Healthy Gourmet: Running lean on greens and beans

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 2:58pm

I am making a commitment for the New Year. I want to run a marathon in under three hours, like I did in New York in October 2009. It's relatively easy to adopt a running plan, but I find it difficult to drop down to race weight, a fundamental component of performance.

My body has a tendency to accumulate fat. For the last two months I have not raced, relaxed my eating habits and went home to Italy for the holidays, which meant eating too much of the Italian Christmas cake, Panettone. I need to lose body fat. Although I eat healthily, and it shows in my blood tests, it is not enough to achieve my goal. I know that diets don't work: weight loss is regained because of the slower metabolic rate induced by eating less than the body needs.

A sustainable weight loss can come only from a metabolic change. How to induce this change is difficult to know, not only because the science is still in its infancy, but because we are each unique and respond differently to food.

In the past four years, I spent a lot of time studying and researching nutrition, talking with athletes about their diet and experimenting with eating plans. Based on this I have devised a few guidelines.

1. I will not restrict my calories.

When I eat is as important as what I eat. The main signals for our metabolism are received in the morning; hence breakfast is significant. I will have dinner several hours before going to sleep, so that it does not interfere with my body clock, which wants to rest my stomach and intestines at night.

2. I will not look at the scales.

I want to lose fat and gain muscle. Scales can be misleading; a bioimpedance analysis can differentiate fat from muscle. I will use the mirror to track my changes towards a leaner and more toned body.

3. I will eat quality food.

Refined sugar, deep-fried food, hydrogenated fat, sweeteners and preservatives are my enemies. So no packaged foods and only home-made desserts where I can control the ingredients. I know that dairy makes me accumulate fat and grains make me feel bloated, so they're out until I reach my goal. I will eat lots of fruits, preferably unadorned and never after a meal.

I will focus on a plant-based diet. The most nutritious are green vegetables: leafy vegetables, peas, green beans, bok choi, sprouts, broccoli and cabbage. Then fruits, legumes and non-green and non-starchy vegetables.

Lastly, I will keep my fibre intake high. Artichoke, green peas, broccoli, beans, raspberries, pears and apples have all more than five grams of fibre per serving.

4. I will eat enough protein.

For me, this is from one to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. I will favour fish over meat.

5. I will limit my yeast consumption.

I know I'm sensitive to it after I took a food allergy test. Inflammatory foods affect our metabolism and the body's ability to lose or gain weight.

6. I will diversify what I eat and focus on making food interesting and appetising.

Boiled spinach is boring but with some accompaniments, like those in this week's recipe, you can make any food exciting.

7. I will favour high-intensity training.

This is the most effective way to stimulate the fat burn.

8. I will focus on achieving a psychological balance.

I will do this mainly through adequate sleep and eating my meals slowly.

Healthy Gourmet is a weekly column by private chef Andrea Oschetti.


Cream of spinach with olives, raspberries and almond milk pudding
Serves 4


400 grams spinach
50 grams Italian parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Dried chillis
Zest of 1 lemon
400ml unsweetened almond milk
2 grams agar agar or other jellifying agent
1 sprig of rosemary
16 olives
16 raspberries


  • Boil the spinach and the parsley in water for one minute.
  • Cool in ice cold water.
  • Reduce to a pulp, together with one tablespoon of oil and the dried chillis, using a food processor.
  • To obtain a creamy consistency, add water as necessary.
  • Add the lemon zest and the salt and set aside.
  • Boil the almond milk, agar agar and rosemary for five minutes.
  • Pour into moulds and let cool for a few hours in the fridge.
  • Serve the creamed spinach warm in a plate with the pudding in the middle and the raspberries and olives scattered around it.