by Christy Baroni
I realize that addressing this topic to an audience primarily made up of CrossFit athletes may generate an urge to grab a pitchfork and rally the towns-folk against me. I’m prepared for that. But before you act on the emotional response to defend Paleo, which has helped you lose weight and feel better and sleep better, hear me out. I’m not saying it’s a bad choice, I’m just saying going strict may not be the end all/be all of how to approach your food from now to forever.
Let’s start at the beginning with our friend the Paleolithic Man. He hunted and gathered and lived without heart disease and probably looked great naked. (According to cave drawings…) Fine enough. But what did he eat? Well, that largely depends on where he lived and also changed drastically with each passing season. The truth of the matter is that the produce that you and I have access to is largely different than the fruits and vegetables he had access to. Did you know the bananas that you and I enjoy today were completely full of seeds back in the day? (The Paleolithic day, that is.) And Brussels sprouts and kale are derivatives of the exact same plant species, Brassica Olerace, so which one do we eat to be ‘strict’ paleo?
For example, Paleolithic Man didn’t have access to lentils. Does that mean you shouldn’t eat them? NO!! He didn’t have access to toothpaste either but I don’t see anyone stepping away from that little advancement in personal hygiene. (BTW, lentils are pretty cool. Check out these little recipe gems to add some fiber and yumminess to your life.)
The Paleo diet is based on eating meat, fish, poultry, eggs, veggies, seeds and fruits. The biggest thing that Paleo dieters get right is the avoidance of processed foods. I believe that doing short-term Paleo challenges are awesome for this very reason. It forces us to step away from relying on processed foods and creates chances to seek out whole foods. That’s a win.
However, and unfortunately, most of us identify the Paleo diet for what it does NOT allow. It does not include grains, beans, dairy, salt or sugar. While I wholeheartedly applaud removing excess salt and sugar, why would we eliminate beans and grains? You could actually set yourself up to be deficient in certain nutrients by avoiding what is readily available to us now. Agricultural advances give us access to healthy and whole options that fall outside of what a strict adherence to Paleo allows.
Additionally, traditional Paleo resources don’t provide a ton of guidance on how much of all these delicious whole foods to eat. A plate full of meat with one tiny spinach leaf overtop doesn’t make for a healthy plate. The balance of macronutrients gets buried under the primal cry for more bacon. If we can apply some modern science to create a balanced paleo plate, we’d see there is plenty of room in a healthy diet for an olive or two.
So, what’s the point? The point is that you can make an informed and healthy food choice outside of Paleo. If following it to a T helps you on the path to the best version of you that is great! Start there. Just don’t end there.