Today we’re traveling back in time to cave dudes and dudettes. the hunters and gatherers, to take a deep dive into the paleo diet. You must have heard of this trendy diet. But today we’re explaining what it is, what it entails, and the pros and cons to consider before starting.
What is Paleo?
Although this way of eating dates back decades, the paleo diet was popularized by Doctor Stanley Boyd Eaton, in 1985. It was designed to resemble what our hunter, gatherer, ancestors ate thousands of years ago. During the paleolithic era, under the argument that our bodies were not built to consume foods produced by modern farming practices. So, paleo’s all about eating strictly whole foods and avoiding processed foods. That means you’ll be cutting out sugar, dairy, ice cream, grains, alcohol, and legumes.
Here’s what we do know about the benefits of the diet.
1. One thing we can get behind is cutting back on processed foods. We know that packaged foods usually sneak in sugars and additives that are not so great for our bodies. In fact, in a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, about three-quarters of the average American sodium intake comes from commercially prepared foods. Eliminating processed foods and eating more whole foods will help to manage blood pressure, potentially stave off disease, and avoid empty calories and added sugars.
2. What’s the buzziest buzzword in food and health right about now? Inflammation. Well, because you’re cutting out foods that have sugar, alcohol, and gluten, paleo can potentially help reduce inflammation in the body, which can help mitigate the symptoms of chronic illness.
3. In general, if you follow a diet rich in lean protein and plant-based foods you will feel fuller longer, which will help to control blood sugar. Reducing those spikes in blood sugar is great for keeping our energy levels and stress hormones in check.
1. The major red flag is that this diet could poke some nutritional holes in your diet if you don’t do it right. Limited or no grain intake can diminish levels of B vitamins like niacin, folate, as well as magnesium and fiber. All of the nutrients your body wants and needs to run properly. Cutting out major food groups such as dairy can lead to a lack of nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus. Diets that eliminate a whole food group raise some serious concerns because really there’s no substantial evidence that supports the exclusion of dairy, legumes, and grains from an average consumer’s diet.
2. The diet also focuses on a higher quantity of saturated fats coming from meat, which has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. It is always recommended reducing foods high in saturated fat.
3. Aside from the nutritional question marks, we always look at the practicality of a diet, as would any diets with big restrictions and too many nos. It can be difficult to incorporate into your daily life. Especially when it comes to eating on the go. Do yourself a favor and don’t jump into a diet without planning ahead and doing your research.
MAKING PALEO WORK FOR YOU
Now for some tips on how to make paleo work for you.
Focus on green leafy vegetables for calcium, like bok choy, Swiss chard, and spinach. Incorporate plant-based protein sources such as hazelnuts and hemp seeds, to reduce the focus on meat. There are so many cooking oils out there it can get confusing. Use olive oil when possible and avoid using a ton of coconut oil, which contains extra saturated fat. Don’t treat fruit like it is going to send you off track. While fruit isn’t the center focus of the paleo diet, you should still include one to two servings of fruit per day into your diet for an extra punch of nutrients and antioxidants.
Although paleo is restrictive, it is pretty easy to keep track of since you’ll just be looking for whole plain foods. But that could be tricky when it comes to eating on the go. While my first go-to is just to grab a plain old apple, you can also look for pre-packaged paleo snacks when you’re in a pinch. But, a friendly reminder, just because it’s paleo doesn’t mean you should polish off a bar of yummy chocolate every night. It can be daunting to eliminate dairy and grains. However, get creative with veggies and experiment with nut cheeses to fill that void.
Get to know your mylks. No, not milk with an I, milk with a Y. That’s right. Dairy-free alternatives are going to be your BFF on the paleo diet. Whether it’s almond mylk, banana mylk, or coconut mylk.
Be realistic about the sourcing of our food. While some super-strict paleoites are particular with the quality of meats. Don’t put too much pressure on eating organic and grass-fed all the time for your wallet’s sake. As always, pay attention to your body. If you start to feel funky, consider making some adjustments. On the flip side, track improvements in your stress and energy levels, as well as sleep quality, rather than focusing on weight loss. Lastly, there are a few health conditions that may be compromised by this diet. Continuously check your blood levels with a doctor, especially if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, or osteoporosis.
While there are aspects of the paleo diet I can definitely get behind, like cutting down on sugar and processed foods, there is not enough substantial evidence that eliminating grains and dairy from your diet will have a positive long-term affect. This diet was designed to emulate our ancestors, but the thing is we’ve come a long way since the cave days and we can’t turn a blind eye to the health benefits of a diverse diet that touches on every food group.