Transitioning to Paleo

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So you’ve heard about this paleo diet and want to give it a try, or perhaps a colleague at work has gone Paleo and is looking trim, or you’ve done the calorie-counting thing and are sick of losing and gaining the same 5 or 10 kilos and am ready to try something new and sustainable, like going paleo! Where to begin? You could take baby steps, or could plunge right in. Most people find it easier to make a gradual change, I know I did. Undoing decades of misinformation and ingrained beliefs about what is and isn’t supposed to be good for you can be stressful, so take it easy and try to enjoy the challenge.

Here are some painless steps towards transitioning to a paleo diet:

  • Switch from margarine to butter.
  • Instead of cooking with vegetable and seed oils, use coconut oil or ghee. I like Spiral Organic Coconut Oil from Woolworths as it doesn’t have strong coconut flavour. I have tried other coconut oils which make everything I cook taste of coconut, which gets old pretty quickly.
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  • Instead of store-bought salad dressings which contain unhealthy vegetable oils, make your own dressings with extra virgin olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado oil, and balsamic or wine vinegar.
  • Eat eggs for breakfast every day. Boiled, fried, scrambled, whatever. Boiled eggs make a great snack on the go. They’ll fill you up, provide protein and don’t omit the yolk! It is one of the most nutrient dense foods you can get.
  • Give up soft drinks (including diet drinks) and juice. Drink water or green tea instead.
  • Introduce more non-starchy vegetables into your meals. I like broccoli or spinach for breakfast.


Next step is going paleo one meal at a time. Breakfast is usually the hardest because most of the breakfast foods available at the supermarket contain grain and sugar. But it is easier if you stop thinking of breakfast as a time where you need to eat “breakfast foods”, and think of it as any other meal.

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The hardest thing to give up for most people is wheat, which is ubiquitous. When I mention I don’t eat wheat, people often ask “well, what do you eat then?” I say “meat, vegetables, fish, nuts, fruit.” Most people can’t contemplate a life without bread, but those who have given it up and feel terrific can’t contemplate a life with it.

You will need to be prepared and have paleo alternatives at the ready. I prefer not to give up something without knowing what I will eat in its place otherwise I am susceptible to making poor choices. At 1pm on a weekday, in a food court, when your stomach is grumbling and you have all of 30 minutes to locate, capture and digest your prey and walk back across the plains to rejoin your tribe is not the moment to decide that you are going to go paleo. Because there will be bread, wraps, pies, pasta, and pastry everywhere you look and it is going to get stressful.

On the other hand, if you are the type of person who doesn’t like to do things by halves, or are dealing with digestive or auto-immune issues and want to plunge head-first into strict paleo, check out the Whole 30 program. It is basically an elimination diet with a list of foods to eliminate for 30 days – no dairy, grains, sugar/sweeteners or soy. The Whole 30 is stricter than what most paleo-eaters follow on a day to day basis, but if you suspect you may have any undiagnosed food intolerances or IBS, the Whole30 can help you find out what foods are causing you grief. It also helps you to acclimatise to the spirit of paleo and to overcome sugar addictions by going cold turkey.

Check out our Whole30 compliant meals here.

Smoky Spiced Eggplant and Capsicum Bhurta

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One of the podcasts I loved to listen to was Vinnie Tortorich’s show ‘The Angriest Trainer’. It has, bar none, the best opening theme of any podcast I’ve heard. Whoever thought to include the horse sound effect is a genius. The irreverent Angriest Trainer, “trainer to the stars”, doesn’t eat sugar or grains and characterises himself as a carnivorous vegan, because his diet includes loads of vegetables and meat. Contrary to what mass media would have you believe, there is a huge emphasis on non-starchy vegetables among paleo eaters, because vegetables are nutrient-dense and satiating and everyone agrees that it is a good thing to eat more vegetables.

Today’s recipe is inspired by the eggplants which are bountiful at the moment. I prefer the round eggplants rather than the long thin variety which I have sometimes found to be bitter and seedy. A bhurta is a lightly fried mixture of mashed vegetables. This eggplant version goes very nicely with lamb dishes.

Smoky Eggplant and Capsicum Bhurta

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants (aubergines), cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 red capsicum, halved and deseeded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2cm knob of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • parsley, coriander or basil, finely chopped, to serve

Line a large baking tray with foil. Brush with 1T of olive oil. Place the eggplants and capsicum on the tray – skin side up – and cook under the grill (broiler) for about 20-25 minutes until the flesh is soft and the skin is charred. Depending on the size of your eggplants, they may need more time than the capsicum. They need to be cooked until very soft.

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Allow eggplants to cool slightly, then scoop out the flesh and discard the skin. Peel the skin off the capsicum and discard skin. Chop the eggplants and capsicum roughly.

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Heat the remaining 1T olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onion until soft and translucent. Add the ginger, garlic, tomatoes, spices, eggplant, capsicum, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve immediately, sprinkled with parsley, coriander or basil.

Introducing Go Paleo Granola

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One of my favourite products is our Go Paleo Granola, which comes in three varieties:

  • Cinnamon Nut
  • Macadamia & Plum and
  • Luxe.

Cinnamon Nut is the most basic version and the other two varieties are made using the same base as Cinnamon Nut but with different additions.

When we were coming up with our granola formula, the most important thing was that it be sugar-free and sweetener-free. Unlike most paleo granolas on the market, we do not add any honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, or any of the other myriad sugars out there. We figured that if you want your granola sweet, it’s easy to add a drizzle of honey yourself, but if you are watching your sugar and carb intake, ours is a sweetener-free option. The only added sugar is the in the dried cranberries in the Luxe Granola. As cranberries are naturally very tart, some sugar is added by the manufacturers, giving it around the same sugar content as raisins.

We started with sourcing the highest quality and freshest nuts we could find, using Australian pecans, macadamia and almonds. Our base formula includes a bunch of other nuts too, including hazelnuts for delicious flavour, brazil nuts for their selenium, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. The Luxe variety also has pistachios.

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Next, we looked at how to make the clusters of crunchiness which make our granola so delectable. We added some butter, not too much, which contributes a wonderful flavour. We figure that the lactose content in butter is very low so it would be suitable for most people. We also add cinnamon, nutmeg and a little salt for flavour, and ground flax seed for its nutritional benefits.

So which granola to choose? If you are strictly watching your carb intake, Cinnamon Nut is the one for you as it has no dried fruit. Next up the Macadamia & Plum containing dried plum which is the lowest sugar dried fruit we could find. The plum bits are nice and chewy, and this is a good option if you want some fruit but not too much. Finally our Luxe Granola, which is still very low in sugar and carbs in comparison with regular breakfast cereals and mueslis, but contains dried plums, raisins, goji berries and dried cranberries.

We love it for breakfast. Sprinkle granola over yogurt and berries, with a drizzle of honey if you want a bit of extra sweetness. Other things you could add are cocoa nibs and chia seeds.

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Variety on the Paleo Diet: Nose to tail and things in between

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Personally I found that since going paleo, the amount of variety in my diet has drastically increased. Pre-paleo, I was under the illusion that I was eating a variety of foods because wheat can be processed in so many different ways, but it turns out that on a typical day I could have been eating wheat in one form or another at every meal.

When one goes paleo, one is encouraged to seek out new forms of protein and vegetables to keep from getting bored. It does take a bit of effort and a sense of adventure to commit to a new vegetable, but I say feel the fear and do it anyway.

Foods I ate rarely (or never tried) until going paleo:

  1. Leaf amaranth (a leafy vegie similar to spinach)
  2. Cabbage
  3. Cauliflower
  4. Liver (lamb, calf, chicken and duck)
  5. Roasted pig’s head
  6. Black pudding/morcilla
  7. Berries
  8. Grapefruit
  9. Pig trotter
  10. Brussel Sprouts

A criticism often made against paleo is that it is expensive. Like any diet, it can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be. You can eat grass-fed eye fillet every day, or you could enjoy grass-fed mince, at a fraction of the cost. My favourite local chinese BBQ joint sells roast pig’s head for $2 per half a head. It has a bunch of crackling and head meat plus the bones make a delicious bone broth.

For vegetables, I get my asian greens from asian grocers where they go for 70 cents to a dollar per bunch. In addition to the usual suspects, you will see greens that you’ve never eaten before and don’t even know the names of. Wombok is another asian leafy vegetable, a great option as it lasts for ages in the fridge (unlike the other asian greens which go limp after a couple of days) with a nice sweet, mild flavour. This is my go-to recipe for asian greens which we will have at least 3 times a week.

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Easy and Quick Stir-Fried Asian Greens

1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
1 bunch choy sum or bok choy, washed to remove all grit and cut into manageable pieces (halves or thirds) and well drained
2 thin slices of ginger
1 clove garlic, smashed with the back of a knife
salt
Shao Hsing Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry, a wee splash (can be omitted if you are doing the Whole30)

Heat coconut oil in a wok. When oil starts smoking, add the ginger and garlic immediately followed by the choy sum or bok choy. Stir frequently to prevent the greens at the base from burning, add the wine and a little salt and cook until wilted (around 2-3 minutes). I like to cook it so that it retains a bit of crunch left in the stems.

Shao Hsing wine contains wheat so if you are gluten-intolerant, either skip the alcohol or use dry sherry.

What foods do you enjoy now, that you never ate before?

Green Smoothies 101

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So they look a bit like pond slime, but I confess to being a green smoothie convert. Formerly I was a member of the “I don’t drink my calories” brigade, but for the last couple of months I’ve been enjoying one every day and love how it keeps me full for ages. I am not much of a raw vegetable eater so it helps me get down a good portion of green leafy vegetables in a very convenient and quick way. If you are in a rush to get out the door but don’t want to skip breakfast because you know you’ll otherwise make unhealthy food choices in the paleo food desert that is the outside world, smoothies are your solution. Sip on one of these at every red light or on the train and you will be well nourished and set up for the day.

I am giving you my base green smoothie formula to which you can add your favourite fruits or whatever is in season. I don’t need my smoothies to be very sweet at all, they are packed with healthy vegetation and don’t contain a whole lot of fruit in comparison with normal smoothies.

Makes 2 large glasses.

It’s Easy Being Green Smoothie
Base ingredients
80g chia seed porridge – available here or make your own by soaking chia seeds overnight (1 part chia seeds to 7 parts water, by weight), or simply use 2 tablespoons chia seed
25g coconut milk or coconut cream
30g protein powder (I use whey protein isolate)
200g water and ice cubes (about 1/3 of the weight in ice cubes)
1/2 lebanese cucumber
60g spinach leaves, washed (about 3 handfuls)
1/4 avocado (optional)
+ the fruits below as per your preferred variation

Variation 1:
1/2 nectarine
1 passionfruit
1/2 kiwi fruit

Variation 2:
1/2 banana
1 mango cheek (frozen mangos work well too)
1/2 kiwi fruit

Variation 3:
1 cup frozen mixed berries (120g)
1/2 banana
1/2 kiwi fruit

Variation 4:
1/2 green apple
1/2 kiwi fruit
1/2 banana
1/2 nectarine

Blend all ingredients in a blender for 30 seconds or until smooth. I use an Omniblend which is a high speed blender similar to a Vitamix (but at a third of the price), but you could make green smoothies in any blender, you might need to process it a bit longer.

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  • Other ingredients which can be added for extra flavour include basil, mint, parsley, ground cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa powder (probably not all in the same smoothie).
  • It is fine to combine the ingredients the night before and blend it the next morning.
  • I don’t bother peeling the cucumber or kiwi fruit, just give them a good rinse. The kiwi hairs are not detectable in the smoothie.
  • If you want it a bit sweeter, add a couple drops of stevia, although I find including 1/2 a banana makes it plenty sweet.
  • Other possible substitutions are almond milk or coconut water for the water, yogurt for the coconut milk, baby kale &/or salad greens for the spinach.

PS. I was so impressed with the Omniblend that I signed up for their Affiliate program so you dear readers could score a discount if you buy one on the Omniblend site using the coupon code below.

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What are your favourite green smoothie combinations?

Why I Eat Paleo

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Welcome to Go Paleo’s inaugural blog post! This is a forum for exchanging ideas with you all about what it’s like eating paleo in a non-paleo world, sharing recipes, thoughts and discoveries about food and fitness.

I thought I’d kick things off by writing about the reasons why I started eating Paleo, which eventually led to my career change. My pre-Paleo life was centred around wheat and sugar. As a cake decorator, my job was to transform wheat, sugar, eggs and butter into elaborately iced creations, making chocolate fudge layer cakes iced with ganache and fondant icing topped with sugar figurines and lifelike flowers constructed petal by petal from sugarpaste. I was pretty good at it, I won prizes for my cakes and breads and taught classes. You can see some of my sweet creations here. Life without sugar was unimaginable.

But as I got further into my 30s, I could no longer rely on the metabolism of my youth, and found my pants getting steadily tighter. My husband (for it was happening to him too) and I referred to it as “the Thickening”. Others may refer to this phenomenon as “middle age spread”. And it was happening despite our generally active and healthy lifestyle (or so I thought at the time). Our diet was the standard “healthy” Western diet mixed with a good amount of Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and Italian food. Though we ate virtually no processed foods nor drank soft drinks, we did eat brown rice, noodles, white pasta and bread (sourdough, artisan, wholegrain) regularly and ate takeaway quite often.

I got sick of not liking what I saw in the mirror, and I was outgrowing my clothes. Shopping bores the hell out of me, and I dreaded the prospect of having to buy a whole new set of clothes. Then I remembered the adage, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” Mainstream media pushes the idea that you just need to exercise more, so it took me a long time to be convinced that abs are indeed made in the kitchen. I didn’t want to believe it before. I had wanted to believe that I could eat whatever I wanted, do a bit of exercise and all would be ok. Except that it wasn’t working. I liked to think that I lived in order to eat, and saw food as a source of pleasure and an end in itself. However, in order to regain my health and get lean and strong in the process, I had to reverse my whole philosophy and instead, eat to live. That is, to view food as nourishment and fuel.

So I learnt that abs are made in the kitchen, and that diet counts for 80% and exercise for 20%. This was a revelation to me. I changed my way of eating, trying various approaches (a dark period of my life which I shall refer to as the “Egg White Omelette Days”) before happening upon paleo nutrition. It made so much sense to me, and explained how modern humans have got it so wrong. I realised why we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic, and why metabolic syndrome and auto immune diseases are so prevalent. Animals in the wild stay lean and healthy without counting calories simply by eating their optimum diet (the foods they evolved to eat) and moving like wild animals (run only when you have to escape from a predator or hunt for food). You will never see obese animals in the wild, yet we and our pets grow fat on a diet of grain, sugar and inactivity.

So what changes have I noticed since going paleo? On the physical front, I have no trouble maintaining my goal body composition without starving myself or counting calories, I can fit into all my old clothes again, the acne on my back which I’ve had ever since puberty has disappeared, I no longer get canker sores or pimples, dry skin patches on my face have mostly disappeared, plus great things in the digestive health area which fall into the TMI category. Mentally, I no longer think about food all the time which is very liberating, have lots of energy, don’t feel the need to eat every couple of hours and don’t crave sugar anymore.

I must confess, I’m not a fan of the term “paleo diet” – it’s simply about eating real food. When people who haven’t heard of paleo ask me what it is, I end up mumbling something about cavemen and what grandmothers eat, without feeling like I’ve done a great job describing what paleo really is. But if you’ve found your way here, you probably know what paleo is, and already want to eat paleo.

If you are new to the paleo journey, welcome! It’s going to be an interesting ride, and you might want to check out some of the resources here. Also, The Primal Shift podcast, episodes 1 and 2 are especially helpful if you are beginning to dip your toes into this paleo thing.