Diet Smack-Down Part 3: My Month of Paleo

This is Part 3 of 3 of my Diet Smack-Down series where I share my experience eating vegan for a month followed by eating Paleo for a month. Read my study design and verdict in Part 1, and My Month of Vegan in Part 2.

Time to go Paleo!

After my month of veganism, I entered a “wash-out” month of eating my “normal” omnivorous diet. During this time, I dove into my reading in order to fully understand why I should go “against the grain.” The Paleo authors’ mantras rang clear in my mind:

Grains are inferior to vegetables, and by putting grains on your plate, you are missing an opportunity to eat more vegetables.

You must admit; this part makes serious sense!

In general, the Paleo argument is that grains are not our original human food, since grains did not enter our diet until the industrial age. We therefore are not “evolved” to eat grains. Specifically, they suggest that grains contain “anti-nutrients” that are counter-productive to nutritional health, cause blood sugar and insulin levels to rise, increasing risk of type 2 diabetes, and are overly hybridized and therefore unfriendly to our digestive tracts. In short, grains and sugar fatten us up.

Eating like a caveman: yes, meat… but lots of salad too!

Off I went, shopping for lots of eggs, fish, chicken, beef and pork, plus a boatload of vegetables and leafy greens. I ate lots of salads, with no croutons and even no beans (Paleoists claim beans have anti-nutrients, just like grains). I had to equip myself for no sandwiches, no pizza, and no pasta. Just meat or eggs, vegetables and fruit. Repeat.

For breakfast I had eggs with lots of sautéed vegetables with fruit on the side. No toast. No potatoes. I swore I would be hungry. But miraculously, I was not. I was satisfied until lunch! Wow. What a surprise! Next morning, same thing. If nothing else, I was learning to replace toast with veggies in my breakfasts.

For lunch I ate giant salads topped with vegetables and chicken, beef or tuna. I used vinegar and olive oil as dressing. Again, no feta or blue cheese, no dressings containing yogurt, and nothing with sour cream.

Dinner? Meat-topped salads again. Or stir-fried or grilled meat and vegetables. No rice, noodles or pasta. Talk about limiting, yet, the protein and vegetables were satisfying.

I lost weight, but I felt deprived.

More quickly on this diet I felt like I was losing weight. (Probably water weight from it being so high in protein and low in carbohydrate). No wonder I was disappointed to learn that after 30 days of what felt even MORE depriving than the vegan diet, I had only lost 2 pounds. And my body fat actually went up! Ugh! My total cholesterol went up (all those eggs?), and my triglycerides dropped (from a low carb diet). Surprisingly, my HDL and LDL levels improved (perhaps transient).

What about the nutrition analysis of my Paleo diet?

It was low in calories, but not as low as the vegan diet. As expected, I consumed lots of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, but NOT enough calcium. Also, surprisingly, my diet was low in potassium (perhaps due to the omitted grains) and high in iron (a pro-oxidant that in high doses can promote heart disease and cancer). My sodium intake was also high. I’m guessing this was due to the all-too-tempting deli meats that I consumed when I didn’t have time to cook fresh meat. My fiber intake was not only lower than the vegan diet, but much less than my goal of 30 grams per day.

Overall “happiness rating” of my month of being Paleo?

While I definitely liked creatively replacing grains with zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, and other vegetables, I admit that I did not like this diet overall. It was much harder to adhere to than the vegan diet. It was difficult to avoid processed meat due to the time needed to cook fresh every meal.

And my colon felt heavy. Relying on vegetables and fruit for ALL my fiber needs (instead of fruits and vegetables and grains) didn’t get me to the 30-40 grams of fiber which is much better for colon health. (And probably why my colon felt “heavy.”)

While I didn’t keep precise track of my food bill, my overall eye-ball guess was the month of Paleo was certainly more expensive! Especially if you want organic meat and eggs, which the Paleo authors admit you should do in order to be “safe” eating so much meat. Still, here are some great things I learned during the month:

  • Grains really should NOT dominate our diet. By removing them as an option, I became even more practiced at reaching for fruits and vegetables.
  • Going cold turkey with sweets was extremely eye-opening for me! Giving up cookies, cakes and candy and having fresh fruit be my only dessert was actually not depriving, but rather, FREEING.
  • I will continue to omit toast with my morning eggs, and add more veggies instead.
  • Other than missing yogurt and its benefits, I am agreeable to eating minimal dairy.

How did my workmates do on the Paleo diet for 30 days?

I bid goodbye to Amy, the newfound vegan, prior to this portion of my study.

And what about my husband? “I hated Paleo,” he said. “Colon cancer runs in my family and this did NOT feel right at all. I bailed after 2 weeks.”

Read about My Month of Vegan, and my final verdict!