perfect health diet

The other day, as I was experimenting with pressure-cooked rice to enjoy with my recent Simple Saag recipe, I thought it was long overdue to discuss the merits of white rice in my diet. I usually mention this every year or two, and I’ve touched on it in each of my books, but it’s always good to open up the discussion from time to time.

The use of rice on a Paleo-friendly website might seem counterintuitive, since most Paleo resources suggest avoiding grains. The reasoning is typically that grains are relative newcomers to humankind’s three-million-year history, since agriculture didn’t spread until the start of the Neolithic era, some 12,000 years ago. But historians estimate that the progenitor of rice existed over 130 million years ago (you know, about 127 million years before humans appeared). It’s so old that similar strains were found in both Africa and Asia, indicating that it was around before the continents first shifted to where they are today.

There is evidence that wild rice was eaten by prehistoric peoples when available, and it was first domesticated around 13,000 years ago, before the end of the Paleolithic era and a couple thousand years before wheat was domesticated. So it’s been around for a long time, much longer that many other foods on our dinner plates – like tomatoes, which were exclusive to South America until about 600 years ago, and cultivated in the Andes only for about 1,000 years prior to that. I’m not picking on tomatoes, because they’re delicious, but you get my point: worldwide, they’ve had 1/12 the culinary lifespan of rice.

Another reason to avoid grains is the fact that many contain low-grade toxins and antinutrients, which can be disruptive to the digestive system. White rice has the lowest toxicity of all the cereal grains, and most of its toxins exist in the bran found in brown rice. A common concern is that grains contain phytic acid, which binds to dietary minerals like zinc and iron, causing them to be less digestible and potentially leading to micronutrient deficiencies. While brown rice carries a significant amount of phytic acid (about the same amount as whole wheat bread), white rice is much lower; in fact, it has less phytic acid than many foods approved by common Paleo diet standards, such as coconut, avocados, walnuts, almonds, and spinach. Finally, the majority of toxins that remain in white rice are destroyed in the cooking process. For this reason, I prefer white rice over brown rice (and it tastes better, too). I like to think of it this way: consider that rice has a reputation among many traditional cultures as being a safe food for digestion, and it is often given to children and the infirm as a way to provide safe, digestible calories. Rice is not nutrient dense, so it’s a good idea to cook it in broth and eat it as part of a nutrient-packed meal; we often top our rice with furikake, a Japanese rice seasoning made from seaweed.

Glycemic load is also a concern when eating rice, and I think my friend Paul Jaminet summed it up perfectly several years ago, here. To paraphrase, the GI of white rice is tempered by a number of factors, including its type (basmati is better than average), cooking method (boiling is best), and the presence of other foods which contain dairy (butter!), fat (meat!), fiber (veggies!), or acids (wine! fermented veggies!). So while the glycemic index on paper looks scary, rice is rarely eaten in a vacuum, but as part of a complete meal.

Last sticking point: it’s true that like other plant-based foods, rice absorbs inorganic arsenic, and there are some pretty frightening reports about the arsenic content found in rice products. First, it’s important to note that the vast majority of rice products with high arsenic content come from brown rice, not white rice. Moreover, the source of your rice is also critical; for example, most rice grown in the US is from Texas, Arkansas, or Louisiana, typically on former cotton fields. Those fields contain high levels of arsenic in their soil, as a result of using pesticides to combat boll weevils, and these rices absorb that arsenic. Alternatively, rice grown in California, East Asia, and South Asia generally contain less arsenic than rice grown in the Southern US. The type of rice also influences its arsenic content, with basmati rice containing the lowest amount of arsenic. While the effects of inorganic arsenic is often disputed, to play it safe, we stick to white rice grown in California or Asia (or Europe, if buying risotto or paella rice).

Okay, I hope I’ve made my point, that white rice isn’t some predatory frankenfood that should be avoided at all costs. So let me leave you with one last example: most people would agree that a meal of sautéed chicken, steamed broccoli, and a bit of olive oil is technically “healthy” meal (albeit one that would have me craving pizza afterwards). So how would that meal compare to the flavor, satisfaction, and nutrients found in this Seafood and Sausage Paella, made with broth, seafood, a bunch of veggies, and 1 1/2 cups of white rice spread among six servings? Case closed. Let’s make some rice.

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Happy Friday everyone! I just wanted to send along a quick note to let you know that I’ve released a new, 2017 edition of my eBook, The Safe Starch Cookbook.

In this update, I’ve added 27 new recipes to the eBook, 42% more content than the previous version. I’ve also updated the cover, graphics, and some of the recipe formatting. The Safe Starch Cookbook now contains 221 pages. Here’s a short list of what you’ll find inside the book:

  • 91 recipes (24 rice, 28 potato, 15 noodle, and 24 other starch dishes)
  • a picture for every recipe, taken by yours truly
  • comprehensive recipe index with thumbnail hyperlinks to each page
  • a look at portion sizes and meal timing for optimum health
  • tips to save money using starches (nearly $1,000/year per person!)
  • a breakdown of meal-planning in the context of carbs
  • a thorough substitution guide for common food allergies
  • all recipes are gluten-free and developed using a whole-food mindset
  • my argument for why white rice should be considered “Paleo”
  • rice-buying guide to avoid arsenic and other toxins
  • 221 pages total

For more info, please check out The Safe Starch Cookbook‘s main page. Happy cooking!

Paella is one of my favorite dishes to prepare at home – like fried rice or risotto, it’s an excellent way to clean out the vegetable bin. Moreover, it’s one of my favorite examples how the judicious use of white rice can in fact be very health-promoting; while rice gets a bum rap for being fairly devoid of nutrients, I think it’s just fine in the context of the broth, seafood, and vegetables used in this recipe.

This dish was a standout recipe in my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table, and here’s what I wrote about it:

Paella is a dish from Valencia, along Spain’s eastern coast. Rice was a product of Moorish influence and was a staple in Spain by the 15th century. Paella developed over the years as people began to add combinations of meats and vegetables. While water vole was one of the first meats used in paella, today’s Valencian paella includes rabbit, chicken, snails, and beans; seafood paella is equally popular and is considered a traditional dish along the Valencian coast.

Using an appropriate type of rice is important, as many varieties were specially bred to absorb liquid without losing texture. Calasparra and bomba rices are preferred and are available from gourmet food suppliers and online. Arborio, a common risotto rice, fares pretty well. In a pinch, plain calrose rice will get the job done. Paella is best made over an open flame and is traditionally prepared outdoors.

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Recently, I stumbled upon J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s technique for pressure-cooker risotto, and decided to take it for a spin using my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. Considering that risotto has been around for 600 years, it’s nice to see a new spin on a classic preparation.

This technique worked perfectly (big surprise), so I have been using it frequently as a means to make perfect risotto without all that stirring. I even had to buy a new bag of arborio rice this past weekend, which is a rare occurrence – risotto rice always seems to last forever. If you don’t have a pressure cooker (yet!), don’t worry, I’ve included stovetop instructions as well.

To highlight this new take on risotto, I decided to err on the side of decadent: duck fat, mushrooms, prosciutto, and orange zest all fit together seamlessly to form a dish that’s equal parts familiar and exotic – and surprisingly dairy-free, to boot.

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As far as I can tell, one of this year’s most popular gadgets was the Instant Pot, an electronic pressure cooker that doubles (triples, etc) as a slow cooker, rice pot, steamer, yogurt maker, and more. I’m most frequently asked to develop recipes for it by my readers, followed closely by folks looking for slow cooker (crockpot) recipes. So this week’s Pot Roast recipe is the best of both worlds – a pressure cooker recipe that also includes instructions for slow cookers. Heck, I even threw in Dutch Oven instructions while I was at it.

Don’t let the lengths of these instructions scare you away. Each recipe is essentially four parts: brown the roast, cook the roast (and vegetables), broil the roast (and vegetables), and reduce the sauce. It’s a bit more involved than dumping everything in a pot, but well worth the extra effort: tender meat, roasted vegetables, and tasty sauce all at once.

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Many mornings, I wake up in the mood for eggs…but also not in the mood for eggs, you know what I mean? The consistency and flavor of traditionally-prepared eggs are both a godsend for predictability and a major exercise in patience for discerning eaters like yours truly. And it’s not just me who is sometimes bored with eggs; it’s a global pheomenon, demonstrated by the myriad of ways to prepare eggs – scrambled, fried, flipped, deviled, basted, roasted, poached, shirred, boiled, and scotched. I feel like a cast member of Forrest Gump right now, but you get my point.

Egg Bhurji is a recent favorite, as it combines exotic South Asian flavors with an egg scramble for delicious effect. All it takes is a bit of prep to chop and soften the vegetables before adding in the eggs; it’s definitely worth that extra few minutes of effort.

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When filling out our weekly meal plan, my family often consults my cookbooks; after all, the main reason I included particular recipes in those books is because they’re our favorites. This week we decided to make the Thai Red Curry recipe from Paleo Takeout, and I thought it would be fun to share the recipe with you folks as well.

Thai Red Curry differs from other popular Thai curries in that its base is made from dried chiles instead of fresh chiles. In order to temper the considerable heat of dried Thai chiles (usually the only chili used in traditional Thai Red Curries), I use a combination of large, mild dried chiles (like Anaheim, Guajillo, or New Mexico chiles) and spicy Thai chiles. To increase the intensity of your curry, simply add more spicy chiles.

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Friendly reminder that the Kindle version of my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table, is available for $2.99 on Amazon for today (Nov 24th) only!

Jambalaya has its origins in European cuisine, and it is commonly believed that the dish is the result of Spaniards living in New Orleans attempting to recreate Paella using local ingredients. The word Jambalaya itself comes from the Provençal (Southern France) word Jambalaia, which means “mish-mash”. Some folktales posit that the word is a combination of Jamón (“ham”) and Paella, but that falls a bit flat when you consider that ham is not a traditional ingredient in Jambalaya.

But what are traditional ingredients, you might ask? Good question. First, there are two major types of Jambalaya – Creole (or “Red”) and Cajun. The main difference between the two is that Creole Jambalaya, the more popular version of the two, contains tomatoes (the Cajun version has more rural roots, where tomatoes weren’t readily available).

Aside from the standard “holy trinity” mirepoix of onion, celery, and bell pepper, there are plenty of proteins used in this dish: shrimp, sausage, alligator, chicken, crawfish, oysters, and nutria rat. For this recipe I used the most readily-available proteins: sausage, shrimp, and chicken; if you have access to some of the more adventurous ingredients from this list, go for it.

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Pommes Anna is a famous French preparation of white potatoes, borne in the mid 19th century. The story goes that the dish was named after Anna Deslions, a well-known Parisian courtesan, who frequented Café Anglais where chef Adolphe Dugléré invented the dish to honor her (and the wealthy clientele that she brought into the popular restaurant).

The idea of naming food after celebrities appears to be a time-honored tradition. Some examples: Beef Wellington was named after the Duke of Wellington (in celebration of his victory during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815), Pizza Margherita was named after Queen Margherita, Beef Carpaccio is named in honor of painter Vittore Carpaccio (who worked with vibrant reds), and who could forget the Arnold Palmer?

At other times, the food itself turns folks into celebrities: Caesar salad is not named after Julius Caesar but Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who invented the salad in 1924 while living in Tijuana, Mexico; and nachos are purportedly the invention of Ignacio Anaya, a boy who in 1943 whipped up the dish to feed some hungry soldiers in Piedras Negras, Mexico.

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Having used up my vacation days writing a book earlier this year, I wasn’t able to join my wife and son during their summer trip to visit family in Hawaii. While there, they lovingly (teasingly?) texted me photos of all the delicious meals they were enjoying. So for my own little slice of revenge, I developed this recipe for one of Hawaii’s best-known dishes, Huli-Huli Chicken, while they were gone.

“Huli-Huli” translates to “turn, turn” in the Hawaiian language, but this chicken is not a traditional Hawaiian dish. In the 1950s, the head of a Hawaii chicken breeders association, Ernest Morgado, broiled up some teriyaki chicken for a farmers’ meeting. The chicken was a hit, and so he started selling the cooked chickens for local fundraisers. The name “Huli-Huli” comes from the fact that the chickens are cooked between two grills, and are turned as each side finishes cooking. Today, Huli-Huli Chicken is still a staple fundraising tool in Hawaii. Morgado, who passed away in 2002, holds the Guinness world record for the single largest chicken barbecue, cooking 46,386 chicken halves at a school fundraiser in 1981.

Morgado trademarked the name “Huli-Huli” in 1958 and the sauce is still sold today. For a bit of excitement, I decided to make my recipe using wings, to fully capture the sticky-sweet fun of eating this dish. My take on the sauce uses pineapple juice, honey, and apple cider vinegar to lend the chicken its sweet flavor (as opposed to gobs of brown sugar), and a bit of red palm oil will give the dish its signature red color (usually achieved with ketchup).

By the way, Ernest Morgado and I share more than just a love for chicken: he served as a Navy Chief Petty Officer during WWII (I’ve been serving in the Navy since 2000, and was recently promoted to the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer).

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