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Suddenly my sad scrambled eggs and sautéed broccoli “brinner” is looking even more pathetic after seeing Homegrown Paleo‘s Facebook post of the Fried Chicken Livers from Melissa Joulwan‘s newest cookbook Well Fed 2. Chicken liver is chock full of nutrients like iron, choline, and Vitamins A, B6 and B12, D, and K2… but nutrition aside, what Southerner can resist delicious fried chicken livers?!

Homegrown Paleo - Chicken Livers from Well Fed 2

The recipe is published in the paperback cookbook, which is available in stores nationwide and online. Now if you will pardon me, I need to wipe the drool off my keyboard and add chicken livers to my shopping list.

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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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A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the origins of most the grass-fed beef found in U.S. markets so it seems timely to visit the recent salmonella outbreak traced back to Foster Farms chicken products (via Storify). If there wasn’t a more compelling argument to buy your organic pasture-raised poultry from a local source, I don’t know what is.

If you can’t source your clean poultry locally, there is always U.S. Wellness Meats. With autumn finally making its way to North Texas, how about a comforting bowl of chicken soup made with their free-range chicken? Perfect for all skill levels and palates; use ghee in place of butter to make it Paleo compliant.

Thanks for your continued reading!

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“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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Where Does Your Pasture-Raised Meat Come From?

Primal, Paleo, ancestral diets – whatever you want to call it – all have many things in common including the belief that your animal-based protein should come from sources that allow the animal to feed in the manner that is biologically appropriate. Cows (and other animals like sheep, bison, and goats) are ruminants that naturally prefer to graze on grass and short roughage.

Because most average supermarkets predominantly stock meat originating from CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) factories that raise animals on feed grain (including corn, oats, barley, soy, and no grass), consumers looking to purchase organic pasture-raised meat would have to turn to local ranchers and farmers that offered true grass-fed beef, lamb, and bison, as well as pastured chicken and pork.

This champions the return to local, sustainable organic foods, which is attractive to many conscientious consumers and one of the primary reasons I converted to an ancestral diet. Over the years, I became more focused on the quality of the food I was consuming from both a nutritional and environmental perspective. I wanted food sourced from purveyors that were closer to me; I wanted to put a face and name to the food I was consuming more mindfully now. I needed to know that I could trust these sources as I was trying to correct years of damage from making poor food & lifestyle choices. Like many others in Dallas, I know that places like Urban AcresGreen Grocer and White Rock Local Market carry meat from local ranchers like Windy Meadows Farm  and Burgundy Pasture Beef. However like many people in general (especially busy students), my packed schedule demands convenience which is why I often end up grocery shopping at one of many Dallas locations of Central Market or Whole Foods Market instead of the aforementioned local markets. Luckily for me, both chains stock grass-fed beef in a variety of cuts that help make it a bit more affordable (e.g. grass-fed ground beef is always cheaper and more versatile than a grass-fed ribeye, but that I will cover in a separate post).

However, I was surprised to learn that most Grass-Fed Beef Sold In U.S. Comes From Australia , thanks to story on NPR’s All Things Considered. It makes sense that with the growing popularity of grass-fed beef that more grocery stores would need to find a steady large supply. Small local farmers in the United States contend with seasonal shifts (including some extensive droughts over the past two years) that make raising and selling grass-fed beef all year round somewhat difficult. Australia does not experience the same weather patterns and they have an abundance of cheap grassland for grazing cattle. Despite the fact that they are shipping it halfway across the world, it is still cheaper for supermarkets to source this Australian grass-fed beef than buy from a multitude of U.S.-based purveyors.

It is important to me to have high-quality, organic, pastured-raised meats but I also want to support local farmers to reduce my overall ecological “footprint” through carefully considered food decisions. This means that I will sometimes have to forgo convenience shopping in favor of meat purchased through the aforementioned local markets & co-operatives or buying directly from the farmers & ranchers themselves. The pros, which also often includes a cost-savings benefit, far outweigh the cons. I get to know the stories of the local purveyors and I am building a mutually beneficial relationship, one that will sustain me nutritionally and them (albeit in a tiny way) financially. Even some Whole Foods Markets are making the effort to stock meats from regional US farmers & ranchers; the grass-fed beef found in the Southwest regional stores (which includes Dallas) is sourced from Nitschke Natural Beef in Waurika, Oklahoma.  I am happy that WFM actually has a commitment to upholding their core values, which includes serving and supporting local communities, caring about the environment, and creating ongoing win-win partnerships with their suppliers. While Whole Foods Market only carries select cuts of grass-fed beef, it is a welcome start for consumers looking to take control of their health by learning more about their food sources and having a convenient option for better beef.

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In lieu of an introductory post, I wanted to share two different links from two sources on my blog roll to showcase the diversity of recipes in the Paleo-Primal food realm:

Russ Crandall of The Domestic Man showcases the humble collard green in a simple Brazilian recipe known as Couve a Mineira.  It is a traditional preparation that retains the beautiful vibrancy of the greens but will seem mostly unfamiliar to Americans, who are accustomed to stewing collards until the color drains out of the leaves.

If you are already nervous about saying goodbye to your usual sweet treats, do not fear: Michelle Tam at Nom Nom Paleo has your sweet tooth covered.  She shares a delicious-looking Chocolate Pie with Raw Graham Cracker Crust recipe from Kelly Brozyna’s new book, The Paleo Chocolate Lovers’ Cookbook.

I hope you enjoy these links I shared and stay tuned for more food content.

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