Glutton for Gluten

GremlinI wish I could say that I made it through Thanksgiving unscathed, but I didn’t. What I can say, however, is that I made it out the other side better off than in years past, and I’m pretty happy about that. Here’s how it went down…

We had company basically from the Friday before Thanksgiving until the Friday after Thanksgiving, except for one night in the middle. They were all wonderful visits with dear friends and much of the time slightly indulgent, but still paleo, foods were on the menu. There were a few cocktails, there was some cheese, and there were some treats made from good, whole ingredients. But somewhere along the way, or more precisely, the day after Thanksgiving, I gave in to my desire to have good old-fashioned-totally unhealthy-oh my gosh-what am I eating??-dessert for breakfast. There was gluten and sugar and a few crazy ingredients in it and my brain did backflips.

Unfortunately, I am not far enough removed from eating things like this and my brain grabbed hold and went a little crazy. The brain is an amazing thing and I believe the food industry has done a phenomenal job of creating things that tap into the reward center in our brains and compel them to do certain things. I’m not using this as a cop-out. I also believe that it is wholly my responsibility to make healthy choices for my mind and my body, regardless of scientific, societal, or other pressures. I’m a big girl, I can handle it, but for some people (and I believe I am one of those people), the call is very strong.

One of the cool things about this experiment is I got to see quite clearly what happens when I eat gluten and sugar. It’s not the worst – some people run immediately to the bathroom or suffer from extreme stomachaches or worse – but I did have some clear signs.

  • A slight but noticeable headache begins within minutes of consuming sugar. It happens with either straight sugar or high-sugar alcohol (like liqueur). I think I will also notice it with natural sugar like honey or maple syrup but didn’t test it.
  • When I eat gluten, as in a slice of bread or graham cracker crust, I immediately lose all recognition of satiety. This is the scariest of the psychological responses for me – I have NO idea that I am full. The desire for MORE is completely overwhelming. The drive to overeat becomes extremely persistent. I start looking through the fridge or pantry for things that are outside my normal, desirable eating patterns. I want snacks while I’m making the next meal. I simply can not wait.
  • The day after gluten, my eyes are puffy and I have deep, dark circles. I can’t say that I noticed the lack of circles when I was doing my Whole 30, but I plan to pay attention next time. What I can say is that when I woke up, I couldn’t find my eyes and that hadn’t been happening.
  • Even after returning to my healthy, energizing whole foods, I am hungry all the time for a day or two afterwards and have to use will power to break the cycle.

I am grateful for what I learned, but I’m also sad. Sad that despite knowing how fantastic I feel when I eat right, the pull to eat things that are not good for me continues to be so strong. Sad that I eat so many different delicious things every day but still feel compelled to revert to old habits.

Here’s the bottom line, though. Last year after my Whole 30 and a paleo Thanksgiving, I got completely derailed and spent months trying to get back on track. During that time, I kept wanting my old favorites – a cocktail, some cheese, baked goods and treats, any social event to use as an excuse to overeat. This year I had a few days that were less than perfect, but I am craving something different this time – I am honestly craving whole foods and bubbly water. I’ll take that!

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Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon-Caper Dressing 2013

I have always liked cauliflower – I pretty much like all veggies – but since going paleo, I have learned to love it. It is so generous and unassuming, never minding if you want it to look like potatoes or rice or chick peas, just going along with your every desire. While it certainly does a great job of standing in for other vegetables, from time to time I like to let it shine as the star of the show. This recipe in particular highlights some of cauliflower’s greatest attributes. Roasting brings out the sweetness of it and it becomes deliciously tender while still maintaining its structure. The tangy vinaigrette gets absorbed by the warm florets and makes the whole dish sing! If you end up with leftovers, it tastes great cold too and would make a great addition to a composed salad. Enjoy!

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette

1 large head of cauliflower, about 3 lbs.

1 1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted

3/4 tsp. salt

pepper to taste

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Juice from 1/2 a lemon, about 1 Tbsp.

2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. capers, minced

2 scallions, minced

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Break the cauliflower into florets, cutting the larger ones into bite-sized pieces, and place in 1 or 2 large glass baking dishes. You want a single layer of florets so they roast and don’t steam. Roast for 25-30 minutes until tender and caramelized, stirring from time to time and switching the dishes to different shelves, if necessary.

2) Mix the garlic, mustard, and lemon juice together in a small bowl. Add the olive oil and continue to mix with a whisk to emulsify the dressing. Mix in the capers and scallions and set aside until the cauliflower is done roasting.

3) When the cauliflower is done to your liking, toss it still hot with the dressing, add any additional salt and pepper, and serve warm.

Serves 6

Carrageenan: Get out of my food!

Carrageenan is an additive made from red seaweed and is found in many foods primarily to suspend/emulsify ingredients and to improve texture and mouth-feel. It has been used for many years in products like ice cream and other dairy (including infant formula), plant-based dairy substitutes (like soy, coconut, hemp, almond milk), toothpaste, and others. It is used in both conventional and organic products alike and it apparently has a molecular structure much like plastic – yum!

In the past few decades, there have been a large number of studies conducted on the use of carrageenan and its side-effects in animals. Guess what they found? Carrageenan is linked to gastro-intestinal inflammation and disease, including cancer (like colon cancer). In fact, scientists have been using carrageenan for years to specifically incite an acute inflammatory response in lab animals. I assume so they can test ways to fix it.

One of the things that a paleo diet helps to eradicate is chronic inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to a problem or injury and this is great. The bigger concern is when there is chronic (constant, low-level) inflammation in the body because this has been linked to a host of different diseases.

During my Whole 30, I avoided any products that had carrageenan because that was one of the rules (Melissa and Doug Hartwig, the authors of It Starts with Food, agree that carrageenan has too many high risk factors to be worth it, so it’s out). It got me looking at labels and eschewing almond and soy milk as possibilities in my coffee because, unless you make your own, it is difficult to find these products without carrageenan. I also noticed that there is something about the flavor that I don’t like. I think it makes my coffee taste muddy, but I attributed it to the nuts rather than the carrageenan. In fact, I now believe that it’s the carrageenan that I was tasting and I just happen to be extremely sensitive to it. I think it tastes a bit like petroleum. I have found the same off-putting flavor in products with guar gum (another plant-based emulsifier), like canned coconut milk, and sought out a brand that doesn’t have any of that in it. Now I’m wondering if its molecular structure is similar to plastic too and maybe I just don’t like eating plastic!

Anyway, this post comes about because you might remember that one of the very few things that I missed while doing my Whole 30 was cream in my coffee. I had started reintroducing dairy to see if I had any adverse reactions and didn’t see anything noticeable. We had company this weekend so I decided to get some cream and am trying to stick with dairy from grass-fed/pastured sources so that the fat content is full of nutrients that aren’t found, or at least not in the same quantity, in ordinary dairy. I got Organic Valley’s Pasture-raised Heavy Whipping Cream.

The first morning that I tried it, I thought it tasted weird but figured it was because I had actually grown to prefer my coffee black. I tried it a second time and even asked my friend if she thought it tasted weird. THEN I checked the package. I know…should have done this first, but it’s cream! Fat is what gives food excellent mouth-feel so it never occurred to me that there would be anything other than cream in it. Apparently I’m a slow learner when it comes to what the food industry deems a good idea. There is carrageenan in my cream.

Cream with carrageenan 2013

Ironically, there was a quick blurb in the December issue of a magazine I subscribe to that mentioned the concerns of carrageenan and what Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a physician-scientist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the leading expert after 20 years of studying it, had to say.

The report is covered here and it’s eye-opening and distressing.

Some companies have voluntarily begun removing carrageenan from their foods, thank goodness, but many others are putting up a fight. You see, without carrageenan, you might have to shake something, like your chocolate milk, before drinking it. Seriously? At least I’d know what I’m shaking!

What it boils down to is this: We all have to make choices about the food and drink that we consume based on the information we have available. I sure wish I could rely on the FDA to provide that information and guidance because I already know that I can’t rely on the food industry, which has goals very different from mine. So read your labels before you consume and make the best choice you can…for your health!

A few things that I found interesting:

An abstract from the National Institute of Health / Articles like this one, this one, and this one

Note: I am not a doctor or a scientist. I’m just a mom trying to figure out the best way for my family and me to be healthy.

Jeweled Brussels Sprouts

Jeweled Brussels Sprouts 2013

Brussels sprouts – I’ve heard that people either love ’em or hate ’em, but lately I’ve noticed people giving these cute little cabbages a second chance. In our house, we are big fans and like them cooked in a variety of ways. With the holidays approaching, this preparation is just perfect! I braise the Brussels sprouts rather than roasting them, so the oven is freed up for other cooking adventures, and top them with a pretty combination of toasted pecans, chewy dried cranberries, and a fresh burst of lemon zest.

I made this dish for friends, including two 8 year olds, and it was a big hit. The kids preferred their Brussels sprouts without the topping and that’s totally fine! The biggest compliments came when my son said, “Yay! Brussels sprouts!” and our little friend asked her mom to make them “just like this” next time. I am not making that up!

Winter is the perfect time for this delightful vegetable. They are sweetest when they are still small, but the most important thing is to buy them fresh – not frozen. So grab some the next time you see them and maybe even consider this dish for your holiday table. I know we will!

Jeweled Brussels Sprouts

1 lb. Brussels sprouts

2 tsp. bacon grease

1 shallot, finely chopped about 1/4 c.

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 c. vegetable or chicken broth

2 T. pecans, toasted and chopped

2 T. dried cranberries (without sugar, preferred), chopped

1 tsp. lemon zest

pepper to taste

Directions

1) Start by cutting the bottoms off of the Brussels sprouts. Depending on the size, leave them whole if they’re quite small, halve them, or quarter them. The idea is to have a bowl full of similarly sized bites. Remove any damaged looking leaves and put all the rest of the sprouts into a strainer to give them a bit of a rinse.

2) Melt the bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the shallots for about 3 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the Brussels sprouts, along with any water clinging to them, to the pan and sprinkle with the salt. Stir to coat everything and allow it to heat up a bit, just a minute or two. Add the broth and cover with a lid. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding a tablespoon or two of water if the pan becomes dry before the sprouts are done to your liking.

3) When the Brussels sprouts are tender, remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and allow to brown and caramelize slightly by leaving them undisturbed for a couple minutes at a time. Remove from the heat, add the toasted pecans, dried cranberries, and lemon zest. Season with additional salt, if necessary, and a few grinds of pepper.

Serves 4

Autumn Mash

Mashed Turnips, Parsnips, and Carrots

The weather has turned cold here, but it’s Colorado so it might not last. For now it makes me want to have soups and stews and warming dishes, just like this one.

This mash is comprised of turnips, carrots, and parsnips, all lovely root veggies that are in season right now. I like to cook with turnips because I get the feeling that not as many people use them as once did. It makes me a little sad so I try to find lots of fun things for them to do. Not only that, they are great for you! Part of the Brassicaceae family – along with broccoli, cabbage, kale, and others – this veggie is low in calories with lots of vitamin C, calcium and other important vitamins and minerals. Some people find it a little spicy so I added carrots and parsnip for their sweetness and some ghee and coconut milk to smooth everything out. Fresh sage makes it taste even more like fall and I think it could even have a place at the Thanksgiving table.

Autumn Mash

4 medium turnips

2 medium carrots

1 large parsnip

1 Tbsp. ghee

6 Tbsp. coconut milk

3-4 sage leaves, chopped

1/2 tsp. salt + more for the water

pepper to taste

Directions

1) Peel and roughly chop all your veggies. Place them in a medium saucepan and add water to about half way. Throw in a couple pinches of salt to flavor your water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer until soft, about 20 minutes.

2) Drain the vegetables and put them in a food processor fitted with an s-blade. Add the ghee, coconut milk, sage leaves, and salt. Process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings, add some fresh cracked pepper and feel warmed from the inside out.

Serves 4-5

What I learned from my Whole 30

DoneThis is actually the 2nd Whole 30 I have finished (and third attempt) and I think I learned more from this one than any other. Part of the reason is because I blogged about it every day. Of course you don’t have to put it on the Internet, but a lot can happen over the course of 30 days and writing it down is critical to the analysis afterwards. I plan to do another Whole 30 next year because I believe that each time is a little different, providing new insights, but for now…here are a few of my take-aways.

1) Steady energy Before I began the Whole 30, I was finding myself tired in the afternoon. That is no longer the case. I am energized all day long.

2) Sleep Daytime energy was great and at night, I would completely crash. For the most part, I slept deeply, rarely waking up in the night at all. I discovered that I do just fine with 7-7.5 hours of sleep, often waking up in the morning without an alarm clock. I would like to sleep another hour, but my body seems happy like this.

3) Mood I naturally have a pretty steady mood, but even that was improved during the Whole 30. That’s not to say I was suddenly all bubbles and cheer every day; it was actually just a more steady feeling. It seemed like nothing much could derail me, and there were a few things that tried. Even when my hormones shifted, I felt almost like I was watching it happen and I was able to adjust and accommodate the change.

4) No more congestion For most of my life, I have carried nasal spray with me. Okay…I still carry it because I can’t stand the feeling of a stuffy nose, but after about Day 15, I no longer needed it. I remember having this same realization when I did my first Whole 30 last year. I am not sure what I’m allergic to, but I might find that out with a more deliberate reintroduction process. Whatever it is that stuffs up my nose, it’s not paleo.

5) Digestive break If for no other reason, I think it was good for my body not to have all the carbs coursing through it. I know that my belief regarding grains and legumes differs from much of society’s views, but in any case, my body loved not having to digest all those things. I can’t see inside me so I don’t know if I have what is called leaky gut or not, which can lead to inflammation throughout the body, but I do know that I gave my body 30 days to do some healing and I am glad of that.

6) Increased body image This is perhaps one of the most surprising and lovely outcomes I got from the Whole 30. I still have some weight that I would like to lose and I would like to be generally leaner. However, during my Whole 30 I felt my attitude towards my body change. Yes, I lost a few pounds and that helps, but it was definitely more than that. I’m not in a new pants size or anything, but I feel so much better about my body. It is strong, it’s working hard to be healthy, and I developed a new respect for it for those very qualities. Not because the scale showed a different number. In fact, I never once got on the scale during the whole month. I think my body image improved as I continued to treat myself better, giving it the right fuel and energy and not judging it for being more hungry or less hungry. Eating this way felt like an act of self-care and my mental state improved because of that.

7) I eat a lot And that’s okay. I tried to listen to my body and understand what its needs were. Some days I was hungrier than others and I let that be okay. I am guessing that if I continue to feed my body what it needs, over time it will adjust to its very own healthiest place. I am looking forward to that.

8) New recipes It’s important to avoid boredom when doing a Whole 30 so I got a new cookbook, experimented with my own recipes, tried new things (sardines!), and all of that factors in to my success. I need to remember that if I feel like I’m in a rut, it’s probably because I am! Experimentation makes it fun again.

9) Confidence I feel a sense of accomplishment after this. I know I’ve done it before and I knew I could do it again. What I haven’t ever done, though, is put it all out there on the Internet for you to see and sometimes that was a little hard. But even overcoming that added to my confidence and many of your comments reminded me that so many of us deal with these issues. When I drank bubbly water instead of a cocktail, when I recognized that I was eating too many nuts and dates, when I had days where I felt hungry…handling each of these scenarios gave me a little boost, reminding me that whatever happens in the days, weeks, months after my Whole 30, I can handle it. I also feel confident that I can always put my health first, even when it seems hard.

Thank you all for sharing these past 30 days with me. Having you out there cheering me on meant the world to me!

Whole 30 Results

doing whole 30 image12

I’m doing a Whole 30 for a couple of reasons: 1) I want to feel great from the inside out, 2) Putting some stricter guidelines around my food choices keeps me from getting distracted by things that might otherwise tempt me, and 3) Sometimes it takes a while to reap the benefits of a change and having a timeline provides the structure and encouragement I need when I begin to feel impatient.

I plan to share what I eat each day to help me accurately judge what my body needs and to, hopefully, provide a little inspiration or planning assistance if you’re trying to figure out your day as well. If you have questions about anything, please leave me a comment.

Everyone is different, so I hope you don’t judge me too harshly by what I eat. And maybe you’ll see something that resonates with you and, in that case, excellent! If not, I’ll be posting different recipes on the blog too, so don’t despair!

Here’s to the journey!

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Here’s what happened on the outside during my Whole 30 –

Weight lost: 7.2 lbs.

Inches lost: Chest 1 3/4, Waist 1 1/2, Abs 1/2, Hips 1, R arm 1/4, R thigh 3/4

Total inches (doubling arm and thigh): 6 3/4

I am really pleased with the physical results! I would like to continue losing weight and getting lean and I am honestly amazed at my weight loss, particularly knowing that there were times when I overate (remember the dates and walnuts?) and that I ate when I was hungry and had really satisfying meals. To lose nearly 2 lbs. a week without going hungry or feeling deprived is great!

I know that there will be considerably more challenges during the holiday season that will slow down that process, but that is a part of life. More importantly, I want to continue putting healthy food in my body and enjoying the results from that. I am working on asking myself this question: Does eating or drinking this make me more healthy or less healthy? If the answer is less healthy, then why am I eating/drinking it? I think that’s a really important question for me as I go forward.

I didn’t take pictures this time around. If I do another Whole 30 next year, then perhaps I will. It was enough for me to share all of the details of my food this past month and many people noticed and commented on the physical changes they saw. (Thank you for that!)

Physical results are just one part of the equation. According to the Whole 9 website (which is the origin of the Whole 30), these 9 factors are all critical: Nutrition, Sleep, Healthy movement, Fun and play, Stress management, Socialization, Natural environment, Personal growth, and Temperance.

I am pretty excited about how I tackled each one of those. I logged all the healthy food, slept (mostly) well, did all kinds of different movement, did yoga, created a blog! and spent time with  friends without alcohol, went hiking with a friend, and spent a considerable amount of time exploring why I do/choose things. It was 30 days well spent, in my opinion!

Tomorrow I will share the details of the myriad other things I learned on this journey. I am so excited for what comes next!