What is the paleo diet?
Widely recognized as one of the healthiest ways to eat, the Paleolithic (or paleo) diet focuses on nourishing the body with only unprocessed, unrefined foods – eating as nature intended.
However, we can fight some of these health concerns by making changes to the way we eat, avoiding the foods that do us more harm than good and fueling our bodies with whole, nutrient-dense foods.
Where did this diet come from?
The idea behind this diet is simple. While the human body has evolved over millions of years, our bodies are adapted to the basic diet of humans from the Paleolithic era – before the advent of more modern agricultural technologies. Back then, we didn’t eat any dairy or grains. Milking animals wasn’t even considered, and milling grains would have required technology that just didn’t exist during the hunter-gatherer era.
Although we have now been eating dairy products, refined grains, and other kinds of processed foods since the agricultural revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, our bodies haven’t yet caught up with these new kinds of foods.
Focus on easily accessible and unprocessed foods – inspired by our cave-dwelling great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents.
What can I eat?
– Lean proteins
Protein is important for the development of strong muscles and healthy bones, and provides significant support to the body’s immune system. Eating protein can also enhance your feelings of satisfaction and fullness, helping you avoid unhealthy snacking between meals. The paleo diet encourages plenty of lean protein from sources like beef, bison, chicken, duck, fish, turkey, and even eggs.
– Fruits and vegetables
Rich in healthy antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and valuable phytonutrients, fruits and vegetables make up the majority of the paleo diet. High concentrations of these important nutrients have proven to lower an individual’s risk of developing a number of health issues, including degenerative diseases and neurological failure. The key to a healthy paleo diet is to keep your produce to primarily vegetables, with one or two servings of fruit each day.
– Healthy fats
According to scientific research, a diet that contains rich amounts of monounsaturated and omega-3 fats can contribute to a reduced likelihood of concerns ranging from obesity to cancer. Fats are important fuel for both your body and brain, and for people who eat a paleo diet, healthy fats provide the body with its main source of energy. Good sources for these healthy fats include coconut oil, olive oil, butter and ghee, avocados and avocado oil, and animal fats.
What should I avoid?
As a general rule, a Paleolithic diet will exclude any consumption of processed and refined foods. If you have to look at a list of ingredients to see if a food is allowed on the paleo diet, chances are it’s not – especially if that ingredient list is full of hard-to-pronounce names of various chemicals. You’ll need to stay away from:
– Dairy products
– Fruit juices (processed, with added sweeteners)
– Soft drinks and energy drinks
– Grains and legumes
– Processed meats
– Unnaturally salted foods
Cutting out grains and legumes is one of the more difficult aspects of adopting the paleo diet, but this step is important as according to this diet, they are considered to be “unnatural” foods. This means no beans, cereals, corn, pasta, peanut butter, tofu, or crackers. Grains are comprised of carbohydrates, which are turned into glucose by our bodies – and any glucose that isn’t used for energy gets stored as fat.
Some people will slowly add in certain things (like the odd beer) after a period of adjustment – and if your body can handle these occasional toxins without inhibiting the benefits of the diet, you’re welcome to incorporate them into your diet plan. However, it’s recommended to reintroduce foods slowly and one at a time, to allow you to understand how each specific food impacts your overall health and well-being. Then, you can make a decision about whether or not to continue consuming this unapproved food.
What are the health benefits of a paleo diet?
1: The paleo diet improves lipid profiles.
A lipid profile is used to evaluate cholesterol and triglycerides, which can help give medical professionals an idea of an individual’s possible risk factor for certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease and forms of pancreatitis. Studies have revealed that individuals who eat a Paleolithic-type of diet, without restricting calories, showed significant improvements to the lipid profile associated with insulin sensitivity.
2: The paleo diet promotes brain health and reduces inflation.
Eating a Paleolithic diet helps reduce inflammation in the body – including in the brain. Moving away from a traditional Western diet, full of seed oils, sugars, and empty calories, can provide important protection for your brain, helping fight diseases like Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders. The foods that make up a basic Paleolithic diet enhance neuronal signaling, keeping your brain functioning efficiently and effectively. With all their vitamins and minerals, vegetables in particular can provide your brain with tools to prevent neurological breakdown.
Chronic inflammation is one of the leading causes of many serious diseases, including cancer and heart disease, but also contributes to more minor conditions like acne.
Avoiding gluten and focusing on nutrient-dense foods that are high in protein and antioxidants gives your body the tools it needs to prevent inflammatory reactions, making you feel better and reducing your chances of developing some significant health problems down the road.
3: The paleo diet helps build muscle.
Thanks to the healthy, efficient way your body functions when fueled with Paleolithic-type foods, it’s far easier to spend energy doing important things like building muscle and burning fat. When it isn’t forced to waste time struggling with bad foods and an overload of toxins, your body will really benefit from every last workout and meal.
While the paleo diet does promote weight loss, the proteins and fats consumed when eating this kind of diet are ideal to help your body rebuild damaged tissue and strengthen muscles. This actually helps with the weight loss – we all know muscle revs your metabolism and helps burn fat.
4: The paleo diet keeps your gut healthy, boosts your immune system and helps with digestion.
Your gut is where most of the exchanges between your body and the outside world take place. The bacteria in your gut make up about 70 per cent of your immune system, so having a healthy gut is hugely important to your overall health.
A diet heavy in processed foods can lead to the buildup of toxins within the body, and the high-sugar modern diet can cause damage to the intestinal lining. These concerns can contribute to a weakened immune system, forcing the body to deal with an unnecessary strain and creating a dysfunction that can be difficult to correct.
Not only does a Paleolithic diet eliminate many foods that irritate the gut and the immune system, it increases your consumption of gut-healing foods that help build your healthy intestinal bacteria. By creating a healthy balance and allowing your body to respond effectively and efficiently to any foreign invaders, a paleo diet plays an important role in keeping your immune system strong.
It also promotes healthy digestion. The most easily digested foods include meats, fats, and cooked vegetables, which make up the primary food groups of the paleo diet. If you struggle with digestive issues, it’s even more important that when you decide to make the switch to Paleolithic eating, you don’t slip up and let in the occasional “treat.” One small intrusion could send you right back to the beginning, facing similar digestive issues that you thought you had eliminated.
5: The paleo diet increases your intake of vitamins and minerals.
Since the main food group involved with a Paleolithic diet is vegetables, it’s no wonder that eating this way can increase the amount of vitamins and minerals you put into your body. Consuming more of these important nutrients can make a big impact on your overall wellness, and has tons of benefits – physically, mentally, and even aesthetically. You’ll notice clearer skin, healthier hair and nails, and a brighter outlook on life. You’ll have stronger, healthier bones, and you’ll be able to correct nutrient deficiencies you maybe didn’t even know you had. However, you do need to keep track of what you’re eating to make sure you are getting enough of all of these important nutrients. When you’re following a strict diet, knowing what you’re putting in your body is very important, so make sure you’ve got a solid understanding of what you need to eat and where you’re getting it from.
6: The paleo diet limits your fructose consumption.
Sugar can cause a multitude of problems in your body, but can be confusing since you do consume fructose from many natural and healthy sources. Fructose must be processed by the liver, which can easily get overwhelmed by too much sugar and ends up transforming it to fat. This can cause damage, lead to an insulin resistance or fatty liver disease, and is really bad for your liver.
Following a Paleolithic diet, though, cuts out most of those other sources of fructose, ensuring that the limited sugars in your body are natural and easier for your body to process. About half of the sugar you get from fruit is actually glucose, which your body uses for energy, and you’d have to eat more than 100 grams of sugar from fruits each day to start seeing issues with your body.
7: The paleo diet reduces allergy symptoms.
Seasonal allergy sufferers are familiar with the runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing, irritated throat, and rashes that can pop up when your immune system starts overreacting to environmental stressors. This style of eating promotes a healthy intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which research shows has been correlated with fewer incidences of the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies. In a study that examined the effect of fish oil on asthma sufferers, results indicated a connection between the supplement and respiratory health – which indicates that an increase of omega-3s could be beneficial for allergy sufferers, as well. The diet is also rich in other foods and nutrients that have shown to help with allergy symptoms, including fruits and vegetables and vitamin E.
8: The paleo diet promotes healthy weight loss.
According to some research, the obesity epidemic currently facing society can be explained by our bodies’ struggle to adapt to our changing food environment. We’re built for food scarcity, with fat storage that helps us stock up when food is available and live on reserves during times when it’s not. However, we’re dealing with an overabundance of easy-to-find processed foods that contain very little nutritional value. All these empty calories mean that we’re constantly gaining weight – even though we’re technically malnourished. Also learning what real hunger feels like, and how to deal with emotional and psychological “hunger” pangs, is one of the greatest benefits of embarking on a Paleolithic diet. Understanding the real feeling of hunger can help promote a calmer, healthier relationship with food. Small amounts of discomfort in between meals can help your rewire your brain to appropriately determine what real hunger feels like, and can actually make your food taste better.
The Paleolithic diet can help by changing the food environment to fit the way our bodies have evolved. It still requires work – after all, to successfully lose weight, you still need to burn more calories than you consume – but this type of food can help by making you feel fuller and providing you with the nutrients you need to keep your energy up as you work on making healthy choices.
9: The paleo diet boosts energy levels.
Elimination diets can cause low energy and leave you feeling drained and exhausted – but fueling your body with the nutrient-rich foods included in the Paleolithic diet can fight off hunger pangs and keep you feeling energetic and upbeat. Major triggers of mid-morning tiredness or afternoon slumps are refined, processed foods that most of us end up eating as snacks to try and get through the day, but these actually wind up causing more issues than they fix.
Instead, reach for some paleo-friendly carbohydrates to give you a bit of a boost and keep your energy up. If you still find yourself struggling with sluggishness, keep track of the foods you’re eating and ensure you’re getting enough nutrients. Adjusting to a paleo diet can cause a dip in energy levels, but this diet will ultimately help you avoid fatigue on a long-term basis.
10: The paleo diet shrinks fat cells.
We discussed earlier how eating a Paleolithic diet can help individuals achieve healthy, sustainable weight loss goals, but it can also provide your body with the tools to address your “stubborn fat” – deposits of fat cells that are difficult to get rid of through regular diet and exercise regimens. These cells can form a number of different ways: hormonal changes, sedentary lifestyle, insulin resistance, yo-yo dieting, age, and gender.
Eating a paleo diet can help your body start shrinking these fat cells and reduce this “stubborn fat.” This fat is broken down at a much slower rate than normal fat cells, and require a healthy enzymatic balance to stimulate this metabolizing. Eating anti-estrogenic foods, is a huge part of encouraging this process – things like cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels spouts, and broccoli.
11: The paleo diet reduces gas and bloat.
Your body’s negative reactions to processed foods, including dairy, grains, sugars ,and salt, leads to retention of both water and stool – fermenting in your gut and causing both bloating and excess gas. When you’re first making a switch to a Paleolithic diet, you may notice an increase in gas, generally attributed to the dramatic increase in your vegetable consumption. However, once your body adapts to the diet, you’ll notice significantly less bloating and gas.
What else does the paleo lifestyle involve?
For many people, paleo is more than just a diet. In addition to encouraging healthy eating habits, this diet initiates healthy change in other ways – reducing stress, promoting community engagement, playing and exercising more, and becoming more in tune with nature.
Paleo-style workouts emphasize traditional fitness patterns by focusing on mobility, weight-bearing, and easy, sustained movements. Paleo fitness also encourages practitioners to get out of the gym and enjoy exercising outdoors whenever you can – incorporating fun activities like playing with your kids, hiking in the woods, or kayaking in a lake.
Recovery is a huge part of improving your overall health, and the paleo lifestyle promotes restful sleep. Not only does the paleo diet contribute to healthy sleep patterns, but followers are encouraged to honor the body’s circadian rhythm, aligning their own sleep cycles with the daily cycles of the sun.
Our modern lifestyles keep us indoors most of the time, but the sun is vital to help our bodies produce vitamin D – which plays a key role in many of the body’s chemical pathways. Getting outside every day can help improve your mood, regulate hormone outputs, and provide a positive impact on your overall health.
Another aspect of this reconnection with nature involves taking breaks from technology. While there are certainly benefits that come with our modern gadgets, the paleo lifestyle promotes a healthy balance by encouraging followers to put boundaries in place and make it a point to “unplug” as often as possible.
Relationships are a valuable part of life, providing intimacy and closeness through physical touch, emotional exchanges, and thoughtful conversations. Practitioners of the paleo lifestyle know that with the support of the community comes an improved quality of life, and endeavor to develop close bonds with their loved ones – sharing meals, activities, and important moments.
What should I keep in mind?
Since paleo living incorporates so many different things, it can seem like a lot of information to process all at once. If you’re thinking about embarking on a paleo lifestyle, there are a couple of things you should consider before you get started.
– Paleo is difficult.
As your body begins to purge the toxins that have accumulated from eating processed foods and you start to adjust to your new eating habits, you will definitely face cravings, moodiness, and sluggishness. However, knowing what to expect can help you take on the challenge, and once you see the results of your new lifestyle, you’ll wonder what took you so long to get started.
Things that you used to do without thinking, like eating out at restaurants and even just buying groceries, will require a bit more care and preparation. Keep in mind that these things will get easier with time, and this new lifestyle will eventually feel completely natural. If you’re struggling to adjust, there are apps available that can help make the transition smoother.
– Paleo is expensive.
Any healthy eating program is going to require a bit of a financial investment, because real foods cost real money. If you have the space and the time, you might consider starting a garden and growing some of your own fresh fruits and vegetables to save a bit of money, or buy them in bulk when you find them on sale and freeze pre-portioned containers to eat later.
Now that you know paleo is the right diet and lifestyle choice for you, it’s time to clean those processed foods out of your cupboards and hit the grocery store to stock up on all you need to create a healthier you!
Originally posted in Jen Reviews