Food, eating and health – we’re faced with some confusing choices


myrna robins cookbooksVeteran food and wine writer MYRNA ROBINS looks at some of the great new cookbooks out there, with their sometimes confusing claims. The Books Page will run one cookbook review by Robins a week for the next few weeks.

My Low Carb Kitchen, by Vickie de Beer (Quivertree)

When the pile of healthy eating/diet/Banting/superfood cookbooks on my study table threatened to keel over, it was clearly time to tackle the range of diets they recommended. Looking back over my decades as a food writer, I  lived through a fair number of  diets, fads, claims and crazes, good, bad and indifferent, some of them extreme. They came, they flourished, then faded while most sensible people carried on eating moderate portions of a good, varied diet to maintain  good health. Of them all, I have always fancied the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle worth following.

I recall the Mayo Clinic diet that seemed heavy on hard-boiled eggs and grapefruit, with halitosis a common side effect. Then the sugar scare where everyone – not just the overweight –  tried to cut out sugar completely and the Sugar Board spent much time and money telling South Africans that sugar was OK – it offered energy  and had been eaten by humans for many centuries.

The salt scare was next, and as people struggled to enjoy their meals without salt, pretending that crushed dried herbs made a good substitute, others guiltily dropped salt into their vegetable water while cooking even if they left the salt cellar off the table. Butter became an enemy when the focus switched to cholesterol and margarine manufacturers scored big time. (Butter, today unaffordable to most, is now a Banting hero.)

How many remember the grape diet which had followers crunching on pips, skins and even leaves off the vine, to be replaced by the avocado diet, which pleased the marketing staff of that particular board no end. And so it went, although none of those has probably had the same influence as the so-called Banting diet of recent years.

With the increase in diabetes among South Africans, a low-carb diet seems to be most beneficial for sufferers, with Vickie de Beer’s family –  as reported in her  cookbook – offering impressive proof. For those who are overweight because they eat too much and the wrong food, the jury is still out… But here are some recent  titles in our bookshops for readers, cooks and slimmers to digest and  compare.

And so to our first cookbook. Vickie de Beer is an experienced, professional and popular food writer among both English and Afrikaans readers. Nine years ago her eight-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a potentially life-threatening condition.

His parents followed the advice of both doctors and dietitians, putting him on a low-GI wholegrain diet, with some success. But when De Beer read Tim Noakes’ first diet book, The Real Meal Revolution, and complemented this with articles by an American physician, the family changed their diet to one of low-carb food, sans all starches, sugars, processed and refined wheat products and processed foods.

The results were impressive as their son responded positively, and she reports that the whole family has benefitted on every level, from mood to sleep patterns, energy levels, digestion and improved concentration.

She offers advice on how to achieve this major change of diet, replacing carbohydrate foods with proteins, fats and fibrous vegetables. No more takeaways, readymade supermarkets foods, cook-in sauces and pre-mixes, but plenty of  full cream yoghurts, cheese and butter.

She offers a weekly meal plan, a supermarket shopping list, and suggests weaning the family off sweetness rather than indulging in artificial sweeteners. The recipes are often aimed to produce leftovers – roast two chickens at a time – for busy weekday suppers, while bolognaise recipes feature extra veggies, and form the base of cottage pie (topped with cooked mashed cauliflower), crustless quiches, or moussaka. Almond flour and ground sunflower seeds substitute wheat flour in pastry.

School lunches proved a challenge – but there is a delicious section of alternatives to sandwiches and packet chips. In all this is an exceptional cookbook for families coping with a diabetic where the experience of the De Beer family is sure to help and inspire.

  • My Low-Carb Kitchen is also available in Afrikaans.
  • The Books Page will run the next in a series of cookbook reviews by Myrna Robins next week.

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