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What is a Paleo Diet?


by Joshua Tabin February 01, 2017

A "PALEO DIET"


Eat like a caveman?? What’s in it for you?


When the New Year resolutions wind down, gyms and fitness clubs, filled to the brim earlier in January, slowly go back to their usual traffic. The “occasional” cookies or donuts slowly creep back into our diets. Is there a way out of the circle of guilt and resolutions destined to fail? The Paleolithic Diet may offer a solution. No more calorie-counting: you can eat until you're full, and still be healthy, lose weight, and have plenty of energy. Those are big promises -- but for many it does work.


FROM WHERE DID THIS IDEA COME?

Based on previous theories by Walter Voegtlin, Stanley Boyd Eaton, Melvin Konner, and finally the named "Paleo Diet" popularized by Loren Cordain (Professor at Colorado State University, in Zora's home town of Fort Collins, Colorado) in his book The Paleo Diet (2002). The main premise is that we are genetically identical to the hunters and gatherers of the Paleolithic Era, and their diet is the most natural for our bodies.  The Paleo movement quickly gained in popularity and now you can find many subgroups and branches, including The Primal diet and even the diet choices of the Crossfit movement. Because the Paleo diet restricts both grains and dairy, it is also popular with people on both gluten-free and lactose-free diets.


WHAT CAN I EAT?

In a nutshell, you can eat anything that would be available to a hunter-gatherer. That means a variety of meats, including fish and seafood, eggs, and of course plenty of fresh vegetables (preferably organic). Fruits, nuts and seeds can also be eaten, but in smaller quantities. Oils should be minimally processed (raw, cold pressed).

Meat plays an important role in the Paleo diet, but you should always aim for the most natural meats raised without added hormones or antibiotics. Pasture-raised beeflamb, or pork, free-range turkey, and wild caught salmon are healthy choices. Although pasture-raised and free-range meats are pricier, they are much healthier, not only because you skip the extra dose of hormones and antibiotics, but also because those animals who eat what nature intended, aren't eating feed from grains sprayed with pesticides.  And here's a big shocker for some: although organic meat is certainly better than conventional feedlot-raised animals... organic animals can still be raised on feedlots eating grains and standing in their own feces, as long as they only eat organic grains. If you have a choice, pasture-raised is always better.

Here's another shock for some: Fat does NOT make you fat! Paleo is not a low-fat diet, and unlike the vast majority of popular diet plans, a Paleo diet sees fats as healthy and important to your health. The science is finally coming around to realize: it wasn't the fat in our diets that made us obese and unhealthy -- it was the grains and sugar that replaced the fats in the "low fat" diet foods we were told were good for us!  We are so happy and relieved that this myth is finally getting busted... and not a moment too soon, as more than 2/3rds of Americans are now overweight!


WHICH FOODS ARE OUT?

Here comes the tough part:

  • Sugar (cane juice, rice syrup, agave, honey, and all other High Glycemic sweeteners should also be avoided!)
  • Grains (no bread, pasta or cereal)
  • Starch (beans, peas, lentils, potatoes)
  • Processed foods: canned foods, frozen meals, etc.
  • Refined oils (canola)
  • Dairy: milk, cheese, cream (although many followers consider limited amounts ok)

As you can see, this diet can also help people with gluten sensitivity, celiac disease and lactose intolerance.


WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

Switching to a Paleo diet does mean taking a big step, but there are many long term health benefits. Even if you don’t have problems with gluten, you will still notice a difference.

You will lose weight

High protein meals without grains, starch, or sugar help you feel full longer, so they naturally lower your appetite between meals. More importantly, calories from fats and proteins feed your muscles without the insulin-kick that triggers fat-gain that comes from eating simple carbs (note that "low carb" can sometimes be confusing, as there is a huge difference between simple carbs that come from grain, starch and sugar; and the complex carbohydrates from vegetables). We don't know many folks who don't want to shed some fat and gain more muscle.

You will feel less tired

Paleo diet aficionados report feeling more energized and less tired. There are several reasons for that:

  • You eat more foods with lower glycemic index.  Glycemic index basically measures how foods impact your blood sugar (blood glucose is more accurate term). Foods with high glycemic index cause your blood sugar to rise quickly and also quickly drop. Most of us are familiar with the jitters of a “blood sugar spike” followed by the fatigue of the “blood sugar crash.” Simple-carb rich foods, like pasta and rice, have a high glycemic index. The Paleo diet replaces those foods with nutrient rich, low glycemic foods that help you feel full longer and make your energy levels more stable.
  • Your intake of vitamins and minerals increases.
    Because you eliminate simple carbs, you will eat more fruits and vegetables to feel full. Think steak and salad instead of steak and fries. Think eggs and tomato instead of processed cereals. Grains, unlike fruits and vegetables, are low in vitamin C. There is a strong correlation between vitamin C deficiency and fatigue. You will eat more green, leafy vegetables and meat -- both are rich in a variety of minerals, including potassium, magnesium and iron.
  • You can lower your blood pressure.
    Increasing intake of fruits and vegetables naturally increases potassium intake, which has been highly correlated to reduced blood pressure. Contrary to common myth, it isn't "high sodium" that causes hypertension, it's mineral imbalance (too little potassium from the conventional Wester Diet with too little fruits & vegetables). You don't need to give-up salt, you just need to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to keep your minerals in balance to have a positive effect on your blood pressure.

It’s easy

You don’t have to count points or calories. You eat when you are hungry and you can eat to your heart’s content. You won’t feel like you are on a diet that is a punishment for your past gluttony. You will simply learn to enjoy foods that are better for you!


SOUNDS GOOD. ARE THERE ANY NEGATIVES?

To be fair, there are a host of opinions both for and against a Paleo diet. Most critics of Paleo cite insufficient scientific evidence for its premise, and some complain about the diet being too restrictive.

One thing that should be important to you: because you reduce or eliminate grains and dairy, some critics warn you can miss getting enough fiber and vitamin D.  But while this is something to certainly keep in mind, as long as you're following the program and eat plenty of green leafy vegetables and fruits (eaten with the skin) will provide plenty of fiber in your diet. As for Vitamin D, it is found in egg yolks and fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon), and of course the Paleo "lifestyle" also encourages plenty of outdoor activity, which is our primary source of Vitamin D.


GOT IT.  WHAT’S NEXT?

Start eating like a caveman! The good news: you don’t have to move a cave! The Internet is filled with resources, so if you want to go to the roots and follow the original Paleo Diet, head to Dr. Cordain's website, or look for his book in your local library. Robb Wolf is another author you want to explore.  We also like Mark Sisson's Primal Diet that is based on a premise similar to Paleo, with a few variations.

If you feel overwhelmed, don’t despair; take small steps. Give-up processed foods and simply eat LESS grains, starch, and sugar (the "white foods"). Start cooking more. The beauty of Paleo is that many meals are simple -- a large salad with a serving of free-range meat doesn’t require long preparation or cooking time.

Explore your palate! Use a variety of herbs and spices. Swap roasted sweet potatoes for regular potatoes. Make a frittata for breakfast. Or, change the way you snack; pick a meat and veggie bar instead of a grain & sugar filled one!

Have fun discovering new foods. Be creative.

 

Enjoy your Paleo journey! Bon appétit!

 

 




Joshua Tabin
Joshua Tabin

Author



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