CFL Academy:
The Sweet World of Sugars

A thought-provoking evening with Akis Liokatis

Akis Liokatis is a professional biochemist. He works in a scientific institute developing compounds for the treatment of human diseases. At the CFL Academy, though, he was talking about food. Well, mostly.

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Connecting the pleasure of a long, lovingly-prepared and heartily enjoyed meal among loved ones with principles of molecular chemistry might sound absurd, but it is something Akis does quite often. In addition to his day job, Akis Liokatis is one half of Pastamadre, a food-education initiative who offer information and run workshops to share their knowledge. Together with Maria Lucrezia, Akis is trying to encourage as many people as possible to appreciate the value of simple, slow, quality, homemade food.

This is not only in order to protect food traditions under threat of disappearing from our lives; it is also in order to understand the enormous impact eating healthily has on our well-being. Not only our nutritional and physical well-being, but also our spiritual, emotional and social well-being.

The food philosophy Akis espouses stresses the fact that deciding what you should or shouldn’t eat is a personal, individual matter. What Oprah tells you is the best diet may not be the best diet for you. Akis’s definition of “healthy food” is beautiful and simple: healthy food is food that makes you feel good.

We know well enough that we’ve lost or are losing many culinary skills and techniques thanks to convenient, industrial food and modern eating habits. What gets less attention than microwave meals, though, is that many of us have lost the ability to listen to what our own bodies are telling us. What we eat is often determined more by what is easy, affordable and accessible at present times during the day, rather than when or what our bodies are actually telling us to eat.

The theme of this particular workshop was sugars. In scientific terms, sugars means carbohydrates. Akis explained, in a very understandable way for those of us not of a scientific mind, the molecular makeup and behaviour of simple and complex carbohydrates. He also explained where they are in the common foods of our daily, diverse diets.

Akis spoke for an hour, sharing knowledge on a range of topics, issues and misunderstandings surrounding carbohydrates in our diet.

Among many other things, we broke down what the glycemic index actually is: a system to indicate how quickly our blood sugar levels rise after eating particular foods. Too much glucose and too much glucose in the blood are not the same thing. How fast it gets in there matters.

Akis talked about how foods high in carbohydrates aren’t necessarily high-GI foods. If you cook pasta, for example, until it’s a stodgy, soggy lump, you will speed up the breakdown of its starch molecules into glucose, which encourages a much steeper rise in blood sugar levels when you eat it. If the pasta is cooked al dente instead, the body will have more work to do and the carbohydrates will take a longer time to digest. Fibres slow it down, too.

That’s not all fibre does. In a dietary sense, ‘fibre’ refers to a number of carbohydrates that humans cannot digest. Some soluble fibres, though, can be fermented (by bacteria of the all-important microbiome inside our bodies) into physiologically active byproducts. Insoluble fibres, for their part, make us feel full, so we’re less inclined to overeat. Plus of course they are vital in bulking, lubricating, regulating and altogether easing our, uh…you know what.

If you like the sound of Akis’ style of food education and would be interested in attending a similar event, Pastamadre run a number of workshops in Berlin. Topics range from sourdough pizza and handmade pasta to making edible glue and natural, non-toxic skincare products using simple kitchen items.

This workshop, though, was all about sugars, and of course it ended appropriately so. Akis prepared an extremely simple, extremely tasty and very nutritious treat: traditional Greek pasteli, with toasted sesame seeds, pistachio nuts, orange zest and ground cloves. He explained how you can slash the amount of sugar and feel good about eating this ‘real food’ packed with nutrients and totally devoid of synthetic additives. You can now see the recipe here.

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