Does this sound crazy to you, or pretty awesome? When I first heard about Paleo, I was intrigued by the concept of eating the way that many feel that our bodies are designed to eat, but I was also pretty skeptical. Why would we want to avoid yummy grains, dairy, and beans and eat more protein, including grass-fed beef, buffalo, emu, elk, or ostrich?
How Old Is Paleo? Closing the Gap
The Paleo diet, as we know it today, has been around since the late1970’s where it began circulating in some academic circles. Alongside the Atkins diet, in the 1990’s, Paleo was created by Loren Cordain and promoted as a healthy diet for weight loss. Now, it has taken root in the Crossfit culture as well as with people dealing with various health problems, such as auto-immune diseases. In the current “Paleo culture”, it is a lifestyle that is based on eating healthy, not simply another “diet”.
Is Modern Paleo An Oxymoron?
Paleo advocates claim that we humans are genetically programmed to eat the way our cavemen ancestors did prior to the Agricultural Revolution about 10,000’s years ago. They link the way that we eat now, to the huge epidemic of obesity and related diseases that we are facing. They have a good point, and state that their theories are scientific -based and well-researched. They also promote an active lifestyle, because our ancestors were active.
Our Paleolithic ancestors were hunter-gatherers, who survived solely on meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. They did not eat grains, legumes, dairy, coffee or alcohol, according to Paleo experts. Does it make sense for us to eat this way today? If you eat bacon and eggs every day, won’t you gain weight and ultimately have a heart attack or stroke?
Is this whole Paleo diet sounding pretty rigid to you? A lot of nutrition experts think that it is way too rigid and unrealistic. Aren’t we taught that we need to eat a balanced diet with healthy whole grains, beans, fruits, veggies, and lean proteins? Where is the milk, cheese, and yogurt for strong bones, or red wine for antioxidants? While there are many die-hard Paleo followers out there, there are many who follow Paleo guidelines, but keep it a little more realistic (since we are not living exactly like our Paleolithic ancestors) and less rigid.
Table 1 shows several pros and cons of the Paleo diet. Many of these are closely related to each other, such as the benefits of reducing gut inflammation and autoimmune issues such as Celiac disease, or the drawback of leaving out entire food groups and possibly promoting an unbalanced diet.
Table 1: Pros and Cons of a Paleo Diet
|The way that we are genetically designed to eat||Can be very restrictive for many people|
|Helps with many health issues, including autoimmune, allergies||Can be expensive (i.e. grass-fed beef)|
|Avoids foods that cause inflammation, especially for the gut||Can be difficult to maintain while travelling|
|Great for weight and fat loss without counting calories||May not promote a balanced diet|
|Promotes eating a lot of vegetables||Leaves out entire food groups (i.e. grains)|
|Promotes a healthy lifestyle, not just a diet||Athletes need to consume enough carbohydrates as fuel and may find it challenging with a Paleo diet|
|Higher energy levels (primarily from stable blood sugars)||Too high in saturated fat?|
|Higher protein helps build muscle||Too much protein bad for kidneys?|
|Will feel fuller longer after eating a Paleo meal versus many other meals (i.e. high in non-vegetable sources of carbs)||Could easily overeat high calorie foods, such as nuts and meats|
|Eliminates unnecessary insoluble fiber||Lacks enough fiber?|
The Paleo Foods
What are the acceptable Paleo foods, and what is not? Actually, the list is very long, and interesting, and is presented here in Table 2. To summarize, the Paleo diet excludes anything that our paleolithic ancestors were not likely to eat. These foods include all grains, legumes, and, of course, any processed foods.
Table 2: Paleo Foods and Foods to Avoid
|Paleo Foods||Foods to Avoid|
|Meat (grass fed beef, turkey, lamb, bison, chicken, pork, wild game)||Meat that is full of hormones, preservatives, or super high fat, such as lunch meat, or hot dogs, peperoni, or ground meat|
|Seafood that is wild-caught and sustainable (halibut, salmon, lobster, sardines, trout, tuna, clams….)||Dairy (no milk or cheese)|
|Eggs that are free-range||Grains (especially those with gluten, like wheat)|
|Vegetables||Potatoes and other starchy foods|
|Nuts (i.e. almonds, cashews, macadamia, walnuts, pecans…..)||Legumes (including peanuts, soybeans, peas, lentils)|
|Seeds (i.e. pumpkin, sunflower)||Artificial sweeteners (so, no diet soda, or diet food in general)|
|Fruits (in moderation)||Sugar (including fruit juices)|
|Healthy oils (walnut, avocado, olive, coconut, macadamia, and grass-fed butter)||Refined oils (safflower, canola)|
|Herbal tea (including green tea), coconut water, plain old water, and mineral water||Caffeine (green tea is allowed though)|
|Highly salty foods (pretzels, etc., which fall into the processed food category as well)|
|Alcohol (small amounts of red wine are acceptable)|
|Any processed foods (includes crackers, candy, pastas)|
If you decide to try Paleo, be sure and prepare your kitchen! Clean out any processed foods and grains from our cupboards. Ditch the coffee pot and stock up on herbal and green teas. Load up on fresh veggies, since you will be eating lots of them. Fill the egg container in the fridge with farm fresh eggs, and shop for lots of lean protein that you can both freeze and keep in the refrigerator or canned meats. Your baking supplies will change quite a bit too, especially if you normally use sugar and wheat flour. You will want coconut flour, almond flour and almond meal, honey, and much more. Make this a fun adventure!
Paleo recipes abound
A quick online search brings up many Paleo recipes. Here are a couple of resources that we feel are well worth investigating. Even if you don’t adhere to a Paleo diet, there are so many great recipes out there to add some variety to your meals and snacks.
For those of you who prefer to read a book, and especially have your collection of recipes all in one great place that you can leaf through whenever you want, here are a couple of recommendations.
Nom Nom Paleo
Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain
What are the Health Benefits to Eating Paleo?
Paleo purists claim that comparing the Paleolithic diet of millions of years ago to the more modern diet, which has evolved since the Agricultural Revolution, is sort of like comparing apples and oranges. They state that there just hasn’t been enough time for our systems to evolve to eating modern foods such as sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and even wheat.
Kris Kresser, M.S., Lac, and author of several articles and books about Paleo, discusses the Paleo lifestyle and its effects on autoimmune diseases in his article “Pills or Paleo? Preventing and Reversing Autoimmune Disease.” He compares modern hunter-gatherers with those living in the industrialized world, and highlights the difference between the two as they relate to autoimmune diseases. Because of the striking difference that he sees between the two, he suggests that autoimmune diseases are caused by the environment, not by genetics. His compelling argument favors Paleo for curing or reducing symptoms of autoimmune diseases instead of taking medications to treat these increasingly common health problems.
His book “The Paleo Cure” is a great resource if you want to seriously investigate and understand Paleo.
The Paleo Cure
In her book, “Practical Paleo, A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole Foods Lifestyle”, Diane Sanfillipo highlights several health conditions and how Paleo can help.
The bottom line is that the Paleo diet is an anti-inflammatory diet and it is this factor that contributes to a majority of the health benefits. Since our hunter-gatherer ancestors were an active bunch, the Paleo lifestyle is all about being active, which also contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
What About Saturated Fat and Kidneys?
Two big questions that come up regarding Paleo are:
If you eat all of that meat, doesn’t that make Paleo too high in saturated fats? With heart disease being a top killer of adults, don’t we need to be careful about how much meat we eat? Red meat is loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, right?
Our research of Paleo-related articles consistently concludes that there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Paleo advocates feel strongly that there is not a link between eating more meat and increased heart disease, but actually, the opposite, a decrease in heart disease, due to the anti-inflammatory aspects of Paleo. They also state that the fat amounts and types in if wild or grass-fed meat, the preferred meat for Paleo, is significantly healthier than that from modern grain fed animals.
- Because Paleo is high in protein, isn’t that hard on the kidneys? One might come to the conclusion that a diet higher in protein, such as the Paleo diet, could contribute to kidney problems. According to Robb Wolf, in his article, “Clearing up Kidney Confusion-Part Deux”, dietary protein is not likely to cause kidney damage. Rob goes into great detail about how the kidneys function in his article. He states that in healthy kidneys, “protein intake has no effect on kidney healthy, while in sick kidneys, it can cause problems. In “Chronic Kidney Disease Diet”, Volney Willett, MD goes in depth as to how to eat a healthy paleo diet for people who do have kidney disease. Others state that the science just isn’t there to prove that higher protein adds to kidney disease. We recommend that you do your research if you are concerned about this before embarking on the Paleo journey.
Watch This “Live Like A Caveman With A Paleo Lifestyle” Video by The CBS This Morning
So, it is really up to you to decide whether or not the Paleo way of eating is for you. If you believe that you are better off to follow the clean diet of your human ancestors and avoid processed foods altogether, then perhaps it is for you.
If you have health issues, such as diabetes, Crohn’s or celiac disease, heart disease, obesity, depression, osteoporosis (the list goes on and on), you might want to take a serious look at Paleo and judge for yourself.
As with any “diet”, there is controversy. We hope that this article clears up some of the questions that may have popped up for you regarding Paleo. We can pretty much guarantee you that once you start digging into this topic, you will learn a lot! Whether you join the ranks of celebrities and athletes such as Jessica Biel (actress) or Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers) who swear by it, or go a different route, you will at least base your decision on knowledge and not hearsay.
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By Sue Bream yoursimplehealthylife.com