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 peoples. 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”. What interests me more is the scientific evidence and studies that show 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.
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 does just that.
Instead of focusing on what we should NOT eat I prefer to focus on what we SHOULD eat:
High quality sources of protein such as meat, fowl and seafood;
Colorful vegetables and fruits;
Healthy fats such as nuts, avocados, olive oil and coconut.
There are tons of amazingly good recipes that use only the above groups of foods along with herbs and spices. (Check out www.everydaypaleo.com for some great ones!) You will not feel the least bit deprived. Additionally, meals high in protein and good fats tend to lead to a feeling of satiation 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 and my epiphany is realizing I do not have to go around hungry to be fit and lean.
We do need to discuss the foods that should be eliminated when eating Paleo. The Paleo Diet advocates the removal of grains, legumes, dairy, sugar and trans and hydrogenated 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. 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. It is not as difficult as you think. There are lots of good resources for recipes that exist in cookbooks and online. See how you feel after thirty days of strict paleo eating and then reassess. Some people find they can add in some limited dairy with no ill effects. Others, like me, find they simply feel better continuing on the strict-Paleo path. (Although I do indulge in the occasional Parmigiano-Reggiano or other similarly awesome cheeses.)
For more information on the science behind the Paleo Diet you should check out Robb Wolf’s blog www.robbwolf.com I also recommend his book “The Paleo Solution” along with Mark Sisson’s “The Primal Blueprint”. Both are great resources. There are many excellent cookbooks with great recipes, “Practical Paleo” and “The Whole30 Cookbook”. 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.