Thursday, 24 April 2014

Finding the Right Balance on a Paleo Diet...

Despite some popular beliefs, a paleo diet isn't just about eating all the meat that you can. For best results you need a careful balance of protein, veggies and starch...

When I first heard about the Paleo diet, I thought it was a diet with a green light to eat as much meat as you could - the stereotypical image of the caveman gnawing on a mammoth leg, or whatever. Paleo websites and forums also went on and on about bacon. It looked like they were all eating bacon for every meal - and for snacks inbetween. They ate saturated fat, nibbling the crispy fat from a crisp, grilled pork chop instead of cutting it off and leaving it on the side. It seemed to me, to be the best 'diet' in the world. 

But a Paleo diet is so much more than a 'high-meat' diet. In fact you don't need much meat in your diet at all. It's really important to find the right balance so you take in all the nutrients you need for health - after all - the Paleo diet is about returning to our natural - unprocessed - diet to optimise health. Have a look at this...


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Veggies are important on Paleo, too


You don't need that much meat
I just finished an online Food and Nutrition course run by Open2Study (check them out, it's a great course) and found out that Mediterranean diets are currently considered the healthiest diets around, because there's an emphasis on vegetables, fruit and seafood. Meat - particularly red meat - is eaten just a little bit. And it's thought that studies show lower rates of heart disease and other illnesses - as well as lower incidences of obesity - for those eating the Mediterranean way. 

In fact, you just need around 50g protein each day. That's about the size of a small salmon fillet. Per day. Fill your plate with veggies and have a portion of meat, seafood or fish alongside. Remember too that coconut milk and some fruits like avocado contain protein, so you're already a little of the way there. You can always rotate your meals - fish for breakfast, meat for lunch, some vegetable and coconut milk soup for dinner. Don't get me wrong - I still think on the Paleo diet that meat is important - but I don't think you need as much as you think. 

The meat you do eat must be good quality
Sausages, bacon, black pudding - yes it's all protein-rich - but as we all know, there are dangers to eating too much in the way of processed meats. Take bacon, for example. It can contain a lot of salt - just a few smoked streaky bacon rashers can get you close to your recommended limit for the day. Paleo peeps also talk a lot about 'grass-fed' meats. This is because the meat is considered purer and contains more of the natural - and inflammation-reducing - omega 3 oils our ancestors would have eaten. There's also concern about the fats in lower quality meats - in that the toxins the animal absorbed through its lifetime are stored in the fats and so the more natural you get your meat the better. Plus, did Paleolithic Man ever pop out for a link of his butcher's best pork and leek sausages? I think it's unlikely.  

Nutritious Offal 
Yep. You can't be squeamish on Paleo. Don't tell me that after a kill Paleo Man would have cut off the leaner cuts of meat and thrown all the offal on the fire. Of course he didn't. And it's likely that he would also have eaten anything he could have got his hands on - bugs, worms, crickets - which is why protein-rich cricket flour seems to be doing the rounds on Paleo blogs at the moment. I'm not asking you to go foraging for bugs in your local woodland - far from it. But consider including organ meats and offal such as heart, kidneys and marrow in your diet. Liver is good too, and high in iron and vitamin A - but don't eat it too often - the human body needs only a small amount of vitamin A - any more and it's toxic. Best to limit yourself to a portion of liver - or liver containing foods like pâté - once a week. 

Fill your plate with veggies
Without veggies, you won't be getting decent amounts of micronutrients like vitamin C, beta carotene and folate.  And they give you fibre, too. These are all essential for good health. And don't forget that Paleolithic Man had to hunt for his meat. It's likely that when meat wasn't around he foraged and picked leaves, berries and root veggies too. And leafy greens can be rich in calcium - which you need, when you're not eating any dairy products. If the Paleo diet is the diet 'we evolved to eat' then veggies surely must play a large part in that, as without these nutrients we don't have good health. Simple as that. 

Starches are ok
The Paleo diet is often mistaken for a 'low-carb' diet. But this isn't exactly the case. When you go from a diet that's high in grains (pasta, bread, rice) to the Paleo diet where you don't eat any of these things, you're bound to start losing weight. Paleo has been compared in the press to the Atkins diet but Paleo eaters don't intentionally omit carboyhdrates. In fact, you need them for energy, and for helping to keep your blood sugars stable - remember you're not eating refined sugars, either. Root vegetables like turnips, swede, carrots, squash and sweet potato are all starchy veggies that are fine on Paleo. 

So there you have it. Paleo diets aren't just about tucking in to slow-cooked ribs, steaks and bacon. Vegetables and some natural starches are important for good health. And if you're nibbling on nothing but lamb chops and bacon - and excluding nutritious fruits, veggies and natural starches - then you might be missing the whole point of going on Paleo in the first place... 

Are you eating on Paleo? Do you find it difficult to maintain a healthy balance?