Are you eating enough food?

mmm.... steak

One of the big problems a lot of people have when they first wean themselves off of processed and high-caloric foods and transition to foods that are low calorie but nutritionally dense is understanding exactly how much food you have to be eating. It certainly was a shocker for me. But let’s not kid ourselves – it’s a lot of food. Removing those calorie dense foods from our diet leaves us at a calorie deficit that we have to rectify. And the easiest way to do that is to bring on the fats.

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Professor Cordain’s Response to the US News Article about top 20 diets

This is important stuff, people. This is the SCIENCE behind health, well being, and general wellness. This is not about some touchy feely BS diets that ‘make you feel good because you can eat whatever you want, regardless of the actual health benefits (or detriments). The response is kind of long, but it’s important, and contains works cited at the end.

Per Robb Wolf’s blog:

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My ChooseMyPlate – Part 1 – Deconstruction of ChooseMyPlate

My MyPlates

Many of you by now have seen the new USDA ChooseMyPlate recommendations, where they eschew the near ubiquitous “Food Pyramid” for something much more nebulous – 4 roughly sized areas on a plate of indeterminate size, complete with another area off to the side to represent dairy. On the plate are the usual suspects – Vegetables, Fruit, Grains, and Protein (not meat, because we have to be sensitive to the people that choose not to eat meat. To do otherwise would be at the very least rude, and we can’t ignore protein completely. So we instead name that section after not the type(s) of food you eat (meat, nuts, dairy, tortured-vegetable-protein byproduct), but instead the macronutrient that the foods replace. Great. Should we do that with the other stuff? Nah, because then we would have the following: Protein, carbohydrate, carbohydrate, carbohydrate, and that would just look funny and a little sad.

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My submission to Mark’s Daily Apple’s workout of the week.

Weighted squats... because you never know.

This was my submission to Mark’s Daily Apple’s DIY WoW. I hope you all enjoy it.

Good morning, world.

Warm up: Place both feet on ground and move into a squatting position. While squatting, raise arms, bending slightly at waist to stretch muscles under arms on back and ribcage. Crawl hands out until in a push up position and lower body to ground. Push arms up, leaving hips on the ground. Drop back down to ‘gravitationally inert plank’ and breathe deeply. Walk your hands backwards, lifting your body in a pike position until you can push yourself to a stand.

Now it’s time for some movement. Start with a series of high-knee walks and exaggerated saddle walking (knees way out to the side, stretching the connective tissues in the groin). While doing the high knee walks and saddle walk, work your shoulders and elbows, rotating them in both forwards and backwards directions. Increase movement to a normal jog (on the toes, people!) and get the blood flowing through your body.

Now let’s get started. Lift something heavy up to your shoulders (placing it behind your neck atop your traps). Weight will vary depending on your physical capabilities, but it should be heavy enough to strain, but not so heavy that you can’t do the motion – 20 stationary lunges (10 each leg). Focus on quality form over quantity of weight – we ultimately want everything as neutral as possible. I will be using around fifty pounds.

From there, drop the weight (I’m using a sandbag) and drop your body into a plank.
Begin 50 pushups, focusing on chaining as many as you can together. Again, focus on full range of motion, making sure to touch your chest to the ground. Keep a consistent pace, but you don’t have to time yourself (you can – and I think should for an added challenge/metric).
Now do 15 burpees, again focusing on quality over speed.
Finally, 50 situps.
Ideally this should all be timed, so you can go back in 3 months and test yourself again.

Sorry, forgot to add: Walk a quarter mile to cool down. On stretching and recovery, focus on legs, particularly hip flexors, back, quads, and hamstrings. Some attention should be put on the shoulders, arms, and core because 50 is a good amount of pushups and situps.

First trip foraging in the ‘wilderness’

A home amongst the nettles

Today the family and I loaded up the trusty wagon and headed down to visit some friends and do something that I had never done before – forage for nettles! For those of you that don’t know, nettles are a stinging plant (not everyone is sensitive to them, but be warned) that is commonly found across Europe, Asia, and North America. Many a child has been hit by the stinging needles of the Nettle. The upside to these hurty plants is that they’re also delicious and full of vitamins and minerals that will keep you coming back for more.

About Nettles

Nettles are leafy green shoots which are usually found in areas of heavier rainfall and grow particularly well in areas with a high phosphorus soil content. The leaves range from thin and tender

when young to much thicker when mature. The leaves can reach nine inches in length and five or six in width. The stalks are generally fibrous and tough. Both historically and currently they are being used in textiles and cordage.

The leaves are generally eaten blanched and in conjunction with something else (as blanching tends to compress the leaves into fairly dense blocks of green – think frozen grocery store spinach) and provide a fresh ‘green’ or herbal flavor. The leaves can also be dehydrated and crumbled and used as a tea or decoction, or sprinkled over meat or into sauces as an herb. It is quite versatile.

The nettle is rich in vitamins A and C, and contains the following minerals: iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. They are also high in protein (for a leafy green vegetable), containing up to 25% by dry weight.

Harvest

A boy, a man, and a dog go walking in a park...

Harvesting without getting stung can be a challenge. It is recommended (if you don’t know if you are sensitive or not) that when you go you come in the following items: Long pants, long sleeved shirt, shoes, plastic grocery bags, and gloves. The gloves should be leather or latex coated cotton gloves. (Pro Tip: Special care should be made to ensure the back sides of the gloves are coated in latex also. Particularly the fingers.) Additional protection may be garnered by wrapping thin or compromised locations with electrical tape. (Pro Tip: long sleeves with thumb holes might come in handy to protect from the sleeve slipping up and exposing your wrists.) Once you have these items, all you need is a nettle patch to tromp through to look for tasty-looking ones. From there it’s a simple matter of snapping the plant off at the midpoint or so and stuffing it in the sack. Repeat until your sacks are full. Then we get to head home for more adventures! (for more on harvesting stinging nettles, check out learning herbs‘ article on how to harvest without gloves!).

Preparation

Preparation is easy if involved. This is performed in 4 steps.

  1. Soak nettles in cold water to remove bugs, debris, and theoretically stinging (While I did not get stung AFTER we soaked them, I still wore latex gloves to protect myself from any potential stings).
  2. Remove stems and unwanted leaves. Grade the leaves according to size and toughness (larger and tougher leaves are better used for tea).
  3. Transfer soaked nettles into a pot of boiling water. They should stay in the boiling waterfor 10-20 seconds.
  4. Remove from boiling water and proceed to wringing the blanched leaves out and forming a thick and dense puck or ball of nettles.
  5. Package using conventional ziplock bags or a vacuum sealer. If they are vacuum sealed, they can be frozen and kept good for a very long time.
  6. For tea, throw the leaves in a dehydrator (DIY or storebought doesn’t matter) and dry those things out. In a pinch, a low heat oven will work. When they have dried, simply crumble the leaves and enjoy (try pairing with peppermint, chamomile, or lavender to soften the ‘green’ flavor nettle tea has on its own).

And that’s how we did it! It was an excellent day out with friends and family, and we got to get out, explore the nature around us and get back to our primal roots a little bit.

Food is an important part of our lives, and we feel that our kid needs to know that food doesn’t just ‘come from the store’, but rather has its own place in nature, requires real and honest work to procure, and that the experience of gathering food can be just as rewarding as the consumption of the food itself. I feel that foraging and hunting is very important to the primal way of life and once again connecting our lives to the foods which enrich us and allow us to thrive and prosper in a way that oreos, doritos, or any other ‘food’ that ends in ‘os’ would never be able to do.

Medicinal

For more information on nettles, including medicinal effects, check out this link from the Idaho Observer.

References:

http://www.learningherbs.com/nettles.html

http://proliberty.com/observer/20060517.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urtica_dioica

Coconut milk ‘iced cream’ in five minutes!?!

Strawberries!

Even we of the primal-set aren’t so austere that we don’t enjoy a good dessert every now and again. This one is easy, delicious, and makes a delicious iced cream substitute. (In fact, this recipe might even be considered… vegan!) Basically, it’s an easy iced cream analog that takes almost no time to make up and is tasty, wonderful, and about as simple as you can get. Without further ado, here is the LONG list of ingredients:

  • 1 14 oz can of Coconut milk
  • 14oz of FROZEN fruit (we generally use berries, but you could theoretically use any fruits – besides, berries are more primal-friendly, right?;)
  • 3 tablespoons of honey (or to taste. I think that 3 tablespoons isn’t too sweet, but less wouldn’t have been horrible, either).

That’s it. Now for the instructions…

  1. Scoop the coconut milk into a food processor, and blend until no longer lumpy.
  2. Throw in your frozen berries.
  3. Add your honey.
  4. Blend until everything is smooth and the consistency of iced cream.

And that’s it! It’ll be soft, but it’s ready to eat right now. If you want, you can drop it into a bowl and throw it in the fridge to set up further. I’m not sure on how long it will keep in the freezer, but it won’t last long!

Other thoughts I’ve had regarding this treat:

  • Blend then freeze (in an ice cube tray) a can worth of coconut milk. Prepare as above, substituting the frozen coconut milk for the fruit. Add in vanilla to taste.
  • Follow the above steps, but add dark chocolate instead.

Good luck, and remember: it’s about having fun and getting in the kitchen and trying things out!

Enjoy!

Still life - Flowers, iced cream, chocolate and rabbit

Question and Answer

I get questions like these quite a bit. I finally decided to take my thoughts and concatenate them into a single post. Hopefully it helps you, too!

What would be a good daily eating plan?
I want to get in better shape, weight included.

There is so much info out there on carb this, fat that…

It’s overwhelming.

-anonymous

Well maybe it is overwhelming, but there are a couple of ways to mitigate that.

First, you should start thinking about your body like a mini chemistry set. You put chemicals (food) in, and see what happens. The neat thing about your chemistry set is that it has a pretty quick response time – within 30 days, you should have noticable, measurable results.

Second is that you need to introduce some information filtering. Most of the ‘studies’ you see on the news are epidemiological studies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology) and have questionable validity (for instance, by listening to the news, you would assume that cholesterol was the most evil thing you could put in your body, when in fact your body (and brain in particular) NEEDS cholesterol to survive). But I digress. You need to stay focused on your goal like a laser beam. Again, it’s only 30 days, and from there you can adjust as needed. But I think that if you don’t give something at least 30 honest days, you cannot comment on it’s validity or efficacy.

Finally, You’ll have to tailor your eating plan to your own preferences and food choices. That said…

I would recommend a fairly strict paleo regimen for a 30 day period. It’s not easy, and it requires that you get the ‘bad stuff’ out of your house (so you’re not tempted to go back and ‘cheat’). But it is something that is achievable and realistic.

The goal is simple: on the standard western diet, your body becomes acclimated to running off of sugars and carbohydrates (both of which your body needs, but more on that later). However, in order to run off of those types of things (sugars, and specificially glucose), your body will produce increased levels of insulin (for a good description of how insulin works and can cause you to gain fat, watch the movie Fat Head (http://www.hulu.com/watch/196879/fat-head) on Hulu), which in turn can cause your body to store fat. This is only one of the things we are trying to avoid, but for the goal of weight loss, it is an important one.

In addition to higher insulin levels, we’re also looking to avoid items in many of the low level toxins found in many different sources of carbohydrates. These toxins are a protective response to prevent animals and bugs from eating the seeds (offspring) of different plants. These include saponins, lechtins, and phytates (phytic acid), and are considered ‘anti-nutrients’ in that they actually hinder absorption of vitamins and minerals in the stomach and intestine.

We’re also looking to avoid inflammatory foods – at the very least for the duration of the 30 day period. Our goal with this is to reduce overall inflammation in the body and promote anti-inflammatory consumption throughout the process.

Finally, we’re looking to replace high-caloric, low-nutritive foods with low-caloric, high-nutritive foods. This is accomplished by doing what your mom always told you… you have to eat your vegetables. It can be hard for some people for sure, but it’s an important thing to note, nonetheless.

So all that said, what does this mean for what we don’t want to eat in order to fulfill the requirements above (don’t think if it as “I can’t eat this or I can’t eat that,” as it is a sure path to failure. You’re not depriving yourself, you’re restricting what you want to eat based on very specific goals and criteria.)? Well, lets investigate that a little further.

What? Wheat!

First off, the biggest items to restrict completely (at least for the 30 day experimentation period) are ALL grains. Period. This means no wheat, oats, sohrgum, quinoa, corn, barley, rye, etc, etc etc. None. They are gone from your diet completely. The next is most legumes. Most paleo regimens allow for green beans and snap/snow peas (despite the fact they are legumes) because they are mostly pod. Other than that – ditch the beans. We also need to dump the sugar and processed foods. They’re full of transfats (oils tortured out of the seeds and legumes we are trying to avoid) and sugar and salt. You don’t need any of that, so they’re all out.

Finally we get to dairy. Dairy is inflammatory, and you can do without it for 30 days (and introduce it back in, if you so choose, later). The noticable exception here is butter from grassfed milk (see Kerrygold, for example). Other than that, no milk, no cheese, no whey, etc. Just stay away from the dairy.

A few last things to avoid: Juices, sodas, energy drinks, or anything where you are consuming calories through liquid. It’s just a bad idea.

Also limit alcohol intake, especially in the first 30 days. (alcohol to drink, in order of least inflammatory to most, is clear distilled non grain alcohol (gin, vodka, etc), wine (red, then white), and beer.)

Beef, beef, it's good for your heart

So now we get to what we want to eat. Meat is good. It is full of the protein and saturated fats that your body needs, and that we are focusing on converting your body to run off of. The best kinds of meat are grass fed and pastured. Grain fed animals will have some of the inflammatory properties of the grains they are fed (weird how that works, right?) Beef, fish, lamb, and pork are all considered fair game. With beef, go for grassfed, and for fish, wild caught. Lamb is always grassfed, and pork never is (pigs eat all kinds of things, so they are higher on the inflammatory spectrum).

Vegetables!

Additionally, eat lots of vegetables. I cannot overstate how many vegetables you will end up eating. Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) are all fair game. Kale, lettuces, bok choi, beets, radishes, carrots, chard, onion, cucumber, spinach, celery, etc. are all fair game. There are lots of vegetables that are higher on the carbohydrate scale (important if you are working out and expending lots of energy) including winter squashes (acorn, butternut, carnival, spaghetti, etc) and sweet potatoes (both the white and the orange). All are good for you and full of vitamins.

You can eat SOME nuts. I tend to stick to macadamia nuts as they are low in omega 3 fatty acids, which is important when considering inflammation. (They are also buttery and delicious, so that helps, too). Don’t eat too many, though.

You can also eat SOME (like one serving per day) of fruit. Fruit is high in fructose, which the body processes in the same way it processes ethanol, and overconsumption of fructose has led to the creation of a new disease – non alcohol related fatty liver disease… bad news.

Other than that, the rules are:
1) eat when you’re hungry.
2) eat until you are satisfied.
3) do not count calories.
4) Have both a protein and carbohydrate source whenever you eat.
5) Stick with it for 30 days.

Additionally, it is important that you get a benchmark. Weigh yourself, and measure your total inches (measure at the midpoint of each bicep, your waist at the belly button, your hips, and each thigh at the midpoint). In addition to your total inches, measure your neck at as well, as you can use it to help determine your body fat percentage using the US Navy calculation (there are lots of calculators on line, and you need both your neck and waist measurements in order to calculate it. Take pictures in as few bits of clothing as you feel comfortable in. It won’t be pretty. It will show you your changes, and will be important for your measurements.

So, if you’re sold on trying it, head on over to Robb Wolf’s website, where he has a free quick start guide, food matrix, and shopping list (http://robbwolf.com/book-resources/). It’s not hard, but it does require a bit of perserverance and dedication. It’s HARD to find things to eat on the go, so it’s important to plan ahead.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Three Months on the primal fringe – Part Two

30 days

handstands

Handstands in the National Park

I started immediately. No more hamburgers, pastas, or bread with dinner. No sandwiches or crackers. I made it my goal, and decided that it was going to be easy to do it for 30 days.

And it was.

I was amazed at how good I felt. Everything made sense. There are reasons humans like meat and fats (and some sweet things). Just like a goat or a cougar knows what it needs to survive and what kind of food that it needs to eat in order to live and thrive, so does the human animal. But we’ve gotten smart enough that we can turn it off, or altogether ignore it. And when you really start to think about it, that’s not such a smart thing, in the long run.

After a couple of days had rolled by, I talked my wife into doing it, too. It was just going to be easier, it was something that we had been talking about anyway (at least changing up our diet and eating better quality food was), and this seemed like something easy to try for 30 days. With her on board, things got even easier.

Breakfasts consisted eggs, meat, and veggies, all cooked in either bacon grease or coconut oil. Olive oil was regulated to salads, which were frequent lunchtime events. These weren’t just little salads, but rather epic excursions full of leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, onion, mushrooms, and of course some sort of meat. Usually I would top them with a half or a quarter of an avocado, and round that all out with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil (with just a splash of Dijon mustard to hold the whole dressing together). These salads generally fit into the largest tupperware we owned, and usually it was enough.

Squash Fever

Dinners were varied but simple, consisting mainly of meat and vegetables, sometimes a salad as well. Since we were working ourselves fairly strenuously with CrossFit, we decided a bit of starchy carbohydrates were called for. We added sweet potatoes (already a family favorite), and various squashes to our meals. In addition to being good for us, they kept us stocked with the carbohydrate energy our bodies and minds needed to survive the new taxing situations they were being put into. It was a perfect fit.

Additionally, we still had a small indulgence of a small piece of dark chocolate daily. It was the one simple thing that we were able to do in order to keep my wife from going crazy. Plus, it was a delicious way to end a day. Our favorite is a dark mint chocolate we were able to find with minimal ingredients. It’s delicious, full of antioxidant goodness, and simple. Sometimes (usually) that’s all you really need.

Our diet contained no dairy, little fruit, and no legumes or grains of any kind for thirty days. During that time we experienced different reactions to the purification of our food intake. We ate until satisfied, and did not once count a calorie.

Benefits

There were several benefits, for me in particular. I had previously suffered from what had become chronic nasal allergies. The daily and nearly constant allergic discomfort had started nearly two years ago (although looking back now, I can see even as far back as ten years ago the telltale signs of the allergy – and I attributed it to milk… more on that later) and had progressed to the point where I was taking a maintenance dose of over the counter Costco variety Claritin. I had played with my diet earlier, removing dairy only from my diet, but it had really not had a significant effect. Ridding myself of grains and/or legumes, however, did seem to do the trick.

At first, I noticed that my allergies seemed less, but was still fearful of removing the lortadine completely. The sneezing and itchy, watery eyes could get unbearable. As time went on, I noticed I was still feeling better. I started to wean myself off of it, hopeful that I had unlocked the secret to what had been ailing me for a number of years. Within a week I was only taking it intermittently (two or three times a week, as opposed to seven). Within two weeks, I wasn’t really taking it at all. It appeared as though I had solved the riddle.

Another benefit was what equates to rapid weight loss. Yes, we were working out hard with Crossfit. However, our workouts were in general less than a half-hour in length (the WOD in particular – the warm up, strength, and agility training brought the total time to an hour) three times a week. There is no way to burn enough calories in three hours max per week to lose the amount of weight that I lost without the significant change in diet. If the workout was doing anything, it was actually inflating my numbers.

In fact, to look at my calculations I went from 19.19% bodyfat at the beginning of the year to a current body fat percentage of 12. Additionally, over the last month (March 8th to April 20th, it’s also calculated that I GAINED approximately 4.5 pounds of muscle while losing over three pounds total. So in terms of effectiveness, this has been a very effective weight loss tool, though my reasons for doing it were not at all weight driven. (Oddly enough, using BMI calculations, I am still overweight at 12% bodyfat, and what’s more, a ‘healthy’ range – again according to BMI for someone of my height would be 152# – 205#. At 152#, I would be a skeleton dancing around for all to see. No thank you. I’ll happily remain ‘overweight’, thankyouverymuch.)

We saw other benefits, including some you wouldn’t expect. Whiter teeth, clearer skin, and improved mood were all on the list of benefits. In short – it was good to be grain free.

Fast forward three months, and our diet has not really changed. Legumes do occasionally find their way into our meals (rarely and never at home), as does wheat (again never at home). We’ve thoroughly advertised and socialized through our families that this is the way we are choosing to eat, now, and that we have experienced many positive benefits from doing so and are not interested in regressing these benefits. We have reintroduced SOME dairy into our diets, but we’re mostly eating artisinal raw milk cheeses, which are high in flavor and fat and therefore don’t require a ton to introduce that wonderful cheesy flavor.

Additionally, when I eat some grains (wheat specifically, so far as I know. Corn doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue for me), I get stuffed up within an hour or so and have to take a claritin. Beer seems to have the same effect on me, as well, so in general I kind of make it a point to stay away from wheat – which is sad, because I love a good beer. But now I know the result and the cause, and can make a risk assessment before I drink a beer or eat a sandwich. Usually, it’s not worth the consequences and I choose to not have them (and I’ve never yet had it be worth it to have a sandwich, but there have been a few beers here and there:).

So as of today, I’m happy, healthy, and stronger than I’ve ever been before. I feel great and wouldn’t give it up for the standard American diet in any way, shape, or form. (Which is not to say I don’t every once in a while have a desire to have a thick smear of butter on top of a half a sourdough roll – but that’s really more for the sake of the butter than anything else.)

The other massive boon to our existence and well-being has been the gym. We made the choice to try it out, and we love it. We’re gaining strength, skill, and agility faster than we ever have before (in our adult lives). It’s truly been an amazing year.

So get out there, and try life on the fringe. It’s a lot of fun, you feel great, and you get to challenge yourself. If you can’t go 100%, then just push yourself as far as you can. Any time you have something you probably shouldn’t or do or don’t do something, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just part of life. Failure is an option, and it’s the only way we find our way to success.

What about your stories? Have you spent any time on the fringe? What are your experiences or thoughts? I would love to hear them.