The third installment of the series on eating patterns is about the Paleo Diet. Last month, we explored the Vegetarian Diet and discussed alternative ways to meet protein needs without meat. Ranked #33 out of 41 total diets in the U.S News Best Diet Rankings, the Paleo Diet didn’t fare well as it is perceived to be too restrictive to be sustainable. While that may be true for some, the Paleo diet has a cult-like following and isn’t as ‘unreasonable’ as it may seem at first glance. Continue reading “Looking at the Paleo Plan”
It Starts with Food
By Dallas & Melissa Hartwig
(Victory Belt Publishing, 2012)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD
Dallas and Melissa Hartwig debuted their ‘Whole30’ program in 2009, after they themselves ‘changed their lives in 30 days’ after adopting a strict Paleo diet, “no cheats, no slips.” Each chapter begins with a different Wholer30er’s testimonial of how the program has done everything from improving skin to controlling blood sugar to incredible weight loss, and everything in between. The Hartwigs base their approach on four ‘good food’ standards: that food should promote a healthy psychological response, a healthy hormonal response, support a healthy gut, and support immune function and minimize inflammation. According to the book, the program is based on scientific research (references are in the back), clinical experience (the ‘tens of thousands’ Whole30ers) and self-experimentation (the reader’s own findings while doing the program).
Synopsis of Diet Plan:
The Whole30 program is a Paleo eating pattern ‘on steroids.’ In addition to the usual Paleo no-no’s (grains, legumes, dairy), the Hartwigs also prohibit soy, alcohol, seed oils, artificial and added sugars, nor can you recreate ‘junk food’ with allowed ingredients. Weighing yourself is also not allowed, as the Hartwigs insist that the program is not for weight loss, but for becoming healthier and weighing oneself may cause participants to become discouraged if the result is not as they expected. Participants CAN eat meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit and natural fats; a recommended meal is made up of one to two ‘fistfuls’ of protein and a plateful of vegetables with a fat source, like avocado. Participants are expected to follow the rules even when eating at restaurants, which can be difficult.
The Hartwigs claim that much of our poor health is due to our food choices, especially that of sugar, which breaks all of their ‘good food’ standards by promoting overconsumption of certain foods, a hormonal imbalance, poor gut health and inflammation. Their program is an elimination diet of sorts, complete with a 10-day reintroduction period in order to assess your body’s response to the offending foods.
Nutritional Pros and Cons:
While the Whole30 program eliminates not one, but two food groups, there is a lot to like. First, it’s meant to be a short-term ‘reset’ to one’s diet by focusing on the most nutritious foods, despite the fact that the ‘diet’ itself is sustainable. Second, the program addresses readers’ addictions to problematic foods, even if those foods are ‘approved’ items. Third, the program promotes label reading and awareness of ingredients, a skill useful to anyone trying to eat healthily. Lastly, there are no complicated food lists of specific types of meats, fruits or vegetables. With very few exceptions all fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs are allowed, and there is no need to calorie-count. Recommended fat sources include coconut and olive oils, nuts, seeds and avocados. Unfortunately, the program’s ‘all or nothing’ approach and extreme restrictions may turn off many readers.
The Hartwigs’ main point is to get readers to eat only super-healthy food for 30 days; they see grains, dairy and legumes as ‘crowding out’ healthier options on your plate. They also promote the idea that gluten contributes to ‘leaky gut,’ and that legumes are poorly digested, leading to inappropriate immune responses, neither of which are supported by a preponderance of research. One of the reasons meat, seafood and eggs are recommended is that they are a complete protein (meaning they provide all the essential amino acids in the correct proportions), as well as being a good source of heme iron and B vitamins. Additionally, studies show that calcium from kale, greens, broccoli, bone broth, salmon, almonds, walnuts, oysters is better absorbed than calcium from milk.
The Whole30 isn’t for appropriate for many readers due to its restrictive nature, but the structure/challenge may appeal to others looking for or willing to make drastic changes. Because we can get everything we need nutritionally from meat, eggs, vegetables and fruit, the diet is appropriate for either a short-term reset or a longer-term eating pattern. By addressing readers’ unhealthy relationships with food and teaching label reading, the program empowers participants in a way other ‘diets’ do not. Additionally, the Whole30 program goes a step further by using online and social media resources to provide participants with support during a program. While it’s solidly in the ‘fad diet’ realm, participating in a Whole30 program once (or once a year) can help readers achieve long-term health and fitness goals and break bad food habits.
The book includes a 25-page Appendix of recipes, including ‘master’ recipes for each type of protein, as well as multiple variations for each.
The Paleo Diet: Revised Edition
By Loren Cordain
John Wiley & Sons (2011)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD
The idea of ‘paleolithic eating’ emerged in the 1970s after research by a gastroenterologist and was first popularized by Loren Cordain, in his initial 2002 book. This revised edition includes updated research and slightly different recommendations for types of oils to consume, saturated fat and the increased benefit of the Paleo diet for those with autoimmune diseases.
Cordain writes that our “genes determine our nutritional needs,” and that our “genes were shaped by selective pressures of our paleolithic environment.” Thus, we are healthier when we eat the way our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors did. In fact, Cordain claims that indigenous peoples were almost disease and ailment-free, citing that while hypertension is the greatest risk to Americans, the Greenland Eskimoes, studied in the 1960s and 1970s, were found to be free from heart disease despite their diet high (60%) in animal foods. Cordain calls becoming lean and fit like our ancestors “our birthright.”
Synopsis of Diet Plan:
Cordain lays out the six ‘ground rules’ for the Paleo Diet, which are based on a ‘Stone Age’ diet: ‘Eat lots of lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables.’ Cereals/grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods are out. Seven ‘keys’ of the diet elaborate on the foundation of the diet, addressing protein and carbohydrate intakes, fiber, fat, potassium and sodium, pH and vitamins and minerals.
Understanding that many readers may balk at the thought of omitting so many staples of their current diet, Cordain provides three ‘levels’ for those attempting to go Paleo: an ‘entry’ level in which three meals a week are non-paleo, a ‘maintenance’ level in which two meals per week are non-paleo, and the ‘maximal weight loss’ level in which only one meal per week is non-paleo.
While the book and eating plan themselves are not primarily focused on weight-loss, Cordain all but guarantees that adopting a paleo eating plan will promote weight loss, and dedicates a chapter to weight-loss success stories.
Nutritional Pros and Cons:
Cordain compares both a Paleo diet and the typical American diet side-by-side to see how they stack up on the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs). Unsurprisingly, the paleo meals—including Atlantic salmon, spinach salad, pork chops and steamed broccoli—outranked provided more than 100% in every category, while the American provided more than 80% in only seven of the 22 categories.
The book includes exercise recommendations and a ‘user’s manual,’ that includes information about eating and shopping for wild game meat and fish, the difference between and beneficial ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in nuts and seeds, as well as helpful hints for dining out or traveling.
The book does address the acid-base loads of foods, and encourages readers to eat more alkaline foods as our typical diets contain more acidic foods that tax our kidneys. This may be too confusing a concept for most readers and remains to be proven as beneficial to our health.
While the book’s 25-page bibliography of references is extensive, there are no footnotes or easy way to cross-reference the particular study that corresponds to a particular claim. The Paleo Diet is as faddish a diet as they come, omitting not one but two entire food groups. However, a paleo eating style does promote the consumption of lean meats, healthy fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables, at the very expense of junk and processed foods. Admittedly, both food groups on the chopping block—grains and dairy—are not vital in our diets (as we can get all the vitamins, minerals, fiber and even calcium from fruits and vegetables), and often make up most of the less-nutritious foods we eat, such as crackers or cakes or sweetened yogurts. Readers should be encouraged to adopt some of the healthy principles in the book, either by trying one of the outlined diet ‘levels’ or by simply allowing ‘real’ food to crowd out sweetened grains and dairy (and other processed foods) on their plates.
This book contains approximately 75 recipes and three sample two-week meal plans.