Perhaps like you, I have been quite fascinated at the to-and-fro in the media between various individuals about the merits, or otherwise, of following a Paleo style of eating. I love a bit of healthy debate, and I think everyone has a right to their opinion, but the thing that disappoints me most is the tone of recent discussions and the use of blatant or insinuated negativity directed towards individuals and their opinions. Present your arguments, based on science and fact, but please don't ridicule others to promote your own opinions. Credibility is built on honesty, transparency and results, not by personal attacks to try and make your opinions appear superior. At least the fiery debate has put nutrition into the spotlight and inspired many of us to think about, and discuss, how, what and why we eat.
So what is 'Paleo' anyway? I think there is plenty of confusion about Paleo, low-carb, gluten-free, clean eating, etc. The Paleo approach promotes gluten-free, but is not completely carbohydrate free, and is based on the eating patterns of our caveman ancestors from Paleolithic times.
The brief in a nutshell:
Include - fresh meat, poultry, fish/seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, herbs, occasional fruit
Avoid - everything else, including dairy, grains (especially wheat apparently), legumes and all processed foods.
Things I love about Paleo:
- food in as close to natural state as possible
- high quality protein from meats, poultry, fish/seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds
- plenty of fresh seasonal vegetables
- use of herbs and spices
- not much sugar
- no additives
Things I don't love about Paleo:
- avoiding dairy and grains completely, even minimally processed varieties
- not much fruit
- unlimited type and amount of fat
- potential expense
- preparation time
- not family friendly, inappropriate for children with regard to nutrient inadequacy and restrictive nature
I seem to have more positives on my list than negatives BUT the negatives are deal-breakers. A positive relationship with food involves flexibility with choices, and the option to incorporate any type of food (obviously some more regularly than others). It also is important to enjoy food without guilt, and I think this could be challenging with any style of eating that prescribes long-term rules and restrictions.
How about 'partial-Paleo' or even 'lacto-graino-Paleo' as an alternative to full-on Paleo? Just like there are various options for vegetarians (eg. lacto-ovo-vegetarian follow a vegetarian style of eating, and don't eat meat but include dairy and eggs), there could be different options for Paleo, which allow for our modern lifestyles, preferences, cooking options and nutrition needs? Lacto-graino-Paleo could include some nutritious options within the dairy, grain and legume families. Perhaps some A2 milk, some natural/Greek style yoghurt, a delicious tasty cheese, and some nutrient-packed oats or rye products. Or even sometimes, shockingly, enjoying delicious fresh-baked white bread or a crunchy and gooey chocolate brownie!
I am certainly not endorsing a Paleo style of eating, or any other specific style of eating, across the board, because everyone is different and different things work for different people. I do believe that it is everyone's individual choice as to what, how and why you eat and how you live your life in general. Food serves a purpose in keeping your body energised and healthy, but is also a big part of our lives to be shared, appreciated and enjoyed. Many of our most wonderful food memories involve foods that would not be considered to be 'healthy'. I can still smell the home-made sausage rolls, an infrequent but much loved and anticipated lunch order from the local general store next to my old primary school. Or Mum giving my brothers and I a few coins (no doubt silver ones, that we often pooled together for maximum value) to spend at the supermarket on snacks to take into the movies. We weren't in the fresh produce section that is for sure. Who would want to deny children these experiences and memories? Being a dietitian I am obviously interested in health and eating well, but I also love to enjoy special food occasions.
If you like the idea of Paleo, or any other particular style of eating, make sure it is right for YOU. Think about how it fits your lifestyle, the demands, pressures and costs involved, whether there is good nutrient balance for your particular health needs, potential for nutrient inadequacies and if it really makes you feel good.....you may have to make some modifications to come up with something that suits your unique needs. Above all, work towards eating choices that you can live with long-term and that allow you to eat well, widely and without ongoing deprivation or guilt.