What is the Paleo Diet?
Named after the Paleolithic Period, the paleo diet was designed to mimic the eating patterns of our prehistoric ancestors. The diet is based on the idea that our bodies have adapted over thousands of years to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and that our modern diets, rich in processed foods and grains, are to blame for many chronic health conditions.
The History of Paleo
While the diets of our early ancestors varied significantly based on their geographic location, their hunter-gatherer lifestyle impacted everything from their brain size and nerve expansion to their gastrointestinal tract size. So, what did the original paleo diet include? Our ancestors caught wild game and fish, foraged for plants and fruit, and ate insects and other small creatures. Their diet was rich in fats and protein, and anthropologists believed their body functions evolved to fit this lifestyle.
Proponents of the paleo diet believe that the swift shift from hunting and gathering to farming and industrialization has outpaced our physiological adaptability. The theory behind the paleo diet is that while our diet has rapidly evolved, our digestive systems haven’t caught up, leaving us unable to properly digest modern foods. Several studies suggest that the paleo diet has shown beneficial effects in preventing cardiometabolic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hyperlipidemia.
The Paleo Diet Food List
Paleo-friendly foods are the ones that can be hunted or gathered, including:
- Lean meats from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals or wild game
- Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel and albacore tuna
- Cage-free eggs
- Fresh vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach and butternut squash
- Root vegetables like yams, sweet potatoes and turnips
- Fresh fruits like apples, grapes, melons, bananas, citrus fruits, peaches and plums
- Blueberries, blackberries and strawberries
- Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and chia seeds
- Healthy fats and oils from fruits and nuts
- Salt and spices like sea salt, rosemary, turmeric, garlic and more
Foods that are excluded from the paleo diet include:
- Grains like wheat, barley, corn, rice, oat, bread and pasta
- Dairy products
- Legumes like beans, peas, lentils, tofu and peanuts
- Starchy vegetables, like corn and potatoes
- Refined sugars like high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar
- Highly processed foods
- Soda, fruit juices and other sweetened beverages
- Refined vegetable oils such as soybean oil and corn oil
- Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose
You can find plenty of recipe inspiration incorporating paleo-friendly ingredients, including this Paleo Burger Bowl with Waffle Fries.
Gathering the Facts
Thinking about ditching your modern-day diet? Let’s look at all the facts:
The paleo diet encourages the consumption of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and healthy fats while excluding processed foods, which may result in an overall reduction of calories, sodium, added sugar and unhealthy fats.
Weight loss attained from following the paleo diet is often attributed to the omission of several food groups, including grains, dairy and legumes. It’s important to note, though, that these groups provide nutrients our body needs. The fiber in whole grains and legumes, for example, may reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes, while the calcium in dairy products promotes bone health. In addition, the elimination of whole food groups can lead to a lack of variety and balance that may be unsustainable, leading to disordered eating over time. Always talk to your healthcare provider or registered dietitian prior to starting a new diet.
In addition, the elimination of whole food groups can lead to a lack of variety and balance that may be unsustainable, leading to disordered eating over time.
The paleo diet is often more expensive to follow than a balanced and varied modern diet. Whole grains, dairy and legumes tend to be more affordable and available sources of protein than wild game, grass-fed meats and nuts.
The long-term effects of the paleo diet are unknown. Research on paleo diets is limited compared to other balanced diets offering various food groups. Small studies suggest that a paleo diet may help to manage weight loss, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, but more extensive clinical trials are needed to better understand the long-term benefits and possible risks of the paleo diet.
The Paleo Diet Takeaway
If you’re on the hunt for a new lifestyle, the paleo diet is within reach. Talk to your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian who can develop a personalized nutrition plan to fit your individualized needs.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.