I’m not a caveman, so why should I eat like one? The “Paleo Diet” controversy.
“I want to put an effort into eating healthier, but I could never put myself on a diet that outright forbids I consume anything particular I enjoy.”
Have you ever said something like this?
One of the latest in the long line of “fad diets” is the Paleo (short for “paleolithic”) Diet – which outright forbids any food that wouldn’t have been consumed by a hunter-gatherer human, including dairy products, processed sugar, and grains. The first two might make sense to you – most humans on the planet can’t break down lactose after leaving childhood, and both “processed” and “sugar” has been naughty words in the diet world for some time. But grains?
The Paleo philosophy asserts that because a hunter gatherer’s guts weren’t adapted to processing grains, you and your barely-more-evolved digestive system shouldn’t touch them, either. They aren’t “essential.” Although, saying that grains aren’t essential to the human diet is a bit awkward. Essential just means that the human body cannot synthesize it (either at all or in enough quantity for adequate health). Of course we can’t synthesize an entire grain. We’re not plants.
This is what the human body considers “Essential”: vitamins, dietary minerals, and specific types of fats and amino acids. Carbohydrates are not “essential” because the human body can synthesize the ones required for growth and development. But some can serve as an excellent source of energy (or as its more feared term – calories) for the human body.
So yes, consuming grains it not necessary to live. But in moderation it’s not going to kill you. Moderation is the key, and I can speak from personal experience that given the amount of processed food available for American society to consume, moderation can be a challenge. Especially since it’s so expensive (and, depending on your lifestyle, time consuming) to eat healthy.
So if you’re looking to eat healthier but finding it too hard to say goodbye to grains, don’t fret. You can still put in an effort to minimize your processed carb/grain intake without going all the way to the hardcore Paleo restrictions. A few things to consider:
- If you’re going to eat grains, don’t eat them at every meal. If you have toast for breakfast, don’t have a sandwich for lunch. If you know you’re going to have mom’s lasagna for dinner, consider not microwaving that bean and rice burrito for a midafternoon snack. You can work your way down to eating grains once a day, to a couple times a week, and – if you’re that hardcore – to none at all.
- If you regularly participate in intense athletic activity, you probably are going to need a source of carbohydrates in your diet to get all of the calories you need in a reasonable amount of time. Grains are chock full of starches, but if you don’t want to snarf down a plate of pasta you can choose to eat a potato, or a squash, or some quinoa, or some other non-grain carb.
- Rather, if you live a more sedentary lifestyle, you really need to watch your caloric intake to make sure that consuming those grains you love doesn’t cause you to exceed your caloric output (that’s how we gain weight, folks).
- Even if you’re not avoiding gluten, consider rice, oats, or pseudocereals (like quinoa mentioned above) as alternatives to wheat. They can contain fewer “antinutrients”, which are chemical compounds that prevent the absorption of dietary minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc.) and can lead to mineral deficiency.
- Instead of eating the same type of grain over and over throughout the week, mix it up.
The Paleo diet is not for everyone, but given a little wiggle room, its ideas seem a little more reasonable.
By: Pasadena Personal Trainer Ron Le
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