While we might be able to analyse the nutritional content of specific foods and in doing so, learn which foods may or may not be healthier for general consumption, nutritional needs are personal. Just because Paleo advocates ban beans for their anti-nutrients and even though nutrition professionals advise of a Paleo diet for those living with an auto-immune disease, doesn't necessarily mean that I need to ditch legumes and only eat meat. What works for that guy isn't necessarily going to work for this guy. By the way, soaking legumes (and cooking them, for that matter) helps to eliminate anti-nutrients. And, because there is no single food with absolute perfect nutritional qualities that we can therefore consume only this food in order for our health to flourish (at least, I don't think so?), we must find a balance between many different kinds of foods.
Nothing is perfect and no two diets are the same - discover your own unique nutritional map.
Reason 2. Variety: I love Meatless Mondays (and other days when I declare vegetarianism). My argument: the Paleo diet lacks variety, and including plant-based proteins in your diet offers more options. For me, this is completely true. However: (1) the same could be said of other diets, and (2) there are ways to get creative in the kitchen (there's a plethora of Paleo diet blogs nowadays). But, my reasoning also has to do with affordability and convenience of plant-based options (see Reason 3: Sustainability).
Ugh. Let's just cut to the chase. I've reintegrated non-Paleo foods back into my diet, primarily gluten-free whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, and plant-based proteins, like beans and the occasional tofu. And, if you're wondering about what meals I like to enjoy post-Whole30 / post-Paleo attempt n, it includes a wide variety of foods, many of which are plant-based proteins. My go-to breakfast right now is either sweet potato hash with garlic black beans and eggs or quinoa sautéed with kale and shallots with a poached or fried egg. I usually have some kind of fish later in the day, usually tilapia, salmon, or shrimp. And, for one meal a day, I'll enjoy either chicken, some lean pork, or even a hamburger (that was yesterday). But, there's nothing wrong with a bowl of quinoa salad for an afternoon snack or even dinner, so I've invested in some of my favourite good-quality whole grains and plant-based proteins for delicious snacks and meals all week long.
It's about eating fresh, whole foods, and a little bit of a lot.
Reason 3. Sustainability: Animals are expensive.
Sure, you could argue that a vegetarian, vegan, raw, or any other diet is also expensive. So, for me, it's about finding that balance (also see Reason 2: Variety). Because I care so much about what goes into my body, a large part of my weekly expenditure is on food. And, while I don't buy organic produce all the time (more on this in a later post), I do try to purchase higher quality meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. These products are obviously more expensive and so I like to supplement purchasing animal protein sometimes with foods containing plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, quinoa, wild rice, and the occasional brick of tofu. Especially when purchased in bulk, these foods cost a small fraction of what many grass-fed, free-range animal products do. Right now, this is what suits me best.
Prioritize your health! Spend more money on higher quality, healthful foods now rather than medical bills later.
Reason 4. Enjoyment: Everything in moderation (including chocolate).
This point coincides well with the idea that nothing is perfect. From beans and chocolate, to the Paleo diet and my diet, your diet, nothing is perfect! For me, that nothing is perfect and that we should enjoy a little of a lot of things translates to making the healthiest choices possible. Of course, this is going to vary, whether I'm living my day-to-day life or I'm living in Italy for three weeks - I'm not, by the way...but you can understand what I'm getting at. In my everyday life, I strive to enjoy whole, nutrient-dense foods, the foods that I'll truly get the most bang for my buck, because they're nutritious and delicious (sometimes this is Paleo, sometimes not). If and when I am in Italy for three weeks, I'll still strive for quality foods made with whole, fresh ingredients, and if that includes an extra scoop of gelato, so be it.
Balance. For me, it's about making the healthiest choices given my circumstances, all while enjoying life, too - and now that's just common sense.
There are certainly parts of the Paleo diet that I agree with, that I benefit from, and that I would even recommend for some (for instance, I think we could all do with a little less gluten and a lot less sugar). That being said, choosing what foods to eat or which diet to follow really comes down to your own nutritional needs. And once again, that's why it's so important to find what works for you. You don't have to follow any one diet. It's about trying different diets and tweaking them to suit your needs. My takeaway from trying Paleo is:
a. don't eat processed foods
b. eat grass-fed, organic, high quality animal protein
But, don't get caught up in all of the restrictions (of any diet!). If you can eat dairy, grab a bowl of yoghurt. If you're not allergic to peanuts, happy day!
Strive to become your own personal health guru and to figure out what is required for your optimal health and function. Find a diet and lifestyle that is nutritious, includes variety, is sustainable, and most importantly, that you can enjoy. Do that, and you can label it whatever you want.
image via mostly green
DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist, physician, or any kind of health professional. Everything that you find on my blog is based on my own knowledge and opinion. If you require specific health and fitness advice, please seek a qualified health professional.