The Paleo Diet, also known as the Primal Diet, the Caveman Diet, and the Ancestral Diet. It also is sometimes confused with a Low Carb diet. Some people associate it in some ways with the Weston A. Price diet (for right and wrong reasons) and a lot of people have heard about it from their local CrossFit gym. Over the next week or two, I plan on doing a three part series about the Paleo Diet, including the explanation, the pros and cons, and why I personally believe that the Paleo Diet is a great choice for most people including myself.
Let’s begin by explaining what the “Paleo Diet” is, starting with the theory as a whole. The concept of the Paleo Diet is that back in the Paleolithic era, before the introduction of agriculture, we as human beings were at the prime of evolution. We were strong, fit, and healthy tribes of homo sapiens. It is believed by the “Paleosphere” that upon the introduction of agriculture and mainly wheat, that we may have taken a backwards step in evolution. Do I agree with this concept 100%? No. Do I think they make a very strong argument? Yes, I do. Evolution aside, I think that everybody can agree that cavemen were not eating McDonald’s “I think there might chicken in there somewhere” nuggets.
I tell you that so I can tell you this. The Paleo Diet is very simple and very complicated in a lot of ways. The big guys tell you to eat meat (preferably grass fed), seafood (wild caught), lots and lots vegetables, nuts and seeds, and plenty of healthy fats. They recommend limiting fruit, starches, and natural sweeteners. Sounds pretty good, although in Part 2, I will talk about my feelings on limiting fruit and starches dependent on what your goals are.
Here comes the kicker. This is the part where everyone says to me “What? I can’t avoid that. What would I eat? That’s too hard.” The Paleo Diet says that you should avoid all gluten containing products (some people recommend all grains), soy, legumes (yes, I realize that soy is a legume but most people don’t realize that), refined sugars, and many also recommend avoiding dairy. More to come on my views on dairy. Now I’m sure that many of you have heard about the most recent fad with the gluten-free movement. Gluten is a protein in wheat that constantly fights digestion. It is the culprit in Celiac disease. It is the cause for many digestive issues for those that are gluten intolerant which is an affliction that more and more people are finding out they have. Feel free to check out this Mark’s Daily Apple article to see a really simple breakdown of why grains and gluten can be bad for you.
Gluten is definitely the biggest “no no” in the Paleo diet, but taking a close second is soy and other legumes. Soy is kind of funny to me because I always thought, due to main stream medical advice (yes, I’m referring mostly to MSN articles and the like) that soy is really good for you and vegetarians and vegans swear by their Tofu-Turkey. My personal biggest problem with soy is I am allergic to it. Secondly, it is highly processed and it acts like estrogen in your body. This can cause issues for some women, and I believe that I was one of those women who were negatively affected by it. There’s no definitive research at this point but some people theorize that soy is part of the cause of what are eloquently known as “man boobs”. The other legumes fall under the same category of being highly processed and they are not easy to digest. The phytic acid found in beans contains complex sugars that are hard for us to digest. Yes, that classy song you learned as a child has truth to it; Beans will make you toot.
And then refined sugar. This is the easy one so I will make the explanation short and sweet. Sugar is not good for you. No, I am not talking about the sugar in fruit, or honey, or even raw organic sugar cane. I am mainly talking about the bleached white sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Which once again goes back to the fact that these things do not appear in nature. Well, at one point, they may have come from nature but they are mostly created in labs now. Sugar suppresses your immune system, causes you to store fat, and is shown to feed cancer cells. Now, I will say that the Paleo community recommends limiting all the other kinds of sweeteners for what I believe are valid reasons, but that will be Part 2.
Lastly, there is a large divide about dairy and “safe” starches in the Paleo community. There are multiple reasons why you should have dairy and many reasons why you should not have dairy. There are some people who do amazing with lots and lots of starches (squash, sweet potatoes, etc.) and there are some people who will bloat with the same foods. The arguments for both sides will appear in Part 2.
The most important take away from this, which is sometimes lost to the consumer because they get so worked up about the little details that probably don’t matter, is that the Paleo Diet in truth is about eating natural, whole foods. It encourages people to buy locally and organically as much as possible. It discourages people from buying meat that comes from the horrible hell called factory farms. Paleo bloggers tell you to walk barefoot and enjoy the sunshine as much as possible. Don’t over train, but walk every single day if you can. The other important part, the part that makes all the difference in the world is that this is not a short term diet. It truly is a lifestyle. With a short term diet, you tend to go back to your standard way of eating and that will wreak havoc on your metabolism. Paleo, on the other hand, begs to be a life style in so many ways. Not just with food, but also with exercise. And with harmony with nature. It’s a full package. Harmony with yourself and the world around you.