Hailing from Ukraine’s stunning Carpathian Mountains, Sydney-based Irena Macri is an avid paleo cook, photographer, blogger and cookbook author, who has a way of making healthy food look positively sinful. A self-taught wholefood enthusiast, Irena has proved you don’t need a PhD in nutrition or chef experience to achieve real vitality and wellness.
According to Irena, the paleo diet is essentially about eating nutrient-dense foods such as meat, fish, seafood, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit, berries, nuts and seeds, and avoiding foods that are problematic for health such as grains, legumes, dairy, processed sugar, industrial processed oils and fats such as margarine and canola or soybean oil.
Paleo gets a bad wrap for such a delicious idea, doesn’t it?
People think it’s about eating lots of meat and wearing CrossFit socks, but it’s actually quite fluid, personalised and varied. That’s what I want to show through my website, Eat Drink Paleo. I want to inspire people to cook good, healthy food with pleasure; to create some magic in the kitchen.
What do you love about paleo?
I first thought it was a bit crazy, but the philosophy actually makes sense. I mean, it’s about eating real, whole foods; cooking with natural ingredients; living a more primal lifestyle with less stress, more movement, better sleep, more sunshine and outdoors; and less toxins. All of that leads straight to optimal health and wellbeing.
What’s your magical power?
My food processor! Seriously though, maybe that I have a good palate and find it easy to combine and match flavours and textures. My mind is kind of a food matrix, a filing system; I can remember recipes and ingredients in my head for a week without writing them down.
When you do write them down, you create beautiful books. Can you tell us about them?
My first book, Eat Drink Paleo Cookbook (Penguin, $44, pbk), was an amazing experience and, thankfully, a great success. It also made me realise I want to go beyond food and recipes. Then I met Claire Yates, a medical nutritionist who shares many of my passions and views, and we recently created an eBook called Rejuvenate ($30, rejuvenateprogram.com) – a 28-day program to get your health back! We filled it with wellness knowledge, menu plans, anti-ageing recipes and easy shopping guides.
You sound busy! How do you kick off a hectic day?
Usually with two fried or soft-boiled eggs, grilled bacon or smoked salmon, avocado and green salad, often with a little fruit, like papaya or blueberries on the side. All washed down with a delicious black filter coffee.
Does it take a lot of preparation to make those kind of meals happen?
Not so much once you’ve got the hang of it, but meal planning and preparation are two very handy habits. I stock the fridge and pantry with healthy staples, and always plan ahead to make sure I’m not left with only unhealthy meal options. It’s about prioritising options, but not obsessing over them.
Do you indulge?
Yes – with Italian gelato and French cheese. I also love a bowl of good, freshly made pasta, but I save it for special occasions. Sure, these are non-paleo snacks (especially sugar, dairy and wheat), but I know my body can handle them. Gelato makes me very happy!
What advice do you have for cutting out grains?
Go for a month with no grains or legumes, then if you want to follow a gentle, flexible paleo protocol and you don't have digestive or gut issues, you can reintroduce some safer foods like white rice and buckwheat. Focus on what you can have; pick up a few vegetables you haven't tried before. Celeriac, parsnips, sweet potato, beetroot, carrots and even white potatoes are all fantastic and very nutritious sources of carbohydrates. Be creative; try my “couscous” salad from vegetables or raspberry coconut cake!
Do you miss grains?
I don't really miss bread or pasta but if I happen to be in Italy and a bowl of handmade tagliatelle appears in front of me, I probably won't say no. Having said that, I'd take a nice salad and steak over pasta any day.
When you need inspiration, who are your favourite foodies?
There are so many! The ones that stand out are Nom Nom Paleo, The Domestic Man and Balanced Bites for paleo-inspired food and nutrition. I also really like Wellness Mama for her natural approach to living, Scandi Foodie and Sarah Wilson.
What’s the best food advice you’ve ever been given?
My grandmother told me not to waste food. And chicken thighs are highly underrated.
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