Paleo: A primitive approach to modern dieting

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For years, Ashley Howard, of Valencia, suffered from food allergies that would cause bloat and discomfort. While undergoing blood work to determine the cause of her allergies, Howard discovered the “paleo diet.”

Short for “Paleolithic,” the era considered to date back 10,000 to 2.5 million years ago, the paleo diet has gained popularity over the last decade.

Also known as the caveman diet, as it’s based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, the paleo diet focuses on meat, fish, vegetables, healthy oils, and certain kinds of fruit.  It also bans grain products, dairy, and processed foods.

Howard gave it a try and the results were positive. She quickly lost 8 pounds in bloat and water retention and felt better, too.

“Since paleo is higher in protein and fat, it keeps you full longer and gives you more energy,” Howard said. “I also like that I don’t have to count calories.”

At first, following the dietary guidelines could be a bit daunting, especially when dining out.

“There isn’t an ingredients list that you can look at, so when I sit down, I politely explain intolerances to the server,” Howard said. “I modify dishes, such as removing sauces, and ask servers to check labels for dressings. It’s not as big a deal now that I know what to do and what not to do.”

The biggest misconception about paleo, Howard noted, was that people often confuse it with the Atkins diet.

“They think it’s all about eating bacon and steak and a ton of fat and not really being thoughtful of where food is coming from,” she said. “I do believe in getting enough protein to support muscles and give me energy, because the more protein I eat, the less carbs I crave. But I also love a ton of salads, veggies and fruits, like berries.”

Without the ability to rely on packaged foods, following a paleo diet can require a lot more time prepping and cooking. To make it easier, Howard purchases pre-made meals from Plate Therapy, a Valencia-based paleo food service.

Plate Therapy offers delivery of nutritionist-designed, organic, farm-to-table meals, as well as “grab-and-go” stations at their location, Newhall’s Results Fitness and Valencia’s Afterburn Fitness. Offerings include breakfast, lunch, and dinner options range in price from $11 to $16.

Owner Danielle McPartlin launched Plate Therapy in 2015, and business has increased steadily every year since. “It’s grown organically, mostly by word-of-mouth and social media,” she said.

Like her clients, McPartlin also follows the paleo diet, which she started after years of dealing with autoimmune diseases. “It’s the approach that food is medicine,” she said. “Our food is all organic, made with nothing but good clean ingredients. It’s easily digestible and doesn’t inflame your system.”

While McPartlin tries to eat 100-percent paleo, she tells her clients that moderation is key.

“If you go 80 percent, you’ll still see the results,” she said. “It’s not hard, especially when you have food in the fridge. We fill the gap for people who are busy.”

Greg Shamus, of Valencia, fits that description. He’s a single father and business owner who was starting to gain weight and lose sleep after entering his 50s.

“I don’t cook at home, so I was looking for something that was easy and healthy,” Shamus said.

Enter the paleo diet. When he first started, Shamus eating primarily paleo and purchased Plate Therapy on a consistent basis. He dropped 18 pounds and felt better.

Now, Shamus estimates he eats about 60 percent paleo, which has allowed him to maintain an approximate 13-pound weight loss.

“It became too much, so I had to do something different,” he said. “I still like to go out, plus I have a lot of lunch meetings, but when I’m not doing that, I have my fridge stocked at my store and house with healthy paleo food. I use it as a balance.”

Not everyone is a fan of paleo. Jodi Dalyai, dietitian and community educator at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, said it has its deficiencies.

“Probably the No. 1 concern is: We know that a high-meat, high-fat diet isn’t supportive of long-term health,” she said. “I would say that most people we personally counsel don’t show improvement in lipids. Their cholesterol is usually higher.”

Another concern Dalyai stated is that by cutting out grains, many paleo followers aren’t getting enough of the fiber and nutrients in general.

Chef Ubaldo Navarro mixes and steams vegetables at Plate Therapy in Santa Clarita. Austin Dave/The Signal

“People should have less processed foods and people that follow paleo often do that, but not at the detriment of cutting out beans and lentils or eating a lot of meat or fat every day,” she said.

And for those with heart issues, paleo is definitely not a fit.

“For heart health, it is recommended to decrease animal food intake and paleo is reliant on eating animal food daily, so it’s not recommended for someone who’s had a heart attack or is at risk. A plant-based diet is much more beneficial,” Dalyai said. “For healthy eating in general, you have to have a balance.”

Howard, however, feels following paleo is the healthiest option for her.

“I believe food is medicine and fuel or it breaks down and causes disease,” she said. “Paleo is clean eating and allows me to feel good, not bloated and tired.”

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