The world of dieting is always changing and evolving. Veganism, the Atkin’s diet and counting macros have all had some time in the spotlight lately. But the Paleo diet isn’t about evolution or growth; it’s about going back to a time when humans lived as hunter-gatherers and lived off the land.
What is the Paleo diet?
Many people refer to the Paleo diet as “the Caveman diet.” The diet aims to bring people back to a time when we were just beginning to evolve. Cavemen spent their day building strength and hunting for food, not sitting at a desk and snacking.
The Paleo diet is more than just a way to count calories or lose weight (although you can do both of these things by eating Paleo). The Paleo diet is a lifestyle. The cavemen ate food for fuel and survival; eating a Paleo diet requires shifting your mindset to use food for the same reasons. This lifestyle change eliminates the desire to eat junk food just because it tastes good; if you’re not using it to fuel your work or daily activities, you shouldn’t be eating it.
People that eat by the Paleo diet stick together. If you’re considering going on this diet, consider joining Facebook groups or meetups that consist of people who live and eat Paleo. Otherwise, prepare for a potentially uphill battle.
What you can (and can’t eat)
The diet is based off of a caveman’s diet, so when you are planning your meals, think “hunter-gatherer.” The basic rules of the Paleo diet include:
- What you can eat: Meat (preferably grass-fed meat), fish and seafood, fruits and veggies, eggs, and nuts and seeds.
- What you can cook with: You can use oil, but stick to healthy oils like avocado or coconut oil. Avoid refined vegetable oils like canola
- What you can’t eat: Dairy, legumes (peas, beans, peanuts), grains, refined sugar and salt
What did cavemen really eat?
We aren’t hunting and gathering for our food anymore, so how “realistic” is the Paleo diet?
When it comes to only eating fruits and vegetables, research shows we are halfway accurate. Archaeologists have found fruit stuck in the teeth of Neanderthals and can trace fruit trees all over the world back tens of thousands of years. Vegetables evolved later. Legumes existed before humans, but there is scientific evidence that more modern humans were the first to start cooking up beans.
When it comes to cooking, science suggests that cavemen were more likely to eat raw animal meat than fry it up.
The Paleo diet isn’t the exact diet of the cavemen, but we don’t walk around in loincloths and live in caves, either. Cooking meat and eating modern vegetables is acceptable on the Paleo diet. “Eating like cavemen” is a basic framework for how to eat a more natural diet that rejects processed foods and helps people lose weight.
Is the Paleo Diet healthy?
Paleo diet promoters promise that committing to the diet will help you lose weight by getting a perfect balance of carbs, fat and calories. The diet is also credited as increasing the amount of vitamins you eat throughout the day and reducing the glycemic load (the glycemic index measures how fast food raises blood sugar).
People who are just starting out on the Paleo diet, or conducting thorough research before making the commitment, may discover that the diet’s rules aren’t always consistent. The rules mentioned above are general rules, but specific guidelines about things like alcohol or portion sizes aren’t strictly documented anywhere. Therefore, people eating by different Paleo rules are going to have different results.
Scientific research on the Paleo diet doesn’t provide a definite answer, either. One study in a small journal showed that the diet helped people control their blood sugar, but the study wasn’t as large as studies that have been conducted on other types of diets. However, certain elements of the diet, including cutting sodium intake and eating more fruits and vegetables, have been proven to help people lose weight.
Paleo is a popular diet choice. Bloggers and members of Paleo groups will sing Paleo’s praises, but results could vary based on how you approach the diet. Consider combining the general rules about Paleo (staying away from processed foods, cooking with healthy oils, etc.) with other rules about dieting and eating healthy (smaller portion sizes, turning down alcohol, etc.) And as always, conduct research and try a few days of the Paleo diet before making a strict commitment to the Paleo lifestyle.