Are you ready to go caveman?
Because this is what the Paleo diet is all about. The premise is simple enough: human genetics have scarcely changed since the agricultural age, which marked the end of the Paleolithic era 15,000 years ago, so the food we consume ought to stay the same: meat, fish, fresh fruit and non-starchy vegetables.
Although it's been around since the mid-1970s, the diet has seen a resurgence over the past two years in the United States and the United Kingdom. The trend has gained popularity in Dubai with the opening of the Cycle Bistro in Motor City and Daintree Food (www.daintreefood.com), which doubles as a food-delivery company.
What is the Paleo diet?
It’s a call for a return to the time of the hunter-gatherer, when only natural, unprocessed foods were eaten. So, no dairy, grains, legumes, refined sugars or processed meals.
The modern Paleo movement (short for Paleolithic) was promoted by Dr Loren Cordain, a professor at Colorado State University’s department of health and exercise science, who belongs to a growing number of doctors who argue that these preservative-free foods can allegedly go a long way in preventing and treating heart disease, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and even diabetes and cancer.
Facing the facts
Perhaps one reason why the Paleo diet has made it past the temporary fad phase is that it’s based on scientific fact: more people are developing food allergies, while diseases abound that did not exist 50 years ago.
Jeffrey Zorn, the founder of Dubai’s Daintree Food, is a personal trainer from the US. Zorn says his clients were not seeing any results because of their diet, and began to prepare food for seven clients, daily delivering a day’s worth of Paleo meals and snacks to each.
He now has 15 clients on his list, and has moved his kitchen to a space in Al Quoz licensed by the Dubai Health Authority.
Zorn has followed a Paleo-style diet for four years but does not want to be branded entirely as Paleo because “it is more about just eating healthy”.
But Zorn is quick to issue a circumspect disclaimer: “What we do isn’t medical. We refer clients to medical experts when tests are needed for things such as hormone imbalances.”
What’s on your plate?
A typical Daintree menu might consist of tuna and homemade guacamole salad for breakfast, chicken Alfredo with courgette “pasta” (shaved courgette) for lunch, and artichoke- and-lamb meatloaf with roasted Brussels sprouts for dinner.
“Traditional carbs are reinvented to be satisfying – from courgette noodles to cauliflower rice,” says Marcella Thomas, a teacher from the US who has been on the Paleo diet for a year and the Daintree plan for five months. “I also like the holistic emphasis – meals that are Paleo and also gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb, egg-free, soy-free and refined- sugar-free.”
Thomas says she lost 4.5 kilos in the first six weeks on Daintree: “I sleep better, my energy levels are stable, my skin and hair are bright.”
A simple philosophy
The Cycle Bistro, which opened last year, is a project pursued passionately by the Emirati Paleo enthusiast and cyclist Khalid Al Zarooni and Sam Sayadan, who runs the Cycle Hub, the shop where the cafe is based.
Zarooni had been on the Paleo diet for three years and decided to open a restaurant that promoted his personal experience, with a menu of wholesome food – main courses plus salads, smoothies, sweets and fresh coffee from the company’s local roaster. And there are vegetarian, gluten and sugar-free options.
Chris Zerbe, the chef at the Cycle Bistro, says the restaurant was an integration of two passions. “The Cycle Bistro was a way to combine two great aspects in their lives – cycling and, of course, healthy food. Cyclists are athletes and need nutrition that matches the output of energy they exude. However, even those who are not athletes need simple, balanced nutrition to sustain themselves at work, at play and even at rest. And we go beyond Paleo – we respect and commend those who are vegetarian or pescatarian or vegan. These are also lifestyles that we support and our menus revolve around. We are here to serve quality food that anyone can afford, no matter your lifestyle choice.”
Is it for everyone?
But is there such a thing as a one-size-fits-all diet? Keith Littlewood, a functional medicine specialist from Balanced Body Mind (balancedbodymind.com), a physiotherapy clinic in Dubai, says probably not, especially long-term.
“High-protein diets, low-carb diets – they all have their issues that contribute to ill health if you follow them for long periods,” says Littlewood. “It has also been suggested that Paleolithic people did die from heart disease. Seeds are often recommended as part of the Paleo diet, but seeds, nuts and their oils pose significant health problems as many of the oils go rancid and nuts can suppress digestion.”
Littlewood says the diet may help you lose weight in the short term, but there can be negative long-term effects.
“I have seen many people who have followed these types of diets who complain of low energy, poor sleep and digestion,” he says. “Utilising fat and proteins as fuel produce more metabolic byproducts than utilising carbohydrates, which can be far more stressful on the body.”
• Daintree's customised meal delivery plan costs Dh5,500 per month. Email email@example.com. The Cycle Bistro is in Motor City and open from 8am to 8pm; call 04 425 6555