By Tracy B. Williams
The Stone Age was over 10,000 years ago and is now known as the Paleolithic era. Ancient hunter-gatherer populations ate a diet much different from ours today. But, a population of modern humans choose to live like our hominid ancestors. These people follow the paleo diet.
The central idea to this diet is, if the caveman didn’t eat it, you should not eat it. Paleo aims to get rid of all processed foods, grains, dairy products, and refined sugars—although there are variations of the diet. Only foods that can be “hunted” or “gathered” – like meat, fruits, and vegetables – are allowed.
Supporters of the diet believe it is the best method of disease prevention, including diseases that are leading causes of death such as heart disease and diabetes, which are closely tied to obesity.
Amit and Shilpi Mehta are used to spending quiet nights alone in their brand new home in Newton with their two cats, but this particular night was special. The Mehtas decided to host a paleo diet potluck. Their special guest was Dr. Georgia Ede, a medical doctor who now maintains a nutrition-based practice in Cambridge, Mass. “Getting rid of processed foods and bringing more meat and vegetables into our diet is great for weight loss and disease prevention,” Ede said.
Ede first became interested in nutrition five years ago after discovering the paleo diet. She said her new way of eating reversed a number of health problems, including fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. Today, she is 48 years old, has no health problems and takes no prescription medications despite a strong family medical history of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol. “You end up taking all this medication, when really all you have to do is change your diet,” she said.
After being able to treat her own ailments, she began her quest to understand why the unorthodox diet that revived her own health is so different from the average American diet. Now she is teaching others. Because much of the paleo diet is meat, she visited the Mehtas’ home to give a short presentation about the benefits of being omnivores, and to dispel myths about eating too much meat.
“Eating animals is necessary,” she said. “But there is a lot of guilt associated with it.” Many people become vegans and vegetarians this way, said Ede. “And their reasoning is to save the animals.”
But, vegetarians and vegans are not necessarily healthier than omnivores. Sometimes vegetables are not the best source of essential vitamins and minerals. “A lot of the nutrients we need are not found in plants,” she said. Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K2 for example, are best found in red meat, Ede explained. She thinks the vegan diet is the most dangerous because it is lacking in essential nutrients. Vegetarians and vegans rely on supplements to get those missing nutrients.
Dr. Georgia Ede is the founder of DiagnosisDiet.com. Visit http://diagnosisdiet.com/ to discover the connection between food chemistry and health.
Amit Mehta said he knew people who cut meat completely out of their diets, and got less healthy than they were before. “I was about 90 percent vegetarian before I went paleo,” he said. Now he and his wife Shilpi have incorporated more meat into their diets. “I noticed big changes in my hair, energy, and mood,” she said.
Chardline Chanel-Faiteau has also noticed big changes in her health, mainly her weight. She decided to adopt the paleo lifestyle in 2013 after her primary care doctor revealed she was showing early signs of diabetes. “That was a wake-up call for me,” she said. “I was always confident in the way that I looked and felt but I didn’t see the point in enjoying these comforts if day by day I am cutting off my life span.”
Question: When did you first decide to go on the diet?
Answer: I decided to adopt a paleo lifestyle in January of 2013. My Zumba instructor introduced it to me and every since it’s become a fabric of my lifestyle.
Question: How do you feel on the diet? Have you experienced changes in your mood or energy?
Answer: The effects of paleo were almost instantaneous. The first week your body is trying to adjust to the effects of cutting out GMO’s, fructose, and grains. By week two I was grumpy and light headed. A few times I wanted to quit, but I kept thinking about the larger goal. By week three I was so positive, had all the energy in the world, and my face started to clear up. Running after the bus and train didn’t seem like an issues and I finally overcame eating starches.
Question: How much weight have you lost?
Answer: Since I’ve been on the diet, I have lost about 57 pounds and I am still going!
Question: Will you be able to keep up this diet?
Answer: Well, it takes 21 days to form a habit. After about two months of being on paleo, a lot of the research and the eating habits I taught myself to memorize stayed with me.
Question: What was the hardest food to give up?
Answer: The hardest food to give up was cheese. I love cheese but I started researching alternatives to cheese as of late.
Question: Would you recommend this diet to others who are trying to get healthy?
Answer: I would recommend it to others who are trying to get healthy but they really have to do their due diligence. I went “cold turkey” the first time I tried it, and it was very hard.
Sabre Gregory, a nutritionist who has experimented with different diets in her past, is wary of the paleo diet. “I don’t believe in any diets anymore,” she said. There is no way to sustain that lifestyle.” She respects those who hold a “back to basics” mindset in treating today’s diseases, but “too much of anything, especially protein, is detrimental,” she said.
Meat contains amino acids—amino acids are the building blocks to protein—protein are the building blocks to muscle…so having having enough protein in your diet is incredibly important, Gregory said. But eating too much meat (red meat, especially) will spike cholesterol levels and block arteries. Also, if you are not burning off the consumer protein fast enough, it will turn to unwanted fat. “If I ran miles and miles a day, I still wouldn’t be as active as a caveman,” she said. We as Americans are too sedentary and consume too much red meat and not enough lean meat, Gregory said. That is when obesity, among other health problems, becomes an issue for many people.
To combat obesity, the popular food group to cut out these days is carbohydrates. The paleo diet is strictly anti-carbohydrates, and Gregory believes that carbohydrates provide an important contributor to overall health. “Increasing carbs has also shown to be more successful in long-term weight loss goals,” she said. Carbs only turn into fat it it’s not burned off, she said. So, the amount of carbohydrates consumed should be in conjunction with physical activity.
Most of all, Gregory recommends everyone just eat what you need to eat to be healthy. “Just watch your portions. Everything in moderation,” she said.