In recent years, the Paleo Diet has been all the rage. As I have mentioned in numerous previous blogposts, during the 80’s and 90’s, Americans were focused on cutting fat and fatty foods from their diet. In the 2000’s, we realized that fat wasn’t the enemy, but it was actually carbs that were the enemy. We all adopted a high protein diet, and followed Dr. Atkins wherever he told us to go. And now, with the advent of Crossfit, we have shifted our focus yet again to living like a caveman, and following a Paleo diet. But what is the Paleo diet? What foods are allowed? What are the benefits of the Paleo Diet? What are some of the potential limitations?
What is the Paleo Diet?
Developed by Loren Cordain, PhD, and made popular by his book, The Paleo Diet, this regimen is based largely on the diet and lifestyle of our prehistoric ancestors. The foods that are allowed in the diet are those that could have been found in the diet of these early cavemen, those in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. By following these 7 qualities of the diet, one can improve their health, lower the potential for chronic disease and lose weight.
- Higher protein intake – Mimic the protein intake of these cavemen at 20-35% protein daily.
- Lower carb intake/lower glycemic index – Carbohydrates should be limited to non-starchy vegetables and fruit, comprising 35-45% of daily intake. Remove all other refined carbs from the diet.
- Increase fiber intake – Take in more fiber, but not in the form of whole grains. Instead focus on non-starchy fruit and vegetables as the main source of fiber.
- Increase fat intake, mostly monounsaturated fats (omega-3s) – The type of fat is the culprit, according to Cordain. Trans fat and polyunsaturated fats lead to the majority of CV disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Higher potassium and lower sodium intake – According to Cordain, “Low potassium is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke – the same problems linked to excessive dietary sodium. Today, the average American consumes about twice as much sodium as potassium.” Most of this sodium comes in the form of highly refined foods that Americans consume.
- Increase dietary alkaline load to balance high dietary acidic load – Wait, what? After digestion, food presents as either alkaline or acidic to the kidneys. Excessive dietary acid has been linked to bone/muscle loss, increased blood pressure, and increased risk for kidney stones, as well as exacerbating asthma. Acidic foods are meats, fish, grains, legumes, cheese and salt. Alkaline foods are vegetables and fruit.
- Higher intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant phytochemicals – Eating foods like grass-fed meats, fruits and veggies are the best way to take in many vitamins and minerals. These can’t be found in whole grains.
What can you eat on the paleo diet? What do you need to avoid?
- Grass-fed meats
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)
DO NOT EAT
- Cereal grains
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Refined vegetable oils
The benefits of the Paleo Diet
Cordain’s Paleo Diet, does underscore many of the basic tenets of clean eating. If you observe this diet, you will improve your health in many ways, primarily due to the elimination of processed foods, which are loaded in sugar and sodium. Increasing one’s intake of whole, unprocessed foods, like fresh fruits and veggies will improve anyone’s diet, with the increase in fiber, the reduction in sugar and sodium, and the overall reduction in caloric intake. All of these health benefits, plus weight loss – who wouldn’t love this diet?!
The potential limitations of the Paleo Diet
As with all diets, the Paleo Diet requires discipline, maybe even more so than the average diet. However, it the diet is not prescriptive in terms of portion sizes, which can be an issue, depending on the food of choice (large amounts of veggies aren’t an issue, but large quantities of nuts could be an issue). In addition, some claim that the focus on fresh foods may be more expensive than a traditional diet. Unfortunately, in America, they never discount a 2lb bag of apples in the same fashion that they do powdered donuts – so this probably is the case. Additionally, many nutritionists focus on the fact that the Paleo Diet would result in low levels of calcium and vitamin D, both of which are found in dairy sources. This can be a real limitation of the Paleo Diet. This diet also supports higher than recommended amounts of fat and protein, which may cause other health issues in the long run. Finally, for some, especially athletes, the Paleo Diet doesn’t allow for enough carbohydrates, which are essential forms of fuel.
For a great recipe that does fit the bill for the Paleo Diet, try our Thai-Grilled Salmon. Super easy to prepare, and so tasty! Not sure if the cavemen ate like, this, but you will love it!