I was recently referred to Scott's Modern Forager blog by Anna, one of my favorite commenters, and was quite impressed with what I found there. (I love his subtitle, “Respect Your Food. Respect Yourself.”) He's an interesting writer with a lot of knowledge about health and nutrition – my favorite kind of blogger!
- What is your #1 motivation for eating healthier meals? My motivation comes from several sources. First, there's the obvious health benefits of eating well. I love a donut as much as the next guy, but I hate the feeling that hits me 10 minutes later. I'd rather feel good from steak and broccoli than feel like crap from having fried chicken and French fries. I find that the “joy” of eating the worst foods are far outweighed by the lethargy and crabbiness that follows. Frankly, I don't think French fries and cookies really amount to “living the good life.” Second, nutrition is of vital importance to athletic performance. While I'm not an elite-level athlete, I do engage in plenty of sports. I'm currently training for the Bluegrass State Games Track and Field competition (sprinting), but even when there's no end point to train for, I enjoy going hard at CrossFit workouts and trying to lift big weights. Once one gets their nutrition dialed in, there is a noticeable difference in the gym or on the playing field.Third, there are the obvious narcissistic reasons that we all choose to eat right and be active. The human mind is geared to select mates that are attractive, hence why there is so much focus on physical appearance in every culture, though norms of physical attractiveness differ. I don't think anyone can truly say they don't have any superficial reason for engaging in healthful habits. But now that I go back and reread the question, you asked for my #1 reason. Leave it to me to not read the directions.
- What started you on your path to better nutrition? The short answer is that I started feeding myself. Now for the long answer. Growing up, my family always took care of nutrition. We ate family dinners and Mom always made sure our meals included meat, vegetables, and a starch, the standard complete meal. While I don't eat much in the way of starch anymore and I eat tons more vegetables, Mom's home cooking definitely gave me a good base from which to start. We didn't have soft drinks in the house and there wasn't much junk food kept around. Sure, we had pretzels and occasional ice cream or pudding, but it wasn't the junk food fest that most households seem to be. We got to drink soft drinks when we went out to eat, but other than that, we only had them at holidays and other parties. It was mostly low-fat stuff, but all in all, it was a vastly better diet than what most of my friends ate. Thanks for a solid base Mom! So on to feeding myself. In May 2004, I moved away to school to work on my Master's degree. I was living on my own for the first time. Having been a member of the CrossFit forums for several years and seeing lots of discussion of The Zone Diet, I decided to give it a shot. I'd been reading the nutrition forums with a fervor, especially the biochemical geekery that Robb Wolf would post. I was fascinated by the internal workings of the body that I didn't yet understand, but jumped in feet first. I read The Zone books, which gave me an understanding of some of the hormones floating around in the body: insulin, glucagon, etc. I started cutting back on the grains and eating a big salad (though fairly small by the standards of my Mega Salads today) for lunch daily. I started going through bread so slowly that I had to freeze most of the loaf and just get a couple pieces out. I made sure I was eating protein, fat, and vegetables with every meal. Eventually, I got into the Paleo Diet book, more stuff that Robb was talking about and started eliminating the dairy and most of the grains. Now, I read everything I can get my hands on, even going so far as to pick up a biochemistry text recommended by Robb several years back. I think I might be one of the few people that can read that for pleasure. If you haven't noticed, I'm a rambler. To sum it up, my path to better nutrition started largely with the CrossFit forums, specifically Robb Wolf, though I'm afraid to give him that much power. He'll certainly wield it over me.
- What is your biggest struggle in eating healthier meals? Initially it was making them palatable. I wasn't a huge fan of very many vegetables having abused my taste buds with the overly salty and sugary garbage that most people eat in college. I ate those good meals Mom cooked at home, but when out with friends, that was a different story. My main condiment during my year at Notre Dame was…hot sauce. I put it on everything. I figured if I couldn't taste the vegetables, at least I was still eating them. Today, I don't have a major struggle in feeding myself. Over the last few years, I've figured out the routine that lets me get the most bang for my buck in cooking. It helps that I follow an Intermittent Fasting protocol, so I don't have to concern myself with cooking breakfast or lunch most days. But when I'm at home, I devote my time to putting good meals on the table. I find it hard to believe that people “don't have time” to devote 15 minutes to chopping vegetables for a salad. I could be watching TV, trying to fit a bite to eat in between “can't miss shows,” but instead I cook, eat, cook, eat, etc. I do put some planning into what I'm eating, looking at how my schedule is going to workout for the week and how much time it'll take me to cook. Like I know that Mondays are the day I drive out to the gym for a weight session and get home a bit later than when I go to the track. So I plan quicker meals for Mondays. Thursdays are my days off from working out, so I can plan something a bit more elaborate. I'd say that blandness is the major thing most people struggle with. Our food environment has most of us out of the habit of eating vegetables and it's hard to get back in the habit when the tongue wants a Big Mac and fries. To counter that, I urge people to start out by putting whatever condiments they need to on their vegetables: olive oil, soy sauce, tamari, salsa, hot sauce, something to get you in the habit of eating them. Obviously, prodigious amounts of olive oil or butter help too, along with putting plenty of fat into the meal.
- What is your favorite healthy recipe? First of all, I have to say that I don't do much cooking by recipe. I typically just start throwing stuff together and see what turns out. I have a few fallback ingredients that always work well together, such as ground beef, onions, garlic, kale, and broccoli, along with some spices that I can work into most anything like cumin and ginger. But to answer your question, my favorite recipe is probably Beef Heart with Mushroom Stuffing. I love the taste of heart; it's kind of a cross between a roast and liver. Ingredients: Mushroom Stuffing (10 slices bacon, diced, 1 medium onion, finely chopped, 4 oz fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped.) Beef Heart (1 beef heart – 3lb, split lengthwise, 3 cloves garlic, minced, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/6 cup vinegar, 1 cup beef broth.) Directions: 1. Wash heart. Trim fat and remove arteries and soak in cold salted water for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. 2. While heart is soaking, fry bacon, onion, and mushrooms until onion is softened. Drain grease. 3. Place heart in crockpot and fill heart cavity with mushroom stuffing. Skewer to fasten. Don't be concerned when half of the mixture squishes out the side. Spoon any that squishes out over the top or leave it in the bottom of the crockpot to flavor the gravy. 4. Add garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and broth. 5. Cover and cook on High for 1 hour, then on Low for 6-8 hours. Here's a picture guide.
- What is your best kitchen/nutrition tip? Get a good set of knives. Good knives are worth their weight in gold and will save much time and frustration. You need knives for every type of cutting job. It's unlikely you need a bone saw, but you do need a sharp knife that can cut through vegetables easily, a knife for slicing raw meat, etc. Make sure you have the right tools for the job. And keep them sharp as a sharp knife makes cutting easier, so you're less likely to slice your thumb off, a definite turn-off to cooking. As a bonus, get a big wood or poly cutting board for your countertop. If it's right there on the counter, you're more likely to use it. And wood or poly won't dull your knives.
- What did you have for dinner last night? Last night was a bit of an anomaly. I was nursing a headache from an elbow I took to the jaw the night before playing basketball and didn't feel much like eating. I came home from a poor workout and grabbed an apple with some almond butter to break my fast. Then I tucked into my daily big salad, which I guess would be “lunch” and finally cooked a small dinner. I cooked up a pound of tilapia in palm oil with some capers and ate about half of it with some strawberries. Normally I'd have eaten every bit of the tilapia, along with sautéing some onions and garlic, and steaming some broccoli, but I just wasn't in the mood. However, if it makes things more exciting, my dinner Sunday night after basketball was a pound of chicken livers fried up with onions and green peppers alongside some steamed cauliflower.
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