Love and Fear

I’m feeling a bit contemplative tonight. I hope you don’t mind. Next week I’ll have a sweet treat for you!

I would have written last night (I try to post every Monday night), but the Future of Nutrition Conference started yesterday, and there are not enough hours in the day to listen to everything! Seriously, you need to check it out. Videos are free, but are only up for 24 hours. I’ve been listening to a lot of people: Mark Hyman, Kathie Swift, Sayer Ji, Sara Gottfried, Gundi Gunnarsson, Jonathan Bailor, David Perlmutter…the list goes on. And I’m so enthralled by these minds that know SO MUCH about their field of study, and yet can make it relevant and meaningful to the listener.

I really wanted to write this week about my experience with The 21 Day Sugar Detox, but that will have to wait, because I feel like I’m on the verge of having some kind of revelation of some sort regarding all the lectures I’ve listened to, and I need to let my thoughts simmer, like a good pot of chili.

Gudni Gunnarsson spoke today about the difference between nourishment and feeding is love and fear. My summary: When we love ourselves – truly love ourselves: for who we are as a human being; for where we are in life, even if it’s not where we want to be; for how we physically look – we will then nourish our bodies with wonderful food due to that love. If we beat ourselves up about how we are now, if we keep thinking about how much better our future selves will be “when I lose weight” or “when I get a job” or “when I get married,” and if we don’t forgive ourselves for things in our past, we’ll only feed into the fear of never being good enough, and that food is then often low-quality. We must have compassion for ourselves in order to fully nourish ourselves with good food. The mind-body-food connection is incredibly powerful.

This idea is resonating so strongly in me right now, and I’m struggling to find the words to explain why.

I’m currently in a place in my life where I often think about my future self and “how much better life will be” when I have a full time job. And I’m realizing now that when I get to focused on that, I lose what I thought what motivation to eat well. But what if it’s not lack of motivation, but lack of love and compassion for myself?

I love parts of me. I love my thirst for knowledge. I love the strength in my body. I love the interests that make me happy and fulfill me. But do I truly love the entire being that is me?

What would happen if I completely love myself right now, as I am and where I am in life? What would happen if I was more kind and compassionate to myself? What would happen if I let the fear go?

I could move mountains.

With that much positive energy, how could I not?


I Love Spices!

When I first started eating clean, spices were the first magical thing I discovered. My taste buds were changing, and I was able to recognize differences in flavor from the spices alone. I found, and still find, it fascinating that one can travel the world through spices.


I actually have three drawers full of spices…and 1/2 a cabinet shelf.

So today we’re going to travel the world together! If you want your dish to have a Middle Eastern flavor, I’ll give you the spices for that. Chinese? Indian? French? Italian? I’ve got it all. I haven’t figured out all areas of the world (Greek food, I’ll get to you soon!) but here’s a good starting place, especially if you’re new to spices.


Basil, Garlic, Onion, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, Fennel, Cinnamon (Southern Italy) and Marjoram (Southern Italy)


Chili powder (you can buy it, or make your own using any of the following spices), Chili peppers, Cumin, Oregano, Garlic, Cloves, Coriander, Onion, Cocoa, Cilantro, Cinnamon, Saffron


Chili Powder, Chinese Five-Spice (star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, fennel), Coriander, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, Cumin, Ginger. I also like to use Toasted Sesame Seeds for garnish.


Turmeric, Chili Powder, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Curry Powder, Thyme, Nutmeg, Paprika, Allspice, Cardamom, Mint, Sage, Saffron, Garlic (especially Northern India), Ginger (Northern India), Cumin (Northern India), Cilantro (Southern India)


Allspice (considered the Jamaican pepper), Cinnamon, Bay Leaf, Cilantro, Cloves, Thyme, Parsley, Dill, Garlic, Ginger, Nutmeg, Onion, Orange

A great flavor combination: cilantro + garlic + onion

Middle Eastern

Aleppo Pepper, Cinnamon, Coriander, Cumin, Cloves, Paprika, Garlic, Ginger, Dill, Parsley, Marjoram, Mint, Nutmeg, Oregano, Thyme, Sesame Seeds, Ras el Hanout

Ras el Hanout (rahs-el-haNOOT) is a spice blend. Usually vendors all over the Middle East and North Africa will have their own version. This is the recipe I use. It’s delicious!


Bay Leaf, Basil, Coriander, Garlic, Marjoram, Oregano, Mint, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Savory

Great combination: marjoram + rosemary

Moroccon/North Africa – my favorite flavor combinations!

Cumin, Paprika, Cilantro, Cinnamon, Coriander, Ginger, Saffron, Mint, Parsley

Great combinations: Moroccon: cinnamon + coriander + cumin; North Africa: cumin+garlic+mint


Coriander, Cumin, Chili pepper (West and South Africa, especially), Garlic, Onion, Cinnamon (South), Cloves (South), Ginger (South), Turmeric (South)


Chives, Thyme, Tarragon, Mustard, Parsley

Southern/Provençal: Anise, Basil, Garlic, Lavendar, Marjoram, Rosemary, Sage


Bay Leaf, Garlic, Onion, Orange, Sweet Paprika, Parsley, Thyme

Great combination: garlic + onion + paprika


Chili Powder, Cinnamon, Thai Basil, Cilantro, Coriander, Cumin, Chili Peppers, Curries, Garlic, Ginger, Lemongrass, Mint, Turmeric

Great combination: chili pepper + garlic + cilantro + coconut milk (I know, not a spice, but it’s yummy!)


Cabinet full of spices and spice mixes. I love Penzeys!

So there’s my list so far! But you might be asking, “Where do I start? Buying all those spices at once is too expensive!” And I completely agree. Therefore…

My List of Most-Used Spices (and some others that are good to have)

Most-Used: Cinnamon, Cumin, Cloves, Coriander, Cilantro, Chili Powder (you can make your own to save money), Garlic, Ginger, Onion, Parsley, Thyme

Good-To-Have: Basil (especially if you make a lot of Italian food), Cardamom (not used by itself often, but used in a lot of spice mixes), Chinese Five-Spice (for Chinese food), Cocoa Powder (Mexican), Marjoram, Oregano, Rosemary, Paprika, Mint, Turmeric


Well Fed 2 Spice Mixes

Well Fed and Well Fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan are two of my all-time favorite cookbooks. I’ll write a full review in a different post someday, but among all the things I love about these books, the thing I love most is the way she teaches the reader to create different ethnic meals through the use of simple base ingredients and a change of spice mixtures. The spice mixes pictured above are from Well Fed 2. The tall jar is Magic Dust, and it’s more than just a spice mix…I use it like a condiment. I also have a few favorite Penzeys spice blends that I’ll share in another post.

Poll Time! 

Question Time! What’s your favorite, go-to spice or spice mix? Answer in the comments!


Well Fed + Well Fed 2

The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

Let’s Talk About Grains

Hello all! I hope you’ve had a fantastic weekend, and that your Monday wasn’t too horrible.

Rule #473984 that I’m learning about blogging: Don’t make promises you can’t keep! I’m still planning on writing about making bone broth, as I said I would in my last post. But my last batch (the one I was making to share with you all) didn’t turn out the way I expected. It was my first time using beef bones, and it didn’t gel. It bummed me out. I think I figured out why (not enough gelatin in the bones), and I look forward to trying again, and hopefully I’ll get to take pictures of some wonderful gelled bone broth.

For today, however, I’d like to have a talk about grains, and their value, or perhaps their lack-there-of, in our diets. People can be pretty polarized on this topic. I understand that for many people, grains make up a major part of their diet. Most celebrations, whether holiday, birthday, or I’ve-got-good-news, tend to contain grain products. And people don’t want to miss out on social events that involve those products. I definitely get it. But for me, the negatives out-weight all of that – especially when there are millions of grain-free recipes of many favorite baked goods. Being grain free, I still can have my cake, cookies, brownies, pancakes, bread, French toast…there’s only a handful of foods that I haven’t been able to reproduce, and out of that handful, there’s only a few that I actually miss. Now, some Paleo-Purists might criticize the fact that I do make things that are not from the Paleolithic Era, but I feel that as long as these baked goods are treated as treats and not daily staples, it’s fine. And like Jeph Jacques put on an apron, baking is science for hungry people!

My issues with grains:

1) Processing

Refined grains are incredibly processed. That means that there was a lot of machinery, chemicals, and/or heat involved in making the product. The bran and the germ of the seed are removed, so you lose a lot of nutrients in those layers. The lost nutrients are often added back in – that’s what “fortified” means – but that doesn’t necessarily mean the body recognizes those chemical versions of nutrients as the real deal. And, going back to my definition of real food, since it’s processed, it’s not a real food. It’s a food product. It’s edible, but is it really healthy?

2) Anti-nutrients and Hard-to-Digest Proteins

Get ready for some science!

There’s an anti-nutrient in whole grain called phytate, which is found in the bran. Phytates combine with the minerals in the bread or other grain product and prevent the body from using that mineral. It doesn’t matter that there’s calcium and magnesium in the whole grain – the phytates won’t allow your body to absorb it and benefit from it.

As for proteins, there are two (I suppose technically three) big ones that are troublesome: lectin and gluten. Lectins are problematic because those molecules can stick to the lining of our intestines, causing all sorts of digestive distress and erode you intestinal barrier – also known as “leaky gut”. Gluten, found in wheat, barley, and rye, is made up of two proteins: gliadin and glutenin. You’ve probably heard of celiacs disease, in which people have no tolerance for gluten due to the autoimmune disorder in the small intestine. But recently, researchers and doctors are discovering that many people who test negative for celiacs disease can still have severe reactions to gluten – I’m one of them – and we now have a name for it: non-celiacs gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Those of us with NCGS may not have the digestive issues that celiacs have, but we could have other symptoms: fatigue, joint/muscle pain, headaches, skin irritations, brain fog and depression are just a few. Non-gluten grains, like corn and oats, contain a different protein than gluten, but can cause similar symptoms.

3) GMOs

If we all had access to einkorn, one of the original wheat grains, our bodies would probably be a lot happier. That’s because it was a naturally grown grain that had 14 chromosomes, and our bodies recognized it as nourishment. Today’s modern wheat has been genetically modified for various reasons, and now has 42 chromosomes. It’s almost impossible to find corn now-a-days that isn’t genetically modified. Now, what’s wrong with GMOs? I believe it hasn’t been tested enough to be 100% sure that it’s safe for consumption long-term, and I wonder if there’s any connection between GMOs and the rising obesity population, or any connection to a variety of diseases. We just don’t know. Also, I don’t like the idea of my food being modified to a point that my body doesn’t recognize it as nourishment. What is so wrong with the food that nature provides?

4) Inflammation

According to Dr. Tom O’Bryan, “Every degenerative disease – cancer, heart disease, brain diseases, joint diseases – every degenerative disease is a disease is a disease of inflammation inside the cell. It means the cell’s on fire…there’s too much activity, too much heat.” Every bite we eat is either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Either the food will cause that “fire” to which our immune system then responds, or it will help slow down or stop the inflammation. And more and more research points to the theory that most people, if not EVERYONE, has an inflammatory response to grains. What could this mean? It could mean that the inflammation is in your brain, and you can’t feel it, so you continue to eat grains. Maybe in your 30s you start forgetting things, and you blame it on “getting older”. Then, when you’re in your 60s, you get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. That’s the result of inflammation killing your brain cells. And that’s not good! But what I find really cool is that our blood will show elevated antibodies YEARS before we show symptoms of a disease, and we have the technology to test our blood to discover these antibodies. Kind of like Doppler radar, but it predicts disease instead of storms.

5) Blood sugar levels

I think it was Dr. Perlmutter who said that two slices of whole wheat bread can spike your blood sugar higher than a snickers bar. He was on Dr. Oz, and they tested some women and found that for 3 out of the 5, this was true. Ideally, we want to keep our blood sugar as stable as possible. If it spikes, it’s going to eventually come down, and that’s how we get sugar crashes. Your body did what it needed to do – produce insulin to help your body adjust to the increase sugar. When our blood sugar levels keep rising and falling, it’s almost like a drug affect – we want more of what we already had to bring that level back up. If you’ve done a Whole30, then you’ll recognize this as the Sugar Monster. We might expect this from a candy bar, but not from something that the government calls, “healthy”. If you’re trying to lose weight, keeping a stable blood sugar level is crucial for success.


So there you have it! That’s what I’ve learned about grains so far…I will update when I learn more.

Now, does this mean I won’t occasionally indulge in some grains? Hey, I’m not perfect, and I love sushi. I’ve learned through lots of self-experimentation that rice does not affect me as severely as other grains, and I don’t have sushi all the time. Some people, for example, have no apparent symptoms when they eat rice or oats. Could inflammation still be occurring somewhere in the body? Probably. But if every other forkful you have that day is anti-inflammatory, maybe your body will balance it out and heal itself. Who knows? We are all our own chemistry experiment. I can’t tell you what’s best for you, but I hope I’ve given you something to think about.

If you have questions, please ask! Also, I want to post a grain-free recipe. Is there a particular dish or dessert you’d like to see grain-free?



The Grain Manifesto

Mark’s Daily Apple

Speed Endurance

The 21 Day Sugar Detox book

Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s Real Food Con lecture

Tomato Soup/Sauce

Well, I got train-wrecked with a cold since my last entry – one of those colds that starts as a hacking-up-a-lung cough and then travels up to the sinuses and ears. Silver lining: I did not lose my voice. It’s very difficult to substitute teach with no voice.

Being sick, I haven’t wanted to cook that much. But since I started the 21 Day Sugar Detox on Monday, I sort of needed to make sure I had good food to eat so I wouldn’t go grabbing for sugar. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Sugar Monster reared its head in a major way. The constant cravings for something sweet and feeling “hungry” every couple of hours were two big clues that I needed to do a sugar detox. Basically, the detox is no sugar for 21 days…so yeah, no leftover holiday treats, but also very limited fruit and starches. It’s been trickier than I’ve expected, but I want to blame a lot of that on Mr. Cold.

So, between the cold and lack of sugar, I wanted a hug in a bowl. And that, to me, is either chili or tomato soup. Since I’ve been eating chili for the last week and am starting to get sick of it, tomato soup it is! But not just any tomato soup. A tasty, simple and quick-to-make tomato soup. Most store-bought tomato soups have extra…crap stuff added to it . Either they’re high in sodium, or there’s added sugar, or worse – modified food starch and weird chemical names. It’s just not necessary to have these ingredients added to make tomato soup taste good.

This is the first recipe that I created as a true kitchen experiment. Until I started cooking with real food, I had to follow a recipe exactly. I still will do that with someone else’s recipe the first time I make it, and then I’ll play around with the ingredients. But about a month ago, I wanted tomato soup. I had tomato paste and coconut milk, and a ton of spices. So I just started mixing things together, and it tasted awesome! It even worked well as a sauce with chicken, which I then wanted to make with my boyfriend. Not remembering what spices I used, we made it up, and it still tasted awesome.

Yesterday I made it again, but this time I made sure to record how much of each spice I was using (I didn’t, however, remember to take a picture. Oh, learning curve!). Here’s the cool thing with spices: if you like one spice more than another, just add more of the spice you like! I particularly love garlic, so I always add a extra bit of garlic. But play around with it yourself. As long as you don’t dump tablespoons of any spice in the sauce, you’ll be fine. Remember: you can always add more, but you can’t take away.

Easy Creamy Tomato Soup/Sauce


1-3 6-8 oz cans tomato paste – Make sure there is no sugar or citric acid added. The can should just say “tomatoes”.

1 can full-fat coconut milk – Your body needs fat to function, and coconut is one of the healthiest fats out there. Thai Kitchen and A Taste of Thai are the two brands I use most often. DO NOT use light! It will not taste good!

2 teaspoons of garlic powder – A great way to get garlic in if you like the taste but not the texture.

1 teaspoon each of: onion, turmeric, cinnamon, sage, coriander, ginger, and sea salt (not table salt!) – Lots of health benefits in these spices. onion: dietary fiber, manganese, calcium and vitamin C; turmeric: anti-inflammatory, brain-function booster, manganese, iron, vitamin B6, fiber and potassium; cinnamon: manganese, fiber, calcium, and some evidence that it may help lower blood sugar and boost brain function; sage: antioxidants, Vitamin K, anti-inflammatory, and some evidence that it may help with memory; coriander: anti-inflammatory, fiber and calcium; ginger: anti-inflammatory, and may relieve gastrointestinal distress; sea salt: strengthens immune system, trace minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium, minimal processing compared to table salt


1. In a medium sauce pan, heat the coconut milk on medium heat.

2. Once the coconut milk starts to bubble (but not boil), add 1 can of tomato paste and stir until the tomato paste has dissolved in the milk. The color could be anywhere between a pale red to a slightly burnt orange-y red depending on the consistency of the paste and milk you used.

3. Add in all spices and stir. Let soup simmer for about 5-10 minutes to thicken up. Stir often so the bottom doesn’t burn. Make sure you put a lid on the pot, or it could pop soup bubbles all over the stove, and then you have to spend time cleaning the stove instead of eating, which stinks. I’ve learned this the hard way. (I also learned I dislike white stoves.)

4. Here’s where personal choice comes in! Taste the soup. If it’s the thickness you want and you like the flavors, you’re done! If you want more of a tomato bisque, add another can of tomato paste. If you want a sauce and the bisque isn’t thick enough, add the third can of paste. You may need to add more spices to compensate for the added tomato paste. If you want to add veggies to the soup, go right ahead, and let me know how it goes!

Servings: Since I ate the whole pot, I’m a really bad judge…oops. But it should be enough for two people.

Tomorrow I hope to have my favorite winter hug-in-a-cup recipe – bone broth!

Question for you: What do you like to eat when you’re sick?



Sources for spice info:

Real Food

What Is a “Real” Food?

When people ask me what I eat, I often reply with, “meats and veggies…real food.” But then someone asks, “But wait. I can eat ____, so why isn’t that a real food?” So, here’s my definition: A “real” food is a food that is packed full of nutrients naturally. These are the foods that often have no nutrition label, or have maybe 4 ingredients listed, and each ingredient is recognized as a “real” food in itself. The food came from the earth, or came from an animal that ate from the earth.

Examples: quality meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs, and spices.

Why eat only real foods?

When we eat real foods, we get many of the nutrients that are body needs. Our bodies were made to absorb macro-nutrients (fat, carbohydrates, and proteins) together with micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals). These foods will help to stabilize blood sugar and some of them are anti-inflammatory – all good things! When our bodies have stable blood sugar levels, our moods and energy levels also become more stable, and we have less cravings.

“But Janelle, grains come from the earth! Why don’t you consider grain products like bread and pasta real food?”

An excellent question! Short answer: while one of the earliest cultivated wheat grains, einkorn, was fine, today’s wheat grain been altered and processed so much that our bodies don’t recognize it as food and cannot digest it well anymore, and it causes more harm than good. Yes, even whole grains. There is growing evidence that wheat ingestion not only causes digestive inflammation, but inflammation throughout the whole body, and is the root cause of many autoimmune and neurological diseases. I’ll write a more science-y article about that later this week.

Also this week, I plan to post a few recipes. What kind of recipes would be helpful for you? Beginner recipes, 30-minutes or less recipes…what would you like to see?

First Entry

It’s 2014! Woohoo! Instead of a New Year Resolution, I’ve decided to take on a project, and this is that project. Welcome to itsaladafood, home of the blog “One Bit At A Time: A Journey of Clean Eating”. (It’s a lot of food…get it?)

A bit about me: I’m 29 (for 10 more days), I live in New York’s Capital Region, and I LOVE FOOD. My other love is teaching. This blog will allow me to combine my loves: to teach and share all that I’ve learned about food, nutrition, and how to live better.

My Story: I was overweight growing up. I was “the fat one” among my group of friends. I’m 5’1, and the heaviest I remember seeing on the scale was above 160. I was wearing 14/16 clothes, and in high school they were starting to get too tight. But no one could get through to me that I needed to lose weight until I saw a picture of myself. I didn’t recognize myself due to how swollen my face looked. It was the wake-up call I needed, and so my mom and I joined Weight Watchers. At the time I thought it was fantastic to be able to use their mathematical formula to figure out what foods to eat to lose weight, and I did lose weight – 25 pounds. Yay!

But then college started. And I gained it all back.

By grad school I was back to my pre-Weight Watchers weight, but I discovered I had a gluten-sensitivity, and so by not having breads, pastas, and other baked goods – only eating meats and veggies – I lost weight. Cool!

And then gluten-free products started to actually taste good. I could have my beef stroganoff again, and pizza, and bagels. So I did have them…and the weight went back on.

Fast forward a few more years to April 26, 2011. I’d been feeling pretty crappy about myself: No job, guy I was dating stopped returning my texts/calls, and physically I just felt awful. A friend on Facebook had posted a link to a website called, and while her purpose was to share an article about cutting out TV for a month, I saw the Whole30 challenge: cut out the poor-quality foods for just 30 days. Eat all the meat, veggies, and nuts you want, eat a moderate amount of fruit, and that’s it! No grains, legumes, added sugars, dairy, or alcohol.

If that sounds daunting to you, I totally get it because I felt daunted by the limitations at first, too. But it was another wake-up call about what I was putting into my body. The first thing I had in the morning was a coffee with loads of non-dairy creamer and two packets of Splenda. I had at least three TABLESPOONS of sugar in my coffee! The American Heart Association recommends that for women, we should have no more than two tablespoons a DAY, and here I was, having more than that in my morning coffee. I learned that I was basically setting my body up for failure by doing that: I have no energy and my sugar cravings were out of control. I was addicted to sugar.

So I did it. Cold turkey. 30 days. No cheating. (And boy, those sugar withdrawal days were ROUGH). I think I lost between 12-15 pounds in that first month from only changing my diet. And what I gained was huge: I had energy to spare at the end of the day. Foods that I hadn’t liked before I now could enjoy because my taste buds weren’t always expecting sugar and sweetness. I learned that tomatoes and carrots taste sweet!  I learned the joy of cooking, and how easy it is to cook and create when all the ingredients are real foods. Not only is food fuel, but it’s an art. And it’s delicious!

I felt so good after that month that I kept going, with a little bit of “off-roading” here and there (I hate the word “cheat,” which I’ll explain in a later entry). I slowly re-introduced some foods that I missed, like cheese and popcorn. I learned that I could listen to my body and understand it’s signals: I will feel bloated after eating too much cheese, and popcorn make me itchy and twitchy. So, I eat what makes my body feel good. I treat my body like a good friend…I don’t want to make my body feel bad. If I know the food I eat is something that will make it feel really bad, I try not to eat it. This new relationship with my body makes me love it, and me, more.  My total weight loss was 30 pounds, and I’ve kept most of it off since then.

In the last few months I attended a few online conferences on nutrition: Underground Wellness’s Real Food Con, The Paleo Summit, and Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s The Gluten Summit. The results of the research from the last 10 years is astonishing, and so many doctors have not learned about the research unless that doctor takes it upon him/herself to stay up-to-date. That means we have to be proactive over our own health, and we need to question if what we’ve been told all lives is, in fact, healthy. I hope that by sharing what I’ve learned you’ll start to ask yourself some questions and gain a better understanding of your own health.

But don’t forget about the food. I’ll be posting recipes, and I’m looking forward to sharing all the yummy goodness with you!