A few weeks back, I was invited to talk to young mothers about how to cook healthily for kids and how to hide nutritious ingredients in their foods. A mother approached me afterwards and asked for advice for her own diet and some weight loss tips.
After having lived in Dubai with its very multi-cultured expat community for almost 10 years, it's plain to see that there is not one-fits-all diet advice. Different lifestyles, different foods, different habits (good or bad) have to be taken into calculation. Dietary adjustments have to be made within realistic limits in order to become a long-term change towards the better.
I suggested to write a food diary for a few days to get a general idea of what foods and food groups were eaten on a regular basis. I also think that writing down what you eat makes you more aware THAT you eat and eventually may lead to eating more consciously.
I am not a certified nutritionist. In fact, I realized that I hardly know how much I eat myself in terms of calories and carb/protein/fat percentage. Relying completely on whole foods, I let my hunger and appetite take the lead and eat until I am full. I have never counted calories in my life although I have a rough idea of how much calories are in most foods.
I am currently reading a lot about carb requirements for endurance athletes and protein requirements for muscle building. As you know, I am training for my 5th marathon (in fact, it's only a week to go to race day - I am tapering and have lots of time on my hands to read up about things....).
I have also started core and upper body strength training in the gym a few months back and wondered how I can complement this by diet.
General guidelines for the dietary composition for endurance athletes is 60% carbs, 15% protein and 25% fat. The guidelines for strength athletes are 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fat. The same composition is recommended for weight loss.
Out of curiosity, I started a food diary myself two days ago. With a mainly grain and sugar free diet, the composition of my diet is far from these recommendations. Obviously, the absence of starch influences the composition immensely. On my first day, my food intake added up to 42% carbs, 18% protein and 39% fat. On that day I went to the gym and did a slow 12k run in the evening. My pre-workout snacks made the carb percentage go up, as I had a banana and (grain-free) muffins. Yesterday, I had a rest day without any exercise. I ate 27% carbs, 23% protein and 50% fats. My snacks were various nuts. That obviously upped the fat intake and kept the carb intake low.
I seem to be doing well on a high fat/low carb diet despite all the running. Could I do better with more carbs? I wonder. My running started long before I omitted grains and sugar. My running has improved consistently. My training load has gone up slowly but steadily over the years as I got fitter and faster.
My body composition has changed since I stopped eating grains. Without actually losing more weight, I have become leaner. That in itself is an advantage in running. Body fat is dead weight that you have to carry around with you. The more you carry, the more it will make you fatigue earlier and subsequently slow you down in a race.
I will continue my food diary for a week. And with my marathon scheduled for next week Friday, I will throw my grain restrictions overboard for 2-3 days and carb load. I believe it can't do much damage, and in the best case help me get through my marathon with a new PB time that I have been training for.
My carb loading plan usually last 2.5 days and stops after lunch the day before the marathon. For dinner I would only eat soup or a salad. Something really light and hydrating at the same time, that you won't carry around with you the next morning when you line up at the start.
You may have noticed that I have been slightly infatuated with cauliflower lately. Here is another recipe, a soup made of roasted cauliflower. The roasting brings out its sweet mild taste. It's seasoned with rosemary that adds an earthy note, and sprinkled over with toasted hazelnuts. Everything tastes better with toasted hazelnuts, did you know that?
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH TOASTED HAZELNUTS
1 large head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 red onions, chopped
5-6 cups of chicken (non-vegetarian) or vegetable stock (for vegan version)
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup arugula leaves or other green leaves (optional), roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 220C/425F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread out the cauliflower florets, season with salt and sprinkle with some olive oil. Roast in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden.
Meanwhile, toast hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium low heat for 6-8 minutes, or
until skin starts peeling off. Take off the heat, let the nuts cool a little and rub off the skin as
soon as you can handle the nuts. Chop them roughly and set aside.
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Fry the onions until softened. Add the chopped potatoes and rosemary and cook for another few minutes. Add roasted cauliflower and stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over medium heat until potatoes are cooked. Remove from heat. Blend the soup until smooth.
Transfer soup into serving bowls, sprinkle with toasted chopped hazelnuts and arugula leaves. Serve immediately.