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

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Paleo at Penn... in Edinburgh!

As some of you may know, I am currently studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. The city is so beautiful and rich in history and culture-- my flat is located thirty seconds from the National Museum of Scotland, two minutes away from the cafe where Harry Potter was written, and the Edinburgh Castle is also just a short journey away! Besides the experience of living in a new city and country, I've also been having new food experiences as well: grocery shopping and cooking for myself. While it would certainly be easier to buy a loaf of bread and live on sandwiches for the semester, I am sticking true to Paleo and learning how to make it work here-- I'm glad this "Tips and Tricks from Top Paleo Chefs" post just came out!

Grocery stores (at least the ones I've been to) here are much smaller than the ones I'm used to in the US (now I totally understand the term "supermarket"), and finding spices and seasonings has been quite a challenge! So I've started shopping at a Middle Eastern market, where I've not only found spices from all over the world, but also ghee, coconut oil, coconut flakes, and many other Paleo foods that are hard to find in the chain grocery stores. However, I'm very impressed that almost all of the eggs I've found here are free-range-- I just need to get used to looking for them in center aisles, rather than in the refrigerated periphery (this is the only time I'll break Michael Pollan's food rule).

Something that really amazes me about Edinburgh is the amount of American fast food chains that are on almost every corner. Subway, KFC, Papa John's, Domino's Pizza, and Pizza Hut are everywhere, and there are two McDonald's not too far from here as well (TGI Friday's and Burger King also made their way to Edinburgh... and, of course, you can find a Starbucks every few blocks too). I remember when Subway passed McDonald's as the world's largest restaurant chain in 2011, but I didn't really believe it since there are definitely more McDonald's than Subways where I'm from... but now I see Subway's world domination first-hand! (Check out this list of top 10 largest fast food chains-- many of the ones I mentioned are on it.) There's another chain here, Baguette Express, which seems to be a Subway competitor and is also everywhere; another popular one is Gregg's, which reminds me of Au Bon Pain. In summary, there's a gluten-fest everywhere you look. (Let me also mention that Scotland is the home of deep-fred Mars bars and deep-fried pizza.)

Based on what I've seen of Scotland thus far, it is really no surprise at all that the UK consistently ranks among the world's fattest countries-- this article says it's the fattest in Europe and fifth in the world (with Scotland's childhood obesity problem second only to that of the US); this BBC article says that UK women are the fattest in Europe, and this one discusses the UK's general unhealthiness; the 2010 Scottish Health Survey states that 65.1% of adults (16 and over) were considered overweight or obese; and this article states that Scotland is the second-most obese region in the UK. (Of course, these are based on BMI, but they still give some indication of the problem.) Considering Subway, Domino's, and other carb-heavy sandwich and pizza chains are on every corner, it's no wonder this is happening!

I'm really enjoying my time in Edinburgh, and I'm also loving all of the cooking I've been doing. I realized just how it easy it is to sauté some type of protein on the stove, then serve with vegetables. Below is yesterday's lunch: an Italian-inspired turkey dish in a chunky tomato sauce and served over baby spinach. Nom!

I hope to tackle some traditional Scottish recipes over the next few months and try to make them Paleo/Primal. I have a few in the works, so I'll be posting them here when they're done!

And here's just a pretty picture I took on a trip to St. Andrews last weekend:

Quote of the Day:
"Human potential is the same for all. Your feeling, 'I am of no value,' is wrong. Absolutely wrong. You are deceiving yourself. We all have the power of thought-- so what are you lacking? If you have willpower, then you can change anything. It is usually said that you are your own master." -The Dalai Lama

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: 'The Paleo Answer' by Loren Cordain

Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, recently came out with a new book, The Paleo Answer. The subtitle is "7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young," so I was skeptical that this would be mostly a weight loss book and wouldn't tell me anything new. While it was almost exclusively on nutrition, I didn't think it was a weight loss book at all-- I'd say it was truer to the "Feel Great, Stay Young" part, with a "You'll probably lose weight in the process" idea as a side-note. For Paleo/Primal veterans, some of the information is repetitive-- it's probably all stuff you've read in Cordain's other book or any of the other literature (by Sisson, Robb, DeVany, Gedgaudas, etc.). However, I thought it was a nice refresher and has reminded me of some information that I had forgotten from the other books. Further, The Paleo Answer provided some fantastic research, many success stories and anecdotes, helpful charts and graphs, and was organized and written in a way that I think is accessible to all people.

The organization of The Paleo Answer reminds me of Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora T. Gedgaudas, in that it devotes a chapter to each major topic (usually a specific food group), breaks the chapters down into sub-sections, and provides a short summary/wrap-up at the end of each chapter as well. If you just read the "Paleo Bottom Line" in each chapter, you'd probably have the basics of Paleo nutrition; I think this was a smart way to structure the book so people can quickly get the gist of his stance on a certain issue, just in case his writing was at all confusing or ambiguous (which, for the most part, was not the case). He also repeats himself a lot to remind the readers what a certain hormone, chemical, or scientific term is/means-- while sometimes I found this frustrating, I can see where it might be helpful to a person who has never read a book on nutrition before.
I also really liked that each chapter began with a Paleo success story to demonstrate how this lifestyle works for all different types of people; this was also stressed through Cordain's idea that the Paleo Diet consists of many Paleo diets, and each person's is unique.
I'm glad he provided a discussion about how to "Paleoify" your water; he gave a very clear argument about why we should avoid plastics. This chapter (12, "Paleo Water") is something that doesn't even just apply to Paleo-- everyone should read it!
Cordain has also changed his stance on a few issues since The Paleo Diet-- he is not as anti- saturated fat as he used to be, and he no longer recommends artificial sweeteners as "an acceptable replacement for high-fructose corn syrup sweetened sodas." THANK YOU. It always baffled me that he'd be okay with diet sodas as part of the Paleo lifestyle, and I am so glad he revised his opinion in this book. As for saturated fat, he now says, "The saturated fats you consume from grass-fed beef, poultry, pork, eggs, fish, and seafood will not promote heart disease, cancer, or any chronic health problem. In fact, these foods can ensure your birthright-- a long, healthy, and happy life." Amen!

My biggest critique of this book is that it doesn't cover many aspects of the Paleo lifestyle, such as the importance of sleep and heavy lifting. While he does stress the importance of sunlight/Vitamin D, The Paleo Answer is pretty much only on nutrition-- that's fine if you're looking for a book on what to eat/not eat, but I think there's a lot more to health than just food, and I wish he had discussed this in more detail than just the little "exercise and relaxation" and "health tip" sections in Chapter 10, "The Paleo Answer 7-Day Diet Plan." (However, I applaud his great overview of Paleo nutrition!)
I also wish he had talked about vegetable oils and why they should be avoided; actually, I'm quite amazed he never mentioned them at all (except in one sentence about staying away from saturated fat in processed foods), given all of his other discussions about inflammation. If I were someone new to Paleo/evolutionary nutrition, I'd think vegetable oils were okay after reading this book.
I also have to disagree with his idea that three non-Paleo ("cheat") meals are allowed. While I agree that eating Paleo 85% of the time (he has an 85/15 stance) will improve your health, I think that three non-Paleo meals a week is way too many, especially if you're starting out. (Then again, I know from past dieting experiences that if I had a "cheat" meal on a diet, I'd binge and go off the diet completely. That's why I don't advocate this approach to people who are new to cutting out grains, processed foods, and other non-Paleo foods. I think it's more beneficial to cut everything out for 30 days-- such as on a Whole30 or other 30-day challenge-- then maybe have a cheat once you have the sugar/carb/bread/whatever addictions under control.) People might also have intolerances to certain foods (e.g. gluten and dairy) or chemicals in processed foods (such as aspartame) that these "cheat" meals would aggravate... But everyone is different, and perhaps a few "cheat" meals a week are good for people in transition; I just don't agree with this based on my own experiences, and three seems way too many.

Overall, I think The Paleo Answer is a really good beginner's guide to Paleo nutrition. It is well-organized, well-researched, easy to understand, and provides a great overview of which foods to eat/avoid and why. Even if you're not new to Paleo, it's worth reading just for the most up-to-date research and information from around the world and by the "founder of the Paleo movement."

Quote of the Day:
"I am not suggesting that we abandon electricity, central heating, public sanitation, or clean water. We need to recognize our humble roots as hunter-gatherers and adopt the best of their world, while leaving the worst behind." -Loren Cordain, The Paleo Answer

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Primal CocoNutty Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients (makes 24):
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups almond flour
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Beat butter for 30 seconds in a bowl. Add in chopped cranberries and baking soda. Beat in eggs, vanilla, and almond flour. Stir in coconut, chocolate chips, and nuts. Mix until smooth.
3. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet. Place spoonfuls of cookie mixture on tray.
4. Bake for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through. Let cool (because they're pretty crumbly when still hot) and enjoy!

Quote of the Day:
"I always had the will to win. I felt it baking cookies. They had to be the best cookies anyone baked." -Bette Davis