In a nutshell, the Paleo diet (or, as I like to think of it, the Paleo template—the word “diet” tends to mislead folks into thinking this is nothing more than a temporary weight-loss program) is based on the notion that for optimal health.
Modern humans should go back to eating real, whole unprocessed foods that are more healthful than harmful to our bodies.
Admittedly, the “caveman” label makes this sound like a weird fad diet. But trust me: it isn’t. Over the past 200,000 years.
Humans have biologically adapted best to whole foods: plants, meat, seafood—all of them packed with the nutrients our bodies evolved to thrive on.
Agriculture came on the scene a mere 10,000 years ago.
A tiny fraction of our evolutionary history. And there simply hasn’t been enough time and evolutionary pressure for humans to completely adapt to eating modern foods like: wheat, sugar, chemically processed vegetable and seed oils, and other “Neolithic” foods.
It’s not a coincidence that many modern diseases of civilization. Including autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rampant obesity—have accompanied the global spread of industrialized food.
That’s why the Paleo approach emphasizes returning to a more ancestral approach to eating.
But here’s the thing to keep in mind: we’re not trying to precisely replicate cavemen diets.
Yes, a few Paleo die-hards may approach their diets this way, but there isn’t just one definitive, monolithic, one-size-fits-all “Paleo diet.”
Some Paleo eaters choose to go super-low-carb, while others of us (me included!) are happy to munch on a baked potato or a bowl of white rice every now and then.
There are Paleo eaters who can’t imagine life without dairy, and more orthodox folks who refuse to touch even a pat of butter with a ten-foot pole.
The Paleo tent is big enough to fit a host of different approaches, but the core tenets of ancestral eating remain the same:
- Eat whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense, nourishing foods. Prioritize grass fed and pastured meats and eggs, wild-caught seafood, and vegetables. Enjoy fruit, nuts, and seeds in moderation.
- Avoid foods that will harm us by causing systemic inflammation, wrecking our guts, or derailing our natural metabolic processes. Abstain from toxic, pro-inflammatory foods like gluten-containing grains, legumes, sugar, and the laboratory-concocted Frankenfoods found in the middle aisles of your neighborhood supermarket.
Physicians, biochemists, nutritionists, and other researchers are starting to come around to the benefits of ancestral nutrition.
And people who adopt a Paleo-like approach to eating are reporting significant improvements in their general health, body composition, and energy levels.
Most importantly, there’s evidence that folks who eat this way are reducing their risks of numerous diseases and disorders that are associated with the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.).
Health Benefits of Paleo Diet
You eat unprocessed, real food
Paleo and primal diets consist of real, whole foods – except for some natural but bottled or packaged sauces. Condiments and ingredients – so you automatically eliminate a whole range of preservatives, hidden sugars, sodium, additives, colouring, artificial flavouring and who knows what else.
As a result you eliminate unnecessary toxins and consume more nutrients, plus the food tastes so much better.
Paleo diet is rich in nutrients
One of the misconception about the Paleo diet is that it’s all about protein and fat.
What many don’t realize is that by eliminating nutrient-void processed carbs – I call them fillers – we supplement with loads of vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, berries and fruit, all of which are full of minerals and vitamins.
Combine that with the improved gut health and increased nutrient absorption which happens through avoidance of irritating grains and legumes.
And you get a very balanced diet.
You’d be surprised that we can get pretty much all required nutrients from animal, seafood and plant based foods.
Sustained weight loss
Most people experience weight loss and muscle growth while eating a paleo diet and keeping an active lifestyle.
Improved metabolic processes and gut health, better sleep, stress management. Sufficient Vitamin D and a healthy ratio of Omega-3/6 fatty acids all aid in burning off stored body fat.
Reduced bloat (and gas)
Paleo diet provides lots of fiber. Which together with adequate H2O intake and a smaller intake of sodium help to decrease the bloat many people experience on a Western diet.
Plus, paleo diet helps to improve the gut flora which is essential in keeping a healthy digestion.
Say goodbye to Hangry
Hangry is a combination of hungry+angry.
Which is a common symptom for many people suffering from acute or chronic hyperglycemia.
This also happens when the blood sugar drops and the person gets a rapid onset of hunger accompanied by irritability, fatigue, disorientation, and a foggy mind.
Meals consisting of protein and fat are very satiating.
The energy your body gets from fat, protein and some glucose from low GI carbs is released slowly and evenly throughout the day.
As a result, the blood sugar levels stay stable and you rarely experience energy drops; hunger develops gradually without the crazy mood swings.
It’s rich in healthy fats
Paleo diet promotes healthy saturated fat from grass fed meat, poultry, seafood, ghee, butter and coconuts.
Lots of monounsaturated fat from olive oil, nuts and seeds and a small amount of polyunsaturated fats; no trans fats; a healthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids.
The right types of fat are essential in maintaining healthy arteries, brain function, healthy skin, as well as decreasing systemic inflammation.
People following the Paleo/Primal diet experience many of the below benefits:
- Increased and more stable energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Clearer skin and healthier looking hair
- Mental clarity
- Improved mood and attitude
- Improvements in those suffering depression or anxieties
- Less or no bloating, decreased gas
- Sustained weight loss
- Muscle growth; increased fitness
- Lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer
- Higher immune function and a general feeling of well being
- Improved glucose tolerance; decreased insulin secretion and increased insulin sensitivity
- Improved lipid profiles
- Healthier gut flora
- Better absorption of nutrients from food
- Reduced allergies
- Paleo diet is anti-inflammatory, most people experience reduction of pain associated with inflammation
- Improvements in those with respiratory problems such as asthma
Paleo Diet Food List
- Lean meat, such as chicken, turkey, pork, lean beef, and buffalo (bison)
- Fresh fruit
- Nonstarchy vegetables, such as lettuce, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and spinach
- Nuts, like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and pistachios (no peanuts)
- Seeds, like pumpkin and sunflower
- Plant-based oils, such as olive, walnut, grapeseed, and coconut oil
What Can’t You Eat on the Paleo Diet?
- Grains, such as oats, wheat, barley, and rice — which means no cereal, bread, pasta, bagels, crackers, or granola bars
- Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn, as well as potato and corn chips, tortillas, and popcorn
- Legumes or beans — so no peanuts or peanut butter; no soy foods, such as soy milk, tofu, or edamame; no hummus or beans of any kind
- Dairy products — so no milk, yogurt, cheese, or ice cream
- High-fat meats, such as salami, bologna, pepperoni, hot dogs, ground meat, rib roast, and ribs
- Sugars, such as in soda, honey, jam or jelly, syrup, candy, cakes, cookies, and sports drinks
- Processed foods or trans fats, such as doughnuts, french fries, fruit snacks, or macaroni and cheese
- Salty foods, such as crackers, chips, pretzels, soy sauce, added-salt foods, or sports drinks
Essential Paleo Diet Tips
- The diet does not specify portions of the allowed foods, and because there aren’t a ton of approved foods, you may find yourself overeating some of them. This wouldn’t be a calorie issue if you ate a lot of lettuce, but could be a problem if you ate a 5-pound jar of nuts.
- The diet is higher in protein, which is an important nutrient to build and maintain muscle. But too much protein usually means too little carbohydrate, which is the energy source for exercise.
- The amount of carbohydrates may be inadequate for athletes. The diet does allow some carbohydrates, but it is still fairly restrictive.
Negative Effects and Disadvantages of the Paleo Diet
- It can get expensive.
- You don’t eat any grains or dairy which can be good for health and energy.
- This diet can be difficult for vegetarians, especially since it excludes beans.
- Most athletes need between 3 to 6 grams of carbs per pound of their body weight, per day. This would be very hard to do with just fruits and vegetables.
It’s up to you if you want to avoid alcohol altogether, however, if an occasion calls for it, stick to a glass of dry red wine, dry cider or clear spirits.
A variety of grass fed meat and pasture raised poultry and eggs, fish and seafood, vegetables, berries, some fruit, some nuts and seeds, grass fed butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, macadamia oil, coconut water, unsweetened tea, fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha drink.
Include in small amounts
It is recommended to avoid dairy for 30 days, especially for those suffering from gluten or lactose intolerance, digestive and gut issues.
You can then slowly re-introduce full fat cream, aged hard cheeses like Parmesan or Pecorino, goat’s or sheep’s milk cheese and natural unsweetened yogurt as higher fat, fermented and non-cow milk dairy is easier to digest and has many nutritional benefits.
You can usually include small amounts of natural sweeteners like raw honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup and dried fruit.
Use for cooking and heating:
ghee, coconut oil, macadamia oil, lard, duck fat, butter and virgin olive oil (when cooking below 170-180C such as in slow roasting, sautéing and braising).
Use unheated or add at the end of cooking:
extra-virgin and virgin olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado oil, pumpkinseed oil, sesame oil, hazelnut oil, unrefined coconut oil, butter.
Water, black coffee, tea, herbal teas, coconut water, green juices, coconut milk, almond milk.
Sample Paleo Diet Meal Plan
- Breakfast Two semi soft-boiled eggs chopped over a bed of wilted spinach with olive oil, lemon and garlic. Topped with ½ cup cherry tomatoes, ½ avocado, ¼ cup diced green onion and drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and pepper on top. Plus 1 green apple.
- Lunch Salad made with 100-150g tinned sardines or wild salmon in olive oil or brine, 2 cups rocket salad, 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, 5-6 sliced radishes, 1 medium grated carrot, 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds. Dress with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon Apple Cider vinegar, ½ teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
- Dinner 200g grass fed beef steak marinated for an hour in rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper, then grilled to medium rare in ghee or coconut oil. Served with a grilled Portobello mushroom and 2 cups of slaw salad made with shredded red cabbage, carrot, Spanish onion, parsley and dressing with lemon juice, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.
- Snack if you need it 150ml 100% coconut water, handful of macadamia nuts, 5 strawberries
- Breakfast 1 small sweet potato grated and pan-fried in coconut oil for 7-8 minutes until golden brown and soft, served with 100g smoked salmon, ½ cup diced cucumber, dollop of mayonnaise, drizzle of lemon juice and some fresh dill.
- Lunch 2-3 medium gluten free lamb sausages with grilled asparagus and a side of spinach salad with red peppers, sesame seeds and tahini, lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil dressing. Plus a dollop of Dijon or wholegrain mustard on the side.
- Dinner Turmeric chicken & kale salad (recipe provided)
- Snack if you need it 50g beef jerky, 1 cup diced rockmelon, green tea