Thursday, March 11, 2010

Going Paleo

The paleo, or paleolithic way of eating has intrigued me for years. In a nutshell, it is a diet of meats, eggs, fish, vegetables, fruit and nuts -- that's it. *The theory is that humans have been eating this way -- this very simple way, for millions of years. If you compare that to how long we've been eating grains and processed foods (10,000 according to many anthropologists), it is literally a blink of the eye.

So, basically, we've had all of those millions of years to adapt to this way of eating, where we've only had a few thousand to adapt to eating grains.

Paleo-friendly stuffed mushrooms

Research in this field has shown that cutting out grains, legumes and sugars can slow the progression of autoimmune disorders, cure acne, and increase athletic performance. I have stake in all three of these: my mother has Multiple Sclerosis, I have skin problems, and as an athlete, I have always been interested in getting faster and stronger.

Paleo-friendly green smoothie

This re-interest in paleo comes from an experience that I had last week. I had a bit of a scare at
skate practice: during a time trial that I was leading my legs cramped up and I had to stand upright and glide for my last two laps. They cramped up in a way I hadn't ever experienced before. In fact, it seemed similar to the way my mother describes her MS-related leg pain. Because my mother has MS, there is a 30% chance I could get it too. That's not that high, but it's certainly an increased risk and that's awfully scary. If there's anything that I can do to possibly decrease my risk, I'll do it.

I've told my mother about the diet before. I've bought her books on the subject and sent her
presentations about it in the past. But she's not budging. In fact, out of my sister, father and I -- she's the only one who is not gluten-free. That is her choice and I respect that. But I want my mother to be around to see my kids grow up.

A Paleo-friendly dinner

I know how difficult it can be. I've tried to following this diet before, but I failed when I was traveling and eating in social settings. I thought, "I can't eat gluten and that makes me enough of a misfit. Why make it more difficult?" I even once suggested a friend try it out to see if it helped an autoimmune disease she had -- it did and she lost a lot of weight. I saw her everyday at work, and I saw what a transformation she made, but I never made it more than a week for myself. The thing is, I was really strict about it when I tried it. And it seems like there are some people who are 100% paleo. However, it's not going to be all or nothing this time. I'll let myself eat grains on special occasions (in fact I'm sure I'll still make grain-based recipes). I'll have dessert if it's once-in-awhile. And I'm not planning on giving up coffee. There is also the idea that athletes who eat paleolithic should ingest some carbohydrates from grains, so I'll give myself that.

I'll end this with a few thoughts; I do not want to insult people who do not eat this way. Studies have shown that East-Asians are the healthiest people. I, in no way, discredit that. I also have a lot of respect for vegans and believe in that way of eating as well. However, with my own health issues and my family history, this seems to be the best choice for me.

In my next post I will be linking to some of my favorite paleo resources.

*I've only skimmed the surface of the history of, benefits from, and details of the paleo diet.


Anonymous said...

A couple of questions. Are potatoes vegetables? And, how about cooking oils, salad dressings, salt, pepper the host of condiments?

Also, I play basketball a couple of times a week and its a hard sweaty workout. If I don't drink plenty of fluids during and after and don't take a potassium pill -I will get horrific leg cramps in bed. Guaranteed. If I follow the regimen I definitely will not.

Jen said...

Awesome!!! I'm looking forward to reading all about it! The Paleo diet is definitely something I've been interested in learning about.

Liz said...

Great questions, Anon. Technically, potatoes would not be considered paleo because they cannot be eaten raw. Spices and herbs get the thumbs up. But from what I can tell, vinegar and condiments are a no. However, I found this on a forum (

"you will find many folks, myself included, don't qualify vinegar, olive oil, cream, butter, etc as "bending the rules". They are neolithic foods that fit under the umbrella of evolutionary/primal/non-strict paleo eating (which means they fall outside the neolithic axis of evil, gluten grains, processed fructose, and processed vegetable oils)"

So it sounds like a diet you should base your eating habits around with the idea that modern life can be very paleo unfriendly. Try your best, just don't stress out about it. Good call on the potassium pill. I should get some of those.

It's fascinating stuff, Jen! My sister is an anthropology professor so I'll see what she says about it.

Iris said...

I'm interested in seeing how you feel on this diet. I think the idea of being more flexible with yourself might help you stick to it in the longterm. Good luck!

glutenfreeforgood said...

Great post, Liz.

Although we are all biochemically unique and what works for one person might not work for another, I do believe from my own experience (personally and as a nutritionist) that people with autoimmune issues (even if they don't have celiac disease) do better on a GF diet. Part of that is that they end up eliminating a lot of processed foods and the other nasty stuff that often goes with that, but also that the potentially toxic fractions of gluten play havoc on the immune system in so many ways. People with Hashimoto's (autoimmune thyroid) should eliminate gluten for sure. Same with other autoimmune diseases (in my humble opinion). I think you are right on with your exploration of all this. Loren Cordain is an interesting guy. When I overdo it with grains I have some issues, even though the grains I eat are all gluten free (haven't had gluten intentionally for almost a decade).

I don't know, there are no easy answers, but I applaud you for being so aware of how food can impact your health! I'll be interested in hearing more!

Give Henry a pat for me.

The City of Presidents said...

Keep talking girlfriend, I need all the help I can get in getting back on the Paleo - I have never felt better and it was the easiest diet to be on and follow. Why I strayed is beyond me - I don't think it had anything to do with the diet - I think its a lifetime of self sabotage when it comes to taking care of myself. It really is simple once your there - I am going to keep telling myself that until I am there ... Good Luck!

Brittney Henton said...

Liz, your blog is awesome! I love your honesty. And it's so interesting to see what it's like for you, and the types of foods you have to eat. You make some of those dishes sound and look quite good. I might have to try some sometime!

It's great to learn about how you eat because I don't eat healthily at all. Granted, I don't guess I have any serious health issues. (I'm thinking that's why you do this from what I've read.) But I do know you're eating healthily and that means something! And I also know I need to eat better myself before it’s too late! My family has its own issues with diabetes and being overweight.

Anyways, I've been enlightened. Keep it up!