Do we just need something to believe in?
I’m constantly asked about ‘fad’ diets. Is Paleo the way to go? Should I try the Ozone? What about Raw? I think many people need structure. That anyone would choose restriction over diversity is a wonder to me! Most are really after a weight loss quick fix, fashionable superfood or maybe a miracle. The answer isn’t exciting. There’s no miracle cure, just as there is no Santa Clause or Easter Bunny. Like it or not, there’s no packaged superfood or paleo treat will nullify an overall bad diet and lifestyle and ‘cure’ you.
And yet, as someone who is mindful of weight gain and disease I understand. I too wander the health food isle looking for the elusive product or trendy diet while my more pragmatic half watches in amusement. I justify eating a brownie because it was made using raw cacao & peanut butter instead of normal chocolate powder and normal butter, as if it is now a health food. This ‘health halo’ effect produced by clever marketing is a trap many fall into. There are so many products and so much (mis)information available it’s hard to tell fact from fiction and very easy to be led astray.
While I always recommend making small, attainable and long-term changes rather than following a set meal plan, for those need a firm set of rules or a particular diet, I can suggest attempting Paleo for a few weeks. If followed cleverly it can be quite healthy. But it’s not all good news.
We don’t live in caves and run around all day hunting lean, gamey meats like our ancestors. Most of us sit in offices, then drive to the supermarket to buy farm-grown, grain-fed meats from animals that’ve had less exercise than us. It’s very difficult to replicate the Paleo diet today, as the animals we eat are fundamentally different from those wild, sinewy things our forefathers once chewed.
I’m especially frustrated by the high-meat interpretation of Paleo as I can assure you our ancient relatives were not so lucky to have constant access to steak, bacon or chicken. Many Paleo-dieters follow a more plant-based version which is far superior. The Paleolithic era was prior to the development of agriculture so any meat at all would have been rare and hard won. Some Paleo devotees believe these cavemen were healthier than the current Westerner: in reality the average life expectancy at birth was in the early 30’s.
The ecological sustainability of this diet is also in question; it’s more environmentally responsible to opt for a primarily plant based diet. And if the environment doesn’t interest you, how about your wallet? Meat is a very expensive source of calories and protein compared to beans, dairy and grains that also provide other essential nutrients. A growing phenomenon of intolerances and allergies to legumes, grains and dairy does mean many need to look elsewhere for these essential nutrients.
Here I’ve outlined some of the pros and cons.
o I love that this diet cuts out soft drink, a nutritional black hole. In fact most beverages are removed, even 100% fruit juice – another tick from me. If you feel like fruit, eat it whole or lose the fibre and many vitamins.
o Say goodbye to sweets, alcohol, pastries, chips and cured meats. That’s great for anyone!
o Surprisingly, I agree with minimising nuts. Yes, they’re a fantastic snack, but often people eat far too many without realising how high in calories and omega-6 fatty acids they are. Not only will they strain your energy budget, but also effect your omega-6 : omega-3 ratio… a topic for another time.
o Eating small amounts of lean meats is good for feeling full and will help develop or retain muscle plus provide plenty of vitamins and minerals. Too much (as sometimes recommended) is associated with heart disease, bowel cancer and oxidative stress. Moderation is key.
o When was the last time you hunted your dinner? I thought so. That chicken leg you’re chomping on hasn’t spent much time running around either – so it’s not very ‘Paleo’. Today’s meats are much higher in saturated fat and lower in omega-3 than they were in the Paleolithic era. Where possible, opt for grass fed beef, free-range organic chicken or even better kangaroo, venison or non-farmed, game meats.
o I do not like the removal of legumes from the diet. This diet is not for vegetarians and I would suggest ignoring this element entirely (unless you suffer IBS or are on the FODMAPs diet). Legumes are an excellent source of many vital nutrients.
o Grains are also off the menu. This is fine nutritionally speaking, as they’re certainly not essential. However, as a cheap source of protein and fibre, the right type of grain is a smart, healthy and economical option for many. Removing breads and white rice while opting for whole, unprocessed grains is a simpler and smarter alternative.
o Removing dairy is a tricky one as gaining calcium from other sources is not as bio-avaiable or palatable as a piece of cheese or milky coffee. This can be avoided if you plan carefully and include bony fish, almonds and high amounts of leafy greens. Many people will find this difficult as it requires good nutrition knowledge.
There are some fervent followers of this diet and I’m beginning to see it’s more of a religion than anything. If you need something to believe in (now you know Santa won’t be coming this year) then go for it, but make sure you don’t get carried away with all the Paleo products and supplements now available. A chocolate is still a chocolate, regardless of its Paleo certification.
**Originally published on Mum’s Delivery.