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The Paleo Diet

There are dozens of Paleo diet books out there currently, but when I was doing my Master’s in nutrition at Colorado State University, Dr. Loren Cordain was in the process of writing the book that started this whole movement 12 years ago. He was a visionary and had to endure a lot of criticism initially for his work, but it seems he is having the last laugh. Keep in mind that when he was writing this book, mainstream nutrition "knowledge" was still pushing mostly vegetarian very low fat diets which have been proven with time not to work. The principles behind “The Paleo Diet” are beautiful in their simplicity- we as a species have not genetically changed in thousands of years, yet our diet is almost the opposite of what we evolved on. Eat only what God and nature directly provides: Fish, game/lean meats and poultry, unlimited fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. That’s it. No milk or dairy, no grains, no flours, no concentrated sugars, no beans, no soy, no processed foods.

The negatives: going Paleo from a standard American diet can be a tough transition. The diet challenges many of the commonly held beliefs and dogma about what a “healthy diet” contains. Most of the foods you are surrounded with are off limits. For those who don’t do their own cooking, you will have to learn. Most of your “comfort foods” are out. Going grain free is exceptionally challenging for some people, as they are used to the carbohydrate “bliss” after a carb heavy meal. Many of the foods that are eliminated are ones to which many Americans are emotionally, psychologically, and even physically addicted. People may go through withdrawals from these foods, with headaches, cravings, mood swings for a week or two until the body adjusts. But for those who can endure, there is a big up side.

The positives: The science is sound. By following this diet, you avoid most of the allergenic foods (Milk, wheat, soy, corn, peanuts), minimize your exposure to the countless chemicals added to processed foods, stabilize your glucose and insulin levels, lower your sodium and increase your potassium intake, increase the good fats and decrease the bad fats, increase your fiber intake and promote healthier intestinal bacteria (probiotics). It is almost impossible not to lose weight sensibly and in a healthy manner on this diet if followed correctly. Many people report dramatically improved bowel health, and there are numerous reports of improvement in irritable bowel syndrome, gas, bloating and constipation on this diet. Many report improved blood pressure and cholesterol/triglyceride levels. Many people also report improved and more stable energy levels and mood. It is nutritionally complete; contrary to mainstream media, medical evidence is showing that you do not need dairy foods for optimum bone health, and there is no biological need for grains (wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats) in the human diet. (That isn’t to say they aren’t mighty tasty).

I feel that even a “modified” Paleo diet, with occasional servings of whole grains such as brown/wild rice or quinoa, and a few starchier items such as yams/sweet potatoes if not overindulged can be almost as healthy. So if you are in the market to test drive a new diet, and one that has some science behind it and is gaining momentum you might want to give “The Paleo Diet” a whirl.

Tom Flass MD, MS is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at St Vincent Healthcare. He has a B.S. in Nutrition from Cornell University and a M.S. in Nutrition from Colorado State University with a focus on omega-3 fatty acids. He did his medical training at University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado.