Paleo conjures up images of meat. But it also relies heavily on vegetables, herbs and spices.
Paleo has evolved into more than just a diet, and is now considered a lifestyle by some and a movement by others.
Australian chef Pete Evans is emerging as its controversial Trans-Tasman leader, intent on changing the world one pasta-less Spaghetti and bunless Joy burger at a time.
But he’s not alone. At his paleo workshops held in Auckland and Wellington over the weekend, Evans was joined on stage by a personal trainer, a naturopath, a couple of nutritionists, a chiropractor, a lifestyle educator, and one Australian Idol winner, his wife and child. All people living the paleo way of life.
The audience – from the faithful and converted to the merely curious – soaked up the day’s cooking demos, presentations, and stories of personal transformation through paleo.
The elephant in the room – the recent outrage over Evans’ liver and bone broth formula for infants – was only partly tackled by guest speaker Charlotte Carr, co-author of Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way. She spoke about her son’s own troubles with feeding and how he started ‘stimming’ and showing symptoms of autism. A paediatrician advised Carr to remove any casein and gluten from his diet, but finding a baby formula with ingredients she understood was near-on impossible. That’s when a naturopath put Carr onto a homemade broth and liver formula, which Carr claims turned things around.
Outside of this workshop however, baby broth has taken paleo a step too far. Sue Pollard, CEO of the NZ Nutrition Foundation, says “the idea of giving babies bone broth instead of formula is certainly something we wouldn’t condone. From a food safety point of view there are all sorts of risks, and it’s quite dangerous nutritionally.”
As for the diet as a whole, she says eating more vegetables and cutting refined sugars and processed foods has merit, but not enough. “It’s expensive, it’s alternative, it’s trendy – you don’t need to do it to have a well-balanced diet. And I would suggest that avoiding legumes, grains and dairy is inappropriate.”
“The food and nutrition guidelines developed by countries, including New Zealand, are based on the latest science. And so one of the things we would be concerned about is the complete removal of a whole food group. You’d be missing the likes of B-vitamins from grains and calcium from milk,” she says.
It would also be difficult to get a high-fibre diet without grains and legumes. “They’ve been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. And they contribute to satiety so people don’t eat too much, which helps with weight loss,” says Pollard.
While that controversy continues to brew, we attempt to explain what you can and can’t eat on the world’s most polarising diet. From all the various experts on deck at Evans’ workshop, here are 10 things that stuck out …
10 THINGS WE LEARNT ABOUT PALEO
1. It’s not too far from ‘meat and three veg’… so says Evans. Meat is ideally pasture-fed and the seafood sustainable – but virtually all types of meat, poultry and fish are on the table. Meals can include as many vegetables as you want – raw or cooked. Above-ground veges are preferable to root vegetables (although potatoes seem to be quite divisive in the paleo world).
2. Remove grains and dairy: Okay, so that means no pasta or bread in the pantry. You’ll have to ditch the cereal too. Grains contain phytates, which bind up minerals in food and make them difficult to absorb. They also contribute to high blood sugar, another no-no. Dairy, like grains, can cause an inflammatory response and is linked with allergies. So basically, paleo might be your friend if you’re lactose or gluten-intolerant. Paleo makes a lot of use of nuts and seeds, which can be made into muesli and even bread.
3. Avoid legumes: You can also forget about beans, including soybeans, peas and lentils. Even though these are a source of protein, paleo folk say they are full of anti-nutrients, such as phytates (which impair the absorption of other nutrients found in these foods) and lectins, which might be toxic in the bloodstream. Sceptics argue that sprouting and cooking destroys lectin so it isn’t an issue, and that these foods contain important nutrients we need.
4. Ditch refined sugars: Eating too much sugar – especially via processed foods – can lead to weight gain and diabetes. When you’re filling your body with sugar, that’s the fuel your body will run on and burn, whereas the fuel your cells actually need is protein and fat, claims Dr Nora Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body, Primal Mind.
5. Fruit is okay on occasion: What could possibly be wrong with fruit? Just all the sugar content by way of fructose. Some paleo advocates say one to three servings of fruit a day is okay. Evans opts for the occasional green apple and antioxidant-rich berries.
6. Bone broth is a good staple: A cup of broth every day, instead of coffee, is one of the most important habits to adopt if you’re going paleo, says Evans. Bone broth, or stock, contains a host of minerals and nutrients that is good for the gut, say advocates.
7. Fermented foods rule: For gut health, fermented vegetables are the tonic as they’re thought to contain a heap of beneficial probiotics as well as enzymes to help break down and digest foods. Naturopath Helen Padarin claims that when you ferment a vegetable you increase its nutritional value by up to 100 times.
8. Eat unrefined fats: Avocados and olives are a great source of healthy fat, as are nuts and seeds. For cooking, coconut oil and duck fat is a better bet than less-stable modern vegetable oils such as soybean, sunflower, rice bran and canola oils, say the paleo people.
9. Eat nose to tail: If you’re going to eat meat, it should be done in the most respectful way, not wasting any parts of the animal. If you cook a roast chicken, don’t throw the carcass away. For broth, you can use chicken feet and necks, for example. Offal, such as liver, is also full of vitamins, minerals and amino acids and can be added to meals or made into pate. And all the fat that rises to the top of the broth or stock, while cooking, can be scraped off and used as cooking fat.
10. Don’t fret about calories: In terms of portion sizes, Evans recommends a piece of meat the size of your palm with a meal. Just by eating protein and healthy fats – and avoiding sugar, gluten, dairy and grains – you shouldn’t feel hungry between meals, your body will draw on fat for its energy, and weight loss should follow says Evans and his like-minded paleo faithfuls.