my simple life: the five food adages i eat by

Last week I shared that I’m going to the woods, having been (rather clumsily) edging closer toward them for the last couple of years. I mentioned I’d be sharing my best tips on how to live and eat well on a budget. I’m starting the series off with a look at food, partly because next to a mortgage or rent, it’s likely to be your biggest household weekly expenditure, partly because our food system has a huge impact on communities and the environment and partly because we all have to eat.

via plumvoice

Before I dissect the food budget issue, I want to share the five food adages I eat by, by way of setting the scene. I think it adds the backdrop onto which my future blabberings about how I spend my food budget can be painted. They might also serve as some neat tips for you. I think it's important I note that my five food adages actually help me save money...

The five food adages I live by:

1. Slant towards the plant
I eat mostly vegetables. As in, half of each of my three meals a day is vegetable (including breakfast). The other quarter is protein and the final quarter is sometimes wholegrain sometimes more vegetable. On top of that I’ll have a handful of nuts, 1 – 2 pieces of fruit and some dairy most days. THAT’S it. 

Here’s what I mean:

It's called the Half Plate Model, and I discovered it whilst working in diabetes many years ago. In my view it's the only model for healthy eating you'll ever need.

On vegetables for breakfast – Everyone that I’ve suggested this to has loved it. It’s the best trick for setting your palate for healthy wholesome food for the day, as opposed to carb-laden sugary food.

On protein – Body builders and lactating women aside, we need less protein than we actually think we need. Experts recommend we get between 50 and 60 grams of protein in our gobs a day. That's about the size of a deck of cards (or the palm of your hand) of a protein-source like beans, tempeh, eggs or meat in that 1/4 of the plate each meal. Any more is largely wasted, either excreted or converted into fat. That's right, protein powders are a waste of money for most people.

I get most of my protein from beans, eggs and some dairy. Meat is something I indulge in only once or twice a week. All the healthiest and longest-lived people in the world (the Okinawans, Sardinians, Ikarians, Costa Ricans and 7th day Adventists from Loma Linda) all do the same. P.S I’m a little (okay a lot) obsessed with these Blue Zones, so they’ll be featuring in a future post soon.

On snacks – Apart from tea/coffee and some nuts and fruit, I rarely snack between meals, such is the happy satiety I get from eating according to the plate model above. In saying that, I’m only human and do crave chocolate and other sweet pleasures from time to time. Check out my fave sweets here and here and here. I've also, on occasion, been known to hone in on a block of feta or haloumi for a salty treat.

On fats So long as you're not eating lots of carbs and sugar (which the Half Plate Model doesn't allow for), your body will metabolise fat quite happily. It's only when you're loading your body with carbs/sugar that it will use up those energy sources first and you'll end up storing fat. How much fat do I eat per day? I pour a generous portion of extra virgin olive oil on everything. A good greek glug. Olive oil is proven to lower bad cholesterol and is packed with antioxidants that help protect you against cancer. Eat it cold so that you don't oxidise the fats and turn them into nasty inflammatory agents. I also eat butter. And the skin on chicken. You'll be interested to know that most Blue Zone centenarians cook their food with some sort of fat (mostly animal fat actually).

2. Eat food, not processed ‘food’
There’s food, and then there’s processed ‘food’. Don’t mistake the highly refined and engineered crud that comes out of a factory owned by a profit-making multibillion dollar corporation for food. As someone I know once said, 

“Those companies don’t make food – they make stuff we can eat that makes them lots of money”.

3. Hara hachi bu
This is part of my manifesto for the year. Eat until you’re 80% full. It’s a 2500 year old Confucian mantra spoken by Okinawans (some of the longest lived people in the world) before every meal as a reminder not to overeat. That 20% gap could be the difference between losing weight and gaining weight. There’s science behind it. It takes about 20 minutes for our hunger hormones to tell our brain that our stomach is full. Stopping at 80% capacity – when you’re no longer feeling hungry, as opposed to feeling ‘full’ – gives your body and brain time to register that you really have had enough.

4. “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper”
I always eat a wholesome-sized breakfast (still keeping to the 80% rule). It’s the meal that sets you up for the rest of the day - you can either make it work for you or against you. I try to keep dinners light. Having a huge dinner right before you’re about to spend a few hours lazing on the lounge before going to bed is an easy way to gain weight (or not be able to shift it).

5. Vote with your behaviour
Call me absurd, but I don’t like my pork to have come from a tortured pig that’s spent its entire life enclosed in a caged pen inside a dark concrete shed. I want my pork to have come from a pig that’s lived outdoors, on a paddock, eating grass and worms and stuff and getting mud up its nostrils. So I vote for a fairer farming system by purchasing pork from small local free range farmers. I eat meat less often so that I can afford to buy this sort of meat. Same goes for chicken. And I don't eat pork buns. 

I'd love to know if any of you follow the same principles when it comes to eating? Please do share your ideas below!


  1. Hi Maria, I’m surprised nobody have commented on such a great post yet! :)
    Your new series is exactly what I need now. I’m in process of changing my eating habits, sometimes terribly confused, and good stuff often seems so expensive. So I’m really lookong forward for this!

    1. Ha ha, thank you. I'm glad to be of service :)

  2. Hey Maria, nice post! I eat pretty similarly - my approach to food was first formed years ago by Michael Pollan ("eat food, not too much, mostly plants"). I recently finished reading "The Blue Zones" as well and I'm a bit obsessed too. I've started drinking herbal teas from my herb garden like the Ikarians - I had rosemary tea yesterday and it was delicious - slightly bitter but yummy, and most surprisingly - it was red! I also made fennel tea out of my fennel fronds - a delicately sweet pale green tea. The bulbs and the rest of the fronds went into a chickpea and fennel stew - a great dinner with no waste!

    1. Thanks Elly. I made a fresh rosemary and river mint brew yesterday and it was amazing. Will try fennel fronds shortly. Thanks for the tip.

    2. P.S Have you tried sage? Sage is delish.

    3. Not yet, but I will - thanks for the tip! My sage plant is currently growing like a weed so it's the perfect opportunity! :)



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