Friday, July 26, 2013

Eating Healthy Doesn't Have to be Boring...Really!

I have been asked periodically about the food I eat to fuel my body.  I have been steadily dropping weight over the last year and a half, and even more significantly over the last five months since I have been running.  I have “always” carried an extra 30 lbs. or so, since entering high school, that I have never seemed to be able to get rid of.  All through high school, my weight ranged between 173 and 178 lbs.  After having three children in my early to mid 20’s, I topped out at 232 lbs.  I carried that excess weight for a couple of years until I decided it was time to get rid of it.  Through moderation, I was able to get back down into the 170s, but only once did I get down to 168 just to jump right back up into the 170s.  Over the last decade, I have ranged anywhere from 175 to 195 lbs.

A year and a half ago, in January of 2012, our family began following a Paleo-type eating plan.  Basically, we do not eat anything that is processed.  No breads, grains, flour, table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sugar substitutes, canned fruits or vegetables, and the list goes on and on.  We choose our foods from the perimeter of the grocery store in the meat department and fresh produce department.  We eat anything that can be caught or hunted, such as fish, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, wild game, etc.  We eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  We make our own condiments, other than mustard, frankly because I have not yet figured out a good mustard recipe and the mustard we buy has nothing artificial in it, nor does it have any mysterious “spices” that we are unable to identify.  We use local honey instead of sugar in our ketchup and we use olive, walnut, or almond oil in place of soybean oil in our mayonnaise.

One thing I would like to be very clear about: when I say our family follows a “Paleo-style” plan, I mean that we consider what would have been available to our Paleolithic ancestors and we consume based on that.  However, we also consume foods such as dairy because we do not have any adverse reactions to it.  Our kids drink milk, I have milk in my coffee, we sometimes have parmesan or feta cheese (we choose cheeses with the least amount of processing and consume absolutely no processed cheeses, such as Velveeta or American cheese).  We eat eggs, though some Paleo proponents promote no consumption of eggs because of the gut issues some people can have.  We do not have those issues, so we go ahead and eat eggs.  Our rule of thumb is this…if our bodies feel energized and good after eating anything that is natural, we eat it.  If we feel heavy or tired after eating something, if it is processed and/or full of chemically-derived ingredients or vague ingredients, we do not touch it.  Plain and simple.  We have found substitutes for many of our old favorites, one of which is a great Paleo pizza that tastes awesome.  I’ll be sharing that recipe later!  If you would like more in-depth information about how to put together a Paleo template that works for you, visit Chris Kresser's website here.  He has a lot of good information beyond just Paleo, as well.

Continuing with my story…

I dropped 20-25 lbs. in the first two months of following this Paleo-style eating plan.  I maintained a weight ranging from 170 to 175 over the course of a year, basically plateauing at that weight once again.  This past February, as my readers know, I started running.  I cut back on the amount of protein I was eating and increased my carbohydrate intake.  When I put a plate of food together, it looks as though the protein takes up one third of the plate, while the fruits and vegetables take up the rest with some good fat thrown in the mix.  The protein level is about 3 to 4 ounces, though I don’t measure exactly.  The fat comes in the form of half an avocado or some olive or coconut oil.  I eat when I am hungry.  Some days that means more, some days that means less.  It depends on the length, time, and energy burned on my runs.

I eat protein, good fats, and fruit about two hours before I run.  Upon returning from my run, I have an apple and banana, or some watermelon (especially during the summer months), maybe some cherries or other type of fruit.   If it was a 5+ mile run, I will have a homemade energy bar also, which is filled with protein, fruits, and nuts, as well as local honey, blackstrap molasses, and a host of other yummy, healthy ingredients.  I also put sea salt in the energy bars, especially during the summer months, to help replace the salt lost during our runs.  About 30 minutes after my run, I fill a plate in the proportions listed above with protein, vegetables, and some good fat added in.  The rest of the day, I eat when I am hungry, just to satisfaction.  While I would encourage anyone looking to live a more healthy lifestyle to try a Paleo-based eating plan, I recognize the my food lifestyle may not be right for everyone…it is up to the individual to find what works best for them, Paleo or otherwise.  What I would like to share, over time, are some of the recipes our family has adopted.  Not only are they healthy, they taste really good, too.  Try some of them.  You might be surprised at what dishes become your new favorites and your family’s, as well.  Take liberties with the recipes.  If you have another favorite nut flour in place of the nut flour we use, try it.  Add different seasonings and spices.  Use a plethora of vegetables and fruits.  I’ll offer suggestions and variations, also.  Most important...have fun with the recipes!  Get creative.  Try new things.  Enjoy eating your creations!  With that…here is the first recipe.

Nixon’s Almond Chicken
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3-4 T butter, melted
1 cup almond meal (you can purchase the meal or grind your own almonds)
2 T Italian seasoning (or to taste)
1 t sea salt
1 t curry powder (optional) OR
1 t smoked paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine the almond meal, Italian seasoning, and sea salt, plus other seasonings if desired, in a shallow dish and mix well.  Melt butter in a shallow dish.  Dredge the chicken breasts, both sides, through the butter and then the almond mixture.  Lightly coat a large baking dish with olive oil and place the coated chicken breasts in the pan.  You can sprinkle any extra almond meal mixture over the chicken breasts and then drizzle any leftover butter over them.  Bake, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads at least 170 degrees at the thickest point.  Pair up with some of your favorite vegetables or a nice side salad and enjoy!  Also great served cold later on.

Look for more great recipes to come your way soon.

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