What is Paleo?
The Paleo Diet is a diet that mimics that of a caveman or our hunter-gather ancestors, encouraging the consumption of only those foods that could be hunted, fished for, gathered, or plucked. On this diet, you can chow all the lean meats and fish, fresh fruits, and nonstarchy vegetables you want while eliminating all legumes, dairy products, grains, refined sugar, and processed foods. There is no calorie counting, no weighing your food, and no blocks to count. No pizza, no Greek yogurt, no bean burritos, and no Chevre Goat cheese. You simply chow organic grass-fed lean meat, fish, selected oils, fresh fruit and vegetables and avoid everything else.
As a nutritionist, I am in agreement with a portion of the Paleo diet — especially eating organic, grass-fed meat, organic free-range eggs, wild line-caught fish, organic fresh fruits and vegetables as well as avoiding processed foods and refined sugars. While I heartily support cutting out processed foods and refined sugars, I discourage any diet that disallows entire food groups unless there is an intolerance or sensitivity. In addition, I feel it is too restrictive for most people to maintain for a lifetime. Diets, in general, don’t work forever.
A lifestyle of eating whole foods, organic eggs, grass-fed lean meats, wild line-caught fish, organic poultry, organic fresh fruits and vegetables along with sprouted grains and legumes, r-BGH-free dairy, the occasional beer, glass of wine, and homemade desserts is perfectly healthy. The Paleo Diet states phytates are anti-nutrients, lectins are resistant to digestion, and grains and legumes are a nutritional compromise. Those arguments can be rebutted by soaking, sprouting, cooking, fermenting your grains and legumes to lower the concentration of phytates, consuming grains and legumes with fat-containing foods to help your body absorb the vitamins and minerals that are available and choosing whole grains wisely and consuming them in moderation (oats, amaranth, quinoa). In addition, variety in your diet keeps you sane.
That said, I personally know and have helped clients maintain Paleo as their lifestyle and it works wonders for them. I “get” the arguments for Paleo and the diet does work. However, I don’t believe it works for the majority of the population because it is too restrictive, too time consuming, and lacks variety. To me, the word “diet” means “temporary” and learning to eat healthy for a lifetime is key.
The Yes and No’s of Paleo are listed below.
Foods allowed on Paleo: Organic grass-fed lean meats and eggs (chicken, duck, goose); organ meats (chicken livers, lamb tongues, pork marrow); game meat (alligator, bear, bison caribou, elk, wild turkey, rattlesnake, ostrich, turtle etc.); fish (bass, cod, eel, halibut, mullet, tuna, trout, shark, salmon etc.); shellfish (abalone, clams, crab, crayfish, shrimp, oysters, scallops etc.); fruit and vegetables (see below for the exceptions); and nuts and seeds.
Foods to avoid on Paleo: all processed foods made with any dairy products (butter, cheese, creams, all milk, all yogurts, frozen dairy based desserts etc.); cereal grains (barley, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, wheat, wild rice); cereal grainlike seeds (amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa); legumes (all beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, miso, peanut butter, peas, peanuts, snowpeas, sugar snap peas, soybeans and all soy products); starchy vegetables (tubers, cassava root, sweet potatoes, tapioca pudding, etc.); processed meats (sausages, smoked, dried, and salted fish, salami, pork rinds, etc.); salted nuts and spices; all fatty meats, all soft drinks and fruit juices, and all sweets.