The Diet Breakdown

Starting today, we are going to dive into the world of fad diets. What kinds are out there? What (if any) science is behind the diet? Should you try it? Should you skip it? Please join the conversation. Have you tried a fad diet? Tell us about it!

First up: Paleo!

The paleo diet (also referred to as the caveman diet) is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years duration that ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture. It is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups eaten during prehistoric times. It is definitely the most “in” of the diets at the moment – even being covered in an article entitled “Stone Soup” by Elizabeth Kolbert in last week’s issue of The New Yorker. “Acccording to Sarah Ballantyne, the author of ‘The Paleo Approach,’,” Ms. Kolbert writes, “a paleo diet consists of ‘meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.’ According to John Durant, the author of “The Paleo Manifesto,” even seeds are suspect and should be avoided. (A genuinely Paleolithic diet, Durant concedes, probably ought to include human flesh; however, he does not advise this.)”

So what can you eat…really:

  • Lean meat, such as chicken, turkey, pork, lean beef, and buffalo (bison)
  • Fish
  • Seafood
  • Fresh fruit
  • Nonstarchy vegetables, such as lettuce, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and spinach
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and pistachios (no peanuts)
  • Seeds like pumpkin and sunflower
  • Eggs
  • Plant-based oils, such as olive, walnut, grapeseed, and coconut
That’s ALL!
What can’t you eat?
  • Grains, such as oats, wheat, barley, and rice — which means no cereal, bread, pasta, bagels, crackers, or granola bars
  • Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn, as well as potato and corn chips, tortillas, and popcorn
  • Legumes or beans — so no peanuts or peanut butter; no soy foods, such as soy milk, tofu, or edamame; no hummus, black beans, or baked beans
  • All dairy products — so no milk, yogurt, cheese, or ice cream
  • High-fat meats, such as salami, bologna, pepperoni, hot dogs, ground meat, rib roast, and ribs
  • Sugars, such as in soda, honey, jam or jelly, syrup, candy, cakes, cookies, and sports drinks
  • Processed foods or trans fats, such as doughnuts, french fries, fruit snacks, or mac and cheese
  • Salty foods, such as crackers, chips, pretzels, soy sauce, added-salt foods, or sports drinks

Pro’s of the diet: Removes packaged and processed foods from your diet. Most people do see some weight loss initially – but that is just because of the restrictiveness of the diet.

Con’s: Too heavily dependent on meat (and protein). Restrictive: not enough variety. Removes too many food groups. Potential for weight gain when grains are re-introduced (which they will inevitably be)…aka not sustainable. Consuming no dairy foods is not great for your bones. If you take away foods and nutrients and don’t find suitable replacements, you can create a nutrient imbalance. This diet can be really hard for vegetarians, especially since the diet excludes beans. Most athletes need between 3 to 6 grams of carbs per pound of their body weight, per day. This would be very hard to do with just fruits and vegetables.

In general, we don’t live in the paleolithic era – we are not hunting and gathering…we are driving to our local super market and shopping for pre-picked, cleaned, and packaged food. Like most fad diets, this one is too restrictive. Choose to eat CLEAN.

If you want to “health up” your diet, by all means do. But rather than going paleo, try this:
  • Do eat three to five smaller meals a day.
  • Do include some protein at every meal and snack.
  • Do include foods with color at every meal or snack.
  • Do include some grains at every meal and snack, such as cereal, whole grain bread, rice, or pasta.
  • Do include a little fat at each meal, such as nuts and high quality oils.
  • Do be selective with some of the less healthy foods.

Here is a paleo inspired recipe:

Dorie Greenspan’s Chicken-in-the-Pot

  • Makes 4 servings (but you can multiply the recipe easily)

    Approximately 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    4 heads of garlic, broken into cloves, but not peeled
    16 shallots, peeled and trimmed, or 4 onions, peeled, trimmed and quartered, or 4 leeks, white part only, halved lengthwise
    8 carrots, peeled, trimmed and quartered
    4 celery stalks, trimmed and quartered
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    4 sprigs fresh thyme
    4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
    3 sprigs fresh rosemary
    Grated zest of 1 lemon
    16 prunes, optional (apricots or dried apples are also good in this dish)
    1 chicken, whole or cut-up
    1/2 small (2 lbs or less) cabbage, green or red, cut into 4 wedges (try Savoy cabbage)
    1 cup chicken broth
    1/2 cup white wine, or another 1/2 cup chicken broth
    About 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, for the seal
    About 3/4 cup hot water, for the seal

    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

    Set a large skillet over high heat and add about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss in the garlic cloves and all the vegetables, EXCEPT the cabbage – you might have to do this in two batches, you don’t want to crowd the skillet – season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are lightly browned on all sides. Spoon the vegetables into a large Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid – you’ll need a pot that holds at least 5 quarts. Stir in the herbs, lemon zest and prunes, if you’re using them.

    Return the skillet to the heat and add another tablespoon or so of oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown the chicken on all sides. Put the chicken in the casserole, nestling it among the vegetables. Fit the cabbage wedges around the chicken.

    Stir together the chicken broth, wine and 1/2 cup olive oil and pour the mixture over the chicken and vegetables.

    Now you have a choice: you can cover the pot with a sheet of aluminum foil and the lid, or you can make a paste to seal the lid. To make the paste, stir the flour and water together, mixing until you have a soft, workable dough. Working on a floured surface, shape the dough into a long sausage, then press the sausage onto the rim of the casserole. Press the lid into the dough to seal the pot.

    Slide the pot into the oven and bake for 70 minutes. If you need to keep it in the oven a little longer because you’re not ready for it, don’t worry – turn the heat down to 325 degrees F and you’ll be good for another 30 minutes or so.

    The easiest way to break the seal, is to wiggle the point of a screwdriver between the dough and the pot – being careful not to stand in the line of the escaping (and wildly aromatic) steam. If the chicken was whole, quarter it and return it to the pot, so that you can serve directly from the pot, or arrange the chicken and vegetables on a serving platter.

Coming up: Atkins, South Beach, Vegan, Macrobiotic, Gluten-Free…just to name a few


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