Now that the Paleo Diet has been discussed on Doctor Oz, it’s now being talked about at the local yoga studio more frequently than raw vegan recipes are being swapped. As soon as one yogi found out I was a nutritionist, she said “So what do you think about Paleo?”
My answer in a nutshell: “I think it’s great! Any diet philosophy that encourages us to eat more real foods and shun the processed stuff is favorable in my eyes. She seemed pretty satisfied with that. But I knew she had more burning questions about what was “allowed and not allowed” with that particular style of eating, so I’ll parse out some of the details here so you can decide for yourself if the Paleo diet is right for you.
Why is it called Paleo?
The Paleo Diet gets its name from the Paleolithic era, which was pre-agricultural. No one was growing or cultivating food, all sustenance was either hunted or gathered. Some use the term “Hunter-Gatherer Diet” as another way to describe “Paleo.” Typically, this limited your range of food to certain categories, like wild game and fish, roots, berries, nuts, seeds and whatever limited greens and fruits that one might find. Foods that were not found were things like oats, wheat or other grains, peanut butter, hummus or red beans, sugar, or fats in the form of oils. Also, since animals were not kept domestically, dairy products were typically not consumed either.
What are the Health Benefits?
Even though fewer types of foods were consumed, the quality of those foods was much greater. When animal products were consumed, more than just the flesh was eaten, usually organs were preferred and even the bones were used to create broth, and sometimes the blood would be consumed in some hunter gatherer cultures. The overall effect was a greater intake of nutrients. Berries and nuts and vegetables all have high vitamin, mineral and other phytonutrient content. The fats that were consumed were limited to nuts and animal fats.
The other important part of the Paleo Diet is what is not being consumed. No processed foods, no excess of salt, sugar, preservatives, added colors or flavors or hormones or antibiotics or genetic modification. There was no “filler” foods like bread, crackers or 28 gram fiber wraps. There is no industrially produced oils or refined carbohydrates to aggravate inflammation. One other interesting and somewhat controversial aspect of Paleo is the lack of grains and legumes. Part of this is related to the virtually non-existent bread in Paleolithic times (though, one study did find a caveman attempt at a making bread) but part of this is related to excluding these items because they contain anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are compounds (for example, lectins and oxalates) that can bind to other vitamins and minerals in our food and keep them from being absorbed properly. By excluding these high anti-nutrient containing foods and getting their desired nutrients elsewhere in the diet, Paleo becomes a diet that maximizes nutrient density, quality and bioavailability.
What Happens on a High Quality, Nutrient Dense Diet?
When you focus on eating foods with highly absorbable, high quality nutrients, you will maximize your health and begin to heal any underlying deficiencies and/or conditions. You will start to feel like humans were designed to feel: high energy, happier, robust immunity, physically strong.
You will also be “cutting the fluff” out of your diet by eating a Paleo Diet that is high in nutrients. Avoiding the foods that fill you up without the vitamins, will also mean you are eating many more vegetables on your plate. This means you will be most likely reducing your overall calorie intake as well, which generally means weight loss for many. Because you are avoiding all of the industry produced flavors and extremes in salt and sweet, food is no longer uncontrollably tasty that you routinely overeat because you are following your taste buds. You will find yourself more satisfied with nourishing foods with minimal processing.
Should you try it?
I’m an advocate of experimenting with any style of eating to see how it makes you feel, but I’m especially supportive of trying diets that improve the quality of the diet. But with any style of eating, it’s always important to keep it well balanced. Even though bacon is associated with the Paleo Diet, it doesn’t mean that bacon 7 times a week is appropriate if that means it’s crowding out other critical nutrients found in other nutritious foods like eggs, or phytonutrients from colorful berries and veggies. Many nutritionists balk at the idea that people won’t be getting enough fiber if whole grains or dry beans are not part of the daily diet, but remember that vegetables contain quite a bit of fiber and they should be contributing to the bulk of the diet plan.
The biggest adjustment is the avoidance of sugar and processed foods. I think this is what stops most people from trying it for a good 30 Days or so, but it’s also the aspect that give people the greatest results in terms of feeling like a new person and seeing huge strides in weight loss.
Ready to Go Paleo Checklist:
- You have a few cooking skills (including grilling) so you can actually make a meal with fish and vegetables
- You’ve been to the grocery store and stocked up on “Paleo-Friendly” snacks like nuts, fruit and kale chips
- You have several “go to” meal ideas for the next 30 days outlined in case you don’t have time to cook
- You have back up choices for condiments instead of commercially made salad dressings, barbecue sauce, milk and peanut butter
- You have a buddy, ready to do this with you so you can brainstorm ideas together and support each other during social events
Get a Year’s Worth of Paleo Resources!!
For more meal ideas, check out my Pure Foods for Families cookbook and seasonal meal plan where 95% of the recipes are Paleo-approved!
Let me know how your adventures with Paleo go!