Friday, April 23, 2010

Did You Say Breadsticks?

OMG.  I just made the MOST delicious awesomeness known to man.  Cauliflower + cheese + egg = "bread" stick divinity.  Seriously, these rock.  They fulfilled my craving for pizza and since I come from the New York area where pizza is at the right hand of Jesus, well, that definitely is saying something.  Seal of approval?  My husband, who fondly remembers crunchy breadsticks from the non-paleo past and who would rather chew on plastic wrappers than eat cauliflower rice or even smell cauliflower rice, has given this recipe two thumbs and two big toes up.  He also enjoyed the gaseous aftereffects that come with eating any Brassica veggie, which he so thoughtfully wafted in my general direction :)  See remedies in that aforelinked post.

My inspiration: The Lighter Side of Low-Carb and author Cleochatra's Cauliflower Breadsticks recipe.  The pictures there are just fantastic--please check out her site!  She is awesome!

Now, I would just stop there and tell everyone to visit her site and that be that.  However, while researching the recipes, I found a few pitfalls.  I had one myself when I spread her pizza "dough" too thin and resurfaced my sheet pan.  Fun cleaning!  I also tried adding more cheese in the second stage and that was more trouble than it was worth.  No need--more will just end up on the pan.  Some people had trouble getting the breadsticks to remain solid, and sometimes crunchiness was difficult to achieve.  Almost all loved them and their flavor, but more refinement and painstaking explanation might help.  So through trial and error, I experimented with her recipe to try to find something that worked well and could be duplicated.  While by no means foolproof, I definitely think that the crunchy, cheesiness grail is well worth the quest.  Let me know how your journey goes!  NOTE: credit for inventing the proportions and basic method of cooking are due to Cleochatra and this recipe in no way replicates hers to steal her steam.  I am merely giving my version of hers with tweaks that worked for me and got me excellent results.  Try her recipe, try my variation on her theme, I don't care--just enjoy these cheesy treats!

So here is my version, happily named I Can't Believe It's Not Bread Sticks!

First: A Note about Cheese

Yes, the Paleo police found me.  I have degenerated to include some Neolithic dairy in my diet.  So sue me.  (No, don't really, please.  Read the side-bar for my medical advice opt out :) ).  So I did come back to dairy, but I did so responsibly.  First, I eliminated it from the diet entirely for a long time (say over 2 months).  Then, I reintroduced it slowly, noticing how different products made me feel and what kinds of dairy I could digest and which ones I couldn't.  The aftereffects are pretty obvious if you can't take dairy well.

I found that I love butter, both inside and out.  Green light there.  Cheese is another story.  I can tolerate raw cheese, especially raw goat cheese like the cheddar I used below (goat milk has different proteins than cow's milk, and they are more similar to human proteins, hence easier digestion).  I bet the raw cheese I tolerate best is grass-fed at least in part, but without that on the label, I can't be sure.  I have heard all aged cheese from outside the US is grass-fed, but that will take more research to validate.  I can also tolerate grass-fed cheese pretty well (actually, I think the processing has more of an adverse effect on me than than not confirmed 100% grass-fed).  Raw grass-fed is probably golden, but I haven't found it often.  Conventional cheese made from grain-fed animals and processed to death with pasteurization and homogenization is crap for me digestively, literally.

Think raw milk is dangerous, think again.  That is what "The Man" wants you to think to repress small farmers feeding for their animals real food and producing whole, real foods from them.  They threaten the Dairy Industry and our processed grain-based economy.  How is raw milk healthy?  Read Raw Milk Facts for the benefits with a slew of references.  We'll get into it more in that dairy Starter Series in the future.  Why raw?  The processing of milk lets it decompose more rapidly and opens the door to invading bacteria.  Organic Pastures, a producer of raw dairy products, describes what processing does:
6. What happens to bacteria in pasteurized milk after pasteurization?
After pasteurization, bacteria found naturally in milk are killed. During the high temperature heating process, cell bodies of these bacteria are ruptured and their contents are spilled, releasing intracellular proteins. This causes many milk drinkers to suffer histamine or allergic reactions. Almost all of these same consumers can drink raw milk and not have allergies. The high levels of bacteria permitted in milk intended for pasteurization are still found in pasteurized milk; they are just dead and not removed by the process.
7. What is homogenization?
Homogenization is the process of destroying the natural butter fat cells found in raw natural milk. This process uses extreme pressure to break apart the soft buoyant fat cells, which cause the remaining small fat pieces to blend into milk and no longer float to the top making the cream line. Some European countries have studies that show that this process is dangerous and may strongly contribute to heart disease and arterial plaguing. Our FDA disputes these findings under pressure from the strong dairy lobby. Homogenization is not a required step, but rather a step of convenience to deny the consumer the ability to see how much cream is actually in the milk they buy.
The rest of that FAQ is well worth the read.  Hell, even your salad is contaminated, so am I crazy to prefer dairy with healthy bacteria who are winning the bacterial war and confer so many probiotic advantages?   To me, it is well worth whatever "risk" the dairy conglomerate has scared us into believing.  I find it fascinating that even lactose intolerant folks can partake in raw, whole fat dairy.  Doesn't that say something profound?

Nourish and not harm.  Raw dairy seems on the right path whereas products from sick cows fed grain that's so toxic to their bodies they have to be pumped full of antibiotics to survive and are injected with hormones to speed their maturity just doesn't cut it.  No wonder it needs processing--how much worse would it be raw?

Now, even though I enjoy some dairy and wouldn't mind if others partook in raw, grass-fed, high-fat dairy too--I by no means think it is essential for anyone, even growing kids.  On a paleo diet, you can get all the calcium you need from fish and green leafy veggies.  Without grains mucking up your digestion, you can absorb calcium much more efficiently from your food (as long as you have adequate vitamin D to absorb it--get tested!).  The problem arises when kids live on grains and have a high acid load in their diet.  Check out what Loren Cordain, The Paleo Diet author, has to say about acid-base balance.  And please don't even get me started about soy milk.  The answer is NO.

Of course, with anything, keep your goals in mind.  Ever hear of the GOMAD rule for powerlifters to drink a Gallon Of Milk A Day to bulk up?  If you don't want to get 70's Big, you might want to limit your milk intake and stick to high fat dairy whenever possible, if you do partake.  Why high fat?  Because saturated fat is GOOD for you.  For realz.  For those of you still drinking skim milk, I weep for you.  You do realize that without the fat you can't absorb the proteins, vitamins, or calcium, right?  Okay, just checking.  So if fat is so good for us, why does milk lead to weight gain?  Hint: it's not the fat!  The answer begins with a big C, and it's also the largest macronutrient percentage in milk.  Hence, choose full fat, high fat dairy if you DON'T want to to get fat.  How crazy is that?!?

Bottom Line: Enjoy the health benefits and deliciousness of full-fat dairy IF your body allows it and only IF you want to!

Now, without further ado, on to the recipe!!!

I Can't Believe It's Not Breadsticks (variation of Cleochatra's Cauliflower Breadsticks)
Can you say crunchy?  Can you say cheesy?  I have already said enough.  
Quantity: Makes about eight 5" sticks per batch and I definitely suggest making more than one!  
Cooking Time: Prep is about 15 minutes, Cooking is about 45 minutes, so a hour start to finish--BUT I'll give you some time-saving tips so that you can skip prep the next time you make them!

Ingredients for 1 batch:

  • 1 small cauliflower (or more to get the prep work done for next time)--we want 1 cup of riced cauliflower for each batch--note: mashed cauliflower would probably work just fine too, so mashing or ricing is up to you--we just want it fine and mushy

TIME SAVING TIP: rice (or cook and mash) a large batch of cauliflower, measure out what you want to use today, put the rest in a freezer bag, and freeze until you need it again.  Thaw in the refrigerator (takes a day--so take it out the day before you want to use it or use quick defrost methods like cool water submersion for more closer to instant gratification).

  • 1 cup of shredded raw goat cheddar (like Greenbank Farms from WA) or raw grassfed cheddar if you can find it (more if you want to prep for next time) or try other raw grass-fed cheeses

TIME SAVING TIP: shred a whole brick--mine made 5 cups of finely shredded cheese from a 13oz (0.81lb) brick.  That's 5 batches, baby!  Store covered in the refrigerator until you feel the urge.

  • 1 egg (yes, make it pastured, farm-raised, or omega-enriched if possible)

TIME SAVING TIP: have more eggs on hand.  You are NOT going to want just one batch of these!  Believe me!

  • Spices of your choice.  Pizza spice example: dried oregano, dried (or fresh?) basil, and garlic powder (and a dash of kosher salt) impart a nice pizza-y flavor, and red pepper flakes provide a kick.  Add them on top of the sticks before baking or add the spices to the batter.  Your choice.  

food processor or chef's knife or grater to rice the cauliflower
     chef's knife and cutting board to cut the cauliflower into food processor-able bits
covered casserole dish to microwave the rice (or cook cauliflower before ricing, your choice)
close-wired strainer
2 sheet pans (one for drying out the strained, cooked cauliflower rice and the other for baking)
BEST choice: a shallow, small baking dish like my 8x11.5 pyrex is PERFECT for a double batch--alternatively: a larger baking dish (will require longer first baking to set and makes 3 batches at once) or loaf pans (one needed per batch, I used 9x5--the wider the base, the better since you want these thin and crunchy)
parchment paper (might need scissors to cut it)
mixing bowls (one small, one medium)
cooling rack
optional: bench scrapper or pizza-cutter

Method to the Madness: Twice Baking

Okay, two options: 1.  Rice your cauliflower (forget how?  Check out my Cauliflower Rice post), then microwave it, covered, in the casserole dish for a few minutes (stirring once) until hot and mushy, or 2. Cook your cauliflower (fresh with a little water or frozen without water) in a casserole dish, covered, for a few minutes (stir intermittently) until hot and mushy, then let it cool a little and rice it or mash it (limited to the food processor now).  While the second option is great for the ease of using frozen cauliflower without defrosting, I didn't try this route, so proceed at your own risk.  I know that the end product you want to achieve is a mushy, finely-grained, close-to-mashed-potato-consistency rice.  I went the first route with freshly riced rice and another time tried it with frozen, thawed rice.  Both worked perfectly.  Microwaving took me 4 minutes with a stir half-way through.  It might take more time using fresh cauliflower.

Once you have your cooked rice/mash, drain it in batches in a close-wired strainer (press with a spoon to get the water out).  I gave up before mine was bone-dry and just spread it out on a baking sheet to further dry out while I prepped the batches.

Now, prep your baking dish or loaf pan, or multiple if you are smart enough to make more than one batch at a time.  Two batches are required if you actually want to share.  Or if you would just like more for yourself, that's cool.  Don't kid yourself about leftovers, though.  There won't be any.  I had no problem baking one baking dish (makes two batches at once) or two loaf pans (one batch each) at once set in the middle of the oven preheated to 350 degrees (you can stuff the oven with more batches, but just be aware that the cooking time will increase).  Start preheating to 350 degrees now.  Now this is why the easiest option is a small baking dish: one piece of parchment for the whole process!!!  Cut parchment paper to fit your sheet pan.  It just needs to cover the bottom, not travel up the sides.  Take that piece and put it in your baking dish.  It should overflow the baking dish, which is fine.  DON'T CUT IT.  It might not stay yet, but once you plop the dough in and spread it out, it'll be fine.  We'll use it again for the second stage and it'll be perfect!  If you are using loaf pans, you need two pieces of parchment: one narrow piece to lay down first, extending up the narrow sides and another wider piece of parchment to lay across the other direction.  Jam the parchment in there to cover all terrain.  Good.

Now, decide how many batches you are making at once.  I successfully mixed up 3 batches combined without a problem, but if you are using multiple dishes/pans you may have to divide up the mixture.  Remember: small baking dishes need 2 batches to fill them properly, loaf pans need one batch each, and a larger baking dish needs 3 batches and will require more time to set.  Okay, got your number?  Let's go: In a medium bowl, for each batch pour in 1 cup of cauliflower rice/mash (gently measure it by spoonfuls, DON'T press it into the measuring cup) and 1 cup of freshly grated cheese (DON't press to measure) and mix.  Crack and stir one egg per batch in a separate bowl (just in case of shellage) and add to the cauliflower and cheese mixture.  Mix well to combine.  Add any seasonings desired.  Mix again.  Finally, dump mixture into the parchment-lined dish/pan(s) (remember: small baking dish needs 2 batches to fill it, larger baking dish needs 3, and each loaf pan needs one batch).  Press down with a spatula to cover the bottom evenly (avoid a thick center or thick patches or bare patches).

Make sure your oven has come to 350 degrees and whack 'er in for about 20-25 minutes, or until set and the edges were just starting to brown.  You want the top to be set, not runny or wet.  If your edges aren't slightly golden brown yet, just put it back in until they are.  Too light and it'll crack when you remove it from the pan.   Remember the larger the pan you used or the more you put in the oven at once, the longer this first baking will take.  Don't worry, it should be done soon!  Have patience.  I had success at 20min (a lighter, but set "dough") and at 25min for a crispier edged "dough"--however, the more brownage in this stage means the more burnage in the next, so don't overdo it, even if burnt cheese is yummy, don't worry, you'll get enough.

If you are using loaf pans, you need another piece of parchment lining the bottom of a sheet pan for the next stage of baking.  If you are using a baking dish with the parchment you measured for the sheet pan, you are in luck!  You can transfer the parchment from the dish to the sheet.  No mess, no more cutting, no worries!  Yay for simplicity!  I found this streamlining trick amidst multiple batches when I just got lazy--and it worked!  However, a cautionary note about the parchment: 450 degrees is the upper limit of parchment (at least mine), so watch your temperature if you have an oven that runs hot.  I imagine those "safe for use" temperatures are put there for a reason...

Once your "dough" is set (just browning edges, not wet), remove from oven, and START preheating to 450 degrees.  Immediately!  It sucks to wait for preheating.  Now for removal of the Precious.  Start by lifting the parchment slowly seeing if the sides will free themselves without cracking.  If you see any stickage to the parchment at the sides of the "dough," stop and use your spatula to slip in-between the dough and the parchment coming up the side of the pan.  If you see major cracking, your dough isn't set.  Return it to the oven for another 5 minutes and retest after.  Sucks, but that is what happens when you push your luck with larger baking dishes and/or crowded oven.  I know, I have been there.  And no, staring at the clock won't make it go faster.  Just walk away.  Walk away.

Here is what the set "dough" looks like before sheet pan baking (first time I greased the pan with bacon fat--yum!--but parchment is much easier).

If your "dough" is ready, then, carefully pull the parchment out of the dish/pan.  If using a baking dish, simple transfer that parchment to the sheet pan.  If using loaf pans, either try your luck at flipping the "dough" out onto the sheet pan parchment (it helps to fold over the parchment under the dough and carefully invert it onto the sheet pan).  If chicken, cut the "dough" in half so that you can slide a spatula under the "dough" and place each half on the prepared sheet pan.  You can flip it if it is easier or not; I had success both ways but the flipping can be a little hairy.  Once the "dough" is safely on your sheet pan, with a metal spatula/bench scraper/pizza cutter, slice the dough into sticks (I went width-wise to get more bang for my buck) and separate from each other carefully.  Move them around at your own risk!

Once the oven is preheated to 450, whack 'er in for another 15+ minutes or until you reach desired brownage on the top (more time if you stuff your oven full of sheet pans).  Bottoms will be crispy!  Don't worry, you can't really "burn" cheese.  At least I haven't ever...  Once browned to your liking, remove by spatula to a wire rack and cool as long as you can before diving in.  OMG! THEY ARE DELICIOUS!

Storage:  Ha!  Who are we kidding?  Okay, okay, one time I baked mine before dinner and had to wait a couple of hours before devouring.  I cooled them on the wire rack and stored them out of cat's way in the microwave.  Should have cracked the door.  They got a little softer when I returned, so I heated the oven back up to 300 and put them back on their baking sheet for another maybe ten? minutes while I prepped the rest of dinner.  After I heard some sizzling and they were warmed again, I re-cooled them on a wire rack.  The result: crispy, crunchiness re-achieved!  Another time I refrigerated them in a sealed container and just reheated them on a sheet pan until crispy (you'll hear sizzling).  I even ate them cold like cold pizza.  But I would rather have them crispy, crunchy and warm!

So now you have "bread"sticks again.  Happy?  I know I am!

Cauliflower Information on FoodistaCauliflower Information
Cauliflower on Foodista

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Study Everyone Talks About Part 1: Correlation is NOT Causation

The China Study

Whenever I get to talking paleo with people, it comes up.  Inevitably.

"Have you heard of The China Study?"

"But what about The China Study?"

"The China Study is based on tons of RESEARCH, where is yours?" and

"My friend/cousin/neighbor/sibling/pet became a vegan/vegetarian after reading The China Study--it was THAT convincing!"


Okay, so let's compile those reviews and research on why The China Study is NOT an insta-kill to the paleo/primal diet or low-carb approach.  I am breaking this topic into bite-sized portions since it is GINORMOUS (yes, that's a word)!  So today we'll tackle what the study said and the limitations of a study that large.

*crackles knuckles*  *takes a deep breath*

The China Study: What Is It?

From The China Study website (my emphasis in bold):
"The research project culminated in a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, a survey of diseases and lifestyle factors in rural China and Taiwan. More commonly known as the China Study, “this project eventually produced more than 8000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.” 
The findings? “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease … People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored,” said Dr. Campbell.
Wikipedia further elaborates on study size:
"The China Study," referred to in the title is the China Project, a "survey of death rates for twelve different kinds of cancer for more than 2,400 counties and 880 million (96%) of their citizens" conducted jointly by Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine over the course of twenty years.
and provides the authors' recommendations:
The authors recommend that people eat a whole food, plant-based diet and avoid consuming beef, poultry, eggs, fish and milk as a means to minimize and/or reverse the development of chronic disease. The authors also recommend that people take in adequate amounts of sunshine in order to maintain sufficient levels of Vitamin D and consider taking dietary supplements of vitamin B12 in case of complete avoidance of animal products. The authors criticize "low carb" diets (such as the Atkins diet), which include restrictions on the percentage of calories derived from complex carbohydrates.
Bottom line: Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his team found that animal protein in the diet correlated with increased risk of disease through observational or epidemiological studies and meta-analysis.  His recommendation?  Go vegan.

The Limitation of Epidemiological Studies: Correlation Is NOT Causation, Peoples!

One of the major limitations of this kind of research is its breadth.  You can pull so much data together that it becomes muddied with confounding factors and the linkages you make are tenable at best.  Dr. Eades, author of Protein Power, has gotten so tired of arguing against these studies that he posted a reference about them:
Observational studies – also called prospective or cohort studies and sometimes even epidemiological studies – are the kind most often reported in the media simply because there are so many of them.  These are the studies in which researchers look for disease disparities between large populations of people with different diets, lifestyles, medications, incomes, etc.  If disease disparities are found to exist between groups, then researchers try to make the case that the difference in diet, lifestyle, medication, etc. is the driving force behind the disparity.
And meta-analyses:
For those who don’t know, meta-analyses are compilation studies in which researchers comb the medical literature for papers on a particular subject and then combine all the data  from the individual studies together into one large study.  This combining is often done to bring together a collection of studies, none of which contain data that has reached statistical significance, to see if the aggregate of all the data in the studies reaches statistical significance.  I think these types of meta-analyses are highly suspect, because they can lead to conclusions not warranted by the actual data. 
and the problem:
Researchers using meta-analyses set up selection criteria to pick which studies will be included in their final product, which leaves the door open for all kinds of mischief.   
Dr. Eades has a great analogy to share, so read the original reference, but it boils down to:
Problem is they can never possibly think of all the differences between the groups.  As a consequence, they never have a perfect study with exactly the same number, sex, age, lifestyle, etc. on both sides with the only difference being the study parameter. And so they don’t really ever prove anything.  
Observational studies only show correlation, not causation, a fact that everyone doing research and reading about research should have tattooed on their foreheads. 
Correlation can create a hypothesis for further testing.  That's it.  No light-bulb-over-the-head, ah-HA! moment of realization.  Sorry.

So where does The China Study come in?  The problem is that although The China Study definitely covers the Correlation is not Causation topic, it doesn't heed its own warnings.  It still slips down the rabbit hole when it says:
This does not mean that correlations are useless.  When they are properly interpreted, correlations can be effectively used to study nutrition and health relationships.  The China Study, for example, has over 8,000 statistically significant correlations, and this is of immense value.  When so many correlations like this are available, researchers can begin to identify patterns of relationships between diet, lifestyle and disease.  These patterns, in turn, are representative of how diet and health processes, which are usually complex, truly operate.  However, if someone wants proof that a single factor causes a single outcome, a correlation is not good enough.
Okay, I am getting a little nervous.  Correlations are now "patterns." Are they trying to make correlations sound more concrete?  Patterns are usually obvious and if obvious, does that mean they are real?Continuing down that hole:
After obtaining the results from a variety of studies, we can then begin to use these tools and concepts to assess the weight of the evidence.  Through this effort, we can begin to understand what is most likely to be true, and we can behave accordingly.  Alternative hypotheses no longer seem plausible, and we can be very confident in the result.  Absolute proof, in the technical sense, is unattainable and unimportant.  But common sense proof (99% certainty) is attainable and critical.  
Now my fears are realized.  The China Study authors have leapt from correlation to 'truth,' and "behave accordingly" sounds a whole lot like a prescription to me.  In one fell swoop, they've eliminated other hypotheses and don't even have to test their own due to their 'confidence in the result.'  Heck, why even bother seeking proof since it's "unattainable" and "unimportant."  "Common sense" is enough.  Well, maybe for them, but NOT for me.  And throwing out the animal-based diet that we evolved upon and that may even have been the impetus for our evolutionary path is NOT common sense to me!  

Okay, take a deep breath, Kristy...  Watch those cortisol levels.  I am just flustered at how well they can parlay the Correlation is not Causation topic and then with a final jab leave the average reader feeling satisfied that their breadth of research is enough to provide 'truth' and prescription.  Who the hell needs causation when you have those?

Think I am just crazy?  Think The China Study makes perfect sense?  Read Gary Taubes's (author of Good Calories, Bad Calories) thorough article for the New York Times.  He describes the leap from epidemiological study to preventative medicine as skipping vital experimental testing of the hypotheses epidemiological studies produce.  Why is this leap so often made?  Well, it's complicated:
The randomized-controlled trials needed to ascertain reliable knowledge about long-term risks and benefits of a drug, lifestyle factor or aspect of our diet are inordinately expensive and time consuming. By randomly assigning research subjects into an intervention group (who take a particular pill or eat a particular diet) or a placebo group, these trials “control” for all other possible variables, both known and unknown, that might effect the outcome: the relative health or wealth of the subjects, for instance. This is why randomized trials, particularly those known as placebo-controlled, double-blind trials, are typically considered the gold standard for establishing reliable knowledge about whether a drug, surgical intervention or diet is really safe and effective.
But clinical trials also have limitations beyond their exorbitant costs and the years or decades it takes them to provide meaningful results. They can rarely be used, for instance, to study suspected harmful effects. Randomly subjecting thousands of individuals to secondhand tobacco smoke, pollutants or potentially noxious trans fats presents obvious ethical dilemmas. And even when these trials are done to study the benefits of a particular intervention, it’s rarely clear how the results apply to the public at large or to any specific patient. Clinical trials invariably enroll subjects who are relatively healthy, who are motivated to volunteer and will show up regularly for treatments and checkups. As a result, randomized trials “are very good for showing that a drug does what the pharmaceutical company says it does,” David Atkins, a preventive-medicine specialist at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, says, “but not very good for telling you how big the benefit really is and what are the harms in typical people. Because they don’t enroll typical people.”
These limitations mean that the job of establishing the long-term and relatively rare risks of drug therapies has fallen to observational studies, as has the job of determining the risks and benefits of virtually all factors of diet and lifestyle that might be related to chronic diseases. The former has been a fruitful field of research; many side effects of drugs have been discovered by these observational studies. The latter is the primary point of contention.
That latter is the basis for The China Study.  Still not convinced?  Read Lierre Keith's scour of epidemiological studies in The Vegetarian Myth, and her warning:
...until all the variables are controlled and the results reproducible, no conclusions can be drawn.  
Can you even begin to imagine the variables in a study as large as the China Study happily professes?  Remember it is based upon a "survey of death rates for twelve different kinds of cancer for more than 2,400 counties and 880 million (96%) of their citizens."  Even just small studies have nearly unlimited variables like diet, sleep, exercise, family, work, stress, transportation, socioeconomic status, environmental differences, genetic endowment, life history, having an ingrown toenail, etc.  How is anything meaningful ever said?  Well, researchers find correlations that create testable hypotheses and test them.  Over and over again.  Once they get the same results over and over again, THEN they can say something meaningful like X leads to greater risk of Y.  One study of 20 people and one study compiling the results of 300 different studies are just as meaningless when it comes to predictive power.

Gary Taubes (in the same New York Times article) provides a suggestion for critically evaluating scientific research:
So how should we respond the next time we’re asked to believe that an association implies a cause and effect, that some medication or some facet of our diet or lifestyle is either killing us or making us healthier? We can fall back on several guiding principles, these skeptical epidemiologists say. One is to assume that the first report of an association is incorrect or meaningless, no matter how big that association might be. After all, it’s the first claim in any scientific endeavor that is most likely to be wrong. Only after that report is made public will the authors have the opportunity to be informed by their peers of all the many ways that they might have simply misinterpreted what they saw. The regrettable reality, of course, is that it’s this first report that is most newsworthy. So be skeptical.
If the association appears consistently in study after study, population after population, but is small — in the range of tens of percent — then doubt it. For the individual, such small associations, even if real, will have only minor effects or no effect on overall health or risk of disease. They can have enormous public-health implications, but they’re also small enough to be treated with suspicion until a clinical trial demonstrates their validity.
If the association involves some aspect of human behavior, which is, of course, the case with the great majority of the epidemiology that attracts our attention, then question its validity. If taking a pill, eating a diet or living in proximity to some potentially noxious aspect of the environment is associated with a particular risk of disease, then other factors of socioeconomic status, education, medical care and the whole gamut of healthy-user effects are as well. These will make the association, for all practical purposes, impossible to interpret reliably.
The exception to this rule is unexpected harm, what Avorn calls “bolt from the blue events,” that no one, not the epidemiologists, the subjects or their physicians, could possibly have seen coming — higher rates of vaginal cancer, for example, among the children of women taking the drug DES to prevent miscarriage, or mesothelioma among workers exposed to asbestos. If the subjects are exposing themselves to a particular pill or a vitamin or eating a diet with the goal of promoting health, and, lo and behold, it has no effect or a negative effect — it’s associated with an increased risk of some disorder, rather than a decreased risk — then that’s a bad sign and worthy of our consideration, if not some anxiety. Since healthy-user effects in these cases work toward reducing the association with disease, their failure to do so implies something unexpected is at work.
All of this suggests that the best advice is to keep in mind the law of unintended consequences. The reason clinicians test drugs with randomized trials is to establish whether the hoped-for benefits are real and, if so, whether there are unforeseen side effects that may outweigh the benefits. If the implication of an epidemiologist’s study is that some drug or diet will bring us improved prosperity and health, then wonder about the unforeseen consequences. In these cases, it’s never a bad idea to remain skeptical until somebody spends the time and the money to do a randomized trial and, contrary to much of the history of the endeavor to date, fails to refute it.

I think I have given your brain enough food for thought for today.  At least now your first line of defense against The China Study question is that it can provide correlation but NOT causation.  There is NO predictive value through The China Study that an animal-based diet causes chronic disease or that a plant-based one does not.  There are no X leads to Y conclusions possible.  Period.

Feast upon it and we'll come back to discuss the reviews and research.  Enjoy your weekend!

Here is the next part: The Study Everyone Talks About Part 2: The Ravaging Reviews

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Adventures with Grass-Fed Beef Part I

Happy cows come from California (and Hawaii for those in this pic)!

As I make my way through the last of my second half a cow of grass-fed beef *sniff* *sniff*, I have found the need to catalog what I can do with the different cuts.  So this series will serve as a resource for us to find great ways to cook grass-fed beef.

Through trial and error, I've wandered the relatively uncharted territories of cooking different cuts of grass-fed beef (a very different meat than conventional beef).  One difference between grass-fed and conventional grain-fed beef (ubiquitous in the US) is that grass-fed is healthier.  It's packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, CLA, vitamins, and minerals instead of chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, omega-6 fatty acids, and remnants of their dietary grain (they are what they eat).  Grass-fed is also leaner, which fatphobes jump on as reason enough to partake, but to the less naive, fat is not really the issue since fat is good for us, especially saturated fat.  However, bad fat like that which is high in omega-6 isn't good for us, another tic against grain-fed beef.  The fat of grain-fed cattle is also toxic since fat is the storage site of many of those chemicals pumped into grain-fed cattle to get them to survive their deadly diet and abhorrent feedlot conditions.  For more about why we should eat meat and why it should be grass-fed, pastured, or wild-caught read my Starter Series: 1. Eat meat and if you are still confused about fat, read my Starter Series: 3. Eat fat.  UPDATE 4/15/2010: Fitness Spotlight just posted a great reference for why grass-fed trumps grain-fed: Advantages of Grass Fed Beef and Dairy.

Think it is okay to keep eating grain-fed beef because grass-fed is SO expensive?  Not sure it really matters all that much anyway?  Read this: "'Growing Concern' over marketing tainted beef" recently from USA Today.  Choice bits:
Beef containing harmful pesticides, veterinary antibiotics and heavy metals is being sold to the public because federal agencies have failed to set limits for the contaminants or adequately test for them, a federal audit finds.
Sound yummy?
Some contamination is inadvertent, such as pesticide residues in cows that drink water fouled by crop runoff. Other contaminants, such as antibiotics, often are linked to the use of those chemicals in farming. For example, the audit says, veal calves often have higher levels of antibiotic residue because ranchers feed them milk from cows treated with the drugs. Overuse of the antibiotics help create antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases.
This story is not alone.  Look into it and you'll be nauseated.  Read The Omnivore's Dilemma and you'll be in tears.  Now are you convinced grass-fed beef is worth every penny?  If not for the sake of the animals, then for the sake of your health.  I think it pays to know your meat and follow your common sense: eat food that nourishes, not harms.

It also saves to buy in bulk and invest in a large freezer.  For roughly the price per pound of grass-fed ground beef (just over $6), I get roasts, ribeyes, NYs, ribs, filets, flat irons, and all the less expensive cuts (stew meat, ground beef, skirt steak, tenderized round, etc.) and 160lbs of it if I buy half a cow.  I buy from a local source: Morris Grassfed located in North-Central California.   The cattle graze on coastal grasslands like those in the picture above.  They are slaughtered humanely--check out the FAQ (definitely one of my considerations).  They are never fed grain or given hormones or sub-therapeudic antibiotics.  Morris Grassfed also has a cute video series about how their food production is helping to recreate grasslands as a holistic management system.  Here is the first part:

You can find your own sources for grass-fed beef at Eat Wild, a great resource for finding local, sustainable, pastured meat.

So here are past recipes with my grass-fed beef:

The Easiest Meat Preparation Known To Man: Seared Steak
--usable with nearly any steak cut from jewel of the cow ribeye to filet to skirt steak and even that dreaded tenderized round (still haven't figured out the optimal preparation for that yet)

Not Your Mama's Pot Roast
--great with chuck roasts and briskets

Basic Meat Sauce
--one of the myriad of uses for grass-fed ground beef

(updated 1/11/11) And newer recipes:

Noodle Nosh
--an easy, Asian-inspired kelp noodle stir fry

Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Pot Roast
--saves you time with an easy prep and unattended cooking time and creates a DELICIOUS meal to feed  the whole family with leftovers

Today's recipe is for that lunch meat staple: roast beef.  It is useful to have enough meat in the house to get you through the week without running into emergency situations where limited options might jeopardize your paleo-style eating.  Of course, I have a grocery store meal ideas post and a dining out post, but the more meat we can stock the fridge with, the better our chances of success.

I came upon this recipe through trial and error with the lean sirloin roast.  When I tried using it for my pot roast, it came out so dry I couldn't eat it.  Even soaking it and serving it in broth couldn't save it.  Dry as dust.  Okay, the lack of intramuscular fat did me in.  Nothing to melt into the meat to give it a buttery deliciousness.  Second try: dry roasting using this recipe from  Success!  While I overcooked the meat, it was still tender and juicy and the seasonings gave great flavor.  I put a little too much cayenne in the mix and set my mouth on fire eating it, but it was good.  So trying again, I mixed up the seasonings to something I like even better than the first attempt and pulled the meat out while on the rare side.  Damn near perfection, and reached it once I served it with raw, grass-fed butter on top :)

So in addition to the Roasted Turkey Breast recipe of yesteryear giving you lunchmeat for a week, try this easy-prep, couple-of-hour-no-fussing roasting of grass-fed sirloin roast.

Roast Beast: Dry-roasted Grass-fed Sirloin
Easy, homemade deli-style roast beef that is just as good for dinner as leftovers and lunch meat for the week.  
Cooking Time: 1-2hrs depending on size of roast and desired doneness

1 sirloin tip roast, tied with twine, 2-4lbs (more of less, just adjust cooking time as needed)
1T kosher salt (or 1/2T would be fine if your roast is on the smaller side)
1T garlic powder
1T dried oregano
1T dried thyme
1/4t cayenne pepper
1t or about 25 grinds of black pepper
3T extra virgin olive oil (or enough to make a thick paste)
optional: dried basil and onion powder or anything else you like--feel free to experiment!

Allow your roast to come to room temperature (I'll leave it out while I prepare breakfast and it's ready to go after).  While waiting, prepare a sheet pan with foil or parchment on its surface (easy cleanup!).  Place roast in the middle of the sheet pan.  Mix the spices with the olive oil in a small bowl.  Rub them on the roast (all over and under the twine) and let sit as long as the oven takes to preheat to 350 degrees (make sure you have a rack set in the middle of the oven).

After preheating, whack 'er in and let 'er roast for about 45min-1hr before checking with the meat thermometer.  You are looking for 120-125 degrees for rare, but I would take it out at 115 to 120 to allow for carry-over of 5-10 degrees during resting.  The first time I made the roast, I let it go until 145 degrees, and that was overdone and dry.  You be the judge and remember, you can always whack slices in the microwave or heat in a skillet (say, with some butter?) if you feel it is underdone.  Better to err on the side of underdone rather than overdone, since only a thick sauce can really hide overdone meat.  The taste of meat is exceptional and something most of us have lost; so be wild and try it rarer than you normally would to get the most flavor and juiciness.

Okay, after you find the temperature you want, take it out and let the roast sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Serving Suggestions:
Dare I say it...with a pat of raw, grass-fed butter melted on top?  OMG, heaven!

You can also slice this up and wrap around avocado or mango or fill with guacamole for a delicious anti-sandwich.  Works well sliced into a salad too.  Experiment and let me know what you like best!
Roasting on Foodista

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's Sabotage!


You're eating paleo-style, working out regularly, trying to be a good citizen, and you're still gaining or can't lose that stubborn weight.  What gives?  What sinister force so deviously undermines even our most carefully planned health and fitness strategies?  That's right, our old friend Stress.  It has been with us since the beginning and plays a useful role in our fight or flight response; however, stress today is ever-present.  Like hyperinsulinemia (perpetually elevated insulin), stress levels are a serious threat to our health and normal metabolic functioning.  Let's chip away at this humungous topic and try to come up with some anti-stress strategies.  Ready for an opus?  Here we go!

Stress Produces Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone antithesis of insulin--it brings sugar back into your bloodstream.  It is catabolic, which means it breaks down protein in muscle to release glucose back into the bloodstream for quick energy.  Catabolism = breaking down; anabolism = building.  For the nerds amongst you, here's a trick I used from my biology undergrad days: catabolism is for cats and anabolism is for ants.  Need an image?  Think of carnivorous cats tearing into the flesh of their prey as opposed to ants busily building ant hills or anabolic steroids building muscle mass to protect against becoming a "Girly Man."  I know a little something called CrossFit that produces surprisingly similar results with real world functionality! ;)

Want to know more about the mechanics of stress?  Dr. Eades, author of Protein Power, gives a good overview of the specific biochemical process of being stressed.

Cortisol is a vital hormone necessary to your survival.  The roles it plays are both good to deal with the stress event and bad if perpetuated.  Cortisol mobilizes your body to deal with stress, so everything it does is for that purpose, at the expense of normal body functioning.  Everything is give and take.  This is why prolonged elevated cortisol levels are a bad thing.  The cascade continues and body functioning cannot return to normal.  This is bad because it breaks down muscle and plays a role in repositioning fat to visceral/abdominal areas (the kind that correlates with nasties like diabetes).  It can also blunt your sensitivity to insulin, increase insulin resistance, create hypertension (high blood pressure), impair kidney function, suppress your immune system, impair fertility and threaten pregnancy, reduce growth hormone, and reduce the strength of connective tissues (like the loss of collagen from skin).  Yikes.

Need a more personal example of the ravages of cortisol?  Adrenal fatigue.  Think it can't happen to you, think again.  A normal mother of two hit an adrenal wall and it nearly killed her.  Here is her story posted by Organic & Thrifty: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  Yes, it is extreme, but it is real.  Better than just a long list of scary terms that could happen.  Here is another more scientific, but still personal exploration into adrenal fatigue from Animal Pharm author Dr. B G, a pharmacologist.

So we've learned that you NEED cortisol, you just don't always need it sky high.  Cortisol can spell ruin for even your most carefully planned low-carb, blood sugar regulating diet if you stress out.  I am not going to go into ALL the ways you can find stress in your life.  You know what makes you stressed--basically anything and everything.  Most of us are Bisy Backsons a la Tao of Pooh, basically always on the go ('Bisy Backson' is a term defining the perpetually busy person.  It comes from a note left by a hurried Rabbit always on to the next Important Thing telling Pooh he was busy and would be back soon).  What we DO want to figure out are ways to keep cortisol in check when it starts to creep up and stay up.

Ways to Manage Cortisol

So you want to maintain cortisol levels that aren't too high all the time and don't dip too low either, since that isn't a good thing either.  There are a few ways to do this:
1.  Stress-reducing Strategies
2.  Nutrition
3.  Supplementation

1. Stress-Reducing Strategies to Reduce Cortisol

This is important.  In fact, these are the most important ways you can reduce cortisol.  You need to combat stress at its roots, not put a bandaid on it afterwards.  Here are some ways and sources for more information.
  • Just Breathe
Go ahead, it works.  Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.  Center yourself and feel yourself rise to meet the challenge.  This reminds me of something I learned in public speaking: touch your fingers together to feel the comfort of connecting to yourself for strength and support.  You got this.

  • Get Ye To Nature

Yes, the hippie shit works, pardon my language.  If you haven't stopped to breathe and listen in the woods, you are living an artificial life cooped up in your man-made cage.  Be in awe of that which is so much bigger than yourself.  Is the stress you feel really all that important to get so upset about?  Try to think bigger.

  • Indulge in Massage

Pampering is a great way to feel alive and reduce stress.  Stress produces muscle tension that can lead to headaches and more problems.  Have someone release that tension through massage (and acupuncture like Beth Dorsey at Points for Wellness for Santa Cruzers).  Don't have a "someone," invest in a shiatsu pillow and heatable pillow like this.  Seriously, they work wonders and also cover the Take Time for Yourself provision below.

  • Be Prepared 

Reduce your stress by preparing for it.  Do what you can to avoid it getting out of control.  Take notes, make lists, map directions beforehand, practice first, and assemble what you'll need.  Prepare for the situations ahead of you so that you will not be caught off guard.  You will be a cool cucumber in the face of challenge.

  • Take Time for Yourself

For YOURSELF--not your family, friends, kids, spouse, pets, etc.  Spend some time with YOURSELF and get to know who you are.  Read a book, relax, go for a walk, meditate, stretch--just spend some time centering yourself and doing something for yourself.  Sometimes we feel pulled every which way and leave no time for ourselves.  Do yourself a favor and give yourself some ME time.

  • Put It in Perspective

Yes, it seems overwhelming at times, but take a step back.  Are the dishes in the sink really something to get upset about?  I too have cried with frustration at the seemingly unsurmountable tasks ahead of me, but then I try to think bigger and put it in perspective.  In the whole scheme of things, does it really matter if I do the dishes now or let them sit so that I can preserve my sanity and reduce my stress?  Try to pick your battles and know that it is okay to not be Superman or Wonder-woman every day.

This applies to diet too.  I read a good quote from Paleochix the other day: 
“I eat Paleo to live better, I don’t live to eat Paleo better.”
Most of us are products of many years of bad eating and unhealthy habits.  It's within reason to expect our minds to want things that our bodies know isn't good for us.  There is also a whole world out there eating differently than we are.  This is life.  I say: cheat to keep yourself sane.  If you can be sane without cheating, congratulations--you're stronger than most of us!  If you need to cheat, make it matter.  If you try to keep your diet clean 80-90% of the time, then when you cheat, it shouldn't put you back to square one. 

Although critics may jump all over this recommendation--to them, I say: the results speak for themselves.  The results of the nutrition are improved health and performance--there is enough evidence from scientific studies and personal experience to say this with complete confidence.  "The results speak for themselves" also has a double meaning.  If you cheat hard, you'll fall hard; those results also speak for themselves.  Listen to your body and nourish rather than harm.  

It also helps when stressed to keep your nutrition in line as much as possible.  It is so easy for us to fall down the spiral of increased carbs, which spells more hunger, sleepiness, even depression.  Stress causing sugar cravings has been documented and researched, as summarized by Dr. Eades.  Instead of giving in to sugar (in its many carbohydrate forms), try to reach for healthy protein and fat for increased clarity, satiety, and satisfaction.  
  • Get Some Sleep 
Screw the 7 hour minimum or the 9 hour maximum--get as much rest as you need and you need at least 8 hours.  Here is the CDC page on sleep.  And Mark's Daily Apple just had a great post on sleep too.  Sleep for Heart Health is discussed at The Heart Scan Blog.  I can't emphasize enough how important adequate sleep is or how out of whack we can make our bodies through artificial light and activities that disconnect us from the light-dark cycles we evolved upon.  Read Lights Out for more details and here is a study finding a link between cortisol-regulating gene expression in visceral fat being linked to circadian rhythms (our sleep-wake cycle).  Get the sleep you need in a dark room free from technology.  Period.  And invest in a comfy bed--it does wonders! (I know because I had been sleeping uncomfortably on a futon on the floor for the past six months.  Teaches me not to put off something that important...)

  • Exercise and Play

Use exercise to fight stress.  For that hour or so YOU ARE FREE from your other life--it's just you, your body, and the workout, hopefully with some others to share the experience and help motivate you.  We were meant to move, not sit with our butts glued to chairs for hours upon hours on end.  Make exercise a part of your life--not a chore, but something you love.  Use trial and error to figure out what that something is.  Play like you are five years old again.  Do you remember what it is like to see lava between the stones of the front path or feel the giddiness of anticipation as you hide from your approaching seeker?  Find that feeling again.  

Check out CrossFit.  It's life-changing.  I CrossFit, and I left my 9 to 5 to teach CrossFit, so obviously I am sold.  There is something so invigorating about lifting heavy weight off the ground, on your shoulders or back, or overhead.  Just being able to move your body with some sense of awareness to time and space (send your butt back, stick your heels, activate your shoulders, find midline stability) is truly empowering.  You really get to know yourself and start thinking along the lines of what you can do rather than cannot.  :)

Note: DON'T OVERTRAIN.  That leads to more cortisol.  Take rest days--recovery is even more important than the workout.  The three days on, one day off or five on, two off with a week off every couple of months is the MAXIMUM for long term sustainability (for most people, freaks aside).  Many of us need to more regularly take rest days, and that is OKAY.  And please don't engage solely in chronic steady state aerobic training (i.e. endurance only) as discussed by Dr. Kurt Harris at PaNu, since it just elevates your cortisol and eats away your body.  Need proof, check out the physique of marathon runners versus that of short track runners--which would you rather be?

  • Slow Down!
Don't be a Bisy Backson (from the Tao of Pooh).  Not that I endorse the "do nothing" strategy, but I think there is wisdom gained through understanding one's limitations and not being in constant motion flitting from one task to the next until crashing at night.  Take driving aggressively versus defensively.  I think racing to each traffic light, tailgating a millimeter behind another car's bumper, and weaving lane to lane to be a recipe for a heart attack if not an accident.  Why make your life so needlessly stressful?  Stress over the important stuff and live your life one moment at a time, not for some destination but the journey itself.  To illustrate, here is a great story by Chinese philosopher Chuange-tse from the Tao of Pooh:
There was a man who disliked seeing his footprints and his shadow.  He decided to escape from them, and began to run.  But as he ran along, more footprints appeared, while his shadow easily kept up with him.  Thinking he was going too slowly, he ran faster and fasters without stopping, until he finally collapsed from exhaustion and died.  
If he had stood still, there would have been no footprints.  If he had rested in the shade, his shadow would have disappeared.  

  • Be Comfortable in Your Skin

Okay, this one is really hard for me and for most women and probably most men.  We are so caught up in what we "should" look like that we are never happy with how we do look.  This isn't to say that you shouldn't work towards a healthier you, just don't stress out about it.  If you constantly weigh yourself or obsess about food and your figure, how is that going to solve anything?  You are just producing more cortisol and laying on the abdominal fat.  If you haven't before, watch this Dove Commercial for what it really takes to be a model.  You'll be surprised.  Don't look outward for the perfect You, look inward.  Making yourself more calm, happy, and in control will shine through and make you beautiful.  

Bottom line:  Take these steps to reduce your stress and preserve your health and sanity for years to come!

Other Resources: 
Read more on what Zen To Fitness called Staying Out of Starvation Mode in their recent blog post.  

2. Nutrition to Regulate Cortisol

Obviously, proper nutrition sets you up for success.  It's the base of CrossFit's athletic pyramid for a reason (thanks CrossFit Peachtree for the image!) (Note: when I diagram it, I also include Sleep with Nutrition and after this post, I think I will add Stress-Reducing Strategies).  It is just common sense to eat what nourishes rather than harms (which is mostly foods we evolved upon).  We can quibble over the specifics, but eat paleo-style and watch your carbohydrate intake.  Try to keep your carbs low glycemic and low in quantity, except for veggies--go wild with those!  They'll add some important minerals (like magnesium and zinc) and vitamin C that help keep cortisol in check.

Post workout nutrition is a great time to harness the increased metabolic rate that will get protein to your cells to build and repair muscle stressed during the workout.

According to an article by Tom Venuto, author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (thanks Tara Grant for the link!):
Carbohydrate consumed with lean protein immediately after training has a cortisol suppressing effect. High glycemic index (GI) carbs in particular, cause an insulin spike, which not only helps restore muscle glycogen, stimulates protein synthesis and kick starts the recovery process, it also helps lower the exercise-induced rise in cortisol. 
Robb Wolf has more specifics to share (note: PWO means post workout):
The idea of a PWO meal containing carbs (and protein) is to take advantage of a period of time in which the muscles are particularly insulin sensitiveve. We can fly nutrients into the muscle “under the radar” via a mechanism called “non insulin mediated glucose transport”. Amino acids are also taken in during this time and may play a synergistic role in both glycogen repletion but also decreasing inflammation that accompanies hard training. Said another way, you recover from exertion faster. So, what should ya eat? We actually want a starchy carb as our primary carb. Yams and sweet potatoes are great options as they are also highly nutritious. Fruit should be used sparingly in this meal if one is focused on optimized glycogen repletion as fructose refills liver glycogen first, and once liver glycogen is full we up-regulate the lipogenic activity of the liver and start down the road towards fat gain and insulin resistance.
Of course, Robb does have a high-carb or low-carb post-workout discussion here, that contradicts the high-carb rule post workout.  For health and weight maintenance, Robb suggests a low-carb post workout (LC-PWO) meal with protein and fat primarily:
...part of what we want with this PWO meal is the MAINTENANCE of insulin sensitivity. If we totally top off our glycogen stores PWO we impair insulin sensitivity and make it damn tough to lean out. So, one way to look at this is the a LC-PWO meal is focusing on muscular recovery and growth, while minimizing or limiting the effects of insulin or carbohydrate. This is in stark contrast with what we will see in the case of the high carb PWO meal. From my perspective this is THE PWO meal of choice from a health promotion standpoint. 
The low-carb meal he suggests:
In this situation the PWO meal of whey protein + coconut milk is providing quickly digested protein which will reverse catabolic actions of training, with just a bit of fat to suppress the normal glucose release of a large protein meal via glucagon.
...although a low carb PWO meal is preferable for health, for longevity I think an OCCASIONAL HC-PWO meal is of benefit for a variety of reasons. Some of what I will cover in the book relates to two facts which seem at odds:
What is the metabolic profile most associated with EFFECTIVE aging? Answer: the ability to metabolize fat for energy.
What Helps to ensure this profile? OCCASIONAL bouts of glycolysis (large amounts of carbs).
To this end, once one is healthy, but following a low-carb approach drop in one HC-PWO meal every 5-7 days. Post burner is a perfect time.
Although confusing, this discussion is important to have since most sources just point you towards high glycemic carbs + protein post workout and never look back.  I suggest you read up on it to form your own decision.  Here is a great summary of post-wod nutrition information: CrossFit Santa Clara Nutrition.

Additional tools to reduce cortisol?  Limit your caffeine intake since it raises cortisol levels.  I'll pretend that doesn't include the teas I am totally addicted to ;)

3. Supplementation to Manage Cortisol

This is a grey area.  Supplementation can lead you down a slippery slope of dependency on the drug industry that has profit more in mind than your health.  I am definitely more inclined to find what I need through real, whole foods.

That being said, I am a proponent of fish oil supplementation since I buy into the arguments that we just cannot get enough from our diet and that it does so much good for our recovery and health.  Fish oil supplementation can aid your cortisol regulation because omega-3 fatty acids reduce cortisol levels.  According to one summary on cortisol supplementation:
In a number of clinical tests, fish oil has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk in women and men. Preliminary research has shown that fish oil may help individuals cope with psychological stress and lower their cortisol levels. In a study published in 2003, researchers gave seven study volunteers 7.2 grams per day of fish oil for three weeks and then subjected them to a battery of mental stress tests. Blood tests showed that these psychological stressors elicited changes in the subjects’ heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. After three weeks of fish oil supplementation, however, the rise in cortisol levels secondary to stress testing was significantly blunted, leading the authors to conclude that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil “inhibits the adrenal activation elicited by a mental stress, presumably through effects exerted at the level of the central nervous system.”
This is yet another reason why fish oil supplementation is beneficial to your diet.  Check out my last post, the Starter Series: 3. Eat Fat for more information on fish oil.

Vitamin C is another way to reduce cortisol levels.  There is definitely something going on between cortisol and vitamin C--the vitamin seems to regulate cortisol and be involved in its production and regulation (so it can turn it on as well as off).  Here is one study showing a relationship between high cortisol and low ascorbate (vitamin C in the body).  Listen to this researcher's conclusion in Science Daily about vitamin C in our ancestral diet:
Recommending a sharper look at the present RDA, Campbell said he believes that our prehistoric ancestors probably consumed large amounts of vitamin C in a tropical diet rich in fruits. "If so, the physiological constitution we have inherited may require doses far larger than the present RDA to keep us healthy under varying environmental conditions, including stress."
Okay, nice to see they are looking into our evolutionary past, but I have to take some issues with this.

1.) Is a tropical diet rich in fruit really characteristic of our ancestral past?  Probably not.  We were on the move fast and fruit is seasonal, even in the wet/dry climates close to the equator.  Mark's Daily Apple just had an excellent post about fructose availability and seasonality--check it out!  He also painted the scene of our evolutionary stomping ground in this post, which wasn't a tropical paradise.

2.) Fructose isn't all that great for us.  Read Just Say No...To Juice? for more on that juicy topic.

3.) The mixed bag.  Sure, I'd love for people to switch to fruit to satisfy their sweet teeth, but massive consumption of fruit just leads you down the Always Hungry Carb Crash Zombie route--I know, I have been there.  So am I crazy to worry about a food pyramid that still places grains at the base and might endorse even more fruit in the diet (which, I might add are very hard to eat local and seasonally), which further tilts the seesaw in favor of carbohydrate at the expense of protein (inadequate as it is) and fat (relegated to the tippy top)?

Okay, back to the vitamin C story.  Vitamin C as you know from our Starter Series on veggies is present in our leafy greens, as well as our fruit.  So we can get a healthy dose from a rich, varied diet.  But is it enough?  Should we supplement?

Good questions.  I am still trying to find the answers myself.  I had been taking Emergen-C before bed to help regulate cortisol overnight.  I need to look more into the research here, but I read the recommendation from Robb Wolf, so I have tried it out.  I've read that cortisol hits a high before rising (our internal alarm clock) and after high stress like post-workout, so I am not 100% sure why take vitamin C before bed, except perhaps it helps keep levels in check overnight and reduce that morning spike.  Why not after a workout?  Updated 4/13/2010, according to Robb:
Keep in mind that food consumption etc will help blunt cortisol. Overly aggressive management of the inflammation can actually undermine some of the benefits of training. vit-c can be used acutely to reduce cortisol but PWO may not be the best time. Pre-bed to help relax, or during the day to help with chronically elevated cortisol is good to go. 
Until now I have looked past the plethora of processed, corn-derived products on the label of Emergen-C, but they have been eating away at me for a long time.  Updated 4/13/2010: I just switched to buffered Vitamin C, 1000mg.  I am trying out taking it before bed and with breakfast--I'll see how that goes.  UPDATED 4/14/2010: With the need for morning cortisol to keep me awake til lunch, I am not taking it at breakfast anymore, since breakfast is already lowering levels and the berries I have already have vitamin C, so any more is overkill and might lead me down the path of sleepiness.  Trial and error at work!

I have to share an interesting snippet from an online article on adrenal fatigue by Dr. Rodger Murphree:
Individuals with low adrenal function are usually not hungry when they wake up. They instead rely on chemical stimulants (coffee, sodas, cigarettes, etc.) to get them going. These stimulants raise blood sugar levels as well as serotonin levels. However, these stimulants also increase adrenaline and cortisol levels. This curbs their appetite even further. However, the body needs to break the eight hour fast (breakfast) it has been under. The brain especially needs to fed; forty percent of all food stuff fuel goes to maintain proper brain function. This is one reason a person may have problems with “Fibro fog” and mood disorders (anxiety and depression).
Cortisol levels are at their highest around 8:00 a.m. A person may be hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) and their cortisol levels will be extremely high in the morning. They may feel nauseated, mentally and physically drained, jittery, suffer from headaches, and eating is the last thing they want to do. They need to eat anyway! A small snack (avoid simple sugars) is all they need until hunger comes, usually a couple of hours later. Then they should eat another balanced snack to tie you over until lunch. They should never skip lunch! It’s best to eat little meals throughout the day.
Note: I don't fully endorse the article or multiple meals throughout the day.  I believe intermittent fasting can be beneficial too and with low carb intake, you don't need many small meals because you are fat-fueled, not tied to the whims of carbohydrate-induced blood sugar spikes (for more on the dangers of eating too often on a low-carb diet read Primal Wisdom's post--this is so good I may have to devote an entire post to it!).  However, that part I quoted is something I can identify with--at least in the past.  I hated eating breakfast and now that it is back to routine for me, I enjoy it and look forward to it, even if I am not ravenously hungry.

In addition to the summary article above, here is another article from Think Muscle describing more possible supplements, and another from Whole 9 specifying CrossFitters; HOWEVER, make sure you also read this article by Tom Venuto (cited above too) on if we even need supplementation for cortisol maintenance in the first place.  For now, I think I might let the vitamin C run out and do away with it, see what happens.  I am really reluctant to supplement beyond the fish oil, vitamin D, and B-complex (the last one is probably unnecessary).

What do you think?  I'd love to hear reader opinions and experiences!  So how are you going to take steps to reduce your stress?

References used extensively: