Ultimate Guide to Paleo Diet
These days, it appears that more and more people are becoming more concerned about being healthy and not simply being lean by losing weight. Losing weight can be done in various ways, the most recommended of which is working out at the gym or engaging in sports and other physical activities. Combine that with a balanced diet, and you can be sure to lose weight, be fit, and get the body you want.
The types of diets are becoming diverse, with so many diet and food programs cropping up left, right and center, claiming to be the “best” and “most effective” weight loss and health programs. These diet programs quickly become popular trends, but many of them also end up fizzling out quickly, joining the heap of “diet fads” that seemed to work at first, but do not really last long enough to take a permanent hold in the consciousness of the public. This could be because they aren’t really as effective as they claimed to be, or some other food program or diet plan has emerged to take its place in the rankings.
Weight loss is no longer the only reason why diets are getting the amount of attention that they are getting. In addition to looking slim and flexibility while being able to fit in smaller-size clothes, good health and long life are slowly becoming bigger concerns. People now take these into consideration when choosing the type of diet to follow.
South Beach Diet, Atkins Diet, DASH Diet, Jenny Craig Diet, Weight Watchers Diet, Mediterranean Diet… these are only a few of the most popular and enduring food programs today. However, there is another diet that has been around for quite a while now, and is still getting a lot of support from health buffs and medical professionals. We can comfortably say that this diet has stood the test of time. It is the Paleo Diet.
In this guide, we explain 1) what is the Paleo Diet, 2) what are the Paleo principles, 3) pros and cons, and 4) what to eat and what not according to the Paleo Diet.
WHAT IS PALEO?
You’ve probably heard of the Caveman Diet and the Stone Age Diet. These are actually one and the same, and are simply alternative names for what is known as the Paleo Diet. But what is Paleo?
The more complete and accurate name for Paleo is actually “Paleolithic diet”, in reference to the prehistoric era when cavemen, or Paleolithic humans, lived. It was called as such because it operated on the premise that you should eat what our ancestors – the cavemen during the Stone Age – ate. That is why we also often hear Paleo being described as the “hunter-gatherer” diet.
The origins of the Paleo diet can be traced to the growing awareness that the current diets, particularly in first-world countries, are seen as the main culprits in many health and medical problems, such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis, and various types of cancer.These – heart diseases and Type 2 diabetes, in particular – have become referred to as “diseases of civilization” or “lifestyle diseases”, because they became more prevalent as modern age was ushered in and the Stone Age was left behind. They are also mostly traceable back to how one leads his lifestyle, specifically the components of the western diet that he mostly follows.
As such, many diets are focusing on cutting down or regulating one’s calorie intake and increasing the consumption of specific foods that provide specific nutritional components. Still, some of these do not seem to be enough, and the high number of contradictions tends to confuse us even more.
Paleo is gaining a lot of ground, because it encourages us to go “back to the basics”, or go back to the beginning. The lifestyle diseases that are now very common were non-existent during the Stone Age, and this is the inspiration that advocates of the Paleo diet are going with.
From the little that we know about people back then, we know that the average Stone Age man was tall, agile, athletic, muscular, and healthy. This is not something that we can say for the average man during this modern day and age, where this or that disease is a threat, and they are under a lot of stress and sleep deprivation.
They took a look at what the people during the Paleolithic era ate, how they lived and the activities they were engaged in. People back then didn’t have junk food, pasta or processed foods. Regardless of this, they lived long, fit and healthy lives. So why not do the same today?
PRINCIPLES OF PALEO
The primary claim of Paleo is a healthier and disease-free life, since it focuses on the prevention and control of many chronic degenerative diseases. In addition, it is also recommended for weight loss and the maintenance of a lean body after weight loss as long as you implement a balance between your food plan, calorie intake, and physical exercise. Keep in mind, however, that weight loss is not really the goal of Paleo. Improved overall health is.
The core principles of paleo can be summed up in one sentence: “eat what the cavemen ate, and avoid what they didn’t.” It’s as simple as that. Take note that the Stone Age era was way before agriculture and modern techniques in farming were introduced, so the food products that were produced through these techniques are excluded from the food list.
To this end, we can further simplify Paleo as going without grains, sugar, and processed foods. This will be discussed in more detail later in this article.
One thing that must be made clear, however: Paleo is not the diet alone, although it cannot be denied that it gained popularity because of its diet and food plans. Paleo, as a whole, refers to a lifestyle that has been in existence from way back during the prehistoric times. It is only in recent years that it is being taken seriously. One integral part of this lifestyle is the diet, which we will be looking into in the succeeding discussion.
PROS AND CONS OF PALEO
It may help you to understand Paleo further if we take a look at its noted advantages and disadvantages.
+ Easy to follow. The specific dos and don’ts are laid out, all you have to do is to follow them. The foods to avoid and foods to eat are clear, and so are the restrictions.
+ Helps weight loss. This is due to its “no sugar” characteristic. Yes, going Paleo means almost completely eliminating sugar from your food list. Sugar, or glucose, is a source of energy and a component that we actually need in order for our body to function. However, natural sugars, particularly those from fruits, are recommended. Unfortunately, we get sugar from other sources, and often in excessive amounts too. Intake of too much sugar can cause an energy spike, since it has to be processed by the body immediately. Otherwise, these sugars will turn to fat that is stored under the skin. With no sugar on your diet, your weight loss regimen is aided.
+ Does not limit meat. People who love to eat meat need not be concerned about completely cutting it out of their diets. They can still enjoy meat; after all, the hunter-gatherers during prehistoric times ate meat too, didn’t they?
– Expensive. Most of the popular diets cost money if followed strictly, and it is no different with Paleo. In fact, it is quite pricey, since they mostly focus on produce and meat, and these do not come cheap, especially if they are unprocessed.
– Removes grains. Paleo eliminates grains from the diet, which can be a bummer to many people. However, it is a fact that grains are composed mainly of carbohydrates that are turned into glucose which may, in turn, be stored as fat if not used by the body for energy. Again, we will look into grains further later.
– Say goodbye to (some) dairy. Are you the type that loves processed milk and dairy products such as cheese? Then you’ll be sorry to hear that going Paleo means giving up on dairy as well. This may be a little hard, especially for those who literally grew up having these for breakfast.
– Requires a lot of discipline. Aside from following the food plan, you have to combine it with exercise and physical activity – just like how people lived during the Stone Age.
PALEO FOOD & PALEO DIET
Now it is time to take a closer look at the foods that you should include in your Paleo diet. Of course, it is equally important to identify those that you have to avoid.
What To Eat
The key point to remember when picking foods to add on your Paleo food list is that they must be unprocessed (or, even if they have undergone processing, only at a minimal, barely significant rate) and they must also occur naturally.
Yes, the carnivore in you can breathe easy, because you can still enjoy meats and get your animal protein fix in Paleo. However, you have to be mindful of the meats that you eat.
You must choose meat from livestock that has been fed with grass, instead of grains. Why? Because eating grain-fed meats is an indirect way of consuming grains, and we have already established that grains are an absolute no-no in Paleo. It wouldn’t hurt to do some research on whether the meats are obtained from pasture-raised animals, since these are the ones that are most likely to be grass-fed.
Aside from red meat and pork, you may also include animal organs such as liver and kidney in your Paleo meal plan. Meats from poultry or fowls, such as free range chicken, turkey and duck, are also great choices. If you are going to be eating chicken, look for ones that are derived from free range chicken.
Seafood is another excellent source of animal protein. As the name implies, stick to those that actually came from the sea, instead of “farmed seafood”, or those that have been raised in a cultured and controlled environment such as fishponds. These controlled environments often make use of some substances that are potentially toxic to the farmed seafood andby extension, to the one that consumes them.
- Wild fish, or fish caught directly from the ocean, is preferred.
- Shellfish, also preferably caught in the wild.
Fruits, nuts and seeds
Look at most other types of diets, and fruits are sure to be present. This is because they are excellent sources of natural sugar, which is the best type of sugar. However, try to stick with the fruits that have low sugar content. Berries are also highly recommended because of their antioxidant properties.
If you are trying the Paleo diet with the ultimate goal of losing weight, you will have to regulate your fruit intake. Remember, too much sugar – even if it is the natural and the best kind – will still not be good if you want to keep excess fats at bay.
It is also all right to include nuts and seeds in your list, but consume in moderation. If your goal is to lose weight, however, you should just eliminate nuts altogether. In fact, peanuts should be avoided entirely.
Just like fruits, vegetables are also staples in almost every diet program. The great thing about them is that you can basically go all-out with them, since they are rich in nutrients that your body needs.
Still, you have to be careful when choosing the types of vegetables you eat, paying particular attention to how it is served or cooked. Deep-fried vegetables are not ideal since they may be steeped in too much oil and the deep-frying process can easily remove all those nutrients that you wanted to get in the first place.
Root vegetables and tubers also fall under this category. Undoubtedly, one of the most known tubers is the sweet potato, which is also recognized as one of the best sources of natural carbohydrates and starch. Yams are not far behind on the list.
Natural oils and fats
Believe it or not, paleo does not shun fats. In fact, it encourages high fat levels, but we are not talking about just any kind of fat. It must be the good kind of fat, or saturated fats and natural fats.
“Natural” being the operative word, choose the oils that are sourced from natural and unprocessed foods. Excellent examples are olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil and macadamia oil.
Saturated fats are obtained from coconut oil, as well as butter. (Butter, but not margarine.) So, yes, some processed dairy products are acceptable. Animal fat is not frowned on, either, provided that it comes from grass-fed animals that are healthy and raised and treated well. Examples are lard, duck fat, and beef tallow.
Be careful and watch out for the following:
- Some of these oils may have undergone a lot of processing, thus stripping them of their natural properties.
- Beware of hydrogenated and semi-hydrogenated vegetable oils, as they have undergone processing. Examples are canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil.
- Take note of the usage of the oils. Some are meant for cooking while others are for drizzling only or for mixing with dressings and dips. Examples are avocado oil and olive oil.
In the same way some butters are allowed in the paleo diet, eggs also are allowed. Again, the eggs should be produced by free-range poultry in order for it to be Paleo-compliant.
What Not To Eat
The first impression that newbies have about paleo is that all carbs are bad. That is not the case, because Paleo still recognizes the importance of carbs for the body. However, there are certain considerations, such as the type of carb (or, more specifically, its source) and the amount of carb intake.
Paleo gives a nod to carbs obtained from vegetables and fruits, and a popular favorite is the sweet potato. Therefore, going Paleo does not mean eliminating carbs completely from your food list.
Here are the other food items that you should also avoid eating (because, hey, our ancestors who lived in caves certainly avoided them as well!).
Cereals and grains
As mentioned earlier, grains are very rich in carbohydrates. We all know that carbohydrates are sources of energy for the body once they have been transformed into glucose, which is a type of sugar. Excess fats, which lead to obesity, come from any unused glucose. This means that, with the intake of grains, there are higher chances of fat being accumulated in the body.
Grains are also known for containing gluten, a type of protein that most people develop an intolerance against, leading them to suffer conditions such as joint pains, acid reflux, and even reproductive problems.
Lectins, which are natural toxins that can damage the gastrointestinal tract, is also abundant in many types of grains.
Avoid these grains: barley, corn, wheat, oats, rye and brown rice. This may be confusing, especially at the beginning, for those who have tried other diets beforehand, particularly those that incorporate wheat in the diet. But in Paleo, grains are to be avoided.
Just like cereals and grains, legumes must be cut out from your diet. These include, but are not limited to black-eyed peas, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, and soy.
Except for some butters, remove all dairy products from your food list. This is often a confusing aspect of Paleo, since some dairy products are good while others simply have no place in your Paleo diet. For one thing, dairy has high carbohydrate content and the lactose they contain are also identified as causes of weight problems, issues on insulin control and certain conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
Not all dairy are bad, however. If you cannot completely cut out milk or yogurt, look for the full-fat or fermented products or, better yet, raw milk from pasture-fed animals.
Fruit juices and sodas
These contain, in abundance, the sugar that we want so much to avoid: refined sugars.
Packaged snacks and treats
Again, these foods include refined sugars and artificial sweeteners, not to mention a lot of sodium and salt. These are also sure to have undergone a lot of processing, which makes them unhealthy in Paleo’s standards.
While it is true that Paleo may seem like it has a lot of restrictions, it still leaves a wide room for you to move around. There are still a lot of food choices that you can go through when creating your Paleo food list and, best of all, you will still enjoy good food while looking out for your health and well-being.