It’s not about the numbers

Often when people find out that I’m “Paleo” their immediate response is “oh, that’s like Atkins”. No. No it isn’t. While it is a naturally lower carbohydrate diet, as you don’t eat added sugar and avoid processed starches, it is not a high protein diet. It is also not about how many calories you eat, or how many grams of fat, carb or protein. It’s about eating real food.

Trying to reduce the Paleo lifestyle to a one-liner of “low carb” and purely basing you food choice on whether or not it’s labelled as “low carb” is dangerous. Let me use this example to show why. The US takeaway chain Chick-Fil-A offers a “healthy” low-carb option in their menu. You can have a Chick-fil-A® Chargrilled Chicken Club Sandwich (minus the bun) with Honey Roasted BBQ sauce, all with only 6g Carbohydrates. Wow! Only 6g carbs – that’s, like, really healthy right?

Now, here’s the ingredient list:

Grilled chicken (water, apple cider vinegar, soybean oil, yeast extract, salt, modified corn starch, palm oil, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, corn maltodextrin, sea salt, flavor, sugar, chicken stock, cane molasses, chicken fat, spice, natural flavor [including smoke], chicken meat, dextrose, lemon peel, citric acid, red bell pepper, orange juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate, natural flavor, paprika, vinegar, xanthan gum, ascorbic acid, and spices), tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, Colby-Jack cheese (Colby cheese [pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes and annatto], Monterey jack cheese [pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes]), bacon (cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphates, sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite).

Sauce: Soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, water, distilled vinegar, honey, mustard (distilled vinegar, water, mustard seed, salt, turmeric, paprika, spice, garlic), tomato paste, egg yolk, sugar, salt, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate added as preservatives, annatto color, spices, natural smoke flavor, xanthan gum, lemon juice concentrate, dehydrated garlic and onion, caramel color, olive oil, propylene glycol alginate, calcium disodium EDTA added to protect flavour.

Diet Coke only has zero calories; no fat, no sugar, no protein. It’s made with caramel color, phosphoric acid, sodium saccharin, potassium benzoate (to protect taste), natural flavors, citric acid, caffeine, potassium citrate, Aspartame, dimethylpolysiloxane. Phenylketonurics: Aspartame contains phenylalanine). Hardly the elixir of life.

We see this again in, what I like to call, the White-Wine-Spritzer reward. In all of the different industries I’ve worked I have met the same women. Members of [insert weight-loss subscription based group here] will NOT eat at all on a Friday because they are “saving up points” so they can have 3 spritzers in the bar that night. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intention when their carefully calculated plan was created but, hey, it’s still only 500 kcals!

Moral of the story? Look beyond the numbers on the packet and look at what is actually in the food you are eating. Don’t leave it to the manufacturers of foods and drinks to decide what you consume. Their #1 priority is not your wellbeing, it’s the contents of your wallet. Most of all do the research, choose what’s right for you and take responsibility for your health.

The mad world of dieting

Just been checking out the website for a certain company I’d seen advertised on TV who offer calories controlled meals, delivered to your door, and wanted to see what their offering was and how the plan was put together. [clue: you get to eat tiny packets of crisps while watching TV 😉 ]

£61.25 a week (£8.75/day) to have your 3 meals / day delivered, all carefully restricted to 1,200kcal per day, didn’t sound too bad. Ok, I can do better (I spend less than that on 2 people for a week eating mostly Paleo) but for people desperate to lose weight and too busy to do it for themselves, well it saves a trip to Tesco or the local sarnie bar at lunchtime.

Jesus Christ, it’s shit!

  • Breakfast = small portion flavoured granola, flavoured porridge or an oat cookie.
  • Lunch = a small soup, pasta salad or a milkshake (?)
  • Snacks = oat cookies
  • Dinners =  a little better; curries and familiar pasta dishes.

So, basically, you starve all day just eating tiny portions of sugar laden food to keep you conscious and right before bedtime you eat a plate of curry and rice. No veg tho – you have to add your own “to meet government guidelines”. Erm, I thought the point of this was to take away the eater’s input – after all, they can’t be trusted to select their own food 😉  A whole year with only the extra fresh fruit and veg being what you remember to add yourself (chips count as veg, right?) you might be thinner at the end of the year but you’d look like the undead!

By my rough calcs (and not counting delivery) that’s about £5 worth of food a day, based on high-end, organic granola, Covent Garden soups, Waitrose ready low-cal dinner, and posh ‘healthy’ biscuits for snacks. May I see your licence, to print money, Sir?

If I ate that for a week my skin would turn to crap and I’d be in a perma-fugg. Ok, I’m not looking to lose a stone so this obviously isn’t designed for me, but 1,200kcal of processed food for months on end? How can you learn to make good choices when someone else is making those decisions for you?

There’s the obvious point, I suppose. Educating people to feed themselves ‘right’ does not generate revenue for these companies. Some of the responsibility has to lie with the people who pay for it, expecting a quick fix without effort on their part, but can you blame them when the message they’re given is that low-calorie is good and it’s all very complicated so let us do the “hard work” for you?

Rant over 🙂

Monday stuff

While pulling together a lot of my recipes and help-docs I’ve written over the years, in the hope that I have enough material to create something useful and interesting to others [watch this space 😉 ] I realised that over the past 2 years I’ve been using more and more US websites and blogs for inspiration, especially in the Paleo/ Primal diet community. There are 2 sites I read religiously (i.e. just on Sundays…. bada bing!)  and a couple I read if I have time, but they are all US based which is odd as I see no reason why the UK shouldn’t have a strong presence in the Paleo food world too. Much as I love my main go-to sites, they do present a few challenges:

1. Confusion over the ingredients. I got past the US weights and measures issue years ago, but I’ve had many a panic over their food descriptions. ‘Grass-fed meat’ (that’s just called ‘meat’ in the UK, btw) and the importance of sourcing non-GMO tomatoes (ours are just fine thanks) wasted quite a lot of research time. Conclusion? We are bloody lucky in the UK for how safe and unadulterated our food really is, and we have some fantastic local producers (apart from that frozen lasagne thing but… really…)

2. Prohibitively expensive ingredients. It may well be avocado season in California but they are still £1 a pop here, and they might still be bland as. Yes, things do improve “in season” but we just don’t get the same glut of pumpkins etc. to bathe in.

3. Biggest problem – taste. There, I said it. Aside from the Californian contributors, and a handful of others who I would follow to the ends of the earth, there is a clear difference in palate. I did not grow up eating fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, beige vegetable in tinned condensed soup ‘casserole’ or marshmallow topped mashed pumpkin, so I do not feel the need to recreate those dishes or indulge those cravings. Taco shells and deep-fried chimichangas are a relatively new discovery for me. Burgers were a once-in-a-blue-moon treat. We didn’t have ice cream cake. Ice cream, for me, came in a single scoop in a glass but never in a 32oz cup. I also didn’t have much by way of cake or biccies either! I know, I know deprived childhood….

This is not a criticism of US food choices, just an explanation as to why so many of the suggestions I saw online just did not turn me on. It just doesn’t fit my taste, my upbringing, my cravings or what’s available for me, and that’s why I’m now doing my own thing.  I’m sure there are many foods the UK population have grown up on “just like Mother used to make” which would make a US audience squirm. Sadly, much of that is actually now “just like Mother used to make, having taken out of the box from Iceland and bunged in the microwave” but that’s another kettle of fish I’ll deal with later.


BTW. Saw a woman walking along the main road to Sainsbury’s this afternoon, wearing an animal print onesie. I appreciate that it’s a Bank Holiday but, really? Is there ever an acceptable time to be wearing one of these in public?? WTF??!! It’s your PJ’s for feck’s sake!!!!

Hiatus over!

After an extended break, I’m back! Yes, I’m aware that no one actually noticed or gives a rat’s arse.

Anywho. I have a whole week on my own to get creative and cook up a storm. In reality I’m likely to be working late every night but it’ll be an experiment in how the busy, singletons live 🙂

As a mini-project, I’ve been looking at how I can use my interests and vast knowledge (aka, too much time spent reading food porn and watching Food Network) to help other people learn how to prepare food and not be scared by the kitchen. In an ideal world I’ll be discovered as the next Nigel Slater and spend my days in beautiful, fake film set kitchens but tbh. it’s something I’d love to do just because I’m passionate about it. Speaking to a young colleague I was genuinely shocked to hear “I don’t cook much”. Erm, so how do you eat?? She doesn’t have a long commute that gets her home late at night, and she doesn’t have the kind of income that supports a diet of takeaway or M&S ready meals. She’s not the only one. We now have at least 3 generations of adults in the UK who can’t cook; the youngest now heading off to uni. Do we blame the microwave, or the years of excessive credit and perceived wealth, or is it just that M&S ready meals are actually that bloody good!

This is a basic, life skill that everyone should have. Not to suggest that everyone will be a cordon bleu chef, but the ability to turn leftovers into something edible and appealing is critical in this time of money worries. Plus, given some ‘concerns’ around food origin in the UK lately, we need to be more aware of what we’re putting into our bodies and (cost wise) when paying more or going organic actually makes a difference. Found a handy list of ‘clean’ foods which shows which fruit and veg are affected most by pesticides etc. and which ones are hardly impacted at all, so paying a premium for them really isn’t making your eats any safer. In short, pick your fights 🙂

http://www.greenster.com/magazine/produce-dirty-dozen-and-clean-fifteen-updated/

There must be other life skills that are waning. Sewing? Ironing? Does anyone polish their shoes anymore?! These things don’t keep me awake at night, but they do make me ponder…..

Back and Paleo-Lite

When
I decided to restart writing this blog, I took a look at what I’d
started out with some 4 years ago, and it struck me how much has
changed since then both in my life and in my eating habits. 

I
always considered that the food we ate as ‘healthy’ (while not being
raw-vegan-organic-Eton educated etc.) but looking at my scrappy
notebooks of shopping lists and menus, I think we were in denial!

While
we ate a fair amount of variety, almost every dinner was
and
mashed potato,
and
noodles,
and
couscous,
and
bread. Then there’s the unaccounted for M&S sarnies (someone may
have had 2 at a time – ahem) while out on a shopping trip. The crisps
and dip with a few beers before dinner. The nachos in the bar,
because we were being good and not ordering burgers and chips.
Crumpets with jam or marmite, because I needed them 😉 

We
decided to give Paleo a go at my husband’s suggestion, partly for
health reasons (he’s a bit of a running fanatic) and due to the
research we’d read about the effects of sugar and wheat on the body.
Having both suffered some minor, and major, symptoms it seemed worth
a go. Plus, being given the green-light to eat meat & fat – where
do I sign up?!

 

Why
are you on a diet?
 

So
you’re on the gluten-free thing, then?
 

Don’t
you get bored eating meat and vegetables every day?
 

Oh,
it’s Atkins 1.2
 

What
can
you eat then?
 

 

I’ve
heard these things a few times since I changed my eating habits last
year. I’ve also realised how little some people know or understand
about the food they eat everyday – my favourite; you don’t eat pasta?
Have couscous instead, that’s really good for you! 

 

So,
let’s address a few of these. 

As
someone who has always been fairly-slim, and moderately active with a
snobbery about commercial junk-food, I’ve never gone over a UK size
10-12 and I didn’t set out to lose weight.  So I was surprised
when I suddenly fitted into a size 8 – most of this was due to losing
inches off my bust, so actual weight loss was only about 5kg. The
biggest difference for me was the extra energy I felt and
stabilization of my hunger – no more 3pm dash to the vending machine
for a Double-Decker hit. No more hangry (hungry / angry) episodes at
the weekends. 

 

Yes,
I do avoid gluten, but I also don’t eat the ‘gluten-free’ food
substitutes such as tapioca, rice and corn, and I don’t eat sugar or
starchy legumes either (easy to spot – they look and behave like
potato) 

There
seem to be a lot more restaurants now who serve you meals without
sides as standard now, which makes things easier. Plus it’s a lot
more interesting for me to eat steak with beautifully wilted spinach
and dressed green beans than the standard ‘chips’.

 

I
can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than grazing over a
stack of food-porn and cooking up a storm. I thought cutting out
processed food would be easy enough, as we’ve never been ones for
ready meals and I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I was surprised at
just how much processed carb-based food we were eating by way of
rice, pasta and bread. A bacon sarnie on the weekend for brunch,
fajitas for dinner, the occasional pizza, antipasti with ciabatta to
mop up sauces….. I digress. At first, I was unsure how I could make
a whole week of menus, let alone a month’s worth, without repeats and
the dreaded oh, so it’s carrots and peas again. So I dug into my
stash of food magazines and trusted recipe sites for inspiration –
even then, so many were only half a meal with the final line:
Serve
with crusty bread

or the bigger cop-out:
Serve
with seasonal veg

what veg? cooked how?

After
Bing’ing and checking dozens of ‘Paleo’ food blogs, I found a couple
I liked. There are a lot of food-nazis out there who want to jump all
over bloggers for daring to include a teaspoonful of sauce that has a
wheat or soy derivative in the ingredients, or <
SHOCK
HORROR

> include cheese, and I ain’t got time for that. Paleo-friendly
versions of things like fish sauce or soy sauce are available in some
parts of the U.S. and at specialist stores, but elsewhere we don’t
always have that choice.  Given the choice between a smidge of
wheat, or no Asian food – I’ll take my chances. To (badly) quote Voltaire
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. 

So,
no, I don’t get bored. I feel like I’ve entered a whole new world of
food and have never been more excited by cooking. Looking back at my
old menus, we were eating pasta at least twice a week, and sometimes
bread twice a day – surely you’d get bored with that?! 

 

This
isn’t a ‘diet’ – it’s a lifestyle choice, like being vegetarian or
vegan.  Broadly speaking, Paleo (or Primal) diets include meat,
fish, fruits, and vegetables. It can be high or low carb. Atkins can
have processed grains and sugar. As long as it’s low-carb, that’s
what matters. 

The
main focus for me is to eat good quality food, and to enjoy it. I
don’t want franken-foods and, having cut them out from my diet,
I’ve seen what wheat and sugar do to my body and mood if I
reintroduce them. 

 

We
eat everything! Meat with fat, fish and vegetables with full fat
dairy products (in moderation, not due to the fat  content but because lactose
is a sugar) and fruit (again, in moderation due to fructose). Eating
real food is satisfying in flavour, texture and nutrition. It does
take a little longer to prepare than an oven ready meal, but actual
cooking time is  often less and I tend to make more than 1 meal at
a time anyway while I’ve got something to use up and the oven is on.
The fact that most meals are prepared from scratch, and can’t be
eaten without a fork, means food is savoured and not just troughed –
think how easy it is to eat a hamburger. I could eat 2 without even
noticing, and I’d still be hungry after. I don’t count calories, but
for those who do: 250 calories * 2 = 500 calories. That’s about the
same as a salad with goat’s cheese. NAUGHTY!  It’s about choices.  I’d
rather have option B and not be hungry after (and not have a bloated
stomach or insulin spike soon followed by the crash).
Obviously, you’ll have spotted the price difference there, but this
is a meal we’re talking about here; something you do 3 times a day,
putting food into your body. By not going for the leanest, prime-cuts
of meat, you also cut the price significantly. By eating consciously,
there is less need to snack because you
know
you’ve had a meal, and protein + fat = satisfied.

As
for what exactly we eat; well I’ll be updating you on that soon 🙂