Nutritionist Eve Persak on healthful pantry staples, bespoke diets, and the benefits of carbohydrates

Nutritionist Eve Persak on healthful pantry staples, bespoke diets, and the benefits of carbohydrates

Cautious calories

Text: Denise Kok

The road to eating clean begins with all that you're hoarding in the kitchen

Think of Eve Persak as the Marie Kondo of the wellness world. Instead of throwing out items that fail to "spark joy", Persak is a certified nutritionist and dietitian who overhauls the contents of your kitchen to set you on the path to a cleaner palate. As part of a newly launched service by COMO Shambhala Urban Escape Singapore dubbed "The Home Kitchen Edit", Persak will pay a two-hour visit to your home, get to know your wellness goals, calibrate the contents in your kitchen, and prescribe an eating plan to shake you out of your nutritional rut. Below, we pick her brains on virtuous ingredients to stock in the pantry, the role of nutritional supplements, and the perennial debate over what it means to go carb-free — or not. 

What pantry staples would you recommend a client who's looking to eat clean?

The pantry can be a tricky spot in the kitchen when it comes to clean eating. Most home pantries are lined with tasty, attractively packaged products boasting year-long shelf-lives. Sadly, to prolong time to expiry, boost appearance and enhance taste, manufacturers 'process' foods — adding all kinds of salts, sweeteners, fillers, stabilisers and preservatives, artificial colors and flavours. Convenient and appealing? Yes. But these perks come at a nutritional price. Consuming such items regularly can play havoc on blood pressure, blood sugar, and the waistline — not to mention flooding the body with potentially harmful chemicals.

Fortunately, there are natural, unadulterated foods that keep well at room temperature. My refrigerator is usually bare while I'm away for weeks on business travel. So, I keep some of these items in my own pantry when I return home from the airport, hungry and jet-lagged:

Nutritionist Eve Persak on healthful pantry staples, bespoke diets, and the benefits of carbohydrates (фото 1)

1. Raw and unsalted nuts and seeds (or nut and seed butters).

2. Grains: Whole rolled oats, quinoa, and teff.

3. UHT packs of plant-based milks, including almond, cashew, oat, and hazelnut, especially.

4. Dry corn. Ideal for DIY stovetop popcorn with a drizzle of coconut oil and a pinch of Himalayan sea salt.

5. Dry lentils. These keep for ages, cook quickly, and taste great alone or added to soups and salads. 

6. Dried spices. Cinnamon, turmeric, ground pepper, nutmeg, chili, Italian blends — these are fun reminders that flavor needn't involve sugar, sodium, or chemicals. I'm no culinary expert, but I try to be playful when I can.

Would you recommend clients to work supplements and vitamins into their diet?

Interestingly I rarely have to suggest supplements. Most new clients come to me with well-established supplement regimes and extensive collections of tinctures, powders, and pills. Some spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars each month online or at health food stores, buying products they've learnt about from friends, magazine advertisements or social media channels. 

Nutritionist Eve Persak on healthful pantry staples, bespoke diets, and the benefits of carbohydrates (фото 2)

Supplements serve a nutritional purpose. As a dietitian, I'm often grateful for them. When blood test reveal deficiencies, when daily food choices are limited due to preference (e.g. vegan or vegetarian diets) or necessity (i.e. allergy, intolerance, or medical necessity), or when needs are increased (with medications, diseases, or even increased fitness training) —nutrient gaps can arise that require filling.

Foods—whole, unprocessed foods—are my first choice. But when food-based solutions aren't available, sufficient, or fast enough, supplements are a godsend. That being said, supplements are concentrated—often potent, powerful and even medicinal—so I usually have a targeted and conservative supplement style, using only what's needed from reputable and clinically-recognised brands at safe but therapeutic doses. 

Nutritionist Eve Persak on healthful pantry staples, bespoke diets, and the benefits of carbohydrates (фото 3)

Do you subscribe to diets, if any?

I love reading about new and popular diets. There are so many. It's always fascinating to follow trends, review the science behind certain plans, and note which marketing strategies resonate with the public. Occasionally, I'll try one myself-mostly with a curious spirit — to observe how my body responds but also to gauge how easy or difficult it might be to implement the recommendations.

With my clientele, my approach is entirely customised. Every person is unique. Most popular diets use singular variables—like blood type or body type—to define a person's needs. Many suggest that one regime can effectively apply to everyone. In reality, this just isn't the case. So many factors influence what foods and beverages make it into our mouths — our palates, appetites, ethnicities, cooking skills, budgets, activity or stress levels, work schedules, geographic locations, family traditions, faith practices, social or environmental beliefs, and emotions. We must account for all of these when crafting a bespoke prescribed diet.  And the roll-out of any new regime must be done progressively, monitored closely, and modified continually, based on the real-time experience of each individual. The process is complex and personal and ongoing and I often feel very fortunate to be invited to share in the journey with my clients. 

What are your thoughts on the low-carb diet, which appears to be enjoying a resurgence of late?

Yes, carbohydrates can't seem to get a break from the spotlight. I often joke that I can't get through a single speaking engagement without at least one question from the audience about low-carb or carb-free regimes. 

Most people have troubles refraining from refined carbohydrates (white breads, pastas, rice, pastries, etc.) and sugars (desserts, candies, chocolate). Tasty as they may be, these foods fluctuate blood sugar levels, stimulate cravings, and pack ample calories but minimal nutrition. 

Nutritionist Eve Persak on healthful pantry staples, bespoke diets, and the benefits of carbohydrates (фото 4)

Carb-free or low-carb diets would obviously exclude these potentially problematic foods. However, there are other beneficial carbohydrate-based foods — like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, and peas. These offer fibers, essential vitamins and minerals, and valuable phytonutrients. 

It seems a shame to restrict all carbs—even the healthful ones—because we are worried about the bad behavior of a few. This would be like refusing to ride in a car because some drivers aren't safe. 

I usually suggest looking more closely at the kinds of carbohydrates in your diet. Carbs are a multi-faceted family of nutrients. One characteristic might be advantageous for one person. The same attribute might be detrimental for another person. Consider speaking with a registered dietitian or nutrition professional to learn which carbs might best suit your body's unique needs. Then incorporate 'your' carbohydrates into your daily meals and snacks in ways that are moderate, playful and sustainable.