“Paleo” has become a common buzzword when it comes to weight loss. But what is this weight loss method really about? Upon what science is its nutrition based? Our goal is to educate you about Paleo history, summarize its food recommendations, show you how it compares to OnPoint Nutrition Counseling, and explain why Paleo may not be the best way to structure your diet, weight loss, and Nutrition Counseling goals.
However, people who follow the Paleo lifestyle may find their meals and nutrition options to be very limiting, even if they are not trying to lose weight. The paleo nutrition diet excludes eating dairy, grains and legumes (peas, beans, peanuts). Because our prehistoric ancestors had not learned to domesticate animals, dairy products do not fit into the Paleo philosophy. However, let’s break down the ban on legumes and grains in a bit more detail:
Legumes: Strict Paleo followers do not eat legumes because they contain phytates and lectins. Lectins are naturally occurring proteins that bind with sugars and assist in normal cell functions in both plants and animals. Lectins are thought to play a role in immune function, cell growth, cell death, and body fat regulation. In general, the human GI system cannot digest lectins, and these molecules move through our bodies unchanged. Paleo enthusiasts avoid legumes because in high concentrations, lectins can trigger an immune response, which may cause bloating, diarrhea, or nausea.
Paleo enthusiasts also shun legumes because they contain phytic acid, the storage form of phosphorous that forms the backbone of both DNA and RNA. Phytates can bind with minerals in the digestive tract and prevent them from being absorbed by the body. Like lectins, many foods you eat contain phytates, including seeds, beans and nuts. Fortunately, your body has natural processes to regulate phytate levels in the gut. Although phytates may be harmful to people with mineral deficiencies, phytic acid can also bind to heavy metals (cadmium, lead) for removal from your body. Their antioxidant properties also bind free-radicals. For this reason, many researchers hypothesize that phytates may help the body to fight cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Fortunately, soaking, cooking, and fermenting legumes deactivates the lectins and phytates that may disrupt digestive processes and mineral absorption.
Grains: Although whole grains were not a staple of pre-historic man (because the innovation of modern farming had not been discovered yet), it is inaccurate to characterize whole grains as harmful to one’s health. As noted in a recent Huffington Post article, recent research suggests that eating whole grains is helpful to our health and is negligible in terms of inflammation. From a Nutrition Counseling perspective, we recommend incorporating grains into a well-balanced diet during both weight loss and weight maintenance.
The Final Word
The Paleo diet encourages many aspects to healthy living that we recommend during Nutrition Counseling with our clients: target higher intake of fruits and vegetables that provide a healthy source of fiber and adequate carbohydrates, focus on lean protein such as chicken and fish, and supplement your diet with healthy sources of mono-unsaturated fats.
Our biggest concern with the Paleo diet relates to implementation. The diet’s hard-and-fast rules can restrict making consistently healthy food choices because separating all foods into “good” and “bad” categories can lead to poor long-term habits and weight regain. During Nutrition Counseling, we prefer to teach you how to balance your food intake to include all available food groups, and how to optimize your choices within each category. We believe that whole-grain foods, legumes and dairy have the appropriate time and place in every diet, whether during weight loss or weight maintenance. We know that you will find yourself in situations where only these modern foods are available, and we want you to know that you can make healthy and nutritious choices regardless of your environment and surroundings.