Do you need to go Paleo?

Recently the Dietetics Association of Australia (DAA) released a media release titled “Don’t go the Paleo Way”, which you can access here. While it seemed to criticise the paleo diet as a whole and discourage the Australian public from adopting such a lifestyle, it largely came off as a personal attack as “The Paleo Way” is in fact the title of celebrity Chef Pete Evans’ world famous cookbook and soon to be launched 10-week weight loss program.

Since then, the battle between the DAA and Pete Evans has gone viral with many Dieticians and Nutritionists speaking up to express their view. I wanted to clarify things as you’re no doubt already aware of the recent events, and wondering whether you need to follow Pete and his supporters, or you haven’t heard a peep and need to know more about paleo and similarly, whether it’s time you jumped on board.

So let’s dive in with some background information first..

What is paleo?

“The Paleo Diet” is a term originally coined by Dr. Loren Cordain in 2010. For the purpose of this article, I will use the term “paleo lifestyle” to encompass the many different approaches that now exist.

The term paleo is derived from paleolithic, as the key concepts take us back to what our caveman ancestors ate.  In summary, a paleo lifestyle prioritises meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, or basically, real food. What you don’t eat with a paleo lifestyle is gluten, grains, refined sugar, refined seed oils, dairy or legumes.

The popularisation of the paleo lifestyle was one of the significant catalysts for the real food revolution and the exponential awareness to the fact that the food pyramid is wrong. Yes, it was created with vested interest by the government and the agricultural industry. Read more in Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.

Here are some of the facts that the paleo lifestyle has helped support, and as a result, bust the top food myths of the last five decades:

  1. There is in fact no requirement for wholegrains, when fibre can be found in higher quantities in fruit and vegetables, accompanied by essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  2. Pasteurised cow’s milk is devoid of nutrients as they are destroyed by the heat treatment. If you want calcium, eat green leafy vegetables, bony fish and sesame seeds for a start. Recap this here.
  3. Saturated fat does not cause heart disease. More on that here.
  4. Low cholesterol is not an indication of health. Cholesterol is one of the most vitally important substances. Every cell is made from it, and all steroid hormones are synthesized from it, including all sex and adrenal hormones. Cholesterol is also essential for the formation and function of each memory synapse in our brain. Elevated cholesterol is not the problem, it is a symptom of the real cause of heart disease – inflammation. Grab yourself a copy of Cholesterol Clarity by Jimmy Moore for more information.
  5. Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They contain 11 vitamins and minerals and are one of the highest sources of vitamin D. Eggs do not cause heart disease (refer to point 4). Please eat your yolks.

So what are the DAA on about then?

Good question. There’s absolutely no way real food is “potentially dangerous” and this whole media release screams one thing and one thing only to me: vested interest. The DAA partner with both Dairy Australia and The Grain and Legumes Nutrition Council. Need I say more?

Interestingly, a “leading Australian Nutritionist” came out on Facebook yesterday to support the new Sanitarium Up & Go product, “Oats 2 Go”. The ingredients are: filtered water, wholegrain oat flour (3.1%), skim milk powder, cane sugar, fructose, soy protein, inulin, banana puree (1%), milk protein concentrate, vegetable oils (sunflower, canola), mineral (calcium), flavours, food acid (332, 300, 330), vegetable gums (460, 466, 407), honey (0.1%), stabiliser (452), salt, vitamins (C, A, B3, B12, B2, B6, B1, folate). I hope it goes without saying that this endorsement is absolutely disgraceful and a clear case of “cash for comment” in my humble opinion. To quote Pete Evans’ response to this endorsement: “PLEASE JUST EAT AND FEED YOUR LOVED ONES REAL FOOD!” Or as I always say: JERF (Just Eat Real Food).

So do I need to go Paleo?

I believe dietary labels are unnecessary.  When “The Paleo Diet” first became popular it was quite restrictive, dogmatic and almost militant. It’s great to see this has now changed, with many influential Paleo experts now teaching moderation and non-judgement, and denouncing perfectionism. So the decision is entirely yours, just please be mindful of your approach. No one wants to be roused at the breakfast table for their avo and feta mash.

What I do

I’m happily gluten free, refined sugar free and refined seed oil free, but I don’t eat “paleo” per se as I feel the following foods have their place. I enjoy them and I’m more than happy for you to include them in your “JERF” lifestyle too.

  1. Rice malt syrup. As it is made from rice, a grain, it is not an approved paleo sweetener. The great thing about rice malt syrup is that it is fructose free and therefore a better choice than honey or maple syrup (which are both paleo approved). Read more about why I use rice malt syrup here. But please keep your perspective, it’s not an every day food and neither are “sweet treats” no matter how “clean” they are for that matter.
  2. Goat’s feta. As it is dairy, it is not strictly paleo. Personally I choose to eat Goat’s feta as it is a more tolerable form of caesin (A2). If you have a lactose intolerance, you may also find you can tolerate Goat’s feta, but this will come down to individual tolerance.
  3. Chickpeas. Legumes (and yes, peanuts are legumes) are not consumed on a paleo diet, due to the supposed high phytic acid content. Paleo supporters believe this interferes with nutrient absorption, but new research now shows this may only be an issue in situations of poor gut health. I happily prioritise gut health and enjoy hummus on occasions. Please read Gut Health 101 for more information.

In summary, there are many fantastic aspects of following a paleo lifestyle. Eating real food is the only way. Find an approach that works for you and ensure it is one that is nutrient dense, sustainable and enjoyable. Food is to nourish, share and enjoy, and certainly not a quest for perfectionism.

Do you follow a paleo lifestyle? Or do you choose not to because of your favourite foods?

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