Want a formula for taking off the pounds that's both healthy and permanent? Combine superfoods with a Paleo diet, says holistic nutritionist Heather Connell. She's the author of a new book that tells how to do just that: "Powerful Paleo Superfoods: The Best Primal-Friendly Foods for Burning Fat, Building Muscle and Optimal Health."
We asked Heather to share her insights, including providing an overview for those not familiar with the Paleo diet.
"The Paleo (or, Paleolithic) Diet is a lifestyle based on the ancestral human diet. The Paleo Diet (or lifestyle) has been called many things: Caveman Diet, Primal, Real Food Diet, and I have even heard it called MVF, which stands for Meat-Vegetables-Fat," she noted.
But whatever name you prefer, the diet involves following "the eating habits of our hunter-and-gatherer Paleolithic ancestors who, if they were able to avoid illness (due to the lack of modern medicine), lived very long and healthy lives," says Heather.
While we can’t know exactly what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, in principle, Paleo is about eating the same whole foods that were found in nature millions of years ago. These include foods that come from the land like meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, and foods that come from open waters like fish and shellfish. These foods are nutrient-dense and are free from all those modern ingredients you can’t pronounce. When we remove inflammatory foods from our diet—foods that were not part of our ancestors’ daily meals, such as wheat flour, industrial seed oils, sugar, and even supposedly healthy foods like grains, dairy, and soy—we reduce the risk of the most prevalent diseases of our civilization, such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes. Additionally (and best of all), we feel better, our energy levels rise, we look years younger, and we sleep better.
When it comes to super foods in the Paleo world, Heather says her top five are:
- Salmon - Salmon may have built its reputation on being a stellar source of omega-3s, but this cold-water fish is also a protein powerhouse—a formidable combination that makes it a true Paleo superfood.
- Eggs – One of nature’s most perfect foods— A single egg is packed with 6 grams of high-quality protein and includes all the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) the body needs. Eggs are nature’s multivitamin.
- Brussels Sprouts - Ahhh, Brussels sprouts! Many people have a love-‘em or hate-‘em relationship with these green veggies. I’m a lover! Brussels sprouts are little nutritional powerhouses. One cup of raw Brussels sprouts boasts 3 grams of muscle-building protein and 3 grams of cholesterol-clearing fiber. They are also a good source of potassium (essential for healthy muscle function) and vitamin K (which helps blood clot and strengthens bones)
- Avocados – Half an avocado contains about 10 grams of total fat, of which about two-thirds is monounsaturated fat, and 13 percent is polyunsaturated fat—including 75 mg of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Ancient hunter-gatherer societies relied on foods rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats to sustain them, and recent research confirms that these fats can actually calm inflammation, lower your cholesterol, keep your heart rhythms steady, and lower your blood pressure. And if that wasn’t enough, fats take longer to digest, they give your meals and snacks “staying power,” keeping you full and energized for hours.
- Sweet Potatoes – Because of my active lifestyle these roots are a favorite and are even essential in my paleo diet and why I consider them a superfood. This delicious root vegetable boasts high levels of vitamin A, potassium, and vitamin B6, and smaller amounts of vitamin C and E.
In "Powerful Paleo Superfoods: The Best Primal-Friendly Foods for Burning Fat, Building Muscle and Optimal Health," Heather specifies which Paleo superfoods are best for weight loss. However, she notes that "we also have to move our bodies. Our Paleolithic ancestors lived very active lives, expending a tremendous amount of energy to hunt and gather the food they needed. That daily exercise contributed significantly to their good health, and it’s something we need to consider today as well."
For weight loss success, Heather particularly recommends:
- Salmon - Again, salmon’s high-quality protein includes all the essential amino acids which helps keep your metabolism humming, making it a good choice if you’re watching your weight.
- Eggs - If you’re watching your weight, eggs are a great choice—not only does their protein preserve and build lean muscle, it also creates a feeling of fullness, which can help curb cravings.
- Cabbage - No, I’m not talking about the infamous (and totally unsustainable!) cabbage soup diet. But if our modern way of eating has left you carrying a few extra pounds, including cabbage regularly in your diet can help you lose weight—or stay at a healthy weight—safely. For just 22 calories, one cup of chopped raw cabbage offers 2.2 grams of fiber, which helps you feel full longer, promotes healthy digestion, and helps stabilize your blood sugar and curb cravings.
Now that you know what to emphasize, what should you avoid? Heather notes that although fruit is allowed on the Paleo diet, it's best to "consume fruit conservatively—maybe one serving a day of low-sugar fruits like those listed in the book—until you see how your body responds. (You can still get healthy carbohydrates from vegetables, nuts, and seeds.)"
Ready to go nuts for nuts and super-size your seeds? Get Heather's advice first: "While our ancestors gathered high-calorie, high-fat nuts and seeds to help them survive, there are a few reasons you shouldn’t go overboard eating them."
Heather does list nuts and seeds in her book because they contain "healthful fats, phytosterols, antioxidants, and minerals."
However, she cautions, "Nuts and seeds contain the antinutrient phytic acid (which binds to certain minerals and inhibits your body’s ability to absorb them), gut-irritating lectins, and higher-than-ideal levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. That said, the nuts and seeds listed in the book, Powerful Paleo Superfoods, boast some incredible health benefits you don’t want to miss out on, and most people can tolerate a handful per day of these varieties just fine."
How do you prevent yourself from overeating these calorie-dense treats? "One trick to keep your consumption in check is to buy nuts and seeds still in the shell, since the act of shelling will slow you down and keep you from consuming too many at a time."
As for her own diet, a day looks like this:
- I start most mornings with 2 eggs, sautéed spinach, and a quarter of an avocado. This may change on the weekends and if I workout before breakfast and if I do I will include some sweet potato.
- The great thing about starting my day with a great protein source and healthy fat it fuels me through my morning and I’m not hungry until lunch time. Lunch varies really depending on if I have leftovers from dinner the night before or did prep work over the weekends to pack for my lunch. Usually lunch consists of a protein- like chicken, salmon, or grass-fed beef-, a combo of veggies, and a healthy fat. One of my favorites from the book with summer approaching is the Simply Grilled Salmon over Summer Salad.
- Dinner again has the balance of a protein, healthy carbs (veggies), and a healthy fat. Some of my favorite dinner meals from the book are – Spicy Broccoli and Beef Stir Fry, Arctic Char with Sauteed Tomatoes and Basil, Lemon Oregano Grilled Chicken with the Cauliflower “couscous” Veggie Salad.
Who inspired Heather herself? She lists the following Paleo gurus:
- Robb Wolf – author of "The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet"
- Mark Sisson – author of "The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy"
- Diane Sanfilippo – author of "Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle"
- And for recipes, Heather suggests Michelle Tam's "Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans"
And Heather has her own recipes in her book. We asked for her favorite.
"I have a lot of favorite recipes from the book and all for different reasons so picking a “fave” is pretty hard. Right now with all the wonderful produce that is in-season at the local farmers market my favorite might have to be the Frittata in the book because you can easily change it up to add your favorite seasonal veggies. "
Frittata with Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Basil (republished from "Powerful Paleo Superfoods: The Best Primal-Friendly Foods for Burning Fat, Building Muscle and Optimal Health" with permission - click for details on ordering)
Frittatas are a great, hearty dish that can be made for any meal of the day. They are also quick and simple and can be on the table in no time. Possibly the best thing about them (other than the taste, of course!) is how adaptable they are to what ingredients you have on hand.
1 tablespoon coconut oil (or bacon grease or ghee)
2 medium zucchini, cut into rounds and quartered
2 scallions, finely diced
1 tablespoon basil, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 large eggs
Preheat oven to 425°F. In a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add zucchini; cook, covered, stirring often, until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover, and add scallions, basil, and tomatoes and cook until all the liquid in the pan evaporates, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; remove skillet from heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs. Pour eggs over zucchini mixture, gently lifting vegetables to allow eggs to coat bottom of pan.
Return skillet to medium-low heat, and cook until sides are set yet still slightly runny on top, 15 to 20 minutes. Place in oven, and cook until the center is cooked through when tested with a wooden toothpick, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven; gently slide a heatproof spatula around the edges and underneath to loosen from skillet. Serve immediately.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.