What is Paleo?
First and foremost I don’t believe Paleo is a diet. It’s a change in lifestyle. A choice to eat real foods, instead of processed foods. Processed food is fast becoming the norm. Give me fast, give me cheap, give me convenience. How often do you see sauces made from scratch. Long gone are our hunter and gatherer days.
Fundamentally Paleo is based on the concept of avoiding foods that inflame our digestive system. An inflamed digestive system leads to a weakened immune system, making it easy for bacteria from the outside world to invade. Eating Paleo also means consciously deciding to eat foods that are nutrient dense. Do you use premium unleaded or some no frill petrol (gas) in your car? Obviously the better the fuel, the better the performance. Why wouldn't this theory apply to our bodies?
Why are we getting fat?
Before getting into the nuts and bolts about Paleo let's talk about why we are getting fat. Australia is ranked as one of the fattest nations in the developed world. The prevalence of obesity in Australia has more than doubled in the past 20 years. In actual fact we are ranked the fourth-highest population in the world that is likely to suffer from type-2 diabetes. Some interesting facts:
Source: Modi Monash University
So what has changed? Why is this pattern repeated world wide amongst other developed nations like America. It appears that it is deep rooted into our history and economy. Below is a summary of what I consider to be some instigators:
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For more about "Why we are getting fat?" I recommend watching this documentary.
So what can we eat?
A strict Paleo diet is based on what we used to eat during the Paleolithic era. That is, before the invention of agriculture when we used to hunt and gather for our food. Food that is made by nature and not man. The following types of food are avoided:
Yes, this includes beans, brown rice and wholegrains. But these are healthy you argue. Yes we've been told all our lives however what is the scientific foundation of our government's recommendation. Without getting into a heap of scientific explanation, grains and legumes contain a compound called phytate. This phytate inhibits your body from absorbing nutrients, essentially deeming them useless. The only difference between white and brown bread is that brown is slightly less processed, giving it more fibre and a lower GI. But a low GI simply means you are full for longer as your body takes longer to breakdown the food. The nutrient content is much the same. Sure you can remove the phytate (Lectin) by proper preparation. For example soaking for many hours before cooking. However is it worth the extra effort when you can eat something that is much more nutrient dense with less effort? Remember our petrol analogy. This is when you decide whether you want to use premium or no frills fuel. It's not a coincidence that food categories the Paleo Diet encourages us to avoid are those often associated to symptons such as gluten and lactose intolerance or increased flatulence. Ever wondered why you are so gaseous after that lentil soup? Or if you stomach doesn't stop growling after a meal?
At every meal regardless of whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, the following is recommended:
1-2 servings of fruit per day is recommended as sugar is still sugar, even if it is natural. Please note that fruit should never replace vegetables. Yes, this means a fruit salad for breakfast is not recommended. Ever wondered why you are hungry 1 hour later and have cravings for more sugar?
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Benefits of Paleo
Need more convincing? Well I’m actually not here to convince you. I just wanted to share my experience, as I believe mainstream media can be so misleading. Did you know that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an organisation that publishes health research in the USA is sponsored by the likes of Nestle, Coca Cola and Kellogs? What do you think they would say if published articles started to impact sales? Check out this article from USA Today on how the CEO of Coca Cola justifies that coke is good for us. Learn to critique what you read. Even what I am writing :)
Before continuing I would like to emphasise that everyone’s experience will be a little different. To give some perspective this is what I have personally experienced since being Paleo.
As a side note, I’ve never gone on any diet my entire life. Thanks to genetics I am skinny and I love food too much. Can’t imagine going hungry. But on Paleo, you do not go hungry. Plus the food actually tastes heaps better. You taste the raw ingredients, not the seasoning or condiments it is coated in. Once you feel the difference it's hard to go back.
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Paleo as a Template
As continually emphasised on Wodnut, we believe that everyone is different. "Bio-individuality". What works for me, may not work for you, as we are all different. Different genetically, in age, race and lifestyle. Our motto, “First modify yourself to the practice. Then modify the practice to you”. The same rule applies here. There is no ONE SIZE FITS all. Paleo is a great template as a starting point. Educate yourself on nutrition and build self awareness on what works for you.
Don't be a Paleo Nazi. After your whole30, start re-introducing foods you have eliminated. However do this one by one so that you can isolate and identify which food your body agrees (or does not agree) with. Coming from an Asian background, digesting rice is not an issue. Maybe it's all those years of evolution. On the other hand when I eat pasta or bread I do feel a little sick. I'm sure if you come from an Italian background things may be different for you. Having said this, we’ve cut out rice in our household as we now view it as a waste of space. Who needs rice when you can have cauliflower faux rice :) Below I've pasted a food pyramid from Dr Mercola. I think this food pyramid represents more the general Paleo population and is a good guideline to eating and feeling healthy.
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And finally, remember we are all human. A glass of wine or that cheat dessert every now and then is ok. In fact it would be encouraged (i.e. post whole30). I found cheat meals made me more determined to stay Paleo. You’ll find most people are good on weekdays and then more relaxed on weekends. Whatever works for you. Doing 80% is better than nothing. You’ll be surprised how your palate will change. Things will appear sweeter or saltier than you recall. At one point in time I decided cheat meals were not worth the cheat meal, as I was constantly being disappointed. Moral of the story? Use Paleo as a template, then test and learn to determine what works for you. Customise the Paleo Template to create your optimal diet. Personalisation is always better than blindly following a prescription for the masses.