Why I’ll Never Eat a Chicken Breast Again (And What I Eat Instead!)

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The chicken breast is without question America’s favorite form of protein.  Lauded for its lean, white meat, the chicken breast is enjoyed by the average American about eight times a month.  White meat is preferred so highly over dark meat, that much of US’s dark meat is exported to Russia and Asian countries, who prefer it over white meat.  However, I will make the argument that there is a better cut of poultry that trumps the chicken breast, hands down.
The lowly chicken thigh boosts both flavor and nutrient density.  And, because it is not enjoyed nearly as often as the chicken breast, it is often very affordable.  Chicken thighs cost about half of the price of chicken breasts.  But I know what you are thinking, dark meat is so unhealthy and fattening, right?  Wrong.  Chicken thighs contain about 0.5 g more of saturated fat and a mere 5 additional calories per 100 grams of meat.  What’s more is that chicken thighs have higher levels of vitamins B6 and B12, iron, thiamine, zinc, folate, selenium, and riboflavin.  Finally, chicken thighs taste better than chicken breasts!  Okay, this one is subjective, but there is no denying that dark meat is more moist and tender.  White meat has a tendency to dry out, which can result in a chalky taste, especially when you have it as leftovers.
I love chicken thighs.  They are easy to prepare, and can be grilled, baked, pan-fried, or slow cooked.  I personally purchase both bone-in and the deboned varieties from Costco.  The deboned thighs taste great on the grill, in stir fries and fajitas, and quick seared in a cast-iron pan.  The bone-in thighs taste amazing braised or slow-cooked.
So, I challenge you to come to the dark side and try chicken thighs.  Let me know what you think!
Tamara

The Whole 30: My Results

I started my first Whole 30 in January, 2015.  The novelty of my New Year’s Resolutions was still fresh, and I was equal parts excited and nervous to take on the challenge of thirty days of nutrient dense, real foods.  I remember the day before I was entirely unsure of whether or not I would be able to even make it one week.  But in true Whole 30 fashion, I just went for it. And I succeeded!  Thirty days without sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy.  I said adios to the scale and scored many non-scale victories.  At the end of my thirty days, I had lost 5 pounds and 2% body fat.  I had also gained muscle, as my gym performance greatly improved as well!  In addition to a slimmer physique, I enjoyed the added benefits of increased energy, improved sleep, emotional stability, clear skin, and best of all, the feeling of accomplishment and control over my health and happiness.  Eating real and nutrient dense foods is so empowering.  Every dietary choice I made for the duration of the program was a choice that supported a healthy lifestyle.  I’m sure you have heard the phrase you are either feeding or fighting disease with the food choices you make.  The Whole 30 made me an ultimate fighter against illness, disease, and cancer.  I am so grateful for all that I have learned.  Although there were many challenges, at the end of the program I knew that I would be completing many more rounds in the years to come.  Are you interested in trying the Whole 30 yourself?  You have nothing to lose – it is entirely free on their website.  I also greatly benefited from reading the book that started the phenomenon – “It Starts With Food” (See side bar for link).  Click here for my earlier post for my top 5 tips for Whole 30 success.

Have you done a Whole 30?  I would love to hear your results below 🙂

XOXO,

Tamara

The Whole 30: How It Changed My Life

The Whole 30 has become increasingly prevalent in the media, and has become subsequently available to a wide population of people.  I first heard about the Whole 30 program when I began my research into real foods and the paleo approach of eating.  The concept interested me – 30 days of whole foods.  Cut out all alcohol, sugar, grains, legumes, and dairy.  Add in quality meat and seafood, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, fruits, and all of the vegetables you can eat.  Eat three complete meals, instead of grazing all day long.  Put away the bathroom scale until day 30.  This encompasses the basic foundation of the program.  For some, the Whole 30 is an elimination diet used to determine intolerances to certain foods that cause inflammation, such as gluten or dairy.  For others, it is used regularly as a diet reset to purge the body of unhealthy cravings.  For me, the Whole 30 was an eye-opening learning experience.  I considered myself well-versed in the concept of real foods, however through my 30 day journey, I felt as if the food industry was exposed to me.  Finding compliant food was easier said than done. I remember once I searched numerous brands of tomato past for one that did not contain sugar as an ingredient.  Out of several brands, only one was worthy of being added to my grocery cart.  This was definitely one of the most frustrating parts of the program.  Sugar is in just about everything.  For the duration of the program, many condiments, meats, and other products were not an option because finding a sugarless choice was near impossible.  The next time you go to the store, just try and find a package of bacon or sausage without sugar listed as an ingredient.  Even most high quality brands were ruled out due to this one ingredient!  But enough about sugar – I could rant for several posts!  The Whole 30 was not an easy program.  It definitely challenged me.  About halfway, I reached a point where I wanted to quit very badly.  I’m a bit ashamed looking back, because I vividly remember texting my boyfriend how badly I wanted a chocolate malt and french fries! Despite my struggles, accomplishing a Whole 30 in its entirety was an amazing feeling.  The last week of the program I felt on top of the world physically and emotionally.  Whipping up a delicious and healthy meal became second nature.  Meal planning was my best friend.

If you are considering completing a Whole 30, here are my top tips to make the 30 days go as smoothly as possible!

1) Meatballs, Meatballs, Meatballs

Make up a batch or two of your favorite compliant meatballs and freeze in individual servings.  They can be paired with a cauli-rice, a side salad, or veggie noodles for a delicious and quick meal.

Here are my favorite Whole 30 meatball recipes:

Nom Nom Paleo’s Asian Meatballs

The Whole Smith’s Mango Jalapeno Chicken Meatballs

The Clothes Make The Girl’s Paleo Czech Meatballs

2) Cauliflower = Your New Best Friend

I have always liked cauliflower, and I have found several new methods of preparation.  Whether mashed, riced, or roasted, it makes a delicious and inexpensive side dish.  Bonus points if you use riced cauliflower to make Whole 30 “sushi” to be served alongside coconut aminos!

Try out these recipes:

Holistically Engineered’s Slow Cooker Mashed Cauliflower 

Stockpiling Mom’s Roasted Cauliflower

The Clothes Make The Girl’s Oven-Roasted Cauliflower Rice

3) Meal Plan – But Not Too Much

I found that it really helped to have a general idea of what I would be eating each week.  But planning every detail of every meal of every day was exhausting and ineffective.  I enjoy the spontaneity of throwing a meal together rather than following a strict plan.  Instead, I opted to loosely structure each week around the protein I bought.

Here’s what my line up looked like:

Week 1: I roasted a whole chicken and from this had many different meals including chicken and veggies, chicken salad, and bone broth made from the carcass.

Week 2: I made Nom Nom Paleo’s famous Slow Cooker Kalua Pork.  This provided meals of pulled pork with Tessamae’s barbeque sauce and coleslaw, pork tacos in romaine lettuce wraps, and roasted butternut squash noodles with pork and garlic cream sauce.

Week 3: I defrosted a bag of frozen shrimp, and enjoyed grilled garlic-lemon shrimp kabobs, spring rolls wrapped in romaine, and spaghetti squash shrimp “alfredo”.

Week 4: Pork chops.  This is easily my favorite recipe.  It has always turned out amazing for me, and goes great with mustard mashed potatoes/cauliflower.  I made up several pork chops and enjoyed them just as they are all week long.  Yum!

If I got tired of the protein of the week, I could always heat up my frozen meatballs or cook up some eggs and veggies.  I also kept some frozen leftover soup in baggies to defrost when needed.

4) Drink Water and Stay Active

While eating Whole 30 style, your body is experiencing the wonderful benefits of detoxification.  To prevent negative side effects such as headaches and irritability, drink lots of water and keep your body moving.  Having a water bottle handy at all times can also prevent you from absent-mindedly eating something non-compliant.

5) Take a Break From Dining Out

It is not easy to eat out while doing a Whole 30.  This is not to say that it is impossible, and if it is part of your lifestyle by all means you can find a way to make it work.  However, I found it refreshing to simply avoid eating out for the duration of the 30 day program.  I ate out one time during the program and it consisted of sashimi and coconut aminos at my favorite sushi restaurant.  For the rest of my meals, I either ate at home or brought along a packed meal that I had made earlier.  This was great because I was completely in control of what I ate and how it was prepared.  When eating out, the ingredients and their preparation are largely unknown.  This can cause anxiety and uncertainty, which are not part of the healthy eating habits endorsed by the Whole 30 program! It is my personal opinion that minimizing eating out during your Whole 30 makes it easier to make the best possible choices.

In my next post, I will share my personal Whole 30 results.  Just reliving my experience through this post has me excited to schedule another one in the future!  Feel free to leave any comments or questions below!

XOXO,

Tamara

The New Market on the Block

Where you live has a big impact on the quality and types of food that is available.  Living in the midwest gives me access to fresh, organic produce during the growing seasons, and wild fish and game.  The disadvantages is that health foods are limited and more expensive than in more urban areas.  Because I am living on student loans while in school, I have to prioritize my budget.  It is most beneficial to me to spend my money on in-season, local produce and quality proteins.  There are pantry staples that I like to keep on hand for favorite recipes and experimenting in the kitchen, such as almond flour, coconut aminos, spices, bone stock, avocado oil, coconut oil/flour/milk, nut butters, lard, tallow, and ghee.  Many of these products are difficult for me to find, and when I do find them they are very expensive.  I hope with time, finding and affording healthy staples becomes easier! In the meantime, I have found what I believe to be the best prices for nearly every heath food that I could want.  Introducing Thrive Market.  Thrive Market is Whole Food products at Amazon prices.  Actually, at significantly less than Amazon prices.  Thrive Market’s prices are up to 50% less than Amazon.

Here’s how it works: Click this link to sign up for a free 2 month trial to the Thrive Market.  You will receive a coupon for $10 off your first order (yay, even more savings!).  Peruse the site for your favorite healthy staples, and get excited over the significantly decreased prices.  What is great about Thrive Market is that you can filter the products by various themes such as raw, vegan, paleo, gluten free, and healthy moms.  I was so excited when I realized that in addition to healthy staples, there are also vitamins/supplements, health and beauty, baby supplies, and home good.  

If you decide that Thrive Market is not for you, you can cancel your trial membership at any time during the first 2 months.  If you love it as much as I do, you can continue being a member and you will be charged at the end of your trial membership.  They send out a reminder email before your trial ends, so you can decide if it is right for you.  With my first order, I more than paid for my membership with the savings and free shipping (with every purchase over $49!)  Check it out and see if it is right for you!

My first order completely stocked my cupboards with all of my favorite staples.  I am putting together my next order now which will focus on natural, toxin-free health and beauty products.

Comment below with any questions you have about Thrive Market!  I think it is a great resource to increase availability of affordable health products.

XOXO,

Tamara

Sweet Potato Egg Bake

This recipe is my all-time favorite.  I came up with this last summer when I was commuting to work and needed a quick and healthy breakfast option.  I frequently make this on Sundays, and package up individual slices for a delicious breakfast option all week long.  It tastes great when served alongside fresh fruit.  If you don’t have all of the vegetables available, use whatever you have on hand and I promise it will still turn out great!

Sweet Potato Egg Bake

Servings: 12

Preparation: 15 minutes

Cooking: 30 minutes

Total: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 sweet potatoes, cubed

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced

  • 5 mushrooms, sliced

  • 1 pound ground pork (no sugar added!)

  • 8-12 eggs, beaten

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee

  • Sea salt and ground pepper, to taste

  • 1/2 bag of spinach (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Toss cubed sweet potato with coconut oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven until cooked through, about 15 minutes.  [Alternatively, you can microwave the sweet potato until no longer hard in the center].   Meanwhile, brown the ground pork in a large skillet.  Remove, drain, and set aside.  Saute the onion and mushrooms in the same skillet until nearly done, and add in the spinach.  Stir until just wilted.  Remove from heat.

In a 9 by 13 pan, lay out the cooked sweet potato evenly.  Top with the cooked pork sausage.  This will form the “crust” for the egg bake.  Layer in the cooked vegetables, and then top with 8 eggs.  Add more eggs if needed, to ensure that the vegetables are covered.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until the eggs are set.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Cut into 12 large slices, and wrap with plastic wrap or store in an airtight container.  These will stay good up to 5 days in the refrigerator.  They can also be frozen.

Introductions

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Name: Tamara

Occupation: Nursing Student

Location: The Rushmore State

Better Half: Noah, my favorite person in the world – he takes me fishing, skydiving, dancing, and fills my freezer with wild game and fish

Favorites: Brussels sprouts, grilled pineapple, open windows, clean sheets, floral print, bacon, bubble baths, Audrey Hepburn, skydiving, all forms of sushi, traveling, spontaneity, planning, thunderstorms, integrity, Kerrygold butter, surprises

Thanks, But No Thanks: Jumpsuits, tequila, icy roads, debbie downers, all beans but green beans, overpriced anything, sugar, washing dishes, feathered bangs, mosquitoes, junk mail

Go-To Workout: Yoga (At the moment!)

Healthy Eating Achievement: Completing a Whole 30

Weirdest Health Habits: Dry brushing and oil pulling

Wildest Dream: To backpack all over Europe

Fitness Goals: To do a headstand

Can’t Live Without: My Erin Condren planner

If I Won The Lottery: I would buy a copper cooking set and a matching KitchenAid Mixer.  Oh, and lots and lots of clothes!

Health & Wellness Defined

Hi, I’m Tamara.  I am passionate about eating real, nutrient dense food and promoting wellness through a healthy lifestyle.  My fitness journey began while in high school when my sister introduced me to the concepts of eating clean and weight training.  I became very interested in the role that diet can play in our overall health.  Since then, my idea of health has expanded.  I have read countless books and blogs, all of which have shaped my ideologies about what it means to be healthy.  What I have discovered, is that there is no one way to describe health.  Likewise, there is no “one size fits all” approach that I can recommend.  But if there is one thing I can say with absolute certainty, eating real, nutrient dense, and quality foods is a necessity to a healthy lifestyle.  I have spent a lot of my life reading, researching, and trying to discover the best way to live.  This blog is going to show you the practices and themes that guide my quest to optimum health, wellness, and happiness.  Without further ado, here is my Health Manifesto.

Eat High Quality, Nutrient Dense, Real Foods

As mentioned earlier, if there is one change you can make to your lifestyle, focusing on real foods is the most beneficial.  Eating real foods is a simple enough concept, but it requires some guidelines to fully understand.  When determining if a product is a “real food”, look at the ingredient list.  Ideally, there should be 5 or less ingredients.  The ingredients should be whole foods, such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, salt, and spices.  The ingredient list should not list artificial preservatives, sweeteners, additives, or other unnecessary ingredients.  The best way to incorporate real foods is to enjoy them in their unadulterated natural state.  Shop the produce section and select beautiful, seasonal fruits and vegetables.  Join a food co-op or CSA and enjoy the added benefits of local products.  Purchase free-range and pasteurized eggs from a local farm.  Eat abundant amounts of healthy fats such as grassfed butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil,  and the fat from quality animals.   When eating meat, poultry,  and seafood, look for indicators of higher nutrients such as wild-caught, grassfed, and free-range.  I plan on further discussing each of the aspects of eating real food in future posts.

Promote Movement in Your Lifestyle

Our bodies are amazing, complex machines.   They are designed to be in motion, and work best when they kept moving.  Movement is essential to many of the body’s biological processes.  Individuals who spend most of their lives in a state of inactivity are more likely to experience atrophy, congestion, sleep problems, and depression.  Incorporate exercise into your lifestyle by whatever means possible.  You will become mentally and physically strong.  Promoting movement is more than just making it to the gym on a regular basis.  It includes the idea that remaining seated or inactive can be damaging to one’s health.  In today’s society, we spend much of our time seated, whether at home, work, school, or driving.  Moving away from this concept can vastly improve health and wellness.

Get Adequate, Quality Sleep

Quality sleep of adequate duration is essential to overall health.  This concept is rather obvious, but still so important.  Sleep is just as important for you physically as it is mentally and emotionally.  You cannot expect to perform at your best if you are not logging in enough zzz’s.

Relaxation and Stress Management

Excess stress wreaks havoc on our bodies’ ability to function properly.   Ineffective coping results in high cortisol levels.  When you are stressed, your sleep quality decreases, energy levels are inadequate, weight loss is impeded, unhealthy cravings occur, and systemic inflammation can result in a poorly functioning immune system.  It is easy to see why high stress can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.  Managing your stress is one of the most important interventions you can take to promote a healthy lifestyle, because stress can negatively affect every other aspect of a health life.  Promote relaxation by including practices that make you feel happy and whole, such as taking walks outside, getting a massage, taking a bubble bath, meditating, writing in a journal, and socializing with friends and family.  Try to adapt your life and routine to reduce stress in the first place, when at all possible.  Remember, reducing stress will result in improvement in every aspect of health.

Reduce Toxin Exposure

Try your best to avoid and reduce exposure to toxins.  Toxins are present in our food, environment, and products we use every day.  It is an impossible goal to completely eliminate them from your life, but by minimizing contact, you can avoid the potential hazardous effects.  Swap out chemical cleaners for vinegar and baking soda.  Avoid cigarette smoke and smog.  Purchase local and organic foods when possible.  Rinse produce with a vinegar water bath.  Consider natural bath and beauty products.  Even just being conscientious about what products you use can make a big difference in toxin exposure.

Overall, I believe that eating real food, promoting an active lifestyle, getting adequate sleep, decreasing stress, and reducing toxin exposure will lead to an optimally healthy lifestyle.  The decision to live a healthy lifestyle is a powerful one.  Every choice you make has the potential to fight or feed disease.  The purpose of this blog is to share my journey.  I hope to include regular posts that delve further into each of my aspects of wellness.  I also will post many of my favorite recipes that highlight how delicious eating real and nutrient dense food can be.  Thank you for reading, and I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions below.

XOXO,

Tamara