Although it’s called the paleo diet, it isn’t actually a diet. It’s more of a lifestyle choice. The word “diet” tends to have negative connotations and creates an image in our head of an extreme weight loss program. The paleo diet isn’t like that at all. In fact, most paleo dieters eat as much food as they want, as long as it fits the paleo criteria.
The paleo diet (aka the primal diet, the caveman diet, and the hunter-gatherer diet) is a whole-foods diet based on the concept that we shouldn’t eat anything that our paleolithic ancestors didn’t eat. That includes foods like grains (such as bread), beans, and dairy.
Our ancestors have evolved to the food that they ate during the paleolithic period and our bodies and minds today still operate the best on those foods.
The emergence of agriculture and the domestication of animals occurred about 10,000 years ago, which is when we started consuming foods such as grains and dairy. It’s believed that our bodies have still not adapted to those foods.
The food we eat today has become exponentially worse than when agriculture began those 10,000 years ago. People are increasingly eating foods that are processed, covered in pesticides, genetically modified, and just plain low quality.
Because of the diets many of us have today, we now have an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Paleo for Our Health
Can the paleo diet fix our health and prevent serious health issues? Experts think so and so do the many people who have used the paleo diet to overcome their own health problems.
At the age of 45, Brian suffered from a subarachnoid hemorrhage from a ruptured brain aneurysm. Three years later he weighed 245 lbs., he was depressed, tired and physically unable to enjoy life. He also suffered from migraine headaches that caused by his injury, which his doctors said were permanent. Fast forward to 5 years later when Brian asked his physically fit son for advice on how to get healthy, to which his son recommended a book by paleo expert Robb Wolf. Brian put the book into practice for 30 days and felt noticeably better, so he stuck with it. Now at the age of 60, his headaches are gone, he’s full of energy and he’s in the best shape of his life (180 lbs.).
Or how about the story of Dr. Katherine Reid, a biochemist with a daughter who was diagnosed with autism. She reversed her daughters autism by starting with a paleo diet. She added nutritional supplements, removed gluten and casein, and reduced foods that contained large amounts of glutamate.
And then there’s Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa.
She was diagnosed with chronic progressive neurological disorder and secondary progressive multiple sclerosis when she was 45 years old. Her health was in a constant decline, so much so that she was eventually forced to use a wheel chair. It was at this point that she decided to take research into her own hands, which is when she learned that she could treat her condition by eating for her brain cells and mitochondria. By adding vitamins and minerals and switching to a paleo-inspired diet, she defeated progressive multiple sclerosis and is no longer bound to a wheel chair.
Is the Paleo Diet Too Strict?
The paleo diet has varying degrees of adoption. Some paleo dieters are die hard and and will not stray from the original concept of eating only the food that paleolithic people ate (or what we believe they ate).
Most paleo eaters use the paleo concept as a template to build on. This gives them more freedom to eat foods that aren’t believed to be harmful, even if paleolithic people didn’t eat them. Some examples of these foods are grass-fed butter, ghee, coffee, rice, and potatoes.
There are also exceptions to some of the big no-no’s on the paleo diet. Some people say it’s okay to eat beans, as long as they are soaked for 24 hours to remove phytic acid. Some people say dairy is okay too, as long as it’s raw and organic.
So What Should You Eat?
You want to eat meals that consist of a protein source such as chicken or beef, and a large serving of vegetables.
Paleo advocates generally feel strongly about where their food comes from. Vegetables should be organic (to prevent pesticides) and meat should come from grass-fed and/or pasture-raised animals. It’s also best if the meat is purchased from local farms. Most importantly, meat should not come from an industrial farm where animals are raised in terrible conditions.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) are industrial farms that mistreat animals and inject them full of hormones, steroids and antibiotics. All that stuff is still in the meat when we buy it and then it enters our bodies when we eat it.
The kinds of meats paleo eaters usually eat are:
– Eggs (from pasture raised chickens
– Beef / Bison (100% grass-fed)
– Turkey and Chicken (pasture raised)
– Fish (wild-caught)
As for fruits and vegetables, just about any will do, although it’s recommended that it’s organic, in season, and local. Nearly half of your plate should contain vegetables.
Foods that you should avoid include highly processed foods and anything that has a list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce. You should also avoid foods that can cause inflammation of the body.
Here’s a quick list of common foods most experts say you should avoid.
- Artificial sweeteners
The hardest of any of these for most people is bread and dairy, but if you stick to your paleo diet, those cravings will go away.
How To Get Started
There are variety of books on the market that can guide you through becoming paleo, but I recommend Robb Wolf’s paleo guides. He put together a package that includes a 30 day walkthrough of the paleo diet, 30 days worth of recipes, a paleo budget guide and a guide on how to stay paleo when dining out. Robb Wolf is former biochemist and is currently a strength and conditioning coach. With his expertise, you can be sure that he’ll set you up for success. He also has a podcast that’s worth checking out.
If the paleo diet sounds like the right choice for you and you’re ready to start right now, the first thing you want to do is remove the temptation to cheat. Get rid of the bread, chips, soda, milk, candy and anything else you shouldn’t be eating, because if it’s in the house, you’ll eat it.
Now go to the store and pick up some high-quality protein sources such as pasture raised eggs, grass fed beef and bison, and pasture raised turkey. You should be able to find those foods at local health food stores, such as Whole Foods, but if you can’t find them, do your best to purchase the highest quality meat you can find. Also keep in mind that if you purchase in bulk from a local farm, such as a quarter cow or more, you can save a ton of money. Check EatWild to find a paleo-friendly farm near you.
You should also buy lots of fruits and veggies (canned and frozen are fine too). Look up some recipes online and cook up a fresh paleo meal that will taste better than any meal you’ve ever had before.
Get ready to change your life for the better!