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What the BLEEP is Paleo?

I know Paleo seems to be the buzz word in the fitness & health world right now. Everyone is Paleo thing and Paleo that, so I thought what we need is a Paleo 101. (Applause) Thank me later!
We need to find out more about this way of life and if we should adopt the principles in our day to day technologically infused busy lifestyle. Were we really meant to eat like cavemen and woman or will cereal suffice for breakkie?

Tanja is our special guest today and she is a Paleo convert. Read her story and be inspired:

I was 30 years old, size 8, running 3 times a week, and eating what I considered a healthy diet – no dairy, very little white carbs, always chose whole meal and cooked my meals from scratch. In theory, I should have been at the prime of my life. 
Yet for years, I had been constantly sick. I was suffering from bizarre symptoms that just didn’t add up – including, but not limited to: recurring horrific multi-day migraines, almost constant unbelievably painful mouth ulcers, pathetic immune system (catching *every* bug going around the office), severe adult age acne, fatigue and digestion issues (bloating, cramps, water retention, the lot!), all topped off with terrible mood swings and constant impossible sweet cravings. 
A dear friend gave me The Paleo Diet book, which I devoured at one sitting and immediately started my 30-day paleo trial. 
I felt better within days and after 4 weeks all of my symptoms had disappeared! I was completely healthy and enjoying food more than I ever had before. Obviously, I haven’t looked back since!

What is paleo?

First of all, it’s not a fad diet – it’s a lifestyle. Eating paleo is optimising nutrition intake to foods most suitable for us, following the lead of our hunter gatherer ancestors; satisfying our hunger with high quality nutrient dense food and avoiding foods that have the potential of making us sick.
New studies are increasingly linking many of the diseases plaguing the westernised world to the food we eat; e.g. autoimmune diseases, cancers and the metabolic syndrome (a condition including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, gout, etc.) to name a few. More and more evidence is being gathered to show that certain dietary staples are simply not suitable for us as a species.

What should I eat?

Here comes the good news: healthy food is delicious! Enjoy delicious, clean, high quality fresh produce and your body will thank you for it. We as a species have evolved to eat plenty of meat, seafood, vegetables, some fruit and a little bit of nuts – all the good stuff – and will thrive on it.
Just make sure the produce you choose to eat is clean and high quality. Whenever possible, choose organic, local produce in season. Always select grass-fed meat (as grain feeding effectively destroys all the healthy Omega 3 fatty acids) and try to eat animals that have had a happy life (free-range, not stressed or pumped full of antibiotics).
       Meat – Organic, free-range and pasture-fed
       Fish & seafood rich in omega-3 fats
       Lots of fresh vegetables (excluding starchy potatoes) – preferably local, in season and organic
       Some fruit – preferably local, in season and organic
       A bit of nuts (excluding peanuts – they’re a legume, not a nut)
       Cook with olive oil, coconut oil and animal fats (tallow or lard)
       Drink water

What should I avoid?

In order to optimise your nutrition to food sources that are dense in nutrients, you should avoid not only foods that have potential to make you sick but also foods that are high in calories when compared to the amount of available nutrients in them.
       All processed food – if it’s made by man, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.
       Grains – yes, all of them. Empty calories, overly processed and low in nutrients with a high capacity for making you sick!
       Dairy – …just stop for a second and imagine a herd of huge wild aurochs. Now try to imagine a caveman attempting to milk one… Leave it for calves, they need it more.
       Legumes (including peanuts and soy products) – as with grains, legumes contain high levels of anti-nutrients that can lead to deficiencies and have a capacity of making you sick.
       All sugar.
       Never use vegetable oils, margarines, etc.
       Avoid soft drinks and sugared juices like the plaque they are.

Why are grains so evil?

Neither grains nor dairy were a part of our diet until the advent of agriculture, which happened 10,000 years ago. I realise that 10,000 sounds like a Very Long Time, but when you consider that in all that time there has only been 333 human generations, it’s easy to grasp that the time has not been sufficient for us to evolve physically to digest these newly introduced food groups. On an evolutionary scale 10,000 years is a blink of an eye.
Until then our diet was entirely meat, seafood, vegetable, fruit and nut based. Sure, we ate some wild grains if we were starving and no other source of nutrition was available, but that was largely an exception to an otherwise grain free existence.
There are multiple reasons why grains are not suitable for our species. To start with, they’re simply a very poor form of nutrition and don’t really offer us a significant amount of vitamins and minerals in relation to the amount of calories consumed.
The evils of gluten are no secret – out of wheat’s negative effects, celiac disease is possibly the best known one (an autoimmune disease affecting the small intestine). Also, it is becoming more widely accepted, that gluten sensitivity is a wider problem and affects a far greater portion of people than just ones diagnosed with celiac disease. New evidence is gathering up suggesting that gluten sensitivity may underlie an extraordinary number of health problems and disorders, including but not limited to: acid reflux, Addison’s disease, alopecia, anaemia, attention deficit disorder, autoimmune thyroid diseases, dementia, depression & anxiety, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, systemic lupus erythematous, type 1 diabetes, etc…
More importantly though, grains contain antinutrients that significantly impair their nutrient availability. What this means is that even though grains might on paper seem to be good sources of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, in reality, none of these nutrients are available for absorption due to phytate, an antinutrient found in all whole grains. Phytate binds with the aforementioned minerals making them unavailable for absorption. In fact, the more grains you eat, the more likely you will become deficient in these minerals.
Possibly the scariest argument against grains is the fact that they contain lectins. Lectins bind to cells in our intestines, permeating the gut barrier and find their way into the bloodstream. Not only has this been linked to Vitamin D and A deficiencies, but also a long list of autoimmune diseases and cancers.
The one thing that all articles criticising paleo come back to, is fibre: “If you eliminate whole grains from your diet, how in the world will you ever get enough fibre?”. The truth is, that while whole grains have a significant amount fibre when compared to refined grains, the amounts are practically non-existent when compared to non-starchy vegetables. Bottom line? Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and if anything, you’ll be getting tons more fibre than what you would from even the ‘healthiest’ mueslis or breakfast cereals.

How can I possibly live without grains?

Removing grains from your diet can be a daunting task at first – they’re everywhere! However, following this guideline strictly is the part of paleo lifestyle that has the greatest potential in delivering you visible results quickly.
For one, cutting our grains means that you’re getting rid of the majority of the processed crap that has the worst impact on your health (bread, pasta, cookies, cereals, candy – the lot that comes in a box and is chock-a-block full of sugar, additives and other evils).  Perhaps the best part of cutting out grains is that the effects are almost immediate – personally I noticed that the constant bloating disappeared as soon as I got rid of grains, making my profile significantly slimmer and improving my overall digestion… and all these results within a few days of going paleo!
Breakfast without toast? Easy: eggs with avocado and smoked salmon. What about spaghetti Bolognese? Just julienne zucchini into spaghetti like strands and sweat it with salt for 30 mins and you’ve got a tasty and healthy replacement. Burgers? Make your own delicious patties without breadcrumbs and either serve them in a bowl over a delicious salad bed or replace buns with big roasted mushroom caps. It’s all doable once you get your head around it.
All you need to do is get creative, love the food you’re eating and just watch the benefits start stacking up from day one!

Wait, there’s more to it:

However, to me living a paleo lifestyle is more than just the food we eat. Overall, it means actively making choices informed by evolutionary science to achieve optimal health. In addition to optimising your nutrition, don’t forget to:
       Listen to your body – if you always react to something negatively, you probably shouldn’t be eating/doing it…
       Live an active – not sedentary – lifestyle
       Sleep 8 hours a night – every night

The rewards:

The list of health benefits linked to paleo lifestyle are seemingly endless, here’s a list of the most commonly listed ones:
       Lose weight without dieting and exercise,
       Improve athletic performance
       Slow or reverse the progression of an autoimmune disease 
       Reduce your risk of diseases, including autoimmune diseases, cancers, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, gout, etc. 
       Permanently free yourself from acne
       Enjoy a longer, healthier, more active life

The downside:

While I have no doubt that a paleo diet can offer significant benefits for anyone, don’t be fooled: it’s not for everyone. If you’re not prepared for a healthy dose of research, determination and additional effort, you won’t succeed.  
       You will need to prepare and cook practically all of your own food from scratch, for every single meal you will eat. This takes some learning, time and constant effort. 
       Investing in high quality ingredients can make it seem more expensive – processed empty fillers are cheap in the shop… you just pay a much higher price with your health later down the track.
       It means pretty much giving up on the idea of eating out, or being lazy and grabbing something on the go for lunch. Ordering in a restaurant will require some creativity and options available will be very limited. No more late night pizzas, lunch burgers or comforting bowls of pasta.  
       And be ready for it: you need to explain yourself a LOT – people will think you’ve gone mad to desert bread!

If you’re considering going paleo:

If paleo sounds like it could be for you, what I’d recommend is committing yourself to a 30-day trial. Just try it for a month, be strict, don’t cheat and see what you think. After all, what have you got to lose – if you don’t like it, you can have your old life back…
1.     Make sure you know what you’re doing!
I would strongly recommend reading The Paleo Answer by Dr Cordain as a starting point. Not only does the book get you in the right frame of mind by explaining why to eat certain foods and why others are bad for you, it also gives you all the information you need for such a major lifestyle change.
2.     In addition to focusing on cutting out the nasties, make sure you’re including the good stuff!
Making sure you get all the nutrients is just as important – if not more so – as cutting out potential harmful foods. Also consider supplements such as fish oil capsules and potentially Vitamin D. I wouldn’t recommend supplementing blindly and the best way to know what you need is to see a good GP.
3.     Monitor your health!
I would recommend getting regular blood-works done to ensure that you’re not lacking in vital nutrients (personally I accidentally cut out all sources of iodine with processed food and ended up temporarily hypothyroid – oops!). 
4.     Don’t go crazy cooking grain-free replacements for all our old favourites – I know I did!
Try to enjoy real food instead of making almond meal muffins, coconut pancakes and other baked goods part of your everyday diet. Try to remember that they’re calorie dense treats and should be only consumed occasionally.
5.     And last but definitely not least: don’t forget to enjoy the ride!
While I recommend being strict for the initial 30-day trial, being paleo long term is a slightly different beast. Don’t be too hard on yourself – it’s not good to be obsessed with food one way or the other. In order to make a permanent long-term lifestyle change, you need to make it work for you. Allow yourself a cheat meal here and there; maybe let yourself enjoy your old favourite meal once in a while, enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner, or go out for a proper restaurant meal for your birthday. Just remember to listen to your body and avoid cheats that seem to set you back too much.

Want to know more?

Join the conversation on Facebook – I would love to hear what you think! Also, for more delicious healthy recipes and food ideas, visit Paleo Australia and refer to our Paleo Bookshelf for more information on the subject!

Cooking Real Food:

Here’s a few favourite recipes from our kitchen:
                                                                                                                                                        
Savoury Egg Muffin Breakfast – a quick, easy and delicious way to start the day!

Bacon & no-potato salad – perfect on the side of a big, juicy steak!
Apple & Currant Macadamia Cookies – after all, even Grok had a sweet tooth!

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12 Responses to What the BLEEP is Paleo?

  1. I gained so much weight doing Paleo, It was my own fault I went nuts on the fats and ” paleo treats” plus there are some morning when you just feel like a big ol bowl of porridge.

    Plus it’s so frigen expensive, this place is pretty awesome for aussies – http://www.paleosnacks.com.au/

  2. Grains can upset some people – those with IBS, celiac disease, gluten intolerance. I do not believe that they are bad for everyone, and indeed I don’t believe there is solid evidence that shows this. It’s easy to google things these days, but it’s not so easy to pick well conducted evidence from poor evidence. This is a a good article to explain why grains are not bad for you http://www.laststopfatloss.com/why-grains-and-gluten-arent-bad-for-you (unless you suffer from any of the above conditions). I believe that there are lots of different ways to live a healthy lifestyle. I eat grains, and eat a healthy diet and I feel good, my skin is good and I have good energy levels. If I eat refined foods and too many fatty foods I feel sluggish and gross. I think you need to be careful about what you read and do lots of GOOD research to see if it’s true or not, from experts in the area. Nutrition is a complicated science! If you feel better not eating grains and are getting all the nutrients you need for a healthy diet, then that’s good, but don’t personally believe that they’re bad for everyone.

  3. I totally agree, what a load of hog wash. BTW It won’t make the thinner, like the person before said you will probably gain weight. Maybe if you’re a big guy who works out — fine, but I gather most of the people reading this would be weight conscious women – ladies- avoid this diet for weight loss- trust me.

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone

    Exactly why I recommend everyone works out what works for them not just the latest fad. Most people do however benefit from removing refined grains. You can still get all the carbs you need from fruit, veg and sweet potatoes without needing grains. There is loads of research out there so check out good sources and not just biased nutritionists would recommend the food pyramid style of eating. Not many clients that consult with me do not need 8 serves of carbs per day. Earn the carbs people!

  5. After being sick all of my twenties I am amazingly healthy at 40! And Paleo is the right fit for me as I am Coeliac, have parathyroid instability which has resulted in slow bone healing (I needed to cut out dairy as it was making my Magnesium deficiency worse- the ratio in Ca and Mg is wrong for humans and actually worsens some bone issues) and I get nasty rashes from soy.

    As for gaining weight and being expensive!! No way!! I have lost fat and increased muscle since I went strictly Paleo last year. And my grocery bill has actually gone down, I do grow a heap of my own vegies and fruit and my grassfed hormone free butcher is actually cheaper than the supermarkets.

  6. That’s excellent Jenny! I also believe your bill becomes cheaper when you stick to meat, veg, fruit, seeds and minimal dairy (I’m not paleo and I can tolerant dairy in my diet). It’s also about being creative with food, getting back in the kitchen and cooking up a storm.

  7. I am kinda on the fence, it does seem like an ideal way to eat, however I do struggle with the fact that eating a bowl of porridge is bad, whereas having fatty salty bacon is ok. I think the main reason so many people gain weight on Paleo is obviously nuts, avocado and meats play a big role in the diet and these are very calorie dense foods. In terms of weight loss I think the only way it would work is if you controlled your calories.

  8. awesome post! it just reignited my desire to go back to the paleo way. my only issue is, I workout 5-6 days a week – will paleo give me the nutrients I need?

  9. Many paleos workout and follow the lifestyle. I follow my fat loss plan which has minimal grain but includes enough carbohydrate for me to smash up big workouts and recover effectively. Your body is a smart entity it will make adaptions to suit the fuel it receives. I lift heavy 4-5 days per week plus HIIT 3-4 times and I’ve got LOADS of energy and feel satisfied. Nutrient wise you would have to get specific tests. However my skin glows, dental health and cholesterol levels are all normal. Body fat is at it’s optimal level and I never get sick. I’m happy with that!

  10. I used to binge eat, since starting paleo I haven’t had one binge, I didn’t lose or gain weight but the fact that I don’t binge anymore makes it a miracle for me. It simple, honest food just don’t go overboard with the fruit, I also didn’t really do the ” treats” , if you haven’t tried it give at 1 week, see how you go, you can always go back to your previous diet!

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