Archive of ‘Science’ category

The White Answer

Had a great weekend with The Man replete with yoga, long walks up the Riverwalk, sunshine, and amazing food.  I can’t tell you the last time we actually went out for a swanky dinner-date, but last night we put on some nice clothes and headed over to Biga on the Banks.  It’s one of those ambient-lit places where even the least dressed up guys are wearing a collared shirt and the music is loud enough to enjoy but not loud enough to interfere with intimate conversation…as The Man put it, “This is the exact place I wish I could’ve taken a girl on a grown-up first date.”

And oh, by the way, my meal was so good I could have died afterwards and my life would have been complete.

Duck two ways–braised leg and pan-seared crispy breast, served with parsnip puree, roast endive, and jus, seasoned sweet and savory with just a hint of spice from what I’m guessing was just a pinch of cinnamon and cloves.  Perfect.  Please excuse the shit photo…I had to use my phone to avoid nasty looks from the other (much classier) patrons around us.

Today we spent the morning just being lazy, then The Man headed home and I went down to the hotel gym and walked with my Kindle for a while.  I wasn’t feeling anything too vigorous–I have some longer metcons planned for the week ahead and figured I could use the rest.

So, now I’ll turn to today’s main topic, which is something The Man and I mused about at length over the weekend (yes, this is our idea of a romantic weekend getaway…deal with it).  This isn’t a new discussion in the Paleo community by any means, but I wanted to give my take on what I like to call The White Question…what about potatoes and rice?

The argument in favor of rice and potato consumption usually comes in some form of, “They’re neutral starches and aren’t bad for you.”  OK, cool.  Robb Wolf posted an article a while back that basically OK’d peeled white potatoes for otherwise healthy people who were “lean, hard-training athletes,” and it seemed like a lot of people took that as a one-way ticket to Potato-ville.  Mark Sisson has a thoughtful post on rice in which he calls it “nutritionally bereft” but also notes that if you’re “lean and active,” it may not be so bad.

I will note here, as I often do, that I am not a health professional and by no means should you take my word as dietary gospel.

There are certainly worse things you could be eating than rice and potatoes.  They’re not going to kill you–at least not as fast as something like wheat or soy.  If you end up with some mashed potatoes or rice on your plate as part of a holiday meal or a 20 Percent occasion, I wouldn’t worry.  I also understand that rice and potatoes are cheap and relatively sustainable food sources, and if you have no other option, go for it.

However, most people are not “lean and healthy,” and even those who are may not be a “hard-training athlete” to the degree which would justify a high starchy carbohydrate consumption from rice and potatoes.  And even if you are a lean, healthy, hard-training athlete, why would you opt for these foods for extra starch when you could get sufficient glycogen replenishment from much more nutritious sources like yams, sweet potatoes, or starchy fruits?  Personally, I avoid rice and potatoes not because I don’t like them but because I get nothing out of them but a full belly.  You may as well be eating dirt.

Let’s take rice.  Brown rice–so loved by the vegan crowd as a “healthy whole grain that oh btw is gluten free because GF is cool nowadays”–contains phytin in the bran, which binds to minerals and prevents their absorbtion.  White rice doesn’t have the phytin levels of brown rice, but most of the vitamin and mineral content is removed with the bran.  It’s empty calories, plain and simple.

OK, potatoes.  White potatoes contain a host of antinutrients–glycoalkaloids, lectins, phytates, ect that can mess with the gut lining and contribute to systemic inflammation.  Potatoes are also in the nightshade family and can cause serious problems for people with autoimmune issues.  Most of those antinutrients, however, are contained in the skin…so if we peel them they’re healthy, right?  I honestly don’t know.  There are studies that support both ends of that argument.  I don’t eat white potatoes for a couple of reasons–one because I’d rather eat a sweet potato any day of the week and two because “gray areas” make me uncomfortable…if I’m not sure whether or not something is going to cause me harm in the long term, I figure it’s best to avoid it.  (For more info on the potato issue, Google it or look here, here, and here)

Because I get this question a lot, I want to quickly address the relationship between white potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing…not even close.  They are in a completely different botanical family than white potatoes.  Sweet potatoes have a significantly different nutritional profile, do not contain nightshade alkaloids or antinutrients, and taste a hell of a lot better.

As you know, I’m all about experimentation, research, and finding what works for YOU.  I believe the basic premise behind the Paleo diet and lifestyle is the ideal framework for all of us, but you have to work at the individual level to really figure out–beyond just getting rid of grains, legumes, dairy, and vegetable oils–what optimizes how someone looks/feels/performs.  For example, I used to think I was OK on a higher ratio of carbohydrates to fat and protein because I run a lot…it turns out that wasn’t true.  I’ve also found that high consumption of nuts and nut butters really slow me down.  The Man pointed out to me this weekend that he’s fine with fermented dairy and heavy cream, but straight milk makes him nauseous.

The best way to find out how anything really affects you is to pay attention to your body and do a little research.  Cut it out for a while a la Whole30 and re-introduce it into your routine and see if you actually do or don’t tolerate it and how it affects your performance.  Do some digging of your own…Google is great like that.  Know that just because something doesn’t send you into digestive distress doesn’t mean it’s good for you, and just because someone suddenly say something is “safe” or “unsafe” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.  The short answer to the potato/rice quandary might just be, “Find out what works for you.”  

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One Week Down!

(Whole30, Day 7)

After breakfast this morning, The Man and I headed down to the farmers’ market in Round Rock…which, it turns out, no longer exists.  Instead, we just went grocery shopping and loaded up on produce.  The case of grapefruits and sacks of apples and oranges are headed for the juicer very, very soon…


I threw together a salad with shredded cabbage tossed in olive oil and apple cider vinegar with leftover salmon and butternut squash.

After laying around the house for a while catching up on The Real Housewives of New York (Ramona’s NOT preggers, btw) I texted a friend to see if she was up for a garage WOD.  This one was one of Defiant’s that we missed last week, and it was brutal

2 min Push-Ups
1 min Rest
2 min Squats
1 min Rest
2 min Pull-Ups
1 min Rest
2 min Sit-Ups
1 min Rest
2 min Box Jumps, 20″ Box

Each person’s score was the sum of total number of reps completed.  It was great, too, because with three people working out at once with only one pull-up bar and one box, we could each start on something different but still be on the same intervals.


As soon as I got home I threw a banana in a mug with some cinnamon and nuked it for a minute…I was craving a little sweetness and this did it for me.  Also, cinnamon improves insulin sensitivity and helps reduce inflammation.  Yay for science!


I pan-seared some steaks in coconut oil with some salt, pepper, ground mustard, and a little cayenne.  On the side was steamed asparagus and some mushrooms and onions I sauteed up in the steak juice left in the pan.

Another night in like the old people we are.  Yoga in the morning…it’s been way too long!

Food for thought:

-First off, if the first week on your Whole30 has you hating life, stay strong!  I can’t tell you how bad I want a glass of wine (or a round of shots) some days after work, but sticking with it for just 3 more weeks will pay off in a BIG way.  You Get What You Pay For!

-I love Crossfit and what it’s done for me.  Is it perfect?  No.  The Man and I were musing today about some of the intrinsic flaws of Crossfit as a long-term fitness solution.  I still think it’s use of intervals, varied lengths, alternating heavy lifting with metcons, and emphasis on the Paleo diet (in general) is great and should be acknowledged.  However, there are some notable flaws in the programming, culture, and history of the “sport.”  I don’t think any system or method is perfect and that’s why we don’t plan to stop anytime soon (we haven’t stopped running, either!), but we’re always looking to find the best way to periodize and train as smart and effectively as we can (The Man has been looking into Max Effort Black Box, and my interest is certainly piqued).  The Paleo diet has changed its recommendations over time with experience and science to back it up, and exercise should be the same way.

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19 Reasons Why the Special K Challenge is Stupid

Wanna feel like crap?  Wanna looklike crap?  Then eat this crap.I want you all to know I’m not just hating on Special K.  This rant of mine is equall applicable to any “health plan” or “weight-loss system” that involves the vicious consumption of pre-packaged, canned, bottles, or boxed crap in set quantities with the intent to lose weight, get ripped, make boys/girls like you…whatever.  I picked “The K” because it used to be my personal tool of choice for my annual resolution to lose weight and “get ripped” as masochistically as possible.

For about 6 years in a row, my New Years weight-loss resolution involved the consumption of miniscule portions at strictly designated times of Special K and a perfect half cup of skim milk (and later almond milk…not because I thought dairy was bad, but because it had even fewer calories).  In college I’d dedicate an entire row of my bookshelf to multiple boxes of the stuff, in multiple flavors to make sure my diet had variety.  Oh, and my “sensible dinner” usually involved another bowl of either “The K” or instant oatmeal or a can of soup because those are all “portion-controlled,” and when it comes to eating for weight control, less is more, right??

I know…stupid.

Clearly I figured out–eventually–that this kind of crash dieting was stupid and went on to bigger and better things.  I’m sick and tired of seeing this sh*t year after year…but don’t worry, I’m not going to give a spiel on why food restriction doesn’t work.  I’m not going to give a warm and fuzzy about fostering good body image.  I’m not even going to get all preachy about why the Whole30 and Paleo are infinitely superior to the crap our diet-obsessed culture wants to shove down your throat.

No, no.  I’m just going to give you all the reasons why resting all your hopes of a healthier life (and looking better naked) on a f**king cereal, honestly thinking that surviving on nothing but Special-effing-K is a sustainable lifestyle, and why the contents of those ethereal-looking boxes sexied up by commercials with gorgeous women doing a happy dance on a scale decked out in red Armani dresses is literallyrotting out your insides.

  1. Rice
  2. Wheat Gluten
  3. Sugar
  4. Defatted Wheat Germ
  5. Salt
  6. High Fructose Corn Syrup
  7. Dried Whey
  8. Malt Flavoring
  9. Calcium Caseinate
  10. Ascorbic Acid
  11. Alpha Tocopherol Acetate
  12. Reduced Iron
  13. Nicinamide
  14. Pyridoxine Hydrochloride
  15. Riboflavin
  16. Thiamin Hydrochloride
  17. Palmitate
  18. Folic Acid
  19. Added Vitamin B12


Yes, I am aware that a few of those ingredients are added to up the vitamin and mineral content of the cereal.  News flash…fake vitamins aren’t nearly as good as those in real food and just throwing a bunch of micros in the mix doesn’t negate the fact that you’re shoving gluten and corn syrup and God-only-knows-what-some-of-that-crap-is down your gullet.

Do yourself a favor this Resolution Season…cut the crap.


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Is Ancestral Health Catching On?

One of my favorite bloggers just wrote The Top 10 Exercise and Weigh-Loss Trends of 2011, and six of the ten were all pretty big elements of the Ancestral Health Movement:-The Paleo Diet
-Vitamin D
-Natural Sweeteners (Honey, Agave, Stevia, etc) nstead of Splenda/Aspartame/Corn Syrup
-Intermittent Fasting
-Preventative Health

While none of these things are new to me (Crossfit was a top trend of 2010, too…), it’s reassuring that they have definitely been gaining press over the last year.  As recently as last year, I’d mention the Paleo Diet or Primal Living and people would look at me like I was from Mars.  Now, while they still probably think I have a few screws loose (and much better looking than they are) they’ve heard of the stuff.

Admittedly, some of the other “top trends” in the article are Cleanse Diets (shady) and the HCG Diet (f**king weird).  I checked out the trends from 2010 on the same site and those included stripper classes and the shake weight (if you haven’t seen the episode of South Park about the Shake Weight…stop right now and do it!!).  Clearly there are trendy products and fads of all varieties that pop up from year to year, and even though I have a lot of hope that Ancestral Living will only increase in popularity thanks to so much success, will it all fizzle out and get replaced by some Hyper-Vegan-Grass-Eating-Hemp-Wearing dealio?

I don’t think so.  Innumerable reviews by reputable sources like the New York Times, major magazines and television shows, a growing population of Paleo bloggers, etc have sung the praises of the lifestyle.  People from all walks of life have transformed–they lose weight and find simple remedy for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infertility, acne, depression, autism, hair loss…you name it!  Even if people don’t totally buy in to the whole thing, it’s really hard to deny that eating natural, healthy food and getting smart exercise and avoiding environmental pollutants won’t make you better off than you already are.  A growing collection of medical and nutritional studies give an even more solid backing to the Movement.  Organizations like the Paleo Physicians’ Network promise to spread the fundamentals among the medical community and allow us to put these principles to the test against conventional pharmaceuticals and artificial treatments.

Like any other “trend” that comes around, I often hear that “it’s not worth it” or that I’m “not living.”  Um, I don’t think so.  It works, it makes you feel amazing, it is worth it, and if you can do it while devouring copious amounts of bacon and not having to run 10 miles a day.  What about that isn’t living?


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When Adrenals Attack

Even though I took a rest day yesterday, I woke up this morning feeling slow, foggy-headed, and generally like garbage.  I’ve been feeling like this since before Thanksgiving but today it was especially bad.  Not a huge shocker–I’m no stranger to adrenal fatigue thanks to some crazy hours, a Type-A personality, and a penchant to be reckless with my training.

Granted it’s my own damn fault that I don’t have a low-stree job, get 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, or periodize my workouts perfectly to maintain 8-pack abs while taking enough recovery.


As I write this you could cut my brain fog with a knife.  I have a bad habit of ignoring my internal screams for mercy, but today is enough of a wake-up call to start taking it easy for the next couple of days (famous last words).  At the onset of adrenal fatigue it’s super important to tighten up your habits…standard Paleo/Primal habits always do a body good but take extra care to exercise smart (read: low-level, strength-based, minimal metcons, and don’t try to break any records) and make an extra-special effort to eat healthy fats (yes, please!) and antioxidants and consume enough food in general to fuel recovery.
The Man was feeling equally as atrocious–and it’s no wonder since he’s been working on grad school apps and GMAT prep and has probably slept a total of 4 hours all week–so instead of a long run like we typically schedule on Wednesdays, we just headed over to the gym, warmed up, and worked on some strength-based skills where we could both use a little improvement.

5 x 5 @ 70%

Push Press
5 x 5 @ 70%

Bench Press
5 x 5 @ 70%

Nothing crazy, but I felt great afterwards…a good rush of endorphines without overdoing the cortisol or sending my adrenals into overdrive (again).  Hopefully things will die down and I can stop being stupid so I can get back to my old self.
On another note, The Man has another late night tonight, so I’m racking my brain for something new I can try for dinner.  I certainly prefer road-testing recipes when I’m the only one who has to eat it…

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Primal Kitty

I mentioned before we left for the Thanksgiving holiday that we left Ms. Snugglebottom home alone this weekend…alone, that is, with a dozen crickets.

We got the idea from one of Mark Sisson’s posts a while back called The Tale of the Cat and the Crickets.  I suppose it struck a chord with us because we do suffer the chronic guilt that comes with pet ownership whilst working the hours we do.  While The Husky, at least, gets her daily walks (still not enough, I’m sure, for a doggie so naturally inclined to RUN), the cat lives exclusively indoors and has made a habit of spending a good deal of her time on the windowsill crying in agony as birds and bugs and rabbits and squirrels hop past in the yard.

My cats growing up were always outdoors cats–a luxury I took for granted in my rural upbringing.  It turns out, though, that the “house cat” is a relatively new phenomenon.  Cats are natural hunters that are best adapted to roam free, not spend day after day cooped up indoors with no natural prey except for shoelaces and toes under blankets.  It doesn’t take a genius to know that poor Ms. Snugglebottom, like so many other cats, gets anxious and would so much rather be outside chasing those critters through the night like the wild little huntress she is.

The cat does get a fair amount of play time with The Husky…they’re a terrific pair and it never gets old watching a 7-pound tabby cat try to hamstring a dog almost 8 times her size.  Leaving the two alone at home is enough to mute my conscience during our days at work, but this holiday weekend we were leaving the dog at a kennel in town…so instead of leaving the poor little kitty all by her lonesome for four days and praying she wouldn’t get so frustrated she’d take down the whole house, The Man ran over to PetsMart, shelled out a whole dollar and change, and came home with a round dozen of crickets…

Mark’s post gave a pretty convincing testimonial to the benefit of giving the cat a chance to exercise her natural predatory habits in the safety of the house, so why not?  I hoped that our cat, too, could have a chance to release some tension…kinda like a kitty spa weekend, just with a lot more bug blood and guts than I’m generally into.  Worst case, she’s be completely indifferent, though I sincerely doubted that would be an issue since Ms. Snugglebottom tried to kill and eat pretty much anything that moves or has the potential to move if she can push it around with her little paws.
The result?  Complete success.  Even when The Man walked in the door and set the bag down, she knew something was up…we had to hide it from her in a kitchen cabinet until we were ready to leave, and she sat outside it whining to get in.  Finally, she got her chance…

Give them to meeeee!!!!


We came home this afternoon and there wasn’t a trace of any crickets, living or dead, anywhere in the house. I’m assuming she ate them all, which would be great because I’m gonna be pissed if she just killed them all and hid them somewhere–like my bed–or if they just retreated somewhere hidden and started to breed…ick

I doubt it, though.  In the article, the author mentions that his cat could hunt and eat a couple dozen per day.  We’ll definitely be continuing the cricket hunts.  It took her a minute or two to get her wits about her when they all scattered from the bag, but in no time at all our little lioness was on the prowel, chasing some under the couch, others along the baseboards and even behind a row of books.

It’s not exactly a forest full of natural prey, but we got a little closer.  We made a happy kitty.

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A Reformed Vegetarian Goes Paleo

Don’t get me wrong, there are those among us who choose not to eat meat for genuine ethical reasons (that I totally don’t understand) or who live a meat-free lifestyle and eat pretty damn well (but could do a lot better).
I’ve had my own forays into meatlessness, though my willpower sucked and they never lasted very long so I gave up all attempts completely after I went to college.  My younger sister went vegetarian as a teenager and remained so for four-ish years.  To this day I still don’t really get it, but I give her a lot of credit for sticking to her guns.  (At least she didn’t get knocked up or thrown in jail…to my knowledge).

She started re-introducing some meat back into her diet a little over a year ago, so I suggested Paleo.  After trying it for shorter spurts of time, lo and behold, she felt and looked better.  She hasn’t exactly bought into it for keeps, but I’m working on it ;)

Anyhow, the other day she sent me a FitDay report comparing a typical day of food from when she was a vegetarian to one following a Paleo diet.  She asked me to have a looksee (she was wondering specifically why her iron levels appeared to have dropped on Paleo) and if I had anything to say about “why I should be eating Paleo if some of my veg numbers were so much better.
First of all, what jumped out to me the most on the vegetarian diet, ironically, was a lack of fruits and vegetables.  Most of her calories were coming from pasta and bread…she was consuming about three times as many carbohydrates as is generally recommended for optimum health in most Paleo/Primal circles and had a serious lack of dietary fat…
On her Paleo day, there’s a definite improvement in her macronutrient profiles:
mmmm…delicious fat
My only concern with her Paleo day was that she wasn’t eating enough.  More on that in a sec…
Her main concern, as I mentioned before, was why some of her micronutrient levels seem to have dropped off.  Below is her FitDay micronutrient analysis for the vegetarian day:
And for her Paleo day:
What jumps out at me is the dramatic increase in natural B-vitamins.  (Yay for beef!)  But what about the calcium and iron?
The answer, from my perspective, is actually pretty simple.  One, there’s not enough food variety here to ensure a well-rounded intake of micronutrients.  Two, she’s simply not eating enough.  Bam!
If we’re looking at iron in particular, she was getting more as a vegetarian thanks to the obscene wheat intake.  Not only is wheat a rich source of iron, a lot of breads and pastas are fortified with even more.  The best sources of any vitamins are whole foods, not those that have been fortified, so her best bet is to keep doing what she’s doing with the meat and dark leafy greens, just eat a little more.  Same goes for the calcium.  Make sure you get some meat and greens at every meal and you’re good to go.  I would also say overall caloric intake ought to be a little higher, too, since she’s pretty active.
Oh, and I should also mention that, even if she appears to be getting less iron in her diet now, my sister has been able to donate blood consistently for the last year.  As a vegetarian, she had been turned away a number of times due to a low blood-iron content–this seems to indicate better and proper absorption of iron since her re-introduction of meat.
In my sister’s defense, she explained that the lack of culinary variety and produce was due in large part to the seasonal availability of a lot of good fruit and veggies (a true locavore!) and the monetary burden of buying a lot of meat.  She lives in a small college town in rural VA that relies heavily on the local agricultural economy and large grocery stores are few and far between.
As far as seasonal lack of produce goes, my advice would be to buy and eat as much as possible of what is available.  If that means eating an ass-ton of greens, then so be it.  Some of us have the luxury of having larger stores that sell organic mangoes year-round and some of us don’t, so you just need to make do with what you’ve got.  Again, veggies at every meal is a great rule of thumb, even if it’s spinach and broccoli every time.
Finally, I’ll be the first one to admit that yes, meat can be expensive.  I get it.  But that’s not a deal-breaker at all.  Invest in cheaper cuts of meat.  Buy meat in bulk quantities.  Go for organ meats.  Go beyond beef and look for pork, poultry, and game meats.  Bite the bullet and pick up some grain-fed meat from time to time (just make sure you’re supplementing your Omega-3s).  If you absolutely CANNOT afford more meat, get more animal-based fat and protein from eggs and organic, full-fat dairy.
There are plenty of resources available (Like this blog!  Tell your friends!) as well, so do a little digging and find out what works for you.  We’re not all blessed with oodles of money and a Whole Foods next door, but a little (or a lot) or effort is always worth it when it comes to lifelong health.
Please be aware that I am not a professional and that all of the nutritional advice given in this post–and on the site as a whole–is based on my own knowledge and opinions.  
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Meal Management Theory…or, A Festivus for the Rest of Us

It’s finally that time of year when my work day begins and ends in darkness…I left the house at 5:10am and got home at 6:15pm and on both occasions the sun was nowhere to be seen and I couldn’t get my keys to find the front lock and was left struggling to lock/unlock the door.  Yay for 13-hour workdays!This morning, I stole away from my company formation and met The Man to go for a 4-mile run on some of the tank trails instead.  It was pretty chilly but that’s my absolute favorite running weather–cool enough not to sweat much but not so cold I have to put on a ton of outer layers.

For breakfast I had some of the Almond-Flax Bread with almond butter:

I’ve got Robb Wolf (among many, many others) on Google Reader, so I came across this article as soon as it posted and my interest was immediately piqued.
The article is essentially systems engineering practice applied to meal planning…just like software, a meal can only be 2 of these 3 things: Easy, Cheap, or Good (in the case of food, “Healthy”).  There was a systems graphic attached and I decided to be all high-speed and made one that applies to the discussion of food:
(I’m a champ on Paint…no big deal)
Basically, the Meal Management Theory says you should understand that your meals can be:
1.  Easy and Cheap, but not Healthy (i.e. crappy fast food or packaged meals…that make you fat)
2.  Cheap and Healthy, but not Easy (because it requires a lot of planning to make and buy)
3.  Healthy and Easy, but not Cheap (god, what I’d give to spend 3-months’ pay for at Whole Foods)
Like many industrial bosses, most people opt for the simplest route:  Cheap and Easy (but soooo not Good/Healthy) and suffer the consequences.  If you’re fortunate enough to be rolling in it and can afford Option 3 100% of the time, then Mazel tov!–you’ve made good decisions in life and have gotten where you need to be.
For the rest of us poor schmucks who refuse to settle for shitty food because we’re “busy” (I work 13-hour days…don’t give me that) or “broke” (again…just don’t), it is totally possible to find and prepare food that is both Cheap and Healthy.  We have to work a little harder for it, but it is possible.  Those of us willing to go the extra mile know exactly what the payoff is and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
That’s why I plan all our meals a week in advance so I can guide my trips to the grocery store and save money everywhere I can.  That’s why I stockpile recipes so I  have a ready stash to choose from rather than let laziness take over and run crying to Papa John’s.  That’s part of the reason I started this blog, so I could keep myself accountable for how much I’m spending, what I’m eating, how I’m working out, and sharing that with anyone who is trying to do the same.

Anyhow, I have THIS baby in the oven and it’s calling my name:

Grass-fed lamb roast seasoned with salt, pepper, and rosemary…**drooling**
See you tomorrow!


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Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter? Here’s Why You Should.

(mmm beefcake…I mean, butter…)

On the way back from the gym yesterday, I suggested we go out to breakfast at one of our favorite spots in Austin after the 5k.  The Man—as all good Men do—promptly agreed with me that this was a wonderful idea.

“Yeah, we definitely should!  God, I’d LOVE some Eggs Benedict…it’s just a shame that Hollandaise sauce is so bad for you.”

“What are you taking about?  Hollandaise sauce is pretty Paleo-friendly…it’s just egg yolk and butter.”

“I know!  It’s got SO MUCH butter!”

“Um…that’s not a bad thing.  It’s OK, (laughing) I know you were born and bred on I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”

“Shut up.”

You see, in 29 of his 30 years of life, The Man was raised like so many others of us to believe that fat is evil and butter may as well be Satan himself in edible form.  To avoid butter in all its fatty (and vitamin-rich) glory, we’ve been handed tubs of margarine and “heart-healthy buttery spreads.”

I’m not just talking about I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!…I’m also looking right at you, Country Crock…and you, too, Smart Balance and Bestlife!  In fact, let’s round up all margarines and “buttery spreads” for a sec and have a looksee at what they’re made of and how they’re making you fat and diseased.

First of all, buttery spreads are some of the most processed foods around.  Until recently, most of them were just piles of artificially flavored hydrogenated vegetable oils, aka extremely high in trans fatty acids.  By now, we’re well-versed in what trans-fats can do to you.

Since then, however, products like ICBINB have claimed that they’re still awesome for you because not only are they lower in fat than real butter, they are free of all of the trans-fat and have replaced it all with non-hydrogenated polyunsaturated fats from vegetable and soy oils.  And we all love vegetables, right?
Let’s rag on ICBINB a little bit more and take a look at the ingredient list…(Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Vegetable Oil Blend (“Soybean oil, non-hydrogenated soybean oil, liquid canola oil”)  

Nut and seed oils are, as a whole, a big No-No because they’re insanely high in Omega-6 fatty acids.  The human body is made up of mostly saturated and monounsaturated fat, and needs these same fats to build and repair its cells.  We’re told instead that we have to replace saturated fats with vegetable oils, which oxidize easily in the body and lead to inflammation and cell mutation. 

What’s more, soy and canola oils are very highly processed, genetically engineered, degummed, and otherwise teeming with some pretty wacky SH**.  Even without all the processing, rapeseed, the base of canola oil, is toxic to humans.  Soy is a whole other story.

Potassium Sorbate, Calcium Disodium EDTA

Potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid and is a common food preservative.  Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (ooh, big word!) is another preservative but makes appearances in a lot of industrial scenarios for its ability to dissolve limescale, bleaching paper, and improving the stability of cosmetics towards air (Source).


Natural Sweet Cream Buttermilk


Vegetable Mono- and Diglycerides

I had to Wiki this one… “common food additives used to blend together certain ingredients, such as oil and water, which would not otherwise blend well.”  These are formed synthetically to help keep your ICBINT smooth in texture because all that vegetable oils doesn’t mix well with water on its own.

Citric Acid

Citric acid is added as a “natural” preservative, as ICBINB lasts a LONG time in the fridge…too long.  It is also an emulsifying agent that keeps liquids and fats blended.

Soy Lecithin

Lecithin is another anti-emulsifier.  Soy lecithin is the byproduct of soybean oil extraction.  In the case of margarine and buttery spreads, lecithin is added as an ‘anti-spattering’ agent for shallow frying (Source).  
Vitamin A (Palmitate)

A major derivative of palm oil found in a lot of spreads like ICBINB, this is added as a supplemental source of the vitamin to a lot of dairy products after the natural form is lost through fat removal. 

Beta Carotene (for color)

This is how ICBINB gets its yellow-orangey color.  I couldn’t find anything about the exact source of carotene (ie whether it’s naturally derived or not) in ICBINB being natural or not, but I’m not holding my breath.

Natural and Artificial Flavors

I see “artificial flavors” on a label and the red flag goes up.  Obviously, an artificial flavor is a flavoring agent derived from a substance “not identified for human consumption.”

As for the “natural” flavoring, the US Code of Federal Regulations defines “natural flavors” as the following:

“the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or any other edible portions of a plant, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose primary function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional

Personally, I love real butter and prefer it to margarine and other fake spreads (my Mom is Lithuanian and I grew up on the rich, buttery, bacon-y fare of the Old Country).  I could go on and on about how butter and other natural sources of saturated fat aren’t just good for you but necessary for optimum health, but I think the worst part of the whole butter-vs-buttery spread debacle is that yet again, we took something and bastardized it just because “fat is bad.” 

Spreading toxic waste on (healthy whole grain) toast isn’t worth it to me when I could instead be devouring a plate of poached eggs in all their yolky goodness floating in a lake of Hollandaise.  Just sayin’.
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How I Shop: The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

Buying absolutely everything local/organic/grass-fed gets tough when you’re on a budget.  You should always make an effort to get as much as you can.  However, that’s not always possible.  I get it, trust me. 
When you’re tight on cash, the solution is NOT to stop buying quality food completely and surrender to SAD-approved cheapies.  All you need is a little planning.  There are certain things you should always buy organic–hands down–because they are the most likely to contain pesticides, hormones, and other nasty crap.  There are also some foods that you really don’t ever need to get organic because they are either easiest to farm without pesticides or easy to clean yourself.
One rule of thumb I’ve heard in the past is that anything with a skin (i.e. bananas, oranges, etc) is fine when they aren’t organic because you can wash and peel them.  I don’t like this as much because I’ve definitely been that crazy lady standing over a display of apples wondering if it’s safe to buy the huge, shiny, non-organic Red Delicious variety (“Is it good enough to wash them if I EAT the skin…?”).

Thankfully the Environmental Working Group has come to the rescue again and published the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.  The Dirty Dozen are 12 foods that should ABSOLUTELY be purchased organic.  Conversely, the Clean Fifteen are 15 foods that are generally OK when conventionally farmed because they have the lowest levels of pesticide residue.
The EWG estimates that we can reduce individual pesticide exposure by 80 percent simply by following these guidelines.  Ideally you’re buying as much organic produce as possible, but using these lists as a minimum standard is a good place to start.  (Here’s a printable list.  I laminated one in Scotch Tape and put it in my wallet because I’m cool like that.)
The Dirty Dozen
1.      Apples
2.      Celery
3.      Strawberries
4.      Peaches
5.      Spinach
6.      Imported nectarines
7.      Imported grapes
8.      Bell peppers
9.      Potatoes
10.  Domestic blueberries
11.  Lettuce
12.  Kale
The Clean Fifteen
1.      Onions
2.      Corn
3.      Pineapples
4.      Avocado
5.      Asparagus
6.      Peas
7.      Mangoes
8.      Eggplant
9.      Domestic cantaloupe
10.  Kiwi
11.  Cabbage
12.  Watermelon
13.  Sweet potatoes
14.  Grapefruit
15.  Mushrooms
Use your common sense, too.  If you’re wondering if something is safe if it’s not organic but isn’t on either list, just ask yourself if it resembles something that is to be on the safe side.  For example, I always buy organic raspberries and blackberries because strawberries and blueberries both are listed under The Dirty Dozen.  Conversely, I’d be ok buying conventional honeydew melons because conventional cantaloupe and watermelon are safe.
If you’re really trying to pinch your pennies and still get quality food, there are a couple of additional steps you can take.
-Eat locally.  Local produce is cheaper to transport and chances are you’ll know where it comes from and can do some research to ensure clean and sustainable farming practices.
-Eat seasonally.  When it doesn’t have to be shipped in from another continent, produce is cheaper and higher quality.
-Hit up a Farmer’s Market.  Not only are you supporting small farming enterprises in your community (feel-good points!), your produce will be fresh and affordable.  If you’re worried about sustainable farming practices, you can just ask the dude at the stall.
-Buy frozen.  Not only are frozen veggies really convenient and durable, they are just as nutritious as fresh as long as they weren’t cooked before they were packaged.  However, you don’t want to boil them or steam them in the bags.  I just toss them into a glass bowl and nuke for a few minutes.
-Go without.  Really, REALLY strapped for cash and can’t afford ANYTHING in the organic aisle this week?  Just avoid buying anything on The Dirty Dozen list or anything that seems too similar.  There’s plenty on the safe list to help you stay full of veggies and sleep better at night knowing you’re not flooding your system (as much) with toxins.
Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what you do and don’t put in your body.  A little extra planning and strategy in the produce aisle can really pay off (literally)…but as always, if you’ve got a little extra to spend this week, don’t hesitate to go above and beyond.
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