4.29.2013

Bone Broth Trial and Error

Since starting this whole Paleo experiment, my wife and I have gotten really into making our own stocks and bone broths. I read all about how the collagen and gelatin in bone broth has been shown to decrease joint pain, increase mobility of the joints and just help our bodies be flexible and move well. Making broth using the bones of the animal is an age-old process that has largely fallen out of practice because nobody's grandmas are around with a stock pot bubbling away at all times, and the knowledge of the benefits of this practice have largely been lost. Of course, people who are into Paleo are all about bringing back old ways of eating and cooking, so this is right up our alley!

Principles of Bone Broth:

What I want to talk about in this post are the various attempts that we've made to make good bone broth, and show how it's kind of a hit or miss process. In principle it's easy. You put veggies and bones into a pot with water and you cook it for a long time... How hard could it be?

Our second attempt (no collagen!), via my Instagram

Well, in practice we've found there's a trick to getting it right, and when you do, it's amazing stuff. We finally got it right with this last batch. Check this out:
That fat was delicious, too, using it for cooking. Via my Instagram

Now, just so we know what we're looking at here that's about an inch deep layer of beef fat on the top. That's ridonculous. Down below you have the stock which carries all of the gelatin and collagen that was pulled out of the marrow of the bones through the cooking process. All of this came from bones that normally people would just toss aside, but our source for grassfed beef, Kookoolan Farms, allows us to take big bags of the bones from our animal home with us for just this purpose! Most people don't take advantage of this, so right now we've got a lot of bones in our garage chest freezer.

How we finally got it right:

The thing that worked so great with this batch is that the stock was concentrated enough to get gelatinous, which means you actually got the collagen and gelatin out of the bones. If you cook it too high, or without the right ingredients, or for too long you wont get the same result, and you won't have taken full advantage of the nutrition from the bones. It took several tries to get this right, but we finally found Aglaee Jacob's tips (heard her talk about her super simple method on the Underground Wellness podcast she was on) and it worked great. The differences were the inclusion of vinegar, and not using too much water. The recipe seems simple, but we found it really helpful compared to others. She also talks about the correct slow rolling boil you want to have the broth going at while you cook it. Basically you want it to be bubbling along, but not at a full boil. We had trouble with this on our gas stove because even one little adjustment of the dial causes the flame to grow or shrink considerably. It was tough to find the middle ground, but we eventually did and it was awesome!

If you have access to animal bones through your meat supplier, or if you eat a ham, whole chicken or bone it beef cuts, save the bones and make broth!

BTW, it's also delicious! I didn't even talk about that, haha.

For more tips and resources, check out these links:

4.22.2013

Individual Paleo Exploration


Source: USDA 1992 Food Guide Pyramid and Balanced Bites Paleo Pyramid, via Caveman Col

 An individual journey

When we start exploring the questions like, "What we should really be eating?" and "What health related media sources should I listen to?", things can get confusing really fast. There's so much information out there, and so many conflicting arguments from all sides that it can be overwhelming. That's why I think taking an individualized, exploratory approach is most helpful.

When you start out a Paleo diet, you read basic information about what things you should and should not eat, such as through an article listing Paleo foods or the using the Paleo pyramid above. These presentations are a helpful starting point because they communicate the fundamental principles of the diet and get the basic message out there in an easily digestible form. However, they are just the beginning, a jumping off point from which you can begin your individual exploration, and not, as many people think, a rigid, closed system.

On this point I think it's super helpful to read Chris Kresser's article Moving from a “paleo diet” to a “paleo template” In it he talks about experimentation and the importance of taking into account the individual variations between people. E.g, some of us handle nuts and seeds better than others. Many people who have issues with milk can still eat butter, or ghee. Some people also don't seem to gain weight no matter what they eat! What's up with that? (My brother eats all kinds of crap and he's thin and muscular.) These things also change with time and circumstances. Are you a high-level athlete? Are you pregnant? Do you have thyroid issues? Are you diabetic? Are you 20 years old or 60?

These things really matter in terms of how your body is going to function. So, of course it comes down to finding the things that work for you, and respecting the fact that you have a unique body, with unique hormones and digestive systems, and the only one who can tell you if something is good for you is YOU. Trust yourself and listen to your body!

So, how do you find out the ideal Paleo-based diet for you??

Removing Foods

One important thing to mention is the role of removing potentially problematic foods from your diet before you make a judgement about them. As Dave Asprey says, you have to get clean so you can get dirty. In other words, you need to build an accurate understanding of how different foods actually affect you. For me, I had eaten wheat my entire life, every day, and I never noticed anything negative from it at all, but I gained a lot of weight over time and didn't know why. After learning about the Paleo Diet and reading Wheat Belly by William Davis, I decided to give the no-wheat thing a go, and after just a few weeks I started to really lose weight. It's been 5 months now and I've continued to lose weight and build muscle in that time, and my energy is great! I've had wheat about 3 or 4 times since then, and have noticed serious negative effects afterwards. Removing wheat from my diet allowed me to get some real perspective on how it affects me, which I never could have done otherwise.

A lot of Paleo resources talk about specific foods that affect some people more than others (great example: the Whole 30 challenge). Check out some of the elimination diets if you're not sure why you don't feel optimal, and cut something out for a few weeks to see what changes!

Be Bulletproof

If you're curious about the Paleo diet I think a great place to start is with Dave Asprey's Bulletproof Diet, which is an "upgraded Paleo," optimal health-based approach. He's just one voice among many, but I think it's a great starting point because of the presentation. Here's an example to show how clearly it's presented:

This shows the range of common oils and fats out there and their relative benefits to you nutritionally. What I like about this scale is that it's not explicitly forbidding you from anything, and allowing you to make your own choices. The only goal is to eat closer to the green side of the spectrum. If you eat some junk food one time you wont haven't failed the diet, and you can just get up the next day and keep working on eating closer to the green side.

My experience is that I started buying grassfed butter and coconut oil, and got rid of my vegetable oil in the house, but when I go out to eat I'm less picky because I just want to have fun and not worry about it too much. That's the guideline I've set for myself, and I feel good about it because I developed it myself and it works for me. I'm making my own educated choices, which is what it's really about. Once again, you are the only one who knows what's best for you! Go explore and keep learning about yourself!

Good luck on your health and nutrition journey!

4.18.2013

All about healthy fats


A book all about healthy fats?

I'm in love with this book. No, seriously, it's amazing. Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan is an ode to a vilified and much forgotten part of our food that deserves a resurgence. Her main motivation for writing the book is that, "There are stacks of cookbooks that tell us how to cut fat, lose the fat, and cook without fat, but none tells us how to enjoy fat."

This book isn't written by someone in the Paleo community, so you'll find some recipes with wheat in them, but her views on fat are right on the money. I want to endorse it as having some of the clearest explanations I've seen of how fat became the villain it is today, what the different kinds of fat are, and why fat is actually good for you. She breaks it down in a very easy to understand way which makes it especially useful for a beginner to this new (old) way of thinking. She hits the point right on the head by focusing on the benefits of eating saturated animal fats over the high percentage of polyunsaturated fat found in vegetable oils. (The book is from 2008, and I noticed a few points where she wasn't quite as enthusiastic about healthy saturated fats as we are with our Bulletproof Diet, but overall really appreciate her approach. She even talks about CLAs from grassfed animals!)

Animal Fat Comparison Chart:

Below is a chart, with information taken from the book, of the common varieties of animal fat and their fat content. If you look at beef and butter fat you'll be able to tell why Paleo-centric people often recommend them as dietary staples. Their extremely high saturated fat content compared to extremely low polyunsaturated makes them ideal for burning as energy, and building the cells in our bodies and brains. I've been using it as a reference which has been helping me keep a working knowledge of what I'm getting from the animal fat in my diet. Hopefully you'll find it useful too!

The numbers don't always add up to exactly 100% because of water and other solids.
Source: Fat

Main takeaway for me: Butter, beef, and lamb fats have the highest ratio of healthy saturated fat to less healthy polyunsaturated fat. A reminder that these are better choices than poultry or pork fats, which oxidize at lower temperatures and more quickly. (Plus, we know about the bonus of conjugated linoleic acid and other benefits of fats from pastured ruminants!)

Further exploration of healthy fats:

This book will answer many of your questions about why the right kinds of fat are extremely good for you. If you want a deeper look into the arguments for eating saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as an in depth history of how the medical establishment moved to recommending low fat diets check out Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes, which is pretty much the definitive text on the subject for our current understanding.

4.15.2013

Thoughts on Paleo Backlash

I recently got a question from a friend asking me what I thought about this article, "Is the Popular 'Paleo Diet' a Bunch of Baloney?" which details some of the popular criticisms of the Paleo movement. After writing her a lengthy response, I realized that this was a great opportunity to talk about the current backlash against Paleo, the responses from authorities in the Paleo community and my thoughts on what Paleo means for me.

Paleo Backlash:

Recently there's been a bunch of attention paid to anti-Paleo arguments, and a bunch of new writing out there on the downsides of the Paleo Diet. The above article being one of many which rehash essentially the same arguments. The recently released book Paleofantasy is a more in depth critique but the essential points are the same:
  1. Human evolution did not stop in the Paleolithic era.
  2. We've never been perfectly adapted to our environment.
  3. There was no one Paleo Diet because humans eat differently all over the world.
To their credit, these are solid points, and they deserve to be addressed. Unfortunately they seem not to realize that these arguments have been floating around the paleo community for years, and HAVE been widely addressed and put to rest. Now, however, the current surge in the popularity of paleo has led to a resurgence of these arguments which skip over a lot of the discussion that's taken place. I'm not going to go over all the main responses to these points because as I said they've been thoroughly discussed in the community. Here are a couple of resources that I have found to be extremely helpful in deepening my understanding of the Paleo lifestyle:
  1. Chris Kresser's Revolution Health Radio: Thoughts on Paleofantasy Skip forward to minute 22 to hear the applicable discussion. He breaks down the arguments made in the book and gives what is, to me, a phenomenal response. He also discusses the benefits of the Paleo Diet from a purely scientific perspective showing how there's a strong argument for eating paleo without even bringing the evolutionary argument into play.
  2. Beyond Paleo: From a Paleo Diet to a Paleo Template by Chris Kresser
  3. Is Paleo even Paleo? And does it even matter? by Chris Kresser You can tell I love this guy :)
  4. Paleofantasy and the State of Ancestral Science by Paul Jaminet
  5. Is It All Just a “Paleofantasy”? By Mark Sisson

Now a couple of my thoughts on the subject:

As far as the general argument goes, it has its place. Historically, people would have eaten whatever they were closest too, in order to survive. If something was available, they would have huge incentive to eat it, which means potentially eating things like...partially rotting animal corpses and potentially poisonous foods they have no knowledge of, etc. So, clearly, the use of "Paleo" as a term for defining a diet needs to be put into its proper context. My feeling is that eating paleo is no more or less than a helpful way of thinking about the types of foods we eat, and why they're good for us, and not about literally asserting that whatever humans ate 10,000 years ago was somehow perfect.

What is clear is that there are certain foods that have become staples of modern diets that we are not designed to digest well, and this leads to a whole host of issues in the body. For me, Paleo is about saying, "I am a biological creature whose genes have barely changed in the last 10,000 years. I have a body that needs fuel. What fuel works the best? What fuel am I designed to utilize?" And what comes from that is the recognition that people just aren't designed to eat white sugar and masses of grains, among other things.

We have the ability to look back through history and archaeology and combine that knowledge with modern science to come to the best conclusions about what the healthiest diets consist of--and that, to me is the core of the Paleo idea.
A caveman probably never ate this exact meal. But it's really good for me. (My IG)

4.11.2013

Homemade coconut milk tutorial


Today's post is about how we make coconut milk! I've seen all kinds of tutorials around and they almost always involve boiling coconut, or even pre-packaged coconut flakes, and then straining through a cheesecloth or nutmilk bag, but I say there's a better way! I've been making coconut milk this way for a while now and it's seriously the most delicious thing around. 

First off, I use sweet young coconut, which allows you to use all of the meat in the final product because of its softness. If you start with fully mature coconuts you would have to use the chop/blend/strain method, but then you miss out on all that good fiber! I also think that this method produces a sweeter milk which can be perfect for deserts, but my wife and I love it in everything we use coconut milk for, including our favorite butternut squash soup recipe. So here goes:

1. Open the sweet young coconut

Find good solid surface, and a big, heavy knife. I prefer to use a cleaver since it's really built for hacking away at stuff. :)

Get a good, solid grip on the knife, line up your swing, and then use the momentum of your arm to hack to one side of the peak. This might seem a little scary, but you don't need to put all your weight into it. Do a couple of medium level chops and you'll start to get the feel for how hard you'll need to go. Your goal here is to break through the shell, not just cut the fibrous outer part. 

After the first cut, rotate 90 degrees and repeat. Do this until you've done 4 cuts around the top of the coconut.

Now, if you've gotten through the shell on all side you should be able to remove the top and expose the inside of the coconut. This can take a little bit of effort, and remember it's full of liquid, so keep it stable.

2. Extract the coconut water and the meat

Once you've got it open, pour the water off into your blender.

Here's where it gets fun. You've got to get the coconut open so you can easily scoop out the meat. Place the coconut on its side and hack into it. This might take a few tries before it's open enough for you to pull it apart. I usually use my powerful viking war cry to get it apart, but if it's too tough, just give it another few whacks to open it up further. 

Now scoop out the meat! If you want you can be really careful about the bits of brown, but I don't usually care. It's basically the rind of the coconut, but it's totally edible, and I'm lazy ;)

3.Blend and Serve

 Put it all in the blender and blend it until it's smooth.

Pour into a container and enjoy! If you love cooking with coconut milk, and getting all that healthy fat, definitely consider giving this a try. It's so rich and sweet and good it's ridiculous. It's a pretty simple method, and once you get the hang of getting the coconut open it's well worth the time.

4.08.2013

Grassfed cows in the sun

It's rainy again here in the pacific northwest, but a week ago it was warm and sunny, and my wife and I took a tour of Kookoolan Farms where we've been getting our grassfed beef. It was awesome! They have 8 cows that live on their property, 2 dairy 2 young males and 4 babies, as well as a 45 cow herd that lives on rented pasture a few miles away. Here's a bunch of the photos we took that day.

First off the pile of manure and compost:

This young guy was really friendly!

Maybe a little TOO friendly...
Actually, they have been waiting for this female to go into heat for a while now, and the fact that she's allowing the male to mount her means she's ready! They selectively breed their cows, so after this happens they bring in a specialist in bovine artificial insemination (another local farmer) and soon she'll be pregnant! They breed the cows carefully for genetic diversity which ensures healthy immune systems, and a thriving population.

Here's the main herd a couple of miles away on rented pasture. It's a 5 million dollar patch of real estate that gives the cows plenty of room to spread out, be moved regularly to prevent over grazing, and is still safe and enclosed. 

They're still losing their winter coats so they look kind of shaggy.

The cows in the main herd are much less used to people than those few back on the farm. They were skittish, and clearly wary of us intruders. Chrissie explained that because they are a large enough herd with several large males, they are able to leave them out in the pasture, just bein' cows, for days as long as the weather is nice. They do bring them in to get them used to specific handlers and feed them alfalfa on occasion.

They really didn't want much to do with us...

All in all it was an awesome experience that brought us a deeper understanding of the realities of raising livestock. The fact that most people never consider where their food really comes from, and just see meat wrapped in grocery store plastic seems to me like a decisive negative of modern, industrial food production. If you want to have the right to take the life of animal in order to continue your own life, I think you should at least consider that animals existence for a second and give thanks. I think we'd all rather not think about death, but I believe you can come to terms with the realities of nature, and be respectful of the symbiotic relationships we have with the world around us. Thank you, grassfed cows. You are delicious ; )

4.05.2013

Thyroid- and brain-boosting supplements

This week my wife and I had a follow-up visit with our naturopath Dr. Timothy Hyatt to discuss the results of her tests and get a plan in place. (Read part 1 of our naturopath experience here.) It turns out my wife's thyroid is a little sluggish, which could be the cause of some of the fatigue she's been having, but she's not in the range of people who need to take thyroid hormone. It's always best to take the minimum effective dose just to mitigate any risks, side effects, or general issues you can have with a drug, so this is good news! Basically we're both going to start taking a couple of supplements that are directly involved with thyroid function, and one that is good for overall brain health, and see if things improve.

1.Iodine 12.5mg

I talked about this the last time, but I've got some more specifics! We're going to try a supplement called i-Throid which is specifically formulated with multiple forms of iodine that are more easily absorbed in the body, and don't tend to cause any issues. Although this appointment was for my wife, I'm going to start taking these too because I'm sure I'm not getting enough iodine in my diet. Even the amount that they add to table salt isn't enough to have a major effect if you're deficient, which most people are.

2.Selenium 200mcg

When you're taking this amount of iodine you also need to supplement with selenium. It's a heavy metal that also protects against thyroid problems, and Dr. Hyatt specifically wants us to take these together for the best thyroid-boosting results. 

3.5MTHF (or Methyl Folate) 1-1.2mg

Folate is another thing a lot of people are deficient in, and it's essential for optimum brain health. Getting it in a form called 5MTHF is important because it's the active form of folate which is highly bioavailable, meaning it's easily absorbed into the body. It's related to folic acid, but that is apparently not a good substitute. I'm not sure on the specifics there, but Dr. Hyatt was clear on why the active form would really be helpful. 

Are supplements REALLY necessary?

It's important to get as much of your nutrients from food as possible. That's what your body is designed to do! But there are things that are hard to get into your diet that can really help you perform at a higher level, and bolster your health over the long term. I saw a documentary once where some elephants would occaisonally dig out mud from the bottom of a specific pond and eat it because there were nutrients in it that they couldn't get anywhere else. Now, if elephants are supporting their healthy diet of leaves with muddy, mineral supplements, I think I can feel pretty good about taking my vitamin D, fish oil and iodine in order to boost me. It's not about having to take these things in order to survive, but it is about reaching your healthiest potential.



4.01.2013

More great books!

I've recently been doing a lot of reading in the areas of meditation, stress management, mindfulness and happiness, and I thought it would be great to share some of the excellent books I've found. These are just a few recommendations of books that have been helping me, and informing my new outlooks on life and the kind of things I want to pursue. Let me know if you've read any of these books, and if you found something helpful in them as well!

1. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin


My wife Suzannah found this book a couple of months ago and really loved it (and blogged about it here). I picked it up recently and have been finding it be highly motivating and helpful in formulating my own ideas of what happiness is, what things make me happy, as well as specific techniques and resolutions to make to help increase your overall happiness! There's also an extensive list of recommended reading for happiness-related texts in the back, which is extremely cool, and helpful. Anyone looking to learn more about happiness should check this out as it's a great place to start and will give you many jumping off points for further reading.

2. The Art of Happiness by H.H. The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler M.D.


This book is just blowing my mind! Seriously, I'm amazed at this thing. I know it's been out for a long time, so there are many who have read it and been aware of it before me, but if you've ever thought, "Hm, I might want to check that out," here's your extra push to check it out! To me, this text is key in developing a wide understanding of happiness, it's role in humanity as well as specific techniques for cultivating happiness within yourself. These ideas come from Buddhism, but the presentation is done in such a way that it's clear; these ideas go beyond any specific creed or dogma, and show us something about our common humanity.

3. Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn


Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the present moment and being aware of the sensations, thoughts and feelings that you go through, without placing judgement on them, or projecting into the past or future. It's a process of noticing your experience of living, and grounding yourself in the present where you have the power to act. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been doing mindfulness research for over 30 years and developed a program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that has helped millions of people suffering from everything from chronic pain and disease to anxiety and high stress lifestyles. This is really helpful stuff as it's geared towards a western audience with an understanding of the problems that we face in this high tech, constantly changing, busy, distracted, plugged in world. These methods are helping me overcome my anxieties and stay in a good frame of mind as I tackle the problems and enjoy the sweet moments of my life.

Again, let me know if you have any experience with any of these books, and definitely check them out if you are interested!
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