Eat food, mostly plants – not too much.

Sishi rolls

My sister found this pamphlet when she was going through a box of old papers with my mum a few weeks ago. It’s from a c1950 Westinghouse Refrigerator User Manual.

Fridge

The part that particularly grabbed my attention was last sentence – the bit about brown vs white sugar! It points out to me that poor dietary advice has been around forever!

What is a healthy diet?

When it comes to diets just exactly who should we believe? There’s such a variety with the claims often contradicting each other. We could try:

Vegan – strictly only plants

Vegetarian- plants but also sometimes honey, eggs and dairy

Paleo – the food Ugg the cave man would be able to source back in the day – like 40,000 + years ago and way before McDonalds.

Whole 30 – beware this one has lots of rules! Whole30 program website

FODMAP – designed to help those with irritable bowel syndrome

Mediterranean – rich in veggies, olive oil, and fish like the food traditionally eaten in Italy and Greece

Ketogenic – when I was at Uni ketosis was a BAD thing. This diet has no carbs, just lots of protein and fat. 

5:2 diet – based on intermittent fasting. Fast for two days then eat what you like the other days. Developed by Dr Michael Mosley

The Clever Guts diet – another from Dr Mosley

No sugar

No cabs after 5

Atkins – only Generation X’ers and before will remember this one!

There are so many variations on how to eat healthily!  The array of information available these days is overwhelming. Even with my background in food science I find it hard to keep up.

Porridge with walnuts and banana
Porridge (aka oatmeal) with banana and walnuts

Food as more than fuel

A healthy buffet selection
A healthy buffet selection from the Grand Hyatt, Incheon.

In my late teens and in my early 20’s, I was anorexic and for a short time bulimic. I ate very little. I weighed about 47 kg and got annoyed if I went over 50kg. My BMI was less than 17. (A Healthy BMI is between 19 an 24) I exercised hard and stayed very fit but perhaps not healthy. I used to replay the words from the Ford Pills Diet ad over and over in my head. It was on TV when I was only 7 but it obviously had left its mark!

Are you too fat, too fat,  too fat to fit in the Ford Pill Figure?

Before intermittent fasting was a “thing”, I used to fast all day Saturday, with the idea I could eat what I liked on Sunday. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, dizzy and light headed. I had frequent hypoglycaemic events not because I was diabetic but because I didn’t eat often enough. I was an absolute pain in the neck when it came to eating out!

Cup cakes
Definitely a sometimes food! (Molly’s Cupcakes, New York)

I did a Food Technology degree at University and on reflection, this was no doubt my way of becoming a “food expert” and validating what I was doing. After Uni, I went on to work in the food manufacturing industry for a few years before moving into laboratory equipment sales. It is not uncommon for people with eating disorders to work with food in one form or another[1]. Apart from my day job I had a side hustle – being a fitness instructor. More reasons to exercise and stay thin.

Once I was married, I would cook hugely elaborate meals. My husband also enjoyed cooking and we would often spend almost the entire weekend planning, shopping, preparing and cooking fabulous menus which I didn’t eat much of. Food was always on the agenda as a hobby, and as a fuel.

I am pleased to say that as I have gotten older I have become more sensible with my diet although it is still a balancing act of energy in vs energy out.

A bowl of yogurt with blueberries and banana
Homemade yogurt with blueberries, granola and banana.

I still enjoy cooking and now that I am cooking only for myself (and I’m past the wine and wedges phase) I make it an intentional act to cook a decent meal a few times a week. There are always leftovers, so I have enough for those nights when I have less time.  I plan my weekly meals (let’s say that again:  I aim to plan my weekly meals because sometimes I don’t!!) – mainly because it means I don’t waste so much food or have to face the decision of what to cook each night.

I remain interested in nutrition and have considered returning to study in this field. When I was doing my first degree, issues like antioxidants and gut bacteria weren’t even on the horizon. Coconut oil was a BAD thing!

Nowadays, I also look out for foods that will have a protective factor against the diseases of older age.  There is some talk (but little evidence) that turmeric will reduce the inflammation that contributes to arthritis and dementia. I am now taking turmeric tablets. It can’t hurt, and it might help. In a previous post I spoke about good mood food,  food that feeds your gut bacteria and is thought to contribute to positive physical and mental health.

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Finding the right food balance.

In the end I think we all know that no fad diet will work. There is no magic bullet. If you want to lose weight you need to use more energy than you consume. If you want to be healthy you need variety. You need to be flexible and not place any unnecessary restrictions on what you can and can’t eat. Get your advice from reputable sources that don’t have a vested interest and are not trying to sell you something. I have not fact checked any of the websites I have linked to in the above list – so do your own research. I think you need to be careful if someone is making money out of selling you a fad diet.

The best dietary advice I have heard recently is summed up in seven words from Michael Pollan:

“eat food, mostly plants – not too much”

The eat food part is the trickiest part to decipher. By this he means eat real food, not processed; food your great grandma would recognise as food.

[1] https://patient.info/health/eating-disorders/features/working-with-food-when-you-have-an-eating-disorder

The little imaginary fellow on my other shoulder keeps telling me how bourgeois this line of reasoning is.  A great many people on our Earth will find this concern about he best way to eat to stay healthy ridiculous because they have NO food.. We should be grateful we have the food in the first place and do our best not to waste it and distribute it more equitably – but that’s a whole other topic for a different blog post!

Homeless people don’t have kitchens.

FullSizeRender 18Today I was out for an early morning run. Feeling pretty darn pleased with myself as I ran across the golf course, past the beach as the sun came up as a glorious orange ball and then through the mall. I joked with myself that I was going to do a marathon this week – well in five 8km segments! But hey it’s still a marathon!

 

Not too many people about and nothing much open. I noticed a homeless man[1] sitting on a bollard out the front of some of the swankier shops. He was working away at a strip of instant scratch lottery tickets. He had about five and judging by the size they were the $2 ones. I t’sked internally to myself. My judgy-judge voice started up in my squarely upper-middle class head.

Goodness! Fancy wasting $10 on lottery tickets! He should have bought himself a decent meal! A couple of decent meals! Ten dollars would maybe buy him one or two takeaway meals. If he waited for the sushi shop to have its sell out at the end of the day he could get three! Heck!

If he bought himself dried beans and rice and some veggies on special, he could probably feed himself for a week with that $10! Tut, tut, tut!

As I strode past him I began to think a bit more deeply about it.

Hang on dried beans need to be soaked overnight and then they need to be cooked for forty minutes or so. You’d need another pot for the rice and veggies. You’d need a kitchen.

Homeless people don’t have kitchens.

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So perhaps spending ten bucks on some instant lottery tickets which could have potentially increased his capital by ten-thousand was probably not such a bad idea.

 

[1] I decided he was homeless because of his appearance, unkempt and scruffy.

Well past it….

My mum had a can or mandarin segments in her cupboard for as long as I can remember. As a kid l would look at them longingly. They shone, as if lit by some magical spotlight at the back of the dark food cupboard where all the other cans lived.

I would ask, hopefully “Mum, can we eat these?”

“’No” she would say “they’re for a special occasion”.

Exotic but forbidden fruit with a dazzling label.  The choir of angels would sing “Ahhhhhhhhhhh” and I would be turned away.

I am not sure when the mandarins come into the cupboard but they stayed there for at least 15 years and when Mum and Dad moved to the country, they moved with them. As an adult, I used to tease her about them. They must have been getting close to 40 years old when they finally got thrown out, unused. They became useless before the special occasion arrived.

I am not sure what would have warranted their opening. We had plenty of special occasions in the time they lingered. Four weddings, more than four funerals. The birth of grandchildren and the loss of one Angel baby. In the end, I am sure Mum kept them for the fun of it; as a reminder of the earlier days. I used to go looking for them each time I visited and we would have a bit of a laugh.

When I noticed a sticky brown liquid seeping over the shelves of my own food cupboard, I thought I must have knocked over a sauce bottle or something. I cleaned up the bottom shelf, sniffing at the sticky, metallic liquid. I discovered more of the same on the second and then the third shelf. I eventually tracked it down to a can of apricot nectar that had been lurking there for at least four years and probably longer. It was swollen, corroded and hissing. Not waiting for a special occasion but especially bought to make apricot chicken[1] which was no longer on my preferred food options and obviously hadn’t been for some time.

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The offending can of Apricot Nectar carefully transported to the bin like a ticking bomb!

The mandarin segments and the apricot nectar collided in my brain to create a metaphor. The merging of waste, waiting and the passage of life. The special occasion mandarins ended up wasted as they waited for an ill-defined special use. They could have enriched a meal years earlier. Adorned a special birthday pavlova decades before. The mandarin tree took energy to grow them, the factory used energy to can them and they took up space in at least one packing box as they shifted from a city life to the rural bliss of Bellingen.

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They symbolise a life held in limbo – waiting. Waiting for the right time for something to happen.

They were nothing but a cheap can of fruit that could have been easily replaced. I imagine that lots of families have the equivalent in their own cupboard and this is not meant to be a criticism of my own family. We apply this ‘special occasion’ mentality to lots of life’s good things… the special crystal bowls; the special tableware or the special outfits. If we buy these things and they sit there year in year out in the back of a cupboard we waste money and resources.

I sorted through the cans and bottles and discovered lots of out of date food. Food bought and not used either because I had not been careful in my stock rotation or because I had changed the way I cook and eat. I looked at the pile I had set aside and estimated it was worth at least $40-50. Not a lot, but still a symbol of wasteful affluence that I was not happy with.  Add to this cache, the bits of wilted, slimy or mouldy veggies that get thrown from the fridge each week and it represents not only a waste of my own money but of the world’s resources. It is, on some level, immoral. Here was proof that I was consuming more than I needed to. My wasteful approach to food is past its use by date. I need to make some changes.

This exercise in cleaning has given me two new goals:

  1. To reduce the amount of food I keep stored. I am lucky that I have resources to buy what I need and failing a nuclear holocaust I don’t need to stockpile.
  2. I am going to eat life’s mandarin segments in fancy crystal bowls and enjoy them because life is too unpredictable to wait for the special occasions.

 

small cans
My aim is to reduce the canned foods to close to zero.

 

[1] You know the one. The 1970’s cordon bleu dish of chicken pieces,  French onion soup mix and a can of apricot nectar poured over the top and shoved in the oven for 40 minutes. Simple, fast and kid friendly!

 

Food photography is a crock of shit!

food3

I work full time. I have a good job and can pay my bills even though I am in debt. I am divorced and have a big mortgage.  I don’t want to work forever.

Woe is me: First World Problem Number 1: I could choose not to work. I have a roof over my head and I have a cupboard and refrigerator (over) full with nutritious food.

Over the last year, I have been planning my life more deliberately. Looking for side hustles so I can quit my job sooner rather than later. At the same time, I am looking to reduce my impact on the planet and use less stuff.

Woe is me: First World Problem Number 2: I have some agency over my own life. I can make choices about how I will spend my time. I can choose whether I consume or not.

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This one’s a bit blurry I know but the concept is good!

Over the last few years I have developed some photography skills and I think this could be one of the ways I can achieve my goals.  One of my other interests is cooking and nutrition. I can see myself writing some freelance articles for magazines about healthy eating, maintaining good mental health through a diverse gut biome and uploading sumptuous shots of various lentil dishes to Instagram. So, to this end, I bought an online food photography course to get the professional lowdown.

Woe is me: Third World Problem Number 3: I have skills, I am educated. I can read and write. I have access to fast internet and (un)social media.

 

Right now, I am feeling angry with myself and the developed world. Why? As I was watching the video lessons on food photography and saw the well-fed, well-dressed photographer with her huge Canon camera and  even bigger lens fuss about the styling of a wooden board loaded up with citrus fruit, my hackles began to rise.

‘I think the white pith on the pomegranate is too much.’ she said

Stylist removes white pith and balances the corners of the board as the photographer pulls faces.

‘I am looking for more tension in the plate.’

Tension? WTF! Oranges are not tense!

She flips over some peel to show the coloured side rather than the pith. Oh! Yes!  That’s so much more tense!

‘Have you got a crustier plate – I want it to look gnarly and poor…

Props boy scurries for a gnarlier board.

There were at least 8 people on set. Camera crew, food stylists, go-fers plus the “audience” which is supposed to give it a live classroom feel.

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I had to hit the stop. I was sitting there swearing at the computer.

‘Of for fuck’s sake you wanker. Just show me how to light the shot!’ I shouted.

I paused a little longer and felt overwhelmed by my luck.  I had been kicked in the head with a huge dose of reality. I can afford to photograph food when around 20% of the global population is undernourished.

What a futile enterprise. As I sit here and write this post for my blog, the irony is not lost.

 

What to do?

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I can’t solve the world’s problems. One little me?  I could hide back in my cocoon of privilege and drink my wine as I get angrier and angrier. Or… I could do something… What?

olive

I will think on that a while…hang on while I pour myself another wine and check my Facebook feed.  I need to do some research.

Woe is me: First World Problem Number 4: Feeling like I have no part to play. Where is my power now?

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Good mood food

What you eat controls the bacteria in your gut. The bacteria in your gut controls your mood and can now be linked directly to symptoms of anxiety and depression

We all know that eating a healthy diet is really important in keeping yourself physically fit but mounting medical research is showing that it could also be the key to good mental health.

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Ditch the chips and its perfect!

Recent studies have shown that there is a direct link from a Western diet – i.e. one that is high in processed foods, sugar, soft drinks (either with or without sugar) to poor mental health.

Conversely, a “Mediterranean” diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, some dairy and healthy oils has been found to be protective and even curative for some mental health conditions. Adding pre-biotics in the form of fermented foods helps even more.

 

 

 

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Hoi An – Vietnam

Our gut is inhabited by a whole host of bacteria – “good bacteria”. This is our gut biome or gut microflora. There are in fact more bacterial cells in your gut than cells in your entire body! (They are much smaller than our own cells so they don’t take up much room!) These microbes produce chemicals that affect our mood and act directly on our brain. When we eat a diet high in refined foods, we leave nothing for the bacteria that live in our lower gut to eat. They starve and die off. The diversity of our gut microflora is reduced and hence the good mood chemicals are not around to keep us mentally healthy.

So if you are feeling a bit low or anxious, diet may be a good and relatively easy starting point.  First steps are to cut the CRAP

CRAPIf you want to know more have a look at the links below.

Firstly, a great podcast that gives some of the science and places to get more information

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/the-food-mood-connection/8510518

Look at these websites for more details and some great recipes:

http://foodandmoodcentre.com.au/

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140826-is-fast-food-making-us-depressed http://www.nowtolove.com.au/health/diet-nutrition/is-your-diet-making-you-depressed-12904

http://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2017/05/30/michael-mosleys-plan-killing-your-cravings

For a more academic article

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4303825/  

Some books include

The Healthy Kitchen – http://thehappykitchen.net/

The Clever Guts Diet. – Dr Michael Mosely – https://cleverguts.com/

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Luscious tomatoes at Granville Island Market – Vancouver

 

 

Footpath of the Gods

Snap-03

My attention was suddenly snapped out of the pleasant conversation with the Kiwi’s and flew to the other end of the table. Angry words were flaring loudly around the pizzeria. The New York wife trying unsuccessfully  to damp things down but it was too late.

The Yank couple and the Scottish pair were at it.

“…ya shouldna hev come then! Dinna ya read the brochure? This isn’t a gastronomy tour! If ya wanna  feed yer face you should’a picked a diff’rent package!”

This was the conversation we all had wanted to hear but in the confines of a shared “small group tour” it needed to wait till the last night. When we could burst out and show our true selves without having to be polite. Without compromising. There would be no tomorrow for “us” as a group, only the “us” we came with on Day 1. Rosemary, the other Aussie and I as singles and the others as three couples. Tensions had been building. It was now or never.

Leah and Nathan were clearly not walkers. They had been an anchor on the group for the whole seven days of our walking tour of the Amalfi Coast. Slowing us down; baulking at the stairs every time. Wanting to get a bus instead of skirting around the scenic cliff face. In an effort to keep up, Nathan had fallen heavily and twisted his knee and this slowed us down even further.

Snap-15

The travel brochure had labelled it as three stars for physical activity with  ‘a reasonably good level of fitness recommended’. Leah and Nathan would have  struggled with half a star.

Snap-08

Nathan’s pushed his chair back and he pulled himself up to his very ample height. He bristled; his belly quivering. He was tall. But he was nearly as wide.

‘If you were all not such cheapskates we could have done both! There are plenty of good restaurants around here!’

Snap-01

“I am sick of paying for your extra tasting plates!” Eric shouted, standing a full head shorter than Nathan.

I had to admit that on the inside I had hoped to eat a bit better than the pizza and pasta we had usually settled on. The menù turistico – cheap and filling with some Lambrusco or beer to wash it down. Maybe gelato at the end. But I was sick of splitting the bill; especially since they always ordered enough for four.

I am not sure who pushed who first. An awkward pause followed. An imaginary spotlight shone on the two main actors; the orchestra came to a crescendo. The whole restaurant was focused on the misbehaving tourists as we waited for it to either subside or turn into to an all-out brawl.

Snap-09

My money was on Eric. He might have had 20 years on Nathan but he was nimble and fit. He was used to tramping. Laurie stood up and moved between them. The spell broken by his quiet presence – they stood down. Leah and Nathan left and we spent the rest of night gossiping about them.

Then the bill came. They had gone without settling-up.

Touché Nathan!

Well played!

 

Looking for Breakfast at Sydney International Airport

Sydney International Airport has a secret food hall. You can see it but you can’t get to it. It is filled with people eating pies with chips, sandwiches and having coffee. You can walk past the glass enclosure and peer into the zoo of grazing humans.

Having left my home in Wollongong at 3:10*AM to get here for a 7:30AM flight; I am ready to re-caffeinate and eat. I have circled it twice now, hungrier each time. Looking for the hidden door. Looking for the gatekeeper.

As I press my face up to the glass searching for people entering and leaving to get a clue on the entry location, I realise this café is landside not airside. It remains a tempting mirage of reasonable prices. I have crossed over to the place where coffee is $6 not $4 and it’s half the size. Where food is prepacked and at a premium.

The “Rich Zone” with shops I couldn’t afford normally let alone when I have just forked out $2000+ for a flight!

Who shops here? Someone must…

I look at the people around me wheeling their carry-ons. They don’t look like they can afford it either. Granted, the travellers are in their comfy clothes, but not all tracky-dacks are created equal! On closer inspection, they all look like K-Mart leisure suits rather than Armani to me.  The target audience must then, be those people spending currencies other than the Aussie Dollar where a $300 shirt becomes a measly(?) $200. I remind myself that my mantra is to spend my cash on experiences and not stuff – the path to true happiness and walk on by.

robyn at airport

 

Defeated in my quest for reasonable prices, I sit down to a $6 coffee and a $6 Danish and while away the time till boarding. Thanks to the fact there was no traffic and I was first in line to check-in that’s two hours away!

 

 

(*Yes, you read that right! – traffic around Sydney Airport is unpredictable and the airport shuttle sets the time they will pick you up. Wollongong is a solid hour’s drive away even with no traffic.)