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

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Eating Paleo at Chain Restaurants

Eating out while living Paleo/Primal is quite simple-- you can almost always find meals that are just protein and veggies. Yes, many protein dishes are served with pasta, rice, bread, or potatoes, but restaurants can be quite accommodating to healthy eaters and will substitute the starches with extra veggies (or a salad) instead. Since I began low-carbifying my meals seven years ago, I've learned how to eat out at a lot of chain restaurants, since chains are the easiest places to eat out with friends due to their casual atmospheres and reasonable prices. In this post, I'm going to examine some of these chain restaurants and discuss their most Paleo-friendly options (if any).

I'd never heard of JJ's before coming to Penn; however, there are locations all across the U.S. This sandwich joint offers a plethora of sandwich options at really great prices (making it quite the popular place here on campus!), but the best part is that they offer the "JJ Unwich," a lettuce wrap that contains the "same ingredients and price of the sub or club without the bread." Great! I don't have to waste bread or eat sandwich contents with a fork and knife! Also, the stuff is high-quality: "Meat and veggies are sliced fresh in-house everyday - no additives, no vegetable-based fillers, no fake stuff - it's the best of the best." Sweet! I love the JJ BLT (because who doesn't love BLTs?!), and if you order off the "Giant Club Sandwiches" menu, there's twice the meat (#17 Ultimate Porker: double BLT + ham). While many of these options have cheese (dairy isn't Paleo), either ask for the Unwich without it, or follow the 80/20 Primal rule and go for it!

I've read on multiple blogs and websites that Chipotle* is a favorite chain restaurant for the Paleo/Primal lifestyles, and I absolutely understand why! (I haven't read anything about Qdoba, but since these chains are very similar, I'm going to talk about them together.) When we think of Mexican food, quite a few unhealthy foods come to mind: tacos, tortillas, corn, chips, rice, beans. However, Chipotle and Qdoba both offer a salad option so you can skip the tortilla or taco shell but still have all of the yummy ingredients in your typical burrito/taco. Obviously skip the rice, beans, corn salsas, and dressings; also skip the cheese and sour cream if you don't want dairy. But go crazy on the meat, guacamole, salsas (just not the ones with corn or beans!), and veggies.
*Note: Chipotle cooks with soybean oil, whereas Qdoba does not.

This is celebrity chef Bobby Flay's burger chain (out here on the East Coast), and it's both delicious and reasonably priced. When I first started low-carbifying my meals years ago, I'd always order burgers at restaurants without the bun since it doesn't get much more Paleo than straight-up protein (and veggies, if you like them on your burger). I don't have to do that at BBP, however-- there's the option of the Topless Burger Salad, which is "any burger served on top of baby greens with Balsamic dressing." My favorite is the Bobby Blue Burger: a BLT burger with blue cheese-- so delicious! Of course, any of these burgers can be ordered without the cheese if you don't want the dairy, and obviously don't order fries or any of the burgers that have potato or corn chips on them. Otherwise, BBP is Paleo-friendly!

I'm not a huge fan of Chili's, but there are a few Paleo-friendly items on the menu (however, they use soybean oil for most of their cooking...). First, let me just say that you should skip all of the appetizers, chilis, and soups-- they all contain beans, chips, cheese, and/or corn. Also skip the fajitas, burritos, and tacos for obvious reasons. There are a few Paleo-friendly salads: the Cobb salad (order without cheese if dairy bothers you), Caribbean salad, and the House and Caesar salads (without croutons) are probably your best choices-- the other ones contain things such as tortilla strips or corn. There are also a bunch of sandwiches and burgers that you can Paleo-ify if you order without the bun and fries (moreso the burgers-- they all sound amazing!). The chicken and fish options aren't all that great-- they're all breaded and/or served with crazy amounts of starch or other non-Paleo foods. My recommendation is the Monterey chicken, but hold the potatoes, or the Grilled Salmon, but hold the rice. I'd say go for the Ribeye or Sirloin steaks if/when at Chili's, though, because they aren't cooked in soybean oil and you can't go wrong with steak-- just hold the starches and double the veggies!

Applebee's is a bit more Paleo-friendly than Chili's. The menu is extremely diverse, so obviously just avoid all of the non-Paleo foods: chips, pasta, bread, tortillas, croutons, fried/breaded anything, rice, potatoes, fries... If you're reading this blog, you probably know better anyway. The Grilled Shrimp 'N Spinach Salad is a good option, as is the Caesar if you hold the croutons. Their WeightWatchers and fish menus are also pretty good-- just hold the rice, starches, and bean & corn salsa, and don't eat anything fried. Most of the chicken dishes are pretty good as well, if you don't mind the dairy; if you do, go with the Chipotle Lime Chicken and say no to the rice and beans. All of their steaks sound absolutely delicious (hold the starches!), but the Ribeye and NY Strip are the only two that aren't cooked in soybean oil and don't contain dairy, so I'd absolutely recommend those as the most Paleo-friendly foods on the menu.

Friday's is quite similar to Chili's and Applebee's, but it seems to be the most Paleo-friendly out of the three*. Unlike the other two restaurants, most of the meals at Friday's let you choose two sides, instead of coming with rice or potatoes-- good news for healthy eaters! Also, some of the meals that don't let you choose your sides are completely Paleo-friendly, like the Shrimp Key West; further, most of the salads are decent options too (just hold the croutons and avoid the ones with beans, corns, or tortilla strips). Almost everything on the Jack Daniel's and "Steaks, Ribs & More" menus are pretty good choices (if you don't mind the JD BBQ sauce)-- so much meat! The chicken dishes aren't all that great at Friday's, though-- they're all smothered in cheese or served with pasta. So, similarly to Chili's and Applebee's, go with a non-JD steak dish if you want to avoid dairy or questionable sauces.
*Note: For some reason, Friday's doesn't disclose their nutritional information, so everything might be cooked in soybean oil. Eat with caution...

For a restaurant chain that has "cheesecake" in the title, the Cheesecake Factory actually seems to have a few Paleo-friendly options*. Besides the plethora of salads on the appetizer and "Small plates and snacks" menus (just be mindful of the ingredients!), a good appetizer option is the Thai Lettuce Wraps-- you can choose not to eat the carrots or use the sauces, but you can't really go wrong with chicken wrapped in lettuce. As for entrees, the Chicken Madeira, Weight Management Grilled Chicken, Chicken Marsala, Chicken Piccata, and the Fresh Grilled Salmon or Mahi Mahi aren't bad options-- just hold the potatoes, rice, or pasta. The entree salads aren't that great since most of them contain corn, beans, crisp wontons, or noodles, but I recommend the Clubhouse, Cob, or Salmon. Like at other restaurants, the steak options are the most Paleo-friendly for dinner; but if you're there for brunch, though, go for the eggs-- but say no to the toast and starches. (And, of course, say no to all desserts. But that's a no-brainer.)
*Note: There's no nutritional information on their website, so beware of here too if you don't want anything cooked in soybean oil.

Chains to Avoid:
Panera: This chain is a favorite with my friends back in New York (and in my Standard American Diet days, it was one of my favorites too), but since turning Paleo, I've done my research and found that there is only ONE item that is 100% okay to eat: the fresh fruit cup. (However, it contains fruit with high sugar content, so... just be aware of that.) Most of the salads (which you'd figure might be alright) have ingredient lists that are longer than all of my midterm study-sheets combined! The only one that seems to be okay to eat is the Classic Cafe Salad, but I'm not sure if you can order it without the dressing (which is full of fake stuff). My recommendation? Just avoid Panera!
Così: Like Panera, Così is a bread-based chain restaurant that doesn't have many healthy options. The website doesn't offer a detailed ingredient list like Panera's, but it does offer some allergen information-- all of the salads contain dairy, wheat, and/or soy. If you don't mind the dairy, then some of the Così salads might be okay, such as the Wild Alaskan Salmon, Tuscan Steak, or Greek, but... I'd still say avoid Così because I'm going to assume that their ingredient lists rival Panera's.
Au Bon Pain: This chain is quite similar to Così and Panera-- it's primarily starch-based and extremely unhealthy. Since the website offers nutritional information, I checked out their "healthier" options and found that all of their salads have crazy-long ingredient lists and contain a ton of chemicals and fake stuff. Avoid!
Friendly's: Besides the fact that the food isn't all that great, absolutely every item on the menu contains soy, and 99% of them contain wheat of some sort as well. The Sirloin Steak Tips is one of the very few that doesn't contain wheat-- if you're forced to eat here and don't mind the soy, order this without the starches. My friends at home love this place, but I just meet them before/after lunch or dinner because of how few options there for a Paleo enthusiast like me.
Olive Garden: This place is awful. Everything is starchy, sodium-loaded, and just all-around unhealthy. I encourage you to read this blog post by Dr. Galati and listen to his analysis of how terrible this "fast food Italian" restaurant is for you. The healthiest/most Paleo-friendly meal I can find on the menu is the Venetian Apricot Chicken, but its sodium content is still crazy-high. Find somewhere else to eat!
All fast food restaurants: Duh. Fast Food Nation should be required reading!

My favorite chains:
Pax Wholesome Foods: This NYC-based chain is one of my absolute favorite places to eat. While they offer quite a few delicious pre-made salads, their "customize your salad" option is what really makes this place great. They offer a plethora of ingredients to choose from, so go crazy on the veggies, meats, nuts, and seeds! Avoid the questionable dressings and go with EVOO or Balsamic, and you've got a really great Paleo meal! If you're there for breakfast, you can order eggs any style, or customize an omelet-- just avoid the potatoes!
Saladworks: This chain is primarily in the Northeast, but there are a few scattered locations on the East Coast; however, the site says there are plans to expand to California and the Midwest too! Similarly to Pax, there are both pre-made salads and the "customize" option, so you can be sure to find a Paleo meal with fantastic ingredients!
Steakhouses: It doesn't get much more Paleo than a steakhouse, so any of these chain restaurants (Outback, Charlie Brown's, Longhorn, etc.) are perfect for Paleo eaters! Skip over the appetizers, sandwiches, and pasta dishes and go right to the meat-- not only will you get a delicious steak, but most of these places let you choose your own sides as well. A steak (or fish-- most have some pretty fantastic seafood options) with a salad and/or seasonal veggies? Sounds perfectly Paleo!

Quote of the Day:
"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." -J.R.R. Tolkien

Lunch: Baby spinach with tomato, egg, beef, almonds, sunflower seeds, and EVOO

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Nine Foods

PrimalToad posed the question: "If you could live on 9 foods, what would they be?" At first, I thought this would be a really easy question to answer because there are so many delicious foods from which to choose. However, narrowing it down to only nine proved to be quite the challenge-- choosing the first five foods was pretty easy, but selecting the other four was brutal! How do I choose between blueberries and raspberries? Or pumpkins seeds and sunflower seeds? How do I choose one amazing vegetable over another?

After a lot of contemplation, here is my list (in no particular order):
-Tomatoes
-Eggs
-Chicken breast
-Steak (beef)
-Spinach
-Sunflower seeds
-Blueberries
-Romaine lettuce
-Olives

Why these nine, out of all of the foods I could possibly choose? They represent all of the essential Paleo food groups (protein, fruits, veggies, fats), contain a plethora of nutrients, and provide quite a few health benefits. Oh, and they're just straight-up delicious.

Let's take a look.

Tomatoes
I love tomatoes. I put them in all of my salads, eat them as snacks, use them in cooking (tomato sauce, anyone?), and simply love the taste. There aren't many things better than a ripe tomato! While I could go on for hours about how much I love tomatoes, it's the essential nutrients that this superfood provides that makes it on this list. Tomatoes are extremely rich in Vitamin C, but also contain significant amounts of Vitamin A and Vitamin K. Further, they contain minerals such as potassium, are a good source of fiber, and are said to lead to healthier skin. One of the biggest health benefits of tomatoes is lycopene, which is a great antioxidant and is thought to reduce the risk of cancer. (Tomatoes also add a great burst of color to your food-- your plate should be a rainbow!)

Eggs
I can't live without eggs-- they're probably the number one staple in my diet. Not only are there (allegedly) 100 ways to cook them (so there's plenty of variety!), but they're also a cooking staple and really great source of protein and amino acids. Eggs also contain choline, selenium, riboflavin (Vitamin B-2), and iodine... and a ton of other vitamins and minerals as well. What I love most about eggs is just how versatile they are-- you can seriously do anything with them. My favorite ways to eat eggs include omelets, frittatas, and chopped up in salads. Yum!!

Chicken breast
If I were to choose one type of lean protein, I'd most certainly choose chicken. But since the question says be specific, I've decided on (organic and skinless) chicken breast for its deliciousness and versatility. There are endless possibilities in almost every type of cuisine-- just run a google search! Chicken breast is great on its own, but I also love cutting it up and putting it in my salads-- there are just so many ways to eat it. Chicken is obviously a fantastic source of protein, but also contains selenium, niacin (Vitamin B3), tryptophan, and Vitamin B6. So delicious, and so good for you!

Steak
I would've said just "beef," but if I have to do specific, my absolute favorite way to have (grass-fed) beef is as steak. During my brief period of Primal vegetarianism, I really missed steak. There's just something so satisfying about eating a tender, juicy piece of filet mignon... or sirloin... or skirt steak... or flank steak... or any cut! Beef is similar to chicken in a lot of the nutritional benefits-- it's an awesome protein source and contains selenium, niacin, and B6. It's also a fantastic source of zinc, phosphorus, iron, Vitamin B12, and conjugated linoleic acid. Conventional Wisdom has used beef as a scapegoat for a lot of health problems, but there are so many health benefits!

Spinach
Green, leafy vegetables always rank at the top of the "healthiest" or "superfoods" lists, and spinach is no exception. It's extremely rich in Vitamin K, Vitamin A, manganese, magnesium, iron, Vitamin C, riboflavin (B2), calcium, potassium, fiber... the list goes on. Spinach is also an excellent source of lutein, an antioxidant that's great for your eyes, skin, and heart. It's no wonder Popeye ate so much spinach! I use baby spinach in almost all of my salads, and I also put spinach in omelets, frittatas, quiches, and various other dishes. This is definitely a necessary superfood!

Sunflower seeds
I became addicted to sunflower seeds a few months ago, and now they're one of my absolute favorite foods. They add a great crunch to salads, are delicious eaten raw, and are even better when toasted with a bit of EVOO and some spices. I don't snack much, but when I do, it's on (raw) sunflower seeds, which contain healthy fats. Further, they're an amazing source of Vitamin E, thiamine (B1), manganese, magnesium, copper, tryptophan, selenium, phosphorus, fiber, and more! If you buy sunflower seeds, buy them raw-- if they come in a bag or have a label, don't get them!

Blueberries
I love all types of berries, so it was really hard picking just one to make my list. Blueberries, however, are probably the best in terms of health benefits. They are the only naturally blue food, so are an essential part of the food rainbow, and contain the highest amount of antioxidants out of all fruits. They're also high in Vitamin C, manganese, fiber, and Vitamin E, and are low in both carbs and calories as compared with other fruits. Blueberries are good for your eyes and heart, aid in digestion, protect against many types of cancer, boost your immune system, help fight against urinary tract infections, and help prevent degenerative diseases. Throw them in a regular or fruit salad, eat them as a snack, or throw them in a smoothie-- no matter how you eat them, these little berries are the best!

Romaine Lettuce
Romaine lettuce contains many of the same nutritional benefits as spinach and other green, leafy vegetables: Vitamins K, A, C, manganese, potassium, and fiber. In addition, Romaine contains folate, chromium, molybdenum, and quite a few other vitamins and minerals; further, Romaine lettuce is extremely low in calories and carbs. While it's delicious as the basis of a salad, my favorite way to eat Romaine is as the top and bottom "buns" of a burger or sandwich, or as a lettuce roll-up with meat and/or veggies in the middle. These lettuce "sandwiches" are really great if you want the fillings of a sandwich but don't want the bread! (A lot of restaurants offer lettuce wraps as a sandwich alternative, such as the Unwich at Jimmy John's, so I love that I can go to sandwich places with my friends and not be worried that I'll be wasting bread by just eating the sandwich contents!)

Olives
I actually don't like olives all that much-- however, they do contain good nutrients such as iron, Vitamin E, fiber, and copper. The reason that I put this food on my list, though, is because I love the uber-healthy (extra virgin) olive oil. It's rich in monounsaturated fats, which help prevent heart disease and reduce the risk of some types of cancer. Olive oil contains polyphenols, reduces blood pressure, promotes longevity, improves insulin sensitivity, helps with weight loss, and has anti-inflammatory properties... as well as quite a few other really awesome health benefits. EVOO is my favorite salad dressing, and it's also great for toasting seeds and sautéing veggies.

So those are my nine foods. However, there are two things that aren't necessarily "foods" that I must add to this list as well: coffee and cinnamon.

Coffee
I love coffee, and it's something I don't think I'll ever stop drinking. You can get coffee pretty much anywhere at any time of the day, it's a great means of socializing (when I'm at home, I practically live at the local coffee house), and a good cup of coffee just makes my day so much better. Without the milk and sugar, studies show that coffee reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, dimensia, some types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Cinnamon
I'm a little bit cinnamon-obsessed-- I put it in my coffee, on my salads, and on top of my sunflower seeds. It smells amazing and tastes even better, and is the one spice I absolutely cannot live without. If a "super-spice" list existed, I'd rank cinnamon at the top-- it aids in digestion, fights bad breath, regulates insulin, enhances cognitive function and memory, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer, has anti-inflammatory properties, and contains manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.

Quote of the day:
"Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be thy food." -Hippocrates

Dinner tonight: Using 8 out of 9 superfoods (blueberries aren't exactly in-season here...), a baby spinach and Romaine salad with chicken, beef, sunflower seeds, egg, and tomato, topped with EVOO:

(For some Paleo recipe ideas, I encourage you to click here and buy the Paleo Recipe Book!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

This is Frustrating!

As many of us know, the philosophy behind the Paleo/Primal lifestyle is to eat the way our Paleolithic ancestors did: fruits, veggies, protein, good fats, and nuts/seeds. We should not eat processed foods, grains, dairy, legumes, starches, or tubers-- these foods are high in carbohydrates and/or are pumped with chemicals and would never have been found in an average caveman's meal plan. In the words of Michael Pollan, "Don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."

This eating philosophy seems like a complete no-brainer: eat real food. Yet as we all know, doctors, nutritionists, "experts," and Conventional Wisdom still insist that grains are healthy, fats and meats should be eaten in moderation (or completely cut out), and low-carb diets are going to kill us. After being a living example of why all of that is bull (and after reading the Paleo/Primal books and works by Gary Taubes and Michael Pollan for the scientific evidence), I was absolutely shocked when I came across the article "Foods Not to Ditch When You Diet" because the majority of these foods are unhealthy and/or cause weight gain.

Here are the foods mentioned in the article:
1. Bread ("contains carbohydrates, which boost brain chemicals that curb overeating")
2. Pasta ("a high fluid content keeps you satisfied longer," and it's "70% water-- and eating fluid-rich foods keeps you fuller longer")
3. Potatoes ("forms resistant starch, a fiber that burns fat")
4. Peanut butter ("rich in healthy fats that help banish belly fat")
5. Cheese ("great source of calcium, which burns calories and fat")
6. Dark chocolate ("satisfies a common craving to prevent bingeing")
7. Fruit ("soothes a sweet tooth naturally for a few calories")

BREAD, PASTA, POTATOES, PEANUT BUTTER, AND CHEESE?! Is this article serious?! None of those foods fit in the Paleo lifestyle: bread and pasta are processed and made from grains, potatoes are starchy, peanut butter is made from legumes (and usually contains a ton of added sugar), and cheese is a dairy product. While dark chocolate wasn't exactly Paleo either, there are proven health benefits associated with it (especially with higher cocoa-content percentages, and also eaten in moderation); and fruit, obviously, is real food. However, it should be noted that this article suggests melons, grapes, berries, and citrus fruits-- melons, grapes, and citrus fruits all contain quite high amounts of sugar and should be avoided for weight loss.

So let's talk about the first five categories, and why this article is ridiculous.

1. Bread.
Bread is processed. It is fake. We have a plethora of scientific proof that details why grains are unhealthy (Why Grains Are Unhealthy), and also evidence about why gluten (which is found in wheat, barley, and rye) causes many health problems (Is Gluten Making Us Fat?). Of course, there a million other reasons why it's shocking that they're advocating eating bread: the added sugar and chemicals that come with being processed, the fact that bread is high in bad carbs (known to cause weight gain), and the simple idea that cavemen didn't sit around their fires eating hoagies... or toast... or pastries... or:

2. Pasta.
This is just ludicrous. Once again: processed, high in bad carbs, added sugar, etc. etc. etc. But look! It has a high fluid-content! It must be good!....... *rolls eyes* Why not eat a piece of fruit instead? Or some vegetables? Not only are fruits and veggies real, but they also have a high fluid-content, contain an abundance of nutrients and fiber, and your way to get good carbs in your diet/lifestyle/eating plan. So why the hell eat pasta and cause yourself health problems when you can receive so many benefits from fruits and veggies? Also, to feel full, turn to protein, not processed carbs-- grab a handful of raw nuts or eat a piece of chicken instead!

3. Potatoes.
Starches are on the "Avoid!" list for many Paleo/Primal eaters, because we're told to eliminate all starch. (However, Mark Sisson discusses the "Are potatoes primal?" debate in this great post, which I really recommend reading-- quite interesting!) While our Paleolithic ancestors may have eaten them, we know that their high carb-content causes weight-gain. Based on what I've read about resistant starches, it seems that you can get these health benefits from Paleo/Primal foods like sesame seeds and flaxseeds too: fiber, satiety, and mineral absorption. The extremely high carb-content of potatoes is known to cause weight-gain (especially in people already overweight or obese), so why the heck is this article insisting that it'll help you lose weight? No! I'm currently reading Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, and he writes, "The official US Forces' Guide warned soldiers [during WWII] that they might have 'trouble with girth control' in the Caroline Islands [northeat of New Guinea], because 'the basic food the natives eat is starchy vegetables-- breadfruit, taro, yams, sweet potatoes, and arrowroot.'" The fact that starch leads to weight gain has been known for a long time!

4. Peanut butter.
No! Besides the fact that peanuts are legumes (and are therefore on the Paleo no-no list), most of the peanut butter found in supermarkets contains added sugar or chemicals and can be quite high in carbs as well. One of my roommates keeps a jar of peanut butter (Jif, extra crunchy) in our kitchen, so I just picked it up and read the ingredients: Made from roasted peanuts and sugar. Contains 2% or less of: molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono-and diglycerides, salt. Does this really need an explanation about why it's bad for you? Added sugar will not help you lose weight! Check out this article for a more in-depth explanation on why peanut butter should be avoided: The Peanut Manifesto. As for the argument that peanut butter contains good fats, there are so many healthier ways to get monounsaturated fats into your diet. Check out Dr. Cordain's explanation on this... and while you're at it, eat an avocado. (It's also kind of funny, because right next to this article on fitbie.msn.com, there was this article, which calls peanut butter one of the "diet goofs to avoid." With all of this contradicting information, it's no wonder people don't know how to eat correctly!)

5. Cheese
The Paleo lifestyle says to avoid all dairy, but it certainly falls in a grey area because it does have some health benefits, is a good snack, and is also pretty freaking delicious. Mark Sisson (of The Primal Blueprint and Mark's Daily Apple, which I've linked to multiple times on this blog) makes some compelling arguments about whether or not cheese is healthy and, if you choose to eat it, which types are better. Because there's so much debate about whether or not cheese is healthy for you and if you should eat it to lose weight, why not get calcium elsewhere instead? Eating fruits and vegetables will give you calcium too-- after all, our Paleolithic ancestors didn't suffer from osteoporosis!

Sigh. Reading that article was just frustrating. I'm going to go finish Why We Get Fat and restore my faith in humanity (er... healthy eating).

Quote of the day:
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness..." -Allen Ginsberg

I forgot to take a picture of my lovely skirt steak last night at 13 Restaurant in Center City, so here's today's delicious salad!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Etymology of "Diet"

When we hear the word diet, we probably think of it to mean a way of eating that restricts certain food groups ("a low-carb diet"), or a term used by food businesses to make you think their products are healthy when, in reality, they're pumped with chemicals ("Diet Coke"). When we hear this word, we almost always associate it with food (or lack thereof).

However, diet comes from a Greek word meaning "lifestyle," which is a definition that doesn't mention food at all! While the Oxford English Dictionary considers this meaning for diet obsolete, it is still the first entry that appears!

The word diet bothers a lot of people in regards to Paleo/Primal eating. I read a blog a few days ago by someone who absolutely refuses to read Robb Wolf's The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet and Loren Cordain's The Paleo Diet because of this little four-letter word on the front cover, using the reasoning that diet means it's not a permanent thing. I can understand the objection to the word (but not the refusal to read those two amazing books), because every time I've gone on a diet, it was only temporary and I went right back to my old eating habits after I lost some weight.

When I first started thinking about my low-carb/real food diet as a lifestyle (before I knew that it was called Paleo/Primal), I became extremely objected to the word too-- about seven months into eating this way (at some point last September), I had my first real issue with diet. I had dinner with a friend who I hadn't seen since the spring, and he commented on my salad, even though the dining hall was having a pasta night. I responded with "I don't eat grains," and he asked, "What? Are you on the Atkins diet?" It was the first time I thought of my way of eating as a lifestyle, rather than a diet, and I told him so: "No. I just don't eat processed foods." I remember actually being offended that my friend referred to my eating habits as a diet!

Being a linguistics major (and just a bit of a nerd in general), I went back to my dorm and looked up the word diet in the OED (which provides the etymology of essentially every word in the English language) and was amazed at the definition in the first entry: "diet, n. 1. Course of life: way of living or thinking." What?! Diet hasn't always meant "food restriction"?!?! I learned that diet was borrowed into English via Old French (diete) via Latin (diæta) via the Greek word δίαιτα (diaita), meaning "mode of life" or "lifestyle."

Although the use of diet to mean "lifestyle" is obsolete today, this etymological information no longer makes me objected to the use of the word to describe eating Paleo/Primal. I'm still not crazy about the word diet because of its negative connotations, however-- I much prefer calling it a "lifestyle," or even the (slightly redundant) "Paleo/Primal Diet Lifestyle."

Whether it's a "diet" or a "lifestyle," eating Paleo/Primal/Caveman/Real Food is the way to go!

Quote of the Day:
"Every human being is the author of his own health or disease." -Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama)

(Doing an I.F., so no fun pictures today!)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's Always Sunny (and Obese) In Philadelphia

I really love Philadelphia. The opportunities in this city are endless in terms of the Arts, culture, research, education, entertainment... the list goes on. I also love Philadelphia's beautiful weather, especially on days like today-- it's in the mid- to high-50s and sunny, so I decided to take a walk around campus and get some much-needed Vitamin D (Benefits of Vitamin D). While marveling at the beauty of Penn's campus (and of University City in general), I noticed a few disturbing (and ironic) things:
1. There is a sandwich shop at the base of Penn Tower, which is connected by skywalk to the University Hospital and the Children's Hospital.
2. There is a bakery and a pizzeria across from the Dental School.
3. The McDonalds on the edge of campus offers a "50 Chicken Nuggets for $10" deal.
4. There was a table selling Girl Scout cookies directly outside of the Penn Women's Center (whose theme is "Women's Bodies and Health").

..............WHAT?!

I'm not even sure where to start with all of this. So I'll start with a (not-so) fun fact: Philadelphia was named #15 on Men's Health's list of America's Fattest Cities. (Though to be fair, it was #1 in 1999 on the list by Men's Fitness. I guess that's an improvement?) However, Philly's still #1 on a different list: Highest Obesity Rates of the Nation's Largest Cities. While I understand that, as the article quotes, "Poverty and lack of access to healthy food is to blame," I absolutely do not understand or agree with Foster's quote that "It's cheaper to eat a high-quantity, high-fat, good-tasting food that's convenient... [and] you don't have acccess to a wide variety of foods." Instead of spending your $10 on 50 chicken McNuggets (just the thought of that makes me cringe), why not spend it on nutrient-dense foods you can eat on a budget? I also understand the convenience of fast food, but c'mon! The Fresh Grocer (also known as "Fro-Gro," which is right across from McDonalds here in University City) has pre-made meals for relatively cheap that are real food. Or, go to Whole Foods and get organic whole chickens for only $1.69/pound! Real chicken! Fruits! Veggies! Oh my!

Or maybe Philadelphia is so obese due to the iconic Philly foods: hoagies, cheesesteaks, and Philly pretzels. There is nothing real in a pretzel, cheesesteaks are just disgusting and are also served on bread, and hoagies are the Philly versions of subs/heroes-- yeah, there might be "real" food on them, but there still exists an overwhelming amount of bread. Bread = grain = bad carbs = health problems = obesity.
On that same note, Philadelphia also made this list: Best Beer Cities. As the article quotes, "You'll need something to wash down the hoagies and pretzels." Great. So wash down bad carbs with more bad carbs.
I read a few days ago that, according to Men's Health (once again), Philly is the Second Worst City in the US. That saddens me, because it really is a wonderful place (at least for college, and my friends who grew up here love it too). While unemployment, crime, and air pollution rates would take a long time to fix, cutting out the aforementioned foods would really help the obesity rates. Props to the mayor for the proposed soda tax, but the amount of food around here that makes me cringe is overwhelming.

*steps off soap-box*

Now for some of the other things on my list:

The fact that there's a pizza joint and bakery across from the Dental School isn't Penn's fault: it's just an ironic observation that I made, considering the link between nutrition and dental health. (For more information, read Weston A. Price's book, or check out this blog.)

Girl Scout cookies being sold in front of a place that promotes health is also ridiculously ironic. While there's no connection at all between the Girl Scout table and the Women's Center, it brings up the bigger issue of letting kids sell unhealthy food, especially considering the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. (For a great blog about this, check out nutritionist Jay Robb's opinions.) The main mission of the Girl Scouts is to build "girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place," and awards badges for "Healthy Habits," "A Healthier You," and "Women's Health," so... maybe I'm just confused. How is selling products that are known to cause health problems "making a world a better place"? I don't mean to be harsh on the Girl Scouts, because I really do think it's a great organization (and I used be in it in elementary school), but with all the health and nutrition knowledge out there, I just find it hard to believe that Girl Scout cookies can still be in existence.

Finally, I have three words: shame on Penn. Maybe this is another reason why Philadelphia has such an obesity problem: the UPenn Hospital and Children's Hospital are connected by skywalk to the Penn Tower, which is a hotel that can accomodate families of hospital patients. At the base of Penn Tower is the sandwich shop Potbelly Sandwich Works. Huh. So let me get this straight: patients with health problems (that can possibly be avoided if they'd simply change their diets) go into the hospital, then can go and buy unhealthy food right after being released that will just send them right back inside. What a vicious cycle. (Of course, this is assuming a patient is in the hospital for something due to lousy nutrition and that he/she will go to Potbelly right after... While I'm sure this only represents a small amount of patients, it's still something to think about.)

Here's my quote of the day, from the founder of my school (and that I use at the top of this blog):
"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Lunch today: Baby spinach salad with bacon, tomato, egg, and chicken with EVOO

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: The Paleo Recipe Book

Since I've become a Paleo/Primal enthusiast, I've been on a mission to find some of the best recipes so I can spice up my meals. I've read countless blogs, hunted down low-carb cookbooks so I can "Paleo-ify" the recipes, and spent entirely too much time obsessing about how I can use my dining hall's resources to make some really awesome recipes. Keep in mind that I really don't cook all that often in the first place-- mostly due to the convenience of my meal plan, but also because I only started cooking last summer and am still pretty clueless about many cooking techniques and spices.

I hit jackpot when I was contacted by Sebastien Noel (of the amazing www.paleodietlifestyle.com) and given access to The Paleo Recipe Book. Instead of doing my homework, I read through it all and learned a hell of a lot more than I would've reading for class... and I'm really glad I did. Not only is there an abundance of delicious recipes, but the conversion tables, food list, and step-by-step instructions for cooking techniques are so helpful... especially if you're like me and are cooking-illiterate!

Clueless about different types of steak? He's got you covered. Unsure about cooking stocks? He's got you covered. Overwhelmed by all of the spices out there? He's got you covered. Want to know how to make vinaigrettes and condiments? He's got you covered.
And if you're a Paleo/Primal eater or just a hungry foodie, he's really got you covered.

The Paleo Recipe Book is not your average cookbook-- it's a shopping guide, a how-to manual, a fact book, a collection of mouth-watering pictures of primal foods, and, of course, an all-around fantastic compilation of recipes that use a vast variety of ingredients and represent cuisines from all over the world. In the mood for Indian? Choose from quite a few different curry recipes. How about Italian? Yum, Osso Bucco... and Marinara sauce... and paleo lasagna! The diversity of recipes in this cookbook is absolutely fantastic-- no matter what type of food you're craving, something in this book will satisfy you!

I love how the over 300 recipes are organized by both major food group (such as "Red meat" and"Poultry") and type of dish (such as "Stews & Curries" and "Soups & Sides"). Navigating through it is therefore extremely simple and allows you to quickly find any type of recipe. There are also meals to fit every occasion, budget, and time constraint-- so even a college kid like me can make some of these meals for low cost in a short amount of time! I also love the fun-facts, tips, and suggestions provided along with some of the recipes-- he explains what certain dishes are, gives tips on where to buy or how to prepare some ingredients, or simply suggests how to serve your food.

I'm still amazed at just how many Paleo/Primal/real food recipes are included in this book. Many people complain about being bored while following any of these lifestyles (I guess because they don't realize just how many options there are?), but c'mon-- this book has over 300 recipes!!!!! And not only are there over 300 recipes, but there are over 300 incredibly diverse recipes from which to construct your meals. Further, so many of these recipes can be tweaked a bit so you can use whatever ingredients available to you while still following the general concept. If you're new to the Real Food lifestyle and are worried about what to eat, I insist that you buy this book. Actually, if you just love food, I insist that you buy this book.

I can't remember ever being this excited about a cookbook before. I made a late-night grocery run to the Fresh Grocer a few nights ago to look for some of the ingredients in these recipes, and I'm so excited to try them out soon! I'm planning on making the "Coconut curry stir-fry" at some point this week, since A) the book taught me how to stir-fry, B) the included "Herbs and Spices" guide taught me how to use spices, and C) my enthusiastic quest for ingredients after first getting this cookbook was a success! Also, I made the "Balsamic vinegar and oregano tomato salad" today for lunch, and I have one word to describe it: delicious. It's definitely going to become a staple for me!

So seriously: go to http://paleorecipebook.com/ and buy this cookbook. And not only will you get over 300 amazing recipes, but you'll also get an 8-week meal plan and an extremely informative Herbs & Spices guide that taught me everything I'll ever need to know to spice up (pun totally intended) my meals.

In the Foreword, Sebastien Noel writes, "I want this to be the only cookbook you will ever need to follow a Paleo diet." This will definitely be my only cookbook!

Balsamic vinegar and oregano tomato salad:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First Post!

Hey everyone!

I've been contemplating starting this for quite a few months, and am really glad I finally decided to do it. This blog pretty much will chronicle my experience eating Paleo/Primal both here at college (University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia) and at home (in Westchester County, New York, right outside of NYC).

So here's a little bit of background:
I've been eating Paleo for over a year now (February 1, 2010!... minus two months of almost-Paleo vegetarianism, but I'll discuss that in a bit), but only recently learned that my eating habits aren't totally extreme and actually have a name (well, names...)/philosophy behind them. In the last month or so, I've read every Paleo/Primal book available for Nook (including works by Loren Cordain, Art DeVany, Robb Wolf, Frank Forencich, and Mark Sisson), subscribed to every Paleo/Primal blog I can find via twitter, and have become even more health/nutrition-obsessed than I thought possible.

Changing my eating habits changed my life. I've struggled with weight for pretty much ever (I blamed genetics, but it was completely my fault: I was a carb-addict, and working at Dunkin Donuts for 3.5 years certainly didn't help!), and every time I went on a diet (always Atkins-- did that for the first time when I was thirteen and lost 30 pounds), I'd put all the weight back on... plus a lot more. (At my heaviest, when I was sixteen, I was 70 pounds and 6-7 sizes bigger than I am now.) With diabetes and heart disease running in my family, I knew my eating habits and inactive lifestyle would eventually lead to severe health problems... hence the millions of dieting attempts.

Enough was enough. February 1, 2010, I decided (for probably the trillianth time), "Today is the first day of the rest of my life." And, for the first time, that came true. One year and fifteen days later (and 50+ pounds and 5-6 sizes smaller), I can happily say I've successfully avoided all breads, sweets, starches, pastries, grains, and other types of fake food! (And for those of you who are in/have gone through college, you know how fake food temptations are everywhere!) My lifestyle now can be summed up by one of my favorite Jack LaLanne quotes: "If man made it, hate it."


However, I went through a two-month period of vegetarianism (though staying low-carb... the only "man" food I ate was tofu) after reading Michael Pollan's books, various newsletters by nutritionist Jay Robb, and reading a plethora of articles on the subject. I didn't feel satisfied, however-- I was tired all the time, experienced almost-daily digestive problems, and found myself snacking more than usual.
Then a few weeks ago, my dad (a fellow nutrition/health enthusiast) sent me Dr. Cordain's The Paleo Diet, which I devoured (no pun intended) one night... and haven't looked back to vegetarianism since. Ever since then, I pretty much went back to eating the way I did for 10 out of the last 12 months. I feel more energized, my digestive problems are gone, and I stopped snacking. Paleo/Primal, for the win!

So that's my story. I'm really excited to finally do this blog-- I'll be posting recipes, book reviews (currently reading Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes... will review when I'm done!), restaurant reviews (on the rare occasions that I don't eat in my dining hall), and thoughts on other nutrition and health issues.

So what was for dinner tonight? Baby spinach salad with beef, chopped egg, tomatoes, diced onions, and pecans, drizzled with EVOO. (You can't really see the tomatoes or onions, but they're under all the fantastic beef!)


Quote of the day:
"We don't know all the answers. If we knew all the answers, we'd be bored, wouldn't we? We keep looking, searching, trying to get more knowledge." -Jack LaLanne