What Is Paleo?
Where to start? Paleo is short for “paleolithic”, which refers to a point in time when life was simpler. Paleo is also known as the “caveman” or “hunter-gatherer” diet. The easiest way to explain it is to say that paleo only includes the foods that we would be able to hunt or find on plants or in the ground. Humans ate very well in the caveman days, and as you could imagine, humans were also very healthy, strong and fit back in those days as well. And we had to be, out of neccesity. No one wanted to get eaten by a wolly mammoth or a sabre tooth tiger. And no one wanted to die of starvation. So we had to run fast and be skilled at killing animals. We ate what we could find or kill. It was that simple. This diet emulates that lifestyle.
Humans have been on this earth for tens of thousands of years. And it has only been recently (relative to our entire existence) that we have been under the umbrella of the agricultural revolution. That is, we didn’t start to eat corn, wheat, bread, pasta, potatoes, muffins, etc. until we began farming those things (and their ingredients). We have only eaten those types of foods for a miniscule amount of time since we have been on this earth. And for that reason, our bodies have not had the time to adapt/evolve in a way that would allow us to properly digest those foods. Think about it. If humans have been eating a paleo style diet for 200,000 years, and then all of the sudden in the last 2,000 years, we started eating bread and pasta and muffins, do you think our bodies have had enough time to adapt? We have only been eating our modern diet (aka the western diet) for 1% of our existence. A study conducted by the University of Arizona concluded that on average, a species of animals is only able to adapt to climate change by an average of 1 degree celcius, every 1 MILLION YEARS. So do you think we could adapt to a dramatically altered diet after just 2,000 years? Hell no. Booya science. On a side note, there is another reason why paleo doens’t include these modern foods. It’s because have to alter them just to make them edible.
So now that I have breifly explained what the paleo diet is, I will talk about what you can and can’t eat. But first I will say that I am by no means an expert on paleo eating, nor am I extremely strict with it. I follow the 80/20 rule when it comes to eating. That is, I know if I eat properly 80% of the time, I will inevitably progress. The other (and more important) reason I do this is because I know that human beings are flawed… and if I try to stay 100% strict with any diet, it will fail. That is because perfection is NOT sustainable. Human beings need rewards. We need vices. We need escape from the constant pressure of trying to be so healthy in a world that is the exact opposite. So give yourself a break! Have a donut, and don’t feel guilty about it. Just make sure you thoroughly enjoy that little carb bomb 🙂
And that brings me to another point. The best part of paleo is that it is NOT a diet. You will hear the die-hards say that over and over again. “It’s not a diet! It’s a way of eating!” Trust me. It really isn’t a diet. When I first started paleo I thought it would be restrictive and boring. But it has turned out to be the exact opposite of those terrible words. But I shall dive into the reasons for that in future posts. So here are the foods in and out of paleo:
1) I will start by listing the things paleo DOES include, and then list the common things is DOES NOT include. Paleo includes: Any type of meat that is not processed. Beef, chicken, pork, elk, moose, deer, etc. Try and get your meat from a butcher and ensure it’s grass-fed. We don’t want to eat grains, and we don’t want our animals to eat grains either.
2) Veggies. And lots of them. Asparagus, avacado, artickokes, brussels sprouts, spinach, zuccini, broccoli, peppers, eggplant, etc. You can also have yams, sweet poptatoes, squash, or beets. However, have them in moderation as they are starchy and carry a higher carbohydrate load. If your exercise level is high, you can have more of them.
3) Nuts, fruits, and seeds. Almonds, cashews, hazlenuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds. Contrary to popular belief, peanuts are NOT nuts. They are lugumes and are excluded from paleo. I will go into more detail on the more confusing items, like legumes, in later posts. You can also have any fruit your little heart desires. Just keep fruits in moderation, as some fruits like bananas or other exotic fruits have a high carb content due to the natural sugars in them. Stick with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries as your most common source of fruits.
4) Oils. Huh? Yes, I said oils. They are an extremely important part of the paleo diet, and I will explain why. The whole point of this diet is to maintain a healthy body weight, and for many people (including myself), paleo will help you lose fat. And the best way to lose fat is to teach our bodies to burn fat as energy, instead of carbs (glucose). My next post will be a detailed explanation of that process, including how paleo regluates blood sugar and how that relates to burning fat for energy. So you may not understand why oils are important just yet, but you will. So… the paleo diet includes coconut oil, olive oil, macadamia oil, and avacado oil.
5) Things paleo does NOT include:
-Wheat/grains. This is the biggest and most important exclusion, in my opinion. If you take one thing from paleo, take this. My next post will explain why wheat is terrible for us. Wheat is a blanket word for cereal (most of them), bread, pasta, crackers, pancakes, corn, or any type of baked goods like cookies and muffins.
-Legumes. This includes black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans, green beans, peas, chickpeas, peanuts, lentils, soybeans (and soy products), and tofu.
-Bad meats. Hot dogs, spam, some sausages, etc. As I said, try and make sure you get grass-fed meat. And try to buy all-natural products, as most packaged meats contain bad chemicals like Sodium Nitrite and preservatives.
-Sugar. This includes candy, pop, and sweetened fruit juices. Pretty much common sense.
-Dairy. I have saved this one for last, because I personally chose to keep dairy in my diet. Dairy is excluded from paleo because again, humans did not consume dairy in the caveman days. But what about breast milk Craig?? Well… babies’ bodies produce an enzyme called Lactase, which allows them to break down / digest the lactose (which is a sugar/carb) in mom’s breast milk. After babies are weened off breast milk, the lactase production slows down or stops. Do you have lactose intolerance? That is because your body doesn’t produce lactase any more to digest it. As for me, I have no problems with dairy. So I have chosen to keep dairy in my diet, in moderation. And I mostly get my dairy from cheese and cream (I can’t live without coffee).
So there you have it. I have done my best to explain what paleo is. This list is by no means comprehensive, but I have tried to make it very simple. My blog will have lots of posts including paleo recipes (I just made paleo lasagna, stay tuned for that one!), and confusing paleo topics explained. Thanks for reading 🙂