I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for months. Since January I’ve been on a culinary & nutritional journey, discovering so many great things about food, how to fuel my body and cooking new recipes and sampling new treats. It’s been really enjoyable. I like reading about different nutritional approaches and have taken something from them all. It’s been great fun cooking – I’ve made more new meals than ever before.
So I’d like to capture my thoughts and share them with everyone, as we all have opinions on food. You can’t do without it right, so it might as well taste good?
Here are the 5 big influences on me over the past few months: attending a cookery class; reading about paleo and healthy eating; listening to various nutritionists speak; trying a paleo diet and cooking way more at home.
This has been on my to do list for years, so I finally signed up for an evening class at Dublin Cookery School in Blackrock. They do all sorts of classes, so I picked “Get Inspired by Wholefoods”. Over a lovely evening, we got great demos of a full menu and I was impressed by how much we got to cook hands on (baking a fruit & loaf, pan fried salmon, spelt beetroot risotto, making harissa & tabbouleh…). Best bit was we got to sit down and eat all the food over a glass of wine. Definitely something I’ll go back to.
Reading about Paleo & Healthy Eating
Over Christmas I read a book by one of the leading practitioners of the Paleo diet, Chris Kresser – Your Personal Paleo Diet. My goal isn’t really to lose weight but it’s more about fuelling my body to be healthy and perform at my best when training or racing. I’d a vague notion of Paleo and thought it meant a lot about cutting out sugar, grains and dairy – basically leaving a boring meat, veg and egg diet.
I was wrong in my narrow interpretation of Paleo – I liked the grounding in science and physiology of how our bodies are designed to be fuelled and how the modern diet, high in carbs, sugar and processed foods, isn’t ideal. It’s a great intro read for anyone interested in health and nutrition.
Paleo 30-reset Diet
Chris Kresser’s book is focused around changing habits and discovering what your body can handle, i.e. do you have any intolerances to dairy, gluten, etc. So my challenge for January was a 30-day Paleo reset diet, which involved cutting out completely all dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, etc); gluten (grains so no bread, cereals, pasta), alcohol (beer & wine). I had to replace this with a really broad and diverse diet including lots of eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds, fruit, veg.
I kept a diary each day, noting everything I ate and then rated my levels of energy, sleep, mood and digestion on a scale of 1-10. It wasn’t about counting calories, more about noting any improvements. I definitely felt less bloated and my digestion improved. My sleep was less interrupted and my energy was generally good, although the adaptation from carbs to fat burning energy sources can take a bit of effort. I really missed bread, but quickly those cravings waned. Same for beer – I could easily go out and not drink. It was great to be able to wake up without a hangover.
The book had over 90 recipes – 3 for each day, so I tried lots of new recipes, including liver and kidney which are sacred in Paleo! Breakfast was a change – I missed porridge or granola, so had way more fruit and eggs. Lunch was ok, I cut out potatoes and chips and replaced it with salads and soups. Evening meal had more meat and veg. Desserts were also hard to change, I love tarts, cakes and pastries which were all no no’s.
Spending 3 weeks in the USA wasn’t ideal and I did return to old habits, but I’d say I followed an 80/20 rule. Even now 3 months later, my diet has greatly improved – I like the principles although have brought some grains, dairy and alcohol back in to my diet.
I’ve been lucky to hear from some great nutritionists recently. First off, Barry Murray, an endurance mountain runner and cyclist, who’s worked with BMC pro-cycling team and has a deep understanding of fuelling your body. He’s an advocate of fat adaptation (low carb, high fat) and Paleo. He also takes a holistic approach – you need to sleep well, rest well, switch off from technology and have a good social/family life, before you think about nutrition in isolation. He’s some great articles on his website.
I also heard a more mainstream approach two nutritionists: Beth McCluskey, an elite mountain biker, mountain runner and nutritionist, as well Aoife Lynch, a top triathlete. Beth and Aoife spoke to my triathlon club, Belpark. Their messages were really practical for athletes, saying we need to eat properly to refuel and recover. This article by Beth is worth reading. They both gave really good tips on how to cook smartly, prepping in advance, freezing and have healthy snacks instead of ending up with chocolate bar cravings.
Cooking at Home
What’s made me really happy has been putting all this knowledge into practice. Over the past few months I’ve cooked so much more. I’ve always liked to cook, but ended up doing it at weekends as I had great food in the canteen at work so had my hot meal there. Now I prepare most of my meals: fruit, yoghurt or eggs for breakfast; salads or soup for lunch and meat/fish and veg for dinner. It’s not boring or repetitive – I’ve tried all sorts of new things: liver and kidney, sweet potato brownies, avocado chocolate cake, coconut date balls, bulgur wheat salad, all sorts of nuts/seeds, nut loafs, banana bread, lamb burgers, kale salads…you name it, I’ll try it.
So in conclusion, I’m not going back. I’m also not going 100% paleo. I realise that some dairy & grains are ok, but I definitely need to eat more fresh fruit, veg, meat. In essence, as Beth put it, a diet based primarily on plant based wholefoods, with less processed foods. It’s an interesting journey, so lots more to come.