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Paleo Diet 101: How and Why You Should Eat like a Caveman

By Edited Jun 19, 2016 2 0

What is Paleo?

In a nutshell the idea is that humans adapted to eating a certain diet as hunter gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years. This ended about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture and the introduction of grains to our diets as well as domesticated animals and dairy products.

Since we are not especially well adapted to some of the relatively modern foods, if a cavemen didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either.

Eat non-processed whole foods. Meats, fish, veggies, fruit. No grains (bread, cereal etc.), processed sugars, legumes (peanuts, soy and beans in general are the big ones here) and avoid dairy* (milk, cheese, etc.)

*note some variants allow dairy in moderation, notably the Primal Blueprint.

Non processed food looks like this:

Paleo Foods


You’ll get some variation on what to eat depending on who you read, but essentially it’s the same principles. The main take home points are whole foods, nothing processed. No grains, no processed sugars.

Why should I try this?

In my view everything should be treated with both skepticism and an open mind. This is no different. If you have said to yourself "I need to start eating better", then this might be worth your while.

At the very least, the idea of eating whole, unrefined, unprocessed foods wherever possible has absolutely worked for me. Paleo brings that ideal and adds some other layers on top: No grains (various reasons), no sugars, no dairy, no legumes. Whether any or all of these are necessary is a matter of individual need. You may find you had a low tolerance for some group and was completely unaware of it. Or, it may be unnecessary for you.

How strict is it?

First, don't let perfect be the enemy of good. Shoot for 100% but even 80% compliance is said to offer the vast majority of the benefits. So if you eat a cookie, nobody will arrest you. Just be sensible. You get out what you put in.

Eliminating all grains seems daunting, but it may not be as bad as you think. The same goes for sugar. I still crave my oatmeal from time to time, and I even indulge it on rare occasion. I sweeten my tea with honey. I have milk post workout. But I also make sure I eat quality protein, veggies and good fats with every meal and that's the lion's share of my daily calories.

Is this Low Carb?

It's lower carb than a typical western diet. I don't think that makes it "low", or at least it shouldn't. Vegetables rank high on the list of good foods, and vegetables are carbs. If you currently eat a lot of bread, cereal, bagels, pasta, sugary drinks including fruit juice.. yes it's low carb comparatively.

Whatever happened to "Eat less exercise more"? That works.

This works for pure fat loss, generally speaking. Paleo is not a diet in the sense of how many people use the word. It's not a fat loss diet. It's a diet in the sense of here's what you should try to eat to be healthy.

The other problem with "eat less exercise more" is when you run into the person eating only pizza, bagels, cereal, ramen noodles, take out food etc and say "well just eat half a bagel and run around the block". They may lose weight but it's not really hitting the core of the problem. They'll likely be even more hungry... less food more expenditure... and it will be much more difficult to keep that up. Once they fail, the weight comes right back. You're also more likely to lose muscle and lean body mass, which isn't very helpful at all.

So what do I do exactly?

Give it a try for 30 days. Try this way of eating and see if you:

Feel better in general
Are not hungry every 2 hours
Look better
Sleep better
Have more energy

You Should Eat:

Vegetables
Fruit
Lean Meats
Seafood
Healthy Fat
Nuts and Seeds

You Should Avoid:

Grains
Dairy
Processed food and sugars
Legumes
Alcohol

"WHY cant I eat grains on this diet? What's wrong with whole grains? I thought that was healthy. "

There is no simple, satisfying answer to this.

People seem to agree if you have celiac disease, gluten is really bad for you.[1] Then you get into a grey area of "gluten intolerant". Is that real? Is it completely made up? Some first world syndrome? Are you intolerant? You have to decide that for yourself it seems like.  There is information out there that would indicate only people with celiac need worry about it.[2]  As well as newer studies being done that is shedding light on a condition known as gluten intolerance[3]

If "they're bad for you" is not acceptable on the face of it (and it shouldn't be), there are a lot of people who are happy to break it down for you. People like Mark Sisson of Marks Daily Apple and Diane Sanfillipo of Balanced Bites will regularly go though the basics of the diet and cover the ebbs and flows of the latest thoughts on nutrition from a Paleo or Primal view.  I've read through the pro and cons and at the end of the day I keep coming back to "Try it for 30 days and see what happens". Again, even the people arguing gluten and grains are fine for the majority admit that those with celiac disease should avoid gluten at all costs. They also argue there is not a lot of evidence backing the no grain gluten free thing (some say no evidence). So far as I can tell there may not be much hard evidence but there is some, so see what works for you.

Basically the Paleo arguments come down to:

- Grains are calorically dense but do not contain much in the way of nutrition. e.g. compare 100g of wheat bread to a cup of broccoli.
- Grains contain a lot of carbohydrate in a small package, this equates to a insulin spike when consumed
- Grains contain a high concentration of lectins (gluten is a lectin but there are many others). Many lectins are harmless, some may even be beneficial but some can be bad for your health. Lectins found in grains, in high concentrations are thought to be harmful to the stomach lining and thus cause inflammation, autoimmune issues and insulin resistance.

There is also a growing number of people who have begun to label themselves as gluten-intolerant, or gluten-sensitive. The medical industry now refers to this condition as non-celiac gluten-intolerance. This is not the same as celiac disease in that eating gluten is potentially dangerous to gluten-sensitive individual, but much less worrisome for the gluten-intolerant person. There are no antibodies for gluten present in non-celiac gluten-intolerant individuals and there is no observed damage to the lining and architecture of the intestine, unlike their celiac counterparts.

If you are an individual who is sensitive to gluten, allergic to gluten, or if you have full blown celiac disease, then gluten will make you feel miserable. It’s responsible for a whole host of health problems in these individuals, from headaches to IBS. The effects of gluten on celiac individuals are not new, and medical professionals have been using a gluten-free diet to treat these individuals for over 40 years.

While there is no doubt that gluten causes problems in the minority of the population, there is no evidence whatsoever that gluten is problematic for the average, gluten-tolerant individual.

"So... no more bread or pasta... ever?"

See above about the 80/20 adherence and "you don't need to be perfect". Try to be strict for 30 days. Reintroduce things slowly after that and see how your tolerance is. As I type this I'm getting ready to go over to my in-laws and she's making pasta. I'm eating some, with a lot of meatballs too. I also hit the gym 4 nights a week which gives me even more room for things like that. At least that's my rationale and I'm sticking to it...

MEALS

I personally find pictures to be the best way of communicating this way of eating. Below are examples of what I personally eat and a few things I plan to try. You may find some things not strictly paleo there, like cheese for example. See the above article on not having to be perfect.

Snacks: Some of the things I like to eat.

Snacks


Yes there is cheese next to the tomatoes in that picture… oh the shame of it all. Cheese isn't paleo. Primal allows some cheese. I like a little cheese now and then so I eat it in moderation.
Pictured: Cherries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries. Macadamia nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, muenster cheese, grape tomatoes.

*Pro Tip on Macadamia nuts: they are crazy expensive. Try to find them in Costco or similar warehouse type food store.

Another good snack item:

Turkey Avo


Just deli turkey, wrap up some peppers, avocado, pickles whatever... No bread. I like them a lot. Try and get quality stuff. Ham or roast beef works well too.

Yes, deli turkey is processed. You're better off with a whole turkey breast and slicing that up... but nobody is perfect.

Sample Dinner:

Bifteki with Salad


Greek Bifteki with a simple salad of greens, tomatoes and strawberries.

Hopefully this gives you an idea on what the Paleo diet is, at least enough to make a decision on giving it a try.

And finally a few resources to round out your experience. These have recipes and information about the tenets of the diet:

There are others but these two are the ones I use the most by far. .

Practical Paleo

Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle
Amazon Price: $39.95 $18.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 19, 2016)

The Primal Blueprint

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Bibliography

  1. "Celiac disease." MayoClinic.org. 24/09/2014 <Web >
  2. "Going Gluten-Free What to know about celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and gluten-free diets.." WebMD.com. 24/09/2014 <Web >
  3. "Clues to Gluten Sensitivity." WSJ online. 24/09/2014 <Web >

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