As researchers explore the benefits of different types of low carbohydrate diets, many are linking the eating patterns of our Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer ancestors with improved health and weight loss. Now Chris Kresser, M.S., is taking that one step further by contending that you can customize your own "Paleo code" to accelerate weight loss and health. In an exclusive interview on Dec. 27, Chris explained to me how his unique approach works.
A licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of integrative medicine, Chris believes that by personalizing the Paleo plan based on your "particular genetics, life circumstances, health status and goals," you can supercharge success both with weight loss and health.
He explains how to customize the Paleo diet and determine "the optimal intake of protein, fat and carbohydrate" for you in his new book: "Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life" (click for details).
What's key to the Paleo diet concept isn't a specific number of carbohydrates or calories, says Chris. Instead, it's eliminating "refined, processed foods" and emphasizing "nutrient-dense, whole foods."
One key to following the Paleo diet: Give up those grains and go gluten-free.
"Most people would be surprised to learn that even whole grains are significantly less nutrient-dense than foods like organ meats, meat, fish, nuts and seeds and fruits and vegetables. In fact, organ meats like liver are eighteen times more nutrient-dense than whole grains!" says Chris.
He is particularly concerned about the fact that "the most commonly consumed grain in the U.S. (wheat) contains proteins—such as gluten—that can provoke an immune response in a surprisingly large number of people."
For those who have a condition called “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” (NCGS), foods containing gluten (such as bread and cereal) can result in "everything from skin rashes to digestive distress to joint pain to depression," says Chris.
What you can enjoy on this low carb diet: What Chris calls "traditional fats." This term refers to "fats that are obtained from whole foods with minimal processing. They include saturated and monounsaturated fats from animal products, nuts and seeds, and fruits like avocado and coconut. They also include omega-3 polyunsaturated fats from cold-water, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies," he says.
As for the concern about saturated fats, Chris cites studies showing "no connection between saturated fat and heart disease. In fact, some recent studies have even found an inverse association between saturated fat consumption and stroke—which means that the people consuming the lowest amount of saturated fat had the greatest risk for stroke, and vice versa."
To burn fat and boost weight loss, Chris recommends "a lower carbohydrate, higher protein approach." The formula involves:
- 25 percent of calories from protein
- 15 percent of calories from carbohydrate
- 60 percent of calories from fat
- For a moderately active male consuming 2,600 calories per day, that amounts to roughly 160 grams of protein, 100 grams of carbohydrate, and 170 grams of fat each day.
- For a moderately active female consuming 2,000 calories a day, that amounts to roughly 125 grams of protein, 75 grams of carbohydrate, and about 130 grams of fat each day.
However, Chris emphasizes in his book that the Paleo diet can and should be customized for "different activity levels, lifestyles, goals, and evens specific health conditions. For example, a sedentary office worker who wishes to lose fat would have a much different approach than a high-level athlete that is training for an upcoming competition. Likewise, someone with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) would have a different approach than someone with high cholesterol and heart disease."
Among the key points in "Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life" are these five guidelines:
- Avoid refined carbohydrates like flour, sugar, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Avoid processed foods. As a general rule, if it comes in a bag or a box, don’t eat it.
- Favor traditional fats and minimize consumption of industrial seed oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, soybean, etc.)
- Emphasize nutrient-dense foods like organ meats, meats, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and starchy plants like sweet potatoes.
- Prepare meals at home with fresh, whole-food ingredients as much as possible and minimize eating out.
What role does exercise play in weight loss on the Paleo diet?
"Exercise can play an important role in both initial weight loss and maintenance of weight loss. However, what may be even more important for most people is reducing the amount of time they spend not moving at all," Chris says.
"For example, recent studies suggest that sitting too much wrecks our metabolic function, decreases our ability to burn fat, weakens our bones, and may even increase our risk of death. But here’s the real shocker: too much sitting and sedentary time is harmful even if you’re getting enough exercise."
To reduce the amount of time that you spend sitting, Chris suggests strategies such as:
- Working at a standing desk (for at least part of the day)
- Taking a 2-min standing/walking break every 40 minutes if you work at a seated desk
- Walking or bicycling to work if possible. If you drive to work, consider parking a mile or two away and walking the remaining distance. If you take public transportation, you can get off several stops early and walk the remaining distance.
- Do your own yard work and chores around the house.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator and escalator whenever possible.