What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet, also known as “Caveman” and “Stone Age” diet refers to the notion that to experience optimal health, we should eat the foods that our ancestors ate. This means we should avoid all processed foods and other types of food that “cavemen” wouldn’t have eaten/had access to. The Paleo Diet aims to just about completely eradicate sugar, with a strong focus on eliminating “counting calories” as a means of losing weight, building muscle and getting in the best shape of your life.
In short, the diet aims to create a lifestyle which draws its core principles from our ancestors who ate whole, unprocessed foods (as well as being active, getting good sleep and stressing less). Paleo works under the notion that our bodies haven’t evolved fast enough to endure the “new foods” which took effect about 10,000 years ago. Here’s a simple overview of what foods are allowed (and not allowed) in the Paleo Diet, the pros and cons as well as whether or not this could be a diet for you.
What foods should I eat?
There are a number of foods that are considered okay as part of building a healthy Paleo Diet. These foods are nutrient-rich and are considered to be the cornerstone of maintaining healthy metabolic, digestive and immune systems.
|Food that is okay to eat||Why?|
|Grass-fed meat||Grass-fed meat contains more nutrients such as antioxidants, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), omega-3 and vitamins than grain-fed meat. Feeding animals a high grain diet is said to be like a human eating too much dessert! The lower the micro-nutrients, the more one would need to eat before feeling full.|
|Fish & seafood||Seafood is high in vitamins and minerals, including zinc and potassium. Seafood is also low in fat (average of less than 2% fat) and high in protein. Fish is low in cholesterol and helps reduce the risk of heart disease as fish is also high on omega-3 fatty acids.|
|Eggs||Eggs are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, as they contain a little bit of almost every nutrient needed. A single large boiled egg contains the likes of Vitamin A, Vitamins B5, B12 and B2 as well as Calcium and Zinc. Eggs are also high in protein, which goes hand in hand with a good workout routine.|
|Fruits & vegetables||Fruits (in moderation) and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that can reduce the likelihood of cancer, diabetes and neurological decline.|
|Nuts & seeds||Nuts and seeds are nutritious but many are high in Omega-6 acids, which can be pro-inflammatory if your diet does not have an equal balance of Omega-3 acids.|
|Healthy oils & fats||There are a number of healthy oils & fats that can be incorporated into a Paleo Diet including: |
Other good foods in the Paleo diet include coconut products (i.e. coconut milk, coconut nectar), herbal tea and condiments (i.e. mustard).
What foods should I avoid?
|Food that is not okay to eat||Why?|
|Grains & gluten||Grains are considered to contain toxic antinutrients – substances that prevent absorption of nutrients. Grains to avoid include wheat, cereals, oats, corn, rice and barley.|
|Processed foods||Baked goods, junk food and prepackaged meals often contain high levels of chemicals, additives and sugar that contribute to poor health. Fast food is to be avoided completely for the Paleo Dieter.|
|Dairy||Opinion on whether dairy can be part of Paleo has been split. The main belief is that early people did not eat dairy products but if you wish to consume dairy, you need to make sure that the animal is grass-fed. Those who are lactose intolerant are unable to digest dairy food, and thus should avoid dairy.|
|Legumes||Include beans, lentils and peanuts and are considered no-go zones in a Paleo Diet. Legumes have a high content of lectins and other antinutrients. There is debate over whether legumes are suitable in a Paleo Diet, but only if they are soaked for up to 12 hours then cooked really well to remove the phytic acid for easier digestion.|
|Refined sugars & carbohydrates||Foods (& beverages) including pasta, bread, cookies, soft drinks, fruit juices and energy drinks are all a no-go zone in the Paleo diet. These are high in sugar, which can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease because of a high blood sugar rate.|
Other foods that should be avoided in the Paleo diet include factory farmed meat, artificial sweeteners, and high omega-6 vegetable oils.
Pros & Cons of the Paleo Diet:
The Paleo Diet has been met with mixed reviews, with some foods considered both suitable and unsuitable for the diet. Below are some pros and cons of the Paleo Diet.
- You will be eating a clean diet without additives, preservatives or chemicals.
- You will feel fuller for longer, due to high intake of nutrients, protein and good fats.
- Due to a clean diet, a major health benefit is losing weight as well as feeling great.
- Stable blood sugar which means lower risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Anti-inflammatory benefit from the plant nutrients in fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, nuts and seeds.
- Improved sleeping patterns and burn off stored fat.
- Diet excludes whole food groups such as grains and legumes, with the risk of eating more meat than is needed by your body. In addition, it may be difficult to follow and sustain as a result of cutting out key food groups (it’s a restrictive diet).
- As Paleo means no grains, whole or otherwise, your body will miss out on these good sources of health and energy. In addition, whole grains have been shown to reduce risk of disease, improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels.
- The evidence to suggest cutting out dairy isn’t particularly strong.
- This eating plan can be expensive. It is possible to find other diets where bad foods are cut out and are less expensive.
- In order to maximise and optimise performance and recovery, athletes need to continually load and reload muscle glycogen stores. A low carbohydrate/high protein diet does not allow for this. You risk overtraining and exhaustion with a low-carb diet and strong exercise routine.
- The Paleo Diet falls short on calcium (for stronger bones) and vitamin D.
Will the Paleo Diet work for me?
You now may be at the stage where you are wondering whether the Paleo Diet is right for you. Ultimately, the decision whether to go Paleo or not depends on your goals. The Paleo diet assists significantly in losing weight while maintaining stable blood sugar levels. If your goal is to lose weight and keep your sugar levels low, the Paleo Diet might be the answer for you. In addition, if you are 100% committed to maintaining a pretty strict diet and believe that Paleo can help you feel your best, it’s worth a try.
On the other hand, it is possible that your goals do not go hand in hand with the Paleo Diet. For athletes looking to build strength and muscle, carbohydrates such as grains allow for exercise fuel, which reduces the risk of fatigue. In addition, if you don’t like to stick with a strict diet and eat the same things, you may want to turn to a diet that allows for you to experience the benefits of all the major food groups. As long as you’re eating healthy and clean, do what makes you happy!
As you can see, the Paleo Diet has both its advantages and disadvantages. A decision on whether to go Paleo should depend on how well the advantages of this diet compare against its disadvantages in your eyes. However, Paleo doesn’t allow for too much variety so if you’re looking to have more balance in your diet, it’s best advised that you turn elsewhere where you experience the benefits of all the major food groups. A good diet means the absence of unhealthy, processed foods anyway!