Heart Foundation dietitians and nutritionists have a go at Paleo

Not a week goes by where the Heart Foundation isn’t asked about its views on the latest dietary trends. Find out our experiences trialling one of the hottest dietary trends, Paleo...

Dave Monro, NZRD

Dave Monro, NZRD

Food and Nutrition Manager

I completed chef training while studying nutrition/ dietetics and enjoy combining both of these elements to develop practical solutions for families to eat healthier.

When asked about our views on the latest dietary trends, as expected, our advice is: don’t resort to extremes; acknowledge the positive aspects of different dietary approaches; and recognise the dietary principles that almost everyone agrees on which is to eat mostly whole and less processed foods, including plenty of vegetables and fruit. However, in giving this advice, we have often never tried these dietary trends ourselves and may not always be in a position to deliver a more compelling message that comes from personal experience.

In this series of blogs, some Heart Foundation dietitians and nutritionists will write about their experiences of trying some of the hottest dietary trends for a limited period of time.

The shift to Paleo - my personal experience of day one

The first step with the Paleo approach is to decide what to include and what to exclude. Overall, the whole concept seems a bit farfetched, as our modern food supply and way of life is completely different to that of the caveman days. A quick internet search reveals multiple exceptions, inclusions and modifications. This is probably reasonable enough, given that what works for one person may not suit another. 

The definition of Paleo that I choose to work from involves excluding dairy, grains and legumes. It includes a strong focus on whole and less processed foods. For the record, the first three exclusions I’m personally and professionally opposed to, unless there is a good medical reason to do so. However, the focus on whole and less processed foods gets a definite ‘tick’ of approval from me.

I’m relieved to see that green beans and peas are on the menu, after uncertainty whether they are classed as paleo or not.

Questions still remain over whether to include coffee, alcohol, and dark chocolate.  I can cope without the chocolate but surely cavemen and women enjoyed the occasional glass of fermented berries after a hard day of hunting or when the cave children went off to bed. I’m also pretty certain that they would have got their day off to a good start with a roughly ground cup of cave coffee. Well, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Paleo prep

Next step is to do the shopping for the week ahead. I look down at the shopping trolley and it looks good - lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and a top-up bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Replacements for milk and yoghurt are also needed. The coconut yoghurt I’ve seen posted on various social media feeds looks interesting and could be a good breakfast option. I find it in the yoghurt section but am taken aback by the cost - $10.99 for a 500g jar. Next is a trip to the spreads aisle for a peanut butter replacement. The almond butter is also expensive at $19.99 for a 375g jar – this is nuts! I have immediate concerns about how much this is all going to cost.

At home, food preparation for the coming week begins in earnest with toasting nuts and seeds for my grain-free cereal and roasting vegetables for lunches. I question if I have the time for this as it’s Sunday afternoon and the children are running riot. Fridge space is at a premium due to the increased number of fresh products in it, but overall I’m looking forward to having a go at this.

Breakfast

Monday and it’s D-Day or P-Day, to be precise. Breakfast is a dollop of coconut yoghurt with toasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds, plus walnuts, flax seeds and berries. It looks and tastes great and is surprisingly filling.

A small voice comes from the bench seat: “Dad, why no toast?” It’s an obvious question, as it’s my regular breakfast staple. I think to myself that care needs to be taken with answering. My response is along the lines of: “I’m trying something new and eggs are referred to as another option.” Suddenly, three sets of ears prick up at the idea of eggs for breakfast. What was poached eggs for one has suddenly become poached eggs for five.

Lunch

Lunch consists of roasted vegetables - beetroot, carrots, parsnip, pumpkin, capsicum - with salad greens, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, topped with some nuts and seeds. It tastes and looks great but I find more protein is required to get me through the afternoon. Snacks through the day are fruit which are my usual snacking staple. There are some strange rumblings in my tummy during late afternoon. I can’t work out whether it’s the increased nut and fibre content or I’m hungry.

Dinner

Arriving home after picking up the kids, I have to resist the urge to reach for a rice cracker or eat the odd bit of pasta leftover from their dinner. Energy levels are okay. Adults’ dinner is twice cooked harissa pork fried with onions and garlic, avocado, tomato, capsicum and coriander, all wrapped in lettuce leaves. I eat three but feel like I could eat eight. Although I’ve just eaten, my mind seems to be telling me that something is missing or that I’ve been short-changed.

Overall, impressions from day one were a lift in the nutrient value of the food I was eating with a much stronger focus on vegetables and whole foods. There was also a realisation that carbohydrate foods can dominate my typical dietary pattern. While more effort is needed in planning and preparation, the challenge of trying new dishes is exciting. My goals for the coming week include making paleo bread and cauliflower rice.

(Disclaimer: The content in this blog does not represent the views of the Heart Foundation. Instead it is the views of a Heart Foundation staff member who is speaking from personal experience.)

Read our update after four weeks