It’s at the start of the new year, that I, like most people, are forced to confront and overhaul my eating habits that have suffered the inexorable slide culminating in Christmas and New Year.
A little focused effort is required, to reorient my priorities, and try and reverse the spread of the preceding few months, and re-up my commitment to eating better.
So. Eating better. In all its facets. I want to perhaps shed a few of the winter pounds put down purely for insulation you understand, but need to reaffirm a sustainable eating practice that’s not just a crash diet followed by repeated failure and ever widening waist-bands. I often think that the hardest job in the world must be writing for Men’s Health, or something like that. The agonising search for novel ways to spin ‘eat less, move more’ into 200 pages a month with excitement seems all but impossible to me. But anyway. I’ll touch on this, but lest I get drawn too far into the weeds, let me start by saying, I’m not trained in any way, I’m an autodidact about nutrition, and I’m patently aware of the vitriol that discussion on this subject can precipitate. For proof of this, just search through YouTube videos about nutrition and exercise, and witness the least auspicious, least suspected, but potentially most brutal arena of violence, that is the YouTube comments system following nutritional videos: Like Road Rage, people go from calm to incandescent rage in nanoseconds, and communicate it freely if all danger of being punched is removed. It really is a cesspool of violent words. So. This is not meant to engender too strong feelings in people, this is just what works for me. Do your own reading.
So January. I try to slim down a bit. I know to do this, I have to cut back on calories, and the way that works best for me, is to cut back on carbs and sugar. (Obviously bringing calorie in-take below calorie expenditure works in and of itself, and I’ll leave other people to debate whether there’s any ancillary benefit to reducing carb and sugar insulin spikes.) So fewer carbs and less sugar works for me. Tick. I do this by upping my protein consumption, with the benefit that protein also takes considerably more calories to digest than carbs, so I get a little bump there too. This year, I’ve added a little intermittent fasting into the mix too, which in fairness was pretty easy. I only eat breakfast 2 or 3 times a week anyway, but I always have my morning Cappuccino. So going from a 12 hour fasted state, ( 7pm to 7am ) to an 18 hour fasted state (7pm - 1pm) actually only involved switching my cappuccino for an espresso. I haven’t run any tests, and my evidence is subjective and anecdotal, but I feel better, and the weight loss seems to be running smoother and faster than ‘normal.’ Perhaps the combination of lower carbs, with some intermittent fasting works in a superior manner for me. Finally, there are claims that intermittent fasting helps regenerate senescent cells, and actually keeps us healthier, and younger. It seems, living in times of opulence and three-meal-a-day calorie surplus, encourages ageing and degeneration; a little period of calorie insufficiency encourages our bodies to slow down their efforts to shuffle us off this mortal coil. However, I’m imperfect, and human. I still want to eat well and make the periods I’m being good as pleasant as possible; the longer I stick to it, the better my results. So, to smooth my path, I make sure the food I do eat is wonderfully tasty, and the other secret to winning is to cheat. I give myself cheats, and ‘passes’ when I really fancy something, and the other benefit is you don’t become a social pariah who can’t go to dinner at someone’s house, or can’t enjoy a meal out, because you’re carb free.
So I cheat. I have a milky cappuccino on weekends, and I have a hearty carb-rich breakfast. And at least 2 or 3 cheat meals a week. So, I need a combination of foods, I need amazing high protein food that tastes sensational. I want the very finest meat and fish available, and I need some good healthy easy meals that are low carb and low calorie, that don’t taste so awful that I fall off the wagon and reach for the Deliveroo app. Hence, “Fine foods,” AND “Healthy Eating.” Here are my absolute favourites, the zenith of luxury and healthy eating.
I have a long history with Dukeshill before I came to write this article, I just didn’t know it. One year, I gave my grandfather a Roast Ham from Fortnum & Mason, and he said it was the best he had ever had. It became a staple for him, and only after a few presentations did I enquire from where Fortnum's had sourced it. As I came to write this, they came to mind again, and I was lucky enough to be reminded why their Hams are definitive. They’re the finest my grandfather ever had, and they’re the finest I’ve ever had. But beyond that, they hold the Royal Warrant to supply HM The Queen, so it’s no great leap to suppose that perhaps they’re the finest the Queen’s ever had too. What more can you say to follow ‘Royal Warrant’? They’re flavourful and moist, they’re incredibly moreish as well, fine, without being overly rich, tasty without ever being sickly. And you can roast half with a honey glaze, and leave the other half in the fridge to be greedily grazed upon, as we did, for the full Christmas fortnight. But their talents and refinements aren’t confined to Ham; they’re a full butchery, delivering to your door, some of the finest meat I’ve ever eaten. Their Rib of beef is an astonishing cut of meat, that leapt off the plate with juicy flavour. We cooked it over fire, really the only way to treat a cut as special as this, and it’s a truly impressive centrepiece to any occasion. They provide year-round hampers, chocked full of their cheeses, meat, bacon, wine and pantry treats. Finally, the preparation and packing of the orders is really second to none. Everything arrived beautifully sealed in sturdy packs, lined with impressive temperature regulating materials, and cornered by Ice packs, and there’s a lovely little note telling you who picked and packed it. In a time of homogenous things, this care and attention to detail is a stand-out. In fact, the entirety of the experience was as premium as can be, and commensurate with the quality of their produce. If you feel me straining for superlative adjectives, you're absolutely right, they’re that good.
Smoke and Cure are a wonderful establishment. Smoking and Curing done in London, well that seems oxymoronic doesn’t it, surely you need space, countryside, perhaps even a beach? I don’t know how they do it, but this small outfit operates out of a former 1900s horse stable in Streatham, hanging their hat on quality and sustainability. Founded in 2015 by Ross Mitchell, and quickly joined by Jamie Beevor, they’ve hoovered up multiple awards in 6 short years, and it’s not hard to see why. Their bacon is thick cut, rich, slightly sweet and with a smoky punch, befitting of the brand’s name. In fact, all the smoked meats and air-dried charcuterie I tried were very high on the richness of taste scale. It’s this sort of high-quality produce that makes going back to anything less a really galling experience that I’m trying feverishly to avoid. The attention to detail, and passion these guys are putting into their products really shines through, though their strong flavours aren’t for the bashful. Furthermore, they seem to be implementing enviable CSR, maintaining an eye on short supply chains, sustainability, and small producers of all kinds. It’s artisan down to its roots. (Their insulating and fully recyclable packaging was the best I’ve seen, and a lovely initial introduction to this very fine brand, gets you off on the right foot). My final word on these masters, must be to say you should try everything they make, but if for some reason you get but one chance, their Smoked Salmon was practically a transcendent religious experience for me. It’s thick cut and sashimi grade, and somehow is strong and delicate at the same time. It stands waist, chest, shoulders and heads above anything else I’ve tried.
izi’s make delicious breakfast cereals that are so good, you’ll be double-checking the packaging to check for MSG, or some other chemical trickery. But there’s nothing sinful, it’s all good healthy worthy fresh stuff. Carbs and breakfast are on my daily denial list, but the only way to maintain the plan, is to cheat every now and again, (weekends) and when I do go for a hearty breakfast, this is what I reach for. In fact, usually come Wednesday morning, I’m already thinking of my Saturday morning Granola. This is not to say that it’s decadent, it’s not, it’s healthy, it’s just so good, so crunchy and tasty, that I find anything less than half a box leaves me wanting more. I like to eat this till my jaw aches, and it’s just easier to save it for treats. For those less ridiculous than me, this could be your everyday start. They do a huge variety of cereals, there’s something for everyone: 4 mueslis, a strawberry, and a banana crispy cereal, and 10 Granola blends. The standout to me is the high protein variant (plant-based) that packs in 17grams of protein per 100 grams. This could really work well as a pre/post gym meal.
I use a protein shake any time I feel like I haven’t hit my daily protein requirements, if I’m being especially calorie restrictive one day, or if I just need a quick meal replacement or supplement. I’ve found that once you get into the top tiers of protein, the great brands that aren’t full of fillers and cheap ingredients to pack out powders and maximise profits, you’re mostly in roughly equal and safe hands nutritionally. There are plenty to be found that are low carb, low sugar, simple mixes. The ‘choosing-a-protein-arms-race’ then, once we’re in this top tier, comes down to a couple of factors for me; comfort, (some powders really bloat you,) and then the primary decisive factor for me is taste. Kin ticks all the boxes required of a top tier supplement; there’s plenty of choice of flavours, plenty of vegan options, whey options, and they formulated it to be gut friendly. They’re simple (their vegan protein contains just 6 ingredients,) and they source all their ingredients from UK and European farmers, producing a really smooth drink. But here’s the kicker; they’re more like milkshakes than protein shakes, the Vanilla whey shake particularly has my mouth watering as I type this. (There are a variety of interesting flavours for the adventurous, including Coconut, Blueberry, Choc Mint and Cookies and Cream). You’ll fall off the health wagon way too rapidly if the food you're eating is unpalatable, hence my joy at discovering Kin. I actually look forward to a shake, it’s a treat not a sacrifice, and I have to restrain myself sometimes… though with 125 calories per serving, including a meagre 4 grams of carbs and 0.2 grams of sugars, why hold back? Started by Kyle and Kelly, a husband-and-wife team, in 2015, I can’t recommend Kin’s protein highly enough!
Protein shakes are all well and good, and I love Kin. However, sometimes you need a low-calorie meal, with low carbs, that’s designed for active people, so it’s healthy and nutritious, but you really need to feel food in your mouth and your stomach. Sometimes, you need food fast, that’s not fast food, and a protein shake just won’t cut it. To keep me on the wagon then, I reach for a Performance Meals sachet, they’re marvels. They’re low calorie, high protein, low fat, high taste pre-prepared meals that are sealed and cupboard-storable. You can eat them cold, but they’re so much better after 2 and half minutes in the microwave. Yup, they’re a microwave meal, but not like you know them. Let’s take the Peri Peri Chicken for example. After 2 and a half minutes in the microwave, you’ve got a really tasty 350-gram meal you can count on, it’s a scant 287 calories, with 42 grams of protein, and only 10 grams of carbs. Yes of course, whole foods, fresh chicken and mountains of freshly prepared vegetables are about the best option, but if you don’t have fresh, and you can’t get to the supermarket, and can’t face the faff of cooking, or simply don’t have time, this is a great safety net that’s surprisingly high on taste. There are 14 different meals that will stay good in your cupboard for up to a year. I have these on emergency stand-by duty year-round, they’re a great low calorie, and delicious alternative to a protein shake. Performance Meals is just enough, and has saved me from a ‘cheeky Nando’s’ or other Deliveroo sin more than a few times.
Finally, a sneaky bonus entry. And you're going to have to give me a little rope here. Snoggy’s is a South African food shop, and if you grew up there, they’ll serve you all the brands, condiments and sweets that you miss from the motherland. The best thing about Snoggy's though, with universal appeal, is they make the best Biltong I’ve ever had. And that includes several visits to South Africa. I was introduced by my South African partner, always leading me to wonderful culinary delights and gastronomic specialties, but this really is something else. They’ve got a website that I think was put together slightly before the internet became a thing, and the pictures of the biltong are neither awe-inspiring, nor even appetite-whetting, but do yourself a huge favour, and see beyond this, get past this and order some. Biltong is air-dried and seasoned beef, and these guys do it so unbelievably well. You can choose to have it fatty, with a little fat, or lean, and again, choose to have it wet, medium or dry, and there are three types of thickness of cuts available (or you can have it unsliced). And there are several spice mixes, so this is basically bespoke Biltong, and it’s sensational. I have it with some fat, medium wet, and I actually get the whole sticks. And the Peri Peri flavoured chunks too, (the thought of which has just caused my mouth to water insanely…) Of course it’s naturally low in carbs, high in protein, and it’s the one treat I find difficult to have ‘lying around.’ because I can convince myself that it doesn’t really count against daily calorie totals, so I’ll just keep ‘visiting’ the Biltong until it's gone. We buy it in bulk and drop a few in the freezer. It’s 98% as good when unfrozen, and eaten a day later. As I say, do yourself a favour and try this. It’s not Biltong like you’ve had before, and it’s certainly not jerky. And there’s a reason they’ve won best Biltong Supplier in London since 2000.
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