he Paleo Diet took the health world by storm, and then-- like all fad diets-- started to fade away. Why?
Because while it is a healthier diet, it isn’t the healthiest and no diet is perfect for everyone.
What is the Paleo Diet, exactly?
Essentially, the Paleo Diet is exactly what it sounds like-- it’s a diet based upon what Paleolithic Man would have most likely eaten on a regular basis about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. It includes-- and is limited to-- meat (lean), fish, fruit, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. These are all foods that early man could obtain by hunting and gathering.
Paleo dieting leaves out any food that became integrated into man’s diet after farming was introduced. The underlying thesis of the diet plan is that agriculture introduced foods to which early man was genetically mismatched to eat, such as legumes and grains-- an idea called the discordance hypothesis.
However, this thesis is questionable. It is-- after all-- just a thesis. By definition, it is not a hard truth-- there is current evidence that early man may have had access to grains in his diet as early as 30,000 years ago. That’s well before agriculture became a primary source of food.
The thesis also fails to take into account geographical, climate, and food availability differences, as well as the fact that evolutionary changes continued to occur in man’s DNA well after the Paleolithic Era that had nothing to do with agriculture.
Generally speaking, the Paleo Diet guidelines are to eat:
- Lean meat (grass-fed animals or game)
- Vegetables (especially leafy greens)
- Nuts & Seeds
- Fish (especially tuna and salmon)
- Nut & Seed Oils (such as olive oil)
- Lots of water
This all looks pretty healthy, right? Protein, veggies, fruits, etc. are all really great things to include in your diet.
There ARE some benefits to Paleo...
The hypothesis for the Paleo is completely correct about one thing: modern food is VERY different from early man’s food. Not only have we expanded the foods that we eat, the very food itself has evolved with us.
Not to mention that some of the foods we wouldn’t want to do without can honestly barely be considered real food-- meaning of nutritional value-- at all. We love our pizza and beer and cakes, but they’re definitely not doing our bodies any favors.
Man is different, too. Humans today are more overweight and less inclined to exercise (lack of sabertooth tigers notwithstanding). While early humans had their fair share of health issues, the types of health issues that we face today MIGHT be successfully addressed using the Paleo diet.
The Paleo diet is related to weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, better blood pressure, lower triglycerides, and better appetite control. The most notable effects were weight loss and better blood sugar levels.
Why? Because the Paleo diet is high in the good fats, antioxidants, protein, Omega-3’s, and potassium. Potassium is excellent for controlling blood sugar, and antioxidants support all of our body’s healthy functions-- from our immune system to our circulatory system.
Clinical trials have been promising, but they are incomplete-- they’ve compared Paleo to other diets but not to all diets.
...But Paleo leaves out some good stuff!
There are disadvantages to the Paleo Diet, too-- just like with any diet, it leaves out some things. Some of what it leaves out is great-- refined sugars and processed foods, for example.
Other foods, not so much.
For example, the Paleo Diet leaves out legumes-- it claims that legumes are high in antinutrients lectins and phytates. This statement is not wrong. However, these antinutrients are by and large destroyed by the cooking process-- thereby negating the reason for excluding them. Legumes are also typically great sources of protein, magnesium, selenium and manganese. They’re also great for the health of your digestive system.
Whole grains are also left out. While a very small-- as in, so small it’s only about 1% of the population-- number of people have Celiac’s Disease and should absolutely avoid grains, the rest of us don’t have that problem. Whole grains are high in fiber, which our bodies need for a host of normal, healthy functions. This includes lowering cholesterol and yes-- waste elimination.
But as many fad diets have proven, cutting any nutritional food group out of your diet without a medical reason to (like Celiac’s Disease) is never a good idea.
It’s also worth noting that modern humans aren’t exactly genetically identical to Paleolithic humans. The same diet that worked for them-- and let them escape that sabertooth tiger-- is not going to translate the same way for modern humans whose sabertooth tiger lives in the office.
The key to making any diet work-- not just the Paleo Diet-- is exercise. Now, the Paleo Diet advocates do recognize this-- a point in their favor-- but that’s a lifestyle choice. It’s one that most people choose not to make the time for, and it’s the one thing that will make all of the difference. Our ancestors may not have known it, but just living the way that they did gave them all of the exercise they needed anyway. Outrunning those sabertooth tigers will do that to a paleolithic person.
However, we’re not living like that now. Our lives are largely sedentary, unless we are career athletes or already making that healthier, conscious choice to exercise. And in today’s busy world of drive here and drive there, it’s hard to fit exercise into our daily-- or even weekly-- routines.
The other criticism leveled at the Paleo Diet is often one that’s aimed at eating organic-- it’s a bit on the expensive side. The Paleo Diet recommends a lot of meat-- a LOT of meat-- which isn’t cheap. Neither is the fresh produce. The sheer cost of the Paleo Diet is enough to prevent some people from even trying it.
So… what would a Paleo Diet meal plan look like?
We’re glad you asked. If you’re looking at the Paleo Diet to see if it’s for you, it makes sense to get a breakdown of what your daily food requirements would look like.
Possible Paleo breakfast include:
- Bacon and eggs with a piece of fruit
- Broiled salmon and fruit
- Steak and veggies
The point is to start your day with a major dose of proteins.
Paleo does factor in snackage.
- Carrot sticks
- Celery sticks
- Nuts and seeds
Snacks are generally foods meant to hold us over-- not fill us up. You can also buy Paleo energy bites at the store.
Lunch is another time to stock up on the proteins.
- Homemade burgers
- Lettuce wraps filled with meat and veggies
- Pork loin and a salad
Leftovers from a Paleo dinner are also encouraged as lunch. You can’t fault Paleo for being wasteful-- the entire diet urges using whole animals and leftovers.
Whether you call it supper or dinner, Paleo once again stocks protein and veggies.
- Beef stir-fry and berries as dessert
- Bacon and eggs with fruit
- Burgers without any bun, fried in butter and served with veggies
Are you seeing a pattern now?
While the Paleo Diet does have both pros and cons, what it boils down to is what’s right for you. Do not start any diet-- especially one that advocates eliminating food groups known to be nutritious-- without first consulting a health professional. See a nutritionist-- or at the very least, your primary care doctor-- and get evaluated for a proper diet fitted to your lifestyle and health needs.
Have you tried Paleo or other diets? How did they work out for you?