To Paleo or not to Paleo?
Unless you've been hiding away you will have heard the words - 'PALEO Diet'.
It is one of THE fastest growing eating plans in the world today. Why? What's all the fuss about? Is it really the answer to chronic illness and weight loss that many of its followers claim?
'The Paleolithic diet is a diet based on the premise that if our Paleolithic ancestors didn't eat it, we shouldn't eat it… Also known as the caveman diet, the Stone Age diet, and the hunter-gatherer diet.. It was Google's most searched-for weight loss method in 2013', Wikipedia
It's proponents claim it's the diet most familiar and natural for the human body and … it's a Red Hot Topic in the health world.
Based on this, I hosted a Morning Tea at Remede Wellness Medicine this week, 'To Paleo or not to Paleo'? A couple of times it was said, 'It's so confusing', 'so many diets', 'how do you know what to do'? It is confusing and then the next thing we hear, 'protein is bad for us or sugar is bad for us'?!! So here are my thoughts. I hope it reduces or eliminates confusion and answers questions.
To Paleo or Not to Paleo?
There are many iterations of this diet. I'm sharing my understanding of it based on my own research, then what I like about 'Paleo', what to be aware of, myths & then a summary to help you decide for yourself. FYI I've included additional resources at the bottom of the page on my blog here.
Let's look at food.
What's in? A variety of meats/fish (containing natural healthy fats) that are from animals naturally grass-fed, organic (seeing as once upon a time everything was essentially "organic") fibrous vegetables/greens and occasional fruits, plus some nuts and seeds- in other words, it includes foods that would've looked like food to someone wandering around 40,000 years ago with a loincloth and a spear.
'There is discussion by proponents that say we have lost stature, bone density, overall health, immune integrity, and even brain size once we adopted modern day agricultural foods'. Nora Gedgaudas, Author Primal Body, Primal Mind.
What's out? SIMPLY, processed, refined & modified food.
Feedlot meat, pesticides, GMO's, refined sugar and salt, fast food, and most other things that would not have been recognizable as food to pre-agricultural human populations. The Paleo diet tends to be essentially free of post agricultural foods including grains/gluten, legumes, dairy and processed modern day "food-like substances".
In Nora Gedgaudas view, 'There is good reason, especially in modern times, especially to avoid sugars and starches, and to moderate our protein intake, relying more on natural fat as a primary source of fuel'.
Benefits e.g. Weight loss on a paleo diet?
Taking out processed foods (and foods that aren't recognisable by the body naturally), and that are commonly more difficult to digest will make it easier for our body to reach its ideal weight and maintain a state of improved health. This could be losing weight or it may be we gain a little weight, if that's what's needed.
What I like about Paleo;
- The Paleo approach necessarily means we're eating more nutrient rich foods and less nutrient dead foods - Perfect.
- In doing this, we are going to be eating more food prepared, with a good dose of love and fresh ingredients, in our family homes. Then at the same time educating our families and children about the importance of good food.
- Generally, in todays world our immune and digestive systems are compromised to some degree. The Paleo Diet with it's focus on natural, whole foods is therefore more supportive of these critical bodily systems.
- There is a welcome addition of natural fats. A fundamental macro-nutrient I believe we are generally lacking in our diets and SO critical for key functions in the body that today are escalating e.g. mental health, hormone and immune health.
What to be aware of
We are all individuals with a unique chemistry. We metabolise, digest and absorb food differently and what works for one may not work for another. Listen to your body and the quiet clues it constantly gives you to know what foods work for you.
As with the maxim, 'One man's food is another man's poison'
3 Paleo Myths;
- We have free reign to eat all types of meat and as much as we like. No. Not all meat is equal (as described above) and too much protein in our diet can convert to sugar in the body, which is exactly what we don't want.
- Meat is bad for us. Yes, some of it can be, however Paleo recommends 'healthy' forms of meat which gives nutrients that are necessary for good health. I wrote an article on this not long ago here.
- We miss out on important nutrients. The Paleo approach welcomes more natural fats and eliminates processed foods and reduces simple carbohydrates. It is then adding in MORE nutrient rich foods.
Children and family;
I was asked the question - 'how do you integrate this approach into family life'?
Our own experience might be the best reference. Taking simple carbs out of our diet, (i.e. pasta, bread & rice) makes life simpler with less to cook. The greatest difficulty was bread especially lunches and getting the kids on board. We would usually have bread with lunch, most likely a sandwich. Now we pretty much have the same food, but without the bread and more salad/vegetables.
We do still have grains, mostly whole oat groats, quinoa and buckwheat. Grains in their whole form and that are properly prepared. We don't eat a strict Paleo Diet and at this stage it's not something I'm aiming for. I think of how we eat more as enjoying good ol' food in it's whole and most natural form…
I'll be sharing much more detail on strategies for integrating good foods into family life in my online program, 'Our Happy Children' which kicks off on the 31st of July! Register here. It's a comprehensive program that gives parents the support and answers they've been looking for. Cutting out the confusion, giving practical strategies, loads of simple recipe ideas and some much needed confidence… while creating a rock solid foundation of health that is - for LIFE. I hope you can join me. And a note: for everyone who has and does join, you will have access to this unique program - forever and ever!
The food pyramid below by Nourishing Hope focuses on all 3 macronutrients, nutrient rich foods and is not heavily weighed to simple carbs as our Standard Pyramid currently does. It also has a foundation of foods for real healing. If there was a food pyramid I subscribe to this would be it and is one I share with clients.
Nourishing Hope Food Pyramid
Important disclaimer: I dislike the word 'Diet' - a lot! The immediate connotations (rightly or wrongly) are all wrong. Good wholesome food needs to be embraced for the incredible goodness it offers us and enjoyed. The stress of feeling we should or shouldn't be eating something does more damage than good. Let's not diet and rather, be great role models for our children and enjoy a way of life.
Summary - To Paleo or not to Paleo?
- The theory is sound with the premise being a return to whole foods and what we did and ate to evolve as an intelligent & developed species.
- Anything that requires us to be extreme in how or what we eat or makes it difficult or challenging for us to enjoy our food is not healthy. Diets are generally not healthy.
- We need to enjoy the food we eat.
- Whole foods, including historic grains (in their whole forms & properly prepared), are foods our bodies can generally digest and absorb - and as long as our digestive system can tolerate them.
- Digestion is key. Are we digesting, absorbing and metabolising optimally?
- Wimbledon: It's that time of year... but people have WON Wimbledon Tennis Finals on a Raw Diet. Our needs of our bodies continue to change as we age and are exposed to different things. Listen to your body, if you're feeling strong, happy, clear headed, feel energetic, wake up feeling fresh, it's likely what you're doing is working. Stick with it. If not, try something different. We are designed to enjoy good health - at any age.
- Listen to your body, enjoy foods in their most natural form, love your life and your body will thank you.
- What works best for you as an individual? Do that.
The fact is we are in a Health Crisis. Our general approach to food and life is NOT working. I believe there is wisdom in turning to our ancestors, to learn from history and shed light on how to understand what we are doing to ourselves and avoid the devastating consequences that are forecast for the health of our kids and generations to come. A return to a diet full of whole foods in their most natural form is critical to living a healthier life.
Now, I would love to hear your thoughts on how we eat. What works for you and your family?
- Primal Body, Primal Mind, Nora Gedgaudas
- Chris Kresser, http://chriskresser.com
- PaleoFx at http://www.paleofx.com
- Online Documentary, ‘Cereal Killers’ $3.99 to rent
- MINDD, Metabolic, Immunologic, Neurologic, Digestive and Developmental conditions. http://mindd.org