in it) and zero sugar I can proudly say my blood pressure is consistently under 120 and under 80. My average reading today was 117/73.
People may be horrified by the thought of eating what many would perceive as a bland and tasteless diet but I feel empowered because it shows we don’t have to accept ill-health. Lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure are totally in our control and we don’t have to take drugs and put up with the associated side-effects of them for the rest of our lives. We just have to eat healthier.
For lunch today I made a sandwich with rocket leaves, avocado, plain tofu, beetroot, and tomato. It was delicious and I have surprised even myself by how tasty food can be even without any salt. Rocket is very peppery while beetroot has a rich, sweet, earthy flavour. I can also use as much pepper, chilli, herbs and spices as I like.
This is why I had to make my own haggis. We like haggis and I often buy it at the supermarket but it contains a lot of salt. I did not put any salt at all in mine but it was full of flavour thanks to onion, garlic, sage, thyme, rosemary, allspice, nutmeg, and lemon.
I may slowly introduce a little bit of miso back into my cooking because although miso is high in salt there’s evidence the soy beans cancel out the ill-effects of any salt. I cannot see how I can reintroduce sugar though. That is something I need to rid myself of for good which will be difficult as I have a sweet tooth. But I’m proud of myself because yesterday was the first Easter Sunday ever when I didn’t eat any chocolate. Maybe, once it has been low for a long time, I can have tiny bit of chocolate every once in a while ….