The Novice Foodie

Just eating real foods, lifting heavy things and learning about it along the way

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Lessons from Paleo: Ingredients List is most important

We are trained to check the nutrition labels of the foods we eat, and we tend to focus on calories, fat and sugar. But what I’ve learned from “eating clean” is that the ingredients list is arguably more important than the nutrition facts label above it. A “low fat” product can and often has a mile-long ingredient list full of chemicals and foreign substances. At the same time, a food with a little more calories and a lot more nutrients gets a bad reputation.


Exhibit A: Bars

Beside each other on the snack bar shelf of the “organic section” of a grocery store are two random choices. B0th would appear to be decent choices. Bar 2 Bar 1

Flip them over, and see the difference in the ingredients. Not only what the ingredients are, but the sheer number of them. 6 identifiable ingredients compared to….a lot. A lot of things that were possibly once recognizable as natural but now have been chemically altered.

Bar 2 back

Bar 1 Back

A rule of thumb: the less ingredients, the better. I’ve gotten to a point where if the ingredients list is more than a few lines, I just put whatever it is right back down. The best foods are the ones without an ingredients list at all (think produce aisle or farmer’s market!)


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REBLOG: “Just give me some truth”

There are hundreds of niche health and fitness blogs, websites, and books out there spouting nutritional and exercise advice; some with the factual basis to back their claims but without the popularity to reach a wider audience, and many others with little to no credentials or with an ulterior motive of making money. At the same time, established mainstream publications post content from trusted sources like doctors but without solid backing of their claims.

So for someone looking for guidance on how or what or when to eat, it can be excessively frustrating to find both a reliable source and reliable information. There are a lot of myths that have been repeated so many times that they have fooled even the most careful consumer (i.e. the egg debate). So when I see a myth-busting article based off of findings from a scientific study like this come along in the New York Times, I as both a health-conscious person and a journalist get excited. Finally making its way into the mainstream is something with real research behind its dietary claims, even and most especially ones that have been generally regarded as good advice (such as the benefits of eating breakfast.)

But then you run into this problem: restricted information access. This could be in the form of paywalls, omissions or study abstracts available to but not written for the everyday reader and consumer. In this case, The New England Journal of Medicine and the specific content relevant to readers of this article is only available to subscribers. Plenty of publications don’t give their content away for free online, and understandably so, but the point is that the information remains available only to that target audience. So scientists, doctors and scholars may get that information, but the average person who needs it (arguably more so than those already invested in the material) does not.

It’s a personal interest of mine to actively seek out nutritional information from those small, under-the-radar publications, but not everyone has the time, energy or interest to do so. Many of those publications/organizations/websites have great information, but are either largely unknown (I am still discovering new ones daily) or exclude segments of the population because they don’t identify with weightlifters or vegans (to name a few). Convenience will win every time when it comes to food. That’s why I believe it’s so important to make that elusive, factual information convenient for the everyday consumer. In time, I think these tidbits of truth will make their way into the mainstream media.  But for now, I think the most important thing a person can do is be a critical reader and see where your information is coming from. Evaluate the source of the material and check who is paying for the study before you make any drastic conclusions.

And, take everything in stride. Only you will know what works for you. Everyone has different dietary needs based on medical conditions, daily activities, allergies, religion, moral beliefs and simple likes and dislikes. I’ve quoted him before and I’ll quote him again because so much of what The Institute for the Psychology of Eating is about aligns with what I believe in:

“There’s no “one size fits all” in the diet business…. every nutritional system or expert has at least one nugget of wisdom to offer us. In other words, what’s good for the Okinawans, the French, the Mediterraneans, the Hunzas, the Paleolithics, or the bikini-clad inhabitants of South Beach isn’t necessarily what’s good for us. Just take the nugget of truth that works for you, and that works for the people you love and serve.” – Marc David

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REBLOG: The Imaginary Perfect Diet via Competitor magazine

Sometimes you read something and you just say YES.

“While science has come up with all kinds of correlations between particular dietary patterns and risk levels for particular diseases, it has not even come close to definitively defining the perfect diet.”

This is a great read highlighting precisely what I’ve come to find about nutrition and diets–that there’s more than one right way, but pretty much all of them involve real food.

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REBLOG: Defining healthy eating

Before I begin, I want to say that I’m not advocating that Paleo is the correct diet for everyone. I totally agree that there’s not one “right” way to eat. In fact, my goal really isn’t to be perfectly Paleo. It’s ultimately to eat healthier– to eat clean. My goal is to cut out processed foods, avoid grains, and eat more protein, fruits and vegetables, which sounds a whole lot like the Paleo diet. Following “rules” personally helps me stay on track. So yeah, I’ll have some lemonade with my green tea and there’s corn in my bag of mixed veggies. But the point is I’m drinking green tea lemonade instead of diet soda or a mocha, and I’m eating vegetables. Those are better choices than I might have made otherwise.

Earlier this week, U.S. News and World Report released their rankings of the best and worst diets for the year. (Paleo being one of the worst.) This has spurred many blogs and news sites to offer their own takes on which diets work and which don’t. What I like most is U.S. News’s further breakdown of diets by goal and special needs, (food sensitivities, specific medical conditions) because the best diet for a person depends on a lot of  factors. But when the “best weight-loss diets” includes things like Slim-Fast, you have to question how much the nutritional value and sustainability of the diet was taken into account.

My basic response to this overall discussion point is summed up by the following sources better than I do believe I ever could:

1. “One of the most important success-promoting factors in a diet is a belief in the diet and a belief in the belief system behind the diet.” – Psychology of Eating (Marc David)

I think there’s this attitude in the wellness/health industry that what works for one person is the ONLY way, and everyone else is just dumb for thinking otherwise. This organization addresses that everyone has different needs, and that diets can and should be specified. Diets are much bigger than a monthly slim-down effort, and tied to social interactions and our own willpower and drive. While I am searching for the pieces of a one-size-fits all diet, we may all be better off with one tailored to our own tastes.

2. This post: this too:

If there is a general truth for nutrition, I think that eating real food would have to be it (“real food” being defined above). I can’t think of anyone who’s gonna argue that Kale is bad for you (except maybe some people’s taste buds.) This post essentially summarizes everything I have come to believe about nutrition. Adapting these “rules” and being balanced about it seems to be a universally sound way of eating and living.

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Adventures in Paleo

About a month ago, I completed the 9-week Lurong Living Paleo Challenge. What is Paleo, you ask? It is most simply this: eat real food. More specifically, I think it is most concisely explained in this pyramid.paleo food pyramid

For me, the most challenging thing about going Paleo was that it banned pretty much everything that is convenient. And I’m not just talking about takeout or frozen dinners– something as simple as bread for my egg and sausage breakfast sandwich I typically ate on the way to work every morning. And if I ate out, things got pretty complicated, deciphering menus and finding substitutions. But overall, I simply felt better. I did notice at first that I had a little less energy when I went to workout, likely due to my body adjusting to the new diet. By the end of the challenge, it was no longer an issue.

9 weeks later,  I went back to eating normally and fulfilled all my cravings. And I can honestly say it wasn’t worth it. I thought I could use what I’d learned and just be a little more liberal with my food choices– not worrying about the specifics, using ketchup or Italian dressing once in awhile, eating green beans and other things that one would consider healthy but don’t meet the Paleo criteria. But the truth was I overindulged, and I definitely felt the effects of that.

Through this challenge, I discovered I need rules and structure to be able to stick to a diet. But I also need to let myself cheat once in awhile, or I’ll binge later. For the new year, I’m resolving to get back to the primal life. As the saying goes, my goal is to be 100% paleo, 80% of the time.

Other things I learned from going Paleo:

1. To eat healthy, you MUST cook.

I spent tons of time online scouring for Paleo recipes. I highly recommend Pinterest as a source. In fact, all of the recipes I’ve tried can be found on my board “pinned there, done that” with ratings. It also doubles as my own virtual recipe book. #awesome. (See more Paleo recipes on my “Paleo things” board)

2. You also should plan your meals.

Get that convenience factor back by spending Sunday night preparing meals for the week. When you buy fruit at the grocery store, wash it and divide it into little Ziploc baggies as soon as you get home. It will make it that much easier to throw in the lunch bag.

3. There is a healthier substitute for just about everything you crave.

Mashed potatoes? Try mashed cauliflower. Pasta? try spaghetti squash. French Fries? Try cut up zucchini or turnips “breaded”  with almond meal. spaghetti squash

4. Less is more, always.

I’ve counted calories, I’ve detoxed, I’ve done Weight Watchers, I’ve lived with two vegetarian roommates and one gluten-intolerant roommate. I’d like to think I’ve been exposed to a few diets. And the one thing I’ve noticed that they ALL have in common– real food is always the best choice. If you’re gonna eat butter, eat butter, not margarine or some other imitation product made in a lab. The less ingredients, the better. And if there’s no ingredient list, that’s the best (i.e, fruits and vegetables.) And it’s the idea behind almost every diet plan out there. (Fruits and vegetables are zero points on WW, for example.) It just makes sense.

5. Lastly, and most importantly, bacon makes everything better. That is all.

Here’s some more of my creations and experiments. I began making up my own recipes and having a lot of fun making cooking a hobby!

And some favorite Paleo products for my sweet tooth

2012-10-19 20.08.24

2012-11-05 18.06.04 2012-10-05 08.59.12

Couldn’t be happier to get back on track in the new year!

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Train your taste buds

Have you ever heard someone say that something you are eating is too rich or too sweet while you took no notice? Everyone’s preferences and sensitivities to taste are different, but because richness and sweetness typically derive from high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, it could mean that some of us are more likely to overindulge based on the way our taste buds have adapted.

The concept of training our taste buds to recognize when foods are too sugary or too salty is intriguing. This post from David Katz MD,the creator of NuVal nutrition scoring system, discusses how high amounts of sodium and sugar found in commercial products like pasta sauce and breakfast cereals have skyrocketed our tolerance levels. By consuming the same products with less added sodium and sugar, he argues, over time we might find that those foods we once enjoyed are now too sweet or too salty.

“Because if your taste buds have acclimated to high levels of [sugar and sodium], you will simply prefer more highly processed foods, and reject the simple, unadulterated flavors of simple foods close to nature. You will NOT eat “food, not too much, mostly plants,” because you won’t like doing that! And you, and perhaps your family, will miss out on the enormous health benefits associated with doing so.”

I side to agree with this idea and hope that it could really work. If we no longer enjoy the taste of something, we simply won’t eat much of it. Hopefully it really is that simple to enforce and encourage a healthy diet. If nothing else, cutting back on sugar and sodium couldn’t be a bad thing.

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Food Science

As a summer design intern for The Chautauquan Daily, I’ve had the opportunity to not only design the newspaper, but write several stories about some pretty cool people, including the Director of the International Spy Museum Peter Earnest and bestselling author Dan Brown.

For one last story, I attended a cooking demonstration about Molecular Gastronomy. The demo itself was fascinating, there were samples, and the featured chef had amazing talent. He worked alongside world-renowned chefs at the number one restaurant in the world, El Bulli. The demo showcased a variety of cooking techniques that really open the doors for creativity in culinary arts. Read about the dishes in the demo here.

What I took away from the event was a promise for the future of the foods we eat. By using certain chemicals and instruments, a chef can create entirely new tastes and textures. Chef Ross Warhol used everything from spherification to make a solid out of a liquid and aeration to take “melt in your mouth” to a whole other level. He paired white chocolate with pea soup and Parmesan cheese with strawberries and Nutella. The possibilities and combinations are endless. It is an exciting development for the 21st century that pairs modern technology with a most traditional practice. In 10 years, maybe these techniques will make it down to family restaurants and become more commonplace.


In addition to the exposure to these techniques, this was a great opportunity for me to practice the skills I am developing as a visual journalist. Not only was I able to write the story, but I also designed my own section front. I went back to the photographer’s full take to create the menu-like pull out information of each dish. I thought it was important to highlight the dishes I discussed in the story, and also the science that went into making them. For the dominant photo, I went back and fourth with a variety of shots similar to the secondary image. I finally decided on this one because it looked more science related and active. I thought the secondary image was important to include so that the Sous Chef would be presented as well.

Overall, the story and the package was a great experience and the opportunity was perfect for me in all aspects.

The section front as it appeared in the 8/20/11 Weekend Edition of the Chautauquan Daily