What is the Paleo Diet?

“What is the Paleo diet?” I asked my fitness-coach nephew, when he first told me about it.

Did it mean I had to eat Brontosaurus burgers and terrine of Pterodactyl? No.

The answer was much simpler than that...


So, what IS the Paleo diet?

It’s a very healthy way of eating that mimics how humans ate in Paleolithic times.

Healthy, free-range organic eggs are on the Paleo diet © Karen Alison

 According to researchers Loren Cordain, PhD, and biochemist, Robb Wolf, our bodies haven’t evolved much since then. We still require lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables and fruit, nuts, seeds, water, and not a whole lot else.

In other words, REAL food that is packed with nutrients that nourish our bodies so they work well and stay healthy.

By the way, we’re talking “diet” as in “way of eating” not as in “weight loss” although many people do lose weight on the Paleo diet - without going hungry.


Too sweet for our own good?

Gee, I didn’t see chocolate ice cream on that list of the foods we require, did you? Or cookies… Or even hummus. (Are you beginning to wish you’d never asked, “What is the darn Paleo diet”?)

chocolate-chip-cookies-are-not-paleo-foods

Well, you didn’t see them because back in Paleo days, we weren’t eating sugar, dairy foods, grains, or legumes (beans.)

It took the Agricultural Revolution of 10,000 years ago to make those foods available.


And guess what happened?

The average human lifespan dropped from 40 years to 20!!! Maybe that’s because we were more fit (and had more fun?) when we were hunting and gathering. Or because, when we became farmers, we just weren't getting the nutrients we needed from our food.

We also lost height and bone density, and began experiencing the diseases of civilization, like diabetes, arthritis and cancer.*

But the really big problem with sugar, grains, and dairy is that they have a tendency to increase your insulin resistance; poke holes in your intestines (legumes can do this, too) - called leaky gut syndrome; and distort the balance of your digestive flora by feeding bad bacteria, virus and fungi in your gut.


What does that mean for your body?

The potential for:

  • Excess weight, food cravings and diabetes
  • Auto-immune conditions like allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, MS
  • Acne, ecsema and other skin issues
  • Brain and behaviour problems ranging from fuzzy thinking and dementia to ADHD and autism (studies show that children's behaviour improves significantly on a low-sugar, allergen-free diet)
  • Inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis
  • Even cancer has been linked to sugar and grains

Is the Paleo diet a cure-all?

What is the Paleo diet to anyone who wants to be healthy? Is it a magic bullet or a cure-all?

I can’t speak to that since I’m not a doctor or scientist. But I do know what happened for me when I switched to a Paleo diet...

  • I lost weight
  • My skin improved
  • I lost my food cravings and no longer feel like I have to eat all the time. In fact, because the foods are so satisfying, I can go half a day without eating and not suffer.
  • I have excellent blood pressure without medication (and I come from a family where the adults typically had high blood pressure)
  • My energy levels increased
  • I have better muscle recovery after exercise
  • I rarely get sick – I’m much more resistant to cold viruses and if I do get sick, it's less serious and doesn't last as long as in the past.

So I would have to say that, in many ways, the Paleo diet turned out to be one of the most effective natural remedies I've tried.


What is the Paleo diet "short list"?

what-is-the-paleo-diet-leafy-greens
  • Lean protein: eggs, meat, poultry, fish, seafood
  • Green and orange vegetables (white veg like cauliflower are okay but not potatoes which are mostly starch)
  • Fruit – the lower fructose ones are best
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Good fats like fish oil, flax oil, olive oil and butter
  • Seafood and seaweed

Of course, use common sense and avoid any food you're allergic to.


Something important
you should know about Paleo

When you read any of the top experts on Paleo – sometimes called Primal – they make it clear that’s it’s not just about “What is the Paleo diet.” There’s more to it than food.

The Paleo – or Primal – lifestyle also involves:

Sleep – getting more of it, since most of us are sleep-deprived. For people struggling with weight issues, sleeping more will help tremendously with weight loss.

Exercise – frequent movement and a bit of high-intensity exercise rather than “chronic cardio.” Chronic sitting is now considered as dangerous to your health as smoking. Our Paleo forebears would all be considered athletes compared to us.

Spending time outdoors – Even though we’ve been taught to shun the sun, the truth is that in earlier times, we spent most of our time outdoors. Sunlight is a significant nutrient that stimulates your eyesight, immune system, and vitamin D production. In fact, 100 years ago, people who were ill were put out to lie in the sun for “heliotherapy.”


Here's a curious thing...

Strangely enough, when people ask me, “What is the Paleo diet?” and I tell them, they sometimes say, “Oh, your diet is so limited!”

So, I ask them how many times a day they eat wheat. After they think about it, what I usually hear back is that they’re eating it at EVERY meal and snack!

And they think my diet is limited?


You'll end up eating more veggies and other healthy foods on the Paleo diet - and it's easy.

I’ve found Paleo is the simplest way to eat. All you need is a protein, a veg or two and a handful of nuts and you’re good to go.

So, stop asking “What’s the Paleo diet?” and just do it!




* If you'd like to know more about the evolution of food and human lifestyle and their effects on our health and life expectancy, read this interesting article. (pdf)

References:

  • Cordain, Loren, PhD. The Paleo Diet. Hoboken NJ, John Wiley & Sons, 2011.
  • Sisson, Mark. The Primal Blueprint. Malibu, CA, Primal Nutrition Inc, 2012.
  • Wolf, Robb. The Paleo Solution. Las Vegas, NV, Victory Belt Publishing, 2010.

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