Monday 24 March 2008
Eating well and staying trim....
It is possible. And without having to resort to odd dietary or lifestyle regimes, either.
As any 'foodie' must know, the challenge of enjoying good food as part of a daily routine sits uncomfortably with the process of maintaining control over the waistline - and over the decades regular recourse has been had in this household to various expedients in an effort to get rid of some of the excess pounds. The problem with all of them was firstly, that they were only ever departures from normal behaviour, and secondly that they were always deeply, deeply dull! And so, on both counts, unsustainable. Which is the problem in practice with pretty much all weight-loss initiatives - after a while, you heave a sigh of relief, return to your earlier habits and - surprise, surprise - any benefit you might have accrued dissipates before your very eyes.
The only way to balance eating well with having a physique which doesn't make you avoid full-length mirrors is to identify a dietary regime which is readily sustainable in the long term, and in which the food is interesting as well as being consistent with your dietary goals. And after several years of tinkering with it, I think I've largely got there.....
The current regime has grown out of the discovery of the low-carb Atkins concept, which I first encountered about ten years ago. At the time, I had a job which involved much time spent on planes, in airports and at hotels in different parts of the globe, as well as sitting in meetings and conference rooms and at corporate dining tables. It's a regime perfectly designed for chubbiness - no time for regular exercise, and constantly taking refuge in the sort of comfort-eating that follows on from tiredness, wrong time-zones, and people forever pushing the stuff at you! At home, in an effort to do something, I suggested reducing our normal three-course dinner habit to only two courses, but was met by dark muttering from the Technical Department along the lines of ' thin end of the wedge', and ....'the end of civilisation as we know it'. So, no luck, there...
At first sight, Atkins seemed wonderful: no prohibition or even limits on levels of consumption of meat, fish, eggs, cream, cheese.....eat as much as you like! When I first tried it, though, I followed the suggested menus that the Atkins people had devised - which was, frankly, rather challenging. With the best will in the World, the range of suggestions was pretty limited, and after a week of nothing but different kinds of grilled meat, accompanied by one green vegetable or another, the World was beginning to seem a rather boring place. But - the regime was clearly working. Demonstrably so. In which case, the way to proceed was to take the low-carb principle and apply it to a rather more sophisticated gastronomic palette than the Atkins people had done.
And so, over time, I did exactly that.
And the result is the following set of guidelines:
- Replace sugar with Splenda in your cooking. In things like sauces, where the sugar is providing only sweetness, and has no 'structural' work to do, this can be a complete substitution; and in baking, where the sugar has the dual role of sweetness and texture, then replace half of the prescribed amount of sugar with Splenda. (I'm not merely banging the drum for a branded product here - the fact is that at present Splenda is the only artificial sweetener I know of that retains its sweetness during cooking......if anybody knows of any others, I'd be happy to hear of them)
- Remove Potatoes from the menu entirely. They can easily be replaced with other vegetables - Turnip gratin, for example, is just as delicious, and much lower in carbohydrates than the Potato version; Purée of Broccoli with Parmesan and Garlic works just as well as mashed Potato, in many dishes; and in fact, puréed Cauliflower is almost indistinguishable from mashed Potato , even if you use it in something like Cottage Pie....
- Eschew bread in any form whatsoever. No exceptions.
- Replace Shortcrust or Puff pastry with Phyllo, which has only negligible flour content. (in fact, a few days ago, in making a Quince & Pear tart for dessert, I used Pâte Sablée, unusually, and found the result incongruously heavy; I've got too used to the crisp lightness of Phyllo tart shells in comparison....)
- Only serve pasta and risotto rarely (it's a bit of a challenge that one, but they're both carb-heavy; so neither of them more than once a fortnight, say)
- Avoid rice in general, and try not to use flour in any significant quantities (often, in desserts, you'll find that flour can be substituted with ground almonds, which are much more dietarily sound)
- Nothing deep-fried. And in general, use a light touch when cooking with Oil in any form.
- Temper the intake of alcohol; at the start of this year, we moved from a routine where drinks pre-, post and during dinner had been the norm to a routine where consumption of alcohol became something one positively chose to do on occasion, rather than the general default mode (it was surprisingly easy to do, and had a phenomenal effect! I'm now on the last hole on the belt in my jeans....)
And the end result of all of the above has been so successful, that it allows things like pasta, risotto, ice-cream, sorbet, biscuits and cake to make a welcome reappearance on the menu - as long as it's only irregularly, and doesn't become the thoughtless norm.
Having said all of which, I'm off to get on with Tonight's Dinner:
Individual Haddock Soufflés.
Passion Fruit Tarts.