By Lee Sutherland and Natalie Carter.
While the Paleo diet may be something you have only recently heard about, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a fad or a trend – it is a lifestyle, and a very old and successful one at that.
Following the lead of our hunter and gatherer ancestors the ‘caveman’ diet as it is also referred to, has simple guidelines – enjoy high quality nutrient rich foods (to feeds the body) and avoid modern man made food (I’m looking at you McDonalds and McFlurrys) which does nothing but causes damage and discomfort.!
It’s no coincidence that diseases have increased in the last 20 years as sugar loaded convenient ‘food’ options have matched the incline. And yes, the link between modern foods and disease (ie cancers, autoimmune, obesity, type 2 diabetes to name a few) can now backed by numerous new medical studies.
More and more evidence has being gathered to show that certain dietary staples are simply not suitable for us as a species to consume.
So why are not more people listening?
Why would you consume something that is scientifically proven to lessen the quality of your life? Something which causes inflammation, bloating and disease, stress and contributes to your weary body?
Maybe the person just didn’t know. Maybe they are in denial, lazy or maybe they need a little education.
Want the good news?
This isn’t a crazy diet where you have to restrict your calories or avoid fat (in fact I applaud you to increase your good fat intake and increase your food intake – just the right kind); this is simply eating amazing healthy, and delicious food (meat – grass fed is possible as grin fed beef effectively destroys all the healthy omega 3 fatty acids, seafood, eggs, salad, veges, oils, coconut everything, nuts, some fruit), and avoid all food that western civilization has bought into our diets.
What to eat
‘Leanish’ unprocessed meat: grass-fed, wild and free range animals, beef, chicken, poultry, lamb, pork, venison, rabbit etc, including organ meats (ideally organic)
Bacon: (good quality or any bacon that has no chemicals)
Seafood and shellfish: all types
Vegetables, colourful and green, non starch – eat lots
Starchy and root vegetables like sweet potato (not potatoes) – in moderation, depends on body type, metabolic issues like diabetes and exercise load
Fruit, fresh especially berries, in moderation
Fats and oils
Extra Virgin Olive oil
For cooking: coconut oil or Ceres organic cooking and frying oil
Lard or tallow
Avocado and avocado oil
Macadamia nut oil
Nuts, fresh unsalted (not peanuts), best nuts- lower in omega 6 – almonds, macadamia and cashews, limit if wanting to lose weight. Nuts are best soaked and oven dried to decrease phytic acid
Filtered water, ideally chlorine and fluoride free
Sparkling or soda water
Herbal and fruit teas
Coffee (I’m not heartless)
Almond milk (unsweetened)
Coconut water (no added sugar)
Cocoa powder drink (hot water, cocoa powder, no sugar, coconut cream) Weird at first with no sugar but you get used to it
Fermented foods – like coconut Kefir and kimchi add important friendly bacteria into your gut.
So I guess right about now you are thinking what can’t you eat.. Processed foods, all of them – if it is made by man you probably shouldn’t be eating it. ll sugar. And soft drink (fruit juices included). Dairy (wonder why you feel mucusy after drinking milk?),Grains & Legumes – yes all of them.
Even if you don’t have celiac disease, most people have adverse reactions to grains whether you are 100% aware of it or not. Bloating, depression, decreased absorption of vitamin and minerals.. grains gives them all a good helping hand to feeling this way because our bodies digest them as a foreign enzyme.
I know, parting ways with your morning Turkish toast (or ‘healthy’ rye) is a teary affair to begin with… but as the very fabulous Natalie Carter from New Outlook (http://www.nataliecartertalksfitness.com/) explains: grains and dairy where only introduced to our diets 10,000 years ago which may sound like a very long time ago.. but evolution of our digestion system disagrees. In simple terms, we physically can not digest these newly introduced food groups – they are seen as evil foreign objects by our bodies, hence negative reactions occur.
Instead, our diet was entirely meat, seafood, vegetable, fruit and nut based. Sure, we ate some wild grains if we were starving and no other source of nutrition was available, but that was largely an exception to an otherwise grain free existence.
There are multiple reasons why grains are not suitable for our species. To start with, they’re simply a very poor form of nutrition and don’t really offer us a significant amount of vitamins and minerals in relation to the amount of calories consumed.
The evils of gluten are no secret – out of wheat’s negative effects, celiac disease is possibly the best known one (an autoimmune disease affecting the small intestine). Also, it is becoming more widely accepted, that gluten sensitivity is a wider problem and affects a far greater portion of people than just ones diagnosed with celiac disease. New evidence is gathering up suggesting that gluten sensitivity may underlie an extraordinary number of health problems and disorders, including but not limited to: acid reflux, Addison’s disease, alopecia, anaemia, attention deficit disorder, autoimmune thyroid diseases, dementia, depression & anxiety, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, systemic lupus erythematous, type 1 diabetes, etc…
More importantly though, grains contain antinutrients that significantly impair their nutrient availability. What this means is that even though grains might on paper seem to be good sources of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, in reality, none of these nutrients are available for absorption due to phytate, an antinutrient found in all whole grains. Phytate binds with the aforementioned minerals making them unavailable for absorption. In fact, the more grains you eat, the more likely you will become deficient in these minerals.
Possibly the scariest argument against grains is the fact that they contain lectins. Lectins bind to cells in our intestines, permeating the gut barrier and find their way into the bloodstream. Not only has this been linked to Vitamin D and A deficiencies, but also a long list of autoimmune diseases and cancers.
The one thing that all articles criticising paleo come back to, is fibre: “If you eliminate whole grains from your diet, how in the world will you ever get enough fibre?”. The truth is, that while whole grains have a significant amount fibre when compared to refined grains, the amounts are practically non-existent when compared to non-starchy vegetables. Bottom line? Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and if anything, you’ll be getting tons more fibre than what you would from even the ‘healthiest’ mueslis or breakfast cereals.
How can I possibly live without grains?
Removing grains from your diet can be a daunting task at first – they’re everywhere! However, following this guideline strictly is the part of paleo lifestyle that has the greatest potential in delivering you visible results quickly.
For one, cutting our grains means that you’re getting rid of the majority of the processed crap that has the worst impact on your health (bread, pasta, cookies, cereals, candy – the lot that comes in a box and is chock-a-block full of sugar, additives and other evils). Perhaps the best part of cutting out grains is that the effects are almost immediate – personally I noticed that the constant bloating disappeared as soon as I got rid of grains, making my profile significantly slimmer and improving my overall digestion… and all these results within a few days of going paleo!
Breakfast without toast? Easy: eggs with avocado and smoked salmon. What about spaghetti Bolognese? Just julienne zucchini into spaghetti like strands and sweat it with salt for 30 mins and you’ve got a tasty and healthy replacement. Burgers? Make your own delicious patties without breadcrumbs and either serve them in a bowl over a delicious salad bed or replace buns with big roasted mushroom caps. It’s all doable once you get your head around it.
All you need to do is get creative, love the food you’re eating and just watch the benefits start stacking up from day one!
Wait, there’s more to it:
However, to me living a paleo lifestyle is more than just the food we eat. Overall, it means actively making choices informed by evolutionary science to achieve optimal health. In addition to optimising your nutrition, don’t forget to:
- Listen to your body – if you always react to something negatively, you probably shouldn’t be eating/doing it…
- Live an active – not sedentary – lifestyle
- Sleep 8 hours a night – every night
The list of health benefits linked to paleo lifestyle are seemingly endless, here’s a list of the most commonly listed ones:
- Lose weight without dieting and exercise,
- Improve athletic performance
- Slow or reverse the progression of an autoimmune disease
- Reduce your risk of diseases, including autoimmune diseases, cancers, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, gout, etc.
- Permanently free yourself from acne
- Enjoy a longer, healthier, more active life
While I have no doubt that a paleo diet can benefits everyone..,: it’s not for everyone. If you’re not prepared for a healthy dose of research, determination and additional effort, you won’t succeed.
- You will need to prepare and cook practically all of your own food from scratch, for every single meal you will eat. This takes some learning, time and constant effort.
- Investing in high quality ingredients can make it seem more expensive – processed empty fillers are cheap in the shop… you just pay a much higher price with your health later down the track.
- It means pretty much giving up on the idea being lazy and grabbing something on the go for lunch. Ordering in a restaurant will require some creativity and options available will be very limited. No more late night pizzas, lunch burgers or comforting bowls of pasta.
- And be ready for it: you need to explain yourself a LOT – people will think you’ve gone mad to desert bread!
If you’re considering going paleo:
If paleo sounds like it could be for you, what I’d recommend is committing yourself to a 30-day trial. Just try it for a month, be strict, don’t cheat and see what you think. After all, what have you got to lose – if you don’t like it, you can have your old life back…
1. Make sure you know what you’re doing!
I would strongly recommend reading The Paleo Answer by Dr Cordain as a starting point. Not only does the book get you in the right frame of mind by explaining why to eat certain foods and why others are bad for you, it also gives you all the information you need for such a major lifestyle change.
2. In addition to focusing on cutting out the nasties, make sure you’re including the good stuff!
Making sure you get all the nutrients is just as important – if not more so – as cutting out potential harmful foods. Also consider supplements such as fish oil capsules and potentially Vitamin D. I wouldn’t recommend supplementing blindly and the best way to know what you need is to see a good GP.
3. Monitor your health!
I would recommend getting regular blood-works done to ensure that you’re not lacking in vital nutrients.
4. Don’t go crazy cooking grain-free replacements for all our old favourites – I know I did!
Try to enjoy real food instead of making almond meal muffins, coconut pancakes and other baked goods part of your everyday diet. Try to remember that they’re calorie dense treats and should be only consumed occasionally.
5. And last but definitely not least: don’t forget to enjoy the ride!
While I recommend being strict for the initial 30-day trial, being paleo long term is a slightly different beast. Don’t be too hard on yourself – it’s not good to be obsessed with food one way or the other. In order to make a permanent long-term lifestyle change, you need to make it work for you. Allow yourself a cheat meal here and there; maybe let yourself enjoy your old favourite meal once in a while, enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner, or go out for a proper restaurant meal for your birthday. Just remember to listen to your body and avoid cheats that seem to set you back too much.
Me? This style of eat working for me. I feel 100% better, and despite the fact I may miss bread on occassion – my level moods, decreased body fat, decreased PMS, decreased bloating, better skin (you get the idea) is so much better than a piece of toast could ever be. So no, it isn’t a crazy diet for me, it is eating the way my nanna would be proud of!!