When I was young, my parents worked in the health food industry, and they often brought me along on business trips. Bored senseless, I’d pretend to be an anthropologist and make mental notes of people we met. Among them was a gaunt, mournful-looking species who subsisted, I was told, on a diet of brown rice. They were common enough for regular scientific observation. Their languid movements fascinated me as did their extreme self-deprivation.
It seemed incomprehensible that someone would give up everything that tasted good and, to a child’s mind, live a life bereft of happiness. How little I knew!
Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise that I went the other way when I grew up and embraced sugar and culinary decadence. As a food professional, I created costly ice creams for work and ate in some of the world’s best restaurants. I considered myself a lucky gourmand. Tokyo? Check. Paris? Check. San Sebastian? Delhi? LA? Piedmont? Charleston? Copenhagen? Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Mmmm.
Over time, the weight piled on, but if my paunch betrayed excess consumption, what harm? Did my expanding waist and extra chin not proclaim my culinary zeal? Then my doctor diagnosed me with Type II Diabetes. For the first time, I felt fat. I felt ashamed. I felt scared, for Type II diabetes is a frightful disease. My health professionals weren’t shy about describing the unpleasant complications and grim, inevitable outcomes.
Hope and Research
Instead of giving up, I applied the same sense of curiosity and adventure to my illness that I previously used discovering ingredients and unearthing restaurants. Almost immediately, I determined that the outcomes aren’t inevitable. 50% of people with Type II diabetes can achieve remission if they cut carbohydrates and quickly lose weight. That gave me hope.
I read the excellent Diabetes Code by Dr. Jason Fung and work by Dr David Unwin, Dr Malcolm Kendrick, and Tom Jelinek, PhD. I learned three methods seem to work best for losing weight quickly.
- A low carbohydrate diet
- A severely restricted-calorie diet
- Intermittent fasting
I decided to combine low carb and fasting. The fat melted away. In just three months, I lost 21kg and brought my blood sugar into the normal range.
In many ways, that was the easy part. When the stakes are high enough, anyone can change their behaviour for a while. I must sustain the behaviour into the long term or risk the diabetes returning. In doing so, I don’t want to become a gaunt and mournful creature, for if I did, I would give up. For my happiness, I need to keep my love of food alive. I need to enjoy eating it. How? By celebrating food and seeking out luxury.
Spoiling yourself is key to success. Joy and gratitude will keep you healthy in a way that deprivation never can.
When I changed my diet, I naturally missed the ice cream, pastries, pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread, so I concentrated on the foods I could eat. I planned and cooked delicious meals that satisfied not only my hunger but my soul. I continued to eat out (occasionally and carefully). To reward myself for staying thin, I spend the money I save by fasting on culinary luxuries. Fillet steak? Lobster? Of course. It’s hard to feel sorry for myself when eating lobster. Instead, I feel like a lucky gourmand.
Six Luxury Foods That Help Keep the Joy Alive
These work for me. Your luxuries might look different. For all I know, brown rice gives you spiritual bliss, and that’s fine of course if you’re not trying to cut carbs. In any case, pamper yourself to whatever degree you can afford.
Butter might seem a simple thing to list as a luxury, but luxuries don’t have to be expensive. Butter makes almost everything taste better and more gourmet. For example, lobster without butter is good, but lobster with butter is fantastic. The same is true with many dishes. Green beans are fine. Green beans drenched in butter, with crunchy, sliced almonds toasted with butter, are exquisite.
Butter has played a part in most of my favourite foods — croissants, mashed potatoes, cookies, cake, and toast with melted butter. Sometimes I wonder whether those foods were just an excuse to eat butter, and I can still do just that. When I mash cauliflower with enough butter and cream, I (almost) don’t miss the potatoes. It’s like losing the wrapping paper but keeping the gift.
Some things I do with butter:
- Add to coffee.
- Add to sauces or use instead of sauce.
- Top toasted nuts, especially pecans.
- Spread on low carb psyllium bread
- Make garlic butter.
Next time a friend mentions the deprivations of a low carb diet, serve them caviar. They will quickly change the conversation. Roe (fish eggs) are among the most expensive foods globally, and roe of the sturgeon — caviar — are the most costly of all. Do not purchase illegal wild or poached caviar for obvious reasons. Luckily the endangered fish are now farmed and no longer killed to extract the roe.
Low carb ways to serve caviar:
- On a spoon.
- Spread on fresh, crunchy cucumbers.
- On homemade cheese crackers.
- Spooned on eggs.
- As caviar butter (gently blend caviar and butter).
As an unrepentant chocoholic, chocolate is the treat I’d hate most to lose, and guess what? I haven’t. This ambrosia of the Mayans tantalises and satisfies in a way few other foods do. If you weren’t a chocolate snob before, it is time to become one. Milk chocolate is full of sugar, so gravitate toward the dark varieties (85% or higher) to keep the carbs down. Low in carbs and high in fat, a small amount of chocolate goes a long way.
Other varieties of chocolate: Cocoa nibs are worth seeking out; they add a nice crunch. Pure cocoa gives tremendous flavour to cream or puddings and in small amounts adds few carbs (make sure you’re not buying cocoa with sugar added). Cocoa butter is a luxurious fat, a guilt-free way of adding chocolate flavour, and by adding vanilla, you can make sugar-free white chocolate.
Some things I do with chocolate:
- Savour it dark and sparingly (3gm).
- Add 25g pure, organic cocoa butter to a cup of coffee. Blend.
- Whip with cream and top with cocoa nibs (above).
- Make delicious, satisfying mole sauce — no sweeteners, of course.
- Shave over a handful of raspberries and whipped cream.
Could anything be more luxurious? The word ‘cream’ signifies the best or something special — la crème de la crème, the cream of the crop, the cat that got the cream. Give me decadent Irish cream, and I’m like that cat. In Irish, ‘cream’ is ‘uachtar,’ and our president is ‘Uachtarán.’ I imagine the president has an abundance of luscious, thick Irish cream in the presidential fridge.
I do too — cream makes up for many foods I’ve put aside. Forget what you’ve heard about it being unhealthy — it has half the sugar of milk. Look for the highest fat content you can find — half and half means it has more sugar. Buy cream often, and rummage around the back of the shop fridge to make sure it’s the freshest. Use it liberally and enjoy every minute. Cream satisfies in a way that few foods do.
Some things I do with cream:
- Add to coffee.
- Make pannacotta.
- Make chia pudding.
- Improve consistency of omelettes.
- Add to soups and chowders.
We all have our weak moments. We have times when we feel our path is too hard. Before I started a low carb diet, I’d reach for a candy bar or something else sweet at delicate moments. Now, when I feel a wobble approach, when I feel overwhelmed or just a bit down, I know it’s time to pamper myself. Since I live by the sea and lobster is abundant here, it is a luxury that isn’t out of reach if I cook it myself.
Because we vacationed in New England when I was a child, lobster is a nostalgic dish for me. It transports me back to sea breezes, sunburns, plastic bibs, and unpretentious lobster shacks with wooden picnic tables. In other words, it feeds my soul. Of course, like any treat, it is best not to overdo lobster. In Irish, there is a saying, ‘An rud is annamh is iontach’ — ‘What is seldom is wonderful.’ Keep it special.
Top 5 low carb lobster dishes:
- Steamed lobster with butter.
- Lobster salad.
- Grilled lobster.
- Lobster bisque.
- Lobster Newberg.
George Sand called truffles ‘the fairy apple,’ and Alexandre Dumas called them ‘the holy of holies for the gourmet.’ They grow wild in forests in Piedmont, Tuscany, Marche, and in the Périgord region of France. Specialist truffle hunters use dogs or pigs to find them. The Italians prefer the former, for dogs are less likely to swallow the precious find.
Truffles come in principle colours — white and black, and there are two seasons for each — summer truffles and winter truffles. Both reach peak flavour late in the season when they have matured. White truffles have a notoriously short shelf life — they must be consumed within a few days of harvesting. Black truffles last a bit longer. Although white truffles are perhaps most famous paired with tajarin pasta, they are also sliced and served on eggs and carpaccio of beef.
While I have cooked with truffles, I haven’t done so with great success. This is one ingredient I leave to the professionals and enjoy out of the house.