Gwyneth Paltrow talks to Elaine Lipworth about the health scare that prompted her latest cookbook, her young family, and why she has scaled back her acting career.
Gwyneth Paltrow's latest cookbook, It's all Good, is a nutritional guide to seriously healthy eating. The book is based on a healthy eating plan, promising to "make you look good and feel great", that Paltrow and her family have been following since she had a health scare two years ago. Exhausted and stressed at the time, Paltrow was commuting regularly between London, New York and LA to sing at awards shows and guest star on the TV show Glee, when she started to feel unwell.
"I was on a flight every week. When I was on overnight flights I'd take a sleeping pill and drink wine to knock myself out. I was trying to do so much, two things at once, work and family. All that adrenalin, when you're trying to be on two continents at once, takes a toll," she says over the phone.
She has just finished lunch and has called me from the north London house she shares with her husband, Coldplay lead vocalist Chris Martin, and their children Apple, eight, and Moses, six.
Paltrow was back in the UK serving lunch in the garden when she almost collapsed, lost control of her right hand and was convinced that she was having a stroke. "I felt so ill with a blinding pain in my head, I thought that I was going to die." It turns out the actress was having "a horrible migraine and a panic attack". A series of check-ups and tests led to the discovery of a benign cyst on her ovary "that needed to be removed immediately".
Paltrow's doctor, Alejandro Junger, informed the actress she was also anaemic and vitamin-D deficient with a "very congested" liver and "sky-high" stress levels. He advised her to cut out coffee, alcohol, dairy, eggs, sugar, shellfish, deepwater fish, potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, corn, wheat, meat and soy, as well as all processed food.
You can't be 40 with two kids and be in good shape and eat if you don't exercise - there is no way around it.
"This is the way you should try to eat for the rest of your life," Dr Junger told the actress.
"I knew it was time for a change," says Paltrow, who confesses she still enjoys cheese, red wine and brownies. "Life is about balance," she says, and reveals in the foreword of her new book that she couldn't contemplate life without parmesan, fried zucchini, pasta, baguettes and pinot noir.
How strict is she? "I probably just eat this way for three weeks at a time, two or three times a year."
Feeling "healed" and energised after that initial three weeks on Dr Junger's program, she was motivated to put on her apron and get back into the kitchen, determined to conjure up super-healthy dishes that were also tasty. The result: It's All Good, written with her friend Julia Turshen. Not all the recipes are from Paltrow's original "elimination diet" - there is even a recipe for grilled steak with anchovies - but almost all steer clear of sugar and wheat.
Paltrow says allergy tests revealed that, in fact, everyone in her house is intolerant of gluten, dairy and chicken eggs. So ice-cream and pizza are banished from the menu at home, but with healthy options such as her Italian-style fish fingers (made with gluten-free breadcrumbs) and vegan shepherd's pie (with mashed parsnips instead of potatoes), no one feels deprived.
Moses Martin, a budding chef himself (who is featured in numerous pastoral family snapshots throughout the book with his sister and mum) created one of the recipes: "Momo's Special Turkey Bacon".
"Moses is really super into cooking. He can perfectly crack an egg and not get any shell in the bowl and loves to help me. The kids are in the kitchen with me all the time," she says.
But how practical and affordable are the recipes in Paltrow's book - such as grilled duck and grilled pink snapper - for working families on a budget? "I know a lot of people can't afford to buy organic food - that is a luxury, I understand that," says the actress. "But there's nothing in the book that's expensive. I think these recipes are great because they are easy, they don't take a long time and they're not complicated. It's all about where you put your priorities.
"The main thing is eating together as a family," continues Paltrow, who makes sure that, when her husband isn't away recording or touring, the four of them sit down at the table every evening. "That time together without your computer and your iPad is important when you are having dinner, even if it's a Chinese takeaway."
She is well aware, however, that staying at home with the children isn't an option for many mothers: "I know you are not always going to have time to make a homemade meal from scratch. But you can grill a chicken breast in 10 minutes and steam vegetables in five. The point is the togetherness." Does Chris cook? She laughs. "No, never! But I think in a couple you have different jobs. Cooking is easy for me so there's no point in asking him to help. He's amazing at other things, like building a fire," she says affectionately. "He puts everything together and with one match you have a roaring fire. He's great at playing football with the kids for 45 minutes or having a walk on Hampstead Heath with them while I'm cooking dinner. He might go down to [the local] Primrose Bakery and buy cupcakes to bring home."
Paltrow is a devoted hands-on mum who enjoys all aspects of family life. "I take the children to all their activities after school and we go to the park. We go for walks on the Heath. Apple loves to go to The Body Shop and Gap Kids, so we often have a walk up to Hampstead high street."
There is a sense of contentment and self-possession about the actress, who was mostly raised in Santa Monica, California, with her actress mother Blythe Danner, 70, and late father, the director Bruce Paltrow, to whom her first book was dedicated. As she has acted since her teens, it's interesting that she has recently made the choice to put her impressive career on hold, or at least on a back-burner.
"You grow up and think, 'What if I get an Oscar one day?' and you get one at 26 [for Shakespeare in Love] and there was a lot of freedom in accomplishing that early on," she says. "By the time I had kids I was ready to leave [Hollywood] for a while.
"Doing a movie, you are not home. There are mothers I know who star in films and they're totally fine with it. I have way too much motherly guilt to do that. I remember I was doing a film in New York a few years ago and I didn't see my kids at all for four days. I left the house at 5.30am and I came home at nine at night and I just thought, 'This is not for me, I don't want to miss this much of their lives,' so I have been very selective in my approach to doing films.
"At the same time, I am a very creative person. I am a caretaker. The books and my website [the popular lifestyle blog Goop] have been a great way for me to communicate with an audience and still be engaged with people."
What strikes me about the actress is that for all her discipline, she has a joie de vivre that is infectious and inspiring. "I have always cooked, I'm good at it and I love it," she says with exuberance. "Cooking makes me feel so calm and happy."
She is unusually frank, too. When I ask for the secret to her glowing skin - she is featured on the cover of her cookbook looking naturally beautiful without so much as a lick of mascara - she says, "I have a great dermatologist I see when I am in LA who gives me lasers and things to stimulate collagen [Thermage treatments] that make you look years younger."
On Goop she can be seen modelling a cropped leather top and shorts. How many 40-year-old mums could pull off that look?
"I work hard, you know - it's diet and a lot of exercise," she says. "There's not much of a secret to it. You can't be 40 with two kids and be in good shape and eat if you don't exercise - there is no way around it."
Life in the Paltrow-Martin household would appear to be idyllic, but Paltrow has a philosophical approach to marriage and admits: "You know, we've been through really difficult times and really wonderful times. I think you do fall in and out of love and you just keep going. It's about an openness to grow, really. I think that at the end of the day we accept that he [Martin] and I are in each other's lives specifically to teach each other the lessons that we are really here to learn. So we try to always take the high road and listen to each other."
What she treasures in the marriage, she says, is "our friendship, we like the same music and like to do the same things. Also, he makes me laugh."
She recently revealed that she suffered a miscarriage a few years ago and says the couple haven't ruled out adding to their family. "My children ask me to have another baby all the time. And in a way it would be great but my brain says, I think I'm done. I don't want to go back to changing nappies, but a part of me would love to have another."
She pauses for thought. "Our kids are at an age now where they are getting very independent so I'm really not sure. But I'm 40, so I'd better just decide soon - these eggs aren't getting any younger.
"Turning 40 was a big deal for me, and feeling like, 'Wow, I have lived half my life' - well hopefully a little bit less! It made me take stock about what was working in my life and what wasn't. I'm very grateful for the life I've lived so far and I'm open to whatever life is going to deal."
She is about to return to screens as Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3 with Robert Downey jnr and tells me that she has thought of opening a restaurant: "I would love to, I think it would be really fun as a side project at some point." But she won't consider anything that takes her away from the family.
"When you have children you are committing to a real responsibility, which is not only to them but to the world," she explains. "What kind of people do you want to raise? I want to put two people into the world who are good and polite with good manners, who speak more than one language, and who are capable of being citizens of the 21st century. So I take motherhood very seriously and I get incredible delight and pleasure out of my children. My family has been the great joy of my life."
And with that she sets off to pick up the children from school, before returning to her favourite room in the house, the kitchen, to cook dinner. On tonight's menu: "Super-crispy roast chicken ... it's really delicious!"
- Edited version of the article first published in Sunday Life