Paleo eating garners mainstream appeal, local dietitians still have doubts
Paleo. Primal. Ancestral. Caveman.
The diet known by any of these names suggests considering the eating habits of the world’s earliest humans when selecting and preparing foods.
Once the most Google-searched trend diet of 2013, the paleo diet has since grown into an eating lifestyle with thousands of followers across the United States, including here in Northwest Colorado.
“I would have never called it a fad diet,” said Alicia McLeod, a nutritional health coach at Natural Grocers, where a handful of paleo and primal eating books line the checkout lane shelves. “It’s taking the best of the ancestral way of eating, and then modernizing it.”
McLeod said she believes there is spectrum of ancestral eaters, from the very strictest who only eat locally produced foods and eliminate items like butter that primitive societies hadn’t developed yet, to the less strict eaters who are inspired by the ancestral diet, but will eat primitive foods that aren’t necessarily available in Colorado, like bananas.
On either end of the spectrum are people who eat a large amount of vegetables, animals and fish and nuts, while consuming limited fruit and little or no grains.
“It’s really a plant-based diet with healthy, naturally raised animals and fish, and adding in some healthy fats,” said McLeod, who regularly recommends the diet to customers at Natural Grocers, a store that has outwardly promoted ancestral eating since before McLeod was hired three years ago.
Hundreds of published non-fiction and cookbooks on paleo eating, an Austin, Texas, Paleo festival and the bi-monthly Paleo Magazine, a publication for “modern day primal living,” are all evidence of the diet’s sustained popularity.
A Denver-based Paleo food delivery service, Eating Primal, also offers prepared paleo meal pickup at dozens of Front Range locations and will begin mail delivery across the state this summer.
Although McLeod is quick to recommend paleo meals and ancestral dieting and the diet’s popularity is evident, dieticians in town aren’t as easily sold on the eating habits of the earliest humans.
“I’m not a huge fan of it,” said Jamie Lamb, a registered dietician with Dietary Designs. “I think it’s a trend, and I really think it’s decreasing in popularity.”
Lamb said that about a year ago, half of her clients were either on a paleo diet or inquiring about giving it a try, but most have now decided the dietary guidelines aren’t for them.
Lamb pointed out that human ancestors were living different lifestyles than people today, lived for far shorter amounts of time and even their teeth were different.
While there are benefits to eating paleo meals, Lamb cautions against following the diet strictly, and urged those considering paleo eating to meet with a dietician to make sure all of their nutritional needs are being met.
Dietician Cara Marrs said that she doesn’t recommend or promote the paleo diet to her clients, primarily because she’s against anyone sticking to a strict rules-based diet restricting whole food groups.
“I’m very anti there being one way for everybody,” said Marrs, who runs Nutrition Prescription Inc. and works with clients at Yampa Valley Medical Center. “I like a lot of aspects of paleo, but I don’t think there’s one specific way to eat.”
Marrs said she likes some paleo recipes and encourages clients to experiment with recipes from paleo, vegan or another diet, but prefers a person find an individualized eating plan that doesn’t adhere to just one diet’s rules.
“I think pulling pieces from different philosophies and creating a whole foods diet is more of the way to go,” Marrs said. “It’s really about creating a healthy lifestyle that you can sustain.”
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