I’m not in the business of convincing people to do what I do, all I can do is offer some facts, some personal experience, and let you make the decision for yourself.
Although recognition of the Paleo lifestyle is gaining popularity and more people are learning about it, it’s still not common knowledge what, exactly, paleo is. Paleo = Caveman, right? It’s the Caveman diet, isn’t it? Well, technically, yes, I suppose it is. That’s where the name comes from. But we are not cavemen, we are civilized human beings that no longer have to forage, hunt, and gather. We have modern-day conveniences that allow us to run to the store to grab a box of cereal, a gallon of milk, and maybe some chips on the way out. But our bodies were not created to eat those types of food.
In reality, Paleo is the original way of eating. As we have evolved into a convenience-driven society, so has the type of food we eat, which has progressively gotten us fatter, sicker, and more depressed. The Paleo eating plan is about getting back to what our ancestors ate (what we’re supposed to eat) and eliminating processed foods, grains, and other junk our bodies aren’t designed to handle.
So let’s cut to the chase and talk about what you’re all wondering, namely what you’re “allowed” to eat on the Paleo diet, which by the way, isn’t a diet in the sense of “I’m going on a diet”. Paleo is a way of changing your diet and how you eat in general. A lifestyle change, if you will.
When on the Paleo diet, you should never consume anything without first asking yourself, ‘Is this something a caveman would have had access to?’. If not, that’s a clue that you shouldn’t be eating it either. This doesn’t mean you have to prepare your food with sticks over an outdoor fire or wander through the woods looking for berries (unless you want to, though not recommended). Feel free to cook indoors, use spices, combine foods, and jazz up your recipes however you like – just make sure to use Paleolithic Era ingredients, such as grass-fed meats, fish, vegetables, roots, nuts, and other foods that could naturally grow (and are readily consumed) if agriculture somehow disappeared.
Use Paleolithic Era ingredients, such as grass-fed meats, fish, vegetables, roots, nuts, and other foods that could naturally grow (and are readily consumed) if agriculture somehow disappeared.
The good news is you don’t have to worry about counting calories, carbs, or fat grams – you simply eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. I have never really gotten into many fad diets, but I have done some calorie counting and limiting my intake and it’s tremendously annoying. I feel so free to be able to follow my body’s cues on when to eat and when not to eat. Learning how to tell the difference between hunger and boredom has been my biggest achievement and has helped me a lot.
That said, you should try to keep the types of foods you eat proportional to how cavemen really ate. In other words, they weren’t gorging on nuts and honey, since those things were a little harder to come by. Instead, they were eating plenty of meats, fish, fats, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. Besides nuts and honey, other things you should eat in moderation are seeds, chocolate, and dried fruit.
Using the Right Ingredients
Click on the image to see a detailed list and get a free printable.
What About Sweeteners?
Me being the sweet tooth that I am, I was always quite fond of (read: addicted to) cookies and cupcakes. Um, hello sugar, nice to eat you. Guess what, folks? Cavemen didn’t eat sugar, so neither should we. So how do we satisfy that sweet tooth? Fruit, dried fruit (no refined-sugar added, natural fruit juice added is okay), raw honey, and grade B maple syrup. There is coconut sugar, which is similar to brown sugar, but we don’t use it often, maybe to sprinkle on muffins. My favorite sweetener is medjool dates.
What to Avoid
So, now that you know what you should eat, what should you not eat?
You should avoid modern foods that require agriculture, or worse, a factory for production. This includes grains (wheat, corn, rice, pasta, cereals, bread, oats, etc.), refined sugar, dairy, legumes, alcohol, starches, and all processed foods.
Wait, I thought this stuff was healthy?
Most folks can easily understand the need to eliminate chemical-laden processed foods and nutritionally deficient sugars, but dairy, grains, and legumes… hold on a sec… aren’t those things healthy? Despite what we’ve been told and the perpetuation of the Food Pyramid, our bodies don’t need or want these so-called diet staples. What’s in them that is so harmful? Here’s brief explanation:
How could the humble grain, the cornerstone of the modern era, be anything except good for us? Unfortunately, grains contain large amounts of the lectin protein, which is difficult for the human body to digest. In addition, lectins are sticky, which causes them to build up in your intestines and digestive tract and wreak all kinds of problems, such as leaky gut (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds). In turn, leaky gut can lead to gas, bloating, indigestion, headaches, fatigue, and even more serious complications like celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Besides grains, lectins are found in legumes (particularly soy) and nightshades (eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco).
Phytic acid is another anti-nutrient (something that blocks the absorption of nutrients), and guess where it’s predominately found? That’s right, in grains, corn, legumes, soy, and even in seeds and nuts (however, seeds and nuts are okay to eat on the Paleo diet because they’re not loaded with other anti-nutrients). Phytic acid binds to magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc, and because it is non-digestible to humans, it carries those critical vitamins and minerals outside of our bodies. So, all your hard efforts to eat healthful foods could be seriously compromised by over-consuming phytic acid. And a lack of these nutrients could lead to anemia, muscle cramping, PMS, reproductive inabilities, and lowered immune systems. All in all, not fun.
Of course our bodies need calcium, but who said the only place to get it was from dairy? The Dairy Council, that’s who. Leafy greens, fish, and more are all rich sources of calcium without the pesky side effects of dairy. Our bodies simply weren’t designed to consume milk after infancy, much less the milk from another type of mammal altogether! The problems with dairy could cover many pages, but to summarize, it can lead to cancer, allergies, sinus problems, ear infections, diabetes, constipation, anemia, and osteoporosis. Yes, despite all the commercials telling you to consume more milk, yogurt, and low-fat cheeses to build healthy bones, milk can actually contribute to reduced bone density. This is because, among other things, milk is very acidic, and the body may leach calcium from the bones to help neutralize the acid.
As I already mentioned, we live drastically different than our caveman forerunners, yet our genetic makeup and nutritional needs are virtually the same. Just because we decided to create agriculture and steadily introduce a whole gamut of modern foods, this decision couldn’t undo 2.5 million years of evolution. It’s true, agriculture has been around for around 10,000 years, yet that’s nothing more than a blip on the evolutionary scale. Our bodies are still fine-tuned to eat in the way of our ancestors: plenty of vegetables, fruits, meats, and moderate amounts of nuts and seeds. Trying to fight our natural diet has led to unprecedented levels of obesity, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, depression, etc. Quite simply, our society is sick.
After eating junk for so many years, initially you may feel worse when you switch to the Paleo diet — stick it out! It usually only lasts for a couple weeks (max!) as your body goes through a detoxification process and “remembers” how to use fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. Once the brief introductory period passes, you’ll begin to feel noticeably better, with a clearer mind and less cravings. Trust me, I know this for a fact.
Benefits of a Paleo diet:
Even though most of us wouldn’t want to go back to living in the harsh, caveman environment, it’s naïve to think we can learn nothing from the dietary habits of our ancestors (people who have survived for millions of years). Doctors have warned that those growing up today may be the first generation in centuries to have shorter life-expectancies than their grandparents. Obviously something is amiss. Imagine what might happen if we embraced the logic of food being our medicine, of eating to live. We just might live longer and healthier than ever.