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Optimizing Your Paleo Diet with Heart Rate Variability

The following is a guest post from Elite HRV, a top-rated HRV mobile app that was created by a small group of Paleo-enthusiasts that decided to leave their day-jobs and come together to make a difference. They are passionate about helping people reach their health and performance goals and believe that heart rate variability is one of the most powerful tools available to achieve this.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that food intolerances vary enormously between individuals. This isn’t surprising: we all have different genetics, microbiomes, environments, and even maternal gestation lifestyles! One size does not fit all.

As a result, more and more health-seekers are starting with a Paleo Diet, and then using heart rate variability (HRV) to identify and address specific food intolerances. Many end up adding certain foods back into their diets after careful testing.

Why is HRV a practical tool?

In this post, Paleo Leap explored how to measure stress levels and inflammation, and found heart rate variability to be a useful tool. HRV is useful for finding dietary offenders because it is:

Systemic: HRV looks deep into the nervous system, which can give insight into the physiological impact of exercise, diet, sleep, and social stress. This means it can help narrow down diet as a source of inflammation.

Easy: It can be tracked non-invasively in a few minutes per day. No need for 24/7 wearables, needles, blood or saliva samples. This allows you to track more regularly to isolate specific source of inflammation, such as specific foods.

Responsive: The impact of various stresses show up in HRV instantaneously and can give daily insight into progress. No waiting around for weeks or months. Unlike most measurements, you can also repeat tests easily over time to gain more confidence that what you are testing is really the source of a change in your body.

Individualized: HRV apps have become more advanced over time and some can now automatically identify personalized patterns in your stress, inflammation, and recovery. This goes beyond just comparing your data against reference ranges or estimates from a general population.

The Process*

1. Download an HRV monitoring app that allows for open (i.e. unlimited time) readings specifically useful for these kinds of tests. We designed Elite HRV to accommodate this type of testing, and it is one free option.

2. Wear a heart rate monitor and connect with your app. Accuracy is very important for HRV hardware, and choices depend on which heart rate devices are compatible with your HRV app of choice.

Some apps have proprietary hardware, but many apps can utilize a chest strap for accurate readings. In response to feedback on uncomfortable and inconvenient chest straps, patches and expensive wearables, we designed and are launching a finger-sensor option specifically for HRV that is open to use with almost any HRV app.

3. Start measuring HRV and relax for a few minutes before eating. If possible, avoid too much movement (like walking) and mentally stressful activities.

4. Eat!

5. After eating, wait for an additional 10-15 minutes to see what kind of impact on HRV the digestive process is having. Try not to introduce major changes in activity (like getting up and walking around) or mental stress.

Typically HRV may increase slightly with digestion, as the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” arm of the autonomic nervous system) kicks in. However, if HRV decreases instead, it is a sign of activity in the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”), typically a sign of inflammatory stress. In those cases, something in the food is likely the culprit!

It’s important to note that in addition to an offending food, it may also be the total quantity of food, quantity of a specific food, or combination of certain foods that could be a trigger. For a “smoking gun”, eliminate the food(s) for 30 days, then test immediately after re-introduction.

*Credit to experts such as Alessandro Ferretti in designing and testing this process. Alessandro Ferretti has published more details information on his website.

Test, Improve, Re-Test

Over time, many HRV users (including the entire Elite HRV team) have used this process to eliminate surprising inflammatory foods from their diet (eggs! tomatoes!), while introducing new foods as well (fermented dairy!)

The road to better health starts with a great template – a Paleo Diet – and then continues with some tinkering and personalization. Don’t forget to enjoy the food along the way!

Interested in HRV, but not the wearables?

You’re not alone! Chest straps and other devices get in the way and aren’t practical. As we mentioned above, Elite HRV is the largest and top-rated HRV mobile app, with nearly 150,000 users. We also have a team dashboard to help coaches, teams, and clinics track the progress of their clients.

Our main complaint was that wearables (i.e. chest straps) were the biggest frustration of tracking HRV. We delved into solutions and created CorSense. CorSense is a finger sensor that reads your heart rate variability in as little as 2 minutes a day. If you’re interested in learning more check out our KickStarter campaign that launched this September below.

Note: Paleo Leap earns a commission on Kickstarter sales of the Elite HRV monitor (the CorSense).