Where’s My Sandwich?! Fun with Testing Blood Glucose

Photo of European-style sandwich from Kitson and Co Sandwiches Toronto Canada

I just finished Gabrielle Hamilton‘s excellent memoir Blood, Bones and Butter, and this part made me wince knowingly:

“We’d better start to make our move. I’m going to need to eat soon.” People who know me well understand fully what I am saying when I suggest that I am working an appetite and that we’d best be making our move. This means it is time to hit the road before my blood sugar—what’s left of it—crashes to that point where I’m going to ruin your fucking day. My friends dive into their pockets, backpacks, and purses and proffer any peanut, energy bar, lint-covered M&M that they can lay their paws on, because friends are great like that. They can see what’s happening, from where they are standing, before you can.

We’ve all felt “hanger”—that special kind of irritability that crops up when you’ve gone too long without a meal or snack and, as a result, makes civility toward your peers feel close to impossible.  Hanger is probably in my top five most frequent emotions. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. In my weak defense, I’d say that over the years I’ve at least learned to waylay my hanger by stashing meat bars and plantain chips in my backpack and asking for a snack break before I start seeing red and flipping tables. Nevertheless, this description of hanger hit home.

About six months ago I started to reevaluate what I was eating for breakfast because I was noticing that I regularly crashed while making the daily sandwich par at Cured. Aside from the unpleasantness I felt, I’d also noticed my managers’ gently whispered offers of snacks around 10am, when The Hanger usually strikes. As touched as I was by their perceptiveness, it was clear the oatmeal+coconut oil+turkey bacon breakfast was failing me and I needed to try something else.

I switched to eating just protein and fat (usually eggs, meat, avocado) and noticed markedly better mornings. Not only was I not crashing mid-morning, but I had enough energy to work through lunch without feeling like I was going to snap. But was eliminating carbs or eliminating oatmeal, specifically, the key?

About a month ago, I read Robb Wolf’s Wired to Eat and learned about the 7-Day Carb Test, a tool to help figure out which carbs work best for you. Coach Mike at Barbell Strategy offered to buy a glucometer for the gym so we could become guinea pigs, test how we react to various carbs and share our experiences.

As the pioneer tester, I picked and ate seven different carbs, and took blood samples to test my blood glucose two hours after the meal. The results were surprising and gave me a pretty on-point picture of why certain carbs sink me mere hours later. To be clear, I still eat a good amount of carbs because I feel better and perform better, but the breakthrough here was learning which carbs have a positive or neutral impact on my blood glucose and which make it go haywire.

Read the full post.

 

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Thank goddess we finished, AKA Week 3 of the Virgin Diet

My girlfriend and I completed week three of Phase 1 of The Virgin Diet the other week, and let’s just say that it resembled those people who pull themselves over the finish line at the end of a marathon, gasping and shaking and probably crying—it’s still an admirable feat but you hate to think about what would have happened if they’d had to run one more mile. crawling

By week three, we had our meal planning and cooking down, so it was basically just a psychological battle to not cheat and stick with the plan. But morale was low and we were both pretty done with the whole thing. And I may have had beer a night early I AM HUMAN LET ME LIVE.

Anyway, I was glad nevertheless that I tried this experiment because there were a lot of great takeaways and new habits that I know I can make stick, even as I’m back to drinking beers and eating ice cream.

Double your recipes. Like, actually do it too, and not kinda, like I used to. Then you’ve got dinner and tomorrow’s lunch taken care of.

Pick one cookbook at a time to pull recipes from. If the thought of meal planning overwhelms you because you don’t feel like checking Pinterest, Mark Bittman’s Twitter feed, Nom Nom Paleo and your backlog of Cooks Illustrated… that makes sense. For this three-week experiment, Kait and I borrowed the companion The Virgin Diet cookbook and pulled all of our recipes from there. Not only did this speed up meal planning but then we didn’t have to remember where we got a recipe from—two big psychological wins that got us to do this every week. Also, most cookbooks have recipes for all meals and all situations, so as long as you pick a comprehensive one (Practical Paleo is my current one), that’s all you need for a few weeks.

Cook carbs in bulk. Usually by the time I cook my meat and roast a vegetable, I’m done with cooking. One way to I tricked myself into incorporating compliant carbs with every meal was roasting a bunch of baked potatoes at once or cooking a whole pot of rice. Then I just grabbed a portion from the fridge when mealtime came around. This trick really only works if you’re a stubborn old goat like me who doesn’t mind eating the same thing four or five meals in a row, but of course, you can scale the quantity of what you cook each time so that you don’t end up with too much. Know thyself.

Grocery shop together. MUSHY LOVE ALERT: I love grocery shopping and don’t mind doing it on my own, but it was a real treat to shop with Kait. Since we were “in this together,” getting our weekly grocery haul together became part of our weekend routine and it was fun and made us both feel invested in what we were cooking and eating. Elimination diets are for lovers! Sidenote: Kait and I have been using AnyList since we started living together and it’s awesome. You can share the lists you create and it automatically updates it whenever either of you add or delete items so that you both have the same list and get everything you need, no matter whose turn it is to go to the store.

Mix it up. Since eggs were a no-go on this diet, I was forced out of my eggs-for-breakfast rut, which ended up being a refreshing and needed change. It seemed like a general theme of The Virgin Diet is that always eating the same, specific foods can build up inflammation and lead to sensitivity. Eggs hadn’t been a problem for me in the past, but after eating them every day for almost a year and half and then completely stopping for three weeks, I realized that they probably were a likely source of digestive problems. But because it took so long for the sensitivity to manifest itself, I didn’t even consider eggs as a possible culprit.

And from a nutritional perspective, you might not realize what other essential nutrients you might be missing by eating the same thing all the damn time. Cookbooks are also helpful for breaking up these routines and getting a variety of foods in; again, just use one cookbook at a time to keep it simple though.

Anyway, moral of the story is to not become totally dependent on certain foods, especially ones that are known to be commonly inflammatory.

Anything can be breakfast. Basically, the standard American breakfast is banned during this elimination diet, which caused Kait a real moment of panic: “What will I eat for breakfast??” 1380015976313.cachedI know it feels gross at first to eat “non-breakfast” food for breakfast—as a former cereal junkie, I’ve been there—but start gradually and pretty soon, it’ll be just another meal. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE typical American breakfast food, but I definitely feel better when I treat it like lunch and dinner. And once you’re accustomed to “new breakfast” (and if you’re also a stubborn old goat), you can triple your recipes and rotate leftovers for each meal.

In closing

They say it takes 21 days to make a habit stick (though apparently that timeframe may actually be longer), and as I pointed out above, there were some great habits that came out of this elimination diet experiment. While let’s just say that I’m not planning to do this again any time soon (JJ Virgin advises doing an elimination and retesting at least once a year!), being forced to stick to a pretty strict diet definitely forces you to be more organized and efficient, as well as try new foods and take a break from the less-than-healthy ones—all worthwhile outcomes in my book.

We’re doing it wrong AKA Week 2 of the Virgin Diet

Kait and I started Week 2 of our elimination diet last week raring to go. We’d checked out the accompanying Virgin Diet cookbook from the library, so we were able to compose a week-long meal plan using a bevy of compliant recipes, and then we hit Whole Foods and Sprouts to stock up on groceries for the week. With all of this preparation, you’d think we’d have nailed Week 2. You’d be wrong.

By day 2, we were already behind schedule, since neither of us prepped food the night before or got up early to cook our lunches for the day. I don’t know what we were thinking—like we were really going to cook two meals per night after working all day, working out, etc.? Like we were really going to do some serious cooking before work? Hell no. Last week I ended up grabbing ingredients for big salads at the Sprouts near my work (greens, sardines or tuna, veggies, avocado or nuts) since I had no lunch to bring, and I think Kait ate random things like a can of tuna and an apple. Because we blew off our planned lunches for almost the entire week, we had plenty to eat for dinner, but by then, Kait was famished and I was bummed at how poorly this was all playing out.

And then I finally understood what it actually means to plan ahead and double recipes so you have leftovers for lunch. This is what pretty much every healthy eating advocate advises because they KNOW that no one has time to cook twice a day, and even though I got this concept, I was completely failing at putting it into practice. I don’t know if I balked at grabbing double of all ingredients because of sticker shock (even though you spend less in the long run) or feeling weird about ordering huge quantities of meat or what, but bottom line is that because I never doubled my ingredients, we never had enough leftovers for both of us. I mean, duh, but people usually don’t fail because of good intentions.

So this week when I mealplanned, I did it right and doubled everything. And then we actually bought double of everything. And last night, we had ridiculous amounts of lentil/sausage/kale stew to bring for lunch today. AND, I forgot the best part—we had to plan half the number of meals as last week because lunch is always what we had for dinner the night before. It’s like a win-win-win-win: less planning, less thinking, less cooking, plenty of eating.

So here’s what’s on the menu for this week:

  • Sunday: lentil, sausage and kale stew
  • Monday: chicken sausage and kraut/leftover lentil stew/rice pasta bolognese
  • Tuesday: leftover lentil stew w/ avocado/rice pasta bolognese/pork chops
  • Wednesday: sweet potato hash/leftover pork chops/cilantro turkey burgers
  • Thursday: leftover sweet potato hash/leftover turkey burgers/steak salad
  • Friday: sausage and kraut/leftover steak salad/dinner out
  • Saturday: turkey avocado rollups/gluten test meal/dinner out

Hopefully by this time next week, we’ll have been deliriously successful at Week 3 and cooked all of our meals and had plenty to eat for lunch every day and have a realistic template for future meal planning. HOPEFULLY.

Paleo hiking

This past weekend was the first time I did a big hike while eating paleo, and I was a little apprehensive10641194_10101041323576017_6243030402734192132_n about fueling adequately since the last time I did a 14er was when I was 17 and definitely eating all of the carbs. Back in the day, it wasn’t unlikely that I would have at least two bagels, granola bars, PBJs and gorp during the course of a one-day hike. Now that I’m not eating that stuff AND doing this elimination diet thing, I had to completely rethink trail food.

Here’s what I ended up bringing:

  • 3 Lara bars
  • 1 baked sweet potato
  • 1 apple
  • 2 cans sardines
  • rice cakes
  • almond butter

In the morning I made a quick protein shake before hitting the road, and over the course of the day, I ate everything but two of the Lara bars and one can of sardines. To my relief, I was not only totally satisfied and not hungry but I had constant energy for the entire hike and felt great (wasn’t too full, no cramps or tummy issues, etc.). If I had been gone for longer, I probably would have wanted one more potato but for a six-hour hike, this was plenty.

Curious what other paleo-ish folks bring on hikes? Do you have a failproof food you always bring? I see more 14ers in my future and would love some more ideas.

The butter-shaped hole in my heart AKA Week 1 of the Virgin Diet

Kait and I just finished Week 1 of Cycle 1 of the Virgin Diet (the namesake of its creator JJ Virgin, not a diet for born-agains). The diet itself is basically your standard slow carb, high-protein, healthy fat diet but it’s premised on the idea that weight gain, inability to lose weight, digestive issues and host of other problems are tied to food sensitivities that cause inflammation in the body. JJ zones in on seven foods in particular that tend to produce inflammation: eggs, sugar, gluten, soy, corn, peanuts or dairy. The protocol, then, is to eliminate these seven foods for 21 days, then reintroduce them one at a time, week by week, and see what happens, e.g., do you feel like poop, do you have the poops, etc. Then you basically eat or don’t eat those food depending on your reaction.

Why am I doing this? 

In a word, as an experiment. Eating to feel good and perform well seems to be a lot of trial and error, so I’m pretty open to trying different ways of eating for at least a little while and seeing how I do. I did Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet for about six months and really liked it. Then I tried a “standard athlete diet” last fall (one where you can eat refined carbs) and accidentally got a little chubs. And then about six months ago, I started trying out variations of the paleo diet, and I have to say that I’ve been pretty happy with it. I feel really good, plus I’ve leaned out and gained muscle without getting the aforementioned chubs.

The one ish though has been digestion, and after trying a few different things (making sure I’m getting probiotics through sauerkraut, getting resistant starch into my diet) to no avail, I was starting to get discouraged. I had already been noticing that too much dairy (pizza), sugar (donuts + giant cinnamon roll because PASTRIES) and eggs (erryday for breakfast) could be likely culprits, so when I heard about JJ’s theory on food-related inflammation, I decided to give her protocol a shot and see if it helped clear up these problems.

What I’ve noticed during Week One

First of all, everything has sugar added to it. You might have known this, but you probably have never actually had to make decisions based on it. Seriously—even in grocery stores like Whole Foods that cater to nutrition-conscious folks, it’s really, really tough to find versions of the things we can eat that don’t have sugar. Almond butter, for example, and BACON. Even good-quality bacon has some sugar added (though the butcher at Whole Foods tipped me off to a brand–new product from Wellshire Farms that’s sugar-free and, not surprisingly, targeted towards the paleo crowd). Sugar as a health threat is a whole other post, but let’s suffice it to say that our sugar consumption is actually much higher than we think it is since it’s in a LOT of foods, even the last ones you’d suspect.

Second, when you stop eating a lot of these foods, you go through withdrawal symptoms similar to when people quit smoking or drinking. I should mention that my lovely girlfriend decided to do this experiment as well, and this first week’s been particularly rough for her. Whereas I’d been removing a lot of grains/complex carbs and sugar from my diet over the past year, Kait loves her bagels, snacks and sweets. So this past week she’s been dealing with headaches, wicked cravings and nausea (no joke!).

It’s a little scary how addicted our bodies can become to something as seemingly innocuous as food, but as JJ explains in her book, when you eat foods that you’re sensitive to (whether you know it or not), your body has an immune response and produces antibodies, just as if you were fighting off a cold or other pathogen. When you remove what’s causing the inflammation, you still have antibodies floating around and they want some action, so they actually cause the cravings for those foods so that you’ll eat them and give them something to fight off. Truly a vicious cycle. According to the book, your body gets rid of the antibodies after about a week and your cravings start to disappear. I’ve also read the l-glutamine can help with cravings, as well as gut repair, so I’m experimenting with that. But the main things I miss are beer and BUTTER. Sweet potatoes just aren’t the same without butter and cinnamon.

Finally, the upsides. Kait’s noticed that she’s not bloated all the time (common indication of inflammation) and both of our digestion has been much better. I’ve also been sleeping awesome all week (though that could also be from the whole “no drinking” thing). As much as I’m excited for these 21 days to be over, I’m looking forward to essentially “resetting” my system and figuring out what works and doesn’t work for me.

Last 4 Favorite Recipes from 2012

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Photo by Nicole.Franzen via Food52

You guys—I dropped the ball. I know it. I’m sorry. I know you were on the edge of your seat to see what other 4 recipes rocked my culinary world last year. And I totally blue-balled/blue-boobed you and took a two-month-ish hiatus. If last year were 2008, I would have nailed this project, but you know, life, distracted by other shit, etc., happened. But these last four are worth the wait. I saved the best for last. I always do. Enjoy, and then let’s get on with 2013, I guess.

9. Greek Mahogany Potatoes

I spent my junior year of college in Thessaloniki, which is basically Greece’s second city—a Boston or Chicago, if you will. And taverna dinners quickly became a pastime  not least because of the simple yet incredible food. Greeks may not be good at paying income taxes or efficiency, but they’re goddamn good at potatoes. A gyro “hor-EECE paTATes” is a gyro not worth eating—that’s a fact. These potatoes are the essence of good Greek cooking.

10. Grilled Lemon Oregano Chicken Drumsticks

While we’re talking Greek food, let’s talk lemon and oregano and chicken. And Ziploc bags. This recipe is basically putting all this into a bag, setting it down for a couple of hours and then grilling the contents of said bag. This is the best kind of cooking, as it leaves you plenty of time to drink a frappe and smoke cigarettes—a minimum two-hour affair—then you grill, then you repeat the whole process. Greeks might not be good at the economy but they’re good at life.

11. Vegetarian Chili

No meat? Yeah. But chili? Don’t worry about it. This recipe was awesome for using up some veggies that were on their way out, plus I used a Cooks Illustrated tip to “beef up” the umami flavor that meat usually adds to a chili. Turns out the combination of “nucleotides” (dried mushrooms in this case) and “glutamates” (soy sauce) amp up the savory that’s usually lacking in vegetarian dishes. The result was the best veggie chili I’ve ever had. (I urge you to google other nucleotides/glutamates, as this technique is great for many other recipes.)

12. Mexican-style Chocolate Ice Cream

I sprung for an ice cream maker (best money I’ve spent on kitchen stuff) last summer because Kaitlyn and I realized our habit had gotten quite expensive, so, DIY! I’d developed a taste for sweet and spicy chocolate from eating Steve’s Mexican Chili Chocolate ice cream, so when I saw this recipe in the booklet that came with the machine, it was bumped to top of the list and did not disappoint. Ours was spicier than Steve’s, but that’s just how we roll; adjust cayenne accordingly. 

12 Favorite Recipes from 2012 – #8: IPA Baja Fish Tacos with Mango-Avocado Salsa

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8) IPA Baja Fish Tacos with Mango-Avocado Salsa

Duuuuude fish tacos. Right? They just scream, “Summer! Beach!” Fried fish is also the best. And fried fish in taco form checks all the boxes — crispy, chewy, tangy. But, of course, frying can a be a bitch. The first time I made these, I didn’t own any sort of cooking thermometer, which really is a necessity, especially when frying. The consensus on frying temp for seafood seems to be 360 F, so once I started frying properly, the recipe got awesome. Not only do I like BrokeAss Gourmet’s use of IPA in the batter (mostly Bear Republic Racer 5, though we used AleSmith X last time and it was tasty), but the mango-avocado salsa adds delicious sweet and creamy balance.

12 Favorite Recipes from 2012 – #7: Perfectly Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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7) Perfectly Roasted Brussels Sprouts

My mom is a wonderful woman and a mostly fabulous cook. I give her a ton of credit for teaching my brother and me how to cook and bake, how to “do menus” for the week and how to discern when it makes sense to just buy it/order it instead of making it yourself. But, god love her, she really messed up Brussels sprouts for me. I mean, I get it — you spend your time making a healthy main dish for your hungry family, so who has time to make a side dish from scratch as well? Let’s leave that to Birds Eye.

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Aside from the god-awful smell, all I remember was that the sprouts were covered in some gloppy, yellowish sauce that may have come with the package (or that dear mom whipped up herself). In any case, I hated brussels sprouts — until I discovered roasting.

We’ve already established that roasting is the best way to cook veggies ever. Cooks Illustrated further hacks roasting Brussels sprouts so that they’re tender, yet well-browned and pleasantly crispy, with — you guessed it — minimal effort required to attain perfection. Strongly recommend the garlic, red pepper flakes and Parmesan variation here, if you feel like exerting yourself.

12 Favorite Recipes from 2012 – #6: Tomato and Sausage Risotto

Photo by Deb Perelman, AKA Smitten Kitchen

6) Tomato and Sausage Risotto

I used to refer to this recipe as my “lady-getter,” which is funny in retrospect because other than myself, the only ladies I made this dish for were friends who, while wonderful women, I wasn’t trying to woo. But seriously, not only is this dish soul-satisfying and an aphrodisiac (maybe?), it’s a good litmus test for compatible eating. Do you like meat, particularly sausage? Do you enjoy hearty, complex dishes? Will you refrain from judging me when I grate an inch-thick layer of Parm over my food? Ah, romance!

This is another I-can’t-believe-I-made-this-and-it-wasn’t-hard recipes (are you starting to notice a theme here?), so don’t be afraid to use it as third date material. Last note: The recipe calls for Italian sausage, which is good, but I now prefer andouille (if you can find it at your store) for the slight smokiness it adds. 

12 Favorite Recipes from 2012 – #5: Kale Market Salad

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Photo by Heidi Swanson AKA 101 Cookbooks (I swear I’ll take more original photos in 2013!)

5) Kale Market Salad

I’ve never been a “salad girl,” i.e., someone who goes out to eat and orders a salad for the main course (and, by the look of the photos, is just LOVING the salad life). I just think it’s totally lame and, like, you have an entire menu of actual food you can eat, so why order salad as your meal? Before you pelt me with romaine and chicken strips, let me concede that this salad is the exception to the rule.

This is a meal. And it’s so nutritious, I can literally feel the free radicals being neutralized and my hair getting shinier. It’s hearty and fresh, and even though you have to massage the kale (which is hilarious), it’s damn tasty. Also, it has avocado. Everything about this salad makes me feel like I’m in California and I eat this shit every day. Which, because it’s this salad, I would be ok with.