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The Reality of the Paleo Diet

Last updated on : October 28 2017

paleo diet

Diet trends are popping up every other day. From the MIND to Atkins - following them all is a chore and hobby for many women. If you have tried one or have researched eating trends, you likely have heard about the Paleo Diet—a much-discussed topic in this area.

As with any plan, there are arguments for and against it. So let’s take a look at the reality, the good and the bad, and how to make it work for you.

What is the Paleo Diet?

Its essence is to return to what our ancestral caveman ate. Loren Cordain, Ph.D., a researcher at Colorado State University, developed the regime (otherwise known as the caveman diet, or stone-age diet). Its a modern-day version of the foods eaten during the Paleolithic era, which was more than 10,000 years ago, before the agricultural revolution.The essence of the Paleo diet is to return to a caveman diet

Historical evidence demonstrates that cave dwellers discovered fire and built tools to help them hunt and gather for food. According to Cordain, this is the way human beings are genetically designed to eat. And why eating this way supports natural and holistic food choices. Cordain explains that food evolution is too rapid and that we haven't adapted to digest contemporary foods. As a result, chronic diseases and other health problems are on the rise today.

While it is true that Paleo doesn't have any of the modern-day junk food that causes health ailments, the feasibility of following an eating regimen similar to our ancestors is complex. What foods to eat and what to avoid are hotly debated (as no one can say for sure what specific foods our caveman ancestors ate). 

However there is some agreement, and we cover what you can or can't eat below. 

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Foods To Eat

Foods to eat on Paleo diet: meat, fish, seafood, vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts, and plant based oils

  • Meat, stick to lean meats such as chicken, turkey, buffalo, and lean beef
  • Fish and other seafood like crab, shrimp, and mussels
  • Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, green beans, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, and spinach
  • Fresh fruits like apples, oranges, and grapes
  • Eggs
  • Seeds, sunflower, and pumpkin
  • Nuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, and almonds (avoid peanuts)
  • Healthy, plant-based oils like walnut, coconut, olive, sunflower, and grapeseed

Foods to Avoid

Foods to avoid on Paleo diet: High fat foods, processed meats, starchy vegetables, legumes and beans, grains, dairy products, refined sugar, and salty foods

  • High-fat and processed meats, examples of which are salami, pepperoni, bologna, ground meat, ribs, and hot dogs
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn and products made from these plants such as chips, popcorn, etc.
  • Beans or legumes such as soy foods, peanut and by-products, tofu, hummus
  • Avoid grains like rice, wheat, oats, and barley. So no bread, cereal, pasta, crackers, and even granola bars
  • Dairy and dairy products
  • Refined sugar — anything with added sugar (soda, syrup, cookies, energy drinks) needs elimination.
  • Processed food or things that contain trans-fats. Examples are French fries, doughnuts, fast food items, packaged foods, etc.
  • Salt, avoid foods with high salt content like chips, crackers, pretzels, and similar items.

Benefits and Disadvantages?

In his 2002 book, The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain claimed that eating like our ancestors keeps our weight in check and protects us from developing “diseases of civilization” like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular ailments, and autoimmune diseases. 

Whether or not eating like this works in today’s age is a matter of debate, so here are some of the pros and cons.

Pros

Weight loss. Since the regimen advises eating high-protein, low-fat foods, it promotes healthy eating and subsequent weight loss. In fact, compared to the average modern-day American, Paleolithic humans consumed more fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals, and unsaturated fat, with less sodium and saturated fat.

The Paleo diet is ideal for weight loss, reducing bloating & controlling your apetite.

Eat clean. Eating similar to cave dwellers in the Stone Age means that you are less likely to consume preservatives, chemicals, or additives in your food—resulting in genuinely eating clean.

More iron. By eating more quantities of red meat, your body gets higher amounts of iron.

Anti-inflammatory. Eating plant nutrients from fruits, nuts, and vegetables, is actively encouraged giving you the anti-inflammatory benefits of these foods.

Appetite control. Due to the high intake of healthy fats and proteins, you may have better satiety—a feeling of fullness more quickly between meals, which keeps you from unhealthy snacking.

Simple. There is no hassle counting specific calories or trying to make appropriate portions of food. There are only foods that you eat and ones that you avoid.

Cons

Specific food groups are excluded altogether, which has raised arguments about missing out on essential vitamins and nutrients. Grains, dairy, and legumes are not allowed as an example, even though recent research indicates these foods may be good for us.  Below we’ve highlighted some of the cons of this way of eating.

Nutritional deficiencies. Strictly following the allowed only foods can lead to deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D, affecting the strength of your bones.

Toxins. There is a significant amount of fish consumed, which increases the risk of toxins in your body.

Whole foods. Whole grains were not eaten by prehistoric people, due to the lack of modern farming. In the present day, research has shown that the consumption of whole grains is, in fact, good for your health.

Paleo diet is not for vegans, vegetarians and athletes

Not vegan-friendly. With its high emphasis on meats and seafood, it may be impossible for vegetarians or vegans.

Not athlete friendly. It's a problematic regimen for athletes to follow because athletes require 3-6 grams of carbohydrates daily for every pound of their body weight. Achieving this with carbs from fruits and vegetables alone is tough.

Inconvenient. You need to cook and prepare in advance because packaged and processed food is banned. You also need to plan and stock up on specific food items.

Costly. The Paleolithic humans ate a lot of meat because hunting was the primary way of gathering food. Today, eating as much meat and seafood means excessive grocery bills. Determining food expense is necessary before committing to this way of eating.

The Reality of the Paleo Diet, infographic

Getting the Best of the Diet

According to the original description in Cordain’s book, he advised a menu similar to what the Paleolithic people ate, in which you get 55 percent of your daily calories from lean meat and seafood, divided into even quantities and 15 percent of calories from vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts.

However what our ancestors ate depended on where they lived, and the availability of local food. They were foragers and did not have access to farmed foods. 

Following their way of eating is not possible in today's age. However, you can make the most of the advice through the following:   

  • Include more fresh fruit and vegetables in everyday meals.
  • Be selective about less-healthy foods; if avoiding processed food altogether is not something you can do, start by reducing the quantity and frequency that you consume them.
  • If you are eating out, order a salad or lean meat/seafood with lots of veggies.
  • Although our ancestors did not really ‘exercise,’ they were always on the move (motor vehicles did not exist then), which may have played a role in keeping them healthy. Add some form of exercise to your daily routine.
  • Get fresh air and sunshine whenever you can.
  • Limit alcohol intake to an occasional glass of wine or some beer. If you are trying to shed a few pounds, staying off alcoholic drinks is the best way to go.

A significant advantage is an elimination of refined sugar, junk, processed foods, chemicals, and salts. Those who follow the style of eating will benefit the most from cutting out these foods.

Summary

Incorporating the doable parts of the ancestral, Paleolithic lifestyle may go a long way in improved eating habits, even if the changes you are making are small. Remember that consistency in following good practices is more efficient than making drastic and inconsistent lifestyle changes. 

And always consult;t your doctor or health nutritionist if before making changes to your diet. 

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