Friday, January 18, 2013

Paleo and juicing may actually be a good idea

Caveman no like grain!
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

There's lots of talk these days about the Paleo or caveman diet. When I first heard about it, I dismissed it as a macho re-branding of Atkins or the South Beach diets. I've always felt that the best diet (in the sense of ongoing lifestyle, not a short term weight loss strategy) aligns with USDA guidelines. This means a balance of fruits, grains, vegetables and protein. Humans are omnivores and the idea of eliminating grains in favor of  much higher protein levels strikes me as a path toward unintended consequence.

I have a friend who adopted juicing (not steroids!) as a primary nutritional model. He and his wife would stock up on very healthy items like spinach, kale, beets and carrots that they'd put through a juicer and use in place of meals. My friend is smart and he recognized that juicing separates the fiber, so they'd spoon that back in to their smoothies. Soon after, they began to experiment with their solid diet and have also adopted the Paleo method.

As a runner, I'm interested in nutrition for both health and performance. At the same time, I have no patience for those who aggressively proselytize about Paleo, vegan-ism or any similarly restrictive lifestyle. I'll admit that I'm intrigued with Paleo and juicing because there is some rationale to their concepts.

Juicing, done right, seems to be a legitimate nutritional model. Fresh fruits and vegetables, free of process, have got to be good for you. That is, unless those ingredients are carrying salmonella or similar toxins that won't be eliminated by cooking. But most of us eat salad and that seems to be okay most of the time. The toughest part for me would be drinking a green frothy milkshake that tastes nothing like a milkshake.

The Paleo thing is interesting because of the primary concept. Unlike Atkins, that allows grains, artificial sweeteners and processed oils, Paleo sets the bar to how humans lived tens of thousands of years ago. In caveman days there was no way to create flour or to bake, so those products are excluded. In a similar way, all processed foods, meat or vegetable, are also left out. The diet is balanced between protein, fruit and vegetables, plus seeds or grasses like quinoa.

The science behind Paleo is that eliminating grains reduces the production of sugar in our body and that forces ketosis, a process that uses fat for energy, rather than glycogen. I am no expert on how this works, but it does make sense in theory. In terms of adopting the Paleo diet, I'll wait and see if my friend grows a unibrow and hair on his knuckles before I partake. But there's no harm in choosing less processed foods when possible. No one can argue that reducing sugar intake (via carbs or sweets) is a good idea.

4 comments:

  1. I'm reading the Paleo Diet for Athletes, by Cordain and Friel, as I prepare to run my first marathon. It is extremely interesting...and I'm learning so much. They recommend quite a bit of your daily nutrition come from a liquid form because it is calorie rich and nutrition dense, yet won't drag you down, especially in training. I highly recommend it.

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    1. That is interesting. I think my friend is drawing the same conclusion. Let me know if you experience any measurable change in performance coming from it.

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  2. The way you described the science behind the Paleo diet is the same science behind Atkins during its weight-loss phase. Whole-grains are not allowed until you have reached your ideal weight, and then only in a limited amount to avoid weight gain. You lose weight on Atkins through ketosis, and as you approach your ideal weight, you slowly increase your carb intake until you ascertain the amount of carbs you can tolerate without gaining the weight back. You then continue to limit your carb intake to that amount.

    Having said that, I agree with you that "the best diet (in the sense of ongoing lifestyle, not a short term weight loss strategy) aligns with USDA guidelines. This means a balance of fruits, grains, vegetables and protein." I've been following the DASH guidelines (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy), with much success. And its a much more sustainable lifestyle than trying to eliminate many of the foods that are so prevalent in our society. Its much easier and realistic to continue to make smart food choices than it is to deprive yourself of entire food groups.

    And, no snark intended, but how much nutrition did cavemen consume in liquid form after they were done breastfeeding? That seems inconsistent with the paleo diet theory.

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    1. Well said! Believe me, I'm not rushing to adopt the Paleo diet, count me more as a fellow DASH follower.

      The caveman theory only goes so far. Those in the Paleo age were lucky to live until 30 and their level of nutrition probably kept their heights below 5'. I'm not sure that's an ideal we should emulate!

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