Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Starter Series: 3. Eat Fat.

Thus begins the third installment of our Starter Series about eating paleo-style: Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, little (or no) dairy, and no sugar, no grains, and no legumes.  I was going to call this "Eat Nuts and Seeds," as the above mantra would suggest, but then I took a step back and paused.  Question everything.   

What are we going for with "eat nuts and seeds"?  

Basically, we want healthy FAT sources.  It's the fat, not the nuts and seeds that matter.  Besides, many people are allergic to nuts and seeds, so this is a potential breaking point for those following a paleo-style eating plan.  This is especially true for schools.  You can't promote a diet placing nuts and seeds as prominent components when government standards disallow nuts from schools due to potentially fatal allergies.  I don't want this road bump to jeopardize the whole dietary plan!

Plus, nuts and seeds contain digestive nasties like lectins and phytates, just like grains, so I can't fully endorse them without some caveats.  While they have been a long standing resident in our diet, evolutionarily speaking, nuts and seeds can be hard on digestion.  If you've been down the paleo baking road or eat a lot of nuts, you know of what I speak.  Let's just say it can be messy...

So do we desire nuts and seeds for some unique benefit?  Are they contributing something vital?  Not really.  The vitamins and minerals they provide are great, but can be had through other sources.  The bigger picture is FAT.  We want to shift the paradigm to help the public, educators, and leaders accept fat as a NECESSARY (and freakin' tasty!) component of our diet.  It's okay, I know what they made you think all those years.  Contrary to popular belief, fat IS good for us and IS necessary.  For more on what I call Fatphobia, please read my post.

I've also taken on the infamous "arterycloggingsaturatedfat" in my post: Saturated with Fat.  

Here is what I can surmise from my research: 
  • Fat is a necessary component to EVERY meal.  It slows glucose from entering the bloodstream to protect against blood sugar spikes and a runaway train insulin response.   It helps promote satiety after eating.  
  • Fat is used for fuel.  It is a great source of energy.  Your brain NEEDS fat to function.  So does your heart.  
  • Fat is necessary to absorb and store essential fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K.  You can't live without them or fat.  Period.  
  • Fat cells secrete the hormone leptin that tells your brain, "Okay, I'm full!" Leptin also increases fat metabolism (using it for fuel) and metabolic rate in general.  It's not the amount of leptin that is key to losing and burning fat, but your body's sensitivity to it.  This mechanism mirrors that of insulin.  Just like how insulin resistance from perpetually high levels of insulin in a carboholic can lead to diabetes, leptin resistance can make the fat get fatter and may actually precede insulin resistance on the road to metabolic nasties like diabetes and heart disease.  The source of leptin resistance?  Surprise, surprise: Carbohydrates!  (Which, I might add, are also the source of insulin resistance.)  Looks like fructose is the culprit, another reason to ditch the agave, avoid HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) like the plague, and go low-carb.  Thus, fat is part of an integral feedback loop for weight management.  Read more about the leptin-obesity link at Whole Health Source.  
  • Insulin actually inhibits using fat for fuel, so high insulin means storage of fat, not burning it.  What spikes insulin?  Say it with me now: Carbohydrates!  Blood glucose rises from carbohydrate metabolism.  Thus, if you want to use fat for energy instead of a seat cushion, eat low-carb to keep your blood sugar in check.  Read more about this at Hyperlipid.   
Can you see the big picture emerging?  Carbohydrates, especially fructose-containing ones, create leptin resistance and carbohydrates, especially those metabolized into glucose (see the glycemic index), create insulin resistance.  Betwixt the two, you are riding the roller coaster to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, you name it.  Sounds thrilling!
  • Scary triglycerides that correlate with heart disease (unlike cholesterol in general or saturated fat--sorry to rain on the low-fat parade) have a glycerol molecule tying together three fatty acids.  That glycerol comes from carbohydrates you ingest.  More carbohydrate means more triglycerides, and limiting carbohydrate means fewer triglycerides.  Fewer triglycerides means less fat storage and increased ability to burn fat for fuel.  Hence LOW-fat, HIGH-carb diets lead to MORE triglycerides than HIGH-fat, LOW-carb diets.  You would think more fat in the diet leads to more triglycerides since they are made up of three fatty acids, but that just isn't what we see in the research (see The Heart Scan Blog for more details).  The authors of Hyperlipid and The Heart Scan Blog disagree on some aspects of this topic, so I suggest you read up on their viewpoints to make an informed decision of your own.  (Note: It is really quite a mind-trip to read such intensely in-depth discussions on the minutia of body chemistry.  Definitely makes me feel like a nutrition n3wb!)  
  • The linear model of saturated fat leads to high cholesterol (in particular the "bad" LDL kind) leads to heart disease is just plain wrong.  Sorry to rock your world, but it is.  Read Mens Health Journal for more information on the evolution of this revolution to modern medicine that is still on the fringe of public acceptance.  In reality, it's the small, dense LDL we need to watch out for which INCREASE when saturated fat is supplanted by carbohydrate in the diet.  Sounds eerily familiar to the triglyceride story.  So total cholesterol, HDL:LDL ratio, and even total LDL DO NOT correlate with heart disease.  It's the triglycerides and small, dense LDL you need to worry about, and your carbohydrate intake that is directly linked to both.  If you are concerned about your cholesterol, check the particle size (there are tests for it, just ask) for the bigger picture.  As my commenter from CrossFit Fire of the Gods pointed out, check out Heart Scan Blog for more information about cholesterol and read their own summary of the current research: CrossFit Fire of the Gods.  
  • FEAR carb overload (particularly of fructose-containing foods and high glycemic foods), trans fat and other man-made frankenfats (i.e. anything hydrogenated), and omega-6 fatty acids that overbalance crucial omega-3 fatty acids.  (We'll talk more about omega-6 below, don't worry.)
  • DON'T FEAR saturated fat, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, or monounsaturated fatty acids.  
Is your mind abuzz yet?  Need an interlude?  Here is a YouTube video from the movie Fat Head that puts fat in perspective in a silly, graphical way that I found really entertaining and simple to understand.  And it's short!  Thanks CrossFitKaty's Nutrition Blog for helping me find this resource!

The 'take away' so far?  Make sure you are eating healthy fat with every meal.  What is healthy fat?  Here are my suggestions:
  • Eat animal fats.
I know, this goes against the paleo "eat lean meats" prescription, so let me explain.  Animal fat is high in HEALTHY saturated fat (yes, I know it is hard to swallow, and even harder for me to type, but it is true).  Dr. Loren Cordain, founder of The Paleo Diet himself, has been softening his take on saturated fat.  Originally, he was rooted in the Saturated Fat Bashers camp, but he is coming around, albeit slowly.  Healthy animal fats are embraced by the Primal Blueprint, including lard, poultry fat, tallow, and ghee, as described in a good primer at Mark's Daily Apple.  

Saturated fat really isn't that bad for us.  Re-read my post Saturated with Fat for more information.  And don't forget that great Men's Health article dispelling the myths.  For more, check out Dr. Eades author of Protein Power.  

NOTE: Eating animal fats does NOT mean eating bacon 24/7.  Sorry!  Despite that savory aroma-eliciting salivation and the electrifying melt-in-your-mouth crunch of meaty baconiness once you sink your fangs into its crumbly flesh, bacon almost always includes sugar (in some form or another, yeah I mean You, evaporated cane juice) and can also include toxic nasties called nitrates, a known carcinogen.  Choose your bacony indiscretions wisely and know that although divine, it probably isn't technically-speaking "paleo," unless of course you can actually find sugar-free, nitrate-free, paleo conforming bacon.  If you do, please let me know where you find it!

Butter is another grey area.  Dairy constantly has its kneecaps lobbed off by the Paleo Diet proponents, including founder Dr. Loren Cordain.  I can understand their issues with dairy: the growth hormones and inflammatory-response inducing proteins, plus the heavy dose of omega-6 and toxins from the grain-based diet of most dairy cows.  Makes sense.  But there is also some good about butter, namely: vitamins A, D, E and K, antioxidants, CLA, "anti-stiffness" factor, iodine, digestion-aiding fats, and cholesterol (yes, cholesterol is good for us, get over the myth already!).  These benefits are described in more detail here in an article by the Weston Price Foundation.  You may have stumbled upon that name before since he is often mentioned in the paleo/primal community.  Weston Price was an ethnographic researcher at the turn of the last century who studied the health of isolated, non-industrialized populations around the world to determine a healthy ancestral diet.  He came up with dietary guidelines somewhat similar to the Paleo Diet; however, he included dairy and sprouted/soaked/fermented grains amongst suggested foods.  Another discussion of butter is a post by Hyperlipid, a blog I mentioned earlier.  This is a VERY technical post that appears to come to the conclusion that butter is okay as long as your blood glucose isn't sky high (one more reason bread and butter is NOT a good idea at the nightly dinner table).  Another example, a study at Lund University found that butter produces less fat in your bloodstream than olive oil.  Why?
The primary explanation for the relatively low increase in blood fats caused by butter is that around 20 per cent of the fat in butter is comprised of short and medium-length fatty acids. These are used straight away as energy and therefore never affect the blood fats to any large degree. 
I think I will stop here and save our discussion of dairy for another Starter Series post.  For now, I would suggest excluding dairy initially from paleo-style and then reintroducing butter (and other high fat dairy) slowly and only from the best sources (raw, grassfed).  Does it make you sick?  If not, add some to your diet and enjoy the benefits.  May the paleo gods strike me down: I LOVE raw, grassfed butter!
  • Eat healthy oils.
Fish oil is a biggie here.  You probably should be supplementing with quality fish oil because you just can't get enough from fish (yeah, you can try, but you'd probably wind up with more toxins too since the fatty fish with the highest omega-3 are also high on the food chain and accumulate a heavy dose of heavy metals--our gift to the seas).  Also, the omega-3 that used to be ubiquitous in the hunter-gatherer diet we evolved upon just isn't as readily available today.  Times have changed and we have moved on to feeding our animals boatloads of grains and changing their body composition to fit our preferences.  Even eating all grass-fed, pastured, wild caught meats isn't enough.  From our omega-3 discussion, you know that more omega-3 is better because we want to balance out that potentially nasty omega-6 bombarding our diet from processed foods, meat, nuts, seeds, etc. and although omega-6 plays important roles in our diet, it can also lead to the dark side of inflammation.  So we are trying to get back a roughly 1:1 balance of omegas;  thus, we can benefit from supplementation.  Yes, I know it is processed and creating dependency on something inherently unnatural.  That bothers me too.  But I see the benefits and don't think I can ever eat enough fish to get the omega-3 I need.  So, I try to reduce the evil of this suggestion by finding quality, purified (mercury and PCB free) fish oil without a long list of fillers and other substances like wheat and soy that chip away at the fish oil's anti-flammatory benefits.  The other benefits of fish oil?  How about better recovery from exertion and sickness/injury, a healthy brain (remember, your brain is fat fueled), heart health, better vision, and protection against cancer?

Possible side effects include fishy burps (the few I had initially went away quickly and haven't returned--if unnerved, try a flavored brand without chemical additives), possible bruising and blood clotting issues from thinned blood (rare, but possible especially with high dosages; however, this is challenged at the Heart Scan Blog), too much vitamin A or D if you take cod liver oil in high dosages, and the toxins from our lovingly polluted seas.  A lawsuit was recently filed that challenges the purity of well-known brands of fish oil.  Although purity may be in question, I have to trust that guarantee label on my bottle (not a tested brand, yet, unfortunately).  I still believe the benefits speak for themselves.  Still hesitant?  There's more detail at The Paleo Diet website,  Mark's Daily AppleHyperlipidHeart Scan Blog, etc.

To calculate your recommended fish oil dosage, use this handy calculator from Whole 9.  Brilliant!

Other healthy oils: olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, avocado oil, macadamia oil, and in moderation: walnut oil and sesame oil.

Not so healthy oils: canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, flaxseed oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, grape seed oil, and soybean oil.

Check out Mark's Daily Apple for more detail on these oils including important information about heat and oxidation potential--a MUST read!  
  • Eat nuts and seeds.
Nuts (no, not peanuts, silly--they're beans) and seeds are a healthy component of paleo-style eating because they add fat, along with some other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.  Nuts and seeds are the storage form of energy for growing seedlings, so they are packed full of nutrition.  They are endowed with vitamin E, essential fatty acids, fiber, folate, plant sterols, magnesium, and potassium.  As a protein source, they are pretty poor because they are so much more fat than protein, and because they contain lectins and anti-nutrients, like phytates.  Soaking can help remove these toxins for easier digestion.  However, if you are looking to lose weight, limit nut intake (Cordain recommends 4oz a day max for those trying to lose weight).  Why?  Well, at first glance, he is just repeating the "fat makes you fat" propaganda and he doesn't like the high omega-6.  I can agree with the latter point.  At second glance, I realize that it is the CARBOHYDRATES in nuts that are the problem.  While you may think you have a great fat source, you forget those other macronutrients that the Zone allows us to sweep under the carpet.  Carbohydrates in excess of 50g a day WILL not allow you to lose weight, instead, they'll help you gain it and also lead to more problems down the line.  Here are the breakdowns: an ounce of cashews has 8.5g of carbohydrate (not counting fiber); pistachios are 4.5g per oz; almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts are about 2g per oz; and macadamia, brazil, and pecans are closer to 1g per oz.  Doesn't sound like much?  Try munching and see where it takes you, or dip into some nut butter.  It is easy to go overboard.  On a lower-carb diet, every gram is precious and most should come from veggies.

Valid question: Why eat nuts and seeds, which have lectins/anti-nutrients/phytates, but NOT grains, which also have them?

Answer: Basically, anti-nutrients are characteristic of all plants to some degree or another, especially their progeny!  The argument for the inclusion of nuts and seeds is their host of nutritional benefits and their evolutionary history with us.  We have been eating nuts and seeds far, far back in our evolutionary record (not that our history justifies our diet, but it provides evolutionary context at least) and our bodies can digest them easier than grains, especially those containing gluten (see Why No Grain and Cereal Grains: Humanity's Double-Edged Sword by Cordain for more).  Nuts and seeds require minimal processing and were an important fat in many hunter-gatherer diets.  To remove the digestive irritants, you can go soak your nuts (heh) and seeds to increase their digestibility.  Nut and seed oils have removed the anti-nutrients and lectins, but watch their level of processing, omega-6:omega-3 ratios, and dangerous oxidation at high heat.  Bottom line?  Take them or leave them.  I think you can make a solid argument against nuts and seeds as much as for nuts and seeds.  If you like them, don't overeat them, and don't feel digestive detriments, then by all means enjoy them.  You can get your fat from other sources, but having more variety is always nice, especially with a diet already slashing out whole food groups :)

Okay, so which nuts and seeds are best?  Cordain doesn't really like seeds (except flax, but he is changing his mind on that too) and definitely voices caution about nuts.  Here is Cordain's comprehensive chart on the types of fatty acids in different nuts.  What does all this mean?  According to most sources, try to minimize the omega-6 content, so choose nuts that have high omega-3 relative to omega-6.  But, you're pretty screwed no matter the nut, since they ALL have such high omega-6, hence limiting them in your diet.  Macadamia nuts do well, and coconut oil (super high in saturated fat) is my hero, despite Cordain's reservations.  My suggestion, minimize the carbohydrate and omega-6 whenever possible and go light if you are trying to lose weight, EXCEPT with coconut oil, since it's so darn special.
  • Eat avocados.
Yes, they are a class of their own.  I couldn't find which other category fit them best.  They are technically berries, and named after a certain other "nut" found on human males--no joke!  Their flesh is rich in monounsaturated fat.  Avocados are also high in potassium (more than a medium banana); folate; carotenoids; vitamins E, B6, C, and K; fiber; copper; and phytonutrients.  They can be eaten raw as a delicious accompaniment to steaks, chicken breast, and salad, or blend them in puddings, smoothies, and shakes for non-dairy creaminess.  Pretty versatile! 

Bottom-line: Fat is good for you!  Make sure you have a fat source with every meal!

And now for the recipes

I included fat in almost EVERY recipe to date--so I will save you the exhaustive list.  Feel free to search and use the sidebar tags for my recipes.

Today's recipe is one I have been devouring lately.  It is so good that I think about it when I wake up and savor the memory when I go to bed.  No kidding.  But that is how paleo has been for me: an exploration of my tastes and adventure into the unknown, finding mouth-watering gems along the way.  Here is my latest, and the best part?  It's a five minute or less meal!!!

Salad from the Sea
I thought I hated canned fish, but when the necessity for a quick non-refrigeration-required meal hit me, I  put the past behind me and gave this a go.  OMG--It is SO delicious!!!  I can't get enough of it!

Serves one for a satisfying full-fat meal ready in five minutes or less!  Easily doubled, tripled, etc.

1 can of wild caught mackerel packed in olive oil with sea salt and NOTHING else on the ingredient list*
1/2 lemon

Wash lettuce and place in a large bowl.  Add the contents of the can of fish, breaking the fish into bite-sized hunks.  Add lemon juice to the empty can and swirl to try to get every last morsel out of that can.  Empty onto your salad.  Toss to incorporate the fish and dressing evenly.  Grab a fork and have at it!

Why is this a fat recipe?  Read the label (yeah, I know, "no labels in REAL paleo," but hardliners can get their head out of the sand and get real).  More fat than protein, oh yeah!  You get the benefit of fatty fish omega-3 and olive oil's monounsaturated fats, the lettuce and lemon's net basic load to balance the fish's acid, high-quality protein from the fish, and a slew of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to fuel your body nutritiously.  Such symmetry in such an easy paleo meal!

*One caveat: I have heard that eating canned fish is a "no no" due to toxins in the fish and from the canning process (and, yes, any processing is frowned upon).  Also, the high heat of canning reduces nutrients and oxidizes fat.  This study shows that consuming less than 350g of canned fish a week is safe toxin-wise, but children and pregnant women should use caution.  The take-away: canned wild-caught fish without added anything is probably best, if less convenient, and better yet: use freshly cooked, wild-caught fish you made yourself.  And try to eat fish that don't accumulate those toxins we've put in their water, so go small.  Add your own olive oil or another tasty healthy oil to make this salad even healthier!  For me, this'll do in a pinch and is damn tasty, dare I say, even crave-worthy!

Fish Salad on FoodistaFish Salad
Fish Citrus Salad on FoodistaFish Citrus Salad
Tuna Fish Salad on FoodistaTuna Fish Salad

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cut Carbs to Cure Diabetes


OMG.  I just read an amazing article and have to share (thank you CrossFit Fire of the Gods for the link!).  Before we jump in, let me get a CrossFit word in and express what an awesome time I had at the Coaches Prep this past weekend.  Meeting such amazing coaches (like Paul who writes the CrossFit Fire of the Gods blog) and working with HQ's finest really was an experience I'll never forget.  There is nothing like immersion in something you love.  CrossFit and nutrition are my passions.  So on to the latter:

Men's Health: The Cure for Diabetes

Important snippets:
"My first line of treatment is to have patients remove carbohydrates from their diets," explains Dr. Vernon, a petite, energetic mother of two who also serves as the president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians. "This is often all it takes to reverse their symptoms, so that they no longer require medication."
"Which do you think people would find more practical?" asks Dr. Vernon. "Avoiding bread and sugar, or taking an insulin shot every day?" Before you answer, consider that the ADA, America's leading authority on diabetes, refuses even to pose this question to millions of diabetes sufferers, leaving them unaware that there may actually be an alternative to leading a medicated life.
"You might prefer to just take the insulin, and that's your choice," says Dr. Vernon. "But in my experience, patients are far healthier and happier without it." She pauses for a moment. "And isn't that the whole point?"
The simplicity is astounding: just cut starchy, sugary carbohydrates from your diet and CURE Type-2 Diabetes (what used to be known as "adult onset diabetes" but which now impacts children and adults alike).  NO insulin injections needed ever again?  Wow!  My own inner voice tells me to caution this one-size-fits-all approach, but the data is out there and, seriously, isn't it worth the try?

So for those of us who aren't diabetic, what can we get from this news?  Proactively, cut these carbohydrates to avoid ever developing diabetes.  If you could eliminate this threat to your health, a threat that attacks 23.6 million children and adults in the United States—7.8% of the population (back in 2007, and more today) why wouldn't you?

What are sugary, starchy carbohydrates?  Well, ALL sugars (yes, even those with deemed "healthy" or "natural" because they come from plants or bees) and grains and potatoes, which are starchy.  Good rule of thumb: stick to veggies primarily and limit high glycemic fruits (mostly tropical fruits) and high glycemic veggies (root veggies like beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes).  NOTE: this isn't a "no carb" approach.  Eat as many veggies as you want!  Seriously!  They have minimal carbohydrate that is going to elevate your blood sugar and also contain fiber, which is great for digestion and slowing down metabolism of carbohydrate into blood sugar.  The common misconception of "low carb" is "no carb," which by the size of my salads, kale chips by the pile, and cauliflower to fill my plate--I can attest is definitely NOT "no carb."

Why does cutting carbs help diabetics? 

Okay, more specifics on diabetes.  According to the article:
So what exactly is diabetes? In freshman-biology terms, it's a disease of the hormone insulin. Secreted by your pancreas, insulin moves glucose -- the form of sugar your body uses for energy -- from your bloodstream into your cells. Problems arise, however, when, often due to excessive weight gain, your cells start to become resistant to the effects of insulin. (It knocks, no one answers.) As a result, more insulin is required to dispose of the same amount of glucose. (The knock becomes a loud banging.) This condition, called insulin resistance, is the first stage of type-2 diabetes.
As insulin resistance worsens over time, your pancreas has to pump out enormous amounts of insulin to force glucose into your cells. (Hey, let's use a sledgehammer!) Eventually, your pancreas has trouble keeping up, leaving you with chronic high blood sugar, a.k.a. hyperglycemia -- the defining marker of diabetes and the root cause of the calamities that arise from it. Alas, it only gets worse from here: If the resistance continues to mount, some of the insulin-producing beta cells inside your pancreas can "burn out" and stop working altogether. (In type-1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder destroys most or all of the beta cells.) Once beta cells burn out, you're looking at a lifetime of daily insulin injections.
So Type-2 diabetics, you are in luck.  There is a cure.  What about Type-1 diabetics?  Here is Robb Wolf's take after a comment from a recovering Type-1 diabetic who switched to paleo and is now off insulin:
It is well understood that Type 1 Diabetes is a failure of the beta cells of the pancreas to produce insulin. This is generally acknowledged to be the result of an autoimmune response, usually attributed to a viral infection or some kind of trauma. What is less known is the role of grain lectins in this process. Many people benefit not only from reducing the recommended American Diabetes Association 60% carb diet (higher even than the diet that causes most of the type 2 diabetes we see) because of a more fat fueled metabolism but also, occasionally, we  see a return of normal pancreatic function with the removal of the neo-lithic foods. The inflammation and immune response that has been beating down the beta cells cease, some repair occurs and things come back to normal. This is not the norm unfortunately, but it does happen. Even without the full return of pancreatic function, the reduced carb, higher fat paleo diet greatly mitigates the accelerated aging and systemic inflammation inherent in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Need another case study of similar results?  Here's a post of a mom updating Robb on her child recovering from Type-1 Diabetes and some of his conclusions:
This REVERSAL of a life-threatening autoimmune disease is being mediated by a focus on food quality (paleo).
For the folks for whom the paleo diet does not reverse their condition (due likely to the complete destruction of ALL pancreatic beta cells) it does confer the BEST blood sugar control and best insulin management strategy of anything they have tried. This is likely due to the effects grains have on insulin signaling via leptin.
The same mechanisms which underlie the reversal of Type 1 diabetes underlie ALL autoimmune disease. In the case of these other autoimmune conditions however, we do not see the confounding issue of pancreatic dysfunction. If we can just get folks to try a paleo diet for about a month they typically see a remarkable improvement in symptoms.
Why haven't we heard this before?

If cutting carbs (particularly ubiquitous grains) is such a viable solution for diabetics, why isn't it being promoted by the American Diabetes Association and the medical community?  Well, the Men's Health article tackles some reasons which I'll let you read, but here is my take:

The world is working against this simple solution because it challenges the dominant paradigm and attacks the very foundation of our agriculture-based society.  Medical and nutrition authorities like the USDA, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and many others as well as Big Pharma and the agriculture lobby all oppose simple solutions that threaten their industry and control.  Grains provide the basis for our economy (try to find me an ingredient list or product made without a derivative of corn, just try).  Multi-million dollar pharmaceuticals provide the easiest solution: just pop a cure-all pill, albeit with horrifying side-effects, dependency, expense, and environmental impact.  It is a twisted web without our best interests in mind.  Read The Omnivores Dilemma for an enlightening experience about how deep we are entrenched in a cycle based on money, not health.  It is truly sad.

The real kicker: even that Mens Health article is from 2006 (I couldn't find the article date, but I saw a blog reviewing it from November 2006).  Four years ago.  What has changed?

YOU can make a difference!

Okay, back to the light.  YOU can use food to nourish, not harm.  Regardless of how hard it may seem, YOU can change.  And seriously, it isn't that hard.  Fighting fires is hard.  Life without a limb is hard.  Dealing with death is hard.  Living without bread, rice, and pasta is peanuts, or should I say almonds ;)  You can be happy and healthy eating very well paleo-style, as my recipes and those of the greater community can attest.  There really is more you can have than can't.  I will continue to provide supportive material and all of those bloggers and websites I recommend can help you too.  If you have a question, ask!  Bigger picture: Isn't a healthy, long life worth the effort?

Now YOU know what YOU can do to help you get healthy and stay healthy.  Knowledge is power, so what are YOU going to do about it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Paleo-style Out on the Town

Okay, so you don't feel like cooking.  Again.  Your choices are:

  1. Visit your local grocery store and probably fall back on that delicious rotisserie chicken, again, for the like the 5th time this week or  
  2. Go through the mental gauntlet of finding something you can eat at a local restaurant without regretting it the next day.  

There is a third choice, but it takes more forethought: buy your paleo goods from paleo vendors online and stock up in case of a cooking-exhaustion emergency.  Here are some excellent choices:

  • Paleokits for packable on-the-go snacks of jerky, dried fruit, and nuts.  You are also supporting a great cause: 
Proceeds from the sales of Paleokits fund Steve’s Club, a non-profit Crossfit affiliate devoted to training youth from Camden, NJ-often touted as the most dangerous crime-infested city in the country. Steve’s Club gives inner-city kids the chance to get away from the drugs and violence that plague their neighborhoods. Paleokits were originally developed to provide the children portable on-the-go nutritious meals they could eat at school and at home. Born to fuel their bodies, Paleokits now fuel the future of many kids looking for a positive place to stay safe and get strong.
  • Paleo Brands frozen meals shipped across the US.  Paleo Brands, Inc. is a joint venture between Joe Cappuccio, owner of Del Mar Seafood’s and John Welbourn, creator of CrossFit Football, owner of CrossFit Balboa, and ten year NFL Football veteran and is endorsed by nutrition guru Robb Wolf and The Paleo Diet author Dr. Loren Cordain.  You can be rest assured you will be eating very well with these meals.  
There are also some local paleo caterers and prepared-food makers scattered amongst us too; look into it if you are interested.

So, we tackled grocery store meals in our last post.  Today, let's figure out how to eat out on the town, paleo-style!  

One big NOTE to begin with: I suggest you avoid the hassle and just use a cheat meal when eating out.  You'll enjoy yourself more and save yourself some stress.  Trying to eat out paleo-style is tough.  You have to be willing to face off with your server to get what you want, aggravate your non-paleo friends/family with your "pickiness," and survive a meal with non-paleo eaters all around you having everything you'd like to eat but can't.  But what if you're a paleo-eater for medical reasons, or you're on vacation without your trusty stove, or you really want to go out but don't want the repercussions?  Restaurant eating IS possible if you make the effort.  I'll show you how!

Here is a list of paleo-style recommendations by restaurant type:

Asian Restaurants

Mongolian BBQ joints are a godsend for paleo eaters. You can choose your meat and veggies and oil and have it cooked on a huge griddle. Of course, you aren’t likely to get organic or grassfed choices, so quality is still a concern, but at least you can choose to avoid sugar, beans, dairy, and grains pretty easily (except the grains feeding the animals from which the meat was taken...sigh).

Most Asian restaurants have stir fries that can fit the paleo bill with some tinkering.  Ditch the rice and noodles for more veggies.  Try to avoid sugary sauces if at all possible.  Sometimes there is a meat salad or meat and veggies option that works perfectly.  

Sushi and Japanese restaurants? Easy-peasy.  Just order sashimi to skip the rice.  There are even some rolls without rice, just ask.  The miso soup is made from legumes, so avoid if you are playing it strict.  The salads usually have a really sweet dressing, so try to switch that out if you desire the challenge.  Think the carbs in salad and soup are negligible, think again: I had a full blown carb drunkenness (you know, just like alcohol where you get giddy and the room takes time to catch up when you turn your head) after just the soup and salad and green tea.  No joke!  The after-effects were a troubled tummy (I had rice with my meal and perhaps wasabi doesn't really agree with me) and carb hangover extraordinaire the next day.  Not fun, but a little funny.  

Greek and Mediterranean Restaurants

Falafel joints usually have a plate salad option, so those are a great go-to for a salad meal (avoiding the actual chickpea falafel of course).  The sauce is usually yogurt based, so if you are off the dairy see if you can exchange it with oil and vinegar or something else benign.  Kabobs are a tasty good bet.  Hummus is legume-based, so try Baba Ghanoush (made with eggplants) instead, but ask for veggies instead of pita if you're dipping.  Tapas are also great for paleo-eaters with their array of small plates.  Most are simple preparations with fresh ingredients, so you are sure to find great seafood, meats, and veggies.  Like buttery steamed mussels, mmmnnn I can almost taste them!

Mexican Restaurants

Yes, it can be done!  You can easily order fajitas or ceviche or meats like carnitas or carne asada and just hold the tortillas, beans, sour cream, and cheese (if forgoing dairy).  Ask for more veggies and guacamole.  Oh, guacamole--how did I ever live without you?  You can even splurge and get the bartender to make you a Norcal Margarita (2 shots gold tequila, juice of 1 lime, and a splash of club soda (optional ice)--halving this and increasing the sparkly water is great too), about as paleo a mixed drink as possible.  How is it paleo you ask?  The tequila is made from gluten-free agave, the lime juice is alkaline to help keep you in acid-base balance and it also slows insulin response to the alcohol, and the bubbly helps get the alcohol to your blood faster, so you drink less with the same effect (thanks Nick for the info!).  You would think it would be really strong on the alcohol side, but surprisingly the lime cuts it and delivers a bolt of flavor.  Delicious!  And beware, they go down real easy!

Other Mexican food ideas?  I used to be a regular at the Burrito Bar at Whole Foods getting grilled veggies instead of rice, meat of my choice, salsa, cilantro, and lime.  Pretty damn good and easy, albeit expensive.  Once they started giving one scoop portions, though, it definitely wasn't worth the price anymore for me.  Perhaps your store is still generous because it takes a lot of veggies to make a fulfilling meal.   

American Restaurants

Buffets are great because you can choose what you want and how much of it you desire, but beware of quality.  Maybe that All You Can Eat Sushi Buffet really is too good to be true.  However, the salad bars are great if nothing else.  You may be surprised to find a "low carb" menu selection replacing that idiotic "low fat" section.  If so, you are in luck!  If not, let's talk options: 

The Meat: Many steak houses are pretty good restaurant options with salad and veggies as sides to steak.  I still can't understand where they get off charging exorbitant prices for grain-fed beef, though.  Perhaps you'll be lucky and find a true meat connoisseur that serves the good stuff.  You can also do well with the chicken entrees, boring as they may seem as after-thoughts relegated to a "healthy" menu section.  Of course seafood often fills this section, too, so that's a safe bet unless it's fried.  If you find a BBQ joint, try smoked meats instead of those heavily sauced.  

The Salad: You can safely choose many salad options at American-style restaurants if you are willing to haggle over dressings, croutons/fried noodles, and the ubiquitous cheese.  Make sure you load up on the meat if your salad is your meal!

The Veggies: Usually these are pretty easy as grilled and steamed veggies are ubiquitous.  It is now en vogue to offer sweet potato fries instead of those Freedom Fries from yesteryear.  Granted, they are still probably battered in grain, but sometimes I try not to think about it.  Restaurant dining is all about knowing when to listen to that little voice inside you steering you away from obvious cheats and when to tell it to shut up and let me eat my sweet potato fries damnit.  

Breakfast: For me, breakfast is a no-brainer for paleo-eating. You can easily choose eggs and forgo the toast or exchange it for fruit or salad.  Since many places serve breakfast well into the afternoon, breakfast can be had for lunch too.  I have heard scary stories about the dreaded carton of liquid egg and omelets containing pancake batter to make them fluffier and probably to cut the amount of eggs needed, so if you want to be safe, order eggs (fried, scrambled, poached, etc.) instead of omelets.  The potatoes are up to you.  I usually have them, but then I usually go out to breakfast after a morning of CrossFit, so to me, at least, I've earned it :)

Fast Food: Yes, it can be done.  Try asking for lettuce wraps instead of bread for sandwiches.  I haven't gone this route yet, but I've heard "protein style" is an option at In-n-Out with a burger served on lettuce.  That is also an option at other burger joints--just forgo the bun and ask for it to be served on a salad or lettuce leaves.   I have heard you can order salads at fast food joints (like grilled chicken salad), but watch the dressing and accoutrements like croutons and cheese.  And don't be fooled by the infamous taco "salad."  Unless you choose the right ingredients, it could end up like this commercial: "a culinary creation that baffles the human mind: a 12,000 calorie salad."  Funny, but sad because it's true... 

Italian and French Restaurants

Grilled items and more lightly sauced dished are present on the menu, you just have to look past the pasta, bread, and creamy risotto screaming from every corner.  Watch out for hidden flour if you are serious about sticking to the plan since even chicken cacciatori with its simple, meaty sauce might have been first floured and fried before stewing.  French is easier than Italian, but there are easy finds on any menu--you just have to look, ask, and be willing to negotiate.  Fondue is also an incredible paleo option.  Try the oil and just dip your meat and veggies in for a delicious meal.  You can even end on dark chocolate fondue with fruit instead of bread or candy.  Yum!  Want to get a little closer to your roots?  Try the carpaccio--simplicity at its most deliciousness!  And go gamey, try organ meats--now is your time to experiment with your paleo tastes!

One of the best dinners I have ever had was at Ristorante Avanti in Santa Cruz eating grass fed Flat Iron Steak with gorgonzola cheese and potato gratin spinach.  Pretty paleo-style (with dairy) and freakin' delicious, albeit I cheated on the appetizer (fried calamari) and dessert (chocolate pot de creme-OMG!).  But I felt better than the time I went whole hog and got the gnocchi, delicious as it was.  It can really make a difference when you choose your cheats wisely: such as part of the meal instead of the entire 3+ course affair.  

Desserts can be a challenge at ANY restaurant, but before you blow your paleo plan on that sticky, gooey, chocolatey delight using the force to change your weak, weak mind, try this: purchase some dark chocolate on the way home for an after dinner snack you'll enjoy much more than overfilling yourself right after dinner.  Better still: walk to the store to enjoy more time with your companions and walk off some of that meal! (and no, I don't mean burn the calories, I just mean to get moving to aid digestion and be more generally active--we spend too much of our lives with our butts glued to chairs...)

Want to search more specifically?  Check Chowhound, Urbanspoon, ZAGAT (for a fee), BooRah (new to me), or Yelp.  If you can, find the menu before you go.  Google searches for paleo restaurants also bring up a slew of results, some with specific reviews for restaurants by city.  Do your homework, stick to your guns, and you can find a great paleo-style meal out on the town!

Bottom line for restaurant dining paleo-style: 
Don't be shy, ask for what you want!  You deserve to enjoy the meal you're paying for! :)

Please post any other ideas to comments to share with the community!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Get Real

Okay, let's get real.  I am human just like you.  I didn't cook that chicken; I bought it.  I feasted upon New York Style pizza last weekend and ate half a pepperoni and bacon pie myself.  And I enjoyed every delicious, cheesy, bready moment of it.  I also am addicted to chocolate.  I stray from paleo-eating at least once a weekend to varying degrees--a mocha here, corn chips there, creamy raw cheese when I can get it...  I buy at least a few no-cook meals a week at the grocery store.  I am human.  Does this make me a bad person or someone unfit to write a paleo blog?  I don't think so.  Life is a journey and by sharing my travels, I hope to give you ideas and recipes to take with you on your journey :)

So let's take a step back and get real about living paleo-style, which incorporates Paleo, Primal, and Zone eating ideas as well as physical (and mental) activity, like CrossFit.  I'll go into more specifics about paleo-style as I slowly make my way through the Starter Series, but for now, let's take a detour to clear up some questions and get real.

Is paleo-eating livable?  

Yes.  It is possible to nourish your body by feeding it what it needs.  Meat and veggies, nuts and seeds, and fruit are available everywhere in some form or another.  However, it is unrealistic to think the whole world can change or that paleo-eating is even possible for everyone.  YOU can make the healthiest choices for you and your family.  That much is possible.  I never said it was easy, though.  

Additionally, just because paleo-eating is livable doesn't mean I live that way each and every day.   For sanity's sake, I indulge.  I cheat.  It reminds me of why I don't live my life like I used to because I feel so crappy afterwards.  I fall asleep from my carb hangover and wake up bleary-eyed, puffy, and nauseous.  If I can't sleep within a few hours of eating, I am cranky and tired for the rest of the day.  I feel like I am set back inside myself, looking out through diaphanous curtains.  There is zero clarity and energy.  I am also either full enough to explode or hungry within a couple hours.  Usually both.  When Hungry Again hits, I get "snacky" and have to keep chomping on something, anything.  Sometimes it is hard to stop once I've started.  And if you've ever cheated or read any other paleo blogger, you know these results ARE typical.  I am not alone.  The saddest thing is that I used to live this way 24-7 before I changed my diet, and MOST people are still living this way day in and day out.  So you ask me why I get passionate about food?  I want to help those still living in their carb comas.  

Does paleo-eating work?  

Yes.  I believe this or I wouldn't dedicate my time and effort into making it work for my family and passing on important resources to the community.  There is a wealth of medical information showing how grains and sugar wreck havoc on your digestion and metabolism, leading to all sorts of fun side-effects like disease and death.   This isn't fringe science.  The facts are out there if you are willing to look.  Bogged down by the science?  Use N=1 to see what happens when YOU make the change.  Do you feel better?  Perform better?  Look better?  Give it time and you'll see positive changes.  Cheat and you'll experience the side-effects.  Why would you want to go back to that life?

Is paleo-eating easy?  

No.  It gets easier, but it is never easy to give up what 99% of the world eats.  It is a test of your willpower, resourcefulness, and financial situation to make it work.  But I believe it can be done by anyone.  The real question is: Is potentially living a longer, healthier life worth the effort of changing your diet and getting more active?  To me, it is.  I say you aren't giving up as much as you are gaining.

Does paleo-eating change your life?  

Yes.  You'll see positive benefits to your health if you maintain dietary diversity amongst meat, veggies, nuts, seeds, and fruit and get your fish oil and vitamin D.  You need protein, fat, and carbohydrate.  It will take some tweaking to see what works best for your body, but this is fine tuning in the bigger picture of revolutionizing your diet.  You WILL see results.  But I'm no doctor, so think for yourself.

You will also never be able to see food through innocent eyes ever again.  Try shopping at regular supermarkets and reading labels.  Look around at those shopping blindly around you, especially overweight families.  It is depressing.  You can never go back.

But you are not alone.  Paleo-eating can help you build friendships and lasting bonds with those sharing your worldview.  There are many of us in cyberspace and at your local CrossFit box.

However, also be prepared that eating so divergent from the rest of the world WILL alienate you from them.  Accept this as a reality.  It's not worth the effort and stress to try to convert everyone.  Trust me, you'll lose more than sleep if you get too personally invested.  When I get frustrated, I think of what happened in the Shawshank Redemption when the main character called the warden "obtuse."  It didn't go over well.  While the rest of the world may seem "obtuse" at times (like what the hell is HFCS doing in FRUIT juice?!?), I try to take a deep breath and remind myself how much paleo-fanaticism parallels religious fanaticism.  We both feel like we have something so profound and life-changing to share and want everyone else to join us in this revelation.  We both believe we are saving lives.  Doesn't that sound a little creepy and intrusive?  Zealotry is zealotry, even with the best of intentions.  Instead of preaching, lead by example and chat about your diet when it's brought up by others.  If they are open to change, they will find you for help.  This is a lesson I am still learning myself.

Is paleo-eating worth it?

For me, YES.  For you?

But I am busy.  What if I don't have the time to cook my meals?

Then don't.  There are other options.  Most people from the outside looking in think changing your diet takes a ton of planning and cooking, both of which are in high demand in our busy lives.  I can understand the intimidation.  I know I should be cooking bulk meals on the weekends, and then Sunday afternoon rolls around and I would rather be enjoying myself than cooking.  Weeknights come up suddenly with no food in the house and absolutely zero gumption to cook.  I know.  I have been there.  But I can still make paleo work.  Here is how:

1.  Grocery store meal shopping.
2.  Having a few go-to restaurants for paleo-friendly dining.  (we'll tackle this one in another post coming soon!)

Today, I am NOT going to give you a recipe.  Recipes are all good and well for those with the time and inclination to cook.  What about the rest of us who don't have time or energy at the end of a long day to go through the effort of cooking?  Can we still eat paleo-style?  Yes!

Shopping For Your Meal

It's as easy as hitting the local supermarket on the way to work, at lunch, or home from work.  Since they are almost everywhere and have great hours, they make a great meal option.  Just put together some meat, veggies, fruit, and fats from the lists provided below to feed yourself and the whole family with little or no prep.  Again, this is "in a pinch" eating, not ideal paleo, but it'll help you get by when you don't want to cheat but feel out of options.

There is actually a WIDE variety of foods you can eat in the supermarket.  Seriously!  But you need to read labels and know what to avoid*:

  • sugar in all its devious forms (play it safe and avoid any sweetener and unpronounceable ingredients) 
  • grains (also devious since many food additives are made from them, like the citric acid from corn that is in almost everything!)
  • soy (you have never challenged your sanity until you've tried finding chocolate without soy lecithin)
  • legumes (peanuts too)
  • dairy (assuming you're taking that road)
  • vegetable oils (like canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, and "vegetable" oil)

*Exception: Remember to be human.  Don't sacrifice your sanity for your diet.  You are trying to make paleo work, so if you really freakin' NEED your chips and the only ones available are made with canola oil, then don't start crying.  Be a paleo rebel and buy your chips.  Don't beat yourself up over every deviation from ideal paleo.  What is "ideal paleo" anyway?  Few of us can only eat seasonal, local, unprocessed, organic foods.  The rest of us are just trying to feed our bodies healthy fuel while keeping our sanity.  Make the best choices as much as possible and you'll get the results you seek.  Also, know the hierarchy of what makes you feel bad.  Personally, gluten and grain-fed dairy impact me the worst.  Listen to your own body.  Make compromises you won't regret.

Here are paleo or paleo-friendly foods you can find at the grocery store:

No-cook Meats:

  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Prepared meats in the Hot Foods section as long as they come as close as possible to paleo-style (remember grain and sugar are everywhere, if unsure, ask about the ingredients)
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Lox and canned/bagged cooked/smoked fish (check ingredients for hidden sugars and try to stick close to the Seafood Watch Guide and wild-caught fish)
  • Deli meats (not ideal, but hey, better than most fast food frankenmeat.  Look for whole roasted chicken/turkey breast or roast beef made at the store.)
  • Jerky (most supermarket jerky is highly processed and filled with salt and sugar, and even soy and wheat depending upon seasonings.  For real jerky, seek out a meat market or make it yourself.)

Very Little Cooking Required Meats:

  • Eggs (heck, you can even microwave them)
  • Fish (a fast, toaster-oven-while-you-get-changed meal)
  • Steak (searing only takes a hot pan or grill and less than 15min start to eating)
  • Pre-cooked sausages (check ingredient lists closely!)
  • Bacon and cured meats (I haven't found a sugar-free bacon yet, but I still indulge every once and awhile.  When I do, I try to buy organic, avoid nitrate-containing products, and minimize ingredient lists and sugar.)
  • Broth (check ingredients and sodium closely)--a great starter to a quick soup you can microwave, just add in cooked meat and grilled/roasted veggies from the prepared foods area--or you can boil it, turn off the heat just as you add a fine drizzle of lightly beaten eggs, and stir gently in one direction to make your own Egg Drop Soup--freakin' delicious!
  • Pre-seasoned meats and fish can save some time, but 99% of those I have ever looked at contained grain, soy, or sugar, so I don't even bother looking anymore


  • Salad greens (serve as a salad or eat unadorned like romaine hearts, which I rinse and snack on like chips)
  • Carrots (although processed, "baby" ones are ready to eat and conveniently sized)
  • Prepared cut raw veggies (or cut celery, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, etc. yourself in little time)--think you need dip, try nut butter instead!
  • Prepared Hot Foods veggies (just, again, check the ingredients)--grilled and roasted veggies are usually good options
  • Salsa (check ingredients)
  • Tomato sauce (check its ingredient list carefully, you may have to compromise on the citric acid, but don't on the added sugar)
  • Canned artichokes, hearts of palm, tapenades (technically fats) can all work if you check their ingredients closely
  • Kelp noodles (these can make a hot or cold salad really fast with the addition of some meat, other veggies, and flavorings.  You can also make my Noodle Nosh with pre-cooked meat for a really fast meal.)
  • Sweet potatoes can be baked in the microwave and are delicious with some butter or coconut oil slathered on after.  These are best for a recovery meal after high intensity exercise since they are so energy dense and high glycemic.  
  • Frozen sweet potato fries are okay, but they usually take way too long to cook and often include sugar, wheat, and soy.  Not really a quick, go-to meal.  You can cook shredded hash browns quicker, in the pan, but browning takes forever and potatoes aren't ideal since they are so high glycemic.  If you really crave them, go for it, though!  There is worse you could do for your body than eat a potato...
  • Sweet Potato, Beet, Cassava, Plantain, or Potato chips made with non-vegetable oil like olive oil or avocado oil (avoid canola, sunflower, or safflower oils)--definitely NOT ideal or for every day, but heck, once in a while live a little without straying too far from paleo ideals


  • Raw choices like apples, peaches, pears, plums, berries, mango, banana, etc.  (note: try to stay as low glycemic as possible so that they are more filling and less sugary, unless you are recovering from a bout of metabolic activity).  Microwave sliced fruit for a warm alternative (add some Ceylon cinnamon for spice!)
  • Lemon juice is great to use for salad dressing (along with a fat, see below) or add to water (especially sparkling mineral water for a delicious soda-replacement--no sugar necessary!)
  • Dried fruit if you are in a pinch (remember it's very sugary, and check ingredients to avoid those with added sugar and sulfites)
  • Kombucha (You know I don't like fruit juice very much, but the probiotics overbalance the little juice in there, promoting healthy digestion)
  • Coconut water (weird that the coconut flesh is a fat, but the liquid is almost all carb with a lot of potassium and good electrolyte replenishment)
  • Applesauce if unsweetened 
  • Frozen fruit can easily be microwaved to defrost and heat if desired.  Add some cinnamon and you have a meal!  


  • Nuts (watch the ingredients in seasoned nuts since sugar, soy, and wheat are often used; also avoid peanuts--a legume)
  • Seeds (ditto)
  • Nut butter (remember peanuts are legumes, so stick with almond butter, cashew butter, decadent macadamia nut butter, and the rare find of coconut butter)
  • Avocados
  • Coconut oil (extra virgin, unrefined)--yes, you can eat this from the jar!
  • Guacamole (check ingredients)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (drizzle it on!)
  • Nut Oils (like walnut, hazelnut, almond, etc.  great on salads!)
  • Animal fats like butter, ghee, lard, pork fat, bacon (who are we kidding, it's more fat than protein), etc. for quick cooking meals like eggs

Examples of Grocery Store Meals:

  • Breakfast: hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and nuts
  • Lunch: boxed salad greens, lemon for dressing, handful of nuts or avocado, Hot Foods meat or deli meat or smoked fish (don't forget a fork!  lemon juice stings when you eat with your hands!)
  • Dinner: rotisserie chicken, romaine hearts, guacamole, and salsa for quick chicken tacos

Easy!  And don't worry.  We've all been there.  Eat mindfully and try to stay paleo-style as much as possible to reap the rewards.  And the rewards truly speak for themselves.  You aren't giving up as much as you are gaining.  Trust me.