It advocates eating meat and virtually cutting out everything that comes packaged in a bag, box, plastic container or tin.
The paleo diet (aka the paleolithic diet, the caveman diet, hunter-gatherer diet, primal diet and the Stone Age diet) is hugely popular these days.
So popular in fact that by 2013, it had become the most Googled diet on the world wide web.
Although the concept of consuming “what we’re programmed to” has been around since the 1960s, it was only in 2001, when the high priest of paleo, Professor Loren Cordain, Ph.D., published “The Paleo Diet”, that it began to gain widespread popularity in the USA.
The theory behind the diet is simple, eat like 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.
1. What Foods Are Allowed
1.3. Fruits & Non-Starchy Vegetables
2. What Foods Are Banned
4. There Is No One Diet Fits All
What Foods Are Allowed
Red meat, fish, game, and poultry. These foods are all protein rich. Fish has the added benefit of being a great source of omega 3 essential fatty acids.
Protein is essential for 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 the paleo diet plan 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 than human beings are.
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 to your door by ordering it from a reputable online supplier.
If you are a fish lover, be leery of where the fish you consume were caught and as well as the type of fish. Some waters are more polluted with chemical contaminants than others and hence those pollutants compromise the quality of the fish living there.
You should avoid farm-raised fish also because don’t they have lots of room to swim around and are more prone to diseases.
Farm-raised fish are often given antibiotics, preservatives and commercial dyes to give them a healthy color – all the more reasons to avoid them. At your supermarket, you will often see “color-enhanced” in small print under the farm-raised “salmon sign” – not a good sign for the health conscious individual.
Farm-raised fish are fed a corn based diet (grain) so actually they have lower levels of omega 3s (and higher levels of the inflammatory omega 6s) in their system when compared to than fish in their natural habitat.
When deciding on the type of fish to go for, it’s better to choose wild caught fish that are lower down the food chain. They don’t typically eat other fish and fewer toxins get stored in their flesh.
Great choices that fit the bill are anchovies, herring, sardines, trout and wild Alaskan salmon. These have lots of healthy fats but are minimally exposed to toxic contaminants.
You can get high-quality wild caught Alaskan fish and other types of healthy seafood delivered to your door.
You might decide to eliminate seafood from your diet because of the aforementioned potential for toxicity or the perhaps you are not a seafood lover. If you do this, many health professionals recommend that you supplement your diet with a high-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement.
Omega 3 fats are the single most essential group of nutrients your body needs for good health. However, the typical Western diet is sadly low in omega 3s and extraordinarily high in omega 6s.
Omega 6s mainly come from the high amounts of processed foods consumed and foods that are cooked in vegetable oil.
Even if do you have seafood in your diet, chances are you are still deficient in omega 3s and require supplementation. This is because it is unlikely that you are consuming the amount of seafood/omega 3s on a daily basis required to counteract the high quantities of inflammatory fats in your diet.
Check out my article on how critically important omega-3s are to our bodies and make sure you order a high-quality omega 3 supplement.
Seeds & Nuts
These contain fiber – a substance good for regularity, regulating blood sugar and lowering total and bad cholesterol (LDL).
Nuts (e.g. Brazil nuts, hazel nuts, walnuts), olive oil and 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 experiencing 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 fat (monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats) – this 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 danishes, no pizza etc.
Other things to avoid: alcohol, potatoes, refined sugar, salt and refined vegetable oils such as canola.
No Processed Foods
Since our paleolithic ancestors were hunter-gatherers, not farmers, wave goodbye to wheat and dairy, along with other 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. But 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 plants contain to fight off insects.
These lectins increase intestinal permeability and may cause your immune system to turn against your own body, leading to autoimmune diseases like 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.
These anti-nutrients or 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 that believe that each of those diets contain a definitive list of foods that people ought to avoid. But some health professionals remind us that foods such as dairy, legumes and whole grains — all of which are banned on the paleo diet – 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 a primary source of calcium and vitamin D. This is particularly worrying for anyone wanting to avoid osteoporosis.
There are health professionals who also believe that the paleolithic diet plan requires protein consumption that is too high for optimal health. This is more so the case for people who are insulin/leptin resistant, namely diabetics and the obese.
Paleo calls for approximately 38 percent of your energy to come from protein and 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 invariably 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 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 paleolithic diet says 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 could end up switching to the consumption of a higher fat diet, thus negatively affecting his/her 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 had a thick layer of subcutaneous fat. These animals included bison, mammoth, mountain sheep and some species of bears and wild pigs.
If you are concerned about paleo allowing you to eat too much protein, you may find it useful to tweak things a bit and consume less protein.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, owner of one of the largest health sites on the net feels that more often than not, each person needs no more than one-half gram per pound of lean body weight. To have your lean body weight calculated, check in with your physician/local health center or you can get one of these nifty DIY body fat calculators.
There Is No One Diet Fits All
No single diet is suitable for everyone. A very active person on the paleo diet is going to have different needs than a sedentary person.
Also, foods that people can or cannot tolerate can vary tremendously. Some people clearly do well with no dairy in their diets while some just cannot tolerate 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 will help to boost your energy, help identify food sensitivities, improve your digestion, normalize your weight, reduce allergic reactions, reduce inflammation, regulate your blood sugar and strengthen your metabolism.
After 30 days, you are allowed to introduce some “gray area foods” such as dairy, partly to see how well your body tolerates them.
But also you may be able to add these foods 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 – 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 only to help one find his/her 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 treat or homemade sourdough bread, Kresser teaches you how to determine if these foods deserve a place in your diet. You will be able to follow his 80/20 rule of dieting.
This is where 80% of the time you will adhere to strict nutritional guidelines 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 and high blood pressure etc.
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 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 nutrition 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 important to the long term success of any diet. After all, our ancestors lead very active lifestyles.
As beneficial as paleo is, some people feel that it is too restrictive as it eliminates foods that have beneficial health effects.
Additionally, there are those who feel that the diet’s restrictive 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 use paleo just as starting point.
The book elaborates on how to include, in a healthy way, some of the foods you might like to indulge in while keeping your basic diet healthy, robust and sumptuous. It is a must read.
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