Wednesday, September 10, 2014

2 Weeks in on the Whole 30

I don't actually have much to report, besides the usual - my clothes fit better, I have more energy, my teeth feel awesome (a low-ish starch, zero sugar diet is GREAT for dental health)... also, food has started tasting a lot better.  Sugar really messes up your taste buds, I think - even if you *think* you don't eat a lot of it (for example, no candy or donuts) it's in pretty much every packaged product out there.  Mayo, ketchup, soy sauce, sushi (even the damn wasabi), bread, cereal, etc., etc. )  It all adds up and ends up influencing how you taste.  I won't lie - it's actually really, really hard to avoid all packaged food and sugar (and I haven't, I just read the labels obsessively... but there is very little out there in a package that doesn't have grains, some form of sweetener, some form of dairy, chemicals, soy, or industrial vegetable oils. And - full disclosure - I have allowed myself very tiny cheats in the form of the aforementioned wasabi (I used a pea-sized bit in some coconut aminos for dipping some sashimi the other day) and I have used a few drops of soy-containing sesame oil for flavour here and there.)  But there are definitely a lot of intrinsic reasons to go to the trouble to fully (or almost fully) eliminate the packages.  Right now I am munching on some kohlrabi with homemade guacamole and it is FANTASTIC.  It is exactly the same as a snack I had last month at some point but it tastes so much better.

In other news, I finally found a book on nutrition that I feel like I can recommend without much in the way of caveats: Denise Minger's Death by Food Pyramid.  (Don't get it on Kindle though - the formatting is screwed.) She's famous in the blogosphere for her take-down of the China Study analysis (and data collection methods) and is pretty damn meticulous. This book is reasonably thorough (not nearly as mind-numbingly complex and complete as her China Study posts), and includes a section on how to interpret scientific studies and how much to believe them, and that part at least is well-written enough that it should be adopted by schools and taught to kids from about grade 8 onward.  The history of the USDA food pyramid is okay - interesting, at any rate - but the real strength of the book is in looking at what the current science REALLY says about nutrition and taking the strengths of disparate diets or ways of eating and figuring out what the truly effective parts are of each.  I also like that she is about as unbiased as a person can be - she has her preferences, which she states, but leaves it up to the reader to figure out what he or she should actually be eating.  I also like that she understands and reports the nuances in the research - for example, that it appears that the context of nutrients matters (ie, saturated fat... good in a whole-foods, low-glycemic diet, not so good in a donuts-and-hamburgers diet).   It's definitely a should-read.  (And kudos to Mark Sisson's company for publishing it even though it contains some not-so-veiled references to diet programs that also sell supplements and rely on a personality at the head of them...) 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

One week of Whole 30 - and I am seized with inspiration!!!

Still Whole 30ing nicely.  I am missing dairy less now, as I have replaced morning coffee and cream with morning roiboos chai and coconut milk, and have stuck the children with no cheese except orange cheddar, which is less than appealing.  Unfortunately I am now able to taste the chemicals in cheap coconut milk so this is going to get expensive, especially as I am also making coconut milk kefir (which is awesome in smoothies, and may just edge out cow milk kefir for flavour), and now I am going to have to shell out for the decent stuff.

On the good side of things, tonight I figured out how to do awesome stir-fry without using any non-Whole30-approved ingredients (ie, every single Chinese sauce ever).  I found coconut aminos at Thriftys (very tasty, actually) and I've decided that the teensy amount of sugar in fish sauce is insignificant.  But I was still puzzling out how to thicken the sauce in a veggie stir-fry when I spied a container of baked sweet potatoes on my counter.  Sweet potato!  Is there anything it can't do??  I made up a quick sauce using a sweet potato, juice of half a lime, a few drops of fish sauce and a good big slug of coconut aminos.  Worked like a charm - perfect balance of sweet, sour and salty (and it would have taken some hot sauce nicely too, but one of my children has a thing about that so boo no hot sauce).  I am very relieved to have discovered this because stir-fry is what happens when my fridge is overstocked with vegetables, and it is that season when vegetables literally appear in boxes on my doorstep.  My mother-in-law made sure she was on the plane to Hawaii before I found out how many zucchini she'd shunted my way.  But I can deal!  One whole one went in some spaghetti sauce last night (just for the record, you CAN buy Whole 30-compliant spaghetti sauce in a jar at Thriftys, but it'll cost you more than $6.  Everyone agreed that it was the best spaghetti sauce ever though, so possibly worth it as a regular purchase.) Another one went in the stir-fry tonight.  At the current rate of one per day, I should get through them all before they rot, without resorting to baking, which is a kind of temptation I don't really want right now.

Anyway, I feel great, the pets and children are no longer in danger from me having sugar withdrawl, my button-up pants are fitting better and I am way, way less bloaty.  My insides seem quite happy with me.  So, all good so far.  Now to try out some new recipes...

Friday, August 29, 2014

No dairy is HARD

Oh cheese, I miss you so much.  You too, 18% table cream.  Sniff.

Aside from that, so far the Whole 30 is going well, 3 days in.  I have been a little cranky from the sugar withdrawl but my children are still alive and I haven't even kicked the dog, so it's not too bad. Tonight I made the Spicy Tuna Cakes off the Nom Nom Paleo site and they were a huge hit with everyone.  Yay!  They really were delicious. I left the jalapenos out of the kids' portions. I highly recommend this recipe as a pretty cheap and easy dinner for anyone, paleo or not.  They were accompanied by fresh (very fresh) bai chou (a Chinese vegetable similar to bok choy) from a friend's garden.  I stir-fried it and added bone broth, a splash of fish sauce (which unfortunately DOES have sugar in it - will read labels *before* adding, next time) and a squirt of lime juice for me, took my portion out, then I added some hoisin sauce and corn starch to make it more rice-friendly for the rest of the fam.  They had rice, I gave myself an extra fish cake.  Yum!

But one cannot live on tuna cakes alone (well, actually one probably could, but when one has to make the damn things, one would get awfully bored - it's not exactly a technically challenging recipe.)  So I have been eating a lot of raw vegetables, high-quality sausage & liverwurst & stuff (thanks, Whole Beast) and fruit.  These are all things I like to eat.  Oh and I roasted a whole bunch of vegetable things (a mix of tomato, cauliflower, eggplant, and peppers) and have been using it in dinner and omelettes and stuff.  Omelettes without cheese are okay.  I wish I could have cheese though.

Twenty-seven more days to go without cheese.  Soon, I will start writing bad poetry to havarti and brie.  I will not post it here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Whole 30 - starting tomorrow

My sporadic attempts to improve my gut flora have done nothing but possibly make me less susceptible to the ill effects of far too much wheat in my diet, so the last few months have been not so good, and I am feeling not so good, and it is time to get serious about this because I just had a birthday and am heading into that age range at which things like heart attacks are not unheard of and would occasion only "well, she was a LITTLE young for it" comments if such were to occur.  So it is time to give up the popcorn and donuts and bread and gin and tonics (sniff) and have a nice little detoxy kind of time.

I think I've mentioned the Whole 30 thing before.  I haven't actually ever managed it - prior to this summer I've had access to really good raw milk and haven't been able to justify divorcing myself completely from dairy.  And there was that time that I was doing really well and then two weeks in found that I was pregnant... so anyway, this will be a first for me.  At least 30 days without grains, legumes, vegetable oil, sugar or dairy.  Good thing it's produce season!  I stocked up today with piles of greens, fruit, cauliflowers, etc.  The Whole 30 now says potatoes are okay (not chips or fries, of course) so that makes for fairly normal dinners around here and the kids and the husband often have different breakfasts and lunches from me anyway.

It'll also be an opportunity for me to resurrect this sadly neglected blog and post some recipes, thoughts, and reviews of the many internet recipes I will be attempting, as I try to avoid one too many boring meat + veg + other veg meals.

Tonight, though, we feast!  I have a brisket roast slow-cooking on the bbq with some alder chips providing a bit of smoke, a nectarine & molasses bbq sauce to go with it on the stove, coleslaw in the fridge and squishy white buns ready and waiting for delicious drippy meat.  And my slightly delayed birthday cheesecake with the sour cherry topping is standing by for dessert.  No recipes, sorry - I just winged it on everything but the cheesecake, and that was made following the instructions on the cream cheese box.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Operation Happy Guts

Oh look at that, another nearly-2 year hiatus from the blog, coinciding with the arrival of another offspring.  Funny how that happens.  Sorry, I just didn't have much to post about.  My life has been very busy, my diet has been somewhat dubious and not particularly exciting or noteworthy, and the blog has therefore languished in the depths of the internet.

The latest spawn is now one year old, though, and it's time to get my rear in gear and do something about my post-partum crap-fest. The basic problem seems to be that I have become incapable of making good decisions, moment-to-moment, about what to eat.  A large portion of my food intake happens because I am feeling tired/crappy/anxious/depressed/actually-happy-for-once and I require something to either ameliorate or enhance the mood hormones (oh hi sugar!!!), or because I am hungry and just grabbing whatever because I might have 15 minutes to eat and I don't want to spend 14 1/2 of those preparing stuff (oh hi crappy sandwich!!!).

Of course, there is a not-insignificant number of times when I eat crap because I can.  And that is what I feel I can maybe tackle now, if I can get my stress level dialed down a little and put my brain in a better nutritional space.  Since I haven't stopped reading about good nutrition and food-health links (just stopped DOING anything about what I read) I'm getting a clearer picture about what constitutes a human being (hint: you're more bacteria than you are human. What's *really* doing the thinking, hmmm?) and the evidence is starting to look good for the theory that at least part of one's brain chemistry is determined by one's gut residents.  Lots of back-and-forth between brain workings and gut workings... and mounting evidence that anxiety and depression, at least, if not lazy-assedness, can be mitigated by improving gut flora.  And while I don't think my gut flora are in dire straits, exactly, I don't think they're anywhere near as healthy as they could be.  Let's just say that evidence to the contrary is presented to me regularly and leave at that for now.  Some people overshare on their blogs, I think it's sufficient to say that my insides aren't coping well and leave it at that.

Thus I launch my new project - Operation Happy Guts - in hopes of reversing (or even just slowing) the spiral of poor nutrition leading to unhappy stress-thoughts leading to more poor nutrition.  This will no doubt be a lengthy process, because despite the fact that bacteria can produce a new generation every 20 minutes, there's like, a billion or so of the little buggers and I'm sure the bad ones aren't going to just pack up and go at the first hint of regular kimchee intake or something.  No, this is going to require systematic, habitual and gradual biological simultaneous warfare and habitat-building. 

I'm going to focus first on the habitat-building and do the warfare later - because habitat-building basically means I just have to eat extra stuff, whereas warfare involves withholding things from the buggies like sugar and refined starches, and I'm probably not there yet.  But I CAN give the good buggies more to work with so that they out-compete the less-compatible buggies and then hopefully the bad guys will stop sending quite so many "sugar is AWESOME!!!" messages to my poor, susceptible little brain.  (This is probably a vast, horrible oversimplification of the nature and scope of the signalling that happens between gut bacteria and neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain.  I am aware of this.  I am also not remotely qualified to try to explain it properly so I'm not even going to try.)  Also I have heard the idea that probiotics work not by filling your guts with good bacteria but by introducing some well-behaved bacteria who then teach the resident ones to smarten up.  (I'm sure this process goes the other way too, so I think you probably have to keep "teaching" them.)

First up:  kefir *every* morning, help the little dude finish off his Treehouse brand probiotics (no I wasn't the one shopping the day those got purchased), and have a dose of lacto-fermented veg with either lunch or dinner.   I will get the kefir on now for Sunday morning, and start a batch of grated carrots fermenting away with just salt and see how that goes.  (There are no good cabbages in the stores now for sauerkraut).  I was going to buy some nice "mild kimchee" in an attractive big jar from a hippy joint on Salt Spring (I'm not even kidding about that - they carry it at Niagara Grocery) but it was $21.99 and really? It's chopped up vegetables and salt and I can damn well do that.  Although I did rather covet the jar.  Maybe next week as a treat...

Over the next few months I will keep track of my adherence to Operation Happy Guts and my moods and food intake.  We'll see how it goes.

(With luck, Operation Happy Guts will coincide with Operation Get The Baby To Stay The Fuck Asleep and I won't be simultaneously battling sleep deprivation AND all the rest of the crap life deals out.  But even if the sleep deprivation continues, I think that improving the situation in The Interior will improve the situation overall.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Food relationships

I hear the phrase "my relationship with food" a lot.  Usually, it's in the context of "fixing my relationship with food" or something similar - undergoing some kind of mental healing so that one can enjoy food without overindulging and gaining excess body mass, or actually enjoy eating without feeling guilt, or something along those lines. (Usually the word "moderation" comes into it somewhere.)  I've gone through those phases, too - the attractive thinking that the problem isn't the food, it's me, I just have to "correct" my thinking and become fully in love with myself and accept myself and de-stress and whatever and magically I will eat appropriate portions all the time and enjoy food an appropriate amount.

The thing is, food isn't a monolithic, homogenous thing any more than people are.  You would never talk about your relationship with people in general - you have relationships with individual people.  Likewise, you have relationships with animals that differ from subject to subject (I really hope you don't have the same relationship with your dog as with the spider in your drain, the cougar in the woods or the deer in your back yard), relationships with different kinds of music, relationships with your clothes, even relationships with different vehicles, kitchen utensils, computers... the list goes on.  In every other aspect of our lives, we accept that there are individuals within groups of items and that our relationships with those items are based more on the individual than the group.

So why the homogenous "food"?  Why the pressure to have the same relationship with a bag of potato chips as with a nice green salad?

I have a very different relationship with a steak or a pork chop than I do with a plate of cookies.  They both look and smell delicious.  But when I eat the steak, I can stop when I'm full and save the rest of it for lunch tomorrow.  (Thinly sliced steak on salad... mmmmm)  The cookies? Not so much.  I know they will be just as delicious tomorrow, but somehow I would rather eat until I feel sick than leave them.

And you know what?  I'm ok with this.  It doesn't mean that I have underlying psychological issues.  It doesn't mean I'm broken, any more than if you're in a relationship with a guy who is super hot in bed but a jerk everywhere else, that there's something wrong with YOU when he's mean to you and you cry.  YOU are the normal one, HE is the jerk.  Likewise, I am a normal person, and cookies are jerks.  Delicious jerks, but I'm not going to crawl back into bed with them just because they're awesome that way.

Now, in the same way that not everyone is susceptible to getting into romantic relationships with jerks, not everyone is susceptible to to cookie jerks (or potato chip bastards, or chocolate bar meanies).  (Some of my ex-boyfriends now having seemingly completely functional relationships with other people indicate that "jerk" is an entirely subjective term, too.)

But if you regularly eat too much - if you finish most of your meals stuffed, rather than full, if you find empty bags of snacks beside you and you feel yucky (or alternately, you go look for more in the cupboard), if you eat when you're not hungry because someone left something yummy lying around, you probably have some unhealthy food relationships in your life.  And like unhealthy people relationships that affect the healthy relationships you do have, unhealthy food relationships affect the healthy (or potentially healthy) relationships you have with other foods.

That's all pretty inevitable in today's foodscape.  There's packaged crap everywhere, and many of us (myself included) are perfectly capable of crafting our own little jerk-asses in our own kitchens.  Some of us have families who can get along fine with cookies, but who consume the friendly, kind and healthy beef jerky we make far, far too quickly unless we hide it behind the booze or at the back of the fridge.

Here's the thing.  If you're *really* healthy - like, you're at a weight that works really well for you, you can do everything you want to do, physically, and you don't have any conditions typically associated with abnormal reactions to food, like eczema, bad acne, extreme seasonal allergies, asthma, type 2 diabetes, loads of cavities, persistent infections, etc. and you can manage your food jerks, then ignore all this.  Otherwise, in the same way that you owe it to yourself to ditch a partner who makes you feel sad or angry or like shit all the time, you owe it to yourself to ditch foods that do the same thing.  It's not you, it's them.  There is NOTHING wrong with getting rid of foods that don't work for you, any more than there's anything wrong with freecycling that toaster that you can never ever set right.  It just didn't work for you.

We have the luxury of having the broadest selection of foodstuffs available to us at any point in history.  This doesn't mean we HAVE to eat all of them.  Some of them mess with your brain, and that's not YOUR fault.  Just don't eat them.  There are plenty of other foods to eat.

I just finished reading a really good book that outlines how to really "fix" your multiple relationships with foods - it's essentially a pretty lenient elimination diet, focusing on typical culprits and explaining the mechanisms by which they can (not necessarily DO) mess with your brain and your body, but goes on to reintroduce foods to see how they interact with you.  The book is called "It Starts With Food" and does a good job of pointing out that there are wide groups of foods that are problematic for large numbers of people, but that everyone reacts differently to stuff and it's worth it to figure these things out for yourself.   It's a good read, well-written and organized.  I highly recommend it if you're not entirely happy with your relationships with foods.  Yes, it means dropping some foods from your diet for a while, but if they're really ok for you, they'll be there when you're done.  It's 30 days, and it's totally worth it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Yuppiefied" meat

Yesterday I was cruising through the health and fitness blogs and came across a blog written by an M.D. on the use of the Paleo (or Paleoesque) diet for treating diabetes.  This doctor is pretty much all for this, but he trots this out as a description of Paleo eating:
"Fresh, minimally processed food.  Meat (lean or not? supermarket vs yuppiefied?),..."

I've seen this appellation before, but never in a pro-paleo context.   Yuppiefied??? 

What he's referring to is meat that's raised in an ethical, biologically appropriate manner.  And frankly I find it horrifying not only that this is the norm - I've known that for a long time - but that attempts to provide meat in such a fashion are belittled and designated elitist and equated with buying a Range Rover instead of a Toyota.  By people who should know better.

Industrial meat production should be criminalized.  Yeah, it'll make meat more expensive.  Oh noes people might have to eat ALL the bits instead of just the steaks!!! Oh noes no more 12 oz chunks of meat on a plate!!!! I am all for meat consumption, but most people simply eat too much.  And yeah, it'll wipe out a massive market for subsidized grain.  Bummer that.  Maybe we could grow actual food on all that land previously occupied by heavily fertilized grain monocrops - after we restore it by sensible rotational grazing for a few years to rebuild the soil.  Hey, let's stop those stupid grain subsidies, too - subsidize VEGETABLES - you know, those things that are actually good for people to eat? 

It really, really bothers me that the food system is SO messed up that even people who know better consider decent-quality food to be not only less affordable but less necessary.  It's disturbing because everyone who cares about food, nutrition and health ought to care a LOT about how food is produced and distributed, and how food policy is made.  Accepting the status quo - that quality meat is only accessible by those with the economic means and social connections to procure it - doesn't help anyone.  Millions of people are suffering from calorie surpluses and nutrient deficiencies and doctors of all people ought not to be labeling a potential solution as "yuppiefied", and those who can and do choose to spend their money on quality meat rather than supermarket swill need not be belittled for making that choice.

And honestly - the price difference between the pasture-raised meat in my freezer and the stuff that Costco churns out is not that great.  I need to do some actual comparisons, but my suspicion is that the difference would turn out to be, on a monthly basis with MODEST meat consumption, approximately the same as what it costs for full cable TV service.  Priorities, people, priorities.  I don't wanna hear about how you can't afford good meat if you've got cable TV.