Paleo Diet – a bad fad?

A nice chap on Twitter challenged my thoughts and opinions on the Paleo Diet. Am I a lover or a hater?

It could be considered standard practice for a health professional to dismiss the Paleo Diet as nothing but a fad, a diet that is BAD, and just a bit mad. However, I am of the opinion that most ‘diets’ have their pros and cons, work for some people and not for others. As I always say, what works for you and what you are happy with is your business. If you feel the need to change and want to change, that’s terrific too.

Here is a bullet point overview of the paleo diet. I could witter on forever about it, but I’ll try to keep it brief!

What is the Paleo Diet?

  • short for paleolithic, also known as hunter-gatherer or caveman diet.
  • consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit and nuts
  • excludes grains (including wheat & rice), legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils
  • based on the premise that humans have not evolved to digest and metabolise the excluded foods
  • seen as a lifestyle, rather than a ‘diet’ one ‘goes on’


  • based on wholesome, unprocessed foods, high in vitamins and minerals (except calcium), antioxidants, and essential fatty acids
  • elimination of processed foods
  • no specialist ‘diet foods’
  • eat when you’re hungry, don’t eat if you’re not
  • when strictly followed, will probably result in weight loss due to a reduction in calories
  • no calorie counting required – a massive plate of veg with a portion of meat should fill you up
  • many people do have a gluten/lactose intolerance, the diet can help identify these


  • restrictive, can result in feeling deprived leading to rebellion and over eating
  • requires careful planning and a lot of will power
  • eating out and as a guest at other people’s houses can be very difficult
  • expensive to buy pasture raised meat, wild fish (£10 per salmon fillet anyone?) etc.
  • there is the opinion that the whole philosophy is based on speculation about what our ancestors ate
  • humans have not stopped evolving, an example being the evolution of lactose tolerance in Europeans

What about for athletes?

Having witnessed first hand the implementation of the Paleo Diet with professional athletes, I’m more skeptical about it’s application for sports people. The leading expert on all things Paleo, Loren Cordain, followed his original book with one on the diet for athletes. Just one of the aspects which I find tricky is the use of carbohydrate. He fully acknowledges the need for adapting the diet for very active individuals, advocating that 50% calories should come from carbohydrate, including the introduction of potato, sweet potato, dried fruits and fruit juice. In the book ‘The Paleo Diet for Athletes’ he writes:

“of course, this carbohydrate should primarily come from fruit and vegetables, so calories aren’t wasted by eating food lacking micro nutrients”.

He follows with an example diet for a 10 stone athlete training 15 hours/week requiring 3000kcal/day. I analysed the nutrients…… Dr Cordain only managed to get 30% calories carbohydrate (fruit/veg), and this seemed to be mainly from fruit juice. I therefore question how athletes requiring large calorie intakes can realistically follow his regimen.

Due to the impossible task of getting 50% of calories from fruit and veg, I have witnessed first hand the reduction in training performance (feeling weak and dizzy), constant hunger, poorer body compostition, and difficulty in socialising (as a dinner guest or in restaurants).

My opinion:

For people who have a high intake of processed food, are over weight or who want to try to improve their health, a relaxed version of the Paleo Diet may be worth a try! There is no doubt that wholesome, unprocessed

include wholesome grains and dairy

include wholesome grains and dairy

foods: fish, meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit and nuts are of benefit. Adopt a common sense approach to including grains and dairy eg. swap Frosties for oats, chips for basmati/brown rice.

Athletes, be careful not to sacrifice your performance in training and in competition for an ideological diet that is not meeting your nutritional needs. The basic principles can be adapted to meet your training goals and to achieve optimal performance.

Final thoughts:

  • “You can’t out run your fork” for optimal health, diet is paramount
  • Eat wholesome real foods, eat food that goes off before it goes off!
  • Load your plate up with vegetables, a handful of grains and a portion of protein
  • Make small changes over a period of time so that it becomes a lifestyle, not a fad diet that you follow for a few weeks

Your thoughts?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions and experiences! Comments gratefully received…….

Fiery Noodles

This recipe is adapted from Jaime Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals book. As you can see from the photo, this particular page is well used! This part of the recipe only takes about 10 minutes if you use the ready cooked noodles.image

 I use rice noodles instead of egg noodles (for a gluten free option), and leave out the faff of carmellising cashew nuts. If a recipe isn’t easy, or it has too many complicated ingredients or stages, then I don’t have the time or patience. Especially when our 1 year old is clutchingimage on to my leg while I’m trying to cook!

Ingredients: ready to use rice noodles, 1 red pepper, 1/2 red onion, chilli flakes, handful coriander, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 lime, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil.

  • Put the pepper, onion and coriander in a food processor and whizz up until chopped small. Or you can just chop everything up with a knife.
  • Make the dressing with the sesame oil, juice of the lime, soy sauce, fish sauce and chilli flakes (about 1/2 teaspoon, more or less depending on how fiery you like it!)
  • Mix dressing in to chopped pepper, onion and coriander.
  • Heat a frying pan, ideally non stick. If using a wok, add a little oil to imagestop noodles sticking.
  • Add the veg mixture to the pan.
  • Add the ready to use noodles.image
  • Heat through until noodles soft (about 3 minutes).
  • Eat immediately if you like it warm, or leave to cool for a cold salad.
  • Good served with chicken stir fried in a dash of soy sauce and honey. Or a salmon fillet flaked through it. Any other ideas welcomed!

Man Versus Food: the trials and tribulations 4000 kcals

1 month ago Dec’s body fat was 13% (reduced from 16% over the three week holiday) and his weight was 101kg. His aim was to increase weight slowly over the next few months for the start of the rugby season. To achieve this:

  • intensive weight lifting schedule, 1-2 sessions/day
  • reduction in running (aerobic) training – burned too many calories, calories needed to build the muscle
  • increase in food calories, aiming for 3600kcal/day

So what do the most recent figures say?

Weight has remained static at 101kg, while fat mass has decreased to 10%, sorry 9.8% (down 3%). This indicates that approximately 3kg of fat has been lost and 3kg of muscle gained. Brilliant, if he was going to pose on the beach all day, however, the men in the driving seat at London Irish, Robbie and Adi, want the weight up! A month ago, using nutrition calculations, his target calorie intake was set at 3600kcal to achieve this weight increase.

Dec’s case illustrates how the ‘textbook’ theory does not always translate in to practise. There are a number of reasons weight has not been increasing. Here are some important points:

  • Weight is static indicating, his body is using up the same calories that he is eating/drinking.
  • Fat is being catabolised (broken down), while weight training is building the muscle. Any extra calories in the body have been used to increase muscle.
  • It is a VERY common phenomenon for food diaries/diet histories to be inaccurate due to misreporting or people changing what they eat either subconsciously/consciously (not necessarily with malicious intent, it’s just human nature). I can verify that Dec has in fact been having 3600kcal (to the point that he is a bit OCD about it).

So in a nutshell, Dec needs to increase his calories even further to gain weight. Adi suggested that Dec increased ‘macros’. Macros is short for macronutrients, a fancy name for carbohydrates, protein and fat. So he just needs to eat more food, about 400kcal more per day. Simple right?

The reality of consuming such a hugh amount of food can be difficult both physically and mentally, not to mention expensive.

Psychologically, it can be very tough for someone who, in the past, has always had to fight hunger for fear of putting on too much weight.

There needs to be a balance between eating ridiculously healthily, and including the less nutritious or ‘treat’ foods in the diet. Unfortunately, as with many other professional sports people, Dec has an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. In the past, if he wanted a chocolate bar, he would go to the shop and return with a Yorkie, a packet of Rolos, a Turkish Delight and a Magnum ice cream. And eat them ALL within an hour. Since improving the quality of his diet, there has been a significant change, for the better, in body composition. In the last 2 months, the apparent healthiness of his diet could also be his downfall, in that it may be preventing him from achieving the desired increase in weight. Dec’s fear is that if he relaxes his diet, he’ll fall back in to the negative behaviour of devouring a whole packet of peanuts or tub of Haagen Dazs. All or nothing.

Despite being a sports dietitian, and obviously ready to give my opinion, and advice, I am wary of being too ‘food police’.  What a nightmare that would be for him (and me), if I was constantly eyeballing what he was eating, and remarking on every morsel. Of course if he wants to we discuss best options, timings, quantities etc. and I help a lot with calculating his intake, but generally I try to back off with my input.

Physically, the shear volume of food/high calorie drinks needs to be fitted in around very intensive training. This morning Dec had fitness testing at 11am, which involved extremely high intensity bursts of running. He cannot have a substantial amount of food sitting in his stomach for this. So he had large breakfast 3-4 hours before to allow time for it to digest, a snack 1-2 hours before, and an easily digestible carbohydrate drink 30 minutes before. Followed by a meal afterwards. The constant need for nutrition is tedious, though something that comes with the job.

So here are some practical solutions for increasing calories in an already food overloaded regimen. Dec came up with most of these himself, most are tweaks to what he already does.

Practical solutions for increasing nutritious calories:

  • thick layer of peanut butter instead of egg with bagel
  • more high calorie snacks, more frequently, so the stomach isn’t too full
  • 2 handfuls of almonds instead of 1 handful
  • banana instead of an apple
  • fruit juice instead of water
  • full fat yoghurt instead of low fat
  • grated cheese on meals
  • tablespoon olive oil in food
  • more regular use a weight gain supplement eg. Kinetica Oat Gain – 2 scoops = 315kcal. Oat Gain Cookies

Here we go again, it’s 3 hours since his last meal. As I sit at the kitchen table typing, he’s here to prepare another 600kcal meal: burger, wrap  and coleslaw. Then it’s off to Sainsbury’s restock the fridge.

Oat Gain Cookies


These are much crunchier than the flapjack recipe, possibly due to the coconut oil in the Kinetica Oat Gain.

1 banana mashed

handful chopped sunflower/pumpkin seeds

handful chopped raisins

1.5 scoops Kinetica Oat Gain

2 handfuls oats

Using tablespoon put scoops of mixture on baking tray with greaseproof paper. Flatten each scoop into a cookie shape. Put in oven at 170 degrees C for about 20 minutes, or until browned.

Makes about 7 cookies, approx 150kcal, 6g protein, 20g carbs each (5 in the picture as two have been eaten!)

700kcal meal – Meatballs and Pasta


 700kcal, 35g protein, 100g carbohydrate.


Most men need about 2500kcal/day, and ladies 2000kcal/day. Less to lose weight, more to gain. My husband Dec’s target intake per day is 3600kcal as he needs to put on a few kilos for the start of the rugby season in September. He tries to divide this evenly throughout the day.

Here is what tonight’s 700kcal meal looks like (it doesn’t look like that much does it?!):

Pasta – 3 (lady) handfuls dried penne, approximately 100kcal each = 300kcal

Meatballs – lean mince, 6 x 50kcal each = 300kcalimage

Tomato sauce – 1/2 tin chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, 1/2 onion, carrot grated, garlic = 50 kcal

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Nutrition Basics for Weight Loss


Making wholesome and nutritious food choices for most of your meals and snacks can have a profound effect on your weight and health. All too often we are bombarded with confusing and complex messages about diets and nutrition products, from the internet, friends and even fitness coaches.

So the secret is to keep it simple, you don’t need a lot of exotic ingredients or off the wall diets. Fill your fridge with vegetables, lean meat, eggs and lower fat dairy, and your cupboards with wholesome carbs and tinned fish, tomatoes, nuts, seeds etc. Frozen vegetables are just as good, and often better nutritionally than fresh.

What does a healthy meal for weight loss look like? Try this:


  • 1/2 plate: salad/vegetables/fruit
  • 1/4 plate protein: chicken, pork, beef, fish, beans, lentils
  • 1/4 plate starchy food: potatoes, rice, pasta, quinoa, cous cous, wholemeal bread
  • use oils and oily dressings sparingly

Most people have far too much starchy food eg. big plate pasta, and not enough veg.

How does this translate to real life? Here are some examples…..


  • Berry Banana Breakfast Bake
  • Granola with milk
  • handful porridge oats, water, milk, berries/raisins

    Nag's muesli

    Homemade muesli

  • 1 wholemeal toast, little bit of butter, 2 boiled/poached/dry fried eggs
  • Natural yoghurt & fruit, 1 toast
  • Homemade muesli
  • Summer oats
  • Shake: milk, spoon of yoghurt, banana/berries, honey
  • 2 Weetabix, milk, banana


  • 4 no effort meals
  • Spaghetti bolognaise: 1/4 plate spaghetti, add extra veg to bolognaise (grated carrot, extra tin tomatoes). Serve with side salad or Deidre’s coleslawimage
  • Meatballs in tomato sauce with extra veg & pasta
  • Rice, salmon, carrots & broccoli
  • Wholemeal pitta, tuna mixed with natural yoghurt/light mayo, chopped pepper, spring onion & lettuce
  • 1 wholemeal toast, little bit of butter, 2 boiled/poached/dry fried eggs
  • bowl of salad leaves, grated carrot, peas, sunflower & pumpkin seeds, chopped up chicken or flaked salmon


    wholemeal bread, tuna with light mayo & yoghurt, carrot, spring onion, pepper

  • Super food salad with some chicken/fish
  • Lentil & tomato soup

Snacks (hunger often confused with thirst, so first have a glass water/cup of tea or coffee):

  • Apple & handful almonds
  • Rice cake with peanut butter/quark & small dollop of pesto
  • Homemade flapjack
  • Yoghurt & strawberries image
  • Humous and carrot sticks
  • Glass of milk and banana/raisins
  • Skinny latte & apple


  • stick to 1 portion of meals, if still hungry fill up up more veg/fruit
  • avoid creamy sauces, choose tomato sauces/vegetable based ones
  • be aware that oils (yes, even olive oil) has 100kcal per tablespoon. Use but don’t over do it. If eating out, ask for dressing on the side.
  • Be aware that sugary drinks (including pure fruit juice) can add significant calories to your diet. Go for water, tea, coffee, herbal teas, diluted cordial, or diet drinks instead.
  • Drink a large glass of water before a meal
  • Don’t put pot of food on table, serve up in kitchen to avoid picking at extras
  • By all means have ice cream, but not everyday and just a few scoops, not half the tub. Same goes for biscuits, crisps, chocolate, wine, beer etc. Not everyday and control the amounts.
  • Be aware that ‘light’, ‘lite’ or reduced fat doesn’t mean low in fat, just that it is 25% lower than full fat version.
  • Use natural yoghurt instead of mayonnaise,  or mix half yoghurt with half reduced fat mayo
  • If you are at work with limited access to appropriate food choices, bring your own food from home.
  • more tips28d3c13686b38426ee21fff84fe238a7.jpg

I hope some of these ideas may be of use to you. If it all seems a bit too much, just pick one or two ideas each week. Gradual changes that become habit are more likely to be of long term benefit than making massive changes that can be overwhelming.

Mark Twain: Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.

Be good to yourself… demons BOG OFF!!

We all know the benefits of being ‘healthy’. But if living a healthy lifestyle was easy, then everyone would be doing it, right? On paper, eating nutritious food and taking regular exercise is a no brainer. So what’s the problem?

I hate the thought of food being categorised as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. I believe no food should be demonised, however it’s an unavoidable fact  that some foods nourish our bodies more than others. Nobody is obliged to be healthy all the time. We all have unhealthy habits, and these are up to us as individuals with minds of our own. Happiness is what matters, not a social standard of what is deemed as healthy.

If you really do feel content with your diet, whether you live on burgers and chips or have a nutritionally brilliant diet, then that’s nobody’s business but your own. If you feel that you would be happier by making changes to what you eat, but find it difficult, then here are some motivation ideas that you might find helpful…..

  • You’ll never regret choosing the more positive option eg. yoghurt and strawberries over a bar of chocolate. Before making a choice, ask how you will feel in an hour. Think of how great you will feel psychologically and physically after a whole week or month of making daily positive choices.
  • “I deserve this, I’ve had a hard day”. Try not to use food as a reward, to relieve stress or to make you happy. Food is primarily fuel for our bodies. Once again think longer term….how will you feel in an hour after eating half (or a whole) tub of ice cream? How much better would you feel rewarding yourself in other ways eg. walk to the shop after dinner to buy yourself a magazine or a tub of cherries to munch on the way home.
  • We often tell ourselves that we can’t do without something that we have regularly. A common thing to hear is “I’m addicted to chocolate” or “I’m addicted to bread”. Your mind is powerful in both positive and negative ways. If you want to change your habit, turn the negative in to the positive. By saying: “I’m addicted, therefore I can’t do anything about it”, you are essentially removing your responsibility for what you feed yourself.  Tell yourself, “I am in control of my thoughts, I am in control of what I buy, and I am in control of what I feed my body.”
  • Sometimes, it’s as if the biscuit tin is calling you, drawing your hand towards it like a magnet. If it helps, imagine a little demon on your shoulder. It is telling you to have another biscuit and, go on just one more, and, well, you may as well finish the lot. Tell it in the strongest possible way (!) to bog off and to stop sabotaging your efforts.
  • If you can’t resist temptation, then make things easier on yourself by not having the foods you are trying to avoid in the cupboard or fridge. Get. Rid. Of. It. People often tell me, ‘but it’s for the kids/ visitors’. Too much of it is not good for you and it’s not good for them either. Replace with healthier alternatives.

Ultimately, we have to take responsibility for ourselves. Isn’t it a great thing that we can!?