Ok I wrote a blog last year kind of poking fun of the Paleo Diet craze and I just wanted to revisit this topic for a bit. This isn’t going to be knock on the Paleo diet or a rant. My biggest thing with it was that people really turn a bit looney and very cultish around the Paleo movement. Now I will say if you want to lose weight and clean up your diet, it is a great way to do it. I still am not as phobic of beans and limited portions of brown rice as the Paleo folk but it is what it is. This whole thing isn’t just about Paleo, but also about people that want to eat clean and end up eating too much. I personally have tried Paleo and unprocessed eating numerous times and I have done it very successfully losing considerable amount of weight. I have also tried it another time and actually gained a few pounds of undesirable weight? The only thing I could think of is portion control. I just ate too much. I dug a bit deeper and realized that there was a reason I was eating more the last time I tried it. The first time I ate lightly seasoned meat and really didn’t add much salt, paleo friendly dressings or oil. I ate unsalted almonds, tuna from the can, and yams without butter. The second time around I ate meats seasoned with paleo friendly marinades, Tuna with some natural type of Mayo or oils and seasonings, cool recipes for Paleo pizzas and other recipes with Agave nectar as a sweetener etc….. Lets discuss a few things.
This is the way we react when food hits our mouth. We actually get a neurological kick from certain foods. The more palatable the food, the more we desire it. Many times the opioid receptors can be involved which are very addictive. Hence the reason you crave certain foods even though you know you will pay for it the next day or know you committed not to eat it. Wikipedia actually has a really cool definition of palatability(read it after this), which can give you some more insight. The bottom line, the more palatable the food the higher the chance you will override your body’s natural feedback system to stop eating when you are full. Think about that awesome desert that was so creamy and sweet. You were so full from dinner but that one bite was so amazing it turned into 10 bites.
The food science industry has come leaps and bounds in the past 20 years. I remember when I was at the University of Arizona studying nutritional sciences. We learned food science was fighting food infection and toxicity, and understanding how food could be mass produced in the most safe and effective way. We learned about pasteurization, carmelization, and irradiation. I learned the correct temperature to cook meat, and why we get Montezuma’s revenge when you go to Mexico. We really didn’t get into too much detail on how food was tailored to our taste buds. Food science has really come a long way to really figure out the human palate. Everything from the chip commercial that says you can’t just have one, the consistency of mayonnaise, splenda, and the boom in tasty protein shakes all have to do with food science. That chip that is just salty enough and not too “greasy” has been chemically engineered to your mouth. Not too much, not too little, but just right.. I remember when I was in High school back in the late 80′s and Early 90′s. I heard that protein would help give me the muscles I needed to be bigger. So off the the nutrition store we went. My dad bought me some Muscle Gainer 10,000 and I couldn’t wait to get home to drink it. Well I opened it, put it in some milk, and started sipping. Just as soon as I sipped it I started gagging. This stuff was thick, clumpy, a bit smelly, and it hit my stomach hard. I swore someone put sawdust in a can and sold it to me. To say the least, Muscle Milk and these other brands taste like dessert nowadays. Thank you palatability courtesy of food science. Another example is bread..Half the reason we love it so much is because it makes food go down easier, we have become addicted to the softness and a tinge of sweetness that bread gives our food. Talk about food science at work. Nearly all the ingredients in store bought bread act to help make it softer and more enjoyable, High Fructose Corn Syrup in bread??.. Bread nowadays is soft and stays like that for days or weeks..
Salt and Oil
For the sake of this article olive oil had to come from a olive and there had to be a process to get the oil out of it. Oil really isn’t all that natural, especially if you are trying to a be true cavemen. I definitely think there are some health benefit of oils, but using oils also has other issues when it comes with food and weight loss. It isn’t just the calorie kick we get from oil, it is that whole palatability factor. Same with Salt. In limited portions salt is fine, salt got a bad rap for affecting blood pressure, and I am not even going to talk about that. Again salt really does have a huge impact on palatability. Think about that chip you can’t resist. It would just be a potato without salt and oil.
So what does this have to do with the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet has been known as the caveman diet. Simply defined as the hunt it, kill it, pick it, harvest it, and eat it. If it comes in packaging it’s probably not Paleo, but many will argue. Here is the thing, I see Paleo Pizza’s made from an almond flour crust, some sort of cheese that has nothing to do with dairy and I see a movement of Paleo friendly foods coming more and more common place in pre-packaged form. There are more and more fancy paleo recipes out there full of condensed coconut milk, agave nectar, and other foods that in their basic form are very paleo friendly. The second we start adding oils, salts, and sweeteners(natural or not) we are really starting to mess with that opioid response we get from food. Bottom line, cavemen didn’t process oils and use seasonings, I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. I remember the first time I wanted to eat natural and as unprocessed as possible. I would eat tuna (ok it was from a can so it isn’t all that natural) and didn’t add anything to it, I also ate some raw veggies and maybe a piece of fruit with it. I would struggle getting down 2 cans of tuna and a cup of raw broccoli, and I am a very big eater. I didn’t stop because it was gross, I really stopped because I felt full. The second I added some oil, salt, and some seasoning I could almost double my portion size. Kind of funny how palatability can really affect the body’s natural response to feel full and stop eating. Same with nuts. I eat a serving of unsalted almonds I am OK leaving it alone. You put some Blue Diamond salted/roasted almonds in front of me and I can eat half a bag easily.
I know that we want food to be enjoyable and eating bland food really isn’t all that great, but I also see that many of us (including myself at times) have really swung so far in the direction of eating for flavor rather than fuel, and if you have weight loss goals or just health goals in general you may want to really take a close look at why you feel like you need to eat so much in the first place. In my opinion it has a lot to do with us over flavoring our foods with oil, salts, seasonings, and other things that may or may not be highly processed. This goes for protein shakes and smoothies that are supposed to be healthy for us. I am definitely glad protein powder doesn’t taste as nasty as it used to, but now they are equally as sweet as desserts. If I am eating just for fuel, my smoothie would be about 400 calories(1-2 servings of frozen strawberries blended with protein in a water base). It tastes a whole bunch better with 1.5 cup almond milk, 1 cup of strawberries, 2 tbl spoons of almond butter, and protein. The difference is shake #2 tastes awesome and shake #1 just tastes good. Shake #2 has close to 700 calories, and guess what, I always wish there was more of shake #2 as well. I have tried it with just putting raw almonds in my shake and it isn’t nearly as awesome as almond butter in it.
So I guess the take home message is if you are eating healthy, but eating too much look at what you are putting in your foods. If you are adding oils, salts, and natural or artificial sweeteners.. STOP IT! Try to tone back on the fancy stuff and you may be amazed how your portions just get smaller and your hunger may go down.