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“Oh baby, I like it raw.”

(I couldn’t help it.)

I’ve been experimenting with raw dairy now that I found a co-op in my neighborhood that provides me with amazing grass-fed beef and dairy. 

Now bear with me.

I know most Paleo proponents do not include dairy outside of pastured ghee but I suffer from an addiction to wonderful things like cheese, yogurt, kefir, and ice cream. Now as a kid, I used to drink milk by the gallons… so much so that my mother used to yell at me for trying to drink them out of house and home. As the years wore on, it became painfully obvious that I had lactose intolerance issues so milk was axed from my diet. I would buy organic yogurt and ice cream on occasion but suffer the consequences a few hours later. Goat and sheep yogurt were slightly easier on my digestive system but the tanginess made it less desirable for everyday consumption. What was a dairy-loving girl to do?

Enter RAW pastured cow dairy EVERYTHING. 

I’ve been drinking raw milk kefir and eating raw milk yogurt and cheeses with nary a digestive issue.  And I’ve been drinking straight-up whole milk. The milk is unreal. It’s been decades since I’ve seen a gallon of milk in my refrigerator but it has now found a permanent home here. Rich, creamy, fatty and silky smooth non-homogenized raw pastured dairy milk is out of this world. There are so many excellent health benefits with raw milk versus commonplace UHT pasteurized milk but here is the crazy part: raw milk doesn’t quite spoil like pasteurized dairy. I can admit that buying a gallon for two people that don’t normally drink dairy milk was a tall order. I skipped an order last week because we hadn’t finished it yet but when I picked up my fresh gallon this week, I had to confront the old gallon. Expecting it to be putrid, I gingerly plucked off the cap and stuck my nose in deep… to find a pleasantly sour tangy smell much like kefir or even buttermilk. Collective internet wisdom says this remains safe to consume so I will turn the leftovers into raw milk kefir (and dutifully report back). 

Real food is amazing, isn’t it?

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Advocate

Healing Naturally: Paleo Cold & Flu Tips

With the dread cold & flu season upon us, I am happy to see Diane Sanfilippo at Balanced Bites posting 10 ways to naturally prevent or treat a cold. Even before I transitioned to Paleo, I always looked to natural remedies for cold and flu issues. I have all but cleaned out my medicine cabinet as most over-the-counter cold & flu products only mask the symptoms rather than treating the root problem. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to just suppress that cough or dry up that runny nose for a few hours; I want to get rid of it completely! You can view the full top 10 on the Balanced Bites blog but I wanted to add my personal shortcuts & recommendations:

Homemade Bone Broth – Ideally, this is something everyone should have in their freezer at the ready but sometimes life gets in the way of things and you are left empty-handed when you need it most. During those times, I make a “cheat” broth using a pre-made organic free-range chicken stock (I like Pacific Foods Simply Stock) and I add a tablespoon of grass-fed unflavored gelatin. Why the gelatin? It adds in those vital healing nutrients and minerals that are normally found in homemade bone broth.

Water – Hydration is essential for all of our organs to function properly so it is doubly important to drink adequate amounts of water when sick. You can boost the trace mineral content by adding a 1/4 teaspoon of genuine sea salt to your first glass of water for the day (I use HimalaSalt); do not use regular iodized table salt.

Herbal Teas – If I have the time and ingredients available, I like to make Golden Elixir which is a variation of golden tea used by those who practice kundalini yoga. Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory spice that can help a wide variety of health conditions and not just cold & flu. If you have access to fresh turmeric, I recommend it as I find it tastes nicer than the dried powdered root; I am also extra generous with the cayenne and lemon but I love spicy and sour flavors (sick or not). When I am on the go and need a convenient pre-made tea, I use Celestial Seasonings Echinacea Complete Care Tea. It is caffeine free so those with caffeine sensitivity can use it any time of the day without fear; however, it looks like CS may now only offer it in combination with their Sleepytime Tea formula so use with caution during waking hours.

Oil of Oregano – From a purely anecdotal standpoint, I have had great success with Oil of Oregano as an antibiotic (both internal and external use). As always, your mileage may vary but this supplement has a permanent place in my medicine cabinet. It is the only antibiotic that does not disrupt my digestive health and I have used it in place of prescribed antibiotics for this very reason. I like the Gaia Herbs brand as the oil comes in an easy-to-swallow capsule form; it is also packaged in a dark glass bottle to prevent rancidity. If I need it for topical (external) use, I simply puncture a capsule and apply where needed.

Diane goes on to provide many other great recommendations so please check out the whole top 10 list. If you have any Paleo-friendly cold & flu remedies, I hope you will share your comments.

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Advocate

The Incredible Edible Egg

(I may have dated myself with that American Egg Board marketing slogan but it was too catchy to pass up!)

Growing up, my parents prepared meals in a way that made meat a (delicious) supporting character rather than a leading star in our family meals. One of the star players for many of those childhood meals was the humble inexpensive egg. Yes, there were plenty of scrambles and sunny-side-up eggs but seldom did we see those for breakfast. Eggs appeared in many luscious braises, ethereal seafood-tomato noodle soups, and even a unique quiche-meatloaf hybrid; those sunny-side up eggs topped everything from sandwiches to rice bowls. Alas, my mom eventually fell prey to the nutrition info of the times which vilified the egg as a cholesterol bomb, and our household egg intake dropped dramatically.

Fast forward to present: while eggs have not completely shed their villainous past with the general public, new research emerges that may help change the negative image of eggs. It’s a slow process undoing of years of widespread misinformation and Paul Jaminet of the Perfect Health Diet blog tackled an assertion that egg consumption is directly correlated with colon cancer, a charge leveled by an ardently vegan reader based on a study that used data collected by the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Paul masterfully dissected the study and presented many helpful graphs based on the exact same data to show how the study was flawed. He even went on to state that the data used in the study indicated that egg consumption may even extend lifespan by reducing cardiovascular disease mortality. Egg-cellent news for fans of the egg!

All of this new research thankfully reinforces my choice of eggs as my primary Paleo/Primal protein source. With animal protein making up a large part of the Paleo/Primal diet, it stands to reason that this lifestyle could easily eat up a large chunk of your wallet. Pastured meats, while more affordable than in years past due to increasing demand, remain out of reach for most households (present company included). Eggs are relatively inexpensive, even when purchasing from an organic soy-free, true pastured source (my favorite being Coyote Creek Farm’s Jeremiah Cunningham’s World’s Best Eggs). They are also nutrient-dense and easy to find at any grocery store or farmers market. I buy more eggs than any other animal protein sources as they are an incredibly versatile culinary ingredient. My meat-minimal upbringing definitely made an eggs-centric focus easier when I transitioned into the Paleo lifestyle. How can you get more of this healthy food in your life? If you have a cooked egg aversion, you can always start with an easy Paleo mayo. A good beginner recipe is the popular Paleo mini frittata “muffins”. And if you’re ready to break away from the “eggs as breakfast” concept, why not try the exotic-sounding Ijjit Qarnabit (Lebanese Cauliflower Omelet), served with a side of tabbouleh salad (subbing hemp seeds for the bulgur wheat) for lunch or dinner?

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A Hairy Situation

On the Balanced Bites podcast episode 108 presented by Diane Sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe, a reader submitted a question regarding the potential link between Paleo and thinning hair:

“I’ve been doing Paleo for about 10 months now [….] I’ve noticed that since I’ve started Paleo, my hair has gotten significantly thinner. Do you know if this is a normal occurrence for people doing Paleo? I used to eat a significant amount of dairy and grains, etc. Any advice would be helpful.”

Liz started by addressing that the relationship between Paleo and thinning hair was “not normal, but it is something that [they have] heard people say with interesting frequency.” That piqued my interest as I had been struggling with thinning hair over the last year and it was an issue that popped up frequently on various Paleo/Primal forums. I made the switch to Paleo three months ago and found that the diet alleviated some scalp issues but appeared to accelerate my hair shedding.

Liz made some suggestions on digestion but Diane brought up an interesting point about how some people fall into a low-carb trap:

“If you accidentally go low-carb because you switched to a Paleo diet, and you forget that you were getting, not only a whole spectrum of nutrients from food that had more carbohydrates […] I mean starches in general, whether its carbohydrates or just getting some more B vitamins, vitamin C, remembering to up your intake of those foods when you make the switch, because a lot of people do move to sort of chicken, broccoli, and coconut oil, or they do a lot of protein and fat and forget about carbs, and you know, it doesn’t mean that your body can’t do fine without a lot of carbohydrates.”

What she means is that Paleo followers can often fall into a low-carb trap where they make solid choices for animal protein, vegetables and good fats (“chicken, broccoli, and coconut oil”) but accidentally cut out all carbohydrates, both good and bad. They forget to add back nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources (“a whole spectrum of nutrients… more B vitamins, vitamin C”), leaving the body lacking in nutrition in many ways. A low-carbohydrate diet can sometimes lead to a variety of issues, of which includes thinning hair.

I recalled that I had similar issues several years ago when my now-ex pressed me to convert the Atkins diet on & off for a period between two to three years. The carbohydrate restrictions on the Atkins diet were excessive — some periods would limit the intake to 20g or less per day. Eventually, I wised up, ditched the guy and regained my health & sanity, but my previously thick head of hair never really fully recovered after that disastrous run. Could adding back nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources be my key to regaining my former crowning glory?

Fresh vegetables by Lars P @ Flickr

Fresh vegetables – CC licensed by Lars P @ Flickr

Maybe, or maybe not. After all, thinning hair can be brought on by multiple underlying issues (diet, physical damage, stress, hormonal imbalance, thyroid disorders et cetera), which makes it hard to zero in a cureall. However, I (like many Paleo newcomers) was already guilty of being too restrictive with my carbohydrates and needed to up my daily consumption from <50g to 75-100g. I started adding in more carrots, sweet potatoes and Japanese yams, berries, apples, and even bananas (previously a banana-hater). With autumn in full swing, I am now including some red-skinned new potatoes and starchy carb-dense seasonal squashes like butternut, acorn, spaghetti and kabocha. Diane at Balanced Bites posted a helpful nutrient-dense carbohydrate guide from her book Practical Paleo that makes meal-planning somewhat easier for the carb-challenged. The added variety of vegetables and fruits definitely helped me to get out of the greens-only ruts and added much welcome color to all my meals. I am also trying to correct potential nutrient deficiencies through better food choices and my favorite reference is World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Nutrients Guide. I much prefer getting my nutrients through whole foods rather than solely relying on isolated supplements.

This is a complex situation that will take months, maybe even years, to remedy but getting past the ghost of my carb-restrictive past is a step in the right direction for my overall health (and not just the hair on my head)!

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Advocate

“You put WHAT in WHAT for Breakfast?!”

“Breakfast: the most important meal of the day.”

How often have you heard that old adage? How many of you subscribe to that belief? And how many of you often skip it due to time/schedule issues? Breakfast has always been a struggle for me as most traditional breakfast foods are often my least favorite. Don’t get me wrong: I will eat eggs Benedict (minus the English muffin), sweet potato hash and crispy bacon with great enthusiasm but who has time for that every morning? During the week, I have a challenging schedule between working a full-time job and going to school full time in late afternoon through evening; often times, I also have to go back to work after school. This makes my “free” time and sleep schedule fairly restrictive so I do not have much leeway to make a hot savory breakfast and I am not much for cold breakfasts during the autumn and winter months. Since transitioning to a Primal/Paleo diet, breakfast is made even more difficult as typical convenience foods like cereals are not allowed (besides, they don’t give you much energy and you’re left hungry after a few hours anyway).

I struggled for the first few months, eating hardboiled eggs and a handful of nuts here and there but feeling mostly unsatisfied and somewhat lacking in the energy department despite following a fairly rigid Paleo protocol. I drank loads of green tea but that did not give me the boost I truly needed to get through the late afternoon into the evening. I did not want to resort to disgusting energy drinks so I scoured the internet for ideas and happened upon Bulletproof Coffee. My immediate reaction was of disgust (“BUTTER and OIL in your coffee?!”), disappointment (every time I tried to drink coffee, it only made me jittery and nervous; I couldn’t handle the caffeine), and followed by wariness (a lot of branded merchandise). However after reading through all the comments and considering how I was having some morning energy success with a tablespoon or two of coconut oil for breakfast, I felt like experimenting.

Crates upon crates of coffee beans by Rob Taylor / britsinvade @ Flickr

Crates upon crates of coffee beans – all waiting to be ground and brewed – CC licensed by Rob Taylor @ Flickr

I did not have much to lose though as there is always coffee and Kerrygold butter in the house; the science behind MCT oil made sense to me as someone who regularly consumes coconut oil as a supplement and also previously tried a ketogenic diet. If the Bulletproof experiment turned out to be a dud, at least I could continue using the oil in other applications. Admittedly, I was very nervous because coffee often left me so anxious that it was more counterproductive to consume if I actually needed to do work (and my job requires an immense amount of concentration and focus). It was also an obscene amount of saturated fat on top of what I was already consuming throughout the day but down the rabbit hole I went.

And IT WORKED!

On only five hours of sleep (terrible, I know), I felt bright and energized. I was able to focus on all of my work tasks without feeling scattered or having my attention divided by distractions. There were no caffeine jitters, no horrible energy crashes, and strangely enough, no hunger pains. The hunger suppression was a bit inconvenient rolling into my school hours because my appetite would return right in the middle of classes, which is not the ideal place to eat a full meal. This is the only way I can consume coffee; without the butter & MCT oil, the nervous energy and jitters come roaring back and I’m Miss Milk Toast Wobbly Legs for the rest of day before crashing suddenly in the afternoon.

There are many that do not consider dairy to be Paleo but it is allowed on the Primal protocol. Stupid Easy Paleo offers up a wonderful recipe guide to Bulletproof Coffee that outlines the science, how-tos, and why some might relax their restrictions on dairy in the Paleo context. If you are curious, here are the products I use:

  1. Whole Foods “Three Beans Coffee” Medium Roast. This coffee is 100% Arabica beans and described as “sweet & smooth”; it comes as whole bean and you can grind it in-store. This roast works well for both cold press & hot brewing. It isn’t organic single-origin, wet-processed, mycotoxin-free coffee but it’s super affordable and works for me.
  2. NOW Foods 100% MCT oil. I’ve even started incorporating this as an unflavored oil component in unheated cooking applications.
  3. Kalona Unsalted Organic Grass-Fed Butter. Kerrygold is more affordable but after finding out that they use some GMO feed, I made the switch to Kalona.
  4. Pro-tip: If you are using a French press, don’t forget to filter your coffee through paper or fine-mesh steel as coffee contains the oil-like diterpenes cafestol and kahweol which when consumed in unfiltered coffee can actually raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Yes, I get weird looks (and the comments, oh geez…) when people see what goes into my coffee mug but I just smile and say, “Butter is the best way to start the day.” Honestly, who could argue against that? I know Andy Dwyer would not

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Opting for a Culturally Diverse Primal Palate: Indian Cuisine

Indian spices for sale at the infamous Anjuna flea-market, Anjuna Beach, Goa, India

Indian spices for sale at the Anjuna flea-market in Anjuna Beach, Goa, India – CC licensed by Sara Marlowe @ Flickr

Chris Kesser made an interesting post this week called Health Lessons from International Cuisines: India (one in an ongoing series that covers various countries and geographical regions). I love ethnic foods and Indian cuisine is one of my favorites given the variety of flavors and texture combinations.

My parents exposed me to Indian food at a very young age. They weren’t very familiar with this cuisine prior to arriving to America but they were adventurous and craved food that was more interesting than the typical Midwest American cuisine that was prevalent where my sisters and I grew up in Oklahoma City. I remember my first bite of saag paneer (paneer cheese and spinach): it was lusciously savory spinach, slightly spicy, with chunks of soft paneer cheese. I had no basis of comparison for the paneer; up until that point, the only cheese I knew was electric yellow and came in plastic-wrapped slices or it was super creamy Laughing Cow spreadable cheese (oddly prevalent in Asian markets but rarely found in the traditional Western supermarkets at that time).

My mom and I were certain those delicious white chunks were tofu and so she made prepared it that way at home (as well as making a few educated guesses as to the spices used) for the longest time; after all, this was pre-Googling and the libraries didn’t have much by way of ethnic cookbooks. My sisters and I loved eating that homemade saag paneer and all my parents’ other renditions of Indian curries but it was never as rich as the restaurant versions we tried. Once we found out that authentic paneer was actually cheese and the amount of butter (ghee, to be precise) used to make it so rich, we didn’t eat nearly as much. You have to remember that this was (and maybe still?) a time when people vilified fatty foods and while my parents were never concerned with weight, they naturally skewed towards healthier foods.

Once I moved out of the house, I happily began consuming loads of Indian food whenever I could afford it. However once I made the switch to a Paleo/Primal-based diet, I was surprised at the lack of ethnic diversity in the recipes. Yes, there were Paleo analogs for Italian-American favorites like spaghetti & meat sauce and a small number of vaguely Thai mish-mashes of coconut “curries” but very little by way of Indian food. Kesser mentions three key ingredient groups that make a compelling argument for more Indian food within the Paleo/Primal/ancestral food arena: ghee, fermented grains and beans, and spices.

Ghee: I made the switch to ghee a couple of months ago and I love it. I use Purity Farms but once this bottle is used up, I want to switch Pure Indian Cultured Organic Grass-fed Ghee, as so many people have raved about the quality. Cultured butter tastes absolutely wonderful and if you haven’t tried it, you are missing out on the true taste of butter. I use it for sauteing greens, frying eggs (even adding an extra teaspoon instead of cream for decadent creamy soft scrambled eggs), and even putting it in my morning & afternoon coffee! It has a higher smoke point than regular butter and most cooking oils so it is ideal for high temperature cooking. I’ve eliminated grapeseed and sunflower cooking oils (both exceptionally bad for you anyway) and now only use either ghee and coconut oil; olive oil is only used for dressings, roasting or low-temperature cooking.

Spices: Turmeric! Ginger! Fennel! Cumin! Coriander! I could wax poetic about wonderful Indian spices forever but I limit myself to three: turmeric, ginger, and coriander. Besides cooking, I also use turmeric as a juicing ingredient (raw juiced root) and supplement (dried powder) for its myriad anti-inflammatory properties. I find the fresh roots at Asian markets but once peeled/juiced/grated, they will stain almost everything they come into contact with so use caution. Ginger, essential to Indian and other Asian cuisines, adds a wonderful spiciness that is versatile for savory and sweet applications; it is also useful for alleviating gastrointestinal distress and nausea symptoms. Buy it fresh for cooking versatility (chopped, slivered, minced, grated) and greater control over flavors; I get mine from Asian markets as the price is much better for the pocketbook. You can freeze the root if you don’t plan on using it as often. If you can’t find the fresh root, you can buy the powdered version. Skip the pastes as I find most of those have added canola or sunflower oils. Coriander (also commonly known as cilantro) is prevalent in many Asian cuisines in both as fresh leafy herbs (roots, stems, and leaves) or ground seed powder. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is a phytonutrient-dense herb that can potentially lower blood sugar and LDL cholesterol. I love the unique flavor but some people cannot tolerate it two genetic variants linked to perception of the herb that make the herb taste soapy!

One of my long-term goals for this blog is to successfully convert a variety of ethnic recipes to make them Paleo/Primal/ancestral diet-friendly. As I have been craving Indian food all week, I think it is high time to tackle my beloved saag paneer and some form of flatbread so expect a recipe post and possibly a review of the magical multi-purpose Paleo & Primal dough Recipe soon.

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