I am sure that there are a great deal of people today — that are surfing the web, watching tv, or grocery shopping and hear/see the word PALEO. What the heck is it? What does it mean? Is it something you want to try? Well, the Paleo way of life is truly catching on — meaning more and more people are being exposed to it. Well, an honest answer is that everyone seems to have their own unique answer to the question, “What is Paleo?” Here is mine —
As with anything else — new information comes to light, things change, and people adapt. The Paleo that I know today is not the Paleo that I knew or followed years ago. Has the movement’s paradigm changed? Well, yes and no…but, I personally have changed…and my relationship with food has changed.
The Paleo I Once Knew
We decided we would say, “So Long!” to all gluten, grains, refined sugars, dairy, and legumes in June of 2011. Our first understandings of Paleo involved ditching all these things that were typically paired with poor digestion and inflammation in the body. We replaced the bread, noodles, and rice with lots and lots of vegetables — and that was a huge eye-opener for me in terms of food. I was incredibly thankful! Bread, noodles, and pasta were great…but hey, I soon realized that so are vegetables and they were getting unfairly left out of our pre-paleo diet. I fell in love with brussels sprouts, and turnips, and cauliflower, and parsnips! In short, Paleo allowed me to experience real food — not the kind in a box, or the type you can cook in the microwave. I actually had to cook for myself, and that repair on my disconnect with nourishment and food will always stay with me.
We originally began our Paleo journey with the intent of losing weight and becoming “fit.” The Paleo lifestyle that I was introduced to was very strict. I went about 4 months following this higher protein / higher fat template while limiting my carb intake. There was definitely an understanding in the Paleo community that if weight-loss was your goal that carbs needed to be minimized. I begged people to understand that my source of carbohydrate came from the magnitude of veggies I ate every day — mostly greens. Occasionally I’d have some sweet potato (white potatoes were a definite no-no), and a piece of fruit to me was considered a treat. Through out this time I had zero tolerance for dairy, grains, and legumes. Back then Paleo treats (cookies, cakes, muffins, etc) weren’t as rampant as they are now. If you did bake treats it was with almond flour and coconut flour, but higher carb flours (like tapioca / rice flour) were not used.
What is Considered Primal?
A Primal lifestyle is very similar to all that’s explained above with the exception of including dairy. Woo hoo!! Well, cheese and milk taste great right?…so why not eat them?
Dairy (milk, cheeses, yogurt, butter, sour cream, etc.) are a lot harder to digest than folks realize. Making them harder to digest keeps them out of the Paleo template, not to mention, there are a lot of people who do not tolerate lactose at all. Did you know that we are the only mammals who drink milk from other animals? In fact, our pancreas produces an enzyme called lactase (which works to help digest the lactose in dairy products) until you’re around 2 years old — because other than during infancy you aren’t supposed to drink milk! At least we weren’t designed to do so. Whether you have symptoms or not milk products are tough on your body — so much so, that some people experience really adverse effects.
So why include dairy then? Milk products that are much higher quality (ones that come from pastured, organic, and grass fed animals) are considered worth consuming strictly for their nutritive value. These products are high in CLA, vitamin K2, and omega-3s. Butter is especially potent here as these nutrients are mostly found in fat. Butter is an optimal choice because you get all of the goodies from grass-fed animals without having to endure the problematic lactose. Another noteworthy component of dairy are those items that are fermented — such as yogurt and kefir. Not only do these help you introduce beneficial bacteria to your gut, but the fermentation process helps eliminate most of the sugar (lactose) that gives folks problems in the first place.
In short, if you tolerate dairy — the Primal option might be the one for you! So, here is where the key point “What is Paleo” really comes into play.
Paleo is without a doubt — an appreciation for the support and nutritive value of food. First and foremost, following a Paleo lifestyle means that you choose foods that suit you well. That means that you focus your diet on foods that you do well with and feel great eating. If you do not tolerate dairy then you don’t eat dairy. If you feel lousy eliminating carbs then eat more carbs! If you gain additional weight incorporating sweet potatoes but feel fantastic on mostly fats and protein then leave ’em out! Paleo can be as strict as you want it to be or as lenient as you need it to be — so long as your intention and purpose with food is fuel your body properly. Folks that follow a Paleo template concern themselves with seeking nutrients. We stay away from foods that make us feel bad, and we opt to pass on foods that don’t provide any nutritional value.
Last, but not Least — I am Paleo-ish!
(Enter all Grey Areas of Paleo)
When I started this blog years ago — I was a strict Paleo dieter. Paleo tends to be a great place to start, because you typically don’t know what foods you tolerate well until you….give them up. Paleo, for some, is the start of an elimination process. Most of the time, after you give up a particular food item (or in this case whole food groups) for at least 30 days and then reintroduce them you are able to truly see the effect they have on your body. After going several months without excess carbs I knew that I needed to include more of them. Just green vegetables weren’t enough. I brought back more fruit along with more dense-carb choices and my energy was more consistent. I brought back dairy, and while I tolerate it on some levels I still don’t include it often. I do enjoy yogurt — mostly for the probiotic content. I do use butter, as I whole-heartedly love the stuff. As for gluten/grains — gluten is just a no-go for me. Not only do I consider it to be a complete waste of time (nutritionally speaking) but it hurts my stomach a bit when I eat it. Not in the way that I am severely intolerant or even close to being considered celiac, but after giving it up….let’s just say I notice if I eat it. Gluten’s main adverse effect for me is body aches. The last time I indulged and had some pasta at a restaurant I woke up the next morning feeling like I drank all night — that’s enough reason for me to steer clear of the stuff. As for grains — I do include them on occasion in the forms of either rice or corn. White rice is included in my diet — mostly if I am working out enough as it is purely a boost of glucose. Corn, on the other hand — I try to keep the quality good (non-gmo, organic, sprouted, etc) and it is mostly used in the sense of treats because I adore tacos/nachos. Do I eat either of them on a weekly basis? No. Corn is limited to treats because I DO notice not-so-desirable things when I eat it. My nose gets stuffy. Every single time I eat it. My nose gets stuffy when I drink red wine or eat chocolate, too. I still eat it though!…sometimes. Same concept goes with beans/legumes — I grew up eating them and will always love them to a certain degree. I don’t digest them very well, so I keep my consumption limited and I do my best to help in the process (I soak them for a day or so).
So if I do eat dairy, beans, rice, corn, etc. — how can I even consider myself Paleo-ish?
Take Home Message
You’ve got to live your life, people! I consider myself Paleo — just not as strict as I used to be. Again, you start to adapt, find out what works for you, and give in a little to life’s guilty pleasures. Here’s how the process works for me — I eat strictly Paleo (with the exception of butter) most days. Weeks at a time. Then, when I feel like indulging — my treats include some of the above mentioned foods. Pretty simple. However, one principle holds true — nourishment is always my top priority. If it is not going to provide my body with anything valuable most of the time (90%) I pass on it. If I have had an exceptionally stressful day (and because I’m human) sometimes I’ll say, “Ehhh, it’s Paleo-ish…right?” 🙂
I’d love to hear from YOU!
What category do you fall in? Do you incorporate dairy in your diet? Are there any foods that you have trouble tolerating? What about guilty pleasures — what kinds of non-paleo treats do you enjoy?