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Stalking the Paleo Diet in Dallas; is it for you?

By now, most people know that the Paleo Diet doesn’t mean sitting around a campfire, gnawing on bones, as we imagine our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. The diet that figuratively turns back the clock 10,000 years has nonetheless definitely struck a chord with modern audiences.

The subject of best-selling books, blogs and articles, it crossed a milestone in April, when Dr. Oz hosted Paleo guru Loren Cordain and Paleoista author Nell Stephenson on his TV show. Closer to home, restaurants are a bellwether of Paleo penetration: Dallas just got its second Paleo-centric restaurant, HG Sply Co. on Lower Greenville, after Origin Natural Food opened on McKinney Avenue earlier this year.

Dallas gynecologist and functional medicine practitioner Margaret Christensen, 52, not only follows the Paleo way of eating, she uses it in her practice. Some people do lose weight, but that’s not usually why they adopt a diet that some see as austere.

“Basically,” Christensen says, “the Paleo Diet is no grain, no dairy and, if you are superstrict, no legumes.” No refined sugars, either, which means no processed foods or alcohol.

“I’m 85 to 90 percent Paleo,” she says, adding: “It works very well for people with autoimmune disorders. … It’s amazing to see the improvement in health.”

In her own case, adopting the Paleo Diet helped her deal with irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue and fibromyalgia.

Proponents say the diet comes down to the gut and what goes on there. They believe the human digestive system never quite caught up with the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, when grains were domesticated, or the Industrial Revolution, which opened the door to modern processed foods. This is the theory.

“Some of the protein and chemical components of grains, called lectins, are irritating to the immune system and digestive tract,” Christensen says. “Since 70 to 80 percent of immunity starts in the gut, grains are notorious for triggering autoimmune issues, and the carbohydrate component is rapidly converted to simple sugars, which fuel inflammation.

“Legumes contain similar lectins and phytates,” she says, “which may interfere with nutrient absorption, be hard to digest and can fuel unhealthy gas-creating bacteria.

“Milk dairy products are similar,” she says. “Most people don’t realize [that] if they are lactose intolerant — the sugar component of milk — it’s the body’s way of telling you not to eat the irritating protein called casein.”

Some are dismissive of the diet’s claims, but other experts don’t see that it does harm.

Debbie Clegg, an associate professor at the Touchstone Diabetes Research Center in the department of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says there’s little empirical evidence that the diet works. Clegg, who’s also on staff at the university’s Center for Human Nutrition, explains: “If we look at our ancestors, they didn’t live very long.” And a recent article in Scientific American largely debunks the premise for the diet and whether it’s truly Paleo.

Still, says Clegg, “I applaud the concept of going back and eating unprocessed food, because we honestly don’t know all the chemicals, additives and junk that go into the processing of food.”

She adds: “If you begin to feel better, there’s no better testimony than that.”


Origin Natural Food owner Jessica Myers, 31, who describes herself as superstrict Paleo, would agree: “I’ve had IBS [irritable bowel syndrome] and been on meds my whole life.” When she started the Paleo Diet, she says, “the IBS just went away.”

She’s been practicing Paleo for five years and opened Origin with her partner because “we found ourselves eating a lot at the Whole Foods salad bar. There were not a lot of options available. We decided to create one.”

Dallas chiropractor Lance Wright, 58, says he has tried several diets, including vegetarian, vegan and raw. A blood chemistry analysis singled him out as a prime candidate for stroke or heart attack.

Since getting on Paleo, he says, “the numbers are coming down nicely, and I dropped another 15 pounds. … I’ve been in a better mood, and I have more energy.”

What it isn’t

Let’s debunk a common misconception: This is not an Atkins Diet redux. “The meat has to be clean meat … wild meat,” says Christensen. “Beef, only grass-fed, and preferably buffalo, venison, free-range chicken, turkey and wild fish. Lots of good fats from nuts and seeds, olives and avocados.” Free-range eggs are OK, too. But not cheese or ice cream, potato chips or Oreos.

Cordain, who bases his advocacy on the evolutionary medicine he studies, added on The Dr. Oz Show that “it’s a high-protein diet and a low-glycemic-load diet. … It’s very high in fruits and vegetables that contain healthy phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals which tend to promote immune function … and it’s high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which help calm down inflammation.”

Irrespective of diet trends, Christensen recommends nine servings of vegetables a day: “Six cups of dark leafy greens, which is two big salads a day; one cup of colorful vegetables, such as peppers, squash, tomatoes, beets or carrots; one cup of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or cabbage; and one cup of ‘other,’ such as mushrooms, asparagus or onions.”

Christensen doesn’t recommend Paleo for everyone. “Cardiologist Dean Ornish has demonstrated that a vegetarian-vegan diet with lots of legumes can reverse heart disease and diabetes, although I still recommend limiting inflammatory grains like wheat and corn. Paleo works better for autoimmune diseases and IBS.

“But either way, they both get nine servings of vegetables.”

Kim Pierce is a Dallas freelance writer.


What do I eat?

Here are some examples of Paleo substitutes for modern foods.

There are recipes for some of the items in Practical Paleo, by Diane Sanfilippo (Victory Belt, $39.95):

Practical paleo: Greek salad with Avo-ziki dressing

Practical paleo: Chorizo meatballs

Practical paleo: Mashed faux-tatoes


Love this? Eat this

Pasta Zucchini “pasta” or spaghetti squash

Mashed potatoes Mashed Faux-Tatoes (cauliflower)

Hummus Cauliflower hummus

Chocolate cookies Flourless chocolate-bacon brownies

Toffee Nutty Bacon Bark

Tacos Lettuce wraps

Muffins Muffins made with coconut flour

Burger bun Sweet potato pancakes


Dallas’ Paleo-centric restaurants

Origin Natural Food: Meals are prepared off-premise at a central commissary; you pick what you like from a refrigerator case and eat on the premises or take home. Salads are custom-made on the premises. Origin also has a coffee bar, with milk: local, organic and low-temperature pasteurized from pastured cows. The vibe is casual coffeehouse, with Wi-Fi.

4438 McKinney Ave., Dallas; 214-484-3970; originnaturalfood.com


HG Sply Co.: Casual neighborhood bar and grill self-described as inspired by the Paleo Diet, emphasizing locally sourced Paleo proteins, vegetables and fats, such as braised lamb shank, roasted beet salad and a “BLT” made with arugula and pork belly. Cocktails use the same local-and-fresh philosophy.

2008 Greenville Ave., Dallas; 469-334-0895; hgsplyco.com


The Paleo plate

On The Dr. Oz Show, Nell Stephenson, author of Paleoista (Touchstone, $23), told the audience to visualize and fill a Paleo plate this way: two-thirds fresh veggies (including greens), a palm-size serving of protein (such as wild-caught salmon or grass-fed beef), then divide the remaining space between a generous serving of fat (such as avocado) and a serving of fruit.

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