Food is the most powerful thing that we ever put into our bodies. It’s so much more than calories. Think of it as medicine and information for your cells. If chosen wisely, it has the potential to reverse diabetes and other chronic diseases. Eating a nutrient-rich diet is more powerful than any drug when it comes to decreasing risk of disease and as an added bonus, there are no side effects.

It’s because of the power of food that I teamed up with my friends Julie Foucher and Dani Urcuyo and their amazing Train with JF crossfit group for the month of October to do the 30 day Train with JF Paleo Challenge. There’s about 50 of us that signed up for eating a paleo lifestyle for the month of October to reduce our consumption of inflammatory foods and increase our intake of nourishing foods that provide vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

5 Features of the Paleo Diet

The purpose of us participating in the paleo challenge was to optimize our nutrient intake and reset our bodies so that they can function optimally, train harder, and feel better. The paleo diet emphasizes the concept of eating whole foods that provide optimal nutrition. There are a number of different versions of the paleo diet but for the purpose of this challenge we are avoiding gluten, dairy, grains, beans, added sugar (including honey and maple syrup), non-nutritive/artificial sweeteners and alcohol. Research shows that both the paleo and Mediterranean diets are associated with reduced markers of inflammation. The main benefits of following a paleo diet stem from the following features:

Whole Foods

The paleo diet only includes whole foods that come from the earth or from an animal. That means no boxed foods with long ingredient lists, no sugar-filled baked goods, no foods with artificial dyes and colors, and no fast food. Even eating fast food or junk food occasionally can increase risk of disease. Research shows that eating just one fast food meal per week contributes to a 20% increased risk of dying from heart disease. Going back to the basics is the best approach.

Plant-based

Whether you are vegan, paleo, pegan, flexitarian, etc. the basis of any healthy diet is eating mostly plants. As Michael Pollan says, “it if comes from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t”. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber, colorful phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and water that help keep us nourished. Regardless of what diet philosophy you follow, the research consistently demonstrates that a diet that including 7+ servings of fruits and vegetables per day can keep the doctor away.

No Added Sugar

More and more research is showing that sugar is extremely inflammatory and it happens to be in basically every food. Research has shown a strong correlation between added sugar consumption and an increased risk of excessive adiposity, obesity, childhood obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease and tooth decay. A 2013 study estimated that 180,000 deaths worldwide may be attributed to sugar-sweetened beverage intake alone. One of the many problems with sugar is that the more that you have, the more that you crave. The key is to work on cutting out sugar for a period of time to help rewire your taste buds and reduce cravings overtime.

Low Glycemic

Eating a low glycemic diet means that the foods you eat have a low impact on your blood sugar levels, which helps decrease your body’s production of the pro-inflammatory, fat-storing hormone called insulin. The key to a low glycemic diet is pairing lean sources of protein with healthy fats and low glycemic carbohydrates at every meal and snack. More than 40 clinical trials have shown low carbohydrate diets are beneficial for decreasing blood glucose levels in people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes but there may be additional health benefits. One study from 2011 found that four weeks of following a low glycemic diet was associated with reduced markers for Alzheimer’s Disease in elderly adults (?-amyloid (A?) peptide) and lower levels of oxidative stress and insulin.

Gluten-free

Despite what I learned in my undergraduate dietetic classes, you don’t necessarily have to have celiac disease to benefit from a gluten-free diet. After being diagnosed with a gluten intolerance twelve years ago, I’ve followed a gluten-free diet because of the positive impact that removing gluten has had on my own health. A recent study found that individuals diagnosed with a wheat sensitivity, who tested negative for celiac disease, can experience a profound improvement in their health. Those that had a wheat sensitivity (even without celiac disease) had elevated markers of epithelial cell damage that were correlated with an immune response to microbial products after eating gluten.

While there are countless benefits, our processed food society makes it difficult to live a paleo lifestyle without a lot of planning, grocery shopping and meal prepping. The easiest way to make it work is to have great resources. I provided many of my own recipes for our paleo challenge but there are tons of other food bloggers that make a paleo lifestyle much easier and more enjoyable. Follow them for beautiful recipe ideas:

Simply Taylor 

Taylor is a young, energetic dietitian out of Columbus, Ohio. She runs the Simply Taylor Blog that includes whole, nutritious recipes that are paleo friendly. Order a copy of her brand new cookbook, Real Food. Real Simple. Try her yummy new Almond Pesto Zoodles with Chicken & Cherry Tomatoes recipe for some real paleo goodness!

Almond Pesto Zoodles with Chicken + Cherry Tomatoes

Elana’s Pantry

Elana is a veteran paleo blogger. She has been blogging about paleo diets before paleo was even a thing. I love her Paleo Cooking from Elana’s Pantry Cookbook with tons of delicious gluten-free, grain-free recipes. Try her Paleo Porridge recipe which is the perfect paleo breakfast dish!

Paleo Porridge

Dr. Mark Hyman

Dr. Hyman is a functional medicine doctor that not only helps patients regain their health but also provides tons of amazing recipes to help people use food as medicine. His 10-Day Detox Diet Cookbook is loaded with paleo-style recipes. One of my favorite recipes is one that he shared in his BeingBrigid guest blog, the Baked Fish with Steamed Butternut Squash. I also highly recommend his cauliflower rice recipe!

Nourishing Meals

Alissa Segersten is an extremely creative author and food blogger that is passionate about a whole foods lifestyle. I’m such a fan of her first book, the Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and now an even bigger fan of her newest book, the Nourishing Meals Cookbook which is loaded with recipes for the entire family! Now that it is starting to get cold outside, you may want to try her delicious Super Immune-Boosting Chicken Soup recipe.

5 Features of the Paleo Diet

Nutrition Stripped

McKel is a young, bright and passionate dietitian out of Nashville, TN. She provides tons of paleo-style recipe ideas that are not only paleo friendly but mostly plant-based. Get a copy of her latest cookbook for lots of flavorful, plant-based recipes You don’t want to miss out on Mckel’s Stripped Green Smoothie!

Stripped Green Smoothie {single serving}