Monday begins the Paleo week off in high fashion. Actually, it’s going to be starting the Paleo Phase off a day early. Considering all the gorging on junk food I’ve had (did I mention I ate a Coldstone Creamery Ice Cream for lunch) I figured it’s good to get cleaning out early. While I won’t have the luxury of being creative with my meal planning for breakfast or lunch, I do plan on spreading my wings at dinner time.
With the Paleo Diet occupying all of my second quarter, I began the ritual of planning out my calorie budget for the next three months. That process isn’t as hard as it sounds once you’ve done it a few times. Think of it like a financial budget. You know Christmas is going to happen in December so you know that month you are going to spend a lot more than usual. Knowing that you can save up some cash to power through it. Similarly, if you know you have a vacation in July then you know you are going to have to financially prepare for that.
The same is true with your food consumption. While it sounds like a nice idea that you will always attempt to balance out your food consumption and your energy expenditure, there are going to be times when that doesn’t happen. Vacations are a prime example of cases where you are going to probably eat a bit excessively. The same is true for birthdays, special events and other such things. If you can plan on that then you can balance that out over a long period of time rather than going on some crash diet after the damage is done. Weekends for many people also fall into this category for me. I know I eat a bit more on the weekends, so I intentionally plan my daily calorie budget over that three month period of time accounting for that.
While I had three extra pounds I wanted to get off from excessive holiday consumption for the first quarter of this year, I want to maintain my weight for this quarter. While I normally eat a bit extra on the weekends, I honestly don’t know how that is going to pan out while on the Paleo Diet. A lot of my extra eating on the weekends are indulgences in desserts or candies. Alternatively it is perhaps a big dinner out where I’ll eat a huge steak and potatoes or a big plate of pasta finished off by mopping the plate clean with some bread. While I could perhaps make some Paleo treats, for the the most part these sorts of indulgences are now gone. Will I replace them with a few extra servings of maple coconut ice cream or handfuls of nuts? I honestly can’t say, but I figure i should plan for at least a little extra on the weekends.
Besides the regular weekends I know I have a few extra times where excessive calorie consumption will be occurring. There is a dinner party a friend is throwing in April that I’m already salivating at the thought of. There is a charity gala as well as the Memorial Day weekend in May. June is going to be a week of vacation where I’m sure I’ll be getting some extra eats in. Throughout that will also be my ramp up in training to get ready for the marathon ramp up that will begin mid-summer. That obviously pushes things in the other direction. So the total of all that looks like the below graph:
You can obviously see the big drops from the various special events and holidays i mentioned. As a point of reference, because I’m not planning on gaining or losing any weight the zero line is literally a calorie balance of zero over the three months. The little upticks throughout the graph are the 310 calories a day, on average, I need to be in deficit for much of the week. The smaller drops are the 500 calorie excesses I am planning on weekends. The huge drop is the 2000 calories I’m figuring I will have on the day of the dinner party, with 1000 calorie per day deficits for the gala and each day of Memorial Day weekend. The vacation I imagine will have a lot of activities and less opportunities for grazing like I’ll have on Memorial Day weekend so I’m only budgeting 500 calorie a day deficits for that period of time.
Considering that I have blown my budget a bit on the first quarter of this year and last quarter of 2013, not by much but definitely not as spot on as I like, I’m hoping I can stick with this a bit better.
When starting a new eating style the entire process can seem daunting. One of the appeals of systems like Weight Watchers is that literally everything is planned for you. There are actually similar meal services for people that want to eat particular eating styles like veganism, Paleo, et cetera. Those services are incredibly convenient but also incredibly expensive. For your more everyday experience a good way to get over the hump on these sorts of transitions is to find a book with a series of meal plans that you can follow. If difficulty doesn’t get you then monotony will. A book that has laid out meal plans for a few weeks can be indispensable in overcoming that initial transition.
My go-to book for that when it comes to the Paleo Diet is Diane Sanfilippo’s Practical Paleo book. I don’t want to call it a cookbook because it is far more than that. Yes, there are tons of recipes in it. I have tried several of them and for the most part I think they are pretty solid. However it’s the stuff before you get to the recipes that really make the book more useful as a Paleo encyclopedia than a cookbook. The very beginning of the book is all about the ins and outs of why aspects of the Paleo diet are believed to work. There are also really convenient guides on “how to” Paleo or what to avoid when trying to eat Paleo.
After the run through it goes through a series of various different Paleo-specific 30 day meal plans for the different reasons why people may be trying the diet out. There is of course a “Squeaky Clean Paleo” meal plan, but also ones for people that are doing this to take care of a range of issues from diabetes to auto-immune problems. The two that I’ve been looking at using to kick start my Paleo phase are the “Athletic Performance” and the “Squeaky Clean Paleo” plans.
The difference between the two are actually pretty minimal. I’ve looked through the entire month of meals and on first glance they look identical. What one finds in the athletic performance plan that isn’t in the squeaky clean plan is mostly a few extra carbs here and there and some differences in recommendations for supplementation. While the plans specify what to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s not practical for me to be making stuff for lunch regularly. I enjoy grabbing a bite with coworkers, and I’m not going to be hauling my food for reheating with me. I’ll therefore fall into a standard paleo-friendly lunch routine and concentrate on these meals for dinners.
With 120 recipes to try in this one book alone, hypothetically I shouldn’t be able to fall into too much of a rut. With the other half dozen cookbooks specifically designed for the Paleo diet along with recipes that just naturally are “Paleo” I should be able to make quite a lot of headway in having a diverse Paleo experience.
I’ve been off all Virgin diet detoxes for a couple of weeks now. Did I take those two weeks to practice up on eating Paleo, as I will be for the next few months? No. Did I power through the Virgin diet to keep myself “pure” going into my tests before the Paleo diet? No. Did I decide to treat the two weeks as one grand “last meal” like some death row inmate rolling up to his execution? No. In hindsight however that is exactly what it felt like though.
If you made a list of the things I’m not going to be eating for the next several months to years then you probably would have a pretty good list of what I have been consuming the last two weeks. Processed foods were my friends, especially store bought cookies and sweets. Coke Zero made a tremendous comeback as well, even though I spent most of the end of last year avoiding it. I didn’t gorge like I did over the holidays in December. My calorie count per day is mostly in check, but I was definitely eating a lot of garbage.
That fact showed pretty starkly too in my weight. While throughout the past few weeks I have been eating slightly more than I’ve been burning, the level of weight increase on the scale has been far greater. While my weight increased by seven pounds I know for a fact, even if I account for vast errors in my accounting, that I didn’t consume 25,000 in excess calories. I did average 100-200 calories a day in excess, but that adds up to one to two pounds, not seven. A lot of that is coming from my recently discovered fact that my body composition does change rather dramatically when eating certain foods. I have yet to figure out why that is, but it’s pretty clear what the effect is.
Through the weekend I’m going to be starting to plan for the launch of the Paleo diet on April 1st. I’m hoping to find some delicious new recipes to try and share here. I’m also hoping I can quickly settle into an easy routine that allows me to plan for the eating style without it being overly repetitive, although I’m usually not one that needs a ton of variety to stay happy about it.
Have you been joining the legions of people since the 1980s following Florence Henderson and her pitch for the perfect, healthy, vegetable oil? Don’t you just love “vegetable oil”? Which vegetable would that be? I mean, there are only literally hundreds of potential vegetables that you can choose to make oils from. Why, there is corn oil (which we obviously know isn’t going to be on the list anyway due to it being corn based). There are plenty of other options though, from rapeseed oil, I mean canola oil, to soybean oil ot god knows what else. While people before the industrial revolution cooked with oils all the time, they often were using oils like olive oil or oils from larger seed-based plants. It wasn’t until the dawn of the industrial revolution that many of these oils became widely available.
Oils like olive oil and coconut oil come from grinding and pressing them. The creation of oils like rapeseed oil, now given the more palatable marketing name of canola oil, starts in a similar process but just on a grander scale. While in the particular case of rapeseed it had been used as a fuel for lamps for millennia it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that humans figured out how to make it consumable. First by steam cracking the seeds and then by washing it with hexane (doesn’t it sound delicious when you put it like that) we can get to the oil in massive quantities in ways that couldn’t be done before. Actually much of the vegetable oil we eat is processed in a similar sort of heating then chemical washing way. It’s supposedly pretty safe, considering we’ve done it for a century or two but it certainly doesn’t have the millenia long history that other oils do in our diet.
All of that aside the bigger problem with vegetable oils over stuff like cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is the fat profile of what we are eating. While oils like olive oil have a much higher composition of fats from monounsaturated fats, oils like corn, soy and canola oil are weighted more heavily towards polyunsaturate fats. There is also the question of how much degradation of the fat structure is induced by the extreme heats used in the processing of these oils. There is also the question of additional nutrients that one would find in more traditional oils than what would be found in vegetable oils.
With the ready availability of extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and other more tried and true fat products, it’s hard to find a convincing argument for regularly using vegetable oil for cooking. In the case of its use over lard or coconut oil there is the whole question of if saturated fat found in those products is bad for us or not. There is more debate on that topic than some would have us believe. In the case of flavor, there are times when one is looking for a flavorless oil compound to cook with. For those rare occasions perhaps one could try these products. I’m more willing to buy some of the rhetoric on vegetable oils not because I think they have totally sealed the deal with empirical data but because as a component of human diets they are an extremely recent phenomena.
Technically corn is a grain, so I’m being a bit redundant. Corn however holds a special place in the hearts of Paleo adherents as a grain to be avoided because of how heavily modified corn has gotten in the last century or so. While all plants that we have domesticated have been radically transformed in order to better serve us, corn has dominated our food system more for the last 75 years than it has at any other time in history. We have never consumed more corn per capita than we have today. You don’t recall the last time you ate corn? That doesn’t matter. In fact most of the corn you eat isn’t as corn proper. There will be corn in certain dishes, or cornmeal used in the preparation of some prepared foods. However it is really in the form of corn starches and corn syrups that most of our corn consumptions come from. Corn is the “C” in HFC (high fructose corn syrup). You recognize that evil acronym but won’t be seeing it much longer as the corn lobby has successfully convinced people that “corn sugar” is both more “accurate” and more marketable.
Forget your consumption of corn, the animals we eat are often fed corn. Corn is a primary source of calories (along with soy) for cattle, chickens, pigs, farm raised fish, and pretty much anything else that you can think of that eats something. Whether these animals digestive systems were ever consuming these products before the 20th century or not, this is now the primary food source for most of what we end up consuming. That was the entire plot of the movie King Corn. One way or another most of our calories are coming from corn. That’s just one of the reasons why Paleo people shun this product even more than other grains.
Another reason is the whole GMO aspect of the product. In the Paleo community there is a general distrust of GMO foods of all stripes. The arguments against GMOs range from theoretical ones like lack of proper testing, biased corporate interests blinding regulatory policy, and lack of consideration for biodiversity even more than in conventional agricultural crops. They also point to some studies which claim to show substantially increased rates of cancer and other diseases from rodent studies on GMOs. All of that combined with the overwhelming majority of corn products being of the GMO variety has a skull and cross bones on any corn product that a Paleo person would look at eating.
Along with bacon worship the other thing that stands out most in the superficial public persona of Paleo is the avoidance of all grains. When people first read that they think, “Oh, that means avoid bread!” Actually it goes way deeper than that. Even on many diets that list themselves as healthy they will tell people to avoid refined grains and to go with whole grains. So ditch the fluffy white loaf of sandwich bread, pick up a hearty whole grain bread and you are good to go! At least that’s the case according to much of the conventional wisdom out there. Paleo takes it far further than that.
This isn’t even a question of just avoiding wheat or other gluten containing breads, although Paleo people will be the first to tell you to about the dangers of gluten too. “Grains” are basically any major cereal product that was developed during the agricultural revolution. So wheat is obviously a big one there. However add to the list things like rice, corn, barley, oats, rye, quinoa (yes even the beloved quinoa). There are some grains that have had marginal domestication, like amaranth, that are still on the list. Any and all forms of said products should be avoided.
What is the reason for the avoidance of these foods? The same reason as avoiding legumes: poor nutrient density compared to vegetables and meats and a plethora of potential anti-nutrients and toxins. Some Paleo people take a more moderated approach towards the topic. They tend to shun the label “paleo” and instead go for the label “ancestral.” That’s true of other products as well. However if you are going to stay true to the Paleo diet then avoiding all of these foods is required.
I have a comparable reaction to the claims made by Paleo adherents to grains as I do to beans and legumes. If you read their direct writings it will have you conclude that eating grains of any sort will have your gut leaking like a sieve, your body being ravaged by autoimmune disorders like MS and your body robbed of precious nutrients due to the poor absorption of said nutrients. Yet again humans have been eating grains, wild and domesticated, for millennia. In fact if you read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steele, it was the domestication of cereal crops that let civilization explode across the planet. Paleo people will say, “Yeah, but our health deteriorated dramatically during that time.” There may be some truth to that, but the consumption of grains weren’t the only things that had changed during that period.
As with the other “don’ts” that are listed for this diet (and every other diet that I’ll be trying), it is truly up to the individual to determine whether grains are working well for their body or not. In the spirit of the experiment that will be me doing just that for the next three months.
Why are they called nuts? Actually, nobody really knows. Alternative names for peanuts back in history are “ground nut” or “ground pea.” They sort of look like pea plants while they are growing but then they produce a nut like product, so did “ground pea” and “ground nut” become a “pea nut” hence “peanut”? That’s really one lost to history. It’s a domesticated food that is native to the Americas, which European settlers started taking a liking to in their gardens as they populated the new world.
Ironically it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that people started eating peanuts in mass quantities. Before that time people grew peanuts not for themselves but to feed to the livestock. A combination of pushing from government programs and marketing led to it’s widespread use and consumption. That grew into a product that is very pervasive in our food supply at this time.
Because peanuts are a legume just like beans are, Paleo diets exclude them from their list of foods for the same reasons. So whether it is in the form oil used for cooking, butter used for toppings or flavoring or in their whole form, don’t use this if you are trying to adhere to a Paleo eating style.
When the vision of a healthy diet is conjured in ones head one of the first things that come up (after whole grains and vegetables) are beans. Many people, especially in the vegetarian movement, believe that beans are a great source of nutrients and an all around healthy food. It will come as a bit of a shock to someone from that mindset that the Paleo community is one hundred percent against the consumption of beans and legumes without exception. Their reasons for this are because of what they consider to be a poorer nutrient to calorie ratio and chemicals in them that cause problems in people.
There is no question that beans and legumes are high in nutrients, but they are high in sugars as well. Beans are considered a good source of protein on a vegetarian diet, yet the number of grams of protein per calorie of beans compared to meats is pretty low. Lean poultry will have on the order of 20 grams per 100 calories, while lean meats and seafood will be more like 17 according to USDA. Beans and legumes on the other hand average just 7. This can delve into the whole debate about how much protein we actually need to be eating, which I honestly don’t want to get into at this point. The fact is that from this one nutrient perspective, the density is higher in meat than in beans and legumes.
When it comes to other nutrients, like minerals, the story gets a little more complex. In some cases beans and legumes have comparable, or in some cases far greater, concentrations of elements like iron and zinc than meats but there is some question to their bio-availability. For those cases they are therefore basically a wash with meat products or slightly poorer in comparison.
The real thing that gets the goat of Paleo people though are the anti-nutrients that exist in beans. Beans are actually naturally high in anti-nutrients and some toxins, like the chemical Phytohaemagglutnin (PHA) found in kidney beans. In fact if you eat enough raw kidney beans you can actually get to the point of being poisoned by these chemicals which will lead to vomiting, diarrhea and severe abdominal pain. PHA is just one of many classes of chemicals called lectins that you will find in beans. At best these chemicals supposedly cause for the poor absorption of nutrients and cause “leaky gut” and at worse they create reactions like the ones listed for PHA. Beans also have chemicals called saponins that are soap like chemicals that can supposedly disrupt the cellular functioning of the digest tract tissues. The list then goes on from there. For more information I highly encourage you to go to to the handy guide found at Loren Cordain’s website.
If you went to the site and are now back you probably will agree with the Paleo sentiment that beans are downright dangerous products to have in our food system and the very idea of consuming even one morsel of said product would seem akin to committing suicide by eating a cyanide pill. Regardless of how genuine they feel about what they write, I have to say that it seems a bit reactionary. Humans have been eating beans, wild or domesticated, for countless millennia. The earliest cultivation of these plants go back almost ten thousand years. Many native societies have had beans as one of their staple food products as well. The Paleo claims aren’t that GMO beans or modern beans are the problems, but beans themselves, even beans that are traditional, are to blame. If these plants were as toxic and humans were as poorly adapted to eating them as they claim then the societies that tried to base their nutrition on it would have died out quickly. Usually rather than that happening the cultures adapt to avoid foods that are not working for them.
It is because of this fact that I have to take exception to the notion that bean consumption is by default detrimental to the health of any wood be consumer. As with the principles I follow with the rest of this experiment, whether beans work for your body is something you are going to have to experiment. I personally will be experimenting with no bean consumption for the next three months to see if the Paleo methodology works well for me or not, in general. Anyone reading this should consider looking at if they are having any problems with their bodies and if any of that could be caused by beans. If you are humming, then don’t let the rhetoric fool you. If you aren’t, then give a try of a bean-free life and see what happens.
Eggs are a rather universal food amongst omnivores and carnivores. They are nutrient dense little packages that are easy to consume, and in our cases store and transport. It’s therefore no coincidence that eating eggs is a rather standard part of human diets in regions all over the planet where interactions with birds is common. While there is no specification on the species of bird eggs to eat, you are probably going to most likely be encountering chicken eggs at the store.