Stuck with the Name: The “Paleo Diet” and Obsolete Branding

I often wish I wasn’t paleo. I don’t wish I ate in a different way, and I don’t wish I made different lifestyle choices: I am overwhelmingly happy to have found a lifestyle and a way of eating that works so well for me. I do wish that I had never put a label on those choices — I wish I hadn’t called my lifestyle “Paleo.”

“Paleo” is a difficult term to understand fully because there are so many definitions and because it has evolved so drastically over the last few years. Originally, “The Paleo Diet” was a system set up by Dr. Loren Cordain, based on evolutionary biology hypotheses. Cordain, following the work of Dr. Boyd Eaton and others, hypothesized that because our present-day genetic make-up is not all that much different from our Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer ancestors, and because evolutionary biologists have found some evidence that those early humans were generally healthier than humans who lived after the agricultural revolution, it would be beneficial for present-day humans to design their diets based on what our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved to eat. Based on this hypothesis, Cordain recommended a high protein, low carbohydrate, moderate-to-high fat diet that eliminated all grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars, and most starches.

Paleo gained much of its initial support because of two books, The Paleo Diet by Cordain and The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. Both of these books focused on the evolutionary biology reasoning for these dietary suggestions, including details about the health-damaging components in grains and legumes that make them difficult for humans to digest and absorb nutrients from. These initial ideas gained a lot of support because many people found that the diet worked for them: some people lost weight without calorie restriction, some found relief from medical conditions, and some saw performance improvements in various athletic pursuits. Other people found still more success with Mark Sisson’s “spin-off” diet, The Primal Blueprint, which followed the same basic template as paleo but was more lenient about the inclusion of dairy.

Since The Paleo Solution was published in 2010, the paleo community has grown exponentially, with people following tenets of the Paleo Diet all around the world. As more people have joined the movement, Cordain’s original recommendations have been closely scrutinized and many of them have been gradually amended by different proponents of paleo. These amendments to the original recommendations have taken place gradually and in three principle ways: through scientific reasoning; through amalgamation with other health movements; and through practical application and personal experimentation.

Changes to the original paleo recommendations have mostly taken place as a result of scientific research and reasoning. While the original Paleo Diet was based on evolutionary hypotheses, many newcomers to paleo have brought to it a focus on existing scientific studies that indicate how present-day humans may react to certain foods. In many cases, they have found more evidence to adhere to original recommendations (like avoidance of gluten-containing grains), but in other cases they have found evidence to contradict them. It was found, for example, that in people who can tolerate dairy (who continue to produce the enzyme lactase after weaning), high-fat dairy (especially from grass-fed cows) can be an extremely beneficial source of nutrients. Dr. Mat Lalonde has prominently argued that the original reasons cited for avoiding legumes (their high lectin and phytic acid content) are invalid since soaking and cooking legumes removes nearly all of the potentially harmful components. Some people do not tolerate legumes for other reasons (such as FODMAP intolerance), and they are not particularly nutrient dense in comparison to meat or vegetables, but for some people, legumes are a perfectly acceptable food. In this way, paleo has adapted to match current scientific understandings, and it will continue to do so.

Paleo has also dramatically changed through its association with other health movements, especially the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). The WAPF is an organization that supports diets based on traditional or ancestral diets, which vary widely around the world but all contain an emphasis on nutrient-dense whole foods and animal fats. The WAPF’s recommendations are based on the work of Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist who travelled around the world in the early 20th century examining the diets and lifestyles of cultures that were largely unaffected by what he called “the diseases of civilization” (diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, etc.). The large cross-over between WAPF members and followers of Paleo has led to a focus on nutrient density in the paleo community: a strong emphasis on bone broth, organ meats, high-quality dairy, high-quality animal fats, and fermented foods.

Finally, the original Paleo Diet has also altered considerably through the recognition that each individual’s personal dietary and lifestyle needs are different: there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to diet and lifestyle. It’s easy enough to see, looking around at all of the competing diets and lifestyles out there that many different programs are able to help some people. While the evolutionary hypotheses and scientific studies are good places to start, what really matters in the end is whether what you’re eating and how you’re living gives you your optimal level of health. It is important to know that this may change over the course of someone’s life. Chris Kresser, in his recently released book Your Personal Paleo Code,  discusses the importance of personalization. He encourages his readers to break out of a dogmatic understanding of paleo and to think of the original paleo guidelines as a template on which to build.

As you can see from this much-abridged history of the Paleo Diet, paleo has changed dramatically just over the last few years. What was a dietary model based on evolutionary biology is now a highly-individualized, nutrient-dense, Real Food diet with an emphasis on lifestyle factors like sleep, stress relief, and smart exercise. The problem is that the name “paleo” doesn’t reflect that shift.

“Paleo” is still widely perceived as the “caveman” diet and is frequently criticized for encouraging modern-day humans to eat like paleolithic hunter-gatherers (which is entirely impractical in today’s world) and for ignoring epigenetic factors that differentiate us from our paleolithic ancestors (like lactase persistence, which allows a large percentage of the population to digest dairy). These criticisms repeatedly demonstrate ignorance as to the current state of paleo, which is not much associated with evolutionary biology at all anymore.

The name “Paleo” continues to mislead people about the current nature of the paleo diet and lifestyle, and it is for this reason that I have frequently regretted my allegiance to it. Calling myself “paleo” I continually come up against resistance and misunderstanding from people who share many of my ideologies but misunderstand what paleo actually is. Many leading health experts have, for that reason, avoided using that label. As a result, many people who share core paleo values distance themselves from the movement. That said, with the growing popularity of paleo over the last few years and the number of books that are now emerging on that topic, I don’t see any hope of re-branding at this stage in the game. “Paleo” will stay “paleo,” and hopefully people will gradually recognize it for what it is: a Real Food lifestyle.

Meal Ideas: Super Healthy Heart Sausage Soup

This post is part of the Meal Ideas series. Finding something to eat that is simultaneously affordable, quick to prepare, healthy, AND delicious can be next-to-impossible sometimes. In this section I post pictures of the food I make, links to recipes I love, and some tips for saving time and money while still cooking great-tasting healthy food.

Awhile ago, I wrote two blog posts (Part One and Part Two) about what I eat for breakfast and how that has gradually changed as I have figured out the sort of diet that works best for me and as I have shifted towards a focus on nutrient-density in all of my meals. Since then, my food choices have continued to evolve as I uncover more information about how to optimize health with food, so today I want to share the recipe for my current go-to breakfast.

The inspiration for this breakfast was Stacy from The Paleo Parents, who has written about how she eats soup for breakfast every morning. In January, bored with the breakfast I’d been eating nearly every morning for six months (yes, it takes me that long to get tired of a food – I’m a creature of habit), I decided to try throwing my homemade sausages and veggies into some broth to try to mix things up. The warm soup was a wonderful way to start a cold, Canadian winter day, so I decided to stick with it, making adjustments along the way to optimize both taste and nutrition.

Beef Heart Sausage Soup with Carrots, Parsnips, Kale, and Ginger

Beef Heart Sausage Soup with Carrots, Parsnips, Kale, and Ginger

NOTE: Follow the links in the ingredients list for details on the health benefits of each of the components of this soup.

MAKE AHEAD — In order to keep breakfast prep time to a minimum, it’s important to make the bone broth and the sausages ahead of time. These instructions will make enough for one week’s worth of soup, but they can be halved, doubled, or tripled easily.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lb beef or chicken bones
  • water
  • 1-2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 lb grass-fed, grass-finished beef, minced
  • 1.5 lb beef heart, minced (this can be done in a meat grinder or a food processor)
  • Salt and pepper (or other seasonings if desired)

Tools

  • Stock pot or slow cooker
  • Large mixing bowl
  • 2 baking sheets (or 1 large)
  • Parchment paper

Method

  1. Place bones in stock pot or slow cooker. Fill pot with water. Add apple cider vinegar.
  2. Bring water to boil. Reduce to simmer. Leave to simmer for 12-48 hours (the longer it simmers, the more nutrients will be in the broth). When the broth is done, store it in glass jars or other containers.
  3. Preheat oven to 400F
  4. Combine ground beef and ground beef heart in a large mixing bowl. Mix in salt and pepper or other seasonings.
  5. Place parchment paper on each baking sheet.
  6. Form the beef/heart mixture into patties (approximately 4 oz each – 14 total). Place 7 patties on each baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 18-20 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven. Let cool. Store.

DAY-OF — With the broth and sausages prepared ahead of time, there won’t be as much prep to do on the day-of. If you don’t have enough time in the morning, consider also steaming the vegetables ahead of time (while you’re making the sausages) so all you have to do the day-of is reheat and season the soup.

Ingredients

Tools

  • Chopping board
  • Knife
  • Medium saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Measuring spoons

Method

  1. Chop carrots, parsnips, and kale to your desired size
  2. Combine carrots, parsnips, gelatin, ginger and bone broth in the saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium.
  3. When carrots begin to soften, add kale and sausage to the pot.
  4. Season with turmeric, sea salt, and pepper. Add coconut oil.
  5. Simmer until carrots are soft enough to be pierced by a fork. (Total cooking time may be 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the carrots).
  6. Remove pot from heat. Serve and enjoy.

My Meal Rotation: Low-FODMAP AIP Recipe Roundup

This post is part of the Meal Ideas series. Finding something to eat that is simultaneously affordable, quick to prepare, healthy, AND delicious can be next-to-impossible sometimes. In this section I post pictures of the food I make, links to recipes I love, and some tips for saving time and money while still cooking great-tasting healthy food.

In the guest post I wrote for The Paleo Mom blog, I suggested that a useful way to save time in the kitchen is to use a standard meal rotation: a list of several recipes (enough for a few weeks’  worth of meals) that you know how to make quickly and easily and that your family loves. This can be helpful because, by using the same recipes frequently, you’ll learn to make them faster and more easily and, by using the recipes on a rotating basis, your family won’t get tired of eating the same food all the time.

After I posted that, I received several comments asking for examples of this sort of meal rotation. I have decided, therefore, to share with you the meal rotation list that I currently use, including links to some of my favourite go-to recipes.

Because the meal ideas shared below are the ones I currently use in my rotation, they all adhere to a low-FODMAP, autoimmune protocol (AIP) paleo diet and contain modifications to that effect. For those of you who are able to tolerate high-FODMAP vegetables and/or nightshades, I highly recommend that you include a larger variety of vegetables in your side dishes. More advice on how to modify this meal rotation to fit your individual lifestyle and needs will be listed later.

1. Slow-cooked whole chicken with lemon and rosemary / roasted carrots and parsnips / steamed zucchini

2. Beef roast with gravy (omit the garlic, fennel, and Yorkshire pudding) / mashed rutabaga / roasted green beans

3. Panfried fish (any kind) marinated with herbs de provence and lemon / mashed turnip / cucumber salad (only use green parts of green onions)

4. Slow-cooked beef tongue / mofongo (mashed plantain with bacon) / braised kale

5. AIP hidden-liver meatloaf  (omit the celery, onion, garlic, paprika, fennel, and cayenne) / mixed green salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar / roasted carrots

6. Shrimp stir fry with kelp noodles, shredded carrots, baby bok choy, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts (based on this recipe for shrimp chow mein)

7. Bun-less burgers (replace guacamole with homemade basil pesto) / kale chips / carrot fries

8. Bacon-wrapped chicken thighs / plantain chips / steamed zucchini

9. Zucchini lasagna (follow the low-FODMAP modifications) / mixed green salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar / roasted parsnips

10. Panfried shrimp marinated in herbes de provence and lemon / zucchini “pasta” (omit garlic and walnuts) / steamed carrots

11. Beef liver (omit onions) / mashed rutabaga / braised chard

12. Beef heart soup with ginger, carrots, parsnips, and kale (recipe coming soon)

13. Herb-crusted pork loin (omit garlic and paprika) / carrot and ginger soup (omit onions and garlic) / braised kale

14. Beef stew with turnips and greens (omit onions and garlic)

In my household (two people and occasional guests) these 14 meals generally last us for 4 weeks: I make 4-6 servings of each, enough for one freshly-cooked meal and one meal of leftovers. (A serving size in my house is generally 6-8 oz of meat with 2-4 cups of vegetables on the side). To modify this for a larger household, I recommend doubling or even tripling the recipes so that they can feed more people.

To devise your own meal rotation, pick out recipes that you know well and that you really enjoy. Pay attention to how long each meal takes to cook: if you don’t have much time for cooking, opt for slow cooker recipes and ones that can quickly be fried up in a pan on the stove. Also pay attention to the relative prep times and cooking methods of your side dishes: don’t plan to cook two things in the oven at the same time but different temperatures, because it’s not going to work. Moreover, it’s important to balance the relative difficulty-level of the main dishes and side dishes: if you plan to prepare an elaborate main dish, keep the side dishes simple, and vice versa.

Once you have your meal rotation planned, test it out. Pay attention to how long it takes to prep and cook a certain meal and how to time your prep so that everything’s ready for the table at approximately the same time. This sort of information can be really useful when you’re deciding when to use that recipe again: is it more suited to a weeknight? or a weekend? should you prep the side dishes 30 minutes before the main dish is out of the oven? If you’re particularly keen, you can take a moment to write these notes on the recipe so you’ll have them for future reference.

While it’s nice to rely on the same meal rotation all the time, it’s a good idea to switch a few of the meals up every so often, especially to account for seasonal availability and cooking methods. The meals listed above are part of my winter menu and therefore contain a large number of starchy root vegetables, which are the only local veggies available in my area this time of year. I also opt more for roasted vegetables and wilted/braised greens in the winter, whereas in the summer I go for fresh salads. Modifying your meal rotation every three or four months to fit the seasons can also keep your meals from getting boring or repetitive.

However you choose to modify your meal rotation plan, I hope you’ll find it to be a helpful, time-saving tool for your kitchen.

Have any other meal rotation ideas or tips? Post them in the comments below!

Treats and Cheats: Re-Thinking “Forbidden Foods”

This post is part of the Tips From a Student series. The student lifestyle can sometimes be non-conducive to health. In this section I share my own strategies for balancing health, school, and social life.

Fruit Salad

Last week, in my post about orthorexia, I wrote about how important it is to think about food in a healthy way. No matter how healthy the food you’re eating is, mindset is key — especially if you have a history of disordered eating habits like so many of us do. Having a healthy mindset, however, is much more difficult than it sounds: there’s no switch you can flip to suddenly change the way you relate to food on a subconscious, emotional, or psychological level. This week, therefore, I want to share some tips about how to alter your mindset to think about food, especially treats, in a healthy, sustainable way.

In a search for health and/or fat loss, it is inevitable that you will stumble upon a program (or many programs) that advises you to eliminate something, to treat something as “forbidden”. This may be a particular group of foods (meat, grains, dairy, etc.), a particular micronutrient (fat, carbs, or protein), or something else (calories, sodium, cholesterol, etc.). Any program that wants to help you gain health or lose weight will almost certainly eliminate (or dramatically reduce) at least one of these elements. Leaving aside the issue of whether any individual program’s recommendations are in fact conducive to health, we can assume that these recommendations are at least intended to be healthy.

By categorizing any food or food group as “forbidden,” however, these recommendations have the potential to feed into the disordered mental processes of many individuals. An obsession begins over foods that are “allowed” and “not allowed,” and things like self-worth begin to hinge on those choices. On one end of the spectrum, this can lead to orthorexia: obsessive adherence to a way of eating characterized by self-punishment at the prospect of failure. On the other end of the spectrum, it leads to failure to adhere to the program: overwhelming guilt and often resignation from the program after a supposed “cheat”.

A low-carb dieter might sometimes give into the temptation of a bowl of pasta. A low-calorie dieter might binge on chocolate bars and ice cream. These are common experiences, but they create the illusion of a lazy, weak-willed population, unable to resist temptation. I personally, however, find it hard to have so little faith in humanity: I refuse to believe that all of those people out there trying so hard to get healthy are failing just because of a lack of will power. (NOTE: This is a multi-faceted issue that lies at the very heart of my interest in health and nutrition. Today I’m looking at the mental health side of the problem, but in future posts I will address the issue further).

How, then, can we change the way people are thinking about these “forbidden” foods? How can we avoid self-punishment, guilt, and failure? The following are four tips that helped (and continue to help) me immensely in fighting my disordered mindset.

Reframe the Question

One useful way to avoid thinking about “forbidden” foods and therefore opening yourself up to ideas like “failure” is to reframe the project in your mind. Instead of thinking about the foods you can’t eat, think about the ones you can. Instead of thinking about eliminating/reducing carbohydrates, think about adding protein, fat, and non-starchy vegetables. Instead of thinking about avoiding sodium or trans fats, focus on choosing real foods like vegetables and unprocessed meats (they’ll have less sodium and trans fat than low-sodium processed food anyway). By thinking about food with positive statements instead of negative ones, you set yourself up to be more positive about your food choices.

Make Things Clear

If there are specific foods that you have chosen to avoid, make sure you know why you have eliminated them. Decisions really only have power behind them when you make them for you. Just because your doctor (or partner, or friend, or diet guru) tells you something is healthy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you really believe them or that the choice was really yours. Before deciding to avoid something, make sure you really believe it.

Food intolerances and allergies make this part really easy. If you know that a certain food is going to send you running to the washroom, give you a rash, or put you into anaphylactic shock, it’s a lot easier to avoid it: there is a clear, short-term consequence. Similarly, moral, ethical, or religious food decisions are easy to make because there is strong mental structure behind those choices.

On the other hand, avoiding something just for the heck of it or because someone told you to will be extremely difficult, setting you up for failure. If you’re in this situation, think carefully about why you are really eliminating those foods. Are you reducing your carbohydrate intake to lose fat? Are you avoiding soy and corn products because you oppose genetic modification? Whatever your reasons are, make them clear so that you know why you’re making the decision to avoid that food.

Turn It Into a Lifestyle

We’ve all heard it before: this isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle. Often what people mean when they say that is that it’s a long-term diet program and/or that it incorporates lifestyle factors apart from food, like sleep and exercise. When I say lifestyle, I’m talking about something much more encompassing: a mentality that allows for sustainability. In the space of a three-week detox or a quick fat-loss plan, you might be able to avoid a long list of “forbidden” foods entirely. In the space of a lifetime, however, total avoidance is difficult to maintain without falling prey to some form of mental disorder. Sometimes, as in the case of allergies, intolerances, and moral/ethical/religious convictions, it is necessary (and therefore easier) to avoid certain foods. For others decisions, however, like avoiding sugar or genetically-modified products, it is sometimes better to be flexible and make peace with the idea of occasional treats — it will depend on the food and your own situation how often these treats should be incorporated.

NOTE: Be careful not to turn these exceptions or treats into rules (for example, I can have one piece of chocolate cake each week or I can only have french fries on days that I also go to the gym). These sorts of rules have good intentions behind them, but they can easily be incorporated into an orthorexic mindset. Think instead about what treats are acceptable to you and give rough guidelines about how often you can have those treats without interfering with your original goals. Most importantly, don’t think about the treats as “cheating” or “falling off the wagon”: if you can have a slice of cake now and then without de-railing your health goals, GO FOR IT!

Make Conscious Decisions

The biggest factor in all of this is woven through all of the above tips: make conscious decisions. The difference between a treat and a cheat, between a choice and a failure, is the level of involvement you had in that decision. A craving for a bowl of chocolate ice cream is fine and completely understandable: does that mean you should grab the whole carton and a spoon and start chowing down? Probably not. Does that mean you shouldn’t have any ice cream? Not necessarily. Food tastes great–there’s no denying it–but the taste only lasts a few moments: after that you have to deal with the consequences to your health. By giving into cravings for taste without thinking about the long-term consequences, we set ourselves up for guilt and self-punishment. By making a conscious decision to eat something, despite any negative consequences, we can fully enjoy it and then move on to make a lifetime’s worth of healthy decisions. Similarly, we are empowered by decisions to avoid something or to opt for a healthier option.

None of these tips will necessarily change anything about what you’re eating, but by incorporating these elements into your mindset surrounding food, you will set yourself up for success and for healthy mental processes.

Orthorexia: When Health Choices Turn Problematic

Strawberry

On a morning in June 2013, I woke up from a nightmare in a cold sweat. My heart was pounding. I could still feel the echoes of stress and emotions the dream had inspired in me. Part of me was convinced that the dream had been real. I tried to pull my thoughts together, to get a grip on reality. What had I been dreaming about? Food choices. I dreamed that I ate a bowl of strawberries.

Yes. I literally had a nightmare about eating fruit.

I should put this into context for you. Last June I had recently completed a half-marathon, and during the final weeks of training I had been carb-loading (mostly on fruits and starchy vegetables). After it was done, I was still having cravings for high-sugar foods even though I was no longer participating in any glycogen-demanding activities. I wanted to break this cycle of cravings, so I decided that for three weeks I would avoid all sugar. In addition to grains and refined sugars which I regularly avoid, I removed unrefined sugars (i.e. maple syrup, honey); starchy vegetables (i.e. potatoes, rutabaga); fruit; and alcohol from my diet for three weeks. My reasoning was that these three weeks would break the cycle of carb cravings and get me out of the habit of eating sugary snacks and desserts every day.

This sort of cold-turkey approach works for some people. For other people, like me, challenges like this can be really problematic. For people like me, having a list of “forbidden foods” that cannot be eaten for any given period of time can lead to a disordered way of thinking about those foods and about eating in general. This type of thinking is known as “orthorexia nervosa.” Though orthorexia is not an officially recognized disorder, it is a widely-recognized label for this common sort of disordered thinking. The National Eating Disorders Association defines orthorexia as follows:

“Those who have an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.”  Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity.  They become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”  An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style.  Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise).  Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.” (Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LD/N)

Orthorexia can present as strict calorie-counting, adherence to a specific diet, or obsessive exercise: these are things we see often in North American society, but the important thing to remember is that it is the thought process behind orthorexia that is problematic. Choosing to eliminate soda from one’s diet, for instance, is arguably a healthy decision. However, if giving into temptation and having a single soda leads to overwhelming guilt and self-punishment, then that is not a healthy way to live.

It’s ironic that such an unhealthy way of thinking could be associated with a search for health. Looking back on the last few years of my life, I know I have had quite a bit of personal experience with this sort of thinking, but it was only on that day in June 2013 that I really recognized it in myself and knew I had to fight against it. When I woke up from that nightmare, in which I was genuinely freaking out at the idea that I had failed in this challenge I had set myself, I knew I had to change something about the way I was thinking about food.

I won’t claim here to be completely “cured”: I’m sure that elements of this disordered way of thinking will follow me for my entire life. I have in the last seven months, however, figured out a few things to help deal with it. The first is being aware of how I’m feeling and reacting to food choices: am I choosing to eat or not eat something because it’s my conscious choice? or because it’s a “rule”? The second is making sure that I never feel deprived: I may choose not to eat grains or processed foods most of the time, but it’s always a choice, and when I feel like having a chocolate bar, I have one. The third is focusing on adding good stuff to my diet instead of eliminating bad stuff: instead of focusing on not eating pasta, I focus on eating more of my favourite vegetables at each meal. The more I consciously think this way, the easier it gets to avoid more problematic ways of thinking about food, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

I’m putting this out there today because I don’t think I’m alone in this. I have battled with binge eating for many years, and I thought I’d overcome it only to find that I’d just replaced it with orthorexia. Eating disorders come in many forms, but besides anorexia and bulimia very few are widely acknowledged. It’s beyond painful to admit to yourself that these are issues you need to face, but it’s important to be open about it, to talk about it, and to hope that doing so may help someone else.

Real Resolutions: How to Set Achievable Goals

This post is coming a little late for New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve been thinking about this topic since I saw the New Year’s Resolution Rush at the gym earlier this week. I go to a gym on campus at my university about two or three times a week at 6:30 am, right when it opens. As you might expect, most students find it difficult to get up for morning classes, much less 6:30 am workouts, so the gym at this time of the morning is fairly sparsely populated. Except for the first few weeks of January. In January, without fail, there is always a huge crowd of students standing outside the doors to the gym by 6:25, eager to make good on their exercise-based resolutions. Of course, by mid-term time, nearly all of them are gone.

I’m not one to begrudge someone for not making it to the gym, especially not so early in the morning — I myself have been known to re-set the alarm for an extra hour or two of sleep on occasion. What I find interesting about this annual rush, however, (I’ve seen it for the past six years) is what it indicates about the sustainability of any sort of resolution, New Year’s-related or otherwise. Resolutions made on the first day of January are notoriously unsustainable: we’ve probably all had experiences with those promises that don’t last much past January 3rd. The question we should all be asking ourselves, then, is “why?” Why did we fail to reach our goals? This question can have many answers and it will depend on the person and the goal, but most of those answers can be summarized into four main reasons why most resolutions and goals fail to be accomplished. In this post I will outline those four main reasons and give examples of some solutions.

Mistake #1: Lack of Motivation

Lack of motivation is a huge contributor to goal-failure but one that is not often recognized. It’s great to say “I want to exercise more,” but the important question to ask yourself is how much do you want it? Do you want to exercise more than you want to play video games? More than you want to hang out with friends? We have limited time in the day, and any goal that involves doing something is going to require some time out of your day. You probably didn’t have a ton of unfilled time before making this goal, so it is likely that you will have to stop doing something else in order to make time for this new time-consuming activity. If you have a full-time job, a good social life, a couple of hobbies, and a desire to eat and sleep everyday, fitting in exercise can be really difficult: so do you want to workout enough that you are willing to give up something else?

Solution: Consider your level of motivation before making the goal. When you decide that you want to lose fat or get in shape or learn how to play piano, you have to decide whether you care about it enough. Do you care enough about losing fat to stop eating certain foods? Do you care enough about getting in shape to make time in your schedule to walk or go to the gym? Do you care enough about learning to play piano to find time to practice every day? These may seem like obvious connections, but we often don’t think about the connection between the abstract and the practical when we’re making resolutions. If you find that your motivation isn’t enough, then maybe this isn’t the right time in your life for that goal. Amend it or postpone it until your level of motivation is sufficient to accomplish it.

Mistake #2: Ambiguity

I can’t count the number of times that someone has told me about a resolution like “I want to get healthier” or “I want to save more money” or “I want to be more organized.” These resolutions are coming from a good place – a desire for self-improvement – but there is very little chance that this person will be successful in accomplishing any one of those goals because they are too ambiguous. The words “healthier,” “more,” and “organized” are such abstract concepts that can mean so many different things that these goals could be accomplished in many different ways but are therefore unlikely to be accomplished at all.

Solution: Make a concrete plan. First, ask yourself what “healthy” means for you. Does this mean that you want to lose fat? gain muscle? regulate blood sugar? Once you have a more solid idea of your goal, make a resolution that will help you get there. For instance, “I will stop eating snacks between meals” or “I will go to the gym three times per week” or “I will avoid any foods with refined or added sugar” are all good, specific resolutions that could all work towards the end goal of “healthy.” Similarly, saving money could involve getting a new job or it could involve not buying $5 lattes every day of the week. Becoming more organized could mean using an agenda to write down to do lists and appointments or it could mean taking time to sort and file the papers on your desk. By making your resolutions more specific, you are more likely to be able to stick to them for a longer period of time.

Mistake #3: All-or-Nothing Mentality

The all-or-nothing mentality has historically been my own biggest weakness when it comes to making resolutions. I have a tendency to sometimes give up entirely at the first sign of a slip-up. For example, last September, I decided to start meditating for 10 minutes twice a day (morning and evening) to help with stress management. It was easy to meditate in the morning right when I woke up, but I found taking the time in the evening to be difficult: by the time I was getting ready for bed, all I wanted to do was sleep, not spend another ten minutes sitting, breathing deeply. I tried to force myself to do it, but it just wasn’t working for me. It frustrated me that I wasn’t able to succeed with my resolution, and so whenever I thought about meditating, I got frustrated (defeating the whole purpose of stress-relief meditation). As a result, I just stopped meditating entirely, even in the mornings. Because I had failed in part of my resolution, I made myself fail all of it.

Solution: The way to deal with small failures is not to give up, but to address why they happened and how to avoid them in the future. In my case, once I realized that evening meditation was just not working for my schedule, I should have compromised and focused on just my morning meditations, which I enjoyed. The same principle can be applied to things like new ways of eating or exercising. If you have decided to avoid chocolate, for instance, but then you eat a kit kat bar one day when you’re stressed or upset or just craving chocolate, there’s no reason to give up on your resolution all together. Just get right back on the wagon and move on.

Mistake #4: Resolution Overload

The final mistake I see a lot of people making with resolutions is trying to change too much at once. It can be difficult, sometimes, when there are lots of things about our lives that we want to change, to choose just one to focus on, but that can be really crucial to the success of any one resolution. If your goal for the year is to lose fat and gain muscle and regulate your blood sugar and learn to play piano and get organized and and and and ad infinitum, then it is unlikely that you will be able to reach any of your goals, much less all of them. As mentioned earlier, we have only so much time and so much motivation: choose too many goals and those valuable resources will be spread too thinly.

Solution: Stick to one resolution, goal, or habit at a time, then move on to the next one. This can be in the form of gaining a new habit every few weeks (this month I will stop drinking soda, next month I will stop eating chocolate, the month after that I will start going for a walk after dinner every day, etc.) or it could be tackling a bigger goal each year (in 2014 I will lose 3 dress sizes, in 2015 I will bench press my body weight, in 2016 I will learn to speak Spanish, etc.). Each of these goals takes effort to attain: if you focus all of your effort in a given period of time on that goal, you are more likely to reach it.

Even though New Year’s has passed now, it’s never to late to make or revise your resolutions. Good luck!

Book Review: Practical Paleo (by Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC)

Practical PaleoI bought Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo in March 2013, so I’m writing this review with more than seven months of experience with this book under my belt. After that much time, I can say confidently that this is one of the most useful books in my collection. At 416 pages, this is not a book that can easily be carried around, but in my kitchen it has become a go-to reference guide  for both health and cooking questions.

Health Information (4.5/5)

Although I most frequently use this book as a cookbook (it contains over 100 recipes), I didn’t originally buy it for the food. The first part of the book (124 pages) is devoted entirely to what Sanfilippo calls “The Why–Food and Your Body”. As a Certified Nutrition Consultant, Sanfilippo has lots of experience both learning about how food impacts health and advising clients on how to heal themselves with nutrition. This balance of knowledge and practical experience comes through in the easy-to-understand explanations in this first section, which range from “What is Paleo?” to “Your Digestive System.”

She gives basic information about how the body systems work and how food interacts with those systems. She also provides tips for how to tell if something is wrong and recommendations for how to deal with many issues. One of the most useful pages in the whole book is page 75: a “guide to: your poop!” On this page is a cartoon “poop pageant” which gives hilarious visual representations of what you might be seeing in the toilet. Beneath the cartoon is an explanation of each type (there are seven), what causes that kind of elimination, and tips for how to deal with any non-ideal types.

Beyond this sort of health information, Sanfilippo also supplies useful, practical tips for how to implement a paleo or real food lifestyle. As much as people may like to joke about paleo and “living like a caveman,” it is actually a lifestyle that is relatively easy to fit into modern North American society. By providing guides to grocery shopping, eating out, and travelling, Sanfilippo makes transitioning to real food even easier.

The only thing I’m not wild about in this section is the lack of detailed references. There are references for specific statistics and quotes, but largely the book relies on you to trust in Sanfilippo’s Nutrition Consultant certification. As an academic, I prefer to see clearer evidence that an author has done lots of research on these subjects. This is a book geared more towards a lay audience, however, so many the citation style used is acceptable in this case.

Recipes (5/5)

The recipe section in my copy of this book is covered in post-it notes: all of the recipes I love or want to try are marked. A large portion of the recipes are basic, everyday types of recipes like the “citrus & herb whole roasted chicken” (pg. 256), the “perfectly baked bacon” (pg. 236), and the “mashed faux-tatoes” (pg. 344), but many are more experimental like the “tomatillo shrimp cocktail” (pg. 312) and the “vanilla bean tahini truffles” (pg. 396). The recipes are divided into several sections: kitchen basics, which includes a recipe for bone broth as well as instructions on how to chop vegetables; breakfast; poultry; beef & bison; seafood; lamb; sides & salads; sauces & dips; and, finally, treats & sweets.

Many of the go-to meals in my kitchen come from this book. I love the “rainbow red cabbage salad” for a summer party or potluck because it is bright and colourful (from the cabbage, carrots, broccoli, and mango) and it is really easy to put together: no cooking required. Many of the vegetable side dishes like the “sautéed red cabbage with onions and apples” are also favourites.

What’s really great about each recipe is the information provided in the sidebars. On each page, it is noted whether a recipe contains nuts, eggs, nightshades, or FODMAPs (four common intolerances explained in the first section of the book) so that anyone looking to avoid those foods can have a quick-glance way of determining whether a certain recipe is OK. The sidebar also contains notes on possible substitutions for people avoiding one or more of those foods.

There are also suggested meal plans in the book that give specific suggestions for different health conditions (like autoimmune conditions, neurological health, and cancer recovery) and goals (like athletic performance and fat loss). I’m not a big fan of meal plans in general, so I can’t speak to their utility specifically. However, they do seem well put-together, and there are shopping lists for each of the meals plans that are accessible on Sanfilippo’s website.

Food Photography (5/5)

As much as I may love the recipes, the food photography in any cookbook is really what decides whether I use it or not. A cookbook with few or no pictures will remain on my shelf, largely untouched, but one that contains beautiful, colour-filled pictures will frequently be used. All of the pictures in Practical Paleo were taken by Bill Staley of The Food Lovers Kitchen and really the only way to describe them is as food porn. Each recipe contains at least one full-page, full-colour picture of the prepared dish, and some also contain process pictures to guide the reader through the preparation of the recipe itself.

Overall Layout & Appearance (4/5)

Just like the photos, the overall appearance of this book is excellent: the text is colourful and well-formatted (the author’s experience in graphic design is evident). Even in the health section, where the information could easily have been presented in a textbook-boring way, there are colourful cartoons and charts to keep the reader engaged.

The only real complaint I have about this book is how large it is. All of the information is very useful, but I often wish that it had been divided in two: a health book and a cookbook. It always seems awkward to me to pull a book off my cookbook shelf when I have a question about my digestive health. Also, with the book being so large, it is difficult to keep it propped open on the counter while I cook.

Overall, I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about nutrition and health in an accessible way or to anyone who just wants some really good recipes to use on an everyday basis. 

Meal Ideas: Chicken Thighs with Squash Fries and Braised Greens

This post is part of the Meal Ideas series. Finding something to eat that is simultaneously affordable, quick to prepare, healthy, AND delicious can be next-to-impossible sometimes. In this section I post pictures of the food I make, links to recipes I love, and some tips for saving time and money while still cooking great-tasting healthy food.

Chicken thighs with butternut squash fries and braised rainbow chard

Chicken thighs with butternut squash fries and braised rainbow chard

As the weather has gotten progressively colder over the last month, I have found my mind more and more frequently turning to meals like this one. There’s something about fall weather that just begs for roasted squash or root vegetables, and the chicken — with crispy skin right out of the oven — seems like the perfect pairing.

This is a great meal to make for company because all of the prep can be done ahead of time: all that’s left to do right before dinner is to quickly braise the greens and to take the chicken and fries out of the oven.

Ingredients

  • 6-10 Chicken thighs (however many will fit on your baking sheet)
  • 1 Butternut squash (a few sweet potatoes would also work well)
  • 1 bunch swiss chard (or kale or spinach or a combination)
  • 3-6 Tbsp coconut oil (or other cooking fat)
  • 2 tsp herbes de provence
  • salt and pepper
  • water

Tools

  • vegetable peeler
  • 2 baking sheets
  • parchment paper
  • frying pan

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F
  2. Peel and cut the squash according to these instructions. Cut into fry-shaped wedges or 1″ cubes, depending on your preference.
  3. Place parchment paper on each baking sheet
  4. Melt coconut oil
  5. Spread out squash pieces on one baking sheet.
  6. Toss with 1-2 Tbsp coconut oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  7. Place chicken thighs on the other baking sheet
  8. Mix the herbes de provence with 1-2 Tbsp coconut oil. Spread over the chicken thighs.
  9. Place both baking sheets in the oven for 40-45 minutes. Flip squash half-way through (20 minutes).
  10. After about 30 minutes, roughly chop the greens, removing the stems.
  11. Place frying pan on the stove over medium-high heat and add remaining coconut oil to the pan.
  12. Sauté greens along with coconut oil and some water according to these instructions.
  13. When the greens are fully wilted, serve alongside the chicken thighs and squash fries.

How To: Afford Real Food on a Budget

This post is part of the Tips From a Student series. The student lifestyle can sometimes be non-conducive to health. In this section I share my own strategies for balancing health, school, and social life.

One of the most difficult parts about a switch to a Real Food lifestyle is learning how to deal with how expensive real food can be in comparison to processed alternatives. When you’re on a tight budget, it can be really tempting to just grab a bag of pasta and a can of tomato sauce (which will cost only a few dollars and will feed you for days), but in the long term that sort of diet could lead to all sorts of nutrient deficiencies and other health problems. On the other hand, the price tags on fresh vegetables and meat can definitely make you think twice about making healthy choices. In the last year, I’ve learned a few things about how to make healthy eating financially feasible on a student budget.

Budget Priorities

The first thing to decide is what level of priority food has in your budget. How important is it to you? This is different for everyone, and sometimes it changes over time. If you have very little income and a lot of student debt, you’re probably going to be looking for the least expensive options for everything, including food. However, if you have some flexibility with your budget, maybe you’ll decide that buying more tender cuts of meat or opting for organic vegetables is something that matters to you. It may cost a little more, but if you feel it’s important to your health, maybe it’s worth it. The important thing is to evaluate those priorities so that you know what to spend your money on once you get to the grocery store.

Eating Out

Eating out (or ordering in) is generally a major part of the student lifestyle. It’s an easy way to meet up with friends, and it’s often more convenient than cooking something at home (because who has time to cook or do dishes when there’s a paper due?). However, it can often get VERY expensive, especially when a dinner out turns into an evening of drinks with friends. Plus, for the type of food that can usually be found at a student pub, you’re being massively overcharged. If you’re looking to be more healthy on a budget, eating out is a great thing to cut out: you save money, and you can redirect that $20-30 you would have spent on one meal with a drink towards a quality real food meal at home.

If you usually eat out with friends, try inviting them over to your place for a meal instead. It’s pretty easy to make a large meal for under $20, so you wouldn’t be spending any more money (probably less), and you would get to keep the leftovers. Your friends will probably love saving the money too, and they might even chip in for ingredients, bring over a side dish or dessert, or reciprocate sometime by cooking dinner for you.

Meat (and other protein)

Now I’ll give you some practical tips for grocery shopping. The first thing to do is find a good grocery store: one that frequently has good deals on produce or sales on meat, and preferably one with a 10% student discount (many Loblaws stores have student discounts on Tuesdays). Convenience stores ARE NOT a good place to buy food: even if they have anything worth eating, it’s going to be marked up outrageously. (Yesterday I was in my local convenience store and saw canned bamboo shoots — which I buy from Loblaws for less than $2 — for $3.99!). Definitely find a real grocery store.

Protein can be one of the most expensive elements of any diet. Meat and fish, especially, are hard to afford on a budget. Eggs are a great, inexpensive alternative, with a dozen usually selling for between 3 and 4 dollars. For meat, the best options are usually ground meat and organ meats. Conventional ground meat (the type from grain-fed animals that can be found a grocery stores) is usually sold for $3-4 per pound, and organ meat is even less expensive because it’s not very popular (though it is the most nutrient-dense meat available). Fresh fish is generally very expensive, but canned fish is usually more reasonable, and it often goes on sale. Canned fish like sardines and wild salmon ($1-4/can) are excellent sources of omega-3 fats and calcium.

Grass-fed or pastured meat is generally more expensive than the conventional type, so it depends on your budgeting priorities whether you think its health benefits are worth it. This is a useful post from The Paleo Mom which ranks the health benefits of various different types of meat and fish; it can help you decide if something is worth the price. If you do decide to eat good quality meats sometimes, try to get them directly from the farmer. Some butchers will carry grass-fed beef, but it’s usually more expensive than getting it from the farmer. A grass-fed beef farmer who I met at my local farmer’s market sells me 5 pounds of ground beef for $20 and organ meat for $2/lb.

If you prefer more expensive cuts of meat like steaks or roasts, I recommend waiting until they’re on sale at the grocery store and then stocking up. Often grocery stores will give big discounts for any meat that’s approaching its best-before date; buy it and freeze it until you want to use it. That goes for any type of meat on sale: chicken thighs and whole chickens go on sale frequently for as little as $2/lb. I periodically go to Costco to stock up on inexpensive meat; the picture below is about $400 worth of meat at an average of $4.50/lb.

What my freezer looked like after my last Costco trip.

What my freezer looked like after my last Costco trip.

Vegetables

Vegetables are a little harder to budget than meat because most types of veggies are harder to freeze and save for later. However, vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, cauliflower, and broccoli are always good ones to chop up and keep in the freezer. Similarly, tomatoes can be made into huge batches of tomato paste and sauce to be preserved or frozen and kept for later. This can be useful in cold climates where very few vegetables are in season over the winter.

The best idea for buying vegetables on a budget is buying seasonally. Usually, if something is in season and local, it will be less expensive than something that had to be shipped a long way. Plus, if it’s in season, there is plenty available to meet the demand, so the prices will be lower — unlike when you’re looking for strawberries in December. Most grocery stores will have signs that tell you in which country the vegetables were grown. If you’re in Canada like me, opt for veggies from Canada or the US instead of from Chile or China.

Alternatively, find a few staples that are inexpensive all year round to use as go-to options. Things like cooking onions, carrots, mushrooms, and bananas don’t vary in price much during the year and are all fairly inexpensive. Similarly, squashes are generally sold for about $1/lb for a large portion of the year.

If you have the time and/or inclination, growing some of your own foods would be a useful budgeting tool. However, if you’re a student, you probably, like me, don’t have enough time or space to do any gardening.

Pantry Items

Pantry items are things that can really tie a meal together. It is important to have a stock pile of herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, cooking fats, condiments, etc. on hand to make a meal really interesting. These are the sorts of things that you don’t need to buy every week: you can stock up on them once and then just replace them gradually as they’re used up. Unfortunately, they tend to cost a lot when you do need to buy them.

The most important thing to do when stocking pantry items is to keep an eye out for sales. If you have a favourite brand of olive oil, buy 2 or 3 bottles when it goes on sale. Also try buying in bulk when possible. Spices, especially, can be bought in bulk and are less expensive that way than when they are sold together with jars or containers of any kind. Buy the spices in bulk and store them in reused condiment containers or jars from the dollar store.

The type of pantry item that I have found to be most unnecessarily expensive is baking ingredients. “Healthy” baking (with grain-free flours and natural sugars) ends up being a very expensive undertaking. If that’s important to you, try finding the ingredients in bulk (Bulk Barn is a great place to look). Personally, I just don’t bother baking except on special occasions, and I save my money for the vegetables and meat that I care more about.

 

These are the tools I use to eat real food on a student budget. If you have any other ideas, please post them in the comments below. I’d love to hear more suggestions😀

 

Conventional Wisdom: How Your “Healthy” Habits May Be Harming Your Health

 

Fresh vegetables are important components of a...

Fresh vegetables are important components of a healthy diet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

There are people in the world who don’t care about their health or what they put in their bodies. That’s fine, and that will always be the case; anyone is welcome to choose what they want to be apathetic about. What makes me really sad, however, is seeing the other type of people: the people who really care, who want to be healthy, and yet can’t seem to make it happen. I spent many years of my life like that: doing most of what my doctor and my health teacher were telling me to do, with no effect. There were many reasons for this, including a disordered and emotional relationship with food, but even when I started doing EVERYTHING “right,” I still wasn’t getting healthy.

This isn’t just about my experience, though. Speaking with my friends and acquaintances I see frequent examples of people doing what they have been told is “healthy” and not seeing any resulting changes in their overall health. I attribute this primarily to the fact that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to a healthy lifestyle but that most people don’t know what the other options are: it’s what conventional wisdom says or nothing. The following, then, is a list of four “healthy habits” that I have found are the most commonly misunderstood or are simply wrong. This is not to say that all of these habits are wrong for all people: only that if your efforts to get healthy are failing or coming up short, these may be good places to start tweaking. Most of these are habits with which I have personal experience and which I have seen tremendous benefit in changing.

Eating “low-fat,” “low-calorie” foodsConventional wisdom tells us that in order to lose weight and/or get healthy, it is necessary to eat fewer calories and less fat. However valid or invalid this advice is can be argued at another time; what is important about this recommendation is that it has, over the course of the last few decades, led to an explosion of the “low-fat” “low-cal” food production market. Grocery stores have been flooded with low-fat cheeses and reduced-calorie fruit juice drinks, and people will choose those products over their higher-calorie, higher-fat alternatives because they are wanting to make healthy choices. In order to make those products lower fat, however, the food production companies have to highly process those foods: replacing fats with artificial and processed foods whose direct effects on the human body are unclear.

This same problem applies to other dietary recommendations like “low-carb,” “organic” and, in the last few years, “gluten-free.” As companies realize the marketing potential of any new health craze, they seek to exploit it by putting health labels on processed foods. These processed foods, however — no matter what their labels — have been linked to a multitude of health issues including fat loss resistance.

Alternatives: The primary alternative to this habit is JUST EAT REAL FOOD. No matter what dietary philosophy you ascribe to, eating real food as opposed to processed will almost definitely improve your health since your body is designed to process and absorb real food, not the stuff created in a factory.

Running (or other moderate-to-high-intensity cardio): To anyone who regularly participates in long distance or long duration cardiovascular activity, the suggestion that running might be harmful to one’s health seems blasphemous. Running, in particular, has a sort of cult-like status in North American society: people who run get competitive and almost monomaniacal about their chosen form of exercise (just walk into The Running Room sometime and you’ll see what I mean). It seems to be frequently assumed that those who run marathons are at the peak of health. This assumption, however, is often incorrect.

Cardiovascular activity puts a lot of stress on the body. This stress can be beneficial sometimes in short durations (all exercise is a stressor), but hours and hours of this stress each week can be harmful to the body, especially in the long term. Evolutionarily, the human body has been built to run in some situations (while hunting or outrunning a predator, for instance); however, those situations would historically have been occasional, very high stress situations in which the most important thing for the body would be to prioritize running. In that moment, other bodily functions, such as good digestion, would not have been nearly as important. Taking a cue from this evolutionary model, it seems unlikely that most people’s bodies have adapted to run long distances without sacrificing some other elements of health. So, if you are on the treadmill for an hour a day or frequently training for marathons or 10K races, it is possible that you are damaging other aspects of your health without meaning to.

To read more about this, I recommend looking at Mark’s Daily Apple: Mark Sisson, a former professional marathoner, has written extensively about the dangers of what he calls “chronic cardio.” Also, John Kiefer has written an excellent article about the link between running (specifically in women) and thyroid health; the article has 80 scientific references, if you’re interested in doing even more in-depth research.

Alternatives: If you really love running (or other cardio activities), ask yourself if you are doing it for health or because it is your sport. If it is a sport to you, maybe you will decide that you are willing to sacrifice some element of health to improve your performance. If you are doing it to get healthy, however, (like I was) it might be a good idea to start reducing the cardio. Try walking, yoga, weightlifting, and/or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to see if those would work better for you.

Eating “healthy whole grains”: This is probably the “healthy habit” over which there has been the most debate in recent months and years. Books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain are hitting the bestseller lists every week, and more and more people are beginning to try eliminating gluten and sometimes other grains from their diets. However, “healthy whole grains” is still a common term to hear thrown around and an especially common term to see on processed food products in the grocery store. Cereals full of sugar are marketed as healthy with the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “Health Check” prominently displayed on the boxes. Fat, calories, and salt are all demonized in the grocery store, but sugar and grains (which are converted into sugar in the body) are encouraged as part of a “balanced diet.”

Alternatives: Instead of eating cereal and other grain products, opt for vegetables that will provide many more nutrients per calorie than “healthy whole grains”.

Not eating meat/Becoming vegetarian: Before you jump down my throat for including this item in my list, please hear me out. I am not saying that everyone has to eat meat. As I have said before, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to diet, and probably there are some people who do better without meat. There are also those who, for moral, ethical, or religious reasons, have opted not to eat meat, regardless of any effects it may have on their health. What I am talking about here is the general assumption that seems to have permeated society that eating meat (or specifically red meat) is universally unhealthy. Off the top of my head, I can count at least six conversations I’ve had in the last two months with people who have proudly told me that they have dramatically reduced the amount of meat they are eating in order to “get healthy.”

There are several problems related to a refusal to eat meat, such as nutrient and protein deficiencies. Some people who are consciously aware of these potential deficiencies design their diets and supplement regimens to compensate. However, people who have a more anomalous and abstract idea about the health benefits of going meat-free often accidentally reduce meat without compensating with sufficient alternative protein sources or vitamins. This can inadvertently lead to many health issues related to nutrient deficiency.

The bigger issue with the assumption that meat-less diets are healthier than those containing animal protein is that people seem to take that to mean that anything vegetarian or vegan is automatically also healthier. This is similar thinking to the “low-fat,” “low-cal,” “gluten-free” processed foods discussed above: you can still easily find vegetarian junk food, and a junk food diet, no matter how much or how little meat it contains, will never be healthy.

Alternatives: If you do choose to eat little or no meat, I highly recommend taking a close look at what you are eating and trying to optimize it with real food, soaked and sprouted legumes and grains, and high-quality fats. Take a look at these useful recommendations based on the diets of traditional cultures. If, however, you find that your health is not optimal with so little meat, take a look at the articles assembled here to consider how meat (especially well-raised meat) can be successfully incorporated into a healthy diet.

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