Dark Chocolate

Did you know that the Latin name for chocolate, Theobroma Cacao, means “Food of the Gods?” While some types of chocolate offer many health benefits with their antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols, it is important to note that most processed, highly sweetened chocolates are not beneficial. If you switch (just like I did when I started eating Paleo) from consuming milk chocolate and white chocolate to at least 75% dark chocolate, you will most likely reap many of the benefits that chocolate has to offer. The health benefits of this high-fiber food are impressive. Check this out!

Defense Against Disease-Causing Free Radicals

The antioxidants in high-cacao content chocolate are believed to help against free radicals (those harmful compounds generated by cellular processes in the body). Those antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols, are helping against inflammation and disease. Chocolate may even be a possible cancer-fighting food.

Enhanced Heart Health

Flavanols (a type of flavonoids) in chocolate help with heart health by lowering blood pressure, boosting blood flow to the heart and brain, and possibly preventing blood platelets from clotting (lessening the risk of stroke).

Helps With Overall Cholesterol Profile

With its healthy fats and polyphenols, the cocoa butter in chocolate helps with bettering lipid profiles, lessening platelet reactivity, and lowering inflammation.

Improved Cognitive Function 

Flavonoid-rich foods like dark chocolate can help with improved brain function and enhanced cognitive performance by boosting blood flow to the brain. Dark chocolate is also a possible vision booster.

Antioxidant-Rich Superfood

It has been shown that dark chocolate’s antioxidant capacity and total polyphenol content are superior to those of all superfruit juices, except for pomegranates.

Beneficial to Skin Health

Due to its flavanol content, dark chocolate can help protect against sun damage, lessen skin roughness, boost hydration, and enhance blood flow to the skin.

Did you get your square of dark chocolate today? 

Until next time!

Reference

Annie Price, CHHC. “9 Awesome Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate.” Dr. Axe, 28 Nov. 2019, draxe.com/nutrition/benefits-of-dark-chocolate/. Accessed 20 June 2021.

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Gut Health is Essential

As mentioned in a previous post, What Are the Best Foods for the Gut?, we more than ever need to eat foods that are beneficial to the gut. Our gut microbiome (supported by probiotics – “the good bacteria”), is essential for a great number of biological functions like metabolic function, hormone function, the gut-brain axis, mood changes, etc. Removing the foods that do not sustain gut health (such as refined flour, sugar, and industrial seed oils) is the first step. But we also want to consume on a daily basis (preferably) foods that are beneficial to the gut. Such foods include bone broth, raw cultured dairy, fermented foods, coconut products, sprouted seeds, healthy fats, and fruits (and vegetables).

7 Amazing Foods for the Gut

  • Bone Broth: it offers collagen and the amino acids proline and glycine that are beneficial to the gut. 
  • Raw Cultured Dairy: it has good bacteria when fermented and short-chain fatty acids beneficial to the gut. Pastured kefir, yogurt, amasai, butter, and raw cheese are some of the best picks.
  • Fermented Foods: just like fermented dairy, fermented vegetables are awesome probiotic foods. They have organic acids that balance intestinal pH and probiotics helping with gut health. Sauerkraut, kimchi and kvass are great options.
  • Coconut Products; they are particularly good for the gut because the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut are usually easier to digest (for most people) than other fats –  a great choice for sustaining digestive health. Also, coconut kefir offers microbes beneficial to the digestive system.
  • Sprouted Seeds: sprouted chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds are good sources of fiber that can foster the growth of beneficial bacteria. 
  • Healthy Fats:  healthy fats like egg yolks, avocados, ghee, and coconut oil are easy on the gut and contribute to nutrient absorption. Some protein foods like grass-fed beef, lamb, and wild-caught salmon also have healthy omega-3 fats.
  • Fruit: eating fruit in moderation (one or two servings/day) is an easy way to get vitamins and minerals. You can make homemade apple sauce or fruit sauce with pears or other low-glycemic fruits.

In Summary

Feeding the good bacteria in your gut by selecting the right foods that work well for you is very important. And as you can see, choices abound, so eating healthy doesn’t have to be dull in any way. Having to watch my blood sugar, I consume healthy fats every day and prefer getting my fiber from vegetables than the traditional fruits. See how your body responds to foods. Maintaining your health and wellness over the years is priceless.

Until next time!

References

Axe, Josh. “Leaky Gut Diet and Treatment Plan, Including Top Gut Foods.” Dr. Axe, 7 Jan. 2021, draxe.com/health/leaky-gut-diet-treatment/. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.

Huberman, Andrew. “Control Pain & Heal Faster with Your Brain | Huberman Lab Podcast #9.” YouTube, 1 Mar. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcPSRWUYCv0. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.

You can also find me on Instagram.

Thinking About Going Primal/Paleo for the New Year: What Does That Entail?

Going primal/paleo is about adopting a new lifestyle that emphasizes building new habits to clean up our diet, exercise more optimally, have better sleep hygiene, and learn how to manage the stress in our lives. It focuses on adopting an ancestral health approach. 

Embracing a primal/paleo lifestyle means we apply ourselves to mimic the way our ancestors lived, as reasonably as possible, within our modern world boundaries. 

We want to eat whole foods rather than processed foods, get enough exercise and low-intensity movement throughout the day, get adequate sleep, and minimize stress triggers on top of learning how to better handle overall stress. 

It is important to carve an optimal lifestyle for ourselves that works along with our ancestral roots, not against them. 

So What About the Food?

When it comes to the primal/paleo-approved foods that are okay to eat for most people, here’s an overview of the main staples you will want to have on hand (as highlighted in The New Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson):

  • Baking ingredients: coconut, almond, or other nut flours, tapioca starch, and arrowroot powder.
  • Beverages: water, unsweetened teas, full-fat coconut milk, or unsweetened almond milk (great for smoothies).
  • Coconut products: butter, flakes, flour, milk, and oil offer medium-chain fats; good substitutes for dairy, refined vegetable/seed oils, and wheat flour.
  • Dairy: raw, fermented, high-fat, and organic products are best (cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, kefir, whole milk, yogurt) –  to eat in moderation.
  • Dark Chocolate: my favorite snack/treat! It has to have a cacao content of at least 75 percent, ideally 85 percent or higher.
  • Eggs: local, pasture-raised, or certified organic for high omega-3 content. If you buy eggs from pasture-raised chickens, the yolk is going to have a deep-yellow/slight orange color. This color is a sign of a nutrient-rich egg.
  • Fats and oils: I like to use avocado and extra virgin olive oil. Coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and animal fats (bacon grease, chicken fat, lard, tallow) are best for cooking.
  • Fish: wild-caught from remote, pollution-free waters. Small, oily, cold-water fish are preferred: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring (SMASH). Certain farmed fish are okay (domestic Coho salmon, trout, and some shellfish – not shrimp). Check the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (seafoodwatch.org) for up-to-date recommendations.
  • Fruit: locally grown (or wild), organic, in-season preferred. Berries are best as they are low-glycemic. Go strictly organic with soft, edible skin fruits. Moderate intake of higher glycemic fruits.
  • Meat and Fowl: local, pasture-raised, or USDA-certified organic. If you must eat conventional meat, choose the leanest possible cuts and avoid consuming the fat as it is where some of the meat toxins are stored, not in the liver. 
  • Nutritious carbs: go for abundant vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, sweet potatoes, yams and other starchy tubers, quinoa, and wild rice.
  • Prebiotics: cooked and cooled white rice and white potatoes, green bananas, raw potato starch.
  • Probiotics: fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, and yogurt, and even dark chocolate!
  • Snacks: berries, avocados, canned sardines, dark chocolate, hard-boiled eggs, jerky, nuts, olives, seeds, and other high-fat and/or high-protein, low-carb primal food.
  • Vegetables: locally grown, organic, in-season is best. Opt for strictly organic for large surface area (leafy greens) and soft edible skins. Eat the rainbow!

To get a nice sum-up of the above list of primal/paleo-approved foods, you can check out my post about The Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid.

Happy New Year!

Reference

Sisson, Mark. The New Primal Blueprint : Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy. Oxnard, Ca, Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2017, pp. 480–1.

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What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a type of low-carb diet in which carb consumption is reduced enough so that the body can start making and utilizing ketones. As mentioned in a previous post, ketones (special energy molecules) are a by-product of body fat that is tapped into if we fast or if we limit our carb intake to a bare minimum. The body’s stored fat and the healthy fats consumed during the day (along with reasonable protein intake) become the main fuel source on a ketogenic diet, as opposed to getting glucose from carbohydrates for energy. Eating keto means eating mostly (well-sourced) meat, fish, eggs, certain vegetables, nuts and seeds, little fruit, and healthy oils.

If you’re wondering what type of meals one may be eating on a ketogenic diet, here are a few examples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (as described in Keto for Life, by Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns).

Breakfast

  • Fasting with water, tea, or coffee
  • High-fat coffee or other beverage
  • Omelet with pastured eggs, vegetables, cheese, avocado, bacon, salsa
  • Hard-boiled egg bowl with walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, and avocado oil-based mayonnaise
  • Full-fat yogurt with nuts, cinnamon, and cacao nibs
  • Bone broth with egg yolks

Lunch

  • Fasting after one of the above breakfast options
  • Salad with vegetables, nuts and seeds, well-sourced protein, and healthy oil dressing
  • Salad made with sauerkraut or kimchi

Dinner

  • Grass-fed beef, bone-in cuts
  • Organ meats 
  • Whole chicken or turkey
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Vegetables (mostly above-ground vegetables like cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, as opposed to starchy tubers): steamed, baked, or pan-fried, with plenty of healthy fats (butter, lard, coconut oil, avocado oil)

In Summary

As you can see, there are options abound on keto too! Limiting carbs doesn’t mean depriving yourself of delicious meals or snacks. For more ideas and recipes, you can visit Mark’s Daily Apple. Eating keto can have many benefits, as stated in Keto Answers, by Dr. Anthony Gustin and Chris Irvin: more energy, improved brain health/function, fat loss, improved insulin sensitivity, lowered inflammation, improved blood sugar control, improved mood, etc. Make sure you check with your physician first if you decide to start eating keto. As mentioned in My Paleo/Primal Eating Habits article, I like to stay in mild ketosis during the day and refeed with some healthy carbs at the end of the day. I enjoy the extra energy I get by eating that way. See what works for you!

Until next time!

References

Gustin, Anthony, and Chris Irvin. Keto Answers : Simplifying Everything You Need to Know about the World’s Most Confusing Diet. Middletown, De, Four Pillar Health, 2019, pp. 3-10.

Sisson, Mark, and Brad Kearns. Keto for Life:  Reset Your Biological Clock in 21 Days and Optimize Your Diet for Longevity. New York, Random House, 2019, p. 72, 82.

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Why the right type of fat matters

While most people may believe that all fats are not healthy for you, fats that we consume on a daily basis can actually be quite healthy.

Well-sourced fats (saturated, monounsaturated, and some polyunsaturated) can be a prime source of energy and keep us satiated for long periods of time. As our cell membranes are mostly made out of fats, eating the right fats is a top priority that you shouldn’t skip out on. Saturated fat (found in coconut oil, butter, lamb and beef tallow, for instance) is important to cellular function and to a large number of hormonal and metabolic activities. Chemically-altered fats are the fats to avoid. Also, we want to watch our consumption of healthy omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (like in raw nuts and seeds), as we want to strive to have an omega-6-to-omega-3 ratio under 4:1, as mentioned in my post about Why We Must Consume Omega-3 Fats. So what are the fats and oils to consume?

Sidenote: Oils are composed of fats. When you think of cooking oils, think fats.

The 10 “Primal-approved fats and oils”

These are fats and oils listed in The New Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson.

  • Animal fats: Chicken, duck, or goose fat; lard (pork fat); beef or lamb tallow; recycled bacon grease; and other animal fats. All these are great for cooking as they don’t oxidize at high temperatures.
  • Avocado oil: a mostly monounsaturated fat like olive oil, but with a high smoke point of 400 degrees (204 degrees C), so we can cook with it, which is what I buy avocado oil for.
  • Butter: great for cooking with too.
  • Coconut oil: another awesome choice to cook with.
  • Dark roasted sesame oil: because of its strong flavor, it works great in wok recipes.
  • High-omega-3 oils: these would be borage, cod liver, krill, salmon, and hemp seed oils. Great on cold dishes like salads. You can learn more about omega-3 fats in the following post: Why We Must Consume Omega-3 Fats.
  • Macadamia nut oil: this is another oil with a high smoke point (413 degrees F or 210 degrees C), great for cooking (or drizzle over food).
  • Marine oils: these refer to the high-quality fish and krill oils that we consume as supplements usually. For instance, every day I take Carlson fish oil.
  • Olive oil: extra virgin (and first cold press) only. It can be used for cooking, but only at low temperatures. Otherwise, it is great for dressings and to drizzle over food. You can learn more about olive oil’s health benefits in the following post: Olive Oil: a Daily Wellness Must.
  • Palm oil: unprocessed palm oil only can be used for cooking with too.

In summary


All the above oils are primal-approved, provided they are high-quality, well-sourced oils (the recommended animal fats have to be from pasture-raised animals). Knowing the above, it is easier to bypass the traditional vegetable/seed oils (canola, corn, soy, safflower, sunflower). These vegetable/seed oils are easily damaged by exposure to light, heat, oxygen, without even mentioning cooking itself.

Among the primal-approved fats, certain fats will probably work better for you than others, so always stay tuned to how your body reacts to what you are consuming. Now to your favorite fat(s) and happy cooking!

Reference

Sisson, Mark. The New Primal Blueprint : Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy. Oxnard, Ca, Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2017, pp. 241–43.

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Why counting calories is not needed

We’ve heard for years that we have to burn more calories than we take in in order to lose weight. This phrase is too insufficient of an explanation. This makes us think that it doesn’t matter whether those fewer calories come from nutrient-dense foods or from junk food. In Keto Answers, by Dr. Anthony Gustin and Chris Irvin, it is stated that, “[a]s nutrition journalist and author Gary Taubes explains, obesity is a disorder of fat accumulation rather than excess calorie consumption.” So if too many calories is not the main issue, then what is triggering this fat buildup?

Why consuming too many carbs may be what keeps you from losing weight

Not all calories consumed are going to be utilized by the body the same way. It is important to keep in mind that when a food triggers a high insulin (an energy storage hormone) response, this high insulin level in the bloodstream is going to prevent the body from burning fat or in other words from losing excess accumulated fat. Consuming high-glycemic foods on a regular basis will probably precipitate this fat-storage pattern. It is also important to keep in mind that we are all different individuals with different metabolisms and genetic predispositions, so we are not going to respond to the same foods consumed the same way. Even a single individual is going to handle various foods differently as the years and decades go by. We constantly have to adjust and see how our body is responding to the foods we eat.

What works for weight loss

What we want are calories from whole, nutrient-dense foods, not from processed foods. Healthy fats are what can keep us satiated for long periods of time (especially if we want to lose weight) as mentioned in the previous blog post: What are Ketones? As a side note, Dr. Mark Hyman wrote Eat Fat, Get Thin, which highlights how healthy fats are far from being our enemy when we want to lose weight and stay healthy.

In summary

Counting calories is really not a primary requirement for weight loss. In most cases (as we are now aware), it’s having high insulin levels that can prevent fat burning and appropriate hormone balance.

Reference

Gustin, Anthony, and Chris Irvin. Keto Answers : Simplifying Everything You Need to Know about the World’s Most Confusing Diet. Middletown, De, Four Pillar Health, 2019, pp. 96-98.

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Overview

In my blog post on how to source beef, I briefly mentioned the Primal Blueprint food pyramid. The Primal Blueprint food pyramid outlines which types of foods someone should consider eating when wanting to eat according to the ancestral template. The bulk of any meal is vegetables. In smaller quantities then comes meat, fish, fowl, and eggs. The middle of the pyramid highlights the importance of consuming healthy fats, followed by certain foods you can eat in small amounts. Lastly, herbs, spices, extracts, and supplements top the pyramid of primal-approved foods.

Vegetables

Vegetables should be diverse and of many different colors. You want to “eat the rainbow,” as they say. It is better to buy locally grown fresh produce and organic. To know exactly how to pick vegetables and fruits, please see my blog post on what to buy organic. Also, an awesome book to read on how to select and prepare vegetables and fruits is Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health, by Jo Robinson.

Meat, fish, fowl, and eggs

Protein intake comes in second, as opposed to what many assume regarding the paleo/primal diet. Good-quality meat and fish is essential. It’s all about quality, not quantity. Here again, local (and pasture-raised) is the best pick, then buying organic is the next best choice. You can learn more about how to source beef, fish, and eggs by checking out my previous articles on these topics.

Healthy fats

Consuming healthy fats and only healthy fats is non-negotiable. This includes the fats used in cooking which should be solid at room temperature (coconut oil, butter, ghee, animal fats), except for avocado oil. Extra-virgin olive oil would be used more for drizzling over food and for dressings. Healthy fats also include foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butters, coconut products, etc. My blog post What are ketones? outlines the benefits we get out of consuming healthy fats.

Moderation foods

The foods to eat in moderation are most fruits because they can bring up your blood sugar quite a bit (except for certain berries) and “nutritious carbs” like sweet potatoes, squash, quinoa, and wild rice. High-fat dairy (raw, fermented, and unpasteurized) is also okay in small quantities provided it is well-sourced (from pasture-raised and grass-fed/grass-finished animals). That means none of the conventional dairy products we find in supermarkets. Dark chocolate is an okay treat too, but it has to be 75% or above, cacao content-wise.

Herbs, spices, extracts, and supplements

Herbs and spices are a great addition to any dish and they offer a host of benefits. They say it’s like having a small medicine cabinet in your kitchen. Of course, organic and mold-free is highly recommended for these. Certain supplements are usually fine to add too as even the best quality foods we can find nowadays offer fewer nutrients compared to centuries ago (or simply decades ago). To find out which supplements might be beneficial to you, you must consult a licensed professional that can help you figure this out after carefully studying your lab work results. 

In summary

This sums up the types of primal-approved foods you want to focus on when eating according to the Primal Blueprint template. Keep in mind that even these primal-approved foods may not work well for everyone. It is up to you to experiment and see how your body responds to each food you consume. To be more attuned to your body and how foods make you feel on a daily basis is part of becoming more knowledgeable about your health and overall wellness.

Reference
Sisson, Mark. The Primal Blueprint : 21-Day Total Body Transformation. Oxnard, Ca, Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2016, pp. 101-122. 


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In order to step into the primal/paleo lifestyle (if going cold turkey is not your thing), progressively eliminating one unwanted food after another is perfectly fine. It’s all about taking one small step at a time to not feel overwhelmed by something that could otherwise seem too big of a challenge to tackle. As you know, the primal/paleo lifestyle comprises more than just choosing better quality foods, but after making sure you get adequate sleep, food is probably what matters most.

For example, maybe the first thing to eliminate can be drinking soda and only soda. After a few days or a few weeks of adjusting to that, then not buying fast food at all can be the second thing to implement.

After another few days or weeks, maybe the next step can be stopping the use of the traditional vegetable oils (like the high polyunsaturated ones and partially hydrogenated trans fats) and switching instead to using healthy fats like the ones mentioned in my blog post, What are Ketones? As explained by Dr. Dinicolantonio and Dr. Mercola in Super Fuel, our cell membranes are mostly made out of fats and that is one main reason why choosing the types of fat we consume is so critical. If we choose fats that can easily be oxidized then they are not going to give us healthy cell membranes. And of course, our whole body is made out of cells. Switching the types of fats we buy is actually an easy switch to make as cooking with new fats is not going to drastically alter the taste of what we are eating. It might go fairly unnoticed. Also, the brand Primal Kitchen, which I get regularly, offers an array of healthy condiments that can make things even easier.

One more thing to get rid of, as a start on your primal journey, are refined sugars such as: all the traditional sweets, processed or not, sugary drinks and juices, and bars of all sorts filled with a high amount of sugar. Here again, not everything has to be cut off at once. Always implement the step by step approach. There are a lot of paleo/primal-approved dessert recipes online now that can be made by simply picking better-quality ingredients.

These are the steps that I think are best to tackle first, even if you don’t want to go primal/paleo all the way (by getting rid of the grains, legumes, and certain dairy products). The order of these steps can be rearranged. It’s all about whatever you think is the best next step for you!

Reference

Dinicolantonio, James, and Joseph Mercola. Super Fuel: Ketogenic Keys to Unlock the Secrets of Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Great Health. Carlsbad, California, Hay House Inc, 2018, pp. 117-9.

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As I have mentioned previously about the state of being in mild ketosis during the day, which implies the use of ketones, now might be a good time to further explain what the use of ketones to fuel our energy levels really means, as opposed to being traditional “sugar burners.” First, a couple of quick, simple definitions to help you understand this topic better:

Glucose = A type of sugar, main source of energy for most people

Insulin = A chemical excreted by the pancreas to transport sugar into the body’s tissues

Ketone bodies = A type of energy source produced in the liver as a by-product of fat metabolism

A traditional “sugar burner” is mostly fueled by the glucose provided from any carbs eaten. When we eat, the hormone insulin kicks in to dispose of the nutrients, which are now in the blood, and send them wherever they are needed. If we eat too many carbs (healthy or not), quickly after a spike of energy, we feel tired because (among other things) a lot of insulin has to be produced to dispose of this excess sugar. Ever wonder why you felt like taking a nap after that lunch you had? That’s the spike of insulin talking. If we are “sugar burners,” we have those ups and downs on a regular basis throughout the day.

Now if we start to consume more healthy fats throughout the day and limit our carb intake, we don’t have to deal with all those ups and downs that excess sugar and overproduction of insulin trigger. Isn’t it a nice thing not to feel like taking a nap after lunch, especially when we can’t? Healthy fats keep us more satiated for longer periods of time.

So we have the healthy fats that we consume and we have the ketone bodies, both to fuel our energy levels in a more linear fashion when we become fat-adapted. Eating healthy fats means consuming foods like avocados, olives, nut butters, certain oily fish,  grass-fed butter or ghee, coconut oil, MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oils, extra-virgin olive oil, and avocado oil.

Ketones are a by-product of body fat that is tapped into if we fast or if we limit our carb intake to a bare minimum. If we are keto-adapted, we can use those ketones (we are in ketosis) but, if we are “sugar burners,” those ketones are close to useless. MCT oils are the only oils that also increase ketones in the body, such as the Brain Octane oil I blend in my coffee. MCT oils are processed right away by the liver, so a surge of energy can be felt pretty much immediately, especially if consuming C8 MCT oil. This is another way to increase ketones in the body and reach a state of mild ketosis without literally having to fast.

Being able to utilize ketones as fuel to power ourselves each day is an awesome tool at our disposition to better our lives.

References

“Ketosis Is the Mostest.” Head Strong: the Bulletproof Plan to Activate Untapped Brain Energy to Work Smarter and Think Faster-in Just Two Weeks, by Dave Asprey, Harper Collins, 2017, pp. 98-105.

The Primal Blueprint: 21-Day Total Body Transformation, by Mark Sisson, Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2016.

You can also find me on Instagram