The Paleo Diet: What is it? And does it work?
The Paleo Diet, or hunter-gatherer diet is based on foods Paleolithic humans would have eaten. This type of eating is also known as primal or caveman.
The Paleo diet consists of real, whole foods so it focuses primarily on fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds. This is because in the paleolithic period there was no processed foods, it was purely about eating from the earth. It therefore eliminates a whole range of processed or man-made foods that contain preservatives, hidden sugars, sodium, additives, coloring, and artificial flavorings.
Despite the Paleo diet being based on the presumed diet of the Paleolithic humans, it is a modern nutritional plan that has seen a huge rise in popularity over the last number of years, mainly due to the amount of success stories achieved by those following it.
It is based on the premise that human genetics have scarcely changed since the Agricultural Revolution (also called the Neolithic Revolution) some 10,000 years ago, therefore modern humans are adaptable to the diet or diets of the Paleolithic period.
It has become a ‘go to’ nutrition protocol for many, with some believing it is how everyone should be eating.
As a result, the Paleo diet has become a controversial topic in the nutrition world.
Gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin first popularized the Paleo diet back in the mid 1970’s. He was among one of the first to suggest that a person could greatly improve their health by following a diet like that of the Paleolithic era.
In 1989, Steffan Lindeberg conducted a scientific study known as the Kitava Study. This looked at the non-Westernized populations of Kitava in Papua New Guinea, which highlighted a correlation between diet and Western diseases.
This is because the population of Kitava did not suffer from the same medical diseases as seen in those eating a Western type diet.
Since the 1990’s we have therefore seen an increasing popularity for the return to a so called Paleolithic diet by many medical practitioners and nutritionists.
In the modern world this means following a diet from cultivated plants and domesticated animals’ meat. It consists of foods that can be fished and hunted, such as seafood and meat; foods that can be gathered, such as, eggs, fruit, herbs, insects, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, spices and vegetables.
Also, the typical recommendations for meat consumption is that they are free-range or grass-fed, as they will contain less toxins and higher nutrient profiles compared to grain-fed domestic meats.
For foods that can be gathered, it is suggested these are organic and locally grown, again to reduce pollution and potential toxicity issues.
The rise of popularity of the Paleo diet is due to a number of benefits that people can experience from following it consistently.
People following the Paleo diet may experience the following benefits:
- Increased and more stable energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Cleaner skin and healthier looking hair
- Mental clarity
- Improved mood and attitude
- Improvements in those suffering depression and anxiety
- Less or no bloating, decreased gas
- Sustained weight loss
- Muscle growth, increased fitness
- Lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer
- Higher immune function and a general feeling of well being
- Improved glucose tolerance; decreased insulin secretion and increased insulin sensitivity
- Improved lipid profiles
- Healthier gut
- Better absorption of nutrients from foods
- Reduced allergies
- Improvements in those with respiratory problems, such as asthma
Going by the above list the Paleo diet has a lot to offer, so it’s important to understand why we may see such extensive benefits.
- Weight Loss:
- When you stop eating high calorie, high carbohydrate foods like dairy, rice, oats and bread, you’ll be likely to experience weight loss. The primary sources of carbohydrates in the Paleo diet are fruit and vegetables. By eliminating a particular food group from the diet, we reduce our daily intake of calories which will lead to weight loss.
- Heart Health
- On the Paleo diet you consume higher amounts of quality meat and fish, which leads to an increased intake of Omega 3 fatty acids. According to the American Heart Association, increased Omega 3 consumption lowers your blood pressure, decreases triglyceride levels and reduces your risk of sudden cardiac death. The increased fiber intake can also improve your cholesterol levels, which helps your heart health.
- Lower Diabetes Risk
- Eating a diet based around whole, single ingredient foods, including one high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, helps to control blood sugar levels. This has a considerable effect on managing the risk for Type 2 diabetes, and even reversing the symptoms of it.
- Reduced Autoimmune Disorders
- With the Paleo diet, we are removing many common foods that cause inflammation in the gut and to which many people have intolerances, sensitivities or allergies. This includes food groups like grains (gluten), dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds and nightshade vegetables. Such a diet may yield relief from leaky gut syndrome and thus autoimmune disorders.
So who is this for?
Essentially, the Paleo diet is focused around quality meats, fish, and vegetables with some fruit and nuts. It’s difficult to argue against the fact that this is a great ‘foundation’ diet for those seeking optimal body composition and health, and there are plenty of testimonials to back this up.
So a better question might be – Who is this diet not right for?
Despite the modern nutrition protocol being very simple, that does not mean it is easy to follow – have you ever tried to live on just meat and vegetables alone?
Due to the limited nature of the Paleo diet, many can find they are excluding too many food items at once, and fall off the wagon completely. It is quite a restrictive diet protocol, and in today’s modern society where we are surrounded by non Paleo foods, it can feel very repetitive and dull.
Since we now understand the reasons why we might see so many benefits, it may be possible to achieve sufficient results without necessarily applying the full protocol. We can therefore extract the ‘good’ bits we need.
At Basic Nutrition we believe in eating real foods as much as possible, and while we dislike associating the work diet to that theory- the paleo diet is the closest “diet” in todays modern times that we agree with. Eating real foods is a lifestyle, and its ok to enjoy sweets and processed foods in moderation, but if you try your best to eat foods that are wholesome and would follow under Paleo, you most likely will start to feel better, look better, and perform better.