Eat Like a Caveman?

Paleolothic, Caveman Diet, the Hunter-Gatherer Diet. A few terms used to describe the most commonly referred to Paleo diet, a way of eating that is touted to best resemble that of our ancestors. The Paleo diet has gained widespread popularity over the past couple years, most notably with the rise of the Cross Fit exercise craze. The two appear to go hand in hand like bacon and eggs or steak and potatoes.
So what does a nutrition professional think of the Paleo Diet? Are we all better off going back to our roots and living off the land? Here’s the inside scoop.

The theory behind the Paleo diet is that emphasizing pre-agricultural revolution foods is the optimal way of eating to prevent “disease of civilization” such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. By eliminating refined sugars, dairy, legumes and grains, Paleo advocates believe that we can live a disease-free life and lose a few pounds too. The diet includes plenty of grass-fed meat, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and plant-based oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut).

As the description states, the Paleo diet emphasizes many healthful foods. Most anyone would benefit from a diet rich in whole-foods and low in processed foods, specifically refined carbohydrates. Concerns arise in the sustainability of the Paleo diet. Paleo diet resources including the website and book offer countless meal and recipe ideas, however if one can’t get over the idea of saying goodbye to pancakes, bread, and pasta, it may be a challenging feat to take on. Enjoying a meal at most restaurants can be done with ease by sticking with meat, chicken or fish and vegetable sides. Just say “no” to alcohol, coffee, and most condiments; our ancestors didn’t have access to them, so nor are they Paleo-approved. A nice feature of the Paleo diet is the inclusion of up to three “cheat” meals per week, so you can have your cake and eat it occasionally too.

Another concern of the Paleo diet is the lack of guidelines with selection of protein-rich foods. Saturated fat intake can become a concern if too many eggs, steaks or slices of bacon are consumed. However when consumed in moderation with a healthy mix of leaner cuts of skinless poultry, pork, and fish, the Paleo diet may provide cardiovascular benefit, particularly with the elimination of sugars and refined carbs. It tends to be naturally low in sodium thanks to the focus on whole foods.

A protein-rich diet like that of Paleo is good for those who don’t like feeling hungry while on a diet. If you’re looking to lose weight, however, there does have to be a limit on the bacon. Following a Paleo diet, or any whole foods diet for that matter will not produce weight loss unless a calorie deficit is achieved.

Other nutritional concerns arise when one eliminates grains and dairy, good sources of B-vitamins and calcium. However, with a high intake of meat, poultry, fish and vegetables on the Paleo plan, B-vitamins shouldn’t be a challenge to consume in sufficient amounts. Research on the calcium intake of Paleo dieters shows that there isn’t much difference in comparison to the typical Western diet.

So what does the RD think? I believe anyone can thrive on a whole foods, I mean, Paleo diet. Replacing processed foods, many of which tend to be grains, with whole, natural plants and animal proteins is a good thing. If it just happens to align with Paleo, then so be it. Will the occasional whole grain cause harm to ones’ health? Not likely, so go ahead and have that bread-rich sandwich once in a while

One of my favorite Paleo approved breakfasts.


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Heather Petraszko MS,RD

Motivation · Nutrition

Top Three Tips for Overcoming Food Cravings


Chocolate craving? Here’s how to handle it.

Food cravings are an inevitable challenge of weight loss and beyond. Learning how to outsmart your food cravings can go a long way in ensuring your weight loss success.

1. Delay. You can decide to put off acting on a craving urge for a specified amount of time. Start with 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes you might decide to go ahead an act on the urge, wait another 10 minutes for it to leave, or realize that you are no longer craving the food all together. Delaying allows you take control of the situation; you get to decide whether or not you want act on your craving or not. Delaying buys you time to think about the options, to learn why you are craving a particular food, and to determine what the best response is. Delaying is a particularly effect tactic when cravings are related to still feeling hungry after a meal. Busy lifestyles and allowing ourselves to get overly hungry in between meals are two reasons why we may eat quickly. Eat too quickly, and you’re not allowing your body to register that food has been consumed. This can lead to hunger-driven cravings. Delay a second helping by 10 minutes and then reevaluate your hunger level.

2. Break the Habit. We are creatures of habit. We tend to engage in the same daily activities and patterns because they are familiar to us. We also associate particular activities with food. Watching your favorite evening television show may not feel complete without a bowl of snacks in hand. Incorporating breakfast may be a challenge if you’re used to waking up 15 minutes before having to leave for work. In order to see change, you have to make change. Think about the times that you eat during the day. How are they associated with your lifestyle and routine? How will they be affected by
following your meal plan? By planning in advance, you can anticipate cravings that arise from habit.

3. Have a Back Up Plan. Once you’ve identified times in your day that you’re more likely to experience cravings, plan for how you will deal with those feelings when they hit. Arrange your meal plan around craving times so that you can enjoy a meal or snack and stay on track. This is particularly
helpful for social events that involve food. It can be awkward to say “no” when everyone else is eating. Yet, by planning to have a snack at the same time, you’ll feel part of the group, even if you’re eating something different.

Petraszko Wellness
Heather Petraszko, MS, RD


The Mediterranean Diet. What Does the Dietitian think?

As a Registered Dietitian (RD), I’m often asked about what I think of the latest trending diet. Some of my responses are quick and simple, ie “No, I certainly don’t recommend limiting your intake to nothing more than herbal teas and a lemon juice/cayenne pepper/maple syrup concoction.” Most often though, I find myself providing a more detailed response. This is because most of the popular diets do offer benefit, some more than others, but at least some.

I thought I’d post a series on my professional opinion of popular diets. Today, I’m starting with a diet that more closely resembles my own nutrition philosophy. Here’s my take on the Mediterranean Diet.

The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy diet and has the research to back it. Multiple studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet is effective for reducing LDL cholesterol, also known as the “bad cholesterol”, as well as increasing HDL, the “good cholesterol”. Furthermore, improvements in blood sugar levels and blood pressure are associated with this way of eating.

The premise behind the Mediterranean diet is that it is high in vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, legumes and olive oil. Moderate amounts of low-fat dairy, fish, and red wine are recommended. What’s encouraged in limited amounts is red meat.

Much of heart-healthy benefits attributed from the Mediterranean diet stem from its high content of fresh produce, plenty of vegetables and fruits providing fiber and phytochemicals including antioxidants, shown to reduce the damage caused by free radicals. Olive oil, nuts- particularly almonds, and avocados are emphasized in the Mediterranean diet. They provide a source of monounsaturated fats, a type of beneficial fat shown to increase good cholesterol.

Is the Mediterranean diet sustainable? Most likely. The Mediterranean diet incorporates foods from all of the food groups- meat and beans, vegetables and fruits, dairy, and fats and oils. While red meat is limited, it’s not completely off limits either. In fact, red meat can still be enjoyed a couple times a month. Those who love a daily burger may have trouble adhering to the Mediterranean plan, but otherwise, it shouldn’t be considered a very challenging diet to follow.

The fact that most restaurants also cater to the Mediterranean diet makes it more likely that people will adhere. A salad or steamed veggies with grilled chicken breast or salad are typical restaurant meals that meet the Mediterranean diet criteria. Even pizza, when prepared with a whole-grain crust, veggies and a light layer of cheese can part of the plan.

Alcohol, something most diet plans restrict, if not eliminate, is a component of the Mediterranean diet that offers appeal. Moderate amounts of red wine are encouraged for its cardiovascular benefit. The key is limiting red intake to no more than one glass per day for women, two for men.

So what might a typical day on the Mediterranean diet look like? How about breakfast of oatmeal topped with a dollop of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt, a handful of berries and a few tablespoons of chopped walnuts. Lunch might include a meal- sized salad of spring mix and an assortment of vegetables, topped with a grilled chicken breast and edameme, finished with a light drizzle of olive oil. Dinner may feature a fillet of salmon with sides of quinoa and steamed broccoli, and balsamic vinaigrette for dipping. Snacks through the day could include a piece of low-fat mozzarella with whole-grain crackers, or a handful of almonds and an apple.

As a registered dietitian, I recommend the Mediterranean diet for anyone looking to improve their heart health as well as anyone seeking an overall healthy diet. The research is clear in that the Mediterranean diet helps to reduce risk factors associated with heart disease; improvements in cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure have been shown. However, the benefits of eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, lean proteins, nuts and seeds extends to overall improvements in health, especially when these foods replace the processed meals and snacks so abundant in the typical American diet.

For more information on the Mediterranean Diet, check out Oldways a food nutrition education organization.

One of my favorite meals- roasted veggie and goat cheese pizza on an egg white crust is Mediterranean Diet approved!