Thursday, 24 April 2014

Finding the Right Balance on a Paleo Diet...

Despite some popular beliefs, a paleo diet isn't just about eating all the meat that you can. For best results you need a careful balance of protein, veggies and starch...

When I first heard about the Paleo diet, I thought it was a diet with a green light to eat as much meat as you could - the stereotypical image of the caveman gnawing on a mammoth leg, or whatever. Paleo websites and forums also went on and on about bacon. It looked like they were all eating bacon for every meal - and for snacks inbetween. They ate saturated fat, nibbling the crispy fat from a crisp, grilled pork chop instead of cutting it off and leaving it on the side. It seemed to me, to be the best 'diet' in the world. 

But a Paleo diet is so much more than a 'high-meat' diet. In fact you don't need much meat in your diet at all. It's really important to find the right balance so you take in all the nutrients you need for health - after all - the Paleo diet is about returning to our natural - unprocessed - diet to optimise health. Have a look at this...

Veggies are important on Paleo, too

You don't need that much meat
I just finished an online Food and Nutrition course run by Open2Study (check them out, it's a great course) and found out that Mediterranean diets are currently considered the healthiest diets around, because there's an emphasis on vegetables, fruit and seafood. Meat - particularly red meat - is eaten just a little bit. And it's thought that studies show lower rates of heart disease and other illnesses - as well as lower incidences of obesity - for those eating the Mediterranean way. 

In fact, you just need around 50g protein each day. That's about the size of a small salmon fillet. Per day. Fill your plate with veggies and have a portion of meat, seafood or fish alongside. Remember too that coconut milk and some fruits like avocado contain protein, so you're already a little of the way there. You can always rotate your meals - fish for breakfast, meat for lunch, some vegetable and coconut milk soup for dinner. Don't get me wrong - I still think on the Paleo diet that meat is important - but I don't think you need as much as you think. 

The meat you do eat must be good quality
Sausages, bacon, black pudding - yes it's all protein-rich - but as we all know, there are dangers to eating too much in the way of processed meats. Take bacon, for example. It can contain a lot of salt - just a few smoked streaky bacon rashers can get you close to your recommended limit for the day. Paleo peeps also talk a lot about 'grass-fed' meats. This is because the meat is considered purer and contains more of the natural - and inflammation-reducing - omega 3 oils our ancestors would have eaten. There's also concern about the fats in lower quality meats - in that the toxins the animal absorbed through its lifetime are stored in the fats and so the more natural you get your meat the better. Plus, did Paleolithic Man ever pop out for a link of his butcher's best pork and leek sausages? I think it's unlikely.  

Nutritious Offal 
Yep. You can't be squeamish on Paleo. Don't tell me that after a kill Paleo Man would have cut off the leaner cuts of meat and thrown all the offal on the fire. Of course he didn't. And it's likely that he would also have eaten anything he could have got his hands on - bugs, worms, crickets - which is why protein-rich cricket flour seems to be doing the rounds on Paleo blogs at the moment. I'm not asking you to go foraging for bugs in your local woodland - far from it. But consider including organ meats and offal such as heart, kidneys and marrow in your diet. Liver is good too, and high in iron and vitamin A - but don't eat it too often - the human body needs only a small amount of vitamin A - any more and it's toxic. Best to limit yourself to a portion of liver - or liver containing foods like pâté - once a week. 

Fill your plate with veggies
Without veggies, you won't be getting decent amounts of micronutrients like vitamin C, beta carotene and folate.  And they give you fibre, too. These are all essential for good health. And don't forget that Paleolithic Man had to hunt for his meat. It's likely that when meat wasn't around he foraged and picked leaves, berries and root veggies too. And leafy greens can be rich in calcium - which you need, when you're not eating any dairy products. If the Paleo diet is the diet 'we evolved to eat' then veggies surely must play a large part in that, as without these nutrients we don't have good health. Simple as that. 

Starches are ok
The Paleo diet is often mistaken for a 'low-carb' diet. But this isn't exactly the case. When you go from a diet that's high in grains (pasta, bread, rice) to the Paleo diet where you don't eat any of these things, you're bound to start losing weight. Paleo has been compared in the press to the Atkins diet but Paleo eaters don't intentionally omit carboyhdrates. In fact, you need them for energy, and for helping to keep your blood sugars stable - remember you're not eating refined sugars, either. Root vegetables like turnips, swede, carrots, squash and sweet potato are all starchy veggies that are fine on Paleo. 

So there you have it. Paleo diets aren't just about tucking in to slow-cooked ribs, steaks and bacon. Vegetables and some natural starches are important for good health. And if you're nibbling on nothing but lamb chops and bacon - and excluding nutritious fruits, veggies and natural starches - then you might be missing the whole point of going on Paleo in the first place... 

Are you eating on Paleo? Do you find it difficult to maintain a healthy balance? 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Arepas Caffe, Friar Street, Reading

Authentic Venezuelan food, tucked away in Reading's town centre... 

We have a bus driver friend. And the other day he stopped me in the street. 'Have you seen the Venezuelan cafe in Reading? You've got to go, they have churros.' And if there's one way to get me to a restaurant, it's with the promise of churros.  

arepas caffe Reading

Arepas Caffe is at the end of Friar Street in Reading, round the corner from Primark and practically opposite Greyfriars church, across the traffic lights. They have a few tables and chairs - it's a small café - and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. On the wall are kids' drawings (that mine had to add to of course) and signs like 'Mi Casa es Tu Casa' (my house is your house) hung up on the walls.

reina arepa

You can have a glance at the menu on the wall behind the counter, but it's easier just to ask what they have that day. We chose a couple of arepas (where the name of the café comes from) - and chose to have them fried and stuffed with our choice of fillings. Arepas are made from cornflour and are light and crisp - served hot and filled with chicken, cheese, avocado, mayonnaise and garlic sauce. It was our favourite. We also asked for one filled with meat, cheese, beans and slices of fried plantain. It was good too - but we're suckers for a garlicky treat and the 'Reina' arepa just took the prize. 

arepa with beans, cheese and meat with fried plantains Venezuelan food

We also ate an empanada - filled with meat and cheese. I ordered this mostly out of curiosity to see how they differed from the empanadas I'd eaten in Argentina. And they differed quite a lot. Argentine empanadas are crisp and flaky, and made from pastry - whereas the Venezuelan ones are light and crisp - fluffy, even - and made from a similar corn-based dough to the arepas. 

Venezuelan empanadas carne y queso

But we couldn't leave without eating churros. After all, that was what had lured us there in the beginning. They were light and long - not as dense as the churros we ate in Argentina - but crisp, hot and delicious. You can choose to have them dusted with cinnamon sugar or served with a pot of melted chocolate. We asked for both. Naturally.


Prices are reasonable too - at £5 for each arrepa - but we didn't need to eat dinner that night, we were still full. That's value for money in my book.

It's so good to have proper, authentic Latin food in Reading's town centre, especially when at first glance the town looks like it's chocka with chain restaurants. People say that to me quite a lot when I say I live in Reading, as if the only choice is between Miller and Carter or Krispy Kreme. But the independent guys are all there if you look hard enough for them. And I promise, it's well worth it. Go on in and say hola.

Have you eaten at Arepas? What did you think? 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Garlic and Parsley Oven Fries

Posh oven chips. They're baked in the oven, with a drizzle of olive oil (or whatever type of fat you like) and then sprinkled with garlic, parsley and sea salt straight out of the oven. Lush. 

garlic and parsley chips

I've tried quite a few different types of potato for this and found Maris Piper and red, Rooster potatoes to be the best. And although you can use olive oil if you like, I've found that beef dripping results in beautiful, crisp fries. Or you could use coconut oil, or vegetable oil. 

This recipe can be made vegetarian and vegan (just use olive/vegetable oil), and also paleo (use beef dripping, coconut oil or duck fat). 

Garlic and Parsley Oven Fries
Serves 4
2 large Maris Piper potatoes, scrubbed and washed well, with the skin left on
1-2 tsp oil or fat (I use either olive oil or beef dripping)
1-2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
a handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
sea salt

Heat the oven to gas mark 6/200ºC. Cut the potatoes into fries, leaving the skin on. Make sure they're all about the same width so they cook evenly. 

Slide a shallow baking or roasting tray in the oven to heat up, with 2 tsp of your chosen fat. Once warmed - a couple of minutes will do - throw in the fries in one even layer and sprinkle with a little salt, coating them in the oil. 

Cook in the oven for 25 minutes, or until crisp and sizzling. 

When ready, take them out and scatter the garlic and parsley over the fries, shaking the tray and allowing it to warm through in the residual heat. Sprinkle with a little more sea salt if needed and serve straight away. 


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