For decades, new diets have become popular with unique twists and promise amazing results from weight loss to cancer-cures to libido. Without fail, each new “holy grail of nutrition” stirs up debate within the medical and nutritional fields and often creates polarization. The Atkins diet was heavy on meats and cheese. Highly processed hot dogs, bacon and Kraft singles were completely acceptable, but fruits and vegetables were no-no’s for several weeks. The South Beach Diet welcomed fruits and vegetables, but encouraged plenty of artificial sweeteners. Weight Watchers offers a points system to evaluate any food you choose, and NutriSystem provides you with their prepackaged foods that can sit on the shelf for years.
While each program has helped thousands of people to lose weight, none may actually be appropriate or enjoyable for the long term. More and more people and health care providers are realizing that in order to be healthy, whether to lose weight, feel good or for sports performance, eating real food is the solution. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy.
The Paleo Diet (aka The Caveman Diet) has recently received increased attention due to CrossFit participants and those enjoying Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash events. The Paleo Diet focuses on grass fed animal proteins and copious amounts of vegetables, while downplaying grains, legumes and sugars.
Several adaptations including Primal Blueprint (Mark Sisson) and The Paleo Solution (Robb Wolf) have brought the 1970s concept first popularized by Walter L. Voegtlin, and later by Colorado State University’s Loren Cordain, up-to-date and more accessible for modern-day hunter-gatherers. The original proponents of the diet presume that our DNA has not changed much since the end of the Paleolithic era. As such, our bodies are not well suited to the foods that have been cultivated in the past 10,000 years since the development of agriculture, and more recently due to the industrialized production of food.
The nutritional concept is often promoted as a method of weight loss. Many supporters also point to the therapeutic characteristics of the diet as a means to improve food allergies and overcome chronic-fatigue syndrome and overtraining. Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome and metabolic syndrome have shown remarkable improvement in symptoms when patients adhere to paleolithic diets.
Just like other nutrition plans, The Paleo Diet is not without criticism. Many critics call it a fad and have taken issue with safety over the amount of protein consumed with regard to heart health and cholesterol. Others point to the potential lack of B vitamins available in the diet due to reduced grain consumption. The cholesterol debate has been long-standing, and recent clinical evidence points to carbohydrate consumption as the real instigator of high cholesterol rather than fat intake. Better understanding of “anti-nutrients” such as lectins (shown to cause gastrointestinal distress, nutrient deficiencies and immune reactions) and phytic acid (shown to decrease the absorption of iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium) on the body quell the debate about the necessity of grains and legumes in the diet.
Regardless of the intricacies of The Paleo Diet, strict adherence to its principles is not required to reap the benefit from what may actually be the underlying premise — eat real food that is as close to how it is found in nature. Whether you want to include animal protein, grains and legumes, and dairy or not is up to you. You can personalize and adapt your regimen to your tastes, philosophy and nutritional needs — just choose minimally processed sources that don’t include unnecessary additives and ingredients. Turn it into “Paleo-My-Way”.
The recent presentation at The Bookworm of Edwards by chef Biju Thomas and exercise physiologist Dr. Allen Lim highlighted the superior sports performance and health benefits elite athletes experience when given the opportunity to eat freshly prepared foods versus packaged sports bars and drinks. The needs of performance athletes require more carbohydrate sources particularly from grains, and therefore the recipes would not be considered pure Paleo. Their emphasis on minimally-processed real food is absolutely a similar focus.
For those struggling with health concerns, consulting with a practitioner versed in nutritional therapy can help you identify components of a nutritional program that are important for your specific needs and your condition, rather than trying to figure it out on your own, or by trial and error.
If you would like to learn more about how to eat real food in an uncomplicated way, Jacqui Slavin, D.C., functional medicine practitioner and local paleo-nutrition expert, provides personalized, comprehensive nutritional programs for health conditions, weight loss and sports performance. Call 970-376-7779 for more information.