Editor’s Note: I am not a vegetarian, nor do I ever plan to be, but eating a Paleolithic amount of meat has proven to be a dilemma for me. Do you eat Paleo? I would really love some feedback on what you and those you cook for think about such a high level of meat consumption. Also, if you have any good meat-free Paleo recipes I would really like to hear about them.
Our gym is in the final week of the Paleo challenge, and I have been eating (mostly) Paleo now for almost a month. I have lost a few pounds, but it’s comparable to what I lost in my 1st month of CrossFit without eating Paleo, so it’s hard to say what role the diet has played in that. I haven’t noticed that I’ve been sleeping better or WODing harder or recovering faster. In general, I’m really not sure that Paleo has “done it” for me.
To be fair, I have not been a total Paleo purist this month. But I will say that in the past 25 days I have eaten just 1 piece of bread as a last resort to calm an upset stomach, zero cheese except for the box of mac & cheese I ate that one night, and have drastically cut back my beer intake from 5-10 beers a week down to 1-2 at the most. I haven’t had one cookie, piece of candy, or a single cup of coffee. I have, however, eaten at least 7 POUNDS of cashews. Also probably 10-15 sweet potatoes, the equivalent of several chickens, at least one pig’s worth of bacon, and dozens of eggs. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have eaten more beef in the past month than I had in the past year combined.
And I think that’s the issue. I just don’t feel good when I eat that much animal. I know I’ve said this before, but pre-Paleo I would only eat meat 2-3 times a week, and it was usually chicken. On other nights I would eat whole grain pasta, veggie stir fry with brown rice, or veggie tacos on corn tortillas. I tried this week to come up with some meals that are Paleo but don’t have any meat in them, but it’s hard to get very much protein since traditional non-meat protein options (beans and dairy) aren’t allowed. Some vegetables, like asparagus and brussel sprouts, are relatively high in protein for being a vegetable, but still only offer around 3g of protein per serving. Compare that to at least 7g of protein in a serving of beef, or 6.5g of protein in an egg, and I’m just not sure I could fit enough vegetables in my body to provide the protein that I need to adequately rebuild my muscles after CrossFit.
I also can’t really ignore the environmental impacts of eating that much meat. Even grass-fed farms, despite their desire to return to a more natural way of farming, aren’t infinitely sustainable. I understand that grass-fed is better for the animal and the meat is better for us, but I have been thinking a lot about an Op-Ed I read from the New York Times on April 12th that said, “If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs).” It also talks about the fact that grazing cows and chickens release considerably more methane than those that are grain-fed. The problem, ultimately, is not the way that the animals are raised, but the sheer volume of meat that is being produced. Kind of hard to want to eat meat 3x/day when you think about even the possibility of those statistics being true. (If you are interested in these issues, I would highly recommend the article, which can be found here.)
There are a lot of things I like about Paleo. I have learned a lot about the sneaky places that sugar hides, learned that I don’t need to top everything with cheese or eat it on a bed of grains, and I have never been so hydrated in my life. I have learned a lot from just the exercise of paying close attention to what I eat. I have read and heard a lot of evidence that has convinced me to really cut back on the amount of gluten that I allow into my system.
But when I think about eating healthy, the first word that comes to my mind is “moderation.” I have never been one to believe in completely depriving or saturating your diet with any one thing, or that there is any single trick that will suddenly make you healthier and skinnier. I plan on continuing to eat meat, just not so much of it. I also plan on re-introducing brown rice, beans, goat cheese, and even some regular potatoes into my diet. And I don’t plan on eating cashews again for a while.