The French Paradox – a bikini body on cheese, fois gras & red wine

Helen shopping at Nice market

Nutrition for health | September 29, 2015

I spent the weekend just gone slightly in awe of delicately framed French women savouring traditional rich French cuisine. The French Paradox that struck me here was not so much the lack of heart disease in a country consuming foods so loaded with saturated fats, but the lack of pot belly. How do these ladies maintain a bikini body on a diet full of cheese, fois gras and red wine?

As with all dietary studies there are confounding factors. It’s not just diet that plays a role in attainment of a perfect bikini body but also exercise, genes, socio-economic status etc. However my own personal observational study of the plates of these lean women in question drew parallels with existing research and theories already reported:

1. Mindful eating. The French take time out to eat. A 35 hr week allows time for a leisurely lunch break to sit down in a cafe and eat a proper balanced meal with friends. Each mouthful is chewed, savoured and acknowledged and so more satiating than a sandwich eaten whilst answering e-mails at the work computer (more in ‘Todays Dietitian’).

2. More fruit and vegetables. Yes, it will come as no surprise to anyone that has visited France that the French consume more fruit and veg per capita than British or Americans (report). Any serving of cheese, fois gras or steak comes with a mountain of salad and vegetables, and local markets are always full of people shopping for fresh fruit and veg.

3. The 50% rule. The portions are not all huge, and if they are they are not always finished. Leaving yourself just 80% full at the end of a meal, or only asking for a half portion to start with is common in France (there are several books on this point alone).

4. Cook from scratch. Convenience foods are much less common in France. Just Eat Real Food, hashtag JERF is certainly not a new concept but just a way of life to majority of those on the continent.

So there is a way to enjoy rich high calorie foods as part of a diet that will keep you slim and healthy. Eat them mindfully, not too much, and alongside all the other healthy fruits, vegetables, fish and wholegrains we know we should be eating. I’ve incorporated all those principles into my fig, stilton and chicory cheese course ‘recipe’ here. Eating this after exercise will provide you with 17g protein for recovery and the natural sugar from the figs makes up the ideal 4:1 ratio carbs: protein to ensure your glycogen stores are replenished efficiently. Exercise boosts your healthy HDL cholesterol production, and so post exercise is the best time to eat this as the HDL will ferry away the bad LDL to the liver to be metabolised. Bon appetit!

Figs Stilton & Chicory cheese course
Yields 2
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  1. 5 large ripe figs
  2. 2 heads of chicory (endive)
  3. 100g stilton
  1. Eat the fig flesh and cheese with the chicory leaves as if they were crackers
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of pack nutrition labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 228g serving %RI
Energy kJ 974 11% 2216 26%
Energy kcal 232 11% 529 26%
Fat 8.7g 12% 19.8g 28% Med
Saturated Fat 5.1g 25% 11.6g 58% High
Total Sugars 28g 31% 64g 71% High
Salt 0.5g 8% 1.2g 20% Med
Protein 7.3g __ 16.6g

Tone up with your 20 grams of recovery protein, and make it fishy!

salt cured rainbow trout with tomato salad and rye bread

Nutrition for health | September 21, 2015

As a nerd I like to have a set of rules to work to. I like numbers, and I like it when they’re based on research. It also helps when that number answers a question I get asked a lot: how much protein should I eat? For ideal recovery post workout that’ll be 20 grams.

Does protein help you build big muscles? Yes. Does it help repair muscles after a workout reducing risk of injuries and soreness? Yes. Does it help with glycogen replenishment? Yes. So the more protein the better? No! Research has shown that the most protein your body can benefit from in one hit is 20 grams above which you could be doing more damage than good (full study here).

Over the course of the day you need 1.2g/kg -1.7g/kg protein, and so 10-20g protein portions can be spread over 5-6 meals/snacks during the day, making sure there’s always some protein in your diet within the 30minute recovery window after exercise. 20g protein is equivalent to a small chicken breast, a fillet of fish, half a block of tofu, a can of beans, 3 eggs, a handful of prawns or a large pot of yoghurt.

No need to spend all your money on sports supplements, you can get your high quality protein from REAL FOOD. There’s plenty of evidence for chocolate milk in recovery also due to it’s 4:1 carb: protein ratio – just a glass of milk and Nesquick, or a bottle of Yazoo will work. If you’re thinking the same as a previous junior athlete I worked with “but I don’t like the chocolate flavoured ones” then don’t panic, it’s OK – the other flavours work just as well!

The recipe for todays blog could have been a breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack or smoothie. I’ve got loads of 20g 4:1 carbs:protein recipes up my sleeve, but I decided to share this one with you because 1. I think it makes me look quite clever, 2. It’s delicious, 3. I’ve over-dosed on salmon recently and am looking for alternatives sources of omega-3’s. Omega-3 fats are excellent post exercise for their anti-inflammatory properties, and reduce muscle soreness after exercise (Clin J Sport Med 2009).

So get bulked up on your 20 grams, and make it fishy!


Home Salt Cured Rainbow Trout
Yields 2
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  1. 2 rainbow trout fillets
For the cure
  1. 20g sea salt
  2. 40g caster sugar
  3. 1tsp fennel seeds
  4. 1tsp corriander seeds
  5. 1/2tsp black peppercorns
  1. Put all cure ingredients into food processor and blitz till fine
  2. cut a piece of foil 4 times the size of the trout fillet
  3. Use 1/4 of the cure mix to make a bed for the trout in the centre of the foil
  4. place trout on salt mix skin side down
  5. sprinkle 2/3 remaining cure onto fish
  6. place other fillet on top flesh to flesh
  7. sprinkle remaining cure on top
  8. fold up foil into a neat parcel and place on a dish to catch juices
  9. top with a wooden board and leave in the fridge for the cure to work its magic over 6 days
  10. after 6 days rinse the fish and pat dry with kitchen paper
  11. Finely slice off the skin and serve with rye bread and salad
Adapted from The Ethicurean Cookbook
Adapted from The Ethicurean Cookbook
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of pack nutrition labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 553g serving %RI
Energy kJ 787 9% 1086 12%
Energy kcal 187 9% 258 12%
Fat 5g 7% 6.9g 9% Med
Saturated Fat 1.1g 5% 1.5g 7% Low
Total Sugars 2.4g 2% 3.3g 3% Low
Salt 2.9g 48% 4g 66% High
Protein 15.2 __ 21g

Must eat nuts and beans. The vegetarian athletes mantra.

tofu and chickpea red curry

Nutrition for health | September 9, 2015

I’ve become a weekday quasi-vegetarian. It happened by accident really. My husband has been working away from home Monday to Friday and so I’ve been cooking what I crave and what the children like – which is mainly cheese, beans, fish and vegetables. Sometimes chicken – but since our move we no longer have a decent local butcher, and the long aisles packed full of meat from variable backgrounds at the supermarkets have put me off carnivorous activity. 

So I came to question the quality of our fully vegetarian dinners, and whether they could actually be healthier and better for sport than the meat alternative. Look at Martina Navratilova and Dave Scott, if it works for them maybe going veggo is the way forward. Clearly some athletes thrive on a vegetarian diet, and part of the reason is that removing animal protein from our diets often results in reduced fat intake and weight loss. Also protein is replaced with carbohydrate which helps performance particularly for endurance athletes. 

One main issue with a vegetarian diet is to be sure that high quality protein is consumed to allow for muscle growth and repair. Plant proteins often miss one or more essential amino acid, and so different types of plant foods need to be combined to provide the all amino acids e.g beans and grains, or nuts and seeds. The Australian Institute of Sport recommend that vegetarians  consume 10% more protein than general athlete recommendations as plant proteins are less well absorbed. They also suggest experimenting with vegetarian meat alternatives when your training load is high. At other times good sources of vegetarian protein are: lentils, beans and peas, tofu, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein. There’s also a higher requirement for iron and calcium as they are less easily absorbed from a vegetarian diet. See the AIS’s nutrition tips for vegetarian athletes.

So you really can excel in sport on vegetarian diet, you just need to get the balance right. Just think ‘must eat nuts and beans’…. or ‘must eat lentils and tofu’  (but that’s less catchy). Whatever your veggie protein keep it varied and don’t be afraid to experiment with other meat alternatives. And try out my Thai red curry recipe – I’ve made this perfectly balanced for recovery with  4:1 ratio carbs:protein, and hits the recommended 20g protein per portion, so it’s perfect for after a training session. 

Thai red curry with chickpeas & tofu
Yields 4
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
  1. 1tbsp red thai curry paste
  2. 400ml coconut milk
  3. 1/2 butternut squash (0.5kg), peeled and diced into bite sized pieces
  4. 200g green beans
  5. 1 x 400g tin chickpeas
  6. 1tsp rapeseed oil
  7. 300g plain compressed tofu, cut into 1" cubes
  8. 1tbsp fish sauce
  9. juice of 1/2 lime
  10. a handful of fresh coriander
  11. 2 cups Brown rice
  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add brown rice - boil for 25minutes or until cooked
  2. Add the red curry paste and the solid top layer of coconut milk to a large heated saucepan, cook for a minute
  3. add the rest of the coconut milk and the butternut squash, simmer for 7min
  4. add the beans and chickpeas, simmer for 5 minutes
  5. meanwhile in a separate pan heat the rapeseed oil and fry the tofu cubes until brown and crisp on the outside
  6. add the fish sauce and lime juice to the curry
  7. serve on a bed of brown rice topped with the crispy tofu cubes, a sprinkling of fresh coriander, a wedge of lime and a few cashew nuts.
  1. Keep tasting - I love loads of lime juice so keep adding till it tastes right to you. You can also add more fish sauce or soy sauce if it needs more salt, and freshly shopped red chilli if it needs more heat.
  2. Do you eat fish? This curry taste great with salmon and/or prawns instead of the chickpeas and tofu. I also love it with pakchoi and sugarsnap peas.
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of pack nutrition labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 553g serving %RI
Energy kJ 329 3% 1816 21%
Energy kcal 78 3% 431 21%
Fat 1.5g 2% 8.5g 12% Low
Saturated Fat 0.2g 1% 1.2g 6% Low
Total Sugars 1.7g 1% 9.2g 10% Low
Salt 0.2g 3% 0.9g 15% Low
Protein 3.6 __ 20g

It’s dairy free so it’s healthy, right?


Nutrition for health | September 2, 2015

About a year ago my mum commented on how many recipes she was finding containing coconut oil. ‘Is it really that good for you?’ she asked me. My life at that time was a blur of nappies and playgroups, so I really hadn’t taken much notice to the ‘food revolution’ that had been taking place. The revolution which had meant that my own mother who has happily drank milk her whole life with no adverse side-effects and stocks no less than 6 different types of cheese in her fridge had inadvertently started embarking on a dairy free baking spree.

So what was my answer? Well ‘yes’ I said, it’s very healthy for people with a dairy allergy. Why are you using it?! But as I came gradually out of the abyss of nights with 5hrs broken sleep, and Mumsnet being my only reading material, I also found what a massive following the free-from movement had. Then my own friends started cutting out the white stuff for the sake of their own bloated tummies and their poor newborn babies with green frothy poo’s. And so those people with lactose (milk sugar) intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, and breastfeeding mums whose babies have milk protein or lactose allergy or intolerance could now finally feel comfortable speaking openly about the nasty side effects many suffer from ingesting too much dairy. Not just that but they now had a plethora of recipes to choose from to help ease their symptoms. 

However there has also been a huge swathe of young health conscious social media addicts that have been caught up in all this. Those who have never had any negative symptom associated with ingesting dairy going the whole hog & totally cutting it out. Many believe they are helping to prevent disease and that it is just not natural to eat dairy. And others I fear are just following a trend, and trying to mirror the intake of the svelte lifestyle guru’s out there on the net. Even the most educated of my friends are shocked when I tell them almond milk is no more nutritious than cows milk. This is dangerous. Dairy is a major food group and when cut out could lead to inadequate calcium intake leading to brittle bones. If you think you may be intolerant to dairy you should see your GP to obtain a referral to see a dietitian who will help balance your diet. see the advice at Allergy UK 

My personal opinion is to celebrate the dairy free recipes that work. Modify them to suit the contents of your pantry or your tolerance. I will often use recipes including coconut oil and just substitute butter as I luckily have no intolerance to dairy. If you are able to there are advantages to using butter over coconut oil. Butter is 50% saturated fat, the ‘bad fat’ that is thought to increase cholesterol compared to 87% saturated fat in coconut oil. It also has more healthy mono-unsaturated fat at 20%, compared to 6% in coconut oil.

But these free from recipes – thank you Deliciously Ella – are there for when we do need to cater for ourselves or our friends feeding their colicky baby, or with irritable bowel or genuine milk allergy or intolerance. Get baking!

Oat & banana choc chip cookies
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  1. 3 large ripe bananas
  2. 4 tablespoons almond butter or peanut butter
  3. 1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter
  4. 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  5. 1 1/2 mugs oats (180g)
  6. bananas
  7. 100g dark (at least 70% cocoa, the darker the better) chocolate, cut into small chunks
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C, (fan 180)
  2. Mash bananas with a fork until smooth
  3. add nut butter, oil or butter and maple syrup to the bananas and mix
  4. add oats and chocolate chunks
  5. line a baking tray with baking paper, and scoop tablespoons of the mixture onto the tray
  6. Bake for 18-20 minutes
  7. Remove when cookies become brown and leave to cool for 5 minutes
Adapted from Deliciously Ella
Adapted from Deliciously Ella
Nom Nom Nerd
Front of pack nutrition labelling :

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 71g serving %RI
Energy kJ 1247 14% 882 10%
Energy kcal 298 14% 211 10%
Fat 12g 17% 9g 12% Med
Saturated Fat 4.9g 24% 3.5g 17% Med
Total Sugars 18g 20% 13g 14% Med
Salt 0.10g 1% 0.00g 0% Low
Protein 7.7g __ 5.4g