September Newsletter: Nutrition Article

Whole 9 South Pacific’s nutritionist Jamie Scott discusses what the Paleo lifestyle can mean to different people.

Is it Paleo?

I suppose there is a certain inevitability about the question “is it paleo?” when trying to navigate a diet and lifestyle which, despite having underpinnings in evolution, remains very novel for people.  But there are two moments in the past year which really stand out for me.  The first is a guy who had the food aspect dialled in really well and was enjoying much improved health.  One day he approached me, with much trepidation, and suggested that the next step was joining Crossfit, inferring that to really “do Paleo” you also have to be a Crossfitter.  The second was a woman who, recently, in a corporate workshop I was running, was explaining to me just how expensive eating this way had become for her.  I enquired as to what was blowing her food budget as experience told me that eating real food was either cost neutral or slightly cheaper.  It turns out she was spending a fortune every week buying all sorts of specialty nut flours and sundry other ingredients so that she can make paleo-this and paleo-that – basically all manner of grain-free baked goods with a paleo-prefix – and she truly believed that this was a necessary part of ‘the diet’.

I admit to a degree of frustration hearing these sorts of stories.  As the paleo health movement gains more popularity, it is also suffering tall poppy syndrome and is subject to a lot of criticism.  And when those claiming to be proponents of paleo are twisting and distorting the underlying premise of paleo in order to include all manner of ingredients and varying lifestyle ‘hacks’ by adding the ‘paleo’ prefix, I can understand where some of that criticism comes from.

The paleo diet (noun) is not a diet (verb), and is not even a rigid prescription.  It is a framework, based on our understanding of our evolutionary past and how this plays into a modern day field of science known as epigenetics (effectively how the environment can send signals to our genetic code via the food we eat, activities we engage in, quality of sleep we get [or don’t get], stress we place ourselves under, etc.).  In its most simple form, it encourages us to eat real food, derived from good portions of plants and meats, in a meal-type setting (think slow food rather than fast food), all whilst eschewing high levels of ingredients which are relatively novel to our physiology and which we haven’t been able to come up with biological answers to the problematic compounds contained in those ingredients (such as lectins in grains, fructose in sugar, and linoleic acid in vegetable oils), which we are learning more about all the time (much to the annoyance of food producers who lean heavily on those ingredients for cheap food production).

Thus, the first place we always get people to start with is food.  This isn’t putting someone on a diet, but rather getting them back in touch with high-quality nutritious food – meats and vegetables – and getting these foods consumed in the context of a proper meal a few times per day.  Eating this way, consistently, leaves little room for much else and displaces many of the problematic food nasties.  Paleo, in this context, is a great place to start a healthy journey from.  But it doesn’t end there or have to be the final word.  Over and above this approach, you can then experiment with different forms of exercise, such as Crossfit, or add in some delicious grain-free treats, or trial some advanced weight loss techniques such as intermittent fasting.  But just keep in mind that these extras are not what define paleo, nor are they are compulsory requirement for giving any of it a go.  Beyond eating real food, moving like a human being should, sleeping at night and getting out in the sun during the day, you really pick your own journey from there.

Read the August article here.

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