There are many different versions of the paleo diet. Depending on your needs, a moderate- or high-carb version may better suit you.
I don’t follow a paleo way of eating myself. However, I do work with clients keen on following paleo guidelines, and, when it’s done properly, they can thrive. However, when the paleo tsunami first emerged as the latest panacea to all health problems, I resisted the tide – hard core. The sweeping claims that “humans aren’t evolved to eat legumes, dairy, or grains” defied the anthropological and archeological evidence clearly showing that, during the Paleolithic period, people ate widely varied diets – depending on where they lived and the seasons. Many of these diets included legumes and ancient grains.
I detested the emphasis on meat and animal products – a default conclusion many people come to when they hear ‘low carb’ or ‘high protein’. The research linking excessive animal protein intake with increased incidence of many chronic diseases including bowel cancer, is striking.
As far as dairy is concerned, it was first consumed as a food around the time of the Ancient Egyptians. While Cleopatra was kicking around much more recently than cavemen were, there is plenty of evidence showing how versatile and adaptable the human genome was to newer foods such as fermented dairy foods, and indeed a number of traditional cultures still eat dairy without an issue.
The theory underpinning paleo was oversimplified. It was heavily marketed in ways that defied its foundations of ‘hunt or gather your own, eat local, eat seasonal’. The paleo snack bar I have sitting on my desk contains macadamias from New Zealand, Californian lemon juice and coconut oil from Papua New Guinea. Even the fittest person from 12 000 BC, with their average clock up of 19 kilometres of walking per day, wouldn’t be able to gather those items easily.
Then came the influx of exhausted young women doing Crossfit whose periods had stopped and whose hair was falling out. They are ex low-carb fanatics who had regained all the weight they originally lost on their perfect caveman diets suffering from hypothyroidism – and severe constipation. While it increases my referrals, a misguided paleo diet can certainly knock people around.
But I’ve realised something. Like any therapeutic diet, paleo must be tailored to fit the individual. Like shopping for a good pair of jeans, there are several things to remember when looking for a paleo approach that suits you:
1. Do you even want to wear jeans?
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, or you’re healing from a serious chronic disease, the paleo diet is not for everyone. There is plenty of evidence showing improvhttp://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/healthy_cooking_101_basics_techniques/shopping_cooking_guides/8_ways_to_follow_the_mediterranean_dieted cardiovascular and inflammatory markers on, say, the Mediterranean diet. Do your homework and don’t fall into the trap of thinking a diet – paleo or otherwise – will magically sort everything out; no matter which celebrities swear by it.
2. Make sure the jeans fit
So you’ve decided to go paleo. Try not to dive straight into the low-carb abyss, i.e., the size 8 designer jeans. One pair of jeans is not going to fit every man, woman, age, and body shape. If you’ve got Type 2 diabetes or PCOS, then a low-carbohydrate version of paleo might suit you – and not necessarily forever. If you’ve got IBS, Crohn’s disease or coeliac disease and have been losing weight due to the malabsorptive capacity of your gut, a low carb approach could be disastrous.
The great thing about paleo is its emphasis on whole, fresh foods; so keep that aspect and add in a few more sweet potatoes and bananas. Make it moderate carb, or if you’re a serious athlete, a high-carb paleo diet. (Yes! There is such a thing!) I’ve even worked with paleo clients to add in some legumes, even though it doesn’t strictly adhere to the paleo label. On that note…
3. Cut the label off
Labels can be itchy and annoying. Don’t adhere to the rigid rules laid down by one paleo protocol for the sake of sticking to a label. If you are fine with legumes, eat them! They’re far from toxic when prepared and slow-cooked, and are a much cheaper protein source than meat. If you come from a line of Russian Abkhasians, who have thrived on fermented dairy products for hundreds of years, then enjoy your milk kefir!
4. Wash regularly
We are not meant to wear the same pair of jeans forever, without ever taking them off. Be open to adjusting your diet as needed. Many people experience an initial burst of energy on low-carb paleo diets as their bodies, chronically depleted of carbohydrates, kick into stress hormone (adrenaline) dominance. This high is often closely followed by fatigue and muscle wasting. Monitor and adjust your diet as needed, and if in doubt, work with a qualified nutritionist, dietitian, naturopath, or functional medicine doctor.
The research backing certain variants of the paleo diet is available and growing, and there is indeed a place for the diet with some disease states. But don’t let one pair of jeans replace your entire wardrobe. Make sure the jeans fit you, and don’t be afraid to wear shorts once in a while.
Casey Conroy is a holistic dietitian, nutritionist, naturopath in-training, yoga and AcroYoga teacher who specialises in women’s health and ‘non-diet’ approaches to weight management. She is the founder of Funky Forest Health & Wellbeing on the Gold Coast, and she loves making and eating raw chocolate.
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