Keeping an open mind is important, even when eating like a caveman.
When Vanessa Bennington and her husband, Charles, took the paleo plunge, they dove into the deep end.
“We were very, very paleo,” Bennington said. “We were really strict with it for several years.”
The pair began eating the caveman way in 2009, after being introduced to the diet through their CrossFit circles. Paleo, which promotes a diet high in lean meats, vegetables and fruits, continues to be a popular lifestyle within fitness circles, particularly CrossFit.
Then the paleo diet drew a hard line — no dairy, no legumes, no grains. By eliminating foods associated with inflammation, like bread and cheese, and favoring foods that your evolutionary ancestors consumed, you could restore your body’s natural balance.
Bennington said she never had the more extreme inflammatory symptoms like joint pain or digestive discomfort that motivated others to ditch dairy and other processed foods. It just seemed like a safe bet to increase her overall health and athletic performance.
“You’re eating vegetables, you’re eating a little bit of fruit, a little bit of nuts. You’re eating lean protein, and I think there is very little wrong with that,” Bennington said. “And when you think about it, eating close to nature … nobody can argue that that’s a bad thing.”
After following the regimen, Bennington said she did start to notice a change.
“I would eat oatmeal and things like that, and I would feel bloated for a long time,” Bennington said. “When I stopped doing that, I noticed after awhile I started feeling better.”
But after following a strict no-grain lifestyle for almost five years, Bennington said something had to give.
“It was hard to fuel the workouts we were doing,” Bennington said. “You’re burning a lot of carbohydrates. And after awhile, if you’re only eating sweet potatoes, it gets kind of old.”
So in 2014, the same year the Benningtons opened Seaward CrossFit in Sarasota’s Rosemary District, they made another change.
“They (the paleo establishment) have kind of changed how they feel about some grains and some starches. We added back in some rice products,” Bennington said. “We have always had sweet potatoes, but (added) some white potatoes.”
As with all diets, new research leads to new conclusions.
The popular paleo diet has changed since its hard stance against all grains.
Many of its proponents now maintain that cooking white potatoes and white rice eliminates the proteins tied to inflammation.
“It was nice to learn that we could eat some rice again,” Bennington said. “If I didn’t learn that, I would be missing out on some food I could eat.”
But for Bennington, the key to staying on top of her health is staying hungry for knowledge.
“Sometimes it’s harder to keep up with everything,” Bennington said. “It’s really fun to learn about that stuff and learn new things and stay open.”
Sweet Potato Chili
(Makes 10 servings)
2 pounds hamburger
1 red onion chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 large can tomato sauce
2 cups petite diced tomatoes
3 cups beef stock
1 cup carrots sliced
5 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 cup chili powder
Dash of oregano
Dash of red pepper flakes
- In a large saucepan, brown hamburger, onions and garlic.
- Drain off the fat.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the saucepan. Mix well, bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 30-40 minutes or until the sweet potatoes and carrots are cooked through.
- Remove and discard the bay leaves. Then serve.