14 October 2009

Real food for real women

If you thought being a nutrition expert meant surviving on sprouts and celery sticks, think again. Three cappuccino-and wine-drinking dieticians, who enjoy their food, reveal all.

If you thought being a nutrition expert meant surviving on sprouts and celery sticks, think again. Three cappuccino-and wine-drinking dieticians, who enjoy their (healthy) food and indulge in chocolate now and then, reveal all.


Q&A with Shelly Meltzer, 44, who is head of the dietary practice associated with the Sports Science Institute of South Africa in Cape Town:

How do you eat healthily, but still keep it real?
I stick to these broad principles:

  • Variety. I apply the ‘colour crunch test’ when planning meals. My plate of food is colourful, with different textures and flavours.
  • Moderation. I don’t calorie count, but eat reasonable portions of everything, including protein, carbs, fruit and veg in every meal. I also include healthy fats judiciously.
  • Size it up. I don’t weigh food but I have a good idea of portion sizes and stick to them.
  • Fun. I love trying out different new foods, recipes and restaurants.
  • Simplicity and freshness. I focus on fresh food. For the rest, I read labels carefully, choosing the most ‘unadulterated’ foods – those with a short list of ingredients, which is a sign that they are not overly processed.

Do you drink alcohol? If so, what?
I enjoy a glass of red wine nearly every day and I occasionally have a G&T or a beer.

Is red meat really that bad?
No. It’s good for making sure you get your iron and protein, but choose lean cuts and don’t eat it every day.

What snacks do you always keep in your grocery cupboard?
Savoury foods such as pretzels, crackers, olives, dill cucumbers, marinated peppers and aubergines, bran or muesli rusks and biscotti. Also dark chocolate, dried fruit and biltong. I keep fresh fruit and yoghurt in the fridge, as well as hummus and cheese.

Do you buy organic food? If so, why?
Yes. I believe in the principles of organic produce and scientific evidence is emerging to support this.

What takeaway do you order when you don’t feel like cooking?
I love spicy food and curries, ranging from Thai to Indian, usually with chicken or legumes as protein. I also enjoy eating wraps and sushi.

Do you ever indulge in ‘forbidden’ foods?
The foods I consider ‘forbidden’ are those that might glow in the dark, such as pink sausages. I also consider artificial creams forbidden. And no, I don’t have any inclination to indulge in them at all!

What’s your special naughty treat?
Dark chocolate! Or lately the dark chocolate with chilli or orange added. If the chocolate is only for me, I buy the small Lindt slabs.

What was the smartest diet change you made after turning 40?
I cut back on fruit juice and included more fresh fruit and water. And I also became more conscious about eating calcium-rich foods and more fish.

What’s your exercise regime?
Daily walking or yoga. I also enjoy playing on the beach with beach bats and walking on Lion’s Head or Table Mountain is a weekend treat.

What are the biggest lifestyle and dietary mistakes that over-40 women make?
Going on diets that are too rigid.

Name your favourite foods that have anti-ageing benefits.
Berries and tomatoes – both are rich in antioxidants.

What’s your best nutrition advice in five words?
Colour, crunch and mindful portions.


Q&A with Gabi Steenkamp, 51, who is a dietician in private practice in Johannesburg. She is also a consultant to the food and pharmaceutical industries:

You’ve written eight books on diet and healthy eating. How do you manage to practise what you preach?
Putting the right foods in my shopping trolley is the first step to healthy eating. The next is factoring in time to make quick, simple, nutritious meals.

Take us grocery shopping with you – what will we find in your trolley?
Piles of fresh vegetables (at least three types for each day), salad vegetables, fresh fruit and nuts for snacks, low-fat milk and yoghurt, tuna in brine, skinless chicken breasts, pork fillet, ostrich steak and mince, omega-3-enriched eggs, low-GI seed breads, low-GI wheat-free rye breads, durum-wheat pasta, basmati rice, olive oil, canola oil, balsamic vinegar, low-fat cheese, flavoured and plain cottage cheese, shaved cold meats (such as ham, chicken and turkey), Provita, Peartizer and unflavoured sparkling water.

Is there anything you can’t resist?
Dark chocolate and a good red wine.

If you’ve indulged in some ‘forbidden foods’, what do you do for the next few days?
I start to compensate at the very next meal. For example, if I’ve had a portion of dessert, I’ll skip the next snack and the starch at my next meal, and try to keep the fat as low as possible without sacrificing flavour.

What takeaway do you order when you don’t feel like cooking?
Nando’s grilled chicken and salad with corn on the cob. Or a paper-thin wrap that is not full of mayo.

What is your favourite treat?
In winter, a cappuccino with froth and a small piece of good chocolate. In summer, my favourite is a sorbet or an iced coffee made with a shot of espresso, low-fat milk and lots of crushed ice.

What was the smartest diet change you made after turning 40?
Switching to salad at lunch. Lots of salad vegetables with a small portion of protein (boiled egg, shaved ham, tuna in brine, a little smoked chicken) and saving the starch for my tea after lunch (a low-GI rusk or muffin).

Sugar, salt and saturated fats are all regarded as bad news. Is there a healthy way to include them in your diet?
Yes – all in moderation. Eat no more than four teaspoons of sugar a day (including that in processed foods, desserts and cakes), animal-derived fats only once a day and a minimum of processed food to keep salt levels within reasonable limits.

If we took you to dinner, what would you order?
A salad starter and then a protein-based starter as my main course. Otherwise, a main dish with chicken or ostrich and extra veg or salad and no starch. Omitting the starch gives me the option of sharing a dessert with someone if I have the space.

I often only eat half the main meal and take the rest home for lunch the next day.

What mistake do you see over-40 women making with their diets?
Reducing their intake of vegetables, salad and fruit when these should be increased to make up at least half the volume of what you eat.


Q&A with Anne Till, 40, who is a dietician and the director of her Johannesburg-based practice, Anne Till and Associates:

What do you always make sure you have in your fridge?
Fruit (already chopped and peeled if necessary), vegetables (in abundance) and salad ingredients, cottage cheese, tuna, cold cooked chicken, yoghurt, low-fat milk and reduced-fat salad dressings.

What do you do to keep your diet varied and interesting?
I combine foods differently and prepare them differently, for example roasting instead of steaming butternut. I also mix other vegetables such as red onions, baby marrow, rosa tomatoes and patty pans – drizzled with balsamic glaze. I use a variety of flavourings such as lime juice, lemon juice, fresh rocket, basil and sweet-chilli sauce.

Is there any junk food you can’t resist?
No. I can resist it all.

What do you drink?
Water and coffee – and occasionally whisky with soda water and ice. If there’s a reason to celebrate, I would drink champagne although it would have to be worth drinking otherwise I’d give it a miss – there are too many calories in alcohol.

What indulgence do you allow yourself?
I love cappuccino and can even drink a large one if I haven’t had one for a while.

Is caffeine really that bad?
It’s not good in excess, but some studies have shown that coffee in moderation may be healthy.

What’s your exercise regime?
This is the area where I struggle the most – with three small children, running a business and doing a master’s degree, my days are really busy. I try to exercise three times a week. I love running, so I’ve joined a running group and have arranged Pilates classes twice a week.

What’s your best piece of nutrition advice?
Never give up trying to eat well, you’ll succeed eventually and the rewards are great.

What do you order at a restaurant?
Salad as a starter and fish as a main, or some other lean-protein option with vegetables. I don’t eat pasta if I can help it.

What are the best snacks for mid-life women?
Fruit, snack-type vegetables such as snap peas, rosa tomatoes, baby carrots and moderate amounts of nuts, such as cashews, almonds and macadamias.

What are your best anti-ageing foods?
Oily fish such as salmon and fresh produce such as fruit, vegetables and salads.

What do you think women over 40 can relax about?
Nothing, really. Our risk of chronic disease increases as we get older and we need to work that much harder at maintaining health and wellness.

How do you avoid weight gain?
I monitor the amount and quality of the food I eat and how often I eat. I also try to exercise as much as I can. In other words, I regulate my energy intake and increase energy expenditure through exercise. And I drink water.

(This is an edited version of an article by Gillian Warren-Brown as it appears in FEMINA magazine, May 2008. The current edition is on sale now.)


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