Changing your diet

I am often asked by people that are about to change their diet, how best to start? My reply is always the same: "Speak to a doctor, a nurse or a nutritionist and then contact me if you think I can help". I am very adamant that people contact professionals before I start handing out advice to anyone.

Throughout the years I have observed that people usually are divided into two groups when starting their diet over. For some it works best to throw everything out of the cupboards and start healthy (often following a realisation that they are intolerant to gluten or dairy or if they have a life threatening illness). For others the best approach seems to take baby steps until the desired level of healthy diet has been reached. A new diet should be a part of your lifestyle, something you shouldn't have to think about and it should come naturally. Below are some pointers to get you started. Remember, always consult a doctor or a professional before changing your lifestyle radically.

  • For most 'normal' recipes you can reduce the amount of fat and processed sugar by at least third without you even noticing. It's a good place to start.
  • You can use spelt instead of wheat in all your baking. You can start by combining spelt and wheat and then reduce the amount of wheat until you only use spelt. You can do this over several weeks if you prefer or you can do it at once.
  • Reduce the fat you use when cooking. Use healthy oils and fats such as nut oils, avocado, tahini, nut butters, coconut oil, rapeseed oil and more. Note that not all types of oils are suitable for heating. Coconut oil, rapeseed oil and grapeseed oil can tolerate higher heat than nut oils and olive oils for example.
  • You can use a refillable pump spray. Suggested amount is 40 millilitres water and 10 millilitres coconut oil mixed together, You will need much less fat on your frying pan when using this method.
  • Instead of frying meat in oil or butter, use water and a little vegetable (or other) stock. Just make sure you don't use too much salt in addition to the stock.
  • When baking you can often use baby food (fruit purees) instead of the whole amount of oil/butter required. This applies especially to 'soft' baked goods such as muffins, cakes, tea breads and more. Fruit purees/baby food is less suitable when making cookies as these require more fat to become crunchy. Try to match the taste of the fruit puree to what you are making. For example if you are making apple muffins, use apple puree. You can also use apple sauce (without added sugar) in place of baby food/fruit purees. Make sure that the baby food you buy is organic without added sugar.
  • I always use baking parchment (or silicone) when baking because it ensures the baked goods don't stick to the surface and it also means that I need less fat in the recipe. Use silicone muffins pans when making muffins (it is well worth the money to purchase one).
  • Instead of cream made from dairy I use oat cream (which is lighter and doesn't contain saturated fat) and I often use yoghurt in place of regular cream without anyone even noticing. When making soups I might use oat cream but I never, ever add regular cream to recipes just for the sake of it. I might use single cream once in a blue moon (for soups, to make them richer) but apart from that I don't use cream.
  • Instead of sour creme (or creme fraiche) for salad dressings I use yoghurt or buttermilk. If I am using creme fraiche it is only 5% fat (or the lightest version).
  • Use light/low fat dairy products when possible. If you are used to full fat cheese only, you can grate full fat cheese and low fat cheese (try 50/50) and combine in casseroles and any other cooking that requires cheese. Over time you can reduce the amount of full fat cheese without even noticing.
  • Bake instead of frying your food. I never fry food that can be baked (such as nut burgers and fish cakes/patties).
  • Always read the labels when food shopping. Don't be fooled by 'only 3% fat' for example. It often means that there is just that much more sugar in the product to hide any nasty taste (this especially applies to biscuits, packet sauces, cereals and more).
  • Same goes for 'sugar free'. Even though it is 'sugar free' doesn't mean the product is good for you. Beware of sweeteners and additives.
  • Instead of processed sugar use other types of sugars such as Rapadura (raw cane sugar), muscovado, demerara, date syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup, barley malt syrup, rice syrup and acacia honey. These natural sweeteners reach your blood stream much slower than processed sugar and will have retained some of their vitamins during processing (which the fully processed sugar does not). Agave nectar (the raw variety) is my preferred sweetener as it is very low on the glycemic index and superb in most baking.
  • Nut butters are absolutely superb in baking and I use them extensively instead of butter. I use peanut butter, tahini (sesame butter), cashew butter and hazelnut butter instead of traditional butter in my recipes. I love the taste and texture although if you are nut intolerant you will need to use alternative fats. Coconut oil (cold pressed and organic) and rapeseed oil are good options.
  • Dark chocolate contains less sugar than milk chocolate. I use dark chocolate (with raw cane sugar) in all my baking. It does contain some milk although if you are allergic to dairy you can always use darker chocolate with no dairy. I love the chocolate from Green & Black's and Rapunzel.