Tag Archives: january

Paleo Diet Review

At first glance, my friend Sarah and I couldn’t have more different diets to each other.  So when we found out that the the other had decided to try the high protein, high fat Paleo diet earlier this year for the month of January, we were equally surprised.  Sarah was surprised because she secretly wondered how the heck was I – a vegetarian – going to eat Paleo…and just what would I be eating?  And I was surprised because after 18 years of friendship, I’ve never seen Sarah go a day without eating sugar and dairy.  So, with some delay (I like to think as a period of reflection) we would like to share our stories and thoughts on the experience.

Sarah’s Story

At the beginning of January I sat down with my computer and a hand-drawn calendar and mapped out Paleo meals. And then my family of 5 followed the Paleo diet for one month. It was ambitious. I was hard. It was sometimes complicated. But was it worth it in the end?

Maybe?

As a stay-at-home mother of three boys (with ages ranging from “will eat anything that’s put in front of him” to “won’t eat it if it’s not peanut butter”), I struggle every day to ensure my kids are eating healthy food.  Mostly my approach is pretty basic.  I buy organic, local produce (when I can).  I use whole grains.  And I cook, every day.  But kids are kids.  And although some people have those children who will eat anything, I don’t.  So the idea to cut out whole food groups that my children will eat (pasta, bread, cheese) was something that I didn’t take on lightly.  Would my children starve?

They didn’t of course.  And neither did I.  Because by week three, I was cheating.  Well, I wasn’t cheating.  But the kids were.  Because you can’t tell a five year old that spaghetti squash is pasta (because it’s not).  And the baby, it turns out, really missed yoghurt.

It turns out that there are a lot of good things about the Paleo diet.  We ate a lot of vegetables.  We avoided refined sugars.  I tried baking with alternative flours, and have added some really good new recipes to my files.  We eat locally, sustainably raised meat anyway, so that wasn’t different.  But our meals did become more…protein focused.

But we did miss the foods that we love.  And that was sometimes hard (hence my caving and cooking the boys pasta because they really wanted it).  Like any diet that is quite restrictive, there were times when the diet wasn’t any fun. And at the end of the day, I’m not sure, for example, that legumes or dairy are really all that bad for you.

The intriguing thing about the Paleo Diet is that it seems logical. As humans, we evolved a certain way, to eat certain foods. So it makes sense that these are the foods we should be eating to be healthy.

But healthy eating, for me at least, isn’t about restriction.  It’s about ensuring that I and my family are eating the largest variety of foods possible – including carbs and glutens and legumes when appropriate.  The Paleo diet turned out not to be for me, but the discipline of really being conscious of my food choices was useful in “resetting” my meal planning, and getting me out of the post-holiday sugar-pasta-junk food rut.  Will I try it again?

Maybe?

But with so many food trends out there, maybe next January I’ll try “Vegan before Six.”

Kelly’s Story

Student Nutritionists go through something similar to first year med students – the med students tend to get a bit hypochondriac and nutrition students love to try out all the hype diets.  As a responsible nutritionist, I will someday know that everybody and their body is different and will suit a different diet.  Some people do better with high fat, high protein diets, others favour raw vegan lifestyles.  Others, like macrobiotics, and followers of Weston A Price favour a pretty balanced whole foods diet.  (No one flourishes on a standard diet of processed foods, though.  No one.)  However, until that responsible future nutritionist (me!) is qualified, I’m enjoying trying out all kinds of different diets and ways of eating; partly so I can see what suits me and partly so I can understand the challenges that my future clients might face when moving onto specialist diets for one reason or another.

Its pretty easy for me to try these things out, as my lifestyle is pretty flexible and I don’t have children.  However, I do have a husband.  But he’s easy, you know.  He’ll pretty much eat whatever I’m eating…

…but with a steak thrown on top.

So, back to Paleo.  I already knew that I had an intolerance to modern hybridised wheat (while seeming to do just fine on heritage wheats like emmer, kamut and spelt), so I wondered if taking all grains out of the equation might make me feel even better.  (I’m slightly extremist at times.)

I was pretty dubious about taking my beloved pulses out of my diet, but in the interests of the experiment, I did.  I was okay about eliminating sugar and terrified about eliminating most dairy.  As I don’t eat meat, but do eat fish, I substituted organic or wild fish for the pasture-fed organic meats.  Otherwise, it was pretty much the same.  I actually emailed the founder of the Paleo movement, Dr Loren Cordain, to ask about this and received a pretty frank reply that a life without meat was an unhealthy one.  Uh huh….so that was a nice start.

But I was assured by all the fancy-looking blogs I had read and high energy Bulletproof Diet TED talks I’d seen, that once on a high fat, high protein, low carb diet, I would immediately drop a ton of weight and become the happiest, healthiest and most energetic I had ever been.

As it happened, I had low energy all the time because my brain wasn’t getting the glucose it needed for me to get on with my very busy life, my mouth eternally tasted of grease from all the coconut oil, fish oils, avocados and grassfed butter I was eating and no to put too fine a point on it, I may as well have piped polyfilla into my digestive tract.

Oh, and I gained about 8 pounds.

So Paleo wasn’t for me.   (I mean, have you TRIED Bulletproof coffee???)

But it wasn’t all bad.  It gave me an opportunity to try out lots of recipes using different wholefood ingredients which was fun and educational.  A few (Paleo pancakes) have even continued on as firm household favourites.  It made me reconsider a lot of the health food store processed foods I still somewhat relied on and it weaned me away from dairy, to which I was completely addicted.  It was really nice in mid-winter to come home from the shops with nearly nothing packaged in a box or bottle – just fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs (oh God, so many eggs) and organic fish and meats.  And that’s what I’ve kept from the experience.

So a few months down the line, my food intake is a much more satisfying and balanced high complex carb, low fat, low-med protein diet and it suits me so much better.  I can eat all the fruits and veg I want, along with some legumes (I really missed those in January) and a bit of brown rice or wholegrain pasta.

Oh and yeah, I kept the coconut oil.  Just, um, its not in my coffee this time…

Pescatarian Paleo

Okay, like soooooo many others, I’ve jumped on the Paleo bandwagon this January.

But here in the UK the Paleo diet is not quite so much a ‘thing’ yet. In fact, if I had a nickel for every blank look I’ve received when I’ve said I’m doing Paleo, well, I’d have a few nickels at least. (But hey, I live in the UK, so what good are nickels to me?)

So, what IS the Paleo diet? Well, its based on the premise that our guts haven’t really evolved much in the last 15,000 years so we’re really better off eating what our Paleolithic ancestors ate, including fish, grass-fed pasture-raised meats, eggs, vegetables & fruit, fungi, roots and nuts. Things you can’t eat are grains, legumes, dairy, (white) potatoes, refined salts and sugars and processed oils. (Processed oils? Yeah, I know, all oils are processed. I use common sense here: pasture-fed butter, organic raw coconut oil and olive oil are the only cooking fats I keep in the house. If I ate red meat, lard would be on that list as well.) This way of eating isn’t just about weight loss. Done properly, its helped a lot of people with autoimmune issues (Crohn’s, Coeliac, etc) and leaky gut, as well as people with inflammation issues caused by food intolerances they may not even have been aware of before.

The thing is, I’m pescatarian. I don’t eat red meat or poultry, but I do eat fish, so I can’t strictly be called a vegetarian or an omnivore. So I contacted Dr Loren Cordain, an expert on the Paleo diet about whether I could adapt this diet as a pescatarian. I received a fairly prompt, blunt and unhelpful response setting out that in no uncertain terms would they advocate not eating meat. It threw me a little bit, but only for about 2 minutes until I thought about it logically. Whats not to love about this way of eating and why did I need commercial validation to do it anyway? My diet is now filled with brightly coloured vegetables and greenery, fresh organic fish, organic free-range eggs and healthy fats & nuts – lots of unprocessed foods. All I have eliminated from my diet is a vast amount of sugar – by this I mean sugar in the form of bread, pasta and grains, not just refined sugar. So, I say boooo to Dr Cordain and I’m just enjoying doing Paleo the way that works for me.

So, have I lost any weight with the diet? Well, its only been 3 weeks and as I don’t have a functional set of scales, I honestly couldn’t tell you. What I can say is that my stomach is much flatter, I feel overall much more toned and my energy levels are much higher than they were.

Have I cheated? Well, yes. I have. Several times. And I’m okay with that. There have been a couple of mornings when I have really missed my oatmeal, cooked with coconut cream and sweetened with apple and raisins – so I made it. I didn’t feel the worse for having it. I’ve also continued to have a bit of organic milk in my tea and the odd bit of sheep or goat milk cheese. For me its not a competition about being ‘right’ – its a process of finding out what works best for my lifestyle and what makes me feel the healthiest. I lived a low-fat lifestyle for years, but now my diet is full of plenty of healthy fats – yes, including some saturated fats – and as a result, I’m staying full throughout the day and my usual mid-afternoon hypoglycaemic episodes appear to have disappeared.

What do I eat? You know, its much MUCH easier than I thought it would be. For lunch I might pack a tupperware box filled with organic baby spinach, a small baked sweet potato with a tad of feta crumbled on top, a grated carrot salad with raisins, a small bag of nuts as a snack and a couple of pieces of fruit. Or a half an avocado on a bed of quinoa with some greens on the side or cooked kale with a lemon wedge to squeeze over it all. Because I work in an office, I tend to save eating fishy things for dinner at home or restaurants – at the moment I’m really into Alaskan wild salmon, though also am trying to eat more local sustainable fish and also sardines. I’ve also found a fantastic recipe for cauliflower pizza that I have adapted by putting sheep feta in the crust and grating some St Helen’s hard goat cheese (a version of cheddar) on top.

Because I have a sweet tooth, I also sometimes make an um…healthy(ish) sundae for dessert. To do this, I whiz up 1.5 frozen bananas in the food processor with a tablespoon of maple syrup. If it needs more liquid to get creamy, add a tablespoon of coconut water or coconut milk. That makes the ice ‘cream’, which is like the texture of soft serve. To make the chocolate sauce, you’ll need to open a can of full fat coconut milk which has been in the fridge for at least 24 hours (I always keep a few in the fridge now – the coconut cream rises to the top of the can and hardens and delicious coconut water remains at the bottom of the can, so you can use both) and scoop a heaped tablespoon of the coconut cream into a small saucepan. On a low-med heat, melt the coconut cream and whisk in a couple of teaspoons of a dark cacao powder along with enough maple syrup or coconut sugar to sweeten. It will make a thick, fudgey hot chocolate sauce to pour over your ice ‘cream’. Delicious!

There are some wonderful bloggers out there who inspire me with a regular dose of Paleo friendly recipes for meals, packed lunches, cakes, cookies & muffins. Here are my favourites! (And please don’t knock the Mommy Bloggers – these women channel their energies into creating delicious food for their amazing websites and have a better grasp on social media than most FTSE500 companies!)

Against All Grain

Primal Palate

Coconut Mama

Elana’s Pantry

Nom Nom Paleo

The Paleo Mama

The Paleo Mom

Paleo Newbie

In general, I guess while there is a lot I’m enjoying about this way of eating, I’m a little cautious about cutting significant food groups from the diet and probably lean a bit more toward the Weston A Price dietary guidelines than strict Paleo, but we’ll see how it goes. By my next post I may have eased off the Paleo thing a bit. Its not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m not convinced that its necessary to eliminate properly prepared grains from the diet but rest assured there are some tasty recipes in the wings and more adventures of dining in London to come.

Just hide it in the orzotto. No one will know.

January is like pushing the reset button on all the bad habits accumulated throughout the year.

For the average Londoner, bad habits start somewhere around June or July, with long Sunday afternoons spent in a beer garden or alongside the Thames, eating fried or roasted meaty things with chips on the side and drinking bottles of wine or pints of lager.  Autumn comes, and we start replacing fresh salads with ‘warm’ salads – healthy but calorific and carborific (sure, that can be a word).  Festivities continue in the lead up to Christmas and by mid December, there’s a reason to celebrate with a meal or a glass of something sparkly nearly every day.  You can hardly fight off all the greasy little canapés washed back with sickly sweet Bucks Fizz, wodges of stilton chased by lashings of port, and seemingly endless tins of nasty Quality Street at every turn.  And of course Christmas is simply one massive glut, culminating in the traditional New Years Eve champagne & fois gras.  Which is rather appropriate – I suspect our own livers probably don’t look dissimilar by that stage.

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But then 1 January comes and a new year.

*Ping*

The reset button is pressed, and we’re all eating superfoods, drinking wheatgrass shots and joining gyms we’ll only be using for the sauna & towel service by April.

Our bowels don’t know WHAT has happened.

Fibre.  Liquid Fasts.  Detoxes.  And those beautiful, highly pigmented superfoods, which we read about from time to time in the Observer and immediately proceed to Waitrose to empty the shelves of red quinoa, sweet potato, spinach or whatever the trendy superfood of the week happens to be.   The naturally occurring chemical compounds responsible for all those jewel tones and the other sensual qualities in superfoods, such as colour and smell, are caused by phytochemicals. They’re what give turmeric its fabulous colour and garlic its love-it-or-hate-it smell. Preliminary investigations into phytochemicals indicate there are potential effects on diseases such as cancer, arthritis, diabetes and other illnesses. This, of course, is not really any surprise to anyone who subscribes to naturopathy or a variety of other traditional medicinal beliefs from around the world.  I’ll admit – I do love a good evidence base, and look forward to seeing research findings in the coming years.  In the meantime, when did good nutrition ever hurt anybody?

So when my Nana asked me to come up with a good recipe using barley, my mind instantly turned to her favoured spice of choice: turmeric.  Risotto (or orzotto, as its called when you use barley) is excellent because you can use practically any sturdy grain and flavour it with pretty much anything you like.  My recipe below is enough for two generous main courses.

 Barley Orzotto

Orzotto

Orzotto

Ingredients:

250 g dehulled or pearl barley

2 tsp olive oil

Handful of dried mushrooms soaked in 2 cups boiled water

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

250 ml white wine (optional)

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed or diced

1 Tbs turmeric (optional)

1 tsp dried oregano

Parmesan to taste – I used 3 heaped Tbs for the whole serving (optional)

Fleur de sel & pepper to taste

Method:

  • In a medium-large saucepan, heat 1 tsp of the olive oil and lightly soften, without browning, the diced onion & garlic.  Turn up the heat to med-high and toss in the barley.  Give it a quick stir around for 45 seconds or so, until it has absorbed all the oil.  If you have any wine sitting about, you can throw it in now (it will burn off all the alcohol, you detox nuts!) and there should be a satisfying sizzle noise as the grains of barley suck up all the liquid.  This will happen fairly quickly.  Stir with a wooden spoon.
  •  Add the dried mushrooms and their soaking liquid.  You can turn the heat down to a medium or medium-low now, but keep stirring with the wooden spoon.  Don’t stop stirring.  (Now is a good time for a phone call.  Chat while you stir.)  As each portion of liquid is absorbed and the starches start to leak out into the liquid, add more liquid.  You can add the balsamic vinegar at this stage, as well as the dried oregano and the turmeric.  If you’re feeling particularly decadent, a strand or two of saffron wouldn’t go astray here either.
  • After about 25-35 minutes of stirring, you should have plumped up grains of barley in a thick liquid.  You don’t want the orzotto to get too dry or to resemble a soup, either.  You want it to be…for lack of a better description…risotto-like!
  • If you’re not trying to get turmeric into your diet, then feel free to leave it out.  If there are other spices you’re trying to integrate into your diet for health reasons, add them now – there’s nowhere to hide spices like a risotto or orzotto.  But, if you’re not on a January diet, then, heck, now is the time to toss in some crispy pancetta pieces, small wedges of blue cheese and oven-roasted cubes of butternut squash.
  • Season with salt & pepper and immediately before serving, quickly stir in a handful of parmesan.  Obviously, if you’re vegan or off dairy, leave this bit out – just add a bit more salt.