The diet industry is undergoing a revolution. Celebrities are more likely to be papped bouncing out of a gym than falling out of a nightclub. Catwalks are more likely to be graced with glowy, smiling models than the heroinchic skeletal types of years gone by. And, always a big indicator of an official ‘trend’, there’s even a social media hashtag - #strongnotskinny.
As our perception of beauty is evolving, so is our relationship with food. The low-fat mantra of the 80s and 90s is slowly being replaced by the low-carb revolution. Reams of articles are dedicated to the fats v carbs debate, as Paleo advocates practically roll in coconut oil with glee while eschewing sugar, and others steadfastly maintain that wholegrains are essential for health.
But, in the cacophony, one macronutrient has, until recently, been overlooked. Protein, the nutrient responsible for cell growth and repair, is slowly gaining a foothold on our consciousness as celebs are pictured clutching whey shakes, the latest health food bars come fortified with added protein and every body-overhaul success story seems to credit balanced protein as the secret. A recent survey by consumer research firm Canadean said that 49 per cent of people were “very aware” of the benefits of protein, and indicated an increasing demand for protein supplements and protein-fortified foods. It’s estimated that by 2017, the world will be spending £8bn a year on shakes and bars.
Protein-rich foods have traditionally had a bad rep - and were regarded as calorific and fattening. For women especially, there has been the perception that protein can cause you to bulk up, perhaps due in part to the traditional packaging of protein supplements, complete with an intimidating picture of a bodybuilder’s torso. The idea of imbibing a protein shake would have filled most calorie counters with horror. Now, we see protein-rich ready meals at M&S, protein-enriched snack bars, drinks, even ice cream.
The Paleo movement, which is high in protein and good fats, but low in carbs, has gone a long way to smash the stereotypes. And with good reason: protein is a powerhouse when it comes to weight-loss or maintenance results. Protein takes longer to digest and metabolize, leaving you fuller for longer and preventing blood-sugar spikes - plus you actually burn more calories in the digestion process. If weight loss is your goal, a balanced supply of protein ensures that you are building lean muscle and losing fat, rather than the other way around. On average, men need 55g of protein a day, and women 45g.
The healthy eating trends of 2015
The healthy eating trends of 2015
1/10 Acai bowls are the new green juice
Who ever thought we’d have been ok with adding spinach to our smoothies? Yet even virtuous green juices started to get something of a bad rep, as the ‘juice fast’ backlash grew and it turned out that some shop-bought juices contained as much sugar as a can of fizzy drink. Bring on Acai bowls, the new darlings of Instagram. Like a gloopier smoothie, these are made with antioxidant-rich acai berries (they are hard to come by - search for powdered or dried berries or frozen puree), which are said to aid weight loss. Blend with frozen bananas, berries and a little nut milk and top with whatever you like - seeds, nuts, cacao nibs, goji berries. A picture-perfect purple powerhouse for breakfast.
Ella Grace Denton, www.weneedtolivemore.com
2/10 Bone broth is the new Miso soup
Remember back in the day when the word ‘broth’ would conjure up visions of Dickensian orphanages? Then miso came along, Gwyneth embraced it, and we all followed suit, lauding how filling and protein rich with little wonder broth was. We’ve come full circle now, as bone broth is back on the radar. The glowing-with-health Hemsley sisters seem to use bone broth in most of their recipes, and rave about its nutritional benefits. “Bone broth is a nourishing all rounder packed with vitamins, minerals, collagen and keratin which makes it amazing for skin – including the dreaded cellulite! The healthy fats in the broth help you to assimilate important vitamins including Vit D.” There you go, something to stew over...
Food Loves Writing, Flickr
3/10 Bee pollen is the new Manuka honey
Every health hipster has a jar of manuka honey on their shelves - if they can afford it that is, a jar can cost about £15. But many claim it is worth its weight in gold, due to its unique antibacterial properties. Traditionally it was used on wounds, but many also claim that it performs miracles combatting cholesterol, diabetes, cancer and digestive problems (although the science is limited). Now bee pollen is the latest ‘superfood’ out there - thought to ward off colds, limit food cravings, improve skin tone, ward off allergies like hay fever (although some caution that it may exacerbate them) and, of course, fight cancer. Again, the science behind these claims is dubious - but it certainly adds a nice sweetness to your morning porridge.
4/10 Kelp is the new kale
Last year saw the emergence of an unassuming green leaf that was previously barely used beyond cattle feed. Now, we have kale chips in Pret, kale juices, ‘massaged’ kale salads - it’s even on the menu in fine dining restaurants. Yawn. Introducing kelp. This seaweed is high in iodine, which is said to improve thyroid function and control metabolism. It is also thought to have anti-aging properties for skin and hair. Try it in salads or add to asian-style soups.
5/10 Matcha is the new green tea
Yes, yes, yes, green tea, weightloss, yadda yadda yadda, boosts metabolism, etc etc. For 2015, though, it’s not about just any old green tea - this is matcha green tea. Made from finely milled high-grade matcha leaves, which are grown in the shade, matcha boasts 130 times more anti-oxidants than your bog standard green tea and is supposed to boost energy levels, lower stress, improve your mood and aid metabolism. It can be consumed as a regular tea, added to steamed milk for a matcha latte or even used to add a pleasant green shade and flavour to ice-cream.
6/10 Whole 30 is the new Paleo diet
Thought you were a culinary champ with your caveman-style eating plan? Well, think again, paleo is for wimps! Ok, not quite, but while people on the paleo plan cut out grains, legumes, sugar and processed foods, there is an increasing trend to paleo-fy your treats, with almond-flour pancakes, banana bread and a lot of brownies. The Whole 30 plan is a purer, stricter version of Paleo and really takes you back to basics when it comes to eating natural foods. The 30-day plan bans scales as well as sugar and alcohol, so that you can concentrate on nourishment rather than weight.
7/10 Fermenting is the new sprouting
Just when we thought we were ahead of the game by starting to sprout our own seeds and with sprouted flours creeping on to the market, the health set had to kick it up a notch. Now it’s all about making your own kombucha (fermented tea), sauerkraut or kimchi (both kinds of pickled cabbage). Fermented foods are said to aid digestion thanks to the creation of enzymes and probiotics in the process. Plus they tend to be high in B-vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids. Think of it as the new jam-making, and break out those mason jars.
8/10 Banana flour is the new coconut flour
Coconut flour was one of the coolest baking ingredients of the year, beloved by Paleo fans. Its highly absorbent qualities mean you only need a tiny bit for baking, keeping your creations low carb but resulting in the odd dry-crumbly-mess baking fail. Banana flour is the next flour to experiment with. Made from green bananas (and no, not banana-flavoured), it is gluten free and light in texture, so ideal for baking. High in resistant starch, which is effective against colon cancer, obesity, and diabetes, it is already being lauded for its nutritional benefits in Africa and South America, and will surely start to become much more visible on health-food shop shelves in the near future.
9/10 Bulletproof coffee is the new soy latte
Nowadays it is possible to walk into almost any cafe and order a soy latte without being eyeballed as a lunatic by the person behind the counter. But would you have the guts to request a stick of butter in your morning brew? Well, some coffee shops are offering exactly that. Bulletproof coffee is a paleo-friendly invention which involves a black coffee with a dollop of coconut oil or butter. Bleurgh. But advocates say it gives you more slow-release energy, sharpens your brain and helps you to focus - and even that it is delicious. Now the theory has been expanded into a whole ‘Bulletproof’ diet plan, rich in fat. Who wants to bet on when Starbucks will give it a shot?
10/10 Tiger nuts are the new almonds
2014 was a good year for almonds. Gym-goers and raw foodists alike carried around a stash for healthy, protein-rich snacking, almond-milk lattes were quaffed, and almond flour featured in so many paleo and gluten-free treats. Now tiger nuts, or ‘earth almonds’ (yes, really), are about to vie for snacking superiority. Tiger nuts are not nuts, but the tubers of the sedge plant. Originally a key food source for Paleolithic Indians, they have until recently been used as animal feed or a side dish in South America, Africa and the Middle East, or in Hispanic companies made into a sweet, milky drink called horchata. But now the hipsters have got their hands on it, drying, roasting and flavouring with the likes of sweet chilli for an on-the-go snack. High in healthy fats, protein and natural sugar, it is rich in energy content, and thought to help prevent heart disease and improve circulation.
At the GSK Human Performance Lab (HPL), scientists study the impact of nutrition on world-class athletes, from Polar explorer Richard Parks to the Brownlee brothers and F1 driver Jensen Button. Gareth Nicholas, Head of Nutrition for MaxiNutrition, explains that we have a daily turnover of protein, so replacing it is essential - and this doesn’t mean simply chowing down on a mammoth hunk of steak every night. “A slow, sustained release of protein during the day is necessary - and difficult if people have a tendency to skip meals or grab unhealthy snacks,” he says. “Eat a little protein every two to three hours. Planning your meals is the way to go.”
Timing is everything when it comes to protein - and why you see gym bunnies reaching for protein after a workout. The athletes at the HPL are tested rigorously to see what effects nutrition has on their bodies - and when. “The ‘anabolic window’ is important to get the most out of your workout,” Nicholas explains. “After exercise, due to increased bloodflow, metabolism is at its highest. This is the time to replace what you’ve lost and have some protein within an hour of exercising, to stop you from your body taking from your muscle mass. This can be from a healthy omelette, some lean chicken, or a protein shake if you’re on the move.”
The HPL operates across the six pillars of expertise to help athletes achieve their fullest potential - strength, stamina, cognition, metabolism, hydration and recovery. Nutrition plays a role across all of these. Using special machines, experts at the HPL can push the athlete’s muscles to tearing point so that they can monitor recovery, pain and inflammation.
In the cognition lab, hand-eye co-ordination and concentration skills can be monitored. Nutrition is at the heart of all these studies - and the results go beyond the athletes they work with - the research into improved recovery from injury, increased flexibility and stamina, and improved cognition could also have far-reaching effects for people with chronic illness and the elderly.
The HPL has also been working with protein supplement veterans MaxiNutrition in an effort to rebrand their products to suit everyone (the pictures of bulked-up torsos, for instance, are now absent). “We are working on breaking down the myths around protein. Traditionally, there was a perception that protein shakes were only used by bodybuilders. The science has evolved, and we have tailored products to suit your needs and level of activity.”
But can you have too much protein? “Balance is important, but it is quite difficult to have too much protein. Then again, with the right diet, it is easy to make sure you’re getting enough. Rugby players wouldn’t consume that much more protein than Kimberley Wyatt, for instance. Whether you’re a man or woman, the protein content doesn’t change.”
Wyatt is a dancer, former Pussycat Doll and MaxiNutrition ambassador - and, while undeniably svelte, certainly fits the ‘strong not skinny’ criteria. She insists nutrition is a key priority in keeping her lean dancer’s body - and fuelling her workouts. “I think a bit of a turning point in terms of nutrition for me was when I joined the Pussycat Dolls. We are all trained dancers, and need a planned and balanced diet, which involved lots of protein in the form of lean meats such as grilled chicken, as well as poached eggs and steamed vegetables.”
And far from being an afterthought, protein is a key factor in Wyatt’s diet. “When you dance a lot and work out as much as I do, it’s only natural that your body needs protein to help build itself back up after exercise. Not to mention protein also helps maintain healthy bones, teeth, skin and hair.”
Wyatt has welcomed the shift in attitudes towards body image. “I am pleased to see that being strong is overtaking the desire to be skinny. At the end of the day the most important thing is to be healthy and this means a balanced diet as well as regular exercise, be that walking, running, or intense gym workouts. We should never need to put a label on beauty, you’ve just got to be healthy, happy and enjoy yourself.”
Power breakfast: We know that skipping breakfast is a no no, but a slice of toast doesn’t exactly cut it. Poached, boiled or scrambled eggs are a great way to make your toast more effective (and, let’s face it, interesting), protein powder works wonders with porridge, or add Greek Yoghurt and nuts to fruit instead of just grabbing an apple on the way out the door.
Stretch it out: Research shows that the optimal amount of protein per serving is 20-40g, so eating a whole chicken after a workout or ‘catching up’ on your protein needs at dinner-time won’t do you much good. Have a palm-size serving of protein at every meal.
Snack smart: Having protein with every snack helps you to balance your glucose levels and keep your body working at its optimum level. Think of it as a protein drip effect, optimizing the rate of muscle synthesis. A handful of nuts with some fruit, some yoghurt in your smoothie, or carrots and hummus are great ways to get in some balanced protein.
Veg out: If you’re vegetarian or just not that much of a carnivore, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to introduce protein into your diet. Dairy is a great source of protein - try cottage cheese for a low-cal option - as are tofu, Quorn, legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds.Reuse content