I’ve been asked this question before … many times. It seems to be a common question. Please indulge the following stream of consciousness ramble …
Let me just say … there are no clear easy answers. I can’t just say, “Paleo is better” and … leave it at that, because it’s not. I LOVE Paleo, but feel it has flaws. I LOVE Low-Carb, but … I also feel it has flaws. Beyond my own opinion, different diets are going to affect different people, differently. Bodies are different, due to medical conditions, damage done by previous diet, sex, age, etc. Even the desire to adhere to one over the other is different and will influence how well it works for any given individual.
What works for me, may not work for you. What follows is just my opinion and the way I FEEL about these two topics …
First, I think we should discuss what it means to “diet”. If one is looking to lose weight, or remedy some kind of medical condition, there stands a good chance that … they’ve been doing it wrong. They’ve been eating the wrong things and/or lounging around the boob tube far too often. If our friend were to go on a super restrictive hardcore diet for 30 days … Yep! Weight loss would ensue! If our hero were to go back to the same old habits, the weight would return … usually with a few bonus pounds!! If a person diets, then goes back to old habits … then diets again, then returns to old habits … not only will things get worse, but permanent damage may occur!
Albert Einstein once defined “Insanity” as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I love this definitely, as it so succinctly states the obvious, while shining a big light on most peoples’ insanities …
Point being, if you want to remedy your situation, you have to make a lifelong change. This means you must restrict something. You just have to! You WILL need to eliminate something. This is why and how ALL diets work. Every diet out there works, because it eliminates something from the equation. If you were to sustain yourself on any given diet, forever, you’ll drop to the new weight that that particular diet allows for … and you’ll stay there forever, provided you continue adhering to it.
Go back to old habits? You get the old muffin-top dangling over the top of your pants, again!
The goal for any person, really, is to find what works best for them, while still being gratifying. What is an acceptable restriction, which is still enjoyable?! (That said, food is fuel … seeing it as a form of entertainment is something of a dodgy business)
Once you’ve established that you’re going to restrict … good luck with the selection process! There is so much to choose from! You can opt to count calories, or count carbs, or pay close attention to your fat to protein to carb ratio, and keep your fats super high! You can eat just cabbage and Twinkies (although, this will kill you, eventually).
Pick the most tolerable one and … stick with it, forever! … or … continue to refine it and restrict more and more, as time goes on!
Take a step deeper into this post, I feel it’s important to say that … not all calories are equal. It has to do a lot with insulin. I’m not a science geek and don’t claim to be, but having lost near 150 lbs. by decreasing the insulin in my blood … I would stake my life on that belief. If pushed, I can also point out tons of literature to support this stand (like “Wheat Belly“, for example), but … this is mostly a Foodie blog and less of a Nutrition blog. It suffices to say, not all calories are created equal.
The most overly simplistic illustration I can offer …
- 1700 calories a day of doughnuts, pizza, pasta and Captain Crunch Berries will likely keep a 135 lb. woman at about the same weight, for life. She won’t gain or lose, but she will likely spend most of her life feeling hungry, as her blood sugars rise and fall, cresting and collapsing.
- Contrarily, 1700 calories a day of salmon, broccoli, blueberries and almonds, will likely cause a 135 lb. woman to lose weight. Realistically, this woman should probably eat well over 2000 calories in order to sustain her body weight … and she’ll never feel hungry or unsatisfied! In this case, she can eat more calories to sustain her weight; she’s eating a wider range of nutrient dense foods and doesn’t have the hunger pangs and cravings that go along with low blood sugar.
See, starches and sugars convert to glucose in the blood. Excess glucose is stashed as fat, to be used another day! The pancreas recognizes the excess glucose and sends out the hormone insulin to go save that stuff for future bursts of energy! Remove the starches and sugars to remove the insulin. Remove the insulin and the body stops stashing food on your butt! In fact … instead … your body starts to USE that butt-energy, rather than stash it! YAY!
At the very least, I’m a very strong believer in reducing carbohydrates, regardless of your selection’s designation. However, this does play heavily into my vote for the low-carb camp.
However! Again … not all carbs are equal, either!
There are 3 macronutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrates. Fat is pretty much fat, protein is pretty much protein and … carbs are a bit different. It’s as if the nutrition people of yore had plenty of coffee the day they defined fat and protein. Someone must have switched it to decaf on the day they worked to define “carbohydrates”. They kind of threw in the towel too quickly, rationalizing, “Fat was easy, protein was easy … we’ll just call everything that’s left over … carbs! Let’s just say this … ‘Carbohydrates are defined as anything that isn’t a fat or a protein!'”
Some interesting things about carbs …
They’re the only macronutrient not required to live. If one were to cut out fat … they’d die. No protein? Death. Remove the carbs? Live! It’d be hard and you’d have to really work to get all your essential nutrients, but you could live a full long and healthy life!
With those ideas in the bag … carbs are things like starches, sugars, fibers, sugar alcohols, plus a whole range of other goofy multisyllabic terms that no one understands … except those that speak Latin and … that one super pumped guy, babbling in the corner.
It’s because of this that SOME carbs are considered good carbs, whereas others are labeled as bad. Sugar, corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, honey, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrate, etc. are all the bad carbs. Starch is another one, which is why potatoes, rice and grains are often shunned. Fiber, on the other hand, has no impact on the blood sugars, so … no insulin … and there’s the added benefit of bulk, gut health and … it helps move things along! Then, we get into the sugar alcohols, which are things like maltitol, xylitol, sorbitol and erythritol … (the “itols”) … These impact blood sugars to varying degrees and turn into glucose more quickly than others. This is based on the glycemic index, which is a whole other topic for another day …
~ INTERMISSION ~
Before I delve deeper into the question, “Paleo or Low-Carb?” … here’s a quick video clip of Jim Gaffingan discussing Domino’s Pasta Stuffed Bread Bowl! FUNNY STUFF!!!
And now … our Feature Presentation! …
Paleo is essentially “eating like our ancestors”. Eat like a “hunter/gatherer”. Eat things that were only available 10,000 years ago. Minimally process the ingredients before eating. Rustic cooking techniques are strong within the Paleo community. The idea here is, these foods are the foods that existed as we were developing as humans. Thus, these are the foods we’re genetically designed to eat! Prior to agriculture and the domestication of animals, the human diet was meat, fish, eggs, low-starch veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds. Grains weren’t grown in massive fields. They weren’t milled and stripped of their fiber. Humans didn’t develop with grains, or orange groves, or grocery stores filled with coconut flour and honey.
If you held a hand whittled bow and arrow to my head and asked me to choose an ideology between Paleo and Low-Carb, I’d say “Paleo. TRUE Paleo.” This is an abrupt answer to a life-or-death situation, mind you, and needs some explaining.
The beating heart of Paleo incorporates fresh whole foods, minimally processed and eaten. Paleo also ties in exercise, but … like our ancestors might, not a 10 mile run, or 60 minutes of High Impact Jazzercise. It’s a lot of steady continuous movement, followed by short blasts of extreme output, like jumping really high and hard (to escape a lion), or lifting a really massive boulder (which has just rolled into your living room). It’s about your body fighting the wild, or … at least acting “as if”.
Here is where I get so bent out of shape over Paleo. Honey. I hate you, Honey! You’ve very much and very sincerely ruined what feels like an otherwise beautiful, harmonious and symbiotic philosophy!
Paleo has been tampered with. It’s seemingly crystal clear edges have been sanded down … hacked! Because bees were around and making honey 10,000 years ago, it’s been decreed by the Paleo community … “HONEY GOOD!“
Now, don’t get me wrong. Honey IS good! It clearly serves a valuable role in the world. It’s the result of bee pollination … from which we get the sweet tasty bee hurl, which brave and interprising cavefolk probably DID indulge in, from time to time … rarely.
I also believe honey is better than refined sugar. It’s got a few extra nutrients, it’s quite a bit sweeter, so a little goes further than regular sugar, and it pretty much never goes bad. HOWEVER! … It’s sugar. I don’t care which way you slice and dice it. Spin it as hard as you want to … the simple fact remains that my body LOVES to stash excess honey on my butt. It gives me a quick boost of energy and then stashes the rest … right square on my rear!
My frustration with honey is the result of reading hundreds of sickeningly sweet Paleo cookbooks. Time and time again, spinning the idea that honey, presented as an acceptable excess … is plain wrong. This, my friends, grows old … resulting in a resentment that’s potentially even a bit stronger than it really has any right to be.
See, 10,000 years ago, Grok and Groll couldn’t just walk into a grocery store and pluck jars of raw honey off the shelve. When I ask myself what’s Paleo, I ask myself, “Would I be willing to fend off thousands of bees, to get my honey?” Remember, this is at a time where there are no hospitals.
Nope! Not bloody likely!
The same is true with maple syrup! Sure, those trees existed, but I somehow doubt that Grok got up and turned the tap on his maple tree, for that morning’s almond meal pancakes! Grok just wasn’t that sophisticated.
I simply don’t believe our bodies were designed for blasts of sugar, in this manner. At least … not consistently … year after year after year …
The same is true with dried dates. I mean, this is just concentrated sugar! Sure, it’s a fruit, but it’s a SUPER sweet fruit, which has been dried and concentrated! It’s been accepted by the Paleo community, because it’s fruit and can be dried by the sun. But … come on! We’re talking about a time before agriculture. I don’t see Cro-Magnon folks resting their Medjool dates on rocks, until they concentrated their sweet flavor, for tomorrow’s coconut-date-maple muffins!
Full Discloser: I would eat a dozen Coconut-Date-Maple Muffins. This would be DELICIOUS! I’d eat them with my whole face! Our bodies WANT these kinds of things and are hardwired for sugar, which is WHY we want it! But, remember, in order to get that sugar (to stash on our butts for potential times of famine) … we had to fend off large animals, bees, climb trees, lift rocks, and generally do everything we could not to starve, get injured or die. The sweet taste is for survival, but … we’ve refined and bottled that stuff up! We are now continuing to create reasons for pouring it on our tapioca and arrowroot waffles, with extra sweet and super tasty caramelized organic apples!
This is where Paleo really begins with a slippery slope. Because certain things existed back in time … they’re considered acceptable foods … even though they didn’t really exist in the SAME WAY that they do, today. This frustrates me to no end.
Honey … I hate you.
Low-Carb is a method I personally followed, and it allowed me to lose almost 150 lbs. within a fairly short span of time. It CLEARLY works, but … if you’re following the overall theme, it’s that too many of the wrong carbohydrates will cause weight gain, regardless of your philosophy. I’m merely discussing the overall pros and cons of each overhanging umbrella.
Probably my biggest beef with low-carb is … it has a tendency to portray itself as gluttonous. Whereas a quick glance of Paleo suggests whole foods, foraged by rock scaling/treeclimbing cave people … low-carbers present it as stacks of steak, eggs and bacon-y cream and cheese sauces … with a whisper of spice and a broccoli floret. To be perfectly honest … “I” do it all the time, too! I definitely play into this view, quite often. It’s the low-carber’s sales pitch, “Come on, Sally! Think about it … you can eat as much bacon as you want! BACON!!!!”
This is potentially where I’m even sharing some insight into my own personal issues. It’s often hard to see outside yourself … so what I’m sharing could be very centered around me and my views, and I’m casting a negative light on something, simply because of my own weaknesses, when … the reality is … low-carb, just like any other diet plan, works when you work it!
See, I eat too much. I do. I always have. I mean … let’s call a spade a spade. What’s my name? It’s FOODIE! It stands to reason, that I’m a lover of food! Food isn’t really a casual thing with me. I LOOOOoOOOOoOoove the stuff! The more there is, the happier I am!
When I switched to low-carb, I was still able to maintain large portions, while dropping 20 lbs. here and 30 lbs. there … effortlessly! However, now that I’m closer to goal … I’m stuck. PINNED to the same weight. I work out, I eat low-carb, and … my weight doesn’t move. It’s fluctuated up and down for a year. I’ve gained muscle and clothes fit differently, but … it’s the same. I want to blame the diet. I want to say it’s because of the cheap grains I’d allowed in during low-carbing … and the frankenfoods. Then, I wanted to say it was because of the dairy. Now … I have to face facts …
Gluttony simply doesn’t work, when you want to be a lithe person.
So often, low-carb is portrayed as gluttonous and … this bothers me. Now that I’m stuck … I’m feeling as though it’s low-carbs fault, when … the truth has perhaps just revealed itself …
Low-carb (Atkins, specifically) actually has some amazing features built into it. Aside from induction, there is a slow increasing of carbs during the “Ongoing Weight Loss” (OWL) period, which allows for the ability to “do it, harder”, should you have that inclination. No such concept exists within Paleo. There is the carb ladder, which suggests starting with meats, eggs and simple leafy greens and low-carb veggies. Then, over a span of time, add in heavy dairy. Then, a while later, add in nuts and seeds, then berries, stone fruits and melons, then lighter forms of dairy. Later, layer in the legumes (not allowed on the Paleo diet because raw legumes are toxic, thus it’s inferred that our ancestors didn’t eat them), finally start adding in sweeter fruits … and last … grains. This is an interesting preogression, while never ruling out any particular food group. They are all allowed, provided you’ve earned the right to step up a rung!
I actually really love this approach and breakdown, because it offers a path of intensity and restriction options. If things are stalling … climb lower on the ladder. If things are going well … step up a rung! This also does a fantastic job at helping people identify specific groups that they may disagree with for some reason. One that isn’t clearly identified is the nightshade family … which probably should be a rung, but … it isn’t …
By and large, low-carb seems more willing to accept frankenfoods; synthetic foods that never existed, until we created them. I DO feel these have held me back, personally. Lately, in fact, Atkins Nutritionals seems to be embracing these, more and more … (something I’m personally a bit disappointed with). I’ve mostly phased them out. Looking through some of the more die hard “low-carb” websites, you’ll see things like polydextrose, wheat protein isolate, high gluten flours, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, glucomannan, xanthan, glycerin, xylitol, oat fiber, etc. Die-hard low-carbers have an arsenal of chemicals, so that they can make foods … just like the processed foods they used to eat! (I know! … I have such a laboratory, myself!)
To be fair … Paleo people do it, too, but … use coconut flour, tapioca starch, stevia and coconut sugar … all refined “safe” foods … perhaps a step in the right direction, but … clearly processed and manipulated well beyond the scope of any cavefolk.
In the end … Again, I suppose I believe true Paleo, like an actual caveperson, is the way to go. Eat insects off of leaves, hunt animals, eat fruit off trees( by climbing the tree), etc. Live like a cavehuman and … most all ailments will heal, health will increase, energy will boost, weight will drop, etc. And … I mean WITHOUT the modern “Paleo” ingredients … the sweet tasty hacks.
Anything outside of that … offers enormous opportunity to bend the rules, cheat and … get “stuck” … even while technically being within the confines of the diet.
Through my own personal experiences teetering between the two, I’ve arrived at my current eating style … which I’ve lovingly dubbed “Low Primal”: Low-Carb Primal (Paleo + Dairy) + Erythritol. To be clear … “Low Primal” is pure rationalization. It’s my way. It’s what I feel is the best combination … for me … that I’ve found, that I can live with, is entrenched in rules I understand, complete with chutes and ladders … allowing me the option to “do it harder”, should I ever choose to.
I’m currently working on my gluttony, I don’t often bake coconut flour muffins and the erythritol is mostly for my coffee. “Low Primal”, to me, is the best aspects of each of the various ideologies, while staying within natural ingredients that existed in nature 10’s of thousands of years ago, but currently exist in modern configurations. It also allows me to eat foods that look and taste a lot like the foods my fellow humans are eating in 2013. This gives me a sense of comfort … in numbers …
I know how to be more restrictive and gain intensity, but … I haven’t fully marched that way, just yet … even though, I do … and I know I’m going to have to … some day. For now, “Low Primal” is where I sit … and I may sit here for life. It’s a pretty tasty varied way to be! Someday … I may remove dairy, or nuke anything sweet. I may opt to include more raw ingredients … or boost my fermented foods. Someday. Maybe.
Pumpkin Pie Protein Smoothie
I’ve been hiking quite a bit, lately. Not just leisurely strolls up the street, but serious hikes to the tops of mountains or to alpine lakes. I took an 11 mile hike with my brother the other day and found myself griping a lot (because, let’s face it … a steep hike riddled with rocks is hard!). Suddenly, I remembered a hike I did with my mother and my grandparents, about 20 years ago. I was visiting my home town and this was one of our family activities.
My grandmother would’ve been in her mid-60’s at the time. I was roughly 20 and in the best shape of my life. My grandmother just wrecked me, that day. She skedaddled up that hill, like nobody’s business! I’m about 5′ 9″ and she’s about half that, with tiny powerful legs. I’d barely ventured up the trailhead and could hardly catch my breath. She was already halfway up the mountain!
The little engine that could!
A little over a year ago, my grandmother had a stroke … pretty much wiping out one side of her body. She was bedridden for a while, but she’s as determined a person as I’ve ever met (try telling her that grains are bad and you’ll IMMEDIATELY see the determination in her eyes!). Her yen for life had her on her feet and gaining strength in no time! … Walking up stairs and working to rebuild connections to her right arm.
It just so happens that we all live in the same city right now, and we had a family taco night the other night. Grandma was there, and because my family is so awesome, my father even made me a batch of about 8 cheesy taco shells! (Thanks, Dad!) I’d just returned from that hike with my brother and ate them all with glee. After dinner, feeling incredibly drained, I stood up … and dropped my hat. My grandmother saw this and proclaimed, “Don’t worry, DJ. I’ll get it. I’ll even do it with my right hand!” She then proceeded to shuffle over to me, gently leaning against me as she did so. She then bent down, collected my hat and reached way up over my head to put it on me. I looked like one of those guys you see at the mall, with his hat turned slightly sideways. Soooo cool!
What does any of this have to do with a Pumpkin Smoothie? I’m glad you asked!
See, when I’m cooking, a call or email goes out to friends and family who love attending for all the tasty yummy food! My grandmother is a regular visitor. On this occasion, she offered to help! Here you can see my grandmother building us a tasty delicious Pumpkin Protein Smoothie!
“Look, DJ, BOTH HANDS!” … The little engine that could!
Grandma … you have no idea what an inspiration you are to me!
Watermelon Agua Fresca
An agua fresca is a beverage meaning “Fresh Water” in English. They’re common in Latin American countries, as well as the Caribbean, apparently. They are, in short, stuff watered down with water … and then sweetened with sugar! They are delicious, fresh, hydrating and … an inexpensive way to split a melon, a bunch of limes or an assortment of nuts and spices between a large group of people! The water stretches the ingredient into a large volumetric mass, while the sugar enhances the flavors! Perfect!
For all tends and purposes … lemonade is an agua fresco. Lemon juice mixed with water and sugar. Boom. YUM! Throw a little strawberry in there and you’ve got something new and delicious!
I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico (I lived there for 10 years). There were shops you could walk into that had WALLS full of giant chilled “garrafóns” (jugs), which look like massive clear barrels. Because they can be made from just about anything, walking into one of these shops is almost like walking into a candy store. There are brilliant colors and flavors everywhere. A virtual rainbow of colors and flavors! Pineapple, lime, Jamaica (hibiscus), tamarind, oat, rice, orange, almond, mango, strawberry, watermelon, passion fruit, prickly pear, cucumber, etc. There’s a near limitless variety … then … the blends! OH MY!!
One of the great things about agua frescas for a low-carber is the fact that we can sneak a little bit of extra fruit into lives! Make a big batch of orange-tamarind agua fresca for an INCREDIBLY deep and interesting flavor, without totally messing with your blood sugars. It’d be a bit brown and murky, but it would ALSO be exotic and action packed!
Here we have an INCREDIBLY simple one, resulting in just a smooth and mellow beverage; just watermelon, sweetener and water (plus a bit of lime and salt … for counter balance and a small flavor boost!). Perfect any time!
Note: Makes about 10 cups.
STANDARD FTC DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. Please note, I only ever endorse products that are in alignment with my ideals and I believe would be of value to my readers.