The concept of dieting is evolving, but positive changes don’t always mean new things. New scientific knowledge always changes the way we see the world.
What is true and modern today might become false and outdated in the years to follow. And sometimes, we realize that we were better off a few modern commodities. Especially when it comes to the food we eat.
We have seen a dramatic rise in cardiovascular disease and metabolic problems in the last decades.
Why is that? We have changed the way we eat and introduced more and more elements in our diet. Every year, new commodities and tastes become a marketing trend, and we are not giving our organisms time to adapt.
As you will see in this article, that’s the reason why modern humans suffer from chronic disease. Could the Paleo diet, a popular stone age diet, be a new approach to solve the problem?
What is the paleo diet?
The paleo diet, also known as the Paleolithic diet, is a new trend to recover our old eating habits. It is based on the realization that hunter-gatherers humans living in the Paleolithic era or the Stone Age were healthier in some ways.
They suffered from infectious diseases and died as a result of complications we can now solve with modern medicine. But their health problems were acute and did not suffer from many chronic diseases (1).
The incidence of chronic disease is now higher than ever. The main reason is that we are eating foods the organism is not prepared to handle. Instead, the modern paleo diet is based on foods with a low carbohydrate content. In this regard, it is similar to the Mediterranean Diet. The modern paleo diet favors proteins and helps us increase our dietary fiber.
Fruits and vegetables are the primary foods, as they were for our Paleolithic ancestors. And special attention is given to consuming legumes, grains, and dairy.
It is basically a hunter-gatherer diet or a caveman diet. Changing our diet in such a way is meant to reduce the incidence of chronic disease.
Patients who adopt this diet might also reduce their weight and cardiovascular risk (2).
A paleo diet meal plan
There is no one “right” way to eat for everyone and paleolithic humans thrived on a variety of diets, depending on what was available at the time and where in the world they lived.
Consider this as a general guideline, not something written in stone.
This sample menu contains a balanced amount of foods for paleo enthusiasts.
By all means, adjust this menu based on your own preferences.
- Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables fried in coconut oil. One piece of fruit.
- Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil. Handful of nuts.
- Dinner: Burgers (no bun) fried in butter, with vegetables and some salsa.
- Breakfast: Bacon and eggs, with a piece of fruit.
- Lunch: Leftover burgers from the night before.
- Dinner: Salmon, sweet potato fries with peas.
- Breakfast: Egg, spinach and sweet potato frittata
- Lunch: Tuna and fresh vegetables.
- Dinner: Beef stir-fry with broccoli and mushrooms. Some berries.
- Breakfast: Eggs and a piece of fruit.
- Lunch: Leftover stir-fry from the night before. A handful of nuts.
- Dinner: Fried pork with vegetables.
- Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables fried in coconut oil.
- Lunch: Chicken and avocado salad with olive oil.
- Dinner: Steak with mushrooms and sweet potatoes.
- Breakfast: Bacon and eggs with a piece of fruit.
- Lunch: Leftover steak and vegetables from the night before.
- Dinner: Baked salmon with vegetables and avocado.
- Breakfast: Meat with vegetables (leftovers from night before).
- Lunch: Sandwich in a lettuce leaf, with meat and fresh vegetables.
- Dinner: Grilled chicken breast with vegetables and salsa.
After giving you an overview of what it is, we will provide a list of foods included in the paleo diet. As you will see, it gives special attention to fresh whole foods (3):
- Green vegetables: That includes broccoli and cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, spinach, and lettuce.
- Other vegetables: Root vegetables, starchy vegetables, and others are included as well. For example, carrots, beets, pepper, and onions.
- Mushrooms: All types of mushrooms are encouraged in any quantity.
- Nuts and seeds: They are also encouraged, as in almonds and pumpkin seeds. However, don’t go nuts on nuts. It is not a good idea to overdo.
- Fresh fruits: Citrus fruits and berries are especially important. Other fruits for the paleo diet include apples, banana, peach, tomatoes, and watermelon.
- Meat: Lean red meat, lamb and pork are excellent paleo choices. If you’re consuming beef, try to find grass-fed beef. And if you’re consuming bacon, look for nitrate-free picks.
- Poultry: One of the best sources of proteins in the paleo diet. The best picks are turkey and chicken. The former because it is a source of lean meat. The latter because it is affordable and convenient.
- Fish: Eating fish is essential in the paleo diet. Look for wild catches, preferably. Include various types of fish, including trout, sardines, salmon, herring, and cod. Tuna and mackerel are also on the list, as long as they are not canned.
- Eggs: They are another source of high-quality protein, and encouraged in the paleo diet.
- Healthy fat: Include olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil as sources of healthy fatty acids.
- Sweeteners: We don’t want processed sugar in the Paleolithic diet, but honey and coconut sugar are allowed.
Foods to avoid in the paleo diet
As you have seen, the paleo diet has a very long white list. But there’s also a blacklist. Keep away from these foods, and you will see the benefits of the paleo diet in a few weeks’ time (3):
- Processed sugar: They are included in processed foods such as candies, ice creams, and soft drinks. Stay away from high-fructose corn syrup and refined sugar.
- Wheat: The paleo diet is a wheat-free and gluten-free diet. It eliminates all grains, including corn, wheat, cereal grains, oats, and quinoa. They are off-limits at all times.
- Legumes: There are many other sources of proteins available in the paleo diet. Lentils, beans, and other legumes should not be included.
- Dairy: Some variations of the paleo diet include cheese and butter. However, the most conservative paleo dieters will avoid all types of dairy.
- Unhealthy oils: Avoid oil sources that do not provide any health benefits. That includes sunflower, corn, and soybean oil. Stay away from sources of trans fat and saturated fat, too.
- Processed foods: The main focus of the paleo diet is to avoid processed foods. Stay away from canned foods. As fresh foods take more steps in the industry, they are stripped of their nutrients and health properties.
How does the paleo diet work?
The principles of the paleo diet are the thought of recovering the eating habits that made the Paleolithic men lean and healthy.
The majority of them did not suffer from chronic disease. They usually died as a result of infections and acute diseases they could not handle. So, if we have today’s medicine and recover their eating style, we are likely to increase our life expectancy.
According to the paleo diet, our genes are adapted to the ancient eating style. Today’s industrialization has made different types of food available.
And while that’s positive in some cases, our bodies are not fully adapted. So, we can use modernity to make available fresh food and avoid industrialized foods. That way, our eating style will give the body what it needs to be healthy. Nothing more and nothing less (1).
In practice, the paleo diet does not require counting calories, managing your blood values, or making elaborate paleo meal plans.
It is a simple diet we can follow by buying fresh foods and avoiding processed foods. The lists of foods to include and foods to avoid will help you make better choices, and you will be good to go.
You might also need to learn how to prepare certain foods and use certain ingredients. For example, not using wheat might seem difficult for some people. However, there are countless alternatives you can try.
So, use modernity and industrialization to your advantage. Instead of refined sugars, buy some fresh honey. Instead of wheat flour, buy some coconut flour. If you do and make it a habit, you will ultimately see many health benefits (4).
Benefits of the paleo diet
Why would you change the way you eat? There must be a motivation if you want to try the paleo diet and stick to it. Many people turned to this dietary pattern to obtain health benefits such as (4):
- More energy: Consuming fresh food and avoiding preservatives and artificial flavorings increase our levels of energy. The paleo diet encourages real eating food and obtaining all we need from nutritious foods that will keep us more active.
- Nervous system improvements: The paleo diet has a combination of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods. Such a pattern of eating is excellent for improving brain function. Many dieters have reported more concentration, mental recall, and mental clarity. Moreover, we can even reduce the risk of neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s disease (5).
- Improved cardiovascular health: It is probably one of the most important benefits of the paleo diet. It contributes to reducing our cardiovascular risk. Thus, it is appropriate for people with heart disease, high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and sugar in the blood (6). It may also reduce the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
- Better sleep: In many cases, the cause of sleep problems is poor eating habits. That’s why many people have experienced better sleep after the paleo diet. Having enough sleep, we will feel more energetic and have a better mood throughout the day.
- Improved gastrointestinal function: Fresh foods in the paleo diet has a lot of dietary fiber. We will not absorb this nutrient. Instead, it gives bulk to the stools and improves intestinal transit. It may even contribute to the gut microbiota and guard us against gastrointestinal disease (7).
- Immune system boosts: By modulating the gut microbiota, the paleo diet will also contribute to the immune system. Additionally, it has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances. They provide the perfect balance between favoring immune function and preventing exaggerated immune response and oxidative stress.
- Sustained weight loss: The paleo diet can be adapted as a weight loss diet. You only need to control the number of calories and combine them with physical activity. Overweight people may also experience considerable weight loss without doing any of the above.
- Appetite control: Since you’re eating real food in the paleo diet, you will stop feeling food cravings. It might be difficult to quit sugar and other addictive foods. But after you’re done with that struggling phase, you will feel more satiated (8, 9).
Disadvantages of the paleo diet
When you are starting a new diet, not everything will be a bed of roses. Like everything else, the paleo diet has some disadvantages you will have to go through:
- Using new ingredients and methods: This problem is common in the majority of diets. You will have to figure out how to do things differently. In the modern paleo diet, you won’t use wheat. It is a product we use everywhere. This change might sometimes be challenging.
- It removes certain foods: The paleo doesn’t allow you to eat whole grains, legumes, and most dairy. Whole grains in particular have been linked with better cholesterol levels, as well as a reduced risk of stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
- It is more expensive: It might get expensive to replace certain foods, and follow a strict paleo diet. You are recommended to use organic food sources, which are quite pricey. So it is replacing wheat flour for coconut flour and others.
- It might not be the best idea for vegans: Vegans will struggle with the paleo diet. The main source of protein in this diet is meat and eggs. Grains and beans are banished.
- There is no hard evidence to exclude certain foods: The benefits of beans far outweigh the health problems associated with them. We can say the same about oats and dairy products. The paleo diet can be a very good partner if you suffer from lactose and gluten intolerance. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all diet.
- It may increase food-related anxiety: Using a blacklist of forbidden foods may not be the answer for some. In some cases, this “not allowed” tag might lead to food-related anxiety. In the long-term, some people may not be consistent with this approach.
What to expect if you try a paleo diet?
When you’re trying a new diet, the first thing you expect is a bit of struggle as you figure it out. Some ingredients in the blacklist are widespread in our modern diet. Thus, it might be difficult to craft a full meal plan every day.
If you have an addiction to sugar and other forbidden foods, you might experience food cravings. Be prepared for that. You will struggle for some time, but remember that it is temporary. After a while, you will get over this sensation and realize this diet is very satiating.
Results may vary when trying the paleo diet. However, one of the things people say about the paleo diet is that they lose weight without feeling so hungry. So, after you’ve gone through that phase, you will see health benefits. Your mood and sleeping pattern will improve, and you will feel more energetic.
Tips for following a paleo diet
You can overcome every obstacle if you have the right tools. In the case of paleo, we have a few recommendations to help you follow this diet:
- Prepare meal plans in advance: If you prepare weekly meal plans, you will not struggle so much to figure out new paleo recipes. You will know what to buy, and be prepared to cook without thinking so much about your forbidden foods.
- Try different types of the paleo diet: There are different types of paleo eating plans. Some of them allow for occasional legumes, white rice, and some types of dairy. There are different types of paleo diet according to different health problems. You can modify your paleo lifestyle if you have a given allergy or if you suffer from autoimmune disease.
- Measure what you eat if you’re looking for very specific results: You need to be specific if you want to lose weight. If you are following a paleo diet for that purpose, it is still recommended to weigh your food.
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A paleo diet is a new approach to an ancient way of eating. In this type of diet, we focus on fruits, veggies, and fresh foods. They tend to be nutrient-dense picks that will contribute to improving your health.
The paleo diet has a list of allowed and not allowed foods. Among forbidden foods, we can count refined sugar, processed food, legumes, wheat, dairy, and processed foods. However, there are different styles of paleo diet plans you can try.
Health benefits include increased energy levels, improved cardiovascular health, and better brain function. For this reason, it is becoming a popular healthy diet to improve our quality of life and longevity.