cave painting of prehistoric man chasing large animal with a club

Debunking Another Fad: Paleo Diets

This post was written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original post here.

PALEO PLANS PROMOTE EATING LIKE A CAVEMAN, BUT EXPERTS SAY IT’S JUST ANOTHER FAD DIET

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, you’ve probably heard about the latest fad diet – eating like a caveman. Proponents say following a paleo plan is the answer to all that ails us about the typical Western diet: it can lower blood pressure, markers of inflammation that lead to cancer, and the risk for heart disease.

Even better, since all paleo diets are based on only eating foods you can hunt, gather or catch, you’ll never have to worry about obesity or diabetes, either!

Miracle or a Mirage?

The Paleolithic era is defined as a span of about 2.5 million years that ended with the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Knowing how to plant seeds and wait for them to yield food led to the establishment of permanent settlements with a secure food supply. Having enough food and free time

led to the rest of the advances of modern civilization.

The crops that provided the best yields to feed small tribes of people and their domesticated animals were grains. Yet grains are the curse of the paleo diet crowd. They believe we should go back to our pre-agriculture menu.

Imagine a diet made up of whatever wild animals, rodents, reptiles, fish, and birds you can catch with a rock or a stick. Now add to that whatever eggs, tree nuts, roots, leaves, fruits and berries you can gather.

Forget about eating anything that must be planted from seed and cultivated, such as rice, wheat and corn, or the many foods that can be made from these grains once ground into flour. There are no processed foods, like bread, in the caveman world.

There also is no milk or any products made from milk since that would require having a domesticated mammal that would stand still long enough for you to milk it. At this point in history, all animals are either predators or prey to you.

As a hunter-gatherer, you’d have to live without potatoes, beans and garden variety vegetables and the oils obtained by pressing olives and seeds. Who has time to squeeze olives anyway when you have to catch a fish with your bare hands?

If you were clever enough you could steal some honey from a bee hive. It’s just not clear what you would put it in since there’d be no coffee, iced tea or lemonade?

Getting Your Fill of Fad Diets

The paleo diet plans being touted in books today do not expect you to literally hunt for and gather all your food in the wild. But it may feel just as hard since they exclude so many commonly eaten foods. That’s the telltale sign of a fad diet. You’re expected to give up traditional, familiar and widely available foods. You may start out strong following the rules, but you are doomed to fail in the long run.

Human beings have evolved on the seven continents with different geographies, climates, and food supplies for thousands of years. Our diets have never been the same, yet people all over the world have very similar nutritional needs.

Learning to adapt to the menu is a survival skill. Once you figure that out you can have your cake and eat it, too.

You don’t have to serve diet snacks if you use these healthy snack ideas

Need Healthy Snack Food Ideas for the Super Bowl?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can view it here.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO SERVE DIET SNACKS IF YOU USE THESE HEALTHY SNACK IDEAS

When the Taco Bell advertising team came up with the idea to bash veggie platters at Super Bowl parties, they weren’t just knocking vegetables. The ad implied that all healthy snack food ideas are unwelcomed at the biggest gridiron event of the year. Now that the ads have been pulled, it has left many people wondering whether any diet snacks can be safely served on game day.

Do not despair! There are other ways to curb your party food consumption without trying to sneak broccoli into the chili con carne!

Beware of Halos

One of the biggest mistakes we can make when faced with lots of food choices is to separate the choices into “good” and “bad” foods. No matter what criteria we use to make the distinction, it always leads to the same illogical conclusion that if we eat mostly good food, it’s okay to eat some bad food, too.

This is called the Halo Effect, where we believe the good food – they’re the ones wearing the halo – can somehow magically cancel out the risks of the bad foods.

Mathematically, this just doesn’t work out in our favor. The amount of fat, sodium and calories in 20 potato chips submerged in a half cup of onion dip cannot be cancelled out by a 20 baby carrots dabbed in hummus. Same is true about eating the celery sticks served with the Buffalo wings. The numbers just don’t jibe.

This does not mean we can never eat the chips, dips and wings. We just have to be more realistic about how many we can afford to add to our fat, sodium and calorie tally for the day.

“Watch” What You Eat

As much as we all feel drawn to food by its smell and taste, our vision plays a role in what and how much we eat, too. I’m not talking about attractive plating arrangements, but the color and size of the plates and bowls its served in. Food marketers use this information to get us to eat more of their products, but we turn the tables on them and use it to eat less.

A study done in the Department of Social and Economic Psychology at the University of Basel Switzerland found people ate less snack food from a red plate and drank less soft drink from a red cup than they did when blue or white plates and cups were used. The researchers hypothesize that the color red serves as a subliminal stop sign that helps to reduce how much we eat.

That’s good news for San Francisco 49er’s fans who can use the team’s red and gold colors for their party ware.

Tackle the “Hidden Persuaders”

Even if there won’t be any diet snacks at your Super Bowl spread, there are ways to deal with mindless eating so you don’t overindulge. Thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Brain Wansink, a consumer behavior psychologist, we now have proof that how we serve food is as important as what we serve.

Use these Healthy Snack Food Ideas to Eat Less at Your Super Bowl Party

  • Use tall slender glasses for drinks instead of short wide ones
  • Fill a basket with single-serving bags of chips instead of having big bowls filled with chips
  • Offer only 1 or 2 types of chips instead of 3 or more
  • Place some of the snack food just out of reach so guests have to get up to have more
  • Provide small plates for guests to fill with their own snacks and place scoops and tongs on platters so they can serve themselves
  • Offer snacks that require some effort to eat, such as peanuts or pistachios in shells, cheese you must spread, and candies you must unwrap
  • Fill candy dishes with single-colored treats, like M&Ms or Jellybeans, featuring your team’s colors rather than offering mixed colors
  • Provide medium-sized (9 inch) paper plates for the half-time buffet instead of larger dinner plates
  • Put plain names on your buffet dishes, such as “Chili,” versus more appetizing descriptions, such as “Rosie’s Three-Alarm Homemade Chili”
Super foods are not enough for a healthy diet

Are Super Foods the Key to a Healthy Diet?

Quality and variety are essential for good nutrition

The battle of the super foods has always fascinated me. We live on a planet with more than 390,000 plant species, many of them edible but never sampled, yet there are some who think they have figured out what the Top 10 Super Foods are that we should eat for good nutrition.

I don’t buy it and never did. Any time you limit your diet to a top 10 food list, no matter how virtuous, you are losing the value of variety.

Eating a wide variety of foods is one of the basic tenets for a healthy diet. This means you should spread out your choices over all food groups and within each one, while also switching it up with the seasons. For example, if you like apples, it’s a good idea to buy some from New York State as well as Washington and swop out a Cortland for a Crispin or a Cameo occasionally, too.

That said, eating an apple a day is not the goal. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we eat 3-4 servings of fruit every day. That’s 1 ½ – 2 cups of fruit 365 days of the year. Most Americans don’t even come close to meeting that goal.

A 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control found that in no state were U.S. adults eating the recommended 3-4 servings of fruit a day and only 32.5% were consuming fruit two or more times a day. Debating whether blueberries or pomegranates should hold first place on this year’s super food list is a distraction from the more important issue that most Americans simply need to eat more fruit!

Eating fruit in any form can help close the gap. Fresh fruit is fine when available and affordable, while frozen fruit offers year round value. Canned fruit in unsweetened juice provides convenience and cost savings every day of the week, and dried fruit offers economy of space as well. And what could be easier than drinking a cup of 100% fruit juice once a day?

My strategy has been to always include a serving of fruit as part my breakfast and lunch, then have another as an afternoon snack. Even if I’m traveling, I can always get a glass of juice on a plane or in a bar and buy some trail mix with dried fruit in any convenience store. When the fruit bowl is empty at home, I always have berries in the freezer for my yogurt, mandarin orange segments in the pantry to toss into a salad and sundried tomatoes to snack on.

Something as basic as eating more fruit can result in dramatic changes in the quality of your diet. You’ll benefit not only from all of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients you’ll be consuming, but also because of all the other stuff you won’t be.

Why not keep a list of the different types of fruit you eat over one year to see if you can come up with 100? That’s a as a super food list I’d really like to see!

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