Welcome back all! In today’s post I’ll summarize what I mean when I say I eat a paleo diet. Then, I’ll discuss the issue of strict adherence to any specific diet.
Eating paleo, I focus on food quality. I maximize my intake of “nutrient dense” foods. I minimize my intake of foods with an unfavorable nutrient profile or foods that cause negative reactions in the body.
Nutrient dense foods contain a substantial amount of essential fats, amino acids (proteins), vitamins, and minerals. “Essential” means the body cannot produce them on its own.
Unfavorable foods would be refined flour or pasteurized, homogenized skim milk. These foods are “enriched” or “fortified” because they are nutrient-deficient naturally, or undergo processing that destroys their nutrient content. Companies add vitamins and minerals to bring more value to these products.
A food that causes a negative reaction in the body would be corn oil because it contains a high amount of polyunsaturated fats that can harden the arteries and raise triglycerides causing atherosclerosis. Also, certain foods contain anti-nutrients that bind with other nutrients inhibiting proper absorption. Finally, some foods, such as grains, contain elements that can cause inflammation.
To simplify, here is a list of foods I focus on: meat, vegetables, and eggs from local, reliable farms; wild-caught seafood; fruits; tubers; healthy fats; and dairy. These foods tend to be most nutritious (and flavorful!) when compared to things like grains or processed foods.
The premise of the “Paleolithic Diet” was that humans haven’t evolved since the invention of agriculture (about 10,000 years ago) resulting in modern day health issues and food sensitivities. Although there is legitimate science supporting this claim, I think it’s too rigid to say that every food grown since the advent of farming is problematic for everyone.
For example, many people produce the lactase enzyme throughout their entire life, allowing them to digest dairy. People with autoimmune conditions may suffer from the inflammatory effects of certain nightshades (tubers, peppers, etc) while other people have no issue consuming these foods regularly.
I do, however, always recommend the paleo diet as a starting point. After a month or two of eating the most nutritious foods possible, that contain the least amount of problematic elements, reintroduce foods as desired.
Try consuming dairy for a week then remove it again. Try introducing oatmeal and pull it back out. Track all changes in health and performance. To give a personal example, I tolerate dairy from a digestive standpoint, but my complexion is only completely clear when I am not consuming it.
At the end of the day, the pros and cons of everything have to be weighed. If you consume whole foods, as they grow in nature, you are already prolonging and improving your life. And if not, it’s never too late to start!
The problem with adhering to any strict “diet” is the development of extremism. People become entrenched in beliefs, which are tied to emotions, and lose sight of the fact that science is progressing every moment.
I love when I learn something new even if it negates a “fact” I knew before. If I discover something I’m eating is doing more harm than good, I’ll eliminate it and, conversely, if I find out a particular food I’m not consuming can improve my life, I’ll start including it in my diet.
I think this issue of strict adherence is most prevalent within the paleo and vegan community. However, I am hopeful. We’ve seen the emergence of pescatarians that consume seafood but avoid animal flesh and ovo-lacto vegetarians that eat dairy and eggs. Even within the last couple years we’ve seen an evolution (ironic based on the founding argument) within the paleo-sphere that now allows more personal choice through the reintroduction method I mentioned earlier.
As a final note, I think it’s important to base your food intake on your goals and activity level.
When the body is at rest, fat is the primary fuel source and, as intensity increases, the body shifts to burning carbohydrates. Thus, on my recovery days, when the most I do is walk, I focus on healthy fats, meats, and veggies. But, on the days I’m lifting heavy and trying to promote muscle-growth, I add a liberal amount of carbs, in the form of potatoes and fruits, to every meal.
Find an approach that works for you.
Maybe start strict to eliminate soda and candy cravings and reach a satisfying level of health and performance, but then tinker. Try reducing carbs and increasing fats or vice versa. Try a bit more or a bit less protein. No two people are the same so there will always be a need for experimentation.
I’m thinking for the next few posts I’ll discuss the 3 macro-nutrient groups – proteins, carbs, and fats. I touched upon these here but would like to explain the importance of each so you can decide what intake ratios make the most sense for you.
I’ll close with a relevant quote by Sosan I just stumbled upon:
“If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything.”