Hello dear friends!
While the term “Paleo” is gaining in popularity, there seem to be a ton of people who still don’t know what it means, or have an incomplete picture of the Paleo lifestyle. I find myself, nearly on a regular basis, feeling like I have to defend my nutritional choices and explain, in a succinct way, what it means to live Paleo. Granted, I know most of us who eat “differently” (read: not the Standard American Diet) are used to a certain amount of curiosity/criticism, but I think Paleo gets a particularly bad rap.
For many years, especially when the research was just starting to come out about the ancestral diet, it was somehow maligned by the popular media, and certain associations became ingrained in the mass consciousness. Of course, anytime the health/nutrition/fitness industry releases research or recommends a new approach, people will make their own assumptions, based upon the snippets on the new reels and the quips on so-and-so’s blog. I think, over time, the word “Paleo” got saddled with some incorrect imagery, particularly the notion of an abundance of meat and animal products. And Crossfit bros (no offense, dudes).
When I first heard about Paleo, I was still an undergrad at Colorado State University (home of Loren Cordain, the “founder of the Paleo movement”), and was a hard-core vegan at the time. I’ll admit, I was totally skeptical at first, and put up a lot of resistance to this lifestyle (the lifestyle that would later come to dramatically change my health for the better!). I know the images in my head were of tons of meat, tons of fat, and lots of strenuous exercise. Not that there is anything wrong with these things…it was just that I was only seeing a small part of the picture.
By now, most people in the industry know that Paleo goes FAR beyond diet alone. The Paleo lifestyle is about healthy, whole foods, yes, but it’s also about refreshing sleep, fulfilling relationships, stress management, outdoor time and responsible sun exposure, enjoyable fitness, and a playful, curious attitude towards life. If you want the quick rundown, I highly recommend this handy little infographic, created by my friends at Paleo Magazine:
But, to get back to the food aspect, I think it’s time that we have an honest discussion of what it really means to eat primally. Too many people still believe that Paleo involves tons of meat, but that simply isn’t the truth. When you look at a recommended food pyramid, whether it’s from the Paleo Mag infographic, or the Primal Blueprint’s guide, you’ll see that veggies make up the biggest section at the bottom. Vegetables…that’s right…plants…form the base of any healthy, balanced Paleo diet.
Unfortunately, the term “plant-based” has been claimed by the vegan and vegetarian crowd, even though the average vegan’s diet is mostly comprised of grains, starches, and legumes. Granted, these are technically plants, but they’re definitely not the vibrant, living, nutrient-dense plants that we ALL should be eating more of. I know when I was a vegan, I relied heavily on things like rice, pasta, soy products, and lentils to make up the bulk of my meals. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling great, and all of that pro-inflammatory junk sure wasn’t helping me heal my chronic illness!
I would officially like to call a truce on the label of “plant-based,” and say that, in fact, when the Paleo/primal diet is followed correctly, it includes a large amount of various, seasonal, and fresh produce.
Yes, friends- Paleo IS a plant-based diet.
If you’re a social media aficionado, like I am, you may have noticed certain hashtags trending over the last few years, namely: #moreveggiesthanavegetarian and #halfplatechallenge. The latter refers to the guideline that for a nutritionally-sound Paleo meal, aim to fill half of your plate with veggies.
As an example: one of the most powerful, healing diets out there today is the Wahl’s Protocol, a high-vegetable version of Paleo. In this nutritional strategy, you eat 9 cups of veggies every day! I think a number like that would be enough to scare off most people, including devoted vegans. It’s definitely a lot of produce, and although I have a long-standing love affair with kale, I’d certainly have a hard time keeping up with it. But the positive evidence is compelling on the healing powers of produce!
My point is: it’s time that we start shifting the public perception about the Paleo lifestyle, particularly about the food aspect. I do occasionally get a client who is under the impression they’ll be expected to eat a full serving of meat at every meal, and isn’t liking that idea. Oh man, the sigh of relief that I hear when I say that it’s not the case at all! Some people do really well on 2-3 full servings of meat/day, but in my experience, many people don’t.
Personally, I mix up my diet depending on the season/weather, and how I’m feeling. Some days, I don’t eat any animal products at all. That’s right- even a Primal Health Coach eats vegan sometimes! (I think it was Mark Hyman that coined the phrase “pegan,” for those wanting the best of both the vegan and Paleo worlds.) I’ve experimented with lots of different “versions” of Paleo, and I tend to feel the best when I emphasize fresh veggies, especially raw ones. I adore juices and smoothies (even though some people would say these don’t “count” as Paleo- pssh), and love me a big bowl of chia seed pudding, topped with fresh berries and coconut cream.
I feel that one of my responsibilities, as a health coach, is to dispel myths and spread the truth about what a truly healing, ethical, and nourishing lifestyle looks like. The ancestral way of eating, emphasizing fresh veggies, is one of the most nutrient-dense diets out there. Paleo isn’t just about sustainably-raised meats, wild-caught seafood, or pastured eggs. While animal foods provide a whole host of vitamins, minerals, and protein, nothing compares to fresh greens on per-weight density of the good stuff.
So don’t forget to fill up your plate with produce first, before you reach for the steak! And hey, if you’re vegan/vegetarian, try making fresh veggies the star of your meals, instead of grains or soy.
No matter what your current dietary style looks like, we can all agree that:
plants are where it’s at.
Alright, friends…my Swiss chard is waiting. So, until next time…
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~