Living the Paleo Lifestyle: The Truth about Common Foods

By Kellyann Petrucci, Melissa Joulwan, Patrick Flynn, Adriana Harlan

Some favorite foods are the source of confusion, especially on morning TV shows and magazine covers. Is it sugar or fat that’s making everyone fat and unhealthy? Do eggs dangerously raise our cholesterol? Wait, doesn’t saturated fat cause heart disease? Is alcohol a bad idea, or should I drink a glass of red wine every day?

Slaying the sugar demon

If you’re like a typical American, you consume about 165 pounds of sugar every year. Two decades ago, the average American ate just 26 pounds of sugar per person per year. All that sugar has led to an epidemic of lifestyle ailments, including diabetes, cancers, obesity, and heart disease.

But don’t think your lack of willpower is solely to blame. Sugar’s behavior in the body is insidious and makes resisting the temptation of a sweet treat very difficult. Eating sugar releases insulin in the bloodstream to reduce your level of blood sugar. This increase in insulin can make your blood sugar drop too low, so your brain triggers your body to eat more sugar. The diabolical being who rules this cycle is known as the sugar demon.

If you’ve been trapped in the sugar cycle, you know it can be pretty unpleasant. Physical hunger and mental temptation gnaw at you, compelling you to make poor food choices. You feel edgy and cranky before eating, energized for a short time while eating, then sluggish and sleepy after a meal.

The Paleo diet helps you break this cycle to vanquish the sugar demon.

Making the case for high-quality fats

Fat doesn’t make you fat. Go ahead and chew on that for a few minutes.

Fat, including saturated fat, is essential to your health and, as it turns out, to building a lean, strong body. To access the fat stored in your body for energy, you need to consume fat in your meals so your body can then burn stored fat for energy.

Dietary fat is also crucial in helping your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Also, a little bit of fat makes food more palatable. A diet that’s too low in fat can lead to food cravings that compel you to overeat or make poor food choices.

Additionally, when your body doesn’t regularly receive high-quality fat in meals, it can retaliate with dry skin, hair loss, bruising, intolerance to cold, and, in extreme cases, loss of menstruation.

Don’t take that wrong: You don’t get a free pass to dive face first into a bowl of butter. Instead, it means you can free yourself from a fear of fat.

Fitting fruit into the Paleo plan

Fruit provides beneficial plant compounds, fiber, and antioxidant power; however, you must eat fruit in moderation. Fruits contain fructose, which is just another form of sugar, so consuming too much fruit can cause weight gain and may cause blood sugar swings.

When you’re just beginning to fight the sugar demon and starting to live Paleo, remember to not let your fruit take over your plate. Keep your fruit intake to about one or two servings per day.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about fruit:

  • Melons and tropical fruits, like bananas, mango, and pineapple, include higher amounts of natural sugar.

  • Fruits that are darker in color — blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries — have higher amounts of antioxidants and less sugar.

  • Eating fruit that’s in season is your best bet for nutrition and an appropriate amount of sugar.

Realizing that eggs are A-OK

Eggs are just about the perfect food. They’re filled with vitamins and minerals, including choline and biotin. Biotin helps your body turn the foods you eat into energy, and choline helps move cholesterol through your bloodstream. They’re both an excellent source of fatty acids and sulfur — containing proteins, which make the walls around your cells healthy.

The egg yolk, in particular, has been demonized for the natural cholesterol it contains. But the yolk is the prize of the egg. It’s loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients.

The cholesterol fuss is based on the assumption that if you eat cholesterol, you raise your blood levels of cholesterol. But that’s simply not true. In fact, egg yolks contain the B vitamin choline, which is a concentrated source of lecithin (a natural fat transporter), and naturally keeps cholesterol from entering the bloodstream.

Your body needs cholesterol to make bile, which breaks down fats. And your brain cells need cholesterol to deliver your body’s messages where they need to go.

Making happy hour truly happy

Aside from the positive aspects of socializing, some types of alcohol are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and they may also reduce the risk of infection with the bacteria that causes ulcers.

Here are a few key factors to help you decide whether you should pop a cork:

  • Alcohol is a toxin to the liver.

  • Alcohol is a drug, which means it’s addictive.

  • If losing weight is your goal, remember that your liver can’t help you burn fat if it’s busy detoxifying alcohol.

Steer clear of grain-based drinks that can also include gluten, such as the following:

  • Beer

  • Bourbon

  • Gin (some brands are processed with grain-based alcohol)

  • Grain-based vodka

  • Whiskey

To celebrate on special occasions, feel free to choose one of these:

  • Potato vodka

  • Red wine

  • Rum

  • Sparkling wine

  • Tequila

  • White wine

To manage your body’s insulin response to the sugars found in alcohol, mix spirits, like tequila or vodka, with soda water, ice, and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Avoid fruit juices that are liquid sugar, and avoid tonic water, which is also high in sugar.

When uncorking wine, choose the driest (least sweet) wines possible. The driest reds include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; the driest whites are Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino.