We first heard about the paleo diet from our neighbor, Bob Schaaf.
His son, Forrest, had decided to try the diet when he was suffering from various ailments.
Once he started following this regimen, he felt much better and convinced his father to do the same.
Recently we ran into Bob and Forrest and mentioned that oatmeal and brown rice were on sale at our neighborhood market. “We don’t eat oatmeal or brown rice anymore,” Bob said.
Forrest noted that the paleo diet allows no grains, except for white rice in small amounts. “What about tofu?” we asked. “We can’t eat that either,” said Forrest; “no legumes are allowed.”
There are several versions of the paleo diet – also called the caveman, stone-age or hunter-gatherer diet. Forrest recommends the approach of scientists Paul Jaminet and Shou-Ching Shih Jaminet, authors of Perfect Health Diet. Their diet turns the commonly accepted American nutrition guidelines, often referred to as the “food pyramid,” upside down.
Although the pyramid was replaced by MyPlate in 2011, the recommendations of which foods are healthy essentially have not changed. The foods we’ve been told by most nutritionists to eat as little as possible of – fatty meats, animal fats and other highly saturated fats – are promoted by the practitioners of the paleo diet as healthy, while nutritious whole grains and legumes are forbidden “because of their high toxin content,” according to the Jaminets.
“The premise of ‘Paleo’ diets,” they write, “is that foods hunted and gathered by our Paleolithic (‘Old Stone Age’) ancestors represent the healthiest human way of eating, while agriculturally- produced foods may be dangerous to well-being.” They claim there is solid evidence, based on archeological studies of ancient skeletons, that people’s health declined dramatically once farming was adopted, which led to a radical change in the diet.
The Jaminets call their eating plan a high fat, moderate protein, low-to-moderate carbohydrate diet. They recommend eating most of daily calories – 50 percent to 60% – as fat (compared to 20% to 35% in most health recommendations). The best fats to consume are butter, sour cream, beef tallow and duck fat. Vegetable oils should be avoided, except for palm, coconut and olive oils. On the daily menu there should be plenty of fatty meats, seafood and eggs. The Jaminets allow as many low-calorie plant foods as desired, as well as a modest amount of “safe starches,” such as white rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squashes, and of sweet plants, such as carrots and fruit.
Many people feel better when they follow this diet, according to the Jaminets.
It helps those with gluten intolerance, since there are no grains and therefore no gluten to worry about. Because it’s a low-carbohydrate diet, many find that it helps them control their blood sugar.
DANA CARPENDER, author of 500 Paleo Recipes, writes that this way of eating also aids in weight loss. In her diet she excludes all legumes and grains, including white rice. Nuts are allowed, but not peanuts, which are legumes. “There is no such thing as a vegetarian paleo diet,” she writes.
“The shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and hence from a diet of meat and vegetables to one of grains and beans, can be seen as the first, and perhaps greatest, nutritional ‘sin,’” she writes. Other offences are mass production of sugar and the switch from traditional fats, like chicken fat, to vegetable oils.
Alain Braux, author of the upcoming Paleo French Cuisine, recommends eating half or more of our food raw. His fats of choice are animal fats, including butter, but he likes extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil too; avocado oil, hazelnut oil, macadamia oil and walnut oil are also “safe.”
Carpender and Braux recommend avoiding additives and meats, vegetables and fruits that have been processed.
Braux calls sugar “the sweet killer” and recommends avoiding high-fructose corn syrup “like the plague,” as well as all soft drinks and processed fruit juice.
Although coming up with tasty recipes for meat and fish enriched with plenty of fat is easy, side dishes are the key for those concerned about how they’ll be satisfied with bread- and grain-free meals. Some side dishes that Carpender prepares are golden roasted cauliflower with turmeric, garlic, cilantro and coconut oil; asparagus sauteed with shiitake mushrooms; and green beans with caramelized onions and mushrooms. Moroccan carrots flavored with cumin and garlic are one of Braux’s flavorful accompaniments. Another is sweet potatoes cooked with apples, raisins, coconut oil and sweet spices.
Most interesting is how paleo diet advocates find substitutes for flour.
Carpender bakes crackers from a dough made of ground sunflower seeds, water, salt and baking powder. To make chicken tacos, she uses “eggy wraps,” thin pancakes made mostly of egg with a bit of almond meal and coconut flour to give them substance. Coconut meal and flax are the basis for her muffins, which she enriches with coconut oil and eggs and flavors with cinnamon.
Braux makes tasty almond-coconut breakfast pancakes from almond and coconut flour, applesauce and almond milk, fries them in coconut oil or ghee (clarified butter) and serves them with strawberries. For dessert, he poaches pears in sweet white wine and serves them with cashew cream. He sweetens his paleo chocolate mousse with honey, enriches it with ghee and eggs and tops it with whipped coconut cream.
Carpender also uses honey in desserts. Other sweeteners she recommends are maple syrup, powdered unrefined sugar cane juice and stevia, a sweet herb. Her strawberry dessert, called pot de strawberry, is made with coconut milk, stevia and gelatin. She enriches her cocoa brownies with coconut oil and eggs and flavors them with coconut flour, honey and walnuts.
Carpender comments that her desserts are “considerably better than your standard desserts” because they are made with healthy sweeteners and without table sugar, corn syrup, grains, dairy or “damaged fats.” However, she notes, even healthy sugars are still sugar and they can “spike your blood sugar”; desserts should be considered an occasional treat, for example to be eaten on holidays. COD WITH HERB-FLAVORED CLARIFIED BUTTER AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES
This recipe for butter-poached fish is from the forthcoming Paleo French Cuisine.
Author Alain Braux notes that the generous amount of butter gives a wonderful result, but that you can substitute extra-virgin olive oil if you prefer. “The fish will release its juices while cooking, creating a wonderful sauce in the process. You can use that sauce on top of your favorite steamed vegetable – broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc.”
Makes 4 servings
110 gr. (4 ounces) clarified butter (ghee)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 thyme sprigs
4 bay leaves
A few peppercorns
A few coriander seeds
A few star anise flowers
225 gr. (8 ounces) oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
450 gr. (1 pound) skinless cod slices (110 grams or 4 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Melt the ghee in a 2-liter (2-quart) pan with a lid. When warm, add the lemon zest, herbs and whole spices.
Lower the heat and allow to steep for a few minutes.
Add the sun-dried tomatoes.
Season the cod with salt and pepper to taste. Place in the pot on top of the tomatoes.
Keeping the heat low, cook slowly until the fish’s center registers 55ºC (130ºF); check with an instant-read thermometer.FRENCH CHICKEN POT ROAST WITH TARRAGON AND CHIVES
This recipe for chicken en cocotte, or casserole-roasted chicken, is from my book Dinner Inspirations. The chicken is served simply with its herb-scented natural roasting juices. Lightly cooked cauliflower or green beans make good accompaniments and benefit from the tasty roasting juices.
Makes 4 servings
A 1.6-kg (3 1⁄2-pound) chicken with skin intact, room temperature
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 fresh tarragon sprigs
3 to 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, minced
1 Tbsp. chives, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp. parsley, minced
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Preheat oven to 205ºC (400ºF). Sprinkle chicken evenly on all sides and inside with salt and pepper. Put tarragon sprigs inside chicken. Truss chicken, if desired.
Heat oil in heavy 4- to 5-liter (4- to 5- quart) oval enamel-lined cast-iron casserole or heavy ovenproof stew pan over medium-high heat. Set chicken on its side in casserole. Cover pan with large splatter screen if desired, and brown side of chicken for about 3 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium. Using 2 wooden spoons to prevent tearing chicken skin and standing back to avoid splatters, gently turn chicken onto its breast and brown for about 3 minutes. Turn chicken onto other side and brown 3 more minutes. Turn chicken on its back and brown for about 2 minutes.
Baste chicken with pan juices. Cover pan and bake chicken for 35 minutes, or until juices run clear when thickest part of leg is pierced with thin knife or skewer; if juices are still pink, bake a few more minutes and test again. Lift chicken, draining its juices into casserole, and transfer chicken to a platter. Discard trussing strings, if used.
Bring pan juices to a boil. Pour juices into a small warmed bowl. Add herbs and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Carve chicken in kitchen, discarding tarragon sprigs from inside; or serve chicken whole and carve it at table. Pour a little of the herb-flavored juices over each portion; serve any remaining juices separately.
Faye Levy is the author of the Fresh from France cookbook series.