Saturday, May 24, 2014

Vacation House - Cooking Paleo Away From Home, pt. 1

In a couple weeks, we are going to Long Island to visit family and friends.  Since we live in Texas, this will be an especially welcome change in vista and weather.  I love beach vacations anywhere but it's especially fun when we get a chance to play house and rent someone's lovely home and kitchen to help us prepare healthy food.

It's also a bit more work than a resort in Cancun!  But planning ahead makes it a lot easier and yummier.  In the past, I've brought some favorite recipes and a few needed condiments, so that's the plan this time, only Paleo.  Which means I also have to think about breakfasts and lunches and snacks more since we can't use the easy grain and dairy stand-bys that we used to rely on for about half our calories.

So, first strategy I am going to try is something I've thought about implementing at home, but haven't.  I will make double sized dinners so we have lots of leftovers for other meals. I will bring enough recipe ideas to cook every night, but, hopefully, we will also go out for a few meals - seafood and fresh veggies should be available somewhere nearby!

Second, for meals I will try to stick with simple ingredients and bring my own spices.

Third, I am going to look up local markets and hopefully find a farmer's market or Whole Foods nearby.

Fourth, for travel and snacks I will load up on paleo snacks and bring them with us.  I've recently begun compiling a list of new paleo products and snacks and we had a chance to try some that aren't widely available yet at the Austin 2014 Paleo Expo.  I will try to get that on the blog soon.

Fifth, and most important, I will not stress and I'm sure we will find plenty of unexpected yummy places to eat and shop and no one will have to eat unhealthy.  

Resisting ice cream will be the hardest - our mantra used to be - "It's vacation - let's have ice cream for lunch!"  Sigh...luckily, at home, we are pretty happy with coconut ice cream and home made Zoku pops.  Also, "Let's Do Gluten Free" ice cream cones are made with potato flour - check them out if you haven't yet!  

Here are a few meals I am already thinking of putting on the list:

   Balsamic and olive - can use for salads, grilled chicken breasts, and cooked veggies.

   Chicken Marbella - can expand easily - cut up whole chickens with olives and prunes

   Spaghetti Squash with tomato sauce and pork sausage meatballs - I don't think I could
   ever make too much of this - we all love it.  Good one to use with guests.

   Lots of eggs and bacon - plain and made into a frittata with leftover veggies

   Lots of fresh local (if possible) veggies to use for salad, side dishes, frittatas - favorites
   are kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, basil, beets, spinach, arugula, cauliflower

   And I hope to find a fish market where we can get lobster and shrimp and other fish

  Extras: fresh fruit, coconut milk for smoothies and drinks, almond milk, coffee and tea

I'll let you know how the trip and cooking goes and other suggestions when I get back.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Paleo Dog - pt 1

Well, now that I feel like I have my family's diet on track and humming along without too much stress and work, I thought I would tackle our dog's diet.

Suki, out 8 year old labradoodle is literally THE BEST DOG in the WORLD!  No bad habits (we can't stand), the perfect size, non-shedding, friendly towards everyone (except squirrels)...just perfect.  We love her dearly and would do anything for her, so I figure, even though she's been on a good dog food her whole life and seems healthy, I think we can do better.

Currently, Suki eats a high end food that still has brown rice, barley (darn - I thought it was gluten free), millet, rice bran, oatmeal, and canola oil.  The other ingredients seem good plus lots of supplements.  It's the diet we put her on as a puppy after she started getting lots of ear infections, and it seemed to clear those up so we stuck with it.

Suki isn't over weight, and seems healthy but she isn't very active around the house and she has pretty bad teeth (they need cleaning yearly) and she even lost a couple from cracking.  She also pulled her back leg tendon a year ago and she occasionally re-injures it, so I've thought about a joint or fish oil supplement.

Good news - I can definitely do better, even if we don't switch to a full raw food diet.  Given my time and energy to devote to changing her diet, I decided to start by finding a healthier dry food, can food, and to look at supplementing with raw food (maybe the pre-made kind, as well as leftovers and scraps from the kitchen).

Since we do not have young children who play in the yard where she poops, I'm not worried about bacteria contamination from a raw diet, but I've heard that can be an issue.  When we first got Suki as a puppy, I considered a raw diet but decided not to pursue because our kids were young.  I am also not going to feed her large bones because she has  a propensity to chew too hard and crack her teeth.

I went to one of our local high end dog stores and looked at lots of healthy food and treat and supplement options.  The employees there were super helpful but also non-judgemental, both about my choice of diet for my dog, but also about the foods they offer.  In general, the store tries to only offer healthy options, but still, lots of them didn't meet my Paleo requirements of no grains, dairy or beans.  We basically read ingredients and figured it out together.  Luckily there were a couple options and three different raw food options (all pretty pricey).

I decided on Merrick Grain Free Buffalo and Sweet Potato dry food, Merrick Grain Free can food, Primal Formula for Dogs, Beef, raw food (in the freezer), and Grizzly Salmon oil supplement.  I also picked up some chicken wings.

It's been about a week now since I introduced her new diet.  I kind of mixed in her old dry food with the new one (about 1/4 old to 3/4 new) but in general, I decided to just switch over right away even if it gave her some loose stools.

So far, she has LOVED her new food - I really haven't seen her so excited about eating in years.  She's eating more than usual, too.  I think she's had a little tummy upset since she's been eating more grass and threw up once, but it may have also been too much fat on the chicken wing which I gave her a couple days in a row.

Her energy level has had the most dramatic change - she is much more energetic in the mornings and evenings, playing more and wanting to run outside and explore every time we open the door.  This is in contrast to days when we could barely get her out of bed to go potty because she wanted to sleep in until 10 am or later.  Instead of getting excited only if someone came over or we took her for a walk, she seems happy and excited all the time.  Instead of seeming lazy and despondent, she is perky and playful - and this is only after one week!

My next goal is to ask around at all the places I shop for raw meats to supplement.  Costco is the only one I asked so far and they use basically everything except fat and some bones.  I plan to ask HEB, Whole Foods, Central Market, and a Grass-Fed butcher shop in the area.

Here are some of the websites I consulted about a Paleo dog diet and good raw foods to feed dogs:

And here's a list of dangerous foods for dogs:

As always, read with a critical eye anything you find on the Internet.  I'm still doing my research and will definitely update this blog if anything proves false.  I really came across a large variety of recommendations regarding dog diets and the efficacy of a raw diet vs. commercial one.  I even found a reputable source which included raw meat and eggs on the dangerous foods for dogs list!  Raw meats do have bacteria that wouldn't be safe for humans to digest but dogs have much stronger stomach acid and do not typically get sick from it, but people (and young kids) need to be safer around the feces of animals fed a raw diet than a non-raw one.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Light and Chewy Paleo Egg Free Bagels

These are some of the nicest plain bread bagels/mini pizzas/biscuits you can make using paleo flours and even substituting for eggs (since we are sensitive to those too).  It’s been adapted from a traditional gluten free bagel recipe by Bette Hagman.  Feel free to add flavors and toppings like poppy seeds if you like.

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. almond meal
1 c. tapioca or potato starch
1 tsp xanthum gum
Dash salt
1 ½ Tblsp sugar (optional and you can always add a little agave syrup or honey instead)

Wet Ingredients:
2 ¼ tsp Active dry yeast
½ c warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 Tblsp Coconut Oil
¼ c hot water
2 egg whites if you can have them or egg substitute with water (see pkg for directions); I often use a teaspoon of chia seeds in a couple tablespoons of water. Let gel a minute.

Mix dry ingredients in a stand mixer or by hand (a food processor could be used too).  Dissolve the yeast in the WARM water with the teaspoon of sugar.  Melt the shortening in the hot water.  Pour both into the dry ingredients and blend on low.  Add the egg whites and blend again.  Turn the mixer to high and beat for 3 ½ minutes.  This dough will be a little sticky still.  You can spoon the dough and drop onto cookie sheets for biscuits, or spoon or pipe it into a donut pan for nice round bagels with holes.  Add any toppings now.  Let the dough rise for 30-60 minutes.  Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes (convection 400 for 13-15).  Use for just about anything but don’t get too addicted, the starches do not make these the healthiest Paleo option - but it sure helps me feel not too deprived of all normal foods!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sean's Story

A couple years ago, my 8 year old son developed Crohn's disease like me. But he was much sicker after two years than I had been for much of my life.  He missed weeks of school, could barely get out of bed and even while taking prednisone, continued to get worse and then developed infections.  We turned to Remicade and it got better for a while but after the prednisone was stopped, he became sick again - after just a couple months of recuperation. We were facing adding Methotrexate and more prednisone or even surgery.

Desperate to try something different, I took him to a functional medicine doctor I had heard good things about.  I had seen the results she was getting from a couple friends and acquaintances.  I was already convinced that the right diet would help, but he had avoided gluten and lactose for 6 months and it didn't seem to help so I wanted professional help before I forced him to avoid more foods while he was so sick and losing weight.

She immediately put him on the Paleo diet and then ran a bunch of tests to check for additional antigens to foods.  I was shocked at the recommendation because I thought we would test first, maybe do an elimination diet or cut out gluten and dairy but I never suspected that other grains would be bad for us, much less beans and lentils!

Full of trepidation but willing to try anything at that point, we started the Paleo diet within a couple days.  Like many people, there was a week or two of discomfort, some yeast over-growth, easily treated, but by week 3 we could see some significant improvement.  He didn't need to go to the nurse several times per day at school, his stomach aches were better, and he seemed to be fairly happy about eating the new diet.  After tests also ruled out eggs, I baked new muffins, found new ways of filling him up (weight loss was a big concern) and kept at it.  By week 6, he was no longer having any symptoms of Crohn's disease!  It had been a full year since he was that healthy and you could just look at him and see how good he felt.

Does it work for everyone?  I don't know, but I was not fully following the diet at first even though I had been having a mild flare-up of my own .  When the flare-up became serious, I started following it completely and 4 weeks later, my symptoms started to clear up. I seldom have flare ups (however, I am always on medicine), but when I do, it usually takes many rounds of prednisone and new medicine, lasting as long as a year in order to calm my immune system down again.  It's been six months now and I'm feeling pretty good and do not doubt that following this diet was what stopped the flare up.  Both of us are now reducing our medication and hope to stop them eventually.

Why Does the Paleo Diet Work?

Good question!  You will see several different reasons touted for why it works, from an evolutionary perspective to a scientific one and lots of health reasons in between.

The big question mark out there for most of us though is whether or not it's been "proven".  As we've seen over the last couple decades, proving a scientific theory is not as easy as it sounds (global warming anyone?)  Going from theory to fact is such a high bar, that very few new theories reach it within a lifetime, much less a decade or two.  If you have that amount of time to wait and aren't looking for a way to be healthier now, then wait and we'll probably understand a lot more about diet in a few decades.

But if you are willing to lower the bar there are many good scientific studies which support the elimination of grains and dairy to reduce the inflammatory responses in our bodies. Ultimately, though, you may just have to try it for yourself like we did.  But if you are also struggling with immune system issues, there may be even more foods which are affecting you and seeking out a doctor trained in functional medicine to help you identify them may be necessary.  If you just want to feel better, lose some weight, avoid further health issues as you get older, then eating this way should be very helpful.

A lot of people find that reading either the Paleo Diet or Paleo Solution give them a good understanding of why this diet works.  

Here are some other good resources and sites that collect links to studies and other helpful information:

One of the originators of modern day Paleo eating; great research links:

Scientific info., eating Paleo for Autoimmune diseases, and more women friendly

This one is  good for medical info. and more guy friendly:

Great recipes and tips for kids

Simple and well tested recipes (esp. for baked goods)

The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf
The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain
Eat Like a Dinosaur (by Paleo Parents)
Paleo Cooking by Elana
Grain Brain - David Perlmutter

Paleo Magazine - very well done and interesting magazine about all things Paleo - really nice way to learn even more about healthy living and products