Where have I been?!

Its been almost two weeks since my last blog post! I apologize for the blogging hiatus; there have been a lot of changes going on in my life lately, namely the new job offer I received! 😀

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I’m so grateful and excited for the opportunity to work at Pinstripe. I’ll be working as an Interview Specialist for their client, Citi Bank, conducting candidate screens and phone interviews. I’m also excited to transition from a retail work schedule to a typical office work schedule. While working in retail my schedule was all over the place. Sometimes I’d close at 10:30 p.m. and open the next morning at 8:00 a.m. I also worked 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. every Saturday (unless I requested off). I’m fortunate to have had a job at all, though.  Some people would give a lot just to obtain any job position. Its been a turbulent year-long search for my first post-college job, but I’ve finally arrived and it feels great. I’m so excited for this opportunity.

During the past couple of weeks I’ve also been in the process of purchasing my first car! Its been an interesting experience finding a car, taking out a loan, looking into car insurance, and sorting out parking. I couldn’t have done it without the help of mine and Kevin’s parents. Their help and advice have literally made this whole car buying experience possible.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve still continued to eat primarily Paleo. I recently experimented with kale.

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I’ll be honest, I love kale. It kind of looks like lettuce but the leaves are thick and dense. Kale is actually kind of crunchy, which is why many people enjoy baking the leaves to produce kale chips! I had a lot of luck sauteing the kale leaves in coconut oil. They made for a great side.

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One thing I did not have good luck making was Paleo banana bread. This bread contains coconut flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ground flax, eggs, vanilla, and bananas. Here’s the link to the exact recipe: http://www.tgipaleo.com/2012/07/09/plain-ol-banana-bread/

I did not like how it turned out. To me, it was plain and flavorless.

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Tonight for dinner I made what I consider a “no fail meal.” Italian herb seasoned chicken breast, steamed broccoli, mashed sweet potatoes, and grapes. I don’t think I could ever get sick of this meal combination. You’ve got your vegetable (broccoli), starchy side (sweet potatoes), juicy fruit (grapes), and protein-rich meat (chicken).

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Thanks for reading! Now that my schedule is starting to settle down, I should be able to post more often. 🙂

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Exploring natural nut butter

Nuts have always been a favorite food of mine. They’re a great, versatile snack that packs a lot of protein and omega 6 essential fatty acids. I think I get my fondness for mixed nuts from my dad. Every holiday we’d buy him a giant canister of nuts and he’d sit back in his recliner and snack out of the container like it was a bag of popcorn. 🙂

Lately I’ve been partial to packing unsalted nuts as a snack and dipping apples and celery in almond butter.

One of my favorite things at Whole Foods are the machines that let you grind your own nut butter. I wish every grocery store had these. There’s something wonderful about warm, freshly ground nut butter. I suppose it has the same appeal as freshly ground coffee. It’s so good because it’s fresh!

I took a picture of me grinding some almond butter (well, pushing a button and letting the machine grind it, I should say). 😉

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There are two other machines to the left of this one that grind cashews and peanuts too. I haven’t eaten many peanut products in the past month and a half. I’m still reading up on peanuts health advantages and disadvantages. From what I’ve read so far, peanuts seem to be okay in moderation. As long as you eat peanuts that are unsalted and not roasted in vegetable oils, they seem fine. But there are some factors to consider:

Before distribution, raw peanuts can be contaminated with the mold Aspergillus flavus, which produces a cancer-causing substance called aflatoxin. Every truckload of peanuts is supposed to be checked for the mold and if higher than normal levels are found, the truckload is rejected. The mold level is also reduced through the peanut cooking process. Almonds are also at risk for being contaminated by the mold. As long as the nuts are cooked and handled properly, I don’t feel the mold poses a huge threat though.

The other downside to peanuts is that they contain a lectin called agglutinin which may disturb the stomach lining and wear it down overtime. This is bad because it can contribute to “leaky gut syndrome” in which food passes through the stomach lining into the blood stream and cause issues with allergies, inflammation, etc…

The thing is, many foods contain lectins. Legumes, like peanuts, happen to be high in lectins and that is why Paleo likes to cut them out.

There’s so much to know about the foods we consume. It’s overwhelming, but fascinating at the same time, to read the facts and weigh your options to make healthy decisions.

When health products are unhealthy

This post will be a switch up from my usual food-based blogging. Over the past month and a half I feel I’ve made improvements with my eating habits, but not so much my physical activity. Aside from the occasional yoga session at home, I’ve pretty much stopped working out.

A gym membership is a little out of my price range at the moment and walking outside in 20 degree weather is incredibly unpleasant, so I decided to invest in some hand weights and follow some exercise routines on YouTube.

YouTube is a gold mine for at home exercise videos. I recently subscribed to Blogilates which has a ton of upbeat routines. The vlogger, Cassie, does everything from yoga to dance to pilates. And the best part about YouTube? It’s free! 🙂

Anyways, I went to Walmart to buy a couple of five pound hand weights. I didn’t spend a lot of time picking them out, I just went with the ones that looked easiest to grip.

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When I got home I was about to rip off the labels when I saw this warning sticker:

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“WARNING: This product contains one or more chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.”

Seriously? A product that is used to improve or maintain one’s health contains chemicals known to cause cancer or bodily harm? Throughout my life I’ve tried to take preventative measures to reduce my risk of future diseases, like cancer. I don’t use tobacco products. I use sunscreen if I’m outside for long periods of time. I try to eat well. If our society is concerned about cancer and funding for treatments and a cure, there is absolutely no reason a product on a store shelf should contain harmful enough chemicals that it requires a warning label about causing cancer and bodily harm- especially if it’s a fitness product such as a hand weight!

If it were anti-freeze, fine. I get that some products are going to be dangerous no matter what, but a hand weight?! I’m sure the hand weight manufacturer could have found a way to develop it with non-cancer causing chemicals.

Needless to say these weights are going straight back to the shelves of Walmart.

I feel more frustrated than anything. We’ve all lost people we love to cancer. There’s no doubt it’s a terrifying disease. Since there is no cure (fingers crossed there will be one in our lifetime), I think the best thing we can do is take preventative measures.

Just for the heck of it, I Googled the quote on the warning label and found that under Proposition 65 a business is required to warn a person when they are knowingly and intentionally exposing them to a harmful chemical.

Could you imagine the illnesses that could be prevented if they put money into getting rid of the harmful chemicals that go into making products and invest in coming up with safer alternatives?

Also, here’s the full list of chemicals that are considered dangerous under Proposition 65: http://www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65/prop65_list/files/P65single062212.pdf

I guess the lesson I learned from this is to read labels and don’t always assume that a product as seemingly harmless as a hand weight will automatically contain safe materials.

Post-Paleo Diet – Food Reintroduction Week 1

For the past week I’ve been reintroducing non-Paleo foods back into my diet to see how I feel. This is a slow process to ease my body back into consuming more carbohydrates, sugar, grains, and dairy.

If I learned anything about jumping into The Paleo Diet, it was that changing my diet dramatically in a short amount of time caused some confusion within my body. If I ease into food reintroduction, it may yield better results.

The first food I reintroduced was dark chocolate. While I’m happy to be eating chocolate again, it’s easy to overindulge. Sometimes I feel it’s easier to avoid chocolate altogether than “limit” it. What I mean is, it’s hard to break off a perfectly portioned piece of a dark chocolate then ditch the rest and save it for later. I’d rather just not have any of it than know it’s there and I just can’t have it.

This has always been a challenge for me. I’d rather rid my cabinets of junk food than risk overindulging because it’s there.

Last Saturday Kevin and I went on a dinner date to The Cheesecake Factory. I had a burger patty topped with bbq sauce, lettuce, and bacon (ditched the bun), sweet potato fries, and half a piece of chocolate mousse cheesecake (I took the other half home, of course). I felt super tired after eating the cheesecake. Like heavy eyes, heavy legs, uncomfortably tired. Since this was the sugariest thing I’d eaten in a month, my body was probably overwhelmed and overproduced insulin to compensate for my sky-high glucose levels (this is just my guess as to why I felt so tired). I’m happy I skipped the bread basket and burger bun. Had I eaten all of it I probably would’ve ended up in a carb-induced coma. 😉

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I haven’t formally introduced dairy back yet (although I’m sure there was milk in the chocolate cheesecake). This coming week I plan to start eating cheese and greek yogurt again. I’ll eventually get around to the grains. I’m not in a big rush to do so because I feel better without them. I’ve also found so many satisfying grain-free alternatives. I love the challenge of trying new recipes and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

I recently made my own tortilla shells for tacos.

Ingredients:

8 egg whites

1/4 cup coconut flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup water

1/4 teaspoon salt

You whisk all of the ingredients together, grease a pan with coconut oil, and pour about 5 tablespoons of the mixture into the pan. Once the tortilla shell starts to brown, carefully flip it over.

These were good but tasted a little “egg-y” to me. Next time I might add more coconut flour and less egg. They served as a suitable base for tacos though. Recipe found on http://www.simplypaleo.com/2012/0/4/26/how-to-make-coconut-flour-tortillas/

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You may know that I’m obsessed with Paleo pancakes for breakfast. 😉 I recently added raspberries to the pancake batter and fell in love them with even more. Here’s a typical breakfast consisting of grapes, turkey sausage, and raspberry banana Paleo pancakes!

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I’m excited to share this next recipe with you. Beyond excited, actually. I used to think a good chocolate chip cookie required white flour, added sugar, and butter. I used to try the whole wheat flour varieties to make them a little more “nutritious” but the texture and flavor always fell short.

Well, I made an incredible batch of gluten free, grain free, butter free, added sugar free chocolate chip cookies that are fluffy and actually taste like a cookie!

When I first tried them, I was in mild disbelief. I found this recipe on http://www.tgipaleo.com. TGIPaleo has not failed me yet. They gave me my Paleo pancake recipe and now they’ve given me my chocolate chip cookie recipe. The girl who runs this site really has a knack for creating easy, delicious recipes.

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Who can resist warm, fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies? Have I made you hungry yet? 😉

Ingredients:

3 cups almond meal

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup honey

2 eggs + 1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup nut butter of choice (I used almond butter)

1 bag of chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips)

TGIPaleo says to preheat the oven to 375. I had to turn mine down to 350. Whisk dry ingredients together. Add the wet ingredients and then mix together well by hand or with an electric mixer. Make golf-ball sized balls, place onto a lightly greased pan, press down lightly on each cookie dough ball to flatten, and bake for about 13 minutes.

Here’s the recipe link: http://www.tgipaleo.com/2012/05/05/whatever-nut-butter-cookies/

Yesterday I went to Whole Foods and finally found where they keep the Larabars! I’ve been hearing about these bars for awhile now but had yet to try them. Larabars are a natural, preservative-free snack. I also like that you can pronounce every ingredient on the label. 🙂

These weren’t terribly expensive. They were $1.29 per bar. The candy bars that aren’t on sale at Walgreens are $1.09 each, just to give a price comparison.

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I tried the banana bread Larabar and was very impressed. It had a good, natural flavor and moist, chewy texture. Larabars are gluten free, dairy free, soy free, added sugar free, and the plant sources are non-genetically modified. They’re a win-win for everyone.

The Paleo Diet – I made it!

Today is February 1st and that means I’ve completed one of my New Years resolutions: endure The Paleo Diet for the whole month of January!

The past month has been a journey and a learning experience. I reevaluated my eating habits and took a close look at the food I was putting in my body. I also had to shift a lot of my priorities. Before The Paleo Diet, I was frequently “too busy” to pack a lunch for work, then I’d get stuck eating fast food, which wasn’t good for my health or bank account. I’ve packed a lunch for 20 out of the past 22 shifts I’ve worked in the month of January! That’s a huge change from before! For the two lunches I didn’t pack, I had the Jimmy Johns “Unwich” and Subway (I kept the meat and veggies and tossed the flat bread).

Here is a short week-by-week break down of my experience:

Week 1: This was the most challenging week because I was so unorganized. I should have done my grocery shopping for the week and had some snacks and meals prepared, but instead I was scrambling. This was also the most challenging week because my body was adjusting to a low carb and no refined sugar diet. I dealt with some lightheadedness but it always seemed to go away if I ate a snack. Maybe that was my body’s way of detoxing?

Week 2: In week 2 I started to notice the beginning of positive changes. The lightheadedness had gone away and I was gaining a ton of energy. I also felt more alert and experienced less brain fog. I started to try new and different foods and really have fun with the Paleo recipes.

Week 3: This is the week that I started to notice a little bit of weight loss. The jeans that were once a little snug suddenly fit better. I also felt more organized when it came to preparing snacks and meals.

Week 4: By this time, eating Paleo almost felt like second nature. Suddenly trips to the grocery store didn’t feel so limited. Walking through the produce department I found myself thinking, “Oh! I should pick up this for this recipe!” I stopped thinking about the foods I couldn’t have and more about the foods I could. Overall, I felt great.

Here are some reflections on the past month:

The Paleo Diet and weight-loss

I didn’t go into The Paleo Diet with a goal to lose weight. My goal was to “reset” my body by cutting out processed foods and refined sugar. I figured that if I were to lose weight, it would just be a natural occurrence because I was replacing high-caloric foods with fruits and vegetables. Well, I did lose weight, and actually a little more than I would’ve liked to! I am down 8 lbs since December 31st. It’s kind of amazing because when you do The Paleo Diet you aren’t counting calories or skipping snacks or meals. I never felt exceptionally “hungry” during The Paleo Diet because I was able to eat as much as I pleased as long as the foods were within the Paleo guidelines (meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and healthy fats and oils). I was losing 2 lbs per week, which is still considered a “healthy” rate of losing weight, but I would actually like to gain back a few pounds now.

If you are thinking of doing The Paleo Diet for weight-loss, I think this may be one of the more tolerable diet regimens to use because of the no calorie counting, snack skipping, etc… When you’re hungry, you eat :). If you need an energy boost, you eat. Food starts to feel like fuel.

The Paleo Diet and cravings

Have you ever wanted to lose a few pounds before summer or a big event and thought, “I’ll just cut out sweets and fast food for a couple weeks and that will do the trick,” then suddenly all you can think about is how amazing a large chocolate chip cookie dough concrete mixer from Culvers would be? That was always my craving ;). Those cravings were intense.

I had cravings while doing The Paleo Diet, but they weren’t as intense as past cravings, and I think I know why.

When you have a diet that is high in protein, your cravings are much easier to control because your appetite is suppressed. Protein keeps you fuller longer.

One thing I missed while doing The Paleo Diet was chocolate. But my craving for it was more of an “Oh, I miss the taste,” and not as much of a “Give me the keys, I’m going to go get a Ghirardelli bar!!” 😉

In the past when I was eating low fat and high carb, I always felt hungry and dealt with terrible cravings. When I flipped my eating to high (healthy) fat/protein and low carb, I felt fuller longer and the cravings were more tolerable. It was an interesting and unexpected paradox.

Cutting out processed foods, refined sugar, dairy, and grains was challenging, but because I was consuming a lot of protein, it wasn’t unbearable.

The Paleo Diet and energy

My favorite and biggest change after starting Paleo was the increase in energy! My energy has felt higher and more stable throughout the past month. I used to experience a dip in energy around 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. most days. Since starting Paleo, that has pretty much been eliminated.

The Paleo Diet and complexion

Toward the end of The Paleo Diet I noticed my complexion had become more clear. I’m not sure if it was taking out dairy, grains, or processed foods that helped, but a clearer complexion was also a nice perk!

The Paleo Diet and anxiety

I’ve struggled with anxiety and panic attacks since grade school and was curious to see if a diet change would make a difference. My doctor told me that anxiety is caused by an overactive nervous system. That would explain the feeling of nervousness that comes out of nowhere (and often for no apparent reason). Hormones that are produced by the thyroid, pituitary, and adrenal glands affect the nervous system. What has an impact on hormone levels? Food. Caffeine and high amounts of sugar affect your hormone levels, thus stimulating the nervous system.

Since I’ve drastically cut down on sugar, caffeine, and bread (which your body converts to glucose, aka sugar), my anxiety has been much more manageable. It hasn’t been completely eliminated, but it’s so much easier to deal with now. I had a string of panic attacks from October through December but have not had one since changing my diet in January. Its been nothing short of wonderful.

Conclusion

I’m happy I tried The Paleo Diet challenge. I plan on moving forward with a lot of my new eating habits, such as: adding more protein to my diet, eating a higher amount of fruits and vegetables, and limiting my consumption of refined sugar and processed foods.

I’ve also decided to limit the amount of grains and bread I consume. After cutting them out, I feel they weren’t benefiting me as much as I thought they were. I don’t think they’re detrimental to health, but I don’t think they “add” to me feeling my best. I’m surprised to say that I’ve felt better without them.

As far as dairy goes, it’s in the same boat as grains and bread.

In the future I would like my diet to look like this:

Lots of: Meat, seafood, vegetables, and fruits

In moderation: Legumes, gluten-free grain like quinoa, dark chocolate

Limited: Processed foods, grains, dairy, refined sugar

So this wouldn’t be a Paleo post without a few recipes! My last finale recipe was a turkey and shrimp burger slider with a baked sweet potato “bun.”

I got one pound of ground turkey breast, a half pound of cooked shrimp (which I chopped up), two eggs, and mixed them all together. I also added chopped green onions, garlic salt, pepper, and cayenne to the mix. You shape these into little patties and cook them on the stove over medium heat.

I also baked some sweet potato slices to use as buns and added some spinach leaves. I did not come up with this recipe on my own. I found it on Instagram.

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I also made some Paleo pumpkin spice cookies. I’m so happy these turned out! They had a great flavor (more so than other Paleo baked goods I’ve made). These contain: almond flour, coconut flour, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, sea salt, maple syrup, pumpkin puree, one egg, and vanilla.

The full recipe can be found at: http://www.againstallgrain.com/2012/10/09/pumpkin-spice-cookies-with-vanilla-cinnamon-icing/

There is also a recipe for Paleo vanilla icing to go on top of these. I skipped the icing and just added some cut up dates to the cookies and thought they were great.

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Last but not least, I made Paleo lemon poppy seed muffins. These. Were. Awesome. Even Kevin asked me if they were really Paleo :). He thought I bought a box of muffin mix from the grocery store.

This recipe produced super moist, fluffy muffins. They are absolutely dairy, grain, gluten, and added sugar free. The ingredients are: coconut flour, eggs, vanilla, coconut oil, lemons (juiced), honey, baking soda, lemon zest, and poppy seeds.

Here is the full recipe: http://www.delightedmomma.com/2012/10/flourless-lemon-poppyseed-muffins-paleo.html?m=1

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This is going to sound funny but I had mixed emotions when I was eating my last dinner of The Paleo Diet challenge. I felt proud and accomplished but a little sad it was ending at the same time. I had so much fun blogging over the past month and being able to share every trial and tribulation with you. I’ll definitely continue blogging but it won’t be as Paleo focused now.

Here’s the last meal of The Paleo Diet challenge I packed for dinner at work. My work dinners turned from frequently getting fast food to something entirely different :).

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Thank you so much for reading! Please feel free to share comments or questions if there was anything I missed. Keep checking back for new blog posts and thanks again! 🙂