What’s Really For Dinner?

tumblr_mwh6nhKFIs1r3nk7bo1_500

Ron Swanson of “Parks and Recreation”

 

When I was growing up, red meat became public health enemy #1.  Well, red meat and crack cocaine.  The government declared a war on drugs and another war on fat.  My grandparents started reading all the labels on their cereal and cracker boxes.  “Chauncey, I can’t read this! Does this have palm oil in it? Phil Donahue said that palm oil is bad for our hearts!” And then someone linked heart disease to the consumption of red meat, and it all went downhill from there.  Anytime you ate a steak you were taking your life into your hands! Red meat eaters became pariahs, and big, busty chickens became America’s new first love.

I grew up in Texas where red meat was a religion…or a sport.  Or both.  I think it still is.  There’s a restaurant in Houston that serves chicken fried steak the size of your head.  I’m not kidding.  You could wrap that thing around your entire head and wear it as a helmet, and that’s considered to be one serving! Texas is the 19th most obese state in the nation.  You can’t ignore the state’s love of huge portions, meats of all sorts, and their current health predicament, but correlation isn’t necessarily causation.  With the rise of the Paleo diet and the return of “Beef.  It’s what’s for dinner,” what’s really true? Am I going to die trying to improve my health by allowing the notorious bovine back on my dinner plate, or is Ron Swanson right? There should be steak at every dinner course.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about our bodies for a moment, ferritin in particular.  What is it? Ferritin is a protein in the body that stores iron and then releases it into the body.  When ferritin levels are low, the stage is set for iron deficiency anemia, but that’s not all.  Low ferritin levels in brain tissue will not necessarily be detectable in serum blood tests.  In other words, one can have measurably normal levels of hemoglobin in the blood but low ferritin levels in the brain, thus, causing poor dopamine production.  Ferritin levels affect dopamine in that sufficient levels of iron are needed to synthesize dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for cognition, movement, emotional response, and the ability to experience pleasure and pain.  Dopamine is involved in addiction.  It is also responsible for Parkinson’s Disease in that the brain’s ability to produce dopamine is impaired causing dopamine production to cease altogether.  What does this mean? It means that low ferritin levels can can be related to depression (The relationship between depression and serum ferritin level).  Low ferritin stores in brain tissue caused by iron insufficiency are the leading cause of Restless Leg Syndrome (Causes of RLS, Johns Hopkins).  Because our bodies are so complex and the systems so interdependent, other systems will be affected when another is deficient.  The thyroid is dependent upon iron to synthesize its hormones so if ferritin stores are low, then the thyroid will not be able to do its job properly; hence, the body becomes vulnerable to hypothyroidism if one is anemic longterm.

What does this have to do with red meat? Red meat is one of the best sources of heme iron.  Heme iron is found in foods that contain hemoglobin and is the easiest for our bodies to absorb.  It’s true that our bodies will absorb non-heme iron, found in plants, but not as easily.  We absorb approximately 15-35% of the heme iron we eat whereas we only absorb approximately 2-20% of the non-heme iron we eat.  Also, if there is inflammation present in the body, then iron absorption will be reduced making the source of our iron intake all the more important.  So, if one wanted to fortify their diet by eating a big ol’ spinach salad, for example, they wouldn’t really absorb that much iron from the spinach because the iron found in that spinach is bound to phytic acid.  Phytic acid is the form that phosphorus takes in plants, and it binds to many minerals, iron included, in the gut and prevents absorption.  This is the primary reason advocates of the Paleo diet are not fans of grains and legumes–those pesky phytates.  So many people are trying to heal their guts and are utterly reliant on ease of absorption and digestion.  Phytates hinder absorption and digestion.  This is not to say that we don’t eat vegetables.  Far from it.  It’s just harder to get some of the more essential amino acids and minerals from those necessary fruits and vegetables without taking extra steps like soaking, roasting, etc.  If we are trying to raise our ferritin stores in our brain tissues, for example, by increasing our intake of iron due to a history of RLS or iron deficiency anemia, our thyroid function will, in turn, be affected for the better as well as our mood.  If one has an active health condition like RLS, poor thyroid function, or iron deficiency anemia, then one would want the most absorbable form of iron.  Eating red meat seems like an effective strategy.

But what about all this talk about cancer and kidney disease? There is that new study.

Well, if you’ve got bad kidneys or kidney disease, then you should follow a low-protein diet.  Taxing your already deficient kidneys isn’t a good idea.  If you’re a healthy adult, however, then you’re good to go if you’d like to introduce more protein into your diet (Effects of a High-Protein Diet on Kidney Function in Healthy Adults).

What about cancer? I’m going to defer to Chris Kresser on this since he did all the legwork.  Basically, if one doesn’t eat ‘nose to tail’ and simply eats the prime cuts of meat, thus, depriving themselves of the vital amino acid glycine, then one does open themselves up to the risk of cancer.  Well, that’s shocking.  Why? Well, if you’ve watched the documentary “Forks over Knives”, then you would have heard mention of a study done on rats involving the dairy protein casein.  When casein was increased to a certain level in rats, a certain hormone, IGF-1, was turned on.  IGF-1 is a hormone that stimulates cell growth in the body.  When it was lowered past a certain threshold, IGF-1 was turned off causing tumor growth to stop.  The hypothesis then was that protein restriction was the solution to restricting IGF-1’s activity.  This was the hypothesis of the “Forks over Knives” documentary–strict vegetarianism is the solution to health and longevity.  If you want to watch a very entertaining and informative documentary, I do suggest this film.  Even if you don’t agree with all of it, it was very well done.  Something, however, was missed, and that something goes by the name of methionine.  What is methionine? It’s another amino acid found in muscle meats and eggs.  Newer research has suggested that protein restriction isn’t the solution to knocking out IGF-1 but methionine restriction instead.  How does one do that without restricting protein? Ah, well, here’s the interesting part.  Someone got the bright idea to supplement with glycine and, suddenly, methionine’s activity was neutralized (Do High Protein Diets Cause Kidney Disease and Cancer?) as was IGF-1’s.  No more cell growth.  Down with cancer!

Let’s ponder this.  Glycine is found in the parts of the animal that we Americans generally don’t adore eating–connective tissue, bones, tissue, organs, and skin.  You know, that stuff that ends up in that weird gelatinous mess called “Scrapple”.  Or head cheese.  Or cat food.  I gotta admit, it doesn’t sound appealing.  I’d rather eat a nice piece of tenderloin over my Aunt Esther’s Scrapple Sandwich, but what if the Scrapple Sandwich was better for us in the long run? I think we must consider, at a minimum, changing how we eat the animals that provide us with those select cuts of meat.  Taking the bits we like and leaving the rest behind clearly affects us and not for the better.  It’s akin to what Americans have done to green tea.  We all found out that green tea was chock full of awesomeness, but we Westerners don’t have a taste for it.  So, some companies tried to isolate the ingredients in green tea that make it healthful and then sell it under the name “green tea extract”.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t work because what those companies did was try to isolate a few ingredients that are actually dependent upon the rest of the ingredients in the tea leaf.  It’s synergy.  They amplify each other.  As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Until we figure out how to eat skin, organ meats, and noses, I’ll recommend this:

81Ye08epgzL._SL1500_

 

I’ll also close with an article recommendation:

Red Meat: It Does a Body Good!

 

Perhaps Ron Swanson is right after all.  Of course, I’d recommend adding a spinach course, too, with perhaps some blood orange slices because vitamin C enhances iron absorption.  Oh, but pass on the iced tea because caffeine interferes with it.

 

 

 

Sweet Potato Pancakes

“It’s like sweet potato pie pancakes! Ohmigod, these are amazing!”

That was what my 17 year-old daughter declared after she took her first bite of my first effort making Paleo sweet potato pancakes.  Aha! Success!

I scoured the Internet looking for a recipe that did NOT involve sweet potato flour.  Why, might you ask? Well, first of all, it’s a pain in the arse finding sweet potato flour in a store.  One can find almost anything online.  Secondly, the  concept of Paleo cooking is that we eat whole foods.  Why bother eating sweet potato flour when we can eat a sweet potato? Thank you, Sam, of Canada Girl Eats Paleo.  She had a recipe that looked like it had potential.

So, here’s the skinny on sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes contain carotenoids which are the precursor to vitamin A.  These can help fight inflammation related to chronic diseases like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.  They also help regulate blood sugar, fight cancer, and even help mitigate the risks of heart disease.  They are high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.  One small potato provides half of the RDA for vitamin C.  Clearly, we should eat more sweet potatoes.

A spice commonly used in sweet potato recipes is cinnamon.  Cinnamon is something of a superhero in the spice community.  Why use it in your recipes? Research is showing that cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties even in neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  It regulates blood sugar and reduces LDL cholesterol.  Some studies have shown that cinnamon has been effective in inhibiting the growth of ulcer-causing h. pylori bacteria.  Cinnamon has also been shown to reduce cytokines linked to arthritic pain.  Along with its other powerhouse spice cousin turmeric, cinnamon has been shown to be effective in inhibiting the proliferation of certain types of cancer cells.  And, thanks to cinnamon’s ability to balance hormones, consumption of cinnamon by women has been shown to increase progesterone and decrease testosterone, thus, relieving menstrual symptoms.  I don’t need to be convinced any further.  Can I just mainline it?

Keeping this in mind, this recipe is then a win-win for everyone, and I haven’t even talked about the health benefits of eggs or coconut oil.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Ingredients
  • ½ c mashed sweet potato (measure after mashing)
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp coconut flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp vanilla
  • coconut oil for pan-frying
  • cinnamon to sprinkle on top
 Instructions
  1. Mash the sweet potato, and then whisk thoroughly with 2 eggs to start. If too thick to pour in pan, add 3rd egg, if not, continue. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the coconut oil and cinnamon sprinkle.
  2. Mix until well incorporated.
  3. Heat a frying pan over medium heat, melt the coconut oil, and spoon roughly ¼ c batter onto the pan. Let cook until you see bubbles forming and the pancake is firm enough to flip. Flip. cook for another couple of minutes or so, watching carefully.
  4. Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon, or a splash of maple syrup for a real treat! (Source: Canada Girl Eats Paleo)

I tripled this recipe because I have six family members which meant that I used one sweet potato.  I only needed five eggs.  I also used a stand mixer with a paddle attachment to achieve a pancake-like batter.  I did not want lumpy pieces of sweet potato floating around in my batter.  It turned out to be beautiful and chiffon-like.  I also added some mace to the batter for an additional bit of flavor.  I would suggest that you experiment.  I thought of adding some ginger, but I did not.  A wonderful chef once told me, “You aren’t building the Taj Mahal.  Fool around.  Experiment.  If it’s a disaster, then it’s a disaster.  You learned something!”  I always keep that in mind when I cook and try new recipes.  I especially keep that in mind now because cooking with almond flour and coconut flour is not like cooking with other flours.  They just don’t behave like you think they will! Particularly the coconut flour…

These pancakes are a cinch, but they need more time.  Plus, they don’t ever bubble on the top.  I suggest making a small test pancake if you’ve never made one of these before.  Get a feel for what it should look and feel like (Pssst! It’s a bit like pumpkin pie batter).

20140329_202547

It’s not food porn, but you get the idea.

 

Now, for the finishing touches.  I used two.  I had a lovely organic berry and apple sauce.  I simple warmed it and added some cinnamon.  It just worked plus with the additional nutrition of the berries and apples, it made for a nutrient-dense meal.  I wanted to preen.  But, I could not overlook the maple syrup.

Maple syrup has been upgraded to a superfood.  I am gleeful! Researchers have found 54 compounds in maple syrup, five unique to maple syrup, many of which have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.  Of the five compounds unique to maple syrup, one is garnering the most attention–Quebecol.  Yes, yes, researchers named this polyphenol in honor of Canada’s province, and it’s actually created during the boiling process.  Maple syrup is considered to be the least burdensome on the metabolism as it is the easiest of the sugars to digest–even easier to digest than honey.  It is rich in Manganese, Riboflavin, and Zinc.  Just 1/4 cup of maple syrup will provide you with 100% of the RDA for Manganese.  So, putting a bit of maple syrup on my sweet potato pancake was a real pleasure.

The final result?

They were devoured.  I have no leftovers.  My youngest daughter asked with a full mouth, “Are these Paleo? These are too good to be Paleo.”

This is literally Feel Good Food.  You can feel good about eating it, serving it, and you feel good (or “well” to be correct, but my English teacher isn’t reading this) after eating it.

Bon Appétit!

 

 

 

I’m Back to Stay

I looked at the date of my last post and gasped.  Let’s not discuss it.  Let’s just say that we’re starting over.

A lot changed in my life since ::ahem:: my first real post so the content of this blog will be a bit different.  I am a bit late to the party on the idea of eating a Paleo diet.  I’ve been gluten-free for years.  I added an entry on why I shifted the focus of this blog from simply being gluten-free to being gluten-free and Paleo.  Why blog about it? Well, it can be a challenge to let go of something like gluten for some people.  I just walked into a cupcake shop a few weeks ago to buy a cupcake for a friend’s little girl, and I noticed that their shop offered GF cupcakes.  I cooed in delight! The woman behind the counter, who looked exhausted, haggard, slightly jaundiced, and possessed deep, dark circles under her eyes, asked me if I was gluten-free.  I answered in the affirmative.  She shared with me that she tried going gluten-free some time ago, but she found it to be too difficult.  I asked her if she felt better.  She replied, “Oh yeah, I felt so much better! I get headaches all the time, and I…uh…well, you know, have these really annoying stomach problems.  I get…ahem…gassy.  It’s really bad.  And my skin is just awful.  I mean, I don’t know what to do about it.”  I couldn’t help it.  I just crossed my arms and stared at her.  “Did your stomach problems get better off the gluten?”  She put the cupcake in a box and said, “Ohmigod, yes!” I bit my lip.  “Uh huh…and your skin? Did that improve?”  She took my debit card, “Oh well, yeah!”  I squinted my eyes, “Did you sleep better? Did your restlessness improve?” She paused and looked at me.  “How did you know that I get restless?” I just grinned at her.  “Did it get better?”  She nodded.  “Honey, you have got to stop eating gluten.  Your body can’t tolerate it.”  She looked sheepish and said, “I know.”

It’s human nature.  We do what we know we should not because doing what we should do is hard.

In the beginning, I wanted to prove that going GF wasn’t as hard as everyone thought.  As common as the issue of gluten is now, I still meet a lot of people who don’t really understand it.  They ask me if I can eat potatoes or rice.  They ask if I can eat apples or pears.  They don’t understand that gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley.  It’s also in the grains related to wheat, rye, and barley like spelt and triticale.  It’s not in corn.  It’s not in oats although oats are so often processed in facilities that process wheat that you must buy gluten-free oats otherwise you risk contamination.

There are so many gluten-free flour options on the market now that almost any recipe can be made gluten-free.  It is no longer a chore to live a gluten-free lifestyle.

But what about health? What about flourishing? This is what ultimately brought me to looking at the Paleo diet.  Is there an even better way to eat? I’ll admit that I have been a sugar junkie even on a gluten-free diet.  I justified it.  If I had to give up gluten, then at least I could keep the sugar.  Sure, I only ate organic cane sugar, but sugar is sugar.  I still felt horrible.  My migraines were not improving.  I was getting cluster headaches.  I even dropped my caffeine consumption to once a day–only one cup of coffee in the morning.  I was a good girl! Heck, I even went so far as to cut out chocolate.  Oh, the pain! It didn’t matter.  I still felt terrible, and I started looking bad, too.  That was it.  Hit me in my vanity, and something has to be done.

So, here I am.  On the threshold of joining the ranks of the cavemen.  I’m not exactly happy about it.  I feel like I want to eat a cup of oats just because I’m suddenly not allowed, and I feel a little depressed about it.  I know, however, that I will only feel better.  So, that’s what I’ll share here.  I’ve got some great recipes lined up.  I also have some outstanding research in hand as well.  At heart, I want others to feel better and flourish in their lives.  If my paltry effort can affect change somewhere else, then glory be! It will add meaning to my journey and perhaps yours, too!

So, tonight I’m making sweet potato pancakes for dinner because it just feels like a breakfast for dinner sort of day.  I’ll post the recipe and my review tout de suite!

 

Gluten-Free Holiday Stollen with Marzipan

Or, one might call this Gluten-Free Julekage.  The end result seems to walk a fine line between Stollen and Julekage.  You may be asking: What the heck is Stollen? Furthermore, what’s Julekage (pronounced YOOL-uh-ka-ga)? Here’s the lowdown.

Stollen is a German fruitcake typically low in sugar content, but known to contain candied fruits, citrus peel, raisins, and almonds.  Other ingredients are used as well such as spices, eggs, milk, and, oftentimes, rum.  The most celebrated Stollen is made in Dresden, Germany wherein one finds a Stollen laced with cardamom, cinnamon, and marzipan.  I’ve had an opportunity to eat this Stollen, and this is, in fact, what inspired me to attempt a gluten-free recipe.  Dresden Stollen is fantastic.  It’s not your Aunt Mildred’s fruitcake.

Julekage (which means ‘Yule bread’ in Norwegian) is a cake-like bread served during the holidays in many Scandinavian countries.  My grandparents were Scandinavian, and this bread was a staple at all our Christmas meals.  Like Stollen, it also contains spices and candied fruits but, unfortunately, no liquor.  Stollen is topped with powdered sugar upon completion of baking whereas Julekage is typically frosted or glazed.

Gluten-Free Stollen with Marzipan

There are a few things to know about making gluten-free breads particularly if you’ve never made them before.  Firstly, they’re very, very easy to make as they are only a one-rise dough.  No need to knead or “punch down” for a second rise! Secondly, I’ve found that gluten-free flours don’t require as much liquid as their glutinous counterparts. If you use too much liquid, then you end up with a sticky mess.

What flour did I use for this recipe? I actually used a pre-mixed gluten-free flour blend by Gluten Free Pantry–The Favorite Sandwich Bread Mix.  I’ve used this mix for two years now to make all sorts of breads, and it has been practically foolproof.  It contains: white rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, skim milk, whey, corn starch, brown sugar, guar gum, and salt.  The box even contains a packet of yeast.  If you are dairy-free, I would suggest using a GF flour blend that includes potato starch and some rice flours, but avoid bean flours.  They lend a strong, acrid smell and taste to everything which does not disappear with baking.  Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Flour is to be avoided for this very reason–the bitter bean flour.

A few things to keep in mind: Try to buy high-quality candied fruit as this does flavor the bread.  Also, look for good quality almond paste, too.  Odense is a good brand, and many grocery stores carry it in their baking aisles.  I am fortunate in that I was able to buy freshly made almond paste from a local Scandinavian store.

Gluten-Free Holiday Stollen with Marzipan

One 22 oz box of Gluten Free Pantry Favorite Sandwich Bread Mix or 22 oz. of gluten-free flour blend

3/4 cup candied fruit

1/2 to 3/4 cup golden raisins, depending upon your preference

1/4 cup rum

1 1/4 oz. packet of active dry yeast or 2 1/4 tsp. (if you use the bread mix, a packet of yeast comes with the mix)

1/2 tsp salt

zest of one lemon

1 tsp of ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp of ground mace

1/2 tsp of ground cardamom

1 3/4 cups lukewarm milk (I use 2% or whole)

1/3 c. honey (I’ve included an article for your perusal about recent honey safety issues.)

4 T. melted butter

2 large eggs

1 c. almond paste, diced 1/4 in. cubes

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix fruit and raisins together in a small bowl with the rum.  Set aside to soak.

Using the large bowl that fits your stand mixer, add yeast and lukewarm milk together.  Add the honey.  Add the eggs, salt, lemon zest, spices, and flour blend.  Lastly, on top of the flour blend, add the melted butter.  Using your dough hook, begin mixing the dough on low.  After about 30 seconds, stop mixing, and scrap down the sides.  At this point, add the rum/fruit mixture and the almond paste.  Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.  Your dough should be glossy and well-blended.

Pour dough into a lightly oiled 9×5″ loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap, and set it aside in a warm place to rise.  Once the dough has risen to your desired height (I like mine an inch or two above the edge of the pan), put it in the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, turn out onto a cooling rack, and sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar.  If you are desiring something similar to Julekage, make a glaze by mixing a bit of water with confectioner’s sugar flavored with a drop or two of almond extract.  Glaze the bread once it has cooled.

Stollen dough before rising

I’ve noticed that it can take quite a while to get a good rise out of a gluten-free dough, and I’m placing my doughs in very warm spots.  It has taken up to two and half hours to achieve a proper first rise out some of my bread recipes so don’t get discouraged if your dough appears lazy.  It will rise.

Stollen dough after its one and only rise

The end result is a bread with a delicate crumb, fragrant with spices and tasting a bit of rum as well as the sweetness of marzipan.  It isn’t exactly like Dresden Stollen, and it isn’t exactly like Julekage.  But, it finds its place somewhere in the sweet, fruity, lovely middle.

If you make this recipe, do let me know how it turns out.  I’ve made it many times, but, since I’ve adapted it from many, many recipes, I’m suffering from some self-doubt on the measurements.

Happy Baking!

Under Construction

I have just this very evening created this blog so I need a bit of time to gather my content and build it out, but I promise to do so in a timely fashion.  If you’re a fan of Dresden Stollen, then please do return because that will be my first GF recipe.  I’ve successfully made it two years in a row for the holidays, and I’m quite delighted with the results.  More to come in a day or two…