Book reviews

Book Review: Practical Paleo

Title: Practical Paleo – A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-foods Lifestyle

Author: Diane Sanfilippo

Published: 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 415

Availability: widely available in bookstores and on amazon

Reviewed by : Rebekah Le Magny

I think I first heard of the term « Paleo » a few years ago.  Just another crazy diet to avoid, I thought, like the Zone, Atkins, South Beach, Slimfast.  Now, I see « Paleo » every way I turn, – cookbooks, blogs, recipes, forums – yes even in France (!?!?).  On a side note, I feel compelled to inform you that Frenchwomen do indeed get fat; the French may drink wine at lunch on workdays and consume the most delicious cheeses and the famous foie gras, but then they go one strict régime the following day. Diet products abound and many a French woman I know has gone on the protein diet, the Atkins diet and something called the Dukan diet, which I think may be similar to Atkins.  Oh and by the way, French children are just as bratty as Americans.  But I digress.  Back to Paleo.  The term was apparently coined by Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, who was inspired by Boyd Eaton’s (M.D) scientific paper, Paleolithic Nutrition: A Consideration of its Nature and Current Implications.  The concept, however, dates back to gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin in 1975.  Eaton and several others developed it further.  Cordain has trademarked the term « Paleo Diet ».

I have never been one to believe in diets.  The last time I went on a diet was when I was a freshman in college, unless you count the time when, prior to a colonoscopy, I was forced to only eat white food for three days (which caused me to throw myself onto every colorful food in sight once it was over and gain two pounds in the process).  Hence my firm conviction that diets of any sort were bad news.  At some point, however, I began to hear of the Paleo diet and how it helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people overcome symptoms ranging from tendinitis to skin problems to serious illnesses such as thyroid disease and other autoimmune disorders.  I became intrigued, particularly because, despite a pretty healthy lifestyle, my body was going through a rebellious phase at the same time as my preado kids.  I had been dealing with a double piriformis syndrome for two years that, although manageable, did not seem to want to disappear.  I had achy shoulders and sometimes my hand would feel numb.  In addition, I had pelvic pain that I had initially dismissed as « women’s normal issues » but that I was beginning to think might not be so normal.  Would Paleo be the miracle answer to these problems?  Lots of people said that Paleo changed their lives. I decided to check it out…

I read a few blogs (Paleo mom, The Paleo Diet…) and many reviews on Amazon to help me choose the book which would lead me upon my Paleo adventure.  I decided to purchase The Paleo Approach and Practical Paleo. I went with Practical Paleo for my review because it seemed like a friendlier introductory excursion into Paleo land.  The author, Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC, describes herself as a holistic nutritionist « specializing in Paleo nutrition, blood sugar regulation, food allergies/intolerances and digestive health ».  She turned to a full-on Paleo diet after being inspired by a seminar given by Robb Wolf, author of the Paleo Solution.  San Filippo asserts that the Paleo diet healed her gut (digestive system) and balanced her blood sugar, allowing her to resolve the chronic digestive issues, sinus infections and vision deterioration that had ailed her for years.  She has authored four books, Practical Paleo, Meditarrean Paleo Cooking, The 21 Day Sugar Detox and Practical Paleo Holiday e-book.  Sanfilippo sends out weekly newsletters, offers free shopping lists to download, has regular podcasts and travels around the world promoting the Paleo lifestyle.

The book is a hefty 416 pager, divided into three parts.  Part 1 is entitled The Why – Food and Your Body.  It begins with a guide to paleo foods.  In a nutshell, the true Paleo diet requires only whole foods such as meat, seafood, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fats and oils (but not all fats and oils) and eliminates grains (including whole grains), dairy, pretty much every enjoyable beverage, and sugar (certain sweeteners are to be used sparingly).  The book has guides to stocking your pantry, travelling, and eating out.  Apparently, staying Paleo is possible in Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Thai and Indian restaurants, but requires you to ask the server many questions and make a lot of demands that might work in the U.S. where the client is king but almost certainly would get you kicked out of a French restaurant or at least cause the waiter to spit in your vegetables.

The remainder of part 1 describes the role of the brain and each of the digestive organs in the digestive process – stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, intestines and rectum.  Malfunction in any of these will cause problems.  The term « leaky gut » has become a popular term used to described increased intestinal impermeability.  Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged and allow undigested food particles to slip through the intestinal lining without being properly broken down, which in turn causes inflammation because the body’s immune system sees them as harmful.  The inflammation can manifest itself anywhere in the body and become chronic.  According to the book, chronic inflammation is at the heart of most disease and can cause many autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s disease or lupus.

Prior to purchasing the book, I thought that the Paleo diet was primarily a no gluten diet.  Paleo goes much further than that, however, requiring the elimination of all grains, including those that we had considered « super foods », such as quinoa.    No cereals are allowed, nor are legumes such as chickpeas, beans, lentils or peas.  Hmm, I had always read that beans are heart healthy, but according to the book, beans and other legumes, contain anti-nutrients, which the body cannot properly digest.  Furthermore, some vegetables called nightshades, which include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes, could also cause inflammation.  Oh, and some foods contain something called FODMAPS, molecules which can also cause digestive distress – garlic, onions, beets, cauliflowers, among many, many others.  Holy mackerel (mackerel is possibly still Paleo, I think), Batman, what is a girl to eat?!?  Not to worry, because after this rather depressing part 1 comes part 2…… stay tuned!  A short intermission while I try to find some Paleo appropriate snack to calm my hunger pangs…

Back after a short Paleo permitted snack of water.  Part 2 sets out eleven different 30-day meal plans, each addressing a particular issue.  The meal plans are: Autoimmune Conditions; Blood Sugar Regulation; Digestive Health; Thyroid Health; Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue; Neurological Health; Heart Health; Cancer Recovery; Athletic Performance; Fat Loss; and lastly Squeaky Clean Paleo.  Some of the plans overlap and are similar to each other.  Each meal plan section contains diet and lifestyle recommendations, summarizing what to avoid (stress, chemicals…) and what to add (superfoods, well-cooked foods, stress management…).  This part is followed by guides to nutritional supplements and herbs to consider, supportive nutrients and the foods that contain them, and finally, the thirty meal plans themselves.  Part 2 is impeccably organized, with color coded keys, boxed summaries of the main guidelines, detailed cross references to the recipes in the meal plan.  Shopping lists can be found on San Filippo’s website,

Part 3 contains over 120 “easy recipes”.  The term “easy recipes” is the author’s description, not mine.  My idea of an easy recipe is one where I can throw a box in the microwave.  The term “ easy” is however, supported by fairly short prep time for most of the recipes, ten to fifteen minutes.  A few recipes require thirty to forty minutes.  Again, I am not sure that this is entirely truthful.  Each time I have tried a recipe (any recipe, not those in this book), I tend to take twice as long as the stated prep time.  The recipes themselves are beautifully photographed and clearly explained.  They contain modifications to make them nightshade and FODMAP-free.  There are even instructions on how to chop onions, peppers and anything else.   The recipes appear to be mouthwateringly delicious.  I say “appear delicious” because I am embarrassed to say that I prepared both approximately and precisely zero of them.  This is perhaps the moment to confess about my ME (capital M), the Me that lives in my head.  This ideal me is a bad ass version of Martha Stewart, a true renaissance gal who surfs, plays the guitar, surfs, speaks perfect Italian and can also whip up a four course meal in fifteen minutes.  Sadly, my ME has not yet materialized.  But because my lack of culinary competence should not affect my appreciation of the book, I will list some of the delicious looking recipes: Italian style stuffed peppers, lemon rosemary broiled salmon, quick and easy salmon cakes, chocolate coconut cookies and moo-less chocolate mousse.  I was happy to see that eating chocolate is still possible in the Paleo diet.  The mousse looks delicious.  I did try a chocolate mousse recipe that I found on the Internet that involved avocados.  It was a resounding failure.  The recipe in this book, thank goodness, does not contain avocados, although the pistachio mousse does.

I tried to follow a pseudo Paleo routine for about two months.  I did eat many more fruits and vegetables, and gave up sugar and gluten, but was unable to completely give up all grains such as rice or quinoa.  Having just read an article in the NYT about how all of the past contestants of The Biggest Loser permanently screwed up their metabolisms by dieting, I was wary about cutting out too many calories.  Plus, I do not like being hungry.  I did not cut out nightshades or FODMAP foods, since the only vegetables I like fall into one of these two categories.  So the fact that two months after embarking on this journey, my physical state is exactly as it was prior to the routine cannot be conclusive evidence that the Paleo diet does or does not work.  All the aches and pains that I had before are still present and they have actually brought some friends.  Nonetheless, even though I remain primarily a Scully, I do retain a bit of Mulder.  I WANT to believe…  I plan to continue going gluten and sugar-free because I believe that it is healthier than my previous diet and may become even stricter if I continue to have health issues.   And I still believe that one day, I will cook…..

Before I conclude, I must add two side notes, which I could not figure out how to fit into the review. First, when I first received the book, I immediately looked up whether it said I could still have coffee.  The FAQ section in Part 1 stated that I could have one cup of coffee as long as I thought I had a “healthy relationship” with coffee.  Whew!  That was a relief.  The second side note concerns the page on poop – “know your poop – it can teach you a lot”.  Although this part is not one of the more important sections in the book, I am just immature enough to find it hilarious and cannot resist mentioning it.  It contains an illustration called the Poop Pageant, which depicts different poop manifestations – Ms. Ideal, Ms. Runny, Ms. Rocky, Ms. Showoff, Ms. Muscles, Ms. Swim Team and Ms. Toxic.  You are supposed to classify your poop according to these categories and this will be a good indication of your digestive health.  No fears, as I reassured my friend when she worriedly inquired whether I was planning to describe my poop, I have no plans to overshare to that extent.  ;D.

In conclusion, despite my own Paleo shortcomings, Paleo Approach is a great book- well organized, user-friendly, very complete, chock-full of explanations, lists, guides, recipes, photographs, plus the hilarious poop section.  If you are curious about the Paleo diet, this is the book to buy.  San Filippo also has many, many more recipes available on her site and in her newsletter.   Please share your Paleo experiences in the comment sections below the post.