"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Thursday, September 22, 2011

College, a.k.a. Candyland, a.k.a. Gluten and Sugar Fest

College should be renamed "gluten and sugar fest" or, perhaps, Candyland. Almost every event I go to has pizza, cookies, soda, cupcakes, chips, sandwiches, pretzels, ice cream... the list goes on. It's no surprise, then, that there's the "freshman fifteen" or just general weight-gain when some people go off to college due to the copious amount of craptastic food. Why eat healthy when you can just live on the free pizza at club meetings or the free pastries and soda at major campus events?

This is Candyland. It probably has the same sugar content as the food at some campus events:


It doesn't bother me that it's everywhere-- after more than a year and a half of Paleo/Primal, I got over the sugar cravings a long time ago. It does bother me, however, when there are no Paleo options at a huge food event on campus (or elsewhere, for that matter). Yesterday, my school's president hosted a Junior Welcome Back Picnic-- I went to the one for sophomores last year, and I had a ton of Paleo options (vegetable kabobs, berries, high-qualities cheeses [nom, brie!], chicken, burgers...), so I went this year. I had one option: the mini burgers (sans bun). And since the place was completely packed, there wasn't really the option of getting more than two of the tiny patties. Pssh-- those wouldn't keep anyone full!

So I was a little frustrated and ended up at the dining hall afterward anyway. Fine. But you know what bothers me more than lack of options? People that question the way I eat. When I ordered those mini burgers without the bun, the guy in front of me gave me this look and was like, "No bun? Seriously?" to which I responded, "Yeah. Gluten is evil." Then I walked away.

Since becoming Paleo, I've gotten a lot of comments from people about my decision not to eat like crap. I went to an event last year and didn't have a piece of cake, and a bunch of people were absolutely horrified, saying things like, "What do you mean, you don't eat cake!? How could you not eat cake!? That's crazy!" Or every time my friends and I go out for Indian (my favorite cuisine), people always comment on the fact that I don't eat rice, naan, or any of the desserts. Why!? I don't say things like, "Oh my god, you're eating cake/rice/cookies/pizza! How could you possibly eat cake/rice/cookies/pizza? That's crazy!" (However, I do think to myself that they are crazy for eating that crap-- I just keep my thoughts to myself, because food is definitely an individual choice and no one should tell you how to eat. That being said, if someone asks my opinion on said crappy foods, I will most certainly speak up!) So why is healthy eating questioned? Why do people feel the need to comment?

That's why it was so nice attending a Paleo seminar with Diane from Balanced Bites last weekend at CrossFit Center City (Philly). Not only did I learn an absolute ton of information about nutrition, but it my first time meeting Paleo people-- and it was even cooler meeting some big-name bloggers like Stacy from Paleo Parents and Kristin from Fast Paleo. (Paleo enthusiasts actually exist outside of the internet!!!! Ahhhh!!!! So exciting!!!!!) Having lunch there without any sugar or gluten in sight was amazing-- everyone was eating real food, and no one was questioning my food choices.

One of the things I love the most about the Paleo community is that we share a lot of the same experiences-- we all know how it feels when people question our decisions to avoid grains ("But how can you possibly be healthy without whole grains!? They're so good for you!!"), to eat fat ("You're going to get heart disease and become obese!"), to pass on sugary crap ("Oh, just one bite won't kill you!"), to not believe in anything the USDA says ("But you have to follow the food pyramid!"), to not eat grain-fed cows and chickens ("But vegetarian-fed animals are so healthy!")... We've all heard it before, and we know just how annoying it is when we get bombarded with questions about our lifestyle from people who only know what Dr. Oz and their doctors tell them. So to spend the day last weekend with members of the Paleo community who all understand my frustrations with people who feel the need to question how I eat? Priceless.

I'm an anomaly on campus. I don't support the Candyland-style approach to college eating, but I will never make a comment to those who do. It's not my place, and it shouldn't be their place to question my approach to eating either.

Quote of the Day:
"I call wheat one of Satan's excrements, throwing off fructose and linoleic acid in there too..." -Robb Wolf, Episode 95

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The ABC's of Paleo

I'm a linguistics major; I enjoy letters and words and alphabets and all that jazz. So with my linguistics classes kicking off for the semester, I give you the ABC's of Paleo!

A is for Ancestral Health, another term for the way we eat according to our ancestors. Just last month, there was the first-annual Ancestral Health Symposium, and a lot of the speeches from it are online, so check them out-- they're awesome! Click here!

B is for Vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that can only be obtained from animal products and is necessary for a properly functioning brain and nervous system. Deficiency in this vitamin can lead to a myriad of health problems, including anemia, fatigue, depression, dementia, and more. It is for this reason that going vegan is so dangerous-- without B12 supplementation, you will get very sick... and even then, it is much more ideal to get this vitamin from the actual source, i.e. animal products.

C is for Customization. There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to Paleo/Primal-- some people need low-carb, some higher-carb, some people can do all-meat, some people do well with a lot of veggies... Just because a book or blog or podcast says that you should eat one thing or avoid something else doesn't mean that this is the best option for you. Finding a Paleo/Primal lifestyle that works for you will take time-- your body will know when you've found the right balance of macronutrients and Paleo-approved foods.

D is for Vitamin D, another absolutely essential vitamin that is necessary in achieving optimum health. It is responsible for "bone health, calcium and phosphate concentration, reducing inflammation and regulating the proliferation and differentiation of cells" (source) and promotes a healthy immune system. The best way to get Vitamin D is by going out in the sun, but some foods (particularly certain types of fish) also contain it... or you can supplement. But why supplement when you can just go outside in the sun for a little bit every day? (For more information on Vitamin D, click and click.)

E is for Evolution, the reason we follow the Paleo/Primal lifestyle. We didn't evolved to eat processed crap, GMO "foods," grains, legumes, refined sugar... The list goes on. We didn't evolve to eat a diet devoid of animal products, and we certainly didn't evolve to eat grain-fed animals either. Check out this paper, "The western diet and lifestyle and disease of civilization," which explains how we've all become sickly since the dawn of agriculture, and how eating like our pre-agriculture ancestors is the best way to achieve optimum health.

F is for Fat! If you're following this lifestyle, you know that gone are the days of lipophobia-- no more low-fat, reduced-fat, non-fat products! Fat is absolutely essential for all of your body's functions, and it won't make you fat (I promise-- read this or this and watch this for the real reasons we get fat), and it won't clog your arteries either (check out this great post about how the lipid hypothesis is a big lie). So eat your bacon, coconut oil, and avocados-- they'll keep you healthy! (Here are a few guides to Paleo fats: click and click.)

G is for Gluten, something that you should avoid at all costs. In fact, the road to hell is paved with gluten! Gluten is actually a protein found in many grains (like wheat, barley, and rye) that is responsible for the elasticity of the dough. It not only causes serious inflammation in the gut, but is also the cause of many other health problems. For information about why gluten is the ultimate evil, check out "Why Grains are Unhealthy," "The Grain Manifesto," "Is Your Gut Leaky?", and "Excessive bloating from gluten."

H is for Hunter-Gatherer. Before the Agricultural Revolution (which was only 10,000 years ago), humans lived as hunter-gatherers and they were extremely healthy, tall, and strong. Once agriculture happened and people settled into towns/villages/cities, our hunter-gatherer ways were no longer and, as a consequence, our health was no longer as well. Speaking of hunter-gatherers, check out John Durant's blog... appropriately titled Hunter-Gatherer.

I is for Intermittent Fasting, a technique in which you fast for a period of time (could be 16 hours, could be 24 or more-- here's how to do it). There are many health benefits associated with IFing, including "increased longevity, neuroprotection, increased insulin sensitivity, stronger resistance to stress, increased mental clarity" (source) and more. So don't believe that crap about how your metabolism will slow down if you skip a meal!

J is for JERF: Just Eat Real Food. This is a pretty easy one-- real food doesn't come in a bag or box, doesn't need a nutritional label or ingredients list (I mean, c'mon. Broccoli-- Ingredients, Broccoli. So difficult!), and would be recognized by your great-great grandmother.

K is for Ketosis, a condition during which your body burns fat stores for energy. This can be reached by eating low-carb, so your liver changes fatty acids into ketones... which will became your main energy source and will keep your blood sugar low. Ketosis has been shown to be good for you health, so don't believe the "Your body needs carbs!" argument, since that's just not true. (Note: Paleo/Primal does not need to be low-carb or ketogenic-- some choose to stay low-carb or even zero-carb, but others choose to have a much higher amount of carbs per day. See C: Customization.)

L is for Lift Heavy Things, one of the components of Paleo/Primal fitness. Heavy lifting is essential for putting on lean mass-- you don't need to work out for an hour every day on the treadmill to get or stay fit! So start lifting weights, do bodyweight exercises, go out into the woods and move some rocks or logs, pick up heavy boxes and move them to the other side of the room and back... There are a million ways to lift heavy, so pick one (or more) and put on some lean mass!

M is for Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint and the amazing website Mark's Daily Apple. His approach to evolutionary nutrition is "Primal" (what's the difference?) and is a really big voice within the Paleo/Primal community. If you ever hear about Grok (the fictional caveman), thank Mark Sisson!

N is for Nora T. Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body, Primal Mind. Her book is one of my absolute favorites on evolutionary nutrition, and her website and podcast are full of really fantastic information. Here's one of my favorite posts of hers, "Top 10 Nutritional & Dietary Mistakes People Make."

O is for The Omnivore's Dilemma, a fantastic book by Michael Pollan that examines our food culture-- processed/factory food, organic food, and food we hunt/gather ourselves. It's a must-read, as is his other book, In Defense of Food. Pollan is a fabulous writer and is really well-known for his food rules, such as "Avoid products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, and C) more than five in number," "Don't eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food," and "Avoid foods bearing health claims." Check out this New York Times article of his, "Unhappy Meals."

P is for Play, a really important part of this lifestyle. In Exuberant Animal, Frank Forencich talks about how we are, at our roots, animals-- we should be outside and move freely and play! Playing has been known to decrease stress and promote happiness with, of course, leads to health and longevity. Check out this great post, The Lost Art of Play.

Q is for the Quilt, also known as Dr. Jack Kruse, who runs this great blog and is a wealth of information both there and on PaleoHacks. His site is incredibly detailed and informative, and covers everything from leptin resistance to epigenetics to the brain/gut connection. It's a site you should definitely check out for all types of health issues.

R is for Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution and owner of robbwolf.com. He has an awesome sense of humor, and his book, blog, and podcasts are all hilarious and informative. Check out this great video, Ask Robb Wolf Anything!

S is for Sleep, a really important component of the Paleo lifestyle. Our bodies need sleep (and by "sleep" I mean "at least 8 hours in a completely dark room") in order to function properly and keep our immune systems strong and healthy. Sleep does everything from helping your memory to boosting your athletic performances to helping you cope with stress. Here's a Definitive Guide to Sleep and tips for Sleeping like a Cavebaby.

T is for Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. These are both books that explain how fat does not make us fat; instead, it is the bad carbs and sugary, processed foods that people eat that cause obesity and other health problems. He also writes awesome health articles for the New York Times, such as "Is Sugar Toxic?" and "What if it's All Been a Big Fat Lie?".

U is for Unconventional, which is what this lifestyle is to 99% of people. Our views are anti-Conventional Wisdom-- we don't buy into the "low-fat, high-carb, whole-grain" diet that has been one of the major causes of the obesity epidemic. We know that our bodies don't need grains or run on carbs; we know that it's okay to be barefoot; we know that fat is good and won't make us fat. People think we're crazy, but it is our unorthodox views that will lead us to have better health than those who blindly follow the Food Pyramid/Plate and the advice of their doctors who don't know anything about proper nutrition.

V is for Vibram FiveFingers, a brand of minimalist shoes that is quite popular among the Paleo/Primal community. For more information on minimalist running and VFFs, check out "Paleo From Head to Toe with the Barefoot Lifestyle," "Vibram FiveFingers" at MDA, and read Born to Run.

W is for Weston A. Price, a dentist who examined the link between dental health and the Western Diet, and found that the teeth of people who ate indigenous diets were, essentially, perfect, whereas the teeth of those who ate diets high in processed crap had dental problems. His book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, should be required reading for everyone (especially doctors and dentists!), and his legacy lives on through the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), which has chapters all over the world.

X is for Xocolatl (hah- I came up with an X word!), the word in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) that is the most likely etymology of chocolate due to a combination of xococ ("bitter") and atl ("water" or "drink"). Dark chocolate (that is, 70% cocoa content and higher) has been shown to have a lot of health benefits, and Mark Sisson calls it a "sensible vice" and gives tips in this post about chocolate consumption in the Paleo/Primal lifestyle. (Dark chocolate is also used a lot in Paleo baking, like in these scones or this cake.)

Y is for YOU. Paleo isn't a fad diet-- it's a lifestyle all about making YOU healthier, happier, leaner, and stronger. People are going to try to sabotage your efforts by saying, "Oh, just eat one cookie-- it's okay!" and "One piece of bread won't kill you!" But don't listen to them-- this is your body, your life, and your choices. Don't let other people bring you down or make you sick. Believe in yourself, and know that only YOU control your own present and future health-- not doctors, not the FDA or USDA, not the media, not your friends. You can do it, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Z is for Zinc, a very important mineral that is essential for digestion, healing wounds, fighting infections, the immune system, brain function, fertility, bone health, eyesight, clear skin, and quite a few other things that will add to your health. Meat, seeds, fish, and 100% unsweetened chocolate are all good sources of zinc.

Quote of the Day, in picture form (from Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida):

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Vacations and Hurricanes: Paleo Edition

I've had quite the adventure this week thanks to Hurricane Irene-- what started out as a family vacation in Williamsburg, Virginia, led to spending a few days in the blackout, then heading to Newport News, VA; Washington, DC; Baltimore, Maryland; and back home to New York.

We hadn't really planned for Hurricane Irene-- we figured it was just media hype and wouldn't be all that bad, but wow, were we wrong! We got to Virginia on Friday night, bought food for breakfast the next morning, and spent Saturday morning foraging for food in town to buy stuff for dinner-- pretty much everything was closed down due to the impending storm, but we eventually found a place and cooked chicken and sweet potatoes before we lost power at around 2pm. Having a Paleo dinner by candlelight was actually really nice-- I felt very cavegirl-ish!

When we still didn't have power the next day (and lost all of the food in our fridge), we started thinking, "Wow, this would be a lot easier if we weren't Paleo. A loaf of bread and some peanut butter would be great right about now!" But we were determined to keep it Paleo, no matter what (especially since my brother has a gluten allergy), so we did what the cavemen probably did when there was no food: we IFed a bit and left town in search of somewhere with food (and power). Long story short, we ended up about an hour away in Newport News, spent the night there, then spent the next two days in DC and Baltimore because Williamsburg was still completely shut down. Although our vacation didn't turn out as planned, I still had a lot of fun and managed to keep it pretty Paleo.

This was my first vacation since going Paleo (today marks 19 months!), and I was a little worried about the food situation, since I'm used to knowing exactly what's in my food and where/what I'm going to eat. Was there probably hidden whack ingredients in things I ate over the last few days? Yeah, probably, but I did my best. Breakfasts were the easiest, of course: bacon and eggs are always a great option. (Okay, so the bacon probably had added stuff in it, but it was the best I could do!) Other meals were also easy-- pretty much any restaurant will have a protein option with a side of veggies, so I just kept it simple. "Steak/chicken with a side of [insert vegetable], no potatoes/bread/pasta/rice, please!" More and more restaurants are offering gluten-free menus and bread substitutes (lettuce wraps, salads), so it's becoming easier to keep it Paleo on the road. Red Robin, for example, offers lettuce wraps for their burgers, and Outback Steakhouse is a perfect place to order a Paleo meal. I tried Vietnamese food for the first time while in DC, and I ordered my food without the rice and noodles. As I've mentioned in other blog posts, I've been low-carbifying meals for years, so Paleofying is just the next step-- and not all that different! Just do your best with what you have to work with-- your food might not be organic, free-range, grass-fed, and nitrate-free, but if you're keeping it as Paleo as possible, you'll still be doing better than 99% of the population.

So here are some tips on surviving both vacations and power outages while Paleo/Primal:
1. Plan. If you know there might be a natural disaster coming, make food that might last you a few days, such as breakfast bars, Caveman Crunch Bars, grain-free granola, and beef jerky. These will also double as snacks on plane, car, and train rides, while camping, or during sight-seeing. (You can also use the technique of intermittent fasting.)
2. Modify. If you're at a restaurant or BBQ, substitute bread for lettuce wraps, or eat your meat with a fork and knife (or your hands!). If there's a gluten-free menu available, ordering off of it is your best option. Don't be afraid to tell your waiters about food allergies/sensitivities and ask to hold the starches and double the veggies, or order your meal without cheese/nuts/sauce/whatever-- they're usually more than happy to accommodate.
3. JERF. Just Eat Real Food. If you're new to this lifestyle, finding Paleo-approved foods might seem really stressful when you're out on the road, but don't freak yourself out about it. While a meal at a restaurant or food in the local grocery store might not be 100% perfect, just do the best that you can-- if you're sticking to protein, veggies, fruits, and fats, and not eating processed crap, you're doing fine.

Want to be inspired?
A few days ago, Karen from the International Paleo Movement Group on Facebook and the website Paleo Approved made this fantastic video of people's Paleo/Primal transformations. It's clever, creative, and so inspiring!

Quote of the Day:
"I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my best each and every day." -Abraham Lincoln