Food & Drink

Ending skepticism of Paleo diet

The Paleo (short for Paleolithic) diet popped up on my radar screen nearly 10 years ago. I didn't think much about that new diet then, believing it was, for the most part, an historical-based revision of Dr. Atkins' high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate food plan and a fad.

Turns out, that wasn't quite right.

The Paleo diet's hung in there for nearly a decade and it doesn't seem to be the passing fad I believed it would be. Here's an example.

Meet the Mayfields, Julie and Charles, authors of the "Weeknight Paleo: 100+ Easy and Delicious Family-Friendly Meals" cookbook, and their two children. They seem to be an all-American family, but with a twist: They follow the "Paleo" food plan and have since 2008. How the Mayfields defined that food plan and lifestyle enlightened me about what is a day-to-day Paleo food plan. In fact, I discovered that, for much of it, I currently eat nearly the same way as the Mayfields.

The Mayfields’ Paleo basic food plan includes " ... meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fats." Their meats come from grass-fed, pasture-raised or wild-caught origins. That's me, too.

I believe it's wise to stay far away from all CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) finished beef, pork and chicken. I don't ever eat farmed seafood, like farmed shrimp or salmon. I'll save my long list of reasons for another column.

In their own words, the Mayfields "...strive to make our plates or bowls half full of vegetables, include fats at all our meals, and try to eat as seasonally and locally as possible.”

That's also me. My most recent Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box arrived today with head of lettuce, scallions, spinach, broccoli, fennel and chard. Yummm. The only reason I wouldn't bump into the Mayfields at our Durham farmers market is they live in Georgia.

The Mayfields go with butter from grass-fed cows. They'll use some whipping cream from the same source. They eat eggs from chickens that have never, e-v-e-r seen an antibiotic and live in the outdoors, as chickens are supposed to. In other words, nutritious foods.

The Mayfields quote Michael Ruhlman, who wrote in The Washington Post, "Our food is not healthy, we will be healthy if we eat nutritious foods that make us feel healthy."

On a typical day, the Mayfields might eat: "...broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, squash, sauerkraut, a kale salad, sweet potato, some grilled chicken, scrambled eggs, bacon and some pork tenderloin." As well as avocado oil, olive oil, and grass-fed butter.

Not exactly meat-centric. No.

The "we-stay-away-from-these foods" are fairly obvious. Grains are out (empty calories and the nutrients and fiber can come from more nutritionally dense foods); legumes (such as peas, beans, and lentils) are out, too (same reason as grains). Except for butter and cream, dairy's off the table, too. All processed foods, sugars and alcohol aren't on the Mayfields’ mealtime agenda either.

The Mayfields’ cookbook does not include any nutritional information. They've learned to eat until they are satisfied and stop. No need to count calories. They lead active lives and own and operate a CrossFit business.

Their book contains more than 100 recipes and nearly as many pictures; making it easy to prepare Paleo-friendly weeknight meals. There are slow-cooker recipes, one-dish meals and some special fixings like Avocado Soup with Scallops and One-Pan Roast Salmon with Asparagus. There's even a recipe for Flourless Chocolate Mini Cakes.

This book is by regular folks, like you and me, sharing their family recipes, many of which are kid-friendly.

I did the nutritional analysis for this sample recipe. The pork sausage is from where nearly all the fat (88 percent) comes. Too much? Draining off the fat after cooking the sausage will drop the calories and the fat significantly. Give it a try.

Don Mauer may be reached at

Spicy Sausage Gumbo

2 pounds bulk pork sausage

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 medium sweet onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons Cajun Spice Mix (store-bought)

1/4 cup coconut flour

3 cups diced, canned tomatoes

4 cups chicken stock, store-bought or homemade

3 cups chopped okra

2 cups riced cauliflower

1 bunch green onions, sliced

In a large Dutch oven, cook the sausage over medium-high heat. Use a wooden spoon to break up the sausage into small bits as it cooks. Transfer to a large bowl when cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Return the Dutch oven to the heat and add the coconut oil. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and Cajun seasoning, stirring frequently for about a minute.

Add the coconut flour and stir to coat all the onions. As the mixture begins to brown, add the tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes.

Pour in the chicken stock along with the okra and cauliflower. Cover and bring to a quick boil.

Once boiling, return the sausage to the pan, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Serve with a healthy garnish of green onion. Serves 6 to 8.

Variations: There are quite a few common substitutions you can use for this recipe. Any type of bulk sausage (chorizo, country, Italian) can be used and we encourage you to play around with what tastes best to you. We love using seafood stock for this recipe and occasionally swap the cauliflower with shredded cabbage. Serves 8.

— From "Weeknight Paleo: 100+ Easy and Delicious Family-Friendly Meals," by Charles and Julie Mayfield

Nutrition values per serving: 442 calories (69 percent from fat), 34.1 g fat (13.4 g saturated fat), 8.9 g carbohydrates, 2.5 g sugars, 3.7 g fiber, 21 g protein, 82 mg cholesterol, 998 mg sodium.