Fad diets have once again been the hot topic of discussion in the South African press over the last couple of weeks. In talks on the radio as well as in newspaper and magazine articles the Banting diet and paleo lifestyle have been included in the list of unsustainable fad diets that only result in easy gained short term weight loss.
What made me decide to write this particular blog post was the article “Fad food nation” in the Autumn 2014 Discovery magazine. The author of the article is under the impression that those following a paleo and Banting (low carbohydrate high fat) lifestyle eat only meat with steamed vegetables and that it is not an eating plan one can follow in the long term. She also states that “it does not make sense to eat like this”
She’s concerned that those following a paleo lifestyle miss out on the good B vitamins that a slice of rye provides and that we’ll miss out on the potassium found in bananas. Dietitian Jade Campbell goes on to state: “The paleo diet excludes grains, which play an extremely important role in the diet. They are high in fibre, which contributes to the prevention of constipation. They also hold essential vitamins and phytoestrogens, which help maintain heart health and may protect against some cancers. Why leave them out?”
Campbell also gives advice on what a healthy diet looks like: A balance of the three food groups – protein, fat and carbohydrates and to choose unrefined, high fibre carbs. She further states: “Eat more food in a form as close to its natural state as possible; the closer you get to a food’s original state – and the less it is ‘prepared’ (barring a few exceptions) – the better it is for you. It is much better to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables that ensure we’re getting the nutrients we need than to focus on a few fashionable food items.”
So why do we avoid grains? The best way for me to inform you is to quote from Robb Wolf’s book The Paleo Solution. “Cereal grains tend to have proteins that are high in amino acids proline. These prolamines (protein rich proteins) are tough to digest, and thus remain intact despite the best efforts of the digestive process to break them down. The result is gut irritation, increased systemic inflammation, and the potential for autoimmune disease.” Grains also contain anti-nutrients such as phytates. Phytates once consumed bind to magnesium, zinc, calcium and iron making them unavailable for absorption and thus useless to your body. Grains attack the gut lining and a damaged lining increases the risk of autoimmune disease and several types of cancer. Wolf lists a number of problems associated with leaky gut and the autoimmune response (I’ve shortened his original list):
– Type 2 diabetes
– Multiple sclerosis
– Rheumatoid arthritis
– Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
This table, taken from Wolf’s book compares the nutrient density of grains, milk, fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat and nuts. It is clear that grains are not the nutrient dense food others would have us believe. Now if you consider the health risk of grains and their relative poor nutrient values why would you include grains in your diet?
As for eating food in as natural a state as possible – this is another key component of the paleo diet. If you’ve ever gone to the trouble of reading the list of ingredients on many prepared / processed food items you would probably not eat that any more even if you weren’t following a paleo diet. That is unless you want to consume high amounts of MSG, artificial colourants and flavourants, preservatives, gluten, sweeteners, sugar and salt. All of these are detrimental to your health.
We switched to the paleo lifestyle in order to improve our health. The bonus is that we lost weight. Over the last 7 months my husband has steadily lost 19 kg and I have lost 7 kg. Not once did we experience the highs and lows of sugar rushes or food cravings. We are never as all-consumingly hungry as when we followed the ‘traditional’ low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Our taste sensation improved, our health improved and we live a better life.
But that’s the thing about this ‘fad’ diet. It’s not a diet – it’s a lifestyle.
For more on this topic I would like to direct you to an article on Sweden’s new food pyramid, Robb Wolf’s website and the paleo mom.