The principle of the Paleo diet is to regress our eating habits back to those of our ancestors. Everyone has been talking about the Paleo diet for a long time now, because it appears, at first glance, to be without flaws. In this article, I aim to answer some of your questions surrounding the Paleo idea and help you decide if it is the right option for you.
First of all, as with most of the diet ideas which trend these days, the Paleo regime is more than just a quick fix diet, it is a lifestyle choice. Paleo is not designed to be a short term solution for dramatic weight loss. If you are tempted to try the Paleo principles, then it is important to understand that you will need to adapt your shopping, cooking and eating habits for the rest of your life. This is a long term solution to a healthier lifestyle and, ultimately, a longer life.
The word Paleo comes from Palaeolithic, or the Palaeolithic Era, which is more commonly referred to as the Stone Age. History teaches us that our ancient ancestors survived on a diet of nuts, berries, meat and seafood. They had primitive tools and were skilled hunters and gatherers. The theory is that since the introduction of agriculture, the human body has not had time to evolve adequately and we are therefore poorly adapted to the foods available to us today. Foodstuffs which have become relatively recently apparent are the likes of legumes, dairy products and, of course, MacDonalds. The argument suggests that we are unable to efficiently digest or convert these foods because we have not evolved sufficiently since the Palaeolithic era.
What does this mean for us today? Quite simply, it means huge changes. We have become accustomed to convenience cooking, processed products and tasty treats which do not do our bodies any favours. According to the Paleo nutrition plan, we need to be consuming more unsaturated fat, vitamins, fibre and protein. It also suggests that dairy was not a component of our ancestors’ diet and is therefore not a necessary part of ours. Raw seeds and nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables and meat are the main components of the Paleo plan because they were the basis of the Palaeolithic diet. As a result, we can benefit from reduced risk of diabetes, reduced blood pressure, clearer skin and all-round improvement to our daily health.
There are some discrepancies surrounding the Paleo ideology:
- Historians and scientists have been thorough in their research and they can teach us a great deal about the nutrition of our ancient ancestors. They cannot, however, define the exact proportions of the diet of the Stone Age. How much red meat did they actually consume?
- It has also been argued that legumes were indeed available and consumed pre-agriculture.
- As for the biology behind the idea, it is clear that humans do not cope well with excessive doses of artificial, processed or sweetened products. However, the human race has been unbelievably proficient in adapting and can indeed cope with moderate volumes of processed foods, breads and grains.
- Dairy is a good example of variety in our diet which, in moderation, can benefit your health. Broccoli and Kale are a good source of calcium but we would have to eat a lot more of them than we do now to ensure there is enough calcium to keep our bones, teeth and nails strong.
- Alcohol is one to steer clear of according to the Paleo regime, but there is evidence of Stone Age pouches used to ferment grapes for making wine. As long as you keep it pure and avoid the added sugar of modern wines, you’re fine!
- The Paleo diet has been accredited with reducing health risks such as diabetes and high blood pressure, but since everyone is different, it will not offer a miracle cure to your ailments and it is by no means suitable to everyone.
- Although the ancient man was considered to be strong, lean, fit and healthy, his diet would not necessarily suit the modern man. Homo sapiens today require very different outputs from their bodies. Running from predators, surviving winters outside, building fires, hunting wild animals and gathering nuts and berries are no longer considered essential skills. Does Average Joe, from Accounts or IT, need the same diet plan as Tarzan?
The logical solution is to tailor the Paleo diet to the individual. One size fits all is a risky way to approach diet changes. Whether you are training for an Iron Man, Triathlon or a 5K fun run, you may find that the limited carbohydrates will take its toll on your energy reserves. If you suffer from naturally low blood sugar levels, you are likely to struggle with a purely orthodox Paleo nutrition plan. For most of us, the hardest part will be resisting temptation, because chocolate croissants taste too good! So as always, remember the golden rules:
- Use your chosen diet plan as a guide, not a manual
- Everything in moderation
- A little bit of what you fancy does you good
- What works for your best friend, your neighbour or your dog may not necessarily work for you
- Regardless of which lifestyle choices you make, be sure to stay fit and active