The paleo diet is a whole food based approach to eating: preferably locally grown quality protein from poultry, meat, fish and seafood, fruit and vegetable carbohydrates, and whole food fats, like nuts, freshly pressed oils and avocado. Your diet should give you adequate but not excess, carbohydrates and fats sufficient for your fuel needs, and protein to maintain lean body mass. Your paleo diet should be varied and supply all essential vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, antioxidants, polyphenols and fibre
Why “Paleo”: The basic concept of eating primal
To understand Paleo thinking, we’ve got to go back in time.
Paleolithic humans definitely got some eating habits right. In general, they consumed:
- three times more produce than the typical American,
- more fiber,
- more protein,
- more omega-3 fatty acids,
- more unsaturated fat,
- more vitamins and minerals,
- and much less saturated fat and sodium.
The dangers of our modern diet
Fast forward to today. Our diet has changed significantly, and not necessarily for the better.
For one thing, it contains far more processed, packaged and commercially-produced foods than ever.
Meanwhile, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases have dramatically increased over the past 50 years.
The Paleo claim that our modern Western diet isn’t healthy rings true. So what should we do to make it better?
According to Paleo: What to eat and what to avoid
Paleo fans suggest we return to the meat and produce-based diet of our past. Specifically, the Paleo dietary model encourages us to base our diets on the following foods:
- animals (especially a “whole animal” approach, including organs, bone marrow, cartilage, and organs),
- animal products (such as eggs or honey),
- vegetables and fruits,
- raw nuts and seeds,
- and added fats (like coconut oil, avocado, butter, ghee) I would go with the coconut oil for weight loss
Notice what’s missing from the list? Paleo tells us to avoid grains (even “whole grains”), heavily processed oils (such as canola and soybean oil), and processed foods in general.
Legumes and dairy are typically off limits too, though some guidelines allow these foods as the Paleo diet continues to “evolve.”
Should you stop eating grains and legumes?
We already know the list of processed foods and treats aren’t good for us — but what about whole grains and legumes?
Let’s tackle legumes first.
Paleo people say we shouldn’t eat legumes because of their high concentration of anti-nutrients like lectins or phytates. Supposedly that reduces their nutritional value to zilch.
Fortunately for bean fans, that’s not true.
Research suggests that the benefits of legumes outweigh their anti-nutrient content.Cooking eliminates most anti-nutrient effects, and some anti-nutrients (like lectins) may even be good for us.
As for grains, Paleo proponents say grains can lead to inflammation and related health problems. This can be true for people with celiac disease (about 1 percent of the population) and for those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
But a substantial body of reliable research suggests that eating whole grains improves our health. At the very least, whole grains appear to be neutral when it comes to inflammation.
Bottom line on grains and legumes: Completely eliminating these important foods from our diet is probably a bad idea.
The problem with Paleo
Paleo-style eating has a lot of good qualities: It emphasizes whole foods, lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. Incorporating more of these foods into your diet would likely be a big improvement.
However, the Paleo diet has some flaws. The evolutionary arguments don’t hold up, and the evidence for excluding dairy, legumes, and grains isn’t strong (yet).
But concern is: A one-size-fits-all “best diet” approach doesn’t work.
Strictly following a list of “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “not allowed” foods is problematic for most people.
Even more, long-term, it’s tough to be consistent on a strict diet regime like Paleo. Sure, most people can follow it for weeks or months. Maybe even years. But decades? That’s unlikely.
Of course, without being consistent, you can’t make progress.
What you can do today
Instead of signing up for a strict lifestyle template, think about small changes you can make in your “modern” life that support what your “ancient” body needs.
For example, look for simple ways incorporate a bit of what’s good about the ancestral lifestyle into your day. Could you:
- Eat a little more fresh food, like adding some fresh fruit or vegetables to dinner tonight?
- Consider replacing a bit of the processed food you might normally be eating? (Not all of it, just some.)
- Get outside for some movement and fresh air?
- Go to bed a little earlier to get a good night’s sleep?
These small actions — done consistently — can do much more for your health and happiness long-term. And consistency is more important than any food list or evolutionary theory.