Every year brings with it a new slimming diet, and this year many of the eye-grabbing stories were about one that allows you to eat healthily and tastily – even indulge in chocolate and red wine – without counting calories, whilst losing weight and staving off many of the ravages of age. Those reports were a little simplistic, and so were dismissed by some, but in fact this was on the back of exciting research being carried out by nutritional scientists Aidan Goggins and Glenn Matten into what are now called sirtfoods, who have now brought out The Sirt food Diet.
Back in 2003, scientists discovered that certain foods contain compounds with the ability to switch on ‘skinny genes’ called sirtuins which are otherwise only activated when we fast and exercise. They are responsible not only for fat burning and regulating appetite but also cell protection and repair, and as such promote the building of muscle – most weight loss regimes bring about a loss of muscle – and heart health, while helping to prevent degenerative and inflammatory disorders such as osteoporosis, dementia, diabetes and possibly some cancers.
In their own trials, Goggins and Matten found that participants eating a high-sirtfood diet (admittedly it is calorie-restricted during the first week) lost weight rapidly. More importantly they gained muscle mass even without increasing their exercise, and showed lower blood sugars and blood fats. They also reported that they had more energy, slept better, looked better, and had no problems with hunger. Goggins and Matten soon realised that these sirtfoods are found in the cuisines of those cultures – most obviously in the Mediterranean diet – boasting the lowest incidence of obesity and disease in the world. It’s worth noting that for the most part these foods are not unusual or inaccessible, and the eating plan is simple and sensible enough that it will fit in with any other that you might be following – 5:2, low carb, Paleo, vegetarian, even vegan or gluten-free.
If you decide to follow this diet strictly, you’ll need a juicer. For the first three days you drink the green juice three times a day, with one meal. Days 4 to 7 call for two juices and two meals, and after that you can just add one juice to your normal three meals. Seemingly weight loss of half a stone is likely in the first week, and that includes putting on an average two pounds of muscle. Exercise shouldn’t be strenuous, though Goggins and Matten advise everyone to fit in half an hour a day for general good health. The only other suggestion is that you try to stop eating by 7pm, as the body processes calories less efficiently as the day goes on. And they also point out that, while sirtfoods are plant foods, you need to be combining them with some form of protein to get maximum benefits from both. We all know that processed meat should be avoided, and red meat kept for once or twice a week, but poultry, eggs (and dairy in moderation) are fine, as are lentils and of course soya, beans and nuts. Sirtfoods also have a particularly beneficial relationship with omega 3 oils, so include oily fish two or three times a week.
While I’m on the subject of particular plant foods and weight control, an interesting and large-scale new study showed that those eating the most flavonoids were the most likely to maintain their weight or even lose weight as they approached middle age, and even a daily handful of berries, say, was enough to have some effect.
Flavonoids are a group of antioxidant plant chemicals found especially in berries, blackcurrants, apples, citrus fruit, dark chocolate, beans, onions, tea and red wine – all sirt foods, significantly – as well as radishes, plums, grapes and rhubarb. The researchers believe that flavonoids may have a favourable effect on gut bacteria, which is emerging as the central story in metabolism and weight control – more on this in the next couple of weeks.
Kale, rocket, celery, lovage, parsley, red chicory, red onions, capers, bird’s eye chillies, turmeric (combine with black pepper and some kind of oil to activate nutrients), olives, extra virgin olive oil, soy, buckwheat, quinoa, walnuts (and all nuts), strawberries, (and blackcurrants and all berries), apples, citrus fruit, green tea, and in moderation cocoa, coffee and red wine.
Recipe ideas (to serve one)
Juice 2 handfuls of kale with a handful of rocket, a handful each of parsley and lovage (if you can find it/grow it), 3 stalks of celery including leaves, and half a green apple. Add the juice of half a lemon and half a tsp of matcha green tea powder (from the healthfood shop).
Mix together 20g buckwheat flakes and 10g buckwheat puffs (healthfood shop), 15g desiccated coconut, 15g chopped walnuts, 40g chopped dates, 10g cocoa, 100g chopped strawberries and 100g greek yoghurt or soya yoghurt).
Sirt Super Salad
Combine 100g of smoked salmon (or tinned tuna/cooked chicken/lentils) with chopped celery, celery leaves or lovage, red onion, half an avocado, parsley, capers and walnuts, olive oil and lemon juice and serve on rocket and chicory leaves.
Prawn Stir Fry
Cook 150g shelled prawns in a little soya sauce and olive oil, and put aside. Cook 75g of soba (buckwheat) noodles in boiling water as directed. Meanwhile, fry chopped garlic, bird’s eye chilli (be very careful with these, they’re hot!), ginger, red onion, celery, green beans and kale in a little more olive oil, and add 100ml stock. Bring to the boil, simmer for a minute or two, and combine with prawns and noodles.