Why Choose Organic?

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We hear the term “organic” everywhere. However, there tends to be a lot of confusion over what exactly organic means. There can also be confusion over where to draw the line with being healthy and just…well, paying for fancy marketing. Today I’m going to cover some information regarding food, but keep in mind that organic certifications also extend out to many other products such as personal care products and clothing.

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The USDA is the governmental department that issues organic certification to farmers, producers and other food manufactures. To become organic certified applicants must adhere to specific protocols ensuring the protection of their animals and land.

In order to obtain certification farmers and producers must follow the below guidelines created by the USDA:

  • Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
  • Support animal health and welfare
  • Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
  • Only use approved materials
  • Do not use genetically modified ingredients
  • Receive annual onsite inspections
  • Separate organic food from non-organic food

  The guidelines are meant to cover all steps from farm to table in the production cycle. Once a farmer, producer or processer is granted certification they can then use the familiar USDA Organic label meant to distinguish their products from conventional products.

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So this begs the question, is there a reason to choose organic? Here are some benefits for you to consider:

  1. Organic food limits your exposure to synthetic chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides which are used in conventional agriculture. One of the most common, and controversial, pesticides is known as Round-Up (glyphosate), which the World Health Organization recently classified as a ‘probable carcinogen’. Do you want that on your lettuce?
  2. Applying synthetic chemicals to crops contributes to water pollution, which affects the terrestrial and aquatic environments of native wildlife and animals. Water pollution and the toxic residues that build up in the eco system are largely to blame for the ‘deadzone’ found where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico.
  3. Organic agriculture utilizes sustainable farming methods like crop rotation, cover crops and Biointensive Integrated Pest Management. This is in direct contrast to the heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in conventional farming.
  4. Sustainable farming methods protect the unique biodiversity of a region, promote soil health and enable farmers to coexist with animal and native plant wildlife for future generations. 
  5. The USDA prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in organic agriculture. GMOs have had parts of their genomes altered to protect against pests and to improve growth. The implications of GMOS still remain untested, but problems have been documented in the poisoning of wildlife and transferring GMO genes to native plans. 
  6. Organic farming relies on natural feeding methods and healthy environments for farm animals. Many conventionally raised animals are crowded in cages and barns with little or no access to the outdoors. *
  7. Eating organically limits exposure to hormones and antibiotics that are given to animals on conventional farms. They are used to increase growth rate and to reduce infection (most infections stem from the horrible living conditions the animals are forced into). This practice has given way to super bugs, which are resistant to antibiotics and can create serious health risks in humans.
  8. Organic produce tastes better! Organic produce grown in a natural environment, with healthy, nutritious soil and limited adulteration results in some truly amazing flavors.

*When it comes to animal welfare, you can take it a step further by learning more from the organization Animal Welfare Approved - I suggest this site since organic labeling for animals does not, in my opinion, go far enough. The best thing we can do for ourselves is get educated so that we’re making informed decisions. 

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Now, with all this in mind, how do we know we’re being healthier by choosing organic and not just spending more?

First off, supporting local farms who follow organic farming practices is not only great for you and great for the farm, it’s better for the environment. So start there and purchase what you can at farmer’s markets or stores that sell local food. When it comes to meat, many local farms may not be organic certified but if they’re raising animals on pasture and not using chemicals or antibiotics, it’s going to be a much healthier choice than factory-farmed conventional meat from the grocery store. Putting money into the small, sustainable farming system is far and away the healthier choice for everyone. Now, with that said, many large scale stores such as Costco are investing a lot in selling higher quality and organic food – I am really happy to see this and think it’s a huge move for our food system. 

I also suggest learning about The Clean 15 and The Dirty Dozen as this will help you analyze which foods to purchase organic. 

I’m going to stop here since this is already a lot of information – I hope in the very least to have peaked your interest as to why choosing organic and local food can be beneficial to your health. 

 Resources

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=organic-agriculture.html

https://www.princeton.edu/greening/organic4.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24968103

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/309/5734/570

http://www.forbes.com/sites/bethhoffman/2013/07/17/organic-causes-confusion/#2d6e73447533

 

Tumeric Chicken & Pastured Poultry

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I wanted to talk a little bit about chicken today and share some information so you can make educated decisions about the poultry you buy. I also have a delicious recipe here for you that I have been working on with my colleague Elissa – Roasted Chicken with Turmeric. Yum! 
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According to the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, in order for a farm to be recognized for raising pastured poultry the birds must be raised directly on green pasture. This type of poultry management is in direct contrast with the more common commercial version of raising poultry, which relies on crowded, inhumane cages, limited or no access to the outdoors, and barns.
 Why should we care about how chickens are raised?
There are several reasons why pastured poultry is preferred, both in respect to the humane treatment of the animals and the quality of the egg and meat production.
Below are several points highlighting the details and benefits of pastured raised poultry.
Environment -
  • Poultry is raised directly on green pasture.
  • Fresh pasture equates to a cleaner and healthier environment- both for the chickens and for the planet!
Food -
  • The poultry live off of the pasture, and use the forage as feed
  • Forage can be grasses, clover, grubs
  • Insects are also part of a bird’s natural diet (chickens are not vegetarians, by the way).
Housing -
  • Most farmers utilize a movable or stationary house for shelter
  • Farmer and author Joel Salatin, a notable resource in the pastured poultry community, describes his methodology on raising pastured poultry in his book Pastured Poultry Profits
  • According to Salatin’s method the practice of pastured poultry means the birds must be housed in a 10x12x2 foot high house, that is moved a couple of times day around a green pasture. The birds must have access to fresh air, grass and insects but are still protected from predators.
The Poultry -
  • Never given antibiotics
  • Takes a longer time for birds to reach slaughter weight because they are growing naturally
  • Flocks are much smaller, not so “mass-produced”
  • Chickens are able to live and eat naturally
The Impact on Eggs & Meat -
  • Pasture raised yolks are a much deeper orange color- a result from the beta carotene found in a chicken’s natural diet
  • Eggs taste richer, creamier, and are a good source of choline and B12
  • Pasture raised poultry is higher in vitamin D3 and E, and has a better ratio of omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Overall, pastured poultry is a better source of nutrients for you and is a more sustainable way of raising chickens.
Advice for consumers -
                  Be aware that the terms “pastured raised”, “cage-free”, “free-range” and “natural” have little standardization in the marketplace. The best way to know your food is to know your farmer! Visit farmers markets, talk to the farmers, and visit farms in your area so you can see for yourself how the animals are being raised. The more educated you are, the healthier you can be!
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Roasted Chicken with Tumeric
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Pastured poultry with a blend of fresh spices.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 chicken breast, skin on (boneless or split breast)
  • 2 T grated fresh tumeric
  • 1 Tbl fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 T rosemary, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 T coconut oil or avocado oil, melted
  • Juice of 1 lemon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to to 375 F degrees.
  2. Combine all the ingredients except chicken in a bowl.
  3. Place chicken in an oven safe baking dish.
  4. Rub marinade under and over skin on all sides.
  5. Roast for 20 minutes, then baste with the juices that have collected in the pan
  6. Roast for another 10-20 minutes*, until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast registers 165.
  7. *Final cook time depends on the size of the chicken breast.
Resources
The Cornucopia Institute- Organic Egg Scorecard 
 

Beef Stew & Health Tips

BeefStewNEW

BeefStewNEW

This beef stew recipe belongs mostly to my dear colleague and fellow personal chef Elissa. I’ve created a few variations just for the sake of playing with different flavors –  I like to add some tomato, so I included that here as an option. This stew is a one stop shop for a meal, but plan ahead as it needs 2 – 3 hours to cook. You can use a pressure cooker instead for quicker cooking, see the note below the recipe! 

I am excited to also bring you some health tips for this holiday season, courtesy of the lovely dietitian nutritionist Ayla Withee from Boston Functional Nutrition. You can find fantastic information on her website to go along with these tips: 

  • Make yourself the priority. Remind yourself why you’re eating the way you are – for great health, to reduce unwanted symptoms, etc. – and how important it is to your wellbeing. 

  • Keep stress at a minimum. Stress will always make negative symptoms and eating habits worse. Reduce stress by exercising, taking a walk or trying meditation or yoga. Or, if all you have time to do is close your eyes and take some deep breaths, make sure you at least do that. 

  • Stay regular with other meals. Eat normal, healthy and balanced meals and snacks surrounding other holiday events. This will help keep you eating better and on a schedule.

  • Drink plenty of fluids and mostly water. Thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger and during busy times, drinking can be forgotten.

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And a few additional tips I try to remind myself of at this time of year: 

  • Incorporate bone broth into your weekly meals to support gut health (so make this beef stew!).
  • Focus on anti-inflammatory ingredients such as ginger, turmeric, and omega-3’s (like wild caught salmon).
  • Don’t skimp on sleep – if you have to choose between that 5am spin class or catching up on much needed sleep, it’s best to choose sleep. You’re not doing yourself any favors by depriving your body of recovery time. 
  • Break up with sugar - or keep it to a minimum as much as you can outside those holiday parties.

 

Braised Beef Stew with Vegetables
 
A healthy beef stew recipe perfect for chilly winter nights.
Author:
Recipe type: Main Dish
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 Tbl grass-fed ghee or coconut oil
  • 3 lb. grass-fed beef stew meat
  • 1 large onion, chopped into 1- inch pieces
  • ½ cup celery root, peeled and cut into 1- inch cubes
  • 3 carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch rounds
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled, cut into 1-inch rounds
  • ½ cup sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 T. minced fresh parsley
  • 1 T. minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 t. fresh thyme, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbl tomato paste (optional)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2½ cups beef stock
  • 2 large handfuls baby spinach (optional)
Instructions
  1. Over medium high heat, melt the ghee/oil in a dutch oven pot (cast iron enabled pots are best for braising)
  2. When the pot is hot, sear half the beef until browned, about 3-5 minutes on top and bottom.
  3. Add the remaining beef and the remaining ingredients except spinach.
  4. Stir, cover and bring to a low boil.
  5. Reduce heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the meat is very tender, about 2½ -3 hours.
  6. Meat is done when a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the thickest part comes out with little or no resistance. Be sure to keep lid on pot during cooking.
  7. Add spinach and gently stir in just before serving.

 Alternatively  you can use a pressure cooker:

Lock lid on pot and bring to high pressure (setting 2). Reduce heat to maintain even pressure for 24 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Release steam and then remove lid when pressure indicator has dropped. 

 

Guest Post: AIP with Leslie

aip-leslie

Today I am excited to share with you my friend Leslie’s guest post about her transition to the Autoimmune Protocol. It is my hope that her story can help some of you in taking on AIP, because I know it can be daunting.

 Hello, everyone! I’m Leslie, and I run The Whole Life Balance blog. I write about the Paleo and AIP lifestyle, natural living, and balancing all of the above with a busy life. Grace and I met at Paleo f(x) back in April, and afterward, we decided to cross-blog. Check out her guest post.

AIP-Leslie2

 Today, I’m going to share my story of how I transitioned to the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). Forgive me while I spend a few sentences explaining what AIP is, just in case there are any readers who are unfamiliar. AIP is an elimination diet meant to help identify foods that are triggering negative reactions and contributing to autoimmunity. Therefore, those who follow AIP will eventually reintroduce the foods that have been eliminated. However, it has to be done one food at a time so that you can determine positive and negative reactions. In essence, AIP eliminates all of the following: grains (including gluten), dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, coffee, chocolate, legumes, and nightshades (this is the one most people don’t know–tomatoes, peppers, spices made from peppers, eggplant, white potatoes).

 

 Now, I want to give a brief background on my journey. I have Hashimoto’s disease, which means that my thyroid typically underperforms; it’s an autoimmune disease. I learned about the Paleo diet in December 2013, and I wanted to try it because of its positive effects for people like myself. I followed the Paleo diet fairly strictly–I’d say 85/15, maybe even 90/10–for over a year; it eliminates grains, legumes, and dairy. I learned about AIP pretty early on and was actually scared to have to do it, because it seemed so restrictive. Unfortunately, more than a year on Paleo brought no noticeable improvements in my Hashimoto’s symptoms. In fact, an extremely stressful job exacerbated my symptoms. So, back in March, I stumbled across the SAD to AIP in SIX program which was created by Angie Alt. She partners with Mickey Trescott in the autoimmune community, and they co-host the blog Autoimmune-Paleo . Spontaneously, I decided to sign up.

 

And so began my transition from Paleo to AIP. Angie created a thorough and engaging program to help clients gently transition to the full elimination phase AIP. Let me clear up the name: “SAD” refers to Standard American Diet, we’ve already covered “AIP,” and “SIX” refers to the length of the program–six weeks. The name indicates that the program is geared toward individuals who currently follow the SAD, but really anyone wanting to transition to AIP is welcome to complete the program. To use myself as an example, I was already Paleo, and I was welcomed into the program, even though I just kind of skipped over some of the eliminations because I already wasn’t eating those types of foods.

 

 Here’s a little bit of the nitty gritty of the program. The first week is dedicated to building a support system of family and/or friends who will help you get through the program. It’s also spent getting to know the other individuals going through the program in your group. You’ll also meet the coaches that Angie has brought on to help her mentor everyone in the program. However, keep in mind that it is group coaching done via a secret group on Facebook, so there is no one-on-one coaching. After that first week, the eliminations start. Angie bases her process of the eliminations off of the recommendations of Dr. Sarah Ballantyne of The Paleo Mom, author of The Paleo Approach and The Paleo Approach Cookbook. She begins with the food groups that are shown to cause the biggest negative impacts for most people and then works her way along from there. If I recall correctly, there were about two food groups (of those that I listed above) eliminated per week. As you can imagine, it was a staged elimination process rather than a cold-turkey one in order to make it more sustainable.

 

Angie and the mentor coaches post inspirational stories and photos as well as links to helpful blog posts throughout the program. They also pose thought-provoking questions to help get clients thinking about how they’ll tackle certain elements of AIP. Additionally, Angie sends out a weekly assignment document with little “homework assignments” for each day of the week. Some days it was reading a blog post or two about why a certain group of food is removed on AIP, and other days it was grocery shopping. The program really is designed to set clients up for success.

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I had a very positive experience with the program, personally. Although AIP was daunting to me, I was willing to give it a try for the benefit of my Hashimoto’s. I found the staged eliminations to be incredibly helpful, and I attribute the sustainability of the protocol to that process. It gave me time to wrap my head around what was going to be eliminated and how I could get along without it. At that time, I only had one AIP cookbook, but during the program, I threw caution to the wind and ordered three more. Those helped me so much! I had hundreds of recipes within reach, instead of scouring the Internet without any real idea of what I wanted. I find searching for recipes on the Internet to be a bit of a time sink because so many options come up for any given thing; “recipe shopping” in cookbooks keeps my time spent meal planning more manageable. The one thing I wasn’t very good about when I completed the program was the food journal. I’ve never been the food journal type, and while I know that it can provide a ton of useful information, I really just forgot to do it…a lot. I think I will try to come up with my own version of a food journal and make myself be more dedicated to it when I start reintroducing foods, because it will be much more useful and important then. 

The last week of the program was the first week of full-on AIP, so I have been AIP since April 6th. That’s just over two months, as of this writing. Most of the literature that I’ve read on AIP suggests an elimination phase of 3-6 months, but it varies from person to person. I know some people in my group were going to stick to it for 30 days after the program ended, and I know other people in the AIP community who followed strict AIP for years. The approach that I chose was to just go with the flow. I’ve been working really hard to stick to it, despite some pretty intense cravings for things I used to be able to eat while only following Paleo. I had accidental exposure to nightshades during the program, after they were eliminated, and that caused joint pain in my hand for several days. This has caused me to be a little anxious about reintroducing those foods when the time comes. However, I’m really just looking for my Hashimoto’s symptoms to settle down. A lot of stress was recently removed from my life, I’ve been able to sleep a lot lately, and I’m on a more natural thyroid medication now. Once I feel like things have leveled out, and my TSH (thyroid hormone) stops jumping from one extreme to the other, I’ll start reintroducing foods following Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s guide.

 

I hope that my story is helpful to you and inspires you to give AIP a try. I’ve truly become accustomed to it now, and I don’t really miss too much–not even chocolate! I highly recommend the SAD to AIP in SIX program because it is so gentle and sustainable. If you have any further questions about the program or just want to chat AIP with me, you can reach me at wholelifebalance.leslie@gmail.com.

 

Thanks for reading and wishing you health and happiness!

Leslie

 *Please note that my guest post contains an affiliate link to the program I am writing about. This affiliation contributes to me being able to continue to cover the expenses of my blog. Thanks for your understanding! 

Bowls Of Love Cookbook

BeetSoup680

BeetSoup680

Today I wanted to share a little about a new cookbook written by my friend Ali Rakowski called Bowls of Love. It is an absolutely beautiful book filled with recipes for seasonal, paleo soups. Each soup is then paired with a bowl sent to Ali by friends and family.

Before I share a little more about the book, I have to start with a little about Ali. Why? Because in reading through this book, I think you can tell she’s pretty awesome. However, just in case you’re not sure how great she is, I better tell you!

I first met Ali when I was looking for local Boston residents who were enrolled in the same health coaching program as myself. Before we met in person, I came across a picture she had posted of a heart-shaped puddle. She had written that it was one of her favorite spots on her walking/jogging route. I immediately knew I wanted to meet this girl because anyone who notices and appreciates something in nature like a heart-shaped puddle is cool in my book!  

When I met Ali in person her warm, friendly (and very funny) nature was irresistible.  She’s one of those people you want to hang out with….like, all the time. Additionally, she is super smart and has such an impressive ability to asses situations and determine the best course of action. I always value conversations with her and appreciate advice she gives. Plus she’s a major math whiz.

When Ali moved to Connecticut, I have to admit, it was sad to lose her but it was clear she was making the right decision. Although I haven’t seen her in a while, the wonderful thing about reading through her cookbook is that her personality really shines through. It reminds me of what a great person she is and how much I value knowing her. 

chickensoup2Ok ok, this is about the cookbook right? I’ll stop gushing. My reason for singing Ali’s praises is because she is so genuine and her book is so authentic. Her positive attitude, her love for her friends and family, it all comes across in the book. I found myself sitting and reading through it more like a novel than a cookbook, because the stories she shares with each recipe are so wonderful. With the proliferation of cookbooks these days, I see a lot of junkie ones that have no soul behind them. Bowls of Love is different. 

Now, about those recipes! The pictures you see here are of two recipes I made yesterday from the book:  “Peppery Beets, Sweets & Kale” and “SOWA Farmers Market Chicken Soup”. Both absolutely delicious.

beetsoup2The beet soup is so easy to make and yet so flavorful. As an added bonus, the ingredients are packed with nutrients- I think you can tell just by looking at the vibrant colors! Have you heard the saying “eat the rainbow” when it comes to your veggies? That means, eat a variety of brightly colored vegetables and you’re going to get an appropriate array of nutrients. This soup has beets, sweet potatoes and kale, all 3 of which are some of the best vegetables you could ask for! Well, that’s my opinion, but trust me, you want to make this soup. I made it with homemade bone broth and served it with a dollop of coconut cream.

With regard to all the other recipes: they are completely approachable, flavorful and healthy. Before I went to culinary school I was very intimidated by soups. I used to think: how on earth do you start a soup? So, if you’re curious about making soups or are looking to expand you’re cooking repertoire, this book is a great option.

I also definitely suggest giving this book as a gift – especially if you have a foodie friend or family member – because the love that shines out from this book makes it that much more meaningful. It’s like a foodie-version of saying I Love You. 

I hope you pick up a copy!

 

Travel & Diet

seashells1

seashells1

Traveling the world is exciting – I love seeing new places and experiencing new cultures. However, traveling can be hard for me when it comes to what I can and cannot eat. I eat food that helps me feel my best, and avoid food I know makes me feel poorly. My advice is, before you travel make your own assessment of what foods you need to avoid like the plague and what foods you could maybe get by with eating a few times while traveling. The lovely folks over at Whole 9 Life  discuss this really well with regard to evaluating if a food is “worth it” to you. Check out their site sometime for additional resources.

I’m sharing a tiny about myself here just to give you a background on what my experience is like when I travel. What’s hard for me is finding food that is grain-free and dairy-free. I also eat tons of veggies and find that when I travel it’s not easy to get many into my meals. And then there’s breakfast. Probably the most difficult meal because I don’t eat yogurt, cereal, toast or pancakes, all of which are the most typical breakfasts served. Suffice it to say. some effort has to be made for me to eat the right food on a trip.

Recently my husband and I took a trip to the Caribbean. Overall, it worked out pretty well with finding food, but it took a little effort. Here are some things I recommend doing to make your trip more enjoyable and less stressful regarding your diet:

  1. Take emergency food: I take healthy snack bars, my homemade granola, grass-fed beef jerky, collagen protein powder, plantain chips and coconut butter (for my coffee). On this trip I only took things that didn’t require refrigeration upon opening because I wasn’t sure if we had a fridge in our hotel room. I could’ve easily found out with a little research but I was so busy leading up to the trip I didn’t remember to do so. We did end up having a fridge.
  2. Scope out a grocery store that is near where you’re staying either before travelling or upon arrival: We asked locals and they were really helpful in sending us to a store- again I didn’t have time to do any research before we left. Going to some type of food store allows me to stock up on the best options available that I can eat. Fruit, for example, always lots of water, and I usually find a few other snacks I can keep in the hotel room. On this particular trip, we didn’t find any great grocery stores, but we found one decent enough to have water, almond milk, fruit and veggie chips (I’ll talk more about chips in a minute). My husband has become quite the trooper in going on long walking adventures with me to find food!
  3. Find local fresh markets too: Many countries have great local outdoor markets that sell native foods- obviously in the Caribbean we got some amazing fresh coconuts! These markets often have some nice healthy snacks too.
  4. Consider staying somewhere with a little kitchen: especially now with the arrival of AirB&B, staying in affordable apartments is really easy. Anytime we go to Europe, this is what we do. It makes for a more authentic experience of the local culture in my opinion, but also this way I can go to a grocery store and then cook my own food at the apartment. If it’s a city or country you’re unfamiliar with, I strongly suggest doing research before staying in an apartment. There have definitely been countries we’ve traveled to in which I would not feel safe staying outside of a hotel. I guess it depends how adventurous you are with your travels, but we often go to more remote destinations and the reality is you do need to be careful.
  5. Check out restaurants and/or hotel dining options: This allows you to consider your options and potentially ease the stress of “what am I going to eat?”. Ask the concierge for suggestions or ask the locals. Also, check out the breakfast buffet options in your hotel. Most of this can be done ahead of time too. On my recent trip, the breakfast buffet had an omelet station, and they actually used fresh cracked eggs instead of some creepy eggbeater type mix. They also had vegetables as options to put in your omelet, which made me very happy.
  6. Eat a large breakfast if you can: This is easiest if you’re staying in an apartment and can make your own breakfast, but if you have a hotel buffet with acceptable options, it works too. I find that if I can eat a good breakfast, I feel much less concerned about where we’ll be for lunch (since we’re often out exploring and don’t know where we’ll end up). In the very least, I can default to my emergency snacks for lunch until we get dinner.
  7. Make a smoothie: If you have protein powder with you (I use collagen because I can’t tolerate whey), you can in the very least mix up a drink to get you through the afternoon. I don’t recommend regularly substituting smoothies for meals, but when travelling sometimes it’s the best option. I mixed my collagen protein with almond milk several times on this trip- I didn’t need to do so every day. It’s not amazing tasting when it’s so plain, but it’s better than nothing! I’m actually considering buying a super small cheap blender like a magic bullet type (but a cheapy one so I don’t care if it gets lost) and taking it with me on my next trip. I think being able to mix up some smoothies would be a good back up option. 
  8. Less shopping, more eating: I’m not a big shopper when it comes to buying “stuff” like souvenirs and clothes on trips. So, from a budget perspective, my advice is, spend more on going to a good restaurant if you know they have food you can eat, rather than spending that money on stuff. I would much rather splurge on great food than anything else because then I don’t feel crappy and I have a much better vacation. On our recent Caribbean trip, the only things we spent money on were food and some really great experiences (like swimming with sea turtles).
  9. Ok, now about those chips: I mentioned buying some veggie chips earlier in this post. I also mentioned the idea of deciding what foods are “worth” eating if they’re not in your normal dietary routine. I will end by saying, there are a few choices I make on trips that are not so great, but I know I won’t feel so horrible from them. Chips fall in this category. Even veggie chips are made with pro-inflammatory oils such as canola, soybean or safflower oils, and I really don’t recommend consuming these on a regular basis. However, on trips, if faced with a real lack of food choices, I will snack on chips. So, if you’re going “off” your normal diet, just make sure you’re assessing if the situation really warrants the choice you’re going to make. Being in control of your choices is probably more important than anything! 

I hope some of these tips are helpful. Travelling and maintaining a healthy diet is not always easy. My goal here today was to share some of the things I do and potentially give you new ideas. Happy travels!

Video: Breaking Down a Chicken

BreakingDownChicken

Over the years, both through my work as a personal chef and as a cooking instructor, I have regularly met people who are interested in eating healthy but never know how to start. Or, they say to me, “You make that look so easy.” Well, it usually is pretty easy once you learn some of the simple techniques that make all the difference.

In this video I’ll show you how you can easily break down a chicken for faster cooking times. No need to be intimidated by hacking through a bone with a huge knife. We will do it with just a pair of kitchen shears and a little muscle. And, in the process, we will cut 15-20 minutes off cooking time.

Enjoy!

Gelatin

bonebroth1

bonebroth1

Nose-to-tail eating: you may have heard about this in the “foodie” or restaurant scene. Well known chefs are building reputations for using as much of a whole animal as possible, and it’s actually really smart when you consider your health. Eating parts of an animal (a healthy, sustainably raised animal I would add) like skin and connective tissue, or consuming bone broth, provides you with something often lacking in the modern diet: gelatin. If you’re sticking with just skinless and boneless cuts of meat, you’re missing out on the important benefits that gelatin can provide. In my cooking as a personal chef, I always incorporate bone broth where I can and I encourage clients to try different parts other than chicken breast or beef tenderloin. Hellooo beef shank!

To expand on this idea, here are some benefits gelatin has to offer. I encourage you to do more reading and research as there is lots more to learn! I am just touching upon some common benefits here:

  1. Maintains appropriate amino acids:

Did you know if you are only eating muscle meat (cuts of meat without any skin, cartilage, connective tissue, etc), you may be creating a major imbalance in your diet? I didn’t know this either! 

Let me explain: Gelatin provides two amino acids we often don’t get enough of in our diet: glycine and proline. The cuts of muscle meat we most often consume- such as boneless skinless chicken breast- are high in the amino acid methionine.

Why do we care about that?

Methionine raises our homocysteine levels because homocysteine is essentially synthesized from methionine. Now, homocysteine is an amino acid that tends to promote injury to blood vessel cells, as well as promote inflammation. This can contribute to the damage of arteries, by way of inflammation and cell injury. This is a very interesting implication in heart disease – I would consider it food for thought. 

Additionally, unbalanced levels of methionine increase can our need for vitamins such as folate and B vitamins (because these vitamins are used in homocysteine conversion processes). The amino acids found in gelatin-such as glycine- help “balance out” these effects from methionine. This is of course a simplified explanation of an incredibly complicated process, but the important thing to remember is that ideally you have a healthy balance between methionine and glycine.

  1. Gelatin helps your digestion:

Amino acids found in gelatin seem to play roles digesting fat, absorbing fatty-acids, restoring the lining of your digestive system and also improving stomach acid production. Studies have indicated a role between probiotics in the gut and the metabolism of amino acids. This means that dietary amino acids may contribute to the survival of healthy gut bacteria, which in turn affects the nutritional uptake from the intestines, which ultimately affects your health. Interesting relationship, eh?

  1. Helps bones and joints:

    Gelatin helps manage inflammation, strengthens bones, and provides collagenNumerous studies have been conducted which correlate ingestion of amino acids found in gelatin with joint and bone health. 

  2. Improves sleep:

Studies have shown that glycine contributes to an improvement in sleep quality. One example demonstrated a correlation between ingestion of glycine before bedtime and a decrease in core body temperature. This decrease in temperature is a natural indication of the onset of sleep, and humans also maintain lowered body temperatures throughout a period a sleeping. These findings point towards the potential for glycine to play a role as a natural sleep aid.  

How to get your gelatin:

  • Tougher cuts of meat that require long, low-heat cooking have more connective tissue, collagen and tendons. Which means, more gelatin. Going for cuts that are bone-in (meaning the bones have not been removed) is also great because as you cook the meat, the bones release the gelatin into the surrounding liquid, which you should then consume. Think more beef shank, less tenderloin. These cuts of meat are also much cheaper because people consider them less desirable. Little do they know you’re getting quite a bang for your buck, AND your being more sustainable in your food choices. It’s a win win. 
  • Bone-broth made from grass-fed beef or poultry bones is incredibly valuable for many reasons, one of them being it is a great source of gelatin (as well as minerals). What is bone broth? It is essentially soup stock, cooked for at least 8 hours. When I make a big pot of broth, I freeze it in small batches so I can easily pull a jar out whenever I need it. I use it often in soups, I cook veggies in it, I add it to sautés and sauces…..the uses are endless. You can drink it warmed in a mug too. Here is my video and recipe for bone bone broth.
  • You can also purchase gelatin from grass-fed reputable sources, however I do recommend trying to get it from real food as per the above-mentioned sources before you go for a supplement. With that said, take a look at these:

    Great LakesVital Proteins

    Both are good brands. You can find tons of recipes for smoothies, puddings, gummies, ice cream, and more online. Gelatin also happens to be a great binder for cooking, especially for anyone who is avoiding gluten and/or eggs. I have a few personal chef clients who cannot eat gluten, eggs, fruit or nuts, so many options for cooking are limited -especially any type of baked good…. but low and behold, gelatin works wonders (so does pumpkin puree but that’s a topic for another day!)

  • Note: If you try gelatin as a supplement powder and feel you don’t tolerate it well, you’re not alone. There are people whom it may not be right for. But, if incorporating  some type of ‘supplement’ into your diet is important to you, find the one that works for you. I don’t tolerate whey protein, and gelatin works for me, so I use it. I sometimes add collagen protein into warm drinks like homemade hot chocolate or coffee, which gives them a velvety, smooth creamy texture. Also, I put it in smoothies when I know I would otherwise be skipping a meal (sometimes I’m just too busy for breakfast or lunch- it happens to all of us!). 

Additional Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3155927/ (oxidative stress)

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4167623/ (platelet aggregation)

 

 

Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means I receive commission if you click on the link and make a purchase. Regardless, I only recommend products I personally use and believe add legitimate value for my readers. Many of the links in this post are not affiliate links and are just inserted to be additional resources to my readers.

Menus This Week

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Here are some of the meals I prepared for my personal chef clients this week. My focus in cooking healthy meals is quality of ingredients and using the right healthy fats to decrease inflammation.

I cook for quite a few families who have extensive eliminations due to allergies, intolerances or illnesses. Since your digestive system plays such a crucial role in the functioning of your body, being mindful of what you eat can really influence your health. So, most of my days are spent helping people tackle health issues by way of the meals they eat! 

Here are some of the top menu choices this week:
  • Herbed Turkey Meatballs with Roasted Sweet Potato Coins
  • Salmon Cakes with Cabbage and Collard Green Saute
  • Citrus & Thyme Pot Roast with Parsnips
  • Coconut Chicken ‘Alfredo’ with Zucchini Noodles
  • Cherry BBQ Basted Split Chicken Breast with Bok Choy
  • Celery & Bell Pepper Grass-Fed Beef Meatloaf with Shredded Cauliflower
  • Turkey & Vegetable Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
  • Ginger, Lemon & Brazil Nut-Crusted Wild Salmon with Kale & Carrots
  • Chicken ‘Pot Pie’ with Coconut Flour & Butternut Crust
  • Moroccan Eggplant Moussaka 

I’m hoping to get better at posting recipes over time, so you should see some of these soon! 

 

 

Navigating Visits with Friends or Family

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As someone who follows a diet many would consider “restricted”, I know how difficult it can be to share meals with others. Being a professional chef, I tend to want to be the one doing the cooking, and when I am able to prepare at least some of the food being served, then I don’t have as much of a problem. However, in my work as a personal chef, I have many conversations with clients about their struggles when going to visit friends or family.

The hard part comes when you visit in-laws or friends houses. They have lovingly prepared food for you that, unfortunately, you can’t eat. Do you suck it up, eat the food, and suffer the consequences? Or if your dietary restrictions are more serious, it’s really unwise to eat food that isn’t within your diet. What do you do? Do you explain your restrictions politely at the dinner table? Can you “call ahead” to explain so no one is caught off guard?

Initially, you may think, well yeah, I’ll just tell them. But when considering all the nuances of relationships, I can attest to having been in quite a few situations where I didn’t feel comfortable explaining why I couldn’t eat certain foods. Sometimes it’s the way people react, they roll their eyes, they laugh, and they can’t fathom why you won’t eat ice cream. Other times, you have already explained your diet (multiple times in fact) but no one seems to remember what you eat. You start to feel silly or frustrated having to repeat yourself. Additionally, it’s hard to tell someone you can’t eat a dish they put a lot of care into- you certainly don’t want to be hurting anyone’s feelings!

My question is, why do we end up feeling rude or uncomfortable because we’re doing our best to be healthy? How can we maintain our own standards but not hurt anyone’s feelings?

To start, in our culture, with media, famous restaurants, fast food, etc., there is much less emphasis on diets that exclude certain foods. As a result, our friends, our family, don’t necessarily have as much exposure to the different diets you or I may follow. It just isn’t around as much. This isn’t about lack of ‘education’; it’s about a lack of quality information being available to the public. I do think this is slowly changing, which is a great thing to see. I hope we continue to see better, and more accurate, information circulating about why we shouldn’t eat certain foods.

Now, what do we do about feeling rude or hurting someone’s feelings?

The important thing I have found, in explaining the way I eat, is to highlight the fact that this is about my efforts to feel well and be healthy. At the same time, it is important not to preach about foods being bad or make it seem like you are judging others for the way they eat. This is about you getting well, and if your speaking to a family member or friend, chances are they will be understanding of you saying you need to do this to help your body.

I’m still learning myself here! I do still feel awkward sometimes. But the more you get used to opening up and speaking from the heart, the easier it becomes. I do suggest speaking with family or friends before you go visit. Explain that you’re working to find a way of eating that helps you feel healthy. If you’re comfortable, give them a brief background on what’s going on.
For me, I usually explain that I have had digestive and other issues practically my whole life, and I have finally figured out a way of eating that has resolved all these problems. Ask if you can bring a dish to help in the meal efforts, or help with some cooking.

I think it’s important not to convey an expectation that every dish comply with your way of eating. But have a conversation with them about how much you want to be a part of the meal, or the occasion, and how you’d like to help in any way you can. I think your honesty and willingness to help will make a big difference.

The more you find yourself able to have these important conversations, the easier it will be to navigate those holiday parties or family gatherings. I’m not saying it is easy, but being prepared can really make a difference.