“If you are going to give someone an opportunity to feel amazing in a month, they’re probably less likely to do that negative thing again to themselves. I don’t see it as a drawback, I see it as a choice.” —Dan Baruch, Life Time Fitness personal trainer and Paleo expert
Before shopping carts, express lanes and plastic bags, humans ate off the land. Experts call it the Paleolithic era, spanning from 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago, a time before agriculture when food was simply unprocessed, as nature intended. This period in history set the precedent for today’s Paleo Diet, not just a menu but an entire lifestyle focused on eating healthier, natural or “whole” foods.
Dr. Loren Cordain, a professor in the department of diet and exercise health at Colorado State University since 1982, along with his team of graduate students at the university, engaged in decades of research proving citizens of the Paleolithic era did not suffer from chronic diseases that are widely present today (think diabetes, chronic heart conditions and cancers). Cordain formed the Paleo concept, a diet that involves consuming only foods that humans during that era—often called cavemen—ate and has written several popular books on the topic including The Paleo Diet, originally published in 2002.
Plymouth Life Time Fitness personal trainer Dan Baruch stumbled across Cordain while researching nutrition as an undergraduate at University of Minnesota (from which he graduated with degrees in communication and exercise science in 2009); he adopted the Paleo Diet for himself shortly thereafter and is considered the go-to expert on the lifestyle in Minnesota. Baruch insists it is the only “fad diet” that he can fully support.
The process begins with a detoxification period of approximately 30 days (depending on the individual) achieved by adopting a diet made exclusively of raw veggies and unprocessed proteins; most discover which foods cause inflammation, achy joints and indigestion during this time. “The essence of the Paleo Diet focuses on what flies in the sky, grows from a tree, runs on the ground and swims in the sea,” Baruch says. Vegetables should make up the greatest plate portion, and grass-fed meat products are ideal, thus drastically increasing fiber and protein intake. Fruit should be consumed in moderation, and breads, pastas, beans, legumes and processed foods are to be strictly avoided. Hydration, exercise and Omega-3 fats are also encouraged as part of the lifestyle.
Jeffrey Wock, doctor of chiropractic at Lake West Chiropractic, began suggesting a Paleo lifestyle to his clients long before it had a common name. “As it exists in nature, that’s how our body needs it,” he says. “Our bodies were inclined to handle natural substances in a natural form.” Wock says choosing healthy foods makes the feeling of fullness last longer and decreases junk-food cravings.
Food tolerance and consumption depend on the individual. Sticking to the Paleo Diet does not imply removing certain foods for the long haul—it’s about finding the foods that make someone feel their best. Once the detoxification process is complete, favorite foods can be reintroduced if the negative effects—bloat, stomach cramps and headaches—do not resume.
It was these physical ailments that led New Hope resident Ryan Bedell to a similar diet. Suffering from achy joints and inflammation, he eliminated breads and dairy five years ago. Bedell began training with Baruch two years ago, and it dawned on him that he’d adopted the Paleo Diet without realizing it; Bedell has stuck to the Paleo lifestyle since.
One of the biggest hurdles with any diet is food accessibility; when food is unavailable, many turn to unhealthy options. Bedell advises learning to cook and suggests crockpot recipes as solid go-to options. “It makes [sticking to the diet] a lot easier when you find stuff that interests you and food that interests you,” he says.
Kiersten Saxhaug, a busy single mom of a 4-year-old, approached Baruch last summer for training and left her first session armed with Paleo information. She, too, adopted the diet, and has seen positive changes in four major areas: lower blood-sugar levels, heightened day-long energy, reduced heartburn and increased strength.
Feelings of alertness are the greatest benefit of a Paleo Diet—many participants say they just “feel better” when they’re eating “clean.” “The greatest benefit with me is anti-inflammatory,” Bedell says. “As I started eating better, the carpal tunnel went away and my joints felt better.” (Food and skeletal health go hand in hand; Wock works with the full body in his practice and recommends healthy eating for stronger joints.)
Beginning a processed-free diet can be daunting, especially a total overhaul. Bedell suggests beginning one meal at a time. Start with breakfast for a two-week period, and grow from there. Baruch also suggests developing goals and using a smaller plate to discourage large portion sizes.
Diets have a negative connotation; they strip users of favorite foods and focus largely on numbers. That’s why Baruch emphasizes Paleo as a lifestyle change. “If you are going to give someone an opportunity to feel amazing in a month, they’re probably less likely to do that negative thing again to themselves,” he says. “I don’t see it as a drawback; I see it as a choice.”
As with any “fad,” there are often naysayers: Eliminating any food group completely can be tricky, and certain nutrients must be replaced. The real key to Paleo isn’t as much eliminating as replacing with more organic, holistic, unprocessed foods—which today can be hard to find. As with any diet, consult a physician and/or certified dietitian beforehand.
Feeling achy? Stop in to Lake West Chiropractic, 4100 Berkshire Lane N., #124, Plymouth; 763.550.9857; lakewestchiropractic.com
Slow-cooked to Perfection
Two Paleo recipes courtesy of Ryan Bedell
Paleo Beef Casserole
1 lbs. ground beef
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
3-4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
1 onion, diced
1 cup sliced mushroom
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 yams, peeled and thinly sliced into coins
1 cup tomato sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste, just before serving
Brown the ground been in coconut oil, and place in slow cooker. Sprinkle in the garlic, oregano and basil. Add the vegetables and tomato sauce to the slow cooker, yams layered on top. Cook on low for 6 hours. Salt and pepper to taste before serving.
Pear Ginger Pork Chops
4-6 thick cut pork chops
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. ginger, minced or paste
2 D'Anjou pears (or your favorite pears), cored and cut into slices
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 cup white wine (or chicken broth)
Salt and pepper
Add pork chops to bottom of slow cooker. Sprinkle cinnamon, allspice, honey and ginger over pork chops. Layer pear slices on pork chops. Add apple cider vinegar and wine. Cook on low for 6 hours. Salt and pepper to taste before serving.
Recipes adapted and tweaked from The Paleo Slow Cooker by Arsy Vartanian.