This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
My friends have put up their recipe for these amazing gluten-free egg baos with pork belly and pickled ramp aioli. Yeah, the bao bread here is really just egg yolk and baking soda! I keep telling them that they could make it big if they had a egg bao food truck.
Sadly, I had a less exciting dinner, but some people have asked me to share this method I use for post-workout or other meals in which I need a lot of calories at once. It's simply cooking haiga rice with some sausages (or fish if you want a lower calorie meal) on top.
My favorite sausages to use used to be the Banh Mi ones from the Meat Hook because of all the rich flavors contained in them. But these are lamb merguez from Smoking Goose. I also like some of the Butcher and Larder Sausages. The aim is to find a sausage that is full of goodness because it will hopefully drip into the rice when you put it in the steamer. I also have found that this method will cook frozen sausages perfectly fine, just make sure to check the middle to make sure it is cooked and if it's not you can throw it in the frying pan, but I've never had that happen. You can also add any kind of vegetables you would normally steam.
Meanwhile, I grease the bottom part of the rice cooker with ghee and add in my .25-.5 cup of rice and some ice cubes of frozen stock. I turn the rice cooker on and leave it to cook. When it's done, the rice has a nice crispy buttery bottom resembling the Persian "tahdig" delicacy. The rice is seasoned by the sausage, but I also add garlic-pepper relish, an egg yolk, a few drops of Red Boat fish sauce, a bit of rice vinegar, and tamari. I mix that all together, slice up the sausage, and top with vegetables, fresh herbs, or seaweed.
Not very pretty, but delicious and filling... and quick and easy.
I associate sugar-free with sad looking hard candies in a lonely corner of the drugstore shelves, carefully quarantined from the "good candy." From those ugly bright pink packets of sugar at every diner to Diet Coke, things labeled "sugar-free" are decidedly low-brow.
But in Chicago we have Homaro Cantu, chef of ritzy restaurants iNG and Moto, who is trying to make it sexy. Luckily for those of us who are intolerant of sugar alcohols or mildly neurotic, instead of lacing his food and drinks with chemicals, he's using something called miracle berry. I remember back in college when this stuff was vaguely illegal or something and people hoarded their pills of it imported from Asia. Now you can order it on Amazon. Surprisingly, I had never tried it before last night. I guess it was a "why bother" thing for me, since I pretty regularly eat normal desserts in moderation, though my taste buds have shifted over the years from not eating junk and I find almost all desserts way too sweet.
But last night I signed up for a special meal at iNG hosted by Chicago Foodies that was themed Guilty Pleasures. All six of the courses were themed around foods and drinks people feel guilty about. I was imagining a meal of pony tartare and whale sushi, but I guess that's my own sick mind at work. They were more mundane things: cigarettes, late-night tacos, carbs, meat, butter, and coffee. Unfortunately, I don't feel guilty about any of those things, though I have a vague disease related to coffee since it occasionally makes me more insane than I already am. Maybe cigarettes, but I've only smoked maybe twice in my life. The carbs course was a bit hilarious to me since it consisted of a single raviolo, Lilliputian slices of truffle-covered bread, and a copious amount of vegetables. Chef Nate Park said he was once quite overweight from gorging on pasta, but I don't think he would have had a problem if he had eaten pasta the way it was served there.
I wasn't terribly thrilled with the flavor tripping, but I wondered if I had done something wrong. Things tasted OK, I guess. The best thing was probably just this simple orange and this block of orange cream. It tasted a bit like fanta and icing...
My friend who is diabetic said she liked the way the sweet things tasted without the miracle berry powder. I agreed. I think this happens to a lot of people who don't eat processed foods: our taste buds get more sensitive to sweet and we also learn to appreciate more complex flavors. If I ever indulge in foods I used to overeat when I was less healthy, a lot of them taste cloying and disgusting to me. It would be interesting to know what percentage of this is physiological and what is psychological.
I think the flavor I appreciate most now is sour. When I played with some miracle berry powder at home, I found that many things I enjoyed like kombucha and lime tasted very flat. I also tried it with a very sour little Australian citrus my cousin gave me, but that tasted flat as well. Apparently in that little lime there wasn't much else to it but sour.
I am planning to trying it with some other stuff though, particularly things that don't seem to express their full flavor without massive amounts of sugar like chai and mulled wine.
However, it is interesting what iNG is doing and another diabetic friend told me he appreciates that he can enjoy a sweet cocktail there that has essentially very little sugar.
The head chef there, Homaro Cantu, has a bunch of other projects aiming to use such flavor manipulation to improve global health.
That's the fun part. But Cantu envisions greater purposes for this little fruit: eliminating sugar from our diets, conquering obesity and curing hunger. If squeezing lemon into soda water produces something resembling Sprite, then why shouldn't that be Sprite? Two ingredients plus the miracle berry. Junk food becomes health food. Sugar goes away. "All these sugar cane growers can just get rid of the sugar cane and start growing the berries, and then we can live happily ever after," Cantu says. "I just see it as a very simple, easy fix."
However, my own impression is that miracle berry is very hard to use and even a top restaurant with experienced chefs like iNG seems to have trouble delivering a consistently good flavor from it. It is widely speculated that this is the reason iNG keeps getting snubbed by the Michelin guide.
It is cool though that he is more realistic about human nature than other celebrity chef health campaigners. He recognizes that one of the reasons people eat fast food is because it tastes good, that in order to get people to eat differently, we have to work on viable alternatives
CANTU: We - we have a problem with food addiction in our country. Diets don't work, and people that go on diets go on and off. You've never heard anybody ever say, boy, I really enjoyed being on that diet. That was awesome. You know, that just doesn't happen.
We're trying to take the other approach. We want to give you food products, like this waffle, that tastes better than the real thing, just because of the way it's made. And, you know, you - you swear you're ingesting tons of, you know, calories from sugar, but there's nothing there.
But having studied food science at a major research university, I feel like I've definitely seen this before, and that it doesn't always go well. It's not like food science departments at both universities and major corporations haven't been working on this for ages, bringing us such failures as Olestra chips and Diet Soda. There rarely is a simple, easy fix...
And I see more and more fancy restaurants dealing with the sugar problem by just having tiny desserts. Honestly, I'd prefer to have a very small dessert made with real sugar like this innovative and delicious silver dollar-size dollap of ice cream and mochi I had at Blackbird, than the two very large sugar-free desserts I had at iNG.
Anyone else tried miracle berry? What do you think?
I've certainly read enough diet books myself, but I am always looking for ones to recommend. Unfortunately no one has written the one book to rule them all yet. The individual strengths and weaknesses of each author are evident in each. Perhaps now that more and more of us are talking to each other, this will change in the future, but for now I suppose it's wise to make recommendations with caveats. The same qualification can be evident in reviewers. Admittedly, while I have some strengths, I have very little education in things like molecular biochemistry beyond the undergraduate level, so that's why it's important to read many reviews. Someday when Chris has more time perhaps we can review things together.
Several people asked me to read Deep Nutrition, which is by mainly by Dr. Cate Shanahan with the contribution of her husband, Luke Shanahan.
The premise of this book is that we all have the potential to be well-formed healthy individuals in our genes, but that poor nutrition has led to detrimental changes in how our genes are expressed. Wait...genes can't be changed by food right? That's the magic of epigenetics: the underlying genes are not changed, but their gene expression or cellular phenotype are. This is called epigenetics and scientists are just uncovering the secrets of this process. Scarily, that means that the diet and lifestyle of your grandparents and parents is affecting you right now!
When I was a child I slowly became aware that something was wrong. It didn't make sense that I had to have some teeth pulled and then be tortured every month. They said my teeth were "crowded," but why? My mother said it was probably because my father had bad teeth, so it was genetic, but looking at old family photos it was clear that my great great grandparents didn't have such bad teeth. When I was a teenager I realized I was deformed. It sounds quite awful, but the reality is that my face was not formed correctly. The oral surgeon said I would need to have my jaw broken and put back together. At that point I had functioning decent looking teeth, so I declined. Surgery is a serious thing.
When I discovered Weston A. Price it was very exciting because he was someone who also asked "why?" He found that some people who live traditional lives and have special healthy foods did not have dental abnormalities. The latter part is important because some people have the impression that Dr. Price thought that traditional-living people had good teeth and modern people had bad teeth, when the reality was that not all traditional-living people had good teeth and he was looking at what the people with good dental structure had in common.
Deep Nutrition is about reclaiming our health original structure by relying on these special foods. The book divides them into four pillars:
- Meat on the bone
- Fermented and sprouted foods
- Organs and other "nasty bits"
- Fresh (and raw) unadulterated plant and animal products
Notice what's missing here? There is no mention of specific nutrients or macronutrients. The emphasis is on real whole foods. This is going to be hard for some people to swallow. Some might ask if they can take a supplement instead, but Dr. Cate emphasis that only real foods have the synergy that we need, a synergy modern science has only barely begun to understand. She also explains how modern industrial foods like vegetable oils hurt our health and the health of our future generation, as well as the fact that foods like butter and liver have been unjustly demonized.
Another interesting concept described in the book is "second child syndrome." You may have noticed in many families that the eldest child is often better looking and healthier. Babies take a lot of their nutrition from a mother's body, not just the food she eats during pregnancy and lactation. Depletion of these nutrients can lead to sub-optimal development, which is why spacing is important in order to allow these nutrient stores to build back up again.
Unfortunately in some of these chapters things can seem a little like the nutritionism she criticizes. Readers who are not very interested in science might have a tough time with her explanations of the biochemistry behind things like heart disease, despite her efforts to simplify the language.
I also think things go awry in her emphasis on beauty. She goes beyond the idea that good food allows us to have facial and bodily structural integrity into some rather contentious territory. She claims that models are not freaks of nature, but remnants of what we once were: "This is why beautiful people of every race share the same basic skeletal geometry, and why for the bulk of human history, Hollywood beauties were as plentiful as the stars."
I've seen a lot of skulls from the Paleolithic and faces of traditional living peoples. Most of them look robust and healthy, but I've never looked at them and thought "hmm, this person could have been a famous model!" Beauty does have a adaptive evolutionary component. Some things that we consider beautiful are markers of health, but it also has a fuzzy cultural component that layers on top of that and can sometimes mask the adaptive forms of beauty. For example, Dr. Cate uses Marquardt's Mask as an example of the mathematical ratios behind beauty. Perhaps there are such universal ratios, but Marquardt's Mask has been rightly criticized because it is based on Western fashion models. They are actually a perfect example of cultural ideals of beauty that tarry on the edge of the maladaptive, as fashion models often are dangerously low in body fat, which is essential for fertility, as well as somewhat masculinized, which makes sense considering the sexuality of many in the fashion world. I was heartened to hear that recently a bit of honestly has been injected into this world, as they are now unapologetically using men to model women's clothes.
Many skulls of Paleolithic people have traits we many of us no longer consider beautiful, but which may have once been adaptive, such as brow ridges and large noses. There have been a few forensic reconstructions of Paleolithic people and they do not remind me of Christy Turlington or Ralph Fiennes.
But in the end I would agree that we could all be much better looking if we had the optimal nutrition and lifestyle.
I think Deep Nutrition would be a great book for someone suffering from chronic joint, muscle, or bone problems, as Dr. Cate has wrestled with them herself. She emphasizes the value of the collagen, cartilage, and minerals present in things like bone broth. However, it may not be the best book for those with digestive problems. She recommends that people giving up bread might want to substitute sprouted Ezekiel bread instead. If I could revise I would qualify that statement with a caveat that many people with delicate stomachs are going to have issues with the harsh fiber and excessively large amounts of hindgut fermentable carbohydrates in things like Ezekiel bread. There also isn't much information about autoimmune issues, particularly the role of gluten and she recommends a breakfast porridge that can contain wheat berries or barley. She also recommends fresh peanut butter and says that fries made in peanut oil can be an occasional treat. I don't recommend peanuts at all (SO SAD, because they were definitely a favorite food of mine) because of their high omega-6 levels and the fact that crops are often contaminated with aflatoxins that many people are sensitive to.
Overall while this isn't the "one ring" book that will rule them all, it's a good read that emphasizes the importance of real food, particularly when paired with a complementary books like The Primal Blueprint (more info about things like gluten), The Paleo Solution (more info about autoimmune issues and things like gluten that irritate them), and The Perfect Health Diet (more info about autoimmune, digestive disorders, etc.).
I was home for a little while last week and noticed all my family members had So Delicious Coconut Milk in their fridges. I admit that I was excited when this product came out because it acts a lot like real milk. It doesn't form an oily film when you put it in coffee, for example. However, unless you really need it for that, I kind of think it's a scam and not really a "real food." Also, I don't know how their food scientists modify the fat to make it act like that, it's possible that like milk homogenization, this process affects the digestibility of the final product.
First of all, the ingredients:
INGREDIENTS: Coconut Cream (Water, Coconut, Guar Gum), Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Calcium Phosphate, Magnesium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D-2, L-Selenomethionine (Selenium), Zinc Oxide, Folic Acid, Vitamin B-12.
So it's fortified and fortified foods are questionable in my book. Vitamins you get from fortification are not the same as those in whole foods and studies have shown some questionable results. Googling any of those nutrients + fortification is illuminating. Folic acid, for example, has been tied to cancer. Some of them are harder to figure out. For example, I know that Vitain A Palmitate is a form of retinol, but not everyone knows that. Retinol supplementation has been tied to birth defects. Sorry, I prefer to get my nutrients from food, not from products.
Then we have the additives. I don't like to consume foods with additives in general, though some are harmless. There are a few here that might cause GI distress and other negative effects in some people. Carrageenan, for example, was discussed on paleohacks as a potential cause of GI ulcers and cancer. Chris Kresser recently discussed why guar gum might cause stomach aches in his great article on "why coconut milk may not be your friend."
Then there is the value. 1 cup So Delicious coconut milk has only 45 calories. The coconut milk I buy has 440 calories in a cup. If I need something with less calories I can dilute it. In fact I often buy coconut cream, which has twice the calories, and dilute it into milk since a can is the same price! Either way, for extremely thinned-out coconut milk, So Delicious is rather expensive.
Overall, I'd say this is an industrial product and not a real food. Avoid.
What about The China Study?
Why did you stop being vegan? Isn't veganism more sustainable?
What do you think about carbs?
My diet is more about real whole foods than macronutrients. A low-carb diet can be therapeutic for certain illnesses like migraines, but I do not think they are optimal for everyone. You can see all my posts on the subject of carbs using the tag system.
I tried it to be game and see if I could give orthodox paleo a chance. Most of you by now realize I'm not a fan of "orthodox" paleo. And doing it again reminded me why.
After a week the symptoms that I think caused me to be hospitalized last year with fainting came back. My doctor had said they were likely caused by low blood pressure, under 90/60, and if I didn't get them under control I would have to take drugs. I got them under control mainly with greater calorie consumption, which mostly involved adding potatoes, dairy, and rice back into my diet. Last week without those foods I started having trouble with things again. Dizziness, orthostatic hypotension, ringing in my ears, irritability, and fatigue were my main symptoms.
I'm convinced more than ever that an 80/20 approach is best for me. But with a different approach than the standard 80/20. I think of that 20% non-paleo as being whole real foods rather than "cheats." So butter, cheese, rice, and potatoes for me. Sometimes grits as a cultural concession, but I do think these muck my digestion up a bit.
I was talking with two other health bloggers, both young men who have never had a weight problem. Both of them have had similar issues with strict paleo. I think the calorie deficit is the main issue. It's hard for me to get enough calories from only meat even when presented with unlimited amounts because of lower appetite. Add on the fact that I sometimes have to eat out and most restaurants skip on meat...and you have me getting less than 1000 calories a day in some instances.
Perhaps that's good for people suffering from metabolic syndrome, but that's not me. Some other tips for those suffering from low blood pressure, besides eat MORE and stop being strict, are
1. Licorice and yerba mate tea in the morning
2. Lots of salt. I like to snack on Hawaiian red clay salt.
I would be a little concerned that these challenges are just going to make people feel hungry and irritable if done cold-turkey. It takes time to adjust to cooking and buying real foods. It's been four years for me and I'm still challenged sometimes.
But all wasn't a loss for me. I realized that I am a little sensitive to some "young" cheeses like my beloved ricotta. But I also realized that I wasn't even eating much butter and in fact my naughty roommates had eaten it all because I've had SO much tallow from my lamb.
I also became a big fan of coconut aminos, a soy sauce replacement that is actually really tasty. I braised some lamb shanks last night in the crock pot with a 1/4 cup coconut aminos, 1 cup coconut vinegar, 1 cup coconut milk, and a bunch of bird chilis, cilantro, and freshly ground black pepper. Mmm adobo.
I got this at my local convenience store for $7. Jealous? Well, I'm jealous of all the people who don't pay a gazillion dollars to share an apartment. Although if you can get together a group of like-minded paleos, the Amazon link above gets you 12 bottles for about $90 including shipping, which would make a good bulk buy.
Edit. So while I've done orthodox paleo before, I did it when I was unemployed and ate all my meals at home. I didn't say that orthodox paleo=calorie deficit. I said it was hard. And is it always unnecessary? Is butter really so much worse than tallow?
Scene 1: I'm at a party. There isn't that much to eat that won't upset my stomach, except some nice roast potatoes. Suddenly a girl appears smiling benevolently. Is she about to say "Oh, actually we have steak in the kitchen"? Nope. Instead she giggles and asks "Are you allowed to have those?"
I grit my teeth and spitefully add an extra helping to my plate.
Scene 2: I'm at lunch snacking on some delicious French raw milk cheese. A man comes up to my table and looks at my lunch with squinting eyes. "I don't think cheese is paleo" he blithely announces. I eat the whole block of cheese in one sitting out of pure unremitting malice towards those who question my love of cheese.
Yes, such is the peril of being known as a "paleo" girl. So henceforth, if you call me "paleo," I will have to banish you from this blog and all parts hence. And by banish, I mean maybe we should settle this in a dark alley.
I'm not "paleo" since that is short for paleolithic. For your enlightenment, I was born in 1986, which was well into the neolithic era.
Yes, I am quite interested in the paleolithic and I think to eat like the people in the paleolithic is a powerful tool for healing. But honestly, I'm not going to put in more effort than I have to. If butter seems to cause me no problems, you betcha I'm going to eat it.
As for it making you fat, that is pure and utter nonsense. I am but one of many butter-loving health bloggers. I have low body fat and do not wish to impair my fertility by going lower. I have informed some of you of my earnest desire to bear many adorable butter-eating babies.
I have so far deigned to engage in the cupidity that seems to have grasped the "paleo" world as of late. The vultures are already circling, publicists and producers, cawing out commands to simplify our language and distill our philosophy into something politically correct and "readable."
Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas
I for one have nothing to sell. And I hope my writing style gets more and more obtuse and archaic. Soon I will start writing all my posts in Latin. Of course, I will never proofread anything, despite being certifiably dyslexic.
I was reading Tim Ferriss' new book yesterday. Like me, he knows the value of paleo principles, but he doesn't hew to dogma. I was very skeptical of this book, but he does what works and while I have some quibbles (egg beaters? eww, but maybe that's my inner snob), it was refreshing to see the lovely words cassoulet on the page. Until I see a study that shows that beans embedded with the ichor that is duck confit causes "leaky gut" or something in healthy adults, I will eat this wonderful food at least once a winter in a wood-paneled pub on the Lower East Side. I refuse to throw away such human accomplishments in the name of "paleo."
And honestly...where is the most innovative stuff coming from? It's from bloggers on the fringe of paleo who aren't out to make $$$ (yet)*. They don't call themselves paleo, but we all know who they are. I bet they are enjoying some cassoulet at this very moment in good cheer while in sad lonely loft apartments, some poor victim of "paleo" dogma is eating a pathetic skinless boneless chicken dressed with rancid olive oil.
Luckily because I'm not "paleo" I no longer have to pretend to be supportive or cheerful about such people and the promotors of such diets (who often eat certain "bad" foods while telling others not to).
*though I have nothing against those who do, as long as it's not at the expense of integrity...which sadly it often is