“Europe has challenged my fear of carbs”
The last month of living in Berlin has certainly challenged my view on what a healthy approach to nutrition is. It is only here in Europe, surrounded by the smell of freshly baked croissants, bagels, pastas and pizza’s, where I realised how different my ‘Food life’ was back in South Africa. In SA, Cape Town in particular you can’t go far without finding a café boldly advertising it’s Low Carb meal options and all the Super Foods they have to offer. This is one of the things I personally really love about that place. But, as much as I agree that over eating anything, especially refined carbohydrates is, and that this type of indulgence will only lead to blood sugar chaos, energy spikes and flabby bodies. I have been forced into reconsidering my response to carbohydrates, which, in the last few years I had significantly reduced in my day-to-day life. Rethinking HOW to approach my nutrition here in a country where ‘Banting’ is a foreign concept and ‘Calulirice’ is not a thing, was initially a huge challenge and shock to the system.
In countries like South Africa, Australia & New Zealand, where special foods and diets are well covered topics, it is fairly easy to commit to very rigid ‘anti-carb’ behaviour, simply because it has an infrastructure there. Believe me as someone who value’s health and taking care of one’s body, I understand the desire to move towards the more Paleo, clean, raw etc. ways of eating. There is a lot of value in being responsible about what you put into your body I assure you. And being mindful should be a permanent part of your day no matter where you live in the world.
What Berlin, and I’m sure most of Europe, will reflect is a pretty relaxed approach to food in general. There is no pressure to eat in any particular type of way. Generally the gluten free, sugar free and special options, all available at the local BIO or health shops, are reserved for people who have food allergies and sensitive syndromes. The average person is all to happy to grab a warm pretzel or a Currywurst from the café stand near the underground if need be.
I often find myself sitting at a café sipping my café crema, what we down south, would call an Americano or milsch café (cappuccino) watching in fascination how people go about their lives. People watching is one of my favourite parts of travelling. It was here, in a local coffee shop, my first week in Berlin, I found myself starring at the breakfast menu feeling totally overwhelmed. I scanned the options and couldn’t find anything that would fit into my well-established and tailored ‘Food-Lifestyle’. After this initial shock I realised that I had developed a bit of a carb phobia, not intentionally of course, but through the bad media around carbs and the constant avoidance of such foods, I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge to rewire my brain. After all I wanted to embrace the culture of the city and as you will know food is often found at the center of most social community based events.
Now, as a Nutrition Consultant it is important for me to say that if you are someone who is struggling with excess body fat, then ‘lower-carb living’ is absolutely one of the easiest ways to bring your body fat down to a healthy level. In these cases I always suggest sticking to low GI, slow release carb options like sweet potatoes and brown rice. But, for the average healthy person it’s important that you are able to LIVE life in a way that makes you a happy.
Back to Berlin…I knew I had to start feeling comfortable with the idea of sitting down for dinner with new friends in a foreign country without freaking out about how much sugar, salt, type of flour has been used in preparing the food. Let’s face it, it’s no fun going out with someone who refuses to join in.
When I looked at the people around me, I was fascinated to find that the ratio of baked goods, ice-cream, bread and beer didn’t, in my own South African wired brain, correspond with the general physical condition of the public. I.e. not many people here have huge weight issues. But then it hit me, no one I know or have met in this city in the last month uses a car. Instead they all have very well equipped bicycles with baskets, bells, the whole toot.
Seeing a mom with her baby tied to her back, a toddler in a seat in front of her, her handbag in the rear basket and the groceries being towed behind her bike, is a fairly common sight. A young student balancing a case of beer as he cycles down the main road, I could see he had done this many times before.
On average, I walk 11 000 steps just getting around from place to place on a daily basis (ok I don’t have a desk job). So surely it makes sense that, if your diet consists of 60-75% carbohydrates, your body would use this instant energy to fuel all the physical exercise.
Of course even active people can overdo the carb intake, by eating too much of the wrong types of carbs. All I am saying, is that including good carbs in your week, in the form of high fiber nutrient packet veggies, brown rice, oats, the odd fresh rye bread or bagel won’t do any harm, even a real treat like an ice cream or 'Kouchen' (cake) should be processed on your next day of commuting. Unless you are insulin resistant or have diabetes in the family or even IBS (all good reasons for being careful of what you eat) you do not have to have a CARB FOBIA.
My summary- Analyse your lifestyle and tailor your nutrition according to what you do on a daily basis. Make sure that your are getting all your essential nutrients, protein and healthy fats.
If you are very active, your body will use more energy, and thus have more room for a ‘carby’ meal here and there. If you are more sedentary, it’s advisable to avoid the higher carb options, simply because excess energy tends to sit in unwanted places.
But overall it’s important to have a good relationship with food, remember it is a life giving substance first and foremost. If food was not there to be enjoyed, I’m sure God would easily have given us 1 single pill or food type to sustain us. But, instead we have an abundance of colour and flavour choices to have fun with. Remember my golden rule 80% well balanced 20% fun.
Live life well and enjoy it!
Q- What does your Berlin nutrition day look like?
Anna: Oh my word, I literally have the most random collection of food in the house at the moment. Here in Europe you can only buy as much as you can carry so I’m left with what ever Alex hasn’t eaten yet, hehe.
My last day here was as follows:
150g Plain yoghurt with 1 Tbs raw muesli sprinkled over
1 medium apple, that wished it was a Granny Smith
1 small head butter lettuce
5 halved Italian cherry tomatoes
1 piece last nights roast chicken 150g I would say
½ fresh rye roll with 1 tsp sugar free peanut butter
½ cup of mixed lentils, split green peas & kidney beans
I soaked these overnight and seasoned with curry powder
I spooned the above onto fresh butter lettuce and rolled them up into little veggie wraps (I ate about 5)
1 Chicken drumstick and some white meat
½ cup creamy spinach (from a box I’m afraid)
Alex ate the other half of my rye roll from earlier;-P
Dessert- (my own invention, spur of the moment)
100g of the same plain Greek yoghurt as breakfast, with 1tsp raw unsweetened cocoa powder mixed in and ½ tsp honey or 8 drops sweetener of choice
Served with a warm cup of tea