Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Overpowering Stench of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Many corporations, lobbyists and establishments favour the pursuit of money over the health of human beings. I don't often write about it because it's too depressing - but I got a little out of my system in the first Nutshell video and last year's article about HFCS.

I listened to a radio programme on the BBC last week which so effectively exposes the cynical, grasping, manipulative mentality of the pharmaceutical industry, I just had to share it.

Fellow bloggers regularly expose the same issues, but somehow, hearing such a long and detailed exposé from an institution like the BBC, with candid testimonies from former employees, really brought it home. You can read the accompanying news story on the BBC website, or listen to the whole, one-hour program if you have time:... Read more

A Hymn to the Lifestyle: Part 1 - Paleo at its Best

Lately I've realised how much difference to how I feel the level of Paleo adherence makes.

I always knew others chose their own interpretation, but until I'd experienced it myself, the implications were not clear.

From 2007 until early 2009 I was, with the exception of one or two spectacular lapses, pretty much 100%. Last year, things went a little awry.

To some extend inspired by Dr Dan's recent fightback on At Darwin's Table, I thought I'd tell you what I've learned. In part 1: Paleo at its Best.

At its best, it can be transformational. When I am 100% dialled into the Paleo/Primal lifestyle, there are days when I feel fantastic.

Mentally, I am alert and able to think clearly - some of my most inspired and productive moments at work have come on days like this.

My digestion feels brand new - it's as if I've outsourced digestion to someone else, such is the low profile kept by my innards. Intestinal wind seems like a distant teenage memory, like acne or warts. When the need for ablution comes, it does so expectedly, regularly and takes place with such effortless routine that I feel like calling a friend to celebrate.

I feel fit. Not just in a raw, VO2 max sort of way, but in a rounded way. My exercise sessions are brutal, but brief and functional - mainly bodyweight, sprints and swimming - things that feel like they have a purpose. I find myself semi-consciously tailoring the frequency, variety and setting to match a vague notion of the kind of environment I was built to exist in. This is not romanticism, you understand - simply an objective analysis of the most appropriate way to behave if I want to be in tune with my genes.

My joints, muscles and tendons are free from significant stiffness and feel ready to take on a range of demands. When I'm walking to work I look out for tree branches to briefly swing from or steps to jump up to or down from. I almost clutch at the ground with my Vibram Five Fingers, seeking uneven areas on which to relish the stimulus and gain extra traction with the toes.

Elsewhere, the sense of power over my environment is heightened by uncomfortable experiences I happily put myself through. I quickly learn that to feel truly comfortable in my environment I need to experience some hardship. I start my showers cold, moving to hot water only after 30 seconds, then finishing with another 30 seconds of cold at the end. Sometimes I have an opportunity to swim in the wild, where the more extreme cold makes the shower seem like a breeze; it's no fun.... but it is fun, because when it's over, I feel more alive than ever.

Hunger, satiation and my body's hormonal balances seem to be in perfect harmony. Again semi-consciously, I regulate my eating to reflect the imagined availability of food to a hunter gatherer.

I eat more on workout days, because it feels instinctively right. I go into sessions a little hungry and emerge with the righteous appetite of the successful hunter. I spend more time hungry than not. This feels right. I earn my food. I eat slowly, savouring every mouthful.

There's nothing on my mind but the Paleo fundamentals. Animal and vegetable. I fall asleep thinking about roast chicken and daydream about slow-cooked tongue with steamed vegetables.

My mindset is so fundamentally Paleo that overeating is scarcely an issue... and my hunger is so in tune with my requirements that even when I do have a hearty meal, I skip the next one without thinking about it. Once, twice or even three times a week I throw in a 24 hour fast, dealing with the mild hunger with total control - not a cross word in sight. I look forward to dinner, yet do not crave it.

I feel lean, I look lean. I box in front of the mirror. I look stupid, but I feel great.

I get tired early when it's dark, and in the morning I wake up early. My mind is alive with ideas. Sometimes I don't get enough sleep and feel tired - but one day in three I sleep like a log.

I imagine this is how I was meant to sleep. I console myself that whilst modern man may have the luxury of being out like a light for 8 hours, maybe sleeping light, alert for danger, is the truly Paleo way. I learn to function happily on the bad days after poor sleep because I know that on the good days I will be stalking the modern landscape like a panther.

Zzzzzzzzt!...sound of needle scratching off record.

If only this were the reality. Yes, I have achieved Paleo at its best for months at a time; but I have also, especially recently, spent months at a different level. The irony, of course, is that the knowledge of what could be sullies what is. Many would kill to feel as good as I do at the moment; but having felt so much better, I am not impressed. It's not that I don't do everything I described above. I just don't do them all at the same time...

A Hymn to the Lifestyle: Part 2 - Pseudo Paleo
... Read more

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Paleo/Primal by Numbers: Email Template for Friends & Family

Last year a lady I work with asked me about Paleo/Primal as an approach to weight loss. So I gave her the elevator pitch. Well okay, in fact I pinned her down and talked until she developed 'the glaze', then later sent links to various articles, blogs and, of course, the Nutshell video.

A couple of weeks later, she confessed that she'd not read the information. She'd been very busy.

But the truth was, she didn't really want that much detail. Not everyone wants to know why - they just want to know how.

So I agreed to send her an email telling her what to do and skipping the science and anthropology lecture. When I'd finished, it occurred to me that many of you probably find yourselves in the same position with friends and relatives.

So here it is - the Paleo/Primal Friends and Family Email Template - copy it, customise it and send it. I hope it saves you some time.


Dear [name]

As discussed, here is a one-pager which I hope will get you started on Paleo/Primal without daunting you with too much science and history. If you decide to give it a go and have any questions once you get started, just drop me a line.

All the best,


You will be shifting from a high-carb diet, which includes processed foods and sugar, to a low-carb, possibly higher protein, definitely higher fat diet which excludes starchy carbohydrate and sugar.

This will seem counter-intuitive because of the fat makes you fat and causes heart disease dogma which is, take my word for it, a load of crap (I have more info on that if you want it.) This may sound like ‘fake moon landings’ conspiracy theory, but you’ll just have to trust me.

You can shift about 2 lbs a week by sticking to this way of eating. Bear in mind that the first week may see a greater weight loss if your current diet contains more salt.

What to Eat
Meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, salad, fruit (but not too much), nuts, seeds.

What not to eat
Bread, rice, pasta, potato, cereal, wheat, dairy, beans, any processed food, sugar.

The Fat Question
Fat is healthy – even saturated fat. The one type of fat to avoid is vegetable fat. This means margarine, vegetable cooking oils and processed foods that contain vegetable oil. In addition, whilst eating the fat from free-range animals is healthy, eating animal fats from industrially farmed animals is not as healthy. Avoid the latter if you can.

How Much Protein?
Just follow your nose on this one – eat as much meat/fish/eggs as feels natural, but if you are not normally much of a meat-eater you will need to make an effort to eat more. Most people have been conditioned to eat less meat that they should by the regular appearance of brown starchy crap alongside, which displaces those calories.

The Subtleties
If you have to eat dairy, stick to cheese – it’s low carb. Choose free-range meat, non-farmed fish and organic eggs. If I told you what I know about farming processes you’d never eat factory animals again anyway.

Ham is not meat, nor are most of the ghastly packets of sliced stuff peddled by supermarkets.

Don’t guzzle fruit juice. Ideally ditch it. Likewise dried fruit – it’s just proxy sugar.

Drink booze as little as possible, but feel free to have a few glasses of wine when you fancy it. Clearly booze is calories and probably carbs too unless you are on the neat vodka, so just bear in mind that more booze generally affects progress with the weight loss. Don’t get rubbered or you will head for the cakes and blow the lot in one night. Take it from me.

Food Ideas and Cooking Suggestions
It’s quite hard to eat enough fat at first. Here are some excellent sources: extra virgin olive oil, nuts, coconut, avocado, animal fat (don’t cut the fat off free-range meat – it’s good for you!)

Coconut is incredibly healthy. Use coconut oil for cooking instead of vegetable oils. Buy coconut cream/milk in tins and creamed coconut in a block/sachet. Great for cooking as a cream substitute.

Look out for nut butters. Not that you’ll be needing it for bread - I cook with it or put it on the side of the plate with meals; or just eat it by the spoonful as a treat. Mmmm!

In the evening just cook like you would normally cook, but skip the starchy brown stuff. Do more veggies, more meat and eat the fat. Try using extra virgin olive oil generously on your veggies if your meat or fish is lean.

Pudding – fruit/nuts with coconut cream.
Lunch pots for work – tinned fish and salad with avocado. Boiled eggs in salad. Leftovers from the night before, like cold chicken.
Breakfast - scrambled eggs, omelet, fruit, nuts etc. Not cereal – it’s the devil’s work.
Snacks - nuts and seeds are a great way to fill the gap when you are still hungry after a meal or need a snack.

Isn’t this Like the Atkins Diet?
Yes, insofar as it’s a low carbohydrate diet. But Atkins did not care so much what you ate: he just restricted the amount of carbohydrate you could eat. Some people abused this and ate nothing but clotted cream, bacon and one slice of white bread per day, so Atkins got a bad reputation.

Paleo/Primal ensures not only low carb but that the food is consistent with what hunter gatherers ate, which, funnily enough, is nutritionally excellent and what our bodies were designed for.

How Does it Work?
First of all, carbohydrate is not so good at satisfying your appetite and usually causes blood sugar to rise and fall in a short space of time.

Fat and protein, on the other hand, are good at satisfying your appetite. So you naturally eat fewer calories without needing to go hungry all the time.

In addition, there are two other important effects of eating low carb: it inhibits your body’s fat storing mechanisms and promotes your body’s fat burning mechanisms - which funnily enough usually leads to a reduction in body fat!

Exercise is not necessary for the weight loss, but can contribute to success - and of course is good for you!

But don’t do lots of cardio. It simply increases your appetite and makes you crave carbs. Daily, grinding cardio was never something we were built for, and in any case if you are trying Paleo/Primal over just a few weeks then it will definitely sabotage your efforts in an unadjusted body and may affect your energy levels.

By 'unadjusted', I mean this: when you eat low carb for 6-8 weeks, your body’s energy systems re-align to use fat as an energy source; so once you get to that point, doing occasional longer cardio sessions is fine.

To start with, however, short, intense, interval-based exercise is the best companion to the program. For example, 15–30 minutes of weight training, or any activity where you exert maximum effort for short bursts, then rest in between (cycling, sprinting, swimming, circuit training.)

Less is more. Your metabolism works for you through the rest of the day. If you work hard enough, 10 mins is all you need. Ideally, no more that 2-3 times a week.

Don’t obsess about whether you are getting enough of this or enough of that. Just avoid, the bad, focus on the good and it should take care of itself. You instinctively know when you are overeating, so try not do do it too often.

Take solace in the fact that you are doing yourself a lot of good in the process - this is a very healthy way to live: the weight loss is an incidental by-product.

... Read more

Monday, 18 January 2010

Live (ish) Graph of My Body Composition

I've been tinkering with this for a few months and decided today it's ready to publish.

Click on the image, here, or on the link in the right sidebar to go to the chart.

The data is kept online in a Google spreadsheet and streamed directly into the chart image. So when I update online, the chart updates. There are also embedded notes and links to take you to related posts or Twitter entries.

Feedback welcome - does it work okay on your browser? Does the format make sense? Anything else you'd like it to do?... Read more

Monday, 11 January 2010

Making the Most of Animals: Part 3 - Beautiful Bones

[Click on the small pictures in the main story to see larger images]

In part 1 I talked about the value of offal and in part 2 about the value of fat.

In both cases these often discarded treasures are much healthier from animals that have lived a happy life; and although organic, free-range meat costs more, eating rather than discarding these parts can compensate for the additional expense.

In part 3, I am going to tell you about the value of bones. There are three opportunities: making soup from leftover bones, eating what's inside the bones (marrow) and eating the bones themselves.
This applies to smaller animals that can be roasted in the oven. Theoretically I suppose it applies to any animal but since we lack the facilities to spit roast entire hogs, I have no experience with using bigger carcasses in this way. For us, it applies to duck, chicken, rabbit and other poultry such as pheasant or partridge.

At the end of the meal, even the most determined carnivore cannot strip the bones of every morsel of goodness. Believe me I have tried - Mrs M sometimes finds me hunched over the dessicated remains of a roast chicken, mouth and lips surrounded by meat and grease, speculatively gnawing in search of some overlooked morsel of meat.

Here's what we do. After we've used all the easily available meat, we take what's left - usually a collection of bones or a semi-dismantled carcass - and cook it for several hours. I also include the leftover bones from our plates. This may seem unhygienic given we have been chewing on our respective bones - but they are going to be blitzed for hours, so it really isn't.

We break up into smaller parts any pieces that can be, then put them into the slow cooker. The idea is to add just enough water so that the pieces are covered and will remain covered as the water evaporates. We find an extra inch of water is usually enough when we cook overnight.

You can also simmer the pieces in a pan on the stove - but Mrs M was always nervous about leaving a pan on the stove overnight so using this approach we rarely cooked the bones for more than a few hours before bed. This is not really long enough to fully loosen the meat and (as we will see later) soften the bones. With the slow cooker it is easier to set the heat low enough to make overnight cooking appropriate; and it allays Mrs M's fears because slow cookers are self-contained and designed to be left in this way.

To make the soup you could simply sieve the hot liquid and make the soup from that - but you'd lose a lot of the good stuff, in my view. Instead, we first let the contents of the pan cool. Then I methodically remove the bones and gristle with my hands, ensuring we get all the little pieces of meat not already separated by stirring. This can be fiddly, but ultimately it's rewarding. You usually get a few crunchy bits and pieces in the last two spoonfuls of soup, but that's okay.

Here are some photos taken when we made soup from rabbit bones. This was the cooked rabbit: . After the meal, these were the bits left to slow cook , and this was the result after several hours of slow cooking with some stirring to separate the meat from the bones: . These were the bones I picked out and this was what was left . Finally, after some additional ingredients, the soup: . This is how those ingredients are added:

First, I steam some vegetables. Typically this is celery, onion, mushroom, carrot, parsnip or a combination. Once softened, they are added and blended into the mixture. As well as adding flavour, the vegetables thicken the soup - this is particularly important since thin soups are somehow not satisfying, yet the normal thickening agents like corn flour are not on the menu.

Next I add one or more of the following:
  • Coconut water (if I've just opened one)
  • Coconut cream (from a tin)
  • Unsalted tomato puree (we almost always add at least some - it's a good salt substitute)
  • Lime/lemon/orange juice (squeezed from the fresh fruit)
You can see some of this in action with these photos from a wild duck we ate last year. This was the duck after roasting and this was the meal it made . This was the leftover carcass and these are were broken up pieces in the slow cooker . After slow cooking and manual bone removal, these were the separate components: . The contents of the bowl went into a pan and while that heated up an onion was chopped, steamed and added . This was blended and some tomato puree added . In this case, I added the coconut cream cold , threw on a basil leaf, and it was ready to serve: .

When we roasted a chicken last year , creating this fine meal , there was this leftover carcass which went into the slow cooker like this , came out like this , and ended up making a couple of bowls of this: . I think we actually used spinach in that case.

It's usually me who makes these soups, and as I often remind you, I'm no chef. So the choice of ingredients is usually fairly arbitrary and simplistic. I know duck and orange go together, chicken and mushroom is a familiar combo so these usually get paired. Often it depends on what we have in the fridge at the time.

The strange thing is that Mrs M always likes the result. Maybe we are easy to please, and obviously our palates are pretty sensitive when we are eating strictly Paleo; but I am convinced that tomato puree and coconut cream, in the right proportions, are a great, simple base for this kind of soup.

Finally, let's not forget our old friend, crab soup. Last year I ate a lot of fresh crabs, making soup from the leftover shell pieces. Here is a photo of the pieces in the slow cooker: . The fiddly step where you take out the bits from the slow cooked mixture is especially fiddly for crab shell; but crab soup with bits of crab meat included is much nicer than crab soup without, so again, it's worth the effort.
Eat the Marrow
I have read that bone marrow was prized by hunter gatherers, is high in fat and protein and is extremely good for you. However, I have not been able to unearth any of the links... so please add anything you have to the comments.

Either way, it's also very tasty, and often gets overlooked. I have only eaten bone marrow from two sources. First, from lamb leg bones - usually this can be accessed by using a thin fork handle to poke inside the bone, followed by a lot of undignified sucking and banging.

Here are some photos taken last night. We roasted this leg of lamb to make this meal , after which I set about the bone to eat any remaining meat . You can see the marrow in this shot , then here how I managed to scoop it out with the handle of a spoon. I then spend a while sucking and banging the other end, from which eventually I managed to get the rest of the marrow out.

Definitely not one for the restaurant; but worth the effort when you're at home.

Second, from chicken leg bones. Having boiled chicken bones to make soup and separated the bone out , I once wondered whether I could increase the nutritional value of the soup by breaking open the bones and squeezing out the marrow into the soup mixture. This I did with the help of some pliers . It was quite an effort.

Later, I realised this was not necessary because instead I could simply...
...Eat the Bones
The arrival of the slow cooker meant we were cooking the bones for 8 hours or more. I noticed that when I was removing bits of meat from the bones with my hands, the bones would sometimes crumble. So I tried eating one - and lo, it was good. The texture was crumbly - rather like the bones in tinned salmon or sardines. It felt fine to eat them.
Here are a couple of fine, recent meals I made of complete slow-cooked chicken carcasses . There was nothing left at the end. The middle parts of the larger bones were a little harder to chew, but this only applied to one or two.

I've only ever eaten chicken bones. It may be equally possible with the other animals we roast but I've not tried yet.

Anyway, you won't be surprised to learn this is a step too far for Mrs M. However, recently I introduced bones to her diet by stealth, by making...
...Soup and Bones Together
When the bones are this soft, you can throw them into the blender. The result is a soup that requires no thickening. With the standard coconut cream and tomato puree base it makes pretty good eating. Depending on your tolerance for crunchy bits, you may wish to do more blending than me. I was happy with a 60-second blast but Mrs M was driven to return hers to the blender for a further three 60-second blasts and was still not entirely happy.

I am convinced feathers are coming into fashion any day now. I just need to convince my boss and my social circle of this, then I can truly make the most of poultry ;-)

See Also:
Making the Most of Animals: Part 1 - Wonderful Offal
Making the Most of Animals: Part 2 - Glorious Fat
... Read more