When it comes to fad diets, Tina Sprinkle has tried them all.
“I’ve done a lot of things wrong,” says Sprinkle, who lives in Fairway and works in the fitness industry. “The low-fat diet, the high-carb diet ... then I tried to outrun my fork.”
Six years ago, she finally found something she could stick with. The paleo diet, a way of eating inspired by hunter-gatherers from the Stone Age, emphasizes grass-raised meat, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and healthy oils.
Paleo has countless variations and interpretations, but many who follow it avoid gluten, dairy, refined sugar and processed foods. Sprinkle says the diet makes her feel strong, lean and full of energy. It’s become a lifestyle for her and others in her circle.
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“I think more and more people are doing it,” she says. “If they don’t call it paleo, they call it clean eating, or eating whole, unprocessed foods.”
Kansas City macro nutritionist Barb Hamilton of KC Whole Nutrition says she encourages her clients to eat that way because it can reduce inflammation, “and inflammation causes illness and disease.”
Hamilton adds that because some people are more sensitive to grains or dairy than others, there’s no one-size-fits-all diet. But she likes that paleo encourages people to fill most of their plate with vegetables and lean protein.
Many Kansas City-area businesses are catering to customers who want to feed their inner cavemen fast.
T. Loft, a health food cafe with locations in Kansas City, Leawood and Lawrence, serves a paleo-friendly Primal Bowl ($8) that consists of chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, red peppers, carrots and cashews drizzled with a gluten-free teriyaki sauce.
Enjoy Pure Food + Drink, 10573 Mission Road, marks several menu items “P” for Paleo. Love At First Bite ($6.75) is a small plate that pairs gluten-free crackers with a roasted red pepper and walnut spread, cucumbers and kalamata olives.
And at ProteinHouse, a new fast-casual cafe at 1345 Main St., customers often order their bison burgers paleo-style — sandwiched in a lettuce wrap or sliced portobello mushroom instead of the standard wheat bun.
There are also at least two Kansas City-area companies that will deliver paleo meals to your door.
Lenexa-based Evolve Paleo Chef started as a personal chef service in 2012. Owner Caleb Fechter had just graduated from culinary school when he scored his first client, a CrossFit athlete who wanted to dabble in the paleo diet.
Within a few months, he had 40 clients and hundreds of go-to recipes such as gluten-free taco pizza and maple mustard-braised beef burgers. But he wasn’t sure if the paleo trend had staying power.
“Fads last about seven years,” Fechter says. “I figured at year four we’d start seeing a decline, but that’s just not the case. The word ‘paleo’ might be a fad, but the way people are eating is not.”
In 2013, Evolve Paleo Chef moved production to a commercial facility at 8428 Melrose Drive in Lenexa. The facility ships paleo-approved meals, snacks and pantry staples to its stores in Wichita; Omaha, Neb.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Lowell, Ark.
A Kansas City store, Evolve Juicery & Paleo Kitchen, opened at 322 Southwest Blvd. in the Crossroads Arts District last summer. It sells granola bar-like paleo balls, trail mix, bottled juices and refrigerated grab-and-go meals that range from $5 to $10 each. The sweet potato salad and salt and pepper cashews are favorites for loyal customer Patrice Brown of Fairway.
Brown, an attorney who works out every morning, says she doesn’t have a lot of time for grocery shopping and meal prep during the week, but she likes to stick to what she calls “clean eating.”
“I’m a creature of convenience,” she says. “If I can get someone to make (food) for me, and it tastes really good, that’s what I’ll do.”
Convenience is also key for customers who sign up for PaleoFit, a meal delivery service that ships nationally and operates out of a commercial kitchen in Belton.
Like Evolve Paleo Chef, PaleoFit started in 2012 and grew out of the CrossFit community. Over time, the customer base grew beyond that niche of high-intensity athletes.
Dave Lueck, PaleoFit’s chief culinary officer, says most of his customers are women with a lot on their plate.
“They’re professionals, they have families,” he says. “They see value in our product because we make getting healthy food really easy.”
PaleoFit’s meals cost around $10 each, but those who sign up for meal plans get discounts. The menu changes weekly, but standards include maple mustard chicken and shrimp and chorizo. Customers can choose between delivery, which costs $7, or they can pick up the meals at 15 drop-off locations around Kansas City, such as Bootcamp Fitness at 5317 W. 94th Terrace in Prairie Village and Simple Science Juices at 112 W. 63rd St. in Brookside.
Simple Science Juices, a locally owned chain of juice and health shops founded in 2015, also has locations in Overland Park, the Crossroads Arts District and Omaha. Everything on the paleo-friendly menu is gluten- and dairy-free, from protein balls to kale salads topped with salmon, walnuts and dried cranberries.
Owner Steve Spangler says he’s excited to see more businesses in Kansas City catering to customers who crave whole foods.
“That’s only going to help the whole community get healthier,” he says.
In addition to partnering with PaleoFit, Spangler often refers customers to Eat Fit Go, an Omaha-based chain that’s expanding rapidly in the Kansas City area. Locations are now open in Corinth Square in Prairie Village and Hawthorne Plaza in Overland Park, and more are in the works for the Country Club Plaza, Westwood and Lawrence.
Eat Fit Go offers refrigerated, prepackaged meals that can be microwaved and eaten in the store or taken to go. Each meal has a label that clearly indicates if it contains common allergens such as dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts and shellfish. Many meals are gluten-free, including several pasta dishes.
Lisa Hansen, a registered dietitian with Eat Fit Go, says the company doesn’t label its meals as “paleo” because most spice blends contain a small amount of sugar — about 2 percent. But many regular customers follow paleo-inspired diets that nix grains, dairy, legumes, refined sugar and alcohol.
Brown, the attorney who orders most of her meals from Evolve Paleo Chef, completed a challenge sponsored by Evolve in October. She says that at the end of the 30 days, she had lost 9 pounds and her cravings for junk food.
“Back in the day, my go-to snack was McDonald’s french fries,” Brown says. “Now I carry salt and pepper cashews or paleo balls.”