We unpick the Paleo Diet: the potential benefits, potential drawbacks and how to incorporate the ideas behind the Paleo Diet into your everyday life.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleolithic Diet, or "Paleo Diet", is a set of eating principles based around eating the foods that our prehistoric ancestors would have eaten.
This diet is also known as the "Hunter-Gatherer Diet".
Underlying Principles of the Paleo Diet.
The Paleo Diet is typically outlined as follows:
Civilisation came into being some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, and the human body has not evolved much since.
Our bodies were designed before modern society and agriculture.
Our bodies were not designed to process modern foods. Modern foods are designed to be appealing, pleasant to eat and efficient to produce, but are not designed with health in mind first and foremost.
Eating more of the foods that our ancestors would have eaten, and avoiding modern processed foods, is better for our body.
What can't I eat?
Diets are largely defined by what you can't eat, so we'll start with these first. The Paleo Diet revolves around eliminating modern foods from our diet, and by "modern", we mean anything that is only made possible through farming. Some foods are debatable, but the foods prohibited by the Paleo Diet are:
Refined Sugar. This is a complete no-no, and includes table sugar as well as more refined syrups.
Refined grains. Wheat, rice and other starchy grains are prohibited. Modern wheat has been cultivated and selected for its high starch content, and is far more refined than Einkorn or wild grains.
What can I eat?
The Paleo Diet encourages the consumption of anything that prehistoric humans would have eaten. This includes:
Fruits, nuts and seeds.
Meats - particularly lean meats and organic meats.
Vegetables - though starchy root vegetables can be debatable (see below).
Fat is considered mostly ok. The Paleo Diet allows the consumption of unrefined foods that contain natural fats and natural sugars, as long as it's the naturally-occurring stuff rather than processed or added fat and sugar.
Which items are debatable?
The following items are debatable, because we don't know to what extent prehistoric humans ate them:
Milk and milk products.
Some paleo fans suggest that only lean, organic meats are acceptable
Herbs and spices.
Some would call inclusion of the above foods non-paleo, and would instead use the term "primal" for a less-strict form of the paleo diet. There are plenty of nutritional arguments for and against the inclusion of any of the above, so whether you wish to include them in a paleo diet depends on your interpretation of the principles, and how ideological you are about upholding those principles.
What are the nutritional benefits of the Paleo Diet?
Fewer "empty" calories from sugar and starch - meaning that you consume more vitamins and minerals by obtaining your calories from fruit, nuts and vegetables.
A lower calorie intake overall. There's something to say that the paleo diet works simply because there's only so much fruit, nuts and meat that you can eat. There is a greater sense of satiety from these foods, because they are more flavoursome than relatively bland starchy foods.
The general nutritional benefits from increased consumption of nuts, fruits and so on: more vitamins and minerals and more protein.
There's plenty of evidence that eating fat does not make you any fatter than consuming the equivalent calories from non-fatty foods (such as starch).
Starchy foods tend to have a high glycemic index, leading to raised blood sugar levels, and related health complications. As starchy foods are eliminated in the Paleo Diet, the risks are greatly reduced.
How would the Paleo Diet help me?
The Paleo Diet can help with the following:
Weight control. Primarily because of the control of sugars and starch.
Better intake of vitamins and minerals. Because you're not just filling up with grains.
Fewer problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure etc. as a result of the reduction of sugar intake.
What diets are similar?
The term "Paleo Diet" was coined in the 21st century, but of course, many people have followed some version of it before then. The Paleo Diet is mostly obvious. Reducing carbs and sugar has been popular amongst some fitness fans even before "paleo" was a thing. Of course, bodybuilders would increase their carb intake whilst "bulking up",and would eat lots of energy gels, and this would be avoided under the paleo diet.
Somewhere in time, the "food pyramid" idea took over, and people were encouraged to fill up on starchy foods such as bread, rice or potatoes. To some extent, the emphasis on starchy foods was based on economics, because starchy foods are easier and cheaper to produce on a large scale. It's easier to feed a population along "food pyramid" principles than it were if everyone followed the paleo diet. In this context, the "paleo diet" can be seen as an attempt to bring us back to nature, and to eat the simpler, more nutrition-dense, less-starchy foods that existed before mass agriculture.
Similar diets to the Paleo Diet include:
Atkins diet. The Atkins Diet contains many components, a key part being the reduction of consumption of carbohydrates and sugars. The theory that the body enters a state of ketosis where it primarily burns fat, burning your body's fat reserves along with the fat that you consume.
The aforementioned Primal Diet is like a "Paleo-Lite" - a cheat's version of Paleo that allows certain foods as long as they are considered nutritionally sound.
What is the realistic version of this diet?
In truth, almost nobody sticks to "diets", because we generally like to eat a variety of foods, and we'd feel sad if we never eat toast again, or buy a bar of chocolate from the corner shop.
The idea is to reduce our intake of carby foods. Carbs are quite tasty in their own way, and you can eat a little bit of carbs.
Eat things that are tasty, and worry about portion control and quantity.
No diet is a religion. At Healthy Supplies, we're quite resistant to trends and fads, and we hate the idea of "The [X] Diet", where X is the latest buzzword. Instead, we encourage people to take away the messages and principles behind these trends, and to discard the hype and nonsense. The term "Paleo Diet" actually covers a multitude of ideas, most of them actually good and sensible - but like anything, if taken to extremes, can lead to poor outcomes.
Should I Follow the Paleo Diet?
At Healthy Supplies, we discourage slavish following of any set of rules, and as there is no definitive idea of what "The Paleo Diet" would consist of anyway, we'd say instead to take away the following set of principles:
Eat much less sugar, avoiding refined sugar completely if you can help it.
Eat fewer starchy foods: fewer grains and cereals.
Derive more of your calories from fruits and vegetables.
Derive protein from nuts and seeds, and if you are not vegetarian or vegan, meat or fish.
The occasional treat is ok in moderation, but don't make it a regular thing.
Instead of regular chocolate, make your own using raw cacao (plenty of advice on our Chocolate Recipes page).
A completely Paleo Diet is unrealistic in the modern world, but you can do your best to cut out unhealthy foods, and enjoy the benefits!
Most of the above is quite obvious, and comes under of the banner of "eating healthily" rather than specifically being about the Paleo Diet. So our advice is simply to eat healthily.
By Brendan Fernandes, Founder of HealthySupplies.co.uk
Although, as pointed out above, we don't think that the idea of a complete "Paleo Diet" is realistic, but the foods in this section will help to support a healthier diet in accordance with the underlying principles of the Paleo Diet. More Info >
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