Category Archives: Basics

Understanding clean eating and the differences between the mainstream lingo

ASAP Science- What If You Stopped Eating?


Infographic: The Guide to Good Bacteria

Basics of Digestion

Digestion- so easy a baby can do it! The digestive system is a key part of our survival-without it we would starve and when it goes wrong (in either direction) it can not only make us miserable but it can kill us. However it can also give us great pleasure not only from the foods we eat but it also contains 95% of the serotonin in the body.  So let us take a look of what is actually going on here.


First we start out with mastication- and no that isn’t something you hide from your mother it’s just a fancy word for chewing. Even though you started sticking things in your mouth and chewing on them since you could grab you probably aren’t doing it right.  You don’t have to go to crazy town and start counting the number of chews per bite- every food is different based on the macronutrients in it.  However if you could still tell what the food was before it went in there chances are you need to keep chewing until it’s a mushy (but still tasty) glob.

You may think that the mouth is a purely mechanical fixture- with all those specialized teeth for cutting and grinding- however there are many important chemical reactions that the mouth is responsible for. Chemical break down of food begins in the mouth with the enzyme amylase that is found in saliva.  (For now, think of all enzymes like specialized scissors- or cartoon samarui’s).  The action of chewing also starts a whole chemical cascade of signals to the brain and other organs shouting that food is coming.


The wet mushy mass that you just finished chewing.. it’s called a bolus now.. and the oesophagus does a squeezing action known as peristalsis. If you imagine squeezing your tube of toothpaste from the bottom up just to get that last bit out- then you have got the right idea.  At the end there is a one way door known as a sphincter which unloads onto the ball of mush into your stomach.  I say it’s a one way door- sometimes you need to get food out (or sometimes your body decides this is a good idea on its own) and that door opens wide.  If this sphincter muscle isn’t nice and tight you can have leakage of stomach acid onto the soft smooth muscle lining of the oesophagus- this is heart burn, or GERD, or reflux… or last night’s curry.


Here strong acid (with a pH of 2) continues the chemical breakdown of foods and peptidases are released and work to break up the protein. The acid also forms a second function in the fact is it really good at killing bacteria- so that slightly dodgy leftover won’t kill you.  In this caustic environment we turn the bolus into chime- most of the long chains of the macronutrients have been broken down into much smaller pieces, readying them for absorption later.  Contrary to popular belief you can’t “shrink down” your stomach through eating less.  However you can train the stomach-brain connection as to when to stimulate that full feeling and how long that feeling is maintained.  Then again this is more helped by the types of food that you are sticking in there.


The small intestines have three parts- duodenum, jejunum, and ileum- or if you want to keep it simple “digest, push and absorb”. The last bit of digestion takes place here with bile and lipases being released to help with the digestion of fat.  More importantly is the beginning of the absorption of nutrients- after all we need to get all that goodness to the rest of the body.  The details of absorption and transport of nutrients will be discussed later in detail but for now you need to know it’s all about surface area.  The small intestines in an adult can be up to 30 feet in length- and have the surface area of a tennis court.  This vastness of folds and crevices are known as villi and enable a larger amount of absorption.  When things go wrong in the small intestines it can trigger a variety of issues downstream.  The small intestines can become coated with thick mucus (Cystic Fibrosis), villi can be damaged and clumped together (Coeliac Disease), bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or progression can become rushed (IBS)- all resulting in a lack of nutrients being delivered to the body.


Made up of three parts- “up, over, out” or “ascending, transverse, descending.” The main function of the colon is to absorb water to maintain the balance of fluid.  Most of us have learned to control the sphincter at the end so we can choose where and when to eliminate- preventing much embarrassment.  Your colon (another name for the large intestines) should be filled with bacteria.  (FYI did you know that 90% of the DNA in your body doesn’t belong to you- it belongs to these cute little dudes in your intestines)  We like these bacteria as they digest some last food making some nutrients available and they fight against the growth of evil yeast.  Also they can do some cool tricks- depending on the population you will have little/no gas and farts, really stinky farts or even farts that light on fire.

Where to start with “Clean Eating”

Just eat real food… Eat cuts of meat where you can tell what part of the animal it is, eat fruits and vegetables that yes may involve the use of a knife. Throw away your soda, your “shelf stable” preservative laden foods, get rid of un-naturally coloured foods and make room in your cabinets. Get yourself a nice knife… like a really nice knife (you know you deserve it!). If you have a bit leftover lets go for that food processor and slow cooker too- things you will literally use nearly everyday.   But what is real food?

There a lots of twitter hashtags, forum arguments and pedants who wish to argue the minute differences between it. Maybe you call yourself #paleo, #primal, #jerf, #banting, #lchf, #glutenfree, #eatclean, #fitfam, #caveman #eatlocal, #AIP, #GAPS and many many other variations… what those of us in the clean eating world need to agree on that whole foods are by far healthier than the pre-packaged process kinds. Now the paleo’s can hate on the primals because they are eating dairy, the AIP crowd just resents everyone but particularly their doctors who kept pushing meds instead of trying food, and honestly I just laugh at a lot of the #fitfam with their ridiculous “healthy snacks” they eat while preening and posing in the mirror instead of lifting big heavy fricken weights. But really wouldn’t it be just nicer if we could all just be friends?

So anyways… you decided to eat clean so where do you start? Well if you are generally a mess, overweight, not moving enough then possibly a 30 day challenge would be a great start. I would suggest 21DSD or Whole30 as far as food goes and at this point just start walking more. However if you are a “lucky” individually who has been blessed with a large amount of allergies and autoimmune diseases you may need to go with the Autoimmune Protocol, or specifically if you have MS the Wahls Protocol. If you cannot do the “all or nothing” mentalities then try 3 Step Paleo as an introduction. All of the books/programmes will be a great start to change your mind set around food and more importantly your relationships with food. And as much as it is going to suck… it is really worth giving up alcohol for the 21-90 day introduction. Now you may make some mistakes during this time but don’t let one mistake spiral you down into a deep dark hole…. In general if you are in a tight spot:

-Always avoid gluten

-Suck it up and eat a salad, and NO you don’t get that dressing or the croutons

-Instead of restaurant see if you can pop into a grocery store

-Just don’t eat… you won’t starve or pass out if you go without food for a few hours once (but lets not make a habit of it ok?)

-Alcohol will be hard to give up for some and if you’re a woman of childbearing age yes you will get THAT annoying question over and over, but try soda water with diced fruit or juice…

Part 2 to follow: What to do once you enter the grocery store….

TED- Naomi Oreskes: Why we should trust scientists

Call it Stock, Call it Bone Broth, Call it Animal Soup- But Always Call it Delicious

Many a paleo leader has proclaimed the great virtues of this magical potion called bone broth.  Probably one of the biggest has been Stacy Toth of the “Paleo Parents” found at  Bone broth provides nutrients otherwise difficult to get into your diet and for us ladies a great amount of collagen to keep those faces looking young.

As someone who always has always preferred a salt lick to a cupcake I find bone broth portable and easy to whip up in British society since it has the same requirements as a cup of tea.  As with many restrictions I have due to my autoimmune condition I am unable to buy most grocery store versions and Whole Foods is well over 40 minutes away.  Instead I have made friends with my local butcher and can get some great pigs trotters or a marrow bone for less then a couple of quid.  There are two main preparations I use- stove top or slow cooker.  When I get my Christmas present of a pressure cooker I will be sure to update and add that as well.

trotters marrow bones

Preparation One- Slow Cooker (best for marrow bones or trotters)

Both of these can be found at local butchers shops in the UK.  If you are in the US and don’t have a proper butcher you can look into farmers markets.  My parents back in New York have built relationships with several local farmers to get these types of cuts that you normally would not find in a store.  I have a larger slow cooker so a trotter will fit easily into it I usually have the butcher cut a marrow bone in half and I only use one half during a cook.

Into a slow cooker I throw some celery stalks, carrots, and a couple of onions.  (You will learn as I write more and more I  am very bad as measuring, but a very good cook).  Add water to cover.  Once this gets up to temperature I turn it to low and allow it to simmer for up to 48 hours.  After the long slow cook separate the liquid portion and simmer on the stove top to reduce.  Here I have my favorite new use for an old tool- a pasta pot.  Part giant pot, part strainer… its perfect for making stock.  Mine is quite large and similar to this:

pasta potbone-broth-in-pot

broth-in-containersAfter simmering off excess water place the pot into the fridge to cool the stock into a gel and solidify the fat on top.  If you have used beef marrow bones you will get a nice amount of tallow and a dark stock.  If you have used pigs trotters you will get a nice amount of lard for later cooking.   I like to separate the two layers and portion into freezable sizes.  Due to the high nutrient content of the broth it is prone to growing molds and yeasts so keep the unused portions frozen until needed.  In your fridge freezer you should have lots of lovely containers as seen below.  Add a scoop of gel to boiling water in a cup and season with salt and herbs as desired.

If you have a furry little friend who you like… you can give them the marrow that will be ooze at this point.  Normally I wouldn’t share marrow but after 48 hours of cooking the texture is a bit off… But my Cobalt loves the stuff!

Preparation Two- Stove Top (Works best for chicken carcasses)

I only make chicken stock when we have roasted a whole chicken at home.  I place remove as much meat from the carcass as I can and place in my formerly known as a pasta pot stock pot.  Add the same random quantities of onions, celery and carrots and top with hot water to cover all.  It should look something pretty like below.  If you want to save the stock follow the same directions as above to reduce until you get a lower amount which is easier to store.  Chicken tends not to gel as well or produce the same nice usable fat layer.  I suggest using the stock to make yourself some great chicken soup with the left over bits.

Remove the top of the pasta pot removing the large pieces and leaving the broth.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and desired herbs.  You can use lime, Coriander leaf (cilantro), chili powder and smoked paprika for a mexican feel or rosemary, thyme and oregano for a more traditional taste.  The vegetables used for the stock will be very wilted so I choose to discard these scraps and add a few new carrots, celery, onion and the chicken and simmer for at least another 30 minutes to warm through.  If you are in need of carbs you can add some cooked rice as well.  One chicken typically makes about six servings of soup.

chicken stockchicken soup