There’s very little health news that surprises me these days. Typically, the breaking headlines all funnel back to the basics: We need to eat right and get exercise in order to be healthy. The latest study I just read actually surprised me, and it may do the same for you.
A recent article from TIME writer Laura Blue reported on new research concerning the energy expenditure of westerners vs. hunter-gatherer societies. The study was just published in the PLoS One Journal. It seemed fair to assume we westerners are fat because we eat too much and then sit all day in our cars, at our desks, and on our couches. Meanwhile, those in hunter-gatherer societies walk everywhere, hunt for food, dig in their gardens, and use primitive tools to do a day’s work. The research showed that actually, both societies have an equal energy output, if you can believe it.
Like I said, very little surprises me in health news, but this one was a total surprise. I see the typical American every day. We walk mere feet to our cars, drive to our location with hopes of getting the closest parking spot, walk mere feet to our desks, and not move again until we drive to lunch, which many times is a drive-thru pick-up. There is very little exercise in the typical daily routine.
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Like many diets, the Paleo or “caveman” way of eating requires a big change in eating habits, a lot of dedication, and more effort than the typical American’s diet takes. The paleo diet also calls for a major shift in how one thinks about traditional nutrition. The book Paleoista: Gain Energy, Get Lean, and Feel Fabulous with the Diet You Were Born To Eat claims all of this and more.
The paleo diet, which first gained popularity in the 70s, has a lot of good things going for it. Dieters are instructed to cut out refined sugars and processed foods and eat more fruits and vegetables. Then comes the interesting part – all grains and dairy products are strictly forbidden. No beans, soy, tofu, quinoa, or goat cheese, what many people commonly think of as healthy foods. It’s similar to eating a vegan diet in the sense of eating lots of raw, natural foods, but paleos add lean meat, and lots of it.
Paleoista is different from the profusion of other paleo diet books in that it focuses on women. A diet whose nickname is “caveman” hardly sounds appealing to many individuals but the author, Nell Stephenson, wants her female readers especially to know that this diet can be followed by stylish, modern women (and men) who successfully balance their careers and families and still have energy left over at the end of the day.
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It’s been called the Caveman diet, the Paleolithic diet, the Darwinian diet, and a whole slough of others pre-historic names. But however you may refer to it, the paleo diet is gaining momentum and not just in the diet and health realm, but in the medical realm as well.
For those unfamiliar with the paleo diet, it mimics the habits of our ancestors 10,000 years before us who were primarily hunter-gathers. Historians propose they lived off the land, consuming mostly animal meat and any fruits and vegetables they may be able to forage.
For followers of the paleo diet, that means eating a lot of meat and produce and absolutely no sugar, dairy, grains and beans. This sometimes extreme way of eating – and living - obviously isn’t for everyone. But proponents of the diet remain that it works, it makes sense, and it’s worth sharing.
One such proponent is Loren Cordain, a professor at Colorado State University, who holds a doctorate in exercise science. Cordain is also the author of the book paleo eaters swoon over: The Paleo Diet.
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For Hayley Mason and Bill Staley, cooking together was an important part of their relationship from early on. Hayley introduced Bill to the paleo diet, and although he was willing to support her eating choices when they were together, he didn’t follow the diet strictly at first. However, the new way of eating made him feel great, and it wasn’t long before the couple was cooking and eating paleo all the time.
They began sharing their paleo creations on Facebook, and soon came up with the idea of writing a cookbook together. But on the path to this ambitious goal, Make it Paleo was first a blog, The Food Lover’s Primal Palate. “We cooked a recipe every week, and shared it with our friends,” says Hayley. “For fun, we started working on a blog together, it was something that we were doing together as a couple and we wanted to inspire other people to stay on track with healthy eating.”
As the title suggests, many of the recipes in the book are grain and dairy-free adaptations of standard American recipes, often drawing inspiration from family recipes. Many of the dishes in Make it Paleo were created with special occasions in mind like weekend brunch and birthdays, something the authors feel fills a need in the paleo community. “I think one of the things that people struggle with when following paleo is not so much the everyday food,” says Bill. “It’s pretty simple to cook meat and vegetables for dinner, everyone can find their way.” On the other hand, holidays are a time when many people find it hard to stick to a paleo diet–or any diet for that matter.
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The phrase “Caveman Cookie” may sound like an oxymoron to those who know about the caveman diet, but the idea is pretty simple: dessert made from ingredients that humans have been eating for tens of thousands of years. You won’t find any milk, eggs, flour or refined sugar in these cookies, not to mentioned artificial additives. “Cavemen didn’t have refined sugar,” explained Stephanie Lester, the founder of Caveman Bakery LLC. The three flavors of cookies — Original, Tropical and Alpine–are made mostly from nuts and honey.
Lester began eating like a cavewoman in her junior year of college, using the plan laid out by Loren Cordain in The Paleo Diet. She found that she had better energy and that her skin improved. “Back in college I already started making some cookies that people liked,” she said, but would have never anticipated that her baked goods made from hunter-gatherer ingredients offered a potential career path. She went on to earn a law degree, but found that practicing law wasn’t for her. Lester started her bakery while working as a trusts and estates attorney, and soon left her firm to dedicate her full energy to Caveman Cookies. Today, Lester and her husband both follow the paleo diet, but allow themselves modern food on occasion.
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