Staying ‘Well Fed’

Posted: April 10, 2013

By The Book

I’ve been asked by readers to review a paleo cookbook. It’s taken me some time, both to understand paleo in its best form and to take a look at the multitudes of cookbooks available. Paleo is a huge and enduring trend.

For those of you not quite sure what the various names — “the paleo diet,” “the heritage diet,” the “caveman diet” — signify, the basic idea is that if we would return to the way the first humans ate, we’d avoid the diseases of modern society.

This means giving up all grains, dairy, sugar and alcohol, as well as vegetable oils and legumes such as dried beans and seeds.

Many people who follow this diet also incorporate a great deal of exercise and say they feel better than they have in years.

I’ve chosen “Well-Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat,” by Melissa Joulwan and David Humphreys because I found it the most helpful. Apparently, others did as well: It won a major award in 2012, and the related blog consistently is placed at the forefront of the “blogosphere” for design and content.

“Well-Fed” explains the philosophy and provides recipes for the diet. It also provides a plan for cooking ahead whenever the cook has time free in order to produce a week’s worth of healthful foods quickly and easily. The authors call this the “weekly cookup.”

This book remains true to its original idea. If you look around the specialty section of a large grocery store, you’ll find a dazzling array of processed foods claiming to be paleo, including breads and other baked goods made from “ancient grains.” I’m pretty sure our early ancestors didn’t have the manufacturing equipment necessary to produce imitation flour.

“Well-Fed” presents a diet and the dishes to sustain it from three food groups: meat (or fish or eggs), plants (vegetables and fruits) and healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil — some paleos use butter, but only from grass-fed beef).

A word about the science behind the health claims: The paleo diet is not too bad, despite the emphasis on meat, including red meat, which is certainly not the pure meat our ancestors were lucky to find.

Whether you agree with the paleo philosophy or not, over-consumption of grains, sugar and dairy products has not benefited our collective health. In fact, a decades old, very simple diet recommended by old-fashioned doctors was simply “no sugar, no flour.”

Some paleos make exceptions — a glass of red wine, a square of dark chocolate, a piece of toast or slice of hard cheese on Sunday or whipped cream on their fruit for a special dinner — but they keep these as diversions, not daily indulgences.

It’s complicated to explain why our present dietary imbalances contribute to inflammation, which has been found to contribute many of our modern maladies, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but “Well-Fed” presents it well.

I also like the idea of the weekly “cook-up,” a couple of hours of prep the author recommends to make the rest of the week flow smoothly. She boils eggs, grills meat, chops vegetables and briefly sautés flavorful vegetable mixtures to finish later.

Even the skeptics can take away some underlying good sense from this trend. Return to basic, unprocessed foods, cook at home, give some thought to what you eat and drastically increase the number of plants in your diet.


Theresa Curry blogs about food, health and gardens at gma85.com.


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