Unless you’ve been living in a cave you’re likely to have heard of the Paleo diet, it’s been gaining momentum in the past few years and there’s a few variations on the theme popping up online and in the media. I was initially a little sceptical as I’m not a fan of very high protein diets which can put a strain on the liver and kidneys. However, I now know that paleo isn’t just lots of protein – it’s actually based on small amounts of animal protein from meat (not dairy), the right fats from both plant and animal sources and plenty of vegetables. So implemented correctly, it can be a therapeutically useful diet, especially for people with autoimmune and digestive disorders who will always benefit from avoiding dairy and gluten.
In the interest of learning more I attended an event a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne, The Paleo Way with Pete Evans of MKR fame and recently qualified ‘health coach’. I have to admit he’s been looking a lot leaner and more radiant in the past 12 months so I was interested to understand more about his paleo journey. My other reason to go was because I attend many educational seminars and I was hoping this would be a fun and practical evening with tips on how to switch to paleo, recipes etc. Unfortunately not, Pete’s message felt more like a pitch to convince everyone to convert to The Paleo Way – join us and also buy into Pete’s soon to be released TV series, online paleo plan and merchandise.
The key speaker was Nora Gedgandas, author of Primal Body Primal Mind and she certainly is an authority on the matter. I enjoyed her 2 hour summation on why we should eat paleo, not fear fat and the health horrors of eating a carbohydrate dense diet. According to Gedgandas the carbohydrate movement has not been about good health but more a profit making venture for the agricultural industry and governments. The impacts on health were backed up with lots of science, which was a little lost on much of the audience and my poor friend got quite bored with talk of isotopes and arachidonic acid. For me it was more interesting although as an enlightened health professional I don’t think I was presented with anything I didn’t know already – we’ve mostly got the memo that fats are good for us, that very low carb (ketogenic) diet will support weight loss and has been demonstrated to be beneficial in extending life expectancy in stage 4 cancer patients. And for the general population I certainly agree that everyone should avoid gluten, limit dairy and limit carbohydrates, especially the refined and sugary kind. Yes, the low fat, high carb diet has undoubtedly precipitated the epidemic of chronic diseases we face today but is paleo right for everyone?
Who shouldn’t follow the paleo way?
It’s not the right diet for you if you don’t want to eat animal produce (obviously) or believe in ‘everything in moderation’ as to achieve results and stay healthy longer term you need to follow the guidelines closely (summarised below). This will involve putting the effort into learning new kitchen skills and sourcing your food. Anyone who has compromised digestion or liver function will find it difficult to digest lot of meats and fats which may result in digestive complaints. And if you’re not prepared for researching where you can eat out you’re not going to last very long. Overall I agree with much of what was presented and the basic principles of paleo but I also want to stress there are also many benefits to a good quality vegan diet which as almost the antithesis of paleo but also has some similarities. A vegan diet rich in organic vegetables, quality plant fats, legumes, fermented foods and whole grains can be highly nutritious if prepared in the correct way. Switching to any new diet, whether its paleo or vegan can be initially painful in terms of time, cost and social exclusion.
So I’m sitting on the fence and say I’m a supporter of both these diets, but as usual it’s about finding out what is best of you, as an individual and based on your current health, circumstance and preferences. If you’re interested in the vegan vs. paleo debate this is a great article: http://experiencelife.com/article/paleo-vs-vegan/
And for those of you who want to know what’s hot and what’s not in the paleo land, here’s the summary:
Grains and legumes – avoid completely, the only carbohydrates eaten should be from vegetables and nuts or seeds.
Dairy – should be avoided. Milk is best used as nature intended, for baby animals and baby humans only.
Meat – should be organic and/or grass fed, not grain-fed. Stick to small palm sized servings. And don’t be scared to utilise other parts of the animal other than the flesh. Offal is very 2014!
Bone broths – should be a stable of the paleo diet, these pack a mineral punch and enable you to utilise cheaper parts of the animal.
Poultry – should be organic or wild meats such as duck or pheasant.
Fish – preferably wild fish, avoid too much deep sea fish such as shark, flake, perch and tuna. Eat smaller fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, whiting and anchovies.
Eggs – organic only.
Vegetables – preferably organic and should be 60-70% of the diet.
Oils – include a wide selection of beneficial fats and oils e.g. olive oil (cooking on a medium heat and dressings), coconut oil (for cooking), flaxseed oil (for dressings only). Avoid all sunflower, safflower, canola and soy oils.
Fruits – have natural sugar but plenty of other beneficial constituents. Eat the whole fruit (not juiced) and limit to 2-3 pieces per day. Eat lower sugar fruits such as berries, kiwi fruit and green apples if you’re trying to lose weight.
Nuts – perfect snack food or used as nut butters, limit to a small handful per day if trying to lose weight. Avoid peanuts, which are actually legumes.
Tubers and root vegetables – swede, parsnips, carrots and sweet potatoes. Higher in calories and carbs, these are good for right after a workout to replenish your glycogen levels.
Fermented vegetables – an important part of a paleo diet and should be included at least every other day to support gut flora.
If you’ve switched to a paleo diet and would like to share any tips or advice please feel free to comment below!