Jerseygator's Blog

Update to Paleo…I’m coming up to my one year anniversary!

Posted in Cooking,food politics,food pyramid,Primal by jerseygator on May 17, 2012
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If you and I haven’t talked lately, you may not know that I changed my dietary template last July, becoming a “cavewoman.”  Well, I’m not out hunting bison, but I am continuing to refine my version of the ancestral or “Paleo” diet.  First the basics…my diet consists mostly of the following:  grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, limited pastured chicken/pork (just cause I’m not a fan), lots of vegies, fruits in season, and healthy fats (coconut oil/olive oil/ghee/nuts/seeds/avocados).  I don’t eat grains, legumes, or dairy (with the exception of ghee or grass-fed butter).

I think the key to a good diet is simple: does it make you look, feel and perform optimally?  Add to that your health indicators (blood tests, etc.) and I think you have something to go on.

From a physical aspect, I ended up losing 30 pounds, so am sitting at 125 pounds on a 5’2 frame.  My BMI, which is not a great measure but is what the government uses to measure obesity in America, went from 28.3 (overweight) to 22.9 (normal weight).  (A BMI of 30 is considered obese, so I was on my way.)  I lost 6 inches off my waist, going from a size 10 to a size 2.

How do I feel?  Man, I haven’t felt this good in decades.  Mental clarity and memory have been noticeably improved (and commented upon by coworkers). I went from sleeping 8+ hours per night to sleeping about 6-1/2 to 7 hours, waking up without an alarm clock every morning refreshed and ready to go.  My sleep is much deeper; I just don’t get sleepy as early as I used to.  My feeling is that a lot of this can be attributed to the addition of coconut oil to my diet.  (That is a post of it’s own.)  Interestingly, I have not had any illnesses since changing the diet with the exception of a UTI (that was my own fault…I let myself get dehydrated).  I have had NO allergy symptoms this year, and it’s been a tough year for allergies due to the warm winter.  Normally in the spring I’d be on Allegra, Flonase and Singulair.  I haven’t taken anything this year at all.  My skin problems (seborrheic dermatitis) have completely cleared up.  All gut issues are gone (no heartburn, or IBS symptoms).

Performance:  I certainly have more strength and endurance than before, but now that I have the diet dialed in I’m looking at adding some exercise.  I’m currently reading “Body by Science” by Dr. Doug McGuff and am intrigued.  I’m certainly leaner and have visible muscle definition in my abs.

Blood parameters have not been measured since my last post, but to repeat those:  Fasting blood sugar 67, total cholesterol 148, HDL 63, LDL 70, VLDL 15 and triglycerides 76.  My physician was thrilled with the numbers and encouraged me to “keep doing what I was doing.” I take no medications.

I get lots of questions regarding the diet, of course.  One is about macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein).  My current diet is about 60% fat (by caloric intake), 30% carbs and 20% protein.  This is not a high protein or low carb diet (although I certainly eat less carbs than someone eating a standard American diet).  Nor is it an “Adkins” type diet…paleo focuses on food quality…whole, real unprocessed foods.  Adkin’s is really all about processed foods lately, since they can sell that.  Adkin’s also focuses on ketosis (especially during the induction phase), which paleo does not.

A typical day of eating looks like this:

  • Breakfast:  “Bulletproof” Coffee (coffee made with grass-fed butter and coconut oil) or 3 pastured eggs scrambled in coconut oil, or a coconut milk smoothie (coconut milk, frozen berries and almond butter).
  • Lunch:  A big salad with nuts, dried cranberries/cherries, topped with a protein (chicken, salmon, tuna, strips of steak or other meat) and 2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or leftovers from dinner.
  • Dinner:  Protein (grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish) with 2-3 vegies in season.  Right now that means lots of asparagus and spinach.  We eat a cruciferous vegetable almost nightly (cauliflower “rice,” broccoli, cabbage).  We may add in-season fruit for desert.
  • Snacks:  I’m seldom hungry so don’t snack often.  Usually it will be a handful of raw almonds, perhaps with a couple squares of dark chocolate.
  • Alcohol:  very rarely.  An occasional glass of wine, and if I’m going off template I may have a beer.
  • I eat fermented foods daily in the form of kombucha tea, sauerkraut or other fermented products.  I think this has been key to the improvement in my digestion.  Without going into TMI territory, let’s just say everything runs very smoothly.

Another question I get is about saturated fats and cholesterol.  As a traditionally trained (Western medicine) pharmacist, I have been taught that eating cholesterol and saturated fats are harmful.  However, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and reviewing of clinical studies and can find no real evidence to support this hypothesis.  I can, however, find many to refute it.  Since eating more saturated fats and cholesterol, my blood lipids have improved.  If I didn’t tell my physician what I was eating, he would probably assumed I was drinking the low-fat/high carb Koolaide put out by government recommendations (mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean).  What I have discovered in all my research is that government recommendations are highly political.  What a shock, huh?  When dietary recommendations are put out by the same government agency that subsidizes the food it recommends (The USDA), what else would you expect?  I’ll stick with my sample size of 1 and keep doing what I’m doing.

Darrol has moved to Paleo more whole-heartedly as well.  I convinced him to go dairy-free in January and within 3 days all his sinus symptoms disappeared: no headaches, no congestion, no snoring.  This was, truly, a life-changing event for him and the rest of the family.  Of course, we all know when he “cheats.”  He can’t hide how the dairy makes him react!  Since embracing the diet more fully he has taken off over 25 pounds and is now going to go off his cholesterol medications.  He looks awesome and feels great.  He is key to our diet, as he does most of the cooking.  We have amazing meals at our house!

This post is a lot longer than I expected, and there’s still so much to talk about.  I promise I’ll try to keep posting, in between 2 full time jobs and being a wife, a mom and a Memaw.  Please let me know if you have questions…I have tons of resources, links to studies, recommended reading, websites and podcasts that I can share.

Good eating and good health!


Moving toward Meatless? A semi-vegetarian goes Paleo

Posted in food politics,locavore,Primal,Uncategorized,vegetarian by jerseygator on September 6, 2011

Earlier this year a friend of ours lost a tremendous amount of weight following “the caveman diet.”  I had never heard of it, but it didn’t sound healthy.  It is, however, hard to argue with success,and I reserved judgement until learning more.

If you’ve been reading this blog you know that we’ve been trying to decrease the amount of meat we eat, both for health and ethical reasons.  But have our “healthy” changes met with success?  Over the last few years both Darrol and I have had difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, despite eating a diet that is pretty consistent with the government’s food pyramid (or the new MyPlate).

October 2010

In addition, we cooked most of our meals at home using good ingredients: olive oil, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, organic/local vegetables and pastured meat from a local farmer.  Despite this, we were both overweight and on various medications.  Something wasn’t working!

I started researching the Paleo or Primal way of eating, first by asking our friends how they ate and what the rational for the diet was.  They were very helpful and pointed us to a few websites.  In college, my initial degree program was biochemistry and I was fascinated by evolutionary biology (total Stephen Jay Gould fangirl).  So when I began to understand that the underlying science of this way of eating was based on the evolution of the human species, I really got interested.

The basic premise of this eating lifestyle is that humans evolved for the vast majority of their time on earth as hunter-gatherers, not agrarians.  The introduction of grains, in the grand scheme of time, is very recent.  In addition, the last 100 years or so have seen a rapid manipulation of our foods, moving us farther away from “whole” foods to manufactured, processed food-like substances.  So to adapt to this lifestyle, one moves back to the initial way of eating to which our bodies evolved.

In addition to that basic premise, the role of insulin and other hormones and how they have evolved to work with our physiology is critical.  By eliminating grains, one is eliminating massive amounts of carbohydrates from the diet.  As insulin responds to carbohydrates, and insulin also promotes fat storage, the amount of fat stored decreases.  (I will blog on all these points soon, but just want to hit the basics today).

So what changes have we made? Surprisingly few.  The basics of the diet are grass fed/pastured meats (already doing),  vegetables (which have increased exponentially), some fruits, and healthy fats, such as coconut oil and avocado.  We eat a lot more eggs (pastured, from a local farmer) and no processed foods.  We seldom eat out, but when we do we avoid grains, breads, and starchy foods.  I’ve eliminated most dairy (no big deal for me), and Darrol’s moved to 2% or whole milk instead of skim.  We eat some cheese, mostly as garnish.  No breads, pastries, rice, pasta, etc.

Well, the proof is in the paleo pudding.  I had my lab work done and a doctor’s appointment today.  I have lost 14 pounds (just shy of 10% of my initial weight) and am in the healthy weight range for my height.  I’ve also lost 4 inches (!!) off my waist.  More importantly, my doctor looked at my lab work and stated “Wow!  Whatever you’re doing keep it up!”

Fasting glucose 67 (down from 87)

Total Cholesterol 148 (relatively unchanged…I was still on pravastatin)

HDL 63 (up from 54)

LDL 70 (down from 112)

VLDL 15 (down from 26)

Triglycerides 76 (down from 132!)

My vitamin D level went from 14 to 28 (still low but doubled from last time), so I’ll continue supplementation for a while, plus get my 30 minutes of sunshine daily at lunch (and much more when I’m not at work).  My thyroid level has been low off and on, so we’ll continue to monitor (I have no metabolic symptoms so am not overly concerned).  I’m off all medications and don’t have a follow up for 6 months!

So, I’m retiring the “Moving Toward Meatless” posts.  I’m excited to learn more about eating this way, and can’t see ANY reason to go back to the conventionally taught nutrition (eg, MyPlate).  I think one of the reasons it’s working is the focus on whole foods; removing the processed garbage removes so many non-food, potentially toxic things from the diet. I’ll be blogging about the science behind some of the ideas, as well as recipes we try.   Feel free to ask questions, and I’ll research what I can, or link you to some great sites.  I’m off to make some guacamole!

Darrol and I celebrate his recent birthday at Fogo de Chau

Moving toward meatless: Gardein products

Posted in Cooking,food politics,vegetarian by jerseygator on January 31, 2011

As we look toward more meatless dishes to serve our family, we are investigating some “meat substitute” products.  I had always felt that eating something fake, as in pretending to be something it’s not, was counter-intuitive to eating real, natural foods.  Most vegetarians I know don’t eat meat-like products; they simply don’t miss eating meat.  For my family of omnivores, however, that could present a problem, so a little experimentation was in order.

I recently read “The Conscious Cook” by Chef Tal Ronnen.  He cooks vegan meals which are beautiful and (presumably) tasty, and uses a product called “Gardein.”  This meat substitute gets its name by combining garden + protein.  It’s been shown that vegetarians get plenty of protein in their diets without any additional supplementation necessary, however many eaters like the taste/consistency of meat and these products are designed for them.  I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to find them, but they were in the frozen case at my local supermarket.

Gardein Chick'n Scallopini

We choose two products to try: the Chick’n Scallopini and the Beefless Tips.  For the first dinner, I made a “chicken” piccata using Chef Tal’s recipe from the book.  The Gardein product looks like chicken patties when removed from the bag, and, after dredging in flour, fried up just like any chicken pattie.  After cooking the chick’n, I made a sauce using lemon juice, white wine, veg stock, shallots, capers and garlic.  The chicken was placed back in the sauce for just a couple minutes then served.

Chick'n fillets

The finished dinner fooled my son, who loved it and couldn’t believe the meal was vegan.  The “meat” had a pretty good consistency; not stringy like chicken but toothsome.  My biggest complaint is that it tasted just like a chicken.  I’m just not a big fan of the bird.  However, everyone loved the meal and it will definitely be added to the menu list.

Chick'n Piccata

The next evening we tried the beefless tips.  I modified one of Chef Tal’s recipes and

Gardein Beefless tips and Earth Balance buttery spread

made a sauce from mushrooms, wine, veg stock, shallots, garlic and Earth Balance “butter.”  The chunks of Gardein went from freezer right to saute pan and cooked up within minutes.  Once combined with the sauce in the pan for just a couple more minutes, the dish was placed on a bed of rice.  Again, the meal was delicious.  The meat substitute tasted like meat and the consistency was close (not stringy like meat would be).

Gardein beefless tips sauteed right from the freezer and cooked in about 3 minutes

The sauce was amazing, and I went back for more rice with sauce drizzled on top.

I think Chef Tal nailed the secret to good vegan/vegetarian cooking: fat.  Too many vegetarian dishes are what he dismisses as “hippie food.”  There’s nothing wrong with brown rice and steamed vegies, but it’s not very satisfying over the long run.  By using butter or a butter substitute, you add flavor, unctuousness and satiety.  Using capers, mushrooms or other umami flavors adds richness.  It’s interesting, because many people feel vegetarian food is boring, yet most omnivores I know cook the same things over and over.  Yes, it’s comfort food, but it’s not much of a stretch. I’m excited to add more vegan/vegetarian dishes to our repertoire.

"beef" tips in a mushroom/wine sauce over rice

Links: for more information on “The Conscious Cook” as well as recipes and videos demonstrating some of the recipes. for more information on the products, as well as the company philosophy and mission. for more information on Earth Balance spreads, made from cold-pressed oils, no hydrogenated oils or trans-fats.  Plus, the “butter” spread really taste and cooks just like butter and is my new go-to for toast and cooking.

An Offal Party

Posted in Cooking,food politics,Friends,locavore,New Jersey by jerseygator on January 27, 2011

As part of our conscientious eating, we are working to eat the whole animal when we choose to eat meat.  Recently we invited our friends to an “offal” party, that is a dinner party serving organ meats.

When we purchased our meat last fall, we ordered 1/2 cow, a whole pig, 2 lambs and a goat.  We opted out of the scrapple, having ordered that last time and determining that, if you didn’t grow up with it, it was nigh inedible.  (When the butcher asked if we wanted it, I inquired what it was.  Her response?  “Just what it sounds like, sugar.”)  This time, we took the organs from the cow and goat: heart, liver, kidneys and one non-organ, the cow tongue.

Beef heart

Let me start by saying that, other than liver and onions, none of us had eaten cow or goat organ meats before.  Darrol and the kids do eat the chicken hearts, so had an idea of what that tasted like, and we’ve had pate’ made from goose livers.  Fortunately, Darrol is both an experimental eater and an experimental cook, so he was up for it.

He started by making some beef stock with bones from Mr. Cow, then prepped the different cuts.

The beef tongue, which wins for weirdest looking thing we've ever cooked.

The heart was huge and was examined for the valves and chambers out of curiosity.  It was a least 4-5 times larger than a human heart; Darrol cut it up into slices to stew with broth and vegetables.  The tongue was incredibly odd looking and really didn’t look edible at all.  It was placed into the pressure cooker with some water in order to cook the meat.  Once removed, the “tongue” part (what you’d see if you looked into a cow’s mouth) was removed, leaving a large piece of meat.  Taylor had eaten a tongue chimichanga at a little Mexican place near the Delaware border, so Darrol decided to make taco filling with the tongue meat.

Beef kidneys. Darrol separated them into lobes then chopped finely.

In looking for recipes for steak and kidney pie on the internet we were repeatedly warned that kidneys stink!  Watch out for the stink, here’s how to get rid of the stink, etc.  Well, I guess that happens if you buy kidneys from the grocery store (in England…can’t say I’ve ever seen them over here), but kidneys from a grass fed cow that is immediately processed and brought to your freezer evidently have no odor at all.  I even held one up to my nose trying to smell something bad.  They smelled faintly of meat.  Darrol chopped them up finely with some chuck and sauteed them; the pie filling was topped with phyllo dough and baked to a golden finish.

The last thing in was the liver and onions, as they cook quickly and should be eaten right away.

Liver in all it's bloody glory

This was a familiar smell to most of the older generation, as we had moms or grandmoms who used to cook up a batch.  The frying onions made the whole house smell wonderful.

Darrol managed to bring four diverse dishes to the table all at once, an amazing feat that was appreciated by all.  We had some local cheese from Philadelphia, courtesy of Tim, and some homemade latkes made by the amazing Lil.  Tim, incidentally, recently lost close to 100 pounds on the “primitive” diet, which is based on meat, veg, fruit and nuts with almost no refined grains of any type.  Lil had also brought some crackers made with nut meal, and some “primitive” brownies to add to the table.

Everyone sits down to try the offal stuff

Everyone sat down to give the fare a try.  I will say that the young men of the group ate heartily and seemed to enjoy pretty much every dish.  We had one participant who basically thought the concept was interesting in theory, but not in practice.  She stuck to latkes.  The overall impression was favorable, with the favorites being the liver & onions (2 votes) and the steak & kidney pie (2 votes).  The tongue tacos were my favorite, as I just don’t like the texture of organ meats, and tongue is basically just a meat from an unusual place.  The heart stew was good, but didn’t win any votes as favorite.  I wonder if we put some dumplings in there if it would have won over more people?

Steak & Kidney pie

Liver & onions

Heart and Veggie stew

Tracey tries a tongue taco

Moving toward meatless

Posted in Cooking,food politics,locavore,vegetarian by jerseygator on January 26, 2011

Over the past few years we have had occasion to learn more about the food production in this country.  Some of the education is through national multi-media; books such as “The Omnivore’s Dilemna,” movies such as “Food, Inc.,” radio podcasts such as “Earth Eats,” and, of course, countless websites, such as the Ted talks.  Moving to New Jersey was also an education.  The farms, road stands, and overall food culture here in South Jersey is amazing.  Farmers are so willing to share what they’re doing (and how they’re doing it), as well as the struggles they have in providing good products.  It’s still difficult to find organic products at many of the road stands (though not impossible), but at least we’re eating a large portion of our food sourced locally.

With this education, however, comes a moral dilemna.  Can one continue to consume a product which doesn’t align with one’s own moral compass?  Obviously, many people do.  No one I know condones animal cruelty, yet most buy meat from the supermarket without a second thought, pushing the factory farm that the meat came from out of their minds.  Becoming a vegetarian is an option, but an option not chosen by many.  Being an omnivore is culturally excepted, and most people like the taste of meat.  There are still some who argue that we aren’t designed to be herbivores, an argument I consider specious.  We aren’t “designed” to use birth control, either, but I don’t see many people arguing against condoms, the pill, or the rhythm method.

So what is a conscientious person to do?  In my explorations I find too many people who try to convince their audience to their viewpoint using emotion.  Not being an overly emotional person, I just find that annoying.  Give me facts, figures, and, most importantly, a grounding in reality…the reality of raising a family and the time constraints, budgets and personalities that come with it.

As we struggle with it, here’s some of the decisions that I or we as a family have made:

  • Conscientious meat consumption.  We don’t want to support the CAFO’s so we are buying our beef, pork, lamb and goat from a local farmer.  We found her on, and are comfortable that she is raising the animals to have normal lives: pasture, sunlight, grass, antibiotics only if ill, access to mother/baby relationship.  Currently, we are getting chicken at the farmer’s market.  Free range, cage free chickens are EXPENSIVE, so chicken has become a much less consumed item.  (Full disclosure: occasionally Darrol will buy chicken from the supermarket, usually for stock, but is minimizing these purchases.  The chicken industry is truly horrible.)
  • Eggs are purchased from a local farmer.  We can actually see the chickens running around, eating bugs and vegetable scraps.  The eggs are amazing: firm orange yolks and wonderful flavor.  Again, the poultry industry is one of the worst offenders for animal husbandry standards.
  • Using the whole animal.  We recently had an “offal party” for our friends.  The menu included liver & onions, heart and veg stew, steak and kidney pie, and tongue tacos.  It seems more respectful to consume the entire animal if you’re going to make that choice.  I’ll be blogging about the party soon.
  • Moving toward meatless:  Although I doubt my husband or son will ever become vegetarians, I wouldn’t be surprised if I eventually went in that direction.  Currently I’m following Mark Bittman’s advice: vegan before 6pm.  I’ve replaced butter with EarthBalance (made with cold pressed oils, not hydrogentated) and milk with almond milk.  I started this because my LDL cholesterol moved up enough for my doctor to prescribe a low dose of a statin, and I’d really like to move away from taking medication.  I’ll blog about these food decisions as well.  (Funny, I found very few blogs via Google about moving toward meatless…most are already vegetarians or are make the move abruptly).
  • Continuing education:  I’ll continue reading and viewing food related media, keeping an open mind.
  • Political activism:  I’m not the type to stand on the roadway with a sandwich board, but I have been known to contact my senators and/or state representatives, so I’ll continue to do that on things that are important to me.  As with voting, if you don’t participate, you really don’t have the right to bitch.

I’d be interested to hear how others handle their choices.  Leave a comment and let’s start a discussion.