TO BE OR NOT TO BE PALEO… THAT IS THE QUESTION!
You might be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about the new (but old) paleo diet – that is all about eating as the caveman did.
Paleo, short for paleolithic, harks back to a time that predessors cultivated crops. Eating only as the caveman or stone age man did – whatever we could hunt, fish, gather and forage.
What does Wiki have to say about Paleo?
Paleo diet is a plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years duration that ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture.
When you read that it seems obvious – eat the way we have MOSTLY done over the last 2.5 million years and avoid the food that has only been available for 10,000 years. But let’s take a look at Paleo for ourselves:
- Grain fed beef
The paleo diet, is to me, just another diet. When you unwrap it there are many elements within it that I think are relevant and reflect good eating for good health. But they’ve just been packaged up under the guise of a new, sensational ‘diet’ that holds all the promises to a slimmer, happier you. I’m not a fan of ‘diets’ but much rather healthy eating habits and lifestyle.
Honestly, most of the Paleo Diet simply taps into good, common sense when it comes to food: Eat a diet rich in veggies, fruit, good quality protein – grass fed beef/lamb, pastured chicken, wild fish, nuts, seeds, berries. Avoid sugar, refined oils, refined flours, poor quality protein sources and excess salt.
Reducing the consumption of refined flours (especially wheat/gluten) is a positive. We don’t NEED bread, pastries, cakes – all made with flour. There isn’t any bodily function that requires flour, nor are there nutrients within flours that are valuable. Flours supply us with comfort food, delicious and desirable, but not necessary.
Sugar, refined oils (trans fats, hydrpgenated plant oils) and processed food is a no-brainer. We don’t need them and your body doesn’t want them. Another tick for Paleo.
However, one major difference is Paleo’s rejection of grains, legumes and dairy. This is mostly due to the restrictions around ‘cultivated foods’ that came about only 10,000 years ago when we began working the land and developing agriculture. The idea is that human beings haven’t evolved, genetically, to properly assimilate the foods introduced over the last 10,000 years during neolitic (agricultural) period.
Grains, dairy and legumes are three food groups that I include in my diet. Granted that these don’t feature in every meal, every single day, but they do play a vital role with in my diet.
Grains – in the form of barley, buckwheat, quinoa (actually a seed) and bourghal – and dairy – only raw and mostly as yoghurt (including the curds and whey), legumes (beans!) are three food groups I grew up on and still reap the rewards from. We always had fresh homemade yoghurt in the fridge, bourghal is a integreal ingredient to my mother’s tabouli and kibbeh and my dad would make us Fool Medamas – a bean based breakfast that literally keeps you full and energised ALL day.
I want to drill down a little into grains because I’ve written about milk and legumes recently. But as a side note on milk – there is evidence that even before agriculture and farming human beings have kept cows for their milk for quite some time *Real Food for Mother and Baby, Nina Planck. So that is something to consider when reviewing Paleo – some ‘paleo-eaters’ still include raw milk in their diet.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH GRAINS?
I am not a fan of dogma so when I hear ‘we just don’t need grains in our diet at all’… such black and white rules do not seem realistic to me. I fact, that just appears to be a restrictive blanket ruling. Why? Well because each person is different and requires different things based on a number of different factors.
Grains in their whole form can be incredibly benefical in the diet. Grains have been around for quite some time now. We’ve been cultivating and including a wide variety in a grains for at least 10,000 years. However a grain heavy diet is another story. Here, we come to the age-old idea of moderation as opposed to extreme reactions (excessive consumption or total deletion!)
When it comes to grains there are many issues that come to the surface. One of which is the issue with the ridiculous amount of processing grains undertake, the toxin levels in the husks and the idea that perhaps we don’t need as much carbohydrate as we are lead to believe (it’s true, we need more fat!) when fruits and veg have plenty of our necessary carb intake. Not to mention that some people just do not take well to grains – it spikes their blood sugar and insulin levels too high sending them on a rollercoaster ride. I agree with and see merit in all points.
It is true that we probably don’t need grains in our diet daily, particularly considering the excessive consumption of white rice and oats and other hard to digest grains which aren’t the best options. And when you look at how our bodily system reacts to grains then it becomes a more complex and convincing argument.
Sarah Wilson perfectly explains the problem with grains:
A grain-based diet signals “famine” to our primitive bodies – why else would we be resorting to the most energy inefficient, toxic food possible? Which is said to set off a domino of “coping mechanisms”, such as insulin, cholesterol and triglyceride spikes, as our bodies try to deal with a substance it has not evolved to ingest. The spiraling consequences of living grain-based lives is extensive, and backed by a fast-growing number of studies that show it’s making us fat and sick.
So right about now you are probably even more convinced by Paleo. Fair enough. Or maybe you are confused? Even as I write this post I am exposed to a number of different thoughts which are confusing me too!
But here is where I get stuck with Paleo. For me, personally, grains provide me with slow-release energy. A sense of contentment without feeling bloated or full, a better functioning digestive system. My body, it seems, might be better at processing grains – being of middle eastern decent it seems countries in this region were some of the earliest to cultivate grains. So I cannot totally delete grains from my diet. It would seem counter-intuitive too. But for others you might also ‘know’ that grains do not find a happy place in your body.
The point I am trying to make, although perhaps in a long-winded way, is that Paleo has alot of fantastic points. But the deletion of a few key groups – grains, legumes and dairy – is an over-arching prescription that doesn’t take into consideration an individuals heritage, their own lifestyle and body type, their habitat and so on.
Ultimately you need to try for yourself and see what works with you before blindly trusting a diet 100%.
One final note here – the paleo diet can often be a little misleading. People are sometimes mistake to believe that to eat like a caveman means to gorge on meat 2 – 3 times a day. Not the case. If you were to take yourself back 10,000 years ago or more what you’d find was a heavily plant based diet with smatterings of meat when the hunter of the family was lucky enough to kill himself some decent game. The animal would be divvied up and shared amongst the family with no wastage at all… everything would find a home, including the skin for clothing/shelter. Caveman didn’t have a cool room with ready-to-go slices of porterhouse steaks or rib eye. The reality is that I don’t really know … how can I? I never was, nor never will be a caveman.
But what I do know is moderation. I eat meat but I do not eat it everyday because I don’t need it everyday. Maybe you do? I know that I prefer an expensive cut of grass-fed lamb or beef that comes from a local farmer whom I know has cared for this animal humanely. If that is once a week or once a month, then I eat when I need to and because my body requires it. Not because a diet told me to eat that way or because it’s readily available.
In summary – eat more plants, nuts, seeds, vegetables, berries. Switch to grass-fed and pastured animal products. Play with dairy, grains and legumes to see what works for you – how much, what type. Eat in moderation, don’t become obsessive about one concept, but simply delete sugar, processed foods and oil, refined flours and grain-fed meat products from your diet. And lastly, let’s delete the word diet and call it a way of eating, living and being – your lifestyle!
Signing off with an exhale.
Pause. Listen. Live.
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