The Paleo Diet: Practical Tips for the Modern Cavewoman

paleo diet

Is the Paleo diet so easy a cavewoman could do it? Read on to find out!

Most of us know that anything you have to order by shouting at a speaker in a fast-food drive-through does not constitute healthy eating. But with the plethora of diet plans available these days, it's a daily challenge to know what's right, what's wrong and what's completely whack. That's why the trendy Paleo diet (aka, the caveman diet) caught our attention. It seems simple enough. If prehistoric man ate it and it didn't come shrink-wrapped in plastic, then it should be good for Jane, right? We went to local nutritional expert and owner of Ultimate Body Boot CampRichelle Melde, for her insights. Here's what she had to say about the Paleo diet along with a few practical tips on incorporating the principles into your busy cavewoman lifestyle.

What are the basics of the Paleo diet?

It's actually pretty simple: the Paleo diet excludes all legumes, grains and dairy. Legumes are peanuts, beans, lentils and peas. Grains would include all grains whether they are gluten-free or not. And dairy is defined as cow's milk products. The Paleo diet allows you to eat foods that were available before the start of agriculture: meat, seafood, seasonal fruits and non-starchy vegetables. Below is a basic expanded list of what paleo is.

Foods you can eat:

  • Grass-produced meats
  • Fish/seafood
  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthful oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)  

Foods to avoid:

  • Cereal grains
  • Legumes (including peanuts)
  • Dairy
  • Refined sugar
  • Potatoes
  • Processed foods
  • Salt
  • Refined vegetable oils

Will the paleo diet help me lose weight?

The paleo diet can definitely help anyone lose weight, but do not think this is a quick fix weight loss strategy. This diet plan is a lifetime eating program. Most of us will lose some weight JUST by changing our current eating habits. It's really about finding the right eating strategy for you that is key. Understanding how your body responds to food is the best way to understand how to lose weight and ultimately, find a strategy that you enjoy and will follow for the rest of your life. Yo-yo dieting is almost worse for you than just consistently eating like crap, so sticking to something is important to produce results and keep you healthy. Paleo may or may not be the eating strategy for you, but at the very least, it’s a great place to start.

If I give up bread and pasta, won't I feel tired?

No, just the opposite in fact. First of all, breads and pastas are processed foods meaning they are manufactured (there are no bread trees or pasta plants), and contain much less nutrition than whole foods, they are processed after all. Breads and pastas are carbohydrates (carbs). Carbs spike your insulin in response to the sugar now in your body from the food. Insulin is the carrier of sugar to the cells. When your sugar levels decline, you crave more sugar, and thus begins the negative cycle of sugar cravings. (Of course this is incredibly simplified and more steps take place.)  It is pretty common for people to eat more carbs than proteins and fats and because of this our blood sugar levels are all over the place. It is important to try to stabilize these levels. By removing the processed grains, you begin this process. You will find that you have more energy throughout the day, you will wake up in the morning and not feel groggy (and maybe even not need the coffee) and will rest more deeply when this is achieved.

Can I modify the diet to fit my lifestyle and still get the benefits? A girl needs a little pink martini here and there.

Absolutely, just limit the number of times you drink and the amount you drink each time. A great quote from Robb Wolf is “drink as much as you need to optimize your sex life, but not so much that you impact performance.” Remember, if you are trying to achieve a weight loss goal, you need to be willing to commit to changes so that you find success. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver and goes straight to fat when consumed in excess, which is the point of drinking, right?  A few tips on drinking, if you must:

  1. Minimize the sugar that you add to the drink. For example, to make a margarita you would mix tequila, lime juice and soda water – nothing else. Use non-wheat based alcohols and try to keep the clear in color.
  2. Wine is an option with some health benefits documented, but again, in excess will have the same effect as any other alcohol.
  3. Beer is not on the list of alcohol to consume because of the gluten content. Sorry.

Did cavemen drink coffee? I can't function without it.

Let’s back the coffee truck up and start at the beginning. First of all, non-organic coffee beans are one of the most sprayed crops in the world with massive amounts of pesticide residues left on the bean for you to brew. Tasty.

Much like sugar, caffeine creates an insulin response which can lead to cravings, fat storage and mood fluctuations. Caffeine dehydrates you. Caffeine leaches calcium from your bones and teeth, which can lead to osteoporosis. Caffeine stimulates the adrenals, which control your flight or fight response hormones. If you are already stressed out, these hormones are stimulated too much already and daily caffeine consumption will lead to the dysfunction of this primal process.

You HAVE to have it?! Here are a few tips:

  1. Drink organic, fair trade coffee.
  2. Do not add any sugar, fake sugar, sweeteners, honey, etc with the exception of stevia. Milk also has sugars in it, low fat having the most and whole milk have fewer, so avoid adding milk. Try using cream instead.
  3. Drink your coffee in combination with eating protein or fat, not a donut or scone or muffin (those are just more sugar).

What are your final thoughts on the caveman diet?

Conventional wisdom tells us to count calories and restrict fat intake and consume high-carb foods. Two big reasons why this strategy is ineffective: 1. By eliminating fat from foods, flavor is diminished so to make it taste better, sugar is added. This leads me to reason #2 – SUGAR.  Carbohydrates are basically anything produced by photosynthesis (fruits & veggies). In our bodies, every carbohydrate gets broken down into its simplest form which is a sugar molecule. So by eating low fat and high carb, you’re eating a bunch of sugar. When you have stored enough sugar in your liver and muscles, the excess sugar becomes triglycerides, cholesterol and then fat. (*If you have high cholesterol, try reducing the amount of sugar you consume to reduce your cholesterol levels.)

I love the premise of the paleo diet because it gets people eating clean, organic whole foods, however, fruit is sugar. No, it’s not nature’s candy that can be eaten in unlimited quantity. Just like Oreo cookies, an apple will trigger the same cascade of hormonal responses. A lot of fruit also contains high levels of fructose. Fructose is its lowest form and does not require any digestion, so it goes straight to the liver for processing. Sound familiar? I would recommend to people thinking about starting the Paleo diet to also watch sugar intake. You want to limit the number of grams of sugar each day to about 25 grams, 14 of which can be fructose. If you do eat fruit, pair it with a protein and/or fat to help slow the insulin response so that you manage your blood sugar levels better.

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