Quick note: this is the continuation of the Practical Action Plan I started last week, albeit with a rejiggered title. Read on!
Me too! One question, then: what should we eat?
Let’s call it an obvious question with not-so obvious answers. Let’s even call it a rare misstep on part of this growing Paleo/natural food movement. Having decided to nix refined, processed food from our diets, we’re left with one last question mark: what can we eat?
Lots of things. And delicious things, at that.
That’s the big focus of this second part of our practical action plan: all of those delicious, nutritious and natural things you should be eating, with plenty of words on how often and why. We’ll then wrap this installment up with sample meal ideas and a whole slew of links to some of my favorite recipe sites, both intended to give you a lasting framework over these first tumultous weeks.
But let’s be clear: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. This is the style of diet you should strive to emulate over the course of the next few months, but not something you should beat yourself up for every time you don’t. Incorporate as many as you can, and take these recommendations as they are intended: to show you how to eat healthy and well in 2012.
You know the drill.
These aren’t so much strict rules as they are (sometimes not-so) common sense – stuff you should want to eat on a daily basis, and stuff that tends to keep you alive when you do.
You have plenty of options here, but there’s no need to overthink it. Eat meat. Enjoy red meat (beef is chief!), white meat (chicken, turkey, etc.), and everything in between (eggs are pretty much the perfect food). If you’re not big on meat, keep in mind that you’ll still benefit from aiming for 50-60 grams of protein daily, which can be easily broken down like so: two or three eggs for breakfast, a can of tuna for lunch (more on fish later), and a chicken stir fry or medium-sized steak for dinner. If you are big on meat, go nuts. High-protein diets prove most satiating overall (with perks for lean muscle mass, too), so feel free to scale consumption as you like – you’ll find it very difficult to overeat on straight protein alone.
Let me turn your attention, however, to portion sizes. I love large plates of meat (welcome to Texas!) as much as the next guy, but there’s some honesty required now whenever I plop down at the table. I can eat a medium-sized portion and find my appetite has vanished, so I really don’t need much more than what was on my plate: a palm-sized portion, in the case of full cuts of meat. Eat to satiation, but don’t gorge yourself beyond it.
Eat them. All of them. Try and get as many colors in over the course of the week as you can, but don’t despair if you find yourself falling back on old standbys like spinach, carrots, tomatoes and broccoli.
If you’re not used to adding anything green to your plate, try this: fill your plate with veggies, creating a nice bed of produce, and then put your palm-sized portion of protein in the middle. That’s an easy enough way to build a plate, and the structure should encourage you to get creative with your side-dishes (cauliflower rice, grilled asparagus spears, roasted artichokes and cherry tomatoes, etc.).
Where this recommendation deviates, however, is in preparation style: eat some of it raw and eat some of it cooked. For the latter, cook your veggies in either butter or coconut oil for maximum nutrient absorption, though don’t be afraid to saute in olive oil on occasion too. Raw vegetables make a decent snack, but you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you enjoy one of Mark Sisson’s famed Big Ass Salads on a daily basis: a bunch of veggies thrown in a bowl and mixed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Mixing vinegar with fat, coincidentally, has proven useful in controlling the spike in blood sugar (and insulin) after a meal, so get creative with your dressings (lemon juice works well too)!
Note that this category may also include starch in the form of sweet potatoes, yams, white rice, and a few others. There’s a kind of debate occurring now about whether they should have a home in your diet, so let’s leave all the conversation aside for a moment and say this instead: tailor it to your activity levels. If you’re an endurance athlete, eat starch daily. If you have a particularly exhausting workout, feel free to throw in a sweet potato afterwards. If you’re mostly sedentary or do only light activity, you likely don’t need much starch in your diet.
For reasons of sugar, a lot of dieters like to put fruit on the backburner (or nix it entirely). This is silly. A few pieces of fruit per day won’t put you in a diabetic coma, so why not try these rules on for size instead? If the fruit is about the size of your palm (bananas, apples, pears, oranges, etc.), stick to one or two pieces daily. If the fruit is berry-sized in nature, enjoy it freely.
Chris Kresser did the legwork, here, in debunking a lot of modern concerns about fish intake: mercury toxicity, rancid fatty acids, etc. His series of articles take a different tack in encouraging regular fish intake over everyone’s favorite omega 3 pills — proving, as ever, that real, whole food will always outmatch tiny capsules.
You have plenty of options here too. Wild-caught fish is ideal, but not always practical, and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that eating farm-raised fish is far better than eating none at all (remember: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good). If you’re afraid of full-sized fillets, stick with the basics: canned tuna (packed only in water or olive oil, none of this vegetable broth nonsense) and sardines. Once you’re feeling a little more adventurous, try and track down some popular favorites: tilapia, salmon, cod, etc., all of which can be easily made edible by frying in a pan with butter and adding a sauce (Sriracha comes to mind, but roasted tomatoes and artichokes is a winner too).
A few servings of fish per week is enough to net an abundance of omega 3 fatty acids and other delightful things. And if you’re a fan of shellfish, why not try mussels? They’re a great source of zinc.
An interesting side effect of opting for natural, healthier foods is a subsequent decrease in idione intake. That old container of salt in your cabinet that says “Iodized” right there on the label? That’s a key contributor of iodine to the modern diet, believe it or not, and a source often forgotten when people opt for Himalayan crystal salt and other gourmet seasonings.
Anyone with a dysfunctional thyroid should be cautious with their intake of iodine, of course, but everyone else can benefit from introducing roasted seaweed into their diet a few times each week. My preferred variety is Wakame, which tends to pair its abundant vitamins and minerals with a touch of sweetness. Check a local Asian grocer for it, if you have one, or venture into Whole Foods if that’s more your thing. I’ve been known to eat seaweed on a daily basis, but you might want to start slow – the taste can take a little adjusting to, but you’ll soon grow to love it.
Try and track down seaweed that has been roasted in olive or sesame oil, by the way. That’s not always an easy find, but it proves far healthier than the canola and soybean we see so commonly.
This one will take a bit of work, but the benefits are enormous: gelatin, collagen, and other forms of protein that we don’t often get in our daily diets, alongside innumerable other nutrients extracted from the bones you cooked with. Those bones, by the way, can be found for cheap at a variety of places: your local grocery, a neighborhood butcher (too often, it seems, the bones are dumped in the trash), or any kind of foreign market.
My go-to recipe can be found over at Diane Sanfilippo’s Balanced Bites. Diane’s stock won me over for its ease of preparation and abundance of garlic, the flavor of which made for a pretty versatile base. She claims that roasting the bones first (in butter, I’m assuming) isn’t necessary, but I’m inclined to disagree. My first batch tasted fine without it, but I think the flavor would be much improved by adding the additional step.
How to actually use bone broth? You can drink it. On cold evenings in particular, a warm mug can go down wonderfully. Bone broth makes an excellent base for soups, stews, and all kinds of chili, upping the nutrition significantly while adding a rich flavor to the dish.
If you’re not keen on offal, by the way, bone broth is all but a must in order to maximize nutrition density (as dorky as that sounds) in your diet. Liver or a rich, hearty soup stock? Your choice. (I’d go for both.)
I haven’t spoken much about gut flora here at Three New Leaves, so consider this an initial foray into the unknown: it’s important. Really important. The population of bacteria happily humming along in our gut has impact on our health way beyond what we currently know, it seems (heard about the connection to autism?), so we’re all better off chomping down on bacteria-rich foods at least a few times a week.
Bear with me. That might not sound too appetizing.
You have a few options, here, but most come with a considerable caveat. Sauerkraut, a popular choice, tends to go through a pasteurization process before being canned, an act which negates most – if not all – of that healthy bacteria you’re trying to add to your collection. I’ve found a variety at Whole Foods that is unpasteurized, but you might have to do some digging (or, you know, make your own). If you do grab some, make sure it’s the refrigerated variety, as keeping the kraut cool is usually a sign that the bacteria within are still going strong.
Kimchi is another popular choice. If you have access to an Asian grocer, you should have good luck tracking it down. The fine folks over at the Perfect Health Diet have recipes to make your own, too, so don’t fret if you can’t find any outside the home.
How to eat it? You can dive in with a fork, as I’ve been known to do, or you can pair it with a regular meal. You’ll be surprised at what happens with the latter: much improved digestion courtesy of all that bacteria and digestive enzymes, to the point where having a bowl of miso soup (delicious, fermented soybeans) before each meal will suddenly sound appealing.
Green & Black 85% is all you need. I promise. The point, in any case, is simple: have a few squares a few times a week to a) help slowly wean yourself off high-sugar foods and b) bring a big, happy smile to your face. Green & Black does both, but just keep in mind that you want to opt for chocolate that has a 70% cacao content or higher as a way of keeping the sugar content low.
Let’s put aside health concerns for a moment and get down to the nitty gritty: wine is delicious. Therefore, you should drink it. I’m fond of a few glasses per week (usually with dinner), and I’m going to go out on a limb again and say that those few glasses aren’t severely damaging my health.
Given the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption and the sheer pleasure of a tall glass of red, too, I’d say you’re far better off mentally if you decide to pour yourself some vino. Enjoy! Red wine will serve you better for having less concentrated sugar, by the way, so try and opt for that color whenever you’re perusing your collection.
Deep breaths, now.
Offal — animal organs, essentially — don’t have a great reputation for many people, due in most parts to the perceived ‘ick’ factor in eating something’s heart. This draws attention away from just how much nutrition is packed into said organs, however, and how many deficiencies can be corrected by including a quarter of a liver into your weekly diet. I’m still experimenting with including liver, so I’d like to open this one up to the audience: any recipes you’re fond of? Let me know! I’ve gotten by with non-freaky liverwurst in the meantime, but the nutrient density of straight liver can’t be denied.
If you’re not keen on offal, I’d advise you look further into the bone broth mentioned above. It’s not a total replacement, but it does contain a nutrient profile that justifies its inclusion.
Dessert? On a diet?
Let’s be honest, folks: you’re going to eat it. I’m going to eat it. We’re going to crave it more often than we’d honestly like to admit, but there’s a kind of sanity in organized dessert-ing: if you chow down a few times per month on something sweet and delicious, your transition into a healthier style of eating will prove that much more feasible — that much less stressful — in the long run.
I want to stress, too, this different approach to eating: don’t stress. Don’t cheat on your diet, in other words, by realizing a few vital things:
1. One ‘bad’ meal out of twenty-something good ones for the week isn’t going to do much damage.
2. You can easily eat less the next day to compensate.
Ideally, of course, you’d keep your desserts pretty natural: banana and strawberry slices rolled in melted dark chocolate, for example, rather than sixteen glazed donuts from your local Krispy Kreme. No matter which side of the dietary divide that your indulgence might fall on, however, keep the above two points in mind. Dessert should be exactly what that word implies: something you enjoy both physically and mentally with none of the guilt we like to attach.
This ties back into wine, as mentioned above, but I think there’s value in being honest. You’re going to drink. I am too! When we do drink, then, we’re better off avoiding the high-sugar drinks enjoyed so frequently in our past. If you’d like to down an alcoholic beverage that fits well within the context of a healthy diet, why not try the NorCal Margarita? You can thank (or blame) Robb Wolf for this.
Planning on, y’know, cooking? You’ll need these.
Butter: Butter from pasture-raised cows is best, but not always easy to find at a local grocery store. Look for Kerrygold Irish Butter as a solid (and delicious!) choice. Opt for ghee (much love for Pure Indian Foods!) if you’re worried about sensitivity to dairy, though you’ll probably have to make your own.
Coconut Oil: You’ll want the Organic Extra Virgin variety, as it undergoes a minimal amount of processing before landing on your counter. Tropical Traditions is a great (albeit somewhat expensive) choice, but so is the Nutiva brand you can find on Amazon.
Olive Oil: It doesn’t handle high-heat cooking as well as coconut oil, but I still saute vegetables in it on occasion. Chief usage, however, will be in salads, and on veggies you roast in the oven.
Animal fats might be the best choice of all: the tallow, suet, and lard of times past, each of which is ideal for high-heat cooking. Mark Sisson has an excellent guide available on all the different types and how to acquire them.
I am a salsa fiend. That often comes back to bite me, but I’m a firm a believer that salsa, chili sauce, Sriracha deserve a home in any eater’s kitchen. Their ingredients, by and large, won’t prove too freaky, and they can add an abundance of flavor to any dish with just a few squeezes. Sriracha on eggs? Chili sauce and greek yogurt dressing? The options are endless.
Fancy kitchen gadgets make me smile like a small child, but they’re generally unnecessary. A solid, reliable set of knives will last you far longer — and prove far more versatile — than most other kitchen implements, so start working on your cutting skills as soon as possible.
A CROCK POT
For bone broth, mainly, but also for pot roasts and all other stew-like dishes. Ease of preparation will prove important if you spend most of your day in an office, and here the crock pot shines: throw your meat and veggies in, add your bone broth, and let simmer overnight or over the course of the day, creating a tender, flavorful dish for when you come home. Hamilton Beach makes a solid pot, but don’t rush to order anything online just yet. If you have a Goodwill in your area, check their stock of kitchen wares. You’ll often find a sizable crock pot for $10-$15.
I’m still looking to add to my collection, here, but I can vouch for two: The Primal Blueprint Cookbook and Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals, both by Mark Sisson. Both are stocked with reasonable, not too time-intensive recipes for this style of diet, and both — better than any other that I’ve seen — really help drive home just how many options you have with healthy cooking.
Processed food offers a lot of convenience, certainly, which might be the hardest transition for anyone coming over to a healthy way of eating. Scan the big list above, though, and start picturing all the delightful ways you can combine them: pot roast, coconut milk shakes, a stir fry (made with wheat-free tamari), coconut milk curries over a bed of white rice or mashed cauliflower, etc. You can never go wrong with a can of tuna dumped over a big ass salad, too.
Looking for lunch options? Or what to eat when you’re outside the house? I’ve got you covered:
Here are some of my favorites:
Any more you’d like to add to the list? Let me know!
Well. I think that covers it.
Your eyes might have rolled to the back of your head by this point, so allow me a reminder: don’t stress. You’ll be on fantastic footing if you incorporate everything listed above, but even the first few points alone — meat, veggies, and fruit — can make for significant changes in both body and mind over the course of 2012.
Just remember: you have to start. Start today, if you can, and read back through part one of this guide for some new thoughts on the road to come.
Check back next week for a discussion on exercise. If you have any questions about what’s written above, please don’t hesitate to ask them below. And if you enjoyed this post, would you please click the StumbleUpon button (“Submit,” I think it says) below? Or the retweet, facebook ‘like,’ etc.? I’d love for this to spread far and wide, but I know I can’t do it without you.
See you next week!