During the month of October, I'm going to be exploring several different dietary strategies that seem to ebb and flow in popularity. We'll cover Paleo (or real food eating), Keto, vegetarianism/veganism, and the Standard American "Healthy" Diet. Within each category, I'll list the pros and cons, as well as give you my bottom line for each dietary approach.
When it comes to diets, it's often hard to know where to start. I for one have tried a lot of different diets throughout the years and have worked with clients who have tried even more!
The biggest problem that I have around the idea of a "diet" is just that - that it is a "diet" and not a lifestyle change. Without a complete lifestyle change, you'll never see the long-lasting progress you desire. People often tell me that they used to have luck with any ole diet, but now, they can't seem to shed a pound no matter how hard they try.
And when they tell me that, I have my answer. Our bodies can only take so many years of restricting and after a certain time, they just quit responding to the "try harder" and "diet harder" mentality. It's like trying to drive 100 miles on a gallon of gas. It just doesn't work! You can't just push the gas pedal harder; you won't go anywhere unless you put the right TYPE and AMOUNT of fuel in your body. Then and only then will you start to see the results you want.
With all that in mind, let's start breaking down the various popular diets in our culture. I chose the paleo template first because not only is it what I follow and generally recommend to clients, but it also is the approach to eating that helped change my health!
One last note: when I use the word "diet" after the word paleo (paleo diet), what I really mean is paleo template/lifestyle/etc. I'll try and make that clear in my writing!
With the paleo diet/template/lifestyle, we focus on eating lots of real, whole food including:
Meat, eggs, and seafood
Fresh vegetables (excluding corn)
Nuts & seeds
Other healthy fats/oils found in nature (coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, olives)
Limited amounts of natural sweeteners like raw honey and dates
And we avoid consuming:
Thus, this template really focuses on nourishing the body with foods that are commonly found in nature. Generally, our plates are filled with animal protein, vegetables (including starchy veggies), and healthy fats. This allows our bodies to run off of the fuel that it truly wants and craves!
It also eliminates common inflammatory foods. We've talked about most of these at length, so I'll just briefly review them today:
Gluten/grains - not only is gluten highly inflammatory to the gut (and therefore the whole body), but even gluten-free grains (oats, rice, etc) can be inflammatory in those with compromised immune systems (as with autoimmune issues) or with gut issues. These foods tend to have higher amounts of anti-nutrients, which are substances that limit our ability to digest these foods and break them down. If we aren't digesting a food properly, it's only causing more harm than good! Plus, these foods are often highly processed, high in carbs, and offer very little nutrient-wise anyway.
Legumes also fall into the category of foods that contain anti-nutrients, making them harder to digest and break down. When properly prepared, such as soaked overnight, these foods can be better tolerated. We see this often in ancient cultures who rely heavily on these foods; they know how to properly prepare them to make them digestible.
Soy can be disruptive to our hormonal systems, especially with its effects on estrogen. It is a very common additive (soy lecithin) and vegetable oil that coats a lot of foods as well. Soy can also interfere with our gut health in a similar way to grains and legumes.
Dairy tends to be one of the top foods that isn't well tolerated. Most of us know someone who is lactose intolerant! We are often reacting to the whey, casein, or lactose found in dairy. Plus, dairy products, unless in their raw form, are generally highly processed and made to fit the low-fat culture, leaving them devoid of healthy fats to help absorb the fat-soluble nutrients found in dairy: vitamins A, D, and K, as well as calcium.
Refined sugar should be fairly obvious - sugar is one of the worst offenders when it comes to our health. It is not only highly processed, but also is added to foods to make them palatable and highly addicting. Too much refined sugar is a stress to our hormones, blood sugar, lipid markers, sleep, and so much more!
Processed oils are just that: processed. These include vegetable oils (corn, soy, grapeseed, canola, cottonseed, etc), margarine, and shortening that are made in a lab and not in nature. We can easily make olive oil by pressing olives; we can't do that with these processed vegetable oils. They are cheap and readily available, which is why they are so common, but that definitely doesn't eliminate the inflammatory properties.
When working with clients, I often work from where the client is to approaching a template similar to that above, focusing on PFC balanced meals with a combination of protein, healthy fat, and carbs (preferably from a veggie).
As we go through the next articles in this series, I'll often come back to the paleo template, or real food template, when working to describe some of the discrepancies with each diet. Does that mean the paleo template is perfect? No. It doesn't always work for everyone, but it definitely is a great starting point from which we can add and adjust to suit your bioindividual needs.