Paleo is currently one of the biggest buzzwords in food, and it is at the top of the food chain as diets go. When I first heard people saying they were “going Paleo” a while back, I thought to myself “What? They’re going back to living in caves?” because I just assumed they were referring to the Paleolithic Era-the time of cavemen. You know-discovering fire, inventing the wheel, etc. People do some weird stuff.
The Paleo Diet is one of the most popular diets around and it gains new followers every day. But what exactly is it? The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Everyone seems to have their own slant on a definition. There are the advocates, and there are the detractors (usually the “science-based” folk). One thing is certain, people love it.
Affectionately called the “Caveman Diet,” it is based on the premise that we should follow the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Their eating habits helped form our modern genetic makeup. These foods included fruits, vegetables, fish, seafood, free-range eggs, grass-fed meats, seeds and nuts. However, a University of Chicago study published earlier this month suggests that carbohydrates were also consumed probably in the form of starch found in plant root tubers. Whatever the case, Paleo is here to stay.
What is the modern Paleo Diet?
“The Paleo diet is the healthiest way you can eat because it is the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic! Research in biology, biochemistry, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and many other disciplines indicate it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility.” – Robb Wolf
Essentially, going Paleo means you give up modern foods. That’s anything that comes in a box, jar, or bag. What the Paleo diet is-a lifestyle change. What it isn’t-a temporary diet. You have to know you’re in it for the long haul.
It’s not just about food. Living in the Stone Age meant you probably consumed a load of calories because you were constantly on-the-go. Hunting and fishing and protecting the homestead was your daily routine. That means exercise is also an important part of your new lifestyle. And, the principle of using food as fuel to exercise still stands.
So, what should I eat?
Did you know that people who cook at least five times a week are 47% more likely to be alive 10 years later compared to those who rely more on processed foods? That means the benefits of cutting packaged foods from your diet could be huge.
It is estimated that our ancestors consumed a one-to-one ratio of calories from meats to produce. That means you would have to eat a lot of salad to consume the same amount of calories in a steak. Your diet then should include mostly fruits and vegetables. Many people don’t realize this and eat too much meat.
Foods you should eat:
- Meats: Beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork and others.
- Fish and Seafood: Salmon, trout, haddock, shrimp, shellfish, etc. Choose wild-caught if you can.
- Eggs: Choose free-range, pastured or Omega-3 enriched eggs.
- Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes, etc.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, avocados, strawberries, blueberries and more.
- Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, etc.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more.
- Healthy Fats and Oils: Lard, tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil and others.
- Salt and Spices: Sea salt, Himalayan salt, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, etc.
*Try to choose grass-fed, pasture raised and organic if you can afford it. If not, then just make sure to always go for the least processed option.
Foods you should avoid:
- Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup: Soft drinks, fruit juices, table sugar, candy, pastries, ice cream and many others.
- Grains: Includes breads and pastas, wheat, spelt, rye, barley, etc.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils and many more.
- Dairy: Avoid most dairy, especially low-fat (some versions of paleo do include full-fat dairy like butter and cheese).
- Vegetable Oils: Soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil and others.
- Trans Fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods. Usually referred to as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.
- Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, Sucralose, Cyclamates, Saccharin, Acesulfame Potassium. Use natural sweeteners instead.
- Highly Processed Foods: Everything labelled “diet” or “low-fat” or has many weird ingredients. Includes artificial meal replacements.
What are some of the health benefits?
Improved blood lipids, weight loss, and reduced pain from autoimmunity are some of the health benefits of the Paleo Diet. Other benefits include:
Increased and more stable energy levels
Clearer skin and healthier looking hair
Improved mood and attitude
Improvements in those suffering depression or anxieties
Less or no bloating, decreased gas
Sustained weight loss
Muscle growth; increased fitness
Lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer
Higher immune function and a general feeling of well being
Improved glucose tolerance; decreased insulin secretion and increased insulin sensitivity
Improved lipid profiles
Healthier gut flora
Better absorption of nutrients from food
Paleo diet is anti-inflammatory, most people experience reduction of pain associated with inflammation
Improvements in those with respiratory problems such as asthma
*BTW – If you have an autoimmune disease you might consider trying the autoimmune protocol of the Paleo Diet.
So that’s Paleo in a nutshell. I hope it helped you and wish you great success on your Paleo adventure!
For further information:
Paleo Diet Guides From Robb Wolf – One of the world’s foremost experts on the Paleo Diet and author of NYT bestseller The Paleo Solution.
The Paleo Tool Kit – A complete resource pack for the Paleo lifestyle.