You could fill a basket the size of a shopping mall if you gathered all the fad diet books published in recent decades, so no it’s wonder we’re often confused over which dietary plan is the best for our bodies! As it turns out, the paleo diet is the oldest diet known to man — and may just be the best one. Why? Because eating paleo means eating foods similar to what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate thousands of years ago — and eating food in its most natural state is healthiest for our bodies.
Our ancestors from the Paleolithic period did not farm, bake or process food — they merely ate what was fresh and available in its whole form. They did not salt their food, consume dairy products or eat grains. Recent DNA studies have discovered that our genetic pattern hasn’t changed much in the last 40,000 years, so our bodies are still genetically very similar to those of our ancestors.
Eating foods in their natural state doesn’t simply mean no chemicals, preservatives or dyes. It also means no processing — no grinding grains to create flour and no refining vegetable oils, sugars or salts. The paleo diet is getting a lot of well-deserved attention, so let’s take a look at the top three reasons for eating paleo.
#1: Eating Paleo Reduces Inflammation and the Risk of Many Chronic Diseases
Researchers believe our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t need to worry about diseases and conditions such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, cognitive decline, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory bowel disease.
Why? Because they did not exist. These diseases emerged only after our eating habits changed to include eating fatty meats, salts, processed grains and added sugars. The earliest records we have for some of these conditions date back to ancient Egyptian times, but by then, we were using salt and eating processed grains and fatty meats.
Several studies have emerged indicating that the paleo diet reduces our risk of developing many of these diseases and conditions. Or if we already have health issues, eating paleo minimizes symptoms or even eliminates the problem.
In addition, many of these conditions cause inflammation in our bodies, sometimes with pain but often without. The paleo diet is inherently anti-inflammatory because it is high in foods that are proven to reduce inflammation, as well as foods loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — and it avoids foods that cause inflammation such as processed meats and trans fats.
So apart from the obvious reason for wanting to reduce our disease risk — longer life — we’re likely to enjoy life much more if we’re not battling one or more of these health conditions!
#2: Eating Paleo Helps Us Lose Weight — and Keep It Off
Our typical Western diet includes a lot of carbohydrates — think cereals, breads, potatoes, sugary drinks and foods, salty snack foods and pasta. By some estimates, the average American gets about 60 percent of their calories from carbs like these. Most of these foods didn’t exist until a few hundred years ago. And although low-carb diets have been the rage for a few decades, most don’t eliminate fatty or salty foods such as bacon, burgers, deli meat and cheese.
So how does the paleo diet help us lose weight? Eating paleo means eating fewer carbs, but it also means eliminating fatty and salty foods, unlike traditional low-carb diets. What you can eat on paleo are whole, unprocessed plant and animal foods. These foods have fewer calories and are more filling, so we feel less hungry. Carbs come mostly from plants, not grains or sugars.
People who follow the paleo diet are often able to adopt it as their long-range approach to eating, whereas most of us have a difficult time following a traditional low-carb diet indefinitely. So not only does eating paleo help us lose weight in the short term, it’s a sustainable lifestyle adjustment that keeps the weight off!
#3: Eating Paleo = More Energy, Better Sleep & Overall Better Health
In addition to reducing or eliminating chronic conditions and weight loss, if we follow a paleo diet, we’ll naturally feel better — we’ll have more energy, which means we’re likely to be more productive in our work and free time. We won’t end up “hangry” because our blood sugar and energy levels are stable throughout the day.
Some of us may even see allergies or skin problems clear up. And most of us will sleep better. We all know better sleep results in improved moods and mental clarity — which also means we’re better able to manage our daily stress!
How to Eat Paleo
Now that we’ve explored the reasons why the paleo diet can make us far healthier, let’s talk about how to eat paleo! In a nutshell, what you can eat on the paleo diet are fruits, most vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats, fish and oils such as olive or walnut. Other paleo-friendly foods you can eat include eggs, herbs, spices, healthy fats such as avocados and coconuts, plus fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon. And grass-fed beef, pork and poultry are okay as long as you trim the fat!
What to Avoid When Eating Paleo
Now here comes the harder part, foods that we need to reduce or eliminate from our diets: grains, legumes, dairy, salt, refined sugar, potatoes, some vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and highly processed foods.
By grains, this means no breads, pastas, cereals or crackers — anything made with wheat, oats, barley, rye and rice. But wait, aren’t whole grains healthy? According to paleo proponents, our bodies are not designed to eat grains, so we can’t properly digest them. They also contain toxic anti-nutrients that attack our intestinal lining.
No legumes means no beans, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, tofu or peas. So why no legumes? Legumes are high in phytic acid, which prevents our bodies from absorbing the nutrients in the legumes. We end up with a lot of carbs but little nutrition. They also contain potentially toxic lectins, which can damage the intestinal wall and cause digestive and autoimmune problems.
Not all who follow paleo completely avoid every one of these foods — some plans allow a few “open meals” per week, which means you can consume some of these foods in moderation.
The biggest no-no is, of course, highly processed foods full of salt and refined sugar. In addition to meats such as sausage and deli meat, this includes many condiments such as ketchup and salad dressings.
Basically, if it comes from a factory packaged in a box, bottle, can or bag, avoid it if you want to enjoy the benefits of the paleo diet!