What is the Paleo Diet?

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If this is your idea of the paleo diet, you’re partially right:

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Paleo, in its most basic sense, means eating like our ancestors, eating the way humans have for most of our history.

From Wikipedia:

“The paleolithic diet, also known as the paleo diet or caveman diet, is a diet based on the food humans’ ancient ancestors might likely have eaten, such as meat, nuts and berries, and excludes food to which they likely wouldn’t have had access, like dairy.”

The convenience of living in the modern world allows us to avoid having to actually hunt and gather all of our food, but successfully eating a paleo diet in the modern world requires sorting through “foods” that are the product of modern technology. With processed foods lining the shelves of grocery stores, we do kind of have to “hunt” for nutrient-dense, whole foods.

Foods Omitted on a Paleo Diet

  • grains and legumes: Products of the agricultural revolution, these contain phytic acid and lectins. Phytic acid prevents the body from absorbing vitamins and minerals present in these foods. Lectins are toxins that cause damage to the body’s intestinal wall, which is where nutrients are absorbed.
  • vegetable oils: Soybean, sunflower, corn, canola, cottonseed, safflower, etc. oils are heavily processed, involving pressing, heating, addition of industrial chemicals and highly toxic solvents. Consumption of these unnatural oils causes inflammation, which contributes to disease.
  • refined sugar: Refined sugar has no vitamins or minerals, is not satiating, and is addictive. It contains a large amount of fructose, which actually gets turned into fat by the body. Consuming refined sugar causes the body to release excessive amounts of insulin and can lead to insulin resistance and even diabetes, among other diseases.
  • dairy: Diary is removed on a strict paleo diet mostly because it is a relatively recent addition to the human diet, and therefore, many people do not tolerate dairy well. If tolerated, it is a healthy addition, however (especially if from grass-fed cows). If dairy is included in a paleo diet, it is then considered a “primal” diet.

Foods Included on a Paleo Diet

  • high quality (organic, grass-fed) meat
  • fish/seafood
  • eggs (preferably organic and pastured) 
  • vegetables and fruit
  • nuts and seeds
  • healthy fats (avocados, olives, coconut products)
  • unprocessed food in as close to its natural form as possible

Paleo: A Way of Life

The paleo diet also includes lifestyle adjustments that are more in line with how our ancestors lived. They include:

  • prioritizing sleep: Lack of sleep contributes to illness, weight gain, hormone imbalance, lowered immunity, altered brain function, premature aging, and blood sugar imbalances.
  • exercising: Incorporating natural movement into daily life and participating in brief sessions of functional strength training using the whole body leaves you feeling energized and strong. Extended sessions of intense cardio can actually stress the body. Exercise should be enjoyable, not torturous. Healthy exercise improves immunity, lowers the risk of disease, increases longevity, reduces stress, prevents depression, and improves memory.
  • stress reduction: Slowing down, regularly setting aside the “to-do” list, learning to say “no,” meditating, and praying are all ways to relieve stress. Stress reduction decreases depression and anxiety, helps balance hormones, improves immunity, reduces cravings, and helps balance blood sugar.
  • spending time outdoors / sun exposure: Spending a few minutes outside each day and including some sun exposure allows the body to synthesize vitamin D, which increases overall bone health, improves mood, and improves immune function. Time spent outdoors also helps reduce stress.

In summary, the paleo diet simply mimics how our ancestors ate for most of human history until the agricultural revolution. It includes consuming nutrient-dense whole foods in their natural form and making healthy lifestyle choices to help improve the quality of life.