Dark, Moist Chocolate Quinoa Cake

Dark Moist Chocolate Quinoa Cake   serves 12 to 15
by Maria Middlestead, Registered Clinical Nutritionist, author of
The Shape Diet

Paleo – with no gluten, grain, dairy or cane sugar; options for soy

Yes, you can have your cake and your high-protein, high-fibre diet too. Several times I have served this to acclaim by conservative types, keener on Edmonds Cookery-style tradition than health-factors. My grandchildren loved it too.

This keeps wonderfully well, even when refrigerated during hot weather. It is substantial, so serve in small slices. The chopped chocolate on top adds an extra taste-hit and pleasing texture.

Quinoa is technically a high protein seed, but gets cooked and used like a grain. I cook extra for this cake. Then use the rest for lunch with salad and nuts. Or mix with egg, herbs and onion and cook as patties. Cooked quinoa is also delicious for breakfast. Mix with linseed, coconut, cinnamon, almonds and raisins. Add enough Milk Option to cover and chill for one hour or overnight. Serve with fresh fruit, or top with date syrup.

1 ½ cups cooked quinoa*
¾ cup rinsed dates
3 large free-range eggs
6 Tbsp (90 ml) coconut oil*
6 Tbsp honey (90 ml) or maple syrup
¼ cup Milk Option*
3 Tbsp cold-pressed oil, such as extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract*
   ***
6 Tbsp cocoa powder*
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp sea salt
   ***
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup raisins, or chopped prunes

Chocolate Icing
½ cup rinsed dates
½ cup mild nut butter such as almond butter, or hulled tahini, or use half and half
6 Tbsp Milk Option*
6 Tbsp maple syrup
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract*
   ***
3 Tbsp chopped vegan chocolate bar such as Wellington Coconut-Milk Chocolate* (no cane sugar)

Oil a deep 23 cm cake pan. Purchase pre-cooked quinoa, or prepare as below*. This can be done days in advance. Cooking ¾ cup dry quinoa will provide enough for the cake plus about 1 cup extra for lunch, breakfast or other uses.

In a food processor, place the quinoa, eggs, dates (rinse to soften), oils, honey, milk and vanilla. Whizz until mostly smooth. Add the dry ingredients: cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whizz until well mixed (no need to clean the food processor).

Add the raisins and chopped walnuts. Either stir in or pulse briefly to retain their textures. Pour batter into the oiled pan. Bake at 180°C for 35 to 45 minutes until a skewer in the centre tests dry. Cool thoroughly on a wire rack before icing.

In the food processor place the dates (rinse to soften), nut butter/tahini option, Milk Option, maple syrup, cocoa powder and vanilla. Whizz until smooth. Spread over the cooled cake. Sprinkle with chopped chocolate.

Shopping and Preparation Tips*

  • Chocolate: that is dairy/gluten-free is available in supermarkets, but does contain cane sugar (eg Whittaker’s Dark Ghana). Also at supermarkets is vegan and cane sugar-free, artificial sweetener- and additive-free chocolate (eg Panna, Wellington, Zimt); usually sweetened with coconut sugar.
  • Coconut oil: white, solid and available in jars from health stores and most supermarkets. Best quality is virgin or cold-pressed and organic, such as Ceres brand. Flavour and aroma should be mild. Less prone to oxidation and damage by heat than most other cooking oils. Can use to replace oil or butter in many recipes.
  • Milk Options: organic cow, goat, soy, oat, almond or hazelnut milk is available in supermarkets. Or use rice milk – to each cup add 1 Tbsp coconut cream or mild cold-pressed oil for more body. Use options in same quantity as regular milk called for. Check packets for added sugar; ensure soy milk is made from the whole bean (less processed). Pure Harvest is a good organic brand.
  • Quinoa: (pronounced ‘keen-wah’) is a seed from Peru: high protein and fibre, low-starch; good source of manganese, magnesium, folate, flavonoids, some Omega 3 and other anti-inflammatory factors. It has a mild nutty taste; resembles and is used like a grain such as rice. Many people who are grain-sensitive can do well on quinoa as it is not a member of the grass family. Whole quinoa (looks like millet) is in most supermarkets, as is pre-cooked. Use 1 part rinsed quinoa to 2 parts water (or stock for savoury dishes). Cover, boil and cook like rice for 12-15 minutes.
  • Tahini: is a paste – like runny peanut butter – made from ground sesame seeds and possibly added oil. It is available in jars in supermarkets. Referring to the processing of the seeds, it may be labelled ‘unhulled’ which has a bitter taste (traditionally for East Asian cooking), or ‘hulled’ which has slightly lower nutrient levels but a milder flavour (this is a Middle Eastern staple such as used in hummus). Try on crackers, toast and baked vegetables. As with nut butters, store in the refrigerator.
  • Vanilla and other Extracts: use top quality vanilla without artificial additives; it and other real flavours such as almond are often termed extract (as opposed to faux essence, often labelled ‘vanillin’). Good brands available locally and overseas are: Heilala Vanilla and Equagold. These are in most supermarkets and health stores.

A Culinary Circle from Iceland to Malta

A Culinary Circle from Iceland to Ireland, Algeria, Tunisia, and Malta

ICELAND

It took 3 flights and 40 hours to get from one geothermal island to another. Unfortunately, my luggage preferred to holiday in Copenhagen. Thankfully I packed my carry-on strategically. Three days later my bag was delivered. It felt longer.

August highs in Iceland average 13 degrees. One day only was 20. It is a sunny 9 degrees as we head off for a whale watching cruise. Two humpbacks give us more than an hour of frolicking as they repeatedly spout, and dive with tails flipping just metres away.

The food has been excellent. Fish is superbly fresh. Soft, black rye bread, steamed for 24 hours in a hot spring, gets slathered with butter, and pickled herring that is tender and sweet like smoked salmon. It is served with 38 proof potato spirits. I tried surprisingly mild shots of cod liver oil for breakfast. Fermented Skyr for dessert and breakfast is a cross between thick yogurt and soft cheese, mixed with tiny berries.

Trees here too are small and slow growing as warmth and light can be meagre. Outside of towns are volcanic islands, rapids, seals, caribou, fjords, spectacular waterfalls, people fishing for salmon, vast lakes with blue ducks and hundreds of swans, fields of scoria green with moss and lichen.

Mountain tops are often flat like cake layers, sliced by advancing glaciers. Isolated farms have sheep with curved Viking horns, wild mink, and long maned horses. Survival here favours short, stocky, and furry. Hobbits would do well. Geysers erupt and Arctic winds threaten to blow me over.

Towns are named to torture tourists. I stay at Borgarfjordureystri, a fishing village of 85 inhabitants. Brightly coloured houses, some with sod roofs, have names instead of numbers. I pick wild blueberries and a nearby family invites me to dinner. We eat pink Arctic char and foraged mushrooms. Poetry is read, and tales of elves and trolls are told with gravitas.

One day I stand between the high rocky sides of the rift valley where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America meet. This dark, narrow, and savage gouge was used compellingly in Game of Thrones. The whole country could erupt like White Island, and locals reference our New Zealand disaster.

Along the Ring Road, my bus travels the southeast coast past Europe’s biggest glacier. We stop and watch nesting puffins swoop and feed. A small boat takes us through a lagoon with mighty icebergs seemingly constructed from different shades of blueberry meringue. Swimming is not recommended with water at 4 degrees.

We visit a geothermal plant. The country’s power is from 100% renewable sources. The air is 12 degrees, but I happily swim and soak in the toasty waters of the Blue Lagoon with my new friend Mona, a retired Irish nurse living in Sydney. We enjoy silica facials, champagne, and jollity.

More books are published here than in any other nation. It has no standing army and one of the lowest global crime rates. 80% of citizens are members of the Lutheran Church. Iceland doesn’t allow Uber, Starbucks, MacDonalds, casinos or strip clubs. The population is the size of Christchurch. All school children learn Icelandic, Danish and English. People are hardy, proud, friendly, and industrious. Humans are extraordinarily resourceful. No other species roams and adapts so extensively to extreme environments.

Odin would approve.   

IRELAND – Fifty Shades of Green

Eleventh century church bells ring with frequency and joy. Buildings are elegantly Georgian brick. Most streets have a succession of ancient pubs with larrikin names. A city park is home to wild deer, and a statue of the local boy who became Duke of Wellington, and defeated Napoleon. Another lad, Bram Stoker, used Irish mythology to create Count Dracula. This must be Dublin.

At a nearby rural estate I dine at Ballyknocken Cooking School with owner and TV food star, Catherine Byrne-Fulvio. The 1855 cottage is full of charm and antiques. She serves a three-course meal sourced mostly from her clearly loved garden. A standout was fresh herb scones served with spinach, carrot and cumin soup, swirled with fresh cream. On the narrow country road back, we pass resident and actor, Daniel Day Lewis on his yellow Ducati motorbike.

More than 20% of New Zealanders have Irish ancestry. Both lands are fair, green, rolling, sea-edged, sheep-dotted, and snake-deprived. Together, among the OECD, we have the greatest number of adventurous expats living overseas.

Sadly, 93% of Northern Ireland schools remain religiously segregated. Belfast though is now booming instead of bombing. A walking tour with a local history teacher guides us through the protest art, barbed wire, and endless new apartments. The Titanic Museum is huge, prow-like, and architecturally stunning. Immersive depictions of dockside workers reveal harrowing lives even before the deadly voyage. Newsreel footage shows hungry, dirty, desperate living and working conditions.

Farther north at Ireland’s windiest point is the Giants Causeway. It was formed by shifting tectonics and red rivers of lava. However calm the surface, the earth is shaped by foundations of fire. Huge vertical columns of basalt rock thrust up and over jagged shores and tempestuous Atlantic waters.

You don’t come here for the weather. Their August summer is often like our August winter. The Romans came briefly and left. Later their Barbarian conquerors did the same. Only the English Protestant Tudors took a strategic interest, as this was a potentially dangerous landing site for their hated rivals, France and Spain. On such singularities can an entire history be shaped.

I try my first whiskey. A drink invented by the Irish and quietly reported as perfected by the Scots. There is wild salmon, plump oysters, Guinness meat pies, seafood chowder, and seaweed dishes. At breakfast I enjoy black pudding, and fried soda bread. There is every interpretation of the potato. Especially good is colcannon (mashed with cream, kale, and onion), boxty (potato pancakes), and farl (potato flatbread).

There is a grand banquet dinner and boisterous medieval entertainment at the 15th century Knappogue castle. Other meals too are accompanied by music: from harp, violin, bagpipe, Van Morrison, U2, Sinead O’Connor, to fast tapping dance. Country western music originated with the Celts in the southern United States. Their King William supporters were known as “Billies” and then hillbillies. 

I volunteer to try Gaelic dancing (did well), and the national 3,000 year old sport of hurling (did badly). I love the Irish gaiety, colourful phrasing, speedy gab, and easy wit. The castles, abbeys, drystone walls, thatched rooves, vividly painted cottages and shops.

Stroll through the grounds of Trinity College and imagine an alumni dinner with Oscar Wilde, Niels Bohr, AA Milne, Ralph Vaughan Williams, scores of royalty, politicians – and infamous spies.

This is an ideal land to practice the philosophy of its revered romantic poet, W B Yeats, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper”.     

ALGERIA

Fresh dates, camembert, pastries. You’ve probably had them. Not like this. One mouthful here is so intensely complete as to transcend any previous claimants.

This is Africa’s largest country. It has a Mediterranean coastline, snowy mountains, and an interior with the largest swathe of the Sahara. Its national animal is the adorable, blonde, huge-eared desert fox. Algiers, the capital along the sea, is known for the maze of its Kasbah, the winding lanes of the Medina, Ottoman palaces, marble mosques, the old port’s colourful fishing vessels, French boulevards and vast botanical gardens. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site – one of seven in the country.

The nation was colonised by the French from 1830. They fought together during World War II. And then viciously against each other until independence in 1962. Over one million Algerians died during that claim for independence. In 1957, one of its famous sons, Albert Camus, won the Nobel prize for literature. Women have better status here than in most Islamic countries: 60% of judges and 70% of lawyers are women. There is a lot of poverty, though that is ever decreasing, and no national debt due to petroleum and natural gas exports.

Algerian foods are a statement to its varied past. Hearty stew-topped couscous; pastry with lemon, olives and coriander; mhajab – flatbread filled with onion, tomato and then fried; rachta – pasta with veg and chickpeas; makroud – semolina parcels filled with dates, and glossy with lemon syrup. Particularly good are samsa, their triangular, densely almond and orange cookies. Despite the French influence, don’t bother asking for a glass of wine though, alcohol is rarely available.

Every aspect of arranging travel here was problematic: flights were changed; hotels were changed; walking tours difficult to book. Out of the six countries I visited, it was not just the only one to require a visa, but my passport had to be physically sent to their embassy in Canberra. Their bureaucracy (tellingly, a French word for “rule by desk”), set the entire experience somewhere between Monty Python and the Twilight Zone. Amid their many political, and socioeconomic issues, they made an important civic stipulation before my arrival: the Barbie movie was banned.

As in many other Arab countries, people are tenderly besotted with children. Otherwise surly officials, and the weary on cramped planes, gaze at screaming toddlers like they are the epitome of endearment. About 70% of the population is under 30.

Locals are hospitable and easy to engage with. They apologise for the well-known, suspicious entry requirements. Seeing other tourists is uncommon. When women of all ages pass me, they often smile softly and are quick to help. I did two 5-hour walking tours, each with smart, charming young guides who could answer my every question, discuss history and world events, find me the foods I wanted to try, and head me safely home. They spoke of wages averaging 250 Euros per month (basically double that for NZD), while rent is 150 to 200. Even doctors earn just 500 per month. Families squash together. Young people sigh about privacy being a fairytale concept.

Algerians can withdraw a small amount only of Euros each year. Downtown I pass an entire street dedicated to black market currency trading, which the heavy police presence everywhere, ignores. We Westerners are born to Luckyville.

TUNISIA

Its beauty is a surprise. Seaside towns, such as popular Sidi Bou Said, were postcard whitewashed, with vivid blue shutters, yellow doors, and crimson bougainvillea, long before the Greek islands copied them.

I stay at the Royal Victoria, built in 1662, and the former British Embassy. It is ornately Raj-style, as if designed during an opium rapture. Think the Civic Theatre turned into a hotel. I write this from my room’s balcony, which looks onto the bustle of a town square, and a street designed to resemble the broad, welcoming ramble of the Champs-Elysees.

A slim wedge of North Africa’s vast expanse, this nation comes perfumed with jasmine. The Republic of Tunisia achieved independence from the French in 1956. Customs and croissants remain. The land is home now to many mega movie sets such as for Star Wars and Indianna Jones.

With a push for more presidential power, parliament was suspended in 2021. It partially resumed in March 2023. The legitimacy remains questioned, home and abroad. As a protest, recent voter turnout was merely 11%. Oh, the privileges of democracy that we take for granted. 

Next to the parliament buildings is the Bardo. After Cairo, it is Africa’s second largest museum. Due to proximity and thus politicians’ safety reasons only, this splendid collection of antiquities remained barred for three years until the very day I visit. By chance, I was approached within by Tunisian TV. They interviewed me and filmed while I gazed at superbly curated exhibits. It was easy to enthuse.

The capital Tunis, sprawls along a lake with flamingos. I wander through the medina’s colourful markets and try cactus fruit, and mint tea from filigree pots, served with sesame cookies. Coastal homes and gardens are gloriously intense. September temperatures are 37° Celsius and beyond.

Nearby, I explore the extensive ruins of Carthage. This once wealthy maritime centre inspired poetry, and mythology. It existed for more than 500 years before its fall to Rome in 146 BC. It has one of the world’s largest historical amphitheatres, built in 238 AD for a capacity of over 30,000, and still used for theatre and concerts. If you have any lust to forge an empire, look upon these magnificent but dusty ruins, and ponder how time mocks egoic obsessions.

Tunisia ranks among the world’s top three olive oil exporters. The cuisine is a mixture of Mediterranean and Berber influences. Couscous is spicy with harissa, or sweet with orange, dates, and geranium. Brik are triangular filo parcels filled with fresh, local tuna, and preserved lemon. Zingy Merguez sausages come fragrant with sumac, fennel, garlic, and chili. For sweets enjoy bambalouni, fried dough rings soaked in honey. Or their version of makroudh: semolina dough wrapped around a thick paste of figs and almonds.

MALTA

After the dusty clamour of North Africa, Malta is clean, calm, discretely prosperous, easy and safe to traverse. It’s like a Sicilian Riviera with British infrastructure. Children starting school must learn Maltese and English. By middle school it is mandatory to study at least one other language. There is a lot of Italian speech, food, and relaxed vibe.

In area, Malta is about the size of Christchurch. It is one of 21 small islands, with 18 of them not much more than tiny, barren rocks. The main island has no lakes or rivers, but beams with 300 days of sunshine. Carob, olive, and fig trees flourish. The beauty and climate have made it a hub for the wealthy and some impressive yachts.

Historically, it has been part of almost every nearby civilisation. A home to Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, French, and lastly British. Its strategic location and natural harbour made it a fought for prize.

Malta’s golden age story is told through its baroque architecture, especially enhanced and protected by the Knights of St John for 250 years. This still active, medieval Catholic military order, built hospitals, and fed the poor. The Holy Roman Emperor, in 1530, rewarded them with sovereign rights over the island. In return, the Order made a token annual rent of a live falcon.  This payment was immortalized in the Humphrey Bogart movie, The Maltese Falcon. The territory gained independence in 1964.

I stay in the walled World Heritage capital, Valletta. Overlooking the magnificent harbour, the Barrakka Gardens were created as a private idyll for the Knights of Italy in 1661. They are full of busts, statues, and colonnades. Structured over two levels, there is a lift from the waterfront that swiftly goes up 58 metres.

Stroll through markets and find WW II memorabilia, glass blowing, and ornate lace work. I sail to the stunning Blue Grotto, weaving through its caves, and sweeping limestone arches over radiant turquoise waters.

Thanks to the excellent Valletta Street Food and Culture Walking Tour, I snack on the local favourite of pastizzi: flaky pastry stuffed with spiced peas. We have coffee mixed with orange peel and aniseed liqueur, served with a cookie, dark with treacle and honey. Other specialties are peppered sheep cheese, horsemeat (looks and tastes like beef), pies with spinach and anchovies, and prickly pear liqueur. The national dish is Stuffat tal-Fenek: rabbit and vegetables, stewed slowly in red wine.

Narrow streets run steeply to the sea. Many are profuse with restaurant tables and convivial diners. Everywhere are glimpses of effortless beauty. With this final gracious chapter, there is a mixture of joy and relief. My health and possessions have survived. Now 30°, I head for the pool and then packing. It is time to prepare for one of the world’s most popular destinations: home.    

Turkish Dip

Turkish Dip – dip, topping, sauce or spread   makes 1 ¼ cups

No gluten, dairy, legumes or nightshades

The Ottoman Empire introduced many culinary practices to southern Europe, including the use of nuts, herbs and spices pulverised to produce creamy (yet often dairy-free) sauces, dips and toppings. This recipe is based on a classic Turkish and Caucasus regional dish for Circassian Chicken. Poached chicken is served cold with this topping, which looks and taste like a cross between hummus and pesto.

Colourfully flecked, thick and flavourful, this protein, mineral and antioxidant-rich topping is wonderful as a dip for raw veg, or as a spread on crackers, bread or wraps. Or for a vegetarian main, use as a room temperature topping on cooked pumpkin, eggplant or courgette (accompany with quinoa or brown rice). Or dollop on fish or chicken; tofu kebabs or other BBQ fare.

½ cup gluten and dairy-free breadcrumbs (eg use crumbled or ground Venerdi or Bakeworks bread)
¼ cup homemade or top quality chicken stock*
   ***
½ cup walnuts
½ cup pistachios
1 tsp Spanish sweet paprika*
   ***
1 cup fresh coriander (about 1 supermarket plant), or mixed mint and parsley
2 small, or 1 large spring onion
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil*
1 large garlic clove
1 tsp herb salt with kelp*
   ***
6-8 Tbsp chicken stock*

Place the breadcrumbs in ¼ cup stock 5 minutes or more until well soaked.

In a sturdy frypan, toast walnuts, pistachios and Spanish paprika over low-medium heat about 3 minutes until fragrant, not browned. Place in a food processor with the soaked bread, coriander, onions, herbs, oil, garlic and salt. Process until well chopped. Add 6 Tbsp stock until creamy, but flecked with colour and texture. More stock can be added to thin as desired. Mixture will thicken further with standing.

Place in jar, cover and chill for up to 7 days.

Shopping and Preparation Tips*

  • Olive Oil: extra virgin olive oil is achieved by using cold mechanical pressure rather than the high heat and chemical solvents typical to most supermarket oils. These practices damage oils and the people who eat them. For information on which fats to choose for which purpose and why, see my TIPS article: The Fats of Life.

  • Paprika: only use top quality smoky, sweet Spanish paprika such as La Chinata. This is sold in small decorative tins in the supermarket. Ordinary paprika is usually stale, pale and without the punchy vigour this product contributes to dishes.

  • Stock: use homemade meat or fish stock from simmered bones for maximum flavour and nutrients, or vegetable stock (see The Shape Diet), or top quality purchased stock (theorganicfarm.co.nz). Most supermarket stock has sugar, wheat and artificial additives (see website TIPS: MSG).

  • Sea salt: is sea water dehydrated by sun. When mixed with seaweed or kelp (containing iodine and other minerals low in our soil) it is ideal in terms of flavour (interesting but not too strong) and mineral balance. Try Pacific Harvest or Malcolm Harker brands; both in health and gourmet stores. NOTE these are less salty in taste than other brands. Ordinary salt is taken from mines or sea and so highly refined over extreme heat that it contains nothing but sodium chloride. All other minerals are stripped away, such as potassium and magnesium which help regulate fluid balance and blood pressure. Bleach as a whitener and chemicals to prevent clumping may be added to table salt.

Food, Politics and Peril: En Route to Antarctica

Food, Politics and Peril: En Route to Antarctica

In contrast to the stark, white world of Antarctica ahead, I spend a few weeks travelling on my own to four South American countries that are new to me, in a tidy arc from west to east. Months of online tuition helps revive my Spanish.

First, to Chile. The flight follows the long, snowy spine of the Andes. We land in a hot bath of 32 degrees shared with 8 million Santiago-ans.

I book a taxi at the airport and have difficulty finding it. A female police officer comes over to help. She says I am speaking to too many strangers and this is dangerous. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

This crazily thin country runs from the waist of the continent to its toes – almost 3 times the length of New Zealand. Home to ancient forests, volcanoes, fjords, ski resorts, sand dunes, an abundance of seafood and wine – and the world’s most extreme 9.6 earthquake ever recorded.

I do a day tour of Valparaiso. This foggy, hilly, San Francisco-like city is on the coast and filled with poets and painters, sailors and sex workers. Its street art is considered the best in the continent. There is a maze of steep streets, crumbling mansions and eccentric charm. Stores feature local lapis lazuli and our jolly eleven global travellers share food, sites, D&M conversations, and wine tastings.

Our guide, Diego, is a school teacher who must work two jobs to merely get by. Locals often speak of this and politics too are frequently discussed. Natalie, a smart, young Melbourne lawyer on our tour, comments on the contrast of how apolitical she and most of her peers are. This can be an unquestioned luxury when times are comfortable. Illustratively, on the bus ride back, large trucks start to block the motorway as a government protest. We just manage to squeeze past before gridlock.

In Santiago I stay in the old, cosmopolitan area. Filled with gracious plazas, museums with Mayan columns, innovative art galleries, and a central station designed by Gustave Eiffel. The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is especially poignant. The exhibits tell the story of the abuses and ‘disappearances’ during the military government’s brutal control from the 1970s to the 1990s. Paving stones on some streets have the names of those known to be tortured and executed. Many have their ages inscribed as just 16 or 20. Some Westerners accuse their governments of being totalitarian. Criticise sure, but consider such stories as these to clarify your definitions.

On the street and in cafes there is eel soup; the largest cherries I’ve ever seen; chicken stew with walnut sauce; potato bread fried in pork lard; dried horsemeat; stuffed and braided intestines; desserts and beverages made with corn kernels; corn husks filled with vegetables and basil; shrimp, mullet, crab, oyster, octopus and abalone dishes. Food is history and culture on a plate.

Before any overseas travel, I check out the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. This year there are two in South America. When visiting Peru in 2017 I went to one, Central, which is currently ranked #2 in the world. Borago is now also on the list. This biodynamic farm is at the foot of one of the country’s highest mountains and achieves zero-kilometre cooking. Many courses are served on hot or cold rocks. One savoury starter looks convincingly like a slice of garnished chocolate cake. The shiny, uniform, dark exterior is actually moulded, aged venison. Inside is a vertical, heavily seeded cracker to provide upright structure and gateau-like crunch. Earthy, yet elegant and deft with surprise.

This year’s MasterChef New Zealand TV show had the local chef, Vaughan Mabee, as a host and judge. He is also the nephew of a yoga friend. I contacted him via Facebook and said how impressed I was to hear that he used to work at Noma in Copenhagen (world’s #1 restaurant for several years). I mentioned being booked for Borago. Vaughan said he is good friends with chef and owner Rudolfo. Small world!

Bolivia has the world’s most dangerous road. Rough, lined with rocks, the narrow passage crumbles toward a dizzying precipice. I leave Santa Cruz airport in a taxi and have a much scarier experience.

It is a mood challenging 41 degrees. Everywhere there is dirt, dust and neglect. Soon comes menace. Milling crowds are angry and despairing. Many are in the middle of the road and wave homemade weapons at us and other cars. At first, there seems to be no logic to this. Their argument is with the government and a proposed two year delay to the census. This might sound perplexingly trivial, but the census results are used to direct social spending. For related, politically fraudulent reasons, almost no one in Bolivia knows what the actual population is. Crazy. Today, passing drivers just happen to be more accessible for wrath than politicians. Also, throughout all these countries, what stirs general turmoil, eventually gets government attention.

I crouch low so I’m not mistaken as some symbol of foreign oppression. The driver manoeuvres like he’s doing Formula One, ploughing through several red lights and makeshift road blockades of rubbish bags and tree stumps. Buildings are set afire. Never before have I landed in a country and seriously considered immediate escape. There is no safe option though but to move forward fast.

My boutique hotel is a sanctuary in the city centre. I am not keen to leave until I am too hungry not to. Downtown is quiet. There is the poise of its Baroque architecture, though many buildings are in chronic disrepair and slough ruinously over the pavement. I stuff money in my bra and leave a little in my pocket as a decoy, in case I get stopped. Two fellow tourists I speak to, had their phones taken off them. Writing this, I feel more like a war correspondent than a tourist. It’s a dramatic travel story, as long as you get home to recount it.

Over 60% of the population is of indigenous descent. Music, dance, weaving with vicuna wool, and other textile arts and crafts are radiantly diverse. There are vast natural resources and a sparse population. Yet political crisis, social stratification, and electoral fraud make poverty and protests a way of life.

When dining, tripe is popular; lamb intestines; anticucho snacks of grilled beef heart; and soup made with vegetables, rice, and bull’s penis (the national hangover cure). Or you might prefer the regional pancakes with cloves; or bunuelo – a fritter-doughnut cross, sticky with aniseed syrup.

A patient contacts me. I urge her to await my return, but she is very concerned about her son. Despite wifi flickering like candlelight, we manage a video chat consultation. The modern world.

Bolivia can bring to mind images of bright garb, bowler hats and deserts with salt mines. Strikingly different is the relaxed and tropical east. Seated along cobbled streets, people listen to the music of the lowlands and drink chicha – a fermented corn drink. 500 acres of botanical gardens are filled with a sea of fragrances, towering orchids (Bolivia has about 3,000 species), swarms of butterflies, wandering sloths and large tortoises. Not far away in rugged, wild terrain – where Che Guevara once hiked – are pumas and bears. Beauty and danger mingle.

At the heart of the continent and beyond the usual gringo trail is steamy Paraguay. After the turmoil and rubble of Santa Cruz, I want to kiss the tarmac of capital city, Asuncion.

My hotel has a glorious pool, dependable aircon and wifi, and other worthy markers of civilisation. There are craft workshops and stalls, vibrancy and squalor, and, thanks to early British engineers, South America’s first railway. The country is resoundingly Catholic. Military service is mandatory. History is told through a succession of dictators with sprinkles of democracy. The Irish harp (originally an Egyptian invention) became the national instrument and is used to passionately play what they call polka. All culture is fusion.

I stroll through the city centre and get asked by police where I am going and why, as – guess what – there is a street protest nearby. About 65% of the population is under 30, which the teeming night life confirms. In rural areas there are Jesuit ruins; stealthy jaguar; isolated Mennonite communities; toucans and other bright, squawky look-at-me birds. I travel by taxi rather than bus, as armed robberies can occur on public transport. Not just the wildlife prowls with potential peril.

I delight in manioc bread; hot maize pudding with onion; yuca empanada; cassava patties; hot chipa rolls made with corn and peanuts; banana leaves filled with cheese and egg pie; and refreshing, cold yerba mate tea. For dinner, I eat at Bolsi, a popular restaurant since the 60s, and have two small, though filling courses and a glass of local wine for NZ$13.

In each country I book a 2 to 4 hour walking, history tour. Guru Walks offers thousands of these in over 100 countries. There is no fee and payments are based on tips. Great entrepreneurialism. It is lovely to meet many well informed and passionate guides, plus engaging fellow travellers. Here, as elsewhere, some of the young women participants say they are inspired by my solo travels. Nice for an old gal to get the nod. The world has dangers, but far more fellowship.

Finally, to South America’s smallest country. Uruguay is wedged like a round, seaside ball between the vastness of Brazil and Argentina. The population is only 3.5 million.

Before I travel, I register with the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Safe Travel site. They keep track of citizens abroad and send notice of political and natural dangers. Everywhere else on this itinerary (and previous ones in Africa and the Middle East) comes accompanied with strong warnings about crime and political instability.  In contrast, Uruguay is progressive, stable and sophisticated. The life expectancy and literacy rates are among the highest in Latin America.

The temperature drops 10 degrees to a more comfortable 23. I leave the airport in the first clean – and most expensive – cab of this trip (as soon as I get free wifi then I use Uber).  Montevideo, the capital, looks prosperous and well tended. Prices are commensurate. What buys a glamorous hotel stay in Asuncion is more like youth hostel territory here. There are occasional homeless men, but no strings of families living on the pavement, nursing infants under sheets of plastic called home.

It is a ferry ride next door to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Uruguay is like a humbler ‘Canada’ to its brasher neighbour. I join a walking tour of the old port, glorious beaches, artisan markets, antiques, museum, plaza, and a food market with over 100 stalls and eateries. You can walk for hours along the stunning Rambla walkway that hugs the sea. The arts – both traditional and innovative – are a strong part of their culture and pride. In 2013 it was the first country to fully legalise cannabis.

Our fun, young, local guide (who worked in Queenstown for 4 years) tell us that Uruguay is the least corrupt country in South America – though he adds with a chuckle, that is a low bar achievement. There is a strong feminist and LGBTQ+ community. Most people describe themselves as secular and it is illegal for government institutions to promote religion. Officially and amusingly, Christmas is thus “Family Day”, while Easter is “Tourism Week”. Meanwhile stores look as traditionally festive as ours.

There is a museum dedicated to the famous Andean plane crash of 1972. It was immortalised by the book and later movie, Alive, with its tales of heroism, desperate cannibalism, and – after 72 sub-zero days – the unexpected return of 16 survivors. I well remember the news and global, water-cooler, moral discussions that ensued.

Later there is an evening tour that includes dinner and Tango dancing. Good thing I’ve been taking Tango lessons most of the year. Ole! It’s how today’s seniors roll, baby.

Outside the main centres there are hot springs, horseback riding and gauchos. I enjoy seaweed fritters; chickpea flatbread; and steak sandwich piled high with toppings.

All these countries are soccer-mad (games are broadcast at almost every café) and meat-mad, especially for beef. Their papaya is so deeply orange that it looks caramelised. Coffee and wine are dependably good. Some type of barbeque, empanada and chili sauce are everywhere. As well as creamy, caramel dulche de leche perhaps served as a pudding; slice; or a filling for cakes, meringues, churros or cookies, or a spread for toast. I take some home for the grandchildren to try. Here in Uruguay, it is also served with quince tart for breakfast. I manage to cope.

These lands are warm and boisterous with Latino life and centuries of culture. They are a staggering contrast to my journey’s next phase and the white temple of sacred silence that is Antarctica. Even in temperature, I must pack for the extremes of 41 degrees above to 38 degrees below.

Or so I think.

Three days before the Viking cruise is due to assemble and depart, a giant rogue wave damages the ship on the previous sailing as it nears port. The Drake Passage is listed as one of the world’s worst 5 bodies of water for dangerous seas. Broken windows kill one passenger and injure four more. Unusually, a few weeks previous, another company had two people die when a wave overturned their Zodiac landing craft. My cruise is cancelled with a full refund. Tragic for some and so disappointing for me.

I’ve been a wasteful, slow developer in this regard, but in the last few years I finally learned not to catastrophise. Ah, the more pleasant sanity of acceptance followed by action. I manage to book earlier flights home – at a cost. This will be an interesting test of my travel insurance. I have a few days in the graceful elegance of Buenos Aires. I, and life’s opportunities, move on.

Humans are notoriously poor at risk perception. Cruises and air travel have a death rate of 1 in 11 million. Our most likely form of accident of any type is being near a moving car, with a rate of 1 in 5 thousand. Hmm.

Onward huskies to another day, another year, when I will visit the seventh continent.

Vegan Walnut Mushroom Pate

Vegan Walnut and Mushroom Pâté      makes 1 ½ cups

Paleo, vegan; no grain, dairy, nightshades – with options for soy

Super convincing colour, flavour and texture and popular when entertaining. Serve with small crisp crackers or toast triangles. Accompany with cornichons, radishes, pickled artichokes and baby carrots.

Or serve this for dinner with soup (eg vegetable and lentil) and toast. Or as part of a fun assemble-your-own wrap/container meal. Offer nori sheets or taco shells as a holder, or large rice crackers as a base. For more protein provide tinned fish, chopped boiled eggs, falafel, or grated tofu. For crunch, bowls of grated carrot, shredded lettuce and sliced cucumber. Offer mayo and Dijon mustard as condiments, or mix tahini with lemon juice and tamari for drizzling. Yum. All the herbs and spices, nuts and veg provide protective antioxidants, fats and fibre.

Healthy, fun and delicious.

1 cup walnuts
   ***
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil*
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
   ***
1 Tbsp olive oil
220 grams Swiss Browns or portobella mushrooms, sliced or chopped
   ***
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped
1 tsp sweet smoky paprika*
1 tsp dried thyme (or 2 tsp fresh thyme)
1 tsp sea salt with kelp*
about 25 twists of black pepper
   ***
2 Tbsp dry sherry or Port
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp tamari* or other naturally fermented soy sauce; or use Coconut Aminos*
   ***
chopped parsley or chives to garnish

In a medium cast iron fry pan, toast the walnuts over low-medium heat (no need for oil) about 5 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from pan.

In the same pan place the oil, onion, garlic. Cook over low heat until soft and sweet, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and additional oil. Cook about 5 minutes until lightly browned.

Add the rosemary, sage, paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook 2 minutes.

Add the sherry or Port, tamari and vinegar. Cook 1 minute.

In a food processor, place the walnuts and everything else except the parsley. Briefly pulse until well chopped and combined, but not completely smooth. Pat into a small serving dish until the top is smooth. Cover and chill; keeps one week. Before serving, top with finely chopped parsley or chives. Serve at room temperature.

Shopping & Preparation Tips*

  • Coconut aminos: looks and tastes similar to soy sauce. Made instead from fermented coconut sap. In most supermarkets. Matakana brand is plain. Some brands such as Ceres add herbs, spices and a hint of chili.
  • Olive Oil: extra virgin olive oil is achieved by using cold mechanical pressure rather than the high heat and chemical solvents typical to most supermarket oils. These practices damage oils and the people who eat them. For information on which fats to choose for which purpose and why, see my TIPS article: The Fats of Life.
  • Paprika: only use top quality smoky, sweet Spanish paprika such as La Chinata. This is sold in small decorative tins in the supermarket. Ordinary paprika is usually stale, pale and without the punchy vigour this product contributes.
  • Sea salt: is sea water dehydrated by sun. When mixed with seaweed or kelp (containing iodine and other minerals low in our soil) it is ideal in terms of flavour (interesting but not too strong) and mineral balance. Try Pacific Harvest or Harker brands; both in health and gourmet stores. NOTE these are less salty in taste than other brands. Ordinary salt is taken from mines or sea and so highly refined over extreme heat that it contains nothing but sodium chloride. All other minerals are stripped away, such as potassium and magnesium which help regulate fluid balance and blood pressure. Bleach as a whitener and chemicals to prevent clumping may be added to table salt.
  • Soy sauce/Tamari: can be a fake, unfermented concoction of caramel colouring, artificial additives, wheat and cheap salt. True soy sauce contains nothing artificial and is naturally brewed for two to three years. It is made by fermenting soybeans with a healthful mould (similar to making yoghurt or cheese); roasted grain – usually wheat or barley – for flavour and fermentation, plus salt. ‘Shoyu’ is the Japanese word for true fermented soy sauce. ‘Tamari’ describes naturally brewed soy sauce which does not contain wheat or other grain. In the supermarket look for organic Ceres brand, or plain only Kikkoman (their other varieties often contain artificial additives including MSG: TIPS).

Chocolate Cherry Coconut Slice

Chocolate Cherry Coconut Slice   24-30 tiny pieces

Paleo and vegan; no gluten, grain, dairy, cane sugar or soy

A dense, moist, coconut and cherry filling is sandwiched between thin layers of chocolate. A bit like a Bounty Bar in looks, taste and texture – with the pretty red dotting of dried cherries. Keeps well refrigerated.

There are 3 options for the chocolate base and topping: melt vegan chocolate (no dairy and usually sweetened with coconut sugar); melt dark chocolate (such as Whittaker’s Dark Ghana – dairy-free, but it has cane sugar and a little soy lecithin); or make ½ my easy Chocolate Ganache from another recipe.

175 grams vegan or dark, dairy-free chocolate*, or make ½ my Chocolate Ganache
2 Tbsps coconut oil*
   ***
2 cups desiccated coconut
¾ cup dried cherries (from specialty and health stores and some supermarkets), finely chopped
½ cup almond meal*
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract*

Chop the chocolate. Place in a small metal or heat-resistant bowl. Then place the bowl in the top of a steamer or double boiler. Place 5 – 10 centimetres of water in the bottom saucepan and bring to a boil then turn to a brisk simmer. DO NOT cover with a lid and DO NOT allow water to touch the base of the top saucepan (any water that gets into any melting chocolate will make it seize and stiffen). Remove from the heat when soft. With a fork stir the 2 Tbsps of coconut oil into the melted chocolate until smooth. Or make ½ recipe of Chocolate Ganache. Keep either option warm.

Line a square 20 cm pan with baking paper. Pour a little less than half the chocolate (or ganache) onto the base. Mixture will be very thin (it is more important visually to have sufficient chocolate for the topping). Use a spatula to spread it evenly. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes or more to harden. Keep the remaining chocolate over the hot water, so it stays warm and melted while you prepare the filling.

Melt the 1/4 cup of coconut oil in a small to medium saucepan. Turn off the heat. Stir in the maple syrup and vanilla. Next stir in the coconut, cherries and almond meal. Mixture will be thick and moist. Cool to room temperature – if the mixture is warm it can melt the chocolate base, mingle with it and then the pretty separate layers will be lost.

Place the cooled coconut mixture over the chocolate base and press firmly. Cover with the remaining chocolate. Use the spatula to spread it evenly. Chill in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours to firm completely. Use a sharp knife and slice into 5 rows by 5 or 6 rows to create about 3 cm squares. Keep chilled, especially in hot weather. Stores well in fridge or freezer.

 Shopping and Preparation Tips*

  • Almond flour: very finely ground from dried, blanched, skinless almonds will give the best result. This makes it act and bind more like flour than just ground nuts or almond meal (which gives a crumbly texture). Purchase from health stores, some supermarkets or online, such as www.naturalgrocer.co.nz 

  • Chocolate: that is dairy/gluten-free is available in supermarkets, but does contain cane sugar (eg Whittaker’s Dark Ghana). Also at supermarkets is vegan and cane sugar-free, artificial sweetener- and additive-free chocolate (eg Panna, Wellington, Zimt); usually sweetened with coconut sugar.

  • Coconut oil: white, solid and available in jars from health stores and most supermarkets. Best quality is virgin or cold-pressed and organic, such as Ceres brand. Flavour and aroma should be mild. Less prone to oxidation and damage by heat than most other cooking oils. High in medium-chain fatty acids such as lauric acid, which can enhance immunity through antiviral and antibacterial benefits. Most oils and fats contain long chain fatty acids that are harder to break down and more readily stored as fat. Use to replace oil or butter in recipes.

  • Vanilla and other Extracts: use top quality vanilla without artificial additives. It and other real flavours such as almond are termed “extract” (as opposed to fake essence, often labelled “vanillin”). Good brands available locally and overseas are: Heilala Vanilla and Equagold. These are in most supermarkets and health stores.

LONGEVITY: World’s Top 5 Zones and Why

LONGEVITY: World’s Top 5 Zones and Why

Food is a complex universe of interrelationships. It is art and science. Chemistry and biology. History, culture and psychology. It is politics, economics, water, power, fossil fuels, infrastructure, agriculture, land and animal welfare, transportation, advertising, packaging, imports, exports, global agreements.

It is BIG business. Food is the largest sector of the global economy – worth almost 30 trillion NZ dollars. 10 companies control the world’s food supply: its quality; its seeming choices. Would you like Pepsi or Coke with that? You will recognise most of the other names too: Nestle (often #1); Unilever; Danone; General Mills; Kellogg’s; Mars; Associated British Foods (owning Burgen, Tip Top, Patak’s, Twining’s and more); Mondelez (owning Kraft, Heinz, Cadbury and many others).

And food is intimate. We take it inside our bodies and it becomes our flesh, mind, mood and energy. Food is early memories, sentimental favourites, family, celebrations, traditions, birthdays, Christmas dinner, Diwali, Chinese New Year, community, dining out (and the budget to do that), creativity, duty, and gestures of love. And for all of us – from earliest hominids to today – food is about life and death, health and disease: survival.

So what should we eat? I would like you to do a little visualisation and picture a table overflowing with classic Italian dishes. What would it hold?  There might be pizza, lasagne, polenta, spaghetti with clams, peppers and eggplant stuffed with rice, herbs, nuts and dried fruit. Next picture a table covered with Japanese food. Perhaps sushi, sashimi, agedashi tofu, noodle soup, tempura seafood and vegetables.

Most people, even many children, if stood before the two tables could immediately determine which one was Japanese and which one was Italian. Right? However, the dishes are fundamentally the same. The deception lies in the presentation and seasonings. In terms of the foods used and the nutrition delivered, they are far more similar than different.

Both traditional cuisines share a foundation in minimally processed plant foods. There are 4 types:
1) Fruit, veg, herbs and spices;
2) Grains (eg wheat, rye, oats, barley, maize, rice, millet);
3) Legumes (eg dried peas, beans, lentils, peanuts, soy products);
4) Nuts and seeds (eg sesame, sunflower, almond, pistachio).

These 4 groups contain plant protein, carbohydrate, fat and they are our only source of fibre: the favourite food of a healthy gut microbiome. Plant foods are important sources of vitamins, minerals and thousands of antioxidants offering unique benefits.

Traditionally these cuisines include small amounts of animal foods (meat, fish, eggs; plus a small amount of dairy for Italians from buffalo, sheep, cow and goat milk). They both use herbs and spices. And they include fermented foods. For Italians: coffee, cheese, wine, wine vinegars, anchovy sauce, pickled vegetables. For the Japanese: tea; miso; natto; soy sauce; sake; pickled veg, fruit and ginger.

The diet and health statistics of the Japanese and Mediterranean populations have been well studied, starting in the 1950s. They live long and they live well. Tellingly though, when these nationalities move to western nations and jettison their traditional diet and lifestyle, they have the same sorry statistics as everyone else following the SAD approach (yup, it’s a thing and stands for Standard American Diet). In contrast those who move overseas, but maintain their cultural traditions, then also maintain health and longevity. So they aren’t relying on genetic good fortune.

In 2004, Dan Buettner of National Geographic, along with longevity researchers identified 5 Blue Zones which had the world’s most centenarians. Here people lived measurably longer and better: Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California (an intentional community of Seventh Day Adventists). There were 8 shared principles.

  1. Eat mostly plants: foods that are whole or minimally processed.

Related research has been done by scientists based in the US and UK. Their international Human Gut Project follows existing hunter-gathers (such as the Hadza in Tanzania) and assesses their more healthy and diverse gut microbiome compared to westerners. The scientists recommend a minimum of 25 different plant foods daily; ideally 50-75 for a healthily diverse gut microbiome.

This might sound close to impossible, but here is an example. My typical breakfast has about 25 plant foods. I bulk soak and cook cereal such as a mixture of barley, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, linseed, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, cinnamon, ginger, raisins. On top is stewed fruit such as plums and figs, or apples and prunes. Next homemade or artisan bread made with wheat, rye, walnuts, sesame, caraway, thyme. Instead of butter it is spread with homemade Dynamite (my easy version of Vegemite; see my recipe) made with yeast and other plant foods. On top is peanut butter perhaps mixed with smoky sweet paprika and chilli. All preceded by herb tea of fresh mint or lemon balm with whole cloves.   
 
2. Stop eating when you are 80% full.

I carry a small container with me when dining out and regularly put a half portion or more to take home. This can also multiply your pleasure by letting you enjoy more later. Indicatively, especially since the 80s, many bakery and restaurant portions tripled. As did people’s corresponding girth.

3. Moderate alcohol. In all but one Blue Zone (Loma Linda), alcohol was consumed, but only in small amounts at any one time.

4. Move regularly and use daily activities as exercise.

Set an achievable goal such as 30 to 60 minutes of exercise 6 x weekly. This can be broken up into 10 minute segments, say before each meal (eg walk around your home, garden or office). Increased weight gain in western populations became common in the 80s. Being overweight is linked with less incidental exercise (eg more lifts, less stairs); more highly processed food and larger portions.

To increase incidental movement, I walk around whenever I am on the phone. Just like saving or spending, little bits of exercise add up. Movement helps blood sugar and therefore mind, mood, joints, metabolism, sleep and more. The well studied and #1 exercise for blood sugar and thus weight management is to move for 2 minutes after every 20 minutes of sitting. Get water, go to the loo, dust, file and so on. There are always tasks beckoning.

5. Commit to family and loved ones.

6. Have a sense of higher purpose and daily purpose.

For both numbers 5 and 6, an example of their influence has been called the Roseto Effect. In the 50s and 60s this was the healthiest town in the US. Initially, researchers did not know why it achieved far greater longevity and half the heart attack rate. Towns nearby had similar water and health facilities for instance. The men did dangerous slate mining work. Food was cooked in lard. However, the population was mostly of Italian heritage. Three generations would live, eat and go to church together. That is until the 70s when single dwelling houses were built, young people moved away, old people lived alone, and increasingly worship was done at malls by conspicuous consumption. Roseto then had the same sorry health statistics as neighbouring towns. Researchers declared “social cohesion” as the missing tonic.

7. Maintain an application or ritual to downshift your way out of stress. Some used gardening, singing, calisthenics or contemplative practices.

8. Find your tribe. Four Blue Zones were born into their tribe. Tellingly, in Loma Linda they created one – so you can too.

From as far back as 1938, Harvard started studying its students and alumni for factors that led to good health and long lives. #1 was healthy relationships. (Interestingly, the initial cohort included the student, John F Kennedy – and for many years, no women, until they were permitted at Harvard). Research from longitudinal Framingham studies shows that smoking, obesity and happiness are what they termed, “contagious”. So if a new person joins a group that is primarily made up of happy people or smokers, they too will tend to be/do likewise.

It is estimated about 40% of people will be well served by the Blue Zone/Mediterranean diet. However, no one diet can ever fit all. Roughly 30% will need to emphasise more animal protein and fewer starches; more in the so-called Paleo direction. While 30% need to be more vegetarian with increased raw food.

So how do you know what serves you best? Alert experimentation is a good start; you could try out an approach for at least one month and make daily notes. One indicator that can be evident in 10 to 30 minutes after a meal is mood and vitality changes. A meal should leave you in the ideal zone of feeling alert, yet calm. If it leaves you anxious and unsatisfied, or grumpy and tired: that meal has not served you.

The other option is to find out exactly why you have these patterns, via a tailored clinical assessment. I create a full symptom profile. For example the nature of your hair, skin, nails, digestion, aches and pains, energy levels, sleep and more help tell the story of which foods work for or against you. Your basic body shape also suggests metabolic weaknesses and strengths. One assessor is where you hold your greatest strength or bulk. Or if you gain or lose weight does it first affect your face and upper body, your lower belly, or hips and thighs? All these aspects of physical appearance suggest particular hormonal and metabolic factors and thus specific dietary requirements.

Just one example of each person’s unique constellation of factors is the nature of their SNPS or single nucleotide polymorphisms. These are the most common type of genetic variation and used as markers to study the diversity of your 30,000 genes. Nucleotides are subunits of DNA: repeating base pairs called A and C, G and T (in full: Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, Thymine). A SNP might affect one of those pairs, and play a subtle or direct role in that related gene’s function. It is estimated that on average a person’s genome has about 4 million SNPs. That is how unique you are.

An example of one potential SNP that might affect you adversely is in regards to a process called methylation. Every cell needs adequate methylation for growth and repair. Methylation tags toxic substances so they can be eliminated via bile, urine or sweat. Methyl groups are made of 1 carbon atom and 3 hydrogen atoms. They trigger or inhibit genetic expression. According to your SNPs, you might be prone to undermethylation. Without animal foods and their high methionine content (an amino acid that increases methylation) you won’t feel stable and grounded. Your vitality drops and you might turn to stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and starchy carbs to give you brief reprieve.

With overmethylation, you need lots of folate from plant foods, which are especially high in raw fruit and veg. Folate helps lower excess methylation. Although you might like the brief power burst that salty, fatty, savoury foods deliver, too many high methionine animal foods will leave you tired and heavy. A rough estimate is that perhaps 40% of people easily have balanced methylation, while the remainder tend to under or over methylation.

So ignore extremists who say that everyone should eat in any one particular way. It is illogical. Remember too that many of the lessons of the Blue Zones have to do with social health. A practical plan is to be specific in your choices at home, and relaxed when out socially.

At home, a good starting point is to minimise highly processed food. Each time you shop, focus on one type of food purchase – say, crackers – and read every ingredient list to find ones that list wholefoods only. So no refined sugar, non-cold pressed oils, or artificial additives (tip: there are commonly only about three worthy types of crackers on the supermarket shelves!).

Shopping is powerful. Each time you make a purchase you are voting for the world you want to see. Your choices are highly scrutinised by big corporations who then redirect their resources accordingly.

When I came to NZ in the 70s and helped open a health food store, people hadn’t heard of free-range eggs, yoghurt, avocado, beansprouts, herb tea, tofu, hummus, plant milks, sushi, extra-virgin olive oil, gluten-free products and many more. Look how extensively the social norms have changed.

You, as a consumer, are powerful. Vote with your wallet to create a better you and a better world.