Professor Tim Noakes, arguably South Africa's most eminent and distinguished sports scientist, has recently made jaws drop (and ruffled some feathers) by entirely changing his mind about what sort of food we should be eating. In a nutshell, he's come out as a fervent supporter of a regime low in refined carbohydrates, and high (oh, joy!) in fat and protein. Read on, after this picture of my low-carb smothering sauce.
Not only has Professor Noakes lost 15 kg on this diet (and he was hardly a fatty to start with) but he also claims that he's never felt fitter, stronger and more convinced of anything in his life. I don't buy Noakes' argument that there's some sort of conspiracy on the part of Big Pharma or what he (tapping his nose, I imagine) calls 'Industry', but I do respect him as a scientist.
This isn't a diet blog, so you'll have to follow up the details on your own, but I can tell you that certain members *cough* of my household have been on a Noakes-style regime for 8 days, and that between them, in that time, three people have lost a satisfying total of 10 kg.
As someone who has spent many years dieting - starting, with no need to, at the age of 13, and with nothing at all to show for it at the age of almost 50 - I have lost interest in diets. They work, all right, for a while, but they're not really sustainable. Especially not if you're a food journalist and spend every waking moment thinking about food, cooking it and writing about it. (And, let me admit, tasting and eating it, and with great enthusiasm.) I don't approve of diets in general, but I do try to accommodate the eating requirements of my family, so when two of them decided to try Professor Noakes' diet I thought I'd join in, and eagerly support them by cutting all carbs from family meals.
This has been a challenge, not least because two of my kids have no need for any sort of diet, the skinny devils they are. Bread, pulses, pasta and potatoes have always been my best friends as I've tried to still the raging appetites of teenage children, so this transition hasn't been painless. However, after a week at the coal-face of low-carb cooking, I've come up with a few tactics that I think are going to work in the long term.
There isn't space here to explain the intricacies of a low-carb diet (or to debate its merits) but, in a nutshell, it involves cutting out all everything starchy and/or sugary, and that includes fruit, fruit juices and (sob) wine. Bad news if you're a fan of fruit, puddings and processed starchy foods, but there is a big consolation prize: you can eat all the fat and protein you desire (within reason, of course, and you will have to discuss this with your doctor, or indeed Professor Noakes).
So, what do you eat? Eggs, cheese, chicken, beef, fish, milk and trolley-loads of low-carb vegetables. This may sound limited until you realise (with joy, on my part) that foods often forbidden on diets are actually encouraged on this regime: avocados, nuts, olive oil, olives, cheeses of all sorts, butter, bacon, eggs, steak, oily fish, roast chicken, and so on.
I've stopped making big pots of rice and pasta, turned my back on my beloved potatoes, and now offer for dinners a low-carb veggie stew or curry or stir-fry, or a salad cheesed up with feta or halloumi or gorgonzola, plus a nice bit of steak, or a roast, or some flash-fried chicken breasts. Breakfasts in this house (for the Noakes acolytes at least; the skinnies have cereal, fruit and yoghurt) are omelettes, boiled eggs or a few slices of ham. Lunches are crunchy salads containing tuna or chicken or ham or more boiled eggs, and all with plenty of Hellmann's mayonnaise. There is a big lidded box of peeled carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions in the fridge at all times and, as an extra enticement, bowls of olives, capers, anchovies, chopped fresh garlic and so on.
The biggest problem with cutting out carbs is that you don't feel very full or satisfied after a starchless meal. The answer, I think (and it is early days) is to make what you do eat so delicious and flavour-packed that you don't ever feel deprived.
This creamy dish of cottage cheese, garlic, herbs and olive oil perfectly fits the bill. I won't call it a dip, because that word implies that you delicately poke a celery stick in it. You do not: you spoon it lavishly over whatever you're eating. I've used chunky cottage cheese, which is so unfashionable these days that you never see it on menus or in recipes, but I'm addicted to its milky lumpiness and delicate blandness (probably because I ate so much of it as a dieting teen). Give it a go - I think you'll love it.
I've made three batches of it this week, experimenting with various proportions, and this is the formula that pleases me (and my fellow marchers) most. Feel free to add more of whatever makes your tastebuds dance - more garlic, more herbs, more chilli, and so on.
Cottage Cheese, Herb & Olive Oil Smothering Dip
2 x 250g tubs chunky cottage cheese (I use low fat cheese, but full fat is permissable on this regime)
1/3 cup (80 ml) mayonnaise (Hellmann's Original, or home-made, but not salad cream)
1/3 cup (80 ml) thick natural Greek yoghurt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or crushed
4 Tbsp (60 ml) finely chopped fresh mint
4 Tbsp (60 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander
2 Tbsp (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and milled black pepper
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
dried chilli flakes, for dusting (optional)
Mix together the cottage cheese, mayonnaise, yoghurt, garlic, mint, coriander and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Tip the mixture into a shallow dish and pour the olive oil all over the top. Dust with some chilli flakes and some more freshly ground black pepper. Keep covered in the fridge.
Serve with raw or steamed vegetables, or with olives, boiled egg, chicken breasts, and so on.
Makes about 500 ml.