This celebrity chef has always been a true ambassador for fresh, seasonal eating.....

I was flicking through the Coles catalogue today and all of a sudden it dawned on me.  We are surrounded by chefs and celebrities, local and abroad, who claim to be  experts on all things nutrition.  Many of these 'sudden experts' quickly capitalise on their popularity to sell their newfound knowledge via commercial avenues.  There seems to be a lot of negativity, and downright nasty attacks, towards some of these individuals selling their nutrition message, but the thing that dawned on me was the fact that there is one famous chef who has been promoting the virtues of seasonal and fresh food for years.  All this time we could have just been reading the Coles catalogue weekly to help us learn about how to eat and cook.  Or watching repeats of Surfing the Menu.

Yes, most of us have heard of Jamie Oliver and his passion for healthy fresh food.  I think he does a wonderful job spreading his messages - not necessarily telling people what to do, but promoting fresh, wholesome eating and inspiring young people to learn about food and where it comes from.  But I think we sometimes forget that we have our own ambassador in Australia for local, seasonal, sustainable eating.  He doesn't promote himself as a nutrition or health guru, but his subtle messages and actions are just as powerful as those of others around him who sell themselves as health ambassadors.

Image courtesy of  Ray Kachatorian

Image courtesy of Ray Kachatorian

Curtis Stone has been promoting the virtues of local, seasonal produce and an active lifestyle for well over ten years.  Back in 2003 he and fellow world-class chef Ben O'Donoghue filmed the food and travel series Surfing the Menu for ABC in Australia.  Most of the food preparation and cooking was done outdoors, relying on locally grown or available produce, with a surf always included at some part of the show.  The program was not advertised as a 'health' program as such, more a showcase of Australia and the wonderful food experiences and lifestyle on offer.

Curtis Stone's values when it comes to food and nutrition are solid and have not changed over time.  The title of his latest book, Good Food, Good Life sums up his simple and sensible approach.  Have a read of the 'About Curtis' page on his website, and particularly the section on 'My Cooking Philosophy'. In Curtis' words: 'When Mother Nature worked out what we should be eating at different times of the year, she did a pretty good job, so listen to her. Food that is in season just tastes better and you really don’t have to do a whole lot to it to make it taste great! It is always less expensive, and chances are it hasn’t been artificially treated or travelled halfway across the world to reach your kitchen'.  Pretty simple really.

Eating well does not have to be complicated and often the most nutritious way to eat is to keep things simple, but not boring!  Curtis Stone's three words to live by - Cook, Create, Celebrate.  This is also the the title of his blog and is a wonderful way to think about nutrition and eating and the enjoyment of food.

Looking at Curtis' website you won't find any mention of sugar-free, low-fat or Paleo.  You will find gluten-free, but many people have to avoid gluten for medical reasons.  Otherwise there is nothing else that alludes to the restriction of any other foods or food groups.  Foods are not categorized, ranked or banished in terms of nutrition, rather all foods and ingredients are embraced and respected for the flavours, textures and experiences they can provide.  Have a look at the recipes on the Curtis Stone website.  Some are in fact sugar-free, low-fat or Paleo but are not labelled as such, and there is not a nutrition table to be found.  I have a book coming out soon that contains about 40 recipes and I too have avoided including nutrition tables.  Some people might not be happy with the lack of nutritional info, but I think it is important to not always base food choices on the numbers.

Curtis Stone believes in seasonal, local, sustainable eating and is obviously aware of nutrition but should be respected for not trying to push, preach or be something or someone that he is not.  He sticks to his beliefs and admits on his website to enjoying the good life as well.  Not all of his recipes would be considered 'healthy', although many are, and this reflects reality and the importance of variety and enjoyment.  If you eat fresh, seasonal, nutritious food a lot of the time, there is room for desserts and sweet foods here and there.  I really don't like the word 'balanced', it makes food and nutrition sound so dull, but having a mix of mostly nutritious foods and 'balancing' it out in combination with richer foods that we love now and then helps to make life fun.  The effects on your body from feeling stressed about your kilojoules or grams of carbohydrate are potentially far more negative than relaxing a little about intake and enjoying foods and flavours without deprivation.

Anyway, my message is, if you are looking for a celebrity chef role-model among the vast array of self proclaimed nutrition experts, look no further than Curtis Stone.  His philosophies are great, he won't suggest you avoid any particular food if you don't have to, and his website has an unexpectedly large number of his recipes available to the public, as well as a range of recipes that he has developed for Coles.  Sure, if you only  eat his desserts then you may be needing an appointment with me in the near future, but if you scan through his recipes you will find most are based on fresh ingredients and are not overly complicated.  Or you may just find a Curtis Stone recipe in a Coles catalogue or store near you.

* After I wrote this post, media coverage was released about comments that Curtis Stone made about the food his children eat, and his thoughts on kids nutrition in general, .  There was much criticism of his comments about restriction of 'junk' foods and how to manage fussy eaters.  The problem was that many people did not read the full article, and just read bits and pieces printed in other articles or social media posts that were taken out of context.  If you read the whole article, it is clear that his approach is to offer your children nutritious options most of the time, but that it's ok to eat 'occasional' foods too eg. parties.  His comments about kids eating healthy food if it is put in front of them regularly were a little misplaced, as it is not that easy and I can guarantee that as a dietitian and mother of two young boys myself.  But I don't think Curtis Stone's overall messages were misplaced at all, keep offering healthy options at home and don't just give them a hot dog instead!  Yes, this involves restriction to a degree but not complete avoidance -  children need adults to provide some guidance and boundaries in all areas of life, and as many dietitians say 'the parents decide what to offer, the child can decide what and how much they eat'.

Disclaimer - I do not have any association with Curtis Stone or Coles supermarkets. However my son's name is Curtis and that may make me unknowingly biased!  Before you ask, no, my son was not named after Curtis Stone!


Oats vs quinoa for health, energy and performance


I am officially over superfoods.  They are over-promoted, over-priced and over-done.  Take quinoa for example.  Sure, it's a nutritious grain.  Actually it is not really a grain, the part we eat is the edible seed of the quinoa grain crop, although the nutritional composition is similar to that of other grains so it tends to get lumped into the grain family. Quinoa is a great gluten-free option for those who have a true allergy or intolerance to wheat protein, which many people do (but don't get me started on the fad that 'gluten-free' has become).  Quinoa is nutritious, as many of the labelled superfoods are.  But there are hundreds of other foods NOT awarded the title of superfood that are equally, if not more nutritious.  

I like quinoa, but it is not always a staple in my kitchen cupboard.  I have some at the moment as I am trialling some quinoa recipes for my book.  Part of this inclusion relates to my fear that as a dietitian my integrity will be questioned if I don't include quinoa or some sort of other ancient grain somewhere in the book.  Saying this, my quinoa recipes are awesome (thanks to Justin Moran from Just In Time PT for his quinoa soup contribution, delicious)!  Don't worry, I have totally succumbed to peer pressure and included kale in a couple of recipes too.   

So, I was thinking about the whole superfood super-saturation and I got the quinoa packet out of the cupboard for a direct comparison to the homebrand oats (of which my family eat over 1kg per week).  You may be surprised by the results, based on 100g:

                                 Quinoa    Oats

Kilojoules                1590kJ    1590kJ

Protein                     12.9g       12.8g

Fat                             5.7g          9.3g

Carbohydrate          67.2g      54.8g

Fibre                          2.7g        12.1g

I was actually hoping that quinoa might prove me wrong and live up to the hype, but sadly no.  Quinoa and oats contain similar kilojoule and protein content per 100g, less fat in quinoa, less carbohydrate in oats and just over four times more fibre in oats.  Sometimes people are concerned about the fat content of oats, however they are  still relatively low in fat, based on serving size, so don't be mistaken that oats are fattening (we need some good fat).

I must give credit where it is due, and hail quinoa for it's vitamin and mineral content (which is similar to oats in terms of iron, calcium and magnesium content), amino acid profile and taste, I do love the taste.  Quinoa has great value for vegetarians and athletes due to the higher protein and nutrient content compared to standard rice, pasta and noodles - you don't see stir-fry and oats served too often.  Quinoa has a wide range of amino acids, and although often promoted as a complete protein, the total amount of protein in an average serve is quite small, around 6g per serve (50g dry).  Particularly when we consider athletes, who need adequate essential amino acids from ~20-25g protein for the immediate post-exercise recovery period.   Quinoa doesn't quite cut it for recovery protein on it's own, but combined with a high biological value protein source such as meat, fish, eggs or dairy it is a highly nutritious choice, and a great option as part of meals over a training day.

Oats are not considered a complete protein, but the amino acid profile comes pretty close.  It lacks lysine, an amino acid which is low in many grains, but which quinoa does contain in small amounts.  As per quinoa, oats should be served with an additional high quality protein source if consumed as a recovery option. 

An additional tick for oats relates to the beta-glucan they contain, which may be beneficial for those trying to reduce blood cholesterol levels.  Porridge or muesli for breakfast looks all that more attractive.

If you are trying to lose weight, both oats and quinoa are low-glycemic index, great for sustained energy levels and improved satiety - a small amount goes a long way.  Have you tried quinoa porrdige, not too bad!

Quinoa is gluten-free and a great option for those who have a gluten allergy, oats are not quite gluten-free but come pretty close, and are tolerated well by most people with an intolerance to wheat and wheat products.

So without labelling, both quinoa and oats can be considered 'super' 'foods' (note the differentiation from 'superfoods').

If I had to choose one over the other......I think the real clincher would be the price.......homebrand oats work out at around $1.60/kg, compared to over $20/kg for quinoa.  You pay 12 times as much for it 12 times as nutritious??   Think about your overall dietary patterns, what YOU need and how you can enjoy both/either oats and quinoa to bring you health, energy, and performance benefits.

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My book Eat Right for Your Life is out now too, available at bookshops, newsagents and online retailers, including recipes with both oats and quinoa respectively!