Paleo has been a buzzword in nutrition land for a while now – but is it the one for you? Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly so you can decide yourself.
The idea of eating “what we’re programmed to” has been around for donkey’s years, but then in 2001 Loren Cordain, a Professor in the department of health and exercise at Colorado State Uni and the Godfather of all things paleo, published The Paleo Diet. The diet started to grow in popularity and now you can’t scroll through your insta without seeing a #paleo food pic.
The general idea is pretty simple. Cordain explains that some of the foods we eat today only came into our diet about 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution and that isn’t long enough for our bodies to adapt to eating them. Therefore the Paleo Diet involves eating what the cavemen ate – meat, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts – and avoiding grains, dairy, pulses, sugar and, of course, processed food.
Does the science stack up?
There isn’t an awful lot of studies available yet but those completed so far offer some promising results when the paleo diet is used as a nutritional intervention. Some studies show how it can support weight loss, diabetes management and a reduction in the risk factors for heart disease. The problem is large-scale studies are non-existent and, in light of their absence, many experts remain opposed to the paleo diet.
The good bits
Look, there are plenty of paleo’s out there that look ah-maze-ing. Jessica Biel, Matthew McConaughey, Megan Fox. They’ve all done it with great wolf whistling results. But let’s remember it’s not just how you look on the outside but truly how you feel on the inside that counts. It’s a no brainer that excluding sugar and processed foods alone is going to make a huge change to your health. The results of the diet will be dependent on each persons starting point. Those who do follow the diet claim that the benefits not only include weight-loss but increased energy, blood sugar balancing, reduced allergies, improved sleep and clearer skin. Paleo foods are also naturally high in protein and healthy fats which supports the body to balance hormones as well as appetite which wipes out the need for calorie counting.
There has been links with the diet being used as a treatment and has seen positive results in clients with Crohn’s disease, colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, autism and autoimmune diseases. The claims here are mainly anecdotal, which doesn’t mean we need to dismiss them, but it’s important to remember that we know little about context or environmental factors here.
The not so good bits
Now we all know that some haters gonna hate – the anti-cavemen often speak of their distaste for paleo because its demands that you exclude food groups that they see as essential to health, such as grains and legumes. And yes, this could leave people deficient in essential vitamins, not to mention constipated from the lack of dietary fibre IF they don’t do the diet well and are not balancing the intake of meat and veg properly. Remember with ANY diet, there’s a way to follow it well, with balanced nutrition, and a way to take the principles and make it unbalanced and therefore unhealthy.
Even the idea that we haven’t evolved for 10,000 years is up for debate. And think about it. Can anyone living today actually KNOW with 100% certainty what was around back in the day of caves? The meat, when eaten, would probably have been totally head to toe of the animal and only once it had been hunted & caught. That aint a steak every day bro. Plants should take the main stage.
Balance it out!
As you know by now I’m not a fan of extremes – and there are certainly some pretentious paleos out there who follow the diet so religiously that they would have a breakdown if they succumbed to a bowl of porridge. But there is value for some in cutting down on the amount of grains (especially the processed ones) as loads of us use them as the basis of our whole diet. If your’re having grains for every meal (creal or toast for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner) and not eating vegetables for every meal then are you truly having a good balance of nutrients? Why is over-graining it bad? Well among other points, the Pro-Paleo’s say that antinutrients like lectins or gluten in wheat, barley and rye can trigger an immune response and cause inflammation as well as increasing carbs. PRO TIP: You can significantly reduce the amount of lectins in beans and grains by just soaking them. On the other hand however recent studies have shown how wholegrains can help to increase insulin sensitivity. So yeh. It DEPENDS ON YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL and what you need.
I think many (including me) would find paleo too restrictive at first, but in fact compared to other diets and calorie couting woes, it is liberating for many. With paleo, you need to really really listen to what your body needs and eat instinctively. Many say that once they have followed the diet for a month or so, the benefits of improvement in energy, clearer skin and general wellbeing is worth the sacrifice of saying no to rice on the side. But don’t forget – it’s not for everyone. We are all so different genetically and physiologically, so if it doesn’t suit you try something else. If you fancy following Paleo why not make it 80% of your food life. Don’t take it too seriously, if you do have a grain-based food then don’t beat yourself up (with a club because you’re caveman) and remember that not all things created by man is evil – I mean, what about wine for goodness sake?
How do you Paleo?
Paleo diet should be three-quarters vegetables and fruit, the rest lean protein and healthy fats such as nuts, avocados and seeds. The main foods to focus on are;
Meat Red meat, game and poultry are encouraged, but they should not form more than 25 per cent of your diet. Fish is eaten freely.
Nuts and seeds Loaded with healthy fats and protein as well as tons of minerals.
Fruit and vegetables Fruit is not prohibited, but the lower in sugar, the better (eg. apples and pears). Generally any vegetables can be eaten, except for white potatoes, which are high on the glycemic index and cause spikes in insulin levels. (Again I’d take this with a pinch of salt – it totally depends what you’re eating the potatoes with)
Ok so ‘STRICT’ Paleo says that all dairy and foods containing it, grains (including quinoa, buckwheat), legumes (including peanuts, soya, green beans, all peas), all salt containing foods, processed meats (sausage, bacon), juices, starchy vegetables (yes, even sweet potatoes), all forms of sugar (honey, maple syrup, date or coconut sugar included), vinegar, processed foods and fried foods are NOT part of a Paleo diet. BUT don’t dispair – many don’t follow the diet THAT strictly (have you seen how many paleo cookie recipes there are online?!) For some paleos who lack in energy, they find including a small amount grains and legumes very beneficial.
Want to know more?
I’m a huge fan of Fitter Food and their Paleo-ish approach – They’re much more of an expert on the diet than little old me , have some wicked recipes and I got loads of info for this article there too so check them out.