Do you know what a Paleo diet is?
Popularly known as the caveman diet, the Paleo diet is the latest craze among dieters and fitness buffs. It’s called after our ancestors from thousands of years ago: The Paleolithic Humans. The Paleo diet is inspired by the eating habits of human hunter-gatherer descendants.
But how did it get so popular?
When we think of a caveman, the image of a perfectly healthy, fit, and muscular individual comes up in our minds. That’s an attractive sight indeed. Anyone would want to look like him.
However, some aspiring nutritionists take it a step ahead in picturing the caveman. For them, he’s the most stress-free individual living in complete harmony with the environment.
Not to forget, he eats everything that suits his body.
It’s quite hard to accurately understand the diet choices of Paleolithic people, especially when they were dispersed in different parts of the world. Since our ancestors lived a very active life, they needed massive reserves of energy to keep them going. Researchers agree that their diet mainly comprised of whole foods.
It’s a fact that back then the rates of lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases weren’t as common as they are today.
The Paleo diet supporters claim to have cracked the code of the perfectly nutritious and balanced diet following what our ancestors from 2.5 million years ago used to eat.
Various studies have identified the benefits of a whole foods-based diet such as the Paleo diet. Research suggests that it can lead to speed up weight loss without needing to count calories. This diet brings forth valuable improvements in personal health too.
But a majority of people looking to lose weight aren’t much aware of the Paleo diet.
However, since the Paleo concept is new for many, it sparks many questions.
So why not find out all about the diet plan that’s been inspired by our ancestors? Is it good for you? Should we follow the caveman diet? Is the caveman lifestyle really as inspiring?
They strongly oppose the very idea of eating like the cavemen.
In this guide, we’ll clear all the confusions that you might have about the Paleo Diet.
The Paleo Diet- What it is?
In human evolution, diet has played an important role. Some of our ways have been adapted from our Paleolithic ancestors. That’s the foundation of the Paleo Diet.
It is designed to resemble what human hunter-gatherer ancestors ate thousands of years ago. Moreover, they survived mainly on meat and fish.
Fruits and veggies were also part of their daily diet. Their food was dependent upon the season.
They ate whatever the environment offered. Unlike us, the cavemen didn’t enjoy the privilege of choosing what to eat. They only had no choice.
Researchers believe their diets didn’t consist of whole foods like dairy, processed grains, and sugar.
Changes in their diet started to occur from about 10,000 years back when the Agricultural Revolution came around. It introduced a variety of new crops and made them part of our foods.
The Paleo Diet became popular from the 1960s but with a lot of variation. On the whole, it explains what the dieters shouldn’t eat such as dairy, processed sugars, and grains and so on.
So, is there any substance in the claims that the Paleo Diet offers the perfect plan to stay healthy?
Before answering the question, let’s first define what you can eat and what you cannot eat if you are on a Paleo diet.
Paleo Diet Meal Plan
Keep in mind that there can’t be a universal rule to eat because every individual has different preferences.
Thousands of years ago, the same rule was followed by Paleolithic humans. They ate a variety of diets.
Their diet was mostly dependent on what was available at the time and in which part of the world they lived. Therefore, some ate an animal foods-based low-carb diet while some had to eat a plant-based, high-carb diet.
So, what you’ll be getting to know in this guide are the general guidelines not exact formulas. You can freely adjust the instructions of the Paleo diet as per your needs and preferences.
Check out the basic food guidelines of Paleo Diet:
- Healthy fats
- Processed foods
- Soft drinks
- Dairy products
- Artificial sweeteners
- Vegetable oils
- Trans fats
Paleo diet is about eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods.
The diet patterns of Paleolithic humans varied significantly according to their location and food availability.
Foods You Should Avoid
The following foods and ingredients should strictly be avoided:
- Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup: Includes pastries, soft drinks, table sugar, candy, fruit juices and so on.
- Grains: Includes pasta and bread, spelt, wheat, barley, rye and so on.
- Legumes: Lentils, beans.
- Dairy: Do avoid most dairy including low-fat (in some versions of Paleo diet, full-fat dairy such as butter and cheese are allowed).
- Certain vegetable oils: Sunflower oil, sunbeam oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil and so on.
- Trans fats: These are usually found in processed foods and margarine and are known as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.
- Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, sucralose, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame potassium. Prefer natural sweeteners.
- Highly processed foods: Whatever item is labelled as “diet” or “low-fat” or contains additives including artificial meal replacements.
Rules to remember
- If something looks like it’s been made in a factory, avoid it.
- Always read ingredients list first before buying anything. This rule should be followed even when buying stuff labelled as “health foods.”
Say no to processed foods and ingredients including bread, sugar, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and certain vegetable oils.
Foods You Must Eat
Choose to eat whole, unprocessed foods including the following:
- Meat: chicken, lamb, beef, lamb, pork, turkey and so on.
- Fish & seafood: Salmon, trout, haddock, shrimp, shellfish and so on. Opt for wild-caught if possible.
- Eggs: you must choose pastured, omega-3 enriched or free-range eggs.
- Vegetables: Kale, broccoli, carrots, onions, tomatoes peppers and so on.
- Tubers: Sweet potatoes, potatoes, turnips, yams and so on.
- Fruits: Oranges, avocados, apples, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, pears and so on.
- Nuts and seeds: Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and so on.
- Healthy fats and oils: Avocado oil, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and so on.
- Salt and spices: Garlic, sea salt, rosemary, turmeric and so on.
It is better to select grass-fed, organic, and pasture-raised items, obviously if you can afford it. If you can’t afford it, choose the least-processed ingredients and foods.
Your diet should include unprocessed foods like eggs, veggies, fruits, meat, seafood, nuts, spices, and healthy fats. Prefer to buy grass-fed and organic products.
Revised Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet has evolved considerably over the past few years. Now, we have several different versions available most of which allow many modern foods that science has found to be healthy.
The quality grass-fed butter and gluten-free grains such as rice are some of the modern foods that are now a part of the Paleo diet.
Paleo diet has become more like a template on which you can base your diet. It doesn’t promote a strict set of rules that dieters must follow no matter what.
The Paleo diet is only a starting point; you are free to add more healthy foods such as gluten-free grains or grass-fed butter.
The following are perfectly alright if you consume them in smaller portions:
- Wine: Quality red wine that’s full of antioxidants and health-benefitting nutrients.
- Dark chocolate: Go for 70% or higher cocoa content chocolate. Quality dark chocolate is highly nutritious and healthy.
Paleo diet offers a flexible template, so, you can enjoy red wine and dark chocolate at times.
What to Drink?
No prizes for guessing water should be your go-to beverage to keep yourself hydrated.
However, to bring in variety in your diet, the following drinks are also good options, besides water:
- Tea: Tea, especially green tea, is quite a healthy drink as it’s loaded with antioxidants and healthy compounds.
- Coffee: Studies reveal that there are many health benefits of drinking coffee and it is high in antioxidants.
Prefer to drink water more when following the Paleo diet. But, green tea and coffee are also good options to stay hydrated.
Sample Paleo Diet 7-Day Meal Plan
Here’s the meal plan you’ve been eagerly waiting for.
It’s a sample menu though, to show you how to create a balanced diet using Paleo-friendly foods.
Generally, the Paleo diet doesn’t require you to count calories or macronutrients such as protein, carbs or fat, at least, not at the initial stage.
But, if you want to lose a lot of weight, then you should probably track calories to cut down on carbs somewhat and restrict eating high-fat foods like nuts.
Using Paleo-friendly foods, you can create a variety of tasty meals. A sample 7-day Paleo diet menu gives you an idea about how the diet should look like.
Easy to Make Paleo Snacks
The Paleo diet emphasizes eating no more than three meals per day. But, if you feel hungry then here are some simple yet delicious snacks that you can easily make in a jiffy and even take along wherever you go.
- Baby carrots
- A bowl of berries with some coconut cream
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Apple slices with almond butter
- Any fruit of your choice
- Homemade beef jerky
- A handful of nuts
- Last night’s leftover meal
Paleo snacks are very simple and easily made so you can take them along at work or anywhere else. Fruits, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and baby carrots are some of the healthy options.
Paleo Diet Food List
Are you confused whenever you go to the grocery store? It may not be easy to pick the right items that would be healthy and nutritious for you.
Paleo diet allows for a wide variety of foods. So, here’s a shopping list that’s going to help you out surely.
- Poultry: Turkey, Chicken and so on.
- Meat: Lamb, Pork, Beef and so on.
- Fish: Trout, salmon, mackerel and so on.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, pears, oranges, avocado
- Fresh vegetables: Lettuce, greens, tomatoes, onions, carrots, peppers and so on.
- Frozen vegetables: Spinach, broccoli and so on.
- Berries: Strawberries, blueberries, etc.
- Almond butter
- Oil: Olive oil, coconut oil
- Sweet potatoes
- Condiments: Sea salt, pepper, turmeric, garlic, parsley and so on.
- Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts
It is better to avoid all unhealthy attractions like cookies, sugary sodas, pastries, crackers, bread, ice cream and cereals.
Before starting to follow the Paleo diet, you’ve got to clear your pantry of unhealthy delicacies.
Stock your pantry with nutritious, Paleo-friendly foods using the recommended shopping list.
Making Restaurant Meals Paleo-friendly
It’s not complicated to have meals Paleo-friendly at the restaurant. Here’s what you need to do:
- Select a fish or meat-based main dish
- Order extra veggies instead of bread or rice
- Ask them to prepare your food with coconut or olive oil
There’s no need to fear eating out just because you can’t have Paleo-friendly meals.
Follow these guidelines to convert any dish into a Paleo-friendly one easily.
Now that we’ve defined how you can follow a Paleo diet, let’s see what the scientists say about it.
What’s wrong with the Paleo diet?
The response of science
Most of the nutritionists are of the opinion that the Paleo diet does help in cutting down on excessively processed foods. However, it bans many other foods not only the highly processed ones. So, it does raise concerns among scientists and nutritionists.
According to the Scientific American, this diet is based “more on privilege than on logic.” Hunter-gatherers in the caveman era hunted because they had no other choice. But, the situation is different today. If someone wants to eat like the hunter-gatherers, it’s a choice.
The Quarterly Review of Biology published a study from researchers at Georgia State University and Kent State University where they claimed that there isn’t any exact version of the Paleo diet.
They noted that despite not possessing the teeth fit for many plants, the cavemen ate whatever they could find.
Majority of the Paleolithic people who lived in the north had to rely on meat for food while those who lived near the equator mostly ate plants.
In another study, researchers identified that caveman ate loads of carbs, which they could find naturally in their environments. We’re talking about the millennia before the farming of grain.
How we differ from our ancestors?
Human diet has evolved immensely since the Paleolithic period. Back then, people ate what they could find and hunt. Today, all we need to do is head to the supermarket to buy food of our choice.
However, the idea put up by the Paleo diet supporters is that our genetics haven’t changed since the Stone Age. That’s wrong.
For example, within the last 7,000 years, a lot of changes have been made to our body’s dietary acceptances. We can eat dairy easily now because our bodies have become tolerant to lactose.
In the previous eras, that wasn’t possible because the body didn’t produce the enzyme that breaks down sugar in milk after infancy.
In the same manner, the gut bacteria have evolved, and today a whole new range of foods can be processed by our bodies.
Let’s check out what Dr. Ken Sayers from Georgia State University has to say about this evolution:
“Hominids didn’t spread first across Africa, and then the entire globe, by utilizing just one foraging strategy or sticking to a precise mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. We did it by being ever so flexible, both socially and ecologically.”
Dr. Sayers believes that cave dwellers weren’t good hunters either. They relied mostly on one method for finding food- hunting. They could have tried to identify alternative options for food especially during winters when animals were usually scarce. He explains:
“It is likely that the basic dietary composition varied greatly at different places and times. This would include the percentage of the diet composed of animal foods.”
Identifying the Paleo Diet issues
1. The Paleo diet is mostly guesswork
To recreate a menu from ancient times is very difficult keeping in mind that the composition of food differed significantly back then. It’s probably more guesswork than a framework.
Though some of the Paleo dieters do agree that some energy needs to come from proteins, sugars and fats but these suggestions vary when compared to a whole lot of rigid followers.
According to Dr. Sayers, there are many factors to be considered when replicating the Paleolithic diet. The consideration of habitats, environments, and the value of food concerning its nourishment content are some of the factors.
It is, therefore, logical to say that the whole idea of reconstructing our ancestor’s diet is far too simplified.
2. Food choices are entirely different today
As most clinical experts suggest that the food, ranging from fruits to vegetables, we eat today is different from what hunter-gatherers consumed. We can select a diet based on their properties. Such as, we can opt for digestible and healthy food. Our ancestors couldn’t.
Around 10,000 years ago, it must’ve been too difficult to produce grains. However, we have plenty of it now. We can eat grains as much as we want to without experiencing any digestion or health issues.
3. The Paleo diet excludes most of the nutrients and microbes rich foods
Paleo diet restricts one from consuming some of the most crucial nutrients and microbes. For instance: Calcium, Foliate, and Magnesium.
Microbes aren’t only found in grains but also in dairy products including cheese, yogurt, and pickles, miso, sauerkraut, and even beer.
The only way to preserve food before the emergence of refrigerators was fermentation. The microbes found in those fermented foods were quite important for our health and wellbeing.
So ignoring the human body’s evolutionary and adaptive ways, Paleo forces us to a very rigid diet plan. There is every probability that you might miss out on some vital nutrients.
The dietary habits of hunter-gatherers hugely inspire the Paleo diet.
There aren’t any specific rules to follow in a Paleo diet; the basic idea is to focus on nutritious whole foods and avoiding processed foods.
Paleo-friendly foods include unprocessed and whole food items like fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and oils.
Processed foods include grains and sugar; you must stay away from these.
It is also possible to base your diet on Paleo foods while adding some modern healthy foods alongside such as gluten-free grains and grass-fed butter.
The issue with the Paleo diet is that it seems to rely more on superficial assumptions from the past when the cavemen simply adapted to what was available. Today, our bodies have evolved and adjusted to the modern diet. Science only adds up to the above idea.
Scientists claim that it’s just a fantasy that the Paleo diet allows our body, mind, and behavior to sync to the environment.
The passionate supporters go on to defend the caveman diet endlessly.
Remember, science doesn’t endorse the claim that whatever our ancestors ate was “better.”
It’s probably still better than the typical American diet though.
If you want to switch to the Paleo diet, you should check out the sample menu and suggested shopping list. Your kitchen should be stocked with all the Paleo-friendly, healthy foods.