Chances are that most of you who have come across this article are already somewhat familiar with the Paleo diet and how it works. For those of you who are not so familiar, let me break the Paleo lifestyle and diet down for you real simply.
What is The Paleo Diet?
Put boldly, the Paleo diet is by far the healthiest, most natural diet you could ever choose to consume because it is the diet that has been consumed by humans for millions of years. It is the diet that shaped the human genome into what it is today, ultimately determining what foods are most efficient for sustaining the greatest health.
Just look at the modern day diet. It’s loaded with processed foods, refined sugars, and heavily balanced towards the consumption of grains. Now look at the rise of degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease; can you see the correlation?
Many health professionals and research articles will agree that the deterioration of the human diet and the intervention of certain farming processes have played a vital role in the increase of human disease. Simply put, our diet is killing us.
A Look at Our Ancestors
Our ancestor’s diet was based on all things naturally available at the time. Fresh meat and fish caught by their own hands, and vegetables that flourished in the wild. They didn’t have access to cereals, bread, pasta, and all the processed foods you’ll find on the shelves of supermarkets today. No; they simply lived on the meat they could catch, seafood they could fish, and fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds they could find.
When you look at the health of our ancestors you find that back then there were fewer cases of degenerative diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and that obesity was much less common than it is today.
Why You Should Convert to Paleo
Problems With the Western Diet and How Paleo Fixes Them
Grains and sugar
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a whopping 34.9% of U.S adults suffer from obesity, costing a staggering $147 billion EVERY YEAR in medical costs. So why are we getting fatter every year? What’s going on?
‘A picture speaks a thousand words’, is an appropriate saying to use here, and while there are a few reasons that can be associated to the increase in obesity, the correlation between sugar consumption and obesity is a blindingly obvious one. Just take a look at the graph to the left; it shows that as our sugar intake has continued to grow, so have our bellies.
The reason that increased sugar consumption makes us fat is because of the way it is handled in the body. When you have sugar in your system, insulin is released in order to remove the sugar and transport it for metabolizing or storage. This can be in many forms, from restoring muscle and liver glycogen, to direct energy creation. However, when there is an overload of sugar in the body and no use for its energy, it is removed from the blood and either stored in pre-existing fat cells (making them larger) or stored in new fat cells.
With that in mind, it’s obvious to see that our over-consumption of sugar and grains is a huge contributor to obesity and ultimately many illnesses that can result from being overweight.
The Paleo diet automatically fixes these big fat problems (pun intended) caused by grains and refined sugars, simply by eliminating them. You will still get some sugar in the way of fructose from fruit, however this sugar has a low glycemic index which means it doesn’t cause a huge insulin spike like refined sugars do. The Paleo diet also ensures that your consumption of sugar is moderate, with the basis of the diet consisting of meat, poultry, and non-starchy vegetables.
This change in your diet will ultimately lead to a healthier mind and body as well as allowing you to manage your weight and reduce it to its ideal level naturally.
Chronic inflammation is a common problem in today’s world; many of you reading this article will be suffering from some sort of inflammatory problem without knowing it. It doesn’t always have obvious symptoms; however the common side effects are digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and difficulty going to the toilet sometimes.
These problems occur when we ingest foods that our body just hasn’t evolved to eat yet. Evolution is a slow process, and the fact is that we have only really been consuming processed foods such as grains, processed meats, and dairy for the past 3% of our entire existence. It seems daft then that one would assume our bodies have evolved to digest and utilize these foods efficiently. There simply has not been enough time.
Gluten, lactose, yeast, GMO’s, pesticides, and artificial sweeteners are all examples of things commonly ingested that can cause stomach and digestive irritation. The scarier thing though, is that while you may not feel some of the irritation and inflammation that these foods and additives can cause, they can also be affecting your mental health and causing you to have poor concentration and mood swings. As the body tries to deal with the inflammation caused by unwanted intruders, certain harmful chemicals are released that infiltrate their way into your brain, causing it to become inflamed! This inflammation can lead to signal disturbances between the brain and the body’s organs, thus worsening food allergies, and starting a vicious cycle which causes your mental and physical health to deteriorate.
Luckily, the Paleo diet can resolve any digestive and mental issues you may be having by removing all processed foods, artificial additives, dairy, and grains that are causing you to experience chronic inflammation. Instead, you are consuming nothing but fresh organic fruits and vegetables packed full of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants; organically fed meats rich in proteins, essential fats, and fish that contains brain boosting, skin smoothing omegas; and nuts and seeds containing healthy fats essential for regulating your LDL/HDL cholesterol balance (bad/good cholesterol).
The Health Benefits of Paleo
Where to begin? Paleo really does offer a whole host of health benefits which will leave you wondering why you ever ate differently.
Improved blood lipids, better glucose control, weight loss, and reduced food intolerances are just a few of the health benefits associated with eating a Paleo diet. And just a few reasons why you should throw your old diet out the window.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the main benefits:
Reduce Risk of Diabetes and Even Possibly Reversing It
As we discussed earlier, an overload of sugar can cause huge spikes of insulin to be released, and if the body has no practical use for the sugar at that point in time (re-filling liver and muscle stores), then the excess energy will be stored in fat cells – making you fatter.
But that is just one side to the double edged sword that is sugar; the other fatal blow that sugar can deliver is insulin resistance and inevitably, diabetes. Put simply, insulin resistance is where the body produces too much insulin (as a result of lots of glucose) and starts to become resistant to it, allowing all that sugar to flow through your veins, making you become hyperglycemic. As time goes by your body will continue to try and combat this sugar, flooding your body with insulin that has become inefficient and crippling. Lastly, if left long enough, you will finally be diagnosed with type II diabetes – something you could be stuck with for the rest of your life.
The good is news that the Paleo diet can fix this potential health hazard, and quickly. By removing all refined sugars from your diet and only consuming moderate amounts of low glycemic sugars found in fruits, you can effectively reduce your insulin secretion and improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin, making it able to function as it is supposed to.
In fact, a study published by, The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the potential health benefits of eating a diet similar to our Paleolithic ancestors, and the results were unquestionable.
They concluded that, “Even short-term consumption of a Paleolithic type diet improves BP and glucose tolerance, decreases insulin secretion, increases insulin sensitivity and improves lipid profiles without weight loss in healthy sedentary humans.”4
Reduce Risk of Autoimmune Diseases
An autoimmune disease is an abnormality in the immune system which results in the destruction of healthy body tissue rather than fighting a genuine threat such as harmful bacteria or a virus.
Normally, when your immune system is fighting a genuine threat, it identifies a foreign bacteria or protein and marks it for destruction. Antibodies then attach to the invaders and ultimately destroy them. Sometimes however, your body can get it wrong and the result can be tissue destruction within the body. This is recognized in over 80 autoimmune diseases such as Addison’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Rheumatoid arthritis to name a few.
What’s this got to do with Paleo you ask? Well, it seems this is something in common when it comes to autoimmune diseases; leaky gut.
Leaky gut describes the process in which undigested food particles and bacteria make their way through damaged intestinal walls. This can occur when the body encounters food intolerance and the immune system releases antibodies to destroy the undigested food particles. Without going into too much detail, the process results in an enzyme being released which weakens part of the gut lining and allows particles to pass through into your blood. Once in the blood, these particles can travel around the body and make their way into your organs and which results in damaging the organs as the immune system continues to try and fight them off and destroy them.
The solution seems blindingly obvious when you think about it. Cure and avoid leaky gut syndrome, and decrease your chances of developing an autoimmune disease – simple.
By consuming a Paleo diet, you remove the common foods which cause intolerances in most people. These include gluten, lactose, phytates, and lectin; all which are known to commonly cause various levels of leaky gut syndrome.
Some of benefits that are commonly reported by people who have made the switch over to the Paleo lifestyle are:
- Increased energy
- Weight loss
- Sense of well-being
- Reduced or zero gas, or bloating
- Better, stable moods
- Reduced allergies
- Healthier skin, nails, and teeth
- Reduced pain (people who suffer from chronic diseases that cause pain)
- Better quality of sleep
- Improved lipid profiles
- Improved digestion
- Better cardiovascular health
What You Can and Can’t Eat
The Paleo diet is simple to adhere to. The basic concept is that you should consume only foods that were available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Free from additives, heavy processing, GMO’s, pesticides, and nasty additions like refined sugar.
Approved Food List
You can eat lots of the following foods:
- Vegetables (non-starchy)
- Fruit (low sugar)
- Organic, non-grain fed meats
- Natural oils (coconut, olive, etc.)
Second to the foods above, you should eat moderate amounts of the following:
- Tubers (Sweet potatoes, cassavas, yams)
- High sugar fruits
- Dark Chocolate
Forbidden Food List
Finally, you should completely avoid the following foods:
- Refined sugar
- Processed food
- Refined oils
Why Go Organic?
Organically Fed Meats
A lot of people will argue against going organic, stating things like, “Organically fed meat is the same as grain fed”. Actually, this is not true.
While the animal may be the same, the diet it consumes has a huge impact on the quality of the meat that is produced. Studies have shown that organically fed meats are much leaner and contain less amounts of saturated fats and higher amounts of healthy fats such as omega-3 and EPA when compared to grain fed meats.2 Studies have also shown that diets rich in omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats reduce the risk of obesity and degenerative diseases such as: cancer and cardiovascular disease.
While the argument about whether or not saturated fat is bad for health continues, the take home message here is that meats that are grass-fed and free range, are much leaner and healthier for the human body when compared to cattle that is fed genetically modified, pesticide-laden grains.
Organic Fruits and Vegetables
Organic fruit and vegetables are more expensive than non-organic produce; this is true. But the increased price is justified.
Do you really want to introduce more digestive irritants and increase the amount of toxins in your body, increasing your potential for degenerative diseases for the sake of saving a few cents? I know I don’t want to!
The truth is genetic modification is simply a tool used in farming to increase crop yields and produce size in order to create more produce per dollar. This is a good idea in theory. After all, the world is a big place with a population that is rapidly growing, and the demand for produce is high. However, the introduction of pesticides and GMO’s does come with the ability to cause some health problems.
Food allergies, toxicity, poor nutritional profiles in produce, and environmental damage are all outcomes associated with our intervention and use of GMO’s and pesticides. For example, elevated levels of DDE (a pesticide) can be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.3
That’s why when consuming a Paleo diet you need to try get everything GMO and pesticide free. Of course, it may not be possible to get EVERYTHING GMO-free, however you should try your best if you want to avoid the potential effects associated with GMO’s and pesticides.
How Much Can You Eat?
Telling you directly how much can eat is a tricky one. Most people have different goals and therefore different calorie needs. Generally speaking, there is no guide to how many calories you should eat on the Paleo diet, and unless you are greedy, then it should be quite hard to over-eat.
There is however a few guidelines you can follow to ensure you aren’t over-doing it with one of the food groups.
Meat, Fish, Poultry, and eggs
Try to get a protein serving with every meal. A good rule to try and follow is to keep your consumption of meat, fish, and poultry equal. For example, try eating fish with one meal, meat with the next, poultry the next and so on. This will ensure you get the best range of proteins and also keep things interesting for you.
As far as serving size goes, be sensible. Eating a 10oz steak with every meal is obviously over-kill, and most likely highly calorific, so be careful. A portion of meat can be considered roughly the size of your palm (women) or two palms (men). If you aren’t average sized, or your energy expenditure is higher than average, you can obviously change this amount; for example: bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts.
Non-starchy vegetables such as: broccoli, spinach, cauliflower etc. should be your best friend when consuming a Paleo diet. There is no maximum amount of veggies you should eat, so load up! Make sure you try and get some form of veggie in with each meal, and make sure the serving size is at least two cups worth. The Paleo diet makes it extremely easy to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a variety of vegetables, so take advantage and get as many as you can.
Non-starchy vegetables are your focus, with starchy veggies, such as sweet potatoes, but consumed in lesser amounts. Try not to include these with every meal, and never make them the main component on your plate. Rather, you can consume these vegetables once or twice a day and keep the serving to about one cup.
Low Sugar Fruits (berries etc.)
When it comes to consuming fruits, lower sugar choices like, strawberries and blueberries are the preferred option as they will have less effect on insulin secretion. You can consume moderate amounts of these fruits, ranging from one to three servings per day. However, if you are looking to lose a bit of weight, you may consider limiting all fruits to one or two servings per day maximum.
High Sugar Fruits
Higher sugar fruits such as grapes, apples, and pears should be consumed less than low sugar alternatives. If you are already consuming low sugar fruits, try not to eat more than one serving per day of high sugar fruits. You can decide to replace all your low sugar fruits with 2 servings of high sugar fruit; however you will be losing out on all the antioxidants and vitamins that are present in berries. The take-away thought here is that variety is essential.
Nuts & seeds
Lesser amounts of nuts and seeds should be consumed; after all, they are high in fat so it can become easy to overdo it. They do contain a whole host of beneficial vitamins as well and healthy fats, so play a role in your diet and general health. Try to limit nuts and seeds to a serving of one handful per day.
You can consume natural fats liberally along with your meats, fish, and veggies. Cooking your meats in olive oil, lard, or palm oil is a good way to include these fats in your diet. Be sensible again; usually one or two teaspoons should suffice for cooking your protein.
Want to Know More?
Hopefully this article has opened up the door to a whole new world for you, and you will be clearing out your cupboards and stocking up on Paleo-friendly food.
If you want to know a bit more about the Paleo diet, including all the health benefits and problems with the modern day Western diet, then our “30 Day Paleo Challengef” is for you.
Not only does it take a look into the many debilitating problems caused by the modern day diet, but as the title infers, it also includes a full 30 day challenge, complete with weekly meal plans, recipes, and even shopping lists to make your weekly chore a walk in the park.
You’ll also find tips on how to stay motivated and not “fall off the wagon”, as well as how to take away the stresses of eating out when you have Paleo rules to follow.
If that’s not enough, you will also find useful recipes that can replace your common day grain and dairy foods. Recipes such as Paleo pizza, Paleo cheese, and even cakes and cookies! Yum!
There really is everything you need to get started on the road to a better lifestyle, or simply to challenge yourself and see what you’re made of.