My family has always had a passion for food. Growing up, there was always something going on in the kitchen. Every time we visited my grandparents, grandpa would make his famous enchiladas while grandma baked her homemade cinnamon bread. My uncles are always … Continue reading
Coffee. C8H10N4O2. Cuppa Joe. Go Juice. Liquid Energy. Rocket Fuel. Many different names with 1 amazing purpose. Just a little bit of energy to get through the day.
But…how does coffee fit into the whole Paleo way of eating?
First, the facts. What is coffee? Coffee is made by brewing the roasted seed…or “bean”…from a coffee tree. Coffee = caffeine. Caffeine is the main stimulant found in this little bean, often consumed as a little “pick-me-up.” The consumption of this tasty chemical stimulates the central nervous system in humans and tends to make the user less drowsy. It is also a diuretic. In my research, I have read that in some studies, coffee has also been found to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as diabetes. Black tea has also been found to decrease the risk of diabetes. So, caffeine does have it’s place.
While caffeine definitely has its purpose, more is certainly not better. Moderation is the key word here. Frequent coffee-drinkers (myself included) can attest that there comes a day when their daily cup of coffee no longer gives them that much anticipated energy burst that they once had. Coffee has an addictive nature, gut-irritating properties, and may cause negative effects on sleep patterns. Actually, many habitual coffee drinkers have reported that they suffer from sleep disturbances, headaches, and general “sluggish” behavior. This has been referred to as adrenal fatigue. Caffeine stimulates your adrenal glands to release the hormones linked to stress. Adrenaline and cortisol primarily. This is fine…once in awhile. Where it gets tricky is when you add in a stressful lifestyle, lack of exercise, poor sleeping, and a crappy diet. All of these things definitely take a toll on your adrenal glands. THEN add in copious amounts of coffee to “help” you get through the day. Now we have adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are tired and overworked from unending stress and inadequate rest and recovery.
Scott Hagnas, founder of CrossFit Portland, said it perfectly. “I agree that coffee isn’t as evil as some have made it out to be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t often abused. Quite frequently, those with some level of adrenal fatigue use caffeine as an energy source for their day. In reality, caffeine doesn’t give you energy – it gives you stress. I see so many people that try to eat well and exercise intelligently, but have trouble making progress because of a stress filled life. The total stress load is cumulative, so coffee becomes fuel for the fire. I have also observed that those with damaged adrenals are more sensitive to coffee’s adverse effects than those with healthy adrenals. As a simple rule, if you feel like you need it, then you should evaluate your habits. If you feel like you can do fine without, then a few cups now and then should be ok for you.”
Now, that’s some solid wisdom there.
Now, my thoughts. I guess if you are looking for the purest form of Paleo, I recommend avoiding caffeine. Completely. Paleo is all about promoting a way of eating that encompases anti-inflammatory foods as well as bringing the body back to a more normal energy level. In my opinion, part of the idea behind this way of eating is to somewhat cleanse your body. Balance. You remove the food items that cause irritation and inflammation. Stop eating the foods that cause your blood sugar to spike. Get rid of the things that can be addictive. YOU be in charge of the food that you eat. Sugar and caffeine are 2 of the big ones in this category. Don’t let them run the show.
I think for some, caffeine consumption has gotten out of hand. Many people can’t even get dressed for the day without their caffeine fix. I have been there…more than once. Once in awhile, I’ll be a few hours into my day and realize that I’ve had 10-12 cups of coffee before 0900. As a paramedic, I work 24 hour shifts. I work overnights every so often. Sometimes I’m up for 24+ hours. Many days, I run on about 4 hours of sleep. Even if you aren’t in public safety, I’m sure you can relate. Go Go Go Go Go….who has time for sleep? So much to do! It’s just how society is today …When I feel that I’m getting to this place of caffeine addiction, I force myself to take a step back. I remove the caffeine. Now, while some people cut back to a cup or 2, I just quit cold turkey. Yes, there are headaches, and yes, I feel like a bag full of garbage for a few days, but I know it’s what I need to do to get back some balance. After 5-7 I begin to notice the difference. Natural energy. Better sleep. After awhile, a couple months, I add a cup or 2 back into my day…then begin the cycle again.
Whole9 has some great tips for coffee:
-If you’re not currently a caffeine user, don’t start
-Limit your consumption to 1-2 cups of coffee a day, always before noon to prevent sleep disruption
-Your coffee pot is not a cup. Nice try
-If you’re using coffee as a crutch to get through your day – or just to get out of bed – reconsider whether that is a healthy relationship
-We don’t think the above is a healthy relationship, thanks for asking
-A couple times a year, give your body a Caffeine Holiday for at least 30 days. (That means NO caffeine – no black or green tea, energy drinks, or even decaf)
In short, moderation is really the key word here. “When it comes to coffee, less is generally better. Think before you drink.” -Whole9
The majority of my research came from reputable Paleo sources including Mark’s Daily Apple and Whole9.
This post has been a long time coming. I’ve talked about legumes. I’ve talked about grain. I’ve talked about dairy. “But is alcohol Paleo?”
The short answer, no.
The way I see it, Paleo is all about eating clean. I consider it a long-term cleanse of sorts. It’s bringing your body back to it’s normal state. Getting rid of toxins, processed garbage, sugars. Regulating insulin. Maintaining normal hormone levels. Alcohol is one of those things that does nothing to cleanse the body or bring it backs to its normal state.
There are 3 types of alcohol. Wine, beer, and spirits. Wine and beer and products of sugar or starch fermentation. Wine from grapes, and beer from grains. Essentially, beer is like liquid grain (think: gluten). Spirits come from grain fermentation, but are later distilled, which removes the grain protein, thus making them grain-free. However, sometimes the gluten can be added back in by way of additives or other alcohols.
Alcohol does a good job at reducing your inhibitions, as well as coordination and fine motor skills. Even just a “little” bit of alcohol can make you think “hey, those chili cheesy deep fried corn dog fritters would be perfect if they were in my belly right now.” Bad idea. Bar food, also bad idea. If you’re serious about eating clean and sticking to it, don’t set yourself up for failure by drinking alcohol then making poor food choices. It’s lose lose.
Alcohol has a HUGE effect on hormones. It messes with your body’s ability to regulate glucose…big time. This affects your insulin levels as well as your glucagon levels. When something interferes with these hormones, one may see a major systemic inflammatory response, which plays a big part in a whole plethora of conditions and diseases.
While we are still on the subject of sugars, alcohol is LOADED with sugar…and a major lack of nutrition. Empty calories. Lots of them. Mixed drinks can be a bad bad combo. Man oh man. Consider cleaning it up a bit by scrapping those sugary soda pops and mixers for something a little better. Try club soda, real lime for Rose’s lime juice, and drinks with fruit juice instead of those pre-packaged mixers.
As I mentioned in paragraph one, alcohol is not recommended. Ok, that being said, treats are ok. I guess I just encourage people to be mindful of what they’re (eating and) drinking. Pre-Paleo, I enjoyed beer every now and then. Good beer. Hearty beer. The stuff that is full of flavor, full of calories, and is fairly similar to eating a loaf of bread. Since choosing the Paleo way of eating, I have cut out beer. Completely. I do like a drink every now and again, however. I chose to switch to a vodka, club soda, lime wedge cocktail. I felt that this was a better choice than the alcohol choices that I made before eating clean. Some Paleo people recommend choosing gluten-free beer. Some say wine. Others say 100% agave tequila or hard cider. Really, alcohol is alcohol. Sure, some choices are significantly better than others, but there is really no “Paleo alcohol.” I consider a cocktail or two a treat. Just make good choices. Moderation. The less that you drink, the healthier you will be.
Beans and peas and soy and peanuts. What’s the problem? I’ve been doing a little research lately. I will do my best to explain it the way that I understand it.
Legumes are from a plant family that includes a variety of beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, soybeans, green beans, and peanuts. On a sidenote, coffee, cocoa, and vanilla are not included in this family. Often times, legumes are labeled as a healthy option due to their fiber, vitamin, mineral, and protein content. However, when you take a closer look, A. Legumes are much higher in the carbohydrate department than protein. 2. When it comes to protein, you are far better off getting protein from meat, seafood, and eggs. C. As far as micronutrients and fiber, your fruit and vegetables trump legumes.
When it comes to legumes, there are really 2 main issues with them: Phytic Acid and lectin.
Phytic Acid binds to nutrients, preventing absorption. This essentially makes them inaccessible to our bodies. In my research, I found that really, it depends on the amount that you consume. It has been debated that it’s ok with smaller amounts. Personally, I have decided that a snack of sugar snap peas or a small side of green beans is ok, but that’s my personal opinion. Strict Paleo says no.
Legumes are a big carbohydrate source. With carbohydrate comes sugar. 1. Beans have a higher glycemic load which Paleo purists try to steer clear of. B. Some of the carbs are tough to digest which may cause unpleasant digestive problems for some people. While this may not be a reason for everyone to avoid them, it’s definitely something to be mindful of…especially if you have IBS or similar digestive problems.
Lectin proteins are found in all sorts of food, with levels being especially high in legumes, grain, and dairy. Lectin is tough to digest. Once in the gut, the still mostly intact proteins have the potential to cross the lining and into the bloodstream. This is when we see an immune response which triggers systemic inflammation (see: leaky gut). People react differently to lectin. If you eat some baked beans, you may be just fine, while your neighbor over there may experience cramping, bloating, gas, and so on and so forth. Same food, same amount, different reactions.
I just wanted to take the time to elaborate a little more on GI distress. Since choosing to adopt the clean eating lifestyle, I have taken an unofficial survey of other people who have also done the same. I have had multiple discussions with a handful of people who have also decided to switch to clean food. In our dialogue, I have found that the majority of them have noticed a significant difference in the way that they feel. Sure, they have more energy, clearer skin, weight loss, etc. But the main thing that they (we) have noticed is less GI discomfort. When you start out maybe doing a strict 30 day challenge, after those 3o days, you may not notice a huge difference in the way that you feel. It’s when you slowly start adding the grains, the dairy, the legumes back into your diet that you see the difference. For the majority of people, they notice bloating, cramps, gas, and heartburn. Just the other week, I sampled a little something at the fire station that had flour and sugars in it. Later that night, I began to have some gnarly stomach cramps, bloating, and heartburn. I had it for the rest of the evening. Before Paleo, I experienced these symptoms fairly regularly, but since making the switch to cleaner eating, I haven’t had any of these symptoms. Cheats like that help me to remember why I choose to be Paleo.
I know of a few people who follow my blog who choose to be vegetarian for various reasons. How does one get protein if meat, seafood, AND legumes are removed? Keep in mind, I write these “Paleo science” blogs from the strict Paleo point of view. I’m just here to educate. I believe that with any type of eating, you need to be smart with it. You need to be mindful of the vitamins and mineral that you’re lacking and find other ways to get them into your diet, whether your Paleo, vegetarian, vegan, whatever. I promote clean eating. How you modify that is up to you. Just be smart about it.
Again, everyone is different. You may feel just fine eating legumes. Strict Paleo says no, but people modify their Paleo in all sorts of ways. You need to experiment and see how legumes affect the way that you feel and how you look, act, think, what have you. As always, comments are welcome. I don’t know all of the answers, but I will do my best to figure it out. I am very much still learning.
Part of the Paleo guidelines say no to grains. What does this include? Wheat, oats, barley, rye, millet, corn, rice, sorghum, teff, triticale, spelt, kamut, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa. No breads, cereals, pasta, rice. Strict says no to even gluten-free. I know what you’re thinking. “But how can this be? This goes against everything that I have ever been taught.” Confusing, right? Let me explain the way that I understand it.
We can consume two categories of grains, refined and whole grains.
Refined grains have the bran and germ removed during the refining process. With this, the fiber, vitamins, and minerals are also removed. Sometimes, these grains are “fortified” with nutrients, but it doesn’t make up for what is removed. These grains are often times turned into snacky things. Since the parts of the grain that make you feel full have been taken out, it is very easy to over consume these foods. Because of this, these grains tend to mess with your blood sugar and also promote cravings.
Whole grains are just that, whole. They still have the bran and the germ, however you are still a lot better off obtaining your fiber, vitamins, and minerals from fruit/vegetables. The folks at Whole9 did a comparison in their book , It Starts with Food, of a daily diet based on whole grains vs fruit and vegetables. This chart can be found on pg 109 (I have also included a photo for reference). Sodium, calories, and sugar are all elevated with the wheat; however it has significantly lower levels of potassium, Iron, Zinc, and many of the vitamins.
The grain dilemma isn’t just an issue with nutritional value. There are also some health problems that may arise from consuming the grains. Some of the proteins in grains have been found to cause problems in the gut. These proteins have tendency to create an increase in gut permeability (also called leaky gut). What does this mean? The proteins can be resistant to digestion, meaning they enter the gut intact then are able to cross over a typically impermeable gut barrier into the body. These proteins contain partially digested food parts, bacteria, and viruses. These out of place particles have been known to adversely affect digestion as well as the immune response. Gluten is one of these proteins that has been known to cause many of these problems. Gluten can be found in rye, wheat, and barley.
I keep mentioning these inflammatory effects. What does this include? This could refer to a number of things. Allergies, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune diseases (celiac, Crohn’s, lupus, MS), chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, endometriosis. These inflammatory effects have also been known to show up in the brain with depression, anxiety, and psychiatric disorders. Basically, grain has the potential to affect any disease process that is associated with inflammation.
These effects can vary from person to person. Sometimes they don’t even affect a person at all. This is where the 30 day challenge comes into play. When you eat strict Paleo for 30 days, then slowly introduce grain back into your diet, you may find that you feel much better without the grain. I guess my thinking is, why eat the grain if I has a huge potential to make you feel like garbage? If you’re eating grains for the health benefits, consider switching to fruit and veggies. If you refer back to the picture that is posted, you will notice that you’re actually better off nutritionally without the grains.
In my experience, I have found that my allergies are slightly better, I can breathe better, I am less fatigued, and my guts feel much better without the grains. Personally, I don’t feel that it’s worth it to eat the grains. But…as always, do the research. Test this yourself. Try eating strict Paleo for the 30 days then see how you feel after reintroducing grains back into your diet. With the grain test, be mindful to how you look, how you feel, and your general quality of life.
I’ve been reading through a few various sources. The Paleo Solution and It Starts With Food, to name 2 of them. I highly recommend these 2 books if you want to dig a little deeper into the whole Paleo thing. Don’t just take my word for it. I just encourage you to research this more on your own. Do a little digging yourself. Become educated on how, why, and what you eat.
Dairy (cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk. water buffalo milk). It consists of protein, carbohydrate (lactose), fat, and calcium. It is meant for growth. We have all heard that dairy is a major part of a well-balanced diet. You need to drink your milk in order to have strong bones, and so on and so forth. So why does Paleo kick out the dairy?
First of all, you need a plethora of vitamins and minerals for bone growth, not just calcium. Calcium, in addition to, Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, Vitamin K, magnesium, and phosphorus. They’re all important, not just the calcium. Other sources of calcium include, but are not limited to, fish and green leafy vegetables.
Secondly, dairy has the ability to cause inflammation in the gut. This can affect digestion as well as cause a more systemic immune response. Studies are being done on how dairy has been linked to asthma, lupus, allergies, arthritis, psoriasis, and other immune disorders. Dairy has also been known to exacerbate the symptoms of celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine). Another aspect of the inflammatory response has to do with amino acids (what make up protein). Animal milk contains lactose, which is a simple sugar. In order to digest lactose, our bodies produce an enzyme called lactase. When we are babies, we have an overabundance of lactase in our bodies, but as we grow older, those lactase levels decrease significantly. Thus, as we age, milk is not able to be broken down properly through digestion, leaving undigested amino acids floating around. These amino acids also have the potential to affect the immune response. An overactive immune system is no good. These reactions clearly are not the case with every individual. Just making you aware that dairy does have the potential to cause some pretty undesirable results.
Thirdly, dairy insulin levels. Insulin is normally produced in the body. nbd. However, with milk, the protein and carbohydrate (lactose) combo is responsible for a significant increase in insulin release. Lots and lots and lots of insulin. When the insulin levels spike, the body has some difficulty in releasing some of the energy already stored as fat. The body then decides that it needs more energy, thus stimulating hunger. Fat stores then begin to grow, but the body still thinks it needs more energy (food). Basically, your body keeps telling you to eat and eat and eat. Skim milk, 1%, 2%, whole milk…all affect insulin similarly. Cream and butter do not affect insulin levels in that way (they are full fats). In short, insulin spikes should be avoided. This keeps your body regulated as well as gives you a more desirable body composition.
My suggestion, strict paleo for 30 days, then figure out if you want/need to modify. Try 30 days without the dairy, then if need be, consider reintroducing it. I have fairly severe allergies. Taking dairy out for the 30 days was a good test on whether or not I have a dairy allergy. Upon reintroducing dairy into my diet, the test was negative. I am not allergic to the dairy. If you have allergies, a 30 day Paleo challenge is a great test to see if you have food allergies. If you have frequent gut aches, maybe they are from dairy? It’s only 30 days. Try dairy-free.
For me, I choose not to have milk. I stick to unsweetened coconut milk. Almond milk is also quite delicious. I would recommend the unsweetened. With the flavored non-dairy milks, you will typically find evaporated cane juice/sugar. While this is a natural sugar, it’s still sugar. This should be consumed sparingly. I also allow myself to have cheese, maybe 1-3 servings a week. As mentioned earlier, it’s the milk that causes the insulin spikes, not the cheese. When I do eat cheese, I stick to the good stuff. Cheddar, gouda, blue, feta, swiss. Toss out those Kraft singles. You won’t be needing those anymore. Also, I’m not afraid of butter. It’s a good fat. Throw out the margarine. Get rid of that garbage. Toss out the tub with 20 blended ingredients and keep the stick that only has 1 or 2 ingredients. I also use heavy whipping cream. Again, it’s the fat. I use it in my coffee, soups, scrambled eggs…what have you. Don’t be afraid of this stuff. It’s good for you.
Cheese, wine, dark chocolate. The Paleo purists say no, but for me, I say in moderation.
In the end, it’s all about you. Do your research. Know what strict Paleo looks like then figure how it applies to you. Do you do strict Paleo? Do you modify? How do you modify? Talk to 10 people who eat Paleo, and I just about guarantee they will all modify their Paleo diet a little differently. Figure out what it looks like for you.
Eat more of it.
I really could end this post right there. Let me explain why spinach is so great. Look at Popeye. Whenever he cracks open a can (I recommend buying stuff a little fresher), BOOM, superhuman strength. He’s definitely on to something.
In the first of MANY nutrition classes that I took on college, I learned that the foods that have the deepest, richest, most vibrant colors are packed with all the good stuff. Eggplant, broccoli, blueberries, spinach, beets…nutrients. This post is about the spinach. Eat it fresh. Steam it. Boil it. Doesn’t matter. It is rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Manganese, Magnesium, Zinc, Folate…and I could go on and on and on. Spinach is also one great way to get you some calcium. Spinach is a green, leafy vegetable, so it is rich in iron (Fe) as well. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 1 cup of boiled spinach contains 6.43 mg of Fe whereas an 80% lean meat beef patty contains 2.11 mg of Fe. Just something to think about.
I shoot for having a handful of spinach with at least 2 meals a day. For work, sometimes I will throw some spinach in a bag and eat it raw in the ambulance. Most mornings, I cook some eggs over-medium then break the yolk over a bed of spinach. Many different ways to incoroporate spinach into your meals.
Try adding some spinach to your cooking this week. Green-up your plate in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
Glycemic Index (GI) is something that you may see thrown around in Paleo jargon from time to time. When you consume carbohydrates, your body turns them to glucose, thus creating a rise in blood sugar. The more that food is processed, the faster it breaks down, alternatively, the food that is less processed breaks down slower. The GI measures the rate that food breaks down in the body. In charts, you will typically see it measured as low, medium, or high. Most bread, grains, crackers, muffins, cake…high GI. Fruit and veggies, low GI.
What does this mean to me? I that we should be mindful of significant spikes in blood sugar over a short period of time. This should be avoided if possible. Below is a simple chart with a few different food items and their low, medium, or high GI assignment. As you can see, some low GI foods are not Paleo, and conversely, some Paleo foods have a high GI.
Paleo, the way it was explained to me.
Basically, Paleo (Paleolithic) eating is like caveman eating. Eating the way our ancestors did. Hunting, gathering, eating. No Kraft singles, no McDonald’s, no Mt. Dew. Purely clean food.
The nitty gritty of Paleo: meats, vegetables, nuts & seeds, some fruit, little starch, NO sugar.
First of all, I encourage anyone who is interested in paleo to eat strict paleo for 30 days. There are a ton of helpful websites for people wishing to start eating paleo. Robb Wolf and Whole 9 Life are two of the many resources available if you’re interested in learning more about the Paleo way of eating.
Strict Paleo. What’s not allowed? Gluten and grain (this includes corn). Legumes (soy, peanuts, beans, etc). Dairy (butter and heavy whipping cream are ok because they’re the fats). Since dairy is not allowed, you can have coconut milk or almond milk. No soymilk! Check your labels, watch for that sneaky sugar. No caffeine or alcohol with strict paleo. However, if you so drink alcohol, wine is preferred and as far as beer goes, If you have to have it, find some gluten free beer. No sugar. Really look at your labels. Sugar is EVERYWHERE. Sugar, sucralose, fructose, corn syrup…sugar. Strict Paleo says no white potatoes.
What’s allowed? You eat the crap out of meat…good protein. Just watch for nitrates in the meat. They’re a big no no. Also, grass-fed is preferred. Veggies, eat them (organic is preferred). Fruits are ok, sparingly. Sweet potatoes are ok sparingly. Eggs. Eggs are your friend. Natural fats are strongly encouraged (olive oil, butter, coconut oil, etc). Nuts (not peanuts) and seeds are also a go. As far as sweeteners, you can use agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup very sparingly.
The theories behind Paleo… With Paleo you get away from the processed foods and go back to eating the real, clean stuff. The dairy, grain, and legumes always confused me. I will get more into the science behind Paleo in later posts. Until then, check out Whole 9 Life for more info.
My understanding of it, those food groups are full of carbs. Also, with dairy and grain/gluten, many people have allergies and intolerances. Why put your body through that business when you don’t have to. The legumes also confused me a bit, but the way I understand it, they can be tough to digest for some people as well as a big source of carbohydrates. Again, why put your body through that when you can just avoid it all. To me, in a sense, Paleo is somewhat cleansing. Is you avoid the things that people have allergies to, intolerances to, and have trouble digesting….in addition to processed foods and sugars….you are really only consuming the good stuff.
Last, but not least, with Paleo, you eat when you’re hungry and eat until you’re full. You don’t count calories, no point system…you’re eating the clean stuff, so just go to town. You know the feeling that you get after you eat a big plate of pasta, that “Oh, I am stuffed, can’t eat any more, let the belt out a notch”? You don’t feel that way with Paleo. You feel satisfied, but not stuffed. It’s nice.
Makes sense, right?
For me, I ended up modifying my Paleo after doing the 30 day challenge. The second time around, I made a point to think of Paleo as my way of eating rather than a 30 day thing I was doing. That has helped immensely. As mentioned in my previous post, I try really hard to eat well and make fun meals. When eating is boring and you eat the same thing every day, it won’t work.
As far as my modified Paleo, I follow the diet fairly strictly, but allow myself a few things occasionally. I think a bit of dairy is ok. I will have a little bit of cheese on my eggs or on a burger. Grain, I think, is ok sometimes too. With grain, I prefer rice, whole grains. I try to limit myself to 1-3 servings a week, but rarely even have 1 serving. Also, as mentioned earlier, I have coffee and a bit of alcohol.
That’s Paleo, the way I understand it. Really, there are a plethora of different views. This is mine.
HERE is a good overview on the Paleo way of eating.