So, it's been a year since we decided to go paleo and I thought I would give you a brief overview of my personal findings and my guide for how to go about it if you are thinking of making some changes.
Firstly, a disclaimer.
What I am advocating ultimately is not paleo – it is a version of paleo that is based on our own response to foods and common sense.
I have not chosen for my family and I to eat like this because I necessarily buy into the idea that this is how our ancestors ate and that we are not evolved to eat modern food. In fact, people wishing to debunk paleo often cite the fact that there are many people who have extra copies of genes for digesting the starch in grains (which does suggest that there are also those who don't) and populations of people have independently developed the ability to digest lactose, found in milk, as an adult (again this means there are those who are therefore lactose intolerant.)
I like my version of paleo because it makes sense.
No processed foods. No sugar. Maintaining blood glucose and therefore moods by eliminating starchy carbs and not eating the foods I never liked anyway all seems like bloody good common sense to me!
Why did we choose to follow paleo?
We initially chose for our family to follow the paleo way because it is a great set of rules that stops us eating processed food, sugar and wheat, which are all, as far as the research I have done, reckoned to be major causes of many modern ills, from high blood pressure and coronary heart disease to diabetes and joint problems etc. I am also happy to cut out most of the other things paleo prescribes, like the other starchy carbs that are left once wheat cuts out pasta, bread, cakes and pastry: like potatoes, rice, oats, quinoa etc., and beans and dairy, which I never liked anyway.
So basically, I like paleo because it enables us to eat as much as we like, pretty much when we like and not really put on weight as long as it’s within the confines of paleo. It gives me structure and control and the benefits so easily outweigh any treats I might miss.
By the way, at the beginning of our journey into paleo, obviously I did really miss the sweet treats and felt like I didn’t want to deny the kids, so I spent a lot of time developing paleo alternatives to cakes and pies and bread. We have relied on these less and less as the year has progressed. We still make the odd batch of paleo cakes and we still like paleo pancakes at the weekend.
I also like paleo becasue it's not just about the nutrition - it's about the lifestyle. it's about getting out more, it's about being active and doing exercise. I am not sporty - I'm not a team player (!) so I like to go to the gym - obviously hiking, climbing, playing netball and football etc are more sociable and meaningful ways of keeping fit but personally, I like to lift weights. My kids go to CrossFit and we like to do CrossFit type workouts at home in my garage gym.
So how did we start?
The impetus to our whole fitness journey came a few months before my 40th birthday, 2 years ago, when my husband asked me what I would like for a present. My husband was about 30lb heavier then than he is now. I said, ‘I’d like a buff husband.’
I said, ‘No, really. One way or another, I shall have my buff husband! It could be you or…’
So, he started watching what he ate, he did some exercise and lost 30lb for me! I watched what he was doing with the weights and listened to what he said about nutrition and caught the bug myself, within 6 months I had ditched the desire to go back to primary school teaching and I was retraining to be a Personal Trainer, had cut out wheat and sugar and we both felt better than we ever had!
After a while, my husband came home and said he thought we should go paleo. We read a couple of books and did a load of research online and at the beginning of the summer holidays last year, we changed everything.
How did we make the initial change?
We had already cut out wheat and sugar and all starchy carbs, apart from oats, for about a year by the time we decided to cut the rest so it wasn’t an enormous step to go the whole hog (bacon jokes may follow.)
The hardest issue to overcome was breakfasts (have a look here for some ideas) and lunches (have a look here for some ideas). We have been programmed to think that breakfast should come in a bowl with milk and lunch between 2 slices of bread. With no grains or dairy, that cut breakfast cereals and no bread meant no sandwiches.
We decided to take the plunge at the beginning of the summer holidays to make it easier on me to come up with new breakfasts and lunches, 6 weeks was also a long enough time, I figured, to see any benefits before we made a decision to keep it up or not once the kids went back to school in September.
Here are the steps I would recommend – move onto the next step once the previous step is secure, this way, you don’t bite off more than you can chew, as it were.
1 Cut sugar and sugar substitutes
Check packaging on savoury products as well as sweet!
2 Cut wheat
Bread, cakes, pies, pasties, pasta, pastry, biscuits, some sauces
3 Cut starchy carbs
Potatoes, rice, oats, quinoa, corn
4 Cut dairy
Milk, cheese, yoghurt
5 Cut alcohol
A little red wine and tequila occasionally, apparently….
6 Cut legumes
Beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas
Basically, this is what you are encouraged to eat:
Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds.
This is what you are discouraged from eating:
1 Sugar and sugar substitutes
Because it causes a spike in blood glucose and can eventually lead to insulin resistance and diabetes
2 Grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn etc.)
Because potentially we are not properly evolved to digest them but also because they are inflammatory and can contribute to aching joints and also cause a spike in blood glucose making it harder to regulate moods.
3 Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers (capsicums) aubergine (eggplant)
Because they can cause an alkaline sensitive response, with some problems arising with digestive function, nerve-muscle function and joint function.
Because it is very high in calories with zero nutritional content and is often mixed with less than optimal drinks. It also triggers a hormonal response that has a knock-on effect to other hormone functions.
5 Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas etc)
Because legumes are a modern creation and therefore we are potentially not evolved to digest them properly – people often have difficulty digesting these foods, leading to bloating and, well, farting and they can lead to autoimmune problems
Because no mammal consumes milk once they are weaned and rarely consumes the milk of another animal. Causes blood glucose spikes.
Cutting legumes, grains and dairy makes it very hard for vegetarians and vegans to follow paleo as their only remaining source of protein is meat, fish and eggs.
Have we stuck to these rules rigidly?
The basic answer is no. Most paleo people say they 80% paleo 100% of the time. As an adult, in charge of the shopping, I aim to be 100% paleo, 90% of the time and pretty much achieve that on the whole – but I am not a saint – I do eat the odd snickers bar and I have been know to inhale cupcakes whole! I would say my kids are 80% paleo 80% of the time, which is a good compromise, I think.
How have we have changed these prescriptions to fit our family?
The kids do eat a little dairy every so often – some hard cheese and a little milk occasionally but definitely not daily.
We have reintroduced green beans and sugar snap peas occasionally but still stay clear of tinned beans, kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas.
The kids begged me to reintroduce porridge as they miss it so much so once a week I give them porridge made with milk and sometimes my husband makes Daddy pancakes, which are made with cottage cheese, eggs and oats.
What was the hardest part?
Breakfasts, without a doubt. It was made easier by not having to rush in the mornings by starting the new lifestyle in the holidays.
Before, I would make porridge for the kids or they would have sugar free Alpen or Raisin Wheats in the mornings – all lovely, quick meals and pretty good as they didn’t contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. Going from a 5 minute meal to cooking eggs or pork or lamb chops or salmon for breakfast was a big step. It meant leaving half an hour to prepare the protein and chop the veggies and fruit that went with it, along with making the packed lunches.
So generally mornings consist of me cooking two forms of protein, one for breakfast for 4 of us (husband has already left for work – he has a great subsidised restaurant at work where he can ask for eggs or steak etc!) and enough carbohydrates in the form of raw vegetables, generally, but sometimes cooked broccoli or asparagus or something and similar for lunch for three kids.
As I shop once every two weeks for meat from Paleo Wales - a grass fed meat supplier, I have to keep my meat in the freezer, which means I have to make sure I’ve got tomorrow’s breakfast, lunch and dinner out the night before. This is why I plan my meals and snacks so carefully. It takes the panic away. I look on the chart and take it out the freezer before I go to bed and cook it the next day.
It’s a lot more work than we were doing previously but my kids are really helpful and totally on board and they really love the breakfasts, which range from piri piri chicken and veg or Thai spiced salmon and veg to home made beef burgers in lettuce wraps or paleo banana pancakes with dark chocolate sauce! That’s got to be better than cocoa pops, no?
They initially received some comments from the other kids at school about their packed lunches, which really worried me as I was not a strong child and that sort of thing would have crushed me. When I asked my kids if it bothered them, they said no, they liked their lunches and they knew what they were eating was healthier than what the kids making the comments were eating anyway. They also seemed to appreciate that the comments were half made in a teasing way but that also the other kids seemed genuinely interested in what they were eating. I often get mums coming up to me saying their kids go home and say, ‘Guess what Liv had in her packed lunch today!’ I don’t take this as a bad thing…
There are loads of online resources to help you, Mark's Daily Apple is a great website with loads of info and his book, The Primal Blueprint, is a good place to start.
There is a subtle difference between paleo and primal, in that primal folk eat a little dairy – butter and hard cheese.
What are my kitchen staples?
Coconut oil, creamed coconut
Meat and fish
I keep some nuts and ground almonds and some seeds and dried fruit
Piri piri spice jar
Thai spice jar
Salt and pepper
By the way – I am NOT a great cook, ask anyone who knows me but after a while, the true flavours of real food shine through and once you are over your carb and sugar addiction raw veg and basically cooked meats and fish are so much nicer than they used to be!
This summer, a number of my clients who have given up sugar and myself noticed how lovely and sweet the strawberries were this year. Normally they would be inedible unless smothered in sugar!
Give it two or three weeks and your sugar craving will go and you will begin to really taste the foods you used to think bland, tasteless or sour.
Try my Plan-K to kickstart you into action – 1 workout, 2 changes, for 3 weeks should get you in the right place to give paleo a go – then make it your own because everyone is different.