The Paleo Diet has been the way of eating, and the way of life for mankind throughout millennia.
Ancient man subsisted on fruit, leaves, and insects, just as primates do today. They also scavenged the leftovers of kills made by the meat-eating predators of that time. The “Paleolithic Era” was marked by physiological adaptations, such as the opposable thumb, a decreased digestive tract and increased brain size.
As humans discovered how to use fire for cooking, and crude stone tools (for killing prey and carving food), they were able to eat more foods. The increase in quantity and quality of nutrition resulted in humans’ brains growing larger along with the development of their digestive system that made eating enough easier.
The evolution of these hunter-gatherer tribes meant more humans began hunting, foraging, cooking and creating community (over food) together, relying on each other for survival.
Modern civilization began straying from these original Paleolithic roots with the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution approximately 10,000 years ago. This era introduced the concept of farming land on a large scale, foreshadowing the current processed food industry that developed with the Industrial Revolution.
The Agricultural Revolution entailed
- Gathering and planting seeds
- Nurturing and manipulating the soil
- Breeding plants
- Storing crops
- Processing plants to maximize digestibility
- Domesticating and breeding animals
- Eating and growing foods out of season
- Less hunting and foraging; more farming.
The Industrial Revolution which began in the late 1700’s took people out of their predominantly farm-based and rural societies, introducing new manufacturing technologies along with food processing thus producing more convenient food options gradually over time.
In today’s world we are largely desk-bound, consuming packaged and processed foods, living with chronic stress, and not getting enough sleep. This has contributed to making modern society sick, fat and depressed. To achieve optimal health, the Paleo lifestyle draws its core principles from ancestral man who ate whole, unprocessed foods, moved more, slept better and stressed less.
What we now refer to as the Paleo diet is not about re-enacting the Paleolithic era. Instead, it is about recognizing man’s genetic predisposition and applying current knowledge of how different foods and activities affect the body’s functions including
- Chronic inflammation
- Insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control
If you are looking to rewire your genes and get back to being the human you are designed to be, a Paleo way of life is the ultimate human diet.
Although it may seem like a no-brainer that eating a diet rich in whole, naturally occurring, fresh foods including vegetables and leaves, sustainable animal meats, some fruits and starchy plants, and unprocessed oils, nuts and seeds improves health, research proves that following a Paleo-type diet is one of the healthiest lifestyles and diets for modern man too.
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
Paleo diet includes numerous benefits for your health and wellness, including.
- An improvement in metabolic conditions including Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and hyper tension.
- Inflammation reduction resulting in:
- fewer allergies
- fewer aches and pains
- better skin
- reduction in anxiety or depression
- less bloating or gas
- increased level of happiness.
- Increased energy levels.
- Weight loss and/or optimal weight maintenance and body composition
- Better sleep patterns.
- Reduced cravings
- Reduced blood sugar fluctuations
- Compared to following a diet filled with standard, processed and manufactured modern foods, those following a Paleo-type diet live longer and are healthier into their older age!
- A Paleo type diet is associated with enhancing gut health and supporting stronger, more diverse and more resilient gut bacteria (your microbiome). These bacteria impact almost every bodily function including your metabolism, hormones, digestion, immune system and mood.
The Paleo Diet in Action
What To Eat (And Avoid)
Eat Real Food
Put simply, emphasize whole, minimally processed foods, and avoid heavily processed choices. Think farmers market. Think perimeter of the supermarket – produce, meat, seafood, and eggs. The quality of your food matters! Aim for:
- The best quality animal foods available to you. Grass fed, wild or pastured is best, organic is next best, followed by antibiotic and hormone free. This includes beef, pork, poultry, fish/seafood, eggs, wild game and organ meats.
- The best quality green and leafy veggies. Local and/or organic is best if possible.
- Starchy vegetables are also allowed with quantities depending on your individual needs and goals.
- The best quality fruits. Local and/or organic is best, if possible.
- Organic, well-sourced healthy fats.
- Saturated fats including lard, tallow and duck fat (from healthy, ethically raised animals), coconut oil and ghee.
- Unsaturated cold pressed, extra virgin oils including olive oil, avocado oil and some nut oils.
- Nuts and seeds in moderate amounts including unsweetened coconut, raw almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans cashews, sun flower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
- Lots of water.
- Bone broth
You can also enjoy small amounts of
- Natural unprocessed sugars like raw honey, pure maple syrup, Coconut sugar or nectar, Stevia.
- Caffeine - depending your sensitivity.
- Wine and clear liquors like vodka, gin or tequila.
- Choose mixers without processed sugars like club soda and/or fresh fruit juice.
- Dark chocolate
Avoid a few things
- Grains, especially gluten containing grains like wheat, millet, barley and rye to name a few. Grains are found in bread, cereal, pasta, cookies, cakes, most processed foods.
- Soy, especially processed soy products. Soy milk and Soy based protein powders are highly processed, contain too much estrogen and cause hormone disruption.
- Legumes, including beans, pulses and peanuts. These contain lectins and other anti-nutrients that can be difficult to digest and promote inflammation.
- Industrial seed oils like soybean oil, cotton seed oil, canola oil, corn oil etc. These are highly processed at high heats that cause free radical damage.
- Processed sugars, especially high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Agave nectar is one to avoid as well.
- Dairy can be highly inflammatory. Dairy intolerance is not only experienced as digestive issues and can also include congestion, headaches, skin issues and brain fog.
- Processed foods
- Packaged sauces, dressings, side dishes, granola and protein bars and packaged snack foods.
A few considerations
Certain foods are considered ‘grey’ areas in Paleo communities. They are not foods reminiscent of the Paleo era but can be tolerated by some people and including them in your Paleo diet becomes a personal preference.
- Raw dairy is best, while organic and full fat is second. Low fat dairy is not considered a whole, real food and should be avoided.
Safe starches or grains like, quinoa, buckwheat, white rice or white potatoes.
- Once in a while these can be a nice departure from other Paleo starches like sweet potatoes rutabagas, parsnips and other root vegetables. Consumption will depend on energy expenditure and personal needs and goals.
Paleo is so much more than a diet. Although the food plan is a large part of the program, movement and lifestyle modifications further enhance the benefits you will experience.
Smart exercise is an important component of Paleo. The focus is on weight-bearing loads, mobility and slow, sustained movement.
Sleep is integral as it promotes recovery and is pivotal in the body’s overall performance level. Good sleep hygiene includes:
- limiting exposure to artificial light after sundown to reduce disruption of the circadian rhythm
- sleeping for at least eight hourswhenever possible in a dark, cool room, preferably aligned with the cycles of the sun.
Intelligent sun exposure boosts production of vitamin D, a hormone crucial to most of the body’s chemical pathways. Responsible sun exposure has been shown to have positive effects on mood stabilization, hormonal regulation and overall health.
Managing stress is important and a key factor in mitigating the onset of disease. Taking control of your stress results in improved neurological and cortisol responses and contributes to a better quality of life.
A Paleo lifestyle also includes using the most natural products and lifestyle accessories you can find, including personal care products and home cleaning essentials. As with your food, check your ingredients and know what you are putting on your body and in your home.
Starting Or Continuing Your Paleo Lifestyle
It is important to constantly educate yourself, whether you are at the beginning of your Paleo journey or a well-seasoned veteran looking to reconnect with the Paleo essentials. Have a true understanding of the impact of your food and lifestyle choices on your health and well-being makes it easier to let go of certain ‘favorites’ or indulgences that often creep back in.
No matter where you are on this path, preparation is always key! Modern lifestyles focus on easy, abundant access to foods that are cheap, fast and unfortunately often detrimental to your health. Create shopping and cooking lists and schedules and set aside time to incorporate the lifestyle aspects of following a Paleo protocol.
At a very basic level
- Prioritize real food and clean water
- Order a few of our meals or packages to have delicious Paleo-friendly food ready when you are – no apron required
- Browse the countless online Paleo resources for recipes and meal and snack ideas to suit your preferences and needs
- Incorporate daily movement, 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night and intentional time spent with other people and doing things you love
- Be prepared to give it some time. It can take a few weeks to establish (or recommit to) new routines and habits. Take this time to notice beneficial changes and for inflammation to truly subside.
The Paleo diet really is that simple. Once you begin your journey, you will quickly become aware of how well and positively your body, mind and spirit will adapt to these changes.
Health is a journey, and focusing on the benefits of the Paleo lifestyle will allow you to enjoy the ride.
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com