Sneak Peek Inside an RD’s Pantry

Sneak Peek into an RD's pantry

There is a lot of mystique surrounding the dietitians pantry. Some assume that it’s only filled with neatly labeled jars of organic quinoa, heirloom beans, and chia seeds. Others suspect more of a Monica’s closet approach, envisioning a secret stash of Oreos and cheese puffs. Well, today I’m putting the questions to rest. Because above is a sneak peek inside my own pantry. (And no, it’s not staged!)

This isn’t where I keep all of my food (the refrigerator, freezer, and spice cabinet are also well stocked), but it should give you an idea of where I stand. Aside from a healthy variety of dried fruit, nuts, beans, and whole grains, one pantry aspect that I’m particularly proud of (and recommend to others) is the lack of processed snack foods. In fact, about the only thing that falls in that category is a box of whole wheat crackers (top right) that I once bought for a dinner party but never ended up opening.

Snack foods tend to disappear quickly because they often trigger mindless eating. In fact, despite the clean nutrition label, I purposely don’t buy KIND bars unless I have a hike, flight, road trip, or ski trip planned. They’re too good not to eat immediately, whether I’m hungry or not. When you keep good food in the house, you tend to eat good food. This means that my go-to dessert ends up being a bowl of oatmeal mixed with bananas and a generous heap of cocoa powder — and that’s only if I’m truly hungry enough to cook it up myself.

While contemplating the components of a healthy pantry (and by extension, a healthy refrigerator), I realized that a major plus for me is that I don’t keep ketchup in the house. Ketchup itself is no dietary villain (Reagan counted it as a vegetable, after all), but hear me out…

Ketchup pretty much only goes with junk food. We can pretend that we exclusively use it on oven-baked sweet potato fries and other lesser evils, but who are we kidding? It’s the frequent fast food take out routine that keeps the ketchup bottles running low. Ketchup is a French fry’s best friend, and it also pairs well with other artery-clogging, obesity-inducing foods, like cheeseburgers and chicken tenders. After all, you certainly would never dunk a salad in it.

When taking inventory of your pantry (or refrigerator), it helps to make note of your food patterns and which foods encourage healthy choices (or unhealthy choices). For me, that means watching out for ketchup, but for you, it might be something different (like barbecue sauce or chocolate syrup)!

Healthy choices often beget healthy choices. Foods like granola are already nutritious (albeit, often high calorie) options, but the pot sweetens when you pair this healthy whole grain snack with its equally healthy companions, Greek yogurt and fresh berries. Sure, granola packs a much bigger calorie punch than ketchup does, but which food do you picture as part of a healthy meal?

Similar comparisons can be made when you think of other high calorie, yet high nutrient foods, like extra virgin olive oil. In fact, I am reminded of a quote by Greek doctor and nutrition scientist Antonia Trichopoulou that my boss once shared with me:

“Olive oil makes the vegetables go down!”

What helps your vegetables go down? Do certain foods encourage you to make healthier choices when you keep them in the house? Share your secrets to a healthy pantry in the comments below.

– Kelly

P.S. For those wondering about my giant glass jar of rolled oats, I still have it! However, I keep it on the kitchen counter, rather than in the pantry.

My Favorite Healthier Menu Items Around Boston

Wondering how a registered dietitian navigates the Boston casual dining scene? When eating out, it helps to have a few go-to healthy menu items in mind–dishes that are loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. See below for 5 of my current favorite nutritious menu options around town!

Healthy Menu Items in Boston: Museli from Tatte

Muesli from Tatte Bakery ($9 bowl pictured, or $6 cup): Unsweetened whipped Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, black sesame seeds, sliced almonds, pumpkin & sunflower seeds, oats, and a drizzle of honey

Healthy Menu Items in Boston: Grilled Veggie Whole Wheat Burrito from Annas Taqueria

Grilled Veggie Burrito from Anna’s Taqueria ($6.85): I choose the whole wheat tortilla (whole wheat is the first ingredient!) and fill it with black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, lettuce, and grilled veggies (an impressive mix of bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini, corn, and green beans). That’s it. No meat, no cheese, no problem!

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Sweet Potato Sandwich from Crema Cafe ($6.95): Toasted whole grain bread filled with sweet potato, granny smith apple, hummus, sprouts, avocado, and sherry vinaigrette. Great for sharing!

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Salad from Sweetgreen (approx. $8.50-$10.50) I almost always go for the seasonal salads, but I also LOVE the Hummus Tahina and the Wild Child (with chickpeas)… and basically the whole menu!

Whole Wheat French Toast from The Paramount

Whole Wheat French Toast with Fruit from The Paramount Beacon Hill ($11): This is one of the few places that I have been able to find whole wheat French toast. Unfortunately, it was recently taken off the menu (to make room for new lunch specials), but the staff informed me that I will always be able to order it because they keep the whole wheat bread stocked for turkey sandwiches. So go ahead and ask for it, even if it’s not listed!

Do you know of any delicious, Boston area restaurant meals that are loaded with nourishing ingredients? Do tell! Also, for more of my food adventures, don’t forget to follow along on Instagram (@kellytoupsrd)!

– Kelly

Recipes on My Radar

While my previous two recipe posts indicate otherwise (here and here), there’s actually a lot more to my diet than just steel cut oatmeal. In fact, in an effort to cook more from cookbooks, I try to make at least 2 or 3 new recipes a week. So today I’m sharing a few of my favorites. Some are new discoveries, some are old standbys, but all are absolutely spectacular!

Curried Lentil Soup

Curried Lentil Soup from Mollie Wizenberg // The Bon Appetit article that accompanied this recipe was required reading for my Food Writing Class, and I have made this recipe MANY times since then. Chickpea puree lends a delightful heartiness to this Eastern Mediterranean inspired soup, making it quite possibly my favorite lentil recipe to date (and that’s saying something)! As you can tell from the multiple Instagrams, warm whole grain toast is the ultimate companion to this meal.

Honey Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt

Honey Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt from Yotam Ottolenghi // There are so many delicious recipes in Plenty More, that I am almost embarrassed to admit that a humble side dish is my favorite. But it’s too good. Thanks to this recipe, I scarfed down 12 large carrots in only two sittings, and then polished off the tupperware of the remaining tahini yogurt dip. Unfortunately for my pale winter skin, I didn’t turn orange. Guess I’ll have to make some more!

Salmon Patties

Salmon Cakes with Lemon-Caper Yogurt Sauce from Giada de Laurentiis // True story: this recipe singlehandedly got me over my aversion to canned fish. (Giada calls for canned salmon in the cookbook version of this recipe.) Ashley copied down the recipe as soon as we finished eating, which I’m pretty sure is a good sign that dinner was a hit. I made a few substitutions (Kashi Original 7 Grain Crackers instead of Saltines, nonfat plain Greek yogurt instead of mayo) but the final result was completely delicious!

100% Whole Wheat Honey Oat Bread

100% Whole Grain Bread from Ashley Higgs // Okay, this recipe isn’t actually new to you. I blogged about it almost exactly a year ago. But in recent weeks I have been on a bread baking kick, and this is the recipe that I use every single time. If you haven’t had a chance to make it yet, consider this a friendly nudge!

What are some of your favorite no-fail recipes?

– Kelly

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living (Part III)

You know how fast food commercials can leave you craving fries or a burger? This is the same idea, but in reverse. Scrolling though healthy, inspiring images on my Instagram feed makes me crave whole foods and trips to the farmers market. Below are some of my current favorites. Also, check out Part I and Part II of this series for more of my favorite accounts!

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@thecrunchyradish Beautiful, healthy meals from an NYC-based Registered Dietitian

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@aboutanja Tons of great farmers market shots

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@dagmara_ch So many healthy meal ideas!

dicanelo

@dicanelo Bright colors and nutritious meals

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@mindful_nutrition This one will definitely have you craving fruits and veggies

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@livingthehealthychoice Someone that eats oatmeal as much as I do! So many healthy, inspiring meals here

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@sweetgreen This salad chain is new to Boston, but I’m already obsessed

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@feltbyheart You can’t scroll past this one without craving fruit

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@fluxi A great mix of healthy meals and beautiful San Francisco

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@lauren_a24 Colorful plant based meals from another Registered Dietitian

– Kelly

Ask the Dietitian: Are snacks healthy?

Snacks can be some of our greatest allies, but they can also be the source of our undoing. My rule for snacking is as follows:

Snacking is healthy, so long as you don’t eat “snack foods”.

We all know that chips, candy, and sodas are unhealthy choices, but my principle also applies to “healthy” diet snack products. While a 100 calorie pack of cookies may only do 100 calories worth of damage, there is absolutely nothing nourishing or healthy inside of that package.

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During my early foray into “healthy eating” (and before my nutrition education took off) you would find my dorm room well stocked with 100 calorie packs of peppermint patty bars. (Side note- an actual Peppermint Patty only has 70 calories. Thus is the twisted logic of the food industry). I used to jokingly refer to these snacks as “700 calorie packs”, because you had to use every bit of willpower not to devour the entire tasty box. But I digress…

Snack foods on the market today are pure junk. Desserts in disguise. Salty, fatty treats carefully engineered to keep you coming back for more. A few foods warrant careful consideration, such as Greek yogurt and granola, but one must remember that even these “health foods” are littered with excess sugar. So what are you to snack on if not “snack foods”? Nature’s original snack foods- fruits and vegetables!

Healthy snacks

For more healthy snack ideas, see this post

I know, I know. It gets tiring hearing the same old song and dance about nature’s bounty. But come on… you can’t be that sick of them. As a nation, we hardly even eat any! Fresh, in season fruits are so delicious, that they hardly need any accompaniment. However, vegetables can be a tougher sell. Pair them with homemade hummus or 100% nut butter to boost the nutrition content, and add that fatty mouthfeel that we all crave. Or, if you’re a weirdo like me, oven roast some veggies and call that a snack. There is hardly a salty craving that a warm, crispy, oven roasted Brussels sprout can’t cure. At least in my opinion.

Occasionally (0kay, pretty frequently), I will relent, and a few Chocolate Peppermint Stick Luna Bars or organic Greek yogurt cups will make their way into my grocery cart. But I make a solid effort to enjoy my Luna Bars how anything called “Chocolate Peppermint Stick” should be enjoyed: with an ice cold glass of milk (fat free and organic, nonetheless) and on a dessert plate. Not to mention, a Luna Bar is hardly a Hostess Cupcake. But the principle remains.

The main problem I have with snacking is that it never ends. As Marion Nestle so accurately explains, “it is now socially acceptable to eat more food, more often, in more places…These are recent changes… just since the 1980’s—exactly in parallel with rising rates of obesity” (Nestle, 2006, p. 13). Snacking can indeed be healthy, so long as you pick something that nourishes you, rather than the processed garbage sold everywhere. But let’s bring back an old adage… don’t spoil your dinner! 🙂

– Kelly

Ask the Dietitian: What is the healthiest food?

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Over a recent dinner with new acquaintances, the topic turned to my career in nutrition. “So tell me,” someone asked, “what is the healthiest food?”

Ugh. I hate this question. There is a perception outside of the field that Dietitians take a reductionist view of nutrition, and that they know some secret, ideal nutrient combination for health and longevity. While individual nutrients can be very important in specific disease states, such as carbohydrates in diabetics, or Vitamin K in blood clots, that is not the gist of the field. I am a Dietitian. I work with diets. My preferred tools are not supplements or protein powders- just good old fashioned fruits and vegetables.

I tried my best to explain that it can be dangerous to place emphasis on a particular food, rather than the diet as a whole. While certain foods such as, kale or pomegranate, are high in trendy antioxidants, we need a wide range of nutrients from a wide range of foods. No single “superfood” will make up for the sins of an unbalanced diet. Eating acai berries every morning does not compensate for frequent indulgences in greasy, nutrient poor foods. Actions don’t cancel each other out. Rather, they build up over time.

I went on to explain that nutrition science is very young, and that plants have so many important components that we don’t even know about. I tried my best to paraphrase Michael Pollan’s explanation of this (from In Defense of Food)… That we thought we had it figured out when we discovered the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. And then we thought we had it figured out again when we discovered vitamins and minerals. And now we are discovering antioxidants and phytochemicals. There is so much about plants that we haven’t discovered yet, that it is silly to put a specific food on a pedestal for being a rich source of the nutrient of the month. We need variety.

While this probably wasn’t the answer that my companions were looking for, hopefully they came away with a better understanding of good nutrition. I won’t speculate on what the healthiest food is, but I can help speculate on the healthiest diet.

The healthiest diet is rich in minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and carefully raised animal products. The healthiest diet is low in processed junk foods and deep fried concoctions. The healthiest diet allows for indulgent and seemingly non-nutritious foods, but understands that indulgences are not an everyday treat, and are meant to be enjoyed thoughtfully, rather than mindlessly scarfed down. The healthiest diet is balanced, varied, and moderate. And most important of all, the healthiest diet is nourishing, sustainable, and pleasurable.

Thoughts?

– Kelly

Taking Food out of the Context of the Diet

I work in University dining, so for National Nutrition Month (March, in case you missed it), I had an “Ask the Dietitian” table for students. Most questions had to do with the sustainability of the foods served or how to navigate the dining halls with a particular allergy. But one question really stuck with me. A boy (holding a greasy plate of pizza, might I add) asked “What are pineapples good for?”

These are the kinds of questions that really irk me as a Dietitian, because they miss the point of nutrition. Sure, pineapples are filled with antioxidants such as Vitamin C and caroteniods (which give them their beautiful yellow color). And sure, these antioxidants are great at preventing cancer and allowing us to live healthy lives. But in order to get the cancer fighting benefits of fruits and vegetables (such as pineapple), you have to eat a diet rich in these foods. Eating a few pineapple slices now and then isn’t going to save you from cancer if you eat a diet rich in greasy, processed foods.

To quote one of my favorite nutrition professionals, Marion Nestle, “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science… is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of the food, the food out of the context of the diet, and the diet out of the context of the lifestyle.”

Indeed, many food system activists such as Michael Pollan and Julie Guthman have critiqued the reductionist tendencies of nutrition science. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As a Dietitian, I find it very important to help clients place their food choices in the context of their overall diet, and I hope that other nutrition professionals do the same.

In my opinion, trying to figure out which fruits and vegetables are the healthiest is a waste of time. Here is a secret: they are all healthy! Instead, let’s focus on how to get more servings of fruits and vegetables. Let’s focus on how to make produce the star of our plates. And let’s work on getting a variety of healthy foods, rather than supplementing our diets with one or two “superfoods”.

– Kelly

Protein: How much do we really need?

Eating a vegetarian diet has had me thinking about protein lately. Am I really getting enough? It’s been said that most Americans eat more than enough protein, but is that really true of vegetarians? And how much do we actually need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g protein/kg body weight. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein is 10-35% of calories. This means that for me personally, my protein RDA is about 40g/day, while my protein AMDR is anywhere from about 40-150g/day. That’s a huge range! Why are they so different? And which one of the recommendations should we go by?

The RDAs were developed in 1941 (during World War II) because food was scarce at the time, and the government wanted to know the minimum level of nutrients that Americans needed without experiencing negative health consequences. Therefore, it is important to remember that the RDAs were developed as the baseline amount to prevent deficiency, not as a goal number for optimal health. Years later, the AMDRs were developed as a range of intake for promoting optimal health. So while it’s definitely true that most Americans eat enough protein, the AMDR range is pretty large, and I would argue that few Americans actually eat too much.

As far as I’m concerned, RDAs are outdated and old news. The AMDR is a much more current number with an identifiable high end and low end. As with most nutrients, it is important to spread protein intake evenly throughout the day to receive maximum health benefits. So try to have at least 1 protein source at each meal, whether or not you are vegetarian. Looking for ideas? See the amount of protein in various foods below.

Carnivorous Protein Sources:

  • 2 oz sliced deli turkey: 13g
  • 3 oz light canned tuna: 16g
  • 4 oz grilled chicken breast: 24g
  • 6 oz grilled salmon fillet: 34g
  • 6 oz filet mignon: 40g

Vegetarian Protein Sources:

  • 1 whole large egg: 6g
  • 1 large egg white: 3.5g
  • 12 oz skim milk: 12g
  • 1 Greek yogurt cup: 14g
  • 1 string cheese (part skim mozzarella) 7g
  • 1 Luna Bar (chocolate peppermint stick) 8g

Vegan Protein Sources:

  • 12 oz plain soy milk 9g
  • 12 oz unsweetened almond milk 1.5g
  • ½ cup cooked black beans 7.5g
  • ½ cup cooked lentils 9g
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter: 8g
  • 2 tablespoons hummus: 3g

Note: Protein levels above were calculated using the USDA Food and Nutrient Database, as well as reading nutrition labels from foods at my house. Also remember that the RDAs and AMDRs are designed with the average healthy adult in mind. Everyone has a different body with unique needs, and your physician or dietitian may recommend otherwise based on your individual circumstances. For a personalized health plan, see your physician or dietitian.

– Kelly

Dietitians vs Nutritionists: The New RDN Credential

There is already significant public confusion over the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist, but now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is throwing another term into the mix. Effective immediately, Registered Dietitians (RD) are able to identify themselves as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN). This new title is optional, and there is no difference between the practice, experience or skill set of an RD vs an RDN. According to the Academy, the change is meant to remind the public that “All Dietitians are Nutritionists, but not all Nutritionists are Dietitians”. But lets back up first…

What is the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

I have covered this before, but here’s a quick recap. Registered Dietitians (RDs) are experts in the field of nutrition that have met the requirements in order to hold the legal title of “RD”.  Although some RDs may consider themselves nutritionists, do not assume that all nutritionists are RDs. In many states, almost anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”, regardless of education or experience. Requirements to become an RD include:

  • a Bachelors degree in nutrition, dietetics, or a related field
  • Completion of 1200 supervised practice hours through an accredited program
  • Passing the registration exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
  • RDs must then keep up with continuing education requirements in order to maintain their certification.

How does the RDN fit into this puzzle?

Personally, I think that “Nutritionist” is a much better description of nutrition practice, but because it is so unregulated, I prefer to be called a Dietitian. I worked hard to become a Dietitian, not just a Nutritionist, and I’m glad that my title reflects that. I don’t have strong opinions one way or another on the new title, but by making it optional, I believe that the Academy is creating divisions where such divisions don’t exist.

What about Licensure?

Licensure is an entirely different can of worms. Licensure is state regulated, so by becoming licensed, Dietitians are identified as state regulated nutrition professionals. Licensed Dietitians are identified by having “LD” or “LDN” following the RD (or RDN) in their title (example: Jane Doe, RD, LDN). There is no difference in meaning between LD and LDN. Some states (such as Texas) use LD, while other states (such as Massachusetts) use LDN. Many employers request that Dietitians become licensed, because licensed Dietitians qualify as providers by insurance companies, are recognized by JCAHO, meet the criteria for Medical Nutrition Therapy, and are the only professionals that can provide nutrition counseling.

So what’s all of the controversy about? Even though many states have licensure in place, recent persecution of a nonlicensed blogger providing nutrition counseling has sparked the debate that licensure is just a tool for the Academy to limit competition for RDs. On the other hand, the Academy sees licensure as protecting public health and setting a minimum standard for education and experience. As a recent article so eloquently put it, “just as there are licensed physicians and dentists, whose license ensures they’ve met a rigorous set of standards, so should there be licensed dietitians”.

For those that would like to learn more:

– Kelly

Nutritional Risks and Benefits of the Paleo Diet

A friend recently asked for my professional opinion on the “Paleo Diet”. Because this diet is still fairly popular, I thought I would share my research of the nutritional risks and benefits with a wider audience.

Introduction

What is the “Paleo diet”?

The Paleo Diet, or Hunter Gatherer diet, refers to a way of eating that is meant to mimic the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors. Although there are several variations of this diet, the typical Paleo diet derives over 50% of energy from animal products, and is high in protein (19-35% of calories) and fat (25-58%) and low in carbohydrates (22-40%)1. The main food sources are foods that were hunted and gathered, including wild game, fish, shellfish, eggs, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. Restricted foods are those that were not widely available during this era, and include grains, dairy, alcohol, processed foods, sucrose and legumes1.

The Science Behind the Paleo diet

Paleo diet foods were selected for their prominence in a preagriculture Paleolithic civilization. These food choices are thought to benefit health due to their high nutrient density and soluble fiber content, low glycemic load, favorable sodium to potassium ratio, acid base balance, and low content of bioactive substances and antinutrients1. The Paleolithic era is thought to be nutritionally superior to our current era because our Paleolithic ancestors did not suffer from the chronic diseases that plague western cultures1. However, chronic diseases tend to occur later in life and Paleolithic peoples did not live as long as we do today. And although it has been noted that extant hunter-gatherer cultures have more years of good health and less chronic disease than people in Western civilizations, the standard American diet is known for its link to chronic disease1.

Note that there are other, non-dietary aspects of the paleo diet that include physical activity, regular sun exposure, adequate sleep and a lack of chronic stress and pollutants1. The purpose of this review is to narrow in on the nutrition regulations of the Paleo diet in order to evaluate the various risks and benefits of this eating pattern.

Nutrition Risks of the Paleo Diet

Restriction of Grains

One of the most controversial aspects of the Paleo diet is the elimination of grains. Without grains, followers of this diet are unable to benefit from the various health effects associated with whole grain consumption, including a decreased risk for type 2 diabetesC, cardiovascular disease, and cancers of the colon and rectum, as well as well as decreased plasma concentration of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol4.

Grains are primarily a source of carbohydrate, and by eliminating grains, the Paleo diet has a carbohydrate level of only 22-40% of calories. Low carbohydrate diets have been cycling in and out of the media over the years masked as The Atkins Diet, the Zone Diet, and now the Paleo Diet. Low carbohydrate diets work to deplete liver and muscle of glycogen stores. However, in order to maintain blood sugar, both fat and muscles are broken down into ketones to be used for energy in a process known as ketosis. Converting fat to energy through ketosis does promote weight loss, although muscle is broken down for an energy source as well. Once a normal diet is resumed the body no longer has to resort to ketosis, so the weight eventually returns rendering the fad diet as unsuccessful. Studies also show that after one year, the weight loss from a low carbohydrate diet is no more than the weight loss from a low fat diet3.

Low carbohydrate diets also pose a risk for kidney disease. Although proponents of the Paleo diet are quick to point out that the diet does not seem to pose a threat to people without preexisting kidney disease1, recent research suggests that the negative health effects of low carbohydrate diets are not always consistent with serum biochemical markers for kidney function, therefore masking underlying organ and tissue damage3.

High in animal proteins and fats

Animal based diets are linked to chronic disease including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease5. Because the paleo diet is relatively high in animal proteins and fats, followers of this diet may be at an increased risk of chronic disease. Diets high in meat, particularly red meat, also tend to be high in saturated fat.  Saturated fat has long been associated with an increased risk for heart disease. Supporters of the Paleo diet point out that replacing saturated fats with refined carbohydrates actually increases heart disease risk1. However, this research does not indicate replacing whole grain carbohydrates with animal fat. A more heart healthy alternative would perhaps be to replace saturated fat laden meats with lower fat cuts of meat or even photochemical rich plant protein sources. There is also controversial research regarding the positive effects of certain types of saturated fat found in coconut oil1. However, coconut oil is a plant source of saturated fat, so high consumptions of animal fat do not appear to have any of these health benefits.

On the other hand, plant based, vegetarian diets are linked to lower body mass indexes, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure, as well as decreased incidence of hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer5. These plant based, vegetarian diets tend to be high in “fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, legumes, nuts, and various soy products”. Legumes are beneficial sources of protein because they contain slow release carbohydrates as well as soluble fiber5. Legumes can also protect against stomach, colon, and prostate cancer5. In contrast, the Paleo excludes grains, legumes, and soy products while promoting meat consumption.

Low in Calcium

Calcium is an extremely important mineral for bone health and is one of the essential nutrients required for normal body functioning. Because the Paleo diet excludes dairy products, one of the greatest sources of highly bioavailable calcium5, followers of this diet are at an increased risk of calcium deficiency. Some Paleo diet researchers believe dairy products to net acid yielding and therefore damaging to the kidneys1, yet, as mentioned previously, research suggests that it is the restriction of carbohydrates that saturates the blood stream with acidic ketones that can pose a threat to kidney health3.

Nutritional Benefits of the Paleo Diet

High in fruits and vegetables

High consumption of fruits and vegetables has numerous documented health benefits, and there have been a number of campaigns in America that have worked to increase produce consumption. Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of soluble fiber, as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals. In fact, fruits and vegetables have a higher micronutrient density than other food groups, including grains and dairy1.

Choosing nutrient dense foods over energy dense foods also lends itself to weight loss and weight maintenance, because nutrient dense foods have much less calories. In addition, the soluble fiber found in these foods helps promote satiety and movement through the digestive tract, and it also aids with glycemic control1. Various fruits and vegetables have been shown to exhibit a protection against various cancers, including prostate, lung, colon, stomach, and esophagus5. Because the Paleo diet encourages a high consumption of fruits and vegetables, followers may benefit from these health effects.

Animal Products that are Free Range and Grass Fed

There is an increasing amount of research being done on the health benefits of animal products that are free range and grass fed (rather than caged and grain fed). Because wild game and other animals hunted during the Paleolithic era weren’t fed grain, caged up, or pumped full of antibiotics and other additives, grass fed and free range cuts of meat and eggs are recommended in the Paleo diet. Eggs and meats from grass fed animals tend to have a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which is thought to be favorable for heart health1.

Limiting Refined Sugars

Refined sugars are essentially empty calories, and they are hidden almost everywhere in the Western diet. Refined sugars are packed full of energy and flavor, but unlike fruit juice and other unrefined sweeteners, completely devoid of micronutrients and soluble fiber1. High intake of refined sugars, including high fructose corn syrup, has been linked to “obesity, dyslipedemia, gout, hypertension, kidney disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease”1. Because refined sugars were not consumed during the Paleolithic era it is restricted in the Paleo diet. Therefore, followers of the Paleo diet may not be subject to the harmful effects associated with refined sugar consumption.

Discussion

While there is little argument the standard American diet is less than ideal, the current dietary guidelines for Americans reflect the latest in evidence-based research2. The Paleo diet encourages a very natural way of eating and a diet high in produce and low in food additive and refined sugars is a step in the right direction. However, as with most fad diets, anytime a food group is restricted one should proceed with caution. Eliminating whole grains from the diet could potentially lead to long-term health effects such as kidney damage, as well an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or colon or rectal cancer4. The Paleo diet does not appear to be harmful to short-term health, especially when carbohydrate levels do not fall below the low range of the spectrum and when lean protein sources are chosen over fatty red meats. However, there is not enough evidence to warrant recommending this diet to patients over a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins2.

Resources:

  1. Carrera-Bastos P, Fontes Villabla M, O’Keefe JH, Lindeberg S, Cordain L. The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civiliazation. Res Rep Clin Cardiol 2011; 2: 215-235.
  2. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” Your Portal to Health Information from the U.S. Government. Web. 05 Apr. 2012. <http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/Default.asp&gt;.
  3. Frigolet ME, Raymos Barragon VE, Tamez Gonzalez M. Low-carbohydrate diets: a matter of love or hate. Ann Nutr Metab. 2011 Oct;58(4):320-34.
  4. Montonen J, Boeing H, Fritsche A, Schleicher E, Joost HG, Schulze MB, Steffen A, Pischon T. Consumption of red meat and whole-grain bread in relation to biomarkers of obesity, inflammation, glucose metabolism and oxidative stress. Eur J Ntr. 2012 Mar 18. [Epub ahead of print]
  5. Winston, John C. Nutrition Concerns and Health Effects of Vegetarian Diets. Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec;25(6):613-20.

– Kelly