Diet… the word that at one time or another has entered everyone’s life. And the word the whole concept of which is not just wrong, but also damaging to the way we perceive food. Our awareness of food should not be based on a concept of restricting diets, but should be built around a word “lifestyle”. The emphasis on the word lifestyle means that we are not talking about temporary change in your habits, but about a permanent change in your relationship with food that comes from understanding of how, what and why you eat. And, importantly, it’s not about quantity (calories), but about quality of food that you put into your body. Furthermore, because ‘lifestyle’ change in your relationship to food aims to permanently change the way we look at food, it is also a gradual process.
And while there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to the food, it is important to start from the basics of understanding how and what foods are made of and the resulting effect they have on our bodies and build on that. That famous phrase “you are what you eat” should be taken literally and emphasize the importance of what we put into our bodies.
I don’t think we would be having this discussion 20 years ago when there was no concept of supermarkets, fast food, easily accessible restaurants. I remember growing up food came in its natural form from the farmers markets, there was a distinct seasonality in what we consumed – for example, while fresh cucumbers and tomatoes were plentiful in the summer, winters were characterised by pickled versions of the above – and fresh items like bread or milk didn’t have a shelf life of months or even weeks! Basically what I am trying to say is that food back in the day was natural, farm to table concept.
Over the years both our lifestyles and the food industry have changed dramatically. Living busier lives, which often mean we are constantly on the move, has changed the way we interact with food. But an even bigger change has happened in the food industry as mass production, pesticides, antibiotics, preservatives, GMO, artificial flavour and colours entered the world of food. Terms like “low fat”, “diet”, “sugar-free” have invaded our lexicon and, mistakenly, became what health-conscious consumers focused on.
I don’t think anyone can be forced to make dramatic changes in how they nourish their bodies – it needs to come from within. There needs to be an understanding of why this change is required. And it is a process that takes place in small steps. But each small step brings noticeable results – and it is those results that will motivate you to continue moving forward and make bigger and bigger leaps forward.
I think a very good starting point, and an easy one to follow, is not eating anything artificial, anything that has an unrecognisable ingredient, anything highly processed. So start by looking at the ingredient list to find out what is in the food you are consuming and choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, those with real and recognisable ingredients. The next step can be to, where possible, replace packaged foods with homemade versions. But I know from personal experience that the second step takes time and effort. We cannot set ourselves targets that we know are impossible to achieve as the whole process may break down as a result. So tackle things step by step. And as you discover something new as you go along, it will motivate you to continue the gradual process of change in your relationship with food.
The hardest part of the day to tackle when we try and move away from processed foods is breakfast. Our society has grown so used to convenience of a quick bowl of cereal that we often dont know what else one can have for a quick breakfast if the box of cereal is taken away from us. Cereals however are full of refined sugars or carbohydrates and when we consume those, our digestive system breaks them down into a simple sugar called glucose that is then released into the bloodstream as a source of energy. When we eat high GI foods, sugar gets delivered in a short burst rather than over a span of a few hours (as is the case with low GI foods). As the glucose is released into our bloodstream, your pancreas releases insulin hormones. Insulin attaches to to receptors on your muscle and fat cells and prompts them to open up and receive the sugar (and either burn it or store it for later). Glucose can not be cleared from your blood stream without an adequate amount of insulin. Hence, when you eat high GI foods which release a high quick burst of sugar into your system, you need an equally high release of insulin. However, when you eat high GI foods often, your body may become ‘immune’ (resistant) to insulin release, resulting in high blood sugar levels. And this can in the end result in diabetes.
What I wanted to share with you below is a delicious (and nutritious) alternative to packaged cereals. This homemade granola is grain- dairy- and refined-sugar free and delivers a boost of energy through high protein and fat content. It is based on all natural ingredients and uses fruit (and an optional touch of maple syrup if you have a sweet tooth) and spices to bring a boost of flavour into the mix. Make a large batch over the weekend to last you and your family through the whole week and provide scrumptious breakfasts or snacks for everyone from kids to adults.
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Refined-sugar Free
1 cup almonds (or any other nuts of your choice), roughly chopped
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup quinoa flakes (can be replaced with gluten-free oats)
1 cup buckwheat groats
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup oats (optional; can be replaced with seeds of your choice)
2 tbps chia seeds
2 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
2 tbsp maple syrup (optional depending on the ripeness of your bananas)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of good quality salt
Optional extras (to be added after cooking):
dried fruit of choice (choose unsweetened ones or those sweetened just with apple juice)
If you have time, soak the nuts & seeds for 6 hours or overnight – in order to deactivate the enzyme inhibitors and make the nutrients more readily available – drain & wash.
In a small bowl together chia seeds with 2-3 times quantity of water. Mix and set aside. After about 5 minutes you will have thick plump mixture. If it looks too dry, add a little more water and let sit for a few more minutes. (This mixture will help create chunkier granola. You can skip this step though and go ahead without the addition of chia gel.)
In a blender, mix bananas with coconut oil, maple syrup, salt and cinnamon until you have a smooth paste.
In a large bowl mix all your dry ingredients (including soaked nuts), then add the banana mixture and chia gel and mix really well. The mix should look quite wet.
Spread the mix on a lined baking tray and cook in a preheated oven at 150 degrees Celsius for about 40-50 mins, turning the mixture after the initial 20 mins (trying to keep it in large chunks when flipping) and then keeping an eye on it and moving it around every 10 mins or so. You will have to make a judgement here on how brown and crispy you want your granola to be and bear in mind it can burn really quickly. So I would suggest keeping a close eye on it towards the second half of cooking.
Once the granola is nicely browned, take out of the oven and let it cool down completely before storing in an airtight container. At this point you can add optional extras. My favourite is cocoa nibs, but you can also add goji berries or dried fruit of your choice.
Enjoy! And remember: the closer we are to nature, the closer we are to health. Choices of lean organic meat and sustainable fish, fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts & seeds will always be superior to something that comes in a box, wrapper or can.