Podcast Episode #86: Talking Paleo pregnancy, baby & books with Arsy!
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Arsy Vartanian is the author and chef of the Paleo recipe & lifestyle blog, Rubies & Radishes and the cookbook, The Paleo Slow Cooker. In an effort to achieve optimal health and wellness, she discovered Crossfit & the Paleo diet in 2008. Arsy started feeling better than ever and was eventually able to recover from health issues that she had struggled with for almost a decade.
When Arsy is not busy at her day job or being a mom to her new baby, you can find her in her kitchen developing healthy recipes for her family and her blog readers.
1. About Arsy & how she found Paleo/Primal lifestyle
2. Preparing for pregnancy with diet
3. Feeding baby & nutrition while nursing
4. What have you learned so far about being a mom with this lifestyle?
5. Breastfeeding & diet
6. Questions Arsy gets from others about Paleo motherhood
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Welcome to the Balanced Bites Podcast with Diane Sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe. Diane is a certified nutrition consultant and The New York Times bestselling author of Practical Paleo. Liz is a nutritional therapy practitioner and the author of Modern Cave Girl. Together, Diane and Liz answer your questions, interview leading health and wellness experts, and share their take on modern paleo living with their signature friendly and balanced approach. Remember our disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only and are not to be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Liz Wolfe: Hey, everyone! Welcome to Episode 86 of the Balanced Bites Podcast. I’m here with a special guest. As some of you may know, Diane has her tan booty on the Low-Carb Cruise, so she’s not here with us this week. I’ll introduce our guest in just one second, but first a little news: For those of you who have been asking and following my little homestead adventures on the blog, I have two new members of my family. You’re the first to know. Their names are Gob and Buster, and they are guinea fowl. Not foul, like smelling bad. They’re guinea fowl, fowl as in birds. They’re supposed to gobble down ticks and, I guess, serve as a little bit of natural pest control. For people who heard my downtrodden discussion last week over this tick infestation that we have on our new homestead, we are being very proactive while still remaining crunchy, hippie, natural and such, and of course, keeping up our irrational obsession with Arrested Development, which is the best show ever. So that’s what’s going on in our adventures in tick control. You may hear in the background at some point the sound of guinea fowl running around the yard. Long story short, and I’ll write about this here this week probably or next week on the blog, we did what any intelligent person would do and drove two hours to meet somebody who advertised guinea fowl on Craigslist, number one smart move. We put some guinea fowl in a cardboard box in the truck and drove them to our chicken coop here on the property and tried to get them used to it and then set them free in the yard, and it’s all just ridiculously hilarious. Guinea fowl have an incredibly distinctive call. It’s not even distinctive. It’s actually really horrifying. It’s like a really bad trumpet sound. So if you hear the sound of a really talentless marching band in the background here, that’s the guinea fowl hopefully hunting down ticks in the backyard. Anyway, on to the important stuff.
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, really quick, Liz, I have to tell you I love the names. Buster is by far my favorite character, and Gob is actually my husband’s favorite character.
Liz Wolfe: No way!
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah!
Liz Wolfe: You know what’s funny about that is that they’re actually… We don’t know which is which, but one of them is really loud and obnoxious and stupid, and the other one’s a little bit quieter. You know those episodes were Buster is seen and not heard and he hides behind the doorway and you can’t see him?
Arsy Vartanian: Totally, yeah!
Liz Wolfe: So it kinda works out. So everyone, let me introduce you to Arsy Vartanian!
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, sorry.
Liz Wolfe: This is the other voice on the podcast here. No, I love it because you know when you love Arrested Development and someone starts talking about it, you just have to jump in.
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, yeah.
Liz Wolfe: There’s no way to stay quiet.
Arsy Vartanian: For sure.
Liz Wolfe: Yeah. So, Arsy, I’m really excited to have her here. I’ve been following Arsy since forever. Arsy, I think you and I first connected when you did a giveaway a long time ago of Acquarella nail polish.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah! That’s right. That is when we connected.
Liz Wolfe: Yeah, so Arsy and I are both hippie, crunchy types, and so we connected a while back, and I’ve been following her blog Rubies & Radishes, her website, ever since. And so I’ll give you guys a little bit of a rundown on who Arsy is, and then I’ll have her expand on it a little bit. Arsy is the author and chef of the paleo recipe and lifestyle blog, as I mentioned, Rubies & Radishes, and she wrote the new cookbook, The Paleo Slow Cooker. I did a review of it on CaveGirlEats.com. It is awesome. The bulgogi is amazing.
Arsy Vartanian: Awww, thank you.
Liz Wolfe: Love it. So, Arsy started out with paleo and CrossFit in an effort to achieve optimal health and wellness, like many of us, so she discovered CrossFit and paleo in 2008, started feeling better than ever, and was eventually able to recover from health issues that she had struggled with for almost a decade. Arsy is a new mom. She also has a day job – so you have several jobs right now.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah.
Liz Wolfe: And we can find Arsy on the blog, in her kitchen developing healthy recipes for her family and her blog readers, and now here on the Balanced Bites Podcast. So Arsy, thank you for coming on today!
Arsy Vartanian: Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
About Arsy and How She Found the Paleo/Primal Lifestyle [5:40]
Liz Wolfe: So talk a little bit more about your introduction to paleo, how you got here… Just give us a little bit of a flavor of what your life was like before and what it’s like now.
Arsy Vartanian: Sure. Well, I started CrossFit in 2008, and I think you probably know CrossFit started in Santa Cruz…
Liz Wolfe: Yep.
Arsy Vartanian: … and so I would always hear about it from a couple of my really gnarly athletic friends, and I was always afraid to try it, but I was intrigued by it, so I finally got the courage to go in 2008, and I totally got into it from the beginning. And it’s funny, but shortly after starting to work out there, I overheard a guy talking about the caveman diet, and actually he would talk about it a lot, and I would think: What a weirdo. Like, what does this guy eat?! I really thought this was so absurd. And I remember thinking if he doesn’t eat grains, what does he possibly eat?! Yeah, that was kind of my attitude about it when I first heard about it. But then I was talking to one of my trainers and he was really into it, so I decided to try it, and I actually went and got Dr. Cordain’s book, and as soon as I read the book, it was almost like a light bulb went off in my head. I had been a vegetarian for 10 years prior to that. I had been maybe eating meat for a year before I started CrossFit, but yeah, I was a vegetarian all through my late teens and most of my 20s, and I had really just a host of health problems that doctors couldn’t diagnose. I was in and out of doctors’ offices, and I mostly would get constant headaches, like almost daily, and just felt really lethargic all the time. And of course, the doctors wouldn’t even do extensive blood work, and they would just try and give me medications for headaches that I wouldn’t take. A couple times I took it here and there, and they just made me feel terrible instead of better. But when I read The Paleo Diet by Dr. Cordain, it just all kind of started to make sense that this is all related to nutrition and lifestyle.
So yeah, I started doing the paleo diet, like, not even with an intention of 30 days. I was like: I’m just going to do it and see how it goes. And I really started to feel better immediately. The headaches really reduced, and I wasn’t feeling tired anymore, I had a ton of energy, you know, all the typical stuff you hear about people adopting a paleo diet. But a year into it, I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I was definitely feeling better, but I was still feeling like there’s more wrong with me. And that’s when I connected with Chris Kresser. It was earlier on in his practice, so he took me on as a patient, and after doing extensive blood work and everything, he found that I had a severe B12 deficiency that was causing anemia. Even though I had been eating meat, I wasn’t properly absorbing it, and I also had a low performing thyroid. So after working with him and just making some more changes to my diet… Before working with Chris, I was taking a really traditional paleo approach, which was more focused on taking toxins out of my diet, but once I started working with Chris, I think I added the next important step, which was adding lots more nutrients to my diet, which, through him, is how I discovered the Weston A. Price Foundation, and I started implementing a lot more of those principles, and then from there is when my health really peaked.
Liz Wolfe: I think that you touched on two really critical things that we talk about a lot on the podcast there. Number one, people make these changes, and they feel better, but they still have that feeling that it could be even better, and I think a lot of that has to do with what you had to do, which is getting digestion in line, making sure hormonal imbalances are corrected, that type of thing. And I think people that come to this podcast, a lot of times they’re ready to do that extra digging…
Arsy Vartanian: Absolutely.
Liz Wolfe: … with their health, so that’s fantastic. I think so many of us come from that same place. And it’s really interesting. I’ve been thinking about this a lot more lately, because honestly – and not to say this is a dark side of paleo, because it’s not, it’s just the truth – we as a society are not just addicted to flour and sugar, but we’re addicted to easily digestible food. So we’re always eating these things, the grains and the more sugary stuff and the carbohydrate and things like that because they’re just deployed into our bloodstream so quickly. For all intents and purposes, it’s predigested food because it’s that heavily processed. And not only are we so stressed that our digestive system, our digestive capacities are suppressed, our stomach acid is suppressed, and all of those things, but we also aren’t asking much of our bodies in the way of digestion when we’re eating these more refined foods, many non-paleo foods, and a lot of times, less meat. So when people get into paleo and they start eating more meat, for example, in your situation where you were eating meat but you weren’t absorbing the nutrients, because it is a food that requires our digestive capacity to be working.
Arsy Vartanian: Right.
Liz Wolfe: So you found that that was pretty critical, then, getting digestion up to par to make sure you were actually absorbing these nutrients that you were eating.
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, absolutely. I think that was probably just years of eating such a terrible diet. My digestion was just such a mess. So even though I started eating paleo foods, I wasn’t getting most of the benefits out of it. I think I was feeling better by taking the gluten out of my diet, and I wasn’t getting headaches, but my digestion still wasn’t up to par, and I think that was a big part of why I wasn’t completely healed.
Liz Wolfe: That’s so important. OK, so let’s talk a little bit about how you got… number one, we’re going to talk a lot today about your experiences pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, breast feeding, and all that good stuff because you are a new mom!
Arsy Vartanian: Yes!
Liz Wolfe: So talk about your family quickly. Give us a little intro so people know what we’re talking about.
Arsy Vartanian: Sure. Yeah, well, I have an awesome little 10-month-old, Indyanna Valentine. And yeah… I don’t know what to tell you. She’s awesome! She’s a paleo baby! She’s an easy, easy baby, and I really that has a lot to do with my diet before getting pregnant and my diet during pregnancy. She’s just really mellow, happy, and it’s been really fun being a new parent. It’s much more fun and rewarding than I expected it to be.
Liz Wolfe: So a real quick plug, actually, before I get into the questions that I want to ask you, about The Paleo Slow Cooker, your cookbook that just came out. How much do you feel like that has enabled you to keep good food on the table, to use the slow cooker as much as you have?
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, my gosh, 100%. That is what has kept us on the paleo diet because both my husband and I work full time. We both have our hobbies. I CrossFit, he skateboards, we just have a lot going on, and we have a lot more going on now. But even before the baby and when we first started eating this way, it was a transition for us because even though we always liked to cook, on a busy weeknight, cooking for us was, like, making a panini. And when I first started doing paleo, I was cooking elaborate meals every night because I thought that’s how you had to eat a paleo diet, which is nice and I enjoy cooking elaborate meals, but it really isn’t that doable at the end of a long workday and a 2-hour commute, so that’s when I started implementing the slow cooker and I just became obsessed with it because it was so easy. I could make all kinds of different meals. I could make interesting things, and it was just so simple. I would really just prep before I went to work in the morning, throw it in, and then I’d come back and we’d have dinner on the table really easily, and it kind of opened up our weeknights again because I was really spending so much time in the kitchen when I first started following a paleo diet. And I do really enjoy to cook, but not everybody actually really enjoys to cook, but they want to eat healthy, so I feel like it’s just such a good tool to help people get healthy, easy, and delicious meals on the table.
Liz Wolfe: I’m really obsessed with the slow cooker right now because we just moved. I mean, I don’t know what we would’ve done if we had moved and done all this stuff with a child in tow, so good on your for managing everything that you do! It sounds like a silly question, like, how easy has the slow cooker made your life? But I just realized the other day when I got a frozen chicken out of the freezer, put it in the crockpot with just some stuff, and then we had dinner. And for some reason, it was like sun breaking through the clouds, like a my-life-changed type of thing because I had no time.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah.
Liz Wolfe: I just got up and it was 7:00 in the morning. Let me just put some stuff in the slow cooker and then we had something to eat that night, and my mind was blown because it’s not just that everybody can’t cook elaborate meals all the time. It’s that some people can’t cook at all, and that would be me because I burned water today, and I’m not even kidding.
Arsy Vartanian: Did you just forget about it?!
Liz Wolfe: I forgot about it! I burned something else earlier, and somebody told me to boil water in the pan and it’ll get all the crud off the bottom. So I was doing that and then the guineas started making noise, and then somebody pulled up to the house, and then all this crazy stuff was going on, and I was halfway across the property. Luckily, my husband realized that he forgot something, so he had come back from work. He walks into the house, and a billow of smoke comes out the door, and I see it from across the property, and so obviously I got in trouble. But I forgot about water on the stove… and smoke alarms. I mean, I almost burned down our brand new house. Well, not our new house, our new old house, which just would’ve been terrible.
Arsy Vartanian: Well, at least in a slow cooker you really can’t burn things.
Liz Wolfe: Exactly. You cannot burn things. Yes, so that’s why I’m super obsessed. So thank you for reigniting my memory of the slow cooker, because it’s always around, but I kind of take it for granted, like it’s just this big clunky piece of equipment that I have to move so I can mess up something else on the counter.
Arsy Vartanian: Totally.
Liz Wolfe: But it’s so useful and great for bone broth, too.
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, yeah. It’s just awesome for bone broth. I just throw it in for 24 hours, and it’s all ready.
Liz Wolfe: And then you’re done.
Arsy Vartanian: Totally.
Preparing for Pregnancy with Diet [16:38]
Liz Wolfe: You talked a little bit about your transition to paleo, and then at this point you’re really… Diane and I say you’re a nutrient seeker.
Arsy Vartanian: Yes.
Liz Wolfe: You’re really looking for nutrients. So talk a little bit about why that became important to you and how it was important to you before and during your pregnancy and then after Indy came into the world.
Arsy Vartanian: OK, sure. Like I said, I had really started out just on the traditional paleo path, just removing toxins from my diet, but as I was trying to heal my gut, that’s when I started learning from Chris all the other things I needed to do, like include bone broth and start having bone broth every day. So I first started adding the nutrient-dense foods just to heal my gut, and then as it got to a point where we wanted to get pregnant, I just became more militant about it because since I had already been eating all those foods, I didn’t have to make that many changes, but I just wanted to be kind of more strict and making sure I always included them. And I know you guys talk about all these foods a lot already, but again, it’s just bone broth, cod liver oil, egg yolks, liver, salmon, all that stuff.
Liz Wolfe: Love ‘em.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah, exactly. I was eating a lot of them, and I know in the paleo world not everybody does dairy, but started doing raw milk, so that was something I added once I felt like my gut was healed and I was preparing more for fertility and pregnancy. I started doing a lot more raw milk and then even some raw cheese. But yeah, so I started doing that to prepare for pregnancy, and I really continued to eat that way through pregnancy, but of course, things change a little bit when you’re pregnant. What I decided to do once I was pregnant was to kind of really just follow my instincts. I felt like I had already spent several years following what I felt was a really good diet, so I felt like I was really in tune with my body and what my body needed, and I found in my first trimester I actually was craving much more carbs and fat and less protein. So I was still eating some protein. I mean, I was definitely eating protein every day, but I wasn’t forcing myself to eat more protein than I wanted, so I just started eating a lot more starchy vegetables and lots and lots of fat on them. When I was pregnant, I was eating butter by the spoonful! I just loved it.
Liz Wolfe: Awesome.
Arsy Vartanian: So that was kind of the big change when I before pregnant. In the first trimester, I didn’t want a lot of protein. And then I started craving oranges. And it was interesting because at that time I was taking a physiology class and then I remember reading in there that you need vitamin C to digest protein. I read that in a physiology book, and I never confirmed it anywhere else, but it kind of made sense to me because I was eating less protein then and I started to really crave citrus.
Liz Wolfe: That’s so cool.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah. That was the only craving I had through my pregnancy, and I also had a really strong aversion to chicken. I do not know why. I just did not want chicken, and it was really actually difficult because that’s when I was developing recipes for my cookbook, so that was a little task that my husband did. He was willing to eat, so he was a good taste tester for me.
Liz Wolfe: He didn’t mind.
Arsy Vartanian: No, he didn’t mind at all! So that’s kind of what I did through… And then I personally was tolerating raw dairy well and raw cheese, so I was eating cheese through my pregnancy, too. I just was really feeling like I needed fats during my pregnancy. That’s what I was craving or what I felt like eating, so I just kind of went with it, and I was eating more cheese than usual , and I was doing fine with it.
Liz Wolfe: I love how in tune you were with your cravings and your body. I think a lot of women are. I think that they maybe have those same instincts as you had, but we haven’t really been taught to trust those instincts. And sometimes, I think, actually they get drowned out in the noise of everything else we think, like, are we supposed to do this? Are we not supposed to do that? And we kind of forget to listen to ourselves.
Arsy Vartanian: Right, absolutely. And I think you and I chatted about this a little bit on your blog when you had posted that article about fat. But I found that a lot of pregnant women I know crave ice cream like crazy, and then I always wondered: Well, do they just need more fat since so many people are used to eating such a low-fat diet, and then they get pregnant, and then they just want to eat ice cream every day? I mean, I just know a few women that have been like that.
Liz Wolfe: And I so think there’s absolutely no reason why that wouldn’t be true. And you were talking about how in your first trimester you were craving more carbohydrate and fat, and there are some really cool physiological reasons that pregnant women during certain points in their pregnancy want less protein than other times during their pregnancy. And there’s a really great article called, I think, Vitamins for Fetal Development: Conception to Birth, or something like that, from the Weston A. Price Foundation, which is fantastic, so I’ll have to remember to put that up. Yeah, so with the ice cream, not only is fat nourishing, but we were talking about how dairy fat, in particular, has fat-soluble vitamins – or should hopefully have fat-soluble vitamins. Hopefully they haven’t been stripped out and replaced with something else weird.
Arsy Vartanian: Right.
Liz Wolfe: Hopefully they’re not going for low-fat ice cream that’s filled with xanthan gum or something else. But it’s totally appropriate, and it makes sense to me that those carbohydrates from the ice cream and that fat, that dairy fat with the fat-soluble vitamins, that people would crave it, because even though we’ve been taught not to eat fat, people still want to cheat.
Arsy Vartanian: Right.
Liz Wolfe: Even people that grow up eating margarine their whole lives, and hopefully not soy milk ice cream, but we’re all exposed to ice cream, we all have that memory.
Arsy Vartanian: Right.
Liz Wolfe: So we know to crave it. I loved that little discussion that we had. That was so interesting.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah, it was. And do you know why – because I never looked into this – but do you know why women at certain points of pregnancy do not want as much protein? Because actually a couple of my girlfriends that have recently been pregnant had a similar experience in the beginning.
Liz Wolfe: Yeah, I actually believe it has to do with some kind of suppressed kidney function. It’s biologically appropriate suppressed function, and I honestly don’t remember why it’s appropriate or why it’s necessary, but it’s kind of one of those innate wisdom type of things that the body does to protect itself and to protect the baby. I’ll have to see if I can find… I think somebody may have written a post on it. Maybe Food Renegade or somebody from Real Food Media or from the Village Green Network would know.
Arsy Vartanian: OK.
Liz Wolfe: You and I can probably put out the call for that answer. But I believe it has to do with kidney function, and actually the ability to process protein is less during certain points of pregnancy.
Arsy Vartanian: How interesting.
Liz Wolfe: Super interesting. And I don’t even know that that’s something that a lot of physicians talk about. Did you have any kind of pregnancy care where they mentioned these types of things or any mechanism for them?
Arsy Vartanian: No, absolutely not. Actually I had an OB. I wanted to have a home birth, but my husband didn’t, so what we came up with was the first one we’ll have at a birthing center and the second one at home. But we were able to find an OB who actually herself is really into home birth. She had all home births, and she studies traditional cultures on her free time, so she was awesome. But I had to meet with her midwife sometimes, and the nutrition advice was really poor. I mean, they did tell me to eat more salmon, but they were like: Oh, you eat really healthy. You must be eating low fat, right? And I just kind of brushed it off like: Yeah, totally! Because I just didn’t want to get into it with the doctor or the midwife. So I felt like the nutritional advice from the medical establishment was really poor.
Liz Wolfe: Man. Even in the more holistically oriented birth environment, there’s still that missing component.
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, absolutely. I met with a couple midwives before I found our OB, and I felt like some of those midwives were… and not at all to generalize midwives, but just the couple I met with, they were just like doctors, their attitude about nutrition. They just weren’t well informed. So yeah, I think a lot of women look to their OBs for that advice and how to eat when they’re pregnant, and they’re just not getting a lot of proper information.
Liz Wolfe: When we’re talking about self-care, really the accepted way to care for ourselves is with medicine, so I get that. That’s the paradigm that we’re in. So it makes sense that we would have the instinct to ask these people that we go to for care about nutrition because I think deep down we all have that innate understanding that food is the fuel for every bodily process we have. So it makes sense that we would ask those questions, but the fact is many of these practitioners are not educated on food and how it works in the body, and a lot of times that’s not their fault. They have to know a lot, and nutrition is an entirely separate discipline.
Arsy Vartanian: Absolutely. Yeah, I don’t blame them. I mean, it’s not something they learn in medical school, so unless they’re passionate about it themselves, they don’t go out and get really informed about it.
Feeding Baby and Nutrition While Nursing [27:06]
Liz Wolfe: Definitely. So, let’s talk some specifics here. You have a post that we’ll link to in the show notes that’s fabulous, and it’s about first foods, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but what I think is interesting is that a lot of babies’ first foods are also fertility foods for women trying to get pregnant, and they’re fantastic foods to eat during pregnancy. So let’s talk about that a little bit. What did you eat and why? And what do you continue to eat as a breastfeeding mama? Talk a little about that.
Arsy Vartanian: Sure! So, the foods that I ate… yeah, I feel like it’s really, like you said, the same foods for fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, so I still kind of eat in a similar way as I did a couple years ago when I was preparing for pregnancy. Fermented cod liver oil. I think that’s really important because it’s not only a good source of omega-3’s, but it’s also a good source of vitamins A and D, which are really important while you’re pregnant as well as when you’re nursing. I know this is a personal choice for people if they’re going to eat raw milk or not, but I drank raw milk through my pregnancy. I know if my OB heard that, she would freak out! I didn’t tell her that, but I was drinking raw milk, and I was comfortable with that. I did my research, and I felt like that was safe for me. I ate lots of grass-fed butter. I really was just very liberal in how much grass-fed butter I ate. Again, I feel like that’s a really good source of vitamins A and D and vitamin K2, in particular. And vitamin K2 is one that’s really important for the development of strong bones and teeth and even the facial structure. It’s funny because when people comment on how cute my baby is, I just tell them it’s because I ate a lot of butter when I was pregnant, and they probably think I’m such a weirdo!
Liz Wolfe: That’s amazing, though. You plant the seed.
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, totally! I think it really does influence the symmetry of the face. I read that in some of the Weston A. Price stuff, but it makes sense to me. Another important food that I ate a lot of was eggs, more particularly the egg yolk. That just has a lot of different important nutrients, but I think one really important nutrient in egg yolks is choline. And I think that’s one that we don’t talk about that often. It’s really important for brain cell development and the nervous system, but I’ve read it’s also similar to folate in the sense that it works to prevent or at least drastically reduce… what am I trying to think of? Spina bifida and all that stuff. What does that all fall into?
Liz Wolfe: Folate and choline are both in that B vitamin family.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah, so that’s another important one. I did a lot of egg yolks. And then bone broth. We eat a ton of bone broth. I mean, I eat bone broth on its own before a meal as a little appetizer, we cook with it a lot, because bone broth is just a good source of collagen, gelatin, amino acids, lots of minerals, a really absorbable form of calcium. What else did I eat?
Liz Wolfe: How about liver? Did we do any liver?
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, yeah. I did a lot of liver. I actually grew up eating liver. I didn’t eat it when I was a vegetarian, but when I started following a paleo diet, I reintroduced liver. So I did a lot of liver. Liver is just a powerhouse of nutrients, as we know.
Liz Wolfe: Choline and folate, too, which is phenomenal, and you were talking about neural tube defects earlier.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah, that’s what I was trying to get earlier, neural tube defects! Yeah, so I actually did a lot of liver. I’m trying to think of anything else… Oh, salmon. I did lots of salmon for the vitamin D. I was trying to shoot for a pound of salmon a week, and the omega-3’s in that. Coconut oil. Coconut oil was actually a little tough for me because I don’t really like cooking with it, but I wanted to have it in my diet every day. So what I started to do is I would either make smoothies with it, I would do an avocado, coconut oil, berry smoothie, or I would just put it in my tea.
Liz Wolfe: Smart. I like that. That’s what’s fun about coconut oil and butter and ghee: They’re so versatile. You can add them to your tea, your coffee, hot drinks, and you can do that as well with gelatin. So if you’re not making bone broth but you want to make sure you get a little bit of that extra gelatin, you can actually get the collagen hydrolysate from Great Lakes. Obviously we always want to do the closest thing we can do to the real thing, bone broth, as often as possible, but I have had some people do just the collagen hydrolysate and dissolve it into their tea with some coconut oil or even some butter.
Arsy Vartanian: Actually I had not thought about doing that before, but I think I read in your Skintervention Guide, I think somewhere you mentioned about adding that to something. Actually I did that recently, so if I don’t have bone broth made, I’ll do that now.
Liz Wolfe: Yeah. I love that. I think that’s a really good option.
Traditional Armenian and Persian Foods, Specifically Organ Meats [33:00]
What else was I going to ask you? OK, so let’s talk really quickly about… You’re Armenian?
Arsy Vartanian: Yes.
Liz Wolfe: I think there is an advantage to folks who were actually raised with more traditional diets, so let’s talk about, number one, what you grew up eating and if you think that set any kind of foundation for you to kind of ease back into those foods later, and also how you prepare liver and maybe what your mindset is around it, because I think a lot of folks – myself included – have or have had a little bit of trouble conceptualizing exactly how they’re going to cook and consume organ meats.
Arsy Vartanian: Right. It is tough, and I think it’s such an acquired taste, and I think people that grew up eating it have an advantage because they definitely taste a little different. The funny thing is I grew up on a much more traditional diet, which was way healthier than the vegetarian diet I adopted, but I had become so brainwashed about how fats are bad and meat is bad. I thought my parents were eating so unhealthy, and I didn’t want to be like them, and that’s why I became a vegetarian. And I remember my dad being like: It’s really unhealthy. You can’t just not eat meat. And I remember thinking: Oh, he’s from the Old World. He doesn’t know anything! But growing up, we had Armenian and Persian foods from my parents. I’m Armenian and my parents are from Iran, so we grew up eating a lot of Persian food. A lot of stews, bone broth-based stews are a really big part of the cuisine, and there are just very typical stews. There’s stew with lamb and eggplant. There are just a bunch of different stews. We do actually do a lot of organ meats. We barbecue our organ meats, and I know that’s a lot different than how other people prepare them. Barbecued liver – that’s just my favorite way to eat it.
Liz Wolfe: Barbecued liver. Wow.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah! I know, people think it’s really weird, but the taste is so familiar to me in that way that I actually prefer it over a pate. A pate feels really heavy to me. So we barbecue our organ meats a lot. And it’s just interesting, all this misinformation. I was having lunch with my cousin and her husband recently, and he’s a phenomenal home cook, and he’s like: Oh, I love organ meats. We get together once a month and we barbecue organ meat with my buddies, but we know it’s really bad for us so we just do it once a month. And I was trying to explain to him: That’s probably why you’re pretty healthy even though you don’t eat a perfect diet, you know?
Liz Wolfe: Yeah.
Arsy Vartanian: It was just really shocking to him. I felt like he didn’t really believe me, actually. But I was trying to explain to him about all the different nutrients he’s getting from that. And I actually hear this a lot in my family, where they feel guilty about eating organ meats even though it’s part of the cuisine that they really enjoy. They think it’s bad for their cholesterol and bad for all these things that their doctors have told them. Yeah, so I barbecue liver, but yesterday actually I made sautéed liver and onions. And for Indyanna, I make liver. She loves liver. It’s actually one of her favorite foods. So for her I first tried doing the more typical… what the Weston A. Price Foundation recommends is grating it into egg yolk, and she didn’t really like that, so now what I do is I just kind of lightly sauté it in ghee and then add bone broth and make what I call a baby pate!
Liz Wolfe: That’s awesome. So here’s the argument, then, for starting paleo babies on these traditional foods because you developed that memory growing up.
Arsy Vartanian: Um-hum.
Liz Wolfe: So she loves it. You said Indyanna loves liver.
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, she loves it.
Liz Wolfe: So did you always expect that she would, or was it just kind of like: I’m going to put this on the plate and see what happens?
Arsy Vartanian: You know, I felt like I had a really positive attitude about it, and I coached my husband on this because he’s more finicky about food. And I told him: Don’t act like, oh, my God, this is so gross! Who’s going to eat that?! Because I feel like kids get really influenced by our attitude.
Liz Wolfe: Definitely.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah, and the way I approach foods with her in general is I just try and be really neutral about it because solid foods are such a new experience for babies, and you know, sometimes they’re just not going to like things right away. And I think I read this in a French baby book, but it takes 10 to 15 times sometimes for babies to enjoy a food because the tastes are so unfamiliar. So my attitude is always really neutral. I’m going to introduce it. If she doesn’t want it, I don’t make a fuss. We’re not allowed to say: One more bite. If she doesn’t like it, we just remove it, and we don’t make a big deal. We just offer her something else that she does eat. Most foods, including egg yolk and liver, which are her absolutely favorites now, it took her two or three times because the first couple times… she always will take a bite or two. She was just unsure and didn’t want anymore. Yeah, so I just introduced everything a few times, and she’s liked everything so far, but most things she didn’t like the first couple times. So I think that’s important for parents to not feel like: Oh, my kid didn’t like this. I’m not going to introduce it again. I just wait a few days and introduce it again.
What have you learned so far about being a mom with this lifestyle? [38:46]
Liz Wolfe: To that end, what else have you learned so far about being a mom with the paleo lifestyle? How you’re feeding and watering your little one, any lessons that you’ve learned around that, because I know we get these questions on the podcast all the time.
Arsy Vartanian: Ok, so lessons I’ve learned… I don’t know. I feel like it has actually really made my life so much easier because honestly she never gets sick, she’s never had a diaper rash, she’s super calm, she rarely cries, and I truly believe that that has to do with her having a really healthy nervous system from the diet I had before we conceived and my diet during pregnancy and my diet during nursing. So I feel like it might be more work preparing foods, but it actually isn’t because it’s a lot of the same foods we’re eating anyway. I’ve found that I think it makes our lives way easier because it’s made her a so much easier baby. And people always tell us: Oh, you’re so lucky your baby’s so easy. I want to explain to them that I really don’t believe that it’s luck.
Liz Wolfe: Stacking the cards as much in your favor as you possibly could.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah, exactly, and some of it might be her personality and her temperament, but I think it has a lot to do with her having a really healthy digestive system. I mean, I don’t know the science behind it, but just from observation, I think a lot of babies that are fussy and whatnot have to do with not having a healthy gut. I think babies’ guts are developing and they’re so immature, and I think we just need to treat them with a lot of respect. And I think that’s what people want to do, but I think it’s more a matter of the misinformation they get from the mainstream.
Breastfeeding and Diet [40:39]
Liz Wolfe: Definitely. I think women are probably counseled in how important breastfeeding is now more so than they were maybe a couple of decades ago, but I love what you just said about respecting their little guts. And I think breastfeeding is a huge part of that, if not the deciding factor in how well we are able to guarantee infant gut health. So without… you know, I don’t want to make you talk about your boobs!
Arsy Vartanian: Ha!
Liz Wolfe: But as far as breastfeeding goes, how important was that to you, and how have you kind of fueled that process nutritionally?
Arsy Vartanian: I think to breastfeed was so, so important to me, and I think you actually made a really good point right now about how that’s become so much more important. There are advocacy groups that are doing a really great job promoting how important it is, and it’s just really nice to see how many more moms are breastfeeding. But what I think is actually kind of lacking in the whole breastfeeding advocacy movement is they don’t emphasize the importance of a mom’s diet. They actually do quite the opposite. Some of the major breastfeeding advocacy groups actually have statements that say diet doesn’t matter. When I had Indyanna and I was home from work on maternity leave, we would go to some breastfeeding groups, and it was just fun to go connect with other moms and everything, but the lactation nurses who were awesome, who helped me a lot when we had some problems early on with Indyanna latching, and I’m happy to share about that if that’s relevant to your audience.
Liz Wolfe: Do it! Let’s talk about boobs and babies!
Arsy Vartanian: Awesome! So I’ll tell you about that next then. But although the lactation nurses were so helpful, they would say in the support groups all the time: Oh, diet doesn’t matter. And people would be talking about: Oh, my baby’s so colicky, or this or that. And they would just say: Oh, there’s no science to prove that diet matters. And I don’t know that that’s true or not actually because Sally Fallon does source a few studies in her baby book that do talk about how the composition of the breast milk changes with diet. But I just really wish that they would also… and I don’t know if they’re afraid of discouraging people if they feel like they have to change their diet.
Liz Wolfe: Could be.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah, but I do really think that’s really important because the quality of breast milk, I really think, is incredibly important. I think in Sally Fallon’s book she talks about a study that shows when they study breast milk based on the mother’s diet, I think that the protein and the carbohydrate content doesn’t change that much, but the fat content does. And especially if you’re eating unhealthy fats, that could really impact the quality of your breast milk. And if you’re eating healthy fats, that can make your breast milk more fatty, which helps the baby stay full longer and all those types of things. And all the nutrients that you’re going to pass along to your baby, because if you’re not intaking those nutrients, they’re not going to be present in your breast milk for your baby to intake. So I think that’s really important, really just the emphasis on eating healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, and K are just so important to a growing baby.
Liz Wolfe: I think it’s really cool what you said about maybe they don’t want to discourage women, you know, that whole perfectionism think where if I can’t do it 100% correctly all the time with all the boxes checked, I’m not going to do it at all.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah.
Liz Wolfe: And I think this is really important. I just wrote an email about something like this. I do a newsletter every Monday where I basically write a post for the people on my email list, and all of these will be available at some point for people that sign up kind of in the archives. So if you’re interested in this post, it’s not gone forever. We’ll find a way for you to access it, but what I talk about is this perfectionism idea just permeating people’s lives to the point where they don’t enjoy experiences and they are fearful of the experiences that they’re poised to have because of this perfectionism, this ideal that they have in their minds. And the fact is if we could just encourage people to just always do the best they possibly can with the equipment and with the tools that they have and always just try to strive for a little bit more but understanding that it’s so much better to try than it is to not try at all, I think that that’s how this needs to be approached. Like you were talking about earlier with Indyanna, the way you approached the types of food that you give her, it’s not with any kind of expectation one way or the other. You’re not coloring her experience before she even has it, so I think that’s all about the way you approach somebody and the attitude with which you approach them. If we can just reframe the discussion and the way women are approached with what they need to try to do, I think that could go a really, really long way. Just try and take the cod liver oil/butter oil blend capsules – that would never happen because it’s not mainstream enough – but just try to do these one, two, three things. Drink full-fat goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk, whatever.
Arsy Vartanian: Right, just healthier alternatives.
Liz Wolfe: Yeah.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah, I absolutely agree with you, and I also think it’s actually a time when people are really willing to make a change. In my experience, what’s been interesting is a lot of people have reached out to me recently, like old friends from high school that are pregnant, people I haven’t talked to in 10 years, seriously. They themselves don’t eat a healthy diet, but they’ve seen that I have this blog and whatnot, and they email me like: Hey, what should I feed my baby? So I think it’s a time where women are more willing to make a change because when they understand that it’s for the betterment of their baby, they’re really ready to do it. I know a few people who they themselves don’t eat a whole foods, paleo, Weston A. Price, whatever diet, but they’re actually feeding their kids that way because I’ve sent them some information, and they’re totally doing it because it’s that important to them. So I think that if the information was more accessible to nursing moms, not maybe all of them, but some of them would be willing to make these changes that you just said, like just take the cod liver oil.
Liz Wolfe: Just one or two things, those top few things that you can try and do when you can.
Arsy Vartanian: Exactly.
Liz Wolfe: We need to get a paleo breastfeeding moms community out there.
Arsy Vartanian: Totally! That would be awesome.
Liz Wolfe: If there is one that we just don’t know about and anybody out there listening knows of that kind of connection, that kind of group, leave a comment on Balanced Bites or on CaveGirlEats.com on the blog post for this podcast episode. And also even beyond that, just start talking about it here and there. I keep my personal Facebook profile a little bit separate from the blog because I don’t like to assault people with stuff that they just don’t care about. I keep those things a little bit separate, but now and then when I feel like something’s really accessible and not so fridge, crunchy, hippie, cave girl crazy, I’ll put it on my personal profile, and that will a lot of times spur some reconnections with, like you were talking about, people from high school, people that are curious. Just kind of let people know what you’re thinking about and what’s out there because you never know what kind of ripple effect that could have, and it could affect the health of a growing baby.
Arsy Vartanian: Absolutely.
Liz Wolfe: So put your stuff out there. Talk about your boobs, people! Talk about ‘em.
Questions Arsy Gets From Others About Paleo Motherhood [48:50]
So what kind of questions do you get through your page from other people about paleo motherhood or this type of stuff? What kind of questions do you see the most coming through?
Arsy Vartanian: You know, like I was just mentioning right now, the thing I’ve been seeing the most lately is I’ve had a lot of people reach out and ask what to feed their babies. Actually my best friend I grew up with, she has a daughter who’s a few months younger than my daughter, and how I ended up doing this recent post is she called me to say: Hey, the doctor said I could start giving her rice cereal. Is that something I should be giving her? And I was like: Oh, no, no, no, you don’t want to give her that. So I started telling her all this information, and then I could tell she was getting overwhelmed. Like, she wanted to do it, but it was really overwhelming, so that’s why I was like: OK, I’ll summarize it in a blog post. But that’s a question I’ve been getting a lot from new moms is what should babies be eating. And then I also get the opposite reaction. People at work will be like: What does your baby eat? And I tell them, and they’re like: Oh, my God. That poor baby! Yeah, but for the most part, I think maybe because that’s where I’m at in my life with my daughter and that’s what I’ve been blogging about is first foods and on my Facebook page and stuff, but that’s mostly kind of what I’ve been answering questions about lately. I’m trying to think about if any other baby questions have come up. And just what we just talked about, that’s also another big thing actually, diet during nursing. I’ve had a few questions about that from blog readers that I’ve recently answered via email about just how important that diet is while you’re nursing, just making sure that you’re getting a lot of those fat-soluble vitamins so you can pass them on to the baby.
Actually, I’ve had recently just some questions about how to introduce solids. And I can share what’s worked for us. I know there are just different philosophies out there. We do choose to spoon feed, and I know there’s a big movement towards not doing that, but that’s just something that’s worked for us with our daughter. But besides the spoon feeding, I think the philosophies we’re implementing, it doesn’t matter if you spoon feed or let them feed themselves. I think the important thing, too, is waiting until the baby’s ready to eat and not rushing them because they’ll start showing interest, and if you try introducing solids and they’re not that into it, I would say just don’t force it. Just wait a little bit before you try again.
Oh, another big thing while talking about solids, I think it’s really important to introduce a new food every few days and not sooner so you can observe your baby for adverse effects. Because their guts are so immature and they’re really developing and not every baby’s gut is going to be perfectly ready at 6 months for food, they might not have an adverse effect to really healthy foods. My daughter with egg yolks starting getting kind of some dry skin. And I’m not sure if it was the egg yolk or if I wasn’t doing a really good job with getting all of the egg whites out since the egg whites are highly allergenic, but when I noticed that she was reacting to that, I pulled that out of her diet for a little bit and then introduced it again, and she did fine. Yeah, so I think waiting every few days to introduce new foods and observing them to make sure they’re doing OK with them. The other thing that I mentioned earlier is offering the same food many times. Because this is such a new experience for babies and new flavors are exotic, they really just might not take to them in the beginning. I would just keep introducing it really nonchalantly. I never force it and never make a big deal out of it.
Another thing that we do is we actually are really adamant about never praising her for eating because we just don’t want to give her the impression that she needs to eat to get our praise. We never tell her: Oh, good job. You ate that. We really want her to learn to eat when she’s hungry and not to eat because we tell her she did a good job. That’s a big thing for us that we really avoid doing because if you have a baby and they’re doing all this cute stuff, it’s just so easy to tell them they’re doing a good job about everything! But eating is a time where we really try to not do the praise and be very neutral about her eating experience.
And one other thing that’s really important to us is we really try and encourage mindful eating. When it’s her eating time, we create an environment with really minimal distractions, not a lot going on. We really let her take her time eating. We really want it to be a relaxing, intimate, stress-free experience for her because that’s the habit we want her to have about eating her food. I have to say that wasn’t my habit, and it’s been really hard working on being a more mindful eater, so I would just rather her not have to do what I’m going through now because I’m really bad. I just scarf down my food unless I’m really focused about eating mindfully!
Liz Wolfe: Oh, my gosh, it’s so hard to break that habit. My entire family, when I go home to visit my parents and have dinner with my parents, we will stand at the counter eating dinner and not even realize it. We’re just standing there eating food together. We don’t even sit down, and I don’t know when that habit developed, but like we were talking about earlier with the types of foods that you learn to eat when you’re really young, you also learn habits when you’re really, really young.
Arsy Vartanian: Yeah, exactly. That’s kind of a question I’ve gotten recently about how to introduce first foods, and I think that’s really important, not just the food choices, but creating a really healthy environment for babies to learn how to eat in.
Liz Wolfe: Agreed. And really quickly, I want to plug your book one more time because it really is fantastic. The Paleo Slow Cooker by Arsy Vartanian. A fabulous book. I’m loving it. Try the bulgogi; it’s amazing. And definitely check out Arsy’s blog as well, Rubies & Radishes. Phenomenal stuff. She’s also a crunchy gal like me, very dedicated to nontoxic body and home care as well. So you just have the whole package going on over there.
Arsy Vartanian: Oh, thank you, Liz. Thank you so much for having me on. Like I said, I’m a huge fan of your podcast. It was just a real pleasure being on and talking to you about all this stuff.
Liz Wolfe: Yes, and thank you so much for coming on. We’ll be back next week. Diane and I will be back together. Well, maybe I’ll take a week off. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go on a little cruise with Gob and Buster and my husband. Who knows? We’ll see. But thanks, everybody, for listening. We’ll be back next week.
Diane & Liz
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