Two summers ago, I decided to get fitter and firmer after 5 yrs of either being pregnant or nursing. As I've gotten older, I've noticed that having a clean diet was not enough to fight off the cellulite that was threatening to take over my upper thighs or slow down the descent of my butt toward the back of my knees.
Of course, I was fresh off reading Wheat Belly and everyone and their neighbor seemed to be on the paleo diet. As a matter of fact the paleo diet was all the rage and the accolades just kept coming in about it's health benefits. The paleo diet has been touted to be the answer to everything from diabetes to lowering body fat.
What exactly is the Paleo diet?
Paleo diet is short for paleolithic diet or more basically a hunter-gatherer diet. The hunter gatherer diet consisted of a variety of vegetables, fresh nuts and seeds, wild fruit, meat, fish and roots. Interestingly, these diets varied greatly depending on location and it didn't always exclude grains or dairy. It has been discovered that modern day hunter gatherer cultures such as the !Kung in Africa consume dairy and cornmeal.
What is known for certain is that the average paleolithic diet was higher in fiber, protein, omega 3 fatty acids, unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals and much lower in saturated fats, sugar and sodium. It also contained 3 times more vegetables and fruit than the average North American diet.
My Paleo Experience
Armed with the internet and a few cookbooks, I started out on my paleo journey. For 3 months, I adopted a diet filled with fresh organic vegetables and fruits, raw organic nuts and seeds, pastured meat, tons of root vegetables and went through a lifetime supply of Costco sized coconut oil. Fish was out of the question due to anaphylactic reactions. Thank goodness I decided to do this in the summer time when produce was abundant and fresh.
I eliminated grains, dairy, refined sugar (unpasteurized honey in limited quantity was substituted), legumes, butter and anything processed. I did HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts 3 times a week using a free app (https://www.fitnessblender.com/).
At the end of three months, I had bloodwork done anxiously awaiting to have my health socks blown off. When I got my results back, it was an epic disappointment. My lipids were the worst they have ever been. Sure my HDL (good cholesterol) was great (mainly due to exercise), but my LDL (not so good cholesterol) was another story. My lipid results came back with an unusual amount of fat in the blood sample and my APO B-100 (a blood marker for heart disease) came back high as well. On top of everything my glucose was also on the higher end of normal.
I was dumbfounded. How could this be? But the paleo diet is suppose to lower your cholesterol and help you lose body fat and make you healthy and live longer. Why the heck was the opposite happening to me? Disillusioned, I slowly transitioned out of the paleo diet and started introducing whole grains (quinoa, gluten free oats, speltberries, brown rice, farro) and legumes into my diet. Guess I wasn't engineered to go through a gallon of coconut oil and a 3 lb bag of almond flour a month.
What Went Wrong?
It would take 2 years for me to figure out why I failed the paleo diet. A few months ago, I was introduced to the concept of nutrigenomics. Nutrigenomics is the study of the interaction of nutrition and genes. It is the study of how our genes affect how we process or don't process certain nutrients.
I was at a seminar that was held by a scientific expert in nutrition and gene expression. I discovered that there was a lab Nutrigenomix that was providing personalized nutrition report based on each individual's unique genetic profile.
Using DNA from your saliva the test can analyze your genetic code to determine how your genes influence weight management, body composition, nutrient metabolism, cardiometabolic health, food intolerances, eating habits, fitness performance and injury risk. Did you know your genes can even influence your motivation to exercise?
What I learned from genetic testing
Through nutrigenomix, I discovered that my body does not utilize saturated fats very well. Instead my body does better on a diet high in mono and polyunsaturated fats. Think olive oil, nuts and seeds. I also do better on a diet that is moderate in whole grains and protein. On top of everything caffeine is my friend and it can help prevent heart disease at least in me.
Nutrigenomix finally helped me understand why the Paleo diet was not the ideal diet for me. Cutting out grains and having so much saturated fats in the form of meat and coconut oil did not do me any favors and as a matter of fact was detrimental to my health.
Most importantly I learned that genetic variation can have a significant impact on nutrient absorption, metabolism and biological effects. While the paleo diet may be ideal for some people, it wasn't for me. Sure there are parts of the paleo diet that held true for me but overall, it was not the ideal diet for me from a preventative perspective. It just goes to show that one diet does not fit all.