Paleo was the most googled diet of 2013 and is finally hitting the mainstream, competing with the 5:2 and kicking Dukan to the curb. You would think most people in the health industry would be pretty pleased about the growing popularity of paleo. However, sadly the coverage has meant some of its key principles are being lost in translation and other aspects are rather exaggerated, leaving many adopters confused about the principles, without the desired results or even worse; noticing a decline in their health.
Here at Fitter Food we consider ourselves “Paleoish” in that we love some of the principles of Paleolithic nutrition and feel they can be applied to bring awesome health benefits to the 21st Century.
In reality is we can only ever be ‘ish’ about Paleo as we don’t hunt, gather, cook over an open fire or sleep in a cave. Furthermore, we’d rather not get bogged down in ongoing debates and details of whether something is or isn’t “paleo” and to be taken seriously about these claims would require us to relinquish our beloved dark chocolate, red wine and coffee and that’s never going to happen, so ‘ish’ is where it’s at for us.
We are pretty experienced in applying Paleo principles on a day to day basis (so much so we even wrote a book about it). We’ve also run several online plans and coached many clients on the subject, equipping them with the knowledge to understand how to make the concept of caveman cooking work in a modern day world.
Many people find us via paleo blogs, gyms or similar and so they’ve already had a stab at it or should we say thrown a spear at it! However, many don’t necessarily experience the health benefits touted by its avid followers. They turn up on the Fitter Food doorstep feeling dismayed by the missing six pack, lack of energy & libido and the absence of bread in their life. If this is you, here’s a selection of tips that might help you discover where you’ve gone off the caveman track.
As much as we love to imagine our hunter gatherer ancestors devouring sweet potato brownies, swapping tips on gluten free flours and discussing how to make stevia palatable this clearly did not happen. This was the pre- Vitamix era and although sweet foods like wild berries and honey were part of their pleasure foods they weren’t munching on nutty cookies and coconut pancakes every morning. We call some of our recipes Cheats of Champions as they’re gluten free desserts with some nutritional benefit, but baked foods have never been an every day occurrence for us no matter what the ingredients. Baked foods are highly palatable and easily override the ‘stop that’s enough’ signals and hormones responsible for telling you you’re full. We find it’s best keeping them on the occasional list.
If our caveman ancestors discovered a new form of sustenance they would test it out. If it made them sick or ill they might try preparing it in a different way; soaking, cooking, fermenting, drying and then try it again. If it still made them sick they didn’t eat it – simple. If a food or drink made them feel good and health was improved as a result of eating it they would continue to do so – simple! Ironically in our quest to be healthy some people take this to another level and obsess about super optimising every morsel that passes their lips. The stress of maintaining this actually ends up being unhealthy and is all too common in the paleosphere. We’ve all been there at some point, we experience a benefit from eating a certain way, a certain food and become convinced there is no other way to exist. Our drive to sustain this puts life itself on the back burner, no time for living, just too busy fermenting cabbage, dehydrating nuts and juicing spinach. As personal trainers not only did we have our own phases we observed it time and time again in clients. The paleo community creates such a strong (although at times flawed) argument for rigidity when it comes to eating this way and the obsession is infectious. We forget that we did still function before discovering paleo and no one died eating a mouthful of bread. Granted paleo eliminates a lot of crappy foods and whilst we don’t advocate eating them a sprinkling of croutons on your salad need not ellict a panic attack and there’s no need to aggressively reprimand a waiter because he forgot to put your dressing on the side. If your nutrition is dominating your every thought, causing anxiety and a desire for total control it could have gotten out of hand. If you’re staying in most Saturday nights to google grassfed, organic, unpasturised anything and see what the new Ocado Paleo ailse has to offer it could be time to step back, crack open a beer (gluten free of course) and have a rain-check.
Sleep, Stress and Sunlight
We always emphasise on our plans that there is so much more to health than what’s on your plate, yet this is often the tricky part for many people to implement. For some people the food part is actually easy, especially as our mission has always been make it tasty, simple and quick to prepare. Yet tell someone that maybe five bootcamp sessions alongside dashing around after three kids and holding down a full time job is a huge stress load on the body, we are met with a blank look; “Are you suggesting I don’t run around like a headless chicken- I’ve got this down to a fine art!”
There’s nothing exciting about an early night, walk in the park or lying in the sun for ten minutes. It doesn’t get your name on any boards, it’s not worthy of a Facebook update but it CAN be just what your body needs at times. It’s something that really distinguishes us from our primal ancestors, they spent a large majority of their time doing this and for us it’s a luxury and a missing one at that. Pay attention to the primal guidance offered on sleep cycles, exercise, stress management and getting outdoors, for many people it’s the difference between paleo and faileo.
Waaaaay Too Many Nuts or Nut Butters
The equivalent of paleo crack. We can all do paleo if we can just dunk anything into nut butter once in a while; a spoon, a stick of celery, a carrot….we’ll leave it there for now. Whilst there’s some decent nutrition and benefits to consuming both it’s easy to go over board. If your day is broken up with nut butter breaks when everyone else hits the biscuit tin it could be time to close the lid or at least gain some perspective on the situation. That way you and your nuts can resume a normal relationship similar to when other pleasures existed in life. Favouring low omega 6 nuts like hazelnuts and macadamias is a better choice, always portion control where possible to a small handful or 1 tablespoon of nut butter and if you find your always going back for more empty the cupboards and assess what’s missing in your life.
Too Much Protein /Too Low Carb
Everyone’s first impression of paleo is meat, meat, meat. It’s easy! You dive into a supermarket or service station and just grab packs of ham, cooked chicken and bags of nuts like a true warrior. Interestingly, many paleo and primal protagonists have begun to review and revise recommendations here after seeing many folks struggle to actually sustain their health eating this way. Many people need reminding that protein is only part of the picture, a trio of essential macronutrients exist including carbs –remember those?! The truth is everyone’s macronutrient needs are different but some of the healthiest, leanest modern hunter gather tribes exist on a paleo diet that is 70% carbohydrates, go figure! We need around 600 glucose calories (or 150g of carbohydrates) daily, we can obtain around 400 calories (or 100g) from protein as our body can convert some protein into glucose, however, your body may not want to and eating healthy starches like root vegetables, potatoes and rice will bring better health benefits for you. Don’t fear carbohydrates just obtain healthy sources.
Luckily the humble (and cheap!) potato and it’s powers of resistant starch is having a fashionable revival and the message is getting out there “we need the tatties!!” Also phrases like “more vegetarian than a vegetarian” provide a better indication of how you should apply paleo principles. We need the fibre and nutrients from plant foods to support our gut bacteria, our good army of the immune system. The key is to keep it simple, a palm size serving of protein, a fist size serving of starchy carbs (potataoes and rice included) is a good starting place and fill 50% of your plate with non starchy vegetables, not dissimilar to how our grandparents would have eaten to make the meat go further.
One Last Thing to Remember…