Make every food a super food
This January, forget expensive, hard-to-find ingredients and learn to maximise the nutritional benefits of everyday foods instead
Barely a fortnight into this new year of ours, and chances are that the detox has fallen by the wayside, and that dry January is looking a bit, well, damp. In the meantime, the clean-eating ship that everyone was so keen to board this time last year appears to have sailed. The concept first written about by Marian Burros in the New York Times in 1996 described a regimen whose followers were looking for something beyond organic, a way of eating designed to extract the maximum nutritional value from 'pure' food.
While extreme clean eating has fallen out of favour, what does appear to have made a comeback - if, in fact, it was ever out of fashion - is wholesome food cooked from scratch.
One person who is not surprised by this democratisation of better eating is Gareth Mullins, executive head chef at The Marker Hotel in Dublin's Grand Canal Dock. "I think the reason that a lot of people fall off the wagon," says Mullins, "is because they go after it too aggressively. In the hotel, I take the same approach that I do at home with my kids; using everyday vegetables rather than obscure ingredients, and preparing them in interesting ways."
In a recent TV demonstration, Mullins steamed three different seasonal greens - cavolo nero, kale and chard - with sea trout and, instead of a cream sauce, served the meal with a dressing of almond milk, coriander, coconut milk, lime and ginger made in a blender. "The Nutribullet is brilliant," he says. "Lots of people think they are just for making smoothies, but they are not. You can make great dressings and emulsify them without needing to use oil. And learning to blanch vegetables properly, the way we do in a restaurant kitchen, is a key skill."
Nutritional therapist Ola Mazurkiewicz of positivevitality.ie, says that the Irish propensity to over-cook vegetables results in the loss of nutritional benefits.
"My tip is to eat vegetables a little bit harder; after three minutes at high heat nutrients start to diminish. Alternatively, cook them slowly over a low heat, or use a slow cooker, which is a really useful piece of kitchen equipment.
"Everyday leafy greens such as spinach, kale and rocket are nutrient-rich and very low in calories, you can use them in smoothies and in salads and cooking. The cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower have been shown to have cancer-fighting properties.
"In general, I'm not a fan of following a strict diet, and I believe in listening to what our bodies tell us," she explains. "In winter, naturally, we want soups and stews, but even when it's not salad weather, it's a good idea to include some raw or fermented food in every meal.
"Two tablespoons of sauerkraut or kimchi is plenty; only a small quantity is required to get the benefits [encouraging good gut bacteria]. Raw food, salad for instance, is high in enzymes that are good for digestion and help with the extraction of nutrients from food. And eating a piece of raw fruit, particularly an apple, with a meal is another good idea to boost nutritional uptake."
When it comes to cooking oils, Mazurkiewicz is a fan of coconut oil, now available in all supermarkets and more keenly priced than it used to be. "It's a short-chain fatty acid that quickly converts to energy rather than being stored as fat and so supports weight loss. It's particularly good in desserts. Olive oil is good too, but I'm not a fan of rapeseed oil unless it is organic, as the pesticide residue is an issue."
As well as adding flavour and alleviating dietary boredom, Mazurkiewicz uses herbs and spices. "Some of my favourites are ginger, black pepper, and turmeric. They are a concentrated source of nutrients, have proven healing and anti-inflammatory effects, and add flavour too. I use lots of fresh basil, parsley and sage."
Mazurkiewicz tells her weight-loss clients to cut down on carbs and satisfy their appetites with healthy fats and protein. Mullins takes a more relaxed approach, advocating variety and experimentation. At The Marker, the hotel's Equilibrium menu is all about balance.
"In the bar, we offer a Nutribox lunch, which includes broth, salad, protein, and a small portion of Valrhona chocolate, and in the restaurant there's always a clear soup on the menu and a re-fuel salad - currently it's based on bitter leaves with apple and pomegranate," says Mullins.
"I put a lot of effort into making sure that the food tastes delicious - the problem with so much healthy food is that it doesn't.
"My sous chef challenged himself to be vegetarian and it opened up the world of fermented foods to us; we researched Japanese and Nordic techniques, and introduced kimchi and kefir.
"Eating locally and seasonally is a cliché, but if you make a conscious effort to eat seasonally you eat better as there are fewer fertilisers and pesticides. And we have the best grass-fed beef in the world; it's a true superfood."
At home, Mullins says that one of the simplest ways to improve nutrition is to have a bowl of seeds that have been roasted off in the oven ready to be added to everything from breakfast yoghurt to lunchtime salads. He suggests making simple granola with natural rather than refined sugar, and brown bread with traditional buttermilk, another fermented food. "Subtle changes are what make the difference," says Mullins.
What she's having...
Domini Kemp is co-author of The Ketogenic Kitchen and co-founder of Alchemy Juice Co
The five best everyday superfoods are eggs, avocadoes, oily fish, berries, garlic.
The more you cook most vegetables, the less nutritious they become, so trying to steam them is a good idea. But I find steaming a bore, so I blanch, and then sauté with garlic and butter plus a good pinch of salt. Some things are much more nutritious when soaked, especially grains and pulses. That said, it's vital to include protein and fat. Carbs may be delicious, but they are not essential. Proteins and fats are.
My go-to cooking oils: good- quality olive oil for everything. Butter for gentler cooking methods. Coconut oil for hotter temperatures. Duck fat is also great and can really withstand high temperatures and is also mega-tasty.
Yes yes yes to butter! Make it Irish and grass-fed.
Sweet potatoes have become the latest darling to have usurped the humble spud. But I eat a low-carb diet, so tend not to eat them often. That said, they are great for kids. Chop into wedges, douse in olive oil, add sweet paprika, and roast in the oven until tender.
Buy full-fat products. Eat simply. Eat whole foods and watch the condiments as they are often full of sugar.
I know you might feel "yawn, yawn" but I like my spiraliser. I like making a carbonara with courgettes.
My go-to brekkie is full-fat Greek yoghurt, chia seeds, a spoonful of apple sauce, and a few berries. Lunch? Soup is usually a good, safe option in most decent cafes. I add a splash of cream to filter coffee which I much prefer to milk-based coffees. Dinner? Lots of veg, made tasty with knobs of butter and sautéed with some garlic, and maybe some grilled fish or chicken.
For optimum nutrition, I'd exclude processed carbohydrates from every day eating. Some of them are delicious (bread and pasta) but I gain weight and spike my blood sugars just by looking at them, so they are no longer everyday foods for me.
I love fermented foods. Kefir and kimchi are fantastic. You could buy The Cultured Club by Dearbhla Reynolds which is full of fun ways to ferment.