Archive for the ‘General health’ Category

My Paleo shopping list

August 23, 2011

One of the important logistical tasks when starting Paleo (especially if you have decided to jump right in rather than start slowly) is to compile a list of items to pick up from the supermarket/health food store/food market. I thought I’d supply mine for anyone interested to find out what I consider my staples that make life that much simpler!

Oils ain’t oils

Fat is controversial, no doubt about it. What is “controversial” about Paleo is that the demonised saturated fats such as coconut oil and bacon fat are approved, whereas vegetable and seed oils, such as sunflower and soy, are out.

My list of oils:

  • Avocado oil (this is a fruit remember) – works well as a salad dressing or to roast veggies
  • Olive oil (as above, this is a fruit) – I use this occasionally for cooking and on salads
  • Coconut oil and butter – I use the oil to cook my eggs each morning and to spread on buckwheat bread
  • Bacon fat – I cook free range rashers of bacon on a wire rack and then collect the fat on a tray to use on vegetables at dinner…mmm!
  • Macadamia – this is excellent as a salad dressing and also can be used in baking. Incredible flavour.
  • Almond oil – this is also good in baking

Fruit and Veg

Ok, so fruit is an iffy area as excess fructose is considered damaging to the metabolic system and a cause of inflammation and fatty liver disease. At the moment, I’m not eating much fruit at all because I’m trying to fix my hypoglycemia for good (blood sugar swings resulting in low blood sugar) and my gut health, but the types of fruit I generally think are good in terms of bang for your buck nutritionally speaking are:

  • Bananas – it’s a shame they’re still priced like gold bars but these are a veritable powerhouse fruit and great in baking
  • Red or ruby grapefruit – studies link grapefruit to weight loss and good skin. This is much more palatable than the traditional yellow grapefruit
  • Kiwi fruit – packed with awesome enzymes and Vit C, love these furry critters
  • Berries – low fructose and high in Vit C
  • Papaya or pawpaw – full of good enzymes
  • Lychee – I love these for their silky texture and unmistakeable taste. They work a treat in cocktails too!
  • Pink lady apple – these also have a beautiful, subtle flavour and apples are considered a great broom for the intestines
  • The very occasional medjool date. God these are incredible.

Vegetables can also be high in fructose unfortunately, such as carrots and beetroots, but if you have no metabolic issues, munch away!  Gillian McKeith, that hardcore tele-nutritionist from the UK, has been absolutely slated by some of the UK press (it’s happened to the best of us ;p) over her credentials, but I always remember her saying that everyone should make an effort to eat a rainbow and I can’t agree more. The colours of the vegetables represent different beneficial compounds of the vegetable (for example orange veggies have caretenoids) so it’s important to get a good mix as much as possible. Here are some ideas and if you want to see how creative you can be with veggies, check out my fave Paleo site Nom Nom Paleo…the woman is amazing!

  • White: Onion, garlic, parsnip, leek, taro, cauliflower, artichoke
  • Green: bok choy, baby spinach, English spinach (delicious sauteed with onion and cinnamon), broccoli, brussel spouts (great with bacon or tossed with avocado oil and roasted), zucchini (very versatile, for chips or “pasta”), other green leaf vegetables, sugar snap and snow peas, green beans, asparagus, cucumber
  • Red: capsicum (delicious roasted or fried in a pan), tomato (ok this is technically a fruit!)
  • Yellow: squash, yellow zucchini
  • Orange: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots
  • Purple: cabbage, eggplant, spanish onion, beetroot, some sweet potato varieties

Baking supplies

People tend to panic when told they can’t eat grains, especially when they think of the baked goods they’re so enamoured of.  However, you CAN bake plenty of amazing, healthy treats within Paleo as long as you’re careful with your sweetener. Here is what I bake with:

  • Free range eggs
  • Oils – coconut, macadamia
  • Almond flour/meal (must be the type with the skin removed first)
  • Coconut flour
  • Coconut milk
  • Rice syrup (probably the best low GI option)
  • Maple syrup, occasionally and only a small amount
  • Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, ground ginger
  • Fine celtic sea salt
  • Berries
  • Dried fruits (though I’m not eating them much at the moment)
  • Nuts – my favourites are pecan, macadamia, hazelnut and walnut
  • Sesame and chia seeds – I use these when I make savoury biscuits or coconut bread
  • Bi-carb/Baking soda
  • Arrowroot (for thickening)
Baking supplies

Baking supplies

Herbs, spices and flavourings

Spices are definitely one of the important elements of a creative Paleo menu and really make dishes that much more zesty without a lot of effort. Along with this list, there’s also mixes such as harissa (which I want to try) and of course, Indian spice mixes.

  • Dukkah (amazing Middle Eastern nut/spice mix that’s fantastic with chicken as a baste)
  • Cinnamon and cloves
  • Five spice
  • Star anise
  • Mustard powder
  • Fine celtic sea salt
  • Chilli flakes
  • Tomato paste, tinned tomatoes
  • Whole black pepper
  • Sichuan peppercorns
  • Thai curry pastes (yes, you can track some down with no nasty additives)
  • Sesame seeds (great for rolling chicken pieces in before frying, so simple!)
  • Fish sauce (mixed with garlic and ginger for an amazing and easy steak marinade)
  • Fresh garlic (do not buy the Chinese stuff please, get the good purple variety)
  • Fresh ginger
  • Onion
  • Thai basil
  • Italian basil
  • Rosemary
  • Coriander
  • Dill
  • Chives
  • Curry leaves
  • Bay leaves
  • Fresh chilli
  • Lemons and limes

Seafood

Where possible, it’s a good idea to source wild caught, sustainably produced fish. Farmed fish is generally a big no-no, on account of the fish being fed a distinctly non-fish diet of grain. Ridiculous right –  ever seen a fish out in the wheat fields snacking on some bushels?

Here are the types of fish I tend to buy:

  • Tinned mackerel fillets
  • Tinned sardines in olive oil or brine (avoid the ones with flavours or vegetable oils)
  • Anchovies (I’ve started buying these in big glass jars when I get my deli goods – not many brands use olive oil though which is what you need)
  • Tinned Alaskan salmon (fresh salmon in Australia is farmed Atlantic salmon
  • Smoked salmon (though truthfully, I think this is farmed which sucks, I would love to live closer to stocks of wild salmon)
  • Blue grenadier or gemfish (beautiful sweet, white fish varieties)
  • Fresh Prawns
  • Tasmanian scallops
  • Tinned tuna (I only eat this once a fortnight or less due to the mercury content of large fish)

Other great seafood options are lobster, calamari, oysters, octopus, crab and sashimi grade fish. I really want to learn how to cook seafood properly, this is a definite area of weakness for me.

Glorious seafood

Glorious seafood

Meat and Poultry

Good animal protein is a must in my humble opinion. I find my energy levels are much better if I get two serves of animal protein in per day. Not to mention helping me to get those all important amino acids which are crucial for building things such as neurotransmitters. Here’s what I tend to eat:

  • Grass fed beef (it can be difficult to get meat that is both grass fed and finished, most is finished on grain)
  • Free range chicken – mince, breasts with bone in (great for baking), breasts without bone or skin, free range BBQ chicken, Portugese chicken (mmm!)
  • Goat – great for curries and a non-pasta ragu
  • Free range pork products (good cuts are middle bacon, pork belly, pork shoulder with bone in
  • Free range turkey – turkey mince for example makes for great burger patties
  • Lamb – lamb shanks are pretty damn good slow cooked. Of course there’s also sweet lamb chops, rack of lamb and lamb mince for burger patties
  • Bones, for making stock and to make some yummy drinking broth. Beef bones, chicken and pork bones are the ones most commonly used

Snacks

This is another area to concentrate on when getting prepared to switch to Paleo because it’s easy to come undone when there’s no longer a chocolate bar around!

  • Nuts – pecans, macadamias, walnuts, brazils, hazelnuts
  • Fruit – as above, though I tend to stick to low fructose options like berries
  • Coconut butter (this is different to the oil)
  • Coconut chips (warning, these can be addictive)
  • Coconut milk
  • A glass of coconut milk sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Zucchini and root vegetable chips
  • Almond, macadamia and hazelnut butter

Condiments and Miscellaneous

  • Baba ganoush
  • Olives – having a total love affair with olives at the moment. I particularly like to OD on Sicilian olives, I like their distinct apple green hue.
  • Olive tapenade – did I mention I like olives?
  • Almond, macadamia and hazelnut butter as above

Beverages

I’m hardcore, I like herbal tea. Here’s what I find myself sipping day to day:

  • Tulsi Rose tea
  • Yogi tea range – loving Aztec sweet chilli and Hazelnut vanilla
  • Campos coffee – mostly swiss water decaf but I also mix in some organic too. I’ve found that I get a really good quality brew using a simple stainless steel stovetop cafetiere (please please please never use aluminium ones if you want to keep your marbles!) Coffee is most likely not Paleo at all, I’m a deviant at times, what can I say ;p
  • Fresh coconut water. I’m lucky enough to get this occasionally from The Suveran in Bondi Junction. Get a free coconut when you spend more than a tenner. Yum! Though you do get funny looks if you take it away and walk down the street sucking on a big coconut. I have now seen coconut water with no crap added in the aisles of Coles. I froze one and snacked on it just like in the olden days with fruit poppers. Ah, those weren’t the days.
  • Mineral water with fresh lime. No idea why, but I love limes. A lot.
  • Liquor – yes, Paleo is not all boring. Of course, alcohol is strictly not Paleo at all, but like I’ve mentioned before, it’s not much fun to stick to a dogma all the time. My drink of choice is Bombay gin with soda water and fresh lime (maybe a couple of drops of stevia if I’m feeling wild). I know others who make cocktails out of coconut milk and vodka, which I’ll get around to one of these days.
Tasty tasty bevvies

Tasty tasty bevvies

So, you’re thinking of trying Paleo? How to dive right in and keep swimming.

August 11, 2011

That’s great news! Well, there is definitely a lot to learn, but here are my top tips for making the successful transition and maintaining it. I’m not going to lie, it isn’t easy to cover all the bases for a successful transition, especially considering how much misinformation is out there in regards to health and diet. It’s a veritable minefield. There is also a fair amount of effort required to get moving, especially in the early days mentally preparing, getting all your staple products together and starting to cook.

Psychology and Motivation

This aspect of moving to a new diet and lifestyle is absolutely crucial to success. You are what you think, not just what you eat. The first part of this process is making sure that you have a solid understanding of exactly why you are doing this – what are your personal objectives and do you understand the rationale behind Paleo? There is absolutely no point in jumping in if you don’t have solid reasons to do so, and don’t have a good grasp of why Paleo will deliver benefits to you, because it will make it that much easier to slip up and end up in a spiral of self-loathing and doubt. You don’t need a science degree to understand it, much of the writing on Paleo is super-accessible and some is even funny.

Your motivation could be anything – people come to the Paleo side of life for all sorts of varied reasons: it could be for weight loss, to look good naked or for buns of steel, management or reversal of an auto-immune disease or the simple desire to feel healthier to enable you to make the most out of your one life. There are a lot of Paleo testimonials out there (and on Mark’s Daily Apple) – read them for inspiration. Read them again later if you find your motivation flagging.

Fred and Wilma Flinstone

Fred had buns of steel, that's why Wilma loved him.

Now, another important stumbling block for many people starting out is what I term the “all or nothing” view where the potential Paleo adopter freaks out at the thought that these changes are for life and are therefore going to be impossible to maintain for a whole lifetime. It’s so important when you get started not to think this way because then it all seems like a massive mountain you are scaling. This is the reason that programs such as the Whole30 are so popular-  because all they ask is for one month of commitment as an experiment for you to see how you respond to it. 30 days is necessary because it takes time for food toxins to clear from the body (it doesn’t “heppen overnight” as those Pantene ads used to tell us) and for the inflammatory processes going on in the body to calm down. It’s also long enough that when you get to the end of the 30 days, you feel a sense of achievement and a sense that if you can keep it up for 30 entire days, you may just find yourself able to extend to 3 months, a year or even longer.

It’s also important to realise that the tenets of Paleo go against many entrenched beliefs we personally have about nutrition and health, but also those that are trumpeted by the “authorities” we place so much blind trust in. From all the reading I have done, it really is shocking to realise how much we as a public have been misled by those in power. We’re also quite susceptible to marketing that masquerades as authoritative health advice – case in point is Hayley Lewis, former swimmer and Biggest Loser host, telling us to “Live Well” by popping some nurofen…unfortunately, Hayles, ibuprofen can seriously mess with gut health, causing all sorts of health problems. I’m not about to take health advice from you!

And the last major point I want to make here is to focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t eat. This is crucial as it reminds you of the wealth of foods you can still eat – believe me, there are a lot. Obviously, you still need to know what you can’t eat, but this is more so you don’t have accidental slip ups preparing food or eating out. It can be daunting when you start out, because the list of restricted foods looks long and hardcore! But believe me, it isn’t once you remember the variety of foods available that our monopolistic supermarkets aren’t so good at stocking. And the even better news is that a lot of dishes you eat are indeed already Paleo! For example, salads – depending on the ingredients – stews, soups, casseroles, steak and veggies, baked fish…the list goes on.

Homemade basil pesto

Homemade basil pesto - this is a Paleo-ready condiment!

Paleo is more flexible than you may think

I think there is a major misconception out there in the general community about Paleo. It’s not all blood and gore you know, we’re not all walking around with rudimentary tools for capturing that night’s dinner of whole jersey cow!

Prehistoric hunting

Prehistoric hunting

Suprisingly, a lot of people don’t realise that you can meet Paleo guidelines and not ever eat red meat. Yes, it’s true! It’s not really ideal, in my opinion because of the B12 factor I’ve written about before, but many Paleo writers agree it’s possible. The most common variation of Paleo seems to be a “pescatarian” type approach, where seafood is consumed but no other animal meat. There are a lot of great threads about this particular issue over on PaleoHacks if you want to read a bit more.

Glorious seafood

Glorious seafood

Getting Started – Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Ok, so now you’re ready to roll, it’s really important to properly prepare. I would recommend spending 1-2 weeks on this stage to ensure future success. I actually jumped right in, but that was because I already had a lot of the staple products anyway and I snapped when I decided to start Paleo – for some people, that may actually work better than a formal prep period, it all depends on your personality and situation.

Here are my top tips for preparing to make the jump:

  1. Once you have an understanding of what you can eat, write a long list of foods and then go shopping to stock up on the staples.
  2. When shopping, think of Michael Pollan’squote that if you see a product in the supermarket that your great grandmother would probably not recognise as food, then it probably isn’t food. Sorry to all the Space Food sticks fans out there, but that stuff ain’t edible!

    Space Food Sticks

    Space Food Sticks - food?

  3. Think about your lifestyle and commitments. Think about your daily routines and how you will be able to eat healthy while also keeping to your other life commitments – if others such as Sarah Fragoso can do it, so can you. Start reading Paleo recipe blogs and compiling a collection of things you’d like to make and would suit your lifestyle.
  4. Tell your family and friends and ask for their support. Apologise in advance for being a “pain in the butt”, but express how much this means to you. Once they see your good results, they will probably be more supportive and may even be tempted to join you!
  5. If you do a lot of social eating, think about where you can eat out and what sort of dishes you can eat. You’d be surprised at the possibilities, though honestly you will most likely need to make some compromises here and there.
  6. Financially, it can be more expensive to eat this way. But, it’s important to remember that any investment you make now by eating good food, will pay for itself endlessly with a better life for you and will also minimise future health costs. There are plenty of blogs that cover the topic of how to eat Paleo on a budget. It’s not necessary to eat organic –  you may want to eat some items as organic and some as non-organic, it’s up to you. It’s more important to eat the right things and ditch the crap. Also, there’s no need to buy any cookbooks – the web is absolutely teeming with free inspiration.

Once you’re on board

  1. Make things in advance – plan ahead. This will make your life so much easier – it gives you more time to spend on life commitments and fun stuff plus it avoids potential meltdowns when you think you’ve got nothing to eat.

    Cookie dough prepped for rolling

    Cookie dough - I often make double to save myself time

  2. Let go of perfection and ego. This is not a competition. Invoke the 80/20 rule when you need to (provided you don’t have severe intolerances or serious autoimmune disease) – this means that you do have some leeway to make exceptions to Paleo when you have no choice, or when you just feel like relaxing things a little. Be careful, as for some people this is a very slippery slope.
  3. Join Facebook groups and follow Paleo peeps on Twitter to keep up the motivation and inspiration.
  4. Relax! You’re on the right track and are making a great investment in your current and future health.
  5. Have fun with it – start a blog and celebrate your progress. The blog doesn’t have to be the best Paleo blog in the world – it can simply be a marker of your progress and a good way to spread the word amongst your network.
  6. Forgive yourself if you stumble – there’s no gold star for 100% adherence. Just get back on the bike and keep riding!
  7. Explore your neighbourhood or city’s diverse types of grocery stores and health food shops – Chinese, Fijian, grower’s markets, the wacky folks at The Suveran….
The Suveran

The Suveran - crazy in the coconuts, just like me.

Keeping up the momentum

So, you done  a few weeks or maybe a couple of months of Paleo and have seen some good results, though nothing spectacular. You’re wondering “is it really worth all of this effort if I haven’t lost any weight, but my skin is smoother?” Depending on your health status, you may need longer than a month to see results. I did, and I also needed to make some tweaks to get my breakthrough. But, boy am I glad I stuck with it!

Keeping up the momentum involves a few key strategies:

  1. Remind yourself of why you are doing this, as detailed above.
  2. Consult with the Paleo community to find out if there are some tweaks you can make to get even better results. It’s a great, supportive community. My favourite community site is PaleoHacks.
  3. According to Chris Kresser from The Healthy Skeptic, it’s important to identify your weak links to work on those, rather than just strengthening your strong links.
  4. Substitution goes a long way – find things that replace foods you ate previously. A simple example is almond or macadamia butter instead of peanut butter. Sure, it’s more expensive, but so are unnecessary health care bills.
  5. Read blogs for inspiration. There are a helluva lot of good ones out there that are so creative and entertaining to read. There is a good list on the right hand side of this page under “Blogroll”.
  6. There may be people around you who are “Debbie Downers” or are really nitpicky and argumentative, who don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. The best response here is to know your stuff – why you’re doing it, and maintain a thick skin. It’s your life, not theirs’! Thankfully, this hasn’t happened to me but if I ate out more in groups, then it might do. I have heard of people that have real trouble with their families not getting it and not being supportive, I feel for these people because that just makes it all harder. Again, consult the community sites to get tips about dealing with the naysayers, because many people have dealt with this already.

More resources

Here’s a list of the additional resources to help get you on your way.

http://balancedbites.com/useful-guides

http://balancedbites.com/resources

http://huntgatherlove.com/content/start-here-post

http://paleoaustralia.com/about-paleo/how-to-get-started/

I’d love to hear any more tips from readers in terms of how to get started on Paleo and how to keep it up.

Finally, I can report a Paleo success story with my hypoglycemia!

July 10, 2011

I can’t tell you how long I have waited to write a health success story. It was especially frustrating after I started the Paleo diet/lifestyle in February this year and read many, many varied success stories from people who had been on the diet for only a short amount of time and managed to significantly improve their health in myriad ways. I was so disheartened, but knew it was how I wanted to eat since the science and evolutionary logic make sense.

Something I’ve dealt with for a long time, over ten years if not more, is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. I’m not going to delve into the science of it but it basically involved unsteady blood sugar levels leading to a host of annoying and distressing symptoms such as feeling weak, dizzy, cranky, anxious, overeating, disturbed sleep and a hunger so bad I literally wanted to eat my arm one day. I’m not kidding on that last point either – auto-cannabilism was looking promising. I had to carry around small meals with me on some occasions which annoyed me no end. I was doing all the “right” things a hypoglycemic should – eating plenty of quality protein and slow-burning carbs – but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Angry Cat

This is what I felt like dealing with a blood sugar low.

Both my parents were diagnosed with hypoglycemia back in the late 1980s by an “alternative” (yep, totally ironic quotation marks) doctor here in Sydney by taking a specific test to see their response to glucose after fasting for a few hours. I was not interested in subjecting myself to such a test just to get a label that I already knew fit the bill. I tried things such as cinnamon extract and chromium to no avail.

After a particularly bad episode one day on my way home, I was so angry that I went back on to the awesome PaleoHacks site to re-read some hypoglycemia threads I had read of people that resolved their hypoglycemia by eating a high fat/moderate protein/low (LC) or very low carb (VLC) diet. It was after reading these stories that I decided I had nothing to lose by tweaking my diet’s macronutrient ratios and going from there. Well, I can honestly say that from the very first day, I felt different, really different. I had a lot more energy than what I’ve become used to, anxiety is minimal, I don’t feel like collapsing, I’m not afraid of being out of the house for hours without one of those small meals. Oh, and my moods are better too. I’m feeling really confident of taking on the world head-on.  I even had the commonly-reported “low carb euphoria” that many experience once they make this type of change. That was pretty damn cool!

Why high fat?

Fat, specifically saturated fat, has unfortunately been tainted as something to be feared and despised. A great, if heavy-going, book detailing the medical and historical context of this fat-phobia is Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. The result of this fat phobia is that we are consuming much less fat than what we should be. Of course, we have only recently started to be educated in the media about “good fats” such as avocado, nuts and olive oil; and “bad fats” such as trans fats used in fast food and processed baked goods. But what about animal fat that hasn’t been processed? Vegetable oil and seed oils? Surely, vegetable oils are healthy, right? Not necessarily. Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple, lays it all out in simple, jargon-free English in identifying the Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio as the issue in consuming polyunsaturated fats.

Back to the hypoglycemia, this post from Mark’s Daily Apple explains that fat, not glucose, is the superior energy fuel for the human body. And that seems to be why I am doing so well on a high fat diet – my body can now go for hours and hours between meals which is unheard of for me. A lot of the commenters on the PaleoHacks site believe that anyone with a deranged metabolism (hypogylcemics, Type 2 diabetics, the obese) have damaged their metabolism so badly that they now cannot tolerate carbs much at all. That is definitely my experience where I would have a meal of balanced protein and vegetables (which are carbs don’t forget) and literally an hour later, feel my blood sugar drop. My body just reacted badly to the carbs and did not have enough fat.

Why did this happen?

I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect a genetic predisposition (since my parents are both hypoglycemic) and my diet when I was younger. I used to skip breakfast, or maybe eat some corn chips, eat a sandwich for lunch and have fried rice for dinner. Oh, and then there were the binges on wheat biscuits and sweets! Probably from not eating right in the first place. I gather that what this has done has messed up my insulin sensitivity to the point where I don’t tolerate carbs and can’t effectively use them for fuel. So, fat is now my fuel and I feel so much better for it.

What sort of fats am I eating?

For those who are curious or may even be thinking of trying this out, here is a list of the fats I’m eating:

– avocado
– olive oil
– coconut oil
– avocado oil
– macadamia oil
– ghee
– bacon fat (I collect this on a baking tray when I bake full bacon rashers and then use it on veggies at night)
– nuts (watch the omega ratio on these though, walnuts and macadamias are superior choices from what I have read)
– eggs
– fatty meats (eg. lamb)
– coconut chips
– coconut milk
– bacon with the fat
– chicken skins
– oily fish – mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies

Avocado and nuts

Avocado and nuts

Bacon

Bacon!

What else?

I’m really careful with fruits now as they are very high in fructose –  juice is even worse. Berries and green apples are said to be lower fructose so I am happy with that. I also avoid soft drinks and coffee as that sets me on a massive blood sugar rollercoaster which is horrible to experience. I now drink mostly swiss-water-decaf coffee with coconut milk, it’s SO damn good. I still eat “sweet” foods in the form of my chocolate slice and rosemary and hazelnut cookies – both of which use minimal sweetener but are sweet enough for my adapted tastebuds.

I have observed that if I eat high fat/mod protein and very minimal carbs at breakfast and lunch, I can allow some more carbs for the evening meal, though I still need to watch my intake. As long as I set my day up right with high fat intake, I’m good to go for the day!

I don’t know how long I will need to be on this regime for, possibly forever. But I can say, the benefits are worth it, there is no doubt in my mind.

Happy cat: Sooty

I'm a much happier kitty these days.

In defense of organ meats

July 3, 2011

As recently as a generation ago, organ and gland meats such as sheep’s brains, lambs fry (liver) or kidneys were somewhat of a standard fixture on home dining menus across Australia. But more recently, it has taken the influence of hipster chefs such as Ben Millgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz, of Bodega and Porteño fame, to introduce organ and gland meats to a younger crowd of food lovers. Porteño in particular features dishes called “sweetbreads” which make use of different glands, such as thymus, in creating some genuinely unique culinary experiences. I should note here that I am a bit iffy in regards to eating veal, considering how it is produced, so I may not be lining up to try it when I get to Porteño sometime.

As  a gal raised (hur hur) on more ‘palatable’ cuts of meat – think lamb chops and rump steak – I had to get over my squeamishness at the prospect of consuming the liver of another creature. “Why would you do something so ridiculous?” you ask. Well, in my efforts to improve my health, I really needed to look at radical change to my diet. No B.S. “superfoods” such as goji berries were going to cut it. The standard western diet, in comparison to  that of the traditional Japanese diet in particular, is known to be somewhat monocultured in terms of the variety of foods eaten. Sure, we may oooh and aaah at the latest sourdough bread creation, however bread is still bread is still bread right? I don’t think we’re eating enough of a variety of foods (not to mention many are eating things that is just plain wrong for human consumption and are not even food) to maintain good health.

I think many people would be surprised at how deficient they are in absolutely essential nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and B12. Along with resolving gut health to allow for optimal nutrient absorption, a varied diet that includes a range of animal products is the key to getting these nutrient levels up and keeping them up. B12 in particular, is an essential nutrient implicated in depression and dementia, and the best version of B12 for human health can only be obtained from animal products such as liver, beef and, in smaller amounts, eggs. It’s not enough to pop a B12 pill – all nutrients are best obtained from food sources since the food contains important co-factors such as enzymes that allow the nutrient firstly to be absorbed, and secondly, to be effective once it has been absorbed. Good health after all, does not occur in a vacuum. Liver, or lamb’s fry is simply a nutritional powerhouse according to Mark Sisson of popular Primal blog Mark’s Daily Apple.

More about B12

Unfortunately, we live in a world where modern medicine places barely enough emphasis on nutrition as the cornerstone to good health. As such, most doctors will not acknowledge an obvious nutrient deficiency even when it stares them in the face. Instead,  there is too much reliance on the numbers from very basic blood tests which tend to show disease states rather than help to uncover the cause of that disease to connect the dots. With lab tests, the lab ranges are based on people that are sick, rather than healthy, so those lab ranges therefore are not representative of optimal levels of different nutrients.

B12 is a really interesting example of how misguided lab ranges, and the reliance on them, can be. In Australia and the UK, the “normal” range for B12 starts at 200 whereas in Japan – which has some of the lowest rates of Alzheimers in the developed world-  it begins at 500. This means that if you have a B12 level of 240, which can be found to correlate to dangerous symptoms indicating irreversible nerve damage, you will not be investigated for pernicious anemia (a common cause of B12 deficiency) and started on treatment if you live in a country where the range starts at 200. If you lived in Japan, however, you would likely be placed on an aggressive B12 treatment plan of regular injections. Where things get complicated for B12 testing, and the best example of how useless some blood tests can be for a doctor to order, is that if you have taken any B12 whatsoever in the past year, either as a shot, or in a multivitamin, the test will skew the result and show massively inflated levels of B12. What this means for people who need to be especially on the ball with their B12 status – vegetarians, vegans, those with family history of B12 deficiency, poor diet or digestive issues – need to use some more advanced testing options to assess their status and take action from there. Chris Kresser, of The Healthy Skeptic blog, has a great article covering all of this B12 information.

Where to from here?

Since I’m on a high-fat-consumption bender at the moment  (more on that later), I’m really tempted to try sheep’s brains as long as Mum cooks them to an old favourite recipe of Grandma’s that she guarantees me is delicious. Brains in mammals are known to have a high fat content which sounds pretty good to me! I will probably pass on the tripe (stomach lining) though, that might be taking things too far!

One thing I will always steer well clear of is foie gras, which is made in the most disgusting manner possible involving the force feeding of ducks to make their livers fattier, and therefore more tasty to the supposedly ‘refined’ tastebuds of senseless food elitists the world over. It’s good to know that some suppliers are now making humanely-produced foie gras, but of course some purist gastronomes don’t believe it is as tasty as the traditional foie gras. We can only live in hope.

Lamb’s Fry recipe

Here is a really tasty recipe for cooking lamb’s fry (liver) – calf liver can be substituted if lamb is not available.

Ingredients

1/2 kilo lamb’s fry, sliced in 2 1/2cm slices
1-2 brown onions, sliced in to wedges
1/2 red capscisum (red pepper) chopped into 1cm wide slices x 3cm high slices
1-2 tbsp oil
beef stock or stock from bone marrow (this is really tasty but needs to be prepped in advance)
2-3 tsp arrowroot powder (a Paleo-friendly thickener)
pinch of salt

Method

Soak liver for a short time (5-10 mins) in warm salted water and pat dry. Heat 1tbsp oil in a pan, add onions and cook until the onions are golden. Then add capsicum to saute.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the remainder of oil to the pan and add the sliced liver. Brown on both sides, return the onions and capsicum to the pan. Add the pinch of salt.

Add enough stock to cover and simmer until the liver is tender.

To finish, thicken with arrowroot powder and garnish with herbs.

Lamb's fry (liver) with onions, capsicum and gravy

Lamb's fry (liver) with onions, capsicum and gravy