The Paleo Diet: A Brief Overview

Paleo Diet Foods

Have you heard about the “Paleo Diet” but are not sure what it means exactly? In this post I will provide a high level overview of Paleo, what is means, how it came about and what foods are and are not included. Keep in mind when we say “diet” it is meant in the sense of “way of eating”. This is to help ensure it’s clear that eating this way may be beneficial for reasons other that just losing weight. 

The Paleo Diet Primarily Consists of Plants and Animals

After the Great Flood, God told Noah:

“Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.” (Genesis 9:3)

What Does Paleo Mean?

The word “paleo” means “older or ancient” and thus the Paleo Diet got its name from the idea we should be eating the way our ancestors ate. The Paleo Diet movement tends to focus on the notion that we should eat a certain way because our bodies “evolved” based on what our ancestors (i.e. hunter-gatherers) ate prior to the advent of agriculture.

The archaeological evidence does show that hunter-gatherer peoples tended to be healthier than agriculturalists. Their bones do not show evidence of the same level of diseases found in the remains of agricultural people. While this is compelling evidence that points us in the right direction, I do not believe it rises to the level of full justification for “paleolithic eating”. In fact, there is evidence the stronger bones are the result of more exercise in early life.

Regardless, what interests me more is the scientific evidence and studies this way of eating leads to improved health. Not to mention my own personal experience which has been very positive. Additionally, rather than focusing on evolution, I much prefer to look at it in terms of eating the way our bodies were “created” by God to be fueled. The underlying rationale is basically the same – figuring out how our bodies are best and efficiently fueled is the goal.

Food is a Drug

Think of food as a drug that we are putting into our bodies multiple times a day. Many of the illnesses plaguing our society are what are known as “diseases of civilization” such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, just to name a few. With that in mind, we should be eating what heals our body and supports our immune, musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, our brain function and our major organs. The “Paleo Diet” (as in template or way of eating) does just that.

Instead of focusing on what we should NOT eat I prefer to focus on what we SHOULD eat:

What Foods are Included in the Paleo Diet?

  • High quality sources of protein such as meat, fowl and seafood;

  • Colorful vegetables and fruitsveggies and fruit

  • Healthy fats such as nuts, avocados, olive oil and coconut

How Will You Feel Eating a Paleo Diet?

Meals high in protein and good fats tend to lead to a feeling of satiety much longer than eating the government recommended “low fat, high carb” diet. Thus, you will stay fuller longer and consume fewer calories overall as a result. My personal experience has been that I am simply not hungry eating this way. You may have a similar epiphany realizing you do not have to go around hungry to be fit and lean.

What Types of Foods are Not Part of the Paleo Way of Eating?

We do need to discuss the foods that should be eliminated when eating Paleo. The Paleo Diet advocates the removal of grains (including corn), legumes (including soy and peanuts), dairy, processed sugar and trans, hydrogenated and other highly processed oils. Future posts will get into more detail about why these foods should be avoided. But for now suffice it to say eating protein, veggies, fruits and good fats simply provides much more nutrient density.

What is Wrong with the Standard American Diet?

The U.S. government advocates 6-11 servings per day of grains. But grains, especially grains containing gluten such as wheat, barley and rye, are gut irritants. Gut lining irritation keeps us from properly digesting our food and can lead to inflammation in our bodies. Inflammation is the root cause of many of our “diseases of civilization” and eating processed foods alters our hormone levels in detrimental ways. Eating grains and sugars causes insulin levels to spike which, over time, can lead to diabetes. When you eat processed foods you are putting yourself at a much higher risk for autoimmune diseases, cancer and the like.

Try Eating Paleo for Thirty Days

(Check out the Strictly Paleo Plan for help) It is not as difficult as you think. There are lots of good resources for recipes that exist in cookbooks and online. (Check out a few of my recipes here)  See how you feel after thirty days of strict paleo eating and then reassess. Read about continuing to eating in the “Paleo Template” which gets into foods to add back in after your initial 30 days.

For more information on the science behind the Paleo Diet you should check out Robb Wolf’s blog . I also recommend Mark Sisson’s “The Primal Blueprint”. Please also check back here for future posts where I will discuss my personal experience eating this way and the difference it has made in my health and well-being as well as new recipes.