In Defense of Paleo: The case for eating like a caveman
So Crossfit sounds pretty cool, but what about this weird diet all the crossfitters seem to be into? Most crossfitters, and many other fitness-oriented individuals, adhere to some form of the Paleolithic diet. I’d argue that if you’re thinking about trying to live a healthier lifestyle, your diet is the place to focus the most of your attention. After all, they say 90% of weight loss is what you eat and 10% is your workout regimen.
So let’s talk food. The Paleolithic diet – or Paleo, as it is often referred to – is a way of eating that focuses on consuming only the types of food our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. Basically, these guys survived off what the land naturally provided for them – meat, vegetables, nuts, and… not much else. They didn’t have access to preservatives or enormous freezers to make their food last for outrageous amounts of time like we do today. They didn’t process their food with potassium sorbate or any of those other words on the nutrition label you can’t pronounce. High fructose corn syrup was not one of the ingredients in everything. Nothing came from concentrate.
Eating Paleo is the most natural way to eat. It eliminates foods that are unnecessary to your vitality, movement and overall wellbeing. It focuses on feeding you for the sake of providing your body with what it needs to not only work properly but to work optimally. It creates a difference in the way you think about food – you’re not doing things like exercising so that you can eat what you want; you’re eating so that you can do things you want, like exercise. You’re fueling your body like it’s a car with somewhere to go, not filling it up like a balloon to float off into the atmosphere aimlessly.
Sounds fantastic, right? Well, some people think it does, but there is a huge population that is speculative and even highly critical of the Paleo lifestyle. Because Paleo eliminates most grains, dairy, legumes and starches, many people automatically think you must be depriving your body of essential nutrients. And anyone who switches to Paleo after eating these kinds of foods all his life is going to face some major changes that may cause some worry (yes, you will be very sleepy for a couple weeks). Here are some of the most common arguments and concerns people raise about Paleo and my take on how to refute them:
1. You don’t eat bread? Or rice? These are nutritional staples that are necessary to your health!
Not so. Grains and legumes actually have shown to contribute to the autoimmune problem known as “leaky gut,” which causes inflammation and leads to tons of other problems – like multiple sclerosis and arthritis. “How can that be?!” you cry as you stare longingly at the piles of bread loaves in your pantry. Paleo expert Nell Stephenson explains it well – “While growing from the ground, these very components [anti nutrient properties] serve to protect them from pesticides and predators, but when we ingest them, they work against us by adhering to many of the vitamins and minerals in our food, preventing us from properly absorbing them and causing microscopic tearing in the intestines, thus increasing intestinal permeability” (Paleoista). Your body will thrive perfectly well without grains. Don’t believe me? Try it for a month, then we’ll talk.
2. There’s so much fat in the Paleo diet. That can’t be good for you.
The media has done a terrific job of demonizing fats and making it seem like if you consume anything that doesn’t say “low-fat” that you’re going to die. This is simply ridiculous. Your body requires healthy omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids! For someone eating Paleo, it is the main source of energy for the body. In fact, your bone marrow and most of your brain is composed of saturated fat – your body thrives off of it! I know this sounds crazy to those of you who have been told all your life that fats are bad and cholesterol will kill you. These claims are regarding bad fats, like trans saturated fats, and bad cholesterol (small particle LDL), which come from foods that – ding ding ding – are not part of the Paleo diet. These foods include margarine, vegetable oil and deep fried foods, to name a few. Good fats energize your body and keep you healthy, which is why they’re at the top of the list on the Paleo diet. Read more about the importance of fat at Paleo Diet Lifestyle (a terrific resource for those interested in giving Paleo a shot!).
3. I’ve heard that there’s no real science behind Paleo. Why should I buy into something if there’s no proof it works?
More nonsense. Four studies have been conducted to specifically test the Paleo diet just since 2007. These studies have found “contemporary versions of ancestral human diets and have found them to be superior to Mediterranean diets, diabetic diets and typical western diets in regards to weight loss, cardiovascular disease risk factors and risk factors for type 2 diabetes” (Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution). Information on these studies can be found on Robb Wolf’s website – another super awesome Paleo resource.
I’m sure these are only a few of the many questions and concerns out there about Paleo. If you have comments, concerns, testimonials, questions or anything not obnoxious to say, I’d love to hear from you!
Oh, and here’s a wildly under-researched critique US News did on the Paleo diet. The assessment excludes ample research that has been done to prove Paleo’s effectiveness and makes it look unhealthy by comparing it to those oh-so-successful governmental dietary guidelines.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaynev/4838760614/