We’re kicking off our ‘Ask the Dietitians’ series with a question we’re asked often.
Are we Paleo?
This is a question we have been asked on several occasions. Which rightfully so, because we do share several Paleo-friendly recipes on our blog and we did just attend Paleof(x) last month. So we thought it was time to make it clear and answer this question here on the blog, for anyone who may be wondering.
But first, lets start with, what is Paleo?
The term ‘Paleo’ refers to the ‘paleolithic diet’. A diet based on whole foods that are unprocessed or only minimally processed and which excludes grains, legumes, refined sugars and sometimes dairy (including dairy is called ‘primal’). This means that the diet is primarily composed of meat, fish and seafood, poultry, wild game, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds and certain fats.
Grains are excluded on a strict paleo diet due to their inflammatory nature, low nutrient-density, high degree of processing (think flour and foods made with flour) and their ability to raise blood sugar levels more than other foods. Gluten (found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut and spelt, etc.) is an absolute no-no on the Paleo diet.
According to Loren Cordain, Ph.D, the founder of the Paleo diet, the premise of the paleo diet is one that is:
- Slightly higher in protein than the Standard American Diet (SAD): The Paleo diet provides an average of 19-35% of calories from protein as compared to roughly 15% in the SAD.
- Lower carbohydrate intake combined with lower glycemic foods: The bulk of a paleo diet is comprised of non-starchy vegetables and lower-glycemic fruits and typically provides 40-45% of total calories – or less- from carbohydrates (225 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet). This amount of carbohydrate provides more than ample energy for most people despite being considerably lower than what you’d find the SAD (about 55-60% carbs).
- Higher intake of fiber: Even without the consumption of grains, those following a paleo diet tend to consume more soluble and insoluble fiber than SAD-eating counterparts thanks to their high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
- Higher intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients: When the bulk of your diet comes from vegetable and fruits, you consume greater amounts of these important micronutrients. Choosing organically-grown, and ideally locally when available, produce, grass-fed or pastured-raised meat and poultry also delivers more nutrition bang for your buck. Additionally, when you consume fewer anti-nutrients (found in some grains, nuts and seeds) and less refined sugars and starches, you absorb and utilize more nutrients from the foods you eat.
- Moderately higher intake of fats: Fat is not evil and it won’t make you fat or give you heart disease when you consume the right fats along with a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and leafy greens. Fats found in the Paleo diet are those naturally found in nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, meat, fish and poultry rather than refined seed or vegetable oils. You can learn more about our some of our favorite real food fats in this article. Other fats that are enjoying a recent comeback in the Paleo and real food world include lard, tallow, schmalz (chicken fat) and duck fat – just to name a few.
- Lower Sodium Intake: The paleo diet heavily revolves around whole, unprocessed or minimally-processed, foods that are naturally lower in sodium. Removing refined grains and their products, in addition to highly-processed frozen convenience meals and fast food takeout, results in a significant reduction in overall sodium intake.
For a more detailed look at the Paleo diet and lifestyle, check out this Paleo 101 guide.
So do we follow the Paleo diet? The short answer, No.
Let us explain. While our diet is made up from the majority of foods listed above, we choose not to tie labels to how we eat unless of course an allergy or food sensitivity is present. For example, Jessica has an egg-allergy, so she MUST follow an egg-free diet. In addition, following a paleo diet allowed her to reverse life-sucking symptoms caused by a rare autoimmune condition. This made a pivotal impact on her health and well-being as she is now in remission with no real symptoms to speak of. So for Jessica, her health journey did start with a “strict” paleo diet which she was then able to liberalize to include occasional grains and dairy – and this is what works for her.
It’s safe to say that we’re ‘paleoish’.
Meaning we naturally choose foods that fall under the ‘paleo’ umbrella but…….not always. And we’re okay with that as long as we feel good and we’re free of any digestive, skin or energy issues.
Why we don’t use labels?
We’ve both come from a place of unhealthy food restriction and calorie counting so by avoiding all ‘diet’ labels it has allowed us to achieve food freedom. We don’t rely on our ‘label’ to create restriction or limit our choices – for example, if we want blue corn tortilla chips with our favorite salsa then we’ll enjoy some even though they’re not ‘paleo’. Same thing goes for heavy cream, dark chocolate, quinoa and goat cheese, just to name a few.
Here’s our approach to healthy eating:
- We keep it simple.
- We eat real food – food that’s in its most natural form. Learn more about our definition of “Real Food” here.
- We eat seasonally.
- We focus on balance.
- We enjoy treats once in awhile and we don’t deprive ourselves of the foods we love (dark chocolate, beer, wine, blue corn chips, tacos, pizza, homemade pie, ice cream, homemade sourdough bread, the list goes on….we’re human).
- We know where our food comes from.
- We support local farmers and growers.
- We grow our own food too.
- We listen to our body.
- We nourish our bodies with food that makes us feel good.
- We overindulge sometimes too…and are okay with that.
- We enjoy a good reset/cleanse/detox (whatever you want to call it) every once in awhile and feel that it can be done in a very healthy way.
- We truly enjoy the food that we put into our body.
There you have it. We’re paleo-ish real food lovers.
No labels, no restrictions, no strict food rules. We eat nutrient-dense foods that make us feel good but we also eat for pleasure because life is too short. We’re healthy, we’re happy and we love the way we feel when we choose foods that work best for our own unique bodies.
We’re not perfect and we’re okay with that. Jessica drinks more coffee than she thinks she should and Stacie’s vice is nut butter. Taking those things out of our lives may result in small improvement to our overall health but health isn’t the only reason we eat. We eat for enjoyment and pleasure too. So for now, the coffee and nut butter are staying on the menu.
That said, we don’t have a magic formula. The way we eat now has evolved out of trial and error and it’s ever changing because we’re human. We keep listening to our bodies and course-correcting to find that ever elusive sweet spot we call the perfect-ish, personalized eating style.