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The cave way: Paleo diet mimics what hunter-gatherer ancestors ate

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lifestyles Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
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FARGO — Spaghetti night’s a little different for followers of the paleo diet.

While Jessica Grondahl’s 4-year-old son gets to choose between spaghetti noodles and spaghetti squash, it’s always the squash for mom.

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The 27-year-old Fargo woman has been eating “paleo” for almost three years.

The paleo diet, Google’s most-searched diet of 2013, is modeled after what our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, with the idea that our bodies haven’t evolved to properly digest and use the foods we’ve created.

“Our science and industrialization has outpaced our bodies’ ability to adapt,” Grondahl said. “We have these highly processed foods, and our bodies have not evolved to be able to even digest them.”

Like many others, she adopted the paleo diet to help fuel her CrossFit workouts. It also helped her overcome an eating disorder.

“Coming from an eating-disordered background, I know exactly what to eat and I’m confident that I’m eating healthy foods,” she said. “It gives me a sense of relief.”

The diet consists primarily of meat, fish, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds and cuts out grains, legumes and dairy.

According to thepaleodiet.com, the higher protein intake, lower carbohydrate intake and lower glycemic index might help:

* Reduce risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and most chronic degenerative diseases that affect people in the Western world.

* Lose weight if you’re overweight.

* Improve your athletic performance.

* Slow or reverse progression of an autoimmune disease.

* Improve or eliminate acne.

* Sleep better and have more energy throughout the day.

* Enjoy an increased libido.

* Improve your mental outlook and clarity.

Biological anthropologist Christina Warinner said the diet, which was first popularized in the ‘70s with “The Stone Age Diet,” has “no basis in archaeological reality” and is not necessarily the healthiest diet for modern humans.

In her January 2013 TEDTalk, she cites evidence that Paleolithic people did eat grains; some of the produce we consume is no longer naturally occurring; and our bodies have made some adaptations to post-agricultural foods.

“Three billion people cannot eat like foragers on this planet. We are simply too big,” she said in the presentation.

However, we can take lessons from it and apply them to our lives, she said.

If you know anyone who’s eating paleo, chances are you’ve seen photos of their meat-heavy meals and posts of their favorite recipes. Search #paleo on Instagram and more than 1.3 million posts pop up.

To some, it’s a fad diet. To others, like Grondahl, it’s a way of life.

“Some people see it as a fad or a trend, but it’s not. It’s very sustainable,” she said.

Lindsay Vettleson, a dietitian with IMA Healthcare in Fargo and a CrossFit coach at Wild Knights CrossFit, said she’s “right down the middle” on paleo.

“As a dietitian, I think, ‘Well, you’re taking away vitamins and minerals. Are you getting them elsewhere?’ That was my biggest concern right away,” she said.

After hearing about paleo from a client, Vettleson, 33, of Fargo, researched it, read founder Loren Cordain’s “The Paleo Diet,” and tried it herself for nine months.

Her cholesterol levels improved, but she’s unsure if that was from going gluten-free or paleo, and she said the diet lacked variety and was expensive and time-consuming.

“But sometimes eating healthy does take time (to plan and prep),” she adds.

Paleo personalized

Like Grondahl, Adam Fuller started eating paleo a couple of years ago to get more out of his time in “the box” at CrossFit 701, where he’s now a coach.

Breakfast for the 23-year-old Fargo man is typically eggs and bell peppers, maybe some mushrooms, and a big scoop of almond butter, “right out of the jar.”

He sticks to the basics with meat and veggies for lunch and dinner, sometimes making “lasagna” with sliced zucchini standing in for the noodles.

Fuller, who said he’s always been a smaller, lighter athlete, has put on 20 to 30 pounds of muscle since making the switch and cutting out grains and dairy.

“The added body weight is definitely a lean body weight,” he said. “People can eat a ton and gain a ton, but because of the good fuel that I’m putting in, I get a good positive output, in the gym, in my sleep, etc.”

For Fuller, the hardest part of the transition was giving up dairy. However, he says he’s not only used to it, but doesn’t feel good when he does eat dairy.

“I don’t know if it’s just mental or if I’ve built up an allergy, but I definitely don’t feel good after having dairy,” he said.

Grondahl also doesn’t feel well when she strays from the basics of the diet.

But she says it does take a lot of planning and prep work to be successful with it.

“The typical person who follows the paleo diet spends their Sunday cooking (for the week),” she said.

Grondahl, who opened her own CrossFit affiliate, CrossFit Fargo, last summer, eats most of the same foods day to day – eggs, an avocado and an apple for breakfast, salad with chicken for lunch, leftover chicken for dinner.

Grondahl said one of the biggest concerns she hears about the paleo diet is not getting enough calcium.

But, she said, you can take a supplement and get calcium from sources other than milk.

Chris Kresser’s recent release, “Your Personal Paleo Code,” promotes an individualized approach to the diet, saying some genetic changes have allowed some of us to partially adapt to agriculture.

Vettleson, who’s also gluten-intolerant, now eats a modified paleo diet, with low-fat dairy and whole grains, which she points out are high in dietary fiber that can help with weight loss and cholesterol levels.

“I liked it, I felt good while I was on it, but I still feel good even though I’m doing a modified plan,” she said.

Fuller’s wife also eats a modified paleo diet, with oatmeal or cereal in the morning.

“I just want people to make better choices, health-wise and lifestyle-wise, whether it’s paleo or it’s cutting out this, or adding more protein, or adding more good-quality fats,” Fuller said.

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Meredith Holt
Meredith Holt is a Forum features reporter who writes a twice-monthly column on body image, weight loss (and gain), health and fitness. Her topics of interest include mental health, relationships and women's issues. She also does page design and copy editing, which she did for six years prior to joining the features staff in March 2012.
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