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Military CrossFit Craze: What is the Paleo Diet?

In the military community, it seems like everyone knows someone who does the CrossFit exercise regimen. Even my own husband is a CrossFitter. Maybe you’ve seen people in your neighborhood running down the street hauling very heavy items for what looks like no reason.

CrossFit.

According to their very own CrossFit Journal, “The CrossFit prescription is ‘constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement.’” These are short but intense workouts that promise increased strength “for any physical contingency”.  They have the participants doing a variety of things such as deadlifts, kettlebell swings, handstands, and movements called “burpees”. They’ll even post Hero Workouts occasionally, dedicated to fallen service members.

I’ll admit that exercise physiology is not my area of expertise, but nutrition is.  CrossFit enthusiasts will often subscribe to a Paleolithic eating pattern, AKA the Paleo Diet.

So what exactly does this entail? Is it safe? Can you find these foods at your local commissary?

First, a brief history lesson: The term “Paleolithic” is defined by Google Dictionary as “of, relating to, or denoting the early phase of the Stone Age, lasting about 2.5 million years, when primitive stone implements were used.” Near the end of the Stone Age, humans started relying more on agriculture. This meant they switched from hunters and gatherers to becoming farmers. So basically, the Paleolithic diet is supposed to be similar to how cavemen ate before farming and agriculture took hold.  Still with me? This means Paleo-eaters would focus on meat and plant foods while avoiding modern junk food and processed grains.

Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, explains his nutrition philosophy for serious athletes in a nutrition lecture: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.” As you can see, this Paleo approach focuses heavily on proteins while cutting out a lot of carbohydrates. The high-protein, low-carb focus is somewhat similar to the well-known Atkins Diet.

Officially, The Paleo Diet is based on the Paleo Movement by Dr. Loren Cordain, PhD. He makes a ton of health claims on his website, including the one that Paleo is “the world’s healthiest diet.” Respectfully, as a Registered Dietitian, here are my thoughts:

Pros: Yes, most people could benefit by eating less processed, sugar-laden foods in their diet. The Paleo recommendation to cut back on refined carbohydrates such as cookies, pasta, and bread is something we could all take to heart. Emphasis on plant foods is also a plus.  Fresh fruits and vegetables provide a ton of nutrients without adding extra calories, fat, or salt.

Cons:  I’d worry about all the focus on animal meats. It could lead to consuming too much fat, potentially putting you at risk for heart disease.  Tr to choose lean cuts of meat and remove the skin. Also, cutting out entire food groups such as dairy and grains may cause deficiencies in nutrients such as Vitamin D, Calcium, and B Vitamins.

Also, following the Paleo Diet might be a bit harder on your wallet. The meat and produce departments are two of the most expensive sections in the grocery store. This is especially true if you look for grass-fed meat, which is often pricier than meat that was given typical corn-based animal feed. (Serious Paleo-followers believe in eating only grass-fed meats, to avoid the refined grains most cows ate before they became the steak.)

The availability of certain Paleo-friendly foods often depends on which commissary you go to, but all are bound to have fresh produce and meats.  DeCa dietitian Karen E. Hawkins wrote this news release on the widespread availability of USDA Organic meat – which is grass-fed – along with helpful cooking tips.

A completely Paleo diet might not be right for the average person (not to mention how difficult it can be to follow!).  Instead, I encourage balance across all food groups as seen on ChooseMyPlate.gov. There are so many health benefits in low-fat dairy and fiber-rich whole grains. However, incorporating some Paleo principles, such as increasing plant foods while cutting back on refined starches (junk food, candy, white bread, white pasta, etc), is a great way to improve the typical American diet. Just a reminder: always talk to you doctor before drastically changing your diet!

With CrossFit’s booming popularity among military personnel, the Paleo eating pattern is also spreading. Have you and/or your spouse gone Paleo? What are your experiences with the “caveman diet?”

About Chrissy Vimini RD

Christina Vimini (aka Chrissy) is an Army wife, Coast Guard brat, puppy parent, pianist, Terps-enthusiast, and Registered Dietitian. Hailing from Maryland, she and her husband are currently located at Fort Bliss, TX where she works providing nutrition therapy and counseling at an El Paso medical center. Her philosophy is that you can eat anything...in moderation. Connect with her on Twitter @CVimRD or on her website at http://csvimini.com.