Monday, September 28, 2009

Health Effects of (Ch)eating

I thought I would do a post on what happens to me when I choose to eat things that are not good for me.

DISCLAIMER: If you are grossed out by the mention of bodily functions, er, you may want to skip this post. I am not a doctor, and don't play one on TV. Reliable, solid information can be found at a library, or by asking a physician you trust.
Now, then.
I shall list what symptoms I can come up with, and/ or events, and then tell you what causes them. Hopefully that may help some of you untangle cause-and-effect of certain physical manifestations, like acne or loose bowels, etc.
You might think that I am a perfect mess, listing all these health troubles, but I feel that I am lucky that a) foods manifest their evils in me so quickly, and b) I get feedback (hah) and now really know what to avoid to make myself feel strong, fit, and healthy!!! I hope that more people will choose to start to listen to their bodies telling them what they do and do not need for healthy living.
As an anecdotal example, I have a friend who claims to suffer from IBS, but really I think he needs to a) de-stress, and b) eat better; that is, No Grains, No Alcohol for a few months, and re-evaluate his health! So many people choose to use Western drugs and pills, when all they really need is to learn to avoid certain foods that make them ill. But, no, the pills are easier!!! (SIGH!)
ACNE: Usually caused by too many fried foods, grains, milk chocolate, any soda (fizzy water, like Crystal Geyser, is OK). I get huge, cystic zits that take days to clear out, even with spot use of benzoyl peroxide, salycilic acid, and a sulfur topical application.
BLOAT (with or without gas): Usually caused by drinking beer or eating most types of fermented food. My mom thinks, and I am with her on this, that since beer is fermented and fizzy (and acts like bread rising), that when you drink it, you also become bloated and "rise". Sounds hippie-dippie, but it made more sense to me the first time I noticed it.
EXCESSIVE URINE: Caused when I drink too much caffeine (usually in coffee form). I become thirsty after drinking coffee, and consume extra water to make up for the diuretic effect of caffeine.... but still, I am peeing every 20 minutes for a couple of hours after consuming a cup of coffee. ("A cup of coffee" to me, means a single shot of espresso or approx 8 oz of drip coffee + usually enough cream to fill a 12 oz cup).
JOINT PAIN: Usually caused by eating grains, but may be exacerbated by nightshades (e.g. potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, bell peppers, etc.), which are a known inflammatory for some people.
PSORIASIS FLARE-UPS (including DANDRUFF): Usually caused by eating grains. I haven't pinpointed what, exactly, is causing some of the flare-ups. I did notice that my psoriasis greatly healed in the month I was at my parents' house, and I also know that I ate really, really cleanly while I was over there, so I am sure it has some tie-in.
STOMACHACHE, leading to GAS, LOOSE STOOLS: Caused by eating grains and/or gluten, processed foods, too many fried foods, too much alcohol, food that wasn't at the peak of freshness (whether it's too old or too young, like unripe fruit). Pretty much when I eat anything that isn't good for me, I get a reliable reminder within an hour or two of my digression- my stomach feels like it's twisting and burbling, and I can get anything from a lot of gas to a few trips to the bathroom to let it all out. Thankfully, upsets from food never result in vomiting!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Lunch: Roast Chicken & Salad

Dinner tonight? Home-roasted chicken and salad.

First up, the salad. Don't tell me you can't make one. I used to think all the additions were the key - load up on cut veggies - but then I realized that a good salad has a balance between leaves and chunks.

What did I add? Celery, carrot, onion, cucolo (some farmer's market cucumber / melon hybrid - basically a sweet cucumber), red pepper, broccoli, arugula, and mustard greens. Topped with blood orange-infused extra virgin olive oil, and white balsamic vinegar. All the vegetables were organic. I purchased the arugula, mustard greens, and cucolo at the farmer's market today. The rest of the vegetables, except for the celery, were from my CSA box. The celery was from the store.

Roughly 3 packed cups of vegetables in this bowl!

Next up, the chicken.

It's been a while since I set off my fire alarm! :)

I had bought a frozen pastured chicken (a broiler / fryer) a few weeks ago at the farmer's market. Yesterday, I put it in my fridge to thaw. Today, I took it, used scissors to cut up one side of the breast bone, and essentially broke it's back to allow it to be butterflied and lay out flat on my pan. (Sorry; it sounds brutal, I know). Then I cut up a nob of good butter, and shoved that under the skin as evenly as possible. I then took some plain extra virgin olive oil, poured it over the skin, and rubbed it in. A generous sprinkling of salt and pepper on both sides followed, then I put it in my oven, breast up. My oven had been set to the "Broiler" option.

Once the skin on top browns to a lovely mahogany color, use some tongs and flip it over for another 10 min or so.

And I forgot to take pictures before I tore into it!

Oh, the carnage!!! Oh, the Huge-Manatee!

Here is a picture of portion sizes. My dinner & lunch for Monday.

Roughly 4 oz each, not counting bones. Or delicious, crispy chicken skin... om nom nom.

I had enough left over to make one more generous portion. The chicken was luscious - flavored from the butter, oil, salt, and pepper. It tastes like chicken! If I have it, I love shoving lemon zest and garlic underneath the skin, too.

The whole chicken cost me about $12 - not much more than buying a pre-roasted chicken at the store, and it was certainly of a higher quality, and tasted much better. And I got 3-4 meals out of it, so an amortized cost of $3-4 per portion of meat. If you are really enterprising, you could take the bones and use them in a stock. I don't have the patience for two dishes tonight, though!!

The rest of my lunch for Monday? A couple of containers of fruit - green grapes, red & golden raspberries, and blueberries. All organic, everything but the grapes were from the farmer's market I attended today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hot Links: Meal-in-a-Bag

This is a blog that I have in my Google Reader, "Paleo-Zone".

This guy, Steve, does Crossfit, and eats Paleo. Paleo Good. Crossfit Good. Moog like lift heavy sticks off ground. It make Moog hungry. Moog need food.

Check this out:

The reason I like Steve's idea here is that it is convenient. I would probably go so far as to keep one in my purse or work bag. And they would definitely work for a day hike / ski trip nibble to keep you going.

I might actually cut it up into smaller portions - 1 or 2 blocks to use as a snack.

And if you can't find bison, a good quality local beef jerky works, in my opinion.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Lunch: Steak and Beets

Today for lunch at work I packed my bento box with about 3-4 oz of grass-finished steak, and about a cup of roasted red beets.

Now, if the world were different and unhealthy food was healthy, you can bet your ass I'd be eating buttercream-laden cupcakes and piles of sugar instead of beets and steak. But it isn't, so there. I'm an adult, and that means sacking up and eating things because they're healthy, even if they're not my favorite thing in the world.

So, I dressed them up a bit. I like to roast my veggies at about 400 deg F until I see brown edges start to form; I think it helps to bring out the inherent sweetness and nutty flavors that often fall flat when you use cooking methods such as boiling or steaming. I added a light (!) drizzle of maple syrup (the real stuff, not high fructose corn syrup with maple flavoring). A dusting of curry powder, along with some blood orange flavored olive oil, salt, and ground pepper, rounded out the mix.

I have to say, while beets aren't my favorite thing to eat (especially en masse), these were pretty palatable.

Sometimes being an adult and doing the right thing isn't so bad, after all...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Eat Your Veggies: Virgin Bloody Mary

Now, I should qualify the title to this post. Yes, Bloody Marys are based in tomato juice. But add vodka, and it's all over!

So, the solution? Squeeze it's legs shut, and make it a virgin! (ha).

A disclaimer: this is not equivalent to eating, say, a bowl of spinach or kale or roasted beets. BUT it's vegetables, and far better than not eating anything at all!

I made one tonight as part of my Lazy Woman's Paleo Dinner. T-bone steak and a virgin Bloody Mary.

Bloody Mary Method:

- large tumbler
- ice cubes
- tomato juice (my lifelong favorite is original V8)
- celery sticks
- additions!

What do I mean by "additions"? Well, this is where restaurants and the like get creative. Some common additions are: Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, garlic, olives, other pickled vegetables, spices such as celery seed, and spice mixes (like Old Bay).

For my VBM tonight, I added a few drops of Garlic Tabasco sauce, a shake or two of Old Bay, celery sticks, and two garlic-steeped olives. Yum! I really like the celery taste in my Mary's, so if I had some, I would add some additional celery seed. I also love pickled vegetables, and I have noticed some restaurants add what looks like a salad attached to the top of your drink (no harm, no foul!). I would have added some pickled okra or pickled green beans, if I had them.

A note: ordering one of these is also an excellent option when you go out with a bunch of friends to a bar, and don't want to drink anything alcoholic.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dessert: Apple Crumble

Let's face it. I have a major sweet tooth. When I stopped eating sugar, I essentially substituted fruit. It's not a perfect solution, and I am working on it. However, sometimes I just really NEED something sweet, and if I can create it to be Paleo-ish compliant, so much the better.

The other day, I wandered by a bakery and saw an Apple Galette, which is basically an open-face tart, on display. I decided to try and create a Paleo-ish Apple Galette. What resulted was something less formal, but very tasty.

Believe it or not, I didn't measure anything. Like I said, methods are shown here, not exactitude (which I personally think is hilarious, since I have to be so exacting in my job!)


Apple Crumble

- almond flour
- butter or coconut oil (I used butter)
- apples (I used 3)
- vanilla paste, or a scraped vanilla bean, or vanilla extract
- pumpkin pie spice
- "B" grade maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Grab some kind of Pyrex casserole dish. Get about 1/2 inch of almond flour on the bottom of the dish. Cut up a bunch of butter into small chunks- I probably used about 4 - 6 oz of butter. Dot the almond flour with chunks of butter, and kind of work them into the flour with your fingers a bit, as you would for a crumble topping.

Slice the apples thinly. I didn't bother to peel them. Layer them on top of the almond flour. Periodically (maybe halfway through your apples?) shake on some more almond flour, and also sprinkle on a generous amount of pumpkin pie spice.

At this point, I took a tablespoon of vanilla paste and drizzled it over the top of the apples. Layer the rest of your apple slices on top of this. On top of that, sprinkle some more almond flour, add pumpkin pie spice, dot the top with butter, and then take about a tablespoon of maple syrup and drizzle it over the top of everything. (The brown dots on the top of this are maple syrup).

Stick the apple crumble in the oven for about 30-45 minutes, until the almonds take on a golden color and it smells awesome in your kitchen.


So, why is this Paleo compliant? It's NOT, really - Paleo diet does not encourage the eating of fruits and nuts together (something about sugar / fat absorption, I believe), but I think if you're going to have something that constitutes cheating, at least make it still "clean" foods (that is, no grains, unprocessed, etc.)

Eat and enjoy. And you don't even have to tell your guests what the hell's in it - they'll be too busy eating. :)

Eat Your Veggies: Chard

Growing up, I had some great food prejudices. These were mostly due to ignorance!

I should back up briefly: my mother grew up in Panama, and while you'd think the tropics are brimming with fresh produce, it's mostly fruit. She didn't grow up eating a lot of vegetables, at least the way she tells it, and they were almost always cooked.

She tried, though! A large portion of my childhood involved stir-fries: chicken or pork, cooked rapidly in a wok, followed by a heap of vegetables, then some soy sauce, and a side of white rice.

Later on, my parents became a lot more interested, and informed, about the health benefits of various vegetables. Since I was also interested in cooking, we searched for recipes that helped mitigate the perceived "weird taste" of certain vegetables. Bitter greens were first up on the, er, chopping block.

In this blog, I will warn you, I will not often provide recipes that include specific amounts of ingredients. Why? That's not how I cook. I am very comfortable in my kitchen, and I cook using all my senses, though smell is probably primary for me. I keep tinkering till something smells "right", because it is my belief that if it smells good, it's going to taste good!

Now, back to the Chard. Check out a nutritional profile of chard. Not too bad, eh? :)

I am going to share a method of cooking various greens, rather than specific recipes. I apply this to whatever happens to be around - chard, kale, etcetera. (I prefer raw baby spinach to cooked, but if I have "adult" spinach in my CSA box, I'll cook it this way as well).

First off, admit to yourself that these greens might very well be a little bitter. Bitterness is one of the main tastes of food (the others are Sour, Sweet, Salty, and Umami, or the dominant flavor in soy sauce or beef broth - that rich mouthfeel. Here is a better discussion of Umami).

The idea is to balance these different flavors, and come up with something that is complex-tasting and tantalizes your palate.

Here's how I cook bitter greens:

- Find your major categories of ingredients. I use aromatics (garlic, scallions, onions, any other spices I choose), fat (olive oil or bacon fat), a salty meat or cheese (bacon, salt pork, feta cheese), and nuts (I usually go for pine nuts or walnuts).

- First, cook down your meat, if applicable, in the pan you'll be using. (A one pan dish!) Take the meat out of the pan.

- Put your aromatics into the pan with the fat, and cook them down a bit until almost-translucent or translucent (depending on if you want a sharper flavor or a more mellow flavor). Leave the aromatics in the pan.

In this particular version, I have garlic and shallots in the pan, and to the side I have the chard stems separated from the leaves. The stems take a little longer to cook, so I often add them in before the aromatics are really done cooking.

- Put your greens in! Remember, greens greatly reduce in volume as they cook. This means you might have to add them in batches to your pan, but you can start with an insurmountable pile of greens, and end up with only a few servings for dinner!

- Turn the heat down after you add the greens. I like to add a couple of splashes of liquid to help the greens reduce - this could be a white wine, a beer, or some kind of vinegar (I like unfiltered apple cider vinegar).

- After the greens cook down a bit (maybe not all the way), add your meat back into the pan. I like to add some salt and freshly ground pepper at this point. If you like your food spicy, feel free to add some red pepper flakes, or other spices.

- Before you take the greens off the heat, if you like, add some feta cheese for extra creaminess and a great sharp flavor! Toss some nuts in, and you have a great side dish!

(For this one, I added Parmeggiano Romano, grated finely).


Hello, World!

I thought I'd take a moment to introduce myself.

My name is Mel, and I'm an engineer. I work with airplane engines during the day. Well, not with the actual engines, I just poke around on their computerized models and get them to do my bidding. After work, I head to Crossfit most every day, and then I come home. I plan to talk briefly about Crossfit and why I love it so much in later posts.

In the meantime? I eat. I love eating! I always have. A pleasant day off for me includes a few hours spent foraging at a farmer's market, local "hippie" co-op, or a high-quality grocery store, like Whole Foods or Nugget or Town & Country here in Seattle.

In the last several years, I stopped eating certain things. I discovered that any type of dark soda or milk chocolate contributed to a horrible acne problem. I also figured out that I was lactose intolerant. I tried to get around these issues by using stronger and stronger acne medication, and taking supplements like Lactaid so I could enjoy my ice cream.

What was worse, I was fat. I am 5'5", and in college I got pretty close to pushing 180 lb. I would not have considered myself attractive, and although I had nice legs, that was about all I liked about myself. I had chronic knee pain, due to weak muscles around my knee joints, and running or doing many physical things were out of the question for me. Ugh! What a horrible way to live!

After college, I moved to Maryland from California for a job, and lost about 20 lb, probably by just eating better quality food. I was no longer completely, overwhelmingly tempted by the Dairy Queen that was a half block from my apartment, nor the countless vending machines and fast food areas in and around campus. It also helped that my new friends in Maryland weren't overweight, either. It is my estimation that misery loves company (or else there wouldn't be an aphorism for it!), and the fact that I was friends with a lot of fat people in college wasn't helping me get anywhere with my body.

Still, I was stuck at around 160 lb. Still, UGH! I ate out a lot in Maryland, and we tended to eat out at places like Subway, or Panera Bread. I could, and would, eat a loaf of artisanal bread with some cheese and salami for my day's food. Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Donuts made regular appearances.


Then, I moved to Seattle. And I became a food snob. I really think this is what saved me.

No more fast food, period. By now, sodas had become a distant memory. No more processed foods. Gradually, foods began to drop off my "Acceptable Eating" list:

- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Partially hydrogenated, or fully hydrogenated, oils (usually soybean or corn)
- Caffeine
- Dairy
- Foods billed as "low" or "non" fat (when companies make low or no-fat substitutes, they often increase the amount of sugar and / or salt in a food to make up for "mouth feel" and the lack of taste associated with the loss of fat).

Okay... I was doing better. I was building up my physical fitness slowly. I started with two pilates classes a week (they were free in my apartment building in a Seattle neighborhood called Belltown), then I amped that up, then discovered spinning (biking) classes and kickboxing at a local gym chain (and made my friend go with me).

Still, things were not right. The acne had subsided a lot, but was still not completely eradicated. I was still using ProActiv twice a day (a product that I can actually highly recommend, though it isn't "natural").

I had substituted a lot of things to comfort me. Soy and rice - milk ice creams marched in. Dark chocolate didn't cause acne.

Then, at the suggestion of my parents, I tried eliminating all grains. WHAT?, you may ask?? How do people LIVE without grains???

Very Well, actually.

Let's get one thing clear. No Grains means NO GRAINS. No corn, rice, wheat, barley, oats, quinoa, etcetera. And you know what? My knees felt better! And what's more, I could eat dairy! I literally could eat a bowl of ice cream and not suffer in the bathroom a couple of hours later!

Then I discovered something called Crossfit. It had been at the urging of my old gymnastics coach, actually. He thought I would like it. I needed something because the gym I had been going to was moving and would no longer be anywhere convenient for me to attend.

I tried Crossfit. IT WAS HARD. OH MY GOD, IT WAS HARD. Squats? Deadlifts? Seriously!!!??? I had trouble getting out of bed the following days.


After I started Crossfit for a few months, I started hearing talk of the "Paleo" diet (Google it for more information).

Basically, the Paleo diet consists of eating as would a Paleolithic person. Essentially, the diet restricts you to the following foods: meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts. That's it. Sound crappy? It's not.

I feel great eating on this diet! And believe me, there is PLENTY to eat. I can hear people murmuring, saying that they are vegetarian or vegan because they do not want to harm animals. OK, but hear me out.

The best meat for you is grass-finished meat. This means the animal has grown up eating grass, a food that is natural for it. It eats grass until the day it is slaughtered. When cows in corporate feedlots grow up, they eat corn their entire lives. Cows are not meant to eat corn, and this creates a whole host of other problems like needing prophylactic antibiotics because their stomachs are now at an acidic pH when they are naturally supposed to be at a neutral pH (reference Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma". He does a great job citing sources for this information).

For those of you that eat "fake meat", as I call it (soy burgers or Tofu Pups or Sei-tan, or Chik'un, etcetera), I wonder if you really know what is going into those foods. Probably lots of salt, for one thing (to add flavor). Possibly corn syrup or some type of sugar. Preservatives. Chemicals to make them look, feel, and taste like the meats which you so righteously turn your noses up at. Check out what's in a Tofu Pup. (While you're there, read what's in the Hebrew National hot dog! EW on both counts!). I am always curious about vegetarians and vegans... Are you eating meat because a) you don't like the taste, b) your religion calls for you to not eat animals, c) you don't want animals to die for you, d) you think you're eating "cleaner" by not eating meat? I can understand all those reasons, though I may not agree with all of them. In fact, I always wonder why these meat-replacement products were created in the first place. If you choose to not eat the real meats, why would you choose to eat a chemical-ridden facsimile? (the same query I put to those who choose to eat low quality foods of any type, actually!)

So here's the deal. I buy my meat from a local farmer, north of Seattle. He farms cattle, pigs, sheep, and he might have chickens now. If he doesn't, I know two other farms who do. It ain't cheap. I buy my (organic) vegetables and fruits mostly from a CSA (community supported agriculture), or the farmer's market, or, if I really can't get them anywhere else, the local high-quality grocery store. That ain't cheap, either. But I look at it as Preventive Maintenance on my body. There is a computer saying: Crap In, Crap Out. That's how I look at my body and food now.

Oh, I still eat out. But I try to go to high quality restaurants that aren't serving weird amalgamations of pre-processed items.

Anyway, the whole point about Crossfit. I lost a little more weight. I am still intent on losing a little more weight. These days I hover around 150 lb. But you know what? I can deadlift 75 kg (165 lb) for 3 reps. I can do 45 kg (99 lb) backsquats for 15 reps. I can run! I can squat! My knees don't hurt! I can ski (though I ski badly)! It is AMAZING the changes I have seen in myself. And I have found a whole new community of friends, people who are committed to living and eating well, enjoying life and getting outdoors.

My physical ideal used to be Latin female actresses and singers - rounded, beautiful, not too thin, and sassy. These days, my female physical ideal circles around women who can do 10 dead-hang pullups, who have muscular shoulders, women who can snatch a 24 kg kettlebell, with hands with callouses from gripping various barbells or pullup bars, six-pack abs, thighs that barely jiggle and calves like hamhocks, and still manage to look like a woman. A very strong, confidant woman... who could kick your ass if she wanted to. And they are right next to me, sweating and grunting just as furiously, as we both strive to improve ourselves one harrowing class after another!

Stand by, the dietribe will continue...