In many ways the Paleo diet, when followed reasonably well, means you should no longer have to think about how much you eat. The food is all so nutrient dense and filling that in theory it should be difficult to eat too much. At first glance it seems pretty impossible to over eat vegetables, proteins and healthy fats. However, as with everything in life, human beings can over complicate anything. It can indeed be easy to eat too much fruit or avocados and some of the Paleo treats around can make it really easy to over eat foods that are very calorific, for example food made from nut flours or sweetened with dates.
These foods and most processed foods are known as being hyper-palatable which basically means they are just too yummy and easy to eat! In his new book 'Wired to Eat', the scientist and author Robb Wolf, explains how humans are actually 'wired' to overeat certain foods. Given the vast amount of food around us in the modern world, it can therefore actually be very tricky to eat sensibly. The underlying message that comes through in his book is that we need to understand our genetic make up, remove any sense of shame about this and be kind to ourselves about our innate tendency to overeat. This message of being gentle and kind to ourselves has also come through loud and clear in another book I chanced upon this month by the Nutritional Therapist and author Amelia Freer.
In her new book "Nourish and Glow: The Ten day plan", Amelia Freer has developed a new healthy eating pyramid called the Positive Nutrition Pyramid. This pyramid provides simple but highly effective guidance on what constitutes a balanced nutritious diet and can be used on a daily basis to track what you eat. There is now considerable evidence that tracking what you eat can help people lose weight and, more importantly, maintain that weight loss.
In her book, she explains that her advice is influenced by the Mediterranean diet which has a very good evidence base. She states that she doesn't eat many grains herself so there is a considerable crossover with the Paleo diet. What is so good about her pyramid is that it is indeed positive and the focus is very much on what you should eat to feel good rather than what you shouldn't! We are bombarded every day with immensely negative messages about what to avoid, deny or limit and this is such a refreshing change. She also addresses the emotional issues that can surround eating and provides sensible strategies to address this too. Interestingly, she acknowledges her advice is influenced by Gretchen Rubin who coincidentally Robb Wolf also cited as a key influence. I love when coincidences like this happen - it always makes me think I am on the right track!
The pyramid focuses on nuts/seeds; fats; complex carbs; proteins; fresh fruit; vegetables and drinks and her book provides advice on healthy portion sizes for each food group. This means anybody using the pyramid doesn't need to do any tedious weighing, tracking or calorie counting of food. Using the pyramid has made me more mindful of what I am eating and it is a daily reminder of what I actually 'need' to eat to function properly. Since following her advice I have naturally eaten a lot more vegetables, eaten more nuts and seeds, drunk a lot more water (and therefore a lot less coffee!) and eaten good amounts of protein. This in turn has meant I have naturally eaten a healthier amount of carbs and fats for myself right now. However, the important point is that using the pyramid means that on a daily basis I am now eating ALL the food groups I need to eat to feel good and I feel much better for doing this. There is nothing you can't eat but she advises that if you eat something that isn't on the pyramid (hello my son's packet of hoola hoops!) you simply acknowledge that it isn't part of the pyramid and then continue to focus on what remains in your pyramid for the rest of the day.
If you are interested in this method you can download this pyramid for free here. When I use it myself I also add in some boxes of my own to remind myself of healthy goals I want to do everyday. I decided to continue the positive approach and I have goals like 'go for a walk' and 'sit in the sunshine' (ha! not happened once!) rather than negative goals like 'spend less time on social media' (ahem) or 'eat less snacks'. You can buy her book and read more about the pyramid and the ten day plan here*. As a health researcher and as someone who loves nutrition I read a LOT about healthy eating but this book has particularly stood out for me. I have been running around talking about it to anybody who will listen (my poor husband and family!) and I thought it could be helpful for anybody else who gets overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice out there and just wants a simple, easy to manage guide on what to eat to feel good. I was drawn to the book when I saw Amelia Freer talk about the pyramid on Instagram Stories and that video is still available to watch on her Facebook page if you are interested. If you have any questions please feel to comment below or contact me via my social media pages. I will be happy to answer any questions I can
*Please note there are no affiliate links in this post, nor is it sponsored. I have linked to Amelia Freer's book as a courtesy to thank her for very graciously letting me use the image from her book for this blog post. It was really kind of her to do so.
Summer in Scotland. What can I say? It is fleeting. However, there is something about the utter unpredictability of a Scottish summer that means when it is sunny the Scots tend to really go for it and celebrate ("taps aff" often trends on Twitter).
A proper summers day inevitably includes ice cream and ice lollies and if you are sugar free then being able to join in with a healthier option is always a bonus. This is especially for young children who don't like to feel left out. My son has to be on a very low sugar gut-healing diet at the moment so I decided to make some sugar free and dairy free ice cream and ice lollies for him to try this year that would also have the added bonus of containing some of the foods that are very good for him right now.
These two recipes are very simple to make and taste pretty close to the real deal. They are also very healthy but keep that bit under your hat as children will then think there is some hidden green 'stuff' in there. The berries in the ice lollies contain a high amount of anti-oxidants and other phyto-nutrients. The coconut cream contains healthy fats plus caprylic acid which is very beneficial to all of us but particularly good for those who need to heal their gut. The sprinkles add zero value but they increased the chance of a 'buy in' from my son so pragmatism, as always, won the day.
The ice cream is also only sweetened with fruit. If you choose to add the collagen hydrolysate powder it adds some protein and makes it taste even creamier. Collagen hydrolysate has significant gut healing properties too.
These are perfect for the rare days when the paddling pool is out and the sprinkler is on but they will definitely cheer up those days when no "taps are aff" and the central heating is back on. Even when there is a hail storm. Yes, that happens.
I hope you enjoy them whatever the weather! x
Very Berry Ice Lollies
300g of any type of berries, fresh or frozen.
200g of coconut cream, yoghurt or milk (the tinned type of coconut milk)
1 to 3 teaspoons of Maple Syrup or honey to sweeten depending on taste.
Blend all the ingredients apart from the sprinkles using a blender or food processor
Pour into ice lolly moulds and freeze.
Once frozen and ready to eat, remove from moulds, soften a little and add the sprinkles.
Why are healthy fats so important for children?
A recent tabloid article berating mums for giving their children fish fingers and all the funny #solidaritea responses on social media made me cross, laugh and feel better about myself all at once. I know in many circles there is much pearl clutching about giving kids fish fingers. However, when you have a fussy eater to contend with, your life becomes a series of pragmatic decisions. This photograph is of my son aged 18 months eating fish fingers as this was one of the four meals he would eat at that time. Of course it would be better if your child happily ate mackerel pate but if you don't have a mackerel pate eating child then fish fingers do contain some omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Omega-3 and other healthy fats are indeed essential for children. These fats are crucial for brain growth and development, for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, and for lowering the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. Fat helps keep children feeling full, it helps with energy levels and as adults we know it just makes food taste better. Who can eat a baked potato without butter? These healthy fats are found in fish but also in nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut oil.
How to include healthy fats in your child's diet?
Getting kids to eat these foods can however be tricky and in some parent's cases (mine) a jaw clenching (literally) nightmare. So what can you do? If you have a child that is a good eater then it can be relatively easy to add them into your child's diet with or without fish fingers. Salmon and other oily fish are good straight-forward options, guacamole with vegetable sticks ticks the avocado box and you can add coconut oil to smoothies, soups and casseroles. Nuts and seeds can be added to home made energy bars and coconut yoghurt is a good option for a dessert.
And then we come to the children that the parents of the good eaters can't comprehend. These are the kids who treat every new food as if you have laced it with arsenic and think eating something 'mushy' like a casserole is a punishment worse than turning off the wi-fi. Soup isn't happening, smoothies are a no and handing over a bowl of guacamole would just be so ridiculous it isn't even worth attempting. The parents of these children know that it is a battle you lose three or four times a day. Every day.
Over the years, I have learnt that once you accept you can't win this battle and take a different approach you might have a chance of winning the war. I believe this means starting from where the child is at, working with them and accepting it is going to take baby steps whilst playing the long game. For me, this has meant accepting my child will not easily eat any new 'wet' food. I now always start with 'dry' food and then build upon it. My son has recently had to eat a lot more healthy fats due to healing gut issues. This is an ongoing process and it has taken a lot of trial and error but after a few weeks I have found the following foods and recipes have been successful ways to get healthy fats into his diet.
Stealth Ninja tips
I am still working hard to find more ideas and recipes to include a broader range of healthy fats. I still haven't worked out how to include avocado. Anything my son eats has to definitely not look green or be in anyway squishy which is a tough ask for an avocado but the Ninja in me will not give up. I hope you find some of these tips and recipes useful. Any other suggestions will be very gratefully received in the comments section below!
I tend not to talk about what I eat unless I really have to. I have always felt that what you eat is personal and should not be commented on or questioned too much. When you do have to say that you eat a Paleo diet most people are interested and ask questions politely. However, you do sometimes get a very skeptical response, often followed by comments such as Paleolithic man only lived to about the age of 20 and is therefore not the best role model. What do you do? Club them over the head and drag them to your plate of delicious food? Or just answer the question politely? So far, I have gone with the latter.
I am not surprised I get asked questions as the Paleo Diet is still not that well known in Scotland or the rest of the UK. If you google you get bizarre images of cavemen (weirdly, rarely cavewomen or cavekids) and lots of meat. It would be easy to think the Paleo Diet is a slab of raw meat with chicken wings as a side. It also seems to get jumbled up into the media- fuelled view that if you follow any diet that isn't traditional you are somehow a demanding snowflake who does so for attention. This media distortion is invariably backed up the medical community who repeatedly point out that only a tiny minority of people need to omit any food groups from the standard Western diet.
However, despite this prevailing view, there does seem to have been an enormous cultural shift and people are trying different ways of eating and realising that they feel much better for doing so. If you glance at any news stand you will see a vast range of magazines on health, super-foods, vegan diets, gluten and dairy-free and now also Paleo. In America and Australia in particular, Paleo cook books are often the best sellers and there are now a huge number of food companies selling Paleo friendly products.
The Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet really is just eating the simple, natural foods that our ancestors ate. This means eating foods that we are genetically adapted to eat and that we have evolved to eat over millions of years. This includes good quality meat, fish and eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
The traditional Paleo diet does exclude grains, starchy foods and dairy products. This seems like a tough ask but it is important to stress that a traditional Paleo diet is only a starting point from which you work out the that foods really work for you. Doing so is much easier if you can stick to a traditional Paleo diet for about a month. This is because it appears to be that when we repeatedly eat foods that we are actually intolerant to, our bodies have this unhelpful glitch of getting used to those foods and masking our true reaction to it. We often can't sense this true reaction until we go back to basics and do a 're-set'.
Changes in health
The results can be really surprising. It can transpire that you really do feel better when you cut out certain foods that you have eaten for years. Conversely, other foods are fine when you re-introduce them and of course you should continue eating them. For myself, I can't eat any gluten at all and I definitely feel better without dairy and sugar but I am fine with rice and potatoes and I can eat non gluten grains like corn in small amounts. My husband isn't intolerant to any foods but chooses to eat paleo (most of the time!) as he realised he just felt better. He is not alone in this. Many people report feeling better when they follow the Paleo Diet and there is growing scientific evidence that supports this way of eating. Ultimately though, I believe that everbody is unique and that there is not one diet or approach that fits all. Trying it out and then seeing how you feel is the best 'evidence-base' to rely upon.
NB: I didn't have to club my husband over the head to get him to change his diet. He did so voluntarily. Honest.
If you have any comments or questions about trying to eat this way please feel free to ask me below or contact me on social media via the links on this blog. I will be very happy to help.
Superhero Paleo Bread
My Paleo bread recipe meets my three requirements of a recipe. It tastes brilliant, it is very healthy AND simple. It is so simple that my nine year old son can easily make it. He hasn't of course eaten it yet but that is a whole other blog post!
I haven't, however, given up on him eating this particular recipe because it is perfect for school children as well as adults. The eggs and the seeds provide protein and the range of seeds also provide a whole range of other nutrients including calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E and selenium. This makes it especially good for bone function. The loaf also has a high level of healthy fats making it a perfect breakfast for brain function and for keeping you feeling full until lunchtime.
It is also my sort of cooking as you really do just throw everything in and it can't go wrong. I prefer it made with Kerrygold Butter as it is grass-fed (and tastes brilliant) but if you can't tolerate any dairy at all it also works perfectly with any of the fats listed below. It works with any fresh or dried herbs that you have to hand but I tend to make it with fresh rosemary because it is the one herb that I have in my garden that always survives whatever the Scottish weather has thrown at it!
My only tip with this recipe is not to put in too many pumpkin seeds as it then looks slightly green. However, if this happens you just tell your child it is called Hulk Bread instead...
Serves 8. Prep 10 minutes. Cooks in 55 minutes
200g of ground golden flaxseeds.
75 g of any other seeds i.e pumpkin, sunflower, etc.
25g of chia seeds
40g of melted butter (or melted ghee, coconut oil or butter)
1 teaspoon of gluten free baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary
125 ml of water.
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius/Gas Mark 6.
2. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.
3. Whisk the eggs, then add the oil of your choice.
4. In a separate bowl mix all the other ingredients together.
5. Thoroughly mix the two bowls together.
6. Pour the batter into a loaf tin, then bake in the oven for approximately 55 minutes until fully cooked.
“My theory is that all of Scottish Cuisine is based on a dare”. Mike Myers.
Mike Myers isn't wrong - it really can feel like that here. The Scottish diet is definitely 'unique'. Greasy pies, cheese with chips, cakes and sweets are everywhere. This pint of sausage rolls in a cinema café made me laugh but it reminded me for the millionth time that, whilst the UK as a whole is hardly a beacon of well-being, Scotland really can be off the scale. There is a bizarre cultural pride in our terrible diet too. I recently spotted a café menu which proudly detailed the Scottish provenance of the teacakes and the crisps.
Given this culture, trying to eat a Paleo diet does at first feel almost impossible. However, it really can be done! The Paleo diet is about eating fresh, unprocessed foods and Scotland has plenty of these. However, there are elements to the Paleo Diet that are still largely unknown here and that can feel daunting. Jumping from the pint of sausages to jars of almond butter is a bit of a leap!
So how to do it?
So, if you fancy ditching the pint of sausage rolls and want to feel so much better, try the Paleo diet one wee Scottish step at a time!
if you have any questions or would like me to write about a topic please do feel free to get in touch via the comments section below or via my social media. I will be happy to help if I can.