In fact, I’m still quite a fan even now, so I was delighted when she announced last year that she’d be releasing a book about her relationship with food and cooking. I decided back then it would probably merit a Paleo Diet News review. The book – Livwise:Easy Recipes For A Healthy Happy Life – has just been released over here in the UK, amidst a publicity blitz by Olivia herself.
So, is it a paleo diet cookbook? Not really – but I’m happy to report that it takes a pretty balanced approach to nutrition as far as mainstream diet and lifestyle cookbooks go. Given that Olivia Newton-John has been a high-profile animal rights activist and environmental campaigner over the years – and a woman who had a very public battle against breast cancer in the early 1990s – I did wonder what approach she might take in terms of the inclusion of meat in the diet. Would her approach win favour with followers of the paleo diet, or would it promulgate the media-friendly irrational fear of meat consumption? Early on, she points out that she sees the key to good health as being about ‘balance’, and that nothing should be off limits provided it’s incorporated into an eating plan that’s well thought out:
I have been a vegetarian at times, followed a strict macrobiotic diet on occasion, restricted my dairy and wheat intake on and off and have now returned to a more balanced diet that includes chicken and fish and occasionally some red meat. I believe first and foremost that simplicity is the key to healthy eating.
Interestingly, whilst she describes her time following the macrobiotic approach – in the immediate aftermath of her cancer diagnosis – as “cleansing”, she acknowledges that it proved “too restrictive” long-term. Here we find one of the most appealing characteristics of the book; the author’s openness in outlining her growing understanding that she should listen to her own body and its needs, even when her instincts fly in the face of conventional wisdom. She even points out that that very willingness may well have saved her life:
In all areas of my life I have learned to trust my instincts. After finding a lump in my breast in 1992 (it wasn’t the first, but all the others had been benign) I went to the doctor to have it checked. I was sent for a mammogram, which was negative. I then had a needle biopsy, which also turned out to be negative. I still wasn’t feeling right in myself or with the lump, which was a little tender, so my doctor and I decided I should undergo some exploratory surgery. Although I had heard that breast cancer wasn’t necessarily tender to the touch, this was my experience, and I’m glad I listened to my instincts and persevered. In the end they found that the lump in my breast was cancerous.
She now encourages women to undertake regular self-examinations in order to be fully aware of changes to their bodies.
Other positive aspects of the book include the recipes (some examples follow); the fact that she champions real, organic, non-processed foods; and some fairly sophisticated analysis of dietary issues which tend to very poorly handled in other mainstream cookbooks. For example:
It worries me when people try to take fats completely out of their diets to lose weight because we need some fats in our body to produce hormones and repair our cell membranes and for the creation of vitamin D, for healthy bones and teeth.
Although most of us think of it as a bad thing, cholesterol has a number of important functions in the body including the production of hormones, vitamin D and bile acids.
So far, so good.
Unfortunately – but perhaps not surprisingly – some of the old chestnuts of conventional wisdom are trotted out:
- No real distinction is made between horrendous trans fats and nourishing saturated fats – both are labeled as being undesirable in a healthy diet. Whilst this shows a lack of understanding of the critical role that saturated fat plays in the human body,
I have noticed in some of the promotional interviews for the book, Olivia Newton-John has made a point of saying she prefers to use butter (“the real thing”) as opposed to fake vegetable-oil derived alternatives. Good call.
- On the flip-side, polyunsaturated fatty acids are held up as being “good fats” (she does acknowledge the need to shift the balance towards omega-3, but the impression is still given that overall PUFA consumption should be increased, which any reader of up-to-date scientific literature knows is definitely not the case).
- Seed oils are touted as being healthy fats.
Not only is this highly questionable, since they are so high in PUFAs, but no mention is made of the need to ensure that they aren’t industrially processed.
- LDL cholesterol is badged as being “bad” in comparison to HDL cholesterol (because it “ends up sticking to our arteries and causing all kinds of problems”). Whilst this wrong-headed analysis is grating, she does at least acknowledge the need to ensure the diet overall minimises oxidization in the body.
I might be biased, but I can see that Livwise has a mixture of pros and cons. On the negative side, some of the nutritional analysis is woefully outdated, and certainly won’t enhance the understanding of anyone who already gets the rationale behind the paleo diet. More positively, however, it could be likely to open the minds of those who are in still thrall to the increasingly poor USDA guidelines or the mistaken belief that the healthiest diet on the planet is one which eschews animal products altogether. Newton-John makes it clear that this isn’t the case, and – given how she looks at 62 years of age, and 20 years clear of cancer – that stance could well be an influential one.
Another great positive – 100% of Olivia Newton-John’s profits from the book will go towards the building of her new Cancer and Wellness Centre at Austin Hospital in Melbourne.
Here’s a nice selection of recipes from Livwise that would easily fit into a paleo diet:
Olivia Newton-John’s Lemon Chicken
- 1.2kg organic free-range chicken
- 1 large lemon
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- Roasted sweet potato, to serve
- Steamed broccoli or green salad, to serve
Preheat oven to 400F. Grease a roasting tin and place a wire rack in its base. Trim any excess fat from the chicken and discard its neck. Rinse the chicken and its cavity under cold running water, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper. Prick the lemon all over with a fork and place inside the chicken. Rub the outside of the chicken with the melted butter and season well. Roast the chicken for 45-60 mins until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a skewer. Remove from oven and allow to rest, covered for 10 mins before serving.
Coleslaw with Cashew Nut Dressing
- Quarter of a red cabbage, shredded
- Quarter of a green cabbage, shredded
- 2 large carrots, grated
- 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 100g chopped pineapple
- 80g cashew nuts
- Juice of half a lemon
- Half a teaspoon of garlic powder
- Sea salt
To make the dressing, soak the cashews in half a cup of water for at least an hour. Drain. Put the cashews into a food processor of high-speed blender with the lemon juice, garlic powder, and sea salt to taste. Process until smooth. Just prior to serving, toss the dressing with the other ingredients and serve.
Date and Walnut Truffles
- 2 cups walnuts
- 185g pitted dried dates
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 3 tablespoons carob powder
- 25g dessicated coconut
Put all of the ingredients except the dessicated coconut into a food processor or high-speed blender and process until smooth. Take a teaspoon of the mixture at a time and roll into a ball. Roll each truffle in the coconut to evenly coat all over. Refrigerate until ready to serve. The truffles will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for two weeks. Serve at room temperature.
Olivia Newton-John interviewed last year to promote the book in Australia:
What’s your verdict? Does Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Livwise’ go far enough towards a paleo diet approach, or just consolidate old worn-out dietary information? Share your thoughts below!