The Paleo diet, short for Paleolithic diet, is based on the idea of eating like our ancestors did during the Paleolithic era, which dates back approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago.
The diet emphasizes consuming foods that would have been available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, such as lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The key idea behind the Paleo diet is to avoid processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars, and vegetable oils, all of which are believed to be relatively recent additions to our diet.
What Is The Paleo Diet?
Physicians, biochemists, nutritionists and researchers are increasingly acknowledging that the diet our ancestors ate was good for us. It provided vital vitamins, minerals and essential fats essential to human wellbeing. The paleo diet emphasizes vegetables, grass-fed and pastured meats and eggs from grass farms, wild-caught fish, fruits, nuts and fermented foods.fermented foods as well as fermented products.
The diet discourages dairy, seed oils, and sugar. By eliminating inflammation-causing foods, we focus on nutrition-dense whole food sources. These real foods may lead to weight loss, decreased inflammation levels, normalized cholesterol levels, and improved gut microbiota.
Although fatty cuts of meat are an integral part of a balanced diet, it’s essential that they come from quality sources. That means choosing organic, grass-fed/pastured and humanely raised sources if your budget allows. Prioritize these premium choices when purchasing fattier cuts, while going with cheaper cuts for leaner options.
Carbs are not restricted, although it’s important to keep in mind that certain starchy vegetables and fruits contain higher concentrations of sugar than others (i.e. bananas), so their consumption should be limited. While alcohol consumption is allowed under paleo plans, wine and hard cider should be prioritized since beer typically contains gluten, while liquor can contain trace amounts of grains.
A paleo diet restricts processed and refined foods, such as grains, legumes (such as peanuts and soy beans) and dairy products. Fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts, animal fats, olive oil, and coconut oil are acceptable items.
Many on a paleo diet rely on meat as their primary source of protein, opting for lean cuts of meat, poultry or fish from grass-fed or wild caught sources when possible. Eggs from free-range chickens also offer protein, B vitamins, choline and other important vitamins and nutrients.
Paleo diet adherents typically avoid grains, beans, legumes and foods with seeds or pods due to their high phytic acid content, which may hinder mineral absorption such as iron, zinc and calcium. Although this argument remains contentious among researchers and scientists alike, these foods do contain plenty of other important vitamins and nutrients as well.
Foods Not Allowed
As with any diet, there can be much debate regarding which foods and additives are permissible on a paleo diet. But generally speaking, processed foods (anything packaged and prepackaged that you cannot make yourself) are generally off limits. Additionally, any food containing added sugars, salt, refined vegetable oils or artificial sweeteners. Our ancient caveman ancestors did not have access to these substances which may contribute to obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Paleo diets that adhere strictly to paleo principles typically eliminate all dairy products, likely out of an assumption that early humans ate no dairy before domestication, or due to lactose intolerance and milk protein sensitivities. Over the years however, many paleo followers have begun adding limited amounts of dairy back into their diet. Full-fat, grass-fed clarified butter is considered an integral component but now many are exploring other varieties such as kefir.
Assuming it comes from animals that were raised under humane conditions, meat and fish are generally accepted in a paleo diet as long as it comes from animal sources that were fed their natural diet of fruits and vegetables. Fish must come from wild sources that have not been farm raised before harvest. Furthermore, paleo diets generally do not include processed meat or dairy, or any food difficult to digest like beans, peanuts, lentils or peas as these contain phytic acid which acts as an antinutrient and prevents absorption of essential minerals during digestion by the body.
Paleo dieters should avoid grains, legumes and artificial sweeteners due to their potential digestive effects and high carb counts. These indulgences should only be enjoyed occasionally! For optimal nutrition on this diet it’s wise to consume plenty of fruit and vegetables along with lean proteins, whole fats and natural oils like coconut, olive and avocado oil.
How To Follow The Paleo Diet?
Paleo eating plans vary considerably and some versions are stricter than others. Some versions omit all dairy products while others allow low-fat milk and some cheese as dairy alternatives. Some provide higher levels of both proteins and fat while others maintain a more moderate balance. Some limit how many carbs are allowed per day.
A consultation with a medical professional or nutritionist is recommended before making major dietary changes. Once this step has been accomplished, focus on meal planning. Plan two to four hours every week for meal prep/planning so as to meet your nutrition goals efficiently. This will prevent hunger or boredom from taking control and will reduce food waste!
Choose nutrient-dense proteins like salmon, chicken and pork for protein sources in each meal, along with fresh, frozen and canned vegetables as sources of plant fiber, and antioxidants such as sweet potatoes, squash and kale. Enjoy natural sweeteners like honey, but consume in very small quantities.
Add healthy fats from grass-fed animal and vegetable oils such as coconut, avocado and olive oil for variety. Other nutritious sources may include beef tallow from sheep raised humanely, as well as clarified butter from animals raised humanely.
Keto Vs Paleo
Keto and Paleo diets have both witnessed dramatic increases in popularity over recent years. Their advocates claim their approach to be the optimal one for weight loss, diabetes prevention and other health-related goals. Are these diets just another trend, or an avenue towards improved wellness?
Both diets feature low-carb intake, but this is where their similarities end. The keto diet aims to get your body into ketosis, using fat for energy instead of carbs as fuel, which may improve blood sugar levels and decrease inflammation. This leads to burning the fat you are storing in your body.
The paleo diet focuses on eating whole, unprocessed foods that would have been available to our ancestors, such as meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and fruits. It also avoids processed items containing added sugars such as snacks, desserts or fruit drinks that cause insulin spikes, which increases obesity risk.
Keto and Paleo diets both focus on low-carb eating, yet differ considerably in other aspects. While both promote healthy fat consumption, Paleo allows unrefined sugar, while keto avoids all sugar sources.
Bottom line, both diets may provide some weight loss results. Keto is more restrictive, but putting the body into a ketogenic state may lead to faster weight loss overall. Paleo provides more food options, with an easier ability to follow the plan. Reductions in sugar and body inflammation should eventually allow for some weight loss.
Editor’s note: As mentioned in the article, medical consultation is recommended before implementing major lifestyle or dietary changes.