Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No Carbs and Paleo

I read an interesting article on the Forks Over Knives website on the Paleo Diet and want to share some of my thoughts.

When I first started researching about healthy eating 2.5 years ago as part of my New Years' Resolution, I came across a lot of conflicting literature. There are soooo many diets out there that it will confuse anyone. I've found that all diets tend to reference only parts of medical studies that are favorable to their cause, whether its a plant-based or meat-eating diet. Therefore, the basis for my healthy eating lifestyle has turned into eating a more natural diet, much like our ancestors did.

Before farming and industry, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers. The Paleo Diet, heavily advocated by crossfitters, is based on this era of humanity. Paleo says that you should eat mainly meat, eggs, and fish with vegetables, but no dairy, processed foods, or starchy vegetables (legumes). However, I believe that the paleo diet calls for way too much meat. In the hunter-gatherer days, meat was very unpredictable and people certainly did not eat it for every single meal. Most of their calories still came from vegetables and fruits that were gathered. I definitely do agree with paleo in not eating dairy and processed foods. Humans are not meant to eat the milk of another animal.

So, this brings me to the issues of carbs. Low-carb diets are probably the most popular among people trying to lose weight. This makes sense somewhat since these people are not eating carbs for energy and thus burning fat for energy. Also, the carbs that a typical American eats are of very low quality; e.g. white bread/pasta, white rice, crackers, cookies, etc. So eliminating these processed carbs from your diet eliminates much of the excess processed sugar in your diet, thus you lose weight. However, can you eliminate carbs to keep off the weight? And, what about unprocessed, natural carbs?

Through research and experimenting with my own diet, I've come to understand that "natural carbs" do not make you gain weight/fat and are healthy for you to eat. Instead, they give you energy and keep you fuller for longer, thus potentially helping you lose fat. Natural carbs are those that are closest to their natural form and have not been completely processed and altered from their natural state. Potatoes get a bad rep for being unhealthy, but its how you cook them (fried) or what you put on them (butter, sour cream) that is unhealthy. Brown or wild rice is also good for you, while white rice is stripped of all of its nutrients and thus more of an "empty calorie." Whole grain bread or pasta is also healthy. But you must beware of bread labeled "whole wheat." They still often contain white flour as the 2nd (sometimes even 1st) ingredient. My favorite bread/wrap brand is Ezekiel 4:9. It is made of sprouted grains (no flour) that form a complete protein and contain lots of vitamins and fiber. You can find the bread in the freezer section at a health food store or even in your local grocery store (Payless/Kroger carried it but Jewel-Osco does not).

So my point is that I think that the no-starch/carb rule and high meat intake of the paleo diet is not necessarily healthy. Natural carbs and starchy vegetables are perfectly healthy and cutting them out may result in losing nutrients. Meat/fish/eggs should only be eating occasionally, like the hunters did, and going a long time on a plant-only diet is not detrimental.

What are your thoughts? I'd especially love to hear from crossfitters doing paleo!


  1. Have you ever checked out the book and website for "Wheat Belly?" The premise that all wheat (including whole grains) is bad for you because it is a mutation of what used to be wheat and is virtually all of the wheat eaten today. It suggests a Snickers Candy Bar is preferable to a whole grain piece of bread. This is all based on both personal and scientific data from a Cardiologist out of Wisconsin. It has more implications than just weight gain, but also elevated LDL triglycerides (the bad cholesterol)in the blood. I'm finding the transition to the Paleo diet lifestyle challenging as well, and wondering if there are foods our Paleo ancestors may have safely eaten if they had been available back then (probably not), but I think the transition will be worth it.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I have not seen that website but I will check it out. I've found a lot of conflicting information and studies about grains. To be honest, I'm not sure what to believe. I have cut down on wheat quite a bit but I wonder if cutting it out completely would make a difference. I think that paleo could be a good diet if fruits and vegetables were the basis instead of meat. I believe that maybe the "optimal diet" is somewhere in between plant-based and paleo.


What do you think?