When the pile of healthy eating/diet/Banting/superfood cookbooks on my study table threatened to keel over, it was clearly time to tackle the range of diets they recommended. Looking back over my decades as a food writer, I lived through a fair number of diets, fads, claims and crazes, good, bad and indifferent, some of them extreme. They came, they flourished, then faded while most sensible people carried on eating moderate portions of a good, varied diet to maintain good health. Of them all, I have always fancied the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle worth following.
I recall the Mayo Clinic diet that seemed heavy on hard-boiled eggs and grapefruit, with halitosis a common side effect. Then the sugar scare where everyone – not just those overweight - tried to cut out sugar completely and the Sugar Board spent much time and money on telling South Africans that sugar was OK – it offered energy and had been eaten by humans for many centuries.
The salt scare was next, and as people struggled to enjoy their meals without salt, pretending that crushed dried herbs made a good substitute, others guiltily dropped salt into their vegetable water while cooking even if they left the salt cellar off the table. Butter became an enemy when the focus switched to cholesterol and margarine manufacturers scored big time. (Butter, now unaffordable to most, is now a Banting hero.) How many remember the grape diet which had followers crunching on pips, skins and even leaves off the vine, to be replaced by the avocado diet, which pleased the marketing staff of that particular board no end. And so it went, although none of those has probably had the same influence as the so-called Banting diet of recent years.
With the increase in diabetes among South Africans, a low-carb diet seems to be most beneficial for sufferers, with Vickie de Beer’s family - as reported in her cookbook – offering impressive proof . For those who are over-weight because they eat too much and the wrong food, the jury is still out... But here are some recent titles in our bookshops for readers, cooks and slimmers to digest and compare.
MY LOW CARB KITCHEN by Vickie de Beer. Published by Quivertree, Cape Town and also available in Afrikaans.
Vickie is an experienced, professional and popular food writer among both English and Afrikaans readers. Nine years ago her eight-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a potentially life-threatening condition. His parents followed the advice of both doctors and dietitians, putting him on a low-GI wholegrain diet, with some success but when Vickie read Tim Noakes’ first diet book, The Real Meal Revolution and complemented this with articles by an American physician, the family changed their diet to one of low- carb food, sans all starches, sugars, processed and refined wheat products and processed foods. The results were impressive as their son responded positively, and she reports that the whole family has benefitted on every level, from mood to sleep patterns, energy levels, digestion and improved concentration. She offers advice on how to achieve this major change of diet, replacing carbohydrate foods with proteins, fats and fibrous vegetables. No more takeaways, ready made supermarkets foods, cook- in sauces and pre-mixes, but plenty of full cream yoghurts, cheese, butter... she offers a weekly meal plan, a supermarket shopping list, and suggests weaning the family off sweetness rather than indulging in artificial sweeteners. The recipes are often aimed to produce leftovers - roast two chickens at a time – for busy weekday suppers, while bolognaise recipes feature extra veggies, and form the base of cottage pie (topped with cooked mashed cauliflower), crustless quiches, or moussaka. Almond flour and ground sunflower seeds substitute wheat flour in pastry.
School lunches proved a challenge – but there is a delicious section of alternatives to sandwiches and packet chips. In all this is an exceptional cookbook for families coping with a diabetic where the experience of the de Beer family is sure to help and inspire .
500 low-carb dishes by Deborah Gray. Published by Struik Lifestyle.
This series of small, fat 500 -recipe compendium is both successful and very useful, no matter what subject they cover. The basic recipes, plus a number of variations offers the cook more choice than found in conventional cookbooks. I have always found the recipes to be of a high standard and those in this title are no exception. They have been designed for a low-calorie/ low-carbohydrate diet and aim to show that it’s not difficult to eat healthy, easily- prepared and tasty food without having to resort to faddy foodstuff or strange concoctions that usually cause dieters to abandon their diets pretty rapidly.
Calorie and carbohydrate counts are given for every recipe. Sugar is regarded as the main culprit behind the increase in obesity around the world – these recipes contain little or no-added sugar and a few of the dessert recipes use sugar replacements. Fats have been cut to a minimum in this collection to reduce calorie counts, unlike in Banting recipes, and portion sizes are recommended ( which I regard as so important, but often neglected). From breakfasts to sweet treats these well illustrated suggestions present a wealth of appetising choices for early starts, packed lunches, skinny snacks and complete meals.
THE MIDLIFE KITCHEN by Mimi Spencer and Sam Rice, published by Mitchell Beazley, London, 2017.
I approached this book with some scepticism partly because the two authors, featured on the front cover, look far too young to know what those from 50 to 70- plus want from the kitchen. But I’m happy to admit that this is an intriguing collection of recipes for senior readers ready to change culinary direction and eat fare that helps meet the changing needs of elderly bodies. I learnt a new word from the introduction: “nutri-epigenetics” which has become a major focus of scientific enquiry, as certain vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals have found to be powerful potentials for reducing the risk of age-related disease.
Many older people are cutting their meat intake, lowering consumption of processed food, eating consciously to protect their bodies and the environment. This book, say the authors capitalises on this process, often inspired by the culinary traditions of Bali, Japan, Peru, India and the Mediterranean, all of which have long acknowledged the symbiosis between health and nutrition. We apparently need a lean protein, moderate amount of slow-burn carbohydrates, plenty of gut-friendly probiotics, green leafy veg and legumes. The book aims to make these as tasty as possible.
An unusual rating is the use of a star anise logo where each petal is a different colour, and each colour represents a health factor such as digestive health, energy boosting, bone and joint health, heart health, mind, memory and mood etc. Recipes are rated accordingly.The recommended ingredients in the midlife larder include a wide choice of fruit, vegetables, fresh herbs grains, nuts and seeds. Only yoghurt and eggs in the dairy slot, only olive oil in the cupboard, and dark chocolate makes the list.
The recipes open with recommended mixes of spices, raw seeds, granola, dukkah , salad dressing, curry paste, a sugar-free sweetener and more. These are frequently used ingredients in the recipes that follow. Some recipes will take readers aback, others are familiar enough: Take the breakfast section – a yoghurt topped with citrus segments and pistachios, sweetened with a little honey and spiced with a few saffron threads will tempt western palates. An oriental option suggests a dish of sweet and salty Balinese black rice, cooked in coconut mil, sweetened with date syrup and finished with the addition of seasonal fruit.
You will find seafood and chicken in the main course section but red meat is very scarce. Sugar makes a rare appearance. This hardback is well illustrated and is as appetising as it is informative.
JUMP ON THE BANT WAGON by Nick Charlie Key published by Human & Rousseau, 2017. Also available in Afrikaans.
A self-explanatory title and one on which first-time cookbook writer, regular blogger and Banting devotee Key expands as he shares 90 recipes that are low in carbs, gluten- and sugar-free and aimed at those on a budget. He lost 22kg on this diet after getting a wake-up call from his doctor reporting high insulin levels. He was 29. He also reports other health benefits,
The recipes will appeal to those who enjoy snack fare and fast food as Key has spent time creating equivalents that follow Banting principles. Think onion rings with sour cream dip, garlic butter prawns, sweet potato nachos, cauliflower ‘pizza’ bases, ‘burgers’, tacos and crustless quiches. He uses xylitol extensively in his desserts and bakes and almond and coconut flour instead of wheat flour.
The subtitle proclaims “Quick and easy on a tight budget “ – I find little evidence of low-cost ingredients in his recipes – just the opposite in most cases.
DELICIOUS LOW CARB by Sally-Ann Creed, published by Human & Rousseau, 2017.
The writer first leapt into prominence as a co-author of The Real Meal Revolution which started the Banting diet craze and the hullabaloo between Prof Tim Noakes and his detractors.
This new collection of low-carb, gluten-free, sugar-free recipes offer those already on a LCHF diet further culinary choices, It combines eye appeal with all the dishes that most families cook, including sauces and trendy pestos from ingredients like nasturtium leaves. Pizza and quiche bases from coconut flour resemble traditional wheat flour ones. There’s a baby potato salad – surprise! – as she says our gut flora need resistant starch now and then.
Creed seems to concentrate on Banting-style versions of those goodies that most families love, therefore are hard to give up – finger foods,breads and pizzas , snacks, cakes cookies and desserts. There are also chapters with soups, breakfast, and main courses, and sides (which seems the preferred term today for veggies and salads). I think that nutritionists are focussing on making items like bread and pastry resemble traditional flour recipes, both in appearance and taste. Some of the early Banting loaves tasted pretty awful and were a (pricy) pain to make
iIn her introduction she relates how this diet enabled her to give up the numerous medicines she had been taking for chronic asthma. Her other culinary titles, also recommend banning sugar, seed oils, margarine and microwave cooking . In one cookbook she bans all grains as they “...have a devastating effect on the intestines and digestive system in general... fattening, make you sluggish and lethargic...” all of which is unlikely to go down well with a few billion Asians who consume rice twice daily.
Creed describes herself as a FINT or Functional Integrative Nutritional Therapist, which – dare I say this – I find somewhat over the top. However, as a successful clinical nutritionist in private practice, she finds joy in “seeing lives changed daily”.
HOW TO EAT BETTER by James Wong, published by Mitchell Beazley, London, 2017.
It’s taken a cookbook written by a Kew-trained botanist, science writer and broadcaster to really tickle my tastebuds. Wong’s obsession with food equals his love of plants, which has seen him present BBC programmes like Grow Your Own Drugs and publish best-sellers on similar subjects.
He maintains that the recent advice to ban everyday foods like wheat, dairy and potatoe -, in fact most affordable staples - is not the only way to eat and be healthy. He focuses on careful selection, storage and cooking of your ingredients which can make a huge difference to the nutritional value they yield. And he stays with the more traditional advice that eating lots of fruit, veg, and whole grains, and going easy on the red meat, fat and sugar, are the best ways to go.
Some of his advice we have known about for some time – don’t refrigerate tomatoes, and cook them to get more nutritional benefit. Cooking also does this for carrots, squash and sweet potato. Avoid processed foods, favour organic, local and seasonal produce.
When faced with the current insistence that we should all switch to a low-carb regime, Wong gently points out that diets based on complex carbohydrates pre-date the modern rise of diseases like obesity and diabetes by tens of thousands of years. In fact the total portion of carbs in many diets has actually fallen in recent years. And, very simply, all human civilisations evolved eating carbo-rich foods, grains especially, as their key energy source because these crops yield maximum calories per minimum land areas.
Starting with vegetables Wong deals with the health benefits of each, tells us how to store them and cook them for maximum benefits. Which of the cabbage family for example, offers the ability to stop call-damaging free radicals that associated with developing cancer?
Cooking tomatoes more than doubles the quantity of bright red lycopene in the fruit, also making it easier for us to absorb this antioxidant which is thought to lower risk of stomach and lung cancers. Good to see fruit praised after reading Banting books, such as bananas (“enjoy in all the ways you know and love”) but also trying cooking green bananas (a recipe for Singaporean green banana curry follows.) Grains and pulses follow, along with discussions on the benefits of various teas, coffee, chocolate and alcohol. How to make any food a superfood is the claim on the front cover of this hardback. Living in a country like ours, with abundant sunshine that allows us to produce so much of our foodstuffs locally makes his advice that much easier to follow.