A Healthy Diet?
Recently, we’ve spent time on this blog discussing the dangers posed by too much sugar in our diet. Whilst this is an important topic – and something we should all be aware of – we want to put a slightly more positive spin on this article and look at a diet which has not only received a lot of press but which, almost certainly, is that rarest of things, a diet that’s actually good for you!
The diet in question is the Paleo diet. In the interview below, Megan Douglas, the founder of World Organic and trained naturopath, talks about her own, recent experiences with the diet and why she took it up…….
Hi Megan. Before we look at the Paleo diet, can we begin by looking at today’s Western diet? What’s wrong with the way many of us eat?
Oh wow! That’s actually a really difficult question, because there’s not just one thing we can point at and say “That! That’s what wrong with our diet!” Rather, it’s a whole lot of things, brought about by our lifestyles, relentless ‘in your face’ marketing, and the almost unending range of choices we have when it comes to what we eat and drink.
Having said that, there are a few core observations I’d like to make. First of all, we simply consume too many calories! In fact we consume somewhere between 300 to 400 more calories per day on average than we did 25 years ago and this simple fact alone is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.
Worse, the bulk of those calories are made up of the wrong sort of foods and drinks. We eat far too many processed and fast foods, for example – according to some studies, they now make up almost 50% of an average person’s diet! And they’re often full of sugar. If you add in the soft drinks, juices and smoothies we seem to be so addicted to, then we consume almost 65kg of sugar per person, per year!
And that’s not all. There are too many trans fats in our diet, which we find in processed oils and manufactured spreads like margarine. These are terrible for our health, as is our tendency to over-cook the food we eat. Over-cooking destroys the enzymes in our food, which are crucial for the healthy functioning of our body and especially the digestive system.
Finally, there are too many refined flours in our diet, and especially too many breads and cereals, most of them made with refined flour from modern, hybridized wheat.
So what are the consequences of eating this way?
Sadly, we are becoming more unhealthy, despite advances in our knowledge and the quality of our medical care. The explosion in incidences of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and in some cases, even cancer, can be laid squarely at the doorstep of our diet and the way we lead our lives.
It’s frightening to even contemplate, but many experts believe that our children will become the first generation of the modern age to live shorter lives than their parents.
If we want to stop this from happening – as we all surely do – then a great place to start would be to re-examine the way we eat and drink.
Which brings us to the Paleo diet. Can you explain what it is?
Sure. The Paleo diet is based on the notion that, in the thousands of years of human existence prior to the agricultural revolution, our bodies adapted to eating certain types of foods – namely animal foods, wild vegetables, fruits in season, and a limited amount of nuts and seeds.
Of course, our modern diet looks nothing like this! Instead of foods which are natural, in season, and local, we too often eat foods which are heavily processed and far from their natural state. This creates a mismatch between our bodies and our diet, and adherents of Paleo believe this is directly responsible for modern health problems. By reverting to a more natural way of eating, the belief is that our diet – rather than making us sick – can actually benefit us, making us stronger and more vibrant.
What are the benefits of following a Paleo diet?
The impact a new diet has on any individual will vary, dependent on the health of their digestive tract and how their body adjusts to a new dietary regime. In general though, followers of a paleo diet can expect to see some noticeable changes in their levels of energy and sense of wellbeing, as well as weight loss, a reduction in blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, and improved digestive health.
Add these things together and you have a recipe for a longer life, better lived!
Can you describe your own experience with the Paleo diet?
So far, so good! Since instituting some of the key principles of the diet, I find myself more alert generally, calmer, and able to concentrate for longer periods of time.
Having said that, it hasn’t all been plain sailing! I knew my body would take time to adjust when I began the diet, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the cravings I experienced, especially for bread and other wheat-based products!
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that modern, hybridized wheat can have a similar effect on us as some drugs and that it can be every bit as addictive. This is because wheat is an appetite stimulant, spiking a sugar / insulin rollercoaster which can drive our need to eat. Put simply, when we eat wheat, we want more – more biscuits, more bread, more pizza, more everything!
It was hard, initially, to walk past a baker’s or the bread section of the supermarket and not start grabbing entire loaves off the shelves! Thankfully though, after a couple of weeks my cravings died down and I now find myself making better, more rational choices when it comes to what I choose to eat and drink.
Have you found the diet too restrictive?
Not at all! There’s a huge range of foods to choose from when eating the Paleo way. And it doesn’t have to be time consuming. With just a little planning, and a willingness to dispense with fast foods, you can be eating wonderful, tasty meals that take only a small amount of time to prepare and cook.
There are also a number of sites on the internet which provide an excellent selection of paleo recipes, including http://www.paleoplan.com/recipes/ and http://paleoleap.com/paleo-diet-recipes/. Sites like these can also serve as excellent reference points for those wanting to find out a little more about paleo in general.
Okay. Fantastic. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only that people needn’t be concerned that they will have to consume extra meat if they go on a Paleo diet. It’s actually quite easy to get suitable amounts of protein and energy from healthy nut and seed options, whilst dark, leafy greens contain lots of iron. With this is mind, I’ve recently taken the step of joining an organic co-op and I purchase all the nuts, seeds, coconut oils and other Paelo staples I need in bulk. This is already proving a much more economic option for me than buying all my staples from the supermarket!