IDIOT’S GUIDE: The Paleo Diet
Coming back from the holidays, you may be bringing with you a New Years resolution to eat better. Maybe you’ve already done the research and figured out what you want to try out, or perhaps you’re just interested in what the most popular diets entail. This article will help you understand the fundamentals of maintaining a diet while living on campus, especially if you’re still eating at the dining halls.
The Paleolithic or “Paleo” Diet
The Paleolithic diet argues that modern eating habits are making us sick. Proponents of “Paleo” argue that so-called Neolithic or modern foods, such as grains, beans and starches, vegetable oils, and refined agricultural products, are not properly processed by the human digestive system, which is still more or less the same as it was before the development of agriculture. The Paleo diet focuses on consumption of a balanced diet of minimally processed foods—emphasizing those which our prehistoric ancestors would have been able to consume regularly and limiting those which would have been difficult or unusual for them to find. Paleo is not a uniform diet plan; it has many derivations depending on what people interpret as being natural and healthy. For instance, issues like consumption of milk products and use of salt, honey, and vinegar are debated among Paleo followers.
What’s for dinner?
Vegetables of all kinds: Paleo encourages consumption of nearly all vegetables, although typically legumes (beans) and other starches (such as potatoes and carrots) are limited.
Meat and other animal products: Paleo gets much attention for the high level of meat consumption in the diet. Paleo cooking uses animal-derived fats such as bacon and duck fat instead of vegetable fats like olive and canola oil. Debate exists over whether or not butter is an acceptable fat.
Reasonable amounts of nuts and fruit: Nuts and fruit are encouraged in moderation, as they can be a significant source of calories. Many Paleo-friendly desserts emphasize fruit, coconut, raw cocoa, and agave nectar/honey. Some Paleo enthusiasts bake with coconut or almond flour.
What’s off the table?
Grains: This includes rice and quinoa and all products derived from grains, such as bread or pasta.
Vegetable oils: This is debated as well. Some Paleo advocates allow the use of olive oil and certain other oils; generally canola, soybean, sunflower, peanut, and corn-derived oils receive an unequivocal “no”.
Processed foods: Candy, gum, fermented foods like alcohol, pickles, and vinegar; basically anything with preservatives in it (this unfortunately includes the vast majority of fast food).
Milk products: Most Paleo advocates say that all milk products with the possible exception of unpasteurized milk and butter should be avoided. This includes cheeses, ice cream, yogurt, and any milk-derived protein supplements.
Can I do it at Tufts?
Compared to a vegan or vegetarian diet, a Paleo diet can be both more and less restrictive. If you’re cooking for yourself, Paleo can be as easy as not eating grains and cooking with animal fat instead of vegetable oil. However if you’re eating at the dining hall, you may find it difficult if not impossible to avoid all possible infringements of the diet. The dining halls do almost all their cooking with vegetable oils. The safest option for food will be the carving station and the chicken offered at lunch. Eggs—hard-boiled being the most ideal—are the main breakfast choice; you may consider skipping breakfast at the dining hall, though, due to the lack of options. Generally there are always steamed, undressed vegetables in some form, but you may have to stick with a salad if they have a sauce. The bottled salad dressings are not Paleo-friendly; lemon juice and vinegar (if you make it an exception) are the main options for dressing. Your plate typically will be dominated by a salad or minimally treated vegetables (avoid those that have been sautéed or curried) with a substantial portion of meat—at most lightly marinated (fried/breaded is off the table). Dessert options in the dining hall generally will be fruit—yogurt, baked desserts, and ice cream are not Paleo friendly.
Even if you can’t match the ideal Paleo diet with all its restrictions and limitations, you’ll still reap many of the benefits associated with the diet—at the very least you’ll gain consciousness about what goes into your food and how it affects your health.
If you’d like more information on the Paleo diet, you can find it online at sites like marksdailyapple.com and paleohacks.com.