The Paleo Experiment (3): Food or Fuel?

One of the mantras of the Paleo diet is “Food is Fuel!”  In other words, you don’t choose food primarily because it tastes good, but because it makes your body run well.  In today’s post I’d like to examine this mindset.

Dr. Loren Cordain, leading Paleo author, writes:

“Fruits and vegetables provide us with natural bulk and fiber to fill up our stomachs. Because they are low-glycemic, they also normalize our blood sugar and reduce our appetites. The protein in lean meats satisfies our hunger pangs rapidly and lets us know when we are full. Two skinless chicken breasts for dinner may be filling-and two more might be impossible. Can we say the same for pizza slices?… Fake foods destroy our appetites, allowing us to eat more than what we need.”

If food is fuel, then we can compare a human body to a car.  Cars run on gas; put wiper fluid in the tank and it ruins the engine.  Likewise, when you try to run your body on cheese, chips, fatty meats and refined sugar, you are actually destroying your body’s engine.  Paleo is about finding the best possible fuel for the human machine.

So what does “premium fuel” taste like?  Like almonds.

Seriously, the first thing we learned was that almonds are a substitute for almost anything.  For breakfast, we would eat paleo pancakes (one cup of almond butter, two eggs, one banana, fruit on top) with a side of almond milk.

For lunch, we made paleo pizza (almond meal + eggs + rosemary for the crust, fresh vegetables, mushrooms and chicken on top).  Dinner was usually some type of lean meat or fish with vegetables on the side (but at least no almonds).  We would usually eat a small bowl of fresh fruit for dessert.

The very idea of food as fuel, however, defeats the whole purpose of dessert. Dessert is about decadence, pleasure, savoring – taste.   Without sugar, all of the Paleo dessert recipes were disgusting.  We tried paleo candy bars, made with cocoa, nuts and unsweetened coconut.  Then we melted them back down and added raw honey.  A huge improvement.  We tried paleo chocolate cake (sweetened with agave sweetener), and after a couple of bites, it ended up in the trash can.

And yet, we were starting to feel great!  We felt less lethargic.  Prior digestive issues disappeared.  And I started crushing my workouts at the CrossFit gym.  Maybe there was something to be said about putting the right kind of gas in my tank.  And maybe, given enough time, my appetite would adjust.

But there was a problem I couldn’t get over:

Isn’t the human body more than a machine?

And isn’t food more than fuel?

Because the predominant message that the Scriptures give regarding food is this: food is a gift.

Yes, it is a gift with a functional purpose – to fuel the human body.  But like all gifts, it is also meant to bring joy.

Which means that taste matters. But how much?

And that’s the subject of my next post.

Question: How do you keep “good-tasting” and “good-for-you” in balance?

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7 thoughts on “The Paleo Experiment (3): Food or Fuel?

    • I probably exaggerated a bit in describing how many almonds we ate, because it seriously felt like everything used almonds as a substitute. But from the limited research I’ve done, its seems that though almonds are a source of fat, they are a “healthy” fat. I read an article on this that I was trying to locate this morning. The site you listed doesn’t go into details as to why almonds are on his limit or avoid list, and it is a little confusing since he says, “from most to least hazardous” and then his list is backwards (right?). Also, what are your thoughts on eggs? There is so much variety in opinion on this from nutritionists, cardiologists, etc. but most of the paleo plans I have seen don’t really limit eggs. In addition to almonds, we felt like we had tripled our normal intake of eggs.

  1. I’m really interested in this, especially since you said that it helped you to crush your workouts. I’m thinking I need to gear up nutrition for the marathon in Oct. You’re giving me some things to think about…

  2. ha!

    this question tears me apart…

    i have an EXTREMELY difficult time balancing what tastes good and what is good for you. for me, dieting is BY FAR the most difficult part of being “healthy.” i go to the gym and am active on a regular basis, yet just a few weeks ago i had all-you-can-eat sushi twice in a week…

    although i will say that if i ever embarked on the paleo diet, almond milk would be crutch along the way. it is delicious!

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