Most of you amazing people will have heard of my lovely friend Irena Macri, who pens the amazing blog Eat Drink Paleo. For all of you who haven’t meet Irena!
Irena has just signed with Penguin publishing to launch her cookbook Eat Drink Paleo across the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Whilst this is massive news; Irena has been a pretty big deal behind the scenes for a number of years. With literally thousands of self-published cookbooks sold, and hundreds of thousands of visitors to her website, she’s a great person to get in the hot seat and share with us what makes her tick!
So Irena, your original book was self-published, your blog is going from strength to strength….Exciting times. What does it feel like to land such a prestigious book deal?
It’s pretty exciting and still a little bit surreal. As a self-published cookbook, it was doing really well and we’ve sold thousands of copies around the world but to have it in major retail stores in Australia, New Zealand and now in the UK is really the next level. Other publishers have approached me in the past but I was waiting for the right fit so when Penguin knocked on my door, I knew this was it.
It’s encouraging to see big publishers put more faith in paleo as a new nutritional and lifestyle pillar rather than seeing it as a passing fad. The demand for books and products is definitely growing.
Why paleo? How did you get into it, what result have you seen, for both yourself and your readers?
A few years ago I started looking for ways to optimise my diet and lifestyle to foster better health and to promote longevity. I stumbled on paleo through friends and after doing my own research I fell in love with its basic philosophy of eating whole, nutrient dense foods and living in a more natural, holistic way. Read Polly’s story here.
I transitioned slowly, eliminating wheat and processed sugar first, and then reducing the amount of other grains and legumes I ate. I started eating protein with every meal, getting more Omega-3 fatty acids and just eating more fat in general. My energy levels increased and became more stable throughout the day and I was feeling more satiated between meals. I stopped getting sugar cravings in the afternoons. The changes in the way I felt motivated me to keep going until this new way of eating just became natural.
I think many people initially get into paleo because they want to lose weight, and although that’s a natural by-product of eating this way, there are so many more benefits. For some, it’s a perfect diet because they are sensitive to say gluten and dairy, both of which are pretty much eliminated in paleo. For others, it’s about getting their metabolism in order, improving gut health, increasing nutrient absorption and reducing systemic inflammation, which is often the cause of health issues. People report all sorts of improvements.
Highs and lows of your paleo journey.
That’s a good question…the high would have to be that I have been able to turn my own journey into a tool to help others to discover and enjoy paleo cooking. Getting lovely comments and feedback from people who cook my recipes or who have my cookbook, and telling me that I make it easier for them or that they feel fantastic while eating great food – that’s always a high.
There aren’t many lows to be honest. It can be a little exhausting to stay 100% paleo all the time – always planning, shopping and cooking from scratch, having to choose more carefully off the menu or planning your travel differently – but I try not to be too dogmatic about it. I relax every now and then and have some cheese or a bowl of chips.
The only other thing that brings me down sometimes is seeing how misunderstood and misrepresented paleo is still in the media. Considering how long it has been around and how many people have experienced improvements in their health and well being, you’d think the critics would relax already. It’s a personal choice at the end of the day.
Paleo has been in the news for the wrong reasons recently with Auzzie chef “Pete Evans Paleo Baby Food” causing a scandal across the world. What are your thoughts on this?
To be honest, I am not too familiar with that book but I know the controversy was mainly around a recipe for a baby formula, which to be honest I can understand. I wouldn’t feed it to my child but having said that, when kids wean off mother’s milk, their diet is actually pretty paleo to begin with.
I think that the whole paleo backlash we’ve seen since Pete came on to the scene is more to do with the media and how they portray him rather than with paleo itself. I don’t personally know Pete but I think his heart is in the right place. Perhaps his approach to paleo is more extreme than it needs to be or he might have said the wrong thing one too many times. But then perhaps the big food companies are frightened by the rate that paleo is growing in Australia and that people aren’t buying processed foods as much…I think there is more to this whole story than we’ll ever know.
I personally feel the name “paleo” is the worst thing about the paleo diet. My definition of paleo is eating natural, good quality, unprocessed foods that work for your body. Do you agree?
Totally. Ultimately, Paleo is just a label and perhaps, because of its name origin ‘Paleolithic’, it is often misunderstood and associated with the cavemen and lots of meat. In reality, paleo is actually 70 per cent plant based and the paleo lifestyle simply means to live more naturally in our modern world.
Do we need a label? Probably not. However, people love labels because they like to identify with a concept or a philosophy, with a group of people who share similar ideas. In the case of paleo, that’s just the name that was coined originally and it got stuck. Imagine if it was called Whole Foods Diet? I would have a book called Eat Drink Whole Foods Cookbook – that’s nowhere near as catchy 😉
You’re a paleo queen 90% of the time, but genuinely, what’s your most sinful non- paleo treat you occasionally indulge in? Prove you’re human!!
I actually believe in the 80/20 rule. Eat clean paleo 80% of the time and use 15% for some grey area foods like occasional full fat dairy, white rice, quinoa or buckwheat (whatever you can tolerate reasonably well and that doesn’t interfere with your health goals). The last 5% goes to my favourite gelato, French fries or a slice of crispy thin pizza when in Rome 😉 I also love wine but fear I don’t deal with hangovers as well as I used to.
I couldn’t survive without eggs! What’s your paleo fridge staple?
Eggs (hehe). I also stock up on sweet potatoes, butter, green vegetables and beef mince. I think if I only had those 5 items in the fridge, I would probably live a pretty healthy life.
If you could only eat one of your recipes for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
My paleo lasagne (it’s also in the cookbook) because it’s
A) Freaking delicious
B) Contains a large variety of vitamins and minerals
C) A perfect combination of protein, fats and carbs
D) All my non-paleo friends love it
Thoughts on incorporating dairy (and more primal ingredients) into your diet?
I think that as long as you can tolerate it, and you’re not following a 30 day reset program like Whole30, and it doesn’t hinder your health and weight loss goals, some full fat dairy adds variety to paleo and makes it more accessible. Things like butter and fermented dairy are particularly nutritious and affordable. If you’re sensitive to milk, you might not be to butter and ghee as those dairy foods are much higher in fat and low in lactose and casein. There are many caveats when it comes to dairy so you really have to experiment and find what works for you. Personally, I eat butter and a little yoghurt and aged cheeses like Parmesan but in moderation and always of good quality and full fat.
As an Auzzie, how are you liking London? Favourite places to eat, drink, hang out!
I love London – it’s so dynamic and diverse and the people are lovely here. I tend to hang out in north London as that’s where I live but I am still discovering other parts of the city. You will often find me at the Castle Climbing gym where I go bouldering a few times a week or in one of the hipster coffee shops in Shoreditch or Soho as I am a total coffee snob in constant search of good wifi. I cook at home a lot but when we go out I love Flat Iron in Soho for their steaks, Prawn on The Lawn in Highbury for fish and seafood, Sticks & Sushi in Covent Garden for Japanese, and Borough markets for some decadent food shopping. The place where I broke all the rules is Dinner by Heston with his tipsy cake. And my favourite place to have a glass of wine is on my couch while watching the latest Archer or Game of Thrones.
p.s. Romeo’s Gluten Free Bakery in Islington does a fantastic sourdough with tapioca, potato and white rice flour, which I think is the most innocent and delicious gluten free bread you can find in London. It’s not something I would recommend as a staple as it’s very high in carbs and it’s not cheap, but if you’re hosting your non-paleo in-laws and need some good bread, it’s worth the trip and the money.
Top 5 paleo products?
For products in the UK I do like Primal Pantry bars (especially Brazil nut & cherry), we often buy Paleo Foods Co granola and Coyo coconut yoghurt as a treat, I use Lurpak clarified butter and Kerrygold Irish butter, and Naked Ape beef jerky snack packs are super handy for climbing.