Understanding the subtle differences between the Maximized Living and Paleo Diets
Society’s thoughts and views on healthy eating and living have changed drastically over the last decade. Ten years ago people did not think twice about the serious effects sugar has on the human body and what it could do to your internal system. Since then, we have seen dramatic changes in the world of health and we are better educated on the impact certain foods have on our bodies. A vast number of individuals are showing more interest in bettering their overall lifestyle by exercising and improving their eating habits. It is becoming easier to find products with little to no sugar and of the whole, organic, non-processed variety. Many popular nutrition plans, including The Maximized Living Nutrition Plans and Paleo diets were born from this health movement. Today, individuals striving for a healthier lifestyle still have a lingering question: “What exactly is Paleo? And is it the right choice for me?”
A Paleolithic diet is made up of whole, unprocessed foods – mainly a variety of meats and vegetables with small amounts of fruits and nuts and no grains or processed sugars. Why Paleolithic? The diet is based upon everyday modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. This healthy, “Paleo”, or the Paleolithic diet, can be confusing to understand. In her article, Seven Shades of Paleo, Amy Kubal addresses the ambiguous nature surrounding what it means to be Paleo and exactly what is permitted in the Paleo diet by reviewing seven classifications of a Paleolithic lifestyle.(1) Generally, individuals who choose to follow a Paleo diet abstain from processed sugars and carbohydrates, but because there are so many different styles of Paleo, it can be difficult to determine exactly what is permitted and what is not. Because the term “Paleo” has become so popular, especially in the fitness world, it is my opinion that there is no other diet so equivocal, yet so widely followed.
The Paleo movement was first popularized in the mid-1970s when a gastroenterologist by the name of Walter L. Voegltin promoted a very primal way of living through his book, The Stone Age Diet. His nutrition plan encouraged the consumption of grass-fed pasture meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and excluded refined sugars, refines salts, processed oils, dairy products, and grains. His theory was that our ancestors were able to sustain their health much longer than we do today due to their lack of processed foods.(2) His work was furthered by Dr. Loren Cordain, the founder of the Paleo movement, who promotes the “caveman diet” and argues that our ancestors thrived on such a diet and would have never consumed grains due to the lack of agricultural technology of that era.(3) Though this is accurate, the reality is that our ancestor’s diets relied heavily on their geographic location and the foods available there.(4) The framework initially laid out by Voegltin is indeed a step in the right direction, but further clarification of the do’s and do not’s of the Paleo lifestyle still need to be refined.
Maximize your Paleo Diet with a Maximized Living Nutrition Plan
Maximized Living is built on the foundation of 5 essential elements that represent a facet of your health; maximized mind, maximized nerve supply, maximized quality nutrition, maximized oxygen and lean muscle, and minimized toxins.
Though all equally important and indispensable, the focus of this article is on essential number 3: maximized quality nutrition. There are two Maximized Living Nutrition Plans to fit different lifestyles:
- The Core plan, meant for everyone.
- The Advanced plan, designed for individuals who are looking to achieve specific health goals, or for those who function better without consuming sugar or foods that turn into sugar.
The Maximized Living Nutrition Plans provide clarity in the application of Paleo principles by making a few important refinements to the basic Paleo diet principles.
Why Should I Go Paleo?
The very science behind the Paleo diet should be enough to get any health guru’s attention. Grains and sugar, exclusively excluded from both the Paleo and Maximized Living diets, create inflammation in the body. The elimination of these inflammatory, acidic foods unquestionably assists the body in healing itself. Most commonly, the Paleo diet will help improve gastrointestinal function (due to the increased consumption of vegetables), aid in weight loss (due to the reduction of sugar and starches), and help detoxify your body by reducing inflammation in your tissues.
There are a number of myths surrounding these kinds of diets that deter people from trying them:
- Not enough energy
- Not enough nutrients
- Not enough fiber
- Hungry all the time
First, on this kind of diet, one’s goal should be using fat, rather than sugar, as the primary source of energy to actually help burn fat. The consumption of nutrient dense vegetables and healthy animal fats and proteins easily dispels any concerns about number two; grains do not offer many nutrients. The third myth falls when we look at the amount of fiber that comes from raw vegetables – not cooked grains. The amount of fiber needed in the diet varies from person to person. Finally, hunger is actually created by swings in insulin levels related to the intake of sugary and highly glycemic foods. Balanced hormones and the consumption of quality nutrients, not calories, cause a person to become full.
I have had a number of patients experience success following The Maximized Living Nutrition Plans, which was the title of my first book, and what I like to call the diet that I personally follow.
The Paleo diet relies heavily on meat as a protein source. Cordain lists ‘higher protein intake’ as one of the seven fundamental characteristics of a Paleo diet, stating that our hunter-gatherer counterparts consumed 19-35% of their daily calories in protein compared to the now average, 15%.(5) Meat, seafood, and other animal products represent the staple foods of modern day Paleo diets. However, eating just any kind of meat or seafood isn’t enough to fuel your body properly. Maximized Living places a very strong emphasis on the quality of meat that is consumed. While many of today’s Paleo followers would not think twice about consuming shellfish and pork as a source of protein, the Maximized Living Nutrition Plan excludes these types of meat due to their high levels of toxicity.
Shellfish, living on the ocean floor, absorb significant amounts of toxic waste. Pigs live in an unclean environment and store toxins in their fatty tissues. Due to their very basic digestive system they are unable to produce sweat to eliminate those stored toxins. Because of these environmental and feeding issues, these protein sources have a higher toxicity level and consumption should be avoided to maintain optimal health.
It goes without saying that all processed meats such as hot dogs, chicken nuggets, canned meat, and pre-packaged deli meats are off limits. However, pork and shellfish are not the only proteins one need be wary of when selecting a proper protein source. Living environment and feeding content and methods are major considerations when perusing the meat section at your local grocery store. Because organic farms are strictly regulated, organic or grass-fed meat is the way to go; sure, it costs a bit more but the health benefits far outweigh the extra couple bucks.
Fruit and Sugar
Eating fruit is definitely one of the murkier areas when it comes to defining the paleo diet. While some Paleo eaters may consume moderate amounts of fruits with a lower sugar content, as will people on the ML Core Plan. I encourage those attempting the Advanced Plan to consume very little, if any fruit. Fruits with higher sugar content, like bananas and mangos, dump more sugar into our body than most of us need, preventing us from using fat as our number one energy source.
Neither the Paleo diet or the Maximized Living Nutrition Plan present a one-size-fits-all approach. With either, there is no calorie counting, weekly weigh-ins, or macro calculating. Both diets allow for some variability based on a person’s genetic background, activity levels, and overall health goals. If fruit is something you enjoy, stick with low sugar, high fiber fruits like berries and green apples, and consume them moderately in small servings.
What about desserts? Reducing or eliminating simple sugars leaves Paleo eaters with a challenge when it comes to satisfying their sweet cravings. It is not uncommon to come across dessert recipes online that claim to be Paleo-friendly. These desserts tend to use a wide assortment of lower-glycemic sweeteners. It is my opinion that, for too long, nutritionists have used the glycemic-index of sweeteners as a measure of “goodness”. You are likely to come across Paleo eaters who consume agave nectar, coconut sugar, pure maple syrup, pure honey, and even raw organic cane sugar. That’s not truly Paleo, and definitely not Maximized. These options just might safer on the glycemic index. Take honey, for example. Though it has been around forever and was likely foraged by our ancestors, Cordain points out that even honey in its raw, natural form is still 40% fructose, 200% sweeter than glucose.(6) Along with fructose content, both acidity and inflammation rating should also be considered when it comes to sweeteners. When following the Paleo or Maximized diet closely, it is best to keep these kinds of sweeteners as a rare treat, and consider using the leaf from the stevia plant world when not using actual, whole fruits to sweeten meals. Stevia weighs in with at ZERO on the calorie count as well as on the glycemic index.
As mentioned above, choosing organic options is the preferred way to maximize your health, no matter which diet you are following. Fruits, vegetables, and meats that are not Certified Organic may contain pesticides and hormones that can cause serious damage to your body. Not only do these toxins load your body with unnatural stress, they also increase your risk of certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes. Reducing the risk of toxin exposure is a core value in both the Maximized Living Nutrition Plans and Paleo diets.
Dairy, once promoted as one of the healthiest foods for your body, has within the last decade or so come under fire from the natural health world. We do admit that the closer the dairy product is to its natural source, the fewer troubles it will create for you. Unfortunately, you generally don’t find it in that state. If you choose to consume dairy, get it from organic, naturally-raised sources that have undergone as little processing as possible. Processed cheeses, drinkable yogurts, or anything of the like should definitely be avoided. If a white beverage is something you like to have in your diet, but must avoid dairy, consider unsweetened almond or coconut milk as healthy alternatives.
Deciding what is Best for You
Mastering the Maximized Living/Paleo lifestyle is all about learning what works for you. It has been my experience that the best method to “go Paleo” is to go cold turkey. The first 14 days are the toughest to get through as one’s taste buds re-sensitize, but after 2 weeks cravings for sugar typically disappear.
But, if following the Advanced Plan or going full paleo is too much, consider a 90-10 diet. While the majority of your diet may be Paleo, you may choose to include dairy, legumes, or an occasional “cheat meal” in your nutrition plan; this is what many Crossfit athletes choose to do and refer to it as “Paleo-ish.”
The Maximized Living and Paleolithic lifestyles are far more alike than they are different and both can be highly beneficial for your body and overall well-being. The refinements set out in the Maximized Nutrition Plans absolutely enhance those of the Paleo diet by increasing all healthy lifestyles and maximizing your way of living free from disease.