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Perplexed by Paleo?

As a personal trainer and nutritionist, I often have conversations with clients, family, and other fitness professionals about the latest fads in diet and exercise. Recently I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the Paleo diet. Short for Paleolithic—the name for the era from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago—this diet essentially mimics the foods eaten by people living at that time. At a basic level, that means eating whatever fruits and vegetables were available, animal protein they could catch, and no (or minimal) grains or dairy. Nutrition aside, it is important to know that Paleo-man was a hunter/gatherer. While we sit at desks most of the time, he was running, climbing, crawling, pulling, and pushing his way through the day. There is a growing debate over whether the Paleo diet is good or bad. Here are some of the points of contention:

1. Because the Paleolithic era lasted so long, it’s possible the diet changed over time. 2. Paleo-man’s diet also differed greatly depending on where in the world he lived. 3. The protein we eat today has far more fat and less nutrients than the protein Paleo-man consumed. 4. Paleo-man ate seasonally, meaning he ate a variety of foods throughout the year.

Despite the debate, there are certainly components of the Paleo diet I fully promote. For those considering going Paleo, here is where I’d recommend you start:

1. Eliminate all processed foods. I’m referring to foods that list ingredients you can’t pronounce because they’ve been created in a laboratory. Doing away with these items will inevitably lead to eating more real foods, like fruits and vegetables. 2. If possible, eat seasonally. Do what you can, as best you can. Since we’re coming into summer, enjoy all the stone fruit and berries your local farmers market has to offer. 2. Eat lean proteins and fish, but ONLY if you’re buying from sustainably sources. That means, grass-fed cows, pastured chickens, wild-caught fish, you see where we’re going. Cows are meant to eat grass. Fish eat algae and plankton. Neither is meant to eat corn, which is what cows in CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations) and farmed fish are fed. People often argue that buying this type of meat is more expensive. That’s true; so my advice is—eat it less often. 3. Eliminate processed sugar. By eliminating processed foods, you’re halfway there. Now, if you’re a “sugar in my morning cup of coffee” type, here are two tips: Don’t switch to the fake stuff (and if you currently use fake stuff, STOP), and each week, try to add less and less sugar, until you don’t need it anymore or just add it once in a while. You don’t need to go cold turkey; just go slow.

The Paleo diet isn’t for everyone, and, like most diets, there are some inherent flaws. Just remember a diet rich with fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein is better than one filled with chemically engineered processed product.

Blog by Tiffany Chag

Tiffany Chag started training in 2005. A lifelong athlete, her interest in fitness and nutrition has evolved over time and continues to grow. She is currently pursing a master’s degree at Columbia University in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. She is a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer, a Natural Healing Institute certified clinical nutritionist, and a CHEK certified holistic lifestyle coach. For Tiffany, the best part about training is being a part of the change her clients want to see in themselves—a healthier diet, a more challenging exercise routine, or a first foray into fitness. Over the years, she has worked with competitive athletes; people struggling with obesity; women who want to stay healthy before, during and after their pregnancies; and individuals who simply want to incorporate exercise into their daily lives.