When a ‘new’ approach to eating, weight loss or getting healthy catches our attention, it’s common to want to jump on board without fully understanding key principles and instead focusing on anticipated results. Whether you’re considering a gluten-free diet because a friend discovered it alleviated her stomach issues or opting for veganism because a study linked meat consumption to cancer, when you don’t have the full run down on new diet trends, you run the risk of not following the diets properly—and, as a result, not reaping the benefits you’d expected.
It’s no different with paleo. Despite the fact that paleo is not exactly new (it dates back 2.6 million years!), it has definitely become a trend. But rather than explain what it’s not, let’s focus on what it is. Below are some questions commonly asked when one is considering giving a real a try.
We know from Dr. Loren Cordain, PhD, the founder of the Paleo Diet Movement, that “The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors: the characteristics of which will help to optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight.” In a nutshell, this approach to eating focuses on local, in-season veggies and some fruit, wild protein and natural fats. Not too radical, is it?
What are the benefits?
Simply cutting out fructose and grains from your diet can eliminate some of the underlying causes of a number of health problems, including:
- Insulin resistance
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Being overweight
And this doesn’t even begin to incorporate the long list of other issues that may be alleviated or sometimes even completely resolved by incorporating this approach to eating real, unprocessed food and eliminating those that create inflammation and leaky gut syndrome.
What are some drawbacks?
When followed properly, the drawbacks of a paleo diet are few, if any at all. In my practical experience, I find most claims that “Paleo doesn’t work” and “Paleo is unsustainable” tend to stem from a misunderstanding about what the approach really is. As the diet has become trendy and misrepresented, I find myself often not even using the word as much these days.
For example, if a fresh, crisp salad of arugula, garden tomato, avocado and wild salmon with olive oil was recommended as a great lunch option, and for dinner, a seared grass-fed steak along with a side of grilled asparagus, with olive oil drizzled on top, most people would feel those two meals sounded not only healthy but delicious.
As soon as you add the “P” word, however, confusion abounds, and it takes a good 10 to 15 minutes to explain what it’s not.
Misconceptions are many, but the reality is that it the diet is not too low in calcium (collard greens have more calcium than milk and without the net acidic load), not too low in fiber (veggies such as artichokes have seven to 11 times the fiber found in cereal grains) and a safe, balanced, plant-based approach to eating (up to 42 percent of the diet is from carbs, mainly coming from veggies plus fats also being delivered in part by plant-based sources, such as avocado, coconut, raw nuts and seeds in moderation).
Can anyone follow the paleo diet?
There is no specific population for whom the Paleo diet is off limits. My approach to working with clients privately is to remove all potential allergenic/inflammatory foods for a period of one month, and then, if desired (and not withstanding specific health issues) to test introducing one food at a time back into the diet to determine whether or not that particular food may be incorporated from time to time.
While there is not a one size fits all approach, we all have different backgrounds, different ancestry and, as a result, different foods we may be able to tolerate in moderation. And while looking at the big picture, if someone eats hummus and carrots as a snack now and then (hummus not being Paleo), or has a glass of Cabernet with dinner, if that’s their 5 or 10% of un-Paleo that keeps them on track the rest of the time, so be it! It’s all about the balance.
How can a paleo diet be made simple for a beginner?
Follow the template I presented the first time I was a guest on Dr Oz. Start with a nice serving of veggies, add some protein and a nice douse of fat. Steer clear of anything in a package. This will get you quite close to a real Paleo regimen!
Can vegetarians follow a paleo diet?
No, but interestingly, there’s a correlation between a properly implemented vegan diet with a properly implemented Paleo diet. Both are plant based; both share an abundance of local, in-season veggies, healthy fats and some fruit; the key difference is the protein sourcing.
One of the best things about taking a good, hard look at what we are eating and how it may be affecting us, for good or for bad, is that it’s an empowering exercise.
There’s no risk, no cost and it allows us to tune into our own bodies and listen to what they’re telling us which, in my opinion, is far more significant than anything we read online, are told by our doctor or is forced upon us by yet another ad for a silly or risky diet.
It always comes back to the same thing: eat real food!