So, back to the original question… have I gone all paleo? Yes I have….but by default. When I stripped my diet of all of the ‘food like substances’ I was eating, all that was left was lean meat, fruits, low sugar dairy, vegetables and eggs. Because of the inclusion of fruits and dairy, I didn’t view it as a ‘paleo diet’. It wasn’t until I started googling some information around recipes and meal ideas for minimally processed foods, and kept landing on websites advocating a paleo approach to eating, that I realised that what I thought was ‘paleo’ was wrong. Paleo wasn’t just Cross Fit and pork chops. It wasn’t just a ‘diet’ – it was a lifestyle; applying the principles of how our ancestors lived to our modern lives in order to optimise health. My preconceived notions (as stated below) were, as it turns out, uninformed and just not true:
- It’s restrictive: I am almost embarrassed that I had this view of the diet. By removing most processed food from my diet, I have actually opened my palate up to so many new foods, recipes, and flavours that I never would have tried before.
- It’s high in saturated fat therefore increases risk of heart disease: As a University educated nutritionist, it was confronting to learn that the evidence to support the theory that saturated fat (in food) causes heart disease is lacking. I thought this was a certainty; like death and taxes (and always getting wet when changing the water cooler at work). Not so. A paleo approach to eating encourages eating fat from naturally occurring sources like butter, coconut oil, fat from animal products along with nutrient dense vegetables, as these contain long chain saturated fatty acids that don’t break down into toxic byproducts in the body (as omega-6 fatty acids can) for people who have good glycemic control.
- It lacks vegetables and fruits: Some people with a paleo approach to diet could be classed as 80% vegetarian. Combining these with good fats (and not a fat-free dressing) helps us absorb the fat soluble nutrients in these vegetables. And for athletes and healthy individuals, fruit and starchy vegetables are part of a paleo approach to eating. Some people choose a low carbohydrate diet for health or other reasons, but that’s not the premise of a paleo approach. This was a major misconception I had about it.
- There are no wholegrains! What about your B vitamins people?? Though bread and cereals are touted as the best source of B vitamins (important for energy metabolism), in fact it’s just because they are prevalent in our modern diet. B vitamins occur naturally in whole, unprocessed foods such as eggs, organ meats, poultry, meat, beans and vegetables.
- It involves burpees: Not compulsory.
- Hello, there is no ‘one paleo’ diet: Yep, that’s right. There is no one paleo diet. It’s a template from which you can individualise to find out what works for you. From Primal Blueprint and Paleo Solution to Wild Diet and Whole 9… the principles are the same, the whole food approach is the same; but how the diet is devised depends on a whole host of individual factors.
I found it really interesting after relying on certain foods for half my life, how easy I found it to ditch them. It was a non-issue. It was such a strong feeling that it was almost like my taste buds changed overnight. Suddenly trim milk tasted insipid, and light cottage cheese lacked any sort of flavour. A friend gave me Lindt 85% chocolate a couple of years ago and I had to give it away, it was so bitter. But, after a week of having it, suddenly Whitakers Dark Ghana tasted cloyingly sweet. These experiences really drove home to me the power of the mind. I’m no geneticist, but my taste buds didn’t change overnight; my taste preferences, however, did.
After half a lifetime of avoiding fat, the biggest challenge for me was adding it back in to my diet. While I didn’t actively go in search of the highest fat products I could find, I didn’t choose to buy low fat either. The addition of extra fat was an adjustment over the first couple of months. However, as I previously relied on fat-free, processed condiments and sauces for flavour, I was forced to look elsewhere to make tasty food. And, in addition to spices and herbs, the obvious other component missing from my meals was fat. I have to say, I truly believed that I didn’t enjoy the flavour of butter, cream, oil, or nuts. But, actually, I just don’t think I had eaten them with any regularity over the last 20 years, so I didn’t know what they tasted like.
The most important thing I have learnt during this process of changing the foods I eat, is how it wasn’t really about the food. It was about the beliefs that had been instilled in me about myself, my health, and my confidence. I had been living within a set of rules which I didn’t have the confidence to step out of. But when those rules were removed, it had a profound and positive effect on my overall health and wellbeing (something as a nutritionist I’ve been touting for years but not actually living!) So, yep, I’ve gone ‘paleo’ – at first by default, and now by choice. It’s no fad diet; it’s a practical, sustainable, nutrient-dense, flavour-rich way to eat. But you have to try it to believe it. Over the last six months I’ve been doing it, and seeing others do it, and hence why I believe it. I highly recommend you jump on board and “see” it too. You don’t know what your missing….and it won’t be the bread!