The not-so-simple answer: Yes.
Yes, go ahead and go Paleo. Andrew and I found it was shockingly easy to ‘give up’ grains and dairy and continue to eat very healthy, flavorful and satisfying meals. We felt great, dropped a few pounds and cut out much of the mindless munching that goes on when pretzels and candy lurk in the pantry. Many of the important vitamins and minerals and nutrients found in grains and dairy–such as calcium, B vitamins, phosphorus and fiber–are abundant in fruits, vegetables and meat as well. While relatively ‘fad-ish’, eating Paleo can be quite healthy and works for many people.
Both grains and dairy have natural sugars (like fruits and vegetables) and make up large portions of the American diet, so cutting out those two food groups will undoubtedly lead to weight loss and ‘feeling better’ by decreasing your intake of sugar. If most Americans were eating plain yogurt, kefir and whole wheat breads and NOT eating dairy and grain products packed with added sugar, salt and preservatives, I don’t know if Paleo would be quite so popular! Unfortunately, the ‘standard American diet’ is made up largely of highly processed convenience items, such as Hamburger Helper, Cheeze-Its and yogurts with more sugar than ice cream. I know I feel better when I don’t eat as many ‘grain’ carbs (even too much whole wheat pasta makes my tummy bloated) and opt for lots of veggies and protein. And don’t avoid fat! We need it to absorb lots of vitamins and minerals, it helps keep us full and rounds out our meals. Ditch the no-fat and fat-free imposter products and stick to real or sometimes low-fat versions.
However, NOT giving up grains and dairy is OK, too. I don’t buy into much of the ‘philosophy’ of the Paleo movement, and therefore don’t think the processing (such as milk pasteurization and turning wheat into flour) is as evil as they say. Giving up grain ‘junk food’ like Doritos is one thing, taking away my whole-wheat flour and homemade (and quite healthy) baked goods is quite another. Same with dairy; omit the ‘fruit on the bottom’ yogurt and keep the plain. I don’t know that ‘eating like a caveman’ really applies in today’s society; we aren’t cavemen and it’s clear our gastrointestinal tracts are able to digest both gluten and lactose and all the other ‘evils’ devout Paleo-ers avoid like the plague.
In short, eating a ‘Paleo-type’ diet 80-90% of the time is probably a good approach. In the weeks since our ‘primal challenge’ ended, Andrew and I have continued to eat many Paleo meals and love it. As I meal-plan, I’ve been relying on protein sources and produce, with some grains and dairy items sprinkled in. For example, I might have a veggie omelet with sides of sausage and fruit three or four mornings a week, and a homemade pancake or waffle with hard-boiled eggs the other two or three mornings. Or, I might add cheese to things here and there. It’s easy to go Paleo at dinnertime–simply omit the bread/rice/pasta and replace it with a starchy veggie, like sweet potato, or maybe use a spaghetti squash for noodles.
Going forward, I think I’d like our default setting to be ‘pretty Paleo’ (small amounts of cheese and dairy, beans are OK, mainly produce and veggies, almond and coconut milks) with grains and dairy appearing a few times a week, rather than a few times a day. We’re still going to eat pizza and yogurt and such, just in smaller amounts. And really, things like pizza (at least the take-out kind), should be a once-in-awhile treat, not every week.
Here’s a sample ‘strict Paleo’ day:
Breakfast: 2 eggs with salsa and avocado, sausage links, orange
Snack: 2 T nuts and some dried fruit
Lunch: 5 oz. cooked fish and 2 C veggies (with some sort of dressing/sauce)
Snack: apple and 1 T almond butter
Dinner: Beef stir-fry with cauliflower ‘rice’
Here’s a sample ‘pretty Paleo’ day:
Breakfast: Homemade burrito (small whole-wheat tortilla, black beans, sweet potato, egg, cheese, salsa), orange
Snack: cottage cheese and pineapple
Lunch: spinach salad topped with veggies and chicken, dressing, fresh fruit
Snack: pre-workout ‘energy’ muffin (homemade with oat flour; recipe from #runningonveggies)
Dinner: Chili (meat and beans), topped with avocado and a dollop of plain yogurt, salad
I might snack on a couple squares of dark chocolate at night, too.
Here are some recent dinners we’ve had since ending the Primal Challenge:
Stuffed peppers (Practical Paleo) and salad with pear and dried cranberries:
Roast chicken with roasted sweet potatoes and salad:
Turkey cranberry sausage (Trader Joe’s) with mashed sweet potatoes and green beans with almonds
Salmon with steamed broccoli and whole-wheat couscous with curry dressing and dried fruit:
See? Paleo isn’t really very weird at all; it’s a diet packed with nutrients and REAL food. While I don’t think it’s necessary to be quite so restrictive with the grains and dairy, it’s important they not make up the majority of your diet. Fruits and vegetables and quality protein should be the foundation, with smaller amounts of grains and dairy mixed in for variety and flavor.
If you want more information, check out these blogs, websites and books: