My diet approach: less rigidity and more ‘real life’

A couple of comments on my Facebook page, a comment from a client that she wasn’t  ‘my perfect client’, and a post from one of my good nutritionist friends inspired me to have a bit of a think about how I approach nutrition, or the expectations that others have of my nutrition approach.

Whenever I put something out on social media, people will read from it what they will – I want them to comment and engage (why else would I put a post up?)  One of these was a comment I got after posting a recipe up on my page. Someone commented that she was very concerned that I say I follow a minimally processed diet approach, yet used a protein powder in my pancake recipe, clearly a highly processed ingredient*. She’s not wrong – protein powder is highly processed for sure, even the brands that I use and recommend others do: those that don’t have a lot of added ingredients bar the protein powder, some flavouring and stevia-based (or thaumine) sweetener . It got me thinking though. This person was annoyed that I was straying from their perception of what I advocate. If I could include protein powder in my recipes, clearly I’m not an advocate of the real food approach. How could people trust anything I say if I suggest that protein powder is okay? I wasn’t living up to her expectations of me, and she was disappointed.

It’s a tough balance: when I changed my philosophy around food I think I was a lot like other people – went too far in the extreme of finding the perfect real-food approach in an effort to ditch processed food. Legumes and all grains were off the menu (regardless of dietary tolerances, as this was the ‘perfect paleo’ way). All bread was to be avoided at all costs. Only drink red wine (less sugar) … It was 95% of what you’d call a ‘primal’ approach.

Like most people, though, I have settled in an approach to eating that is more practical to real life and, frankly, less exhausting. I have my diet non-negotiables –for me, I don’t touch diet soft drinks and chewing gum. In fact, I had a dream a few months ago that someone offered me a piece of gum and I took it. I woke up in a panicked state. This is because around 6 years ago I couldn’t go a day without having Wrigley’s Extra gum, and now I am scared that if I have it again that it would be a quick slide back into a daily habit that I couldn’t stop (even though when I gave it up it was literally like a switch had gone off in my brain and I couldn’t imagine having it again). I don’t have food allergies, so unlike other people, there isn’t anything that I must avoid or I’d be seriously compromising my health. That said, if I was eating the way I did during my Master’s degree at Otago, I couldn’t last during the day – I’d regularly have to nap in the afternoon under my desk after a diet coke and a massive ciabatta bun from Il Panificio bakery for lunch, which was backing up a large milky trim cappuccino and a dark rye sesame bun for breakfast. A carb overload and no fat or protein will do that to me (and a lot of people) – and don’t get me wrong – I LOVED it (and still would!) Just not how it makes me feel and, unfortunately, now I know too much about the long-term implications of eating such a nutrient-void diet). Huh. And I was doing a Master’s in nutrition at the time…

For everything else, though it is more about dietary principles rather than strict rigidity. Less religion and more realness. I try to avoid vegetable seed oils and artificial sweeteners that impact on blood sugar levels. However, if there is a dip that someone has brought along to a dinner party that has canola or sunflower oil as the second ingredient, I would likely have some if I thought it sounded nice, even if I wouldn’t buy it myself.  I avoid eating soy – especially products that use it as a cheap protein filler as you’ll find it in many packaged goods, though by now living in a vegetarian/vegan household, I eat organic tofu around once a week – and really enjoy it. I consume gluten when I have (for example) a date scone, or I really feel like toast. This might be once a fortnight. I drink wine. I have 3-4 alcohol free nights per week, but enjoy red wine (and coming into summer, white wine too – even though it has a higher residual sugar count). Not a lot – 1-2 glasses, and what they serve at the local bar is probably a more generous pour than we have at home. I like chocolate. I eat Quest protein bars (the varieties that don’t have sucralose as a sweetener in them – some do, some don’t) and use these as a bit of a stop gap as when training intensity ramps up (as it has over the last couple of months). I’m just hungrier in general and am not always organised. Despite their ‘organic’ label, these are about as far away from real food as you can get.

We buy white bread – the stock standard cheap loaves – as this is one of the only things that never comes home in the school lunch box during the week. If you’re wondering, I don’t think there is too much difference between white and multi-grain bread, really – it is all rubbish. I don’t eat it myself (any toast I have would be out at a cafe, a more delicious type of sourdough or ciabatta, probably), and can justify it till the cows come home but truth be told, getting any food in some kids can be difficult, so if they will eat a white bread egg or cheese sandwich that is going to at least fill them up, then so be it. A friend of mine commented on how she laughs when I post about lunchbox options for kids – and how (for her at least) it’s just a little unpractical and/or even if the kids show interest one day, the next they won’t have a bar of it. Now I get it. I really think I didn’t have a true appreciation for this and if I can somehow crack the nut that is ‘school lunches’ then I’d probably be a gazillionaire. One day. Maybe. (And if you have any bright ideas that I might not have thought of, pass them on!)

So, yeah. I still call my dietary principles ‘minimal processed food’ relative to the food environment and where I was at 7 years ago. Sorry to disappoint or concern anyone. Or perhaps this just makes you feel a little relieved that, despite best intentions, it doesn’t read like a perfect food environment or a perfect food diary, even for someone with my nutrition qualifications and practical experience. But that’s real life, and we do what we can. Some days are awesome, some weeks are awesome, and some, well, some just aren’t. That’s life, right? And when the dust settles, I’m pretty happy with it actually.  If you do what you can and have the best intentions going into it – then you’re always going to do better than if you didn’t try at all.

So please don’t think you have to be perfect – I’m not and nor should you stress about striving to be so. If you want some guidance at reaching your ‘happy spot’ click here to book a consultation or check out my online nutrition coaching services.

Nutrigrain does not build Iron Men (or Women) + an Up and Go isn’t breakfast

(But I’m picking you know that).

By default, I’ve been in the sports nutrition world more than usual over the last couple of weeks. The Eat Well Live Well topic at New World (where I’m on hand to give nutrition advice and share good choices for foods), a sports nutrition talk during the week to a bunch of athletes and my first experience of Saturday morning kids winter sport this weekend. Well, first adult experience, as being your typical kiwi girl I was an enthusiastic netball player when I was in my early teens, and remember 9am starts at Kettle Park, playing on an ice-white netball court that had been frosted over the night before.

These experiences have reminded me that the ‘real food’ nutrition choices are not mainstream yet. And have a way to go before they will be. It’s still common for athletes to smash food straight after training (to make the most of the ’30 min window of opportunity’, to base their meals around processed carbohydrates (cereals, breads, pasta, rice) and to follow an eating style that didn’t allow for adequate delivery of fat and protein across the course of the day, so they are left irritable, tired, and hungry. The problem isn’t carbohydrates per se. It’s that processed carbohydrate has pervaded the diet to the extent that we now view it as an essential part of every meal at the expense of fat and protein which provide essential fatty acids and amino acids for healthy growth, development and recovery. This is especially true for children. It can get confusing though when cereal companies spend the big bucks persuading the consumer that products such as Nutrigrain or Special K are a nutritious, substantial start to the day. Such examples include:

  1. They fortify their cereals with micronutrients and can then sell them as a substantial source of vitamins and minerals, whereas we don’t know how effectively these are absorbed in the body. Nature is really smart at packaging nutrients in the correct ratios for maximum absorption when we eat, say, an apple. There’s so much about nutrition we don’t know, I doubt that Kellogg’s has cracked that nut yet.
  2. They pump their products with additional gluten and soy and can then promote them as being ‘high protein’ and ‘plant based’. A lot of people are sensitive to gluten and processed soy is far removed from the soy which is attributed to the many health benefits of a traditional Asian diet. And ‘plant based’ is bandied around so much these days, as if to insinuate it is nutritionally superior to a diet that contains animal protein. The opposite is true, given that many minerals and vitamins aren’t able to be as readily absorbed because of the phytic acid and other anti-nutrients which bind them.
  3. They put dried fruit and ‘ancient grains’ in their products, call them ‘Nourish’ and then sell it as real food. All this does is load them up with additional sugar.
  4. They pay sports stars and other influential people good money to front their ad campaigns. Even if you can do 12 Weet-bix in one hit, I’m picking that you’re not going to be able to do much else for the rest of the day if you make a habit of it.
  5. They compare a product to something else that we perceive as being  healthy or nutritious – for example, Up and Go being marketed as having as much ‘fibre, energy and protein as 2 Weet-bix and milk’. For the record, 2 Weet-bix and milk doesn’t have much fibre, protein or energy – but you wouldn’t know that from this claim which is what Sanitarium is counting on. There is 4.3g of fibre in a 250ml serve of Up and Go, and 19.3g of sugar. And a bunch of other additives, preservatives and vegetable oils to go with it.

    upandgo

    How many ways can you say sugar? There’s 5 right here.

The cereals I’ve mentioned above are as good (or bad) as junk food. But, do any of my points really matter if your kid is super active? They can’t just eat more of it, right? Hmm.  I’ve recently been reminded that there is a real culture in sports that suggest people who are active can ‘get away’ with eating high sugar junk food, and kids especially can eat sugar (I’ve heard some suggest they NEED sugar) as they can ‘burn it off.’ Nothing is further from the truth. Despite what the sports nutrition resources tell you, or what you might learn in a nutrition talk at the sports club, or see advertised on television, they don’t need additional sugar to make up for energy burnt during their practices or games. Sports drinks, white bread jam sandwiches, 2-3 jet planes aren’t necessary straight after exercise and are best left out of a young athletes menu. The ‘window’ of  opportunity of replenishing carbohydrate stores has been a convenient theory for sports nutrition products to justify their use, but we have since discovered the body can adequately restore carbohydrate up to 48 hours after a match or training. Unless, of course, there is a multi-day or multiple events on one day that requires a quick refuel, but even then there are options that allow for quick refuelling that are real food options.

A calorie is not a calorie, and active kids need more attention paid to their diet because of the heavier demands placed on their growing bodies. This expands their micronutrient and energy requirements. However, because we use body size as the main marker (or for some, the only marker) of health, we look at kids who are active and thin as ‘healthy’ without giving consideration to other equally (if not more) important indicators. I’ve worked with a number of adults who are prediabetic, yet have been fit and active their whole life, and a blood sugar screening reveals their metabolic state is probably worse than if they didn’t do any activity at all. A contributing factor to this is the carbohydrate-dominant diet that has fuelled them through the preceding years, and not just the additional treats they may have eaten because they could ‘eat what they liked.’ To the body, a high carbohydrate load is a high sugar load, regardless of where those carbs come from, because it’s broken down to the same single glucose unit.

So to save your active kids from the same fate, we need to set them up right from the get go.

Now I got a bad rap last year when I suggested that the new Weet-bix campaign that provided a ‘better brekkie’ was anything but. Weet-bix have long been the staple kiwi breakfast and growing up in winter, I had mine with hot water, warm milk, raw sugar, (because it was healthier*) and the aroma of a Gregg’s instant coffee with a freshly lit cigarette (it was the 80s, after all). Even now that combo conjures up that warm snuggly feeling of familiarity in me. The problem is that Weet-bix, or any cereal, isn’t typically a great vehicle for a nutrient dense, energy filling breakfast. Even with the campaign to make them a ‘better brekkie’. Most of the recipes on Sanitarium’s website sound amazing, but better breakfasts they are not.

So I offer a few suggestions**.

  1. Better breakfast shake: swap out the dates for an egg and add a tablespoon of peanut butter or tahini ( for a nut-free variety). We’ve lowered the sugar content and upped the fat, protein and calories. This will at least keep them awake for a little longer.
  2. Power porridge: swap the apple juice for grated apple. Use actual coconut milk (and not coconut flavoured milk), up the amount of rolled oats to a cup and add ¼ cup sunflower and pumpkin seeds. We’ve added more fibre, protein and lowered the sugar content.
  3. Weet-bix winter warmer: swap the trim milk for full fat (so much better for growing kids and adults alike actually) – or coconut milk, up the oats, add a few tablespoons of sunflower or pumpkin seeds and ditch the dried fruit. Stir through an egg before taking off the heat.
  4. Hot Weet-bix apple crumble: add ¼ cup shredded coconut, ½ cup roughly chopped mixed raw nuts – which you microwave with 1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil to make a crumble-type mixture.

Any of these would be okay if your kid feels a bit nervous before an early weekend sports game and just wanted something small. Otherwise, they will probably need some more food to go alongside the ideas above. Some good examples would be:

  1. Leftover cooked sausages or other meat leftover from dinner
  2. Scrambled eggs
  3. Hardboiled eggs (you’ve boiled these the night before)
  4. This tahini chia loaf with some nut butter spread on it
  5. Kumara ‘toast’ – slice and toast as you would your bread and top accordingly (mine took a couple of goes on high to get it to a cooked but still firm stage. So easy!)
  6. Three ingredient pancakes made with banana and eggs
  7. Peanut butter or tahini with chopped fruit
  8. Baked kumara or potato with butter
  9. Chicken drumsticks
  10. Glass of full milk and a banana

For more awesome ideas, click here for individualised nutrition advice or sign up for online nutrition coaching.

image1 (35)

Kumara toast spread with fennel pesto and topped with tasty cheese.

*it’s not healthier, but it the 80s we thought it was. Sugar is sugar is sugar. Including dried fruit, rice malt syrup, fruit juice and coconut sugar or coconut nectar.

** Weet-bix optional