‘What is Paleo Diet’, in a nutshell?
The term ‘Paleo Diet’ has been inspired from the Paleolithic period in human history. This era in human history is marked by the grouping together of early humans and gathering plants, fishing, hunting and scavenging wild animals.
Hence, paleo diet is also referred to as the cavemen diet and consists of foods that were eaten by the early cavemen living in the Paleolithic era. Thus, it consists of food items like fruits, lean meat, fishes, vegetable, seeds, etc. which were easily available to our early stone-age ancestors.
How did I come across it?
I am a fitness fanatic and have done my fair share of experimenting with diets in the past. While searching the “inter-webs” for diets that did not require a whole lot of exercise, I came across the Ketogenic Diet and followed it blindly. To be honest it worked out at first but Keto is not the diet to follow once you start working out, as it provides you with very little energy for physical tasks.
Then one day YouTube recommended me the paleo diet and I researched a bit into it. The reasoning behind it made sense to me and also the diet was much easier to follow as it required no calorie counting to the specifics.
Reasoning behind the Paleo Diet
There have been claims since the late 1800’s that primitive diet is far more superior than the modern diet and the human body is anatomically more suited to follow the primitive diet. The term ‘Paleo Diet’ was coined by Loren Cordain( American Scientist specializing in the field of Health Science and Exercise Physiology), in his 2002 book ‘The Paleo Diet’.
The reasoning behind this style of Diet seems to be that the human body is genetically ill-matched to process modern foods. Ever since our diet switched from the hunter-gatherer style to the farming and agriculture-based diet, the proponents of the Paleo Diet claims that our body has been unable to acclimatize to the change.
The modern foods which emerged with the farming practices thus are the cause of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. And if we go back to the diet of our stone-age ancestors then we will be leading a much healthier life.
Following the Paleo Diet means eating foods resembling those that were consumed by early cavemen. This means a diet consisting of high fiber and protein and no processed or dairy foods.
In his book, Cordain advocated eating as much like the Paleolithic people as possible, which meant:
- 55% of daily calories from lean meat and seafood, evenly divided
- 15% of daily calories each from fruits, vegetables, and nuts/seeds
- Total avoidance of dairy products, processed foods, agricultural grains, added salt or sugar.
What to Eat: The paleo diet has undergone significant changes in recent times and there is no set of rules which you need to conform to. Many modern food items like quality grass-fed butter and gluten-free grains like rice, which have been scientifically proven to be healthy have been added to the diet.
Thus paleo diet serves more as a template these days, where you can add your own food items according to your health or physiology.
According to the classical Paleo Diet, however, following are the food items that you should be taking,
- Lean meats, preferably grass fed or free range
- Meats of wild game-animals
- Fish rich in Omega-3 Fatty acid, like salmon, tuna, mackerel, etc.
- Fruits and non-starchy Vegetables
- Nuts, Seeds and Roots
- Oils from fruits and nuts such as olive and walnut oil
What Not to Eat: The classical followers of the Paleo Diet believe that modern processed foods and dairy products are not easily digestible by our body. Hence, these food products are not suited for consumption by us. Following are the food items to avoid, following the classical diet,
- Starchy Vegetables
- Cereal Grains
- Refined Sugar
- Processed Salt
- Dairy Products
- Any Processed Food
- Processed and Cured Meats
Thus what you can conclude looking at the above list is that generally speaking, the diet is protein rich and has moderate levels of carbohydrate and fats. What you might notice is that this diet is also very high in fibers and extremely low in salt and processed sugar.
Controversies around the Paleo Diet
The Paleolithic Diet, in recent times, has received a fair deal of skepticism and criticism. But as this diet has regained popularity in recent times, hence not much research has been possible regarding its long-term aspects.
- Although, we can guesstimate we still do not fully know what the diet of our paleolithic ancestors really consisted of. Hence, the belief that our bodies are more suited to nuts, berries, fruits, roots and grass-fed meat loses some ground.
- The physiology of our body depends on many factors like our environment and usually gets adapted as we grow older. Also, the premise that our bodies are anatomically identical to our ancestors of 2.6 million years ago and have not changed itself to adapt to the massive change in the lifestyle, environment and food habits seems a bit far fetched.
- Though not proven, many experts believe potato to be a major part of the early man’s diet. Paleo diet advocates against starchy food, hence potato is excluded from the diet.
- The diet is strongly against any agricultural and dairy products. These excluded food categories form a major portion of the modern diet. Thus, such exclusion may lead to a deficiency of calcium, vitamins and other micronutrients.
- Paleo diet also emphasizes heavily on eating meat. There are obvious risks associated with a high meat intake, esp. red meat. People having cardiovascular diseases or diabetes may be at a serious risk by trying the diet.
- The Paleogenic people were much more physically active as compared to us these days.
Modern Paleo Diet, as I have stated earlier, is more like a template. You can start with a given predefined template and add or subtract according to your observation. With that definition, I would consider myself a paleo diet follower.
Just do not exclude whole food groups like grains or dairy from your diet. They provide essential nutrients like calcium, Vitamin D and B, magnesium, phosphorous and a whole lot of micronutrients and antioxidants. The classical Paleo diet also advocates against eating Legumes, which might not be a good idea.
Legumes are a great source of protein and contain very little fat with a low amount of carbohydrates. Finally, the most important thing to remember is that you should modify your diet according to your genetic predisposition.
Removing a whole group of food or two is not the correct answer. The answer lies in calculating and regulating the portion size of the food group you eat. If you feel that you have enough energy to carry you throughout the day and are not gaining weight, then my friend you are on the correct path. And remember health is not just about the diet, it is also about exercising regularly and keeping your mental state in a serene condition. Thus, I cannot stress how important it is that you start working out.
So, whatever your thoughts on Paleo Diet, it is definitely true that following it will remove your dependency on modern processed and fast food and that for me is definitely a very healthy thing to do. Cheers!
If you like this article then you might also like my article on ‘The Ketogenic Diet’, check it out by clicking here.
Need some motivation to start hitting the gym, click here to find it.