For the last 8 days I have been plugged in to an intense series of lectures for the Paleo Summit. Paleo, short for Paleolithic refers to a big new craze in the diet world – the Paleo diet, or eating like our cavemen ancestors did.
The theory goes that our brains have developed far more quickly than the rest of our bodies, and in particular our digestive systems. Therefore, the Pro-Paleo folk believe we should be eating as the cavemen did in order to be in peak health.
The serious Primal-eaters stick to grass-fed free-range meat, especially red meat, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables – mainly non-starchy, a little fruit, nuts and seeds, lots of certain fats. That’s pretty much it. Meaning no dairy, no grains, no legumes, no sugar, obviously, with fructose (fruit sugar) being more of a no no than ‘table’ sugar and no seed oils. That is pretty restrictive.
At one point I was getting seduced in to this way of thinking as the speakers were mostly of a really high caliber. There was a neuro-scientist talking about leptin circadian cycles, a medical doctor talking about gluten consumption and auto-immune diseases and a research biochemist talking about the benefits of a non-grain, very low sugar diet on athletic performance and endurance, to name but a few.
This approach to health is so far removed from what is generally considered healthy eating. The recommendation of wholefoods like brown bread and brown rice, beans and lentils, plenty of fruit etc, while cutting back on red meat and saturated fats would be regarded by many to be a sensible healthy approach to eating. The Paleo lot are adamant that grains and legumes are the most important food groups to avoid as they contain naturally occurring anti-nutrients that inhibit the absorption of nutrients in the body while gluten, the protein found in grains, triggers inflammation, gut irritation and potentially many other serious aliments. Nuts, seeds and seed oils like sunflower, rapeseed, corn oil etc. are too high in omega 6, an essential fatty acid that is known to be pro-inflammatory and therefore considered something to be avoided as much as possible.
Fruit is limited as it contains high levels of fructose and tubers and starchy veg are limited due to their natural sugar content. So, it is a high protein, high fat, low carb diet. They do also recommend getting back to a simpler, more natural way of living, with outdoor exercising rather than going to the gym to slog it out in an artificial environment.
This philosophy has some science behind it and, as I said, I was becoming seduced, but I have come away thinking that this is just too extreme to be healthy. Even if eating high levels of red meat, eggs, fish and veg is a healthy way to fuel the body, I don’t think it can be healthy for the head! Having to be so restricted with food choices makes me feel uncomfortable.
Saying that, there are certainly elements I do agree with – I do believe gluten is probably a major culprit for many digestive disorders. I definitely believe most people rely far too heavily on refined grains and dairy as food staples. I am all for eliminating as much processed food from the diet a possible and I strongly encourage regular intake of good quality, grass fed red meat, oily fish and seafood. I strongly agree with staying off industrially manufactured cooking oils and eating loads of fruit every day does result in fructose-overload which is not good for weight management or liver function.
One thing that was consistently recommended by various speakers throughout the summit was to try going grain-free for 30 days and see how you feel. They were all convinced that no-one would go back to eating any grains once they realise how much better they feel staying off them. I am psyching myself up to do this – not that I eat many grains at all, compared to most, but I do love my oats for breakfast and brown rice, quinoa, pot barely and rye bread here and there. So, I will be trying it soon and I would LOVE to know if any of you give it a go and how you feel as a result.
P.S. they talked a lot about giving up grains, saying many people find it hard, but they gave very little time to giving up legumes as they seemed to think that no-one is very bothered by having to give up beans and lentils – uh, hello! Life without lentil soup, hummus, sausage and bean casserole – is it really a life??!? 🙂