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Choosing the best nutrition

Warm confit ocean trout, autumn vegetable a la grecque, horseradish mayonnaise

Following on from the thoughts in my previous post “Crap in = Crap out“, I wanted to write a little more on what I feel is the best nutrition, and, even if you don’t agree with me 100%, some guidelines how to choose foods that are good for the body generally.

So, what do I view as good nutrition?

I base my food choices around Optimal, Sub-optimal and Non-optimal. I personally ban nothing, I just chose to avoid things that I know are non-optimal. After all when something is “banned” or “bad” then, by that nice twist of human psychology, we generally want it all the more.

Broadly speaking, the foods I eat are:

Optimal (eat freely and with gusto!):
Plentiful amounts of meat, fish, fowl, green veg (brassica), eggs, cheese, cream, butter, olive oil, herbs, spices.

Sub-optimal (Eat with care, enjoy the tastes):
Moderate amounts of all other non root tuberous vegetables (peas & corn are not vegetables, they are beans & grains respectively), veg from the onion & garlic family, seeds, nuts (peanuts & cashews are beans), berry fruits (inc tomatoes.)

Little bits of non potato roots (swede, turnip, sweet potato, carrots etc), 70% dark chocolate, cocoa powder, red wine. Beans are a borderline case, extra care advised.

Non-Optimal (really not good for the body, enjoyed without guilt once in a blue moon, if at all):
Sugar, all grains (rice, bread, pasta, cake, biscuits, crackers)  & white potatoes.

I talk more about how to start eating a low-carb way in this article on my low-carb website.

However, even if you don’t agree with me on the above, there are still a few factors that I’m sure that we can agree on.

  1. Choose and prepare actual food.
    This is really a cornerstone of self-care. And usually, knocking up a nutritionally valid meal takes just as long as one that is devoid of nutrient value. Why stint yourself? It takes me 15-20 mins to prep and cook most of the meals I eat, and I know exactly what went into every mouthful I then take.If you are choosing “ready-meals” (let’s face it, everyone does once in a while!) a good thing to bear in mind is the ingredient list – Does it have ingredients in it that you wouldn’t cook with/couldn’t find as a home cook?
    Check that label, 6  ingredients or less is a good start. If there are more, ensure that these ingredients that are not chemical “Fillers” “Flavours” or “Enhancers”
  2. Never choose “diet” products – They are usually sugar and chemical laden monstrosities!
    Look at the ingredients for two well known brands of “Diet shake” (low-fat then low-carb)

    Slimfast Vanilla Shake 325Ml
    From www.tesco.com/groceries/product/details/?id=261592549
    Ingredients: Skimmed Milk (78%), Water, Sugar, Milk Proteins, Corn Oil, Stabilisers (Cellulose, Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Dipotassium Phosphate, Carrageenan), Thickener (Acacia Gum), Emulsifier (Mono-and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Flavourings (contain Lactose), Vitamins and Minerals1, Antioxidants (Sodium Ascorbate, Alpha-Tocopherol), Sweeteners (Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium), 1 Vitamins and Minerals: Magnesium Oxide, Vitamin C, Zinc Oxide, Ferric Pyrophosphate, Vitamin E, Niacin, Sodium Selenite, Biotin, Copper Gluconate, Manganese Sulphate, Vitamin A (contains Soybean), Vitamin B6, Thiamin, Vitamin D, Pantothenic Acid, Folic Acid, Riboflavin

    Atkins Ready To Drink Vanilla Shake 330Ml
    From http://www.tesco.com/groceries/product/details/?id=282485593
    Ingredients: Water, Dairy Protein Blend (Milk Protein Concentrate, Calcium Caseinate), Sunflower Oil, Stabilisers (Cellulose, Sodium Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Carrageenan, Potassium Phosphate), Acidity Regulator (Potassium Citrate), Flavourings, Sweeteners (Sucralose, Acesulfame-K), Salt, Colour (Riboflavin)

    I am sure you will agree with me, neither of these are at all real food… Consuming these types of product do no honour to your body at all. Remember, Crap in=Crap out!

  3. Make time to eat, and eat mindfully and conscientiously.
    Eating food is something that most of us tend to “fit in” to a busy life – we grab a quick sandwich between meetings, or mindlessly grab “something” to eat whilst doing other things. We also graze on “snacks” as we work or watch telly… And again, none of this values your body.

    Eating mindlessly means that you are not paying attention to the signals your body will send you about being satisfied. Grazing especially, where you are constantly chewing and “topping up” your stomach, and hence suppressing natural signals, is not at all how we evolved to eat.

    Myself, I always ensure that I take my lunch break and take my time over eating. I’m slightly less mindful than I might be, in that I read my book whilst I eat. However, taking that break from my day re-energises my brain for a good afternoon of productivity!

    When I cook my dinner, I enjoy eating it. Again, I’m generally watching something as I eat, but I’m also taking my time and enjoying my food, and not just stuffing it into my face as fast as I can.Thinking about what I’m eating also allows me to listen to my stomach – if I’ve cooked too much, I’ll know it. I will then stop (no fake imperative to “clean the plate” for me!) and (generally) fridge what I’ve left over, for consumption later or more often the next day.

So, my challenge for this week: At work next week, when you eat lunch, do nothing but eat lunch. For the period that your food lasts; no books, no chatter and definitely no work! Enjoy the food, and indulge in the sensations it gives. Revel in how it tastes, it’s smell, how it feels in your mouth. After you finish eating, read a book for the rest of your lunch hour, or if your lunch room is more social, chat with colleagues about anything but your day-job – do not dash back to your work. Take time to breathe and digest.

Commit to doing this at least once next week and leave me a comment below about how this experiment works for you, and especially how it feels, even if those feelings are negative. Because negatives are as valid as positives for self-learning, as all “feels” are generated by the Limbic brain in the now. Then, we can start working on connecting those dots!

Catch you next week!

Image used, Warm confit ocean trout – Bistro Vue by Alpha
Used Under Creative commons licence: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Crap in = Crap out

Body Image

Life is a series of choices, and although all choices are shades of grey, some are more black and white than others.

One of the easiest “black and white” choices we make in life is what we eat. Although there are people that would disagree with me on my views over what I feel “healthy eating” is all about, common ground for all people interested in nutrition is that the quality of the food that we consume is utmost.

For me, I know that when I made the choice in 1999 to stop eating Starches and Sugars, it was motivated from a place of “nothing else works” and my desire to drop 7st (just under 100lbs) of body weight and not much more. At that point however, I didn’t have a great deal of money, and so I chose the cheapest protein options, “junk” foods and “food” made from really not great ingredients but that fit a “low carb” profile.

As you can guess, although I was better off from not giving myself massive insulin spikes and sugar highs all the time, and the upswing in health I received from ditching a “food group” (grains) that I now know really isn’t actually food for Homo Sapiens was remarkable, but as I did more research about how the body works, and came to understand a why low carb diet is the diet that our bodies is evolved to eat, the quality of my food became more and more important.

After all, we literally are what we eat, and if you eat crappy food, your body becomes crappy. And before 1999 I’d been eating all the crap. And my fat body really was sick and crappy.

Food is just one piece of the puzzle though, as I’ve increasingly discovered in the last 15 years, as I worked to let go of ideals that are “crap food for the mind”, the limiting believes that are handed to us, such as “I’m too fat to be beautiful”, “If only I were thinner, I could do xxx”,   “If I just starve myself, I’ll be better”.

All these self-limiting beliefs around “suffering for a result” are really just negative thoughts, which are a self-defeating trap. I’ve worked just as hard to learn that “as my body is worth feeding well, so it can be its best, so is my mind.”

It really doesn’t matter if I’m carrying a bit of extra fat, that fact doesn’t need to stop me being my best or stop me achieving my goals and doing what I want to do.

I hope that you can see parallels for self-improvement here, and so I want you to take action. For the next 3 days, keep a food diary. Not a calorie or quantity diary, a quality diary.  Note how much whole food you eat vs. how much processed crap, how many meals you cook from real ingredients vs. ready-meals and/or low-calorie, sugar loaded products that you buy and ding in 5 minutes. Are you putting crap in and just expecting a non-crappy body to result?

Once you’ve done that, work to shift away from the grains and the crap, and into honouring your body with proper nutrition! Then note how that makes you feel. I’m hoping that it will give you an emotional boost, however, it you encounter feelings of body-shame, resistance or even annoyance, then that is where we need to also do some work on your internal thoughts around food and body image.

Come back and leave me a comment below about your food achievements and feelings, and then we can start working toward connecting those dots.

Catch you next week!

Image Body Image by Charlotte Astrid
Used Under Creative Commons Licence: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Eating well – Preparing a good steak.

well rested steak with sauce

I quickly need to define what I mean when I say “eating well” – I ditched refined Carbohydrates in 1999, and apart from a blip 2005-2007,  I’ve eaten a low carbohydrate lifestyle ever since.  I believe that we are an omnivorous animal that is adapted to eat other animals, eggs, some plants, seeds, nuts, and berries. I also believe that dairy is food only if your evolutionary heritage has not left you lactose intolerant.

I do not believe that we are evolved to eat grains or other plants that require a lengthy preparation/cooking process to render them edible to us. I know if I eat grains, especially wheat, my health takes a steep nose-dive. I get brain fog, stomach issues and lethargy. As you can guess by now, I’m not a vegetarian. I choose instead to eat high-quality product and use all of the animals I eat where I can.

I’m also thankful that I was born in a part of the planet where I get to economically make this choice.

One thing that you need to learn when being a low-carber is how to cook meat well; Using the Slow Cooker to make beautifully unctuous broths and briskets, effective fast cook cuts, getting the best from organ meats.

How I cook steak: When your ingredients are good, cooking them well is only respectful to the animal. I’ve found a method that gives me never fail excellent results – The basis of this method is to cook for half the cooking time in an open pan, and half in a closed space.

I like Rib-eye myself, but this method works well for Rump, Sirloin & Fillet also. I cook my steak rare, so the timings below are for that –  I’ve added some notes in the comments for cooking to medium and above.

Take the steak out of the fridge at least 2 hours before you are going to cook it – it needs to come to room temp. Season it with pepper & salt.

The key to the frying is a good heavy based non-stick or well seasoned to be non-stick pan. Heat the pan on the hob until HOT – do not add any oil.

Lay the meat straight into hot pan. If the cut is of an average thickness (about 1.5cm), leave it alone for 1 minute. Do not prod, poke or otherwise disturb it during this time, as the mixture of direct high heat and no movement caramelises the sugars in the meat, giving a tasty brown crust.

Flip it and leave it again for 1 minute. Again, no poking or prodding – let the maillard reaction do its funky thang!

steak dry pan fliped once

If the steak is a thin cut,  I decrease the timings  by 30 secs each side, if the steak is thick, increase by 30 if thick. I also open the kitchen window, cos it’s gets a bit steamy/smoky!

Once done, remove the pan from heat and pop it onto a trivet or heatproof mat and slap a lid on it for a further 2 minutes. As the pan is still very hot, the cooking will continue, and the lid is trapping moisture, which steams the meat –  which you want to retain a juicy steak.

Once this is done, remove the steak to a warmed plate and rest for twice as long as you cooked it. Do not miss out the resting period; Resting relaxes the meat fibres, allows the steak to rebalance and release the juice and blood it is holding in the centre back out into the fibres, which makes for a juicer and more tasty eating experience.

resting steak de-juicing

Don’t believe me? Here is the science to prove that a rested steak is 7% more tasty.

What to do whilst the steak rests? Steam some broccoli or other green veg to go with the meat and make a cream based sauce (the best steak sauce IMHO):

Over high heat, de-glase the steak pan with good big splash of Red Wine, grind of pepper, splash of Balsamic and/or Worcester sauce.deglasing the pan

Allow to reduce until that is “not much liquid” then add ~200ml Double cream.

adding cream to reduced wine

Stir continuously and scrape down pan sides to incorporate the caramelised cream for a few mins (Maillard reactions again!), then add the meat juices from the rested steakadding meat juices to the sauce and then stir again until sauce is reduced to “glossy and rather thick”.
reduced and glossy cream sauce Take off heat immediately at this point and pour over your steak and broccoli.

steak with veggies and sauce

Don’t leave it to sit in the pan, and/or leave it not stirred as the extra heat will make it split. It also splits if you overcook/reduce it too far, but it still tastes really good, even if it not looks a touch unattractive. You can bring it back by adding another good splash of cold cream ad stirring manically, but then you may have to reduce it again some more.

Also, if you are wondering why I didn’t season it, that’s because I already did, when I added the meat juices. The meat juices carry some of the seasoning from the steak.

This method of making tasty steak, veggies and sauce for dinner never fail me. Leave me a comment below about your experience with cooking steak and we can start working toward connecting those dots.

Catch you next week!