Archive for December, 2011

December 18, 2011

Food For Thought: A Guide to Going Paleo

As promised, my first order of business in the Food for Thought series is assembling a Cavegirl’s guide to going Paleo.  When I first undertook the transition I was overwhelmed with the amount and breadth of the information out there.  After all, Paleo isn’t so much a diet as a lifestyle, and there was a lot to figure out at first.  It was easy to get lost in the nuances of nut milk production and dead lifting.  Almost a year later I’ve read a lot, experimented, and have more or less figured out what works for me.  It’s an ongoing process, but I think it’s important to focus on the big picture and figure out the smaller stuff as you go.


A Top 5 List for Going Paleo Without Going Crazy

First of all, you’re here reading about going Paleo, and that’s the first giant leap in the right direction.  You’ve most likely already learned some of the health benefits of making the transition to a more primal lifestyle, so I’ll jump right into the how-to.  There is a great deal written about the finer points of Paleo-style living, but here are the main ones you need to worry about first:

1. Eliminate processed foods from your diet.  The rule of thumb is that if your great-grandmother, or better yet a cave person, wouldn’t recognize something as food, don’t eat it.

2. Include generous servings of quality meats and fats in your meals.  For many of us who were trying to make healthy choices by eating  vegetarian or diets with minimal animal products, you may have to to reintroduce meat back into your diet slowly.

3. Strive to make as many of your produce and meat choices organic as you can.  There are ways to be strategic about this without breaking the bank, and I’ll cover that in another post.  In general, though, I tend to follow the food chain rule: The higher a food source is on the food chain, the more important it is to go organic.

4. Exercise.  As you may have realized by now, I’m a runner, which many proponents of primal living would disapprove of.  Personally, I believe the jury is still out on “chronic cardio,” but regardless, do what works.  It’s more important that you find an activity you enjoy than that you do the perfect regimen on of something you hate.  Most workouts can be adjusted to be more Primal, but worry about that later.

5. Relax.  You will not be perfect at this.  Don’t stress too much over the finer points as you’re making the transition to Paleo.  If you make it a goal to replace processed snack foods with fruits, you’re making a significant positive change.  There’s no need to worry about the glycemic index of apples versus peaches for now.


Required Reading

Now, if you’re still with me, fantastic.  You’ve got the basics and now you want to learn more.  The Paleo community is wide, welcoming, and enthusiastic, and there are a ton of resources on the web.  Before we get there, though, I think it’s helpful to get your bearings with a good solid overview of the science and nutrition that drive the Paleo philosophy.

If you’re only going to read one book on the subject, I would recommend The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson.  It’s very clear and concise, and does a great job presenting the big picture.

For those who don’t mind a little more homework, my next choice would beThe Paleo Diet, or The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain.  These books get more into detail on nutritional science, and the Paleo Diet for Athletes is a great guide for those who choose to pursue endurance sports while cutting their carb consumption.

Other helpful reads include Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, and Real Food by Nina Planck.  Though neither of these is strictly Paleo, both explore why the fat myths are wrong and are excellent choices if you’re still worried about ignoring the conventional wisdom on healthy diets.


Paleo in the Kitchen

Now that you’re on board, where can you find recipes to get you started?  I would argue that the first source can be the cookbooks you already own.  Many standard recipes can be made more primal by choosing organic meat and produce and though simple substitutions.  There are also a few staples your Paleo kitchen should not be without.  When you make your first primal shopping trip, try to pick up the following:

Coconut oil

Coconut milk

Almond flour

Real butter, if you’re including dairy (Kerry Gold is my favorite)

A selection of unsalted (or lightly salted) nuts

Free range Omega-3 eggs


These will take you a long way in making your cooking more Paleo.  Almond flour can be used for breading chicken and fish, and also for the occasional baked treat.  Coconut oil is healthy and affordable fat for cooking.  Coconut milk can be used in smoothies, as a dairy substitute, and to make delicious Thai-inspired Paleo dishes. 🙂  There are plenty more ingredients that could go on this list, but I believe these make a good starting point.  I’ll do a later post on Paleo cookbooks and the many recipe sources available on the web, but I want to emphasize that the transition need not be a complete overhaul.  You can still make many of your favorite recipes and it will be a lot easier if you don’t jump into kale smoothies on Day 1.


I’m sure there are many more great books and sources out there, so if anyone has any suggestions for titles and links that should be included here, please let me know.  Good Luck!



December 18, 2011

Thoughts on a New Feature

I saw an issue of Oprah’s magazine at the gym this week, and the cover promised, “Change Your Relationship with Food–Forever!”  That title stopped me in my tracks. I made the transition to Paleo almost a year ago, and in that time I can’t remember thinking about my relationship with food once.  In fact, even terming it a relationship would seem to infuse the situation with a lot of emotional baggage that seems less than helpful.  Seeing the magazine got me thinking about the outrage I felt when I first realized that pretty much everything I had ever been taught about food was wrong.  I started reading everything I could find  on nutrition and decided pretty quickly that the Paleo approach just seemed like good sense.  Still, I was overwhelmed with discussions of anti-nutrients, entire rants for and against almond milk, and trying to decide whether sweet potatoes were acceptable or would ultimately kill me.

A year later, I’m still not totally clear on any of those things, but I feel like I’ve taken giant steps in the right direction.  (And for the record, I had almond milk in my smoothie yesterday and baked sweet potatoes with dinner tonight.) Eliminating most of the processed crap I was eating and switching to organic foods where possible have been big , but surprisingly easy changes to make.  I’ve also been pleased to see more and more studies validating the salubrity of Paleo and traditional foods.  Still, making the transition can be a little scary–first you find out that everything you’ve been doing ‘right’ is wrong and suddenly you’re confronted with navigating the nuances of grass-fed versus grass-finished beef.  In an effort to ease the transition (even for those of us who have been at it for a while), I’ve decided to start what I hope will be a weekly feature here at the Cavegirl–Food for Thought.  I’ll be posting on studies that might be of interest to the Paleo community, along with other links and stories that  seem relevant.  Stay with me and we’ll see how it goes.  For now, I’ll leave you with this food for thought:

A slideshow of The Most Over-the-Top Fast Foods of 2011

A study on the effectiveness of intermittent low-carb diets for weight loss and disease prevention

December 14, 2011

Holiday Whatnot

As a native Northeasterner, I always find it difficult to get into the holiday spirit in Southern California.  Without the mittens and chapped nose, winter somehow loses its oomph for me.  This past week we’ve been having positively frigid weather by SoCal standards, though, and it actually snowed in LA County yesterday.  I’ve been trying to bolster the slight suggestion of winter with other seasonal activities—primarily burning a gingerbread scented candle and knitting hats for Afghans for Afghans winter campaign.  I always associate winter with baking, which I’ve seriously curtailed since going Paleo, but I can’t wait to try a batch of the gingersnaps from Elana’s Pantry this weekend.     

 Many of the blogs I read have been running  series on gift ideas for the runner, caveperson, knitter, chef, [insert target audience here].  I’m posting links to some of my favorites here, and I do have one suggestion of my own to add: Lo-Lo Bars.  After a bout of Santa Anas and accompanying 5% humidity last week, my skin was reaching levels of dry itchiness that don’t bear detailed description.  Having tried seemingly every conventional moisturizer to no avail, I decided to go the solid-state route and ordered a Lo-Lo Bar.  It arrived a few days ago, and I loooove it.  It stays on my hands for hours, even overnight, and it smells wonderful.  In one fell swoop I’ve got soft skin and I’ve found my go-to holiday gift for the hard-to-shop-for to boot.  CaveMama, I hope you’re not reading this, because there’s a lovely Lo-Lo Bar gift bag with your name on it.

December 8, 2011

Paleo Coffee Treats

It’s the time of year when my coworkers start showing up in the morning with those festive red Starbucks cups wafting scents of pumpkin and peppermint.  And while I don’t really have any desire to ingest 700 calories of whipped cream and sugary syrup that will leave me comatose in a few hours, they do smell reeeally good.  I’ve been playing around when I make my morning coffee this week, and I’ve come up with Paleo versions of three yummy seasonal lattes: pumpkin spice, peppermint mocha, and gingerbread.

 These all follow the same basic premise, which is strong coffee (or espresso, if you’ve got a machine) + coconut milk + spice. I used an 8 oz. coffee to 4 oz. coconut milk ratio, but feel free to adjust that according to your taste.  Warm the coconut milk on the stove while the coffee brews (or steam it if you have an espresso machine).  Add spices, stirring constantly to combine.  No clumps, unless you want a spicy chunk at the bottom of your cup!  Combine and sweeten if desired.  For a really decadent treat, open a can of regular coconut milk (without shaking) and put a dollop of cream on top your coffee.  Don’t forget a sprinkle of cinnamon, too!


Pumpkin Spice

8 oz. strong coffee

4 oz. coconut milk (I used light)

1 tbsp. pumpkin puree

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. ginger

Pinch of cloves

Peppermint Mocha

8 oz. strong coffee

4 oz. coconut milk (I used light)

1 tsp. cocoa powder (optional)

½ tsp. peppermint extract (peppermint teabags would probably also work)


8 oz. strong coffee

4 oz. coconut milk (I used light)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

Pinch of cloves

December 5, 2011

Nancy Drew and the Mysterious Pain in the Ass

Truth be told, I skipped Nancy Drew as a kid and went straight for Agatha Christie, but I just can’t imagine Miss Marple embroiled in a running caper.  Our story begins sometime in late July, when I noticed a dull ache along my tailbone after some speed work.  Knowing how much the lower back is engaged when running–particularly running fast–I chalked it up to increased mileage and weakness leaving the body.  The ache continued on and off over the days and weeks, but was quickly overshadowed when the IT band trouble started.  Since pulling out of the race a month ago, I have confined myself to short runs, with a lot of strength training on my hips and glutes to correct the problem.  The odd thing, though, is that the mysterious pain in my ass has been as persistent as ever, despite the rest and weight training.

I’d tried googling to see what I could figure out, but what to google?  It’s too high to be a glute, and too low to be lower back.  I went through the full set of lower limb anatomy flash cards to no avail.  All the muscles in that area ran laterally, and the pain was definitely parallel to my spine.  The only things that seemed to help were rolling on a lacrosse ball and doing butterfly stretches.  My theory was that it was connected to the IT band problem, both literally and figuratively, but I couldn’t find any anatomical evidence.

Saturday I doubled up on a run and some brutal, lunge-heavy strength training, and woke up Sunday with the mystery spot particularly sore.  I had scheduled a massage that afternoon, so I had Kiril of the Magic Elbows do some work on the area.  After our session, he mentioned something about the IT band pulling on the ligaments at the sacrum, and boom–I had my google keywords.  10 minutes later I was reading up on Sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and how it can lead to IT band syndrome.   The SI joint is a band of ligaments that attaches the pelvis to the base of the spine, and through bio-mechanical issues, injury, or overuse, it can become inflamed.  The symptoms exactly match up with the problems I’ve been having.  There’s no magic bullet to fix it, but the good news (or the bad news, depending on how you look at it), is that the treatment is in line with what I’ve already been doing.  Just figuring out what’s wrong has made me feel a lot better, though, and hopefully I can direct my energy from here to the source of the problem.

On an unrelated topic, I’ve been experimenting with making some Paleo versions of seasonal latte and coffee treats.  Stay tuned for the results.