Eating paleo is quite popular these days.
So popular, in fact, that at on time, it had become the most Googled diet on the world wide web.
This diet goes by several other names, such as the paleolithic diet, the caveman diet, hunter-gatherer diet, primal diet and the Stone Age diet.
Nonetheless, the theory behind it remains the same.
Eat meat and virtually cut out everything that comes packaged in a bag, box, plastic container or tin, just as our early ancestors did.
Although the concept of consuming “what we’re programmed to” has been around since the 1960s, it was not until 2001 that paleo dieting took off.
Then, the man now considered the high priest of paleo, Professor Loren Cordain, Ph.D., published “The Paleo Diet.” Things took off from then, especially in the USA.
The theory behind the diet is simple, eat as our prehistoric ancestors did, and you’ll shed the pounds and significantly cut your risk of developing cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other major health problems.
WHAT FOODS ARE ALLOWED
Red meat, poultry, game, and fish are all on the menu. These foods are all protein rich. Fish has the added benefit of being a great source of omega 3 essential fatty acids.
Protein is fundamental to strong and healthy bones and muscles and optimal immune function. Protein also makes you feel full more quickly, helps you stay full for longer and curtails your sugar cravings.
This is one of the major reasons why eating paleo is recommended by many health professionals to people who want to lose weight.
The best proteins are the meats of ruminant animals that eat grass and leaves and fish. Meats of ruminants include beef, bison, lamb, mutton, and venison.
Ruminants are much more efficient at converting plants into essential fats, complete protein and bio-available nutrients that human beings need.
The meats of grass-fed animals are also leaner, lower in saturated fat and higher in omega 3 essential fatty acids, than the meats of grain fed animals.
To get grass-fed meat (organic meats), check your local farmers’ markets or have those meats delivered at your door by ordering it from a reputable online supplier.
If you are a fish lover, be leery of the source and type of the fish you consume. Some water sources are more contaminated than others, thus compromising the quality of the fish.
You should also avoid farm-raised fish if possible because don’t they have lots of room to swim around and are more prone to diseases.
Farm-raised fish are frequently given antibiotics, preservatives, and commercial dyes to give them a healthy color – all the more reason to avoid them.
At your supermarket, you will sometimes see the words “color-enhanced” used to describe farm-raised salmon. You’ll want to stay away from such fish if you can.
Farm-raised fish are fed a corn-based diet (grain) so they have lower levels of omega 3s (and higher levels of the inflammatory omega 6s) in their system when compared to fish living in their natural habitat.
When deciding upon the type of fish to eat, it’s better to choose wild caught fish that are lower down the food chain. They don’t typically eat other fish and thus have fewer toxins stored in their flesh.
Great choices that fit the bill are anchovies, herrings, and sardines. Here is an article that outlines some of the safest fish to eat.
You might decide to eliminate seafood from your diet because of its potential for toxicity or because you are not a seafood lover.
If you do this, you are at a high risk of an omega-3 deficiency. Omega 3 fats are the single most essential group of nutrients that your body from head to toe needs for good health.
Furthermore, the typical Western diet is sadly low in omega 3s and extraordinarily high in the inflammatory omega 6s of refined foods.
Many health professionals strongly recommend that you supplement your diet with a high-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement – even if you eat fish.
Seeds & Nuts
Seeds and nuts contain fiber – a substance that is excellent for regularity, regulating blood sugar, and lowering total and bad cholesterol (LDL).
Nuts (e.g. Brazilian nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts), olive oil, seeds (e.g. pumpkin, sesame seeds, and sunflower), and avocados contain healthy fats (monosaturated fats) which are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health.
Unsurprisingly, scientific research and epidemiological studies show that diets rich in healthy fats (such as monosaturated fats) reduce the likelihood of getting cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cognitive decline.
Note, however, that if you are a peanut lover, peanuts are legumes and are not allowed under paleo. More on legumes below.
FRUITS & NON-STARCHY VEGETABLES
Fruits are good but go for ones that are lower in sugar – for example, apples and pears.
Avocados are good sources of healthy fats (monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats). These are good for heart health.
Generally, any quantity of vegetables can be eaten, except for potatoes, which are high on the glycemic index (GI).
Fruits and veggies are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Collectively, these nutrients have been shown to reduce the risks of developing a number of degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and neurological conditions.
Where possible, go for organic fruits and vegetables to eliminate pesticides and other harmful contaminants from your diet.
WHAT FOODS ARE BANNED
You can’t eat any processed foods on this diet. That means no bread, no cereal, no cookies, no crackers, no donuts, no chips, no pizza, etc.
Other things to avoid: alcohol, potatoes, refined sugar, salt, and refined vegetable oils such as canola.
Our paleolithic ancestors were hunter-gatherers, not farmers. So, wave goodbye to wheat, dairy, grains, and legumes (such as peanuts and beans).
Legumes may come as a surprise to you since it is often touted as a healthy food. However, some health professionals are quick to point out that consuming legumes can have negative health implications.
Legumes, just like grains, contain lectins and other compounds that fight off insects.
These lectins increase intestinal permeability and may cause your immune system to turn against your own body, leading to autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and vitiligo.
Legumes also contain substances called protease inhibitors as well as anti-nutrients, which can prevent you from getting enough nutrition from your foods.
Anti-nutrients, such as phytates, prevent the proper absorption of B vitamins, iron, zinc, copper, and calcium in the intestines.
With every new diet that comes out, there are those who believe such diets contain a definitive list of foods to be avoided.
However, many health professionals are quick to remind us that foods such as dairy, legumes, and whole grains — all of which are banned under the paleo diet – do have health benefits.
These foods can help lower the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, reduce blood pressure, and help normalize weight.
Eliminating dairy from one’s diet leaves one without the primary source of calcium and vitamin D. This is particularly worrying for someone wanting to avoid certain conditions, like osteoporosis for example.
There are health professionals who also believe that the protein consumption requirement is too high for those who eat paleo. This is more so the case for people who are insulin/leptin resistant, namely diabetics and the obese.
The paleo diet calls for approximately 38 percent of your energy to come from protein and another 39 percent from fat. When this level of protein consumption is combined with the carbohydrate restriction that the diet calls for, the health risks become worrisome.
What ends up happening is that some followers end up replacing carbohydrates with too much protein. This can present health challenges similar to those faced by people who eat too many carbohydrates and sugars.
Some experts estimate that our ancestors consumed a 1:1 ratio of calories of meats to produce. Therefore, paleo enthusiasts must be prepared to eat lots of veggies.
Some paleo dieters don’t heed the “eat more vegetables” advice and open themselves up to a higher risk of kidney damage stemming from a high-protein intake.
A long-term high-protein diet tends to activate the mTOR pathway, which can help one acquire big muscles but may also increase the risk of cancer.
Some health professionals also contend that the paleo guidelines say little about the amount of saturated fat content from meat one can safely consume.
This may lead some followers of this diet to switch from healthy protein consumption to artery-clogging foods that unsurprisingly have too much bad cholesterol and saturated fats.
Take, for example, a follower of paleo who was used to eating low-fat dairy protein. That person has to stop that practice because dairy isn’t allowed under paleo.
Instead, that person might end up switching to the consumption of a higher fat diet, thus negatively affecting his cholesterol levels.
When you look at how some of our ancestors ate, the “protein intake issue” becomes even murkier. This is because the meats our ancestors consumed weren’t always of the lean cut that many people seem to think they were.
In the book, “Ice Age Hunters of the Rocky Mountains,” by famed archaeologist Dr. Dennis Stanford, it is mentioned that some of the animals that the hunter-gatherers of the North American consumed had a thick layer of subcutaneous fat. Such animals included bison, mammoth, mountain sheep, some species of bears, and wild pigs.
If you are concerned about eating too much protein under paleo, you may find it useful to tweak things a bit and consume less protein.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, the owner of one of the largest health sites on the net, feels that more often than not, each person needs no more protein than one-half gram per pound of lean body weight.
You calculate your lean body weight at a physician’s office is or health center. Alternatively, you can get one of these nifty DIY body fat calculators.
NO ONE DIET FITS ALL
No single diet is suitable for everyone.
A very active person who eats paleo is going to have different needs than a sedentary person. Furthermore, foods that people can or cannot tolerate can vary tremendously.
Some people clearly do well with no dairy in their diets while others feel they have to consume it. Some people have problems digesting protein while having no problems digesting carbohydrates; others have that problem in reverse.
Some paleo authorities such as Robb Wolf (student of Prof. Cordain, author of “The Paleo Solution,” a research biochemist and powerlifting champion) and Chris Kesser (licensed practitioner of integrative medicine) advocate a 30-day elimination paleo diet.
This is a plan where basically you go strict paleo for a month to help your body rest and recover from whatever symptoms certain processed foods have been provoking in you.
During that period, your improved diet might help to boost your energy levels, improve your digestion, normalize your weight, reduce inflammation, regulate your blood sugar, and strengthen your metabolism. You might also be able to identify food any food sensitivities you might have.
After 30 days, you are then allowed to introduce some “gray area foods” such as dairy, partly to see how well your body tolerates them. Another reason to add these “cheat foods” is to give your diet more variety.
Chris Kresser believes that some people may not be able to go strict paleo straight off the bat. Rather, if they are honest with themselves, they might only be able to cut out some of the foods on the banned list – at least initially.
Coming off processed foods more gradually will lead to more long-term success with this diet.
Kresser also advocates that paleo should be used as a template to help one find his optimal diet rather than as a one size fits all nutrition plan. He is big on customizing your diet, for example, by adding full-fat dairy and properly prepared grains, if those foods cause no negative impact on your health.
If you love “treats” such as gourmet cheese, the occasional ice cream, or homemade sourdough bread, Kresser teaches you how to determine if these foods deserve a place in your meal plan.
This approach is what he calls his 80/20 rule of dieting. This is where 80% of the time you adhere to the strict nutritional guidelines of paelo but 20% of the time you are given a little latitude to eat so-called “treats” or “cheat foods.”
His strategies also allow you to personalize your recipes to specific health conditions such as digestive problems, heart problems, high blood pressure, and others.
Kresser’s nutrition strategy can be found in his groundbreaking book – “Your Personal Paleo Code.” You can pick this book up here at a great price.
Many experts in the health field agree that following the nutritional guideline of the paleolithic diet will offer amazing health benefits.
They argue that eating paleo lessens your body’s glycemic load, gives you a healthier ratio of saturated-to-unsaturated fatty acids, increases your nutrient and vitamin consumption, and creates an optimal balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
However, to succeed long-term with this nutritional plan, don’t see it as a “diet” but as a permanent lifestyle choice. Equally as important – don’t see this nutritional plan as the totality of a healthy lifestyle.
Exercise is extremely vital to the long-term success of any diet. After all, our ancestors lead very active lifestyles.
As advantageous as paleo is, some people feel that it is too constraining as it eliminates foods that have favorable health effects. The diet’s confining nature unnecessarily takes away the fun that comes with the very occasional eating of “cheat foods” such as ice cream and chocolate.
Fortunately, Chris Kresser’s book – “Your Personal Paleo Code,” shows you how to incorporate how to include cheat foods in a healthy way, while keeping your basic diet robust and sumptuous. It is a must read.