Saturday, 31 January 2009

Paleo Chocolate Mousse - The Recipe Challenge

There is a famous episode of the the Morecambe and Wise Show, a UK comedy production from the late 60s and 70s, in which André Previn guest stars. Eric Morecambe repeatedly frustrates the renowned conductor, musician and composer by playing a childish ditty on the piano at a crucial moment in the Grieg piece he is conducting. Finally, Previn comes over to remonstrate with Morecambe.

"You're playing all the wrong notes!"

Morecambe looks away and bares his teeth, before taking Previn by the collar.

"I'm playing all the right notes," he says, "but not necessarily in the right order."

The full clip is embedded at the end of the post.
Bloody Mindedness
So what has this to do with a recipe challenge? Whenever I have some new baking recipe idea, I think of this punchline. I know what the ingredients should be, but rarely have any clear idea of the quantities. There have been countless instances of experimentation gone wrong, with the end result being regarded as inedible by everyone else, leaving me to doggedly work through the entire batch out of a combination of bloody mindedness and greed.

I use all the right ingredients, but not necessarily in the right amounts.

So - I believe I know the ingredients for a fantastic Paleo orange chocolate mousse. I was about to attempt to make it yesterday when I realised the likelihood of immediate success was low. If an infinite number of monkeys were put in an infinite number of kitchens with the ingredients I have in mind, then one of them would come up with the perfect result; but I have only one kitchen and a distinct shortage of monkeys.
For someone like me with little or no innate grasp of baking, good recipes evolve through many iterations of trial and error - and I have not the time or patience to embark on such a project at the moment. Moreover, in the likely event that Mrs M deems the output of my early efforts to be unacceptable, I will doubtless find myself troughing through the lot in a single sitting, which would not be good for my current program of Christmas fat reduction, even if the ingredients are technically Paleo. Readers who recall my Paleo apple crumble experience will know what I mean...
The Challenge
So - I am appealing to all you readers who have a baking instinct honed over the years, to suggest the proportions in which the following ingredients might be combined to make a wonderful Paleo orange chocolate mousse. That way I reckon we can beat the odds and get pretty close on a first attempt.

Here are my proposed ingredients:

- Cocoa powder
- Coconut oil or Coconut cream (the solid block form)
- Chestnut flour or almond meal
- Freshly squeezed orange juice

The chestnut flour is sweet, so that would be my preference (plus I have some already!) The almond meal might not be sweet enough but I am thinking the orange juice ought to take care of that. I find coconut cream and cocoa powder tend to bring out the sweetness in a mixture, so perhaps it could still work with almond meal.

I am looking forward to your ideas - in the meantime, here is a video clip of the Morecambe and Wise comedy sketch. If you have not seen it before (this can't possible include anyone in the UK!) then it's definitely worth a watch.

See Also:
Paleo Apple Crumble and the Chestnut Tojan Horse - Bending the Rules to Breaking Point
... Read more

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Wheat Experiment - Blood Test Update

A week ago I received the results of my latest blood test. I had been eating wheat-based products for two weeks prior to the test, to test the theory that my supposedly abnormal readings were only considered abnormal compared to a population that eats a different diet.

In Doctors and Nutrition Part 2 - My Wheat Experiment, I explained why I thought this might make a difference based on a chapter in Dr Eades' The Protein Power Life Plan. In fact I contacted Dr Eades via his blog and he kindly gave his opinion, which you can also see in the post. Since then I have started reading Dangerous Grains, where there is even more compelling detail about the impact grains can have on the immune systems of those sensitive to its proteins.

Here's what I was eating for the first 14 days in January:

With lunch - a large tablespoon of wheatgerm.
With dinner - a slice of bread.
On the final evening before the test - a gigantic naan bread.

If my hypothesis was correct, my reversion to a diet that included wheat should have produced a significant change in the readings.
Wheezing Throng
My test was just over a week ago on Thursday. Having offered up several vials of blood and waited for over an hour amongst the jaundiced, wheezing throng of the oncolgoy waiting room, I was called to see my specialist. I mean no offence to sick people, by the way - but it's only natural to feel a little out of place when, like me, you consider yourself a well person being treated like a sick one.

My specialist's opening gambit was how pleased he was to see an increase in the neutrophil count. As a result of this, he said, we could wait 4 months until the next test (this time it had been 2.) I left the consulting room a few minutes later, happily clutching my freshly printed results.
I am sure the irony of our mutual pleasure is not lost on you - he thinks it's good news because my counts are closer t0 'normal' which means I am healthier, whereas I think it's good news because my raised counts indicate I have forced my immune system to respond to a substance that is doing me harm, thus proving his perspective is flawed.

Since then I have dug out my test results from the last 3 years and plotted them on the graphs you see below and at the bottom, When I first looked at these, I was disappointed. My initial pleasure at learning there had been an increase in neutrophils was tempered by the context of that increase. The count may have gone up by 10% in 2 months, but that's not a lot when you consider they had fallen by over 30% in the preceding 6 months. It could simply be natural variation.

Drunken Rampages
Then I looked again at the white cell and neutrophil charts again and thought about what I had been doing over that period - at which point it hit me: I went Paleo in November 2007. So I added a marker on the chart to show where this happened. Notice, by the way, that the white cell and neutrophil counts pretty much follow each other, which I am told is not unusual because neutrophils are basically a type of white cell.

As I said in the other post, I was never a big bread eater: but I did eat it on occasion, and since it is in my nature to binge, I suspect that on those occasions I consumed a lot. I must confess to hazy recollections of drunken rampages through London cake shops in 2006 and 2007. Only when I went Paleo did this stop abruptly - until the first two weeks of January this year.

Now the readings make more sense: you could argue that the two successive declines in 2008 were a result of my entirely bread-free diet taking effect. The small reversal in direction seen in the latest results for neutrophils and white cells could be a result of the two weeks of wheat consumption.
As a footnote, the specialist also told me he had sent away my most recent sample for some additional tests - one to look at the nutrient profile and another to look at something called PNH.

The nutrient profile test was no doubt his response to our conversation at the previous appointment when I did some gentle probing to assess his receptiveness to the outlandish idea that diet may somehow affect the way our bodies function and therefore be impacting my results. We'll see what comes back from that, but if it's anything like the conversations I have had with other specialists and doctors, he will simply tell me my vitamin profiles look fine, so diet is not the issue.

PNH I don't know much about, but I gather it can potentially confirm the diagnosis of aplastic anemia, something which, as I've said before, I consider to be a euphemism for low blood counts we can't explain. Perhaps there is a subset of people with unexplained low blood counts who genuinely have a problem - and perhaps this PNH test would be positive for such people. When I get the results from this I will dig a little more to understand its significance.

Also of interest might be the sudden jump in platelets (see chart at the bottom) - I have no idea what connection, if any, there might be there, but in any case I will ping Dr E and (if he has time) get his view on the readings.
So what will I do in April? I will probably remain 100% strict with my diet until then to see whether my readings come back down. If they do, no doubt my specialist will be less happy and I will be summoned for another test 2 months later, leading up to which I will guzzle even more wheat than last time to see if I can play my readings like a piano.

Clearly there is little scientific substance to my experiments - my conclusions are surely a result of rampant confirmation bias and have little or no statistical value; but in the context of a medical profession with an almost willful lack of interest in how diet affects disease, I can't see I have much to lose...

See Also:
High Carb Feasts Could Help You Sleep
Doctors and Nutrition Part 1: My Yellow Skin Mystery
Doctors and Nutrition Part 2 - My Wheat Experiment
Doctors and their Good Intentions: the Blood Test Fiasco Continues
[Blood Test Update in Post on Weight Loss]
High Carb Feasts and Sleep - a Failed Attempt... Read more

Saturday, 17 January 2009

High Carb Feasts and Sleep - a Failed Attempt

Last week in High Carb Feasts Could Help You Sleep I put forward the hypothesis, based on my gluttony episodes over the festive season, that going to bed with a belly full of carb-laden, tryptophan-rich food could represent one big timed-release sleep aid. For reasons I will give in a moment, I had an opportunity on Wednesday night to test the hypothesis further.

On Thursday I was due for my latest scheduled blood test to assess the status of various counts in the context of a supposed condition, aplastic anemia. I had been eating wheat-based products daily for just over two weeks leading up to the test, to see whether this would make any difference to the results - I explain more about this in Doctors and Nutrition Part 2 - My Wheat Experiment. I am pulling together the results from the last few years into a chart to provide context and will post about the results in a day or two.
Elephant's Ear
Since Wednesday night was the last night before the test, I decided to have a good dose of wheat just to be sure. Conveniently, I was eating at an Indian restaurant that night and this afforded me the opportunity to combine business with pleasure by ordering a garlic naan the size of an elephant's ear instead of my normal salad. The more astute amongst you will recognise the signs of classic dietary rationalisation. My resolve has not yet returned to its normal iron-like state after the festive indulgences so I allowed my weaker self to be convinced that this was necessary despite having previously determined that a lower daily dose of wheat was appropriate.

Regardless of the necessity of guzzling this pizza-sized, reeking slab of dough, it provided me with most of the necessary ingredients to replicate my supposed sleep-inducing meals - a large amount of tryptophan-rich poultry (I also had a half roasted chicken) and a large amount of carbohydrate.
Another tryptophan-rich food I had consumed as part of my Christmas feasts was chocolate. I certainly had no intention of re-visiting the kind of sugary nasties I had been eating a few weeks prior, but as luck would have it we had in the house a block of unsweetened chocolate Mrs M had bought on a whim for cooking. This I consumed voraciously, with Mrs M just managing to muscle in to acquire a small piece for herself. It's actually rather nice - or at least I found it nice as someone whose taste buds are not daily dulled by sugar-laden junk.
Worst Night's Sleep in Months
Did I sleep well? No. In fact, ironically, I had one of the worst night's sleep in months. As usual, a few hours of solid sleep gave way to the familiar broken, restless slumber. There is a small amount of caffeine in chocolate, but the fact that the problems were later in the night suggests this was not the issue. A counter argument would be the timed-release idea that forms part of the hypothesis, but as I say, the amounts in chocolate are small.

I don't intend to turn this into a Seth Roberts style self-experimentation series, not least because I am simply not willing to subject myself to these foods regularly. The Wheat Experiment was probably a one-off and after that and the festive season, I feel like a several-month run of strict Paleo is called for.
However, the one difference that stands out between the recent test and the feasts over Christmas is dairy. Milk is a tryptophan-rich food, and over the festive season my feasts invariably culminated in some kind of dessert with lashings of cream, custard or both. My recent naan, chicken and chocolate event, did not. Perhaps at some point in the future I will take the opportunity to continue this entirely unscientific research...

See Also:
High Carb Feasts Could Help You Sleep
Doctors and Nutrition Part 2 - My Wheat Experiment
... Read more

Saturday, 10 January 2009

High-Carb Feasts Could Help You Sleep

Over Christmas I slept better than I have for months - in several cases sleeping for a full 8 hours. This was followed by at least 30 minutes of blissful dosing, the like of which I have not experienced since I was a bone-idle student with nothing to worry about except which bar I was supposed to attending that night.

I also had more episodes of carb-laden gluttony than for several years. If you are interested in the gory details, I posted about the first one a couple of weeks ago (Paleo Apple Crumble and Gluttony) and alluded to the additional lapses last week (When does Intermittent Fasting become an Eating Disorder.)

Of course it's very hard to separate out the potential factors - unless I had sought out and somehow monitored a parallel universe. Assuming you believe in the theory that there are an infinite number of parallel universes in which all possible scenarios are being played out, there is presumably another one in which parallel Methuselah remained strictly Paleo over the holiday and is not currently lugging round an extra 2% body fat like a flack jacket.
Another potential factor is stress: the festive season saw me take one of the longest complete breaks from what is normally a very busy work life. I typically have a lot of work-related challenges in my head and my brain has the disappointing habit of firing itself up one or two hours before I would like.

One other factor to mention is alcohol. I was drinking a glass or two of wine with these large meals, but not continuing to drink afterwards. This is something I periodically do with normal Paleo meals, some of which were pretty large last year, but the absence of any special sleep experiences at those times probably rules out that angle.
In spite of the potentially confounding factors, I was sufficiently sure that diet had played a role to do some Googling. One of the reasons for my conviction was that the nights where my sleep had been best were those directly following the 4 or 5 large meals - in spite of going to bed with a painfully full stomach, something you would expect to make sleeping harder. The rest of the time I was either fasting of sticking to largely hunter gatherer fayre.

My theory was that the toxins from the food were somehow slowing down my system and making me sluggish. In the morning when my brain kicked the throttle, there was a sputtering sound followed by silence. As I slept on, old Brainy would periodically have another go, only finally achieving success when the normal waking mechanisms on which I so rarely normally call, had overcome the sluggishness.
Tryptophan and Serotonin
Not surprisingly, I found little or no support for such a vague hypothesis - but I did find this article on talking about the use of tryptophan as a sleep aid. Apparently a 2005 study found that tryptophan-containing foods taken before bed with carbohydrates had 'improvements on all measures of sleep'. Tryptophan, it turns out, is used by the body to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter released by the body to make us feel sleepy.

I was unable to track down the study but was happy to take it at face value for the purposes of my investigation. Has anyone else seen it around? Use the comments to let us know if so!

A visit to Wikipedia told me that foods particularly rich in tryptophan are chocolate, oats, bananas, durians, mangoes, dried dates, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, sesame, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, and peanuts.

I have highlighted some foods because it immediately struck me that my large meals had very much centred around them. Festive meals usually feature a meat, poultry or fish dish and in our case it was no different; and my Paleo instincts naturally drove me to eat plenty of whichever animal was on offer. Of course I then ignored those instincts at the dessert course, where I consumed copious quantities of things like cheesecake, washed down with custard or cream. As we know, many desserts are egg-based and custard and cream could be considered synonymous with milk for the purposes of this discussion.
Timed Release Sleep Aid
So - my meals were comprised mainly of tryptophan-rich foods and were also high in carbohydrates, such as sugar and flour. If we believe the article then this was the perfect recipe for sleep. Add to that the sheer size of the meals and you have one big timed-release sleep aid - my morning slumbering could in fact have been a result of the continued digestion of the meal.

However, even if I did have access to parallel universes (or a medical trials unit!) for the purposes of researching this issue, I am not sure it would be of much help to know that my hypothesis is right. Much as I enjoy sleeping well and get frustrated by my sleep-hindered gym progress, I cannot see a way to easily adapt my festive behaviour to work in a day-to-day context. I already eat a lot of meat in the evening along with a fair amount of vegetables which are, or course, carbohydrate. So the missing components would seem so be the very ones my hunter gatherer principles would not allow me to regularly consume.

In any case, right now I am still reluctantly eating a slice of bread and tablespoon of wheat germ powder each day as part of my Wheat Experiment, so perhaps I am less receptive than normal to experimentation that would disrupt my preferred diet. Perhaps it is something to think about again in a few months...

See Also:
Paleo Apple Crumble and the Chestnut Tojan Horse - Bending the Rules to Breaking Point
When does Intermittent Fasting become an Eating Disorder?
Doctors and Nutrition Part 2: My Wheat Experiment
... Read more

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Easter Weekend Food, April 2010

I am not posting this on the front page, as I don't want to talk about it. One binge too many. I'm sick of hearing myself bitch about it. But it needs to be documented and linked to from the body composition graph, to explain the huge spike in my weight. So if you are reading this, it's probably via that link that you got here. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as we enjoyed the eating.

Crispy duck

various Chinese dishes

Cherry pie and custard

cheesecake, banoffee cake and clotted cream

Apple and raspberry turnover with double cream

Beef burger with melted cheese, ketchup and mayo

Instant noodles with masses of grated cheese
... Read more

Primal Community Meals

These images come from Twitter and TwitPic in real time... simply tag your Tweets with #primal and include in them a TwitPic photo of your meal and it will appear here! Rollover the images to see who posted them and to link to their Twitter page.

If you hit the more button and nothing happens, Twitter has probably run out of Tweets!
... Read more

Paleo/Primal in a Nutshell Videos

I created these to give 5-minute summaries of the principles behind Paleo / Primal living and provide lighthearted, but impactful introductions.

Note that in order to cover the topic succinctly and compellingly, it was necessary to overlook some of the subtleties of the topics. For example - there have been some culture-specific adaptations to dairy, yet this is not reflected in the Food video. Likewise, some hunter gatherers 'persistence hunt' which is, in effect, a long, aerobic exercise session - yet this is not reflected in the Exercise video.

Part 1: Food

Part 2: Exercise

Part 3: Sunshine
... Read more

Body Composition Graph

How to Interpret the Chart

Hover over the flags to see notes on some of the significant weight changes... then on any links in the small box that pops up to see the Twitter or blog posts I wrote at the time.

You can scroll to the left using the scroll bar under the chart to see older data.

I update the online data every few weeks or so.


Each night I am at home (and sober enough) I weigh myself on a set of Tanita scales. I've been doing this since 2005. You may say this is a little obsessive, and you'd probably be right.

The scales have metal plates to measure the electrical resistance through the body, the facility to enter your height and, obviously, they also weigh you. After a few seconds the readout indicates the percentage of your weight that is fat - I believe it uses tables of data based on population averages to infer this.

The percentage fat reading is subject to fluctuation. Room and skin temperature have an effect, as do hydration levels. There may be other factors.

The weight reading is subject to fluctuation too. Hydration levels, recency of bowel movement and water retention (due to fluctuating salt intake) are the three main factors I have observed. The steadiness of the weight line it's a good indication of how regulated (and usually how healthy) my life has been over a given period.... Read more

My Meals

These images come from my Twitter feed and TwitPic account in real time... rollover the images to see a description of the food or click on the image to see a bigger version.

Since I stopped blogging in November 2010, I may not Tweet meal photos as often, so here is a page of meals from August-November 2010 to give you an idea of the kind of food I eat.

If you hit the more button and nothing happens, Twitter has probably run out of Tweets!
... Read more


The Paleo / Primal Lifestyle
The Palaeolithic Lifestyle, Diet and Fitness - My Guest Post on Fitness Spotlight
The Hunter Gatherer Lifestyle: One Religion, Several Bibles
Transitioning to a Paleo Diet - Guest Post on 'Straight to the Bar'
First 2 Weeks of Transitioning to Paleo Diet: A Case Study (Guest Post)
Transitioning to a Paleo Diet Case Study - 3 Month Update
A Hymn to the Lifestyle: Part 1 - Paleo at its Best .... Part 2 - Pseudo Paleo

Personal Hygiene
How I Ditched the Chemicals in my Bathroom Cabinet
Ditching the Bathroom Chemicals - Update

Fasting, Bingeing and Appetite
Paleo Apple Crumble and the Chestnut Tojan Horse
High-Carb Feasts Could Help You Sleep
Paleo Binges and Christmas Carb Fests: Body Composition Update
Sugar Rampage Demonstrates How Alcohol Kills Self Control
Nuts - Best Friend or Worst Enemy? Body Composition Update
The Key to Beating a Binge or Habit: Creating Something to Lose
When does Intermittent Fasting become an Eating Disorder?
Gain Half a Stone in 48 Hours... and Lose it in 10 Days
Celebration Turns into 6-Day Junk Food Rampage Part 1 ... Part 2
Warrior Paleo Experiment & the Many Faces of Fasting
How Nostalgia Shapes our Food Fantasies
The Three-Day Binge Recovery Plan
The Anatomy of a Binge - and Why I Need to get Ill
Intermittent Binging - Could it be Good for You?
Entering the Arena of the Unwell
The Great Buffet Abuse Tour

Weight Loss
Exercise WILL Make You Thin - if You Really Want it to
Diet and Exercise Not the Most Important Weight Loss Factors

Health and Diet, General
Emotional Eating and the Modern Diet - Which Caused Which?
The Immunity Crunch - are You Treating Your Health like a Credit Card?
My Vitamin D Deficiency - a Salutary Lesson
How I got My Vitamin D into the Sweet Spot
Supplements - What I Take and Why
Making the Most of Animals: Pt 1: Wonderful Offal ... Pt 2: Glorious Fat ... Pt 3: Beautiful Bones
Battling the Coffee Demon
7-Day Virtually Zero-Carb Experiment

Organisations and Establishments
Cigarettes, Sugar and our Innate Short-Termism
Are we Underrating the Anecdotal?
The Worst Sugar Pushers of all - Health Food Stores
HFCS, the Little Man and Big Business ... Part 2 - Making a Difference
UK Supermarket Redefines the Word 'Healthy'
Fordhall Farm - the Future of Farming?

Role the Dice (first blog post!)
We’re all Junkies
When it comes to Nutrition, the Glass is Half Empty
Cone Theory and the Mystery Doctor
The Professor Diet - Eat All the Junk You like ... Pt 2: Healthy Junk Food ... Pt 3: No Shortcuts!
The Great Cake Porn Tour
... Read more


Five Great Health and Nutrition Quotes
Five Great Longevity Quotes
Five Great Quotes about Doctors and Medicine

Spoof Articles
'The Roman Box' Allows you Eat Without Digesting
The Amputation Diet
The 5 Least Likely New Year Resolutions for 2009
High-Carb, Grain-Based Diets could be Secret to Longevity
The Hair Colour Diet
The Tapeworm Diet

These videos have a serious message, but are funny too...
Paleo/Primal in a Nutshell Part 1: Food - English Spanish German Dutch
Paleo/Primal in a Nutshell Part 2: Exercise - English Spanish
Sometimes a video is worth a thousand words... (Tom Naughton's original short video)

How Five Fingers Turned Me into a Transvestite
Letters from a Caveman
How Paleo/Primal are You? Answer these 8 Questions to Find Out...
Tough Love - Reasons not to Quit You don't Normally Hear... Read more

My Comments on Other Blogs

Since Backtype stopped the widget from working that was powering this page (without bothering to tell me) there won't be any comments here until I can find an equivalent that works...... Read more