The Paleo Diet has attracted a lot of followers since the book by Dr. Loren Cordain was first printed back in 2002. Paleo refers to the ‘Old Stone Age’ which was about 333 generations ago. Dr. Cordain states that he didn’t discover the diet; rather, he and other researchers merely uncovered what was already there.
As a species, we are genetically and physiologically identical to humans that lived before the dawn of agriculture. We may not call ourselves hunters and gatherers today, but our bodies still behave as if we are, at least from a biological perspective.
The Paleo Diet is extremely well researched and backed by numerous scientific and evidence-based studies. The ground rules are fairly straight forward and can be summarized as such:
- Eat all the lean meats, fish, and seafood you want;
- Eat all the fruits and non-starchy vegetables you want;
- Don’t eat cereals, breads or any foods made with grains or corn;
- Don’t eat legumes (beans);
- Don’t eat dairy products; and
- Don’t eat processed foods.
The Paleo Diet is not a low-carb, fat-free, or high-fat diet. It is a high lean animal protein, high fiber and ‘bad fat’-free diet. There are absolutely no grains or dairy products allowed including butter, cream, milk, cheese, etc. The starchy vegetables eliminated include potatoes and all potato products (French fries, potato chips, etc.) and yams. Fatty, processed meats are not allowed including bacon, bologna, sausage, pepperoni, and deli meats. There is an emphasis placed on eating grass fed, free range, hormone free beef, or preferably wild game whenever possible.
Nuts are to be eaten in moderation, and absolutely no peanuts are allowed. All beans are excluded largely due to the fact that beans and grains contain substances called lectins, proteins that have evolved to ward off insect pedators. Lectins can bind with almost any tissue in our bodies and create autoimmune reactions in susceptible individuals.
Preferred oils for cooking and salad dressings include olive, flaxseed, avocado, and walnut. Hydrogenated and processed vegetable oils are not allowed. Eggs are allowed but not daily, and it is suggested that eggs high in omega 3 fats be used.
The seven keys to Paleo eating are:
- Eat a relatively high amount of lean animal protein compared to the typical American diet.
- Eat good carbohydrates – from fruits and vegetables, not from grains, refined sugars or starchy vegetables.
- Eat a large amount of fiber from non-starchy fruits and vegetables.
- Eat a moderate amount of fat, with more good fats than bad fats. In other words, more mono and polyunsaturated fats and less saturated fats. Try to have equal consumption of omega 3 and omega 6 fats.
- Eat foods high in potassium and low in sodium (avoid processed meats, salt-added foods and table salt).
- Eat a diet with a net alkaline load.
- Eat foods rich in plant phytochemicals such as brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
The Paleo Diet isn’t suitable for everyone; in fact, no diet is. There exists no shortage of controversy between nutrition professionals regarding which dietary path is the best. Whether it be vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, ketogenic or any other diet, each one can present problems for some people.
In general, it is my opinion that most nutrition experts would agree on some fundamentals for healthy eating to include:
- Avoid all processed food, especially processed grains.
- Avoid highly processed and hydrogenated oils (corn, canola, soybean).
- Avoid sugar, sugar-added products and high fructose corn syrup.
- Eat local and organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
- Eat grass fed, hormone free meats and wild caught fish whenever possible.
Almost any diet can require some tweaking to fit your particular sensitivities and digestive issues. Also, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t 100 % compliant with a diet; no one is.
A healthy diet should have obvious benefits including increased energy levels, body fat loss, improved digestion and elevated mood. Find one that works for your body type and do the best you can.
Dr. John Dixon can be reached at the Natural Medicine Group (760) 345.7300