Tag Archives: low carb

Foodie Friday: Christmas Time

For me Christmas time is about spending time with family.  Everyone coming together in one, glorious, noisy mess.  Laughing, shrieking, shouting, joking, playing card games and board games till all hours of the morning.  All of this happening around the dinner table, which should be filled with food… but that’s what I fear the most, cooking something that everyone will love.  Well, I asked Heidi to help!  A big thank you to Heidi, my Christmas Elf in the kitchen!

Ah, Christmas time…Christmas is all about love, family and togetherness, and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  We do this by exchanging gifts, spending quality time together and of course, by feasting on glorious food!

A sunny South African Christmas menu can include many different dishes and you can probably remember massive tables laden with ham, tongue, a million different salads and sides, chicken and perhaps even a turkey… That’s what my childhood Christmases were like in any case.  You might even have enjoyed a Christmas braai or 2…  Let’s face it, a traditional South African Christmas is a jolly, sunny affair, most probably spent outside by the pool or at the beach.

Now, when we look at all these traditional things… is a low carb Christmas style possible? Will it be boring? Should you even bother?

In short – yes and no!

Christmas is a celebration, it’s about being together with friends and family and sharing happy memories, good food and creating loving memories and there’s no reason to miss out on a delectable feast!

Having said that, as you know, I’m not a fan of trying to recreate ‘old’ favourites into new low carb treats – there are some that can easily be done and others that are best left alone.

I also prefer to keep things simple and focus on a few really outstanding dishes, rather than making hundreds…

Let’s start with the basics, shall we?

Christmas Snacks

Whether you’re hosting a Christmas get-together or attending one, you’ll need some snacks.

Choose something really delicious and impressive and make it special.  I would go for something like these pumpkin pie blinis – mini little bite-sized nibbles that’ll really make it feel like Christmas and a favourite at Changing Dream!

And do try a boozy eggnog too – it’s like a creamy custard drink, with brandy and it’s the best thing ever!

Or perhaps something a little more South African, bacon wrapped meatballs!

Christmas Mains

On to the main event – I’ve chosen roast chicken. Simply increase the amount of chickens for
every 6 people.  You could go the classic route of a roast turkey, but I feel that a roast chicken is perfect for a sunny SA Christmas – you can make it outside on the Weber or braai and rather add 1 more meat option.

How about a delicious pork belly roast?

Or keep things fresh and simple with a Festive Ham Salad as another main option!

Add a festive salad like this Fried Camembert Salad and you’re good to go!

Christmas Dessert

To end off a lovely meal, and because I’ve a bit of a sweet tooth – here are 3 winner dessert options.  Let’s start with a cheesecake, then coconut ice cream kisses and finish off with a triple chocolate tart!

Have a happy and blessed Christmas and remember what it’s all about – don’t spend unnecessary time stressing over food and slaving away in the kitchen – unless that’s your thing…

Keep it simple and remember that you don’t even need to tell everybody that your menu is low carb – simply let them enjoy the feast, because let’s face it, this is SO NOT a restrictive ‘diet’..!

P.S. As far as other drinks go – dry wine or bubbly is always the best option instead of sugary cocktails or other drinks mixed with sugary cool drinks.  Make sure you have plenty of sparkling water and add a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint for a refreshing drink.

Heidi Visser




Tabletop Tuesday: How Low is too Low?

I did an article on the HPA axis a while ago, mainly focussing on cortisol and its effect on our HPA axis and hormone balance.  This axis and the vital role it plays in the reproductive system, deserves more attention and this week Marenel looks at the effect of the “low carb” diet on women’s hormones.

What is the effect of low carb diet on women’s hormones?

Multiple studies have shown that reduced carbohydrate diets can cause weight loss and therefore improve metabolic health. However, while some women may benefit greatly from low carb diets, some should include a little more carbohydrates in their diets since following a low carb diet for a long time may possibly disrupt hormones in some women. Yet, this does not mean going overboard with excessive amounts of carbohydrates and definitely not to go overboard with the wrong types (like refined carbs and sugars)!  Low calorie diets and low carb diets may affect your adrenals.  Hormones are regulated by three major glands:

  • Hypothalamus (located in your brain)
  • Pituitary (located in the brain)
  • Adrenals (located at the top of the kidneys)

The combination of the three glands are also known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In a complex interaction these three glands keep your hormones in balance and is responsible for regulating your stress levels, mood, emotions, digestion immune system, sex drive, metabolism, energy levels and more. The HPA axis responds to your energy intake (calories), stress and exercise levels.

We have learned before (explained in this article) that long-term stress can lead to overproduction of hormones like cortisol and norepinephtine, which creates imbalances and puts unnecessary pressure on the hypothalamus, pituary and adrenal glands, which leads to HPA axis dysfunction and to the controversial adrenal fatigue. Evident symptoms can include fatigue, a weaker immune system, underactive thyroid, inflammation, diabetes and even mood disorders. Now on top of that, diets too low in calories or carbohydrates, in some people, can also act as a stressor. So it gets tricky to find the sweet spot of how low should one go with calories and/or carbohydrates.

Low carb diets and Amenorrhea (irregular menstrual cycles)  

Some ladies may experience irregular menstrual cycles or a cessation of menstrual cycles with too little carbohydrate intake. The most common cause of this abnormality can be because of too few calories, too little carbohydrate intake, excessive weight loss, stress or too much exercise. So abnormal menses due to HPA-Axis shift leads to a drop in gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which starts the menstrual cycle. The domino effect is a drop in luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone (all important in the fertility cycle). Consequently, this can slow some functions in the hypothalamus.

Low levels of leptin, a hormone produced by the fat cells, can also cause abnormal menstrual cycles or the cessation thereof. Low carb diets or inadequate caloric consumption can suppress your leptin levels and interfere with the reproductive hormones. This is particularly true for underweight or lean women on a low-carb diet. However, this side effect of a low-carb diet is usually reported predominantly in women who follow a low carb diet for a long period of time.

Low carb diets and your thyroid

Your thyroid gland produces two hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These two are needed for a variety of bodily functions such as breathing, heart rate, the nervous system, body weight, temperature control, cholesterol levels and you’ve guessed it, the menstrual cycle.

T3, the active thyroid hormone, is sensitive to energy and carbohydrate intake.  If either is too low for too long, T3 levels drop and reverse T3 (rT3) levels increase.  rT3 blocks the action of T3 and some studies have shown that ketogenic diets reduce T3 levels by as much as 47% if the carbohydrate intake is too low.

The consequence of low T3 and high rT3 levels are dire. It includes slow metabolism, which results in weight gain, fatigue, concentration issues, low mood and worse.

How low should you go?

The optimal amount varies for each individual. A fair recommendation would be at least 15% of your total calories should be from carbohydrates. This equates to at least 75g of carbohydrates to a limit of probably 150g of carbohydrates per day. Although some would need slightly more.

A moderate carb intake may be better for some women (100g – 150g carbs per day).  Look out for the following:

  • A very active lifestyle and struggling to recover after training
  • Underactive thyroid, despite taking medication
  • Struggle to lose weight or start gaining weight, even on a low-carb diet
  • Have stopped menstruating or are having an irregular cycle
  • Have been on a very low carb diet for an extended period of time
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Women with these symptoms will definitely benefit from a moderate carb diet and when including 100g – 150g of carbs per day, may start seeing weight loss, better mood and higher energy levels, as well as a normal menstrual function.



Foodie Friday: What is what?

I’m so excited to kick off our brand new series FOODIE FRIDAYS!  When I began researching “healthy eating”, I realised two things:  I will have to start cooking at home more often and I don’t know how to cook healthy.  Irony?  I then came upon this website, Foodie goes Primal and this woman cooked exactly like I wanted to eat!  She talks English that I mostly understand (had to phone her to find out what scouring means), her website is filled with inspiration and the most beautiful food!  I wanted to share this easy way of cooking healthy at home with you, so I’m very excited to welcome Heidi, from Foodie goes Primal, to Changing Dream!  Heidi will start her own series called Foodie Fridays and she starts us off by just explaining what is what, how she started on this journey and how low carb has impacted her life…  Welcome Heidi!

You get ‘diet people’ and non-diet-people…

I’ve never been much of a diet-person myself and always considered my ‘diet’ to be fairly healthy.  Lots of fruits, grains, etc and being mindful of the amount of food I eat.  I’ve never been really sickly either, but I always battled with feeling bloated and I was not really very active.  So, all-in-all, I probably sound like most women…

About 4 years ago we heard about this Paleo business and watched a life-changing documentary called ‘The Perfect Human Diet’.  We started by just cutting out the obvious refined starches and grains such as pasta, bread and rice and cut out sugar to a large extent.

The result:  WAY more energy, a few kilos lighter and just a leaner, healthier version of ourselves.  My bloatedness became a thing of the past and I just felt really great.  But now the question is this: what is the difference between Banting and Paleo? What is a Primal Diet? And is it really a diet, or should it be a lifestyle?

Banting, Paleo, Low Carb, Keto and Primal is basically slightly different versions of the same thing:  To eliminate processed foods, grains and sugar from ones ‘diet’. And I say ‘diet’ because it really needs to become a lifestyle – a new, healthy, ‘clean’ lifestyle.

Banting will focus on a slightly higher fat intake, but this is not a free-for-all pass to consume greasy foods! No, the focus is on healthy fats, such as nuts, avocados and other healthy fats from meat and dairy.  Banting allows for some dairy consumption, but very little fruit {a few berries, an apple here and there and coconut}, as fruit is very high in sugar.  It all comes down to watching how much carbs you eat – aim for between 25 – 150 g a day.

Paleo is not always so strictly low carb, as it allows for more fruit, more starchy veggies {that’s grown underground} and other natural sugars {honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, dates} – which are of course, quite high in carbs.  Paleo is more about ‘natural’, ‘clean’, ancestral eating.  Paleo also doesn’t really allow dairy.

Primal is basically the same as Paleo – it’s all about eating the way our ancestors did.

Keto refers to a very low carb diet – under 25 g of carbs a day – to allow your body to be in a permanent state of ketosis, where it uses fat for fuel.

All of these have a few things in common:

  • focus on REAL food
  • no processed food
  • not high protein diets – this is a huge misconception!
  • focus on healthy fats
  • keeping carbs low

Personally, I/we follow a combination, so I just refer to our lifestyle as low carb.  I believe we do need some carbs, especially if you lead an active lifestyle, but those can easily be found in things like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, nuts, etc.

Each person is different and needs to find what works for them within this framework, because the fact is that sugar and carbs ARE DEFINITELY bad for you, especially a combination of the two.

So, it’s not just about losing weight, but rather about being healthy, feeling good and getting the most from your food!

Heidi Visser