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HealthWatch: NorCal Olympic Athlete Credits Paleo Diet For Healing

SANTA CRUZ (CBS SF) – An Olympic athlete from Northern California is crediting her conversion to the paleolithic diet in healing her body from the rigors of top-level competition.

Eva Twardokens of Santa Cruz has spent years as one of the nation's top skiers, and she has the scars to prove it.

A member of the U.S. ski team for 14 years, with six national championships in alpine skiing and a World Cup bronze medal, Twardokens has had multiple knee surgeries.

In an effort to restore her body, Twardokens turned increasingly to her diet for help.

CBS 5 HealthWatch Series On Paleo Diet

"People have a misconception that athletes are the healthiest people on earth, and a sport like mine took a toll on my body," said Twardokens, who participated in two Olympic Games and was recently inducted into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame.

"It's time to reverse the clock," said Twardokens. "Diet is probably the biggest thing you can do for your health."

She eats meat, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds. No grains and almost no dairy.

Dr. Loren Cordain, author of "The Paleo Diet," notes that elements of a westernized diet, especially dairy and grains, promote chronic low-level inflammation, which has been linked to inflammation in the joints.

Research shows a paleo diet can also stabilize insulin and blood sugar levels -- which is good for the body and the mind.

"I just feel like I'm a more stable, even-keeled person," said Twardokens. "I think as an athlete you're either really happy, or really mad or really sad, that's part of being an athlete."

She said she also feels sharper, more focused.

"The best athletes are the ones that are able to keep that very, very intense focus over a long period of time and foods can enhance your focus and also ruin your focus," she said.

So how does this former Olympian train today? She argues that you've got to maintain your joints as you get older, and with that in mind she looks for the "minimum effective dose" of exercise -- "the amount that keeps you healthy and keeps your body composition where it needs to be."

"For me it's sprinting, I lift weights, and I try to get out and play a couple of times a week," said Twardokens. Play, as in surfing, which she does off Capitola. She said find what you love to do, your "play" thing, and then you need to train to support your play thing. "Enjoy what you're doing, have fun doing it and don't sweat it."

As for her paleo diet helping turn back the clock, Twardokens said "I think it's made me look and feel better than anyone close to my age."

Still, she isn't afraid to admit that her approach to this dietary approach is less than perfect.

"I really like the 'Haagen-Dazs 5' ice cream," she said. "That's my cheat."

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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