By Linda Hepler, BSN, RN


ark Sisson is – for lack of a better word – ripped. At 57 years old, this former 2:18 marathoner and fourthplace finisher in the Hawaii Ironman World Triathlon Championships has the toned physique of a man half his age, with an enviable 8 percent body fat and washboard abs. A rigorous diet and training regime? No way, says Sisson. In fact, he exercises only about three to four hours a week (instead of the 20 or 30 he put in way back when), most of this done at a moderate pace, such as one might do while hiking. As for diet, he eats as much food as he wants whenever he feels like it – and not always at regular intervals. If you’re thinking that this eating plan is way too simple for an athlete – it is. Sisson, and many other athletes these days, are returning to a simpler way of eating, similar to that of our primal ancestors. Called a “Paleo” or “primal” eating plan, Sisson says that it has been gaining momentum over the past several years. “Our primal ancestors were lean, strong, smart and productive,“ he claims. And you can be, too, Sisson says. All you have to do is to forget everything you’ve learned about diet, and go back to the beginning. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the Paleolithic people, ate what was available to them 2.4 million years ago. While this varied from region to region, the typical diet was composed largely of animal foods, such as wild game, fish, shellfish and ostrich eggs. This was supplemented with gathered plant foods: tree nuts, vegetables,

There are many good books and websites available where you can learn more about the Paleo diet. Here are some to try: Information on the background and basis for the Paleo diet: • The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain, PhD • The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf • The New Evolution Diet by Art De Vany, PhD Information on how to modify the Paleo diet for elite athletes: • The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain, PhD and Joe Friel How to live a Paleo lifestyle, including information on primalstyle exercise: • The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson Low-carb, grain-free, dairy free recipes: • The Primal Blueprint Cookbook by Mark Sisson with Jennifer Meier



tubers and roots, fruit, berries, seeds A Paleo diet focuses on the foods and mushrooms. that were eaten prior to agriculture and Although these ancient people may animal husbandry, says Mahoney. This have had to fear being trampled by a includes lean meats (preferably grass buffalo or hit by an errant arrow during fed or organic), fish (best wild caught), a hunt, they didn’t worry about high shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, veggies, blood pressure. In fact, historical and roots and a small amount of fruits archaeological evidence shows our (ideally berries). Acceptable oils are Paleo ancestors to have enjoyed good those that originate from fruits such health and freedom from the chronic as coconut, olive, avocado, almond, diseases that we experience today. It walnut and pecan. was only after these hunter-gatherer By eating a diet higher in protein societies transitioned to an agricultural and healthy fats and lower in grains, grain-based diet, and subsequently sugars and processed foods, you’ll not added feedlot-produced meats and only stay full longer (due to the higher animal products, that our overall satiety value of protein) but also your health began to deteriorate. Today, we blood sugar will stabilize. A further are plagued with the results of these bonus: without all the excess carbs dietary changes: obesity, coronary and the extra insulin being produced heart disease, type 2 diabetes, to handle them, your body will change hypertension and high cholesterol the way that it produces energy. Says levels. Why would the addition of such foods have such a disastrous effect? Those who embrace the Paleo diet believe Certified personal trainer and sports that it is because our nutrition specialist Jessica Herschberg of bodies aren’t meant Nashville, Tennessee, gives some tips for to eat sugars, grains beginning a Paleo diet: and processed foods. Go sLowLy. “Don’t pressure yourself to While we may have changed our dietary change everything at once. Your body has to habits over 2 million relearn how to function without a constant years of evolution, DNA supply of carbohydrates. It gets easier and evidence documents easier over time.” that there has been set uP 30 day cHaLLenGes. “I very little change in the encourage people to try one thing at a time human genome over for 30 days. You might start by switching the past 10,000 years. from cereal to eggs for breakfast, for Which means that example.” altering our diets from Be forGIvInG of yourseLf. “Research what we are designed shows that high carb foods work on the to eat has resulted in inadequate nutrient brain’s pleasure center in the same way as and fiber intake, and drugs do. You wouldn’t tell a drug addict to an overload of carbs. show a little moderation, would you?” Eventually this adds up to poor insulin regulation, overall body inflammation, obesity and chronic disease. Mahoney, “The body will switch track “And that’s where Paleo nutrition and begin to burn fat more efficiently comes into play,” says Brendon as fuel rather than to depend so heavily Mahoney, owner and head coach upon carbs.” of CrossFit San Mateo in California. If you just can’t get your head around “When you follow a Paleo diet, you are a lower-carb, higher fat diet (especially eating what your body is designed to in light of the FDA’s focus on the eat – eating for how it evolved.” importance of grains and low fat),


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49 consider this: the Paleo diet is based upon science. A two year study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the August 3rd, 2010 edition of the medical journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, found that a lower carbohydrate, higher fat diet improves cholesterol and cardiovascular health risks more than does a low fat, higher carb diet. And numerous recent studies have pointed to a lower carb diet as most effective in regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. As for the importance of carbohydrate refueling for athletes, “There’s a time and place for carbs, especially for elite athletes who need to replace muscle glycogen,” says Mahoney. “But you Kelly O’Connor, a registered dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator don’t need to be constantly inundated at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD, answers some questions with carbs. Eating a small amount about the Paleo diet: of readily absorbed carbohydrate after a workout, like sweet potatoes, Q: The Paleo diet advocates an intake of 20-30 percent of total mangoes or a banana – that’s calories from protein (as opposed to the American Heart Association sufficient.” recommendation of 10-12 percent). Can you get too much protein? Ready to go Paleo? Even if it just A: I have some reservations about a very high protein diet, especially sounds like something you’d like in anyone having a history of kidney problems. Protein does have a to read about, there are a wealth of higher satiety value than carbohydrates, which means it goes through resources available to learn more. But our system more slowly, keeping us feeling more full. However, the prepare yourself for some confusion. more one eats, the more the body works to process or digest it. During Just as there were regional variations protein digestion, uric acid and urea are produced as byproducts. They in our ancestor’s diets, there are are toxic to the body so the body fills the kidneys with water to keep 21st century variations in people’s pumping the toxins out of the system. If the input of protein, and then interpretation of the Paleo diet. There uric acid/urea is greater than what the kidney can handle, the effects will is the very low-carb and moderate begin to build up, including kidney stones. Therefore, I would caution carb Paleo diets, the raw Paleo diet anyone trying this diet to begin with some degree of moderation in and the vegan Paleo diet. Some terms of protein intake and be monitored by a physician. “Paleos” advocate use of fats such as butter, lard and bacon; others Q: Can you get enough calcium without eating dairy products? don’t. And there are some who say A: Avoiding all dairy products is possible for those in relatively good that raw dairy should be included, or normal health on this diet. Green leafy vegetables and other foods although most agree that this is not can provide excellent sources of calcium. For example, an orange strictly Paleo, since there were no provides about 50mg of calcium and a half cup of broccoli provides domesticated livestock during the 45mg of calcium. Since fruits and vegetables are recommended in Paleolithic Era. unlimited quantities, it is possible for one to get the recommended But whatever the variation, the daily allowance of calcium without dairy. However, it would take some common denominator is that the effort and planning to be sure several of these calcium-containing Paleo diet isn’t simply a fad diet but foods are included each day. instead a healthy eating plan for life – one that is heavier on lean meats, Q: Should I worry about a higher fat diet, such as is recommended for healthy fats and veggies; moderate in a Paleo diet? fruits, nuts and seeds; and eschews A: From what I’ve read, the Paleo diet advocates lean proteins, refined and processed foods. And specifically those containing Omega-3s and monounsaturated fats this is something we can all aspire to. and oils such as olive and flax. The strength of the diet, then, is the




promotion of lean proteins and healthier fats.



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