Back to the Stone Age with the Paleo Diet: Why some TN people say no to sambhar saadham

The Paleo diet involves eating like our cavemen ancestors.
Back to the Stone Age with the Paleo Diet: Why some TN people say no to sambhar saadham
Back to the Stone Age with the Paleo Diet: Why some TN people say no to sambhar saadham
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In our times, nobody in polite society can get away with behaving like a caveman. But eat like a caveman, and you’ll find millions of people giving you company.

 And Tamil Nadu is no exception. If A is for Anarkali and B is for Biryani, P is for the Paleo diet, which is turning out to be as popular in the state. On Sunday, an event conducted in Tirupur by a Facebook group, “Arokiyam & Nal Vaazhvu” (Health and Good Life), which promotes the Paleo diet, saw over 4000 attendees.

“Arokiyam & Nal Vaazhvu”, started by US-based Neander Selvan, has over a lakh members practising a variant of the Paleo diet. 

What is the Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet basically involves following the eating habits of early humans. Started by Jamie Scott, a nutritionist from New Zealand, the Paleo has caught the imagination of fitness and health enthusiasts across continents, including Hollywood A-listers.

A strict Paleo diet would mean a high fat diet with little to no carbs and a substantial protein intake. No sugar, gluten (grains) or dairy. Fruits and vegetables are all right. Processed foods are the devil.

Speaking to The News Minute, Shankar Ji, one of the admins of the group who works in the automobile industry, said, “In our version of the Paleo, we permit dairy products like full fat milk, ghee and butter. The Western Paleo diet is rich in beef and pork, which not everyone in India eats. There are also many vegetarians here, so we have modified the diet.”

Can your body take the Paleo?

On the group, new members are required to take a range of blood tests and post their results. A ‘senior’ member in the group (not necessarily a medical professional) looks at the results and prescribes a diet to the concerned person.

Shankar says the group has many doctors and nutritionists too, people from the medical fraternity who have turned to the Paleo life after becoming patients of lifestyle diseases themselves.

26-year-old Benazir, also from Tamil Nadu, currently lives in Dubai. She tried the Paleo, based on internet research, but quit in a few days. After joining the “Arokiyam” group, though, Benazir says she lost 5kg in a month’s time.

Benazir, living in Dubai without medical insurance, has not done the required blood tests. “I know I’m healthy,” she says. “But usually, it’s advisable that people submit the blood test results to the group. My aunt adopted this diet two and a half years ago and developed kidney stones. The doctor told her that this was because she had consumed too many nuts and that her calcium intake was too high.”

31-year-old Nithya Jeypal, a group member from Chennai, reports suffering from headaches and nausea in the initial period after adopting the Paleo, withdrawal symptoms that other Paleo diet followers commonly experience as well.

Dr Bruno, a neurosurgeon from Chennai, says that the Paleo diet can be effective only if the person who intends to follow it has a body type that has good fat metabolism. “If it’s not so, it’s not going to work. The effects vary according to a person’s biochemistry. People should consult their physician before embarking on this. The Paleo diet is a treatment and should be considered as such.”

Why do people turn to the Paleo?

Obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, high cholesterol levels, heart disease and fertility issues are some of the common reasons why people go the Paleo way.

43-year-old Ganesh, an IT worker in Bengaluru, says that over a year ago, he was extremely obese, suffered frequent migraines and was unable to walk beyond a few metres. His friend, who wanted to knock off a few kilos, discovered “Arokiyam & Nal Vaazhvu” and switched to the Paleo life, hitting his target weight in a couple of months. This inspired Ganesh to adopt the same method.

Ganesh’s wife first thought the Paleo was a bad idea, but was convinced when he lost 6kg in just 15 days. Now, Ganesh is still on the diet and his wife has joined him. Ganesh claims the Paleo has improved his immunity levels too.

Neander, the group’s founder, says he has a family history of diabetes, heart attacks, stroke and dementia, and was a vegetarian from birth, following a strict low-fat diet. But he still got diabetes and hypertension when he was 39. His doctor in the US advised him to eat less, but Neander found that he couldn’t last on a vegetarian, vegan or any other diet. He did his research and discovered the Paleo.

Neander says, “On my 40th birthday I made a decision and jumped on the Paleo bandwagon. I ate fish for the first time in my life.” He finally felt satiated after eating non-veg food along with vegetables and nuts. “I was losing weight like crazy and realized that this is what my body has been craving for more than 40 years.” Neander claims that in 3 months, his diabetes and hypertension were cured.

He then started his Facebook group in 2013, with just 30 members. Now the group has grown to over 1,00,000 members.

Benazir believes the Paleo helped her lose weight, resolve her PCOS problem and become pregnant. She went back to it after she delivered her baby and stopped exclusive breastfeeding. She lost her pregnancy weight gain – about 16kg – in six months and continues with the diet except in the month of Ramadan. “I do cheat during the weekends,” Benazir says. “But the Paleo is a lifestyle change and I’m never going back.”

Can vegetarians go Paleo?

While Benazir is a meat-eater, Ganesh is a vegetarian. In India where even KFC has vegetarian options, there’s a vegetarian version of the Paleo too!

Ganesh recalls, “When I started, I’d begin a day by eating 60-70 almonds. Breakfast was a cup of raw coconut.”  For lunch, he’d have vegetables cooked with coconut or “kootu”, a South Indian dish made with dal and vegetables. Dinner was a cup of paneer butter masala. With what? “Just paneer butter masala,” laughs Ganesh. “Or paneer burji. A cup of cauliflower at times.”

Diet with a pinch of salt

Like any other diet, the Paleo has its share of nay-sayers. Raj Ganpath, who along with Arvind Ashok founded The Quad, a popular fitness center in Chennai, questions how sustainable the Paleo diet is in a developing nation like ours.

He points out that the commercially available eggs, seafood, and meat that Paleo fans eat here are far lower on nutritional value than the recommended free-range, non-vegetarian foods. He also says that the whole milk available in supermarkets are made from milk solids and that the vegetables are full of pesticides. So “doing it right” is a huge challenge.

Moreover, the diet has been criticized for discounting the role of carbs in human evolution and their contribution to boosting human brain evolution.

Though the quick results offered by the Paleo have won it diehard fans, it's still a major lifestyle change that needs to be thought through. Or you may end up eating your chickens before they hatch.

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