The Paleo diet or Paleolithic diet is a dietary regimen that is based on or inspired by the food that the people from the Stone Age consumed.
Because many believe that the genetics of human beings are coded and are compatible with the type of foods that have been consumed through the Paleolithic period, the Paleolithic diet had been popular since its introduction in the mid-1970s.
Introduction to the Public
The Paleo diet was first introduced and popularized by a gastroenterologist, namely Dr. Waller L Voegtlin, in the mid-1970s. In his self-published book, “The Stone Age Diet: Based on In-Depth Studies of Human Ecology and The Diet of Man”, he claimed that the genes of the human body are not adapted to Neolithic food or food that are produced from agriculture and modern technology.
Because Dr. Voegtlin believed that the human body is adapted to the foods that had been consumed during the pre-agricultural period, modern humans should only eat foods that had been eaten during the Stone Age.
Medical Mainstream Attention
This claim was brought to mainstream medical attention when S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner of Emory University also published a report about the Paleolithic diet in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1985. After three years, a book had then been written and published by S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner, together with Marjorie Shostak.
The diet introduced in their book included carbohydrates as a source of energy and only foods that are not available to Stone Age people such as dairy products and processed foods are not included in the diet. And during the late 1990s, dairy products and beverages, along with processed oils, had been excluded from the diet.
One of the first studies about the Paleolithic diet was done in 1989. A Swedish doctor named Staffan Lindeberg led a study on Kitava, an island in Papua New Guinea, where people eat only fresh and natural foods, which are the kinds of foods included in the Paleo diet.
This non-westernized area revealed that there had been no history of ischemic heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity in their community due to the kinds of food that they eat, which are natural and unprocessed. Thus, the Paleolithic diet has been deemed safe and even advantageous for individuals who want to resort to healthier foods.
The study was published in 1993 and helped the Paleolithic diet to gain more attention in the medical field and also to the public.
There have also been four studies, which were conducted since 1997, that support the Paleolithic diet.
Paleolithic Diet: Understanding the Concept
Foods that Are Included in the Diet
The Paleo diet is mostly composed of meat, seafood, vegetables, and fruits. But, not all kinds of meat and vegetables are accepted in this kind of diet. Only lean meats from grass-fed animals are included in this diet.
Because fats from meat can cause a lot of diseases, they are prohibited from being consumed by Paleolithic diet enthusiasts. Also, starchy vegetables are forbidden to be consumed as they contain a lot of toxins that are not all destroyed by heat when being cooked.
Fresh vegetables and fruits are also included in the Paleolithic diet, excluding those that are harvested from agricultural methods. Only foods that are collected by hunter-gatherers are accepted in this kind of dietary regimen, hence, its other name: hunter-gatherer’s diet.
To make it simpler, here are the types of foods that are encouraged by Paleo diet buffs and experts:
- Lean meat from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals.
- Fish, especially the ones rich in fatty acids such as Omega 3.
Foods that Are Excluded from the Diet.
Grains are also some of the foods that are avoided in the Paleolithic diet because they are ‘empty calories’ and are believed to only cause the body harm. Because they contain high levels of toxins when uncooked, they are believed to be the major factors that contribute to the ‘diseases of civilization’ that are affecting people.
Also, they contain only calories and not many vitamins and minerals. Thus, they are deemed to not be of much use for improving the body’s immunity.
Here are the foods that are discouraged to be consumed in the Paleo diet:
- Dairy Products
- Refined sugar
- Refined salt
So basically, starchy foods and foods that are produced by modern technology are prohibited in the Paleo diet. Because these kinds of foods were not available to the people living in the Paleolithic period, it is deemed that the human body is not adapted to them.
Therefore, they can bring diseases, which are called by Paleolithic diet buffs as ‘diseases of civilization’.
Characteristics of the Paleolithic Diet
The paleolithic diet can be understood easily with the help of its characteristics. Because of these seven characteristics, many people, even the young ones, are able to get the Paleolithic diet concept. Thus, more people are persuaded to try it out so that they can also reap the benefits that are claimed to be brought by this diet regimen.
- High Protein
One of the most notable characteristics of the Paleo diet is the amount of protein involved in it. About 56% to 65% of the food energy that Paleolithic dieters get on a daily basis is from protein or animal foods.
Lean meat and seafood are the main protein sources of this kind of diet.
- Lower Carb Intake and Lower Glycemic Index
Because grains are deemed to provide only ‘empty calories’, they are discouraged by Paleolithic diet experts and enthusiasts. The paleolithic diet also advocates lower glycemic index by getting rid of grain foods in it.
Because carbohydrates from grain foods can cause sugar spikes in the blood, because they are very easily digested by the body, they are discouraged in this diet.
The substitute sources for carbs in the Paleo diet are non-starchy vegetables and fruits.
- Higher Fiber Intake
Even though grains are not included in the Paleolithic diet, followers of this dietary regimen are able to take higher doses of fiber by eating non-starchy vegetables and fruits.
Because non-starchy veggies have eight times more fiber than whole grains and have 31 times more fiber than refined grains, and fruits have seven times more fiber, they are deemed to be the best source of fiber by Paleolithic dieters.
- Moderate to Higher Fat Intake
The Paleo diet also encourages people to consume more health-friendly fats. Omega 3 is one of the kinds of fats that this diet promotes.
On the other hand, consumption of Omega 6 and trans fats should be limited and kept at a minimum as these can cause heart problems, type 2 diabetes, and increased risk of cancer.
- Lower Sodium and Higher Potassium Intake
Because high sodium levels can cause kidney diseases and high blood pressure, the Paleo diet discourages people from taking large amounts of it. Potassium, on the other hand, is being promoted by this diet as this is linked to the reduction of kidney disease and risk of high blood pressure.
- Net Dietary Alkaline
Because meat, fish, cheese, legumes, salt, and grains produce dietary acid when digested, which can harm the body, Paleo diet enthusiasts encourage people to consume foods that produce alkaline when digested to balance the dietary acid in the body.
Vegetables and fruits are the best sources of dietary alkaline, thus, they are the ones endorsed to Paleolithic diet followers.
- Higher Vitamin, Mineral, Plant Phytochemical, and Antioxidant Intake
The paleolithic diet focuses on a higher intake of vitamins, minerals, plant phytochemicals, and antioxidants to help the body stay clean, healthy, and free from diseases. This is, of course, achieved by eating only fresh and unprocessed foods, without the help of artificial supplements.
Though, calcium supplements are advised by some health professionals when calcium intake is not enough to sustain the body due to the restrictions of the diet.
Kinds of Paleolithic Diet
There are mainly three kinds of Paleo diet. Though these kinds are not really considered to be much different from one another, they are still worth considering when trying on this kind of diet as these have different types of foods that are included and excluded from the diet plan.
- High-Carb Paleolithic Diet
High-carb Paleo diet has been the first kind of Paleolithic diet. When this diet was introduced to the public, there had been no restrictions on the consumption of grains, though the reduction in consumption was advocated by many.
But even though this kind of Paleolithic diet includes grains, processed foods such as refined sugar and salt are still prohibited.
- Low-Carb Paleolithic Diet
This is the most common and most current kind of Paleolithic diet that weight watchers are following these days. This is the strictest kind of Paleolithic diet as this has the most number of food groups that are excluded from its meal plan.
Grains, processed foods, processed and alcoholic beverages, and dairy products are excluded from this diet.
- Raw Paleolithic Diet
Many ‘extreme’ Paleolithic enthusiasts follow the Raw Paleo diet, where they only eat uncooked fresh and natural foods; because they believe that the human body is not adapted to cooked foods.
Because cooking and agriculture have not yet been the norm in the Paleolithic era, some people believe that they need to eat the kinds of foods that the people from the said era have consumed, which are raw and natural foods that are gathered from the surroundings.
Things to Remember and Tips to Follow When Trying Paleolithic Diet
When planning on trying the Paleolithic diet, it is important to note some tips and reminders so that the transition from the normal diet to the Paleolithic one would not be distressing to the body.
It is also advised that precaution is taken when trying this diet out to avoid health complications and fatalities that can result from immediate transitioning of kinds of foods that are normally consumed by an individual.
- See a Doctor First
Before following the Paleo diet, it is advised that individuals see a health professional first. This will prevent any health issues as an individual will know if the diet is compatible with his body or not.
Because there can be medical conditions that can cause injury to the body of the dieter when certain foods were eradicated from their daily diet, it is important that these issues be known so that health problems can be avoided.
Also, proper application of the Paleo diet can be achieved with the help of healthcare providers. Thus, talking with them would be the best first step that people should take before trying the Paleolithic diet.
- Make the Transition Gradual
Sudden changes in diet can cause problems, particularly to the digestive system of an individual. Aside from that, health issues can suddenly emerge because of sudden changes in eating habits, change in the kinds of foods eaten on a regular basis, and change in nutrition that the body regularly receives.
Because of this, the transition from a normal diet to a Paleo diet should be gradual and slow. This is to avoid disrupting the course of the body and also to avoid shocking the body.
Because humans are now used to Neolithic foods – foods that are processed and produced from agricultural means – our bodies may suffer drastic changes when suddenly introduced to Paleolithic foods. Thus, Paleo foods should be introduced in small amounts only over a period of time.
Individuals can start incorporating the Paleolithic diet into their daily regimen by including Paleolithic foods on breakfasts and snacks. Incorporating Paleolithic foods into lunches and dinners can be done after a couple of days of successful Paleo diet breakfasts.
But, the incorporation of such foods should be gradual and only small amounts should be added while small amounts of Neolithic foods are taken away from the diet to prevent discomfort.
- Follow the Kind of Paleolithic Diet that is Best for the Body
Regardless of which kind of Paleolithic diet people would want to follow, the body should have the final say on this. Because not all bodies are created equal, individuals should evaluate their bodies individually, without duplicating other people’s conditions or preferences.
Individuals whose bodies really cannot do without grains should follow a high-carb Paleo diet instead of the low-carb one. Also, a raw Paleolithic diet should only be followed by people who are used to or who can adjust to raw foods without difficulty.
Because these kinds of diets are strict, individuals should stick to the kind of Paleolithic diet that they know they can tolerate for a very long time, perhaps, for the rest of their life. This way, Paleolithic diet followers will be able to fully adapt to this kind of dietary regimen without much problem.
- Be Prepared and Be Informed
Reading about the Paleo diet is not enough when trying to follow this regimen. Rereading and getting information about this diet on a regular basis should be maintained to maximize its potential of this diet.
Myths and facts should be separated through reading and research to avoid following advice that would only make a person’s health worse than getting it improved.
Being prepared for what will happen to the body during the transition or initial stage of the diet should also be a priority to ensure that individuals know which symptoms should be ignored and deemed normal and which ones should be noted and brought to a doctor’s attention.
This will prevent health issues and alarm people in the first stages of the Paleo diet, which can cause individuals to stop following the diet without sufficient cause.
- Slowly Get Rid of Junk Food
Junk foods are forbidden in the Paleolithic diet. But, they are some of the foods that are hard to resist and avoid altogether. Thus, getting rid of junk food should be gradual and slow.
Individuals can try reducing the amount of junk food they consume on a daily basis once they start following the Paleo diet. This should be done within a couple of weeks to avoid frustration on the part of the dieter.
Because junk foods are considered as comfort food for most people, getting rid of them may result in bitterness and distress. Thus, these foods should be reduced slowly until eliminated from the diet without causing distress.
- Be Cautious
Because the Paleolithic diet has only undergone small studies, individuals who are planning on following this should be cautious. Proper application of the diet should be considered. Also, proper evaluation of an individual’s health should be prioritized.
Advantages of the Paleolithic Diet
Though the Paleo diet has not been studied extensively and intensively, it is obvious that this kind of diet is beneficial to humans. Because the Paleolithic diet provides the body with only fresh, natural, and unprocessed foods, it is apparent that it provides a lot of health benefits to the people who follow it properly.
- Reduced Risk of Various Chronic Diseases and Other Illnesses
Because the Paleo diet provides the body with various kinds of vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants, the risks of various chronic diseases are reduced. Heart diseases, cancer, bone and muscle loss, kidney failure, gastroenteritis, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes are believed to be prevented with the help of this diet.
- Weight Loss
Although weight loss is not the main purpose of this kind of diet, individuals who have tried and followed this diet have shown shedding excess fat. Also, healthy body weight is maintained with the help of continuous practice of the Paleo diet, which is great not only for a person’s figure but also for their health.
- More Energy
Because the Paleolithic diet focuses on foods that provide high quantities of protein and vitamins, individuals who follow this dietary regimen have more energy. Also, unlike other diets that discourage the consumption of fats, which can cause the body and the brain to not function properly, the Paleo diet promotes healthy fatty acids, which improve the body’s efficacy.
The paleolithic diet is a very beneficial kind of diet that is worth trying. Because it does not promote artificial supplements and processed foods, they are evidently much healthier for the body than other forms of diet that encourage individuals to consume artificially made supplements.
A paleolithic diet may be hard to follow, though, because natural and fresh foods are expensive and hard to obtain. But, because of the benefits that it provides to the human body that are very thought-provoking, individuals are trying to follow this dietary regimen regardless of how pricey it can be.
Also, the Paleolithic diet can also be considered an environmentally friendly diet as it discourages the processing of foods that produce wastes and toxins that are harmful to the environment and living creatures. Thus, the Paleo diet is deemed one of the best forms of diet that any individual can follow.