are you getting enough veggies?
an interview with a nutritionist
[5 ingredients]

cauliflower 'pasta' with peas & ricotta Kathryn Elliott

I’ve developed a bit of a new theory about nutrition. It’s pretty widely accepted that most people consider themselves to be good drivers, when in actual fact they aren’t. But I’m starting to think that our reality check on the healthiness of our diets might be in a similar position.

Last year, after my third ‘dingle’, I finally admitted to myself that I might not be the best of drivers. (Happy to report that 2010 has been accident free!). And now, after having a good dig around nutritionist Kathryn Elliott’s blog Limes & Lycopene, I’ve come to the realisation that I don’t eat as many veggies as I should. But enough about me. Let’s see what Kathryn has to say…..

JULES: I’ve been a fan of your blog Limes and Lycopene for years now. I think we’ve been blogging for about the same time. I’ve always wondered what inspired you to become a nutritionist?

KATHRYN: It really came out of a life long love of food, coupled with an awareness and interest in how food affects our health. My mum is a really good cook and she was also interested in healthy food, so I grew up eating lots of vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and being encouraged to try different foods. I also had really bad eczema as a kid, and through that became increasingly aware of the connection between the food I ate, my eczema and also my health and wellbeing in general. I found this really intriguing, interesting and potentially powerful.

JULES: As a practicing nutritionist you must encounter a lot of interesting characters and a lot of interesting diets. What’s the most common mistake your clients make before they start seeing you?

KATHRYN: The big gaping hole for the vast majority of people is vegetables – they’re simply not eating enough. And that’s true of the general population. Even the best estimates only have 30% of Australians eating the basic minimum amount of vegies each day. So a lot of the work I do is around encouraging and increasing vegetable awareness and cooking skills – talking about how to use them, ways to make it easier to prep, how to get more into your day and so on.

JULES: The world of nutrition and diets tends to be a confusing one for even people that are food interested, what’s the most simple way for the average person to eat well?

KATHRYN: Eating has become immensely confusing. I have a lot of sympathy for Michael Pollan’s criticisms of “nutritionism” (despite being a nutritionist!) for making food difficult, when it really shouldn’t be. I guess I have four basic guidelines that I try to follow personally, and encourage others to try:

1. To eat as wide a variety of foods as possible
2. Include plenty of vegetables – more than you think
3. Try to get in tune with your hunger signs
4. Don’t over-eat . . . and don’t worry about leaving food on your plate

JULES: I was having a poke around Limes and Lycopene and I came across a few posts on eating 5 serves of vegetables a day. I think I might be one of those people you mention who thinks they have a healthy diet but doesn’t actually eat enough veggies. Can you share with us why 5 serves are so important and how we can make sure we’re getting enough veg?

KATHRYN: You’re not alone Jules, as I mentioned before, even the best estimates are that only 30% of Australians are eating the five serves. I was also reading a NY Times article earlier in the week saying just 26% of Americans are having three or more serves. It’s one of the big public health failures, that despite all the promotion and talk about the importance of vegies people are not getting enough.

Being blunt, if you’re missing out on vegies, then no matter what else you’re doing, your diet isn’t really that healthy. They’re too important. Vegetables are packed full of vital nutrients, many of which are not available from other foods and despite what the supplement manufacturers might say, you can’t get them from a pill either, you have to get them from foods. Making sure you have enough vegies is going to make you feel better now, but they’re also your insurance against health problems in the future.

JULES: What are your thoughts on organic food? Are we getting better nutrition with the higher price tag?

KATHRYN: The jury is still out on that one Jules. It’s actually incredibly hard to test the nutrient levels and come up with a definitive answer, because there are so many other factors which affect the nutrient content of foods – how it’s harvested, stored, prepared, the time since harvest, and so on. And in fact the whole debate is complex, because organic is not just about nutrients, it’s also a farming system which taps into issues of sustainability, food security . . . and so on.

More and more what we’re seeing is that freshness is the key. Doesn’t matter if it’s organic or conventionally farmed, if your spinach is two weeks old the nutrients will have significantly degraded. Plus the organic or not debate shouldn’t distract from the importance of eating fresh foods. Research clearly shows the importance of fruit and vegies, so if you can’t afford organics, or your local supermarket only stocks wrinkly, old organic vegies, then buy the freshest food you can and use that.

JULES: You’re a vegetarian I understand, I’m always fascinated why people choose different diets. What was the driving force behind your decision to stop eating meat? Have you ever considered going the whole hog (pardon the expression) and becoming vegan?

KATHRYN: Becoming a vegetarian was a decision I made about 18 years ago, after becoming aware of some of the animal welfare issues around conventional framing. It was a documentary on pig farming which tipped me over the edge! Originally I’d planned to eat organic meat, because of their better animal welfare record, but I just couldn’t afford it and back then organic meat was incredibly hard to find.

I have thought about going vegan and I find myself eating less and less dairy these days. But I still eat eggs and find them such a useful food – both nutritionally, and also for easy, end-of-a-long-day meals.

JULES: What advice would you give anyone considering becoming vegetarian or even vegan?

KATHRYN: Read up on it first. It is possible to eat really well and be healthy both as a vegetarian and a vegan, but you have to know what you’re doing.

JULES: I love the look of your e-magazine, An Honest Kitchen. What’s it all about and what do you and Lucy have planned for the future of An Honest Kitchen?

KATHRYN: An Honest Kitchen is a collection of recipes, photographs and articles based on real food. By this we mean the kind of food that you might cook when you come home from work exhausted, but still wanting to eat well. There are so many celebrity and chef cookbooks out there, full of complicated recipes and photographs of glossy, sexed up, unattainable food. While they may be fascinating, they can intimidate a nervous cook. Everyday cooking is not rocket science and we wanted to show that healthy food is possible and also delicious.

We focus on being honest about food – what’s involved in making a meal, how we approach cooking, what you need to take care with and where short-cuts and fudges are possible. This honesty also extends to Lucy’s photography. All the photos are taken in our kitchens, with natural light. The food is simply plated and then photographed before being devoured. No post production involved.

Over the last few months we’ve been taking a break from An Honest Kitchen, but we’re still cooking, eating, talking and thinking about where to go from here. We have some exciting plans, which will unfold over the next few months.

JULES: I recently received a question in the comments of stonesoup from a reader which I thought was more up your alley. Nic writes: ‘I have a non dessert question…I’ve been eating one of your 5ingredient recipes almost every night for the last 3 weeks and I’ve noticed that whilst I’m certainly enjoying my dinners much more, I’m not eating the variety of vegetables each night that I used to. I’m still eating a variety over a period of week, just not each day. My question is nutritionally speaking, if I’m still eating the same quantity of vegetables and a variety over the week, is it as good as eating a variety of vegetables everyday? I was definitely suffering vegetable boredom before eating the same veggies every night so I’m hoping the answer be that it’s just as good!’

KATHRYN: Variety is really important – it’s one of the best ways of ensuring you get all the nutrients you need. Given how important vegies are, it follows that it’s also a really good idea to have a variety of vegies. If you do this every day, then great, but you can also do it over the week, as your reader mentions, and even over the month.

JULES: And finally, thanks for taking the time to talk to stonesoup. I saw on Twitter that you’ve recently been chook sitting. Are you thinking about getting your own urban chickens?

KATHRYN: Oh yes! I’ve been chicken minding recently, for some friends who went overseas and it’s been a good test run to find out what having chickens is really like. I’ve loved it. They’re such funny, nosy, cheeky creatures and I found myself really sorry to see them go. I’m missing them (and the eggs) enormously. So yes, I’m looking at getting a couple of my own, in the next few months.

And Jules, thanks so much for asking me to be a part of Stonesoup.

caulflower 'pasta' with peas & ricotta-3
[5 ingredients]
cauliflower ‘pasta’ with peas & ricotta

serves 2

If you’re not into cauliflower, you could always serve this sauce with some short pasta.

Frozen peas work a treat here. The trick is to cook them long enough so they’re nice and sweet and tender. If peas aren’t your thing (I understand completely!) you could use double podded broad beans instead. Or just skip the veg and go for a ricotta-cheesy cauliflower dish.

For a dairy-free option, cook the peas in some chilli oil, toss in the cooked cauliflower and finish everything off with a squeeze of lemon and some toasted sliced almonds.

1/2 head cauliflower, chopped into tiny trees
250g (1/2 lb) frozen peas
1/2 bunch mint, leaves picked
250g (1/2 lb) ricotta
2 handfuls grated parmesan cheese

1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil.

2. Simmer cauliflower for 10 – 12 minutes, or until tender,

3. Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in another saucepan. Cook peas over a medium high heat for 5 – 8 minutes, or until peas are tender and starting to go a little wrinkly.

4. Remove from the heat and stir through the mint.

5. Drain cauli and return the peas to the heat.

6. Toss cauli in with the peas and add ricotta. Stir until ricotta is heated and coating everything. Taste & season.

_________________________________________________________

A big THANKYOU to everyone who applied for the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School Scholarship. I was a little overwhelmed by the interest. I’ll be notifying entrants of the results of their application in the next day or so and will announce the winners here (if they’re cool with being announced) on Monday.

In the mean time, it’s not too late to register for Solve Your Dinner Dilemma, the 4 week class starting on Sunday. Head over to stonesoupvirtualcookeryschool.com for more details.

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{ 29 comments }

Wei-Wei October 21, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Can you get TOO many veggies? I find that my meals are always, always centered around veggies to a level where I might not get some of the other stuff. Is that disordered? :(

jules October 21, 2010 at 4:12 pm

no wei wei. that’s awesome – we could all learn something from you!

Wendy October 21, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Great interview. Kathryn’s blog is one of my favourites. :)

Tracy Willans October 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Just imagining the recipe with roasted cauliflower, now that would be awesome. Another vegetarian here, and again mainly for reasons to do with animal welfare and I have just taken grains out of my diet temporarily so am eating enormous quantities of veg.

Nic October 21, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Thank you for asking my question. I’m so pleased I don’t have to go back to vegetable boredom. They taste so much better when they’re the feature of the meal. I eat a lot of green vegies, now I just need to add more colour.
Thanks again!
Nic

Marie (a.k.a. gardenfreshtomatoes) October 21, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Wonderful interview, and thanks for the introduction to Kathryn’s blog. I think I’ll find myself a regular reader!

As it’s Autumn in the States now, I’m thinking sauteed spinach in place of the peas… garlic, no mint… Another blow to Vegetable Boredom!

You’re not the only one, Nic!

Jennifer Jo October 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm

But what does “five vegetables a day” actually mean? You and Kathryn didn’t really play out that question and I’m interested in understanding it better—because if we all think we are eating enough veggies but aren’t, then we need a little more instruction to help us see the error of our ways…

Astrid @ http://carfreeinannarbor.blogspot.com/ October 21, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Great interview, I haven’t checked out the blog yet. Would it be possible to see a day’s worth of vegetarian eating by a nutritionist? I agree with the previous commenter that we need more instruction, since we are generally missing the mark – and pictures are great.

Johanna GGG October 21, 2010 at 9:46 pm

lovely interview – kathryn’s advice is always useful for keeping me on track – more vegies is definitely something I could do with – and at this time of year it is so much easier to eat lots of fresh produce

Blake October 21, 2010 at 11:47 pm

I’m always looking for new ways to make veggies the center piece of my meals. Thanks for posting this!

Gianpaolo Pietri | Simply Optimal October 22, 2010 at 2:04 am

Love it! I really need to start focusing on increasing veggie intake in the next few weeks.
I wonder which are the top 5 veggies to focus on?

faeviante October 22, 2010 at 3:36 am

I agree with Jennifer Jo’s question – I don’t really understand what “five a day” actually means. Because on most days I only eat three meals, and on the rare occasion that I find myself craving a snack inbetween, I can’t exactly just run off and start chopping things.

Another thing I worry about is that I’m allergic to almost all fruits and vegetables when they’re raw, so I cook them really thoroughly. Sometimes I wonder if I kill off all the nutrients that way … I’d love to talk to a nutritionist about that, but at the moment I can’t afford it.

An Honest Kitchen sounds really interesting though, and thanks for linking to Limes & Lycopene.

Erin S. October 22, 2010 at 5:43 am

Trying to get my 5-7 a day of vegetables in as well. I know I feel better in general when I have a salad and some other fruit and vegetables. Can really tell by how I feel when I slip into unhealthy eating.

I am thinking there may be a lot of unexplored territory with vegetables and eggs (baked, poached, etc.) especially with those quick after work meals of 5 ingredients, or weekend breakfast.

jules October 22, 2010 at 7:43 am

GP
It’s all about variety so you wouldn’t want to narrow it down to just a top 5 or even top 10 list… maybe a top 100 ;)

faeviante, astrid, jennifer
excellent question. glad you asked. kathryn actually goes into it in a lot of detail on her blog. best to have a look over here: http://kathrynelliott.com.au/blog/2007/01/07/what-actually-is-five-serves
but will put it on my list to post about as well.

tracy
I’m hearing you about the roast cauliflower – I almost did it that way but decided it would take it away from the ‘pasta’ vibe…but I think it would be just lovely.

marie
loving the idea of sauteed spinach

My Restaurants Melbourne October 22, 2010 at 9:14 am

i love my veges but I lack eating enough fruit!! this is a great interview

Sara October 22, 2010 at 9:46 am

Great interview!! :)

jennifer October 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Great idea and a really informative and interesting interview with Kathryn Ellliott – thank you!

Zo @ Two Spoons October 24, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Brilliant, brilliant post – couldn’t thank you enough for bringing attention to this. I remember in high school, only two girls in my class of about 25 were getting their 5 servings of vegetables a day, after keeping a food diary for a week. Interestingly, we both had very Asian parents who still fed us meals that were very vegetable-centred. We both loved vegetables and had no problem with them due to this focus, and I think that helps make vegetables more appealing as well. Sadly most people’s idea of a meal is still very “meat and three veg” based, and the veges are often those awful frozen mixes (I have nothing against frozen mixes nutritionally but the carrot, pea and corn mixes are always just dreadful!). There’s also this obsession with boiling the life out of veges which of course is going to make them taste awful – I doubt a boiled piece of meat would taste good either!

Also, going vegetarian is an easy way to get more veges into one’s diet although setting a strict limit on meat consumption can also help. Currently I’m sticking to local, organic, free range meats once a month, and this helps keep costs down and ensures a high intake of vegetables and fruit.

Erin C. October 24, 2010 at 7:50 pm

When you really need to be heard because you’ve got something
really important to share. This is the way to do it. Your interview
give us pointers on how to be extra healthy, and create the new look
of vegetables.

kathryn October 25, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Lovely to read everyone’s comments, thoughts and questions. Faeviante and Jennifer, you’ll find lots more information about what five serves of vegetables actually is and how to include them in your day on my blog. The link that Jules mentions above is a good start.

Astrid, I have in the past blogged two weeks worth of photographs of the food I eat – you’ll find it in my blog if you search for “what I eat”. Alternatively I keep a regular Food Diary on Twitter, if you watch @limeslycopene. I regularly tweet what I eat, including links to recipes and ideas I’m using.

jules October 25, 2010 at 6:13 pm

thanks for dropping by kathryn

thanks erin

zo
thanks for sharing the story of your school. lucky you having wise, veggie centred parents

Arwen from Hoglet K October 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm

I like the way you’ve paired a nice vegetarian recipe with a discussion about getting plenty of veggies and variety.

Majeeda November 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I think I am a person who doesn’t quite get the 5 veges too ): When you read the guidelines you realise just how much you should be eating and it’s really quite large amounts of vegetables compared to what most people put into the dishes they make. One of the best ways (one which I do sometimes) is simply to add more vege than what the recipe calls for.

Thank you so much for this wonderful interview – so much important information and I really feel inspired after reading. I am going to make a concerted effort to increase my intake even more.

I can relate to the discussion about real food. Life in the kitchen is not all about restaurant style meals and trying out new things every night (well not for most of us anyway). It has to be practical, it has to be down–to-earth and real. Otherwise it’s not possible to keep it up when you have a life outside the kitchen as well. I have made huge changes to the way I live in terms of food and cooking which I have documented in a book called “The Blissful Kitchen” (http://www.theblissfulkitchen.com) so that others can use similar steps to what I did in order to simplify life in the kitchen and hopefully (though it’s up to each person) to become more healthy too. So it’s a subject that I feel strongly on. :)

For the person who asked about what getting 5 veges really means, I love Kathryn’s post on it, in particular because she gives visual examples of what is meant. I’ve also found this old government program website helpful in the past: http://www.gofor2and5.com.au/

Ashley November 24, 2010 at 1:58 pm

I made this a few nights ago, and it was great! My husband wanted something low carb, and this was easy and delicious. I posted a review and link over on my blog. Thanks for the inspiration! I love the idea of using cauliflower instead of pasta!

Jenny @ Art, Wine and Design April 1, 2011 at 12:52 am

I tried this recipe last night and it was wonderful!! I served it with fresh sliced mushrooms (cooked with garlic, butter, sea salt and pepper). It was a wonderful meal and my meat loving husband really enjoyed it! I didn’t have the mint and it still turned out great.

afracooking August 31, 2012 at 12:15 am

Cauli is one of these underrated veggies. I love eating it – really like the idea of using it instead of pasta! Must try this recipe!

afracooking October 15, 2012 at 2:09 am

I only recently discoverd how versatile cauliflower is. I loved loved loved this recipe. I liked it so much I shared it on my blog http://afracooking.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/cauliflower-pasta-with-ricotta-and-peas/
I almost did not get to thank you: I forgot to note where I found this recipe. But as I mentioned this in my post, a fan of yours let me know !

jules November 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Thanks for letting me know afra!
So glad you liked the recipe :)

Shirleen Julius January 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs every day. It will always be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their store. I’d prefer to use some with the content on my blog whether you don’t mind. Naturally I’ll give you a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.

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