**Today I’m talking about a semi-controversial topic. Even though I’m studying to become a nutritionist, I am not yet certified, and therefore my opinions shouldn’t be considered a prescription to follow a particular diet or way of eating.**
Hi there! This is a pretty lengthy post, so no hard feelings if you skip to the end to see the awesome goodies my foodie pen pal sent and then scadaddle away.
If you’re a healthy living blogger, or enjoy reading healthy living blogs, you’ve probably stumbled upon references to the Paleo Diet. Initially, I thought “going Paleo” was a crazy fad, but the more I read, the more I was intrigued.
Could eating a diet similar to what our ancestors ate—primarily meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts—really be the optimal diet?
I wanted to find out what all the hype was about, so I chose to write a paper on the topic for my Sports Nutrition class. To make my research more interesting, I embarked on a semi-Paleo eating plan myself.
Before I go into the details of what I ate, I want to provide a little background information about the diet for those of you who are unfamiliar with it.
The Paleo Diet, as its name suggests, is a eating regimen based on the presumed diet consumed during the Paleolithic era, a 2.5 million year period that ended around 10,000 years ago. As the theory goes, humans once ate exclusively wild plants and animals; however with the development of agriculture, they began turning to farmed foods, such as grains (particularly wheat, rice and corn). As eating patterns shifted and became more grain-heavy, human health worsened.
The modern Paleo Diet is an eating style that’s comprised of up meat (organic and wild, as much as possible) vegetables, fruits, and nuts, but excludes grains, legumes, dairy, salt, sugar, and any processed foods.
Support for the Paleo Diet
The argument for the Paleo diet stems from the theory that humans began experiencing “diseases of civilization,” such as heart disease and cancer, when we began producing food of their own. Supporters of the diet propose that humans aren’t adapted to handle the food that was introduced in the agricultural era, namely grains, processed food and starchy foods.
Avoiding these diseases is a primary justification for the diet, but Paleo-style eating is also very popular in the body building and weight loss communities because of the emphasis on high protein consumption, low glycemic foods and relatively low carb consumption.
Controversy Surrounding the Paleo Diet
The theory behind the contemporary Paleo diet is not bullet-proof. There is debate about the diet of Paleolithic humans since skeletal remains from that era have been found with grains in their teeth. Furthermore, even if the non-grain diet theory is accurate, Paleolithic humans only lived to 25-30 years on average, so they weren’t likely to live long enough to contract diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
I think there is a lot of merit behind the Paleo Diet, however I would advise most people to steer clear of an exclusively strict eating regimen.
That said, there are a million good reasons to avoid processed foods, and by eliminating grains, there’s more room on the plate for nutrient-dense, low-glycemic fruits and vegetables.
Furthermore, grains are a problem for people who have gluten sensitivity and those susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome, so removing them from the diet is beneficial. Grains and legumes also contain lectins, phylates and phytates, which may inhibit the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and manganese. Pyridoxine glucosides, which may prevent vitamin B6 absorption, are also found in grains.
However, eliminating grains and legumes from the diet could be detrimental to those who require higher amounts of carbohydrates—-especially endurance athletes. The Paleo Diet does allow for sweet potatoes, which are a fantastic source of slow-digesting carbs.
However a person can only eat so many. (Actually, I could them all day, but I think I’m the exception, not the rule!)
For vegans and vegetarians, removing grains and legumes would be somewhat problematic because it would reduce the opportunity to mix foods to attain complete protein consumption requirements. Vegetarians could get around this by eating Paleo-friendly eggs…and more eggs…and more eggs!
As far as meat goes: We are certainly omnivores in that we are capable of consuming animal and plant based foods, and in my personal opinion, we should be. I’ve found that my body functions best when I’m eating meat, poultry, fish and eggs, as well as an abundance of vegetables and fruits. However, those who follow the Paleo diet and choose to consume primarily high fat cuts of meat (read: lots of saturated fat) the majority of the time, may be putting themselves at risk for heart and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, if a person can’t afford to buy organic, and grass-fed, and instead choose commercially raised meat, they will be exposing their bodies to antibiotics, steroids, chemicals and other toxins.
My “Paleo” Plan
As I mentioned above, I decided to eat “Paleo-esque” while I researched, to see if made a difference in the way I felt.
So how did it go?
I loved it. :-D In fact, I’ve felt better these past few weeks than I have in years! My digestion has “harmonized,” and I feel more satisfied and satiated after eating.
However I’m not sure that I would have loved it had I not made a number of modifications.
What I changed:
- Even though I don’t eat a lot of beans, I could NEVER EVER give up my beloved peanut butter!
- The inclusion of some dairy. I love cheese, so I continued adding small amounts to my meals for flavor. However I chose to cut back on my consumption of yogurt and cottage cheese (not eliminate it), as these have been problematic for my digestion in the past.
- The inclusion of whey protein after strength workouts. Cutting into a huge steak after a sweaty workout is not appealing, in my opinion!
- The inclusion of stevia, which is not technically Paleo, but still used by a lot of Paleo followers.
Eating “Paleo” has forced me to confront some of my fears about fat, and I’ve realized that consuming full fat coconut milk, some full fat meat, and increased amounts of avocado and olive oil has reduced my cravings for sugar and processed foods.
There’s SO much more I could say, but this post has become a novel. I’m planning on continuing this experiment, and I’ll definitely let you know how it goes!
Plan on seeing many Paleo-style recipes in future posts!
One more thing before I go:
**FOODIE PEN PALS**
I just realized that I was supposed to post this yesterday! Ooopsies. Better late than never, right?
- Raw clover honey (yum!)
- Bragg’s Organic cider vinegar
- Box of dates
- Raspberries in Dark Chocolate bar
- Homemade cinnamon roast almonds
- Chia seeds
The chia seeds aren’t pictured because, well, when I opened the package, this is what I found:
Of course, this is what the box looked like after I’d removed all the goodies. Fortunately I was able to salvage most of the chia seeds. I’ve already used them to make another batch of Chocolate Chia Protein Pudding.
Thank you so much, Lisa!!
And thanks to Lindsay, for organizing Foodie Pen Pals! If you’d like to join the fun (and I highly recommend that you do), click here.
Have a FANTASTIC weekend!!
What are your thoughts about the Paleo diet?
Do you think eliminating grains, processed foods and dairy from the diet is a good idea/beneficial to our health?
How would you feel about consuming more full fat products like coconut milk, meat and oil?
If you’re a foodie pen pal, what was the best thing you received this month?