Wednesday, February 22, 2012


A friend just asked me for a list of favorite links and resources for all things Paleo, so I thought I'd just create one as a blog post. This will be a work in progress that I'll add to as time goes on.

From most important on down, in my not-so-humble opinion:

Book: Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes. This brilliant 2010 book by science writer Gary Taubes is a follow-up to Taubes’s 2007 book Good Calories, Bad Calories (below), in which he argues that the modern diet’s inclusion of too many refined carbohydrates is a primary contributor to the obesity epidemic. He elaborates in Why We Get Fat on how we can change our diets, and why exactly we need to. Analyzing anthropological evidence and modern scientific literature, Taubes contends that the common “calories in, calories out” model of why we get fat is simply incorrect. Instead, Taubes promotes a low-carbohydrate diet, arguing that the consumption of carbohydrates drives the body to release insulin, which in turn can lead over time to insulin resistance and many other common ailments of the 20th and 21st centuries. Taubes also asserts that the consumption of carbohydrates leads the body to store excess energy in fat cells, but that reducing dietary intake of carbohydrates will result in the body being able to mobilize fat and will lead to weight loss. Read the Wikipedia entry or buy it on Amazon.

Book: Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health by Gary Taubes. This is packed with good science. This 2007 book argues that the last few decades of dietary advice promoting low-fat diets has been consistently incorrect. Taubes presents compelling evidence that carbohydrates, specifically refined carbohydrates like white flour, sugar, and starches -- and not dietary fat -- are the causes of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments. Check out the Wikipedia entry or buy it on Amazon.

Book: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan. Pollan has said that he wrote In Defense of Food as a response to people asking him what they should eat after having read his previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, which to my understanding focuses more on the environmental impact of the food choices we make. In Defense of Food focuses on the health ramifications of those choices. Pollan begins and ends his book with the instructions: "Eat Food - Not Too Much - Mostly Plants". He talks at length about the weaknesses of nutrition science. I was dismayed that he doesn't seem to get into the whole question of whether whole grains (such as brown rice, etc.) are healthful or not. But that is my only complaint, and there is a great deal of good information here. I'd call this book a must-read. Check out the author's web page for the book, or read the Wikipedia entry, or buy it on Amazon.

Website: Robb Wolf | The Paleo Solution book and podcast. Robb Wolf is pretty much the go-to guy for all things Paleo. He is one of the world’s leading experts on Paleolithic nutrition and author of the New York Times Best Selling book "The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet". He is also host of a weekly internet podcast called "The Paleo Solution", with Greg Everett (formerly Andy Deas). The podcast focuses mainly on Paleolithic nutrition, Paleolithic lifestyle and exercise. He is co-owner and coach at Norcal Strength and Conditioning in Chico, CA. He has an education and work background as a research biochemist and as an athlete. Do check out the podcasts -- they are packed with information, and free.

Website: Mark's Daily Apple. MDA is the premiere website for Primal. Since I am more Paleo than Primal (primarily because I am trying to avoid dairy), I use this website more as a resource than a bible, but it is packed with good information and discussions. Check out particularly his Definitive Guide to Grains, and In Defense of Meat-Eaters.

Web page: Why Maybe We're Really Not Meant to Eat Grains. (That webpage actually has a different title, but I invented a slightly friendlier one!) This is actually the first page that started to convince me that maybe grains were the devil. It certainly has a lot of interesting information.

Website: Whole9Life. This is a great Paleo resource site. Jump-start your new life with the no-nonsense 30-day challenge, Whole30. (And join the Whole30 community on Facebook.)

Website: NomNomPaleo. Great recipes. Check out her awesome list of Whole30 recipes (yes, a month's worth!).

Web Page: Whole9 Guide to Fruits and Vegetables (by season). So that you don't do what I did and go to Trader Joe's expecting them to have spaghetti squash in March.

There are also a bunch of links over there in the sidebar. -->

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cooking for the Cooking-Impaired

So, guess what I had for lunch today? That's right -- steak and spinach.

I'm terrified of cooking. Not so much of baking, which involves following a recipe and typically ends in dessert, and is therefore awesome, but of anything involving savory foods and any kind of creativity. I can make a decent omelette these days, that's about it. And I've been very much in a place of What the heck am I supposed to eat? for the last couple of days.

But then I found this. This is from Robb Wolf's Food Matrix:

[Many Paleo] meals can be prepared in the following manner:

1: Put some oil in a pan.
2: Brown some meat in that oil for a minute 
3: If you are using a hearty herb/spice like ginger, add it before the meat, if it’s delicate like basil, 
add it when the dish is almost done. 
4: Add veggies. 
5: Stir it a time or two, cover and set a timer for 5-10 min. 
6: If it’s done, eat! If not, set a timer again. 

This process is how I cook better than 90% of my meals, and they turn out GREAT.

When I read this a couple of days ago, I found it very encouraging. Hey, I thought, I think I could do that! I decided I needed to just start with this, and then branch out from there. It would at least get me fed.

So I hit Trader Joe's. I started with steak because it's familiar. (My plan is to explore some more adventurous meats, but I need to do so slowly.) I selected the most-organic-but-still-least-expensive package I could find, which turned out to be an $8 package of steak tips that should make 3 or 4 meals over the next few days. And I knew we had some baby spinach at home, plus oil and spices.

At home, I heated up some extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan; I browned 6 small pieces of steak; I tossed in some Penzey's Northwoods Seasoning that we had (the jar said it was for chicken and fish -- but, heck, it smelled great), and added some garlic salt; I dumped in a whole bunch of spinach; I stirred it for several minutes, until the spinach wilted completely; and then I transferred the whole thing to a plate, and devoured it. It was extraordinarily delicious. I am very pleased.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Alex's Sautéed Mushrooms (Recipe)

We were doing mushrooms this way already -- and then, lo and behold, they were Paleo friendly!

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon red wine
2 teaspoons sesame oil
8 oz. sliced white mushrooms

Coat the bottom of a sauté pan with the olive oil. Set stovetop heat to low/medium. (On our electric stove, we set it to 3-4 out of 9.) Add soy sauce, red wine, and sesame oil. Wait until liquids are bubbling a little bit but not too much, then dump mushrooms in. Flip mushrooms frequently so that they get coated with liquid on all sides and cook evenly. Cook until done, to taste, maybe 10 minutes or so.

Serves 2 people as a side dish, or maybe 3-4 people if used as more of a garnish. Enjoy!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Our Buddy Stevia

I was happy to read Mark Sisson's post about Stevia, indicating that we "can think about stevia as a Primal sugar alternative with some potentially therapeutic effects". We're fans of Stevia around here. My voice teacher Susan recommended it years ago, and then last year we started using it as a sugar alternative in our coffee, which Alex still does; I don't, only because I've given up caffeine as part of my health kick. And really, I want to stay off of all sugars other than the ones that happen to exist in the whole fruits and vegetables that I eat. But if you strongly wish to add a sweetener to your food, Stevia does continue to appear to be the way to go.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Must-Have Foods

Posting this link here as it'll come in handy for the future:


We're doing pretty well with that list. We bought coconut milk a couple of days ago and used it in a recipe, although we were improvising quite a bit and it didn't quite work. Organic, grass-fed ground beef has become my new favorite thing, since I was raised on beef (the "conventional" kind, unfortunately).

By contrast, there are a few items to add to the shopping list. I wouldn't mind revising sardines (packed in olive oil). Will look for these at Whole Foods. I ate sardines at my dad's house as a kid, and I remember them as being tasty and salty. Collard greens aren't something we seem to eat around here... I think I need to find some recipes. And I'd like to round out our spice rack with the spices she lists that we don't have.

The Evils of Sugar

The latest:

Should Sugar Be Regulated like Alcohol and Tobacco?

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, argue that sugar is toxic and needs to be taxed and controlled. Why it's so hard to break our addiction.
Read more:

An Introduction!

So, I'm Jen, I'm 42, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I'm the mom of 3 kids and stepmom to 1 son. A week ago I started on a new way of eating in order to optimize my health and overall well-being. I'm following the Paleo diet, and it's been so fascinating that I felt compelled to start a blog about the process, partly for my own use as a place to jot down all the relevant information I've been learning, but also to share what I've learned with others who may be seeking answers. So here goes.

I wanted to start off with some background on how I got here. The rest of this post is plagiarized from something I wrote about four days ago, with appropriate updates from the last three days. It's long, and personal, and contains a whole lot of TMI about upper respiratory mucus. Please do not read if you're squicked by endless talk of snot.

Background: I've had upper respiratory issues all my life, starting with asthma and allergies in childhood and continuing to the present day. I've also always had a sweet tooth, and was raised on lots of dairy and carbs, yummm. My dad was always smart about food, but I had more of my mom's side of the family's fondness for dairy and anything that was bread-like in nature. (And anything fried. Mmmm mmm good.)

Over the last 20 years, I've done a looooot of research about nutrition and its impact on health. Like, a lot. There is not much in the way of nutritional information that you can tell me that I haven't already read about at least in brief, and some of it in great depth. I've embraced healthier diets on and off many times over the years, and they've always been a good thing, and resulted in improved health and weight loss. But ultimately the things that impact my respiratory stuff the most -- dairy and sugar -- are the ones I find it hardest to give up. (That also goes for grains and grain products, which I've been learning a lot about lately.) Addiction is a bitch.

So for the past couple of years, I've pretty much been eating whatever I wanted. The good thing is that it hasn't particularly made me gain weight, probably thanks to the fact that I've been skating roller derby for the past two years. But I've had to start coming to terms with how much it's affecting my health in other ways.

This past September, I wound up with a sneeze-fit (possibly an allergy attack) that turned into a sinus infection. That's not at all unusual for me, and for the first couple days I didn't think much about it. But when it lasted for an entire week, I was surprised. When it had dragged on for THREE weeks, I went to the doctor (finally, I know), and they put me on antibiotics… which totally failed to cure it. Eventually I went back to the doctor, this time to an allergy specialist, who diagnosed it as a chronic sinus infection, and prescribed various remedies to get the snot moving. But I was lazy about the remedies, and when I finally used them, they made me feel ten times worse.

Meanwhile… the sinus issues have been present for FOUR. SOLID. MONTHS. This is a new one for me. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I constantly sound like I have a really bad cold. And I haven't been singing *at all*, which if you've ever lived with me you'll know is very strange. The sinus thing has impacted my mood, my relationships with others, and the things I've wanted to do with my time.

As if that weren't enough, I found out from Alex (the husband) that I've been exhibiting sleep apnea. The snoring I knew about -- that's nothing new. But apparently I now do the thing where I stop breathing periodically during the night. I only found this out last week.

In the wake of all this, I finally had to say: OK. Dairy and sugar and bread addictions be damned… It's time for a change.

So I completely revamped my diet. Three days ago.

Alex was the one who pointed us in the right direction. His girlfriend C had started on the Primal diet last year, and by New Year's Alex had decided he wanted to try Primal too. I read up on Primal, and realized that its close cousin, Paleo, would be better for me, because the Paleo folks generally say no dairy, which works perfectly for me.

So my new regime is the Paleo diet. This means: meat, veggies, full fat, no grains, no dairy, no refined sugar, no processed foods.

Below is an absolutely wonderful video by Robb Wolf that pretty much explains the basics in a no-nonsense way. I urge you to give it a watch if you're curious about this at all. The first 20 minutes should be enough to tell you whether you want to watch the rest. (Listening to the audio only without video will get the job done too, I believe.)

So yeah. That's the story. I've been keeping a close eye on the science of it all, and I'm impressed with what I've seen so far. I'm also reading The Paleo Answer by Loren Cordain. (As I understand it, Robb Wolf is a student of Loren Cordain's. Between the two of them, they're considered the go-to guys on Paleo as of right now. Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple is the go-to guy for Primal.)

I have some conflicting feelings about the meat. I love the taste of the stuff, especially beef, and I agree that the protein is good, but the fat still scares me (even though the science I've been reading makes sense), and the rotting-carcass-in-my-gut factor makes my inner vegan hippie cringe. But I'm trying to branch out slowly. (Last night I had ahi tuna! A first for me. More on that later.)

I've been 100% compliant (I think) about having no grains, no dairy, no refined sugar (except that the otherwise-very-organic bacon I ate this week was cured with sugar, as apparently most of it is... need to figure out what I think about that). I've had almost no processed foods (I had some lentil chips on days 1 and 2, and they were yummy, but I'm off those now), no artificial sweeteners.

All I've been drinking this week is ice water, hot tea, and coconut water. It's been perfectly satisfying. I bought a couple of new boxes of herbal tea, and hot tea is now my around-the-clock go-to beverage.

Days 1 and 2 of the new plan -- a week ago -- were pretty sucky. I was still super congested, and on top of that I felt very detoxy all day, thanks probably to the caffeine withdrawal (and possibly the sugar withdrawal as well). Congestion, a headache that lasted all day, and detox-fatigue. Not pleasant.

Going to derby practice at the end of Day 2 helped, as it always helps everything. I never quite felt well -- the headache lingered -- but I did alright, and by the end of practice I felt almost human. (Besides the usual healing effects of derby, the exercise opens everything up and I can breathe easier for a while.)

Went out after practice with friends after practice on Day 2, and was frustrated by still having the raspy, phlegmy voice that I've had on and off for the past 4 months. I'd like to be able to talk to my friends without sounding like Harvey Fierstein. And I slept badly that night, waking up frequently with sharp headaches. And waking up the next morning was characterized by the same attempting-to-wake-from-the-dead feeling that I've had quite a bit lately.

But as of sometime in the middle of Day 3, something shifted. Things... loosened. There was still plenty of snot -- even now on Day 8, I can feel it in my nasal sinuses if I sniff, and my ears still crackle when I swallow my tea. Elvis is still in the building. But… it seems to be moving a bit. It's looser -- not nearly so cement-like. On Day 2 through Day 4, I got a bit of a cough, which kept me up at night for a couple of nights. This sounds like a bad thing, but somehow it didn't actually FEEL bad. For me, coughing is usually a good sign, in a way. It means that the upper respiratory infection I've had has finally traveled as far south as it's going to go, and is about to be over. And this was the first time *in four months* that I've had a cough. FOUR MONTHS this snot has been sitting in my nose, not going anywhere. So at this point I considered the cough a very good sign.

I have a some of my voice back. On Day 3 things started to open up. There's snot around the edges of it, but some things are resonating that usually haven't for a while. I'm a singer, but I hadn't bothered to sing hardly at all during the past four months, because I was so congested. But now I can sing again. Bliss! As of yesterday, Day 7, I still sound congested when I have a conversation with someone. Conversation makes the congested-sounding voice kick in, actually. It's frustrating. I am waiting and trying to be patient.

I definitely have renewed energy. On Day 3 I started to feel like I could tackle the world again. I had a let's-go-get-'em sensation for the first time, one that I hadn't felt in a long time. When I went to practice on Monday night, end of Day 6, I felt FANTASTIC. It was a whole new experience. It really was the best I'd felt on skates at any time in the past two years. Astonishing.

So we'll see what happens next. I'm looking forward to sharing knowledge, recipes, photos, anything that is important to me and may be important to someone else out there.