This post is from Beth LaRue-Greer, MSEd, RD, LD, a Kansas-based supermarket dietitian.
About a month ago, I decided to do an experiment on myself and switch from a vegetarian diet to a Paleo diet.
A little background about me…
I had been following a vegetarian diet for nearly two years when last October, I decided to try following a Paleo diet just to see what it would be like and what it would do to my cholesterol numbers. I have always wondered what position to take on the Paleo diet and some of its key components, like coconut oil, and could never find much research suggesting it to be good or bad for blood lipids. I’ve heard everything you have about coconut oil, like it being heart healthy, a brain-booster, and even a diet aid.
I liked following a vegetarian diet based on morals, because I love animals and didn’t like the idea of eating them or them having to die for me to eat; however, I was constantly concerned that I was getting too many carbs and not enough protein. (I believe enough protein can be consumed on a vegetarian diet as long as enough calories are also consumed, but I was trying to cut calories due to an injury that made me not able to work out anymore.) I’m a supermarket dietitian, and shoppers ask me about the Paleo diet all the time. I decided to just try something new.
I cut out dairy, all grains, and beans/legumes. I started using coconut products (oil, manna/butter, shredded coconut), eating at least 12 eggs a week, bacon occasionally, ghee occasionally, and lots of nuts and almond meal. Luckily, our store here carries some local meats and I have been getting those (they aren’t always lean).
I was really paranoid at first because I used to not make anything with butter, even if it was a little bit and I would trim all the fat off my poultry and I certainly would not buy ground pork or bison that I didn’t know the fat percentages of.
As for my report, here’s what I found: My weight hasn’t changed much (I was hoping I would lose some) but that doesn’t surprise me since I went from exercising 3-4 hours per day to doing mostly weight lifting and swimming. I do feel that I eat more vegetables than I even did before. A typical meal for me is some type of meat (bacon-wrapped chicken thighs, pork sausage, egg frittata with almond flour crust) and then two veggies (cauliflower mashies with ghee, roasted veggies, green beans, salad with homemade vinaigrette).
I try to limit fruit to 1/2 cup, one or two times a day (because of my decreased activity level). For snacks I have things like almond butter, pistachios, baby carrots and peppers, sometimes I will have a homemade Larabar or a “Paleo-ified” muffin or waffle. Some Paleo purists ban all sugar and Paleo-ish baked goods but I love to bake and am a sweet rather than salty taster so I chose to still make muffins or cookies occasionally but I made them with almond flour and coconut oil.
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My fasting blood lipids in Oct 2012 on a vegetarian diet: Total cholesterol–145, calculated LDL-80, HDL -53, triglycerides-62, TC/HDL-2.7) My fasting lipids this now (Jan. 25, 2013): Total cholesterol-146, calculated LDL-54, HDL-82, triglycerides-50, TC/HDL-1.8) [/sws_pullquote_small]
As a vegetarian at heart, it’s still kind of hard for me to eat meat. My husband was astounded when he came into the kitchen the other day and I was standing there with a whole chicken carcass in hand, ripping it apart and breaking down the bones to make bone broth. And I seriously think my mother-in-law almost had a heart attack when she heard I was eating ghee and bacon. She knows how into health I am and just couldn’t believe it!
This case study certainly is not proof that Paleo is good for everyone, there are plenty of people who are healthy following a vegetarian diet or MyPlate. But it was a good eye opener for me and has helped me to be more open to all ways of eating. What I like about the Paleo diet is the focus on eating real food. Everything is recognizable as a food and not a food-like processed product.
If you’re curious about following a Paleo diet, I encourage you consult with a registered dietitian in your area. It is important to make sure you understand the diet and that it is something do-able for you for the rest of your life. A registered dietitian can help you through the transition to a Paleo diet and make sure you are still getting all the nutrients you need. Changing your habits for the better should always be considered long-term and not temporary.
For more on the Paleo diet, and its principles read these posts: