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To Paleo or not to Paleo?

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As a verb, the word diet is not part of my vocabulary. But when we’re talking diet as a noun — meaning nutritional plan — I’m all ears.

In other words, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to improve performance through better fueling.

One plan, in particular, has always intrigued me: The Paleolithic Diet, which first emerged in the mid-1970′s, went mainstream in 2002 and has since earned a cult-like following.

Paleo Premise

Eat like our hunting and gathering ancestors — prioritizing animal protein and plants — and live a healthier, fitter, disease-free life.

On the menu: Meat, fish, eggs, poultry, fruits and veggies, healthy fats and oils, plus nuts and seeds in moderation.

Off the table: Refined sugar, dairy, legumes, grains, starches and any other processed Frankenfoods located in the center aisles at the supermarket.

Paleo Pros

Whole foods are nutritious, filling and fiber-rich, which makes it tough to overeat (even when dining out).

Another upside? Fewer hunger pains since protein and fiber are filling, and you’ll be getting plenty of both. Plus there are a plethora of recipe sites, cookbooks, web sites and books to help support you in your path to Paleo.

Paleo Cons

Some of the top vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans and other legumes, are not allowed, so it’s tough to follow if you’re not a meat-eater.

And by avoiding dairy and grains, you could potentially miss out on a lot of nutrients. Also, if you’re not selecting lean meat choices, you can quickly raise your risk for heart problems.

Paleo Verdict

Bottom line: There is no “perfect” diet, plus I’ve never had any luck trying to restrict what I eat to certain food groups (sometimes you just need a cookie, damn it!).

Instead, I prefer to evolve my eating plan as I go, incorporating my favorite parts from different diets and adapting them to my own lifestyle. Call it pseudo-Paleo, if you will.

For example, we’d all do well to eat fewer refined sugars and starches, plus there are definite benefits to consuming more fruits and veggies. And I do my best to avoid a lot of processed foods, instead focusing on getting enough whole, nutrient-packed food.

That doesn’t mean I’ll turn down the occasional doughnut, burger and fries, pizza or sugary cereal (hey, you gotta live a little), but it does mean that I’ll set myself up for success by having healthier snacks on hand when hunger hits (the PaleoKits from Steve’s PaleoFoods are killer, for example; I sprinkle dried berries on salads and mix PaleoKrunch in yogurt, too).

In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for optimal health, though, so your best bet is to take matters into your own hands and create a plan for healthy eating that suits your individual needs and fits into your lifestyle.

Because the “best” diet (noun, not verb) of them all is the one you’ll actually follow.

Disclaimer: I’m not a registered dietitian or nutritionist, so you’ll want to talk with your doctor before making changes to your meal plan.

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