Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve most likely heard about the Paleo diet. It’s one of the most Googled diets of the past few years. But what is the Paleo diet all about?
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The Paleo diet is also referred to as Primal Diet, Caveman Diet, Stone Age Diet, Hunter-Gatherer Diet amongst others. It’s not about replicating the stone age way of life but instead choosing to consume nutrient-dense food over highly-processed foods, and where possible to select local, seasonal produce.
Origins of the Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet is based on our ancestral hunter-gatherer lifestyle, before the start of agriculture and farming. It focuses on eating fresh, natural food such as lean meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, the typical foods our Paleolithic ancestors would have eaten and eliminates processed foods, grains and dairy products, the foods of the agricultural period.
Humans have been living on the Earth for 2.5 million years and until the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution around 10,000 years ago everyone ate only whatever they could hunt or gather. DNA evidence shows that basic human physiology has changed little in 40,000 years and our dietary needs are the same now as they were for our Paleolithic ancestors. Genetically we are 21st century cavemen! Our genes have not adapted from a world in which all the food eaten daily had to be hunted, fished, or gathered from the natural environment. This determined what our bodies needed thousands of years before civilisation developed, before people started farming and raising domesticated livestock.
Many people believe that Stone Age people had short and brutal lives, however archaeological evidence doesn’t support this view. Our Stone Age ancestors were lean, fit, and generally free from the diseases of modern civilisation.
Paleo in the 21st Century
Over the last few decades the rates of obesity, the rates of Type2 diabetes and other health-related issues have escalated dramatically. These diseases are related to the modern diet of sugary drinks, artificial additives and processed foods. By returning the diet which we evolved to eat, we can take control of our own health, reduce our risk of these diseases and achieve our best health.
We are not trying to exactly replicate the Paleolithic diet. For most of us today the only hunting and gathering we do is hunting for and gathering ingredients in supermarkets or online. It’s all about recognising the problems our industrialised food diet is causing and getting back to a more natural way of eating.
Paleo Diet Basics
Put simply – choose whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich and nourishing foods over those which are likely to cause harm, rather than promote, good health.
Paleo is all about eating foods such as grass-fed meat, free range poultry and eggs, wild-caught fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds and avoiding those foods such as grains, legumes, sugar and processed seed and vegetable oils which can trigger inflammation and digestive issues. The inclusion or exclusion of dairy foods is one which depends on your individual reaction to them.
Paleo is predominantly a low-carb diet, however this is not the main goal. The removal of empty refined carbs from the diet, in particular sugar, means health issues related to inflammation, insulin resistance, and digestive disturbances are diminished.
Paleo is living a lifestyle which is conducive to improving and maintaining your health. This means getting enough sleep, staying active and minimising stress. Stress harms the body in almost every way. Managing this through activities such as meditation, Qigong and eating healthily is essential.
Paleo isn’t an all-meat diet. This misconception of the diet has led to negative factors some people associate with it. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is vital for good health and is an essential part of the Paleo diet.
Paleo isn’t a low-fat diet. Low fat products usually have large amounts of sugar added to give flavour to what would otherwise be unpalatable. That can’t be good for you! Our bodies need essential fats for normal functioning especially of the nervous system. On the Paleo diet you will eat plenty of healthy fats such as coconut oil, coconut milk and cream, olive oil, butter, ghee, oily fish, nuts and seeds.
Paleo isn’t specifically a weight-loss diet however most people find they lose excess weight on the diet without the need to count calories or severely restrict their food intake. Getting in tune with your body and allowing your hunger hormones to reset on the Paleo diet means it can help you lose weight because the diet is high in protein, low in carbs and very filling.
Paleo isn’t a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all diet. It is a set of guidelines which recognises that everyone is an individual and therefore exactly what you eat should be tailored to your needs. There are lists of healthy foods but this does not mean that everyone must eat all of these. It’s about how you feel when you include or exclude these from your diet.
Individualising Your Paleo Diet Plan
The Paleo diet is a basic framework for healthy living. Followers come in all shapes and sizes and their views on the diet range from those who will not allow grains, refined sugar or dairy of any sort and strictly follow the plan, to those who are more relaxed about it and find that living in the modern world it’s not always possible to eat exactly like a caveman and they do Paleo 80/20 or 90/10. It’s up to you to decide how you want to live your Paleo life. But you can be sure that even if you only follow the basic Paleo diet guidelines you will be eating much more nutritious food and eliminating the nutrient-poor junk.
Six Tips to Get You Started
- Include high-quality animal protein with every meal. Protein is our body’s building block and having some with every meal helps with the stabilising production of insulin and provides a longer lasting slow release of energy which keeps you feeling full for longer. Where possible choose grass-fed, free-range and organic products.
- Include an abundance of plant foods. Vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals and are anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. Choose brightly coloured vegetables and low-glycaemic fruits such as berries.
- Include nuts and seeds. These provide healthy fats and are very nutritious, but don’t overdo it as they can cause inflammation if consumed in large quantities. Walnuts, macadamias, almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, pistachios and pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds are all good. Avoid peanuts as these are a legume.
- Avoid processed foods. These are high in refined carbohydrate, sugar, bad fats and low in nutrients. This includes foods such as bread, pasta, baked goods, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, sugar-filled drinks and fruit juice.
- Avoid vegetable and seed oils. Highly processed, these oils have a very high omega-6 fatty acid level which has been shown to be detrimental to good health. Oils such as canola, corn, sunflower, safflower, soy and margarine are out.
- Relax and enjoy. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon occasionally. Just get back on track and keep moving forward. Remember it’s a long-term investment in your health not a quick fix.
Helpful Paleo Resources
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain
So eat well, live well and be the happiest and healthiest version of yourself with the Paleo Diet.