What is Paleo?
If you are reading this blog, you are most likely interested or have at least heard of the term “Paleo diet”. Also known as the caveman, primal or ancestral diet. There are variances between each of these terms, but the basic premise is the same.
The foods that make up these diets are those foods that our ancestors who roamed the land about 2.6 million years ago had access to in their natural environments. This means meat in all its forms, plants, fruits, fats and oils, nuts and seeds and limited natural sweeteners. This also means eliminating processed foods; pastries, candy, soda and foods we know aren’t good for us. However, Paleo takes it a step further and examines foods that we even think of as “healthy” in today’s food environment.
What is not allowed is—unfortunately—the types of foods that are most widely available today:
All grains including wheat, rye, barely, millet, rice, oats, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and spelt are not included in the Paleo diet.
Beans and legumes such as black and pinto beans, chickpeas, edamame and soy are not part of the Paleo diet. Legumes such as lentils, peanuts (yes, peanuts are actually a legume) and peas are also not food items Paleo proponents suggest eating.
Dairy products in all pasteurized forms such as milk, half and half, cream, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, ice cream, and frozen yogurt are not recommended.
Soy products in all forms are not recommended. Products such as soy milk, soy beans (edamame), soy nuts, soy lecithin, soy based meats and cheeses, tofu, or anything containing soy protein you should steer clear of.
Sweeteners and sugars are not recommended, especially those that are refined and processed such as cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown sugar, powdered sugar, and turbinado sugar. Artificial sweeteners are most definitely off limits, as they are unnatural and can wreck havoc on the body. Gray areas exist on other types of sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, molasses and coconut sugar. Truth is, sugar is sugar. No matter how it’s processed or made, sugar is not a necessary component to the human diet and provides virtually NO nutrition at all.
Alcohol is not part of the Paleo diet. Period.
What can I eat?
It may seem like a multitude of foods are removed from the traditional Paleo approach, and compared to the standard American diet and the overabundance of foods available, many of them are removed. However, with the right knowledge and tools, finding “Paleo approved” foods is easier than it seems. One of the benefits of eating real foods is discovering the vast amount of foods that are available yet that few people incorporate into their diets, or even know about.
When many people first learn about Paleo, the focus becomes on foods we can’t eat. The list is long, and if you’re eating a traditional American diet, majority of the foods on the Paleo diet can be new to you. However, instead of solely focusing on what we can’t eat, there is a list twice as long with the foods we can eat that provide high nutritional value.
Meats and seafood such as beef, chicken, pork, turkey, venison, salmon, shrimp and oysters are rich in nutrients we absolutely need to perform and live well.
All vegetables and fruits are encouraged as they provide a variety of benefits; search for an assortment of colors when it comes to fruits and vegetables, this means you’re getting the most variety in nutrients.
Eggs (yolks most definitely included) are nutritional powerhouses and you should eat them generously and without guilt!
Fats such as butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil and avocados are excellent sources of many different types of nutrients that humans NEED to survive. DO NOT FEAR FAT!
Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachio nuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are all easy ways to get nutrients and are versatile when it comes to making all sorts of dishes.
Sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup should comprise a small percentage of the food you eat.
You can look forward to new tastes, flavors, and textures when implementing a real food approach. Discovering new spices, sauces and ways to flavor your food is exciting and you will be surprised at the way foods you may have written off before can take on a whole new taste when flavored with a multitude of spices and seasonings.
When eating real foods you have a whole host of food choices, it just takes the right knowledge to know which ones provide the ultimate nutrition and benefit to our bodies.
What are the benefits?
To anyone curious about why in the world we would ever willingly choose to eliminate all these foods when it makes up the bulk of what is found in the grocery store and in restaurants, there is good reason. The benefits from going Paleo are immense. If there is a condition or disease you suffer from (or anyone else you know suffers from, for that matter) eliminating these foods will most likely have a beneficial effect.
A short list of some of the conditions that eating a Paleo diet can improve are obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid disorders, autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, cancer and allergies.
People who eat real food experience less inflammation, sustained weight loss, higher energy levels, better sleep, improved mood, better digestion and absorption, increased mental clarity, clearer skin (whether it be from acne, psoriasis or eczema), more stable blood sugar levels, improved blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Eating real foods and eliminating the processed stuff can improve a vast array of issues, many of them you may not even know you have or have learned to deal with over time. Chronic headaches, achy joints, fatigue and moodiness are things we as Americans have learned to deal with. Many people think experiencing these symptoms every day is just “how it is.” But I’m here to tell you, this is not how it has to be, not at all.
Is it even possible?
Making a change in the food you eat everyday and have been eating for years is an extremely daunting task, but I am here to tell you it is possible. It may not always be an easy task and there will be times when it doesn’t seem worth it, but in the end, your health it always worth it. Feeling good, nourishing your body and realizing that good food can be the best medicine around is a powerful transformation that anyone is capable of.
I encourage everyone to move towards a healthy diet compromised of nutritious, real foods. Whether it is only eliminating wheat at first, eating less dairy, or skipping the bagels and cereal for eggs and bacon a few times a week, adapting your mentality towards food doesn’t have to be a struggle or an all-or-nothing event. Change takes time, especially the kind of this magnitude, but I can assure you that committing to your health will be a change you will forever be grateful for.