The paleo diet, also known as 'The Caveman Diet' ?
has been reported to eliminate bloating, eradicate seasonal allergies, free you from migraines, and even help you burn off a few pounds. It’s gained so much popularity in recent years that even celebs like Blake Lively, Megan Fox, and Gwyneth Paltrow have followed it. And just in case you were wondering – no, the paleo diet is not the same as a ketogenic diet. (Read about ketogenic diets here)
Below, we cover everything you need to know about following the paleo diet: what it is, which foods are allowed (and not), and whether you should try it out for yourself.
What is the paleo diet?
The paleo diet can be summed up in a single sentence: “If your hunter-gatherer ancestor from the Paleolithic era – more than 2 million years ago – didn’t eat it, neither should you.” But why? What's the rationale behind following a prehistoric diet that dates back to the Paleolithic period?
Well, to aid your understanding, you first need to understand what our ancestors ate:
· 60 million years ago – Our oldest cousins (the earliest primates) ate like, well, there’s no better way to put this: primates. They subsisted mainly on fruit, leaves, and insects.
· 2.6 million years ago – Humans moved to a hunter-gatherer diet, where they used simple stone tools to hunt, fish, and gather wild plants for food.
· 10,000 years ago – Most of the world has figured out agriculture, and humans' diet moved from one rich in wild fruits and vegetables to one that's rich in cereal grains.
Paleo advocates claim that because our genetics and anatomy have changed very little since 2.6 million years ago, our bodies are designed to consume wild plants, animals, and seafood; we are not yet suited to thrive on our relatively 'new' farm-based diet. The diet's proponents also believe that this particular pattern of eating can help reduce the prevalence of modern-day diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
What is on the menu for the paleo diet?
So, what can be eaten – and not – for those intending to eat like cave dwellers? Here's a summary:
· On the menu: Fresh lean meats, fish, shellfish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, coconut oil, and small amounts of honey. Certain root vegetables like cassava and sweet potatoes may be allowed in moderation.
· Not on the menu: Whole grains, cereals, refined grains and sugars, dairy products, white potatoes, legumes (beans, peanuts, lentils), alcohol, coffee, salt, refined vegetable oils, and most processed foods (bye, MacDonald's) in general.
· Note: Portion sizes and calorie counting are not emphasized; dieters are generally encouraged to eat until satisfied.
Does going paleo make sense?
Undoubtedly, the paleo diet has a lot of good qualities. It emphasizes lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and whole foods in general. Incorporating more of these 'high-satiety' foods into your diet would likely be a significant improvement. But when examined closer, the diet has some worrying rationale and nutritional flaws.
· Humans in the paleolithic period ate cereals – Recent studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have discovered that our ancestors from nearly three, or even four, million years ago were already consuming cereals!
· Paleolithic humans turned grain into flour – Grain granules found on grinding tools from all over the world suggest that our hunter-gatherer forefathers made a widespread practice of turning grains into flour as long as 30,000 years ago.
· Legumes were an essential part of our ancestors' diet – The idea that legumes were not widely consumed in Paleolithic times is false; legumes have been found to have been one of the dominant types of plant foods available.
· Humans have evolved in the past 10,000 years – Contrary to what paleo advocates claim, both our genetics and anatomy have changed since the Stone Age days. Nearly 40% of us have developed the capacity to consume dairy over the past 8,000 years, for example.
· Strict exclusion of foods – The elimination of entire categories of commonly eaten foods like dairy, legumes, and whole grains increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies such as calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins. This risk is typically more pronounced if these nutrients are not obtained from the allowed foods or a vitamin supplement.
· It’s tough to be consistent on the paleo diet – Sure, you may be able to cut out your favorite pasta, pizza, and cereals for a few weeks, or even months. But years? That’s unlikely. And the paleo diet, like other diets, only works if you stick with it permanently. Make temporary changes, and you get temporary results.
· It doesn’t make much sense, nutritionally-speaking – Years of research have shown that whole grains can help lower your risk of heart disease, yet they’re banned on paleo. Legumes are a great plant-based source of protein and fiber, yet they're not also not allowed.
So – I should never go paleo?
Regardless of its argumentative loopholes, paleo does have its attractive side, and it can be the right fit for a particular type of person.
You should do the paleo diet if:
· You can’t be bothered with calorie-counting – You want to eat till you're full, yet lose weight – the high-satiety foods found within the paleo diet ensures that you'll likely feel satisfied before you can exceed your calories for the day. (Read this article to understand how weight loss works)
· You are confident that you can stick with it for life – Remember, only permanent changes lead to lasting results!
· You don't mind eliminating some of your favorite foods – No more cheese? No more milk? No more pasta?
You should not do the paleo diet if:
· The idea of giving up non-paleo foods makes you depressed – You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to; you have a choice!
· You don’t mind tracking your calories – Sounds like an IIFYM diet would be a better fit for you.
Ultimately, when it comes to dieting, you need to remember that you need to make permanent adjustments to your nutrition if you want to see lasting results. Otherwise, it’d all be for naught. Also, if you're going to 'upgrade' your physique by losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time, not only do you have to diet, but you'd also need to sculpt your body in the weights room. Not sure how to start? Download GymStreak – the AI-powered personal trainer app that has all the functionalities and features to help get you started. Psst: you get a personalized workout plan the moment you sign up, too!Get GymStreak
Gorin, A. A., Phelan, S., Wing, R. R., & Hill, J. O. (2004). Promoting long-term weight control: Does dieting consistency matter? International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 28(2), 278–281. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0802550
Lippi, M. M., Foggi, B., Aranguren, B., Ronchitelli, A., & Revedin, A. (2015). Multistep food plant processing at Grotta Paglicci (Southern Italy) around 32,600 cal B.P. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(39), 12075–12080. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1505213112
Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2019, from Www.heart.org website: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/whole-grains-refined-grains-and-dietary-fiber