Diets are a dime a bakers dozen these days. I heard recently that more people purchase diet books than bibles (could be a rumor, but still). But there is one “diet” that’s been around 2 million years longer than the others, and is gaining some traction with athletes: The Paleo Diet.
Yes, Paleo, as in foods eaten during the Paleolithic Age which extended from 2.6 million years ago until the Neolithic Age (aka the Agricultural Revolution), about 10,000 years ago. Our ancestors hunted and gathered meat, fish, fowl, fruit, vegetables, roots, nuts and seeds before domesticating animals, cereal grains, and legumes. Proponents of the Paleo diet, including Loren Cordain, PH.D., Colorado State University professor and author of The Paleo Diet for Athletes: A Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance, believe that following it can enhance performance in endurance sports. Let’s take a closer look at, what you can and can’t eat, the pros and cons, and then you decide if it the premise can hold weight.
Basically, a Paleo diet is based on whole foods that are believed to be most fuel efficient for our bodies. Many scientists and medical professionals contend that the collision of between our ancient genetics and modern highly processed foods is the root cause of our modern health problems. With the current availability of “Franken foods” offered by fast food restaurants and distant expiration dated products on grocery store shelves – our genes are routinely exposed to “genetically unfamiliar” foods and thus respond abnormally.
So, in turn, the Paleo Diet suggests going back. Here’s what you can eat: grass-fed meats, wild caught fish, organic poultry, eggs, preferably organic fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, seeds, oils from fruits (olive) or nuts (coconut). The diet focuses on variety, as opposed to the mono-diet many Americans follow today, where eight foods comprise the majority of our intake, and include milk and cereal, according to the USDA.
Here’s what you can’t eat: Grains (both gluten-containing grains, and non, which include corn and rice), dairy products, potatoes, refined sugars, refined carbohydrates, processes oils and fats (cottonseed oil), soy and other beans
Touted health benefits of the diet include: type 2 diabetes reversal, weight loss, gastrointestinal health (it is estimated that 1 in 133 people in the U.S. have celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten), improved heart health by way of increased consumption of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, and immune support by way of adding many more nutrient dense fruits and vegetables. Those who follow the diet report improved energy, faster recovery times, and deeper sleep. I’ve seen my athletic clients respond very well to this type of diet.
So here’s an example of what a typical day would consist of: for breakfast, an organic egg omelet with spinach and mushrooms; lunch would be a steak salad with avocados and arugula, and for dinner, halibut, mango and onion kebabs with pesto sauce. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?
But those in opposition—including the widely renowned China Study— contend that inflammation and heart disease is linked to high consumption of meat, and animal based diets. This point is certainly true if the meat in question is conventionally raised on grain-based products, which, unfortunately, that study and many others fail to address. However beyond the China study many other scientific research papers published in various medical journals echo similar findings, and even the American Institute for Cancer Research, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Cancer Society all recommend limiting the consumption of red meat. In another critic circle, and rightly so, poo-pooers of the diet find it very difficult to follow such a restrictive program in today’s day in age.
At the end of the day, whether or not the diet is followed to strict cohesion, most health experts would agree that cutting back on processed sugar and refined grains is in your best interest. You decide, does instant oatmeal with brown sugar or eggs and vegetables keep you going longer on the slopes?