NUTRITION MATTERS: Cut to the meat of good meals
THE Paleo diet is also known as the Stone Age or Caveman diet, and is based on the idea that you should eat as your ancestors did, thousands of years ago. It doesn’t make sense today
The mercury is rising, and summer is just around the corner. The pressure is on to shed the winter kilograms and become beach-ready.
I get so many queries at this time of the year about this high-protein diet, and that new low-calorie diet. People continue to want a magic solution, a quick fix, the diet to end all diets.
The Paleo (Paleolithic) diet is back in the spotlight this season. It is also known as the Stone Age or Caveman diet. It is based on the idea that you should eat just as your ancestors did, many thousands of years ago.
So basically, fruits, roots, vegetables, and anything you can catch and eat — hunt and gather, in other words, meat, fish, shellfish, poultry and eggs — t would be acceptable. These form the main components of the Paleo diet.
The thinking is that if the cavemen didn’t eat it, then you shouldn’t either.
On the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’s website (www.eatright.org), spokesman Jim White says: "According to proponents (of the Paleo diet), our bodies are genetically predisposed to eat this way.
"They blame the agricultural revolution and the addition of grains, legumes and dairy to the human diet for the onset of chronic disease (obesity, heart disease, and diabetes)."
This diet is attracting many followers, White says, as it all seems logical. After all, the cavemen weren’t stricken by epidemics of obesity, diabetes and chronic disease, so why shouldn’t we follow the same principles?
Well, for starters, he says, cavemen didn’t live very long. Ageing is also associated with increased risk for chronic disease, a factor not taken into consideration by fans of the Paleo diet.
Secondly, the modern environment does not lend itself to a key factor of the cavemen’s diet — the hunter-gatherer part. So unless you are running after and killing the buck you are going to eat each day, or fishing the entire day to catch dinner, or foraging for tonight’s roast veggie selection, you are not a hunter gatherer.
In the society you live in, you will not come close to the amount of physical activity of cavemen. So should you then be eating exactly what they did?
Strict conformity to the Paleo way of eating is unrealistic, and not sustainable long term, because you live in a society where it is difficult, if not impossible to eat as your ancestors ate.
Just one example is wild game that is not readily available at mealtimes, since most of the meat you eat has been domesticated.
And the plant food you eat has also been processed, rather than grown and gathered in the wild, according to White.
"While strict conformity is not realistic, it is possible to modify the plan, eating only wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat, and organic fruits and vegetables," he says.
But even that can be hard to follow, because of the lack of variety, need for planning, supplementation and cost of your diet, White says.
The Paleo diet, like most diets out there that limit entire food groups, will clearly be hard to sustain.
Nutritionally there are also problems with this diet. Just as with all fad diets out there, the fatal flaw is often the fact that entire food groups are eliminated from the diet. The latter is particularly problematic, because key nutrients will be lost.
The Paleo diet is not nutritionally sound as it excludes all dairy, legumes and wholegrain carbohydrates. Dairy, for example, contributes important nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, among others, to the diet.
Research in the New England Journal in 2009, by Harvard Medcial School researchers, shows a positive association between weight loss and the consumption of low-fat and fat-free dairy.
Legumes are also on the Paelo diet’s chopping block, and are excluded. Legumes include foods such as lentils, chickpeas, cannellini beans, etcetera. These are versatile, inexpensive proteins contain vitamin B1, B2, niacin, potassium, iron and phosphorus. They are packed with soluble fibre that helps to reduce bad cholesterol levels, and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
As a dietitian, I am yet to come across literature that links the intake of legumes with a negative health outcome.
The Paleo diet, like many of the other high-protein diets, also excludes wholegrain carbohydrates such as barley, oats, corn on the cob, as well as high-fibre, wholegrain breads. The latter contributes fibre to the diet, which helps to maintain gut health.
These good carbs reduce the risk for conditions such as colon cancer, diverticulitis and constipation. Wholegrain carbohydrate consumption is also associated with a reduction in risk for the development of certain lifestyle-associated chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
So, should you give dairy, legumes and wholegrain carbohydrates the boot when striving for optimal health and a reduced risk for developing chronic disease?
As a dietitian I would certainly not recommend it.
If it is weight loss that you are after, you should be cutting your total calorie intake, and not entire food groups. There are risks associated with following fads (the effect of high protein on kidney function for example).
It is important to think carefully before you follow any of the fad, high-protein diets, because there is simply not enough science to support their safety and efficacy. And of course, there is research to show that most people revert back to their normal eating patterns, after fad diets.
The minute a diet suggests eliminating entire food groups, you need to ask yourself why? The answer usually is because it is a fad, and as such is likely to be a quick-fix diet that promises and doesn’t deliver over time.
• Claire Julsing Strydom is a dietician in private practice with Nutrition Solutions.
Would you like to include lentils in your diet, but are not sure how to go about it? Try this delicious recipe to boost your legume intake:
Lentil bake: Portion size 200g ( makes six to eight portions)
- 15ml (1 tbsp) olive/canola oil
- ½ onion (100g), chopped
- 2 x410g cans of brown lentils (drained)
- 500g cubed butternut
- 5ml (1 tsp) paprika
- 3ml (1/2tsp) cayenne pepper
- 5ml (1 tsp) cumin
- 5 ml (1 tsp) curry powder (you can use less according to preference)
- 1 x 50g packet (2 tbsp) tomato paste
- ½ x 410g tin whole tomatoes (all liquids drained) and mashed
- Pepper and a pinch of sugar
- 3 eggs
- 125ml (½ cup) low fat milk
Cook butternut until done and mash. Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté onions until clear but not brown.
Add all spices, lentils, whole tomatoes and tomato puree to onions and mix with mashed butternut. Season with salt and pepper.
Scoop into oven proof dish or bread pan.
Beat the eggs and milk together and pour this mixture over the top of the lentil and butternut mixture.
Make small holes for egg, and drain into the lentil dish.
Bake at 180º C for 30 minutes until the mixture sets and browns. Serve with long, thin, steamed, green beans and baby beetroot on rocket leaves.
Nutritional analysis per portion
- Energy: 751kJ
- Carbohydrate: 20g
- Protein: 12g
- Fat: 5g
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