What Is the Paleo Diet and How Can It Benefit Me?
Who knew that our caveman ancestors were onto something when it comes to diet? Have you heard about the Paleo diet or know someone who swears by it? For those who swear by it, you’ll hear them say things like “eating Paleo has improved my health and made me feel significantly better,” or “I no longer suffer from X chronic condition.”
If you want to feel more energized, reduce stress, lose weight and minimize or eliminate chronic health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, allergies, digestive disorders and autoimmune diseases, the Paleo diet plan might be for you!
What Is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet means eating only the foods that were available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors who lived during the Paleolithic Period. The Paleolithic Period was a cultural stage of human technological development that lasted from about 2.6 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago.
The Paleo diet plan doesn’t care if our Paleolithic ancestors used tools or which kinds — the diet follows the premise that our bodies are evolutionarily not designed to consume foods that require modern technology to produce. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors only ate foods that they could find and eat right away — they did not farm, process food in any way, bake, use salt or consume dairy products.
Grains and legumes such as soybeans grew during this period, but our ancestors did not eat them because they were inedible. It was much later that humans began to eat beans and grind up grains to produce flour for bread, cakes and cereals.
Why does this matter? Researchers who study DNA have recently discovered that our bodies are still very genetically similar to our caveman ancestors. Their bodies nor ours are equipped to digest grains properly — and grains contain toxins that can damage our intestinal lining. Legumes such as peanuts, lentils and beans contain phytic acid, which prevents our bodies from absorbing the nutrients in the legumes. Legumes also contain potentially toxic lectins, which can damage the intestinal wall and cause autoimmune and digestive problems.
Chronic health conditions such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes, food allergies, autoimmune disorders, asthma, cognitive decline, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease didn’t exist during the Paleolithic Period. These health conditions began showing up when we started eating processed foods, grains, salt and refined sugar.
What Can I Eat on the Paleo Diet Plan?
You can eat a lot on the Paleo diet plan! You can eat fresh fruits and most veggies, eggs, nuts, seeds, seafood, grass-fed meat and healthy fats and oils such as coconut, avocado, olive, macadamia, walnut and flaxseed. Unlike many diets, you can eat red meat on the Paleo diet plan, but avoid processed or cured meats such as deli meat, sausage and smoked meats (including fish). Instead of grain-based baked goods, you can buy or make bread, crackers, cakes and muffins using coconut, almond or tapioca “flour.”
What Should I Avoid on the Paleo Diet Plan?
In addition to processed meats, you’ll want to cut out grains (including bread, pasta and cereal), potatoes, salt, dairy products, refined sugar, some vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and highly processed foods. Basically, avoid anything produced in a factory that comes from a box, bottle or bag!
What Are Some Typical Paleo Diet Meals?
One of the best things about following a Paleo diet plan is that you’ll be introduced to unique combinations of foods, spices and herbs you won’t find on other diet plans. And you’ll also eat “non-traditional” foods at certain times of the day. For example, for Paleo breakfasts, you’ll often eat vegetables instead of cereal or bread — or poultry instead of pork.
Finding lunch and dinner foods on the Paleo diet plan is pretty easy as long as each meal contains protein, healthy fats and vegetables. Salads, soups and sandwiches made with Paleo-friendly bread are common for Paleo lunches. And you can find an enormous variety of Paleo dinner recipes for meats with veggies and pasta-alternatives such as cauliflower rice. But what about Paleo breakfasts, snacks and desserts? You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to find Paleo-friendly options!
Paleo Breakfast Foods
Typical Paleo breakfast foods include eggs, any unprocessed meat, yogurt, avocados, vegetables, nut or seed butter and smoothies high in protein. You might start out eating basic veggie and ham omelets, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find a fantastic array of Paleo breakfast recipes for meals such as:
- Chorizo & Sweet Potato Egg Skillet
- Italian Sheet Pan Eggs with Artichokes and Prosciutto
- Coconut Mango Chia Seed Pudding
- Low-Carb Cauliflower Hash Browns
- Paleo Apple Cake
- Mixed Berry & Chocolate Paleo Smoothie
Paleo snacks are probably the easiest Paleo food to find! Grab a handful of nuts or nibble on carrots, cucumber slices and celery smeared with cashew butter. Eat a piece of fruit, a hard-boiled egg or guacamole. You can also find or make chips made from baked kale or sweet potatoes. For more creative Paleo snacks, consider recipes such as these:
- Sweet & Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
- Savory Zucchini Muffins with Ham & Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Coconut Honey Joys
- Paleo Granola Bars
- Paleo Hummus with Almonds
- Tahini & Wholegrain Mustard Crackers
Just because you’re following a Paleo diet plan doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a dessert or two! Of course, if you’re eating Paleo to lose weight, you’ll want to limit how often you eat Paleo desserts. The simplest Paleo desserts are fruits and fruit salads. If you have the time and inclination, you’ll find all sorts of delicious Paleo dessert ideas such as:
- Paleo Chocolate Cake
- Mango Key Lime Paleo Cheesecake
- Paleo Sticky Date Pudding Cupcakes
- Paleo Salted Caramel Bites
- Paleo Black Forest Cake Dessert
- Paleo Strawberry Ice Cream Bon Bons
How Can the Paleo Diet Plan Benefit Me?
Following a Paleo diet plan can seem restrictive because it requires a big shift in avoiding foods common in our Western diets. However, once you follow a Paleo diet plan consistently, you’ll:
- Be able to think more clearly and your overall health will significantly improve.
- Feel more energized, which means you’ll be more productive at work and able to enjoy your free time.
- Lose weight — and keep it off because it’s a lifestyle change that is sustainable instead of a “quick fix” diet that is hard to follow indefinitely.
- Experience fewer symptoms or eliminate chronic conditions such as obesity, hypertension, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies or autoimmune disease.
- Potentially see improvements in your skin, hair and teeth.
- Experience fewer mood swings and more stable blood sugar and energy levels.
Eating Paleo is almost guaranteed to improve your quality of life — and it might even prolong your life, especially if it eliminates a chronic health problem known to shorten lives. Of course, you should always check with your doctor before making any significant dietary changes!
- Tommy Jacobs