Yes, I know that “partial Whole30” is an oxymoron.
(For those unfamiliar with Whole30, it’s committing to 30 days of strict adherance to a Paleo diet. If you’re not sure what that is, see What’s the Paleo diet?)
But while I think there’s a lot of good to be earned from doing a Whole30, it just isn’t right for everyone, all the time. If you’re trying to sort out which is right for you right now, here are some things to consider.
I remember the first time I had pasta alla vodka: in an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles — La Cucina, I think. (I was traveling and eating on someone else’s dime, which is the best!) I don’t remember what seafood it had in it, but that sauce! It hooked me. All the happy flavors of marinara, plus the extra body that cream brings to the sauce, plus a subtle little tang from the cooked-down vodka. (No, it doesn’t taste alcoholic at all.) The entire rest of my trip, at every restaurant, I tried anything that sounded like that dish, never recreating that first wow! experience.
Genuine alla vodka sauce contains cream and vodka — both no-no’s if you’re eating Paleo, or any version of a dairy-free, alcohol-free diet. And then there’s the pasta. Non buono if you’re eating gluten-free! So although I loved this dish, and had made it at home before, I thought it was just something I could no longer enjoy except for the occasional splurge. ‘Cause I do believe in food freedom!
And I didn’t really set out to recreate that dish: I was just trying to throw together a quick meal for myself with what I had on hand. Which was some homemade marinara, shrimp (both in the freezer), and some zucchini. Hmm, I thought, I can make zoodles and top them with marinara and shrimp!
Then, as that was cooking on the stovetop, I thought how nice a little creaminess would be in that sauce. Then — aha! — I remembered I had some coconut yogurt in the fridge! I stirred a bit into the sauce and tasted it: the yogurt adds not just creaminess, but also that slight bit of tang you get from cooked-down vodka. And it brought back the memory of that first heavenly taste.
(Sure, you could try a different brand. I just haven’t tested any others, so I don’t know how they’d turn out. Or, if you’re not avoiding dairy, you could substitute some full-fat plain Greek yogurt for the coconut yogurt.)
And this dish really goes together quickly. If your shrimp is already thawed and you have marinara on hand, you’ll be enjoying delicious, MOL (mmm out loud) food in less than 20 minutes!
I highly recommend using homemade marinara. It’s so simple, takes just 30 minutes, and tastes infinitely superior to store-bought. (Check out my homemade marinara recipe.) However, if you don’t have time, you can certainly use jarred marinara. Look for a sugar-free brand, if possible.
If you don’t like shrimp, you could substitute lobster or crab. Or chicken, if you must.
I’ve made a short video showing just how easy it is to make zoodles. Please note: I say that they only need to be cooked a minute or two. It will probably be longer than that, but it depends on the thickness of your noodles, the heat in your dish, and your desired texture. Just taste them every so often; you’ll learn what works for you.
Not avoiding gluten or grains? Sure: use your favorite pasta. Cook it beforehand, and add it when you would add the zoodles. (Did you know that cooking pasta, cooling it in the fridge, then reheating it changes the starch? It reduces its impact on your blood sugar, and the resistant starch is “superfood for your digestive system.” Cool, huh?!)
Whether or not you’ve tried pasta alla vodka before, I think you’ll love this dish!
Paleo pasta alla vodka recipe
2 medium zucchini
10 oz. large raw shrimp (fresh or frozen, peeled and deveined, no tails)
salt and pepper
oil for cooking the shrimp (olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil)
*Note: if you’re not avoiding dairy, you may substitute full-fat plain Greek yogurt for the coconut yogurt, reducing amount to 3 tablespoons.
Prepare the zoodles and set aside. Thaw the shrimp. Pat them dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mince or julienne the basil, if using, and set aside.
Heat a medium-large saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s ready (a few drops of water splashed in the pan should sizzle a bit before evaporating), add a drizzle of oil and let it heat up a minute; then add the shrimp. Let the shrimp cook on one side until you see most of the tails starting to turn pink-white. Turn the shrimp over and cook until most of them are curled into a closed circle. You want them just barely or even a little under-done. They’ll continue to cook after you take them off the heat.
Remove the shrimp to a dish and keep warm. Add the marinara to the pan and heat through; add the yogurt and stir till well mixed.
Add the zoodles and stir to combine. Let them cook in the sauce until they’re done to your liking. Pull out a noodle to taste-test the texture. This should only take a few minutes.
When it’s all heated through and the zoodles are done to your taste, remove the mixture to a serving bowl or individual bowls or plates, and top with the shrimp and basil.
There are three types of difficulties with foods: allergies, intolerance, and sensitivity. It’s not unusual to see some of these terms used interchangably, and most people aren’t aware of the differences between them, but the differences are important.
Food allergies are when your body perceives a food as a dangerous intruder and mobilizes the immune system (IgE, specifically) to fight it. Reactions may vary from a skin rash to one’s airways suddenly swelling closed, which can quickly become life-threatening.
Food intolerance means that your body has difficulty digesting certain foods. Symptoms are digestive problems such as bloating or diarrhea, but may also include respiratory symptoms or headaches.
This chart further explains the differences between these two:
Other common food allergies not listed by the chart include wheat and soybeans. Less common allergens include corn, gelatin, various meats, seeds (sesame, sunflower, and poppy being the most common) and certain spices.
Food sensitivity is controversial in some quarters because it doesn’t always show up in common lab tests. It’s similar to allergies in that it involves the immune system (but the reaction is usually less violent or life-threatening), but similar to intolerance in that reactions to food are usually delayed and may be in proportion to the amount ingested. While not immediately life-threatening, it may do damage to the body. For example, in a person with celiac disease, the reaction to gluten may cause damage to the small intestine. (Learn more about celiac here.)
If you remove all offending foods from your diet for a time, your system may heal to the point where you can again enjoy them in moderate quantities.
Symptoms may include:
Bloating or irregular digestion
Skin rashes of any kind, including adult acne
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle and joint pain
Depression and mood swings
Foggy head; difficulty with mental focus
Autoimmune diseases (such as Graves’ Disease, Hashimoto’s, lupus, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, and more)
Foods don’t cause the autoimmune disease — which often have a genetic link — but food intolerances can add fuel to the symptoms. A common saying is, “Genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle/environment pulls the trigger.”
Which foods are the main cause of food sensitivity is the topic of much debate! Three different websites yielded three different lists:
So to sum up, food allergies and intolerances are well-known and agreed upon in the medical community, and so finding reliable information about them is not difficult. Food sensitivities, however, are more controversial, and harder to diagnose. This doesn’t mean that they’re not real: just that science is still working out the kinks in the theory.
If you think you may have one or more food sensitivities, here are some books to explore:
It Starts With Food – This book contains some “science-y stuff” (the authors’ term), but leans heavily toward easy-to-read. It explains the “what” and a little of the “why” behind the Paleo diet.
Practical Paleo – I’m still working my way through this book, but the author delves into more detail than the above book, while still being clear.
The Paleo Approach – I have not read it. Specifically geared toward those with autoimmune diseases, and how the Paleo diet paired with some additional food eliminations can help control symptoms for these types of diseases.
Also, see my review of Digestive Health with Real Food. This is the most thorough treatment of food sensitivity that I’ve read, going beyond Paleo, and emphasizing that there is no one-size-fits-all diet.
Why are these all Paleo books? (Except the last one.) Honestly: because that’s what I’m most familiar with. I don’t think that the Paleo diet is something that everyone needs to adhere to strictly, and I question its assumptions (that this is the way our “ancestors” ate), but the proof is in people: Paleo does seem to work for a lot of people with the types of ailments that have exploded in America in the last few decades. It eliminates some of the items that show up on every expert’s food sensitivity list — grains, soy, beans/legumes, and dairy. It does allow eggs, though.
In my next post, I’ll talk about where I’ve landed on this topic, and what I would recommend for someone wanting to take their diet to the next level, once they’ve eliminated sugar and reduced refined carbs.
Something I’m probably going to be talking about a lot more here is meal prep, because making healthy food more convenient is the way to kick the convenience food habit! And my particular approach to meal prep isn’t having 12 different casseroles in the freezer to drop in the slow cooker. What works for me is having a lot of different ingredients and meal components chopped and/or cooked, so they’re ready to be thrown together at a moment’s notice, for quick, easy meals — not just dinner, but also super easy lunches, since I work from home.
Lately, I’ve been on a tuna salad kick. It’s a perfect lunch for summer – no cooking needed! I do sometimes do the super-simple version of throwing a packet of tuna, a bit of homemade mayo, and some lemon pepper together and eating it on romaine hearts. Might even throw in some chopped celery and/or pickle, if I feel like a little something extra. But lately, I’ve been doing variations on a tuna salad dressed with oil and vinegar, rather than mayo. And this is a great way to work in lots of veggies, too!
This would work great for a lunch to pack for work, school, or a picnic, too.
The core recipe is:
1 2-to-3 oz. package of tuna
about 1/2 c. of diced onion (but you can eyeball* it)
1 T. of lemon juice or rice vinegar
2 to 3 T. of olive oil (use 2 if the tuna is packed in oil; 3 if it’s packed in water)
1/4 c. chopped parsley – again; just eyeball* it
1/4 to 1/2 avocado
1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1/4 t. regular salt)
1/4 t. fresh ground black pepper – or more to taste
a pinch or two of dill – optional
*”Eyeball it” = just throw in an amount that looks to you like it would fill a measuring cup of that particular measurement. If you’re not comfortable doing that straight away, measure it out and pay attention to what that looks like, and remember it for next time. This saves you the few seconds of getting out a measuring cup. (And saves some space in the dishwasher.)
This is where my meal prep comes in handy. I always keep a container of already-diced yellow onion in the fridge, and a container of already-chopped parsley in the freezer. I squeeze fresh lemons every few days and keep a bottle of that in the fridge. If you’re cool with the pre-squeezed stuff that comes in a bottle, I won’t judge! I also keep tuna packets in the fridge, so the tuna is already cold when I add it to the other salad stuff. When I buy a bunch of parsley, I chop it all and put it in a baggie in the fridge. It stays a nice green and is super easy to grab what you need and toss it into any dish.
Avocado is something that’s best cut up at the last minute, but thanks to the acid in the dressing, the avocado won’t turn too brown if you need to hold this for a few hours.
Then add the other veggies of your choice, and stir it all together gently. It’s best if you can let it chill for a couple hours or so, but I rarely think ahead that far! Whenever you’re ready to eat it, taste it first and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add more salt if it’s just overall bland; more lemon/vinegar and/or pepper if it needs more zing!
Here are some of my variations…
This has been my standby combo for years: to the basic core recipe, I add some chopped bell pepper — also something I keep ready in the fridge — and some chopped tomato. (Tomatoes should always be kept at room temp for best flavor, so those can’t be stashed in the fridge.) Measurements aren’t important; just add it till it looks like an amount you’ll like.
Lately, I’ve been trying to live without nightshades — a family of plants including potatoes, tomatoes, and all peppers except black pepper. (Not because these veggies are bad for you! But some people have a sensitivity to them, and I’m experimenting to see if they have any impact on how I feel.) So here are a few nightshade-free tuna salad variations.
Here, I used diced cucumber to replace the crispy texture of the bell pepper, and pine nuts to fill the role of the sweetness of the tomatoes. It turned out quite nice!
And here’s another slight variation on that: still with cucumbers, but I’ve also got some diced celery, chopped celery leaves, and homemade paleo Ranch dressing added to the mix. Oh, and half a hard-boiled egg — another thing to keep on hand, if you like them.
Another alternative for those avoiding tomatoes: blueberries! I know, it sounds weird, right? But don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! The blubes have a sweet-slightly-tart flavor that makes an excellent sub for tomatoes.
Pretty easy lunches, huh? I hope this gives you some inspiration: with some of your favorite pre-diced veggies in your fridge and a couple other staples on hand, you can mix up any number of variations of your own favorite salad, and it really just takes a few minutes.
These could serve two people for a light lunch; especially if you serve something else with it. I must confess, though, that most days, I polish it all off on my own!
One of my husband’s favorite desserts is coffee ice cream. And for two back-to-back rounds of Whole30, he went without desserts completely. Afterwards, he decided to stick with Paleo permanently — which means there’s room for the occasional, nature-sweetened dessert. So I wondered, could I make a sugar-free ice cream recipe that was also dairy-free, — and stacked up to his favorite brand?
Yes, I can!
I tried one version that included egg yolks, with the whole simmering-and-tempering thing, (and if you want to add some protein, healthy fats, and vitamins to your ice cream, you could certainly go that route). He liked it just fine. But my second time around, I decided to see if I could simplify the process — no cooking required! — and still keep the yum factor.
The verdict: He liked the second version better. Even said, “This beats Marble Slab!” WIN!
2 T. ground coffee; mild or mellow flavor (decaf, if you like)
16 pitted deglet noor dates
1 can coconut milk (read below on how to prepare it*)
1 t. vanilla
Optional: additional sweetener of your choice (I like maple syrup)
Steep the coffee in the hot water for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, check the dates and trim off any stems still attached. Cut each date in half, the short way. Remove any pits you find. Place the chopped dates in a bowl or measuring cup large enough to hold two cups.
Once the coffee is steeped, pour it through a fine sieve over the dates. Leave the fine grounds behind; don’t even try to pour them through.
Let this sit at room temp for one or two hours.
Add the coffee and dates to a blender or food processor and blend till smooth; then add the coconut milk and vanilla and blend again. There will still be some “freckles” of dates in the mixture, but there shouldn’t be any large bits.
Taste, and add more vanilla or other sweetening if necessary. If your sweet tooth is adjusted to a sugar-free life, it should be plenty sweet as is. Other people may want it sweeter. Feel free to make it your way!
Refrigerate till completely cold – at least a couple hours – then freeze according to your ice cream freezer instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream freezer, you can pour it into a shallow dish or pan and place it in the freezer of your fridge, scraping and stirring it every 20 – 30 minutes till you get the desired texture.
The hubs likes it straight-up; I like a few pecans sprinkled on top. I love the contrasting texture, and the slight buttery flavor they add.
I’m pretty confident this recipe would fool most people: you’d never guess it was sugar free ice cream!
*If you’ve never used canned coconut milk, here’s how to make it as lump-free as possible: Have the can at room temp, not chilled, when you open it. Shake the can well, and open from the bottom. Pour the contents out, then use a spatula to scrape the last bit of coconut cream from the unopened end of the can. There will still be a few lumps, but the blender should get the rest of them.
Want more recipes like this? or looking for Paleo recipes? Check out my cookbook…