Guest Post: Paleo Eats and Treats

It’s OK, it’s a Paleo treat…  
Not so fast.
On more than one occasion I have had clients come to me in the gym and ask me why they are not losing weight, why they are not having the results others are, why various health probems they were previously experiencing are still occuring despite “going Paleo.” Normally I answer this question with another question: “What is an average day of nutrition for you?”
When most of us “go Paleo,” we miss the foods we used to eat, both physiologically and psychologically, so we look for ways to bring back these old foods into our diet that were pleasurable in some way. And could anyone really blame us for this? Pancakes are delicious. So are brownies, cookies and other baked treats, but as the Princeton University study showed, refined sugars are as addictive as cocaine or heroin. It is not really our fault that we have cravings for these foods. So by going Paleo and handing back the refined sugars and refined carbohydrates that illicit the drug-like response on the pleasure centre in our brain, we will then begin to seek out a way to achieve the same pleasure from ‘paleo’ foods; just as we did from the empty calories of refined sugar and carbohydrates packed full of gluten and harmful lectins, and contain very little to no vitamins or minerals.
The main message that most people take away when they discover the Paleo diet is the negative impact that grains, dairy, legumes and refined sugars have on the health of our digestive system and immune system and while this is the correct message it is only half the message. The other half of the message and the one that is really important to weight management and body composition is the impact to our hormones, mainly insulin, but also leptin.

When it comes to determining what our metabolism uses for fuel or for what it will store away in our adipose tissue (body fat), insulin is the gate keeper. High insulin levels in the body will result in fat metabolisation being blocked and only blood glucose being burned for fuel or more likely stored in the adipose tissue. The purpose of insulin in the body is ultimately to control blood glucose levels to keep them within a very narrow band preventing a hyperglycaemic (high blood sugar) or hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) state, as the former results in severe damage to cells and the later resulting in death; neither are very desirable states if you ask me.

But insulin does not just fight one battle While insulin is on the war path to stop fat being mobilised and burned for fuel when levels are high, it will launch another battle against lepin. Leptin is a hormone released by adipose tissue that makes its way to the brain to say there is enough body fat, to stop eating and go do something active. High levels of insulin block this message so not only does high insulin cause calories to be stored as body fat, it also prevents hormonal messages reaching the brain to tell us to stop eating, so we reach for another brownie or slice of cake, with more carbohydrates, more insulin gets released and perpetuating cycle of calorie ingestion and storage in fat cells occurs.

When people do change to eating a Paleo or a wholefoods diet their main focus remains on the negative health impacts of foods such as wheat and dairy has on our gut health or immune system. They will tend to remain eating a mix of macronutrients that are still typical to a normal Western diet; high in carbohydrates, moderate protein and low in fat. The reality of a wholefoods diet is to be closer to how we have evolved to eat so there should be an increase in proteins and healthy fats in our diet and a dramatic decrease in the proportion that carbohydrates make up in our caloric intake; the purpose being to keep insulin levels low, and avoid foods that cause digestion issues, inflammatory problems and hormone imbalance. And this is where the problem of constant “Paleo treats” or “Paleoised foods” starts to come to light.

When clients tell me that their daily meals look something along the lines of “Paleo pancakes” made using coconut flour and banana then covered with agave syrup for breakfast, or a daily afternoon snack of “Paleo brownies” or “paleo pizza” for dinner, it is no wonder that weight loss has stopped and athletic performance is declining. Yes, they have given up refined sugar, wheat, grains, oats and legumes that cause chronic inflammatory issues and affect gut health, but they have just traded them for “paleo” friendly food items that are still carbohydrate dense foods that cause the same hormonal issues through their impact on insulin as the refined sugar, wheat, grains, oats and legumes.

I am not saying that we should never treat ourselves but rather keep “Paleo treats” for just that – treats. Enjoy your “Paleo pancakes” but have them on a Sunday morning as part of a rest day, and the same goes for all the other “Paleoised” foods that are still carbohydrate dense; pizza, brownies, cookies, pancakes, etc. whether they are Paleo or not are still sometimes foods, not everyday foods. Keep the diet based on a good amount of quality protein, a good amount of healthy fats, and keep the carbohydrate intake to calorie scarce nutrient dense sources based around fresh vegetables. If you need something sweet after a meal, enjoy a piece of fruit or a bowl of berries.

Simple answer: Eat clean, eat enough to support activity level, train hard, and treat yourself occasionally; not every day.
About Gavin Crown 

Gavin is a certified CrossFit Coach and Personal Trainer, currently serving as a Subject Matter Expert for Aussie Strength Equipment, as well as  the head trainer at CrossFit Perth. With nearly 15 years experience in competitive sport, Gavin recognised the importance that proper nutrition plays so through extensive research, self experimentation and questioning conventional dogma of nutritional theories, he has been able to apply what he has learned to help clients improve athletic performance, loose excess weight and improve overall quality of life.

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