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What is this paleo diet you speak of? (Part II)

When we last parted we had gone over the long and the short of sugar and grains. The long part was all the reasons why refined sugars and grains should be eliminated from our diet.

The short of it was the take home message: grains don’t work for you, they work against you. If you did not yet read Part I click here and take a look, it is well worth it.

Point (2) in my “Why grains are bad for you:” explains in part why eating lots of sugar and consuming goods packed with refined sugars is bad for you, but if you want an even more in depth explanation Mark Sisson did a great write up here and it goes into much more detail about the effects of sugar on our bodies. I did not go over legumes specifically, but suffice to say that they act in very similar fashion to grains and lead to pro-inflammatory responses, which are not good for you. Now that I have written that, however, I feel the need to discuss the pro-inflammatory response and what our body is telling us.


What’s the big deal with inflammation?

Inflammation is a the body natural response to anything that offsets its homeostasis (balance) or leads the body to think it is being attacked or harmed. Inflammation is a good thing normally, as it helps initiate the healing process in the body and remove any pathogens or harmful organisms.

Inflammation is what happens when you cut your finger, for example, and your body sensing bad bacteria and an open wound sends a bunch of white cells and other immune cells to protect and heal itself. Inflammation is often accompanied by redness and heat (due to increased blood flow in the affected area), swelling, and sometimes pain.

The severity of these symptoms is directly related to the type of assault the body is dealing with, so small injuries or infections should result in a mild responses and severe ones will trigger sever inflammation.

Like anything else, though, chronic inflammation is bad. Over the long term it can lead to the destruction of healthy cells that are not related to the ailment that caused to the inflammation in the first place and  cause disruption in the healthy functioning of our bodies. Inflammation has been associated with most major health problems (heart disease, artheritis, artherosclerosis, allergic reactions, some cancers, acne vulgaris, celiac’s disease…).Foods that are pro-inflammatory trigger the inflammatory response, if chronically consumed they lead to chronic inflammation, which as you have just read is not good for your body. The effects may be subtle, but over time they are devastating.

Back to the meat of it all (pun intended). Now that we have discussed what not to eat, lets talk about what you can eat, and why.

What is this Paleo Diet about?

As I said in the first post, Paleo and Primal diets encourage us eat whole, natural unprocessed healthy foods, that our bodies are well adapted to digest and use efficiently.

What falls under that category?

Animal protein in the form of meat, fish, seafood and eggs, vegetables and fruits, nuts, and healthy fats. Take a look again at the Paleo food pyramid (note that this pyramid is not endorsed by any agency whose sole purpose it is to promote the consumption of a particular food group – unlike our typical food pyramid which was create by the United States Department of Agriculture whose job it is to promote agriculture).

Image courtesy of fitnessista.com
Image courtesy of fitnessista.com

Food breaks down into three basic macro (large)- nutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Protein and fat are necessary to life. Yes, you read that, fat is necessary to life! Our bodies rely on proteins and fats to build, repair and maintain cells and organs. We do not need carbohydrates to do this. Carbohydrates are mildly useful and I outlined some of their functions in Part I – if nothing else they provide a quick energy source, but they are not necessary per se. However, having some healthy carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruits provides a useful source of vitamins, minerals, and roughage to keep us smooth and going. Although lean proteins are a nice way to go, if you subsided mostly on them you would die, because our bodies absolutely need the right kind of fats to survive.

    1. Protein: This is your first priority. Assuming you are feeding yourself properly, your body will rely first on protein to build or repair cells and enzymes. No protein means no muscle building. Depending on the rest of your diet you can determine how lean your proteins need to be, but remember that we need some amount of animal fat in our diet for life.
    2. Fat:
      • Fat is your fuel. Your muscle can hold and use much more fuel from fat than they can fuel from carbs. If you are an endurance athlete you should probably be fat loading instead of carb loading if you want a long term store of readily available fuel during a competition or race. Not all fats are created equal, and a whole other article could be written about this. For now consider the following highly processed fats (canola oil, peanut and grain based oils…) are not good for you. Actually just think this way anything that is highly processed is likely bad for you. Good fats include animal fats from healthy, pasture raised animals (lard, tallow, duck fat and ghee all fall into this category), avocado, olive and coconut oils are also great sources of fat.
      • Fat is also necessary to the production of cholesterol, and despite all the emphasis on bad cholesterol, there is such a thing as good cholesterol. Do you know its function? Cholesterol has many functions in the body, including aiding in the synthesis of most of our hormones (including your sex hormones so no fat, no libido), insulating neurons, building and repairing cell membranes and synthesizing some vitamins.
    3. Carbohydrates: Are a generally good source of quick fuel, but beyond that they are not necessary. When I say fuel, I mean the kind of fuel you need for many an hour of anaerobic exercise, but nothing much beyond that. If you have to consume them then consume them wisely eating nutrient dense vegetables and some fruits.

What does this look in real life?

Food is fuelOn a day to day basis this is what this means. When you prepare a meal you make sure you have a good source of protein (animal based), if you can afford it you make sure your source is pasture raised, hormone free and has been raised as closely as possible to its natural state. If you don’t have the time or the means to do that, just focus on the big picture which is to have a decent amount (at least 30%) of your meal comprised of animal protein.

Next you make sure you have some fat. For most of us the fat present in said animal protein is already providing us with a lot of fats, but you can also consider using healthier fats in your cooking or eating things such as avocados or nuts to add fat to your diet.

The rest is your carbs: choose leafy, colorful nutrient dense vegetables – leafy greens are a great place to start, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and eggplant are other options. Tubers such as potatoes and yams are not vegetables, they are tubers. They are certainly calorie dense but not necessarily nutrient dense and should be consumed sparingly. Paleo purists cut out potatoes as whole for their high glycemic levels and relative lack of nutrients. Generally speaking limit or eliminate dairy. You can eat fruits, but be smart (one to two fruits a day should be enough). Fruits are nature’s candies, so they pack a lot of sugar in a very small and tasty format.

The jury is out on dairy as a whole, but generally speaking it is pro-inflammatory and most of us are not well suited to it. If you don’t trust me try quitting it for a few weeks and then drink a glass of milk – notice the swelling in your belly and bowel movements or gas that accompany it. There  may be another article just on dairy some time soon because it is so controversial  Note that the Primal group includes small amounts of dairy, but even then there is a selection process to promote better sources of dairy (grass fed, fermented…). There is a lot more information about starting the Paleo/Primal lifestyle on my website under the Nutrition tab.

Here are some more great articles about the Paleo diet beyond the ones mentioned in Part I
Fit Bomb: Why I Eat Paleo. A very in depth post about the Paleo diet.
Nerd Fitness’ Beginner’s Guide to Paleo: short and sweet
The Primal Palate: a great resource for recipes, and amazing ones at that
Guide to Paleo Diet: Everything you must know : the title says it all, a worthy read with a Ted Talk to boot!

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Hi! I'm Dr. Alessandra Wall

I help smart driven women and forward-thinking companies bridge the gap & build real conversations.

Here on the ‘Dr. Wall Says’, I share tools, tips, and insights about speaking up, getting heard and how women can take up space and thrive in the 21st century.



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