Interested in the Paleo diet? Perhaps you’ve tried it before but found it a little too militant and restrictive? Well let me introduce you to the gorgeous Irena Macri, the creator of popular food blog Eat Drink Paleo and the author of two cookbooks (including her latest, Happy Go Paleo).
The Inspired Table’s messaging around food has alway been no labels and less restriction, and Irena’s food philosophies are 100% aligned, so I’m thrilled to share this interview with you as part of this week’s Inspired Wednesdays. Enjoy!
You describe yourself as a Paleo enthusiast, but your approach is a little softer. Can you explain how it differs from the often over-publicised and militant Paleo diet and how you arrived at this Paleo juncture?
Traditionally, the 100% paleo diet recommends avoidance of all grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, processed and hydrogenated oils, and quite often alcohol and coffee. Although I think this approach is great as a starting point – a sort of a reset to your system or a foundation if you wish – it’s not necessary to maintain 24/7. You can adjust these guidelines to suit your own needs and sensitivities and still get the health benefits.
For me, and many other people who have chosen paleo as their preferred way of eating, this means incorporating some ‘not-so-paleo’ foods back into the diet and making the whole approach a little more relaxed. I can tolerate most fermented and high fat dairy well so I use butter, yoghurt and some cheeses in my cooking. I also eat some white rice, white potatoes, buckwheat and quinoa in moderation. In my book Happy Go Paleo I discuss this relaxed approach and why I include these foods in more detail but the point is that they are not a complete no-no and that makes the paleo diet much more accessible. Plus, life just wouldn’t be fun without a cheeky glass of wine or some black gold (aka coffee).
Why do you think the Paleo diet is so controversial? It’s really no more regimented or ruled defined than any of the other diets doing the rounds…
I think people often get the wrong idea about paleo. They assume that all we eat is meat, which the media paints as a bad thing, but in fact paleo is 70% plant based; they always drag the cavemen into the picture and it’s not really about replicating the ancestors; they assume it’s super low in carbohydrates but it’s simply lower in carbohydrates than the traditional Western diet; or they read that it lacks in certain nutrients, which it doesn’t if you keep it varied and balanced.
All of this is fuelled by the mainstream media and the more you read between the lines of what is published and how paleo diet is portrayed, the more you will see that it’s often driven by money, politics and big food corporations who are not benefiting from the popularity of this way of eating and living. It’s not in their interest that people choose a piece of beautiful grass fed beef or some grilled fish and a giant plate of vegetables cooked in olive oil or butter over a cheap sandwich, pasta, cereal and milk, or soy sausages.
What foodie mentors inspire you?
I get inspired by many different food philosophies. I love what some vegan and raw foodies and chefs do with food and I equally admire the nose-to-tail meat lovers. I am a big fan of Jamie Oliver, who I know has made a huge empire from his name, but he really is a great ambassador for eating less processed foods and less sugar, and for learning where your food comes from. I love what Sarah Wilson does in Australia around food wastage, cutting out the junk and listening to your body. Maggie Beer is another favourite. There are so many fantastic bloggers and up and coming authors in Australia and abroad as well – too many to choose from.
Your first cookbook Eat Drink Paleo, was an international bestseller, your blog of the same name is a hub of Paleo recipes and you’re just about to release your second cookbook Happy Go Paleo. Where do you draw your recipe inspiration from?
Everywhere really. I travel a lot so I always get ideas from other cuisines – I always visit a food market and try as many local dishes as possible. When I develop a recipe, I often start with a particular ingredient that’s in season and I draw from my bank of experiences and knowledge about flavours, textures, and cooking methods (it’s like a spreadsheet in my head). Sometimes I dream up a recipe and have to wake up and write it down quickly.
For my new cookbook Happy Go Paleo, I actually created the meals and recipes around certain themes such as Game of Thrones (inspired by my love of the book series and how the food is described by the author), Turkish Delights (inspired by my trip to Turkey) or Bronte Express (my favourite BBQ dishes from when I lived near Bronte Beach in Sydney).
Mindful eating plays an integral part in The Inspired Table’s wellness in what ways do you practice mindfulness?
I cook at home…a lot. I think the whole eating experience starts in the kitchen when you can touch the food and get into a sort of a zen state while chopping and mixing things. Smelling the aromas of the food before eating is great for developing all those digestive juices too. I then like to sit down and eat the meal slowly without too many distractions.
It’s also about paying more attention to where your food comes from or that it’s seasonal and local as much as possible. It’s not always easy and I am the first to admit that sometimes I just grab something quick in the supermarket, but I do try to be mindful about the food I buy and how I prepare it.
If you could only pass on one piece of advice for optimal health and happiness, what would it be?
Keep it balanced and keep it real.
Can you name three people that inspire you?
- Lauren Singer from Trash is For Tossers , a New York blogger who lives with minimal wastage. It’s amazing how little rubbish she accumulates over a year. We can all be more conscientious about wastage (both food and non-food items).
- Sarah Wilson – I love her message but I also admire that she has her own ethos and she sticks to her guns.
- Everyday heroes – people that do amazing, moving things every day for no rewards or recognition – they are always inspiring.
What is your favourite inspirational quote (and who is it by)?
I am not sure who said this but it’s on my favourite quotes. It inspires me to seize the day, have fun, be productive and a little cheeky 😉
Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning the devil says “Oh crap, she’s up!”
Connect with Irena: