I know! It’s been too long! But, I’m back to share with you one of the first articles I wrote on why I eat “paleo.”
Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down by the details, obsess over the “rules” and throwout excuses when things get uncomfortable, whether we are talking “life” in general, or “nutrition.” Taking a step back and looking at the big picture can be a helpful strategy for gaining perspective again. This write-up does just that for me. While my knowledge, experience and passion has grown since writing these words, my philosophy hasn’t. Here it is (unedited):
Why Paleo and What it Means to Me?
Shannon Doleac, MS, CSCS
What does eating “paleo” really mean? Whatʼs the difference between a “paleo,” “primal,” or “ancestral” way of eating? Is it just another “diet”?
Titles and labels certainly help us separate varying ideas (“paleo”, “evolutionary”, “way of eating”, “diet”, etc.). But, titles can also get in the way, be limiting, lead to closed-mindedness, generalizations, and be associated with the latest fads. “Paleo” has become somewhat of a “buzzword”, but I think the concept is here to stay! It’s not a fad and it’s not a “diet”; it’s a framework and a lifestyle. So, at least for the moment, put the “stigmas” aside, call it what you want and open your mind to how we might feed our bodies for more optimal health and wellness.
Meat (ideally grass-fed), fowl (ideally pasture-raised), ﬁsh (ideally wild-caught),
eggs (preferably cage-free and omega-3 enriched),
nuts, seeds, healthful oils (olive, coconut, avocado, nut),
and little starch.
These are the foods that make up the “paleo” or “paleo-ish” framework. These are the foods that together are argued to best fuel, heal and support our bodies. They offer the densest nutrition, require the least processing to eat, and seem to best prevent the diseases we are most afflicted with today. They are the foods that our lean, agile and athletic ancestors hunted and gathered before the Agricultural Revolution (around 10,000 years ago). It’s said, these are the foods we are most genetically wired to eat.
What about whole grains? Beans? And dairy?” you might ask. “Aren’t these foods thought to be the epitome of good health?” We have been told for years that such foods are vital for us; they’re high in ﬁber, energy and certain nutrients. They are the post-agricultural foods that have made it easier to feed more people and have given us many convenient choices in food consumption. Well, stop and think for a minute. Even in their purest form, they must (or do) undergo a fair amount of processing (reﬁning, heating, homogenizing, pasteurizing, etc.) for our bodies to be able to digest them. They may be harder on our bodies than we think, and there may be other foods with greater nutrient content that are a better source of energy. Are there any essential nutrients in these foods that we can’t get from a “paleo” diet?
What about red meat? And eggs? We’ve been advised to limit (or eliminate) our consumption due to the saturated fat, cholesterol and possible cancer-causing factors. Don’t these foods clog our arteries, lead to cardiovascular disease and make us fat? Much of this belief stems from the work of Ancel Keys in the early 1950’s, who published the Seven Countries Study, linking dietary fat to coronary heart disease (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9131696). Following this, people were told to cut down on animal fats, eggs, full-fat dairy, etc. What we didn’t hear was that Keys was criticized for data selection; excluding data from many countries that didn’t fit his hypothesis. Maybe the connection is not what we thought for the last 60 years. Could quality fat actually be essential to our body systems? More evidence is pointing this way.
Look around (maybe in a crowded airport or shopping mall)! Are we, as a society, HEALTHY?! Not in my opinion and I’m sure most of you would agree. If we continue down the same road, with the same behaviors, the future looks really bleak. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, autoimmune disorders, autism and ADHD rates (among others) are on the rise. Could the foods we are eating be largely responsible?
The Standard American Diet (SAD) today is FULL of sugars and simple carbohydrates, pro-inﬂammatory fatty acids (omega-6), artiﬁcial sweeteners, genetically modiﬁed ingredients, chemical additives and colorings. Many of the products lining the shelves of our supermarkets are so processed they resemble nothing of real FOOD. Quick, convenient, “tasty”, and cheap. Most “food” products have one, if not all, of these characteristics because that’s what people “want”, are used to, and have come to expect. And the food industry has responded. But, is this how things should be? Should we assume all these ingredients are safe? Are they addictive? Can we safely manipulate our food without long-term effects?
Yes, some of these foods taste good, and make life easier, but are the unnatural ingredients and methods of production wreaking havoc with our body systems, our hormonal balance, and our metabolism? We may be “surviving” as a species, but we certainly aren’t thriving.
As a nutritionist, it took time and convincing that there may be something to this “primal” way of eating. I was intrigued by the emphasis on real, whole food, and I knew from my own personal experience that I was always at my “ﬁttest” state when I limited my consumption of processed foods (including most grains). But, I was skeptical of the long-term reality of eating this way and feeding my family this way. I also questioned, “is it true that we don’t need whole grains or a high-carbohydrate base to ﬂourish?” How would I feel when eliminating these foods? It’s important to me to be excited about food and enjoy what I’m eating. Would I still experience this?
It was the reasoning and arguments for health, how our bodies work and a critical look at our current state as a society that initially motivated me to dive deeper, learn more and give it a try. I felt “good” before, didn’t need to lose weight, and was eating “healthy” foods. Yet, I feel even better now, and have a greater appreciation for the AMAZING, ﬂavorful, colorful, nutrient dense, and wholesome food I eat.
I am a wife and mother of two young children. Instilling the importance of and love for quality food is a top priority! I know the food that my kids eat directly affects their behavior (easily observable) and health today, as well as their health in years to come. I want to teach them, and show by example, what REAL food is and where it comes from. I want them to have a part in it and eating paleo has given us an optimal stage for that. Of course they are drawn to the bright colors and fancy packages marketed towards kids, but with guidance they are also drawn to the beautiful colors of fresh produce and love “helping” me turn those foods into a fun meal. The food they put in to their little bodies is what allows them to grow, develop and be happy. What is more important than that? It takes more effort, but it’s worth it! As a family, we don’t feel in the least bit deprived, but rather fortunate! We certainly don’t feel like we’re living “without”.
The word “paleo” immediately turns some people away and maybe it’s because they can’t imagine life “without” bread, pasta and a bean burrito. Maybe it’s due to not understanding the “WHY”. Maybe it’s because they feel good enough right now. Or, maybe it’s the association with the word “caveman”.
Cavemen didn’t have the temptations we have today. We are surrounded by “tasty”, addictive foods, making it more challenging to stay on track. But, understanding the principals and mechanisms for what’s happening in our bodies really helped me make the commitment. Ask yourself, what does “health” mean to you? What are you trying to achieve? Are you interested in overall wellness? Athletic performance? Weight loss? Disease prevention? Disease reversal? Longevity?
To me, “health” is finding a balance between overall wellness, quality of life and athletic ability. Maintaining an ideal insulin level, utilizing fat how it should be, keeping my “gut” healthy, all systems in check, and maximizing the nutritional quality of food (including absorbing the nutrients I put in), are ALL important to me. I do believe that “we are what we eat” and I do believe that nutrition should be our ﬁrst medicine. Food is our body’s fuel and it certainly deserves more attention.