Jillian Bolger looks at the latest harvest of health-oriented cookbooks
Now that wheat, sugar and dairy have been called out in public as possible bad guys there's a huge interest in alternative diets. From the paleo or caveman diet to gluten intolerances and allergies we all know someone who's in the process of eating cleaner in the hope of seeing lifestyle gains. Maybe they want to enhance their performance in the gym or on the field, maybe they hope to boost their energy levels by cooking smarter or perhaps they're on a quest to lose weight or address a health concern like bloating, migraines or bad skin.
Everyone from the professional athlete to the Couch-to-5K candidate knows that nutrition should play as important a role in their fitness programme as regular training or weights sessions. Yet, unlike sports professionals, who have the benefits of personal trainers and nutritionists, most of us are on our own when it comes to eating right and understanding what's best for our bodies.
If you want to up your game or boost your PBs then it's time to grab one of these books, get back in the kitchen and stop leaving match and track day performances up to chance.
Food for the Fast Lane by Derval O'Rourke
The sell: "Recipes to power your body and mind."
It took an encounter with a nutritionist for Derval O'Rourke to realise that clean eating was as important to her athletic success as tough training. Learning how closely food was linked to well-being and performance she embarked on a journey of eating clean that delivered dramatically improved results and a passion for cooking. A three-time Olympian, her book opens with a seven-day food and fitness diary detailing her training week and how she fuels herself. From energy snacks to healthy lunches, dinners and treats this offers a good steer on improving your diet.
Best for: Inexperienced cooks who dream of creating nutritious, fuss-free recipes.
Three to try: Breakfast power cookies; Jogger's beef stew; Happy, healthy bread.
Cooking ability: None. Recipes are short, simple and easy to follow.
The verdict: A collection of easily achievable recipes that will complement a vigorous fitness regime. Gill & Macmillan, €22.99
Cut the Carbs! By Tori Haschka
The sell: "100 recipes to help you ditch white carbs and feel great."
Australian food writer Tori Haschka realised that while she loved comfort foods they didn't love her, leaving her sluggish, bloated and always hungry. By phasing out nutrient-poor white carbs like bread, potatoes, pasta and rice she discovered a healthier, more varied diet without banning carbs completely. Not interested in a brutal regime she has devised a collection of delicious and filling recipes that will help you gain energy, lose weight and keep it off.
Best for: Creative cooks who want tasty, energy boosting foods without the hardship.
Three to try: Feta, mint, lentil and pistachio omelette; Peach pulled-pork with dirty quinoa; Moroccan lamb and chickpea burgers.
Cooking ability: Confident. Recipes are ingredient-heavy so you'd want a full pantry and a little skill.
The verdict: A perfect way to phase out refined carbs without feeling you're missing out. Quadrille, €28.99.
The Paleo Diet by Daniel Green
The sell: "Food your body is designed to eat."
As a young overweight adult 20 years ago Daniel Green adopted the paleo diet before the concept was well known. Cutting out processed food and eschewing all grains, dairy, legumes and vegetable oils he dropped over four stone, felt great and had renewed energy. Using prehistoric man's diet as a blueprint for modern living might sound austere, but this book shows you how to create flavour-packed dishes using quality meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Each recipe is accompanied by nutritional information, and includes a calorie count. The principles of paleo are well explained within, including the encouraging note that you can cheat 20pc of the time and still see great results.
At worst Daniel suggests 100pc commitment for two weeks when you'll start to enjoy increased energy levels and feelings of well-being.
Best for: Fitness enthusiasts interested in complementing their training with effective nutrition.
Sample menu: Oat-free paleo porridge; Asian fusion crab cakes; Black olive pizza.
Cooking ability: Moderate. Recipes are short and uncomplicated with few ingredients.
The verdict: An attractive and accessible book for those contemplating a paleo lifestyle or for converts seeking fresh meal inspiration. Kyle, €21.50.
Natural Food Kitchen by Jordan Bourke
The sell: "Delicious, globally inspired recipes using only the best natural and seasonal produce."
London-based Irish chef Jordan Bourke, co-author of the brilliant Guilt-free Gourmet, is back with a fresh collection of wholesome recipes that are both colourful and exciting. Favouring seasonal produce and alternatives to the modern-day culprits of refined flour, dairy and sugarcane, this collection of 60 recipes aims to offer healthier dishes that don't compromise on taste or pleasure. The opening pages introduce us to cooking naturally, with a useful section on pantry essentials and the best alternatives to sugar, dairy and wheat. The recipes take you on a global tour of many classic dishes with a modern, healthier twist.
Best for: Food lovers who want to follow a more wholesome path.
Sample menu: Vietnamese crispy pancakes with dipping sauce; Pulled lamb shoulder with orange and cinnamon pilaf; Gnocchi with tomato, parsley and almonds
Cooking ability: Confident. Jordan's repertoire employs many different techniques and his recipes require a pantry stocked with eclectic and exotic ingredients.
The verdict: An exciting collection of dishes for adventurous cooks looking to make gradual changes to eating habits. RPS, €19.99.
The Extra Virgin Kitchen by Susan Jane White
The sell: "Recipes for wheat-free, sugar-free and dairy-free eating."
When 12-rounds of antibiotics failed to return an ill Susan Jane White to good health she turned to her diet for answers, embarking on a nutritional pilgrimage that ultimately delivered rude health, boundless energy and glowing skin. Eradicating energy-sapping ingredients like wheat, sugar and dairy from her diet the bubbly food writer trades in a currency of free-from recipes that promote good health while still tasting delicious. You'll need a trip to the health food store to get the most from this bestseller (launched back in February), but you're guaranteed great tasting results with a side order of increased energy into the bargain.
Best for: Confident cooks. Many recipes are time consuming and require specialist ingredients.
Three to try: Millet porridge with apple syrup; Fish fingers with beetroot ketchup; Blackberry tart with almond pastry
Cooking ability: Confident. Susan-Jane's techniques aren't overly cheffy, but many recipes feature long lists of ingredients.
The verdict: A great buy for those dealing with allergies, food intolerances or poor energy levels. Gill & Macmillan, €27.99.
Salad Love by Daniel Bez
The sell: "How to create a lunchtime salad every weekday, in 20 minutes or less."
Salads are for life, not just for summer - at least that's the message behind Daniel Bez's can-do book, created over three years at his desk! Determined to banish bland lunches the Italian food lover spent 20 minutes or less every day preparing a different salad in his office. Colleagues' interest led to him blogging about his efforts and three years on Salad Love has been published, featuring 260 different salads, one for every workday in the year. Broken into seasons, each dish strives to offer a colourful, flavourful meal that excites while filling you up. Occasional recipes require forward planning, like those using pre-cooked grains or roasted veg or meat, but most feature fresh, raw food.
Best for: Those bored with sambos who want to fit in their five-a-day with ease.
Three to try: Apple, broccoli, pak choi and almonds; Crabmeat, avocado, nori and cucumber; Cottage cheese, blueberries and spinach.
Cooking ability: None. The book declares that it's "not a cookbook" and complete novices will find it simple to follow.
The verdict: There's no nutritional information included but it offers a speedy and foolproof way to boost your greens intake. Quadrille, €24.50.
Low Carb Revolution by Annie Bell
The sell: "Comfort eating for good health."
When best-selling food writer Annie Bell lost her appetite she realised the only foods she could face were roast chicken and vegetable soup in small quantities. Inadvertently giving up starchy carbs over a time she saw her weight drop, mood lift and energy levels rise. Hooked, the passionate cook ditched bread, spuds, pasta and rice and began creating delicious recipes that she and others would really enjoy. This collection of 140 of her low carb recipes (each with nutritional data) includes inspired re-workings of traditional favourites and lives up to the promise of delivering comfort for good health.
Best for: Food lovers who want to lose weight without suffering. The delicious recipes are especially family-friendly.
Three to try: Broccoli and sundried tomato soup; Cottage pie with leek and cauliflower mash; Salmon pie with minted courgettes.
Cooking ability: Moderate - the recipes are very user-friendly and should appeal to all palates.
The verdict: A balanced collection of every-day dishes that will help you cut out carbs and drop pounds while boosting your energy.
Health & Living