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?

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?

    Perth’s Top Health Food Stores

    Remember going to the movies as a child and standing in awe of the pick and mix candy? It was a rare treat during school holidays for my sisters and I, who would carefully scoop a few freckles, raspberries, a milk bottle or two and a snake into our paper bags. As an adult, I still love to go into a store and select my favourite goods from the endless rows of tubs. I prefer to scoop up healthier treats nowadays like nuts, dried fruits and unusual flours but the experience still has the same childhood magic. 

    Below are my favourite stores in Perth where you can buy health foods in bulk. It’s much cheaper than buying packets from the supermarket and better for the environment too, as it’s less packaging. If you don’t live locally, some offer online shopping and deliver across Australia for reasonable prices. One store even has outlets on the east coast. Enjoy!

    1. The Clean Food Store – Subiaco

     The Clean Food Store: outdoor dining on a quiet street.
    The Clean Food Store: outdoor dining on a quiet street.

    Nestled in a suburban street in Perth’s west, you’ll find the prettiest health food store you’ve ever seen. The Clean Food Store opened in March 2016 and is light, bright and minimalist. You’ll find cookbooks and cleaning products, organic and non-organic foods and some refrigerated items along with the bulk buying section. The Clean Food Store stocks Honest Goods Co baked treats, Clean Slate candles and beauty products and Loving Earth grocery items among other brands. There’s also fresh bread and a barista if you fancy a coffee or matcha lattes. If that’s not enough, there’s a cabinet stocked with treats (raw, paleo and vegan options), paninis, patties and NOOD meals to enjoy in store or take away.

    I dropped by on a recent Saturday morning and staff were happy and welcoming. It was quite busy but largely because of people grabbing coffees. Despite being fairly small, the store never felt crowded. I loved choosing my health foods and scooping the items into paper bags, weighing on the scales if needed. The Clean Food Store has a good variety of nuts, flours, dried fruit and more plus lots of organic options too. I can’t wait to return!

     The Clean Food Store: the cleanest, prettiest health food shop I've ever seen!
    The Clean Food Store: the cleanest, prettiest health food shop I’ve ever seen!

    My prized pick: a team member recommended the dark chocolate coated goji berries ($2.90/100grams), which barely lasted the journey home! My 500g of raw walnuts ($22/kilogram) were fresh and delicious, and good value too. 

    Unfortunately, The Clean Food Store doesn’t have online shopping or delivery options. However, it’s open 7am to 6pm, 7 days a week!

    Address: 214a Nicholson Road, Subiaco WA | www.thecleanfoodstore.com.au

    2. The Source Bulk Foods – Various locations

    I love having healthy family and friends! My sister introduced me to The Source Bulk Foods at The Park Centre in Victoria Park. This health food franchise began in Byron Bay, New South Wales in 2007 before expanding across Australia. You can find the store’s other West Australian locations at Clarkson and Floreat, and there are plans to open The Source in Cottesloe, Fremantle and Subiaco too.

     The Source Bulk Foods: a warm and welcoming interior at its Victoria Park store. 
    The Source Bulk Foods: a warm and welcoming interior at its Victoria Park store. 

     The Source: affordable, natural cleaning and beauty products.
    The Source: affordable, natural cleaning and beauty products.

    On my visit a few months ago, I was greeted by two lovely women who explained how The Source works. Grab a paper bag, write down the product code and fill it with your desired amount. Easy! I slowly walked along the rows of tubs, reading labels and imagining recipes. I was fascinated by the more unusual ingredients, such as native Australian herbs and flours I’d never heard of. About 30 minutes later, my basket was filled with everything that had inspired me including puffed buckwheat, vegan caramel buttons and natural cleaning products. While the Make Your Own peanut butter was incredibly tempting, I abstained for fear the tub wouldn’t make it home. 

     The Source: one of two walls lined with spices, slices and things nice! 
    The Source: one of two walls lined with spices, slices and things nice! 

    My prized pick: The Source’s cinnamon is by far the best I’ve ever bought, as it’s really fragrant and flavoursome. The Lemon Myrtle cleaning products ($9.33/500ml) have transformed housework, as I now look forward the fresh, cleansing scent every time I clean!

    The Source offers online shopping with delivery across Australia. Prices start from $9.95 for up to 5kg to New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT, $15.95 for up to 5kg to South Australia and Tasmania and $18.95 for up to 5kg to WA and the Northern Territory.

    Locations: Victoria Park, Clarkson & Floreat WA | thesourcebulkfoods.com.au

    3. Kakulas – Northbridge & Fremantle  

    Established in 1929, it’s quite likely Kakulas Brothers in Northbridge is Perth’s oldest and original health food store. The large sacks of legumes, rice and flours with cardboard signs are an unsung Perth icon and the store has a distinctly sweet smell of coffee beans. You’ll find an exceptional variety of bulk ingredients, and those with a sweet tooth won’t be disappointed as there are plenty of chocolate coated fruits and nuts. Kakulas Sister opened in Fremantle in 1994 and despite being much younger than its sibling, it still has the classic Kakulas feel. 

    The Northbridge location was my go-to for health foods when I lived in Northbridge and whenever I’m in Fremantle, visiting Kakulas Sister is a must. On top of an excellent health food range, the variety of imported groceries is exceptional. From antipasti and pastas to teas and tahini, you travel the world on their shelves! 

     Kakulas Sister: every shelf and aisle is a journey of discovery! 
    Kakulas Sister: every shelf and aisle is a journey of discovery! 

    My prized pick: a few squares of crystallised ginger, covered in dark chocolate, always make their way into my basket. Occasionally some chocolate coated macadamias follow them! Dried dates are a bargain at around $3/kg and when buying beans, I always grab some chickpeas to make my own hummus.

    Unfortunately, neither stores have online shopping. And given Kakulas Brothers was cash-only until last year, it’s likely to remain strictly bricks and mortar for some time! But then, that’s half of Kakulas’ charm. 

    Address: 19 William St, Northbridge & 29-31 Market, Fremantle WA | www.kakulassister.com.au

    4. 2 brothers Foods – online only

    I’ve been regularly buying my health foods from Perth website 2 Brothers Foods since 2012. Every few months I order a few kilos of essentials – nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruit and flours – along with grocery items like pappadums. It’s so convenient! Their products are excellent value, with raw almonds at $16/kg, spelt flour at $4/kg and raw cashews for $19.50/kg to name a few. The choice is exceptional, particularly for less common spices and gluten-free flours. 

    The website is simple and easy to use. I like being able to choose from 250g, 500g, 750g and 1kg quantities and enjoy browsing each category for inspiration or new items. Best of all, delivery is fast and affordable! Shipping is a flat $3.50 within WA and SA, and from $6.95 for up to 5kg to capital cities in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. It’s $7.95 for up to 5kg to Tasmania and $10.95 for the NT. Gift vouchers are available. As with any online checkout system, you can keep track of your total spend which isn’t as easy when shopping in bricks and mortar stores. 

    My prize pick: the textured vegetable protein (TVP) is an effortless, high-protein replacement for mince at $4.50/kg. I can’t imagine life without quinoa either (white organic $16/kg). The wasabi peas will make your nose sting every time, but less so if you mix in the yummy Chinese rice crackers. 

    Postal address: PO Box 1152, Nedlands WA | http://2brothersfoods.com

    Need some recipe inspiration? Grab some oats, buckwheat and quinoa and get into Breakfast With Benefits!

    QUESTION: Where do you buy your bulk health food items? 

    Breakfast with Benefits

    I have a new love in my life. It’s putting a spring in my step every morning and I’m glowing for hours when I get to work. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I felt so satisfied! It’s enough to start rumours. Who exactly is my newfound love affair? 

    STEEL CUT OATS.

    I was already an oatmeal addict. An effortless and comforting breakfast, it’s full of whole grain goodness and fibre for only 120 calories a bowl. Irresistible! So when my naturopath suggested I try the steel cut variety, I was keen. Also known as Irish or Scottish oats, steel cut oats are oat kernels which have been coarsely cut by a metal blade. Because of this, they have a lower glycemic index (GI) than their rolled counterparts (which are steamed oat kernels rolled into flakes). Why is low GI good? The carbohydrate in the food breaks down slower, therefore having a slower response on your blood sugar levels and helping you feel full longer.

    I ordered a kilo of steel cut oats from my favourite bulk food store 2 Brothers Foods and a few days later, my future love arrived. First surprise – steel cut oats look like RICE. Second surprise (or shock) – they take 25 minutes to cook. It was nearly a deal breaker! That was NEVER going to happen before work. But then I discovered some magic…

    Steel cut oats actually improve with time, becoming thicker and creamier unlike rolled oats, which turn to glue. I’ve been making steel cut oats on a Sunday using this recipe from The Healthy Chef, dividing it into bowls and then enjoying heavenly, slow-cooked breakfasts throughout the week by simply reheating in the microwave. Steel cut oats have a nutty taste and chewy texture almost like brown rice, but in a thick, oat cream. They’re so satisfying and nutritious, I feel like I’m in a Swiss alpine retreat with every spoonful.

    An overripe orange inspired me to use steel cut oats to make Bircher Muesli, by soaking 1/2 cup overnight with orange juice and soy milk. It was delicious, filling and refreshing thanks to the citrus. However, I don’t think my relationship with steel cut oats is going to be exclusive. For one, you can’t make granola with them or you’ll snap a tooth. Also, the hot, creamy texture isn’t suited to all fruits and for me, cooked oats lose their magic eaten cold. 

    So today, I’m sharing my weekday breakfast repertoire and a few favourite recipes. Why isn’t there any boxed cereal on this list? See my explainer at the end. 

    ROLLED OATS

    A 30 gram (1/3 cup) serve of rolled oats packs so much nutrition! Whole grain goodness, 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. At $3 a kilo and 120 calories a bowl, oats are bang for your buck and bite!  

     Rolled oats: ready in three minutes and only 10 cents a serve!
    Rolled oats: ready in three minutes and only 10 cents a serve!

    I cook rolled oats almost daily in the microwave. It takes just three minutes and I add nothing more than a splash of soy milk, cinnamon and a sprinkle of nuts and raisins. Quick oats have a similar nutrition profile but watch for out for the individual sachets. They’re often packed with sugar, contain milk powder and have dubious flavourings. There’s a lot of controversy about whether oats are gluten-free but as I’m not a doctor or scientist, it’s best to consider this issue yourself if it’s a concern. 

    Best for: time poor, budget-friendly, low calorie, cooking at work. Downside? Leftovers turn glue-like.

    BUCKWHEAT

    Don’t be fooled! Buckwheat doesn’t contain any wheat. It’s a seed more closely related to rhubarb than the cereals it resembles, so it’s gluten-free and paleo. A 45 gram (1/4 cup) serve has 5 grams of protein and is a source of iron (about 6% daily needs for women 19-50 years, 12% for men 19+ years) along with manganese, magnesium and copper. It’s about $4 a kilo. 

     Buckwheat: enjoy toasted like granola or cook with water and milk for a lovely porridge.
    Buckwheat: enjoy toasted like granola or cook with water and milk for a lovely porridge.

     Buckwheat: enjoying as dessert at New York's Veselka.
    Buckwheat: enjoying as dessert at New York’s Veselka.

    You can eat roasted buckwheat groats (“kasha”) like granola, or cook groats with milk and water to make porridge, where they become something like pearl couscous. I love making mine on the stovetop with vanilla, slices of ginger, cinnamon and cloves, topped with raisins. It’s a recipe inspired by The Healthy Chef (yep, again!) and takes about 20 minutes, but you can reheat and eat during the week. Bonus? Buckwheat is a great savoury ingredient too, and can be used for pilafs, salads or sprinkled on roasted vegetables or soups for crunch! 

    Best for: gluten-free, reheat-friendly, versatile, source of iron, freezer-friendly. Downside? Longer cooking time and bland on its own. It’s the only dish on this list I sweeten with a little raw honey. 

    QUINOA

    Quinoa (pronounced keen-WAH) is amazing. A 45 gram serve (1/4 cup) is 160 calories, contains 6 grams of protein, 10% of daily iron needs for women and 20% for men along with manganese, phosphorus and folate which our bodies need to make DNA. Quinoa is gluten-free, with a delicious but unusual nutty texture. For breakfast, I cook white quinoa as it softens much more than the red or black variety with grated apple, cinnamon and vanilla. 

    I also cook large quantities in my rice cooker and then freeze it in single serves, so I can make a quick breakfast by adding hot water, milk and spices or mix it with roast vegetables and leafy greens for an easy lunch. Quinoa flakes are becoming popular as a quick-cooking option but I prefer the chewier texture of whole quinoa. One kilo costs about $16, making quinoa the most expensive option on this list. 

    Best for: gluten-free, high in iron, eating cold, versatility, freezer friendly. Downside? Price, cooking time.

    Click below for recipes:

    WHY I DON’T EAT PACKAGED CEREAL

    With all these wholesome options, I rarely buy boxed cereal. A quick scan of nutrition panels and ingredient lists is frightening! Yes, packaged cereal is quick and convenient but you lose so much nutrition from the processing. Discarding the obvious sugar-laden products like Cocoa Pops and Fruit Loops, even those marketed as ‘healthier’ don’t cut it for me: 

    • Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain: It’s 25% sugar! One cup (40 grams) has 10 grams. 
    • Kellogg’s Sultana Bran: 3/4 cup (45 grams) contains 12 grams of sugar. Some of is naturally occurring from the sultanas, but there’s still added sugar.
    • Uncle Toby’s Cheerios: Lower sugar, but do you want to start your day with food colourings?

    The only commercial cereal I’d consider is Sanitarium’s Weet-Bix, with only a few simple ingredients and one gram of sugar in a 30 gram serve (2 biscuits), or a good quality natural muesli. 

     Homemade granola: easy, healthy and delicious! 
    Homemade granola: easy, healthy and delicious! 

    If cereal is 100% your thing, have a go at making your own granola. I make a batch fortnightly based on a recipe from The Healthy Chef, using 3 cups of rolled oats, 2 cups of flaked almonds and 1 cup of seeds (sunflower or pumpkin). Combine with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, a teaspoon each of vanilla and cinnamon and roast in thin layer at 120 degrees (fan-forced) for 60 minutes. Add a handful of dried fruit once cooled. It’s so easy, you’ll never get the boxed kind again! It’s a lot cheaper too. 

    And of course, my breakfasts aren’t complete without a big cup of Earl Grey!

    QUESTION: What’s your daily breakfast ritual? 

    My Favourite Protein Products

    I’ve been vegetarian for about 10 years now. It was a gradual thing, but I already hated poultry because of childhood trauma over ‘Apricot Chicken’ and our family mostly ate beef. When travelling in Asia in my 20s, I avoided meats I couldn’t identify (for fear it was chicken) and over time, I stopped eating meat altogether.

    I used to think I got enough protein from food, given I ate plenty of tofu, beans and nuts. But when I started tracking my nutrition info in MyFitnessPal, I got a shock. Some days I’d barely get 50 grams of protein – far below the recommended intake of 1g per kilo of bodyweight, especially with exercising almost every day.

    Protein is essential for building muscle and is valuable for those trying to lose weight, as it can help keep hunger at bay. I’m a big advocate for eating whole foods, preparing your own meals and making smart choices when you’re out but some days, I just can’t get over the protein line. Other times, I’m 100% on the go and need my protein to be portable, practical and non-perishable. You can’t eat canned tuna on a bus, right?

    Here’s what I turn to when I need a protein boost at home or on the road:

    1.    Teresa Cutter Healthy Chef – Organic Pea Protein

     Teresa Cutter Healthy Chef: perfect with coconut water

    This is my ultimate protein product! I started buying Healthy Chef protein powder about three years ago and have a half or full serve most days, either in a smoothie or just with water. I’m not a body-builder or a marathon runner, and it’s almost embarrassing shaking this up at the gym or work. But it’s a filling and tasty way to help me reach my protein goals. 

    What I love most about the Healthy Chef protein powders is the ingredient list – it’s pure and simple. A 28gram serve (two heaped tablespoons) of the Organic Pea Protein gives you a whopping 22g of protein. I love the vanilla flavour for banana or berry smoothies and the chocolate variety shaken up with coconut water. My friends and family also report good things about the whey protein isolate range. 

    Where to buy: The Healthy Chef website and selected stockists
    Price: AU $38.95 for 420g tub, about 30 servings (Free shipping on orders $100+ or $10 standard).

    2.    Bell Plantation – PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter

    Are you a peanut butter lover? I’m an ADDICT. But if your goal is weight loss, bucket loads of the good stuff is not going to help your cause. Introducing… PB2! It’s peanuts with most of the fat stripped out so you can get a peanut butter fix with far less calories. You just mix the powder with water. I love PB’s protein content – a two tablespoon dry serve (12g) is just 50 calories and 5g of protein. Add it to oatmeal, smoothies and Asian dipping sauces or for those that prefer, just mix and eat straight off the spoon! Personally, I love to layer it all over homemade pancakes. PB2 is vegan and gluten free too! 

    I buy a few tubs every couple of months from iHerb.com (one of my favourite stores for grocery and supplement shopping). The downside of PB2? It’s processed, and by stripping the fat and oils from the nuts you lose the health benefits of monounsatured fats along with the satiety fat provides. The chocolate PB2  also has a notable amount of added sugar. But I still LOVE IT!

    Where to buy: iHerb.com or Nutrition Warehouse 
    Price: AU $10.50 for 453g tub via iHerb (free shipping orders $55+), or $15 at Nutrition Warehouse.

    3.    Clif Bar – Builder’s Bar

    I discovered these bars on my last trip to the USA. Being lactose-intolerant since I was a teenager, I struggle to find dairy-free protein bars and I also haven’t had a true chocolate bar for about 15 years. Needless to say, Clif Builder’s Bars BLEW MY MIND. Crunchy, sweet and totally addictive. I’m not going to lie – they violate all of my whole food, clean eating mantras. But they’re vegan, filling, damn convenient and pack in 20g of protein. My favourite flavour (and I’ve tried several) is Cookies and Cream. They’re great for hiking, travel or days when you’re on the go. I’ll occasionally have half a bar pre-workout if I’ve run out of raw balls. 

    The downside? The ingredients. EEK! While there aren’t crazy numbers or additives, the long list of products in these bars includes palm oil, brown rice syrup and dried cane syrup. It’s no surprise the sugar content is a huge 20g per bar. And sodium is 250mg. Moderation folks.

    Where to buy: Online via iHerb or if you’re in the USA, stock up at Whole Foods.
    Price: AU $34 for 12x68g bars, or a few dollars sold individually

    4.    Lenny and Larry’s – Complete Cookie

    Do you get the sense this list goes from purest to most polluted? These cookies are DELICIOUS but also the perfect lesson in reading food labels. Yes, they’re vegan, egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free and don’t contain any genetically modified ingredients. But one of these heavenly baked treats weighs in at 360 calories and 24g of sugar. My favourite flavour is Chocolate Chip, followed by White Chocolate Macadamia. I didn’t like Oatmeal Raisin, which essentially tasted like my breakfast had been left in the sun.

    Now I’m not too familiar with cookie nutrition so I’ll compare Lenny and Larry’s Complete Cookie with two Subway chocolate chip cookies: 

    • Subway (2 x 45g):
      456 calories, 4.2g protein, 28.6g sugar, 21.6g fat, 62.8g carbs, 440mg sodium, 2.4g fibre. 
    • Lenny & Larry’s (1 x 113g):
      360 calories, 16g protein, 24g sugar, 12g fat, 48g carbs, 440mg sodium, 8g fibre.

    Clearly, if you’re going to have a cookie you might as well make it Lenny and Larry’s. They contain 16g of protein, 8g fibre and fewer carbs. I have these cookies only occasionally, such as at the movies, when travelling or with a cup of tea on a rough afternoon when I’m out of healthy treats. Yes, the sugar content is confronting. The ingredient list is also long and includes palm oil, cane sugar, and some other things I don’t like the sound of. But again, all in moderation. 

    Where to buy: Goodlife Health Clubs, La Vida Vegan or (you guessed it!) iHerb.com.
    Price: AU $32 for 12x113g cookies, or around $4-5 individually.

    QUESTION: What are your top protein products?

    Perth’s Healthiest Cafes

    My mum was a health freak way before #rawfood #crossfit and #paleo were trending. She was one of the original lycra leotard, aerobics devotees of the 1990s and had the perm to prove it. As a teenager, my jaw dropped when mum announced she’d made a cake. It turns out this “cake” was zucchini, yogurt and wholemeal flour. There was no icing and it certainly didn’t resemble the cookies and cakes the other kids at school had. I wasn’t impressed.

    In hindsight, my mum was actually about 15 years ahead of the food scene. If Instagram was around in 2000, we could have had a booming franchise across Australia and parts of Asia by now. Instead, she had four ungrateful children telling her what a weirdo she was. I’m sorry Mum.

    Putting those teenage years aside, I’m delighted my family, friends and my boyfriend all enjoy the healthy side of life nowadays. And there’s never been more venues catering for the health conscious or people with specific dietary needs. If the thought of zucchini cake makes you salivate, here are my favourite healthy Perth cafes:

      NOOD: Strange Grains toast with avocado and beetroot hummus
    NOOD: Strange Grains toast with avocado and beetroot hummus

    1.     nood cafe, leederville

    It’s hard to beat this Leederville spot  – from the first bite, you know you’re nourishing your body with wholesome food. Everything on the menu is gluten free, dairy free and refined sugar free and each meal is designed to be nutritionally balanced. The liberal use of citrus, nuts and makes already delicious dishes shine. There’s no table service but the grab and go boxes can be heated and brought out to you on a plate. The array of smaller goods on display is perfect for snacking or an extra treat to go. Bonus? The take away boxes have full nutritional info on them.

    I recommend: Vegan Breakfast Bowl ($12) for post-workout brunch or Cauliflower Nasi Goreng with Satay Chicken or Tofu ($15) for a healthy, pre-movie dinner.

    NOOD Cafe: http://www.nood.net.au/ 114 Oxford St, Leederville. 

     Stimulatte: Assorted mushrooms, avocado and winter green
    Stimulatte: Assorted mushrooms, avocado and winter green

    2. stimulatte, subiaco

    My oh my. There’s health food porn and then there’s Stimulatte. This Subiaco café has become so popular, it’s started Sunday trading at a time other businesses are shutting their doors (*). The menu centres around ethical, sustainable produce and the quality of ingredients is sublime. I’ve had herbs and mushrooms so fresh it was like I’d poked my fork in a garden. Where Stimulatte really shines is in their creativity and presentation – the latest winter menu included fried king oyster mushroom “chicken” pancakes (vegan). There are plenty of baked goods and various boxes you can have to dine in or to go, with paleo, gluten-free and vegan choices too.

    I recommend: Anything with mushrooms.  The vegan croissant with cashew cheese ($9) is delightful for those whose allergies/ethics prevent pastries.

    Stimulatte: http://www.stimulatte.com.au/ 361 Hay St, Subiaco. 

    *Unfortunately Stimulatte has closed since this post was first published. But you can visit its sister cafe Someday Coffee Co. in Floreat!

      Health Freak Cafe: Vegan pumpkin spice protein pancakes
    Health Freak Cafe: Vegan pumpkin spice protein pancakes

    3. health freak cafe, various locations

    I visited this franchise for the first time in October at their Applecross location. I was nervous when I entered. The café almost resembled a day care centre – not so much children everywhere, but a lot of toys and tables. But my apprehension eased as soon as the smell of cinnamon wafted my way and a stack of warm pumpkin spice pancakes was placed before me. It was at least 20 centimetres tall, with caramel sauce, berries and stewed fruits dancing around the plate. But I knew this indulgent breakfast was only 380 calories and included a whopping 20 grams of protein! Everything Health Freak Cafe sells is gluten and refined sugar free, and nutritional information is listed for most menu items. You can’t get more health conscious than that! I’m not surprised this concept has boomed, with locations in Subiaco, Jacob’s Ladder, Mt Lawley, Joondalup, Halls Head and more.

    I recommend: The protein pancakes ($18.20), hands down! I’ll buy a paleo dish for my boyfriend next time and let you know his verdict. 

    Health Freak Cafe: http://www.healthfreakcafe.com.au/ (multiple locations) 

      Jujuberry+Co: cafe exterior
    Jujuberry+Co: cafe exterior

    4. jujuberry+co, mount hawthorn

    My first visit to this Mt Hawthorn store was on a glorious spring day – a perfect pairing with Jujuberry’s casual outdoor seating. Inside, the long, narrow space made me instantly feel like I was in New York. I had to pinch myself when I saw a Pumpkin Spice Latte on the menu! Everything here is gluten free and vegan although they do offer cow’s milk for coffees. Curried sweet potato frittata, breakfast wraps, assorted salads and plenty of baked goods abound. The vibe is homemade and hearty rather than gourmet. It’s refreshing to find a venue that’s so down to earth.

    I recommend: The menu changes frequently but if you’re in luck, there’ll be a crispy-edged curried sweet potato frittata with your name on it ($10.50). 

    Jujuberry+Co: http://jujuberry.com.au/ 135 Scarborough Beach Rd, Mt Hawthorn.  

    a final word…

    It’s important to remember there are plenty of buzz words around health food, but their use isn’t well regulated. Something may be labelled paleo, gluten free or vegan but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. For example, sugar, oil and plain potato chips are vegan and gluten free. Bacon and eggs is paleo. A typical raw slice can pack in 500 calories and 30 grams of fat compared to a 200 calorie handful of almonds. Your bliss ball is better than a donut, but be wary of eating four in a day!

    QUESTION: Where’s your ultimate health food spot in Perth?