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By: Matt Cooper, CFNC
Add a little fat here, subtract a little sugar there, devolve your diet a bit, and what have you got? The Paleo Diet. So easy a caveman could do it, right?
A diet the cavemen ate surely was simple, don’t you think? Not necessarily. In fact, it can be difficult to wade through the parameters of the increasingly popular Paleo Diet and what it really entails. All is not lost, so don’t feel like you’re stuck in the stone age. It’s time to evolve by devolving. Follow it so far? Not to worry.
The Paleo Diet is a comprehensive food group template, from which its disciples are to adhere to exclusively. The method behind the so-called miracle diet enlists the logic that if the cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either (more or less). This involves dropping certain types of food, including refined sugars, grains, processed food, dairy, legumes and lentils. This leaves you with meat, vegetables, fruit, starches, nuts and seeds. In a way, this is easier because there are less food groups available to followers, but because the Western diet has become saturated with unnecessarily processed foods, refined sugars and plenty of other nonsense, it involves doing more homework on your food sources, processing and additives.
There’s a reason people are flocking to the Paleo Diet, and it does not seem to be a fad that’s going away soon. The results speak for themselves: many people are achieving some real success by going the way of Paleo for their food. Paleo chef Ryan Frisinger had this to say about this nutrition system, “I’m no Paleo evangelist by any means, but I do whole-heartedly believe that Paleo is the most optimal nutritional template I’ve ever encountered.”
Several commonly reported positives of this diet amongst the various studies and observations made include fat loss, acne cleansing from the inside out, lean muscle growth, increased energy levels, anti-inflammatory properties, healthier joints, performance enhancement, mental acuity, proficient digestive function, healthier bowel movement regularity, a more bulletproof immune system and even some potential for hormone regulation.
As with anything in life, there are positives and negatives, and the Paleo Diet is no exception. For one, perhaps the largest issue most have with it is that it seems unpractical at times, especially as a sustained means of eating. So much of our available food today breaks Paleo, potentially even in the minutest of ways. “I like the principles, but I’ve found that when I was eating true Paleo, it was difficult to get enough calories,” said Matt Lazaro, Certified Fitness Nutrition Coach and Muay Thai practitioner.
Another large drawback is that Paleo puts a substantial emphasis on the power of food groups while failing to communicate some of the basic biological principles and amounts necessary for some of the elements involved in clean eating. Many pundits are also quick to point out that a majority of the logical backing of the Paleo Diet relies on intuitive sense rather than hard science. Not necessarily an outright con, but perhaps more of an unknown variable that may throw a wrench in the Paleo design is the fact that we do not really know outright what our ancestors ate.
Furthermore, various parts of the world would have left our ancestors with varying types and potential limitations on food and its availability. For instance, the vegetation and animals living in the tropical areas most definitely were not identical to what was available to our ancestors who lived in the grassy plains. Moreover, one key food group rejected by Paleo is dairy, citing that while we may nurse in our infancy, we lose the enzyme in our body necessary to properly process and digest lactose as we age. But research has shown that some areas, particularly in the Antarctic, may have lacked the necessary vegetation or lacked permitting weather for proper hunting and gathering. Individuals in these areas likely would have had to rely on lactose longer than most. This may provide an evolutionary link and answer as to why some modern people do not experience the inflammation and other issues associated with lactose consumption.
Though there are suitable arguments on both sides of the coin, the reality, like most things, lies somewhere in between. Though Paleo may have some limitations, it has more of its roots based in logic rather than arbitrary evidence. Whereas most fad diets tend to be a mere representation of what worked for one goof being displaced by him or her on the rest of us, the Paleo Diet does promote some important key factors that are and will remain very much relevant. Lazaro said, “I would say I eat fairly close to Paleo as it is, and make smart ‘breaks’ in Paleo where necessary. But for people just starting out in dieting or for those with unfavorable health, Paleo provides a great starting point. Almost like a cleanse.”
So regardless of whether one is "orthodox" Paleo or merely incorporating some of its key elements, it would seem that Paleo is here to stay, and that many would be wise to take a lesson or two from this modern nutritional platform.
How To Make Smart Paleo Choices
Should you decide to incorporate the Paleo Diet into your health and fitness regimen, there are ways to make it smarter and more practical. After all, true Paleo would mean we would be growing and killing 100 percent of our food, and I don’t think anyone has the time or resources to do that.
Lessons: In addition to dropping refined sugars, legumes, lentils, dairy and grains, one of the most important lessons Paleo can teach us is in a day where everyone is consumed with macronutrient numbers, there is more to it than that. Paying attention to macronutrient numbers is a great way to look good, but if you want to perform better, be healthier on the inside, and look even better on the outside, you need to pay attention to micronutrients. Does it fit your macros? Great. Does it fit your micros? Even better.
Past Meets Present: It is important to not negate the proper amounts of these food groups to accomplish the peak of possible results. In order to see what’s best for you, go see your local Max Muscle certified fitness nutrition coach for a complimentary body fat test, analysis, dietary dissection and get on the road to a new Paleo-driven you!
To Grain or Not to Grain?: A lesser known fact about the Paleo Diet is the rule against grains. Though grains are not allowed, this is not because "smart grains" like oatmeal or quinoa are inherently bad for you, but rather ties into political motivations. This is because the more devout Paleo followers do not choose to support the grain industry in any capacity. So before you go on the grain grind, don’t forget that by skipping out on smart grains, you may be skipping out on results.
Though the cavemen most definitely weren’t taking shots of Emerge or drinking a protein shake after a spirited hunting session, that doesn’t mean that dropping supplements is a smart move. In fact, not only are the necessary supplements paramount in achieving optimal results, but they also promote general health. And within a Paleo program, there is still no exception. In fact, by cutting out certain food groups, it leaves one potentially devoid of key nutrients (such as calcium, prevalently found in dairy foods), thus reinforcing the need for a multivitamin.
Equally important is the debate over protein shakes. Though many are lactose-based, being that Max Muscle proteins are sourced from the highest quality raw nutrients plus regulated to a higher degree of cleanliness than the competition, they do not induce the pro-inflammatory response that others can. Furthermore, just the same as shakes cannot replace whole food in most cases, whole food does not hold a candle to protein shakes in the anabolic window, Paleo-based or not. In addition to having important micronutrients, whole food has a thermic effect, meaning that it takes calories to consume and process calories. After a workout, it is paramount that the body not have to go through this complicated math problem of sorts, and protein provides a rapid-absorbing nutrient source when your body needs it most.
Due to Paleo’s emphasis on healthy fat, consuming essential fatty acids is encouraged, which is great since it is equally necessary on a Paleo program for heart health, joint lubrication, immune function, hormone regulation, cognitive function, anti-inflammation and the health of hair, skin and nails.
For a more comprehensive list of Paleo-friendly supplements, contact your local Max Muscle certified fitness nutrition coach. MS&F