What is The Paleo Diet? Here Is What You Need To Know

Paleo, also known as Primal, Caveman, and Stone Age diet draws its core principles from our hunter-gatherer, ancestral lifestyle and combines those with modern scientific research and a good dose of common sense. The paleo diet has gained a huge following lately and as a result it is often scrutinised, misrepresented, and often misunderstood. The thing about Paleo is that it’s not really a new diet. The lifestyle – yes it’s much more than a diet – has been around for many years.

The movement had a niche following until a couple of books – The Paleo Solution by biochemist Robb Wolf and The Primal Blueprint by former athlete Mark Sisson – hit the best sellers list and spread the Paleo message into the mainstream. There was also original The Paleo Diet book by Dr.Loren Cordain but that didn’t take off as fast and as far as the other two. Well, not in Australia to my knowledge. Then came the dedicated forums, blogs and Facebook pages all over the United States and around the world.

If you’ve been hiding in a cave, no pun intended, and this is the first you’ve heard of the Paleo diet, here is what you need to know:

1. In today’s world we are largely desk-bound, consuming packaged and processed foods, living with chronic stress, and not getting enough sleep. All of this can make us sick, fat and depressed. To achieve optimal health, the Paleo lifestyle draws it’s core principles from our ancestors who ate whole, unprocessed foods, moved more, slept better and stressed less.

It’s not about re-enacting the Paleolethic era. In fact, most in the Paleo community hate the term ‘Caveman diet’. Instead, it’s about recognising our genetic predisposition and applying current knowledge of how different foods and activities affect our body’s functions. Yep, thinks lie our metabolism, digestion, insulin sensitivity, and systemic inflammation.

So let’s make it clear. We don’t run with spears, cook on fire or go foraging in the forest. Sure, I love fishing and berry picking but I get most of my food from fresh food markets, supermarkets, butchers, fishmongers, health food stores and online suppliers. My hunting and gathering goes as far as my backyard where I grow some herbs, lettuce and chilli.

2. Paleo focuses on eating whole, unprocessed foods like grass-fed meat, free range poultry, wild fish, vegetables (including root vegetables,) fruit, berries, some nuts and seeds. It avoids grains, legumes, refined sugars and dairy. However, dairy consumption really depends on your gut health and whether you have any autoimmune issues. So, without going into too much detail, we avoid all these foods to control insulin sensitivity, repair gut health, increase nutrient absorption and reduce negative inflammatory effects they cause.

Read more about what’s in and what’s out here.

Recommended paleo reading and programs:

Happy Body Formula – my 30-day paleo reset program
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, a must read!
The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson

3. It’s not all meat, meat and more meat. I probably consume as many fruits and vegetables in a day as most vegetarians (a lot of my recipes are actually vegetarian). Many of us also consume healthy dairy like full fat natural yogurt, certain cheeses and butter. Fermented dairy products have many health benefits.

4. Even though the paleo diet skews towards the low-carb side (by excluding grains and refined sugars), eliminating carbs is not the name of the game. The problem with the modern diet is the excessive amount of carbohydrates, especially sugar, which leads to a whole bunch of health issues related to insulin resistance, digestive problems and inflammation. While eating Paleo, we still consume plenty of carbs from vegetables, fruits, nuts and dairy.Learn more about macronutrients and micronutrients here.

5. We make friends with fat. I remember going through a massive low-fat stage in my early twenties. Fat reduced cheese that doesn’t melt, low fat yogurt with copious amounts of added sugar, skim milk that tastes like cat’s piss – does any of that sound healthy or real to you?

Our bodies need good, smart fats, which we are designed to digest much easier than carbohydrates we get from bread and pasta. Saturated fats have been painted as evil by the health authorities and the media but the reality is that not all saturated fat is bad. Paleo diet includes plenty of healthy fats like olive oil, macadamia oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, avocados, butter, ghee (clarified butter), oily fish, grass fed meat, nuts and seeds.

6. Paleo diet tries to maintain a healthy ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids. It decreases our intake of pro-inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids found in refined, seed based oils, certain nuts and seeds, and grain-fed meat. And it increases our consumption of anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish, seafood, fish oil, flaxseed oil and grass fed meat and fats.

7. Paleo is about minimising stress. Sure, a small amount of stress is good for you but we’re talking about the prolonged mental and physical stress that leads to increased levels of cortisol and causes havoc in our bodies. It can affect our weight, immunity, blood pressure, memory, mood, fertility and sex drive.

8. Another way we control cortisol level and the affects it has on insulin, appetite and productivity, is by getting enough sleep. According to the 2012 Sealy Sleep Census, 96% of 13,089 polled respondents from throughout Australia said they wake up tired each morning, with a mere four per cent saying they feel refreshed. 38% have reported to falling asleep at work or during meetings. Paleo lifestyle prescribes 8 hours of sleep in a completely dark room, with no stimulants or distractions (read ‘iphone and Facebook’) an hour before bed.

9. We stay active with lots of walking, hiking, weight lifting and high intensity, interval training. We play in the sun to get a daily dose of Vitamin D, socialise with friends, travel from place to place, and stimulate our brains by exploring and learning new things.

10. And finally, there is no one-size-fits-all Paleo diet, it’s a framework, which can be tailored to individual needs, goals, body types and sensitivities. It’s about how you feel when you include or exclude certain foods. Read about my human approach to paleo here. There are also other variations of the paleo diet, such as paleo autoimmune protocol, Whole30, primal, low-carb high-fat (lchf) and keto diets.

Paleo Fruits and Vegetables

You might have heard by now something about the Paleo Diet being designed around the philosophy that humans simply aren’t designed to digest the list of foods we eat in our modern age. The idea is that humans as we know ourselves to be (some further along than others) were basically evolved around 2.5 million years ago- give or take a year.

The foods that were around then, are the foods we should eat now for optimal health. This is after all, where we are evolution speaking- right? Although this is the familiar chime of what we hear in our ears about the definition of “Paleolithic diet”, it’s sometimes refuted that we have scientific evidence of evolutionary adaptations since the invention of agriculture. Because of these evolutionary changes in our genetic makeup, we have to define what foods are acceptable. The acceptable foods for the Paleo diet, are from a nutritious food list (largely Paleo Era) that we’re personally adapted to eat.

What do I mean by “personally adapted”?

Paleo Grilled Bison

Paleo Grilled Bison

Evidence of such personal adaptations can be found in the world’s various cuisine. Take a look at Far Eastern cultures. What do they eat? The food list includes lots of rice, fish, meats, and plants basically right? Notice a couple of missing pieces? Breads and milk products. If you ask for a tall glass of milk in an Asian restaurant, they’ll look at you like you’ve lost your mind.

While 80% of humans of European and American descent have evolved to tolerate dairy, the evolution of the human species to tolerate dairy 100% is still in progress. People of Far Eastern descent are largely lactose intolerant. The 80% that can tolerate dairy have evolved to where their genes contain the enzyme lactase. If humans continue to consume dairy products, the percentage of people who develop that gene over time will increase.

Dairy is still not on the optimal food list though. Milk of a species is the perfect food for its own species young. It’s not meant for consumption from those outside their species. If you’ve heard of somebody “being allergic” to milk, they’re usually referring to the protein called “casein”. It’s generally highly allergenic and contains protease inhibitors. Even doctors recommend not introducing cow’s milk to children under the age of one so they can build up sufficient tolerance for possible allergic reactions.

Because of where we are evolutionary speaking, it is clear that milk products were not a part of the Paleo diet. Some people have no problems with dairy, while others it’s best not to be on the same bus with them if they’ve indulged in an ice-cream cone. Those small bathrooms will kill you.

Paleo Mixed Nuts

Paleo Mixed Nuts

On the other side of the coin you have grains. Who doesn’t love the warm scent of freshly-baked breads? Unfortunately for a lot of us though, evolutionary change is still cooking for us too. The agriculture of grains was invented somewhere around 10,000 years ago. The Paleolithic Era is pre-agriculture. Clearly eating grains was not on the Paleo diet food list.

The problem is that most of us aren’t as far along the evolution process as we’d like to think. Though we’ve evolved a bit and increased our genes for salivary amylase, which is the enzyme that helps start the digestion of starch, folks have issues with digesting grains well. It’s estimated that out of 100 people, at least one person has an auto-immune disease that is triggered by the protein in most cereal grains-called gluten. What’s worse is that 95% of those who have the auto-immune disease (celiac disease) don’t even know they have it.

Over time, It causes other problems in the body forcing people to go to the doctor and get treated for that symptom, all the while missing the bare-bones cause of what’s going on inside their body. While this disease has been found all over the world, it seems to be concentrated in those from Irish descent. The only treatment is complete removal of grains from the diet that contain gluten.

So it boils down to this, it’s not that we haven’t evolved since Paleolithic times to accept our agricultural roots and dairy squeezing love. It is just that- we’re still on the loading screen. Some of us can tolerate some foods better or worse than others. Some foods just weren’t on the Paleo diet food list. It all goes to the roots of personal genetics.

It is becoming more and more clear that many of the diseases afflicting humanity are not a natural part of the aging process, but in fact side effects of the rapid dietary changes we’ve inflicted on our bodies. This is especially true with the mixture of new foods from distant lands and the advent of convenience foods.

When you look at the world’s health, we’re a laundry list of woes. Unexplained pain, depression, lack of energy, and the big kicker-obesity. Why are we all having these mystery illnesses that nobody can really solve? Are we really that messed up? Is it all in our heads? No- it’s on your plate. You can fix it, and easier than you think. So where do we go from here? How do we know what our body can tolerate and how to prepare the food in a way that will cure our woes? A great place to start is “Starting Paleo in 12 Easy Steps” which you get for free when you sign up for our newsletter. Welcome to my cave!

If you’re ready to put food together in delicious recipes, be sure to join my newsletter where you will receive updates of freshly added Paleo diet recipes! See how to put together more foods from the Paleo diet food list! Make today your fresh start!

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