Paleo on primetime

Either my awareness of paleo-related news has increased, or paleo is just getting more airtime. Last Friday Seven Sharp did a piece on the paleo diet and whether we should get back to eating how our ancestors did. I’m always interested to see how the media portrays paleo, as it’s often rubbished as a fad diet.  Those who watched would have noted the obligatory cut to some 1970s clip of cavemen – a necessity obviously, just so we are all on the same page of what we mean when we say ‘paleo’. It’s all gnawing on bones and sitting around in loin cloths and mammoth skins. Kind of how I spend my Friday nights actually – so a good depiction of how paleo looks in real life.

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Now where did I put my straighteners?

The two case studies presented were quite different. Though the reporter talked about the health benefits of the lifestyle change for Aaron, the link to Cross Fit, the focus on the barbeque, and the reporter’s comments that you can eat ‘as much meat as you like’ perpetuated the notion that paleo is meat, meat, meat. And bacon. This was backed up by the description of the diet of 40% animal products and 60% vegetables (with no mention of fruit). The second case study of Dan and Corrine was more balanced. The clip highlighted the physical and psychological benefits of eating a paleo-approach. Dan, while admitting it sounded contrived, talked about how he feels like a different person, with a lot more mental clarity and energy. Something I have heard time and time again from clients who make similar changes to their diet.

Seven sharp then interviewed dietitian Nadia Lim about the nutritional considerations of going paleo. I really like most of what Nadia promotes as good nutrition, and she was really good at talking about the benefits of eating a whole food diet that was nutrient rich. But one aspect that she was confused about was that paleo is low carbohydrate. It’s not. Yes, the carbohydrate load is reduced for a lot of people if they are switching from a standard westernised diet, but this doesn’t mean it is low carbohydrate for everyone. She then described the dangers of going into ketosis on the premise of a low carbohydrate diet.  Hang on – weren’t we talking about paleo? This was like a quantum leap from one approach to diet (paleo) to another (ketogenic). Ketosis (if you’re not familiar with this) is when your body breaks down both fat and protein to produce ketone bodies to be used as fuel in the absence of glucose. Two things to say here:

  1. For most people, consuming under 50g of carbohydrate per day is necessary to go into ketosis (and for some, it’s as low as 20g per day). Do you know how hard that is? It takes a fair amount of planning and measuring of your food intake to lower your carbohydrate intake to a level that would enable your body to start burning ketones as fuel. Your protein intake would also need to be carefully monitored, as too high a protein intake will prevent this from occurring. While it’s possible to go ketogenic on a paleo diet, it is by no means inevitable. At all.  Here is an example of what a ketogenic diet might look like (in a non paleo kind of way).
  2. Ketosis is not dangerous. Really. It is often confused with ketoacidosis – whch is dangerous for people who are unable to produce insulin – i.e. Type 1 diabetes or more advanced cases of Type 2 diabetes. This is because, without insulin, the ketone bodies produced are unable to be fed back into the energy system to be used as fuel. These build up in the blood stream and can lead to metabolic disregulation and an acidic environment which is a dangerous state to be in.  However that is really different from nutritional ketosis (to borrow Peter Attia’s term). When you are able to produce insulin, then ketone bodies never get to the levels necessary to cause this state of acidosis and are able to be used effectively for fuel in the absence of glucose. I’m being oversimplistic, I know, and Peter Attia succinctly explains ketosis better than many I have read (and the comments are worth a look at also).  Ketogenic diets (inducing ketosis) have long been used to treat neurological disorders, can be useful in weight loss, may have a place in sports performance, and may be necessary for people with metabolic disregulation to reduce hyperinsulinemia – and for most people these are not dangerous. However, again, going paleo does NOT mean going ketogenic (unless you want it to).

So while I kind of felt it jumped the shark a bit at the end, it was good to see paleo making primetime TV. Dare I say, more interesting than the series on cats Seven Sharp did a few weeks ago.

Also, for anyone interested in the concept of evolutionary health (in any facet, be it diet, exercise, sleep, lifestyle etc) then watch this space as the development of a New Zealand branch of the Ancestral Health Society (AHS) is underway, led by Jamie Scott and Anastasia Boulais of Whole 9 South Pacific. This has the potential for individuals and organisations across New Zealand to come together under one umbrella and have a louder, collective voice in the nutrition, lifestyle and health space. Both Jamie and Anastasia noted in our meeting last week that the concept of ancestral health in NZ is quite different to that in the US (where the AHS has orginiated from). For a lot of people there, ancestral health really does conjure up images of Fred Flinstone. In NZ, as a young country, there isn’t this gulf of thousands of years between us and our ancestors. Indeed, for Maori and Pasifika people there are threads of ancestral life woven into everyday life. It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine that solutions to many health problems of today may be found if we look back to how lives were lived in the past. It is a bonus that the majority of NZers believe in evolution or ‘intelligent design’  – which is almost evolution. (As a side note, while looking up these stats I found that up to 60% of people believe in UFOs. Go figure.) Anyway, if you want to know more about Ancestral Health Society then follow the above link. In addition, seminars by prominent academic and practitioners in the field of evolutionary health can be found on the AHS You Tube channel  – a great way to learn more about the potential to improve our health by looking in the past. And not a loin cloth in sight.

Finally, check recipes for a delicious meatloaf I made this week. And I made a great sweet breakfast omelette. Neither of which I will be eating over the next five days though as Caryn and I have challenged our third year Food, Nutrition and Community Health class to take part in the Live below the line challenge, beginning Sunday dinner time. Thus, we feel obliged to do the same. It seemed like a great idea nine weeks ago when we were planning this semester’s course. Living on $2.25 per day and not relying on Homebrand baked beans on toast. Hmm… I’ll update you on how that goes next week.

3 thoughts on “Paleo on primetime

  1. Nice post Mikki. My flatmates and I lived Below The Line last year, and did quite well if I do say so myself, on a diet of eggs and fatty beef mince, seasonal veggies, butter and olive oil. The high fat, moderate protein, low carb approach kept us satiated and functioning well (stuck to strength training and avoided demanding conditioning work however). Everyone else on this challenge seemed to go for huge sacks of rice and oats, yet were constantly ravenous…… weird…. 🙂

  2. Darren you are fortunate to have the buying power for a few people! Meat wasn’t able to feature in our menu plan for this week. I’m sucking it up and having lentils and eggs. And seasonal vegetables. Olive oil seems very flash. I have managed to squeeze in a couple of T of desiccated coconut as we got a bargain on silverbeet 🙂 Starting Sunday night means that I get to finish on a decent meal Friday 🙂

    • Yes that definitely helped. I really wanted to get good quality fats in, and so we shopped around a lot. A $5 bottle of olive oil offers up a ton of fat based energy, so was a bargain in my eyes. You’re right about the meat though, towards the end of the week, we ended up swapping meat for more eggs as not only could we get more protein and fat for the $$, but they tasted much better in a reasonably basic meal vs meat. Good luck!

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