The IIFYM Diet – My Review

I’d noticed a hashtag floating around on social media, and I was curious what it stood for. IIFYM is short for ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (macronutrients), also known as flexible dieting. The concept is you have daily targets for fat, protein and carbohydrate intake based on your goal – whether it be weight loss, weight gain or muscle gain. There’s less focus on the actual food you eat (hence the flexible part) as long as you strictly adhere to those numbers, and an overall daily calorie intake. 

The diet was appealing for a few reasons. I’d been influenced by programs like Eat to Perform, which has a philosophy of ‘Athletes don’t starve themselves – neither should you.’ I’m not an athlete but I’m active, and in particular I wanted adequate fuel for my weekly 10K run. While I’d gotten great weight loss results with the 5:2 Diet (a form of intermittent fasting), it was a struggle to lift weights or run the next morning – essentially leaving me with indoor cycling. Combined with the busy Christmas period, it became near impossible to schedule a fast day that fit with my gym routine and end of year commitments.

In all honesty, the photos of athletic women talking about 1800 calorie a day diets were pretty influential too. Having largely restricted myself to 1200 cals/day for the past five years or so (a number I pulled from Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation, without ever doing the program), I was curious whether I too could eat that much and still lose weight. 

My guiding principles for any diet are you should be eating a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, quality protein, whole grains, nuts and seeds (unless allergy prevents you). I’m lactose intolerant but dairy is also good source of nutrients. In that sense, flexible eating seemed to tick a lot of boxes. I could eat whatever I wanted and enjoy a higher calorie intake, provided I balanced the carbohydrates, fats and protein in my foods. In mid-January this year, I decided to give IIFYM a go!

calculating my macros

Typically I’d see a professional before embarking on a new diet, but IIFYM was hardly drastic – I was just going to increase how much I ate and ramp up the protein. After spending some time researching macronutrient calculators, I decided on this one from HealthyEater because it factored in age, gender, height, weight and different goals with a good amount of detail. There are some scholarly references below it, but the website is essentially one guy.

My data of 31 years old, female, 162cm (5′ 3″), 63kg (138 pounds) in “lose” mode (20% calorie deficit) resulted in this:

  • Sedentary (basic day): 1250 cals, 124g carbs, 114g protein, 35g fat
  • Light Activity (200-400 calories female): 1450 cals, 158g C, 114g P, 40g F
  • Moderate Activity (400-650 cals): 1650 cals, 193g C, 114g P, 46g F
  • Very active (650 cals +): 1800 cals, 228g C, 114g P, 51g F

I typically burn 130 calories in a yoga class, 250 in BodyPump (weights class), 350 in RPM (indoor cycling), 400 in BodyAttack (cardio) and 650 cals on a 10K run. I burn an extra 200 daily walking to and from the gym. In essence, most days are ‘moderate activity’ but running or my Super Saturday of BodyAttack and BodyBalance were ‘very active.’ Explains why I was always ravenous on a Saturday evening! 

I was already tracking my calories using MyFitnessPal, so that was nothing knew although anyone trying this diet who hasn’t kept a food diary before might find the task onerous at first. Below are my notes from from day one to today, two months later.

week one

Day 1

I struggled to hit 100g of protein as my leftovers of stuffed capsicums only had 8g protein in total. I ate half a Clif Builder’s Bar (10g protein), four tablespoons of PB2 (10g), and a protein shake (22g). Made it to 105g for the day, when I rarely have more than 80g! I was very full. I couldn’t believe how much I was eating. Today’s exercise: BodyPump and yoga, plus walking (approx. 500 cals).

Day 2

I’d logged my food for the day the night before to ensure I’d hit my targets. Unfortunately, I woke up feeling constipated and I had a breakfast date to go to. It was a hot day too. I skipped my usual mushrooms on sourdough and matcha latte for the smoothie bowl. While I had to guess the calories and macros, ingredients included avocado and peanut butter which used almost my entire daily fat allowance. 

I changed my planned meals to stay on track and went to work. I felt really drowsy but it may have been the humidity than overdosing on protein. I got home, had dinner then before bed realised I hadn’t had my textured vegetable protein (TVP) snack or protein shake! I consumed 46g of protein  at 10pm, and my fat intake for the day was 55g, 20g over! I was missing chocolate, nuts and oatmeal. And it was only day two! I cooked lupin flakes to add to tomorrow’s lunch. I was starting to realise why body builders eat all the time. 

Day 3

My first day of IIFYM without any events or leftovers to use up, yay! I had a great night’s sleep and felt challenged but strong at my 6am gym class. I was still only eating when I was hungry, but my tummy was rumbling much less than I was used too. A side effect so far? A bit of unpleasant gas. 

Day 4

Today was going to be challenging. I had already booked into a beer event that night and would be likely having dinner out. I allowed for a burger and two pints, then built the rest of my day’s meals around that. Lupin oatmeal with apple and walnuts, Asian tofu salad, a protein shake – and I’m hitting 105g protein! My first estimate for fat came in 30g too, the first time it was below my goal. The beer event turned out to be a brilliant night, and while I consumed too many overall calories – I met my macros. I drank more than I’d planned for and couldn’t resist the beer nuts, but it was somewhat offset by an extra 20 minutes walking on top of that day’s workout (RPM and CXWorx), putting me into the ‘very active’ allowance of a bonus 200 calories! I could get used to this.

Day 6

My biggest challenge yet… a daytime house party. I definitely felt like drinking. I had sour beer and a bunch of snacks, but somehow I didn’t blow my macros too badly. I didn’t quite meet my protein goal and I was over my calories limit by 200 or so. But in the scheme of a day’s drinking – it was minimal damage! It helped the hostess had vegetable sticks and low calorie dips like salsa, and the crackers were healthy, wholegrain ones too. 

Day 7

This was the first day I couldn’t eat enough. I felt so full. I almost wished for a fast day, just to give my stomach a rest and feel empty for a while. I managed to eat 1400 cals when aiming for 1600 as I’d done BodyPump, yoga and 60 minutes of walking. I was drinking a lot of water but still felt thirsty all day. I drank more than three litres (100 fl. oz) plus tea that day. I was worried about what would happen when I stepped on the scales. 

Week 2

Day 8

It was rest day! This was definitely the most challenging day to hit my protein goal without blowing other macros, and stay under my 1250 calorie limit. It took careful calculations, but as long as I prepared in advance and all my favourite high protein, low carb foods, I could do it. I had to keep urinating today – I wondered if body was holding onto fluid yesterday for some reason? My stomach and body were feeling much better, I wasn’t as full as previous days. I decided I’d weigh myself the next morning, as try to avoid the scales when I’m feeling down. I’d almost gone through an entire bag of lupin flakes in a week! Being rest day, I finally had some time to do solid meal preparation too – I made a warm broccoli salad (there’s 5g of protein in half a broccoli head!) and a tempeh vegetable curry. I’ve been missing big, vegetable packed dishes. 

Day 9

I put my gym clothes on and prepared to weigh myself. My pants felt tight around the waistband and I wasn’t feeling optimistic. I’d been eating so much more than normal. I felt this had been a bad idea. I waited for the numbers to show… I’d dropped 0.5kg! I was 62.2kg! I couldn’t believe it! I was eating so much food, I was never hungry and I’d lost weight. Hallelujah, church of IIFYM!

That day, I even balanced my macros in anticipation of eating gnocchi at an Italian restaurant that night. Except the restaurant messed up my dish, telling me the white sauce was ‘definitely’ vegan. A few mouthfuls, and I knew it was cheese. I felt sick. I was worried about the effects. I didn’t feel like eating afterwards and for the first time in 10 days, I didn’t hit my protein goal (only 78g). I decided to persist with flexible dieting for two straight weeks.

Day 11

I’d been hungry on day 10, probably because I didn’t eat much after my dinner time dairy encounter. I was craving salads and I made a huge one – three quarters of a can of lentils contains 12g of protein for only 150 cals. Add some roast pumpkin, leafy greens and cherry tomatoes – it was huge! But my lunch made up only a fraction of my overall food intake.  Crisis struck when I forgot to take protein bar to work (Clif’s Builders Bar contains 22g!). Soy yogurt and peaches kept me full until dinner time but again, I had to eat 20g of protein before bed to reach my target. I’ve stopped waking up hungry. In fact, I’m rarely hungry in the truly empty way I’d felt during fasting or after a big morning workout. I still miss my daily handful of nuts, but it’s been impossible to include those without blowing my fat or overall calorie limit. Need to work on my macros better to incorporate them – they’re too healthy to exclude in your diet!

Day 13

I FELT SO STRONG! I thought I’d picked up the wrong weights in my Pump class, I was lifting them so easily! Don’t get me wrong, I was cooked by the end of it. But wow, I felt good! I was beginning to think this ‘eat to perform’ and ‘fuel your workout’ thing was a winner.

Day 14

I wanted chocolate. I wanted nuts! But a 1/4 cup serve of almonds contains 14g of fat when my daily allowance was about 40g. Even 1tbsp of flaxmeal contains 3g of fat! And who knew my nightly square of 90% Lindt dark chocolate had 6g? Sure, they were all healthy fats. But avocado, nuts and chocolate were not going to happen in the same day on this diet.

Week 3

Day 16

I blew my calorie limit at an function. I was having so much fun, I stuck around for an extra glass of wine… and when I found out the gelato was chocolate AND vegan, I wasn’t going to miss that chance! Again, I wasn’t drastically over my calories. It’s scary how gelato is only 90 cals or so, low-ish fat and then just pure sugar. 

Day 17

I was missing fats so much! I wanted a big avocado fix and a raw ball – I planned to have both in the morning (pre and post-workout) and have a low-fat, high-protein tofu quiche for lunch. I was lovely my afternoon tea of soy yogurt (with 2tbsp of lupin flakes!). Just 80 cals and 8g of protein, and lots of healthy bacteria. 

I had another event that night, but I was grateful for a vegetarian protein option of Indian chickpea curry. Between my RPM class, CX Worx (core work) and walking, I’d burnt more than 650 cals so I increased my daily calorie intake to 1800. Normally I would’ve freaked out at eating so much, but I felt reassured knowing I was on target. My weight had unfortunately gone back up to 62.6kg, making me think the precious half a kilo loss was a fluke. I considered returning to fasting, but I want to see what results I could get after a month. I was eating so much, it was impressive I hadn’t gained any weigh! 

Day 18

A day later, my weight back was back to 62.2kg. Thank goodness! I may have been imaging, but I thought my arms looks just ever so slightly more toned. My skin, however, had broken out. I made a note to eat more vegetables, even though my stomach was full from protein all the time!

week four

Day 21

I was still aiming for 114g protein each day and mostly reaching it, now that I’d figured out my rough daily eating plan (lots of tofu, legumes, greens, daily protein powder and lupin flakes). I figured my breakout must’ve been caused by the desserts (refined sugar) which I never normally have. However, I thought my stomach may be showing the slightest hint of definition, despite drinking on the weekend and a bit of late night snacking (thanks shift work) – but all within my macro and calorie limits.

Day 23

Maybe it was the previous day’s stand up paddle board yoga class, but I swore my abs were changing, very very slightly. I felt incredibly strong during my BodyPump class, and have sustained my heavier weights for triceps. I wasn’t being as strict with my macros as the first fortnight where I gave myself just 2-5g leeway. Today I was 20g over for carbs but still achieving about 110g protein daily. I decided to give IIFYM a full month.

one month in

After four weeks of trying IIFYM, I was largely enjoying it. I was hungry before meals but not constantly feeling underfed like I was with a 1200 calorie limit. I used to eat lunch then grab my afternoon snack 90 minutes later. Not so with IIFYM! I wasn’t sure if it was the protein or simply eating more. I’d had some slight weight loss (0.5kg/1 lb) but gained a little bit of definition on my quads, arms and abs. I took some photos but it’s so slight, I’ll keep them on my own camera reel. I figured I’d stick with IIFYM for another month, despite going through protein powder and protein bars like crazy. 

2nd month

The first two weeks were filled with birthday celebrations and visitors, and my macros largely went off the rail. I still exercised daily and hit my protein target, but I exceeded calorie and fat limits. The following two weeks were messy too – I worked long and irregular hours before taking a five day holiday interstate to Sydney and didn’t log my food at all (nor the cocktails). But I defaulted to my usual vacation strategy – be active, eat only when hungry and enjoy yourself – with minimal damage (I came back weighing 62.5kg). I returned to the gym and resumed eating my prescribed macros. And now, here I am after eights weeks of very flexible dieting. Here are my reflections: 

Pros 

  • I thought I’d have to give up bread and banish all other carbs from my diet. But the HealthyEater formula above was actually quite generous, and I realised I’d unknowingly been following a low carb diet for years already. I was relieved I could still enjoy oatmeal and my post-workout weekend brunch of avocado on toast! 
  • I was rarely hungry. As mentioned, I wouldn’t eat lunch or dinner until my tummy rumbled. But I felt satiated for hours and could often forgo my afternoon snack of fruit and yogurt, because I was still so full. I did often eat later at night though, which I didn’t like.
  • There were several workouts, weight training especially, where I felt stronger. I could push myself harder. Running wasn’t easy, but it was at times easier than I was used to. 
  • I never felt socially deprived, as I could attend dinners or events and not limit myself to salads or other low-carb options. 
  • I could still drink alcohol (this may be a con!). While I don’t drink often, the nights where I wanted a glass or two of wine or drank a few pints of cider at an event – it was no problem if I’d met the activity level! 
  • The changes to my diet weren’t drastic, in that I still bought the same foods at the grocery store and farmers market. However I did buy a lot more protein and protein products each week (see cons, below).
  • I lost a little bit of weight (0.5kg/1.1 lbs) and saw some very slight improvements in toning in my arms, abs and legs. Whether this can be attributed specifically to my macro formula, eating 50% more protein or simply eating more calories, I’m not sure. I certainly feel like a larger but stronger person overall, compared to the peak of my fasting days.  

Cons

  • You need to keep a meticulous food diary, and pre-planning my meals was essential on lower activity days. It was frustrating when I couldn’t balance my macros for the day, but for example I had high-carb leftovers that needed eating or a brunch date with limited options.
  • It was a daily struggle to get enough protein and keep my fats down. I had to eliminate my daily treat of dark chocolate in order to have a tablespoon of nuts or seeds, and my paper thin slices of avocado were depressing. I eventually managed to balance these better, but restricting such healthy foods didn’t feel right.
  • Similarly, I was determined to eat real, whole foods wherever possible but it was tough. My occasional Clif Builder’s Bar became an almost daily snack on top of a protein shake. I attempted to make a TVP porridge (it was vile) and if it wasn’t for lupin flakes, I would’ve struggled to meet the targets on a mostly vegan diet. This wouldn’t be an issue for anyone eating eggs or meat, as even a small can of tuna would get you 17g of protein for under 100 calories, with zero carbs and little fat too. 
  • I also felt my fruit and vegetable intake was lower because there simply wasn’t room in my stomach. On 1200 cals/day, I’d become skilled at eating high volume, low calorie foods (hello zucchini) to feel full. I just couldn’t fit an entire carrot, tomato and roast pumpkin as well as 200g of tofu or a can of beans – so the vegetables were cut back.
  • I ate all the time. I packed snacks and often realised I’d forgotten to have that protein shake or yogurt as I’d gotten busy and my tummy didn’t rumble. Not a bad thing, but at times I actually longed to feel that hollow, deep sense of hunger I got during fasting. 
  • What I really disliked what that this diet doesn’t provide any guidance on sugar (in fact, on any actual nutrition). I try to limit my sugar intake to naturally occurring ones such as fruit, and rarely use honey or maple syrup. But unfortunately, sugar is a low fat ingredient, and I found myself using it as a shortcut in some recipes (such as honey in my lupin mug cake) as it didn’t blow my fat content. Dried fruit too was an easy but risky way of meeting my carb intake – although it was usually limited to sprinkling raisins on my oatmeal (and I’d forgo them on a low activity days).
  • This diet also became quite expensive. I was eating more than double my usual amounts of yogurt and tofu, plus going through protein powder like crazy. Protein bars weren’t cheap either, but maybe I’d been previously underspending on groceries. 
  • Did I mention I had to restrict avocado, nuts and dark chocolate but wine and gelato weren’t macro-speaking a problem? 

What helped

As a vegetarian (and dairy-free), the biggest struggle was hitting my protein target without blowing my carb or fat limit. Here are a few things that helped me get over the line: 

  • Protein powder: For 100 calories, I get 22g of pure pea protein. My favourite brand is The Healthy Chef’s vanilla protein powder with nothing nasty or stomach upsetting. I had it in smoothies, added it to turmeric lattes and made the occasional late night protein mug cake.
  • Lupin flakes: Possibly my favourite health food discovery of 2017! Lupins, from the legume family, are high protein, low carb, low fat and packed with fibre! Four tablespoons contains 16g of protein for 130 calories. It’s affordable too! Read more in Five Ways with Lupin Flakes
  • PB2: I’ve been a fan of this low fat, low calorie peanut butter substitute for years. It’s great on toast or crackers, in a satay sauce or (confession) just off the spoon. A 2 tbsp serve contains 50 calories and 5g of protein. Read more in My Favourite Protein Products.
  • TVP: Textured vegetable protein may not sound attractive, but it’s a very affordable and easy meat substitute. It works well in any dish that uses mince meat, such as lasagna, burritos, spaghetti or meatballs. A 1/4 cup serve contains 80 calories, 12g of protein and almost zero fat or carbs. It’s only about $5/kg too from bulk food stores and still good value from iHerb
  • Nutritional yeast: The most unappealing name for a food item, but give your dishes a cheesy but vegan flavour with 1tbsp of this (20 calories, 2g protein and a host of vitamins, including 40% of your vitamin B12 intake). The small amounts of protein add up! 

will i continue?

There are some aspects of IIFYM I want to continue. It’s helped me to eat more so I have the energy to work harder at the gym, and therefore get better results. But I disliked my reliance on processed protein to hit my daily quota, and I longed to just have a rich pumpkin soup for lunch with (gasp) no added protein. If you read last week’s post 15 Ways to Measure Your Health, you’ll know I planned to have a body composition test to analyse my slightly heavier, tighter clothed self. And guess what? Since my last assessment at the naturopath about 15 months ago, I’ve gained 2.5kg (5.5lbs) of weight overall but wait for it – I’ve lost 2.8kg (5.2lbs) of body fat and gained 5.5kg (12lbs) of muscle! I’m going to be still hitting the gym at 90, hoorah! 

But the main reason I’m hitting pause on flexible dieting? My naturopath, who I’ve seen for years and is continually studying, cautioned me against a high protein diet. He said the latest evidence in tests of worms, rats and other animals is that while a high protein diet makes you leaner – it can cut your life expectancy by 30 per cent (which equates to 30 years for humans!). You may look better, but you won’t live as long. It’s the last thing I want my healthy, active life to achieve. So for now, avocado and nuts are back on the menu and I’ll stick with my daily protein shake. I’m even going to eat a bit more each day (1400 cals), and I’ll eat a lot more when I run 10K (1600 – 1800 cals). But the processed bars and late night lupin mug cakes can go. It’s timely, as I’m about to have surgery on my finger that will unfortunately keep me away from the gym for a few weeks. Rather than worry about weight gain, losing fitness or counting carbs – I’m simply going to give my mind and body the best recovery it can get. Sleep, vitamins and glorious walks by the beach!

QUESTION: Tell me about a diet strategy you tried – what was it, and what were the results? 

Five Ways to Use Lupin Flakes

Health foods have come a long way since I first went into a dedicated store in my teens. From the emergence of smoothie and salad bars alongside fast food at shopping malls to the explosion of alternative flours and milks, there has truly been a nutrition revolution. As someone who still remembers their first glass of watery, bitter soy milk and trying carob chocolate – these are good times. 

I love finding new health products to add variety to my mostly vegan diet. Buckwheat and quinoa are a lovely alternative to oats and I’ve recently been making the Italian flatbread farinata, which uses chickpea flour, for weekend brunches. I’ve also been trying to boost my protein intake from 70 grams a day to 110g/day. It’s been challenging but achievable, partly thanks to lupin flakes.

What is Lupin?

I first spotted lupin at one of my favourite health food spots The Clean Food Store and soon after I received them in a health foods subscription box. Lupin (also called lupini beans) is a legume that’s been used as animal feed for decades, but it’s only recently been widely marketed for human consumption. My home state, Western Australia, produces 85% of the world’s supply! The nutritional profile of lupin what impresses me most – it’s very high protein, low fat, low carbohydrate, and relatively low in calories. 

Specifically, one 40g (4 tablespoons) serve of lupin flakes contains:

  • 130 calories | 16g protein | 2.6g fat | 1.6g carbs | 14g fibre
  • It’s also gluten-free and has a low glycemic index (GI)

If that’s not attractive enough, lupin flakes are also quick cooking, fairly easy to find in Australia and only around AU$9 for a 400g bag (or about 90 cents a serve!). So how exactly do you use them? Read on. 

1. Soak

I received my first bag of lupin flakes about the same time I had an ageing orange in my fruit bowl. I grabbed a jar, some oats and had this delicious, high protein breakfast the next morning! 

 Lupin Bircher: high-protein and effortless.
Lupin Bircher: high-protein and effortless.

Lupin Bircher muesli (serves one)

  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tbsp lupin flakes
  • 1 orange, juice only 
  • 1 tbsp raisins 
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk (soy, almond, dairy etc) + extra for the morning
  • Optional toppings: yogurt, walnuts, pepitas, flaxmeal 

METHOD: Combine all ingredients except toppings in a bowl or jar, cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, add extra milk for a thinner consistency if desired. Otherwise, add toppings and enjoy!

2. Sprinkle

Sometimes the simplest things are the best. I’ve been sprinkling 1-2 tbsp of lupin flakes on my Greek soy yogurt and fresh fruit most afternoons. It’s so filling! There’s something about the nutty flavour of lupin with the sharp taste of natural yogurt that I’m hooked on too. This combination packs 10g of protein with the probiotic goodness of yogurt for just 130 calories – and still under 200 cals with berries or a slices of fresh peach. You could also add a tablespoon as a salad topper, although I’m yet to try this. 

3. Absorption/Boil

If you like Middle Eastern foods, you will love lupin! I tried substituting lupin flakes for quinoa in several dishes, but I find it works best as a replacement for cous cous. To quickly cook in the microwave, mix 4 tbsp of lupin flakes with 1/2 a cup of water on HIGH for three minutes. Cover for a few minutes and then fluff with a fork to enjoy as a side dish with a Moroccan tajine or stuffed capsciums. I want to try lupin in this way with a spicy Indial dal too! 

 Moroccan tagine: cooked lupin flakes taste sensational with Middle Eastern dishes! 
Moroccan tagine: cooked lupin flakes taste sensational with Middle Eastern dishes! 

4. Just Add 

In the same way I like to add flaxmeal to my breakfast and general baking, the neutral flavour of lupins means you can simply add it to a dish for a protein boost. One tablespoon in a bowl of oatmeal almost doubles the protein content, and you could similarly add a few tablespoons and lower the flour when making muffins or bread. It does have a slightly bitter, nutty taste so  I find just one tablespoon in a single bowl of oats is a good balance. For other cooking, start small and increase over time until you find the right balance. Or check out my lupin cake recipe below! 

5. Bake

When I got home late last week and hadn’t reached my protein target for the day, I had to get creative. I experimented with a lupin chocolate mug cake with surprisingly good results! This is not a rich, sweet mud cake. Rather, it has a denser texture more like polenta but it’s wholesome, chocolately and still a satisfying high-protein snack or dessert!

My Lupin Chocolate Mug Cake (vegan) 

  • 2 tbsp lupin flakes
  • 1 tbsp spelt flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup milk (soy, almond, dairy etc)
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • Optional: 1 tsp maple syrup

METHOD: Combine all ingredients in a mug and microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes. Check and microwave for another minute if needed. Eat with a spoon straight away or top with berries, peanut butter or coconut yogurt. 

More ideas 

I’m in the process of testing some high protein, vegan lupin cookies and plan to do a fruit crumble with lupin topping too. Like almond meal, you could also use lupin flakes to crumb meat, tofu or vegetables. When winter approaches, I’m going to try topping cauliflower cheese with lupin for a delicious crunch! 

I did attempt a lupin porridge but I found there wasn’t enough starch to make it very creamy, even when cooked with grated apple, soy milk and vanilla. I also added cooked lupin flakes to a bean salad but they soaked up moisture from the beans and tomatoes, resulting in a soggy lunch. Both meals were edible, but I prefer the recipes above. 

QUESTION: What’s your health food of the moment?

Perth’s Healthiest Restaurants

It’s never been easier to get a healthy breakfast and restaurant lunches are typically lighter and brimming with salad options. But when it comes to date night, catching a friend or a group event, dinner is a time where good intentions can be derailed. I love going out, exploring new venues and drinking a good glass of wine – my fitness routine is never going to stop that! But I don’t want to undo all my efforts at the gym by overindulging when I’m dining out. I don’t feel good after I eat greasy or carbohydrate-heavy meals (hence the lack of pizza or pasta in my posts – gnocchi with lots of tomato sauce excepted!) and too much wine makes my 5.30am alarm a struggle. 

While the definition of healthy food is subjective, I consider it as anything that’s minimally processed and eaten in moderation.  I try to avoid anything from a packet and instead eat a variety of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables daily with nuts, wholegrains and proteins. Dark chocolate and occasional home-baked treats like banana bread are all the sweetness I need. Thankfully, perhaps in reaction to fast-food and convenience meals, restaurants are increasingly focusing on fresh, seasonal produce. Whether you have specific dietary needs such as gluten free, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or simply want nutritious yet delicious meals, these restaurants are for you! Options range from casual to special occasion, and all but one venue serves meat and alcohol.

1. DeJa Vu tapas restaurant, Northbridge

Comprising a rooftop venue and a restaurant, a first glimpse of Dejavu‘s menu reveals cocktails, sliders, and pizza  – where’s the healthy you ask? Look closer. The pizzas are on activated charcoal bases. The hummus is made from carrots and served with vegetable sticks. Slider options include free range chicken and shredded jackfruit (vegans rejoice!) on house-made buns. There are also distinctly Australian flavours – think lemon myrtle, macadamia and damper. As for the cocktails Dejavu uses essential oils and coconut sugar syrups, and you’ll again find activated charcoal… in its tequila! The romantic rooftop setting and stunning service make this a magical night out. 

Cost: Tapas plates $8-16, sangria $8 and cocktails from $17.
Address: 2/310 William St, Northbridge | Website 

 Dejavu Rooftop: charcoal damper, sriracha hummus and vegetable sticks with a cocktail. 
Dejavu Rooftop: charcoal damper, sriracha hummus and vegetable sticks with a cocktail. 

2. New Normal, Subiaco

From the outside, this venue doesn’t look overly healthy. You’ll see wine, a rooftop bar and waitstaff with plates of delicious looking food. But on closer inspection, New Normal completely embodies my idea of healthy eating. The focus is on fresh, seasonal produce and it’s entirely sourced from Western Australia’s South West (drinks menu included). The menu changes so often, they don’t have paper copies (but if you’re shortsighted like me and can’t read the blackboard, you’ll be kindly given a chalkboard at your table). My boyfriend and I dined just before Christmas, choosing plates of tomato, golden beetroot, octopus and rosemary potatoes. I felt like we were in a renovated farmhouse, eating exceptional flavours picked straight from a garden. The atmosphere was intimate, wholesome and just lovely. Don’t wait another minute. Book your table now! 

Cost: Approx. $60 per person, including a bottle of wine. 
Address: 2/23 Railway Rd, Subiaco |  Website

 New Normal: golden beetroot and pumpkin with cranberries (goats cheese on the side).
New Normal: golden beetroot and pumpkin with cranberries (goats cheese on the side).

3. The Raw Kitchen, Fremantle

Remember that time before bliss balls and coconut wraps were widely available in supermarkets?The Raw Kitchen opened in Fremantle eight years ago, pioneering healthy eating in Perth. Today, it’s evolved to beautiful warehouse venue that offers yoga, healthy living workshops and even a zero-waste store. But back to the food. Despite its name, not everything is raw. Think yellow tempeh curries, raw nachos with ‘cashew cheese,’ and a ‘live’ pizza with dehydrated buckwheat base. There’s no dairy, gluten, refined sugar or additives. The wine list has preservative free, organic and biodynamic options too! Eating out never felt so good. 

Cost: Entrees/shares from $7, mains from $19, wine from $36 per bottle. 
Address: 181A High St, Fremantle | Website

 The Raw Kitchen: raw tacos filled with fresh salad and herbs, topped with cashew cheese sauce.
The Raw Kitchen: raw tacos filled with fresh salad and herbs, topped with cashew cheese sauce.

4. Post, Perth CBD

I’ve only been to Post for breakfast but it’s open for lunch and dinner, so it’s going on this list. Set in the city’s stunning State Buildings, the menu features several dishes designed by its Como Shambhala spa, aimed at being light and nutritious. Enjoy dishes such as quinoa spaghetti, salads with carrot top pesto and plenty of local seafood in a beautiful heritage setting (how long can you stare at that ceiling for?). I’ll be returning for Post’s Champagne brunch served Sundays from 11.30am – nut seed ‘real toast’ with avocado, buckwheat cannoli cacoa dessert and a glass of champagne of course! Post perfectly captures indulgence without excess and you can even get a spa treatment before or after, if you wish. 

Cost: Starters from $18, mains from $24. 
Address: State Buildings, corner of St George’s Tce & Pier St, Perth | Website

 Post: Dining feels like a spa experience with its nut and seed 'real toast' with avocado.
Post: Dining feels like a spa experience with its nut and seed ‘real toast’ with avocado.

5. Hanami, Mt Lawley

With a focus on simplicity and minimal cooking times, Japanese is a great option when looking for healthy dining options. But I specifically keep coming back to Mt Lawley’s Hanami because it’s always so fresh. Sure, there are spring rolls on the menu and you could choose fried chicken with a pile of white rice. But there’s also edamame, endless seafood, cold tofu, and the option to have 5 or 10 pieces of sushi (thumbs up for portion control). The ambience is lively and casual, the food is delicious and you can’t beat the prices. Japanese is also the perfect opportunity to skip the beer or wine and drink green tea all night too. 

Cost: Starters from $6, sushi from $6, mains from $17. 
Address: 685 Beaufort St, Mt Lawley | Website

Want More Healthy Dining?

If you’d like breakfast or brunch ideas, check out Perth’s Healthiest Cafes! There are so many new venues opening, I’ll be doing another post soon showcasing the latest additions. Subscribe to my e-newsletter to get an alert. 

QUESTION: Where do you go for a healthy dinner out? 

Perth’s Best Food & Drink Events in 2018

A new year. A new calendar. A lot of empty spaces… for now! Perth’s glorious sunshine and mild winters means there’s never long between food and drink events. I love checking out new festivals but there are some events I look forward to every year. They’re consistently well organised, have a great range of stallholders, a good atmosphere and don’t cost a fortune. Grab a pen or for digital types, grab your smartphone and save the dates for my favourite food and booze events happening in 2018!

February

Araluen’s Chilli Festival, Perth Hills

This festival has travelled around, appearing at Fremantle’s Esplanade and last year taking over McCallum Park in Victoria Park. In 2018, Araluen’s Chilli Festival returns to where it all began – Roleystone’s Araluen Botanic Park. I love chilli and my man does too, so the festival is a great day for sampling chilli-flavoured sauces, snacks, baked goods, and alcohol! If you (or your mate) can’t handle the heat, there’s typically a few ice cream trucks and plenty of beer to cool things down. 

  • Date: 3 – 4 February 2018
  • Tickets: $22 + booking fee, kids free | Website: araluenbotanicpark.com.au
  • Why I love it: A diverse range of stallholders and punters, united by their love of chilli.
  • Tip: Check out the chilli plant displays to learn about some seriously hot and rare varieties.

 Chico Gelato: get the scoop on chilli desserts, from mild to the Grim Reaper! 
Chico Gelato: get the scoop on chilli desserts, from mild to the Grim Reaper! 

June

City Wine, Northbridge

Winter in Perth can be pretty miserable. It rains, it’s dark by 5.30pm but it’s never cold enough to snow. So it’s always a magical time when City Wine takes over Northbridge’s Urban Orchard. Rugged up with a wine glass in hand, you can wander from stall to stall and experience the best of West Australian wine. Tastings are free but wine is also available by the glass or buy a bottle to take home. The green surroundings, live music and of course, the vino make it the perfect catch up with friends or solo night out.

  • Date: TBC, usually a Friday and Saturday night in June.
  • Tickets: $28 pre-sale (2017) | Website: www.wineandfood.com.au
  • Why I love it: It’s like visiting Margaret River, but with one metre between wineries.
  • Tip: Stallholders will look after any bottles you buy so you don’t have to carry them all night. 

 City Wine: producers from across Western Australia take over Northbridge.
City Wine: producers from across Western Australia take over Northbridge.

August

Good Food & Wine Show, Perth CBD

Don’t let memories of your last work conference put you off heading to the Perth Convention Centre. The Good Food and Wine Show is the biggest event of its kind in Perth, with food stalls covering everything from cheese and antipasti to desserts and health food products. There are huge areas dedicated to wine, beer, cider and spirits too. There’s also a strong local presence – last year I discovered Noshing Naturally vegan cheese and also met the founder of Turban Chopsticks meal kits! Tastings are free and there are plenty of bargains if you’re buying products to take home.

  • Date: 24 – 26 August 2018, various day and night sessions.
  • Tickets: About $25 – $35, depending on session (2017) | Website: goodfoodshow.com.au
  • Why I love it: One ticket, hundreds of exhibitors. I’ll be honest. It’s pretty boozy. 
  • Tip: Bring a reusable bag for all your shopping, or buy a trolley from the merchandise stand.

 Good Food and Wine Show: get your map, grab your glass and go! 
Good Food and Wine Show: get your map, grab your glass and go! 

October

Beauvine, Highgate

This is hands-down one of the most organised and well-curated events in Perth’s food and drink scene (congrats JumpClimb!). Held at Birdwood Park near the Brisbane Hotel, your ticket includes four hours of beer, wine and cider tastings. Each year I discover a new winery or find a new beer at an old favourite stallholder. There’s a big emphasis on local producers with a few east coast surprises too. Food options are equally boutique, with pop-ups from some of Perth’s best eateries. It’s outrageously good value if you get pre-sale tickets. 

  • Date: TBC, usually a Friday night, Saturday day/night and Sunday day in October.
  • Tickets: $29 + booking fee (2017) | Website: www.beauvine.com.au
  • Why I love it: Meet the smaller brewers and producers in a hip but not too crowded space.  
  • Tip: Bring a hat and sunscreen, as there’s serious competition for shade during the day.

 Beauvine: the most organised, well-curated food and drinbnk festival in Perth! 
Beauvine: the most organised, well-curated food and drinbnk festival in Perth! 

November

WA Beer Week, various locations

 WA Beer Week: celebrate the best of the state's brews!
WA Beer Week: celebrate the best of the state’s brews!

This massive celebration of WA craft beer has been happening since 2002. I’ll confess, last year was the first time I got involved with WA Beer Week but I’m already excited for 2018! This 10 day festival features events across the state, including beer launches, masterclasses, dinners, quizzes and even a beer run (yep, the exercise kind). It’s a great chance to visit bars and breweries beyond Perth too, with events held in regional Western Australia too. 

  • Date: TBC, late November 2018.
  • Tickets: There are free events! Others are ticketed | Website: www.wabeerweek.com.au
  • Why I love it: It’s a huge celebration of WA’s beer industry, no suits or heels required.
  • Tip: Get your tickets early! Events will sell out. 

Ones to watch…

  • From the team behind Beauvine, Kegs by the Quay gets underway at Elizabeth Quay next week featuring more than 20 breweries and cideries. 
  • Seafood lovers can rejoice as Fish and Sips Festival makes its debut at Port Beach in early February. If you prefer sweets, De Lish Expo takes over Crown Perth the same weekend. 
  • South West in the City was a huge success on the South Perth foreshore in 2017 and has promised a return in early 2018.
  • I’ll be closely following Perth Craft Beer Festival, which last year swapped the awful token system at Northbridge for the much friendlier PayPass at Claremont Showgrounds. 
  • I’m still yet to make it to the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, but with the State Government renewing funding for another year and the promise of it expanding to Perth’s Swan Valley – 2018 may finally be my chance!

Stay up to date with all of Perth’s food and drink events with my dedicated guide Perth Food & Booze Events or sign up for my e-newsletter. Got an event? Get in touch.

QUESTION: What’s your favourite food or booze event in Perth?

Your 10 Favourite Posts of 2017

Whether you’re loving days at the beach or watching it snow outside, the holiday season has arrived! It’s the perfect time to reflect on the year gone by. What are you most proud of? What memory fills you with the most joy? I travelled to Europe in 2017 and had an extraordinary time visiting friends, hiking in Italy and cycling in France. My boyfriend and I also spent three weeks in China, which we agree was one of the best trips we’ve ever done. 

The past year has also been full of writing. Since launching this blog a year ago, I’ve shared more than 40 posts on food, travel and fitness. Destinations include Greece and Scotland, while food included Italian and immune boosting soups. Did you prefer fitness articles? Love the travel guides? Find out which posts were most popular below! 

Your 10 Favourite Posts of 2017

10. Your First BodyPump Class  

It’s the group fitness workout that changed everything! The 60 minute weight training class BodyPump from fitness giant Les Mills’ turned 100 in 2017. To celebrate, I shared my tips for Your First BodyPump Class. Read what to wear, what to bring to class and what to expect throughout the workout. 

Coming in 10th, people from across the world including Russia, France and Singapore have checked out this post. Here’s to a stronger, fitter planet! Click here for the full post.

9. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam  

Once divided, the Vietnam of today is heaven for travellers seeking culture, history, beaches, buildings and food! My boyfriend and I spent five nights in its capital Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in 2013. The colonial architecture is stunning but you can also get immersed in Vietnam’s wartime history. 

My city guide covers where to stay, what to do and where to eat plus tips on currency and visas. I can’t wait to go back! Read the full post here

8. Travel-Friendly Foods

Organisation is my super power and snacks are no exception! Skip the plane Pringles or late night room service and discover a range of Travel-Friendly Foods that are also good for you. 

You’ll find ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner at your hotel or in your plane seat (plus snacks for in between too!). It’s a must-read whether you’re looking to save cash, stay healthy or fight jetlag. Not travelling? These ideas are perfect for your workplace too! 

7. Bali for Beginners

I was long sceptical of this Indonesian island for being overrun with Australians seeking a cheap getaway. But a trip to Bali in 2012 changed my mind as I discovered a tropical climate, sensational food and unique experiences. I’ve since returned to Bali multiple times with friends, family and my boyfriend.

Bali for Beginners covers everything for a first time visit, such as which area to stay in, getting around and some must-have Indonesian foods. Click here for the full post. 

6. My Pre-Holiday Checklist

My boyfriend and I returned from Europe in May this year and by September, we were flying again to China! We found ourselves in a familiar pre-holiday pattern of ordering foreign currency, putting our mail on hold and buying travel size essentials.

I put our routine into My Pre-Holiday Checklist to ensure we have a stress-free departure every time, without the last minute rush! You can download the checklist as a free PDF too. Read more

5. Perth’s Healthiest Cafes

Entering the top five! Gone are the days where cafe breakfasts were eggs, toast or porridge. Being healthy has never been more in fashion and my hometown Perth is dishing up some seriously impressive brunch fare. From beetroot hummus toast to pumpkin protein pancakes, here are some of Perth’s Healthiest Cafes.

There’s a new wave of healthy cafes which I’ll be posting about in 2018. In the meantime, be sure to check these ones out! Read the full post here

4. 5:2 Diet – My Review

I don’t diet, rather I focus on eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables daily, along with adequate protein and nutritious grains. However, when my weight loss plateaued in 2015 I looked for ways to drop body fat in a healthy way.

Introducing the The 5:2 Diet, a type of intermittent fasting popularised in the United Kingdom. Twice a week, I ate just 500 calories. It wasn’t easy but the results were surprising. Read more.

3. The Dangers of Overtraining

Exercise is great for your body and mind, until it becomes an obsession. Spurred by successful weight loss in my early 20s, I kept increasing the frequency and duration of my workouts while eating less. The result? Illness, injury and isolation. 

In third place, The Dangers of Overtraining details how my healthy habits ultimately caused more harm than good, and hitting breaking point while on holidays in New York City. Click here for the full story. 

2. Essential Apps Before You Fly

When I first went backpacking in 2004, I carried a discman and a bulky Lonely Planet guide. More than a decade later, my smartphone is my lifeline that can find flights, take photos, manage money, help with language and even book a yoga class.

In Essential Apps Before You Fly, you’ll find my favourites for organising travel, keeping track of your bookings and even finding dumplings in a hurry. Best of all, every single app featured is free! 

1. How I Lost 30kg

Taking out first place in the most-loved posts of 2017, is my personal story How I Lost 30kg. I almost didn’t publish it because I was so embarrassed by the old photos. But the response was extraordinary, even though it was just my own story. 

I didn’t have a formula to lose weight, nor did I spend a lot of money or make any drastic changes. In How I Lost 30kg, I share how the small things added up and changed my life for the better. 

and for 2018…

I’ll be taking a break for the rest of December to spend time with friends and family, celebrating the achievements of the past year and welcoming in 2018. Early in the new year, I’ll be sharing more on travelling in China plus a new round of healthy Perth cafes! You can also look forward to more fitness posts, and I’ll share how I did eventually overcome that injury from overtraining. If you have any topic requests, please add them to the comments below! 

Thanks for reading over the past year. Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthy 2018! Love Hayley xx

My 15 Minute Rhubarb Compote

I visit my local farmers’ market most weeks and I love wandering between the tables of fresh produce. I buy staples like leafy greens, tomatoes and apples and then choose a few seasonal items to inspire my meals for the week. It might be a bunch of beetroot for salads or Tuscan cabbage to put in a stew. I can fill a box for around AU$20 and love the sense of community on a Saturday morning. 

A few weeks ago the rhubarb at looked irresistible but it’s hardly a fruit you bring to the office. Instead, I created this basic compote to add to breakfasts or sprinkle with granola for an instant rhubarb crumble. It was such a hit with my boyfriend, he asked me to make it again the following week.

I like the simplicity of this recipe which can be easily prepared while cooking something else. Rather than refined sugar, this compote uses cinnamon and vanilla to mimic sweetness. It’s a great, low-calorie treat that’s good enough to enjoy anytime of the day! It’s also gluten-free and vegan.

 Rhubarb compote: it looks like red celery at first! 
Rhubarb compote: it looks like red celery at first! 

Ingredients

Serves 6  

600g rhubarb, chopped into 1.5cm (half-inch) pieces
½ cup water
1.5 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sultanas

Method

1. Put all ingredients except sultanas in a medium sized pot.
2. Bring to a boil (about 5 minutes), then turn heat to medium-low.
3.  Add the sultanas.
4. Cook for a further 10 minutes or until rhubarb is soft, stirring occasionally.
5. Serve immediately or let cool and refrigerate.

Notes

This keeps in the fridge for at least a few (3-4) days. Add an extra tablespoon of maple syrup if needed, for sweetness. Serve compote warm with oatmeal, homemade custard or on top of pancakes. Or enjoy it cold with yogurt, granola, or scones. I like to mix mine with vanilla protein powder for an instant smoothie bowl – then just sprinkle with nuts, seeds and fresh fruit. Delicious! 

NUTRITION
54 calories | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 0.2g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin C: 13% | Calcium: 13%

QUESTION: Where’s your favourite place to get fruit and vegetables? 

Easy Muesli for One

I’ve always had a reluctant relationship with muesli. Unlike its sweet, roasted cousin granola, muesli has mild flavours and goes soggy far too quickly for my liking. And as opposed to oatmeal, a serve of muesli is over just a few mouthfuls after it begins. 

However when I returned from China last month, I was craving something fresh and light. After three weeks away, my cupboard was bare and it was too warm for porridge. I had some frozen bananas but didn’t feel like a smoothie. I stared at my pantry, summoned the scant ingredients on hand and created this recipe in 60 seconds.

The rolled oats provide a high-fibre, low GI and low-calorie base while the walnuts add a rich, caramel-like flavour with the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids. The cocoa nibs are like nature’s chocolate chips and a good source of iron and antioxidants. They won’t get soggy either! The sultanas add a little sweetness and bulk while the coconut flakes are just plain YUM.

INGREDIENTS

1/3 cup (30g) rolled oats (*use gluten-free oats if needed)
1 tbsp (40g) walnut pieces
1 tbsp cocoa nibs
1 tbsp sultanas (raisins)
1 tbsp coconut flakes (optional but delicious)
Fresh fruit to serve (blueberries, banana, or strawberries)

METHOD

1. Combine all ingredients in a cereal bowl
2. Add fresh fruit and serve with your choice of milk (soy, almond, dairy)
3. Enjoy! 

notes

You can easily scale the recipe up by multiplying ingredients by 10 and storing in a large container to have during the week. I enjoyed my muesli with fresh blueberries and soy milk – there’s something about the combination of fruit, cocoa nibs and coconut that makes this taste luscious! Check out my post Perth’s Top Health Food Stores for where to buy ingredients in bulk.

NUTRITION
292 calories | Carbohydrates: 32g | Fat: 15g | Protein: 7g | Sugar: 6g | Fibre: 6g | Iron: 13% RDA

QUESTION: What do you crave for breakfast when you return from holidays? 

 

10 Superfoods on a Budget

Between activated almonds and goji berries, you’d be forgiven for thinking health foods are the domain of the rich. While it’s true you get what you pay for, you can also eat well and not spend a fortune on your grocery shopping. As a general rule, all fruit and vegetables are superfoods. One red capsicum (pepper) contains three times the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C (and interestingly, twice as much Vitamin C as an orange). A sweet potato boasts around 200% of your daily Vitamin A needs while you can get 5g of your daily fibre intake from a single apple. None of these foods will break your budget!

If you delve into the packaged food section, a good tip is to avoid marketing buzz words like ‘natural,’ ‘wholesome’ or ‘pure’, as the use of these words isn’t actually regulated. In Australia, a 2016 report found nearly half of 300 supermarket foods labelled “natural” were actually considered unhealthy, as they were high in saturated fat, salt and/or sugar. While the use of ‘organic’ on packaging is regulated, most brands of organic tomato sauce (ketchup), for example, still contain 20% sugar and high sodium levels.

Here’s my list of 10 affordable health foods that are easy to find and incorporate into your diet. Check out Perth’s Top Health Food Stores for my favourite places to buy in bulk for further savings!  

1. rolled oats

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I love my morning oatmeal! A 30 gram (1/3 cup or 1 oz.) serve of rolled oats contains 4 grams of protein, a type of fibre called beta-glucan which helps with cholesterol levels, and minerals like manganese which is vital for bone formation and phosphorus for basic cell function and bone support. Whether you use oats for porridge or mix them with nuts and dried fruit for a natural muesli, they’re one of the healthiest, convenient and cheapest breakfast foods you can find. 

  • Cost: AU $3 per kilo / US$4 for 2 lbs. (10-15 cents per serve)
  • How to use: Make porridge for breakfast, roast oats in the oven for an hour with a handful of nuts and seeds for a healthy granola, make topping for a fruit crumble, add to vegetable patties instead of breadcrumbs, bake Anzac biscuits or oatmeal raisin cookies. 

2. Flaxseed (linseed)

I’m still amazed how affordable flaxseeds are. Also known as linseed, these tiny seeds are plain tasting and ordinary looking but they pack a nutritional punch. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed (flaxmeal) is just 30 calories and contains 1.5g protein, 2g fibre (you need 25g-30g a day) and more than your daily needs of omega-3 fatty acids. Increasing your omega-3 intake is thought to have a significant benefit in preventing cardiovascular disease. I buy my flaxseed whole and grind them in my Vitamix, as it’s fresher and cheaper than buying pre-ground flaxmeal. 

  • Cost: AU$4 per kilo / US$3 for 16 oz. (about 2c per 1tbsp serve!)
  • How to use: Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to oatmeal or smoothies, use as an egg replacement in cakes or muffins by mixing 1tbsp flaxmeal with 3 tbsp water for each egg, or add flaxseed and/or flaxmeal to bread or other baked goods for a nutrition boost. 

 Flaxseed: Make flaxmeal by grinding seeds in a blender or coffee grinder & store in the refrigerator. 
Flaxseed: Make flaxmeal by grinding seeds in a blender or coffee grinder & store in the refrigerator. 

3. Sunflower seeds

When I was a student, there was no way I could afford $15 for a bag of almonds. Peanuts and sunflowers seeds were my trail mix of choice mixed with raisins or dried apricots. A 28g (1 oz. or 1/4 cup) serve of hulled sunflower seeds contains around 8g protein, 4g fibre, 45% of your daily Vitamin E needs and 25% of your magnesium intake. Even just one tablespoon will give you 2-3g of protein and 1.3g of fibre for just 60 calories. Watch out for the salted varieties!

  • Cost: AU$4 for 500g/ US$2.50 for 16 oz. (20 – 30c per serve)
  • How to use: Scatter a tablespoon on top of your breakfast cereal or yogurt, roast a cup of seeds in the oven with a little oil and your favourite spices for a savoury snack or salad topping, add 1/4 cup to muffins or banana bread for annutrition crunch, or blend in a high quality blender to make your own seed butter. 

4. Lentils

Legumes in general are inexpensive and readily available in canned or dried forms. Also known as “pulses,” they’re packed with fibre, protein, B vitamins and minerals like iron and copper. Lentils are one of my favourite legumes for their versatility and quick cooking time of around 20 minutes. You’ll commonly find brown lentils in cans, while red lentils are usually sold dry and break down when cooked. Slightly more expensive are French lentils (also called puy lentils) which hold their shape when cooked, making them ideal for salads. A typical 50g (1/4 cup) serve of dry lentils contains around 170 calories, 11g protein and 5g fibre plus a whopping 20% of your daily iron intake. 

  • Cost:  AU$4 per kilo / US$4 for 2lb. (approx. 20c a serve)
  • How to use: Make Indian dal by simmering 1 cup of dry red lentils with 3-4 cups of water and curry powder, or cook lentils with chopped vegetables and stock for a hearty soup. If you don’t like Indian flavours or soup, make lentil burgers! Alternatively, cook French puy lentils and add to salads or serve hot with creamy polenta and wilted greens. 

5. Carrots

I hated raw carrots as a kid and still disliked them as a young adult. But as a university student, their affordability and durability made them taste a whole lot better! I started eating raw carrots with hummus as an alternative to crackers and at the time, I didn’t appreciate what a powerhouse they were. One carrot contains about 170% of your daily Vitamin A needs and 3g of fibre, plus it’s only around 30-40 calories. Again, I love the versatility of carrots and use them in everything from curries and soups, to salads and sweet dishes like muffins or carrot cake (they pair perfectly with walnuts and cinnamon). 

  • Cost: AU$1-2 for 1kg bag / US$1.50 for 2lb (about 10-15c per carrot!)
  • How to use: eat raw carrot sticks with hummus or salsa, make a healthy carrot soup, or grate carrot and red cabbage for a “naked” coleslaw. This mix keeps for days and you can use it in Vietnamese rice paper rolls, throw it in a stir fry or enjoy with satay sauce and lime as a zesty side salad.

6. Canned tomatoes

While I try to buy fresh vegetables whenever possible, there are a few items I make an exception for. I love frozen peas, marinated artichokes, polski ogorki (Polish dill pickles) and… canned tomatoes. Tomatoes are high in lycopene, which has an antioxidant effect. Studies suggest eating foods with lycopene can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. An average 400g (14 oz.) can of diced tomatoes has around 60% of your daily Vitamin C needs, 25% of your Vitamin A needs and 6g of fibre (and only around 80 calories). Just make sure there’s no added salt. Best of all, a can of tomatoes will keep in your cupboard for years!

  • Cost: AU/US$1 per 400g/14oz. can (25c – $1 per serve)
  • How to use: Simmer with sautéed onion and garlic for an easy homemade pasta sauce, do the same but add paprika, cumin and coriander for a Mexican enchilada sauce or taco filling (with protein), simmer two cans with assorted vegetables for a chunky minestrone soup, or go Middle Eastern with a Moroccan tajine (stew) or shakshuka (eggs in tomato sauce).

7. Eggs 

For those who don’t follow a vegan diet or don’t have allergies, eggs are an affordable powerhouse of protein and nutrients. One egg contains 6g protein along with Vitamins B2, B12 and Vitamin D plus about 25-30% of your recommended daily intake of selenium and folate. Vitamin D helps protect bones while selenium is an antioxidant and vital for a proper functioning immune system. Eggs are also widely available in supermarkets, at cafes and of course, served by airlines every time they want you to think it’s “breakfast time!”

  • Cost: AU$4 per dozen / US$2-3 a dozen (about 50-60c per 2-egg serve)
  • How to use: Beyond poaching, frying and scrambling, use eggs to make a vegetable-packed quiche, enjoy boiled eggs as a portable snack or mash them with a pinch of curry powder for a protein-rich sandwich filling. 

8. Fresh herbs

There’s something about fresh herbs that’s both delicious and detoxifying. My favourites are parsley, mint, basil and (the often controversial) coriander. I add fresh herbs as often as I can my meals. They’re rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties, and studies suggest they may help protect against cancer.  As an example, a 1/4 cup of chopped parsley contains one-quarter of your daily Vitamin A needs, one-third of your Vitamin C needs and 5% of your daily iron intake. Fresh herbs elevate any dish you’re preparing and reduce the chance of unnecessarily adding salt or fat for flavour. My boyfriend and I struggle to keep our herb garden alive (even with automated watering) but we replant it a few times a year. It’s worth it! 

  • Cost: A few dollars for a small herb plant from a nursery or gardening centre. 
  • How to use: Make a parsley-packed tabbouleh, try a mint and pea soup, add generous amounts of coriander and lime juice to zucchini noodles for a raw pad thai, or blend two handfuls of fresh herbs with olive oil and lemon juice for a delicious homemade pesto. I love adding herbs to smoothies too – try pairing strawberries and mint, or parsley and kiwi fruit.

    9. cocoa

    I’m a chocoholic, but deep down I think I’m just hooked on cocoa. I’ll drink it hot, add it to smoothies, munch on cocoa nibs and make any dessert chocolate flavour. Most cocoa sold in supermarkets is “Dutch-processed,” or treated with alkali for a milder flavour (if so, you’ll see it in the ingredient list). Natural cocoa will simply say “cocoa” or “unsweetened cocoa powder” under ingredients. The least processed (and usually only found in health food stores) is “raw cocoa,” which is like the cold-pressed juice equivalent of cocoa.  

    What should you buy? It’s up to you, your tastebuds and your wallet – but don’t be dissuaded by commercial brands. One tablespoon of Hershey’s cocoa contains 10% of your daily iron needs and 2g of fibre, but less processed varieties will have more antioxidants. Just be sure to avoid “drinking chocolate” – that’s code for cocoa mixed with sugar, milk powder or solids and possibly marshmallows.

    • Cost: AU$5 for 250g / US $3 for 8 oz. (15c per 1 tbsp serve)
    • How to use: Make a healthy hot chocolate, add a spoonful to a banana or berry smoothie, stir cocoa through 1 cup of coconut water and 2tbsp of chia seeds for a healthy chocolate pudding (you’ll have to wait a few hours though!).  

     Dark chocolate: you'll always find a block or two of Lindt in my refrigerator! 
    Dark chocolate: you’ll always find a block or two of Lindt in my refrigerator! 

    10. Dark chocolate

    You may be thinking chocolate isn’t a superfood or that good quality brands are too pricey. But dark chocolate, with a cocoa content of 85% or above, is a great source of iron and antioxidants. Most brands of 70% cocoa and above are also lactose and dairy-free, so suitable for vegans too. Unlike traditional chocolate bars, it’s hard to overindulge on dark chocolate because of its richness (although I need a lot of willpower to only eat two squares). If dark chocolate isn’t your thing, try starting with a 60% cocoa bar and working your way up. My favourite is Lindt’s 90% variety and I have a square every night with a cup of white tea. Two 10g squares of dark chocolates contains 120 calories and 7% of your daily iron intake.  

    • Cost: AU/US$3-4 for a 100g block (or just 30 cents per square). 
    • How to use: As if I have to tell you how to eat chocolate!  

    notes

    • Everything on this page is vegetarian, and everything is vegan except for eggs. This list is entirely gluten-free too, except for rolled oats (although certified gluten-free brands exist). 
    • All prices are based on my best knowledge and research of major Australian and American supermarkets. If there’s a bargain superfood in your country (or something I’ve missed!), please share in the comments below. 
    • Check out Perth’s Top Health Food Stores for my favourite places to buy in bulk. They’re usually much cheaper than major supermarkets and some deliver interstate too!
    • Please remember I’m a journalist, not a nutritionist. I check my sources and I regularly shop on a budget – but don’t make drastic diet changes without seeing a professional. However, I guarantee lentils won’t kill you and you’ll grow to love 90% dark chocolate eventually!

    QUESTION: What’s your favourite budget health food?

    My Immune Boosting Soup

    Winter seems to bring sniffles and sore throats no matter how well you look after yourself. I try to avoid getting sick in the cooler months by paying close attention to diet and exercise, even when it’s dark and rainy outside. I still get a cold or two each year, but I tend to fight bugs quickly and get back to normal within two days. 

    When I do feel a cold setting in, I head straight to the kitchen and make tea with lemon and raw honey. I’ll also make a big batch of vegetable soup packed with fresh herbs and a hint of chilli. It’s both nourishing and comforting, and convenient if you’re at home unwell for a few days. To treat a sore throat, I gargle warm saltwater a few times a day and also have a spoonful of raw honey. Salt helps reduce bacteria growth and unprocessed honey also has antibacterial benefits. These are easy remedies to find if you’re suddenly struck down at work or travelling too. 

    My boyfriend recently got a winter bug and the doctor’s advice was simply to stay warm and rest. I turned to our humble apartment kitchen to try find a remedy. We had carrots, fresh ginger, garlic and a packet of dried shiitake mushrooms. I cooked this soup within 30 minutes and it was too good not to share! It’s delicious, nutrient-packed and has a serious ginger kick.

    How does it help you in winter? Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamin A (330% of recommended daily intake in a medium carrot), which is vital for immune function. Ginger and garlic have antimicrobial benefits and add a strong, medicinal flavour to this soup. Dried shiitake mushrooms have been shown to boost immunity, and they also add umami which is known as the ‘fifth taste’ after salty, sweet, sour and bitter. You can find dried shiitake mushrooms for around $3-4 a packet in the Asian section of most grocery stores, either whole or sliced. Enjoy!

    my immune boosting soup

    Serves 2 | Gluten-free | Vegan | Low calorie | Budget-friendly 

    Time: 30 minutes (5 mins prep, 15 mins cooking + 10 mins soaking)

    INGREDIENTS

    • 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
    • 2 cups water (1 cup hot , 1 cup room temperature)
    • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
    • 3 cloves garlic, crushed or roughly chopped
    • 1cm (half-inch) fresh ginger, sliced
    • 5 carrots, thinly sliced
    • 1 tbsp salt-reduced soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)

    STEPS

    1. Place shiitake mushrooms in a bowl with 1 cup of hot (not boiling) water. Let soak for 10 minutes, then let them continue soaking while you start on the soup. 
    2. Heat oil in a medium sized saucepan.
    3. Sauté garlic and ginger for 2 – 3 minutes, until fragrant.
    4. Add sliced carrots and remaining 1 cup of water, plus half the shiitake mushroom water.
    5. Bring to a boil then simmer on medium heat for 8 – 10 minutes, or until carrots are soft but not soggy. 
    6. Blend 3/4 of the soup using a hand held mixer or machine (I use my Vitamix). Be careful when blending hot liquids as they can explode when you remove the lid. 
    7. Return the blended mix to the saucepan and add soy sauce and remaining shiitake mushroom water (keeping mushrooms separate). Stir and reheat if necessary.
    8. Slice the shiitake mushrooms. They should be soft but slightly chewy. 
    9. Divide soup into two bowls, and serve topped with the mushrooms and fresh herbs.

    Leftovers will keep a day or two in the refrigerator. This recipe is easy to double too. It’s so delicious, I’m going to recreate it all winter! Next time, I’ll try topping it with roasted chickpeas for a protein boost.

    QUESTION: What’s your favourite cold and flu remedy?

    My Perth Italian Food Bender

    If you had to eat just one cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be? Mexican immediately jumps to my mind. So does Asian, specifically Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and dumplings. Does Indian count as Asian? And I couldn’t live without hummus! What cuisine does avocado on toast come under?

    Needless to say, Italian is a little further down the list. Excuse the sweeping stereotype, but pasta doesn’t woo me. It’s just so… heavy. I’d fall asleep if I had spaghetti at lunch and risotto to me is just nutritionally unappealing. I know many of you are finding this blasphemous but I didn’t grow up with an Italian nonna and a basil-scented kitchen (rather, my Polish grandmother cooked cabbage and meatballs). I did have a life-changing moment at Unravelled in Perth’s western suburbs, when a simple tomato and basil spaghetti took my breath away. But the venue closed a few years ago so my love for Italian was once again sidelined. 

    Given this background, it was with some surprise I realised I’ve been on an Italian food bender lately. Not one, not two, but four restaurants across Perth in rapid succession. And you know what? I’d return to to all of them! From creative plates to classic dishes, put on your best white shirt and check out these inner-city Italian eats:

    1. Solo Pasta, Mt Lawley

    Confession: one of my all-time favourite Instagram searches is #noodlelift. If you go to Solo Pasta on Beaufort St, you can compete in the noodle lift Olympics! This venue opened a few months ago and has a simple but delicious concept: choose your pasta flavour (classic/spinach/beetroot), choose your length (3 metres is standard) and pick from one of the 19 sauces, neatly divided into tomato, cream and olive oil bases.

     Solo Pasta: My beautiful beetroot ribbons.
    Solo Pasta: My beautiful beetroot ribbons.

     Solo Pasta: Because I love #noodlelift!
    Solo Pasta: Because I love #noodlelift!

    I ordered the tomato and eggplant sauce with spinach pasta ($18) and sipped my BYO chardonnay ($5 corkage per person). The wide tagliatelle-style noodles were like diving headfirst into a basket of ribbons. The sauce to pasta ratio was perfect: every bite had a rich, glorious coating with a few bonus spoonfuls at the bottom. The chicken coconut curry ($21) and WA beef fillet with mushrooms ($22) ordered by my friends were also met with applause. 

    In a rare move, I went back a week later with my sister and ordered the same dish except this time with beetroot pasta. I thought the spinach was a better match, but it was still tasty. We also had bread, butter and olive oil ($6), which we agreed was wholesome and delicious. Will there be a third visit? Absolutely!

    • Food: creative takes on classic noodles.
    • Price: entrees & sides $6-14, standard size pasta $18-$23. Quite the bargain.
    • Atmosphere: casual, light and airy.
    • Perfect for: relaxed catch ups, carb loading, creativity, fussy eaters.

    Allergies? Any of the sauces can have ingredients omitted, except the seafood. Solo’s is vegetarian heaven, although the pasta by the metre contains eggs. They offer gluten-free pasta which is also vegan, and GF and nut dishes are clearly marked on the menu. Buon appetito!

    Address: 628 Beaufort St, Mt Lawley | http://solopasta.com.au

    2. No Mafia, Northbridge

    The word “sharing” makes some people shudder. Not me! Tapas is like creating a personalised buffet at your table, having precise control over dishes, portions and price. It also lasts longer than your typical one-course affair. When I saw No Mafia had a Chef’s Selection Menu ($45 a head), I was keen to check it out. We booked a table for five on a Thursday night and were seated in a cosy booth at the rear. With no need to choose our dishes, we could get straight into the wine (No Mafia Sauvignon Blanc Semillon $42). The chef was happy to accommodate for a vegan in our group.

     No Mafia: I remembered to take a #flatlay halfway through our meal (I was more than halfway through my wine). 
    No Mafia: I remembered to take a #flatlay halfway through our meal (I was more than halfway through my wine). 

     No Mafia: House white in their custom glasses! $42/bottle.
    No Mafia: House white in their custom glasses! $42/bottle.

    An array of dishes were brought to us over an hour or so. A bowl of Bread in Common sourdough was the first to arrive, followed by Sicilian olives, gnocchi, several meat dishes, salads and some banging crispy, triple baked potatoes. Our table was covered in plates! I’ll be honest, we ordered a second bottle of wine… and a third… and there was beer too. I can’t remember if we had dessert. I do remember struggling at my 6am gym class the next day.

    The food was absolutely delicious, although I couldn’t try the gnocchi as it contained dairy. My carnivore comrades were grinning with their options. When the plates stopped arriving and we’d cleared their contents, we agreed we could’ve eaten a little more. However, I suspect a few hearty dishes were replaced with vegetable dishes to cater for the vegan. Definitely give the Chef’s Selection option a go!

    • Food: modern, stylish and beautifully presented. 
    • Price: antipasti, cheese & salads/sides $3-25, seafood & meat $24-39, desserts $12-13.
    • Atmosphere: casual but classy, mostly thanks to the high quality of dishes. 
    • Perfect for: date night, double dates, light bites, sharing and pre-theatre. 

    Address: 189 William St, Northbridge | http://www.nomafia.com.au

    3. julio’s, west perth

    Julio’s is no newcomer to West Perth but it had a serious makeover in 2016 with the arrival of Sage Hotel. I walk past this Hay St venue almost daily on my way to the gym and I’ve been keen to check it out for months. My sister craving Italian and we hadn’t caught up in ages, so I booked a table for 7pm on a Friday. 

     Julio's: vegan gnocchi and cocoa tagliatelle in cosy but classy surroundings.
    Julio’s: vegan gnocchi and cocoa tagliatelle in cosy but classy surroundings.

    The restored heritage building has a stunning interior. Think wooden floorboards, exposed brick and several connected but open rooms that make you feel like you’re at a friend’s home. Our waitress was patient as we were too busy talking to actually look at our menus! I eventually ordered the hand rolled vegan gnocchi ($25) while my sister chose the cocoa tagliatelle with venison ragu ($26). I was envious when her meal arrived – wide, chocolate coloured noodles topped with crumbled hazelnut and asparagus. Mine arrived without any garnish. The tomato sauce was very light, too light for my tastebuds, but the gnocchi was firm and satisfying. Neither of us finished our meals, possibly because we had homemade focaccia ($8) too. It was an elegant two hours of wining and dining. I immediately told my boyfriend we had to go there!

    • Food: generous plates, minus the cliches. 
    • Price: entrees $8-19, cheese/dessert boards $21-41, mains & pasta $25-39, desserts $15.
    • Atmosphere: warm and romantic, with a hint of history. 
    • Perfect for: date night, after work drinks, wine and cheese platters.

    Allergies? They do vegan gnocchi! Gluten-free and vegetarian options are marked on menu. 

    Address: 1309 Hay St, West Perth | http://www.juliosrestaurant.com.au

    4. Pappagallo, Leederville

    This venue isn’t in the heart of Leederville but that’s a good thing, otherwise it would have people lining up at its doors! Pappagallo is a sizable restaurant a little further up Oxford St with indoor and outdoor seating. I went here for a dinner with colleagues on a cold, windy weeknight but our al fresco table was sheltered by large, clear blinds and gas heaters. The menu was extensive in addition to the day’s specials of osso bucco, truffled beef ravioli and mushroom risotto. The smoky scent of woodfired pizzas was tormenting me, but I chose gnocchi ($19) because it was dairy-free. The wine list was dominated by Italian varieties, and I went with a Pecorino ($8) as my first choice had sold out. Others had brought BYO, $8 for corkage. 

     Pappagallo: my dairy-free gnocchi ($19) with fresh basil, but I was jealous of my colleagues' pizzas. 
    Pappagallo: my dairy-free gnocchi ($19) with fresh basil, but I was jealous of my colleagues’ pizzas. 

    The pasta arrived first. The truffled ravioli looked and smelt sensational – three flat but giant pillows covered in cheese. My dish was a bowl of rich red, but I instantly regretted my choice when I saw the pizzas. Enormous plates were placed in front of the lucky individuals, creating a halo of woodfired aromas above our table. Pizza is clearly where Pappagallo shines! I put my food envy aside and got stuck into my pasta. The tomato sauce was luscious and rich, exactly as I like it, but the gnocchi was in a dead zone of neither firm or fluffy. I’d asked for my dish without parmesan, and suspect it played a vital role in breaking the dish up.

    I still ate most of my meal, which was another amateur move. No room for dessert! The Italian donuts had sold out but the affogatos, tiramisu and even the biscotti my colleagues ordered looked incredible. I’ll be returning for Pappagallo’s pizza very soon and will be sampling more of that wine list too!

    • Food: the menu has something for everyone! Italian classics of every kind. 
    • Price: antipasti $4-18, pizza $14-26, pasta $19-24, mains $26 – market price.
    • Atmosphere: a vibrant Italian eatery, family-friendly. 
    • Perfect for: groups and crowd pleasing. 

    Allergies? The gnocchi is dairy-free if you ask for no cheese, likewise with the pizza! Gluten-free pasta is available too, with all mains available gluten-free too. 

    Address: 1/250 Oxford St, Leederville | http://www.pappagallo.com.au

    honourable mentions…

    While I did declare my indifference to Italian food earlier, I should state Il Lido in Cottesloe is one exception. I didn’t visit this beachside venue on my current Italian bender but it’s consistently outstanding. Jamie’s Italian is also worthy of mention for its excellent CBD location and good value for money. I’m yet to visit Lulu La Delizia, but this small Subiaco eatery was just named one of Australia’s Top 100 Restaurants (read more here). Also on my list are Lalla Rookh in the CBD and Mt Lawley’s ThreeCoins. It looks like my Italian bender is going to have a sequel! 

    QUESTION: Where’s the best Italian you’ve had in Perth?