The paleo diet has gotten a bit of a bad rap in some circles over the years, with people perhaps misinterpreting the ‘caveman’ description. Some initially thought it involved eating just berries, meat and literally only the foods a caveman had access to. However, there is a bit more to it than that. The diet is based on eating whole, unprocessed foods that resemble their natural form. While some think it’s over the top, it is a good idea in theory. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?
We take a look at the concepts of the paleo diet, explore ways to follow it and find out who it might suit…
Is A Paleo Diet Suitable For Everyone?
There has been some confusion about the evolution of humans and whether the same foods cavemen and women ate are what humans today need. Genetically, we modern humans are the same as our ancestors. They did not suffer from some of our common food-related chronic illnesses, like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
One of the reasons a lot of people are against the paleo diet is because it is perceived as being extremely restrictive. However, if you think about it as eating natural foods, it’s not necessarily all that restrictive. The other problem some people within the world of nutrition pick out with the paleo diet is its ‘one size fits all’ mentality. This can be problematic, because everyone’s nutritional needs are different. Men and women are different, and individuals are all different. Some people lack in certain nutrients, and things like blood pressure, lifestyle and natural metabolism impact how much and what you should eat.
Having said all that, it is still a healthy diet option in general. For example, if an overweight diabetic man was looking to make a lifestyle change to benefit his health, it would not be harmful for him to choose a paleo diet. It would result in him being healthier. Of course, it’s not the only option to him, and it’s not even necessarily the best option. (If he went to a dietitian who created a meal plan specifically designed to his needs, for example, that would be ideal). However, if he decided to follow the paleo diet on his own, it would still be an improvement on his health.
What Foods Can I Eat On A Paleo Diet?
To put it very simply, paleo diet followers can eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy natural fats, herbs and spices. To delve a bit more into the basic foods paleo followers should base their diets on, let’s take a look at each group.
In relation to protein, the usual meat, fish and eggs are allowed. That includes beef, lamb, pork, turkey and chicken, salmon, trout, cod and other white fish, shrimp and shellfish, as well as eggs. If you can find free-range, or even better, organic eggs and meat, that’s the best option. In relation to fish, try to go for wild-caught options. If you can’t find, or can’t afford organic meats, make sure you are not buying processed options. And when talking about meat, or animals, the paleo approach involves basically eating the whole animal. That means organs, bone marrow and cartilage, just like our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Fruit & Vegetables
You can eat any natural vegetables you like on a paleo diet. Examples include broccoli, spinach, kale, bell peppers, carrots, onions, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips – the list goes on! Same with fruit – go nuts on anything that’s in season. The usual apples, bananas, pears, oranges, avocados, strawberries, tomatoes, blueberries, grapefruit, grapes, pineapple and cantaloupe are all good – plus any we’ve forgotten!
Nuts and seeds are all in the ‘yes’ category. Almonds, macadamias, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseed etc is all good. When it comes to healthy fats and oils, you can use olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, natural animal fats and, in some cases, butter.
Herbs & Spices
All natural herbs and spices are fine. Choose sea or Himalayan salt, cracked pepper, garlic, ginger, turmeric, thyme, rosemary, coriander and everything in between.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of foods included in those categories, and we weren’t even able to list half of them in some cases (like herbs and spices). However, it still may be looking a little restrictive. Don’t worry though – you are not necessarily limited to these foods. We’ll take a look at what is definitely out of bounds, and then take a look at the questionable options…
The No Go Zone
There are some foods and ingredients that you need to steer clear of if you want to follow a paleo diet. They include processed foods, refined sugar, grains, most dairy products, legumes, artificial additives, vegetables oils, margarine and soda. Let’s take a more in depth look at what you cannot eat on a paleo diet…
In relation to sweeteners, avoid refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. That includes fizzy drinks, fruit juice, table sugar, generic chocolate brands, candy and sweets, pastries, ice cream, diet sodas, cakes and buns, and sugar free chocolate bars that use artificial sweeteners. That is a broad overview but there are many, many other packaged and bakery foods that are in the no go zone. Avoid anything that has sugar, sucrose, corn syrup or sweeteners like saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, sucralose and neotame as a general rule.
Grains, Legumes & Wheat
In relation to grains and legumes, avoid bread, pasta, wheat, spelt, rye, barley, beans and lentils. This is one of the questionable out of bounds food groups, because beans and lentils are extremely healthy. The reason paleo followers avoid this food group is because of the antinutrients in legumes and beans, such as lectins and phylates. Some believe the antinutrients cancel out the nutrients. However, that is not true. A number of studies prove the health benefits of legumes outweigh their antinutrient content. It gets more and more complicated, but to put it simply, washing and cooking them significantly reduces the impacts of the antinutrients. It also ensures your body soaks in the beneficial nutrients.
Most dairy is avoided in paleo diets, including anything low-fat. However, some paleo dieters include full-fat butter and cheese. In general, avoid anything that is described as low-fat, fat-free or diet.
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