PALEO, YAY OR NAY? HERE’S WHAT I HAVE TO SAY
The Palaeolithic diet can also be known as the caveman diet, hunter-gatherer diet or Stone Age diet. This diet was around for about 2 million years and ended about 10,000 years ago. The paleo way of eating mimics the food groups eaten in prehistoric times which includes- pasture raised meat and eggs, seafood, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fats from walnuts, macadamia, olives, flaxseeds and coconut oil as well as other coconut products. It excludes refined sugars, refined vegetable oils, processed food, grains and legumes and dairy (although some paleo’s I believe do eat some dairy).
Firstly I want to be clear, I am not against eating paleo nor do I strongly promote it. I see some great things with the paleo diet, and you could say that I eat a ‘paleoish’ diet. I think that paleo food is nutrient rich and provides a substantial amount of nutrients. I like that it cuts out the ‘crap’, to put it bluntly, by avoiding refined sugars and seed oils (which I see as poison and do not recommend consuming to any degree) and anything else that has been processed. The food on this diet is real food that has many nutritional properties- particularly the grass-fed meat, eggs from pastured hens and coconut oil.
The only drawback I see lies with the elimination of some foods in which I find to be very beneficial to ones health.
Organic dairy from grass-fed cows and goats provide an immense amount of nutrients and do not need to be avoided. Unless of course one has an allergy or intolerance. Further on this, a lot of intolerances to dairy can be caused by the pasteurisation process. When milk is heated at high temperatures, the lactase enzyme is destroyed and this is what makes it difficult for some of us to digest lactose. However, if pasteurisation was avoided and we were to consume raw milk this would not be a problem. Also due to the lower amount of lactose in fermented dairy products such as yoghurt, kefir and aged cheese, these can also be tolerated well. Dairy is packed with the fat soluble vitamins- A, D, E and K as well as calcium, iron and phosphorus (which is needed for calcium to be absorbed and is destroyed during the pasteurisation process, so you are not even getting calcium when you drink conventional milk). In short, if you want to eat dairy I recommend that you first become sure that you are not sensitive to it. Food sensitivities can exist without even knowing it. This can be ascertained by eliminating dairy for 6-8 weeks, then reintroduce it and note how you feel. Symptoms of sensitivities can be for example headaches, feeling bloated, lethargic and maybe even skin irritation such as eczema. If you choose to eat dairy make sure it is organic, grass-fed, ethically raised and raw. I know it can be difficult to find unpasteurised dairy but try your best to source it. I personally will not drink milk unless it is raw but the next best option is organic, grass-fed and un-homogenised.
Grains and legumes are not recommended on the paleo diet and I am in two minds about this. Firstly, I do not believe that grains and legumes are essential. A sufficient amount of pastured animal products (such as meat, eggs, butter, ghee, raw and fermented dairy), lots of vegetables, a small amount of fruit (if you choose any at all), nuts, seeds, coconut oil and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha will provide a substantial amount of nutrients to live a thriving life. So if you choose to avoid grains and legumes, I do not see it as a problem. On the flip side, if you have no problem eating them and quite like them in your diet they must be properly prepared. Grains and legumes contain a substance called phytic acid which, if not dissipated, can effect the absorption of minerals and can lead to mineral deficiencies. See my blog here on how you can simply eliminate phytic acid for better mineral absorption. Also be aware that nuts and seeds must go through this process as well, you may have heard of activated nuts, this is simply when they have been soaked and dehydrated so that the phytic acid can be removed, they are also much tastier this way too. I personally do not eat gluten containing grains. I am sensitive to gluten, it makes me feel bloated, gives me a headache and flares up my eczema. There are many options of gluten free grains to choose from such as buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, millet, oats and teff. Remembering that just because they are gluten free, they still need to be prepared correctly.
I believe that the body thrives on a diet rich in fat. Protein and non-starchy carbohydrates are also important but I think that fat, particularly saturated fat, is vital. For this reason I concentrate on consuming foods that are rich in fat and protein. Grains and legumes are lower in fat and higher in carbohydrates and this is why I only consume them in small amounts. Yes it ends up being that I eat a lower carbohydrate diet but this is because I am focusing on getting plenty of nutrient dense foods that are packed with fat and protein. I eat a wide variety of vegetables with every meal which make up my carbohydrate intake.
The paleo diet avoids refined sugars and chooses natural sweeteners instead such as honey, maple syrup and fruit. This is great but we must remember that just because a sugar is natural excess amounts can still have a detrimental effect on the body, and it’s very easy to go overboard when it comes to the sweet stuff. Sweets are there to be enjoyed but any type of sweetener should be consumed occasionally.
What ever diet you choose to follow be sure that it suits you. I do not believe that there is a particular diet that suits everybody but I do believe that we need to be aware of the impact that food has on our health, both good and bad. Through this knowledge you can then decide what kind of diet you wish to choose.