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The Paleo Diet and Doing it Right

Jan 24, 2014 07:50PM


The Paleo Diet and Doing it Right

by Lindzie St. Martin

Certified Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach

You've probably at least heard of Paleo, a time or two, if not more -- also known as the Caveman Diet.  It seems to be one of the latest trends, and the philosophy is to eat like our ancestors did 10,000 years ago.  This means, only eating foods that were hunted, fished, and gathered, like meats, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, roots, berries and other fruits.  In turn, avoiding all grains, dairy, legumes (beans and peas), refined sugar, and salt.  "According to proponents, our bodies are genetically predisposed to eat this way. They blame the agricultural revolution and the addition of grains, legumes and dairy to the human diet for the onset of chronic disease (obesity, heart disease, and diabetes)," says Jim White, RDN, ACSM/HFS, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesman.  With that being said, it makes perfectly good sense why this diet is becoming the next big breakthrough.  If it will help someone break free from the junk -- then I say, go for it!  We can definitely all benefit by freeing ourselves of these refined, sugar and sodium ladened, processed foods that are bombarding our culture as the norm.  But, before you decide to go jump on the Paleolithic bandwagon, be sure to do your homework.

There is a plethora of nutrition programs and fad diets out there, and with any of them, there will be pros and cons.  Lets face it -- as humans we are able to take any kind of eating habits to the extreme, and that's often where the trouble lies.  We can look at many different nutrition programs, and there will always be someone out there who is doing it wrong.  Usually because their diet isn't balanced right, and they aren't looking at the bigger picture -- their overall health.  Many people's attempts are solely focused on weight loss.  The idea behind any quality nutrition plan is to achieve optimal health, but that is often not always the result people get.  For instance, someone can be a vegetarian by not eating animal products, and still have a diet high in sugar and carbs and mostly packaged foods that are not very nutritious -- simply taking away the meat, really didn't create a healthy solution at all.  The same goes with Paleo, and any other high protein and high fat approach -- you're missing the point if the vegetables and fruits and nuts are insufficient.  A diet high in protein and heart healthy fats, and low in starchy carbs can accomplish incredible results!  But when a person isn't careful about the quality of their protein choices, taking in too many saturated fats, not getting enough plant based nutrients, and then mixing in a few too many sugary carbs -- this can be a recipe for disaster.



So before you start your caveman adventure, there's a few things you should take into consideration to avoid some easy mistakes.

* Do your research -- subscribe to informative Paleo blogs or websites, purchase some books, guides, and/or cookbooks.  Don't just run with it as a friend suggests it to you.  Being told to eat a high fat and high protein diet with no grains is rather vague -- it's important to really understand what you're getting into.


* Discipline -- follow what is suggested, because not being strict enough will likely not get you the results you're looking for.  The common denominator with any nutrition plan is to encourage more whole foods and less junk.  Eliminating sugary beverages and processed foods will assist anyone in reaching their goals.

 * Balance -- too much of anything is still too much!  This is not a free card for all the hamburgers and bacon you can eat.  It is important to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, and choose healthy fats, not just meats.  The micronutrients in plant based foods are invaluable as part of a healthy diet.

* Carbs are too high -- this is intended to be a low carb plan, with high protein and healthy fat.  If you're eating plenty of protein sources, and adding healthy fats to most of your meals, adding more carbs than your body needs will quickly exceed your calorie limits.

* Carbs are too refined -- a guaranteed weight loss sabotage no matter what nutrition program you're following.  Stick to your fruits and vegetables designed with this plan. Any refined and simple carbs convert in your body just like sugar.  This in turn releases insulin -- insulin tells your body to store fat.

* Too much fat -- most people don't realize just how quickly fat calories add up.  If your proteins are high in fat, and you're also adding quite a bit more fat from nuts and seeds, your daily calories can quickly be off the charts.  The key to fats is still understanding moderation.

* Not enough healthy fats -- all of your fat should not come from animal sources alone.  Think of healthy fats as the garbage trucks to the bloodstream, carrying away bad cholesterol and plaque to the liver for disposal.  Heart healthy fats come from plant sources, such as nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, and coconut.

* Not eating enough in general -- this poses an issue for weight loss, especially when carbs are too low, and calories are still not adequate enough for a person's activity demands.  This can quickly result in a weight loss plateau, followed by frustration, then a whim of sudden indulgence, then ends with disappointment of weight gain.  Plan to eat five to six times a day; choosing lean proteins, plenty of vegetables, and a moderate serving of healthy fats. 

* Commit -- this isn't really a halfway program!  To be truly successful with Paleo, you must be all-in.  You don't really get to pick and choose which parts you like, and which parts you don't, and still receive the benefits. No matter what type of healthy eating philosophy you choose to follow, make it a part of your life, and follow it at least 80% of the time or better.  In order to separate the term diet from your healthy living, you're eating habits need to be driven by your belief, not by what you feel like at the moment.  In our society we are constantly up against temptation, and all healthy eating plans may feel difficult at first.  Understand that a healthy lifestyle is about progress and consistency, not perfection.

The most important thing to remember with Paleo, as with any healthy diet, is to pay attention to and understand your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat).  The basis of all nutrition programs is in the way their macronutrient ratios are structured. Whether you're following a diet that's high protein/low carb/medium fat or high fat/moderate protein/no carb, they are set up a specific way for a reason, in order to be successful.  The most important key of all, is to be sure whatever diet you decide to follow, will meet your dietary needs for your activity demands and your overall health.  Diets are not one-size-fits-all programs -- we all have different needs.  So whatever nutrition plan you decide to follow, choose a philosophy that works for you, apply it wholeheartedly to your life, and make sure you're doing it right!