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The Paleo Diet – The Future of Eating
or a Fad?

The big food buzz at the moment is the Paleo Diet, and paleo-themed cafes are opening all over Australia. Pete Evans from My Kitchen Rules is a big supporter of this diet, and his own TV series, The Paleo Way, will screen on Channel 7 this summer. In 2013 it was Google’s most searched-for weight loss method.

So is it really a wonder-diet or just a fad?

The paleo diet, from a Brisbane naturopath's perspective

BASIC CONCEPT

The Paleolithic diet is based on the idea that if our Paleolithic (Stone Age) ancestors didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either. It is also known as the caveman diet, the Stone Age diet, and the hunter-gatherer diet. Mankind has been around for millions of years, but our diet has only included significant levels of grains, legumes and dairy for around 10,000 years (since agriculture and domestication of animals), so maybe our bodies haven’t evolved enough to digest these foods properly, let alone the recent highly-processed and high-calorie processed foods. This is believed to cause many modern-day health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Supporters of the diet claim that eating according to the guidelines will help you to enjoy a longer, healthier, and more active life.

FOODS TO EAT

  • Lean meat, game and organs such as liver and tongue are encouraged
  • Eggs (some diets recommend at least six a week)
  • Fruit (but not in vast quantities)
  • Vegetables (although some don’t encourage potatoes)
  • Nuts and seeds (in moderation)
  • Seafood and shellfish (all types)
  • Olive, coconut, avocado, walnut, flaxseed and canola oil in moderation

FOODS TO AVOID

  • Dairy (all)
  • Grains (all)
  • Sugar
  • Grain-like seeds (quinoa, buckwheat)
  • Legumes (all beans, chickpeas, lentils, soy products, peas)
  • Peanuts
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Salt-containing foods (including store-bought condiments, bacon, deli meats)
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Fruit juices

SHOULD WE AVOID GRAINS?

There is abundant scientific evidence that grains can be detrimental to our health and lead to various illnesses. For example gluten (in wheat, barley, rye and oats) is believed to be a potential cause or exacerbating factor in all of the roughly 100 auto-immune diseases currently recognised. (Auto-immunity as a whole is considered the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the industrialised world!) Recent studies have shown a 400% increase in coeliac disease (caused by gluten intolerance) in the past 50 years. However, these problems may be due to modern grains often being over-refined (particularly white flour).

However, according to Dr Tony Bird, Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO Food Futures National Research Flagship, we need a mix of three types of fibre for optimal health:

  1. The heart-healthy viscous fibre from oats, barley, some vegetables and fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds
  2. Insoluble fibre from grains and quinoa which helps keep the bowels moving
  3. Resistant starch from legumes, whole grains, under-ripe bananas, cooled cooked potatoes and al dente pasta, which may give extra protection against colon cancer as it provides food for friendly gut bacteria.

What both sides of the debate have missed is that no two bodies are the same, and each person’s nutritional requirements will vary. In particular, different body types have different diet requirements. If you have an apple shape (with most of your weight around your abdomen), carbohydrates (even the whole-grain kind) will raise insulin levels in your body. You are already prone to high blood sugar levels, which can lead to diabetes and heart disease, so you need to watch your carbohydrate intake. You will still need some complex carbohydrates in your diet, so a small amount of unrefined grains is good for you.

If you have a pear-shaped body, you need higher levels of protein in your diet, and you can safely cut out grains. Your body is very fat-sensitive, so provided you keep your fat intake low, a Paleo Diet will suit you well.

(For more information on body shapes, see our article about successful weight loss.)

WHAT ABOUT DAIRY?

Frank Oski M.D. was the Department Chairman of Pediatrics at the State University of New York, from 1972 until 1985 and as the Department Chairman of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University from 1985 until 1996. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the author or co-author of about 300 academic papers and 20 books. In 1977 he wrote a book called Don’t Drink Your Milk in which he said
“The fact is: the drinking of cow milk has been linked to iron-deficiency anemia in infants and children; it has been named as the cause of cramps and diarrhea in much of the world’s population, and the cause of multiple forms of allergy as well; and the possibility has been raised that it may play a central role in the origins of atherosclerosis and heart attacks … In no mammalian species, except for the human (and the domestic cat, is milk consumption continued after the weaning period (the period of breast-feeding]. Calves thrive on cow milk. Cow milk is for calves.”

One of the signs that drinking milk may not be ideal for us, is that about 65% of all people on the planet can’t do it without experiencing gas, bloating and digestive distress. According to Professor Loren Cordain of the Colorado State University “The lactose evidence is like a canary in a coal mine, and hints at even greater health problems with milk and dairy consumption.”

An experiment at the University of Lund in Sweden showed that colic symptoms disappeared in 89% of babies when cow’s milk was taken out of their diet.

For many years, peptic ulcers were routinely treated by patients drinking milk and cream on a regular basis throughout the day. However, the fatal heart attack rate in ulcer patients who used this diet was a staggering 42%! This may be because high dietary calcium tends to cause an imbalance in magnesium levels, and magnesium helps prevent heart disease. Because milk’s calcium to magnesium ratio is quite high (about 12 to 1), too much dairy products in our diet can raise the calcium to magnesium ratio in our bodies to about 5 to 1, which can result in heart disease.

So it is best not to only rely on dairy for your calcium intake. Some of the best natural sources include:

  • leafy green vegetables – broccoli, collards (cabbage family), bok choy, Chinese cabbage and spinach. (One cup of cooked spinach contains 100 mg, although only five per cent of this may be absorbed. This is due to the high concentration of oxalate, a compound in spinach that reduces calcium absorption. By contrast, one cup of cooked broccoli contains about 45 mg of calcium, but the absorption from broccoli is much higher at around 50–60 per cent.)
  • Soy and tofu – tofu (depending on type) or tempeh
  • Fish – sardines and salmon (with bones). (Half a cup of canned salmon contains 402 mg of calcium.)
  • Nuts and seeds – brazil nuts, almonds and sesame seed paste (tahini). (Fifteen almonds contain about 40 mg of calcium.)

If you want to keep your bones strong, it is important to keep in mind that weight-bearing exercise (including walking, golf, etc.) stimulates the body to put more calcium into the bones that are taking the weight, and that if your body is too acidic, it will take calcium out of your bones to help make your blood less acidic.

Maintaining the correct levels of calcium and magnesium in your body is a complex area, so if you wish to reduce your dairy intake but still look after the strength of your bones, I strongly recommend you book in to see our Brisbane naturopath and nutrition specialist Margaret McNamara.

SUGAR

Excess sugar, whether from naturally sweet sources or refined sugar, causes you to gain weight, accelerates the ageing process, is addictive, and has a cumulative effect, meaning it builds up in our systems over time. Following the Paleo Diet helps you avoid these sugar problems. (Both apple and pear body types need to avoid sugar as much as possible.)

SALT

It is generally accepted that the average person’s diet contains far too much salt, as it is added to almost every food that has been processed in some way. Those with an apple type of body are also very salt-sensitive, so this part of the Paleo Diet would be especially helpful for them.

CONCLUSION

What we eat is usually the single most important factor in our long-term health. As the saying goes, what you eat today walks and talks tomorrow. There are many other aspects of the Paleo Diet that we haven’t covered (such as eliminating almost all processed foods), and most of the requirements are excellent to follow. So this diet is a great starting point for the average person who wants to improve their health! However, as we mentioned earlier, everybody’s food requirements are different, and what suits some people may not be good for another. In the end, there is no substitute for a detailed consultation with an experienced therapist who can identify what is best for YOU. This is even more important if you have a specific health problem, as your nutrient requirements will be very different.

If looking after your health is important to you, you can take advantage of our special offer of a free Comprehensive Health Assessment. If you would like to feel better, have more energy, or look after your health properly, we can have an in-depth look at what is happening in your body, if there are any areas that aren’t working properly, and we can let you know what can be done to improve things. The Assessment is very thorough, and most people find it very interesting and helpful. Please contact the Clinic if you would like to book in while this offer is still available.