Bite nutritionist Mikki Williden may have a PhD in health and nutrition, and she may have spent eight years a researcher on health and performance, but her messages about food are anything but complex. “We just need to shift from processed to real food. The focus is too much about individual nutrients, about calories and fat when really we should just step back and look at the ingredients and ask ‘do I recognise this ingredient?’” she explains. “We make about 250 food decisions a day, but we’re conscious of maybe only one third of those, the rest we do by habit.” Mikki’s practice brings her in daily contact with people trying to wade their way through the confusing chorus of “nutrition’’ information.
“These days everyone is a “nutritionist’’, or at least everyone thinks they know about food,” she says. “And the zealots who have the loudest voices and most extreme interpretation of the science, are often wrong.”
She recognises that in busy lives, trying to come up with meals that are good and interesting is just another stress many people can’t cope with — they slip into a rut, they get bored, then they treat themselves to junk food which hits the sweet spot of salt-fat-sugar and texture. She has found many people don’t want to work with a nutritionist, and aren’t able to use weekly boxed deliveries of meal ingredients, so this autumn she created a subscription service of meal plans and nutritional support to help people manage their food in an interesting way, at a low cost. Her Be Awesome packages start at $9.95 per month, up to $199 for a year’s subscription. Mikki provides one seven-day meal plan (for another $10, she’ll supply a full 28 days of meal plans), along with a shopping list, recipes and meal planning tools. The recipes focus on good ingredients, but with an eye to the budget they always incorporate seasonal veges and cheaper cuts of meat that can be slow-cooked to deliciousness. Most are gluten-free, and Mikki can help modify plans for Fodmap, dairy free or to achieve particular goals. Handily, shopping and menu tips are also downloadable from the app she has created, so members access what they need easily on their phones. She’s discovered that an important part of the service is sharing nutritional support through the forum on her website. Breakfast and lunch plans are individual, but dinner is always about a shared meal — Mikki’s a strong believer in getting back to basics.
“This answers the question of how can we make good health decisions, and eat well in a modern environment. It’s not about caves, it’s not about organic or free range, sometimes it’s not even about food. The main health problem is about stress,” she says. “We know stress drives our gut, which affects our brain and our moods, which affects our behaviour. My plans are about ‘eat better’, which gives your gut and your brain — and so your stress — a chance to re-group.”
Each fortnight in a new column in Bite magazine, Mikki offers nutritional advice and recipes. You can check out her own diet and a favourite speedy recipe here.
Describe your typical daily diet
I usually have either a Greek style yoghurt or coconut cream with chia seeds, a bit of fruit, some coconut, nuts (macadamia/walnuts) and I’m a fan of nut butter too (such as almond butter). It’s like a chia pudding. Or I’ll have eggs either as a breakfast salad or as an omelette. And I love coffee – either black or with some cream added.
Lunch is typically a salad with either eggs, a can of sardines (I love sardines!) or leftover meat from the night before. The salad isn’t just a lettuce/tomato number and usually includes seeds, roasted vegetables, avocado, salad leaves and olives.
Dinner is usually vegetables with either some salmon, slow cooked lamb/pork/beef – shins, or osso bucco or chops/shanks – until the meat is falling off the bone. I might rice some cauliflower or have it as mash and include vegetables such as roasted brussels sprouts, broccoli and pumpkin. I am often experimenting with different salads/vegetable dishes to post to my Facebook page (I’m a food hack!) so it can be something like that too.
Have you always eaten this way?
No. Up until two years ago I followed more conventional nutrition guidelines – everything in moderation, wholegrain products. I was very focused on low fat and included a lot more sugar and artificially sweetened foods in my diet. I didn’t think I liked nuts or butter because I never ate them.
Do you have a particular area of expertise/interest as a nutritionist?
As an athlete (formerly competitive) I see a lot of endurance athletes such as triathletes, cyclists and distance runners – the athletes I work with tend to come to me with a high carbohydrate diet and suffer from either gastrointestinal problems, body composition issues or general energy. Moving them from a carbohydrate-based diet to one that incorporates more fat means they can begin to tap into their own body stores to use for energy. This means they rely less on exogenous sources of fuel that are causing them the stomach issues, and they are able to reach their body composition goals. Equally, I have many others come to see me for weight loss and it ends up that digestive health, energy levels, lack of sleep and fatigue are the underlying cause. Regardless of nutrition goals, when I’m counselling clients I end up talking to them about food for perhaps one third of the session, as you can’t look at nutrition in isolation of the other really important elements determining health.
How long have you been a nutritionist?
I’ve been a nutritionist for around 14 years.
Do you eat sugar?
I enjoy some dark chocolate every now and then.
Do you drink alcohol? Do you have any food weaknesses?
I like a glass of red wine or two on the weekends. And I can’t be left alone with a jar of almond butter.
There is always some new wonder food or dietary warning out there. Do you think New Zealanders are a lot more knowledgeable these days about what they should be eating or are we as confused as ever?
As confused as ever.
Can you share a favourite simple recipe?
1½ Tbsp chia seeds
⅓ cup coconut cream
⅔ cup unsweetened almond milk
Large handful spinach
½ large banana
Blend together. Leave to set in fridge.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Instead of focusing on macronutrients, we need to focus on food because that’s what we eat. Just eat real food.