What is 'Paleo' - and is it right for you?
'The Paleo Diet' has been getting quite a lot of press over the last few years. You might be wondering what exactly is this ‘new’ diet? Maybe you’re also wondering if you too, like many others, should get on the bandwagon? Let's take a look at what Paleo eating is all about.
First things first – Paleo is an eating template rather than a diet! Diets are usually short-term weight-loss programs.
Results are sometimes fast but never sustainable in the long run – oftentimes because people get bored of eating the same food all the time. Can you imagine staying on the ‘cabbage diet’ for the rest of your life?
Paleo is different! It’s a long-term, sustainable way of eating that focuses on consuming foods that our ancestors were eating thousands or even millions of years ago (the word ‘Paleo’ comes from ‘Paleolithic’). The idea is that these natural foods interact best with our metabolic and endocrine (hormone-releasing) systems.
Paleo foods are whole, real and unprocessed
Paleo basics include such foods such as:
• Good quality animal protein (pasture-raised meats, wild fish, eggs)
• Fruit and vegetables (preferably organic)
• Nuts and seeds
• Healthy fats (olives, avocados, coconut oil, ghee)
Simply put, Paleo foods are whole, real and unprocessed.
For an easy guide to grocery shopping for Paleo foods, check out my video!
The Paleo template encourages you to mix-and-match ingredients as you desire so that you can eat a different meal each time. You are limited only by your own imagination! Protein, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy fats are nutrient dense foods, which means they contain all the good stuff that our bodies need to function optimally (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, good carbs, lean protein etc).
So what does Paleo eating exclude? Here are the main ones to avoid:
• Processed food (because it's not real food!)
• Additional and artificial sugars (they lead to inflammation in the body and over-consumption of calories)
• Legumes (they contain phytic acid, which binds to minerals like zinc and iron and carries them out of our body, leading to mineral deficiencies)
• Dairy (whey and lactose promote the release of large amounts of insulin in the blood – leading to weight-gain and hormonal imbalance)
• Grains (they contain gluten, a protein found in most grains that can cause damage to the lining of the small intestines, creating inflammation in the body)
The real beauty of the Paleo template
So far, I’ve described Paleo eating in its purest and strictest form. However, some Paleo eaters (me included) do introduce some dairy (mostly yogurt) and legumes in their diet. Why? Because Paleo is meant to be a template to educate you to eat healthy, whole, unprocessed foods. It is not intended to be a strict eating plan that you can’t deviate from!
That's the beauty of the Paleo eating template (and I use the word 'template' rather that 'diet' on purpose ... 'cause that's what it is!).
Ultimately, you must listen to your body and see what works for you. If you feel like you MUST have a bit of yogurt every now and then, that's OK! If you want to reduce the release of insulin, add a bit of cinnamon to your yogurt.
If you enjoy chickpeas or lentils in your salad, that's OK too! Just soak and cook them to remove most of the phytic acid (side note: nuts also contain phytic acid – though in less quantity than legumes – but they too should be soaked before consuming them).
Physicians, biochemists, nutritionists and other researchers are starting to come around to the benefits of ‘ancestral nutrition’. People who have adopted a Paleo eating template are reporting significant improvements in their general health, body composition and energy levels. There’s also increasing evidence that people who eat the Paleo way are reducing the risks of various disorders associated with the ‘Western Diet’ such as obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. These beneficial properties of Paleo eating should not be taken lightly!
Make the (Paleo) change, one small step at a time
At this point you might be thinking: “Wow, this sounds great but it's so overwhelming! Where do I start?”
Fear not! My personal mantra is ‘make the change, one small step at a time’. If you want to start eating Paleo, start with something you are comfortable doing.
Maybe you can start by removing processed foods (or even just one processed food) from your diet.
If that is achievable for you, then start cutting down on additional sugar and focus on consuming mostly natural sugar that comes from fruit (my personal faves are dates, berries and pineapple).
Step by step, you can move towards eating more nutrient-dense foods and removing the processed ones. These small steps will make a huge change in your health!
I went through this process myself a few years back (read about my personal eating journey on one of the previous articles on this blog). Looking at how much progress I’ve made, I can attest to how much Paleo eating will improve your health, body composition and well being!
In my next article, I will share some tips on how to get around some of the common challenges people experience when eating Paleo for the first time. Stay tuned!