What is Paleo?
The Paleo diet is an attempt to eat like humans used to back in the Palaeolithic period. Foods like grass-fed meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, fruits and vegetables, seeds, healthy saturated fats like coconut, olive and avocado and their oil derivatives. In other words, eating of the provisions Allah has provided here on Earth, with minimal processing between it’s accessibility and availability in nature and your plate, aside from the cutting/ cooking/ pressing of course. This means that grains (wholemeal bread included), cereal products (yep, corn flakes!) and refined sugars (brown sugar too!) should be strictly limited at best. “But what am I gonna have for breakfast?!” Heh, we’ll get to that but trust me you will learn to love REAL food again and you won’t be going hungry Insha’Allah.
Food has never been more available than it is to us today. Unfortunately, over a number of years, through modern agricultural practices and huge amounts of misinformation, the food available to us, especially in urbanised areas is not that good for us. For instance, we are not required nearly as many carbohydrates as our traditional ‘food pyramids’ dictate and saturated fats are not all bad. See below for an example of the misinformation we are being fed (pun intended) from a young age.
Over a period of time consuming these carb-loaded foods, we went from being ‘fat burners’ to ‘sugar burners’. And as a result, we have never been sicker as a population on Earth than we are today (plagues excluded!).
We have gotten so used to reaching for fast food, or sugar-laden treats, or for the more ‘health-conscious’, a convenient on-the-go sandwich to fill our stomachs, in an effort to be quickly satiated and have more immediate energy. This has led to metabolic syndrome – the inability to effectively convert food into energy – and along with it, a plethora of health issues and food-related illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and autoimmune diseases.
“We are digging our graves with our teeth.”
– Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, Islamic Scholar and Author
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Often times our bodies provide us with feedback for the foods we eat but we usually ignore it or take a quick over-the-counter pill or syrup to rid ourselves of the symptom without addressing the underlying problem: heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux are the more common ones amongst others.
This video is a good starting point to understand how fat happens and often the starting point for the aforementioned food-related diseases:
But it is a process that can be stopped and in some cases, reversed.
You see the processed food that is being processed, packaged, sold and fed to us is not providing much nutritional benefit for us, aside from survival and even then, with the quantities we are eating, it’s highly questionable.
“It seems that our greatest health problems are products of society, and hence our own creation. We’ve invented ways to slowly kill ourselves.”
– Joe De Sena, Founder of Spartan Race, Spartan Up!
The Paleo diet is not so much a ‘diet program’ as it is a lifestyle choice. In simple terms, following the Paleo lifestyle will have you:
- Stop counting calories. Yes, you read right – you can stop counting calories. Instead your efforts in fat-loss and reducing metabolic diseases will have better results if you start counting teaspoons of sugar instead;
- Eating foods that have a higher nutrient density and as such, are exactly what your body needs and recognises as real, wholesome nutrition that can be put to use by your body quickly and effectively.
- Eating less. Note: Not going hungry, but eating less generally as your body will have all the nutrients it needs from whole foods. Ever notice how we can eat through multiple slices of pizza when famished but we are fine with snacking on just one apple when just as hungry? It comes down to nutritional density.
- Reduce your food bill!
“Stop counting calories and start counting number of sugar teaspoons instead.”
– Dr Aseem Malhotra, MBChB, MRCP. Award-winning Cardiologist
Various fat loss programs will promote eating less and exercising more to combat the fat. While eating less and fasting are actually pretty good for us physically, mentally and spiritually while on a sensible diet the rest of the time, as is the case in Ramadhan, eating less specifically to lose weight on a not-so-sensible diet is proven to be counter-productive. It may well work in the short term but ask yourself:
- How much of that weight lost is actually fat and not precious muscle tissue?
- How many times will you go hungry before you eventually start losing the fat itself?
- Moreover, how long before you get fed up (sorry, no pun intended) and go back to your old routine?
- How many times have you got to Eid-Al-Fitr, hoping to see a trimmer waistline and instead you see it protruding more than before as you’ve effectively become a ‘skinny fat’ version of yourself?
None of these are uncommon. You are not alone.
“When you lose weight by cutting calories, upwards of 70% of that weight lost is muscle tissue.”
– Shawn Stevenson, Nutritionist and Fitness Expert, The Model Health Show
Gym-goers, how often have you had a deload month during Ramadhan and on top of looking ‘smaller’ you have gone back to the gym to find your strength has suffered a setback as you’re not able to lift as heavy or endure as much, which will see you splurge on food and gym training the month after Eid, in an effort to get back those lost ‘Gainz’?
Even if you train for endurance as opposed to strength-training, how often have you ‘carb-loaded’ before an event and finding you’re hungry less than an hour into the race, forcing you to turn to energy gels?
What if there was a better way to burn the fat while protecting against muscle loss and all of the issues that come with it?
Over time, as we have become more insulin resistant, these fat cells have been locked away and our body, in the absence of blood glucose during heavy-exercise or longer fasting periods like Ramadhan, has gone after the next nutrient-rich source it knows: your precious muscle tissue.
Think of your body like a car and your fridge like a petrol pump.
It comes down to what you’re eating, or rather the fuel source you have taught your body to burn.
- We’ve honed our bodies to opt for the cheap supermarket fuel: sugar, or as it’s medically known, blood glucose.
- Yes, it will get you from A to B, but not opting for the higher octane fuel that’s available – designed and provisioned for us by our Creator – we have stopped burning fat and introduced a whole host of engine problems, requiring regular servicing just to keep going.
- As if that wasn’t enough, we’ve more or less continued using the same cheap fuel, just in lesser quantities, which still has the same effect on our metabolism, and exacerbates the ‘engine’ problem further.
We need a huge paradigm shift to get out of this cycle and become ‘fat burners’ again, a process known as ‘fat adaptation’. We, in particular the South Asian and Middle Eastern communities, through our cultural eating habits and subsequent health issues, have normalised medical conditions and food-related illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, angina, high blood pressure and in some communities, even obesity.
How we view the traditional ‘food pyramid’ needs to change in order to stop food-related illnesses and not just survive, but thrive. See below for the food pyramid that promotes optimal health, proven time and time again, down the years.
By becoming ‘fat-adapted’, and Insha’Allah it is our aim to help you become fat-adapted again, you will reap the following benefits:
- You will retrain your bodies to burn fat and not your muscle tissue in the absence of blood glucose;
- In the process, you will look and feel much healthier;
- You’ll be more alert. You’ll no longer have that post-lunch/ post-Iftaar sugar crash and feel like you have to have a nap;
- Gym-goers can protect against muscle loss; Endurance athletes will have the competitive edge over their ‘conventional-wisdom’-driven, carb-loading counterparts, as this athlete has demonstrated.
- You may even stop food-related illnesses in their tracks and in some cases be able to reverse conditions like Type II Diabetes and not be an ‘at risk’ individual due to obesity.
It’s never too late to start.
Islam on Health and Nutrition will detail how the Paleo lifestyle ties in with what Islam teaches us about health and nutrition. We have also provided details of the Prophetic Diet and a more in-depth look at Paleo in the Science of Paleo.
As always, we welcome any comments, feedback or questions below.