Body & Fitness

Paleo food guru Pete Evans gets real on real food

Chef superstar Pete Evans is unapologetic about his health revolution. The My Kitchen Rules judge stands up to the critics of his Paleo food movement and invites you to join him.
Pete Evans, superstar chef and Paleo diet advocate.

Eyes shining, skin tanned and wearing a black marl T-shirt branded with the words ‘Food Is The New Rock’, Pete Evans has many reasons to smile.

There are the waves he caught during this morning’s surf session at his local beach, the breakfast frittata – made using last night’s leftovers of roast chicken, pumpkin and thyme – and the fact the autumn sun is shining. “It’s the little things,” he muses, as he hoses down his new Firewire surfboard.

Farm to table

After two months on tour, Evans is finally back at the Australian farm he and Kiwi love Nicola (‘Nic’) Robinson purchased six months ago and is clearly stoked to be home.

The ocean is just a stone’s throw from the piece of land that’s become a haven for the couple. But like everything in his life these days, there’s also a sense of purpose and practicality to their new rural retreat.

Nic is running the farm while studying complementary medicine. She’s also teaching Evans – who was brought up on Australia’s Gold Coast – how to work the land, everything from soil maintenance to fencing paddocks.

It’s a way of life he’s wanted to pursue since, as a 20-something chef in Melbourne, he became hugely interested in following the career of English chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose Prime TV series River Cottage has made him well-known as a foodie who successfully moved to the country and began living off the land. “I couldn’t do this without Nic,” says Evans, honestly. “Living with her has completely changed my life; I reckon I’m the luckiest guy in the world!”

(He refers to Nic as his ‘wife’ in his latest cookbook, Going Paleo, even though the pair are yet to confirm they’ve tied the knot.) Evans’ daughters Chilli, 10, and Indii, eight, also love the property because they can tend to the farm’s flock of chickens, care for Robinson’s beloved horse Duley, ride and get a taste for country life.

“Now we are out of the city, it’s really cool to see just how much impact raising animals is having on my girls,” smiles Evans. “While we don’t yet have cattle on the land, they have a flock of chickens that they care lovingly for and every day they marvel at the produce coming fresh out of the garden.”

But as idyllic as farm life seems, and as relaxed as Evans is, there’s no denying the chef and now qualified health coach is also extremely focused. Buzzing with energy and enthusiasm, he’s passionate about becoming a global force and change advocate for how the food we eat can let us enjoy optimal health and wellness.

Food for thought

“It’s really as simple as letting ourselves live our best lives,” he says. “Food is a cornerstone and necessity of life but it can be incredible medicine or the slowest form of poison, depending on what you choose. Unfortunately the pace at which the food manufacturing industry has moved globally to meet demands over the past 40 to 50 years has completely changed the nature of our ingredients.

“More so now than ever before, people are also starting to realise the technological advancements that have been made in order to create food faster are also having a detrimental impact on our health. We are battling more chronic diseases, auto-immune diseases and behavioural issues than we ever have before and that’s why I’m very passionate about spreading the message,” he explains.

“Once you start creating your own meals and consuming real food, you can see and feel the change it has on your body and overall wellbeing. After that, it’s very hard to go back because you feel so good.”

But not everyone is buying into his views, which have been polarising of late. It’s his drive to be the change he seeks for the health and wellness movement globally that sees Evans easily shrug off any personal attacks or media firestorms, including the recent controversy around a book he’s publishing called Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way For New Mums, Toddlers and Babies, with fellow authors Helen Padarin and Charlotte Carr.

Lambasted by the Public Health Association of Australia about a recipe for bone broth, Evans is sanguine about the global attention these comments received. In a way, he admits, it’s helped him broadcast his message even louder and clearer than he could have ever thought possible.

“To be honest, I’m pretty thankful that mainstream media is shining a light on health and wellness and talking about how food can be medicine. I’m actually really stoked because there’s been a shift in that over the past two years. This is a major breakthrough. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done and the work we are continuing to do through The Paleo Way [his online programme] because I want to inspire people to live their best possible lives through creating recipes that not only taste great but also nourish both the body and the mind in a positive way.”

And the stories shared every day on his official Facebook page of people’s real-life success stories through changing their diets and improving symptoms associated with everything from Type 2 diabetes to depression are what helps keep him going. “There are so many people from so many walks of life. There are always a few people who stand out from someone, like 34-year-old mum-of-four Breanna Shepherd who suffered depression from the age of 14, had chronic migraines and told us when she joined the programme she was ‘sick of feeling sick’.”

Explains Evans: “Breanna recently wrote to us to say, ‘Within seven weeks, I no longer suffer headaches and my depression and anxiety has disappeared to the point where I no longer need to take any medication and my body no longer aches with pain. I have energy like never before and I have lost almost 13kg in these amazing weeks! I never realised how and what I ate was affecting me in such a terrible way. I will never revert back to how I was.”

Pete Evans says food can be incredible medicine or the slowest form of poison, depending on what you choose.

Health food

The chef in him is hoping to show people how easy it is to discover a passion for food and experiment with ingredients that create tasty healthy dishes that nourish body and mind. And with more than 1 million Facebook followers, a team of experts and a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to the physical and mental benefits that come from following a Paleo lifestyle, there’s a whole lot of interest right now in Evans and his Paleo passion.

Paleo for beginners

It’s why he has worked with US-based nutritional expert Nora Gedgaudas and trainer (and My Kitchen Rules star) Luke Hines to develop, a 10-week online programme, to help transition people into the Paleo way of life.

“It’s about finding the most natural, locally sourced ingredients possible, combining moderate amounts of protein with good-quality fats – like the kind found in nuts, avocado, coconut, olives and quality animal sources from land and sea – lots of nutrient-dense vegetables and some fruits.

“I also like to add in a side of fermented veg with most meals I eat as it’s full of healthy lactic acid so really helps to aid both digestion and allowing the body to absorb the maximum amount of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fatty acids from each meal. It’s honestly that simple,” says Evans.

When it comes to Paleo or ancestral eating, there’s no room for dairy, grains, wheat or the kind of refined sugars and carbohydrates that are present in 90% of the foods on our supermarket shelves. Instead, it’s about getting back to basics by growing your own produce or sourcing your veges and fish from the local market, making friends with your butcher, knowing your food sources and cooking from scratch.

“The reason we developed The Paleo Way is because there’s a lot of hype right now around Paleo in general,” explains Evans. “But we wanted to support people who were ready to make a change for good because it is about knowing what to buy, how to cook it and a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years as a chef and then people can live this way forever. The whole idea behind The Paleo Way is to get ‘the tribe’ consuming foods that reduce and contain inflammation within the body because this is a way we can all take personal responsibility in helping to assist what’s been pinpointed as the root cause of many of today’s chronic diseases. It also allows us to enjoy increased energy, muscle growth, weight loss, improved mood and better brain function.”

Pete Evans with daughters Chilli and Indii.

Eat, Play, Love

He was first introduced to the Paleo concept by Robinson four years ago when she gave him Gedgaudas’ book to read – Primal Body, Primal Mind: Beyond the Paleo Diet for Total Health and a Longer Life.

“That’s when things really started to click. So much of what Nora wrote resonated with me,” grins Evans. “I’m a chef who loves food and creating recipes that inspire people to cook with love and laughter and to get on the tools every day in the kitchen, so creating Paleo recipes was the next natural step.”

Together the couple studied to become qualified health coaches at the New York-based Integrative Institute of Nutrition (IIN) and learned over 100 holistic health modules. That’s when Evans knew Paleo was for him.

“Scientific research shows consuming what our ancestors ate, and what modern-day hunter-gatherer tribes continue to eat today, is one way we can take back control of our health, because research has shown these societies don’t tend to suffer from the modern chronic diseases that plague the developed world. For me, that’s powerful information worth investigating. Plus I’ve since met some of the most influential and inspirational people on the planet, whose scientific research around the future of nutrition backs up the potency adopting a Paleo lifestyle can have on your overall health and wellness.”

Today, Evans is more in demand than ever with his latest book, Going Paleo – co-authored by Nora – becoming bestseller immediately.

Go your own way

Living in a Paleo way has dramatically improved Evans’ own health. He says his energy feels infinite and, about to turn 42, he reckons he’s now fit enough to surf for at least four hours more than he used to.

“I’m in the best shape of my life and I’m also the happiest I’ve ever been. I feel balanced, grounded and really positive about the future,” he says. “When I first tried Paleo, I cut out dairy, sugar and wheat for three months and instantly experienced a notable increase in energy levels, as well as feeling a lot more mentally alert and focused. Within a month, my digestion had improved and I was able to focus better for longer periods.

“Over time, I’ve became more confident, worked with different holistic health techniques to get rid of self-limiting beliefs and today I’m really able to fully focus on the goals I want to achieve. I’ve been living Paleo for four years now and I can honestly say I just keep feeling better and better. When I’m at home, I’m more present than ever before – I have more time for my children, my partner, and I don’t get stressed in the way I used to because I choose to live mindfully. It’s a pretty awesome place to be.”

He’s also quick to point out how integral Robinson is in helping him to achieve their vision. “Nic and I are a real team,” he says. “She amazes me each and every day. She’s got this massive capacity for learning and a depth of compassion that continues to astound me daily. And she’s so passionate about health and wellness. We’re on this journey together… and that’s cool as.”

Along with Robinson, the other lynchpins in Evans’ wider family are Nora, Luke and the team members who work with him on his programme. Evans first met trainer Luke on the set of My Kitchen Rules when he was a contestant in 2013 and he also met Nora that same year when Evans and Robinson travelled to Nora’s home-state of Oregon to film an interview for The Paleo Way.

Today, they’re like family and have just finished travelling together on their tour, which saw 12,000 people attend cooking and information seminars, as well as receiving a free 10-week subscription to the programme.

“In some ways I’m pretty blown away but just how much momentum this movement has,” explains Evans. “You can also see it on the shelves: consumer demand is dramatically changing the quality of food being made available to us. More and more people are shopping organic from local, trusted sources and this all helps to nurture our animals, soil and air. These things are all so important for our planet to survive.”

The future of paleo

That’s why Evans will continue to live and advocate passionately for Paleo always. In fact, he reckons he’s only just getting started. “In five years from now, most of the world’s top athletes will be eating in this way,” he says. It’s a bold statement.

Indeed, scientific research and this generation’s rocky health history continue to prove just how damaging regular consumption of refined carbs, sugars and processed foods can be.

“In the Western world, the reality is we have never been sicker or fatter,” says Evans. “The way we have eaten in modern-day society is not working and that’s why there’s so much change occurring now. I encourage people to look beyond the critiques and do their own research into Paleo. Try eating different foods and keep a diary so you know how different ingredients make you feel, then from there choose what works best for you and your body.”

And Evans isn’t stopping there – he also wants to do what he can to support better health for his fellow Australians. He’s just in the process of rolling out a Healthy Every Day school programme, in which he plans to get a fridge into every classroom so kids can have brain-fuelling food for lunches, and he’s also working with the Australian Organic Schools gardening project.

Pete Evans with his My Kitchen Rules co-judge and friend Manu Feildel.

A food journey

In the restaurant game, Evans is focused on creating Paleo-inspired menus so travellers throughout Australia can enjoy healthier meals. To date he’s launched a restaurant called Heirloom in Perth and opened Asana at the Capri Hotel in Brisbane.

“As research continues to reveal just how much power and influence we can wield over our health with the foods we eat, restaurateurs and chefs are also following suit,” he says. “I spend up to eight months a year travelling so know how important it is to be able to get a healthy meal.

“I’m a chef first and foremost and I always have and always will express myself through the foods I make. I know ingredients and good food, and my challenge over the past four years has been to apply what I’ve learnt, throw out a lot of the preconceptions I once had and start to work only with nutrient-dense ingredients that nourish the body and mind.”

He also sees he can play a key role in helping people to understand Paleo recipes aren’t all about ‘eating woolly mammoths’ and lots of fancy tips and tricks.

“This is about returning to traditional cooking and a far more holistic way of living, whereby it’s about taking the time to prepare, get organised and be able to nourish ourselves and our families with the food we eat. I reckon that should be our first and foremost priority.”

Indeed, food and family come hand in hand for Evans. He first found his passion as a surfer boy being raised by mum Joy on the Gold Coast. At 13, he was keen to get a job to be able to buy surfboards and landed a gig making pies with the local baker.

His first kitchen experience would be the start of what has become a lifelong fascination with ingredients, flavours and textures.

“I still love seeing how just a few fresh ingredients can be thrown together to create a simple, satisfying meal,” he muses.

Growing up on the coast also gave him a huge appreciation for seafood, and by the time he went to culinary school in Melbourne at age 19, he was obsessed with the flavour of everything from snapper to molluscs (a type of shellfish).

That passion for fresh ingredients and strong flavours has influenced not only Evans’ career – but his thousands of fans around the world.

“Every day people all over the world share incredible stories on the [Facebook] page about recapturing their health and wellbeing through the foods they eat. And that’s a powerful force – I know this movement will help create long-term change to our global food industry for the better.”

Ruling the kitchen

It’s also why he continues to be a judge on My Kitchen Rules – a role he’s enjoyed for six years alongside colleague and good mate Manu Feildel.

“I’ve been a chef for almost 26 years now and My Kitchen Rules is an absolutely wonderful show because it encourages people into the kitchen to experiment with a wide variety of ingredients. And that’s the first step – getting interested in food!

“My role as a judge is to score a dish based on its flavour, texture and how well those ingredients come together to create an overall experience. What I love so much is that, because of the pressure-cooker nature of the kitchen, the show reveals those who are the very best cooks in this type of situation and showcases just how flavoursome, delicious and inspiring home cooking can be.

“And when I get to taste a dish that ticks all these boxes, it’s awesome because it’s about celebrating the contestant’s hard work and enjoying the moment. Plus it’s important to understand the food I eat on MKR is a small percentage of my yearly diet. These days, I don’t really eat out much. I much prefer preparing a home-cooked meal to eat with my family.”

And when it comes down to it, it’s this kind of simple life that Evans craves and why he and Robinson have decided that country life is the way for them. Not into the glitz and glamour of celebrity or TV land, Evans is instead a passionate chef who is into good, honest, tasty food and having lots of fun. And with so much energy to burn and such a solid support system behind him, he says he can conquer anything.

“It’s a lot of things that work together in my life that let me enjoy good health. For me, it’s family, love, laughter and food. Food is a celebration – creating a delicious meal by getting creative and working together in the kitchen is where the girls and I talk about our day and the things we enjoyed, as well as the stuff that challenged us. For me, life doesn’t really get any better than those moments.”

Pete Evans says he’s been living Paleo for four years and that hnoestly he just keeps feeling better and better.

Pete’s top tips for healthy eating

1.Start by making small, incremental changes by choosing your foods according to how nutrient-dense they are. It’s the healthy choices you make every day that will end up having a dramatic and transformational impact on your overall health and wellbeing.

2.Cut out all processed food, eliminate refined carbohydrates and sugars and start to connect with your food sources.

3.Make friends with your butcher, take the kids to the local farmers’ market in the weekend and shop for fresh produce multiple times a week.

4.Commit to choosing foods that enhance your physical and emotional wellbeing. And once you start to feel the results of eating nutrient-dense whole foods, you’ll start to understand how to make more conscious choices about the foods that are right for you.

5.Learn to read your labels and be diverse with where you choose to shop. Always opt for seasonal, free-range and organic by supporting those in your community who are producing great, natural foods over large multinational corporations that will put profit before health every time.

Paleo cheat sheet

Must-have foods:

1.Fresh vegetables and low-fructose fruits, such as olives, lemons and avocados.

2.Nuts and seeds.

3.Herbs and spices.

4.A variety of good-quality oils, including coconut, macadamia, avocado and olive oil.

5.Organic, free-range and sustainable animal protein from land and sea.

Say no to:

1.Processed foods made from refined carbs and sugars.

2.Sugary cereals.

3.Cheap bread.

4.Conventional dairy products.

5.Meat that’s inhumanely raised and may contain antibiotics or hormones.

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