Nell Stephenson is the founder of Paleoista, a comprehensive health + wellness coaching platform she has built over the past 20 years which includes mindful eating, healthy cooking, exercise, and safe skincare. We recently spoke with Nell to get more information about what characterizes an authentic Paleo diet, and to learn about the myriad of benefits that this lifestyle approach can provide.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to start Paleoista?
I founded Paleoista (and titled my first solo book with the same name) in an effort to make an authentic Paleo approach to eating more inviting to the masses, since not everyone is interested in what is often referred to as a “Caveman” diet. Back when I first connected with my mentor, Dr. Loren Cordain, Ph.D., in the early 2000s, there wasn’t nearly the awareness of how we can easily mimic what our ancestors ate with foods readily available to us in our own back yards and farmer’s markets. I wrote Paleoista as the guide I wish I could have found when I was first getting started with eating this way on my own.
Why has the Paleo Diet remained one of the few nutritional programs that has stood the test of time (unlike a lot of those “fad” diets)?
A true Paleo diet is actually very much a common-sense approach. It combines lots of fresh, local, seasonal veggies with moderate portions of wild fish and grass-fed meats as well as good portions of a variety of natural fats. When you combine that with avoiding packaged, highly-processed items, you end up with a simple and basic foundation to build an eating regimen for yourself and your family.
Finish this sentence: “To improve the odds of sticking with the Paleo diet once you start, it really helps to have…”
…an understanding of what the authentic approach is as opposed to a more “trendy” style. These days, packaged items marked “Paleo” line the shelves of health food markets, grocery stores, and online shopping sites; and it’s easy to confuse eating these as a core part of one’s diet with mindfully and strategically incorporating them if and when they make sense. It’s one thing to bake a batch of grain-free, no sugar added, honey-almond-date brownies and serve them for your child’s birthday party; it’s another to rely on Paleo bread, Paleo energy bars, Paleo protein shakes, and Paleo pasta day in and day out.
How has the Paleo diet impacted your marathon and Ironman training and fitness levels?
I stumbled upon Paleo after years and years of being very ill with every GI issue in the book. It took many doctor visits, numerous ER trips, and several misdiagnoses to finally figure out on my own that it was mainly due to eating gluten and soy. I followed what I learned during my studies in exercise physiology and nutrition and discovered what an athlete should be eating: a diet with 70% of calories coming from grain-based carbs. In my case, that led me to being quite sick, not able to perform to the best of my ability, and not able to achieve the lean body weight I was working so hard for.
It wasn’t until I began to think outside the box that I was able to learn that grains can be quite inflammatory; and when I began letting my body transition to using fat as its fuel, I began to allow my gut to heal and my body to begin to shed extra pounds. That started me on a path where I went from being a very average age group athlete to earning a slot in the Ironman World Championships eight times. Last year, I ranked #2 in my age group. I share this not to boast, but to encourage readers to keep forging ahead and being their own detectives if they’re trying to go beyond what they think they may be capable of.
When you go out to eat, are you finding that restaurants are becoming more accommodating for Paleo dieters? Or is it still difficult to find true Paleo food choices?
There is definitely more awareness about the issue, but it is always still a good idea to ask questions. Finding out which items have gluten, soy, or whichever other foods or food components one might react to is essential. But at the same time, there are going to be times when we simply have to make a choice among a few not-so-great options. Eating a serving of canned tuna made into a salad with some chopped romaine lettuce which is not organic is still a better option than a big plate of pasta in a sauce made of vegetable oils with breaded chicken added to it.
What advice would you give someone who wants to try the Paleo diet but who absolutely loves carbs?
In The Paleo Diet, Dr. Cordain points out that a true Paleo approach actually consists of roughly 28-42% carbohydrates which primarily come from vegetables. While I have found that a balance of a lower percentage of calories from carbs in order to create more of a high-fat Paleo approach works best for me, others who may need a bit more carbs can simply add more veggies and low-sugar, high-fiber fruit (such as berries) in moderation. For those who crave carbs in the sense of sugary, refined carbs (such as breads, pastas, and the like), many would benefit from taking inventory of what they’re eating to assess what is causing them to feel the craving in the first place. Often, this can be traced back to not eating in balance earlier in the day, which creates an imbalanced blood sugar level.
Tell us about some of the Paleo options when it comes to desserts and sweets.
it’s simple to create a Paleo-ish version of many recipes. The trick is to not fool yourself into thinking that just because a dessert recipe has honey instead of sugar or stevia instead of corn syrup that it suddenly makes it a good idea to eat this type of food often. I recommend something simple; and in my opinion, if you’re going to have a treat, it should include chocolate and fat.
Another great idea is fresh berries with “cream” made using coconut butter or fresh coconut meat if you happen to live somewhere tropical. If you are somebody who is mostly Paleo but incorporates a more primal approach that includes dairy products, you can serve berries with full fat, 100% grass-fed whipping cream. It’s not exactly Paleo, but it is a far better option than a sugary dessert!
Finally, could you share one of your favorite simple-and-quick Paleo recipes with us?
Truffles! They were featured my first time on Dr. Oz:
- 1/2 cup raw cacao nibs ground in a nut grinder, plus a little extra for dusting
- 1/4 cup virgin coconut oil, warmed
- 1/4 cup coconut butter, warmed
- 1/4 cup creamy raw almond butter
- 1/4 cup raw honey
- 1/4 tsp finely grated orange zest (optional)
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated cinnamon
Combine the cacao nibs, coconut oil, coconut butter, almond butter, and honey, (and orange zest if using) in a medium bowl. Stir with a wooden rounded spoon until well combined. Place the bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes to harden slightly.
Using a teaspoon to measure portions, scoop out mixture and roll in your palms into 1-inch balls. Roll in the extra ground nibs and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place in tiny foil candy cups and then in a small “candy box” for presentation. Store in fridge for one to two days. Best eaten fresh!
Looking for a gift for the Paleo dieter on your list? Check out Foody Direct’s gift selection today!