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Caveman cuisine: A small but enthusiastic group of Winnipeggers have adopted the paleo diet

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Laura Allard hasn't just gone old-school, she's gone pre-historic school.

The coach for women in business and owner of Plain Jane Ink has adopted a paleo diet. Far from a fad, it consists of food that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have survived on during the paleolithic era - the time period from about 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago.

That includes fresh meats such as grass-eating or free-ranging beef, pork, lamb, poultry and game meat, plus seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and other things such as coconuts and avocados.

"It's the caveman diet," Allard said. "It's not only what you eat, it's what you eat eats. You don't want to ingest hormone-laded meats that are mass-produced at a factory. It has to be from a local grower and chemical- and antibiotic-free."

Paleo also spills over into what you drink. So, water and wine are OK, but any frosty cold beverage that you might like to consume on a patio on a hot summer day (beer) is out because it contains grain. Pop of any kind is also forbidden.

Kristen Mitteness, a chiropractor at Corydon Chiropractic Centre, is another paleo believer. She said how you fuel your body plays into how your cells function.

"It's just like a car. You want to put a certain type of fuel in so it runs the way it's supposed to," she said. "We can feed our bodies junk food or the real food that it needs to thrive. That regulates our hormones and optimizes our genetic function."

Other foods paleo purists don't touch include cereal, oatmeal, granola, cake and cookies.

"It's all so processed and refined. You're just feeding yourself empty calories," Mitteness said.

If you've got a green thumb, grow vegetables in your garden and visit market gardens as much as possible, too, Allard said.

The vegetable growers who sell out of their driveways on north Henderson Highway are "about as pure as you can get."

"Buying local produce is very important (to go paleo). It's a total lifestyle change," she said.

But there's more to it for Allard than just taking a stance against preservatives. As an arthritis and chronic pain sufferer, she has noticed that channelling her inner cavewoman has caused the inflammation in her body to decrease.

"I didn't have a really concrete understanding of the way it can affect how your body works. It's amazing the level of inflammation that has gone down in my body. I should have taken (before-and-after) pictures of my wrists," she said, noting paleo purists embrace cross-fit workouts and many of them run barefoot.

There is a small but enthusiastic group of paleo disciples in Winnipeg. More than 100 of them follow a group on Facebook, while about 30 are members of a supper club, which is co-ordinated by Allard and Mitteness.

Once every couple of months, members visit different restaurants around town and are shown how to eat paleo. If you go to a Chinese food restaurant, that means only ordering dishes with vegetables, meats and greens in it. If you go to Little Italy, scratch the pasta in favour of the roasted-chicken dinner and a salad. If you're feeling like reliving New Year's in Mazatlan, get a burrito, but without the tortilla (you can get lettuce, meat, cilantro and jalapenos in a bowl).

Allard is quick to admit it's not easy.

"It's work. But once you get into the swing of it, it's OK. Sometimes it's difficult to stick to and you fall off the wagon," she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 D16

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