What is the Paleo diet?
In a nutshell, the Paleolithic diet, sometimes called the Caveman diet, is a style of eating that most closely mimics the ancient diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. It consists solely of whole, unprocessed foods, such as meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
Grains, legumes, dairy, salt, refined sugars and refined oils are generally eschewed, though some Paleo adherents will still consume small amounts of dairy (such as butter, cream or yoghurt) from grass-fed mammals.
The Paleo diet is based on the premise that human genetics have changed very little over the past 10,000 years; thus, we are much better adapted to eat the diet that our human ancestors ate for 2.5 million years than we are to the predominantly grain-based diet that has developed since the Agricultural Revolution.
Is the Paleo diet safe during pregnancy?
Not only is it completely safe, it may even help to prevent such pregnancy-related conditions as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and excessive weight gain. Paleo-compliant foods, such as meat, seafood and produce, are considerably more nutritionally dense than the grain and sugar-laden mainstays of the standard North American diet, meaning that calorie for calorie, a pregnant woman following the Paleo diet is much more likely to meet all of her nutritional needs without the requirement for supplementation.
Are there any modifications that should be made for pregnant women?
Possibly. It all depends on how you were eating pre-pregnancy.
1. Protein. Depending on how much protein you normally consume, you may need to reduce your protein intake. Many Paleo adherents, especially those following a demanding athletic training regimen, consume between 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Professor Loren Cordain, one of the foremost experts on the Paleo diet, explains, “Because of metabolic changes that occur in the liver during pregnancy, women cannot tolerate as high protein levels as they normally could. This issue has been documented in both the anthropological and clinical literature. Hence fattier meats, higher fat vegetable foods and more carbs are required.”
I actually found that I instinctively reduced my high protein intake by about a third, even before I knew I was pregnant. I simply was not as hungry for large servings of meat as I had previously been. Pre-pregnancy, I was consuming about 150 grams of protein per day, whereas I would estimate my current protein consumption to be in the 100 gram range, or about 0.6 grams per pound of bodyweight.
2. Carbohydrate. According to both Canadian and American pregnancy nutrition guidelines, pregnant women should increase their carbohydrate consumption to approximately 150 grams per day (this is only an average — it varies by size, body composition and energy expenditure). The irony of this recommendation is that most women following a typical North American diet are actually consuming closer to 300 grams of carbohydrates per day, so what they should be doing during pregnancy is reducing, rather than increasing, their carbohydrate consumption. But a woman following the Paleo diet and eating more vegetables than fruits may need to increase her carbohydrates by anywhere from 50 to 100 percent.
Since finding out that I was pregnant, I have increased my fruit consumption, and have added some higher-glycemic tropical fruits (such as bananas and oranges) to my diet, where I was previously only eating berries and apples.
3. Calcium. The Paleo diet has received some criticism for its lack of calcium-containing dairy products, but because of the absence of gut-irritating grains, and the increased levels of dietary magnesium (from fish, vegetables and nuts), calcium absorption is greatly improved; thus, intake requirements are reduced. During pregnancy, however, a woman’s calcium requirements are considerably higher, and as such, it might be prudent to add a calcium supplement and/or a small amount of organic, grass-fed dairy in order to meet these increased needs.
I have made the decision to add small amounts of dairy to my diet, including plain Greek yoghurt, heavy cream and goat cheese. I have never really been able to tolerate milk, but the above products don’t seem to be causing any problems for me, at least with the quantity and frequency I am consuming right now. The yoghurt also has the added benefit of containing probiotics, which help to prevent two of pregnancy’s most common afflictions: gas and yeast infections.
4. Timing. Many followers of the Paleo diet eat only two large meals per day, as the higher levels of dietary protein and fat lead to increased satiety, while the low glycemic load of vegetable and fruit-based carbohydrates mediates the hormonal fluctuations that cause hunger. Conventional pregnancy nutrition recommendations suggest that women should eat immediately upon waking, then every two to three hours thereafter, in order to prevent nausea/crankiness/fatigue/etc. (insert favourite pregnancy symptom here), and in order to ensure a steady supply of nutrients to the placenta.
If a woman is eating in accordance with the Paleo diet, chances are that the hormonal fluctuations that cause nausea/crankiness/fatigue/etc. will be greatly reduced, so the woman will not have to eat every two to three hours to feel good. Certainly that has been my experience, as I often don’t eat my first meal of the day until close to noon and then don’t eat another major meal until late in the evening (I will generally have a snack somewhere in there). I’ve had no problems whatsoever with this arrangement. I am starting to find, however, that as my stomach gets crowded out by my growing uterus, I can’t quite eat as much in one sitting as I’m accustomed to, so I will probably shift to a schedule of smaller and more frequent meals/snacks as it becomes necessary.
One thing I need to make absolutely clear is that within normal parameters (i.e. not being in a famine situation), there is no correlation whatsoever between frequency of meals and the amount of nutrients being supplied to the growing fetus. The human body is amazingly well-adapted to prioritize the baby’s needs, so as long as you are eating when you’re hungry, and eating nutritionally-dense Paleo foods, it is perfectly safe to go without food for as many hours as it takes before you become hungry again.
TUESDAY (yesterday) – 5 rounds of:
2 Turkish get-ups (16 kg kettlebell)
5 deadlifts (185 lbs)
10 box jumps (20″)
7 min 43 sec
WEDNESDAY – Rest day.