The ancients prayed to it. Farmers relied on it. The seasons depend on the earth’s tilt toward it. The sun is always up there, shining down, filling the world with light and heat, sending down powerful rays of energy that scatter across the surface, sneak through windows, penetrate otherwise dark caves. You can’t avoid it, unless you shut yourself inside, draw the blinds, and close your eyes.
That’s what we’re supposed to do: avoid it. “Any amount of sun exposure is unsafe,” according to the experts, and will give us skin cancer. They tell us it’s a toxin. If we have to be outside, we’d better slather on the sunscreen, wear a hat that shields our entire body, and avoid the harsh midday sun at all costs.
And yet, for hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, we couldn’t avoid it all the time. We were exposed to the sun when we hunted, when we gathered. When we fished, dug, fought, climbed, and explored. The intensity of our sun exposure varied according to the climate, the latitude, the time of year, and we weren’t out there tanning, but it was always around. Exposure occurred to some degree on a daily basis. We are adapted to the sun, like most other life on earth. We aren’t just able to withstand it. We can derive vital benefits from our exposure to it. We need the sun in a direct way.
Today I’m going to tell you why we need sun exposure, what the benefits are. I’m going to tell you how to make it safe, how to avoid sun damage, and the best time of day to do it. I’ll discuss too much sun and too little. I’ll give you safe ways to block the sun and reveal the unsafe ways to avoid.
First, what’s so good about sunlight?
Benefits of Sunlight
The benefits of sunlight include:
- Vitamin D
- Nitric Oxide
- Circadian Rhythm Entrainment
- Immune Health
- Cognitive Function
- Eye Health
How does this all play out?
Sun exposure causes the skin to produce vitamin D, a “pro-hormone” that regulates sex hormone production, immune function, bone, dental, and heart health, cancer prevention, and gene expression—to name a few functions. In other words, it’s one of the foundational compounds in the body, an extremely vital substance. We can get it from food or supplementation, but getting it from sunlight is auto-regulatory. It’s extremely hard to overdose on sun-induced vitamin D production, whereas you can overdo supplemental vitamin D (although even that is hard).
Nitric oxide modulates the function of our endothelial system—the veins and arteries. Nitric oxide literally widens blood vessels and arteries, thus increasing blood flow to tissues (and the amount of nutrients that blood carries to those tissues). It even reduces blood pressure, improves our cardiovascular health, and is extremely important for our overall health, well-being, and physical performance.
It turns out that sun exposure increases nitric oxide production in the body.1
We need exposure to light at certain times of the day in order to regulate our sleep-wake cycle – our circadian rhythms. Without daytime/morning light, or with too much evening light, our internal clocks – and general health – go awry. Getting outside in the sun (even in winter) as early as possible is an effective and quite possibly necessary way to establish a healthy circadian rhythm. Plus, the more sunlight you get in the first half the day, the more resistant you will be to circadian disruption by artificial light at night.
Sunlight doesn’t just improve immune health by way of increasing vitamin D. It also has direct, immediate effects on immune function: increasing hydrogen peroxide production by and motility of T cells in the skin. T cells can use hydrogen peroxide to engulf and destroy pathogens, and increased motility improves their ability to move around and find pathogens to destroy.2
This study can’t determine causation, but high sun exposure is strongly linked to better cognitive function among Chinese elderly and we have reason to believe there’s a real effect here.3 For one, the vitamin D you produce in response to sunlight does boost cognitive function, particularly in the elderly (that’s been tested in clinical trials using vitamin D supplementation).astaxanthin, found in salmon and shrimp (and flamingo meat, if you can get it), may also offer protection against UVA.[ref]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7591536’>7 Polyphenols in general tend to increase the skin’s antioxidant capacity, as do vitamins C and E.8 Anthocyanidins, found in red wine and berries, also protect against skin cancer.9
My picks? Berries, red wine, cooked tomatoes (tomato sauce, paste, ketchup), carrots, paprika, pastured egg yolks, sockeye salmon, shrimp form the basis of a good sun-resistance protocol.
Get early morning sunlight.
In a stunning example of the elegance of nature, early morning sunlight is rich in infrared light, which prepares your skin for subsequent UV exposure in the afternoon by enhancing its UV resistance.10 This protective effect of infrared light lasts for 24 hours, and it can come from either morning sunlight or an infrared light device, like a sauna.
Get the right amount of sun for your skin type.
Fair-skinned and red-haired? You need far less sun to get the vitamin D and other benefits you need, and you have far less leeway before damage occurs. Dark-skinned and living at a northernly latitude, like England? You might need to take supplemental vitamin D to get what you need.11 Even Indian men living in India may need at least an hour of sun to maintain optimal vitamin D levels.12
When is Sun the Strongest?
This is a common question, but it’s not really the right one. The sun is technically strongest at midday when it’s pumping out the most UVB and UVA rays. That’s also when you have the most potential to make vitamin D, which depends on the UVB content.
High UVB produces vitamin D, which protects against UVA-related damage and actively kills melanoma cells.13
High UVA in the absence of UVB promotes skin damage. Having both at the same time elicits a protective effect, or at least mitigates the damage of either alone.
So even though UV intensity is highest at midday, that’s arguably the safest time to get sun because it’s the best way to get balanced sun exposure.14 If you go mid morning or late afternoon, you’ll get too much UVA and too little UVB. Just make sure to get only as much midday sun as you need. For the lightest-skinned among us, 10 minutes of full body exposure at noon should be enough.
The internal and lifestyle “sunblocks” detailed above form the foundation of your skin protection regimen, but sometimes you need actual sunscreen. The problem is that the majority of mainstream sunscreens use chemical UV filters rather than physical UV filters. What’s wrong with chemical sunscreens?
Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen
Many sunscreens use UV-filters like benzophenone and oxybenzone for their UV-blocking properties, but they also possess a hidden feature: endocrine disruption. Certain forms of benzophenone, for example, inhibit the action of thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme necessary for the production of thyroid hormone.15 Another study showed that application of sunscreen containing benzophenone-2 for five days lowered T4 and T3 thyroid hormones in rats.16 Later, researchers examined the estrogenic effects of another UV-filter used in sunscreen—octyl-methoxycinnamate—and found that typical amounts were enough to disrupt hormonal function and exert other, non-endocrine health effects when applied to rat skin.17 That might not a problem if UV-filters in sunscreen weren’t designed to be absorbed into the skin, and therefore the body, nor if every expert weren’t telling us to slather a quarter cup full all over our bodies at the first hint of sunlight. But they are: the only way the chemical sunscreens work is if they are absorbed into the skin—and into systemic circulation.
Another downside of chemical sunscreens is that they’re selective screeners. They tend to block UVB while allowing UVA passage. This blocks the tanning/burning effect, but it also blocks UVB-induced vitamin D production. And the worst part? It’s not even effective against the development of melanoma! In fact, one study found a positive association between sunscreen usage and melanoma incidence.18
Meanwhile, physical sunscreens are broad spectrum: they block both UVA and UVB. They can be unsightly because they don’t absorb into your skin, but they offer the most protection with the least toxicity.
Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid
These ingredients are absorbed into the body, show up in your urine, have estrogen mimetic effects, and can often cross the blood brain barrier and cause neurotoxicity.1920 Some of the most common include:
For a full list of chemical sunscreen ingredients to avoid, check out the data from this paper.
Sunscreen Ingredients to Use
There’s only one that I can recommend whole-heartedly: Zinc oxide. It reflects light, offers the broadest-spectrum UV protection, and cannot absorb into the skin. This is why it stays white and doesn’t rub in.
Nano-zinc oxide does rub in, but that also comes with a price. You absorb some of it. It appears to be less harmful than the chemical sunscreens, though not completely.
Non-Toxic Sunscreen Brands
These are ones that hit all the requirements.
Badger Balm – All their products are good, but the sunscreens are the most renown. They are very thorough with the science behind their sunscreens, and they run regular tests to confirm the safety of their zinc oxide formula. Best of all, they’ve managed to minimize the whitening without increasing the potential for toxicity.
Kabana Skincare – Another good sunscreen source that uses zinc oxide. They’ve even got a formula with added vitamin D, presumably to make up for the UVB you’re blocking. Not sure if that actually works, but it certainly can’t hurt.
Mexitan – They don’t just make non-toxic, zinc oxide-based sunblock. They also offer recommendations for beach resorts and produce safe self-tanner.
Okay, that’s it for today, folks. With summer right around the corner and the sun beginning to show, now’s the time to start getting smart, safe sun exposure—and after today’s post, I believe you are prepared to do so.
If you have any other questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns, leave them down below!
- There are vitamin D receptors in the brain, and vitamin D is used to manufacture sex hormones which are involved in brain function. Two, bright natural light is a powerful source of natural blue light, which increases alertness and productivity during the day. Three, among people with depression, exposure to sunlight improves cognitive function.[ref]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2728098/
- pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23053552/[ref] The animal carotenoid astaxanthin, found in salmon and shrimp (and flamingo meat, if you can get it), may also offer protection against UVA.[ref]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7591536
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The treatment usually prescribed by doctors, hormone therapy (HT), is controversial and not appropriate for some women. I won’t get into the HT debate here—Mark did a great job covering the pros and cons recently. Suffice it to say that HT isn’t the answer for everyone, and it’s not a panacea by any means.
Whether or not they choose to go the HT route, many women desire additional support during perimenopause and beyond. For the sake of keeping this post from becoming a novella, I’m going to focus on mind-body therapies today.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of nonhormonal options, nor is it meant to try to dissuade you from trying HT. That’s a decision you have to make for yourself with your doctor. The approaches below can be used alone or in combination with other modalities, including HT.
As with any medical-adjacent tools, if you are considering any of the options here, take the time to educate yourself, talk to your doctor, and find qualified practitioners to help you implement these practices.
A Note Regarding Research Evidence…
Because so many women are interested in complementary or alternative approaches, there’s a fair amount of research into nonhormonal treatments. There are also important limitations.
A lot of the randomized control trials—experiments that are best for establishing causal effects—are small. There is considerable variability in research design, so it’s difficult to generalize across studies.
Participants in these studies tend to be white and well-educated. Since there are cross-cultural differences in the experience of menopause, we shouldn’t assume that the findings apply to all women. Likewise, a lot of the research focuses on women with a history of breast cancer because HT is generally contraindicated in this population. While the results of these studies probably generalize to other women, it would be great to have more data.
Finally, vasomotor symptoms—hot flushes and night sweats—are studied more than other types of symptoms. Though they are the most common complaint, many women do not experience debilitating vasomotor symptoms. They might, however, experience mood fluctuations, depression, sexual issues, memory problems, and more. We know less about how these approaches might help those women.
Nevertheless, I’ll highlight some of the potentially fruitful avenues you might explore. When possible, I’ll focus on systematic reviews and meta-analyses. They pool the results of multiple smaller studies to help a more reliable picture emerge.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
In CBT, individuals are encouraged to explore how their thoughts (cognitions) affect feelings, behaviors, and physical symptoms. With help, they change their thoughts or beliefs about a situation to help manage their responses and improve coping skills.
Although there isn’t a ton of research on CBT for menopause, available studies are very promising. Whether or not CBT reduces the actual number of hot flushes—and the data here are mixed—CBT should work by changing women’s perceptions of their hot flushes. Multiple studies do find that after CBT women view their hot flushes as interfering less with daily life. As expected, they are also less bothered by them.
Women who see themselves as having less control over their hot flushes also tend to experience more distress. Changing their perceived control could be an effective intervention for improving quality of life. Indeed, in one study, 95 women received either group-based or self-help CBT. After therapy they reported feeling greater control over hot flushes and having better coping skills compared to women in a no-CBT control condition. Further analyses showed that women’s beliefs about control and coping predicted how problematic they found their hot flushes to be. (Having more positive beliefs about how hot flushes affect sleep also helped.)
Women who participated in CBT also experienced fewer sleep issues and insomnia as well as fewer depressive symptoms and sexual concerns. They also noticed less impairment at work. Positive results were found with in-person therapy, self-help programs, and telephone-based therapy. When studies included a follow-up assessment, the beneficial effects of CBT persisted for at least six months.
Mindfulness, Meditation and Relaxation Training
A cross-sectional study of 1744 women found that women with higher scores on a mindfulness assessment tended to report less severe menopausal symptoms. For women with higher life stress, this association was especially strong. The idea here is that when women are able to be present-focused and observe their symptoms without judgment, they are protected against some of the distress, and possibly the physical symptoms, associated with menopause.
Although some of the women in that survey are probably mindful by nature—lucky them—mindfulness is also a skill that can be learned and cultivated. Among the many reasons to do so, mindfulness and meditation training can apparently lessen menopausal symptoms.
For example, researchers assigned 110 women to either an intensive eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program or a control group. The women who received mindfulness training reported having less bothersome hot flushes, better sleep quality, less anxiety and stress, and greater overall quality of life compared to the control group. When the researchers followed participants over the next 11 weeks, these results persisted or became even stronger.
A few other studies found that women who receive mindfulness or meditation training report fewer and less bothersome hot flushes, improved sleep, and better psychological functioning, though the results have not consistently endured over time. However, when looking at more general relaxation training and paced breathing techniques, effects are minimal, at least for hot flushes.
An ethnographic study of nine female yogi masters concluded that they tend to skate fairly easily through menopause. The authors concluded that menopausal women should be encouraged to practice yoga. Of course, in addition to yoga, these yogi masters’ lifestyles included “healthy food habits, adequate sleep, and the use of nature cure techniques (i.e., fasting, detoxification, selection of suitable food products, and living in well-ventilated houses) that facilitated the art of living in tune with nature.” This sounds pretty great, but can we give really yoga all the credit here?
Probably not. However, two recent meta-analyses did conclude that yoga offers small but significant relief from symptoms of all types: vasomotor, psychological (including depression), somatic (including fatigue and sleep disturbances), and urogenital. Women also report better overall well-being and quality of life after receiving yoga training.
In one study, a group of breast cancer survivors received twelve weeks of yoga and meditation instruction, and they were encouraged to practice daily at home. Compared to women in a control group (no instruction), they reported fewer symptoms and improved quality of life at the end of the twelve weeks and again when asked three months later. A later analysis found that many of the effects were mediated by improved self-esteem in the yoga group.
Note that most of the individual studies are small, and they employ different types of yoga practices. This might be considered a strength insofar as different practices have been shown to work, or a weakness in that it’s not clear if one approach is particularly effective.
Cross-cultural surveys find that women who are more active tend to have an easier time with menopause. For example, two large surveys of Swedish women found that women who exercised at least once per week reported less intrusive symptoms than women who never exercised, and women who exercised more than three hours per week were significantly less likely to experience severe symptoms than their less active counterparts. Sedentary women in this Finnish study experienced more vasomotor, psychological, and somatic/pain symptoms than women who were at least somewhat active.
While promising, experimental studies have not yielded such favorable results. When women were assigned to “physical activity” conditions (often walking), some studies report improvements, but others find no improvements or even worsening symptoms (perhaps depending on women’s baseline fitness). Multiple reviews have concluded that there is no systematic effect of exercise, particularly not for vasomotor symptoms.
Does that mean menopausal women shouldn’t exercise? Obviously no. It’s clear that being active—or at least not being sedentary—is important for overall health, and it probably helps menopausal women through the transition. However, there isn’t enough research to know what types of exercise are most effective and when. Do the types of movement you enjoy and that make your body feel good.
A recent review concluded that acupuncture is effective for reducing vasomotor symptoms, both frequency and severity, as well as for improving quality of life. However, the reviewers also found that acupuncture was not reliably better than sham acupuncture where needles are inserted at points other than the prescribed pressure points and at a shallower depth—a placebo condition.
A handful of studies have shown that clinical hypnosis can reduce hot flush frequency and distress among breast cancer patients. Another study of 187 women without breast cancer found that women who received hypnotherapy had fewer, less severe, and less bothersome hot flashes, as well as improved sleep. These results were evident at the end of the five-week treatment protocol, and they remained or got stronger in the six-week follow-up period.
The Experts Weigh In…
In 2015, the North American Menopause Society released a position statement on nonhormonal management of vasomotor symptoms. Of the approaches discussed here, the only ones NAMS recommended based on the strength of the available evidence were CBT and hypnosis. Mindfulness-based stress reduction earned a “recommend with caution,” which means, “We think it might work, but the evidence isn’t conclusive.”
The others—yoga, exercise, relaxation and paced breathing techniques, and acupuncture—were not recommended. This does not mean they are not worth trying! It simply means that based on their standards, the evidence was not strong enough for the committee to conclude that they are likely to be effective treatments for vasomotor symptoms specifically. This says nothing about other types of symptoms, nor about general well-being or quality of life.
Mind-Body Therapy Pros and Cons
So where does this leave us? Each of these therapies shows promise for alleviating at least some symptoms of menopause. Moreover, all these therapies have the potential to improve overall quality of life, sleep, stress, and general health. While reading these studies, I did wonder whether some of the women felt better simply because they were investing time and energy in taking care of themselves. If so, is that a problem? I don’t think so. They are low-risk interventions with a lot of potential upside.
That said, these aren’t quick solutions. The effective mindfulness/mediation trainings included six to eight weeks of classes and multiple hours per week. Women practiced yoga for two to four months during the study periods. Hypnotherapy was five weeks or longer. It’s not clear what the minimum time frame is for each of these therapies to be useful, but they’ll certainly involve a time commitment that might not be practical for all women. However, yoga, mindfulness/meditation, exercise, and even CBT can all be practiced at home once you know the proper technique.
As I said at the beginning, this is not an exhaustive list of nonhormonal therapies. There are also various supplements that might help, as well as lifestyle modifications that most of you Primal-savvy readers are probably already implementing: eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods, getting plenty of sunlight, practicing good sleep hygiene, and nurturing social connections.
Whatever you choose, be patient. Don’t just focus on one symptom; focus on the big picture. Pay attention to how you’re feeling more globally. Consider that while an intervention might not hit its desired mark, it might help you in ways you didn’t expect.
Have you used mind-body techniques (these or others)? What’s been your experience? Share your insights and questions below, and have a great week, everyone.
Atapattu PM. Vasomotor symptoms: What is the impact of physical exercise? J SAFOMS. 2105 Jan-Jun;3(1):15-19.
Goldstein KM, et al. Use of mindfulness, meditation and relaxation to treat vasomotor symptoms. Climacteric. 2017 Apr;20(2):178-182.
McMillan TL, Mark S. Complementary and alternative medicine and physical activity for menopausal symptoms. J Am Med Womens Assoc (1972). 2004 Fall;59(4):270-7.
Molefi-Youri W. Is there a role for mindfulness-based interventions (here defined as MBCT and MBSR) in facilitating optimal psychological adjustment in the menopause? Post Reprod Health. 2019 Sep;25(3):143-149
Moore TR, Franks RB, Fox C. Review of Efficacy of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Menopausal Symptoms. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2017 May;62(3):286-297.
Sliwinski JR, Johnson AK, Elkins GR. Memory Decline in Peri- and Post-menopausal Women: The Potential of Mind-Body Medicine to Improve Cognitive Performance. Integr Med Insights. 2014;9:17–23.
van Driel CM, Stuursma A, Schroevers MJ, Mourits MJ, de Bock GH. Mindfulness, cognitive behavioural and behaviour-based therapy for natural and treatment-induced menopausal symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BJOG. 2019;126(3):330–339.
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For hundreds of thousands of years, humans had an unbroken tradition of evening firesides. It’s where we told stories, recounted the happenings of the day, sang, danced, and just sat in comfortable silence staring into the flames. It’s also where we graduated from desperate scavengers scooping half-eaten marrow and gnawing bone scraps for gristly morsels into legitimate cooks.
Now that line is broken. Now we sit around the television. We sit under the perma-glow of the LED, gazing into our phones. If we even cook, we do it under perfectly controlled settings. Which is fine, but it’s missing something: the wildness of fire.
Cooking over a campfire is more art than science. It’s feel. It’s intuition. It’s love. Every flame is unique, every piece of wood or charcoal providing a different amount of heat. No two steaks or slices of bacon are identical cooked over flame or charcoal, yet each is perfect in its own way. It always works out.
First of all, you don’t need to actually go camping to do campfire cooking. It certainly helps, and I highly recommend camping as often as you can, but you can cook over fire almost anywhere, anytime.
Here’s what to do….
How To Get Set Up
Watch the Francis Mallmann Episode Of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table”
If you have Netflix, watch it. It’s from the first season. This trailer gives you a taste of what to expect.
Mallmann is an Argentine chef who cooks exclusively using wood fire. He’s a bit of a romantic, always wearing colorful cloaks and elaborate hats and quoting poetry and things like that, but somehow it works with him. He’ll have you wanting to start flirting with the “edge of uncertainty” that is campfire cooking.
Get a Fire Pit
Buy one if you like. I haven’t come across any great cooking commercial fire pits, but I’m sure they’re out there.
You can get some old steel drums and either cut the tops off, or lay them on their side and cut from top to bottom to create a “trough” style pit. Make sure to clean the inside and (this is important) only use unlined drums—you don’t want any toxic material coating the interior. Give it a good hot fire or two to burn off any unwanted residues.
You can find a metal fabricator nearby who’ll build whatever you want. Bring a sketch (or detailed description) of your desired fire pit and he or she will build exactly what you envision.
Horizontal smokers work, too, if the trough section is big enough for a fire.
A basic Weber-style charcoal grill can also work well, handling either wood fires or charcoal.
Or, for the most Primal experience, you could build one on the ground. Make a ring of stones, shape it into whatever arrangement you’d feel best cooking on, and get cooking. Have a source of water nearby (hose, huge bucket) so you can douse the thing if it gets out of hand.
Get Some Cast Iron
There’s something extremely romantic about cooking in black iron over fire. It feels Primal, elemental, and ancient. Plus, cast iron can handle the worst fire you can throw at it and turn it into something beautiful and delicious.
Get a grill, like this one: Raichlen’s Tuscan grill—a 14 inch by 14 inch square cast iron grill with screw on legs, so you can place it directly in the fire and either cook right on the grill or use it as a stand for your pan or griddle. I’ve used this thing to cook meat right in the sand as the sun drops. Nothing like it.
Get some pans: I like a 12 inch cast iron pan and a 15 inch cast iron pan—good sizes but still maneuverable (albeit heavy). If you’re feeding more people or need to cook 4-5 steaks at once, think about getting a really huge piece like this 20-incher or maybe the 17 incher from Lodge. You can often find better deals (and unique pieces) at garage sales, antique sales, or off of Craigslist.
Get a griddle: A big flat rectangular slab of iron is also pretty great, if you prefer that shape to the round pan. Your mileage may vary. Or get both!
Build a Fire
For cooking, I like the log cabin setup. You need a big fire pit to do this, and it consumes a lot of wood, but it really creates a hot flame and, if you plan on cooking over it (see the next section), great embers in a short amount of time. Start with two large pieces across from each other. Stack two more across the top on the other sides, forming a square. Continue until you’ve got a 1-2 foot structure. Then, place a small tipi inside the “cabin” and light it. Place small kindling-size pieces across the top of the “cabin” to increase the fuel.
Here’s a nice video of one.
Oak is probably the best to cook over. Almond and madrone are also great. Neutral taste, powerful heat.
Don’t cook over wood like redwood or bay or eucalyptus. Anything with strong resin or sap will flavor your food, and not in a good way. Although some Caribbean jerk recipes use bay for flavor, a little bit goes a long way.
Straight up charcoal is another option. It’s not as romantic or thrilling as building a fire and seeing it cook down into embers, but it does the trick.
You’re ready to go. Your fire is blazing. Embers are developing. What’s next?
What To Cook
What kind of steaks?
They all work. I’d reserve the pricy stuff like NY strips, ribeyes, and porterhouses for a later date, for when you’re more skilled around the campfire, and stick with cheaper (but no less delicious) cuts in the beginning.
- Chuck Eye
- Flat Iron
- Picanha, or Petite Sirloin (a section of the sirloin with a big fat cap on it)
Cook this with salt and pepper on your cast iron pan, which should be screaming hot before you add the steaks. Flip once, press the center, and when it feels right, it’s done. Don’t use a thermometer. Go by feel. Trust your instincts. If they’re wrong, they will hone themselves and the next one will be better. You don’t want to be the person who’s fussing and fretting with fancy thermometers over the campfire, do you?
You can grill over the grates, but I really think a pan works better here. Any marinated steak, however, seems to work better over a grill.
And these all apply, of course, to other types of animal flesh: lamb leg steaks or chops, pork chops or loin, venison (preferably backstrap from an animal just killed).
I hereby declare that the category of “stews” includes chili, curry, pot roasts, and anything else you cook in a big old pot with liquid that’s hearty, rich, and thick and isn’t soup.
This is the best chili to make over a campfire.
This is a great lamb curry.
I love this German pot roast over the fire. Since the liquid will evaporate quicker than in the oven, you’ll need to keep some bone broth on hand to keep adding to the pot as it disappears. It actually ends up better and richer than the oven version due to the added gelatin.
I once came up with a stew using camp leftovers that I’ll probably never be able to recreate, but this was the gist:
- Chop some bacon and render the fat in a dutch oven.
- A whole chicken, salted and browned on all sides in said dutch oven.
- Throw in a mess of chopped veggies—garlic, peppers, onions, leeks, carrots, lemon slices—and brown them in the fat.
- Pour half a bottle of white wine in and half a hard cider or beer.
- Pour in some vinegar and fish sauce.
- Pour in some canned/jarred tomatoes or tomato puree. Paste would also work.
- Then let it cook down. Put the wooden spoon in it and cover it, so that the steam can escape and the stew can thicken. It’s ready when the meat is falling off the bone, the broth is thick, and the bones are softening.
The beauty of this one was that we kept adding ingredients throughout the cook as we discovered them and went “hey, this might be good!” Yours might not turn out the same, but it will be great. Probably works well with any hunk of meat, as long as it has bone and connective tissue—think oxtails, shanks, legs, feet.
The problem with making dishes like this in the kitchen is that it’s terribly boring standing there for hours monitoring its progress. The beauty of making dishes like this over the campfire is that it’s not. You’ve got friends pitching in, taking turns with the spoon. You have a beverage. You’re laughing, chatting, talking. You can always just gaze at the trees. It’s a communal event. If you can, extend the cook time of all these dishes. Really let the fire and smoke soak into the stew.
Veggies are to be cooked as the meat is resting, preferably using the same pan in the same fat. A few ideas:
Vegetable “Risotto”: Chop peppers (both hot and sweet and mild), slice onions, some green tomatoes, some leeks and shallots (basically all the alliums you can find), carrots, cherry tomatoes. Throw in a few whole garlic cloves (or a few dozen). Cook in the meat drippings and as it cooks down, add little scoops of hot bone broth. That’s the “risotto” part—continually adding hot broth to reduce down into syrup. Consider a splash or two of lemon juice at the end, if it needs acidity.
Crispy Asparagus: Chop asparagus up into four pieces, each about two inches long. In either avocado oil or the meat drippings, sauté the asparagus pieces until browned and crispy. Finish with sea salt and lemon juice.
Grilled Zucchini: Slice big vertical slices about a finger width thick. Brush with avocado oil and plenty of salt and pepper. Grill over a grate until you get char marks. Flip, repeat, eat. Zucchini is surprisingly low carb and very high in potassium.
I tend to let loose with the sweet stuff a bit more when camping, reason being I’ve been incredibly active, my circadian rhythm is on point from lack of artificial lighting, and sweet stuff just tastes better when it’s a rarity. And even this “sweet stuff” isn’t all that sweet compared to what most people are eating daily.
Whipped cream: Keep metal bowl on ice, pour in cream, maybe add a splash of bourbon or rum, add a little sweetener (real sugar, monkfruit powder, honey, etc.—less is more), and whisk. Pass the bowl around the group for everyone to whisk, since your forearms are probably tired from hauling around cast iron.
- Pears studded with cloves. Cut pears in half. Shove a clove or two into each half. Sear in butter on cast iron and sprinkle of salt. Serve with whipped cream.
- Mandarin oranges seared with rosemary. Sprig of rosemary on top the orange, sear in butter. Serve with whipped cream.
- Apples in pork fat. If you’ve been cooking pork or bacon, save the fat to cook apple slices in. Sprinkle cinnamon and maybe some cayenne. Serve with whipped cream.
Primal Chocolate Cake: This never fails to please. Cook a Japanese sweet potato by wrapping in foil and burying it in the coals and ashes, making sure to poke a hole down the middle with a chopstick first to provide an avenue for heat down the middle. When it’s ready, cut in half, stick some 85% dark chocolate pieces into the flesh, sprinkle with salt, and mash. Eat.
Dates Stuffed With Salted Macadamia Nuts: No explanation needed. One or two nuts per date half. Incorporate bacon if you like.
“Pumpkin Pie”: Take the winter squash of your choice (I like honey nut, a better, smaller, sweeter butternut) and bury it in the coals and ashes an hour before you need it. Once it’s done, halve it, deseed it, add a raw egg yolk to each half, sprinkle some ginger/cinnamon/nutmeg, add salt, and mash it up. Top with whipped cream.
The trick with campfire cooking is to make it sort of elaborate but not surgical. Rustic but not “empty can of beans into pot.” It’s a fine balance. It’s riding that edge of uncertainty. You can’t quite define it; you just know it when you taste it.
Take care, everyone, and get out of the city and go camping. Or crowd around the fire in your backyard. Or, heck, go to a park with BBQ grills and make a day of it. It’s not too late. Fall camping is my favorite. It’s the perfect time.
What about you? What do you like to cook over the fire?
Thanks for reading. Be well. And let me know how your campfire goes.
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Most camp food is terrible or the opposite of Primal. Or both.
It’s either an expensive REI tetrapak full of wheat flour, dehydrated “meat,” and desiccated Crisco, a Dough Boy, or the entirely overrated s’more. I’ll get flak for that last one, but I don’t care. S’mores rarely live up to the hype past age 12.
Just because you’re living out of a tent doesn’t mean you have to settle for terrible, unhealthy, unappetizing food. If anything, you should be eating healthier when you camp. It feels corrosive to defile the sanctity and purity of the wild with processed junk food wrapped in plastic. You generate all this trash. Whole, Primal foods taste even better when you camp; packaged garbage somehow tastes even worse.
I’ll cover backpacking food in a future post, but car camping cookery is my specialty. That’s what I’ll cover today—the kind of weekend trip that allows for a sizable cooler, some extras flourishes, and more than a single cooking pot. There’s nothing better than turning your campsite into a full-fledged camp kitchen, creating hearty meals whose scents permeate the grounds, arousing jealousy and any nearby wandering bears. There’s something about serving up dark chocolate chili and a nice Malbec while the family next to you nibbles PopTarts, heats up the $12 freeze-dried dinner from REI, and plays their 20th game of “War.”
What are my go-to car camping favorites?
Sometimes I’ll just do the basics: eggs, bacon, a piece of meat or fish, some grilled asparagus.
More often, I’ll turn to my favorites….
The Hobo Pack
The hobo pack harkens back to those ancient days when hobos, tramps, and vagabonds of all sorts would travel the dusty roads and endless railroads of classic America carrying heavy duty aluminum foil pouches of meat, taters, and vegetables.
The hobo pack is versatile and forgiving. Anything works, and almost anything will end up tasting damn good. Create a pouch with two layers of aluminum foil. Fill the pouch with meat and vegetables. Place pouch on coals.
Pot Roast—beef, onion, carrot, garlic, salt, pepper, a little red wine.
Salmon—salmon, lemon, broccoli, butternut squash, salt, avocado oil.
Whatever you do, pair your meats and vegetables well. Fish cooks quickly, so you’ll want to include vegetables that cook quickly, too. Beef chuck takes longer, so you’ll want something heartier, like sweet potatoes.
Buried Winter Squash
My absolute favorite winter squash is the honeynut squash. It looks like a butternut squash, only about 1/3 the size and a deep orange. The taste is phenomenal.
Get a nice bed of coals going. Bury your squash in the coals and hot ash. Cover it on all sides.
When they’re soft and tender all over, pull them out. Brush off most of the soot and slice lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds.
They’re good plain, with a little butter, or even a scoop of chevre (soft goat cheese) and salt.
First, make the harissa from this recipe. Set aside.
Heat up a dutch oven over the fire. Add olive oil, a few chopped garlic cloves, one chopped hot pepper, one chopped sweet pepper, and a tablespoon of ground cumin. Sub cayenne and sweet paprika if you don’t have fresh peppers. Cook until fragrant.
Add the harissa along with a can of crushed tomatoes (or the equivalent in fresh tomatoes, if you have access) and two teaspoons of tomato paste.
Reduce until thickened, salting to taste. When it tastes just right, make a few indentations in the sauce and crack an egg in each. I aim for at least 6 or 7 eggs.
Cover and cook until eggs are cooked to your desired doneness. I like the yolks runny. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, sour cream, or labneh.
Pancakes with Camp Preserves
For the pancakes, I’ll either do these almond pancakes or these blueberry pancakes. One time, I even mixed some masa harina (lime-treated corn flour, the same stuff used in traditional tortillas) with an egg and a little coconut milk; turned out great. Any Primal pancake recipe you like will work.
For the camp preserves, just chop up whatever fruit you have. I’ve done mangoes, bananas, pears, and strawberries. I’ve done apples and pineapple with cinnamon. I’ve done blueberries, raspberries, blackberries. Every combination I’ve ever tried has worked. I just heat up a pan over the fire, add a little butter (seriously, not much), and throw in the chopped up fruit. Cook until soft, add a little water, mash, and reduce until you have thick camp preserves. Spoon over the pancakes.
Every time I camp, I make a pot of this chili. I won’t expand on the recipe; you can just read the link. But there are a few ways to streamline the process.
Chop all the peppers and onions and garlic before hand.
Mix all the spices together so you can just keep them in one container and add them in one fell swoop.
Oh, and in the last 10-15 minutes of cooking, drop in a bar of 85% or higher dark chocolate. The one that seems to work the best for me is Valrhona Le Noir 85%. If you can’t find it, any high-cacao content bar will work.
You can also transform the entire character of the dish by adding a tablespoon of cardamom pods with the other spices. That alone makes it almost curry-like. If you go this route, you can also get away with doing lamb instead of beef. Just be sure to strain out the cardamom pods before serving.
Lemon Onion Wings
The day before your trip, blend one large or two medium onions with the juice from 5 lemons and a couple tablespoons of fish sauce in a well-sealed baggy or tupperware container. This is your marinade.
The morning of, place 4-5 pounds of chicken wings in a reliable Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over. You’ll want this to marinate for at least a day, so having this for dinner that night works perfectly.
When you’re ready to cook, place a grill over the campfire. Lay out the wings on paper towels and wipe off most of the marinade. Some bits of lemony onion will remain. That’s fine.
Salt and pepper the wings all over. Place on grill.
Assuming you’ve allowed enough time for the marinade to penetrate, grilling these wings over open flame/hot coals caramelizes the onion-imbued skin. Turn frequently. You want char, but not burning. When you suspect they’re ready, remove the largest wing and cut it open. If it’s done and no pink remains, take the rest off.
Primal Chocolate Cake
Take a Japanese sweet potato—the ones with the purple skin and white flesh. Bury it in some coals and hot ash. If you like the charred flavor and prefer extra caramelization, throw it directly into the coals. If you like a more steamed tuber and wish to avoid charring, wrap it in foil.
Remove from coals after 30 minutes and give it a squeeze. If it’s soft, it’s done. If there are any hard spots, throw it back in for another 5-10 minutes.
Once it’s done, split it down the middle. Insert several squares of good dark chocolate. Sprinkle sea salt. Mash, eat. Primal chocolate cake.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of car camping food, but it’s a solid list of dishes I’ve found to be both doable/realistic and delicious. You’ll notice that the carb counts for many of these dishes are a bit higher than usual. That’s because when I camp, I’m usually very active—hiking, swimming, exploring, playing. You should be, too.
Now I’d love to hear from all the campers out there. What are your favorite Primal foods to cook in the great outdoors?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!
The post Primal Camping Meals: Weekend “Car Camping” Edition appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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We’re in the last few days of the 21-Day Challenge now…. Successes so far? Stumbling blocks along the way? Lingering ideas/questions coming to the fore? I’ll be announcing winners to the contests throughout the rest of this week, and tomorrow you’ll all be voting on the best Grok Pose of 2018.
But for today, we’re kicking back and focusing just on R&R. A few of the staff volunteered to share their favorite ways to recharge. The Primal Blueprint isn’t a diet after all. It’s a full lifestyle—a path to living awesome, and rest and relaxation are critical parts of that endeavor. Grok excelled in this area in fact. How are your relaxation routines working for you these days? Hope you find some inspiration this morning, everyone. Wishing you well.
“I love doing yoga – taking time to move my body and breathe deeply. It’s amazing how quickly I can relax and refocus after spending even 10 minutes on the mat. I think it’s super important to stretch and get to you know how your body moves. Yoga has helped me a ton as an athlete, and I really think it’s made me a more balanced human overall.” – Annie M.
“I love this little remote spot by one of the lakes in Pheonix, AZ. It’s so peaceful during the early springtime when the snow has partially melted. The air is crisp and clean, the foliage is new and green. A great place to chill and relax.” – Michelle F.
“Seeing Buddhist sculpture/art is an instant reminder for me to breathe, be calm, stay mindful and aware of the moment. The combination of the Buddha with the flowing water puts me in a more tranquil mood.” – Sabrina T.
“I have so many relaxation routines, I didn’t know which one to choose! This pair of intertwined spruce trees are what I call The Turnaround Trees. From my front door to these trees is two miles; if I “turn around” here, I can log a 4-mile meditative country walk to my day. I don’t need any special shoes, wearables, or gadgets to get this done. I’m not trying to crush a PR. It doesn’t have to show up on Instagram… I just go as I am — barefoot, sometimes; sometimes carrying my evening glass of wine. If I time it just right, I can catch the sun setting over the Rocky Mountain foothills. Normally my phone isn’t allowed to come on this walk with me – a non-negotiable element of all of my relaxation rituals! – but I made an exception just this once, so the MDA crowd can see that a meditation practice can be as simply unstructured as this.” – Erin P.
“Relaxation for me happens outdoors. I do my deepest meditation outside, and I feel the most recharged after a morning on the trails or (more to the rest theme) under the trees. I got to spend a few hours in this hammock a couple of weeks ago, and even the image itself helps re-ignite the relaxation response.” – Jen W.
Thanks for stopping by today, everybody, and I hope you’ll share what you do to kick back and de-stress. And if any of the images or ideas got some thoughts going for you, let the bees and I know.
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Even after I fixed my diet, ditched the chronic cardio, and cleaned up my overall lifestyle to be more in line with our evolutionary upbringing, one big problem remained: my response to stress.
This had always been an issue for me. Part of it was that I kept a full plate at all times. Whether it was my training load, my businesses, my overall type A personality, stress was simply unavoidable, I thought.
How did I approach the situation and manage my stress differently over time?
First, I agonized over the existence of stress. My entire modus operandi throughout life had been to handle problems when they arose. I didn’t let things fester, I didn’t accept bad situations and learn to deal. I took care of things. If a problem didn’t resolve quickly , I assumed I was doing something wrong. Applied to stress, though? Man, what a disaster. I quickly realized that it was impossible to avoid stress, or eliminate it altogether. I needed a new approach.
So the first major step was admitting that stress is a fact of life, that stressors would arise, and what mattered was how I responded to them. My response could make the stress worse, or it could make it more manageable.
The first way I figured out how to improve my stress response was with smart supplementation. When I was still competing and doing the chronic cardio training required to succeed, I developed a supplement you might recognize by its old Primal Calm label and now called Adaptogenic Calm—designed to mitigate the negative effects of all that training stress. Both Brad Kearns and I used it, and it actually became an underground hit in the endurance scene. Athletes of all kinds were taking it and seeing great results. Of course, most of us just used it to allow our bodies to train even more and accumulate even more stress, which was one of the problems that got me into this mess in the first place.
The next step was realizing that even if I couldn’t eliminate stress entirely, I could eliminate unnecessary stress. First on the list was my training. You’ve heard the story before, so I won’t get too deeply into it. Suffice it to say, I was engaged in way too much endurance training—what I call chronic cardio—and spending way too much time out of the aerobic zone in the no-man’s land of moderately high-intensity that leads to sugar-burning and depresses fat-burning. This training was killing me, taking up all my time, necessitating an inflammatory high-carb, high-sugar diet that led to chronic GI distress and joint pain, and getting in the way of living. If any of you can identify a big stressor upstream of a bunch of things going wrong in your life, take action and eliminate it. Changing how I trained led to the development of the Primal Blueprint and the resolution of most of my health problems.
Meditation always intrigued me. Even before it became an Internet sensation and every podcaster/blogger/CEO/coach out there credited their success to their morning meditation routine, I was surrounded by meditators. My wife, Carrie, has done it for decades. Lots of my athlete friends used it to—you guessed it—fight stress. And Malibu, CA, where I lived until a few months ago, is no stranger to yoga studios, health food stores, and other similar hives of mindfulness. I tried it. But it didn’t work for me. My mind was too active to become aware of its (lack of) self. Still, the science was convincing and I didn’t want to give up on what looked to be a potent anti-stress tool:
- Lengthening of telomeres.
- Upregulation of genes responsible for energy metabolism, longevity, mitochondrial function, inflammation, and insulin secretion.
- Blood pressure normalization.
- Stress reduction.
- Greater resistance to stress.
- Improved cognitive function by reshaping the actual brain.
- Promoting neuroplasticity.
- Anxiety reduction.
- Immune system improvements.
If sitting meditation didn’t work, maybe there was another way to get to a similar mindstate.
In a post I wrote about meditation alternatives, I gave 15 options and readers followed up with dozens of awesome suggestions in the comments. Standup paddling, hikes (or just hanging out) in nature, and guided meditations were my alternatives. They help me achieve the hyper-present flow state I’d only had glimpses of during “real” meditation. And sure enough, stress melts away as I’m doing the activity, I’m far less reactive to stressors (I have an extra split second or two to decide how I want to respond) throughout the week, and I appear to have greater resistance to stress. It’s almost an adaptogenic effect: rather than blunt or eliminate the stress response across the board, I’m able to call forth cortisol when the situation is serious. A car honking at me doesn’t trigger it, in other words.
Where am I today?
Stress is still there. It won’t ever go away, and I’m okay with that. I’ve got a growing food and supplement business, I’m as busy as ever with the writing, I just moved to Miami.
Meditation has gotten easier, but I’m still not a “meditation guy.” I don’t expect to be doing a 10-day silent retreat anytime soon.
Adaptogenic Calm remains a staple for me. The nutrients it contains are supraphysiological responses to the supraphysiological doses and durations of stress we receive in the modern world.
I welcome stress. If I align myself with the things I truly find meaningful and maintain active participation in life and avoid becoming a passive character in someone else’s storyline, the stressors become obstacles that make the narrative of my life more interesting. They propel me forward. Without stressors, I’m not living. I’m not doing anything. Stressors indicate action. They mean you’re bouncing up against reality and testing its mettle (and it, yours).
What’s your stress response journey? I’d love to hear how you’ve handled stress in the past, what you’ve learned along the way, and how you handle it now. Thanks, everybody.
I’ve got a contest coming up later this morning, so be sure to check back.
The post How My Response to Stress Has Changed Through the Years appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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