I'm sure y'all have heard of the Paleo diet by now. It seems to be the latest health trend / buzzword. You may be wondering, though, what actually does the Paleo, or caveman, diet entail... I get asked this question a lot so I thought I'd write what I know about it and also hook you up with a delicious and Paleo-friendly cookie recipe in case you want to jump on board the caveman train.
In a nutshell, the Paleo diet is about eating in a manner similar to how our caveman ancestors did before the agricultural revolution. This means eating unprocessed meat, saturated fats (from animals, avocados, coconuts, etc.), non-starchy veggies, nuts/seeds, eggs, and a little low-sugar fruit. It also means eliminating any food that arrived since farming and processing began, about 10,000 years ago -- stuff like grains, legumes, dairy, vegetable oil, etc.
Why would you do this?
Paleo proponents say that we evolved to eat (and metabolize) this caveman way over millions of years, and grains/legumes, etc only came on the scene "recently," e.g. 10,000 years back. They say that grains and other processed foods require radically different metabolic and digestive processes and that our bodies haven't adjusted to these "new" foods...and therefore we struggle to assimilate them properly. Basically they believe "we are all caveman at our core" and we should eat as close to the way our ancestors did as possible.
I see some merit in many of their ideas and theories for choosing to eat this way. I know quite a few people for whom this way of eating totally works. Paleo is their "thing" and that's great. I am all for figuring out the diet and lifestyle that suits you as an individual and rolling with it. I also fully stand behind people who have various inflammatory health conditions or auto-immune diseases who need to limit or eliminate grains all together. I am a huge fan of the fact that Paleo people eat hardly any sugar or processed foods as we all (hopefully!) know how excess sugar and processed food consumption creates systemic inflammation and leads to chronic disease.
With that said, I'd like to address a few of their "off limit" foods and give you my thoughts...
Personally, I steer clear of gluten. Main reason being is that it makes me bloated. Most processed foods are chock full of gluten so by avoiding processed foods, I reduce gluten by default. I enjoy nutrient-dense grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, rice, amaranth and millet. These foods are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals so I think they are A-OK.
I enjoy myself some beans. They're hearty, filling and an excellent source of vegetarian protein. The reason people don't like beans is usually because they make them gassy. If this is the case for you, start slow - eat only a 1/3 cup serving at time. Huge heaping servings of beans would make even someone with a steel gut feel a bit bleh. Also, beans take proper preparation. Soaking or sprouting them breaks down the phytic acid, which is a toxin on the outside of the bean that, when ingested, leaches vital minerals from our bodies. Sounds scary but all you have to do is soak the beans first in order to mitigate this effect and make them more digestible.
Personally, I eat very little dairy. I cut it out of my diet entirely for a period of time and I have found that I don't really miss it. I'll occasionally have cheese, usually when I am eating out and can't be bothered or forget to ask for dairy-free. When I do eat dairy, I choose full-fat only. No/low fat dairy products mess with people's guts because when manufacturers remove the fat, they remove all of the lactase, which is the enzyme that breaks down lactose. To learn more about my thoughts on dairy, read this post.
Paleo peeps don't eat only meat -- this is a misconception. They eat tons of veggies too. They generally have an ethical and environmental focus when it comes to the quality of the meat they eat, and I am all for that. My motto is buy only the best meat... organic, locally-reared, grass-fed and grass-finished. Also, use meat as an addition to your meal instead of the main event. To a huge plate/bowl of veggies, I will throw in a small quantity of meat for flavor and protein. If you're eating Paleo and incorporating animal-based protein into each meal, doing it this way will cut down on cost for you.
Don't fear fat! As long as it's healthy fat. Paleo people agree. Incorporate a bit of good fat like coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, avocado, nuts/seeds into each meal for satiety, as well as brain, skin, and hormone health.
Super strict Paleo people stay starchy veggies like squash, beets, carrots, sweet potato are out since they contain higher amounts of carbs than veggies like kale, cucumbers, etc. Less dogmatic others say they are fine. I am certainly in the latter camp. Root veggies are some of my favorite foods on earth. No way would I give them up. What would I eat in the winter?
Paleo people don't go near table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Thumbs up. They are cool with honey and maple syrup because they are unprocessed and were supposedly eaten during caveman days. But bear in mind that these sweeteners were hard to find and access back then so naturally people didn't eat a lot of it. My thoughts are that sugar is clearly not a nutrient-dense food...and it is addictive and binge-able. So I say go ahead and have some raw honey or pure maple syrup from time to time but be sensible. Try not to have sugar every day because it sets you up for addiction.
Speaking of (healthy) sugar, are you ready for the cookie recipe yet?? I hope you found the above info interesting and/or thought-provoking. There are so many different diets and ways of eating out there. As I said before, it really comes down to figuring out what works for your body to make you feel and look your very best. This is one of the things I work on with my clients in my wellness consulting practice. It usually takes a bit of trail and error but feeling supported and receiving tons of healthy and delicious recipes from yours truly makes it easier!
Ok, here we go...
Paleo Sweet Potato Cookies
Makes 24 small cookies
- 1 small sweet potato
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup shredded coconut
- 3/4 raisins
- 3/4 chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry sweet potato. Pierce several times with a fork and bake for 45-50 minutes, until tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. [Alternatively, if you have a pressure cooker (my favorite kitchen tool of all time!), then you can pressure steam the potato for 20 minutes.] Lower the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove skin from sweet potato. In a large bowl, mash the flesh of the potato with a fork. Add all remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix well to form a dough. [Be stronger than me and resist temptation to eat spoonfuls of cookie dough.] Using a tablespoon, drop rounded balls of dough onto the cookie sheets leaving 2-3 inches in between. Bake for 15-17 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
If you're not giving them away to friends with birthdays, you can store them in a plastic bag in the freezer and pop one any time a sweet-but-healthy craving strikes!