OK so the subject is HUGE but I’m just going to start and see where we go with this.

I know many of you are a bit curious, a bit confused, a bit: ‘Is it a fad?’, a bit: ‘No PASTA? ? I have kids to feed, Lady. Get real’.

So here goes.

Paleo Eating, Primal Eating, the Cavewoman Diet – eating like our ancestors did before there were supermarkets and fridges and takeouts and wine…

(There was a time without WINE? Wow. Those cavewomen had it bad…). 

Actually though, paleo eating is more than ‘no processed food’ – we know about the evils of processed food, sugar, alcohol – OK these things are cut-out-able in moderation and we know they’re foods we should limit. Processed and refined grains and fats, sugar. We know those things are bad for us.

But paleo goes further – its about a diet before organised agriculture, before farming really. Paleo eating in its pure form means no grains or legumes. (Legumes btw includes peanuts, soy, lentils, peas and  all beans). No bread, no cereals (oats, wheat, anything), no pasta, no corn, no potatoes, no rice, no potatoes, no beans. Its basically no carbs in the forms we know them – except vegetables and fruits. And not all fruits are allowed either. Wow. Hard-core.

Paleo eating means eating ONLY what swam, ran, walked or grew naturally. The stuff our ancestors hunted and foraged. Its a diet of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and natural healthy fats (coconut, olive, avocados, nuts and seeds).

But before you click away in disgust at the just plain SILLY-ness of it all, lets have a look at the rationale. That last sentence: ‘its a diet of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and natural healthy fats‘ – that in itself sounds pretty healthy right?

So its not so much that we’re uncomfortable with what we’re allowed… its just that bloody long list of what we’re NOT allowed that freaks us out a bit.

And just to make it complicated, not all the ‘paleo’ gurus agree – some want you to go ‘low fat’ with your meat, others advocate fats (including the saturated fat on meat) in abundance. Some let you eat some fruits and some let you eat different fruits. Some like dairy and some don’t. Some stick with the old ‘calories in calories out‘ model when it comes to controlling weight, others believe there’s a little more to it than that. There’s also stuff in some of the books on this topic that advocate fasting for weight loss and other slightly scary sounding stuff.

But if we take away all the labels and the hysteria – and take what makes sense to us and what works for us as individuals and families, then there are some very sound and simple concepts.

A diet based on vegetables, protein, natural healthy fats and real unprocessed foods;  + cutting out foods that are toxic or that add burden to our bodies? Not so crazy. And definitely not so revolutionary or heated-debate-worthy.

If we can move on  from discussing who ‘invented’ it, and who wrote the ‘definitive’ book, and who calls it what, and precisely what the ‘rules’ are… And if we don’t feel we have to follow every letter as doctrine, but rather simply make informed choices about the food we eat… then we may just end up eating better food. Which is no bad thing.

I will give you a few links at the bottom of  this post to read more IF you want to, rather than attempt to regurgitate other peoples research or theories.

But if you don’t want to… I’ll try to sum up the *Paleo thing* for you. Wendy’s version.

So. Is paleo eating good for me or not?

If we start from the point of all agreeing that the healthy stuff listed above is very very good for us, then I don’t think we need to linger too long there. If you follow this blog you’ll know what MUTU Food is all about: fresh, real food. Organic if you can, but local and seasonal as much as possible. Meat is cool if you’re not vegetarian – but make it organic, or at least free range, local and ethically reared. Fish – go for it. Eggs – great. Nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut oil, good olive oil, bring it on. Whole fruit – hell yes. And as many different colourful veggies on your plate at every meal as you possibly can.

We’re all happy so far.

The bit that throws us is the grains. MUTU Food (that’s me) advocates that the grains that you do eat, are in their natural state and unprocessed. It recommends that the grains or the carbs are the smallest portion on your plate (after veggies and then protein)… But they’re still there. Not in every meal – they’re certainly not essential and they shouldn’t be your staple.

If  grains make up the bulk of your diet (and they do for many) – then my recommendation is to address and change the composition of your plate for the sake of your health.

So am I for or against?  Should you shun grains completely? Well the answer is if you want to, it will almost certainly benefit your health…

Do I? Not completely no. I like them sometimes. I like to think of it as my informed choice…

And so we’ll all informed

This is the science of why grains are bad:

ALL carbs (grains of any description, as well as more obvious or refined sugars) end up as glucose in our body, That’s sugar. Doesn’t matter how they start out – cake or wholegrain rice – they’re all glucose in the end. And when glucose is consumed, our pancreas produces insulin to deal with it. Insulin is a hormone, evolved to deal with excess nutrients – Stuff our body has taken in that we don’t need or can’t use. Insulin is a storage hormone, designed to store nutrients (fat) for times of need.

Trouble is, for most of us, we never really hit the ‘need’ bit. So it stays stored as fat. As I’ve discussed before here – sugar, not fat, causes you to store fat. The body produces more and more insulin as it senses the excess glucose (sugar) in our body and our cells get more and more resistant.

As a double whammy, excess insulin also suppresses other important hormones – the ones responsible for building muscles and burning fat… So all that glucose from the grains and sugars doesn’t only promote fat storage, it also limits our body’s ability to get rid of that stored fat.

So the grains / insulin thing is actually just a perfectly scientifically-sound and logical step  from the sugar / insulin thing you already knew.

So yes, you will benefit from reducing or eliminating the sugars AND the grains in your diet.  

Does the ‘all carbs are sugar’ principle means that a carb calorie is a calorie, regardless of the source?

Well in my view no it doesn’t. I think there is a BIG difference to the benefits or harm to your body depending on the choices you make for instance between the cake or the whole grain rice. Yes, the rice should be the smallest portion on your plate, yes it comes after the vegetables and after the protein, and no it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea if you left the carbs off the plate altogether some of the time… but I think one is still better than the other.

Most paleo-advocates would say there isn’t  any difference. Ho hum. That’s what makes the world interesting  But I come back again to informed choice. If you’re a detail person who likes to follow a principle to the letter and to understand every argument and piece of research – then knock yourself out – there are links at the bottom to some great sources that will give you everything you need to know.

Is it restrictive and hard to follow?
In today’s modern world and with a demanding or fussy family to feed, we’d be kidding ourselves if we said it wasn’t. But like with all the choices we make about what we feed ourselves and our family – its our call. Apply your knowledge about what is good for you and your family in a way and at a level that works for you. My next post will be about ‘Keeping Paleo Real’ for family food!

Don’t we need carbs though?
Well, yes. But the paleos would argue you get all the carbs and fibre you need from whole vegetables and fruits and berries. If you eat enough whole vegetables, fruits and berries… they’ve got a point.

Aren’t there lots of good nutrients and fibre in whole grains?
Yes there, are, but the paleos would argue that you can get those same nutrients and fibre, with none of the insulin downsides, from meat, nuts, fish and vegetables.

What about the beans, lentils and chickpeas? I thought they were good for me?

They are. But its kind of all relative… (that’s clarified that then…)  + certainly some advocates would say that these are certainly the lesser evil and OK in moderation. But the  paleo anti-beans argument is that you get better protein from meat, and that the mineral nutrients in beans and legumes is outweighed by the high carb content and subsequent insulin effect. Me? I like daal and chickpeas. So shoot me.

Is dairy paleo-approved?
Well this is an interesting one. No one seems to know, or at least agree. Some paleo writers are an absolute ‘no’ to all dairy. Mark Sisson at Primal Living is honest about dairy as a bit of a grey area. Others differentiate between the many benefits of raw milk vs pasteurised (‘processed’) milk. Of course, where digestive intolerance is present, that’s different story, but it seems there is good dairy and bad diary for the rest of us.

Personally, I’m not a massive fan but that’s because my daughter is slightly intolerant and there is a clear correlation between cows milk and her eczema… natural unsweetened yoghurt we have, really good organic ice cream is an occasional treat + I have organic cows milk in my once-daily cup of coffee… apart from that we’re almond milk or oat milk (paleo black mark there :() in our house.

So where does this leave MUTU?

With at least a Part 2 to write , that for certain… ;) In Part 2 (coming soon) we move to Paleo Eating | Keeping It Real. A Family Friendly Guide. I’m going to talk about how we can realistically and sensibly apply some of the above principles to feed ourselves and our families in the real world.

Is it worth it? Well I think it is.

Because if you strip away what feels too ‘radical’, and if you accept that for most of us it doesn’t have to be utterly rigid…  a lot of these rules are simply rules for eating more real food and reducing the sugar and crap that goes into our bodies. And we all get that bit… right? 

In Part 2 I will try to help you figure out how to adapt these principles, not get caught up in the hype…  + make real food work for your family

Interesting Links:

Please note I am not affiliating myself  or my brand with, or unreservedly recommending, any book, ‘Diet’ or website and nor am I a strict follower of this or any other diet – just trying to help us all understand a little better. I welcome your comments!

Mark Sisson (‘The Primal Blueprint‘) on grains

Mark Sisson on Dairy and on Legumes

And this was an interesting article I found… which gets really deep on questioning the detail of the scientific basis of the Paleo theory…( It’s detailed…don’t say I didn’t warn you)