Paleo - why I rate it.
I am constantly asked as a dietitian, why I openly support the paleo diet. Often shunned by traditional dietitians as a fad, and questioned by those curious but cautious of it. I am often seen as treading dangerous waters as it doesn't align with the dietary guidelines we are to recommend. In my opinion, that's just not accurate. Sure there's food groups removed, but vegans remove food groups too, and that diet is accepted by most. So why are so many dietitians anti-paleo?
This may be a reason why…..
When it comes to paleo (and most other diet styles) this is a typical research scenario:
Please note, this is an example from feedback and information I have been told or seen, and I in no way aim to offend or impose stereotypes.
- You ask around for feedback and ideas regarding the paleo diet.
- Your fit friend tells you she's paleo and it helped her lose a tonne of weight.
- Your personal trainer loves it and says no carbs, no dairy, no wheat/grains, and if you 'cheat', you'll suffer the consequences in the next session.
- Your doctor and/or dietitian says it's a fad diet and it's dangerous - often seeing clients who "tried it" but resulted in chronic constipation, poor gut health, and other complications.
- Your naturopath/alternative therapist says it's all meat, and can't be good for you. It's best to be vegetarian. Or, they love it and all of a sudden you're being educated on the amazing versatility of coconut oil.
- Your best friend has read articles about it in magazines saying it helps clear up your skin and is great for quick weight loss, and some of your favourite celebs are following it.
- But then you dream about your birthday and how you'll miss cake. And cupcakes, and brownies, and pasta and…….
- So you google if coffee is paleo. You're gonna need that s#$% if cupcakes are out!
- Other options pop into your mind. You reminisce how your mum has spent years back and forth on a low fat diet and yo-yo'd her weight only to end up heavier.
- You see nutritionists and health coaches on instagram supporting what seems somewhat like a paleo diet, but with more vegetables than anything, and you wonder if that really is paleo…("isn't it all about the meat?")
- So you check out the hashtag #paleo and #whole30 to reveal a whole lot of egg, meat and bacon pictures with some vege. You freak out a little at how limited the food on this 'diet' is. You show your boyfriend what images you found.
- Your boyfriend loves the idea and happily agrees to join your 'meat fest'.
- Finally you take a look at some forums to see how other people are coping with it. There are debates galore. Paleo vs non-paleo foods, personal opinions vs misguided information vs weak evidence vs strong scientific evidence vs just plain irritating 'trolls' with nothing better to do than irritate.
- You get overwhelmed.
- Your dad asks…. 'what's paleo?', and in an attempt to explain it from what you've learnt, you realise you're pretty confused, and still don't really know. What are the rules? What about all this food, and that food? Are they paleo?
- And wait, hoooow paleo is paleo? Can you be semi-paleo? Like 60% paleo? Or is 80% paleo best? Because you know you'll struggle for 100%.
You'll never find your one clear cut answer when it comes to paleo (and nutrition!) as everybody's experiences, lifestyles, environments and access to food is different.
Why I support it
The great thing about paleo is it's flexibility. You can be any type of variant of paleo or primal you want. Make it work for you.
If you want to eat dairy and still follow the basics of paleo - then try the primal style.
If you want to be 'pretty much paleo' - then follow the 80/20 approach.
Heck, you can even be vegetarian and paleo (with great difficulty and planning).
Robb Wolf sums up his seven shades of paleo nicely here (though not all of them I recommend).
If you choose not to be paleo - I have no problems with that. Just ensure your diet is high in whole foods regardless.
If you choose to try it - I also have no problems with it. Regardless of how the paleo diet came about, or the reasoning behind it, it follows some really essential nutrition guidelines that we should all be following. And surprise surprise, matches up pretty well with the dietary guidelines. In some instances dare I say it, it's better e.g. sustainability, ethical practice, enhancing knowledge of the food we eat and where it comes from, and reducing waste.
Here's why I rate it:
- Knowing where your food comes from as much as possible - source your fresh produce from local farmers markets, support companies that are ethical, sustainable and care about their produce and the environment
- Choosing foods that come in their most natural state as often as possible
- Enjoys a variety of fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables
- Buying grass-fed, organic meat and poultry, and using more of the animal to minimise wastage (and benefit from the often neglected but highly nutritious pieces of meat and offal)
- Consumption of wild or sustainably caught fish and seafood
- Uses a variety of oils - cold pressed, extra-virgin oils for salads and toppings and high-heat oils for cooking to minimise free radical production when frying and cooking
- Uses a variety of cooking methods - steam, bake, microwave, pan fry, BBQ, and raw dishes
- Avoids processed foods
- Cuts back on sugar consumption - only getting it from natural sources
- Incidentally reduces sodium consumption due to cutting out processed foods
- Eating organic as much as possible to reduce pesticide consumption
- Boosts creativity with meals
- Often results in eating more vegetables!
- Includes much more nutritious sweets and treats - e.g. raw food cakes/slices and paleo options use whole foods and nothing refined
- It's adaptable to suit your personal needs and lifestyles, which you learn as you go - you learn what you like to eat, what your stomach tolerates, what 'off the menu' foods you miss and how you might like to include them back in - there's no 'one strict diet list fits all' (despite what some websites say), so you pay attention to what you put in your body and how it makes you feel.
- It's suitable for gluten free and dairy free diets, lactose intolerance, coeliac disease, and has helped hundreds of people manage various other autoimmune diseases.
Yes, you can do pretty much all of this on a nutritious whole food diet too, that's why I promote both. But I believe paleo has a role in healing sensitive guts and research is forever growing on this subject.
These are the reasons why I rate the paleo diet, and why I expect to see this way of eating around for a very long time...