Book Review: The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet: Revised Edition
By Loren Cordain
John Wiley & Sons (2011)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD

Claims:

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.

Bottom Line:

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.

 

whole30: final thoughts

Well, this is super late.  I had kinda hoped to get this out shortly after my Whole30 was finished (more than two weeks ago), but then I figured I’d wait until after I reintroduced all the foods and include that info, and then I got busy prepping for our trip.  To France. Today.

So, I’m using the early morning hours today to play catch-up on all the things I can do that don’t require daylight or make too much noise.  Vacuuming will have to wait.

Before I get into too much detail, let me just say: doing a Whole30 was amazing.  Life-changing.  Fantastic.  Honestly, it was everything the book said it would be.  I ate better.  I slept better.  I felt better.  I lost a little weight.  But the biggest thing for me wasn’t physical, it was emotional and spiritual.  There was no food guilt.  Not once.  No feeling terrible that I overate.  No feeling ashamed at the size of my bowl of ice cream.  No ‘food with no brakes’ moments.  It was so freeing.

However, now that I’m on the other side and (unfortunately) slipping back into some bad habits, I can reflect a little more on the experience overall.

Bottom line: it really was amazing.  Physically, mentally and spiritually.  I would recommend EVERYONE give it a shot–you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  It’s a completely nutritious eating style (it’s not low carb or high protein or all fat), unlike other diets out there.  (I’m looking at you, Atkins.)

But, it’s not sustainable.  And it’s not supposed to be.  The authors themselves aren’t Whole30 all the time, but they’ve adopted a Whole30-ish lifestyle with worthwhile splurges occasionally. And obviously there isn’t any food guilt (if you’re doing it right), because you’re not feeding your sugar dragon or overeating anything or emotionally eating or whatever it is that causes you to have bad relationships with food.  Which is why I’m struggling a little now that I’ve reintroduced some things back into my diet.

On reintroduction: At first, I was really excited to follow the plan and reintroduce everything by the book and be Whole30 on the in-between days.  Well, I was not prepared for how hard it would be to stay Whole30 once foods were reintroduced.  It wasn’t like I was binging on sugar–I did follow the reintroduction–but it was just too easy to let a little rice come in here and there, or some added sugars, or a little milk in my coffee.  After reintroducing everything, I can say that while I’m confident I don’t have any major issues with dairy or gluten, I definitely don’t feel as good after eating either of them.  I don’t feel bad per se, but I don’t feel as GOOD.  And, obviously, a too-big portion of ice cream is going to make anyone feel crappy, so there’s that.

On breaking bad food habits: doing a Whole30 really helped me address some of my bad food habits, like snacking too much.  I’m not totally against snacking and believe it can be part of a healthy eating plan if your (healthy) meals are smaller and your (healthy) snacks are appropriate.  The Whole30 encourages bigger, more nutrient-dense meals with sufficient protein and healthy fat, both of which promote satiety.  I found when I ate those kinds of meals, I could go 4-5 hours without even thinking of food.  It was glorious.

Unfortunately, now that I’ve reintroduced everything (certainly in much smaller amounts), I think I’m falling back into snacking and having too many sweets.  Need to keep working on those!

On what’s worth it: In principle, this is an easy concept.  What’s ‘worth it’ is different for everyone, and it can vary depending on your situation or circumstances.  Great example: the other day, I really wanted a cookie.  A good cookie.  However, our cute little bakery was closed at the time.  I drove around town, pondering what I should do:  no, I didn’t want a day-old donut from Dunkin.  No, I didn’t want anything from the Tops bakery.  I pulled into the Yotality parking lot, but no, I didn’t want froyo and I certainly didn’t want it along (I liken it to drinking alone).  If I’d stopped there, I would have called it a major victory.  However, I went to the one place in East Aurora I knew I could find cookies: they Nyes’ house.  Uncharacteristically, Mrs. Nye did not have any homemade, but a few Oreos and milk went a long way to soothe my craving.  Was it worth it?  No, packaged items are almost NEVER ‘worth it.’ But, was the company?  Yes. Sometimes, you just have to eat a little sugar to get a need met. (But not often!)

On grocery shopping: I loved grocery shopping for Whole30.  In some ways, it was more expensive–good quality meat and veggies (mostly organic) aren’t cheap.  But I was saving money (and time!) by avoiding almost the entire middle of the grocery store, where I usually ended up grabbing unhealthy ‘healthy’ items, like a fun granola or cracker.  Don’t get me wrong–I already knew how to shop the perimeter of the grocery store–Whole30 just made me stick to it.

On my sweet tooth: It definitely kicked my sugar dragon to the curb!  Thankfully, I didn’t have any crazy sugar withdrawals, nor did I really even miss the sweets while doing the Whole30.  But, now that I’ve let some added sugar back into my life, the sugar dragon is rearing its ugly head.  (Disclaimer: Admittedly, I’ve been a little lax.  Andrew and I are about to jet off to France and I fully intend to eat and drink to my little hearts’ content.)

On going forward: Since Whole30 ended, I’ve continued grocery shopping almost completely paleo (if not Whole30), and I intend to keep it that way.  By now, we’ve pretty much eradicated (ha!  it’s like I’m talking about household pests instead of food) anything ‘junk-like’ from our house, which I like.  I’ve also continued to eat very Whole30/paleo when at home (sweet potatoes and eggs and salad for breakfast, or beef jerky and veggies and fruit for lunch) with a relaxation on the added sugars. I tried a coconut milk coffee creamer but found it to be both too sweet and not have a great texture, so I anticipate going to a half-and-half or some dairy option for coffee.  However, I won’t be buying milk or much yogurt, relying mostly on meat, eggs, fruits and veggies, and cooking the occasional grain (like rice or quinoa) with dinners.  I won’t buy much bread–if any–and may make my own every once in awhile.  Same with pancakes.  I think I’ll do a little more paleo-style baking, mostly for fun.  Overall, it’s about eating well 80% of the time so that the other 20% (whether you’re out to eat or cooking at home), you can splurge on something truly worth it.

I’ll wrap this up here, but know I’m not finished with Whole30.  I’m already thinking of doing a ‘Whole30-ish’ thing when Andrew and I return from our trip.  Goodness knows I’ll need it!

 

strawberry-banana ice cream

How often is it that you see a recipe you want to make, and happen to have ALL the ingredients on-hand at that very moment?  For me, not that often.  Especially taking into consideration that it is WAY too early for strawberries here, so why in the world did I have any in the first place…  (For a Mother’s Day paleo tart that was delicious.)

Anyway, I was surfing Instagram the other day and came upon NomNomPaleo’s recipe for strawberry banana ice cream.  (Obviously, dairy-free.)  Her picture was gorgeous, and again, I realized I had all the ingredients necessary.  Score.

img_1875

NomNomPaleo’s Strawberry Banana Ice Cream

3 frozen bananas, chopped

1 C frozen strawberries, hulled

1/2 C full-fat coconut milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in food processor and mix until smooth.  (I used my blender and this took a lot of stopping, stirring, and re-starting. However, it only took a few minutes before it totally transformed into a completely perfect soft ice-cream consistency!)

Spoon into a container and freeze!

Both Andrew and I really liked the flavor and texture.  With the simple ingredient list, I can see this being something I make with different fruits all summer long!