When we think of the word “Diet”, what typically springs to mind, is restricting certain foods, or cutting calories.
Indeed, this has been the focus of the first 4 out of 5 weeks of the Eat Primal 5 Week Challenge – reducing sugars, processed carbs, industrially manufactured fats and unnecessary snacks.
Unfortunately, many modern processed foods are dense in calories, low in vitamins and minerals, and not very filling, leading to us overeat calories, and thereby gain excess body fat and/or suffer from diet related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and the like.
Based on the first 4 weeks of the 5 week challenge, therefore, you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that eating well is all about denial and will power: resisting eating fattening and unhealthy foods.
Though, of course there is an element of truth to this, a diet that focuses solely, or even primarily on avoidance of certain foods is, in my opinion, incomplete, and unsustainable.
For this reason, I think week 5 is probably the most important week of all 5 weeks.
Food should be Tasty, Satisfying and Nutritious
Food is amazing. I love food. I love shopping for food, cooking food, eating food, even growing food.
Without food we would die. Food provides us with the energy to think, feel and move. Food also provides us with the raw materials from which every element of our bodies is constructed and maintained.
Yes, certain foods, if we eat too much of them can have negative effects, but there’s no need for us to focus exclusively on this.
Better to focus on the positives – we can eat delicious foods, which are not only tasty and satisfying, but we know are providing us with the nutrition necessary to keep us healthy, fit, athletic and strong.
Variety is the Spice of Life
The key to maximising your diet quality, is diversity.
Eating a diverse range of foods not only increases the range and quantity of nutrients you’ll take in on a daily basis, but will also keep your diet interesting, and stop you from getting bored.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of eating the same few foods, day in and day out, but by doing so, you may miss out on important vitamins and minerals, especially if the foods you eat are modern highly processed one.
Below we’re going to look at all the different categories of unprocessed whole foods available. The Eat Primal Challenge is to include as many of the different categories in your diet on a regular basis, and to try to vary the foods within those categories as much as possible.
Plant Food Categories
The following are all plant food categories that should feature regularly in your diet:
- Nuts and Seeds
- Beans and Legumes
If there’s one thing that everyone agrees on, it’s that vegetables are the bees knees.
Whether you eat Paleo, Vegetarian, Low Fat or Low Carb, if you’re having success, it’s more than likely because you’re eating lots of veg.
Vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre – all shown to be fantastic for your health and wellbeing.
Regardless of your goals, aim to eat as many vegetables as you can each day. The 5 servings recommended by the government should be your bare minimum.
Eat as wide a variety as you can, and a mix of raw and cooked.
The colours of veg are often determined by the nutrients within, so go for a rainbow effect – greens, blues, reds, yellows, white. The more colourful your plate, the better!
Nuts and Seeds
Though they are calorific, the consumption of unsalted/unsweetened nuts and seeds is strongly correlated with good health and a slim waistline.
Nuts and seeds are a great source of unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals.
You don’t need to eat lots and lots of them, just a handful per day is enough. If you’re not keen on eating them on their own, sprinkle them over salads, mix them into stews, or have them with fruit and yoghurt or in muesli.
If you have the time and patience, soaking and/or sprouting nuts and seeds is thought to improve their digestibility, and bioavailability of the nutrients within.
Fruits often get a bashing, and labelled as fattening, but in reality, the evidence for this is pretty thin.
Though they contain sugar, they do so in very low levels compared to processed sweets, and this sugar comes along with a good dose of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
In Week 2 of the Eat Primal 5 Week Challenge we recommended to minimise snacks, particularly if your goal is to reduce body fat.
If you are genuinely hungry, however, and really can’t wait until your next meal, fruit is an excellent choice.
It’s convenient, tasty, nutritious, and low in calories.
Stick to whole, unprocessed fruit though.
We recommend avoiding juices and smoothies – you end up consuming a lot more calories as they are less filling than eating a whole fruit, and a lot of the vitamins and fibre are lost.
Dried fruit is also best avoided, or at least minimised if your goal is weight loss, as it is much less satiating than the fresh variety.
Beans and Legumes
Though not as high in essential nutrients as the former plant foods, beans and legumes aren’t too shabby either.
They also have the advantage of being high in fibre and protein, which makes them very satiating, keeping you fuller for longer on small amount of calories.
Famed for their gas-producing qualities, this unwanted side effect can be minimised by soaking them overnight before cooking and/or fermenting them.
Adding beans into stews, or making hummus or bean dips to go with salad are great ways to add them into your meals.
Though a big no no on the Paleo diet, it seems that the fears surrounding wholegrains are unwarranted.
Yes, there are many health problems connected to the consumption of white flour. It provides empty calories, with no nutritional content, and is often eaten in place of more nutritious vegetables – Many people’s diets are comprised of processed cereals for breakfast, a sandwich on white bread with no salad for lunch, and pasta with sauce from a tin for tea.
If you “cut out wheat”, and replace these processed foods with a fruit salad and yoghurt for breakfast, a mixed salad packed with greens, tomatoes, avocados and olive oil for lunch, and a huge plate of stir-fried veg for dinner, your health is most definitely going to improve.
This does not necessarily indicate that there is anything inherently wrong with wheat, or wholegrains in general however, you’ve simply reduced your calorie intake, and increased your nutrient intake.
Unlike refunded grains, wholegrains contain fibre, vitamins and minerals. They are lower in nutrients and higher in calories than veggies, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t be eaten as part of a healthy, nutritious and delicious diet, providing you don’t over eat them.
As far as bread goes, if you can, go for wholegrain sourdough – the longer fermentation time helps make the grains more digestible, and increases the bioavailability of the nutrients within, just as with the beans and legumes.
If you eat porridge or muesli, soak the oats overnight in the fridge to maximise their nutritional value (and the taste!).
Obviously, if you are a coeliac or have a genuine wheat allergy, you should avoid wheat. This doesn’t however mean everyone needs to. People have allergies to all kinds of foods, from tomatoes, to strawberries, to seafood, to eggs. This doesn’t mean to say everyone has to avoid all of these foods!
When we think of vitamins and minerals, it’s usually plant foods which immediately spring to mind.
The truth is, however, that gram for gram, animal foods are generally much richer in essential nutrients than most plant foods!
With the exception of vitamin C, and perhaps vitamin E, meat, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy are where it’s at for all the Vitamins.
They are also packed with minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium.
On top of all this, we’ve got all that protein, essential fatty acids, and other things like creatine, carnitine, choline, collagen and many other essential nutrients.
Even better news, is that these nutrients are much more easily digested and assimilated from animal products than they are from plant foods.
Indeed, although plant foods can contain beta carotene (a precursor to Vit A) and short chain omega 3 fats (which the body must convert to long chain omega 3 fats found in animal products), it has been found that not everyone can do these conversions very well – this is why some people can do better on vegetarian diets than other.
The top animal foods to include in your diet are:
- Grass Fed Beef and Lamb
- Oily Fish
- Pastured Eggs
- Grassfed Cheese and Yoghurt
Please consider, however, that even if you eat grass-fed meat, the most nutrient dense parts of an animal are the skin, bones and organs (also the tastiest parts, yum!), so if you only ever eat steak, you could be missing out.
This doesn’t mean you should ONLY eat these parts, but try to eat the whole animal. E.g. Buy chickens whole, roast them, eat the skin, then make stock with the bones, buy ox tails, and make ox tail stews, and add kidneys etc into your casseroles and so forth.
It should also be born in mind that animal products are also much more calorie dense that plant foods. Whereas plant food should be eaten at every meal, the same is not necessarily the case for animal foods.
One meal per day of high quality animal foods is probably sufficient, trying to vary the source each day. It’s better to eat high quality animal foods less frequently, than cheaper, lower quality animal foods on a regular basis.
But what about Red Meat and Cancer or Heart Disease?
Red meat has been demonised over the last several decades as a cause of obesity, heart disease and cancer.
This connection is very tenuous however, and is more likely to do with a strong correlation between red meat consumption, and junk food consumption.
The research which linked red meat consumption to these diseases was based on people recalling their diets in food survey questionnaires.
These are notoriously fallible to begin with. For example, is someone with heart disease, who believes because of the mainstream media that red meat could have been the cause, more likely to remember eating more red meat?
Also, from the questionnaires, a pepperoni pizza was classed as red meat, as was a bacon double cheese burger.
Unfortunately, your average meat-eater is not eating home-made grass-fed ox tail stew with mountains of veg, but a diet of processed junk made with factory farmed meat.
In populations consuming non-industrialised diets, where the meat consumed is unprocessed and raised naturally, these correlations not only don’t exist, but red meat consumption is actually correlated with better health and longevity!
Putting it all together
So there we have it, the final week of the Eat Primal 5 Week Challenge.
Hopefully, just after following the first few weeks you’ve already started to notice a difference.
Now you can really take it to the next level, by adding in as many nutrient dense foods as you can, and fueling your body with the best quality food at your disposal.
You’ve probably also already noticed, that if you follow the Eat Primal Challenge, pretty much anything ready to eat in a packet is off-limits.
Packaged “convenience” foods are invariably packed full of sugar, transfats, vegetable oils and processed carbs, while low in high quality nutrient dense wholefoods.
If you want to really thrive, you’re going to have to learn to cook for yourself. The food manufacturers don’t care about your health and wellbeing, only their profit margins.
Some might see having to cook as inconvenient. I’ve seen it pointed out before however (I’m afraid I can’t remember who said it), that it’s nowhere near as inconvenient as obesity, heart disease, or diabetes…
I would argue, however, that learning to cook can be a real pleasure.
Even if not every dinner is a labour of love, many tasty and nutritious meals can be made in minutes, and you can also batch prepare and freeze portions for a rainy day to save time (and washing up).
We’re sure you’ve got lots of questions, diet and nutrition are huge fields, and there’s much more that couldn’t be covered in these 5 (relatively!) short posts, so please don’t be shy, and add any questions or queries in the comments section below!