11.22.2013

We made bacon!

We recently bought half a hog from a local farm, Heritage Farms Northwest. We've bought cow shares before and purchased a whole lamb over the summer, but a hog was new territory. We got 137 pounds of pork (the farm does pastured Red Wattle hogs, a critically endangered species, and is one of the largest breeders of them in the US), including tens of pounds of fat (for rendering), bones (for making bone broth), and organ meats (for experimenting with when we feel brave). It filled two huge coolers and stuffed our freezers at home. Here's the farmers' market stand where we picked it up.

We had given cutting instructions to the butcher for our half beforehand, and got to choose the thickness of the pork chops, size of the roasts, etc. We chose not to have any of the meat cured; rather, we asked to have the belly cut into several manageable pieces so we could cure and smoke it ourselves and make our own bacon. We got three 5 lb pork belly cuts.

We'd read the recipe for making your own bacon (and smoker) in Beyond Bacon and had been wanting to try for a while. We tracked down "pink salt" (curing salt--this one is Instacure #1, sodium nitrate) at a food supply/equipment store in Portland. We used coconut palm sugar for sweetener, and a couple cups of regular sea salt for the rest of the salt. And some pepper. Followed the recipe!

We cured the pork belly for 5 days in the fridge. Then we took it over to my parents' place; they have a big charcoal BBQ with a thermometer on the outside and several rack position options. My mom figured out how to set up the grill the right way using this thorough tutorial.) We smoked it at about 200 degrees (had to keep adding a coal or two, adding more hickory chips) for 4 hours because it was so large (the book said about 3 hours, for a 2 lb belly). Pretty intense, right?

We sliced off the first slices when it was still pretty warm, and cooked it up for everyone to try. It was SO rich and delicious!

Then we froze the whole thing. We figured it'd be easier to cut all the slices if it was mostly frozen. To cut the rest of it, we took it out of the freezer, let it sit out and warm up for a few minutes, and tried to slice it with a serrated knife.

Slicing it was the hardest part! It's so hard to cut straight and keep each piece relatively even so it will cook evenly. And the pork belly was so loooong, so hard to stand it straight up. So we ended up cutting it in half in the middle first, and slicing each half separately. Not ideal, but it worked. We want to order an electric knife for next time. (Anyone have an experience or tips?)

It's seriously so good. We've had it for weekend breakfast a few times now, and it's great.

Better than any bacon I've ever had! And we know it's made with high quality ingredients!

11.15.2013

Why I eat white rice instead of brown

Been thinking lately about rice, and wanted to share about my experience with white vs. brown rice.

When we went Paleo in December of 2012, I didn't cut rice out of my diet entirely. We never make it at home, but I have no issue eating it with sushi or at Thai restaurants. I used to always order brown rice when possible when dining out, because I thought that brown rice, with the fiber and husk, was a "healthy whole grain" and was slightly healthier than white.

But I've learned a lot since then about white and brown rice, and there are several factors that have contributed to me choosing white rice instead, for health reasons!

White rice is healthier than brown?


What the heck, you might ask. We've been taught in recent years that whole grains are better than white.

First, why are brown (whole) grains harmful?


We don't eat grains and legumes as part of our "Paleo"-based diet. (Mark's Daily Apple has a great post on why grains in general are often harmful; so does The Paleo Mom.) In summary, there are a few reasons for this.

  • Grains contain proteins called lectins, which are the plant's defense mechanism and so can cause autoimmune reactions in the gut, as well as cause leptin resistance (leading to fat storage). 
  • Grains also contain phytates (phytic acid, the main storage form of phosphorus in bran and seeds), which irritate the gut and can block nutrient absorption. This is why removing grains on a raw vegan diet temporarily cured my wife's digestive issues, and why grain-free diets often help people with IBS issues. (Legumes and seeds also contain phytic acid; hence beans being called the "musical fruit"--the gas reaction is due to irritation in the gut lining, and is not a good thing!)
Many people on standard American diets, with grains at nearly every meal, can develop leaky gut for this reason. (Side note: just read a great summary post about healing leaky gut. Intro to leaky gut here.) Our guts do not have the enzymes needed to break down these proteins and acids.

  • Phytates also block the absorption of essential minerals because they bind to the magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron we are digesting and take it out of our bodies. Many people are deficient in these micronutrients, if they're not eating enough vegetables and nutrient-dense animal products, so removing them can have a huge range of negative effects depending on what you're already low on.
But some grains are worse offenders than others!

What about rice bran?


Rice is often considered the least offending grain, and most people can digest it fairly easily. So, a lot of people on Paleo and real foods diets eat it. Dental health and nutrition expert Ramiel Nagel wrote this intense piece about phytic acid; as he explains, the phytates are stored in the bran and germ of grains, so white rice and white bread are lower in phytates than brown.

  • Brown rice: 12,509 mg of phytic acid per 100 g
  • White rice: 11.5 - 66 mg of phytic acid per 100 g


Yes, brown rice and whole grains are much higher in phytic acid than white rice, making it much harder to digest, contributing to digestive and calcium issues. Also contained in the rice bran are polyunsaturated oils (unstable, go rancid easily). Unstable fats are inflammatory and can lead to another range of health problems. (I've also heard about arsenic in brown rice, but I don't know much about that issue.)

What about the benefits of whole grains for fiber and blood sugar regulation?


Yes, it's true that the glycemic index of whole grains is lower than that of white, shelled ones (meaning, they digest slower than white). But on a real food, Paleo/primal or Bulletproof Diet, where healthy fat is not the enemy, we simply add a lot of grassfed butter or coconut oil to carb-heavy foods like rice or squash or sweet potatoes, which dramatically slows down the digestive process and improves absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. (Even better: Cook white rice in homemade bone broth from pastured animals, rather than water! Great way to get even more nutrients into a meal!)

Easy, delicious, healthier


Indeed, it's taken quite the mental shift for us to think of a white grain as being healthier than a whole grain. But I feel good when I eat it, I know I'm absorbing more micronutrients, and I've still lost 40 pounds in the past year eating a higher-fat, processed food-free, grain-free (except the rice) diet. It's been a good shift!

As I wrote this post, I found this article on the same topic--check it out if you want more reasons!

11.08.2013

Carbs = Sugar (WHAT???)

A Glucose molecule
A simple explanation of why non-sugary carbs act like sugars in our bodies. I just recently grasped this concept, thanks to a biology class I'm taking.

News flash! Carbohydrates = Sugars. Simply put, there's no difference between a sugar and a carbohydrate. In fact, carbohydrates, by definition, are various groupings of sugar molecules. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

“The term(carbohydrate) is most common in biochemistry, where it is a synonym of saccharide. The carbohydrates (saccharides) are divided into four chemical groupings: monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. In general, the monosaccharides and disaccharides, which are smaller (lower molecular weight) carbohydrates, are commonly referred to as sugars.” source

This is really interesting to me because in the popular consciousness there’s a definite distinction between the idea of limiting your sugar intake and limiting your carbohydrate intake. Not eating too much sugar is widely regarded as an obvious necessity for optimal health, while low carbohydrate diets are controversial. Sugar is considered a junk food, while carbs are considered diet staples.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t eat any of this stuff. Some amount of carbohydrate in your diet is absolutely essential. However, let’s not forget that our body is breaking down those big molecules into sugar, and the quicker it can do that the worse it is for you. If eating table sugar causes a massive spike in blood sugar, then eating a slightly more complicated molecule, like the ones found in refined carbohydrates, will only be marginally slower in digesting and producing a blood sugar response. So many of the carbs that people even consider health foods fall into this category (I’m looking at you whole grains!) Having a latte and a scone for breakfast? That’s glucose and or fructose in the sweetener, lactose in the milk (if you can digest it at all) and simple carbs in the scone. All I see there is that you’re having sugar, mixed with sugar to go with your sugar. SUGAR!

And now for a rant on potatoes.

The Potato

Potatoes are made up of almost entirely of a carbohydrate called starch. Starch is the energy storage molecule for plants, meaning that when photosynthesis is taking place, the plant is using the suns energy to produce glucose, and if it reaches a point where it has more glucose than it needs for its immediate energy requirements it will begin to take those extra glucose molecules and bind them together to form starch, which will then be kept for a rainy day. Potatoes are very good at this, and when the plant starts producing starch it sends it down to its roots for safekeeping. Over time the potatoes get big and then an enterprising human comes along and takes the energy-rich payload for their own purposes.

Now, animals have their own versions of these energy storage processes, and we even have our own version of starch. It’s called glycogen.
A schematic showing the structure of glycogen being composed of several glucose molecules.

Glycogen is a molecule that we build up and store in our bodies for use whenever we run out of the immediate energy that comes from carbs. In order for us to be the robust, stable, working and living beings that we are, we need to have enough energy on hand in order to do whatever it is we need to do. If we didn’t have glycogen and could only use immediately available glucose for energy you might find yourself needing to run from a lion and passing out cold after a few, high-energy steps. Glycogen burning turns on when you go to a state that requires higher energy, like running or lifting or really anything physical. Glycogen is essential and we need to eat some carbs in order to replenish those stores. However, if you eat tons of carbs every day and don’t move your body enough, your glycogen stores will never be depleted; instead, your body will turn on the mechanism for long-term energy storage (the accumulation of body fat).

From an evolutionary perspective you wanted to get as much energy into your body as possible so that it could be stored as fat to be used later during a time of scarcity, however, in order to survive every day you need to have energy on hand to fight for your life, gather food, or hunt so we have carbs and glycogen stores to take care of that. What we want is fat production because that gives us a long term level of security, but the immediate needs take precedent. Now fast forward to the modern day where we have a huge abundance of carbohydrates available to us all the time, and a low level of outside pressure to move our bodies, fight lions or work hard to gather our own food. Our ancestors were playing out a careful, risky game of trying to get more energy from the foods they ate than it took to procure those foods, but we have lowered the requirements of survival so much that the average person almost never has to move.

Conclusion:

Because of this process, I try to eat a limited amount of simple carbs and a whole bunch of the more complex carbs like those in green vegetables. I eat more carbs on days I work out. This helps replenish my glycogen stores after a day of activity, and gives my body the energy I need to perform well. If you have issues with weight regulation, limiting simple carb intake will help: the lower your "sugar" intake, the less excess energy your body has lying around, the less likely you are to overload your glycogen stores and go into fat accumulation mode.

This is not a Paleo principle, nor any specialized diet principle. This is not about gluten-free mania, fasting, high fat intake, Crossfit, or any of the other stuff I've talked about on this blog. It's a fundamental principle of molecular biology. Just understand the effects of the macronutrients and it makes sense!
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